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."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Journalistic Malpractice Rearding the Family Research Council

Earlier this week, I wrote about the failure of most of the "mainstream" corporate press to inform the broader public of Chick Fil-A's financing of reactionary anti-gay hate groups. This financing was the basis for liberal activists' objections to the company but the narrative far too often--and lazily--proffered by most of the press was that these activists were merely upset by Chick Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy's boneheaded remarks about marriage. This misrepresentation, carefully manipulated by right-wing media figures like Mike Huckabee, fueled the backlash that led to "Chick Fil-A Appreciation Day." Wednesday, the Family Research Council, just one of the hate-groups financed by Chick Fil-A, was the victim of an apparently politically motivated attack by a gunman with what has been described as "material from... Chick Fil-A in his bag." For even half-blind journalists looking to explain the incident, that should be a large-enough roadmap to read, obvious enough dots to connect. One would hope they would use this opportunity to finally apprise the larger public of the fact that Chick Fil-A finances the FRC and scores of similar groups and to inform their audience of exactly what a group like the FRC does that makes it so objectionable that someone would want to take a gun to its headquarters and start shooting. One would hope. For the most part though, it's just been more of the same fumbling around in the darkness by the press, withholding these crucial facts and spinning, in their stead, potentially harmful narratives.

On the day of the attack, the shooting was covered on the evening news broadcasts of all three major networks but the coverage was scant, and uniformly featured characterizations of the FRC that veered from inappropriate innocuity to proactively misleading. NBC Nightly News identified the FRC only as a "conservative lobbying group." The CBS Evening News noted only that the FRC was "a conservative Christian lobbying group." ABC's World News Tonight, which had the most detailed coverage, described the FRC as "a powerful conservative group", as "a powerful conservative organization", as "one of the nation's best known conservative groups on family issues" and as an organization that "promotes conservative Christian values on issues like abortion and gay rights." A hate-group? What hate-group? Viewers are left, by such reports, with the impression that someone merely wanted to shoot up a group of conservative Christians. Just for good measure, ABC reporter Pierre Thomas threw in this...
"Sources say the suspect had material from fast food giant Chick-fil-A in his bag but it was unclear whether today’s incident has any connection to the recent controversy over gay marriage. The chain’s owner recently set off a political firestorm saying he opposed gay marriage."

...reinforcing that earlier misrepresentation of activist anger over Chick Fil-A and making it sound as if the shooter may have just been randomly touched off by Dan Cathy's comments about marriage! Just as with the hate-group business, none of these reports disclose that Chick Fil-A finances the FRC.

The coverage offered the incident the next day on ABC's Good Morning America made it even worse. Anchor Josh Elliot opened the segment on the incident like this:

"ABC News has confirmed the alleged gunman, Floyd Corkins, was a volunteer at a local LGBT center. Police now looking into whether the targeted group's opposition to same-sex marriage played a role and whether the recent controversy over Chick-fil-A could have, in fact, set him off."

Reporter Pierre Thomas largely rehashed his report from the previous evening but added new details:
"Authorities suspect Corkins, 28,... was about to unleash a deadly barrage of gunfire. His target, the headquarters of one of the nation's best-known conservative groups on social issues, the Family Research Council... There's mounting evidence this morning that Corkins [the shooter] was angry at the policies of the Family Research Council, which promotes Christian, conservative values on issues like abortion and gay rights. ABC News has learned that Corkins had recently worked as a volunteer at a community center for gay, lesbian and transgendered people. Sources say he had items from fast food giant Chick-fil-A in his bag, but it was unclear whether Wednesday's incident had any ties to the recent controversy on gay marriage. The company's owner recently set off a political firestorm, suggesting he opposed gay marriage. The Family Research Council supported that stand."
Again, the impression is even more strongly reinforced that a fellow who is probably gay wanted to shoot up the FRC because of its "Christian, conservative values" and may have done it because the FRC backed Chick Fil-A's Dan Cathy when he spoke against gay marriage. As with the previous evening's network coverage, there wasn't so much as a peep about the FRC's decades-long record of peddling false hate propaganda against the gay community or of its designation as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center based on those activities, not even a hint that the FRC, uniformly described in innocuous terms, is even controversial; Thomas's description of it as "one of the nation's best-known conservative groups on social issues" makes it sound entirely mainstream. And, of course, the bankrolling of its activities by Chick Fil-A remains unreported.

