Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Papyrus Strips Ryan Robertson’s Objections Naked

MRCWatch Dept. - Get this: A strip of ancient papyrus has recently surfaced. On it is written, in ancient Coptic, what appear to be references, by Jesus (as in the Christ), to Mary, presumably Mary Magdalene, references in which he describes her as “my disciple” and as “my wife.” The document from which the papyrus comes is unknown, the translation of it open to question and it may even be an elaborate forgery but whatever the case may be, the major news networks picked up the story today, which really got Ryan Robertson’s goat. He’s full of that patented Newsbusters Outrage over the fact that while an anti-Muslim film "is still being blamed for the riots and murders in the Middle East, the national news media has no problem running a speculative story that disrespects the teachings of the Christian faith."

Robertson whines that by giving this a little time today, “the major networks treated the story as if it deserved a considerable amount of attention.” An odd conclusion, as, by Robertson's own account, the networks didn’t give it a considerable amount of attention.

As a rule, such discoveries are treated as, well, ancient history by the national news media. They're rarely given much coverage and what little is offered is usually quite flawed, a state of affairs that has contributed to Americans’ generally spectacular ignorance of these matters. The network coverage of this strip of papyrus was certainly sensationalistic and, as usual, ill-informed[1] and if Robertson had any interest beyond peddling to his backwards readers his show of being outraged, he could have made a case for both. With regard to Karen King, the Harvard Divinity professor who has presented the papyrus scrap, Robertson notes that "King has her share of critics, both among practicing Christians and secular scholars," but while he insists "neglecting to mention that fact is a deplorable oversight by the networks," he offers no details himself to make his case,[2] nor does he make any case that scholarly disagreement with King would discredit the papyrus itself.

That is what he's suggesting though.

One of Newsbusters’ specialties is, of course, libelous character assassination and though he can’t be bothered to build a substantive case against the coverage in this matter, Robertson can’t resist repeating an outrageous second-hand libel aimed at King by Bill Donohue. Donohue (whose name Robertson misspells) is, among other things, an associate of MRC founder Brent Bozell, the public face of the Catholic League, and a vocal defender of sexually abusive priests (did you see what I just did?). In what Robertson quotes, Donohue wrote of the professor:

"King is known for her fertile imagination. For example, she previously claimed that Mary Magdalene was one of the apostles. Even better, in the book in which she made this extraordinary claim, she 'rejects his [Jesus'] suffering and death as the path to eternal life.' Not much left after that."

None of these are examples of King's "fertile imagination" though, nor are they examples of her expressing her own opinion. Rather, they are examples of King accurately relaying the contents of the non-canonical Gospel of Mary, in a book she wrote on the subject entitled "The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle." Donahue would be advised to pray to his god that King is merciful toward libels.

--j.

---

[1] Jesus’ marital status was treated as a great mystery this could help solve, there were references to Dan Brown’s godawful “DaVinci Code” and so on.

[2] One would be that King argues for an earlier date for authorship of the non-canonical Gospel of Mary than most scholars allow.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tim Graham Sews Confusion on NPR and Anti-Gay Pol

MRCWatch Dept. - Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a fellow in Maryland who sent a letter to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. It was an ugly letter, from a politician with an ugly anti-gay history. The politician, a state legislator (and Baptist minister) who answered to the name of Emmet C.  Burns, had noticed that Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayabedejo was campaigning against a ballot initiative in Maryland aimed at overturning the state’s law allowing for same-sex marriage. He didn’t like that very much. When he wrote that ugly letter, it was to demand that the Ravens owner make Ayabedejo shut up, and not talk about this anymore. As he sat on the state legislature’s committee charged with regulating the Baltimore Ravens, this letter was rather threatening.

Less than a week ago, Ken Shepherd got his wires royally crossed and penned a brief whine about the very little coverage this story was receiving. Shepherd had become so lost in a political persecution fantasy--his view was that the story would be getting lots of coverage if the state legislator had been a Republican, rather than a Democrat--that he never seemed to realize the extent to which this lack of coverage worked so violently against Newsbusters' central premise of a "liberal press." An anti-gay state legislator tried to silence a same-sex marriage advocate and the press, for the most part, didn’t care.

A few days went by and National Public Radio did cover the story. Is Newsbusters happy?

No.

Newsbusters is complaining.

NPR interviewed Ayabedejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who had written an open letter in response to Burns. That open letter becomes the point of attack today for NB’s Tim Graham, who called it “a profane, nasty open letter” and went on to pout:

"It's a little bit bizarre that NPR, that alleged beacon of quiet and civil discourse, wouldn’t take exception or even ask Kluwe about his profanity and rudeness."

Of course, Kluwe was responding to a hate-mongering politician who was trying to throw his weight around and get the owner of the Ravens to stifle the speech of one of his players. It’s hard to argue that a great deal of nastiness, profanity and rudeness isn’t entirely appropriate in such a situation but that’s exactly the case Graham tries to make. In the process, he turns reality on its head in classic Newsbuster fashion:

"His [Kluwe’s] first sentence was 'I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland’s state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level.' Kluwe’s one of those intolerant leftists who thinks conservatives should never speak or have a place at the table. No wonder NPR likes him."

So as Graham sees it, Burns, who actually did try to silence someone, isn’t the one who gets this abuse. Instead, Kluwe, for objecting to this effort, is the intolerant fellow who would silence those with whom he disagrees.

Graham also complains that the interview offered "no consideration of conservative questions" (from the questions he lists to demonstrate this, it offered no consideration of any liberal ones, either) and asserts that "one way the 'mainstream' media makes the liberal position the 'mainstream' is by ignoring the religious, conservative opposition..."[*] That persecution narrative again. The "religious, conservative opposition" in this case is a politician whose hatred of gays led him to blatantly use his position to try to silence someone for the crime of publicly disagreeing over same-sex marriage. Can anyone other than Graham seriously argue we should feel bad that he wasn’t interviewed, as well?

--j.

---


[*] The press doesn’t have to make "the liberal position the ‘mainstream'"; it already is the mainstream. Polling has shown overwhelming public support for official recognition of same-sex relationships extending back at least 8 years and majority public support for same-sex marriage since May 2011.

P.J. Gladnick Rewrites History of Occupy Wall Street Coverage

MRCWatch Dept. - Marking the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, P.J. Gladnick turned his Smarminess Meter up to 11 and attempted a major revision of history with regard to the early coverage offered that movement:

"Reuters has noted the one year anniversary coming this Monday of the Coffee Party, oops, I mean Occupy Wall Street. I can be forgiven for the error since both proved to be as big a flop as Joe Scarborough’s No Labels. All of these failed movements had one other thing in common: they were given a boost at birth with extreme media hype."

Later, he asserted that the Occupiers "must feel really down after the artificial buildup given to them by the MSM shortly after their birth last year."

In the real world, of course, the journalistic scandal of 2011 was the almost-complete lack of any significant coverage of Occupy Wall Street in its earliest days. Much of what little notice was paid the movement by the national press was sneering, contemptuous and dismissive.

Five days after the demonstrations began, the initial press blackout of the OWS demonstrations drew a rebuke from Current TV’s Keith Olbermann. Later, Jim Naureckas of liberal press watchdog Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) would punch the ol’ Nexis buttons for newspaper stories that mentioned Occupy Wall Street during the 5 days leading up to that broadcast. There were 17 articles, 10 of which were in foreign newspapers and 4 of which were in the same small Missouri paper. There was 1 article each in 3 different New York papers. And that’s all. Two days after Olbermann's objection, FAIR echoed it, rhetorically asking, “What if the Tea Party occupied Wall Street?” The article provided some info on the coverage to date:

"The anti-corporate protests have been lightly covered in the hometown New York Times: One piece (9/18/11) largely about how the police blocked access to Wall Street, and one photo (9/22/11) with the caption 'Wall Street Protest Whirls On.'

"The protests have been treated with brief mentions on CNN, like this one from host Wolf Blitzer (9/19/11): 'Protests here in New York on Wall Street entering a third day. Should New Yorkers be worried at all about what’s going on?'

"From the ABC, CBS and NBC network news, we could find nothing at all in the Nexis news database. On the PBS NewsHour (9/19/11), the protests got a brief reference, tacked on to the end of the stock market report."

