Saturday, May 30, 2015

Deterring Democracy 2

MRC Watch Dept. - Series Intro: The excruciatingly narrow spectrum of opinion allowed in major media is a fundamentally conservative bias, but one the writers of the Media Research Center will certainly never acknowledge. Rather than trying to democratize media, they seek to even further constrict that spectrum. To deter democracy. A lot of the articles churned out by the MRC are merely devoted to scandalizing the fact that anyone who holds views with which the MRC disagrees is even allowed to offer such views in any media outlet.

Tim Graham, who is the Executive Editor of Newsbusters, the Director of Media Analysis for the Media Research Center and MRC chief Brent Bozell's ghostwriter, has just offered up another example of this. He devoted his Saturday article to complaining that when the New York Times' gang celebrated forthcoming film festivals, "they were especially happy with left-wing films about 'social justice.'" Actually, it was only one Times writer, Mekado Murphy, the Times senior movies editor -- Graham makes it a "they" in an effort to indict the rest.

Graham further falsely claims "they highlighted the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, sponsored by the left-wing lobby of the same name." In reality, the HRW festival was only one of nine festivals covered by the article; it isn't listed first, no special attention is given to it and, in fact, fewer words are devoted to it than to any of the others. The article is simply a rundown of upcoming film festivals, and the HRW festival is one of them.

Graham doesn't have any substantive complaint. His gripe is merely that items that sound to him as if they may have some left point of view are being mentioned as potentially good movies instead of being ignored.

--j.

The previous entry in this series: Deterring Democracy.


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that advocates a vibrant media democracy and frowns on the efforts of the Media Research Center to constrict it even further.]

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Lying Eyes 5: Bernie Sanders on Rape An Akin?!

MRC Watch Dept. - The MRC gang wants its readers to think it has a real scoop on its hands today. Well, sort of a second-hand scoop. On Tuesday, Mother Jones ran a biographical sketch of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders which included, among other things, a reproduction of a brief piece Sanders had written in 1972 for the Vermont Freeman. This morning at MRCTV, Dan Joseph jumped on that reproduction and tried to turn it into a major scandal; Tim Graham then pimped Joseph's article on Newsbusters. What's all the fuss about? In Joseph's telling:
"In a 1972 essay, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) opined that men fantasized about women being abused.  He also claimed that women fantasized about being gang raped."
That sounds like a scandal all right!

The problem: It isn't true.

Joseph and, later, Graham are offering up a laughably false characterization of the article, even as, in Joseph's case, he reproduces it, thus debunking himself. Yes, folks, it's yet another case of Don't Believe Your Lying Eyes, a favorite pasttime at the MRC, wherein the org's writers regularly tell their readers to ignore plain words in plain English in favor of their own politically motivated falsifications of same.

The Sanders piece at the center of this faux-controversy is a bit of social commentary about various toxic elements in gender relations, issues that, in 1972, were being brought to the fore by the feminist movement (to which the piece alludes). It's offered, stream of consciousness-style, through a tale of an unnamed man and woman, including dialogue between the characters and a tragic ending.

Joseph focuses only on Sanders' opening lines:
"A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused.
"A woman enjoys intercourse with her man -- as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously."
This theoretical man and woman are what the MRC writers attempt to convert to all men and women, asserting, as Joseph puts it, that Sanders "opined that men fantasized about women being abused" and "claimed that women fantasized about being gang raped." To bolster this misrepresentation, Joseph goes a step further, saying the article is entitled "Men-And-Women." Its actual title, visible in Joseph's own reproduction of it, is "Man - and Woman." Graham gets the title right but keeps the misrepresentation and adds some of his own,[1] referring to the article as "an essay that Sanders wrote in February 1972 about the 'typical' rape fantasies of men and women." In reality, the word "typical" is only used in connection to the specific fantasy of that particular theoretical man (just as quoted above) and the article isn't "about" this at all -- the article briefly questions from whence such urges may have arisen then moves on. Joseph says his misrepresentation of those opening lines represent "[Sanders'] thoughts on male and female sexuality" and "[Sanders] early views on sexuality," while Graham calls them "Bernie's unique sexual theories."

Joseph's article is particularly slimy. He writes, "Sanders didn't specify as to how he had gained such a deep understanding of the male psyche," adding that "in terms of his understanding of female sexual fantasies, Sanders provided similar insight... It is unclear where Sanders acquired his early expertise on male and female sexual desires." And:
"Perhaps Sanders gets a pass due to his early work at a psychiatric hospital (No, he wasn't a patient.)..."
And so on.

In standard Conservative Persecution Mode, Joseph asserts that "what is clear is that had Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum wrote something along these lines--even 40 years ago--the media wouldn't stop talking about it for weeks." Graham approvingly quotes this, then writes, "The proof of that assumption is the Todd Akin hullaballoo of 2012" (Joseph alludes to Akin as well). Back then, Missouri GOP Senate candidate Akin, when asked if abortions should be denied to even rape victims, stated that, in cases of "legitimate rape," the female body has ways of preventing impregnation. As could be expected, a firestorm of coverage and condemnation ensued. And, contrary to Graham's assertion, if Sanders ever says anything that moronic and outrageous, the same will happen to him. That hasn't happened here and, unfortunately for Joseph and Graham, most people who have no reason to suspect their own eyes do believe what they see, which means this non-story is probably going nowhere.

--j.

---

[1] Graham also asserts that "Mother Jones dropped a little bomb on the Bernie Sanders campaign," as if MoJo had offered up some bombshell report. In reality, the MoJo piece draws no special attention to the Sanders article; it's merely reproduced as an example of something Sanders had written when, at that point in his life, he was doing some freelance journalism. Notably, Graham doesn't link to the MoJo article.

The Sanders article:



Previous entries in this series:

Tim Graham: Don’t Believe Your Lying Eyes on Steve Schmidt

Jeffrey Meyer: Don’t Believe Your Lying Eyes Redux

Lying Eyes 3: Shepherd Tries To Mislead the Sheep

Lying Eyes 4: Whitlock Says Don’t Trust ‘Em On Obama Remarks


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that is rather skeptical whenever the Media Research Center suggests its eyes are lying.]

