Sunday, July 3, 2011

Newsbusters & Me, Part 2

Yesterday, Terry Krepel over at ConWebWatch wrote about a comment from Brent Bozell, the head of the Media Research Center. Bozell was complaining about the criticism of crackpot Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann by Chris Matthews, the mouthy dunce who hosts MSNBC's Hardball. "He [Matthews] would never in a million years wage that kind of insulting attack on Hillary Clinton," fumed Bozell. Krepel points out that not only has Matthews "insultingly attacked Hillary Clinton" but at least two of those attacks have been reported on Bozell's own Newsbusters blog. In the first, Matthews had suggested that Clinton owed her political career to sympathy generated by her husband's philandering. In another, Matthews, in 2008, was complaining about Barack Obama potentially tapping Clinton to be Secretary of State:

"Why would he pick her? I thought we were done with the Clintons. She's just use it to build her power base. It's Machiavellian. And then we'll have Bill Clinton, too. I thought Obama didn't want drama... She's just a soap opera. If he doesn't pick her, everyone will say she's been dissed again, we'll have to live through that again."

Krepel leaves the matter at these two examples but, in fact, they're not only fairly typical of Matthews' very long-running series of insulting attacks on Hillary Clinton, they're actually rather mild compared to some of the other things he's said. In 2001, he told an MSNBC colleague "I hate her [Clinton]. I hate her. All that she stands for." Indeed, Matthews has hated Hillary Clinton since at least the mid-1990s and it is a hatred that has often seemed obsessive. In 2008, David Brock, the founder of Media Matters For America, put together a list of just some of the things Matthews has said of her; "she-devil", "Nurse Ratched", "witchy", "uppity", "a fraud", "anti-male" and on and on.

In short, Bozell's suggestion was, in fact, a lie of monumental proportions. A thing directly and brutally contrary to reality. Back in March, I wrote about another incident, in which Bozell bizarrely suggested that, at the time of the Iraq war, the press had been very hard on Bush and, by contrast, was allowing Obama a free ride on the Libyan intervention.

Liars lie for a reason and what both of these have in common is that they exemplify the agenda of Bozell and his organization. Purporting to be a "media watchdog," the MRC is, in fact, devoted to preaching to a very dismal choir a very dismal line, the same one preached by nearly all right-wing media outlets. It tells an extremely conservative audience that, though the public is with them, they are persecuted. Those carrying out the persecution are "elites," identified, in this up-is-down-and-black-is-white narrative, as liberal intellectuals, liberal academics, liberal journalists, liberal entertainers, liberal Democratic politicians or just plain liberals.[1] Politics is reduced to a simple contest between good and evil, with liberals filling the "evil" role[2], and "liberal" is the default designation for anyone who isn't identifiably of the far right on every conceivable issue--those so tagged are often, in reality, conservatives whom outlets like the MRC just decided aren't conservative enough or aren't conservative in the right ways.

This manufactures an incredible amount of politically useful resentment in the target audience--no one likes being persecuted--but its most important effect--and, arguably, its intent--is to completely destroy the confidence of that audience in anything that doesn't originate from far right sources; to beat back the very idea that there is an objective fact on which everyone can agree and to make momentary political utility the thing which dictates the audience's perception of reality. In their telling, the MRC gang and other like-minded orgs give it to you straight. Just about everyone else is probably an enemy with a malicious agenda. And they're always enemies--there's rarely any room allowed for any honest disagreement. Chris Matthews, by virtue of his sometimes disagreeing with the far right, is tagged as a "liberal" and from that, it follows that he would never use his privileged position of prominence in the press to attack Democrat Hillary Clinton in the same way he just attacked reactionary Rep. Michelle Bachmann (Cretin-MN). Similarly, the corporate press is irredeemably liberal and it follows that it must have been very hard on Bush over the Iraq war and, in stark contrast, easy on Obama over the Libyan intervention. It's all about telling a tale that is politically useful at the moment. Reality doesn't even enter into the equation.

The article that, a few weeks ago, prompted me to join Newsbusters was an Alex Fitzsimmons piece from 28 April that seemed a perfect example of how far-right media groups like the MRC generate their own little self-contained world and carefully keep out real-world considerations that could burst this bubble. Fitzsimmons was upset that MSNBC's Chuck Todd, in an interview with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), declined to blame the Obama administration for rising gas prices.

"After making excuses for the Democratic president, Todd boldly asserted that 'there doesn't seem to be any expert that believes' Obama could have done anything to prevent the price of gasoline from eclipsing $4 per gallon.

"Perhaps the morning anchor meant to say there doesn't seem to be any liberal experts who are criticizing Obama for not doing more to curtail rising gas prices: the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, offered the president some policy advice on this precise issue." [italics in original]
Fitzsimmons quotes three "experts" from Heritage. They recommend battling high gas prices by cutting back barriers to further domestic oil drilling. Further, "Wicker noted that he and 28 senators recently introduced a resolution to 'send a message to the president' in support of streamlining the review process for oil permit applications." Fitzsimmons adds:
"And just so NBC's political director knows, Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Begich (Alaska) joined the chorus of congressional opposition to Obama's squelching of offshore oil drilling."
Taking this a step at a time, there's a basic logical problem in trying to heap blame on Obama policies for $4+/gallon gas: gas actually went over $4/gallon during the Bush administration, well before Obama had even been elected and as high as it has been under Obama since Republicans recaptured the House of Representatives, it has never risen as high as it was under Bush.