The complaints about this lack of coverage didn't lead to any real coverage at first either. Instead, parts of the press began to cover their own non-coverage and to cook up rationalizations for not covering the demonstrations.

This is Gladnick's "extreme media hype."

Today's article wasn't Gladnick's first effort at sending this history down a Memory Hole. Back in February, he challenged the conclusion about the OWS coverage offered by a Current TV documentary:

"Few people watch Current TV so perhaps Christof Putzel, correspondent of that channel’s Vanguard show, thought he could broadcast a whopper on The 99 Percent episode about the Occupy Wall Street protests without being called on it. And Putzel’s grand fib (as one would politely label it) was his claim that 'much of the mainstream media mocked and dismissed the Occupy Wall Street movement.' Later in the show, Putzel doubled down on his whopper and flat out declared with no qualifiers that 'The mainstream media paints an unflattering portrait of the Occupy Wall Street movement.'

"And what samples does Putzel cite for this supposed disrespect for OWS? Since he can’t find any from the alphabet networks of NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS which have broadcast overwhelmingly glowing reviews of OWS, he was forced to show only clips from FOX News which sounded some discordant notes amidst the wall of general acclaim the OWS received from the MSM."

In fact, Putzel or anyone else examing the matter will, with fairly minimal effort, find a wealth of examples of the "unflattering portrait" of OWS painted by a lot of the press. On 21 Sept. 2011, the same day Olbermann complained about the press blackout, the Associated Press offered a piece that would come to typify the sneering contempt a lot of the “mainstream media” offered OWS:

"In a small granite plaza a block from the New York Stock Exchange, a group of 20-somethings in flannel pajama pants and tie-dyed T-shirts are plotting the demise of Wall Street as we know it… Welcome to the headquarters of 'Occupy Wall Street,' a place where topless women stood Wednesday morning on the corner shouting 'I can't afford a shirt!'"

Two days later, the New York Times ran its first major article on the demonstrations, an utterly contemptuous rant against OWS by Ginia Bellafante. Three days later, the Boston Globe’s Joanna Weiss wrote:

"It’s hard to take a protest fully seriously when it looks more like a circus–some participants seem to have taken a chute straight from Burning Man..."

A few days after this, the sarcasm-laden contempt was virtually seeping through the pores of CNN anchor Erin Burnett--so much so that it seemed to get in her eyes and she didn’t bother to get her story straight. At the New Republic, Alex Klein was telling the same story. Appearing on CNN on 16 Oct., the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens asserted that OWS was made up of “the same kind of extreme fringe you find at Ramsey Clarke marches.” Then, of course, there’s what the far-right press was saying about it. And on, and on, and on.[1]

Gladnick's "wall of general acclaim the OWS received from the MSM."

It’s worth noting that, while Gladnick slams Current’s Putzel for allegedly being "forced to show only clips from FOX News" to back up the charge that the press had portrayed OWS in an unflattering light, Gladnick himself, in grasping for a substantive example to support his case that OWS was "given a boost at birth with extreme media hype,"[2] not only offered the same comment by NBC’s Brian Williams in both his article today and in the one from back in February but also had to completely misrepresent it to use even it. Here’s what Williams said on NBC Nightly News on 5 Oct., 2011 (weeks, it should be said, after OWS began):

"We begin tonight with what has become by any measure a pretty massive protest movement. While it goes by the official name 'Occupy Wall Street,' it has spread steadily and far beyond Wall Street, and it could well turn out to be the protest of this current era."

Gladnick describes this as a "loving paean" to OWS and "the most laughable of the media hype" of OWS.

Sort of says it all, doesn’t it?

--j.

---

[1] After some weeks, OWS started getting regular coverage but mostly because of the insanely violent law-enforcement attacks on demonstrators.

[2] In the February piece, he also referenced a general Media Research Center "study" of coverage. For a look at what, in every case, passes for a “study” from the MRC, see here and here and here and here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sheppard Misleads His Flock In Fact-Checking Fact-Check

MRCWatch Dept. - Noel Sheppard has attempted to fact-check a fact-check offered by Minneapolis CBS affiliate WCCO-TV of an Americans for Prosperity ad. The ad is a blatantly misleading attack on Obamacare and admirably, the local news operation challenged it. That got Sheppard's dander up but lacking any real basis for his a priori conclusion that the fact-check was "truly bogus," Sheppard reverts to telling his sheep to believe his words rather than their own lying eyes.

The ad tells the story of a Canadian woman named Shona with a "life-threatening brain condition." She allegedly sought care in her home country, was allegedly told it would be months before she could see the relevant specialists--a title card says "Canada’s government-run health-care system was failing her"--and came to the U.S. for treatment instead. "I knew then that the [Canadian] system had become far more dangerous for patients than I had ever realized," she tells the camera. A title-card reads "But under President Obama, America’s health care is becoming more like the Canadian system that failed Shona." Shona tells the camera "the American system was there for me when I needed it and its time for Americans to get engaged in this debate" and the ad ends with an announcer intoning, "To protect America’s patient-centered care, we must replace President Obama."

The WCCO criticism of this was rather extensive and quite damning[1] but Sheppard zeroes in on only a single element of it:

"The Americans for Prosperity ad is based on a false premise--that the new healthcare law creates a government-run system. But it’s just not true. The U.S. has a private, insurance-run program."

This is where Sheppard objects; he says it's "not true" that the ad says Obamacare creates a government-run system. Apparently so confident that his readers will believe him rather than their lying eyes, he even provides a transcript of the ad. "Maybe WCCO needs a fact-checker to fact-check itself and its reporters," he suggests. Or maybe certain Newsbusters could benefit from some remedial classes in basic reading comprehension.

--j.

[1] The fact-check noted that Shona was afflicted with a Rathke cyst, which, WCCO reports, is “a slow-growing, benign lesion that causes vision loss.” The Mayo Clinic, where Shona sought treatment, diplomatically notes this is not something that is “typically fatal.” There is, in fact, no waiting period in Canada for treatment of life-threatening illnesses. WCCO cites figures that 8% of Canadians requiring surgery do wait up to 6 months but “only for non-threatening elective operations.” Sheppard doesn’t touch any of this.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New York Times Commits Journalism on 9/11, Newsbusters Vehemently Objects

MRCWatch Dept. - It started this morning, the 11th anniversary of the terror attack on the U.S., when, rather than following the general media trend of constant content-free wallowing in oh-so-solemn misery over the memory of those attacks, the New York Times actually decided to use the occasion for some serious journalism on the subject and ran an op-ed by former Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald.

It’s been a matter of public record for more than 8 years that then-“President” Bush was given a warning about a coming terrorist attack in a briefing by the CIA on 6 Aug., 2001. The content of that briefing was reflected in its title, “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in U.S.” It included information that a group of bin Laden operatives were in the U.S., that there may be preparation for a plane hijacking, that there had been surveillance of buildings in New York. Bush’s response was to take a long vacation and 36 days later, the terrorists struck. Eichenwald’s piece in today’s Times, "The Deafness Before the Storm," outlines how that 6 Aug. briefing was only one of many early warnings the Bush administration ignored. The intelligence community had, in fact, spent 3 months before that briefing repeatedly and vehemently warning the “President” about an impending strike, all to no avail.

The Newsbusters immediately recognized the explosive potential of the piece. Their response began early today, with an uber-short piece by Mark Finkelstein. His spin:

"For the New York Times, what better way to observe the 11th anniversary of 9-11 than by exploiting it for political purposes and seeking to blame George W. Bush?"

The reader will render whatever judgments he will about a writer from the resolutely Bush-supporting Newsbusters accusing anyone else of "exploiting" 9/11 "for political purposes." Of Eichenwald’s information, Finkelstein says

"Its gruel is thin when it comes to actually assembling a case of any real Bush-administration negligence.  And that is the best evidence that Eichenwald and the Times were not motivated by any sincere desire to review the historical record with the goal of preventing future lapses. Rather, this is cheap political exploitation and finger-pointing at its basest."

And that’s pretty much it. Finkelstein suggests its a slim case, then makes no case for it being so or for it being inaccurate in any particular. He simply attributes to it "low partisan purposes" without offering the first shred of evidence for this and leaves it at that.