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

In Attack on Climate Change Activist, Larsen Snorts Koch

MRC Watch Dept. - Tuesday, billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer appeared on the PBS Newshour. Steyer, a big political financier, talked about, among other things, the influence of money in politics.
"...the way that money is used in campaigns isn't good for democracy. It's just in a situation where we felt there's an immense amount of money on the other side and as long as this is the system that the Supreme Court has put in place, there's gotta' be somebody on our side. And when you look at the relative dollars, it really is a David and Goliath situation, and we’re very definitely the small shepherd boy with five rocks and a sling."
This analogy was far too much for the MRC's Alatheia Larsen. "Apparently Tom Steyer knows his Bible better than he knows math," she snipes. "Or perhaps he just hasn’t had a heart to heart with his accountant in several years." Larsen, it seems, knows sniping better than she knows journalism. Of Steyer's shepherd boy comment, she writes,
"The analogy might be cute, but it’s also factually incorrect... Contrary to that image, Steyer was the number one political contributor in the 2014 election cycle. He gave $74 million through his NextGen Climate PAC to push the climate change issue during the election. The Koch brothers, who Steyer attacked in the interview, gave a combined $7.7 million towards the 2014 election - only slightly more than one-tenth of Steyer’s contributions."
But the data she cites from the Center for Responsive Politics only covers individual federal contributions; the Kochs have an entire network of orgs engaged in this activity. In November, as the 2014 campaigns wrapped, the National Journal reported
"The two groups at the heart of the Koch brothers' political network spent a combined $100 million on competitive races in 2014, spokesmen for the organizations tell National Journal."
For those who know the Bible better than math, that's over 14 times the amount Larsen attributes to the Kochs, and that's only accounting for two of the many Koch groups. Overall, the Koch network organizers reported in June that their goal was to spend $300 million in 2014. And when all is tallied, they'll probably have hit that mark (as the Washington Post documented, the network spent over $400 million in the 2012 cycle). Steyer's $74 million can't help but look rather puny by comparison.

While any analogy of a billionaire to a "small shepherd boy" may, in itself, be strained, the David/Goliath comparison isn't, relatively speaking, inappropriate here. The Koch network intends to spend nearly a billion dollars on the 2016 cycle. To put that in context, Tom Steyer's total net worth is reported to be $1.6 billion. David? Probably not. But against the Goliath of the Kochs -- net worth: over $80 billion -- it probably feels that way.

As always, while doing the dirty work of Big Oil by peddling an outrageous lie to to attack a climate-change activist, Larsen fails to disclose the fact that her own employer, the Media Research Center, has been partially financed by oil and gas interests, including ExxonMobil, Marlin Oil, T. Boone Pickens and -- wait for it -- the Koch brothers.

--j.


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that becomes concerned when the Media Research Center snorts Koch.]

Left-Wing Press Only Treats Left-Wing Candidate As Radical, Doesn't So Label Him, Frets Williams

MRC Watch Dept. - Connor Williams is upset that "the extremist label has hardly been applied to self-avowed democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders," who held his first campaign event on Tuesday in Vermont. He contrasts this unfavorably with the press reaction to hard-right Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
"When the mainstream press frequently labeled Cruz radical, dangerous, and slimy, no such words were used to describe the Vermont Senator on the May 26 edition of The Rundown with Jose Diaz Balart."
If one follows Williams' link, the one supposed to show where the press "frequently" so labeled Cruz, you come across an edition of Newsbusters' "Notable Quotables" wherein all of one pundit -- that is, someone specifically present to offer opinion -- is quoted as having once called Cruz both "dangerous" and "slimy" while another is quoted as having once described Cruz as "radical." Others quotes refer to Cruz as a rigidly hardline conservative, characterizations Cruz himself would not only probably not contest but would see as free advertising for his campaign (and it's hardly surprising that the leftist Sanders wouldn't be called a rigidly hardline conservative).

Williams writes that the guests on the Rundown -- Mark Murray and Steve Kornacki -- "both gave rather glowing reviews of Sanders." Those "glowing reviews" include the assertion that Sanders wants to be a "happy warrior" for his issues and that "he’s sort of the antithesis of the packaged political candidate." Williams gives kudos to Balart, saying the host "did note, fairly, that Sanders' brand of politics is a 'non-starter in national elections'," but he complains that
"Other than Balart's brief mention of Sanders' politics being unpopular nationally, not one of the three analysts bothered to point out the Vermont senator's radicalism. For the left-wing media, extremism can only come from one side of the aisle."
So let's break that down, shall we?

No one would argue Sanders is anything other than a candidate of the left. The sort of candidate a "liberal media" would adore and promote to no end. But how does the corporate press actually treat Sanders? On Tuesday morning, long before Williams had written his article, this author had written a piece over at News Reviews that spent a great deal of time dealing with how Sanders is, in fact, ubiquitously dismissed by the corporate press as some sort of fringe crank who can't win. Author Steve Hendricks, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, had just covered this as well (his article being one of the spurs for my own). Both articles offer copious examples of this press mistreatment of Sanders but, as it turns out, Williams' own offers up even more. While both Murray and Kornacki at least concede Sanders could give Hillary Clinton a good run for the money -- far more than most of the corporate press commentariat will allow -- both adopt the common theme of talking down Sanders' candidacy. Murray's ultimate conclusion, offered in a comment Williams even quotes:
"Bernie Sanders is probably going into this realizing that he won’t be sitting in the White House come 2017..."
Williams includes a full transcript of the exchange after his article and in it, Kornacki, likewise, says "the bottom line odds of Bernie Sanders becoming president in 2017 are not very good." And host Balart, in the part Williams particularly liked, said, "You look at Sanders’ brand of politics, it's essentially a non-starter in national elections."

Yeah, there's a real "liberal media" for you.

While Williams approved of Balart's sentiment, it is, in fact, entirely false. In that News Reviews article, I wrote about a piece Josh Harkinson had written for Mother Jones:
"Calling Sanders 'an extremely long shot,' Harkinson asks, 'Does that mean his views on key political issues are too radical for America's voters? Not necessarily.' And then presents a significant cross-section of polling data showing that Sanders' views on major issues are, for the most part, perfectly in line with the American mainstream. Harkinson doesn't offer any sort of detailed analysis, making his piece vulnerable to charges of superficiality but it does a fairly good job of making a general case, and it isn't a surprising one to those who pay attention. On most issues, Sanders is by no means distant from the American political center. His distance is merely from the 'center' as defined by the corporate press, which is way to the right of the actual center."
While one may feel some sympathy for Williams, born to a country that doesn't hold his own right-wing views, his complaint is essentially that these fellows on the Rundown merely treated mainstream views he dislikes as "radical" and "extremist" and disqualifying for a candidate rather than overtly labeling them as such. And from this, he extrapolates a general assertion about "the left-wing media." The "left-wing media," in this case, that dismisses the left-wing pol as an unelectable candidate with unpopular views.

--j.


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that disapproves of the Ministry of Truth operation that is the Media Research Center.]