This isn't just routine rush-to-get-it-done sloppiness, nor are these omissions and misrepresentations unimportant. The FRC has spent decades portraying homosexuals as anti-Christian, as predatory pedophiles, as monstrous people who should be criminalized and systematically drummed out of society. While this gained the FRC that "hate group" designation and the disapprobation of the decent, the unforgivably shoddy reporting on this present matter could actually be used to imply that FRC was right about those evil gays all along. At the same time, the FRC and much of the rest of the far right has spent the last few days playing the victim, claiming activists' denunciations of the FRC, rather than the activities of the FRC, have created a climate of "hate" against these nice conservative Christian people. This coverage only furthers that ludicrous narrative.

Not all of the coverage has been this degree of bad, of course.  An exception--an unfortunately rare one--happened the day after the shooting, when CNN's Early Start featured, as a guest, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (an anti-gay-marriage astroturf org). Brown called the FRC "a mainstream group," which is ludicrous, and an org "that stands up for traditional values," which is, at best, a gross misrepresentation. Such characterizations are key elements in the far right's persecution narrative regarding this matter; they also closely resemble those offered by the news coverage just outlined. On the SPLC's designation of the FRC as a hate group, Brown offered what had become the standard nut-right spin, saying "that sort of talk, that sort of labeling and attack is totally irresponsible and unacceptable and I think this incident makes that clear." In his little speech, Brown called for civility, at which point host Zoraida Sambolin confronted him with a taste of the FRC's idea of "civility," only one of the infinity of outrageous things the org has published over the years:

"One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order."

Sambolin's simple follow-up question--"Isn't that hateful, in your opinion?"--deflated Brown like a pierced balloon; with a straight face, he was forced to deny that was a hateful comment, to pretend as if it offered, instead, some debatable notion with which people could honestly agree and disagree and to assert that "by no means can you say that, just because of a statement like that, this is the same as the KKK or the Aryan Brotherhood. That's totally unacceptable." He snickered when he said "by no means," as if he was either such a lunatic that he genuinely thought the comparison absurd or could barely contain his own laughter upon making such a ludicrous comment of his own.

The same day Brown publicly self-destructed, the Washington Post's allegedly liberal Dana Milbank started slinging exactly the same goonish hash. His breathtakingly stupid op-ed characterized the FRC as "a mainstream conservative think tank" and said its critics "are reckless in labeling as a 'hate group' a policy shop that advocates for a full range of conservative Christian positions, on issues from stem cells to euthanasia." Not just because this kind of talk "can stir up the crazies" but because "it's absurd to put the group... in the same category as Aryan Nations, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Stormfront and the Westboro Baptist Church." And, in case we missed it the first time, Milbank rewrites that same line three or four times before he's finished. Milbank denigrates the SPLC because "Exhibit A in its dossier [against the FRC] is a quote by an FRC official from 1999 (!) saying that 'gaining access to children has been a long-term goal of the homosexual movement.'" If Milbank had bothered to read further, instead of just stopping at the first item, he'd have noticed that the fictitious portrayal of homosexuals as predatory pedophiles--only one of the FRC's offenses--isn't some long-ago, one-off aberration but is, instead, a long-running theme of the FRC. Instead, he just throws in that cutesy exclamation point and writes:

"Offensive, certainly. But in the same category as the KKK?"

...which, when one looks at the FRC's history, only begs the question of what, exactly, it would take for Dana Milbank to consider an org as being "in the same category as the KKK." Milbank repeats and endorses the National Organization for Marriage line that "labeling pro-marriage groups as 'hateful' must end" and says "those who support gay rights will gain nothing by sticking inflammatory labels on their opponents, many of whom are driven by deeply held religious beliefs." He doesn't bother to explain what "deeply held religious beliefs" lead the FRC to consistently make incredibly vicious and demonstrably false accusations against homosexuals, grossly misrepresent social science data and pimp outright junk science and the work of hatemongering bigots like Paul Cameron, all to the same end--defaming, dehumanizing and demonizing the gay community.