That wasn’t enough, so Newsbusters returned to it a little later in an article by Matthew Balan, who wrote about Eichenwald's appearance on CBS This Morning. Balan's opening, echoing Finkelstein, says the morning show was hosting Eichenwald "eight weeks before the presidential election," an utterly gratuitous notation intended to suggest a political motive where none is in evidence. Balan called Eichenwald's article a "finger-pointing op-ed" and said Eichenwald was promoting a "new Bush-bashing book, where he hinted at the supposed religious extremism of the former President during the lead-up to the Iraq war." So the author is probably just some anti-Christian bigot trying to sell his book. Balan asserts that John Miller, a former assistant director of national intelligence, "tossed cold water on Eichenwald's accusations," which is a most curious characterization for what Miller actually said. In reality, Miller supported Eichenwald's "accusations":

"Well, I think what Kurt [Eichenwald] has stumbled into here is a bit of a well-worn path. We knew some of that. What he has added is the granularity of the actual memos and some of the actual words that were–that were there in front of the White House and the national security team. But, you know–and Richard Clark, who is the national security adviser for terrorism, in his book, 'Against All Enemies', he said all the lights were blinking red, and we were pushing this in front of Condi Rice every day and it was hard to get any priority on this. In George Tenet’s book, he details the briefings they were given. So, some of this we knew and… there’s some of it in terms of the level of detail we didn't know."

Newsbusters' third bite of the apple came a little over an hour later in the form of a Clay Waters article about the original Times op-ed. Waters cites Eichenwald's conclusion that Bush’s reaction to what he was being told, for months, by the intelligence community "reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed" and counters:

"Eichenwald's evidence of Bush's 'negligence'? Well, just trust him. The information is not public, and what he offers from his perusal of classified briefings is pretty thin"

The information "is not public," of course, because the Bush administration intentionally concealed it. Eichenwald did what journalists are supposed to do, what they should have been doing 11 years ago: he dug  it up and put it before the public. Real journalism of this sort is a rare thing in "journalism" today and, being absolutely essential to the sound functioning of a democratic society, merits praise. But because, in this case, it makes a significant right-wing public figure look significantly bad on a significant issue, Waters greets it with that snide remark, "Well, just trust him." Later, he notes that "Eichenwald is making the liberal media rounds," by which he means CBS This Morning, not any part of the actual liberal media--this, in Newsbusters-speak, is meant to impugn Eichenwald's integrity.

Waters' most remarkable moment comes when he quotes heavily from Eichenwald's piece, showing that the intel community had, indeed, been warning Bush about an attack for months, then, astonishingly, writes:

"As demonstrated, Eichenwald is suspiciously low on specifics to back his hyped-up accusation of Bush 'negligence.'"

I suppose one could call that the "don’t believe your lying eyes" defense. With "suspiciously," he manages to smear Eichenwald and, one supposes, he hopes no one notices the absurdity of berating the reporter for failing to provide extensive details in a brief op-ed. The article was based on research conducted for a book--those details will be forthcoming.

Waters writes that eight years earlier, when the memo of that damning 6 Aug. briefing was released, "several Times stories hit President Bush for allegedly missing clues to 9-11, despite the memo's distinct lack of detail." The notion that the memo lacked detail is tendentious, at best. As subsequent information--including today’s Times op-ed--has made abundantly clear, that briefing, to the extent that it was generalized, was so only because of Bush’s complete failure to demand investigation of the warnings he was being repeatedly given for a period of months. Bush, when faced with these warnings, didn’t try to get to the bottom of them. He didn’t put the government on high alert. He chose, time and time again, to do nothing.

No one could deny this is a remarkable story. It’s an important historical story. It’s a story that raises all sorts of questions. For political reasons, though, the Newsbusters gang is not only completely uininterested but thinks it proper to repeatedly attack, without any real basis, the integrity of both the reporter who has gone through the trouble to dig it up and inform we, the people, of it and the news outlets who have given him the space to do so.[*] All three Newsbusters articles suggested it was particularly inappropriate to carry the story on the anniversary of 9/11; all three made it plain their authors thought it was inappropriate to cover it at all. Newsbusters, the spirit of Anti-Journalism.

--j.

---

A personal note: I’m probably among the most vehement of the sane critics of the Bush administration (excluding, by "sane," nutty conspiracists or those who treat facts as optional) but I’ve always been quite critical of those who wanted to assign what I considered to be an inordinate amount of blame to the Bush administration for failing to prevent the terror attacks on the U.S. A terror plot happens between a few people sitting in a room somewhere in the world and there's simply no reasonable expectation that any government will be able to prevent all the mayhem that can ensue from that. Insisting on the expectation that it do so merely creates a rationale for an increasingly repressive government. In the end, that can't make anyone any safer but it can make everyone a lot less free. Bush’s actions prior to 9/11 were idiotic, totally irresponsible and negligent on a scale the subsequent carnage suggests was absolutely criminal and it is an important matter that should be documented. But ultimately, Bush is only human and the government he ran only a government.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ken Shepherd Inadvertently Exposes the Myth of a "Liberal Media"

MRCWatch Dept. - In a bumbling effort to outline his latest right-wing persecution fantasy, Newsbuster Ken Shepherd inadvertently makes the case against Newsbusters’ central premise of a “liberal media”:

"Suppose there were a Republican state legislator in Georgia, who also happens to also be an ordained Baptist minister, who sent a letter to the owner of the Atlanta Falcons–on official state legislature letterhead no less–demanding he keep his players from speaking out in favor of same-sex marriage. The media firestorm would be predictable."

As the astute reader can guess, this is exactly what did happen, but in Maryland, not in Georgia, and with a Democratic legislator, not a Republican one. Maryland Democratic delegate Emmet C. Burns, the Baptist minister in question, sent an outrageous letter to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti complaining that Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is campaigning against a ballot initiative aimed at overturning a Maryland law that allows for same-sex marriage:

"I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player. Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other.

"Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement. I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.

"I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.

"Please give me your immediate response."

Burns, who has a long and ugly anti-gay record, is on the state’s Economic Matters committee, charged with regulating, among other things, the Baltimore Ravens, which makes his tirade particularly sinister.

So an anti-gay pol tries to silence a supporter of gay marriage using utterly inappropriate strong-arm tactics. And where is the "media firestorm"? Shepherd is so lost in the usual right-wing persecution fantasy--he’s trying to insist there would be outrage if this was a Republican legislator--that he accidentally makes a significant point:

"...while there has been media coverage since the story broke in the middle of last week, it’s mostly been in print and online sources. A search of Nexis found no reporting by the broadcast network newscasts on this controversy."

So much for the "liberal media."

--j.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

“Step right up, folks! For only the click of a mouse, see the amazing Bozell the Seer!”

MRCWatch Dept. - In a spectacularly point-missing column devoted to whining that characters in the upcoming season of a horror series are behaving horribly, MRC ringmaster Brent Bozell regales us with his E.S.P. abilities. His target is AMERICAN HORROR STORY, a title that rather conclusively refutes any pleading that he didn’t know it was a horror story. This season, the FX series is presenting a tale of a “terrifying nun” who "dominates the inmates of a mental asylum named Briarcliff" and, in general, behaves badly.

Bozell doesn’t like that the series "will portray nuns as creepy villains." He describes series co-creator Ryan Murphy as a "fallen Irish Catholic homosexual (surprise)" and gratuitously quotes Brad Falchuk, the series’ other creator, as noting: "I’m a Jew." Then, he gazes into his crystal ball and, for his audience of assembled rubes, conclusively refutes Murphy’s contention about the series:

"Murphy told Entertainment Weekly he 'wants Catholic groups just waiting to be outraged by his show to know' that 'We show people who are really devoted to Catholicism and believe in its power. For the most part, the religious people in the show are making an attempt to do their best in a very difficult world.'

"Baloney. It is patently untrue."

All without having ever seen a frame of it! Now that’s media criticism!

Bozell will have his first chance to actually see AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM when it premiers on FX on Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 10/9c.

--j.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Chris Matthews Gets Something Halfway Right For A Change, Matt Vespa Objects

MRCWatch Dept. - Anyone of any prominence threatening the nut-right’s caricature of President Obama as a far-left socialist kinda' guy in an election year can certainly be expected to get kicked around a bit by Newsbusters. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said President Obama's speech last night to the Democratic National Convention demonstrated that the Democrats "are not a left-wing party" but are, instead, a "center-left" one and that Obama is "something of a moderate, not a lefty here--certainly not a socialist..." For Matt Vespa, them's fightin' words but his attempted take-down of Matthews today doesn’t have a lot of fight in it.