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Corporate Press & Bernie: A Systemic Problem

Author Steve Hendricks has a pretty good article at the Columbia Journalism Review about the presidential candidacy of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. "Bernie Sanders can't win: Why the press loves to hate underdogs." A self-described social democrat, Sanders has, for the most part, received the usual treatment doled out by the corporate press to candidates with liberal or left views. Typically, he's entirely ignored and on those rare occasions when he is mentioned, he's treated as a fringe crank who can't win described as merely a potential stumbling-block for Hillary Clinton on her way to the Democratic nomination. As Hendricks describes it, the press, having settled on this "can't win" prophecy, "went about covering Sanders so as to fulfill it":
"The [New York] Times, for example, buried his announcement on page A21, even though every other candidate who had declared before then had been put on the front page above the fold. Sanders’s straight-news story didn’t even crack 700 words, compared to the 1,100 to 1,500 that Marco RubioRand PaulTed Cruz, and Hillary Clinton got. As for the content, the Times’ reporters declared high in Sanders’s piece that he was a long shot for the Democratic nomination and that Clinton was all but a lock. None of the Republican entrants got the long-shot treatment, even though Paul, Rubio, and Cruz were generally polling fifth, seventh, and eighth among Republicans before they announced."
As this author noted at the time, the evening newscasts of the three major networks virtually ignored Sanders' official announcement. ABC's World News Tonight disposed of it in less than 20 seconds, the CBS Evening News gave it only a portion of a single sentence as an aside at the end of an unrelated report about the Clinton Foundation and the NBC Nightly News shoehorned a few seconds about it into a report about Hillary Clinton's political chameleonism over the years. Not a single newscast ran a full report on Sanders, despite all three having devoted full reports to the campaign launches of Clinton and every Republican who had, to that date, announced his candidacy.

The good folks at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting have spotlighted some of this sort of nonsense. On the week of Sanders' announcement, the reaction of the major network Sunday shows was mixed. ABC's This Week, to its credit, featured Sanders as a guest, but both Face the Nation on CBS and Meet the Press on NBC ignored the news.[1] Sanders' one and only appearance on Meet the Press happened back in September 2014 and his name hadn't even been mentioned on that broadcast since. When host Chuck Todd tried to brush off this criticism, FAIR opened the books on Meet the Press and revealed that, in 2015 to date, 24 candidates or potential candidates had been mentioned on Meet the Press, all but three of them more than once. But no Sanders.[2] FAIR also pointed to the New York Times' coverage of its own poll on the presidential race released earlier this month. In the poll, the Times had asked about Sanders and other potential Democratic candidates (Sanders being the only one of the batch who had announced); when it came time to write about it, the Times "chose not to share those results with readers in any kind of reader-friendly form."

Hendricks notes that, when faced, in the past, with charges they've shortchanged candidates like Sanders, editors have rationalized this by saying he's a longshot. And he takes down this premise.
"The trouble with this commonplace is that editors actually love covering long shots—certain long shots anyway. Ted Cruz, for example, received his serious, in-depth treatment in the Times’ news columns... The difference is that Cruz has not erected a platform whose planks present a boardwalk of horror to the corporate class atop the media."
Hendricks tackles the "Sanders can't win" talk head on:
"...over the last 40 years, out of seven races in which the Democratic nomination was up for grabs—races, that is, when a sitting Democrat president wasn’t seeking reelection—underdogs have won the nomination either three or four times (depending on your definition of an underdog) and have gone on to win the presidency more often than favored candidates."
The most recent of those underdogs took out Hillary Clinton in 2008. Clinton's negatives remain sky-high.

Hendricks does a pretty good, if basic, job of stripping away nearly every pretense the corporate press may offer for giving Sanders short shrift. One area where he falls short is when he notes that some of the press "chatterers... have continued to say that money or no, Sanders is a non-starter because of his distance from the political center" but he doesn't really challenge that premise. Josh Harkinson, writing for Mother Jones, did. Calling Sanders "an extremely long shot," Harkinson asks, "Does that mean his views on key political issues are too radical for America's voters? Not necessarily." And then presents a significant cross-section of polling data showing that Sanders' views on major issues are, for the most part, perfectly in line with the American mainstream. Harkinson doesn't offer any sort of detailed analysis, making his piece vulnerable to charges of superficiality but it does a fairly good job of making a general case,[3] and it isn't a surprising one to those who pay attention. On most issues, Sanders is by no means distant from the American political center. His distance is merely from the "center" as defined by the corporate press, which is way to the right of the actual center.

At the moment, multiple polls have shown that around 60% of Americans, give or take, haven't even heard of Sanders. That, alone, is a very damning comment on the work of the Establishment media. One routinely hears overblown claims about how New Media allow candidates to skip the filter of the corporate press but the reality is that a candidate who is ignored by the major media and persistently treated as "the crank who can't win" isn't going to be winning a national presidential race. And that isn't a chicken-or-egg question. The corporate press is not a bystander in the electoral process. In Iranian democracy at present, a clutch of unelected mullahs insist on the power to vet who can and can't present themselves as a candidate for elective office. What are the implications for the American version of liberal democracy when the corporate press takes up this function of deciding who is and isn't a legitimate candidate? This is a significant--and systemic--problem, one that yields to no simple solutions.

--j.

---

[1] Subsequently, on 10 May, Face the Nation did host Sanders as a guest.

[2] After FAIR pointed this out, Todd suddenly remembered Sanders' existence.

[3] Some of the items Harkinson cites could have used some further analysis. When, for example, Harkinson addresses the Trans Pacific Partnership, which Sanders opposes, he cites a 2014 Pew poll that showed majority support for it and concludes that Sanders is at odds with most of the public. But, of course, most of the public have no idea what the TPP even contains, as the negotiations have proceeded in secret and much of the press has declined to cover it. That Pew poll elicited a positive response by entangling its questioning in the broader matter of international trade, of which Americans have a generally positive view. In the same context, the poll asked about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and received a similarly positive result but when the same respondents were asked about some of the specific elements of the TTIP proposal, support dropped across the board, a sure sign that the pollsters were queering their results.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Deterring Democracy

MRC Watch Dept. - A wide diversity of opinion is both emblematic of and critical to a healthy democracy. The often excruciatingly narrow spectrum of views allowed in the mainstream corporate press is a fundamentally conservative bias, but it's one the writers of the Media Research Center--always making such a show of being so centrally concerned with combating "bias"--will never acknowledge. Indeed, in the face of it, the MRC's writers seek to restrict the spectrum even further. A lot of the articles they craft for the org's Newsbusters blog are merely devoted to scandalizing the fact that anyone with whom they disagree is ever allowed to offer their views in a major media outlet.

Today, for example, Tom Johnson throws a spotlight on an article in Salon entitled "The U.S. military is a national security threat." The article's basic argument is summed up in its subheading: "America's armed forces are a massive drain on resources that could otherwise strengthen the country." Johnson doesn't challenge any of the significant evidence the article marshals in favor of this premise. He doesn't offer any counter-argument or point to anyone who has. He certainly can't object that the contrary view, in favor of ever-increasing military spending, is given inadequate attention in the corporate press. He simply spotlights the article as if the fact that any such view was even published is, in and of itself, scandalous.

This is standard operating procedure at the Media Research Center, where deterring a vibrant media democracy is part of the mission.

--j.


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that doesn't care for the MRC's efforts to deter media democracy.]

