Friday, March 25, 2011

A Bozell in the Bush is Worth A Press in Iraq?

Right-wing "media critic" L. Brent Bozell III, the unfortunate fellow who runs the Media Research Center, just popped up on "Fox & Friends" to assert that, while Obama "seems to be getting a free pass from most media outlets" with regard to his decision to involve the U.S. in the Libyan crisis, George Bush Jr. got "anything but a free pass" from the press while dragging the U.S. into the invasion of Iraq.

Julie Millican & Adam Shah have issued a corrective to this jaw-dropper over at Media Matters, writing that this "shows that Fox News may actually inhabit Bizarro World." In the real world, of course, the corporate press was--and, for the most part, has remained--a virtual co-conspirator with the Bush administration over the matter of Iraq. In the lead-up to the Iraq war, Millican and Shah note, the media
"acted as Bush's lapdogs, eagerly parroting every dubious claim the Bush administration made about Iraq and shouting down the few who dared to disagree. So bad was the media's coverage of Iraq, many major media outlets have since issued apologies for their complete and total failure to investigate any of the claims made by the Bush administration."
They quote several examples of this, and their article isn't bad. Its shortcoming is that the authors, having made their overarching claim about Bush-friendly coverage, failed to make use of readily-available hard data that more ably made this point.

Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, which, unlike Bozell, conducts real media criticism, undertook a survey of Iraq coverage by the three major U.S. news networks and PBS' Newshour. FAIR broke down every news story on Iraq in a two-week period during the critical lead-up to the conflict (30 Jan., 2003 to 12 Feb., 2003). In that time, there were 393 on-camera sources on the evening newscasts. Out of that, only 17% "represented skeptical or critical positions on the U.S.'s war policy." Among U.S. sources, 75% were "official sources"--current or former government or military officials--and, of these, only one expressed any skepticism of the Bush policy. Only 6% of total U.S. sources were skeptics and, "of all 393 sources, only three (less than 1 percent) were identified with organized protests or anti-war groups."

The same week in March 2003 when FAIR reported that study, Brent Bozell was using his column to smear the anti-war movement and, more to the point, to bitterly rage against the failure of the press to sufficiently do the same--the press that was barely even mentioning said movement. While anti-war voices were entirely locked out of most coverage, Bozell's headline that week--no kidding--was "Only Anti-War Citizens Are News." In the timeframe covered by that first FAIR survey, Bozell himself wrote four columns. The first (31 Jan.) was a rant about violence on tv; the second a complaint about "gay left politics in print"; the third about Michael Jackson; and the fourth a furious rant against CNN for having the audacity to put Bill Clinton on "Larry King Live" on Ronald Reagan's birthday. Not one of them was devoted to Iraq coverage, which suggests "media critic"--and fanatical Iraq invasion supporter--Bozell wasn't finding much about which to complain in that critical period.

When the war began, FAIR followed up with another survey, beginning the day Bush launched the war and continuing for three weeks. This one cast an even wider net--it examined the Iraq coverage of the three networks, the Newshour, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Reports, and Fox’s Special Report with Brit Hume. In this period, there were 1,617 sources appearing but the results were even worse than before:
"Nearly two thirds of all sources, 64 percent, were pro-war, while 71 percent of U.S. guests favored the war. Anti-war voices were 10 percent of all sources, but just 6 percent of non-Iraqi sources and 3 percent of U.S. sources. Thus viewers were more than six times as likely to see a pro-war source as one who was anti-war; with U.S. guests alone, the ratio increases to 25 to 1... While the percentage of Americans opposing the war was about 10 times higher in the real world as they were on the nightly news (27 percent versus 3 percent), their proportion of the guestlist may still overstate the degree to which they were able to present their views on U.S. television. Guests with anti-war viewpoints were almost universally allowed one-sentence soundbites taken from interviews conducted on the street. Not a single show in the study conducted a sit-down interview with a person identified as being against the war."
And Bozell? In such an environment, pickings were mighty slim for a right-wing "media critic" whose paycheck is dependent upon perpetuating the myth of a "liberal media." Two of the six columns he wrote in this period had nothing to do with Iraq at all. The day after the war began, he was off writing about alleged "Anti-Catholic 'entertainment'." Later, deep in the midst of war, he penned a rant against the Oscar Awards. Of the four pieces dealing with Iraq coverage, all were about minor, peripheral matters. One was a complaint that the press had failed to sufficiently smear then-Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle for a remark critical of Bush; one was devoted to smearing journalist Peter Arnett; one attacked that noted newswoman Madonna for what may have been in a new video she declined to release to the public. Again, not joking. The last one though, was the keeper. An anti-war demonstration had just picketed CNN over its Iraq coverage. How is a right-wing "media critic" to explain such a thing to his credulous audience? About the protesters, Bozell writes:
"First the Democrats wouldn't carry their anti-war water. Now the media won't do their job and undermine the war effort? So the Loudmouth Left is doing what it does best: moan and scream, this time outside cable news studios... The war is going well, too well, and the coverage apparently is too positive. So the Loudmouth Leftists are crowding the streets and demeaning CNN with Nazi epithets."
The best he does, as he goes along, is to suggest the protesters are radicals whose claim to a legitimate complaint in this matter is dubious. Re-read the FAIR numbers quoted above when evaluating Bozell's claim, in this same column, that the protesters' complaints about coverage boiled down to the lack of sufficient live gore and death on television.

Bozell is a fanatic who can find "liberal bias" in anything. If Barack Obama was to step outside and say "the sky certainly is blue today," Bozell would find bias in any reporter who may have nodded his head in agreement. He could probably produce some "scholar" from the Heritage Foundation to dispute the notion, then trash the rest of the press for failing to debunk Obama's "the sky is blue" lie. Reading through these Iraq columns though, you'll find angry ranting, pro-Bush nonsense, a plethora of lies and misrepresentations, an often obsessive focus on the utterly trivial. What you won't find is any contemporaneous support for Bozell's later assertion that Bush was being given a hard time by the press. And there's a reason for that.

--j.

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