"Chris Matthews must be living in an alternate reality. The stimulus, ObamaCare, the autoworkers union bailout, the green energy executive order, the watered-down Dream Act enacted by presidential fiat weren't actions of limited government."

In this reality, it's true that every Republican in the U.S. House and all but three Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted against the Obama stimulus package. It’s also true that immediately after the vote, most of those same conservative Republicans began demanding a piece of the pie go to their states and districts and, having voted "no," returned home to take credit for all the money the stimulus was bringing in. Of 219 Republican members of congress at the time, 114 of them--over half the delegation--did this little dance. Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan was among them; in a story that received virtually no coverage in the corporate press that so regularly fawns over him, he lobbied the government for millions of dollars for a pair of companies in his home state.[1] Obama's support for the stimulus only makes him some uber-leftist in a world in which conservative Republicans are as well.

Similarly, "Obamacare" was a Republican health care plan created in the 1990s as an alternative to the Clinton health plan (itself derived from a Republican original). Republicans had intermittently advocated it for 15 years before Obama adopted it as his own and one of the "mitts" in that "intermittently" was Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts, implemented that very plan in his state. Obama chose it--a conservative plan aimed at propping up the failed insurance industry--in preference to the single-payer approach favored by the liberals. One of the only major progressive elements he included in his own was the "public option," which, in a back-room deal he cut with industry lobbyists, he then agreed, at the beginning of the health care debate, to abandon.

Vespa's "autoworkers union bailout" is what is known, in the real world, as the bailout of the auto industry. That wasn’t an invention of Barack "Kenyan socialist" Obama but of George Bush Jr., the most conservative Republican to ever occupy the U.S. presidency. It was before congress in Dec. 2008, before Obama had even become president, and again, Republican vp candidate Ryan voted for it.

The original Dream Act was authored way back in 2001 by left-wing nutjob Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)--in the real world, one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate. It has been introduced repeatedly over the last 11 years and the Bolshevist Bush administration incorporated major elements of it into its own comprehensive immigration reform package in 2007 (which failed).

Vespa complains about "$5 trillion added to the national debt" but $1.2 trillion of that was actually signed into law by Bush and as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has documented, policies initiated by Bush, rather than Obama, have been responsible for nearly all of the present and projected U.S. annual deficits. Obama certainly earns abuse for what has happened on his watch but his sin was in continuing to follow the policies of his conservative Republican predecessor, not in being, himself, any sort of big spender. Contrary to the Tax-And-Spend caricature Vespa seeks to invoke by raising this issue, around 70% of the present U.S. debt was incurred under Republican, rather than Democratic, administrations.

Vespa mentions elements of the poor economic performance of the Obama administration but none that touch on the Matthews assertions he's trying to refute. No one disputes the Bush-era economic collapse has been hard on the U.S. The Bush administration itself was hard on it.

That’s pretty much Vespa's case. If anything, it suggests that Matthews only erred by calling the Obama administration "center-left," when "center-right" would be more accurate.

--j.

---

[1] Ryan did this in writing then lied about it on at least two separate occasions before finally having to fess up.

Kyle Drennen on the Liberal Bias of Joe Scarborough

MRCWatch Dept. - Last year, over on my own blog, I wrote a series of articles called "Newsbusters & Me" wherein I outlined parts of the MRC gang’s modus operandi. In one, I noted that, in their usage, the word “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."

In another, I noted that

"Of the articles that appear on the Center’s Newsbusters blog, a large portion are devoted to simply complaining about the fact that someone somewhere offered a “liberal” (as they use the word) point of view, the implication being that this shouldn’t happen."

When I just punched up Newsbusters, the first article to appear was an example of both: Kyle Drennen devoting an article to throwing a spotlight on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough’s comparative analysis of the Repulican and Democratic conventions. Scarborough, appearing on NBC’s Today, was asked by host Savannah Guthrie, "Pound for pound, speech for speech, night for night, make a call, who had the better convention and who the most riding on it?" He replied:

"Oh, good lord, if we’re going pound for pound, round for round, this wasn’t Ali versus Frasier, this was Muhammed Ali versus Chuck Wepner. It was ugly."

Drennen didn’t like that very much.[1] He said Scarborough was "gushing over Democrats," noted that "the liberal crowd assembled around Scarborough at a bar in Charlotte all cheered and applauded" his words, and compared Sarborough’s analysis to Newsbusters "liberal" hate-figure Chuck Todd.

In the real world, Joe Scarborough is an extremely conservative former congressman from Florida. In his time in the House of Representatives, he racked up a career rating of 95% by the American Conservative Union.[2] That for offering his honest opinion he’s targeted by Newsbusters and held up as an example of liberal bias in the press says nothing about him and everything about Newsbusters.

--j.

---

[1] For the younglings out there who may not get the references, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were very evenly matched and fought one another in three incredibly brutal contests in the ’70s; by contrast, Ali fought Chuck Wepner in 1975 and, for the most part, beat the stuffings out of him, winning by a TKO in the final round. Though mostly a one-sided massacre, Wepner did at least manage to put Ali on the canvass once, so perhaps Scarborugh is overstating the Republicans’ effectiveness.

[2] Interest-group ratings can be a tricky business--such groups typically only rate candidates on a handful of issues, and, being aligned with one or the other party, stack the deck in order to make their team come out on top but Scarborough’s very high rating--it puts him among those rated the most conservative--is enough to dispel any notion he is to be regarded as a "liberal."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Washington Post Presents Democrats, Republicans As They Are, Tim Graham Objects

MRCWatch Dept. - Tim Graham, today, makes an effort at taking issue with a pair of Washington Post articles detailing the evolution of the respective platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties over the last 52 years but though he puts on the standard Newsbusters show of being Angry And Offended by them, he doesn’t offer any real basis for this reaction.

The core of his complaint is that Marc Fisher, who authored both articles, gave disparate treatment to the evolution of the two platforms:

"But last Wednesday’s piece on the GOP was headlined 'Over the past half-century, a strong shift to to the right.' And for the Democrats, a strong shift to the left since 1960? The headline today was 'In search of a balance between ideals and realities.'" (bolding by Graham)

Has there been any "strong shift to the left" by the Democrats though? The idea forms the core of Graham’s objection, but Fisher's article on the Democrats does a fairly solid job of debunking this notion, showing how the party has shifted back and forth between liberal and more conservative language on issues over the years. By contrast, Fisher writes, Republicans "moved in fairly linear fashion to ever-more conservative stances" on a broad range of issues. Both the Fisher articles offer a broad overview of the evolution of the two parties but to support his own premise about a sharp Democratic turn to he left, Graham singles out only a few right-wing hot-button issues: abortion, gay marriage, "bringing 'undocumented immigrants out of the shadows.'"

After mentioning that last one, Graham doesn’t touch it again, from which we can assume Newsbusters readers are simply supposed to understand that brown-looking foreigners with funny accents but without proper paperwork are supposed to be regarded with contempt by anyone except extremist liberals.

Fisher detailed the Democratic evolution on the issue of abortion rights; the party has always supported them but, consistent with the back-and-forth evolution Fisher documents (and that Graham is challenging), has sometimes included language acknowledging it's a difficult ethical issue for some and at other times hasn't. The present party platform's position on the issue isn't a majority one in the U.S. but it's much closer to the view of most Americans than the Republican platform, which calls for a "human life" amendment to the constitution itself, one that would ban all abortions under every circumstance, along with in vitro procedures for the infertile, embryonic stem-cell research, most contraceptives (if given the reading the reactionaries behind the proposal prefer) and would, in effect, require a federal murder investigation of every reported miscarriage.. A view so extreme that even Republicans reject it by overwhelmingly margins,[1] yet it has been included in the party platform for 28 years.[2]

Graham singles out "gay issues" as an area where, he complains, Fisher’s "contrast is especially egregious." He asserts the Democrats, this year, "lurch left" on such issues and quotes Fisher’s handling of this:

"This year’s plank breaks little new ground, although for the first time, its support for legalizing same-sex marriage is definitive and clear, and it commits to combating anti-gay activity around the world."