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lying Eyes 4: Whitlock Says Don't Trust 'Em On Obama Remarks

MRC Watch Dept. - On Thursday, Scott Whitlock was all hacked off that the network morning news shows ignored a Wednesday speech by Barack Obama to the Coast Guard Academy in which
"The President somehow blamed the rise of Boko Haram on global warming... By ignoring this controversial address, ABC, NBC and CBS thus rendered it uncontroversial."
Whitlock's headline: "Nets Ignore as Obama Blames Rise of Terrorism on Climate Change." And then Whitlock refutes his own premise by quoting Obama on this point:
"Understand, climate change did not cause the conflicts we see around the world. Yet what we also know is that severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East."
Bolding mine.

In recent days, several of the writers at the Media Research Center have struggled to convince their readers to reject the clear meaning of plain words in plain English in favor of their own politically motivated misrepresentations of same, even as they quote the original language. This don't-believe-your-lying-eyes-ism is hardly new when it comes to the MRC but it is, as Mr. Spock would say (and in the way he would say it), fascinating.

Previous entries in this series:

--j.


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that disrespects the Media Research Center's disrespect for the intelligence of its readers.]

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Clay Waters Rehashes Republican Benghazi Lie

MRC Watch Dept. - Apparently finding it difficult to uncover any examples of press "liberalism" about which to gripe, Clay Waters decided to revisit one of the MRC's favorite faux scandals Wednesday: Benghazi. The New York Times seems to have run an article about the fortunes of the creator of the "Innocence of Muslims" movie, clips of which, displayed on YouTube, led to angry demonstrations and sometimes violent rioting across the Muslim world. I say "seems to" because Waters doesn't link to any such story -- he links to an entirely unrelated one from Monday's Times about Hillary Clinton and Sidney Blumenthal -- perhaps he fund it more interesting. That error aside, Waters quotes the Times story as saying "it was unclear when or if the 'Innocence of Muslims' video would return to YouTube. In 2012, it led to wide protests, beginning in Cairo and spreading to countries including Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia." And Waters objects:
"Yet one sub-plot was skipped in that roll call of countries that protested the Youtube video: the deadly protests by radical Islamists against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya... The Obama administration initially (and falsely) blamed those deadly attacks on the Youtube video as well... The Obama administration famously sent U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice onto all five Sunday news shows on September 16, 2012 to argue (falsely) that the attacks were a 'spontaneous' reaction to 'a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world.' How convenient, as 2016 draws near and Hillary Clinton bolsters her presidential credentials, for the Times to flush that storyline down the memory hole."
The assertion that the Obama administration deliberately manufactured then tried to sell to the public a false narrative about the Benghazi attacks being in response to the video in question is a very, very tired saw among the right's Benghazi scandal-pimps, the writers of the Media Research Center being particularly ambitious examples of the breed.

The facts: In the immediate aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community was that the attack had grown from a spontaneous demonstration. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, having investigated this subject, issued a report in January 2014 that concluded:
"A dearth of clear and definitive HUMINT [human intelligence] or eyewitness reporting led IC [intelligence community] analysts to rely on open press reports and limited SIGINT reporting that incorrectly attributed the origins of the Benghazi attacks to 'protests'...  CIA's January 4, 2013, Analytic Line Review  found that '[a ]pproximately a dozen reports that included press accounts, public statements by AAS members, HUMINT reporting, DOD reporting, and signals intelligence all stated or strongly suggested that a protest occurred outside of the Mission facility just prior to the attacks.'"
In November 2014, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which had carried out its own investigation, concurred:
"There was a stream of contradictory and conflicting intelligence that came in after the attacks. The Committee found intelligence to support CIA's initial assessment that the attacks had evolved out of a protest in Benghazi; but it also found contrary intelligence, which ultimately proved to be the correct intelligence. There was no protest. The CIA only changed its initial assessment about a protest on September 24, 2012..."
...which was 8 days after Susan Rice had appeared on those Sunday shows. Both committees concluded there was no intentional effort to mislead on this point. Right after the attack, on 14 Sept., 2012, the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had prepared a memo, one that has been publicly available since early 2013, which said,
"The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post and subsequently its annex."
...the Cairo protests in question having been in response to the YouTube video. When the administration prepared talking points for Rice prior to her appearance on the Sunday shows, this was cut-and-pasted into them virtually word-for-word and Rice's remarks in those appearances reflected them.

The Wall Street Journal reported that this analysis -- that the violence had spontaneously grown out of a demonstration -- was affirmed in the president's daily intelligence briefing, briefings which only began to question this conclusion on 22 Sept. This is how the intelligence community initially explained the attacks to the administration; the administration's initial public comments reflected this conclusion. That Wall Street Journal report appeared on 22 Oct., 2012, less than six weeks after the attack. In other words, as Waters took his lie to press Wednesday, this has been a matter of the public record for over 2 1/2 years.

And while the intelligence community eventually concluded there had been no demonstration, the New York Times reported on 18 June, 2014 that Ahmed Abu Khattalah, a suspected ringleader of the attack who had just been apprehended by U.S. forces, had said the attack had been in retaliation for the YouTube video:
"On the day of the [Benghazi] attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy’s walls — images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world. As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him."
Waters' attempted resuscitation of the lie that the Obama administration had manufactured and perpetuated a false narrative in this matter helps illustrate how very little facts matter to the writers of the Media Research Center.

--j.


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that debunks the Media Research Center's lies.]

Monday, May 18, 2015

Lying Eyes 3: Shepherd Tries To Mislead the Sheep

MRC Watch - Having seen his companions Tim Graham and Jeffrey Meyer struggle to convince their readers to reject plain words in plain English in favor of their own politically motivated misrepresentations of same, Ken Shepherd apparently decided to get in on the action Monday in an attack on MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Under the headline "Chris Matthews Suggests Jeb's View on Marriage a Mere Appeal to 'Right Flank'," Shepherd writes that, on Monday's Hardball, Matthews asserted that Jeb Bush
"has recently stated his support for traditional marriage only because he's 'looking out for his right flank.' Apparently sincerely-held religious beliefs don't seem to play into the mix at all in Matthews's view."
And like Graham and Meyer before him, he also includes the full text of Matthews' comments, which debunks this claim:
"Well, Jeb Bush is looking out for his right flank. This weekend, he said he doesn't believe same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. And Bush told the Christian Broadcasting Network that marriage between a man and a woman is a sacrament and regardless of how the Supreme Court rules next month, he will be a stalwart supporter of traditional marriage. Bush said it's hard to fathom why thousands of years of culture and history are being changed at, quote 'time warp speed'."
While no one could seriously deny that a conservative candidate who goes on the hard-right Christian Broadcasting Network and talks about "support for traditional marriage" -- meaning opposition to allowing homosexuals to wed -- is blatantly trying to shore up his "right flank" just as Matthews said, nowhere does Matthews say Bush holds this position "merely" for this purpose or "only" for this purpose.[1] He offers straight reportage and doesn't even address why Bush holds such a view.