When the Chick Fil-A matter exploded into prominence, lefty press watchdog Media Matters For America flayed Fox News for concealing the source of the activists' anger but gave the rest of the national press--much of it just as guilty of exactly the same obfuscation--a pass, failing to offer a single article taking to task any other press outlet. In the four days since the shooting, in the face of this horrendous reporting, MMFA hasn't run a single article on this subject. Not an article challenging these journalistic lapses. Not an article challenging a clown like Milbank. Not one article on any subject related to the shooting at all. Even with Fox News all over the story for days and wallowing in the far right's nonsensical spin, MMFA, which has been absolutely obsessed with Fox in recent years, hasn't touched it. While the press helps the right defame liberals and homosexuals, the media watchdog is off chasing butterflies.

That's a damn shame..

--j.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

No Tears For the Family Research Council

The aftermath of Wednesday's shooting at the Family Research Council has gone down pretty much the way this writer expected it would. The far right jumped all over the incident, running their usual victimization routine. Tony Perkins, the current head of the FRC, did this little dance at a press conference the very next day:

"Let me be clear, Floyd Corkins [the shooter] was responsible for firing the shot yesterday that wounded one of our colleagues Leo Johnson. But Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations 'hate groups' because they disagree with their public policy. And I believe the Southern Poverty Law Center should be held accountable for their reckless use of terminology that is leading to the intimidation and what the FBI has categorized as an act of domestic terrorism."[1]

Most far-right media outlets are reading from this same script. That those at the FRC have chosen this route just reinforces the need to point out and condemn, as loudly and forcefully as possible, their anti-gay activities. Many shy away from such sentiment, their knee-jerk reaction being that, after such an ugly incident, it sounds uncomfortably like apologism for this would-be terrorist Corkins. They're wrong. It does nothing to excuse Corkins to note that the FRC's extremely ugly and sustained efforts to demonize a small and inoffensive segment of the population is morally repugnant, a thing to be condemned in the strongest terms by all people of good conscience. Shed no tears for the FRC; they haven't earned a one.

One is tempted to nab a cliché and say those at the FRC are extremely lucky they've managed to operate in the manner they have for as long as they have without having ever drawn that sort of reaction but the truth is that luck has nothing to do with it. The lack of violence aimed at them speaks to the forbearance--the often saint-like forbearance--of not only the community they attack and dehumanize but the whole of the liberal society they disdain and seek to dismantle at every turn ("should be held accountable"); the liberal society that makes a virtual civic religion of respect for the freedom of speech; the liberal society that extends to them the right to propagate their repugnant views and even their right to lie in furtherance of them--the latter a right they exercise with clockwork regularity. That they face, as a consequence of their activities, only the disapprobation of the Southern Poverty Law Center--and of every American worthy of the label--is both a credit to the society they disdain and a particularly damning indictment of their contempt for it. That liberal society will punish Floyd Corkins for what he did. If another Corkins appears, it will try to stop him and to punish him, as well. And the FRC will be free to continue to spread its poison, just as it was before.

That doesn't mean it must continue though. But it will. Even something like Wednesday's attack, something that could have turned into a real horror show, apparently didn't inspire one moment of pause or reflection on behalf of anyone at FRC; no thought that maybe they'd gone too far and that maybe they should tone it down, or--heaven forbid--even apologize for any of the poisonous lies they've spewed for decades. Instead, they're off blaming someone else and calling for their critics to be silenced, so they can continue to do what they've always done.

And the FRC's critics should continue to hammer away at it. People dislike Tony Perkins and the FRC because of what Perkins and the FRC do, not because of what some third party says about them. No stain of guilt or of terrorist apologism can attach to those who denounce, in the strongest possible terms, the wretched work of the FRC, if said criticism is true and fair. And it is both. Perkins' efforts to intimidate the FRC's critics should only encourage them to be louder and even more active in their criticism. Something they should be, now, anyway.

--j.

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[1] The big lie at the heart of this is that the Southern Poverty Law Center designated the FRC a "hate group" because of a policy disagreement. As the SPLC has noted, the FRC was so designated because of its decades-long record of peddling demonstrably false propaganda aimed at defaming and villainizing the gay community.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Family Research Council, Hate & A Shooting

This morning, a fellow identified as Floyd Corkins entered the Washington D.C. offices of the Family Research Council with a gun and a lot of ill-intent. He fought with and wounded a security guard before being subdued. Early reports identify Corkins as a volunteer at the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and--fill in the usual caveats about jumping the gun here--it seems likely his actions were politically motivated, a terrorist strike against the organization.