This burns Graham’s eyes! "When the Democrats embrace a new extreme, it's 'definitive and clear,'" he whines. The Democrats were hardly embracing any "new extreme" on this issue though, or any extreme at all. Polling has shown majority public support for gay marriage for a couple years now; for at least eight, overwhelming majorities--including overwhelming majorities of Republicans--have supported some form of legal recognition for homosexual relationships. The Democrats' position isn’t some strong turn to the left; it reflects the mainstream view within the U.S. It isn’t "extreme" but Graham complains that while Fisher doesn’t falsely present it as such, Fisher notes that the Republican platform position against gay marriage "grows longer and more strident every four years" after 1992. If there's any way in which this is unfair, Graham makes no case for it.

Graham, in fact, makes absolutely no case for any strong Democratic turn to the left and in essence, his complaint seems to be that Fisher presented the Democratic party as it is, rather than as the extremist caricature Graham wants it to be. The handful of issues he mentions support Fisher's thesis that Republicans have more-or-less consistently become more conservative while Democrats have evolved much less evenly. Though Graham doesn't seem to realize it, his last objection to Fisher also reinforces that thesis. Fisher had noted that the 2008 Democratic platform had "the strongest statement on civil liberties since the ’70s." Graham interjects:

"Fisher ignores that Democrats promised to close Guantanamo in 2008, and walked back from that in the 2012 platform, and doesn’t notice, as leftists have, that there’s no explicit reference in the new platform to Obama’s use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists. We don’t torture terror suspects, we kill them without interrogation? Fisher, like the rest of the media, doesn't notice Obama has been very forceful in using 'inherent' presidential power."

Even if Fisher ignores it, what this shows is, once again, that Democrats moved to the left then moved to the right. Just as Fisher said they do.

--j.

---

[1] An effort to implement such an amendment via a ballot initiative in one of the most conservative states in the U.S. (Mississippi) went down in flames by double-digits earlier this year.

[2] Update (Thurs., 6 Sept.) – And consistent with Fisher's narrative about the GOP moving ever further rightward, this year's platform includes, for the first time, language about abortion being bad for women's "health and well-being." This is an allusion to well-circulated--and patently false--right-wing claims about abortion causing cancer, infertility and mental illness.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ryan Invents New Janesville Narrative, Newsbusters’ Kyle Drennen Fails To Keep Up

MRCWatch Dept. - Kyle Drennen continued Newsbusters' defense of the indefensible Paul Ryan today, falsely claiming that NBC’s “Today” falsely claimed the Republican candidate had “played fast and loose with the truth” in his speech to the RNC.

Drennen’s subject was an interview of Ryan conducted on the morning program by Matt Lauer. The host’s first question:

"There are some people who are claiming that you played a little fast and loose with the truth on certain key elements. And I’m not just talking about Democratic analysts, I’m talking about some independent fact checkers. Would you concede that while many of the things you said were effective, some were not completely accurate?"

Ryan replied:

"No, not in the least, actually. What they're trying to suggest is that I said that Barack Obama was responsible for our plant shutdown in Janesville. That is not what I was saying. Read the speech. What I was saying is the President ought to be held to account for his broken promises. After our plant was shut down he said that he would lead an effort to retool plants like the Janesville plant to get people back to work. It’s still idle, people are still not working there... So my point was not to lay blame on the plant shutdown, it was, this is yet another example of the President's broken promises. In 2008, he traveled all around the country making promises that he broke, just like the one in Janesville."

Lauer said that, in his opinion, “it seemed like you were unmistakably trying to link the President's promise with the closing of that plant, which you know obviously, closed before he became president.” Ryan was having none of that:

"The promise was that he was going to open the plant. The promise was he was going to lead an effort to retool the plant so that people go back to work and it would be open for another hundred years, he said. So the point is, he filled people with all this hope as he traveled around the country running for president, making grandiose statements and promises, which are just not true... I know they don't like the fact that we point these facts out that they made a lot of promises that did not materialize. Janesville was just yet one more example of that."

Some facts: In his RNC speech, Ryan was discussing a campaign visit Obama, as a presidential candidate, made to the Janesville plant in February 2008. Contrary to Ryan's present assertion--which is a new claim--that was not "after our plant was shut down." It was, in fact, before GM had even decided to close the plant. That decision came months later, in June, with the plant-closing following in December. Obama made no "promise" that "he was going to open the plant"; at the time of his visit, the plant was open for business. Obama did, indeed, say that as president, he "would lead an effort to retool" plants like Janesville to produce the more fuel-efficient cars of the future but far from being a "broken promise," he has, in fact, done so. Paul Ryan knows this--while he trashes Obama for "broken promises" on this issue, his own now-infamous budget eliminates all funding for the largest program aimed at assisting this retooling. And while it's true, as Ryan said, that he didn't, in his RNC speech, claim Obama "was responsible for our plant shutdown," he did, in fact, make that charge two weeks prior to the Republican convention at a campaign stop in Ohio, as I detailed, here, last week. In that earlier piece, I noted that Ryan, in his convention remarks, was essentially walking back his earlier false charges; on "Today," this morning, he made this explicit.

In short, Ryan was questioned about his dishonesty and, in reply, simply lied some more.

Drennen offers a very different "interpretation." He quotes portions of this part of the exchange with Lauer, and characterizes Ryan's remarks thusly: "Ryan dismantled Lauer’s baseless claim."

Speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

Expanding those volumes to an encyclopedia, Drennen asserts that the fact-checkers who had challenged Ryan "actually left out several key facts, and yet, the media continues to run with the dishonest attack on Ryan’s accurate statements." To support this, he links to an editorial in the Washington Examiner but though this editorial misrepresents the Janesville issue in its own way,[1] it actually refutes the all-new narrative Ryan offered the Today audience. While Ryan’s new tale is that Obama visited the plant after it closed and promised to open it, the editorial correctly notes that both GM’s decision to close the plant and the actual plant closure happened long after Obama's campaign visit.

Since Drennen is asserting that Lauer made false attacks on Ryan in the context of Newsbusters' larger thesis--the false notion that the national corporate press is "liberal"--it's worth noting that Lauer allowed Ryan to get away with this, to sit before a national television audience of millions and weave a narrative that was fundamentally false in every respect.

Continuing, Drennen recounts:

"Lauer again tried to portray Ryan as dishonest in another part of the speech: 'Let’s talk about the example using the Simpson-Bowles recommendations… you voted against sending those recommendations to the Senate, basically killing any further action on them. Didn't you owe it to the people in that room to say that as well?'

"Ryan refuted: 'But if you read the next paragraph, I said Republicans offered alternatives... The President didn't do that. The President didn't offer a budget to fix the problem. The Senate hasn’t passed a budget in three years.'"

This is Ryan blatantly misrepresenting his own speech. Here, from it, are his remarks on the debt commission:

“He [Obama] created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.”

As Lauer suggested, the degree to which Ryan, in real time, regarded this report as "urgent" is made rather plain by the fact that he, himself, opposed it and voted against it. These remarks, in context, weren't a preface to comments about Republican "alternatives," either; they were a charge in a list of charges.[2] Lauer had, in his question, quoted Ryan's exact remark from the speech but Drennen, in his article, removed the quote, leaving only ellipses. I’ll leave it to the reader to speculate as to why.

--j.

---

[1] Actually, in the way in which the righty blogosphere has misrepresented it.

[2] As had been Ryan’s previous paragraph and as was his next: "Republicans stepped up with good-faith reforms and solutions equal to the problems.  How did the president respond?  By doing nothing--nothing except to dodge and demagogue the issue."

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ed Morrissey Offers Hot Air About Janesville Plant

My first contribution to "MRCWatch" yesterday dealt with NB's Matt Vespa and a brief piece he penned about matters related to the now-shuttered General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan had said some things about it that weren't true, some MSNBC hosts had objected and Vespa attempted to take them to task but only succeeded in making a first-rate mess of the issue. I noted that every fact-checking operation had refuted Ryan's remarks but that the righty blogosphere was defending them. One such defense comes from Ed Morrissey over at Hot Air. The venue is appropriate. Morrissey's conclusions are not.

Ryan had trashed the Obama for promising, during a visit he made to the Janseville plant as a presidential candidate, to keep the plant open then allowing it to close in 2009. Obama never made any such promise though, and GM decided to close the plant before he ever became president. The plant was essentially closed in December '08--its main line was discontinued, its workforce (thousands of employees) was fired and only a skeleton crew of a few dozen people were kept on for a few more months to finish a last pending order by Isuzu.