The MRC writers are devoted to bashing the "liberal press" but how "liberal" can the press be if, in order to have something to bash, they're forced to manufacture such sentiments then put them in the mouth of some news talk personality who never said any such thing?

--j.

---

[1] About marriage as a "sacrament," Shepherd writers "that is the official teaching of the Catholic Church, and supposedly believed by Catholics of all political stripes, Mr. Chris Matthews -- born and raised in the Church -- included." But, of course, most Catholics in the U.S. support gay marriage. Last year, Univision commissioned a massive survey of Catholics, soliciting their views on various contentious issues. One question: "Do you support or oppose marriage between two persons of the same sex?" Only 40% of U.S. Catholics stood opposed; 54% supported gay marriage.


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that disapproves of Media Research Center Shepherds that mislead their sheep.]

Jeffrey Meyer: Don't Believe Your Lying Eyes Redux

MRC Watch Dept. - Last week, when Republican strategist Steve Schmidt noted that 'real voters worried about real issues' don’t care about how often a candidate talks to the traveling press corps and Tim Graham of the Media Research Center tried to transform this into some sort of attack on critics of Hillary Clinton, all the while quoting the actual Schmidt comments, thus discrediting that contention. Graham's message to his readers: listen to me and don't believe your lying eyes. Today, Jeffrey Meyer is playing the same game. By Meyer's imaginative account (appearing under the headline "Cokie Roberts Eagerly Defends Hillary's Press Blackout"), Cokie Roberts, during Sunday's edition of ABC's This Week, ""rushed to defend Hillary Clinton for continuing to not answer questions from the press in the month since she announced her presidential campaign." The basis for this? After some tape of criticism by Republican candidates criticizing Clinton for ducking the press, Roberts said:
"I don't think anybody votes on whether a candidate answers questions or not. [crosstalk] [S]he's, at some point, going to have to engage, absolutely. She's -- she can't just keep doing this. But I don't think it's going to -- she's going to do it exactly how she wants to do it."
Meyer broke this comment in two at the crosstalk and of the latter portion -- the "she can't keep doing this" portion --wrote "Roberts continued to dismiss the need for Hillary to talk to the press..."

He continued to drive home this misrepresentation: "While Roberts was quick to protect Clinton from any criticism, the rest of the This Week panel harshly scolded the Democrat..."

As if perpetuating a running joke, Meyer also referred to Graham's don't-believe-your-lying-eyes attack on Schmidt:
"Roberts' eagerness to excuse Clinton’s media blackout sounded almost identical to comments made by Republican strategist Steve Schmidt during an appearance he made on NPR’s Morning Edition on May 13... [W]hen Cokie Roberts offered up a similar defense of Mrs. Clinton she was met with unanimous skepticism from the entire This Week panel."
Following in Graham's footsteps, Meyer's quotation of Roberts makes clear his characterization is baseless -- Roberts makes no hint of any defense of Clinton, eager or otherwise -- and just to hammer home the point, Meyer not only tacks on a cut-and-paste of the full relevant portion of the transcript from This Week, he also includes the video of the incident.

That the MRC finds it necessary to engage in this sort of nonsense in order to try to substantiate their overarching claim of a "liberal media" has implications upon that claim that are obvious, but the question also arises, are the MRC writers just really stupid or do they believe their very conservative audience to be so? Or both?

--j.


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog where, contrary to the exhortations of the Media Research Center, we do believe our eyes when there isn't any reason not to do so.]

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Tim Graham: Don't Believe Your Lying Eyes on Steve Schmidt

MRC Watch Dept. - Wednesday on NPR's Morning Edition, reporter Tamara Keith filed a story in which she spoke with Republican strategist Steve Schmidt; on Friday, the MRC's Tim Graham set up a few straw men around that portion of the report, which discussed Hillary Clinton's avoidance of the traditional press, and proceeded to beat the stuffings out of them then went off on a series of unrelated Schmidt-bashing tangents. The article's URL ends in "npr-shoveling-Schmidt."

Graham's headline is "NPR Finds GOP Pundit Steve Schmidt To Call Critics of Hillary Stonewalling 'Ludicrous'," but one will struggle in vein to find anything like that in Scmidt's comments. Graham's text doesn't even make that assertion. It offers, instead, a slightly different strawman; Graham writes that "what stuck out in the story was failed 2008 McCain-boosting (and Palin-trashing) Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, arguing it's 'ludicrous' that any voter really cares that Hillary won't talk to anyone in the media." Here's the actual exchange between Keith and Schmidt:
TAMARA KEITH: But will avoiding reporter questions hurt her with voters?
STEVE SCHMIDT: The premise of your question presupposes that the way that Hillary Clinton needs to reach voters is through the national media. And that's simply not the case anymore.
TAMARA KEITH: Steve Schmidt is a Republican strategist. He says a campaign as sophisticated as Clinton's can bypass the media filter and target voters directly.
STEVE SCHMIDT: The notion that real voters worried about real issues cares one whit about how often a presidential candidate talks to their traveling press corps or answers questions from them is just ludicrous. It's not the case.
To note the obvious -- as is so often necessary when dealing with the MRC -- "real voters worried about real issues" does not equal "any voter who really cares that Hillary won't talk to anyone in the media," and Schmidt is dismissing the notion that voters care about how often a candidate talks to the press, not insulting those who do care about such things. Graham, while offering his false characterization of that exchange, quotes it in full, which suggests he's either not the sharpest tack in the box or is confident his readers aren't. Or both.

Graham then goes off on a bizarre and totally unrelated tangent about Schmidt's days handling Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign:
"This is the same Steve Schmidt who assented to putting Sarah Palin into a long interview with Katie Couric. After it bombed and McCain-Palin lost, Schmidt went on 60 Minutes on January 10, 2010 and blamed Palin (not Couric) for what happened in the hardball interview."
The entire world, of course, saw Palin spectacularly self-destruct in that interview. Throughout it, Palin was evasive, rambling, looking away -- the impression was that of a clueless idiot completely out of her depth. The notion that the rather softball questioning by Couric was a "hardball interview" was one of a series of fictions about the incident manufactured by Palin after the fact.[1] Steve Schmidt, in an interview quoted by Graham, notes that Palin had refused to prep for that interview, spending much of the day leading up to it preparing detailed answers to questions posed by a small-town micro-circulation newspaper in Alaska. "I don`t think that Katie Couric asked a single unfair question in that interview." While Palin has persistently lied about nearly every aspect of it, her ghostwriter, writing as her in "her" book "Going Rogue," concluded, "Instead of my scoring points for John McCain [in the interview], I knew I had let the team down." Graham omits this fact.