On its "about" page, the Family Research Council (FRC) describes itself as "the leading voice for the family in our nation’s halls of power." Sounds rather innocuous. Why would anyone want to strike at that?

Perhaps, it has something to do with the fact that the FRC has spent decades portraying homosexuals as predatory pedophiles. Those at FRC say things like this:

"One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order."

That's a quote from an FRC pamphlet from 1999. Its title: "Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex with Boys." And there's things like this:

"Gaining access to children has been a long-term goal of the homosexual movement."

That's from 'Homosexual Behavior and Pedophilia," a screed authored by Frank York (of Focus on the Family) and Robert Knight, FRC Director of Cultural Studies, and published by the FRC in 1999. Current FRC president Tony Perkins tells the same tale.[1] From 2010:

"While activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two... It is a homosexual problem."

Knight, in his decade at FRC, wrote numerous anti-gay tracts for the organization and employed, as source-material, the work of Paul Cameron of the Family Research Institute. Cameron's "research" portrays homosexuals as subhuman disease-pits who enjoy pedophilia, eating and wallowing in shit, putting gerbils up their asses and who have hundreds and even thousands of sexual partners per year and die at a young age. Such "research" led to Cameron's expulsion from the American Psychological Association and his consistent misrepresentation of scientific data has acquired for him a long list of condemnations from various professional associations over the years. His work has absolutely no scientific validity but it has the one ingredient most important to the FRC.

To hear the FRC's Steven Schwalm tell it, gays stand opposed to everything good and decent in the world:

"Militant homosexuality is fundamentally opposed to religion, family, and anything that presupposes a natural moral order, a transcendent God, or something else higher than ourselves... They are totalitarians who accuse everyone that disagrees with them of 'hatred'... They mock our religious symbols, deride our beliefs, and even desecrate our churches and sacraments."

Indeed, the FRC has even compared gays--even gay Christians--to Satanists. In 1997, when President Clinton held an ecumenical breakfast at the White House, merely inviting one gay minister among the 120 religious leaders taking part in it made then-FRC president Gary Bauer go ballistic:

"We are witnessing the Administration's moral meltdown. What's next? A memorial to Church of Satan founder Anton LeVay?"

The FRC's Peter Sprigg, writing in 2010, asserted that "homosexual behavior is directly associated with higher rates of promiscuity, physical disease, mental illness, substance abuse, child sexual abuse, and domestic violence..."

The FRC has made it very clear that, in its view, American citizens who are homosexuals are to be allowed absolutely no part in public life. In 1999, when Bill Clinton nominated James Hormel, a homosexual, to be U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, Schwalm was, of course, furiously opposed:

"This is about the basic issue of civilization. We think his agenda represents a clear and present danger to our country."

His "agenda," of course, being merely that he is gay. When, a few years after Hormel, the new President, George Bush the junior, nominated a gay man to run the Office of National AIDS Policy,

"The Family Research Council's Richard Lessner called the nomination 'troubling and regrettable' and argues it is 'inconsistent with values that the president maintains he stands for.'"

And so on. The FRC has consistently opposed any appointment of homosexuals to any government posts and, of course, has a decades-long record of advocacy for throwing homosexuals out of the military.

After the AIDS office appointment, then-FRC president Ken Connor offered a look into the minds of those at the FRC when he sent to his minions an ugly message in which he trashes Bush as one whose actions "advance the homosexual agenda." How, you may ask, did the uber-conservative Bush do this terrible thing? In Connor's telling, he appointed three gay fellows to minor government posts, once met with a gay Republican group, once allowed a gay Republican congressman to speak at the Republican convention and appointed, as ambassador to Canada, a fellow who says he supports gay rights. As Connor, sees it, even just talking to homosexuals or listening to them is an offense and merely suggesting they shouldn't face legal persecution joins homosexuality itself as a sufficiently serious offense that those who commit it are to be blacklisted from government service.

Any place for gays in the private sector?