Morrissey concedes the decision to close the plant was made in '08--that, alone, puts him a head over some of the clowns who have attempted to defend Ryan--but while insulting Ryan's critics as being without research skills, he, himself, makes a complete mess of the basic facts of what happened and when.

Morrissey flushes any hint of intellectual honesty right up front by playing the same game as the rest of Ryan's defenders, pretending as if that skeleton crew finishing that final order meant the plant was still open for business in 2009 and that Obama made a "promise" to keep it that way. He quotes Ryan from the RNC speech:

"President Barack Obama came to office during an economic crisis, as he has reminded us a time or two. Those were very tough days, and any fair measure of his record has to take that into account. My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory.

"A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.

"Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight."
The bolding there was by Morrissey. Continuing from this quote, he writes:

"Ryan acknowledged that the plant had already been slated for shutdown in 2008. That was his point. People voted for him [Obama] because they thought Obama represented hope to get the plant back in operation. In fact, that had been known since at least February 2008, when Obama came to Janesville to speak, and specifically addressed the plant closure in his remarksdelivered at the plant itself--and promised to keep it and other plants like it open 'for the next hundred years'." [emphasis by Morrissey]

Here, Morrissey has been snagged by one of Ryan's lies. While Ryan directly implies, in the part Morrissey bolded, exactly what Morrissey said--that it was known at the time of Obama's campaign stop that the plant was going to shut down--that is, in fact, false. Obama's visit to the plant occurred in Feb., 2008; GM's decision to close it was first made and announced four months later, in June. Obama, lacking a time-machine, never addressed the plant closing in his remarks at that stop. So where did Morrissey get that notion? Well, after insulting the reading comprehension skills of Ryan's critics, he either completely misreads what Obama said or chose to misrepresent it. The former is the most likely explanation because the poor fool quotes Obama very noticeably not saying what Morrissey attributes to him:
"It was nearly a century ago that the first tractor rolled off the assembly line at this plant.  The achievement didn’t just create a product to sell or profits for General Motors. It led to a shared prosperity enjoyed by all of Janesville.  Homes and businesses began to sprout up along Milwaukee and Main Streets.  Jobs were plentiful, with wages that could raise a family and benefits you could count on.

"Prosperity hasn’t always come easily.  The plant shut down for a period during the height of the Depression, and major shifts in production have been required to meet the changing times.  Tractors became automobiles.  Automobiles became artillery shells.  SUVs are becoming hybrids as we speak, and the cost of transition has always been greatest for the workers and their families.

"But through hard times and good, great challenge and great change, the promise of Janesville has been the promise of America--that our prosperity can and must be the tide that lifts every boat; that we rise or fall as one nation; that our economy is strongest when our middle-class grows and opportunity is spread as widely as possible.  And when it’s not – when opportunity is uneven or unequal--it is our responsibility to restore balance, and fairness, and keep that promise alive for the next generation.  That is the responsibility we face right now, and that is the responsibility I intend to meet as President of the United States. …

"Those are the steps we can take to ease the cost crisis facing working families.  But we still need to make sure that families are working.  We need to maintain our competitive edge in a global by ensuring that plants like this one stay open for another hundred years, and shuttered factories re-open as new industries that promise new jobs.  And we need to put more Americans to work doing jobs that need to be done right here in America.
That's the full portion of the Obama remarks quoted by Morrissey and it's Morrissey's bolding as well. Obama refers to a point in the past when the plant shut down, talks about steps that can be taken to make sure that never happens again and Morrissey decides this is a reference to a coming plant shut-down, one that had neither been announced nor even decided until months after these remarks.

He concludes:

"Ryan had it exactly right, and the fact checkers have made a mockery of their own profession by stepping all over their own biases to refute Ryan."

In Morrisey's defense, at least he can honestly say facts are definitely not his own profession.

--j.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Matt Vespa Makes A Hash Of It

MRCWatch Dept. - In an effort to slam MSNBC hosts Ed Schultz and Al Sharpton, Newsbusters’ Matt Vespa managed, in only a few short paragraphs, to make an incredible mess of just about everything regarding a matter addressed by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan last night in his acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention. The issue causing all the fuss is the now-shuttered General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. The background:

Two weeks ago (Aug. 16) at a campaign stop in Ohio, Ryan said:

"That plant was shut down in 2009. I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he’ll keep that plant open. One more broken promise. We used to build Tahoes and Suburbans. One of the reasons that plant got shut down was $4 gasoline. You see, this costs jobs. The president’s terrible energy policies are costing us jobs."

...which was a fictitious narrative. Candidate Obama did indeed visit the Janseville plant in February 2008 but he made no promise to "keep that plant open,"[1] nor, setting aside the fact that presidents have no power to dictate such decisions, would there have been any need for any such promise--at the time of Obama’s campaign stop, GM hadn’t yet decided the plant would be closing. That only happened four months later. In June, 2008, GM announced it would be shutting down production of medium-sized trucks at the plant by the end of 2009 and SUVs by 2010 or sooner, shuttering the plant. As it turned out, the plant didn’t even make it to the end of the year. In October, 2008 came reports that GM may close the plant earlier than expected. Candidate Obama called it "a painful reminder of the tough economic times facing working families across this country," and

"also a reminder that Washington needs to finally live up to its promise to help our automakers compete in our global economy. As president, I will lead an effort to retool plants like the GM facility in Janesville so we can build the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow and create good-paying jobs in Wisconsin and all across America."[2]

On December 23, 2008, a month before Obama became president and well before he could enact "terrible energy policies" or any other policy, the plant essentially shut down, giving the sack to thousands of employees.



Janesville Autoworkers Pose with the Last Vehicle Off the Line, 23 Dec., 2008

Only a skeleton crew of a few dozen were maintained beyond that and only to complete an outstanding order of vehicles for Isuzu, work which concluded a few months later in April. Ryan’s narrative was nonsense but became a well-circulated talking-point in right-wing circles.

In his speech to the RNC last night, Ryan talked about the Janesville plant again, significantly modifying his earlier remarks:

"When he [Obama] talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory… Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you… this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight."

During MSNBCs post-speech coverage, hosts Ed Schultz and Al Sharpton took issue with Ryan’s false narrative, pointing out that the plant was closed during the Bush administration, before Obama had even become president.

Newsbusters’ Matt Vespa was having none of that: he asserts that, in last night’s speech, Ryan "reiterated that President Barack Obama promised to keep the plant open, but then shut it down." But, in fact, Ryan dropped any overt reference to this claim from his RNC speech.[3] Where did Vespa get the idea Ryan had "reiterated" it? Vespa links to a right-wing blog, which does, indeed, say:

"During Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech, he talked about a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin that he said closed down after President Obama made a promise that it would remain open."

Vespa apparently interpreted this as meaning Ryan had reiterated his earlier claim and never bothered to listen to the actual Ryan speech.

In his zeal to bash Schultz and Sharpton, Vespa doesn’t even get straight his own charges against them. In response to Ryan’s comments, he writes, "the left-wingers went rabid, and supported the false narrative that the plant was closed by George W. Bush." As Vespa’s own video clips show though, neither Schultz nor Sharpton claimed "the plant was closed by George W. Bush." They, instead, noted--correctly--that the plant had been closed during the Bush administration.

Vespa characterizes their comments as "patently false remarks" and asserts that "in actuality, the plant closed in June of 2009." To support this, he quotes and links to an article from the Janesville Gazette, but in neither the portion he quotes nor in the longer article is there any claim that "the plant closed in June 2009." Instead, the article notes that "General Motors will end medium-duty truck production in Janesville on April 23, four months to the day after the plant stopped building full-size sport utility vehicles." And that’s exactly what happened. Today, the righty blogosphere, in an effort to defend Ryan, has widely circulated the notion that the skeleton-crew held over to finish up that last order meant the plant was still open for business until April '09. That’s apparently where Vespa picked it up; the right-wing blog to which he links offers that particular spin. By any fair analysis, that spin is a fundamental misrepresentation of reality, while what Vespa calls 'patently false remarks' and a 'false narrative' by those 'left-wingers'--the 'rabid' ones--were correct.