Graham complains that Schmidt, in that 2010 piece on 60 Minutes, "did go on to say it was 'fair criticism' to suggest that Palin had a serious problem with inaccuracy and truth-mangling. He didn't say anything like that about Hillary on NPR." Which may have something to do with the fact that the brief NPR questioning had nothing to do with Hillary Clinton's accuracy or truthfulness. This, too, seems rather obvious but Graham remarkably concludes, from Schmidt's failure to go off on such an irrelevant tangent, that "Schmidt knows how to behave when he does the liberal-media interviews. He's a Republican In Name Only in those venues."

Uh huh.

Continuing on the same Schmidt tangent, Graham referenced an appearance Schmidt made on MSNBC's Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell in which the Republican strategist said
"I think, Lawrence, specifically with regard to Elizabeth Warren, you see her emerging as a titanic figure on the Democratic left in the Democratic Party. And I think Earrenism is going to be something that we`ll see whether it`s Martin O`Malley, whether it`s Bernie Sanders. But someone is going to be a champion of Warrenism against the centrism of Hillary Clinton and Clintonomics over the course of the Democratic primary."
All pretty straightforward analysis of the current situation in the Democratic party, just as one would expect from a professional political consultant, but Graham characterizes it as "Schmidt seemed more impressed with Elizabeth Warren than with critics of Hillary’s press stonewalling," and highlights the "titanic figure" comment, as if noting that Warren was the current star in the party was the same as praising her. And, of course, Schmidt doesn't express any opinion on "critics of Hillary's press stonewalling" in those comments -- that isn't the subject on the table. As with the NPR business, Graham, even as he's ludicrously misrepresenting Schmidt's comments, quotes them in full. Don't believe your lying eyes!

Schmidt is a fairly regular guest on various news programs and if Graham had any real interest in Schmidt's views on Clinton (as opposed to bashing a straw man), Schmidt has certainly never been shy about expressing them. Only a few weeks ago, for example, Schmidt appeared on NBC's Meet the Press and was asked about Clinton's campaign rollout:
"Look, it's so contrived, so inauthentic. It's almost difficult to articulate it. She talks about meeting real voters. But in the one instance, when she walks into a store, where there's an opportunity, the Chipotle, to actually talk to voters, remains in silence in disguise behind dark glasses. Bashes hedge fund managers, at the same time, her campaign is raising the first of its maybe nearly $2 billion in donations from hedge fund managers. The dissonance between what she says and the reality is startling."
A few days before that, he appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe to talk about Clinton's erasure of her private email server from her days as Secretary of State:
"...when you look at Hillary Clinton with this particular issue, the rules regarding the emails are unambiguous. Like a traffic light, red and green mean something very specific, not very difficult to understand, and clearly, her approach is 'I'm too big to fail. It doesn't matter. There is no consequence to me willfully, premeditatively breaking the rules on this,' and, in fact, there won't be an electoral consequence to it, but I think the issue that voters will focus on in is a person with that personality quality, do you want to make that person the most powerful in the world?"
And so on. Isn't Google a wonderful thing? Someone should perhaps introduce Graham to it.

--j.

---

[1] Palin also falsely asserted that the interview was set up by McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace to boost the ratings and "self-esteem" of Wallace's pal Couric, that CBS had deceptively edited the footage to make her look bad and that the interview, as sold to her beforehand, "was supposed to be kind of light-hearted, fun working mom speaking with working mom and the challenges that we have with teenage daughters" -- in reality, the interview was supposed to help establish Palin's credibility on foreign policy and was scheduled to take place while Palin was in New York visiting the United Nations. Part of it even included a walk-and-talk in front of the UN building. The "hardball" question that elicited one of the most remarked-upon answers from Palin: "[W]hat newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and understand the world?" Real tough stuff there, eh? Palin, who fumbled, fidgeted and was ultimately unable to name a single publication she read, later characterized this as a "'gotcha' question."


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that teaches the Media Research Center how to use Google.]

Friday, May 15, 2015

MRC All In A Tizzy Over George Stephanopoulous [UPDATED BELOW]

MRC Watch Dept. - Thursday, Politico reported that George Stephanopoulos, the host of ABC's This Week and Good Morning America, "has given $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation in recent years, charitable contributions that he did not publicly disclose while reporting on the Clintons or their nonprofit organization, the On Media blog has learned."

Contrary to the breathless tone and dark insinuation, there wasn't much to "learn" about this -- Stephanopoulous, who is a big contributor to various charities, didn't disclose his donations on the air but he's listed as a donor on the Clinton Foundation's website. Stephanopoulous gave a statement to Politico:
"'I made charitable donations to the Foundation in support of the work they’re doing on global AIDS prevention and deforestation, causes I care about deeply,' he said. 'I thought that my contributions were a matter of public record. However, in hindsight, I should have taken the extra step of personally disclosing my donations to my employer and to the viewers on air during the recent news stories about the Foundation. I apologize.'"
ABC issued a statement echoing this and standing by their man. Nevertheless, this non-revelation has set off  an absolute feeding frenzy at the Media Research Center, with new articles slamming Stephanopoulous seeming to turn up every few minutes. In April, Stephanopoulous had questioned Peter Schweizer, the ethically challenged author of "Clinton Cash," about his partisan connections; the MRC writers have insisted the newsman's failure to disclose his charitable donations at that time constitutes some dire and and unforgivable conflict of interest. In a September interview with Bill Clinton, his former boss, Stephanopoulous had touted the work of the Foundation -- this was resurrected and treated as if it was some sort of revelation. The fact that the network evening newscasts ignored the story was scandalized. Brent Bozell, the perpetually unhinged head of the MRC, demanded that ABC remove Stephanopoulous from any coverage of the coming presidential election.[1][ By the time Kyle Drennen highlighted Peter Schweizer's charge that Stephanopoulous was guilt of a "massive breach of ethical standards," it was clear the matter had gone deep into Bizarro World.

It was left to Joanthan Chait, writing in New York magazine, to ask the most obvious question: so what? To the accusations of conflict of interest, he writes "donating money to a charitable foundation is not an interest." Chait has been critical of the Clintons' handling of apparent conflicts of interest regarding the Foundation "but none of those problems reflects poorly on Stephanopoulous":
"In the absence of a material conflict, is there some symbolic conflict? It is hard to imagine what. The Clinton Foundation has taken on nefarious connotations owing to conflict-of-interest problems that don’t implicate Stephanopoulos. But it is, after all, a charity. It used to have non-partisan overtones.In the heat of the 2012 election, Mitt Romney spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative. News Corporation Foundation and Donald Trump, for goodness sake, donated to it.
"Stephanopoulos’s defense — that he just wanted to donate to the Foundation’s work on AIDS prevention and deforestation — seems 100 percent persuasive... what his critics have yet to produce is a coherent case against him."
This morning, the MRC's Tom Johnson, who didn't even try to counter Chait's reasoning, tried to scandalize his comments.