Businesses and organizations stand condemned by the FRC for anything other than the sternest opposition to homosexuality. In June, when the Republican National Committee hired a gay man to work on their finance committee, it drew a furious objection from the FRC. In the '90s, when American Airlines adopted a policy of non-discrimination against homosexuals, then-FRC president Gary Bauer condemned this as "open endorsement of sexual behavior that has been universally discouraged because it is immoral, unhealthy and destructive to individuals, families and societies." Target's support of a gay rights group put the company in the FRC's crosshairs; the same thing happened with McDonald's.

Does the FRC think homosexuals have any place in life at all?

The org has, for years, pimped the line that homosexuals are mentally deranged people who can be "cured" via "reparative therapy"--junk "science" that is psychologically harmful to its victims and to which the FRC clings despite the fact that it is soundly rejected by the professional scientific community. Like Cameron's "research" though, it has the one and only ingredient that matters to the FRC.[2]

The FRC also has a long record of advocacy for criminalizing homosexuality. In 2003, a case went before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging Texas' anti-sodomy law. A man had been arrested and criminally sanctioned for having consensual sex with another man in the privacy of his own home. Those at FRC filed a brief on behalf of upholding the law, and were, of course, very publicly outraged when the court struck it down. In 2010, the FRC's Sprigg appeared on MSNBC's "Hardball" program and reaffirmed FRC support for criminalizing homosexuality. Sprigg has also suggested homosexuals be deported, and refused entry into the United States.[3] In June, the FRC issued a prayer target list that condemned the Obama administration for working to overturn anti-gay laws abroad, some of which send gays to prison for years upon conviction--the document asked FRC's followers to pray that their god restrains the Obama administration from these activities.

When, in 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student whose only "crime" was being gay, was accosted, tortured and murdered by anti-gay thugs in Laramie, Wyoming, it was suggested by those with some grasp of rudimentary logic that perhaps the virulent anti-gay sentiment emanating from elements of the far right may have helped create the atmosphere and attitudes that led to this sort of thing. The FRC's Heather Farish was having none of that:

"Farish vehemently rejects such allegations. 'Don't blame AA because a drunk was beat up,' she said."

In the face of a sudden spate of teen suicides linked to anti-gay bullying, Perkins, in 2010, hacked out an article in which he forthrightly rejected the notion that those who rail against homosexuality--people like himself--have any responsibility for teens hounded to an early grave by self-righteous bigots. Rather, he laid the blame for the suicides at the feet of gay rights organizations:

"Some homosexuals may recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal--yet they have been told by the homosexual movement, and their allies in the media and the educational establishment, that they are "born gay" and can never change. This--and not society's disapproval--may create a sense of despair that can lead to suicide."[4]

In 2010, legislators in Uganda, spurred by far-right activists from the U.S., crafted a now-infamous bill that would have imposed the death penalty on homosexuals. If that wasn't extreme enough, it also provided that one can be sent to prison for up to 3 years merely for failing to report a homosexual act within 24 hours and any repeat of that crime of failure to report also subjects one to the death penalty. But when it comes to homosexuals, it seems nothing is too extreme for FRC chief Perkins, who, in June 2010, championed this bill on his weekly radio alert, grossly misrepresenting it in order to sell it. President Obama had just publicly condemned the bill, remarks Perkins characterized as demonstrating "his preoccupation with defending homosexuality." He continued:

"The President criticized Ugandan leaders for considering enhanced penalties for crimes related to homosexuality. The press has widely mischaracterized the law which calls for the death penalty, not for homosexual behavior which is already a crime, but for acts such as intentionally spreading HIV/AIDS, or preying upon vulnerable individuals such as children, which has been a problem in Uganda for years because the large number of orphans. The President said that 'We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are.' Mr. President as long as you characterize efforts to uphold moral conduct that protects others and in particular the most vulnerable, as attacking people, civility will continue to evade us."

The notion that the bill only offers "enhanced penalties" for "intentionally spreading HIV/AIDS" or for pedophiles is a lie offered by its stateside defenders such as Accuracy In Media (a pro-fascist organization).  When the U.S. Congress took up consideration of a resolution condemning the proposed Ugandan legislation, the FRC spent $25,000 lobbying congress to, in its words, "remove sweeping and inaccurate assertions that homosexual conduct is internationally recognized as a fundamental human right."