Vespa concludes this mess by asserting "it appears that Mr. Schultz and Mr. Sharpton are, unsurprisingly, wrong. It was closed under the Obama administration." In the real world, every fact-checking outlet under the sun has refuted Ryan’s remarks.[4]

--j.

---

[1] In the relevant remarks, Obama, speaking of the transition to clean energy autos, said: "…I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years. The question is not whether a clean energy economy is in our future, it’s where it will thrive. I want it to thrive right here in the United States of America; right here in Wisconsin; and that’s the future I’ll fight for as your president."

[2] Something Obama has, in fact, done as president. GM has so far chosen not to make use of these incentives to retool the Janesville plant but in another twist on this story, Paul Ryan’s infamous budget proposal, which nearly every Republican in both houses of congress voted to pass, completely eliminates the biggest of the programs offering these incentives. That’s certainly no way to get Janseville retooled and running again and no ground on which to stand while accusing someone else of failing to make it happen.

[3] Though he transformed his earlier claim into a more general one about the failure to deliver a promised recovery, Ryan’s inclusion of the Obama comment was clearly a coded reference to that earlier claim, an inference aimed at the Republican base among whom that claim had circulated.

[4] Some of those fact-checkers have gotten various elements of the story wrong but their conclusion is correct.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Looks Like Media Only Matter Until You Criticize Media Matters (UPDATED below)

I've been a regular reader of and commenter on the work of liberal press critic Media Matters For America since its birth in 2004. Two days ago, I wrote about my relationship with MMFA:

"Since its inception, MMFA has done a lot of good work. I've promoted that work over the years, praised it, expanded on some of it. Maybe half-a-dozen MMFA articles in earlier years were the result of tips I provided. Sometimes, when I've thought the work fell short, I've criticized it. Not, I think, unfairly, though readers will certainly judge that on their own."

This month, I've had occasion to offer up some more of that criticism,  more of that criticism, principally that MMFA has become overly fixated on Fox News in the last few years and that, as a consequence, coverage of Fox is consuming MMFA's output to the point that the org is ignoring the real giants of the press, the major vehicles by which right-wing misinformation is disseminated to the public. I conducted a little survey of MMFA's total output for a 13-day period and showed that over 60% of it was directed at Fox News, while very little had been devoted to the largest press outlets in the U.S. Yesterday morning, to further this point, I made a count of Monday's output and posted it in MMFA's comment section:

Mon., 27 Aug., 2012
Total MMFA items: 21

Fox News items - 13 (nearly 66% of total)
Rush Limbaugh items - 2

Items on Cable News Channels:
1 about CNN and Current (also included in Fox count)
CNN - 1

Items on the Major News Networks:
CBS - 0
NBC - 0
ABC - 0

Items on 5 Biggest Papers in the U.S.:
Wall Street Journal - 0
USA Today - 0
New York Times - 0
Los Angeles Times - 0
San Jose Mercury News - 0

MMFA Self-Promotional Items - 2

I have to reproduce this count here rather than linking to the one I posted at MMFA because the one I posted there has been deleted. And based on it, I was, yesterday, entirely banned from posting comments on MMFA.

I've been banned from a lot of sites over the years. I'm a born contrarian, outspoken and a lefty who makes it a point to challenge conservatives on their own turf. In a world in which serious dissidents are increasingly regarded merely as party-poopers rather than people whose ideas should be addressed and debated, this gets me tagged as a troublemaker. I consider it a matter of personal pride that I've been thrown off Newsbusters not once but twice, for no other violation of their terms of use than holding left views, being somewhat articulate in expressing them and refusing to back down from nonsense. I expect that sort of behavior from a vile, reactionary Ministry of Truth like Newsbusters. That this is how much of the right handles dissent is part of why I write this blog. I do not expect this sort of behavior from liberals and particularly not from Media Matters.

In my Monday article, I suggested that MMFA's obsession with Fox News inadvertently fuels one of the very notions MMFA exists to counter, the idea that the national corporate press are "liberal media." Spending so much time on a single outlet everyone acknowledges as conservative implies that even a liberal press watchdog that claims it "comprehensively" monitors media can find very little in the rest of the press about which to complain. Monday, another commentator on MMFA suggested to me that in offering what I'd hoped would be some constructive criticism, I could be doing the work of Fox News--tearing down MMFA. I found it a fundamentally wrongheaded notion and said so. I find myself wondering what that fellow would think of what's happened with me. I haven't just been banned; most of my comments from the last few days were flagged and have now been removed by MMFA mods.[1] It's a well-circulated conservative caricature of liberals that they're intolerant of dissent. MMFA's actions in this matter couldn't have more entirely played into that if the caricature's author himself had been behind them.[2] My ban from MMFA treats the world to the spectacle of an allegedly liberal organization that behaves in this most illiberal manner. I've slammed Newsbusters for being an org devoted to criticizing the work of the press that will not, itself, tolerate criticism of its own work. It seems it's no longer alone in this.

And if you're out there, who is doing the work of who?

--j.

---

[1] In recent days, I attracted the attention of a first-rate asswipe who posts on MMFA under the name of "montanabuddha." He was in such a hurry to pour bile over anything that would be critical of MMFA that he didn't even bother to look at the criticism itself and thought my perspective was that of a right-wing apologist for Fox News. I believe him to be responsible for most of the flagging of my comments.

[2] UPDATE (3 Sept., 2012) - An article at the right-wing Daily Caller from as recently as 17 June recounts a speech Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had just given in which he singled out Media Matters, describing it as "a left-wing organization in Washington whose stated purpose is to track conservative media voices, seize on potentially offensive content and then use it to mount corporate intimidation campaigns aimed at driving these voices clear out of the public square." MMFA, of course, does not have that as its "stated purpose" and McConnell made other ludicrous comments about teh org as well but while the speech itself, as recounted in the article, is nonsense, it is an example of conservatives crafting that caricature.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Do Media Really Matter To Media Matters?

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote Edward Carrington that "were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." Probably the single most quoted (and misquoted) remark ever recorded on the subject of the free press. Both an informed population and news media that act as a check on power are indispensable bulwarks of democracy.

Of course, today's huge corporate media entities don't care very much about quaint, 18th-century liberal notions of their place in society. Their concern is to attract an audience in a prime demographic to sell to advertisers. They aren't a check on the Establishment. They are the Establishment. We live in an age in which most "journalism" is merely crude stenography and where--most bizarrely, it seems to me--news outlets  consider "fact-checking" a thing entirely separate from normal reportage and set up special, segregated apparatuses like Politifact to handle it.[1] The need for a firm, watchdog press hasn't gone away though. In this modern world, in fact, it's more important than ever. When the press fails to live up to its responsibilities, the watchdog needs watchdogs. Big, loud, mean ones that keep it up all night when it fails to do its duty.

I don't suppose my regular readers will find at all surprising the importance I attach to thoughtful, intelligent press criticism. These days, press criticism can, in my view, be just as important as the press itself. The various venerable institutions that toil in this particular vineyard include Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, the Columbia Journalism Review, and Project Censored.[2] The most prominent, however, is Media Matters For America.

Everyone loves a story of redemption and MMFA was born in 2004 of founder David Brock's desire to make up for his years spent as a right-wing hatchet-man and sleaze-merchant. Since its inception, MMFA has done a lot of good work. I've promoted that work over the years, praised it, expanded on some of it. Maybe half-a-dozen MMFA articles in earlier years were the result of tips I provided. Sometimes, when I've thought the work fell short, I've criticized it. Not, I think, unfairly, though observers will certainly judge that on their own. MMFA has the potential to be an invaluable resource, as, indeed, it once was.

That it is, unfortunately, falling well short of this in more recent years is a source of disappointment. And also of articles like this.

MMFA describes itself as a "progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media." In its own telling, the organization

"put in place, for the first time, the means to systematically monitor a cross section of print, broadcast, cable, radio, and Internet media outlets for conservative misinformation--news or commentary that is not accurate, reliable, or credible and that forwards the conservative agenda--every day, in real time."

MMFA crafts articles "documenting conservative misinformation throughout the media."