All this self-righteous fuming by the MRC writers against conflicts of interest can't help but bring to mind some of the MRC's own, such as the fact that they've spent years pimping Big Oil propaganda on everything from increased drilling to climate change to, most recently, complaining that oil barons are portrayed in an unflattering way by the media without ever once disclosing in their articles that they are, in part, financed by Big Oil. The MRC writers are of one voice in insisting Stephanopoulous should face sanction for failing to disclose his Clinton Foundation donations when interviewing Peter Schweizer, but Scott Whitlock once (falsely) complained that ABC News had failed to disclose the identify an environmental activist who works on climate change issues while -- like every other MRC writer -- never disclosing Big Oil's support for his employer. These are much more serious than anything even hinted against Stephanopoulous and unlike Stephanopoulous, the MRC has never addressed these matters or even acknowledged them.

--j.

---

[1] One of the more hilarious aspects of that demand is that ABC's This Week, under Stephanopoulous, has been a national showcase for conservatives and Republican guests. Back in 2006, Media Matters conducted a comprehensive survey of the guest-lists of the major networks' Sunday news shows for an eight-year period. For the last three of those years -- 2002-2005 -- Stephanopoulous had been the host of This Week and in all three, Republican/conservative guests outnumbered liberal/Democratic guests. Averaging about a 60/40 split each year, it wasn't even close. This Week had been dominated by the right well before Stephanopoulous but under his stewardship, this domination increased to its highest point. In 2007, Media Matters followed up, examining the guest-lists for 2006. Once again, Republicans/conservative guests dominated, not only for the overall year on This Week but for 9 of its 12 months. In 2012, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting went through the guest-lists of the Sunday shows for an 8-month period; the same results.

It would seem, at first blush, that the MRC, so relentlessly attacking Stephanopoulous, may be trying to kill what is, for them, a goose that lays golden eggs. But as that first Media Matters survey made clear, conservatives and Republicans had been the predominant voices on the Sunday shows, including This Week, for years before Stephanopoulous came along. This is a longstanding pattern that is likely to continue even if he was to leave, which is very unlikely anyway.


UPDATE (15 May) - Geoffrey Dickens has just highlighted Geraldo Rivera's comments on today's Fox & Friends that, as Dickens' headline puts it, "ABC Fired Me for Just a $200 Political Donation Back in ‘85." Someone -- perhaps a smarter liberal friend -- will have to explain to Dickens that political contributions, which big media companies typically bar their employees from making, aren't the same as charitable donations.


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog devoted to a critique of tizzies by the Media Research Center.]

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Houck A Babe-in-the-Woods On Abortion Ban Blackout

MRC Watch Dept. - Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the "Pain-Capable Uborn Child Protection Act," which bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy on the premise that fetuses can, by that stage of development, feel pain. It's retread legislation that's been kicked around congress before. Passed on a near-party-line vote, it now moves to the Senate, where it will die.

Over at Newsbusters, Curtis Houck is, again, a babe-in-the-woods, complaining that the major network evening newscasts "showed no interest in covering the news" of the bill and left its passage entirely unreported.

The premise of the bill, that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, is, for all intents and purposes, medically baseless. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that "pain perception probably does not function before the third trimester." That's the conclusion of a survey of the medical literature on the subject conducted by Dr. Mark Rosen and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In 2013, the New York Times talked to Rosen and summarized the findings in his article:
"It concluded that fetal pain was unlikely before the third trimester, which begins at about 27 weeks. The report said pain sensation required neural connections into the cortex. The cortex begins emerging around the 23rd week, is not functionally developed until the 26th or later, and continues developing after birth, Dr. Rosen said."
The Times continued:
"In 2010, another large review, by a diverse panel appointed by Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said 'most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception' so 'the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior' to 24 weeks.
"In 2012, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists endorsed this reasoning, saying studies cited by fetal-pain law supporters were not persuasive 'when weighed together with other available information.'"
The Times quoted researchers whose work and theories had been used by advocates of "fetal pain" laws -- one said neurological research had changed his mind on the subject, another that his research had only "marginal bearing" on fetal pain. Another, whose theories are marginal, seemed to regret that his work had become entangled in the abortion matter.

Only about 1% of abortions are performed after 20 weeks. Late abortions tend to be a consequence of extreme medical problems.

[Disclosure: a very dear friend of mine once faced a pregnancy that rapidly turned into a major crisis -- legislation like that just passed by the House puts the government between women and medical care in a way that is extremely dangerous and irresponsible. It nearly killed the lady in question.]

In short, the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" is legislation that wouldn't withstand public scrutiny. Curtis Houck complains about the evening newscasts ignoring the House bill but if it wasn't being considered under the cover of that kind of press blackout, it's unlikely it would ever be allowed to pass. Alexandria Boguhn at Media Matters has a much clearer view of this matter. Houck whines about the indifference of the press now and indignantly compares it to how the legislation was covered four months ago:
"Not surprisingly, when the legislation was originally put before Congress on January 22 and pulled due to opposition from female Republicans, the CBS Evening News was all too pleased to promote the 'unforced error' by the GOP and how it had 'stumbled' on the issue in the past."
Boguhn at Media Matters puts that CBS segment in its proper context:
"According to a Media Matters review of ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS' nightly news programs since January 1, ABC's World News Tonight and NBC's Nightly News have completely ignored the legislation, while CBS Evening News ran one segment highlighting the GOP proposal on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. PBS' Newshour devoted four segments to the legislation this year, and was the only network to cover the House's passage of the latest abortion ban.
"The virtual silence of the broadcast evening news comes amid an unprecedented push by Republicans at both the national and state level to restrict women's constitutional right to abortion. An April 2 report from the Guttmacher Institute found that the first few months of 2015 have seen 332 provisions to restrict access to abortion introduced in the legislatures of nearly every state."
This kind of unsupportable legislation (and the extremism that fuels it)[1] thrives in darkness. A "liberal media" wouldn't allow that.

--j.

---

[1] The author of this legislation is Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), a birther who claimed Muslims were using congressional pages to spy on congress. He's called Obama an "enemy of humanity" who has an "ideological commitment" to "weaken America." The sort of depressingly common right-wing fringe crackpot who can only wield any influence because the press declines to scandalize his antics.


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that critiques dumb things said by those at the Media Research Center.]

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Houck Cluelessly Wanders Into Trans-Pacific Partnership Coverage

MRC Watch Dept. - On Tuesday, the Senate considered a motion to open debate on extending to the Obama administration "fast-track" authorization for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); the motion received majority support (52-45), but failed to reach the 60-vote threshhold needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster. An extraordinary feature of the TPP drama is that Republicans, who have, throughout the entire run of the Obama administration, lock-stepped against virtually anything Obama has proposed merely because he was the one proposing it,[1] are the ones leading the charge for the TPP, while Obama's own party stands largely opposed to it.