Next, the idea that further domestic oil drilling won't significantly reduce the price of gas at the pump isn't, as Fitzsimmons would have it, a concoction of "liberal experts." It's an uncontroversial conclusion that is broadly shared by experts of all political stripes, including the Bush Energy Department only a few years ago. In 2010, PolitiFact subjected the question to a fairly detailed examination and came to the same conclusion. It's pretty basic math.[3]

Upon whom, on the other hand, is Fitzsimmons relying for his assertion that Obama policies are to blame for high gas prices? His three "experts" are from the Heritage Foundation, an organization that has received millions from Big Oil interests who would directly benefit--and benefit big time--from greater and easier domestic drilling. The total investment of Big Oil in Heritage is unknown, as Heritage is secretive about its donors, but it has received over $4.1 million from Koch family foundations alone--as in, Koch Industries, the largest privately-held oil concern in the world--and one of the "experts" cited by Fitzsimmons (Nicolas Loris) actually worked for the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation before moving to Heritage.

Fitzsimmons approvingly quotes all of those senators who are beating up on Obama. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the one Todd was interviewing, has, in his political career, received $456,810 from oil and gas interests. Though Wicker claimed to have 28 senators behind his resolution, the link provided by Newsbusters lists only nine, but they're enough to make an important point. Wicker is one of them. Here are the rest:

Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska): $140,605
Thad Cochran (R-Miss.): $228,485
Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.): $293,300
Richard Shelby (R-Ala.): $353,200
Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska): $523,689
Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana): $807,844
John Cornyn (R-Texas): $1,734,950
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas): $2,141,025

The numbers beside their names are how much the oil and gas industry has spent on purchasing them over the years (all numbers courtesy of the Center For Responsive Politics).

To summarize, Fitzsimmons is advancing an extraordinarily improbable proposition but it's one that, if believed, would benefit a particular--and particularly conservative--industry, and while he completely misrepresents as "liberals" those who reject it (which is, in Newsbusters Land, a dismissal of their views), every one of his own sources has ties to that industry.

Of course, the fact that they're paid shills doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong but to put it as kindly as possible, it does make a strong case that anything they say on this matter is to be viewed by any reasonable person with extreme skepticism. Fitzsimmons merely reproduces their views, presents them as entirely credible and doesn't disclose any of the info I've just recorded here, while completely ignoring obvious drivers of high gas prices such as insane speculation and oil-company profiteering.

Is Fitzsimmons merely incompetent? Probably not. Certainly unethical as hell but he's hardly alone in that. In context, his article was just one of many. The MRC had, for a long time, been pimping the notion that Obama's alleged--and mostly imaginary--resistance to further domestic drilling was driving up the price of gas. Part of this has to do with politics. The oil industry is very kind to the Republican candidates favored by the MRC and this is the line the industry wants pimped. The public is very angry about high gas prices and has largely been blaming the industry (and speculators) for them, so there is a strategic motive for wanting to try to divert anger away from it and toward the Obama administration. The big reason the MRC is pimping this line, though, is probably the same reason all those others are; the same reason the MRC doesn't disclose that those others are; the same reason the MRC pimps climate-change denial: the organization has received a fortune from the oil industry. Since 1998, the MRC has received $412,500 from ExxonMobil. Fitzsimmons didn't disclose this, either. Neither has anyone else at the MRC who has written about this subject or any other touching on Big Oil.[5] All while they work to destroy their audience's confidence in everything except orgs like their own.

That's how things work at the MRC, where political fantasy stands in for "reality," those who pay the piper call the tune and those who dance to it never know the difference and probably wouldn't care if they did.



[1] This "elite" is never defined as corporate CEOs, business associations, investment bankers, the super-rich that have such a disproportionate share of wealth, their sycophantish mouthpieces in the press or their purchased lackeys in government or any of the other interests that, in the real world, actually run the U.S. A lower-middle-class workaday journalist is, by this narrative, part of an "elite"--the head of ExxonMobil is not.

[2] When I offered this analysis in my first "Newsbusters & Me" post, conservative reader Mark81150 objected: "No dude, I don't think the American left is pure evil, just knee jerk reactionary, authoritarian to it's core, savagely hostile to opposing views, and utterly unable to process irony or the hypocrisies of it's own positions." And, he added, it is "intellectually thuggish." A distinction without a difference, to be sure, but one Mark was tellingly unable to perceive.

[3] And even the microscopic effect further domestic drilling would have wouldn't take place for years, as it takes years to establish a drilling operation.

[4] Since 2004, the MRC has also taken in $15,005 from Koch family foundations. Not exactly a princely sum, but worth a mention.

[5] Climate change denialism was invented by Big Oil and has been a major project of the industry for decades; the MRC--what a surprise--pimps hardcore denialism, and no one who writes any of its constant articles on this discloses its financial relationship with the industry.

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