That's the Family Research Council. For every item I've mentioned here, there are hundreds of others of the same character--the story has always been the same.[5] The org has spent decades purveying demonstrably false propaganda portraying homosexuals as subhuman degenerates, predatory pedophiles out to get your children, anti-family, anti-religious, disease-ridden junkie militants who live short, depressed lives, mentally deranged people who can be "cured," who, as homosexuals, have no place in society. People who should be made illegal, both at home and abroad, perhaps even killed. This is why the Southern Poverty Law Center has correctly labeled the FRC a "hate group".

This, on the other hand, is the characterization of the org offered by Kathleen Gilbert, writing over at the conservative LifeSiteNews today:

"The people at Family Research Council hate no one, and are the kindest people you will ever meet."

Her article is, I suspect, going to be typical of the right-wing response to today's shooting. A narrative will emerge that those at FRC don't hate anyone. They're just all about good, wholesome Christian values and their problem is that they've been victimized by those mean ol' queers and those mean ol' liberals who hate on them so much for no good reason and whose hatred finally drove one of their own to want to shoot up the good, inoffensive people of the FRC. The far right will try to use this narrative against the FRC's critics, as, indeed, that's the only reason it's being crafted in the first place. The worst of them will barely be able to contain their glee at this rarest of birds, a left-wing terrorist incident inside the U.S. There will be no self-evaluation, no suggestion that the FRC's own activities may have provoked the incident, no consideration that perhaps this sort of hate propaganda needs to be dialed back and there will be no pause--those activities will continue unabated.

As I write these words, it's already going on. While 27 LGBT orgs immediately condemned today's violence, the far right has rushed to play the victim, craft their narrative of persecution, and wallow in it, while demanding the FRC's critics shut up and go away.

I have a better idea. And you've just read it.

--j.

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[1] Tony Perkins has a checkered history. As manager of Republican Woody Jenkins unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign in 1996, he ponied up nearly $100,000 to get access to the mailing list of former KKK leader David Duke, later filing false disclosure forms to conceal the source of the list. In 2001, he gave a speech to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a virulently racist group that, as the White Citizens Councils, had fought racial integration in the '60s.

[2] Following FRC tradition, Peter Sprigg, currently "Senior Fellow For Policy Studies" at the FRC, has quite a history of distorting and misrepresenting legitimate research to serve anti-gay ends. At FRC, honesty and accuracy consistently take a back seat to bigotry.

[3] "I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States, because we believe homosexuality is destructive to society."

[4] Sprigg has pimped this same line: "The most effective way of reducing teen suicide attempts is not to create a 'positive social environment' for the affirmation of homosexuality. Instead, it would be to discourage teens from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual."

[5] And the FRC's targets are much more numerous than just homosexuals. Jerry Boykin, the FRC's current vice president, has said Islam is "a totalitarian way of life" that "should not be protected under the First Amendment," and has suggested Barack Obama may be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Media Matters Fails To Pluck Press Over Chick Fil-A

Press criticism is pretty important these days. Owing to the very poor quality of contemporary journalism, it has become just as important as journalism itself. We need competent, intelligent, thoughtful press criticism now as much as ever.

One of the most prominent press watchdogs in the U.S. is the liberal Media Matters For America (MMFA). Unfortunately, they have, in my view, been falling down on the job lately. Usually rather badly.

A recent example that will help illustrate what I think is becoming a real problem with MMFA's work is a 1 Aug. article by Justin Berrier, "Fox's Campaign To Defend Chick-Fil-A From Its Anti-Gay Record."

Hold that thought; there's quite a bit of backstory here:

In July, Dan Cathy, the CEO of the fast-food chicken chain, had, in a radio appearance, gone on a tirade against gay marriage:

"As it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say 'we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage' and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about."

For nearly a year, various liberal groups, including Media Matters' own Equality Matters project, had been trying to bring to public attention the fact that Chick Fil-A was funding, to the tune of millions of dollars, some of the worst anti-gay groups in the U.S. The information got to activists. It hasn't made a dent in the mainstream corporate press. Cathy's public comments served to bring the matter to a head. The Jim Henson Company, which had created toys for Chick Fil-A, announced it would no longer be doing business with the chain. A New York activist began urging gays and lesbians to trek to Chick Fil-As around the U.S. and stage a same-sex kiss-in. There were immediate rumblings of a boycott.