That's quite a task. Insofar as the national news media are made up of huge corporate interests that are themselves part of even larger corporate interests, they are, by definition, conservative entities. This is a direct conflict with their purpose in a democratic society, to act as that check on power. They are power and they have agendas of their own that rarely coincide with too much rocking of the boat. The range of debate and of opinion that is allowed within the press culture is quite narrow, often excruciatingly so, and is heavily skewed to the right.[3] MSNBC's discovery, in recent years, that liberals not only exist but often make good news-show hosts has improved this situation somewhat. It's certainly quite a change from the days, only a few years ago, when the channel's managers fired Phil Donahue for questioning the Bush administration's warmongering against Iraq[4] and much of the larger press had a no-liberals-allowed policy. But MSNBC has, unfortunately, become a segregated entity,[5] inaccurately characterized as a liberal mirror of Fox News. Most of the rest of the press is still playing the same old game--framing issues in a conservative-friendly manner; obsessing over pop trivialities and "human interest" stories that affect no one at the expense of coverage of actual issues of public importance; outright burying important stories that would be inconvenient to the powers-that-be; staging "debates" in which righty bomb-throwers are matched against mushy moderates and even those with no discernible politics at all; eschewing hard questions of those with power in exchange for access to them; embracing a false notion of "balance" that reduces reporters to stenographers who record only competing claims by political factions and make no effort to inform the public of which is correct or truthful--a false "balance" that, perhaps most egregiously, presents radically disparate misdeeds by opposing factions as if they were equal and defuse what would be public discontent with corruption by persistently suggesting "they all do it."

Given all of this and the fact that what, at present, identifies itself as politically "conservative" absolutely wallows in misinformation, misrepresentation and falsehood, an entity like MMFA would seem to have its work cut out for it. One would expect to punch up its website on any given day and see, consistent with its stated mission to comprehensively monitor the press, articles exposing this conservative misinformation in a wide range of media outlets.

And one expecting that would be disappointed.

Media Matters may suggest media matter but the only outlet about which it really seems to care very much these days is Fox News. I see this every day but I wanted some hard numbers, so I tracked MMFA's complete output for a period of 13 days, including both articles and audio/video clips (which are offered without commentary). From 8 Aug. to 20 Aug., MMFA ran a total of 199 items. Of that, 108 were about Fox News and another 12 were partially or mostly about Fox.

While the fact that MMFA spends over 60% of its time on a single media outlet is, in and of itself, fairly damning, it's even worse when one puts this in the larger context of the press in the U.S. While Fox News is, overall, the highest-rated of the cable news networks, the highest-rated program on Fox, the O'Reilly Factor, draws about 3 million viewers while the lowest-rated network evening newscast--the CBS Evening News, at present--is averaging about 5 1/2 million. The highest-rated network evening newscast at the moment--NBC Nightly News--just drew over 7.8 million viewers. That same week,[6] the three network newscasts, all of which run against one another, had over 20 million viewers. And that's just the evening newscasts. The networks also have morning, prime-time, late-night, and weekend news programming.

MMFA barely touches these behemoths. In the 13-day period of my survey, MMFA ran 3 research articles about the failure of the networks (and other news sources) to adequately cover various aspects of climate change. There was, in this period, only one additional item about any aspect of the CBS News apparatus (an article about a Mitt Romney interview with CBS This Morning), two items about ABC, both about the same episode of ABC's This Week (an article about comments by a Fox commentator and a video clip) and three items about or partially about NBC--one about remarks by a former Fox News commentator and the other two about one installment of Meet The Press. That's it. Eight articles and one video clip--less than 5% of MMFA's output (and even two of those have a Fox connection).

With print media, the story is much the same. The five biggest newspapers in the U.S.--the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News--have a combined average daily circulation of 6.7 million. During the period of my survey, those three research articles already noted address climate change coverage by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USA Today. In addition to that, the Wall Street Journal got two articles, plus a third that barely mentions them; the New York Times got only one article; USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News weren't the central subject of any. So even given the most charitable reading, seven articles (less than 4% of MMFA's total), only four of which are unique (less than 2% of the total).[7]

Now, of course, not all media outlets are equal. If one goes strictly by bulk, Fox News is certainly a purveyor of more right-wing nonsense than anyone else. Bullshit is, in fact, its primary--nearly sole--product. That's what makes it such an easy target. It's the easiest thing in the world to write about Fox News--just turn it on anywhere, take in the first thing that's said, check the veracity of it, which will inevitably be found wanting, and write an article. Repeat. That's MMFA lately, perpetually shooting the arthritic fish in a really small barrel that is Fox News while allowing the big dogs to roam the range at will, often to offer up, with complete impunity, exactly the same nonsense for which Fox is being criticized.

While Fox generates the most nonsense though, the major vehicle by which right-wing misinformation is delivered to the public isn't Fox or the far-right press it represents. It is, rather, the same vehicle by which news itself is delivered to the public: this large mainstream press MMFA is mostly ignoring. While this author has, for some time, had in mind something like this article, the thing that finally spurred me to undertake it was the incredibly poor press coverage of a series of recent and related issues and MMFA's complete failure to call foul on it.[8] I would argue that it's far more important to counter right-wing nonsense delivered via that mainstream press. It is pervasive there. It reaches a far greater audience. It has a greater impact and and much more serious consequences.[9] MMFA used to cover much more of it. It should do so again.

I'll end with this: One of the many pernicious lies of the American right is that the national corporate press is "liberal media," controlled and dominated by a hardcore, hostile left. Generally (though not always) divorced in present-day usage from its anti-Semitic origins,[10] the charge is relentlessly made by the American conservative elite as a means of undermining the confidence of its followers in any source of information outside its sphere of control and, more broadly, to undermine the entire notion of an objective fact. The success of this campaign is one of the most serious problems facing the U.S. at this time, a large portion of the population that has come to believe puerile political fantasies of the moment can define and dictate reality itself. Fox News is acknowledged by everyone to be a right-wing outlet. When a progressive media watchdog devotes so much of its time to that single right-wing outlet while mostly ignoring everyone else, it only feeds that "liberal media" lie and the mania behind it. It says to afflicted righties that even a hostile liberal organization that comprehensively monitors the press finds little in that press about which to complain except material from a committed conservative outlet. In brief, whatever good MMFA can still be said to do, the Fox obsession can be said to make it part of the problem.

That's very unfortunate. It should change.

--j.

---

 [1] Special apparatuses that often do just as poor a job as the regular reporters and have an even greater capacity for misinforming due to their pose as "non-partisan" fact-checkers.

 [2] Right-wing outlets devoted to press criticism, such as the Center For Media & Public Affairs, Accuracy In Media and especially the Media Research Center, don't actually practice media criticism but function, instead, as Ministry-of-Truth-style reality-control projects, principally concerned with manipulating a segment of the population for political ends and wholly unconcerned with the truth.

 [3] While conservatives are omnipresent and even outright reactionaries with protofascist views (Pat Buchanan, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, etc.) are warmly welcomed as commentators by much of the press, radical lefties are entirely absent and, outside of MSNBC, liberal die-hards are exceedingly rare.

 [4] Eliminating, in the process, the only show on which skeptical views were even being aired.

 [5] Al Gore's Current TV, having roped in some refugees from MSNBC, is trying the liberal host route. As with MSNBC, results are mixed.

 [6] And I'm using that week because during the previous one, which also fell within the scope of my survey, NBC's ratings were artificially high as a consequence of its Olympic coverage.

 [7] For further contrast, while MMFA ran 13 unique items on the total output of the networks plus the five biggest newspapers, it ran 16 items concerned with right-wing radio talker Rush Limbaugh, plus another 4 that were either partially about both Limbaugh and Fox or were about Limbaugh reacting to or repeating something on Fox. The network + newspaper audience is in the tens-of-millions; Limbaugh's show is said to draw about 3.5 million listeners per day but the various systems for rating radio are notoriously shaky and it's probably even less.

 [8] I wrote about them in recent days here and here. The short version is that MMFA challenged Fox News on the Chick Fil-A matter but gave the rest of the press, which was just as guilty as Fox, a pass and when it came to the coverage of the Family Research Council in the aftermath of the attempted terrorist attack on it, MMFA was entirely missing in action--even when Fox News obsessed about it for days, that became one Fox story MMFA didn't touch and hasn't touched.

 [9] To mention but one really big example, Fox News wasn't the reason the Bush administration was able to lie the U.S. into a war with Iraq; the absolute refusal of the rest of the press to do its job and challenge administration claims was.

[10] The charge, as born decades ago, was "liberal Jewish media."