Enter Mike Huckabee, the reactionary Fox News host and former Arkansas governor. He declared that Chick Fil-A was "being smeared by vicious hate speech and intolerant bigotry from the left" and began a campaign for a "Chick Fil-A Appreciation Day":

"Let's affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1. Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we're considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant."

And, of course, huge crowds then turned up to eat the chain's overpriced chicken, producing record profits.

When it comes to critiquing the work of the press, the most important angle here is the virtual press blackout of Chick Fil-A's funding of anti-gay groups. Instead of covering this, the reason why activists were so strenuously objecting to the company, most press outlets explained the protests as merely a reaction against Cathy's comments,[1] the very framing being offered by reactionaries like Huckabee. Largely without rebuttal, Huckabee and many of the conservative and far-right press outlets in the U.S. (which ran with his narrative) were allowed, absent any real rebuttal, to accuse liberals of aiming "hate speech and intolerant bigotry" at Chick Fil-A and whine about being tagged as bigots while pleading for people to support a company that was pouring millions of dollars a year into orgs like the Family Research Council, Exodus International, etc.--hate-groups that portray homosexuals as subhuman, as predatory pedophiles, as mentally deranged people who can be "cured," as people who have no place in society and should be should be made illegal.

The public comments of many Chick Fil-A supporters bear out their lack of knowledge of the relevant info. From the Washington Post:

"Brandon Small, 29, a sales manager for a Largo firm, said, 'This protest [against Cathy's comments] just seems like another form a religious persecution. The owner of Chick-Fil-A wasn’t talking against gay people he was expressing his own views.'"

From the Chattanooga Times-Free Press:

"Because I support traditional marriage does not mean I'm against you," he [customer Bill Baker] said. "For them to take it out of context and say, 'I'm not going to support you because you believe in that' -- there's not a reason to boycott."

A letter to the editor of the Holland Sentinel of Michigan by a Mr. Bob Bruns:

"I don’t read bigotry in his [Dan Cathy's] words. Is this 'hate speech'?"

Do you get the idea that Brandon Small and Bill Baker and Bob Bruns have never heard about Chick Fil-A funding those anti-gay groups? Those sorts of comments from Chick Fil-A supporters were all over the press and internet on "Chick Fil-A Appreciation Day," and in the days that have followed.

Now, it's certainly the case that a lot of the people who turned out at Chick Fil-A just hate homosexuals, and there's no help for them. A lot of them misguidedly thought they were making some sort of religious point. But a lot of them were genuinely unaware of what's really at issue here and it's because the press hasn't told them.

That's something worthy of the attention of any media watchdog. It has, unfortunately, received very little from MMFA. Instead, MMFA's only article on the subject from "Appreciation Day," that Berrier piece I mentioned earlier, focused merely on Fox News covering up the chain's anti-gay giving. MMFA completely ignored the fact that most of the rest of the press was covering up or downplaying this information too. MMFA states, as its mission, correcting right-wing misinformation in the press. The major vehicle by which right-wing misinformation is delivered to the public, though, isn't the relatively sparsely viewed Fox News; it's the mainstream corporate press, the press MMFA has ignored here, the press MMFA has increasingly began to ignore in general in favor of a lopsided focus on Fox. If one wants a grunt, a pig will offer many; going after the Fox gang on such matters is shooting arthritic old fish in a very small barrel. Spending too much time gathered around that barrel is allowing the really big fish--the important ones--to get away. Those at MMFA have, unfortunately, become obsessed with Fox and a handful of other far-right outlets like Rush Limbaugh, to the detriment of their role as a press watchdog.

This needs to change.

--j.

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[1] A few examples: the Associated Press, ABC News, the New York Post. As it served their purpose to do so, a number of the far right's more prominent pundits did everything they could to foster that false notion that the controversy was over Cathy's comments, and turn the whole thing into a matter of "hateful" gays vs. devout conservative Christians. This usually led to defenses of Chick Fil-A that, like Huckabee's, became positively surreal.