The MRC's Curtis Houck has wandered into this dispute like a lost, clueless child:
"On Tuesday, ABC's World News Tonight and the CBS Evening News chose to ignore news that Senate Democrats voted to block debate on a series of trade measures pushed by President Barack Obama as part of a push to eventually approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal... While ABC and CBS made no mention of this issue that has divided the Democratic Party, NBC Nightly News did cover the story with a news brief by interim anchor Lester Holt."
Houck notes that PBS and various cable news outlets mentioned these developments at various points throughout the day. He concludes by fantasizing,
"With such disagreement in the Democratic Party, it's worth pointing out that the network newscasts would likely be spending far more time reporting on and analyzing such a split if it involved Senate Republicans voting to block an initiative of a Republican president."
But while Houck frets that the partisan divide isn't getting enough attention, the TPP story has major implications for the MRC's larger project of portraying the press as liberal, implications Houck entirely fails to address. The American liberal base is opposed to the TPP, which, secretively negotiated, was born in the Bush administration in 2008. A "liberal media" can either be with the liberals or with Obama, not both. So how are the major press outlets really handling this matter? Who benefits from a lack of press coverage?

In the summer of 2012, when a draft of a portion of the negotiations were leaked, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen answered that question, describing the agreement as
"a stealthy delivery mechanism for policies that could not survive public scrutiny. Indeed, only two of the twenty-six chapters of this corporate Trojan horse cover traditional trade matters. The rest embody the most florid dreams of the 1 percent -- grandiose new rights and privileges for corporations and permanent constraints on government regulation. They include new investor safeguards to ease job offshoring and assert control over natural resources, and severely limit the regulation of financial services, land use, food safety, natural resources, energy, tobacco, healthcare and more."
The only thing unusual about the sparsity of the coverage offered Tuesday's development in the TPP saga is that this development was mentioned at all. Liberal publications and orgs have been trying to draw attention to this matter for years now, while the big dogs of the corporate press -- those big dogs the MRC insists are so slavishly devoted to heathen liberalism -- have almost entirely buried it.

For years, liberal press critic Project Censored has assembled a list of important stories that received little or no coverage in the previous year; in 2013, the Trans-Pacific Partnership finished at #3. In March 2014, Steve Rendall of liberal media critic Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) noted that
"TPP would seem to be a major story with significant real-world impact. But despite its apparent newsworthiness—and two major leaks, providing grist for reporting and debate—there were no stories about TPP on the three major network news shows in the year following Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union mention of the agreement. The same goes for cable channels CNN and Fox News.
"The only thing preventing a total blackout of TPP on national commercial TV was MSNBC, where the Ed Show practically made TPP a feature of the program, offering critical coverage and commentary in 25 segments. TPP was also discussed once on Melissa Harris-Perry (12/14/13), when it was briefly criticized by The Nation's John Nichols."
Shortly after, FAIR launched a petition demanding that the major networks stop their blackout of this story; others have done the same.

It didn't seem to help. In February, liberal press critic Media Matters undertook a study of tv news coverage of the TPP.
"A Media Matters transcript search of the CBS Evening News, ABC's World News Tonight, and NBC's Nightly News from August 1, 2013, through January 31, 2015, found no mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. By contrast, PBS NewsHour mentioned the TPP on during eight broadcasts, most of which were substantive discussions of the trade agreement."
Among the cable news operations, "CNN and Fox News each mentioned the TPP during two broadcasts," while MSNBC was the only outlet to give the matter any real attention -- it was covered in 71 broadcasts, mostly the Ed Show.

On Monday -- three days ago -- Media Matters followed up. From 1 February to 10 May, the network evening newscasts had continued their complete blackout -- not a single mention from any of them. The PBS Newshour had done 6 additional segments on the subject. Among the cable outlets, CNN hadn't offered a single new mention while there had been 10 on Fox News. Again, only MSNBC devoted any notable attention to the matter, covering it in 53 segments.[2]

Print coverage has been pathetic as well. In April 2014, FAIR examined the attention given the TPP by two of the largest papers in the U.S.:
"In the year between Barack Obama’s 2013 and 2014 State of the Union addresses (2/12/13– 1/28/14), the New York Times and Washington Post had a combined total of 18 news reports discussing TPP, featuring 48 sources.
"TPP received a small fraction of the attention the papers devoted to stories of much less import, such as the Benghazi and IRS stories portrayed as scandals by the right—without much of anything scandalous behind them (FAIR Blog, 5/17/13, 6/25/13). Benghazi was mentioned in 618 stories in both papers. Using the search terms 'IRS' and 'conservative'—according to the IRS scandal storyline, the agency singled out conservative groups for harassment—turned up 444 stories.
"In the two papers combined, sources favoring TPP (31) outnumbered those opposing (14) by more than 2-to-1. Three sources were expressly noncommittal. The Post presented an almost 3-to-1 ratio of supporters to opponents (16–6) with one noncommittal source, while the Times featured a nearly 2-to-1 imbalance (15–8) with two noncommittal sources."
While barely covering the story, print outlets have managed to circulate all manner of nonsense about the deal and its critics.

As Wallach wrote, the TPP is a bundle of "policies that could not survive public scrutiny." But while the public wouldn't stand for such things if they were dragged into the light of day, the TPP has powerful supporters, including the big media companies, whose parent entities are lobbying for it. News media inattention can only benefit TPP, which is why liberal activists have raged against it for so long.

This is the environment into which Houck innocently wandered, a landscape wherein, contrary to the most basic premise of everything the MRC does, the concerns of liberals have -- as usual -- been entirely ignored or grossly mistreated by the major press outlets, where any stories about --or even mention of -- TPP on the evening newscasts are, as a rule, non-existent. While TPP's critics have, for years, unsuccessfully tried to draw attention to big and important matters that will affect not only the U.S. bur the world, Houck complains that he didn't get to see Democrats fight one another on the evening news. Cry me a river.

--j.

---

[1] It's impossible to overstate this point. It's so bad that Republicans legislators have made a regular practice of walking away from even proposals they, themselves, had written as soon as Obama endorses the measures.

[2] In its follow-up, Media Matters inexplicably combined the numbers from its previous survey with the follow-up, offering total numbers for the full 20 months rather than just for the 3 months of the new survey. To get the three-month numbers I've quoted, I simply deducted the previous findings from that combined total.


[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that, when appropriate, tells Donny at the Media Research Center to shut the fuck up.]

Monday, May 11, 2015

New York Magazine Adopts the Clinton Rules

Clinton Rules Dept. - Back in the 1990s, the American news media suffered a peculiar distemper. Seemingly airborne, it spread widely and wildly, rapidly infecting journalistic outlets great and small and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Only into 2001 did it subside, not because anyone had found any sort of miraculous vaccine or cure but merely because Bill Clinton, the primary focal point of the mania, had left the capitol. In its aftermath, the illness was rarely discussed or even acknowledged within most mainstream journalistic circles. There were no introspective post-mortems, no efforts to repair the damage it had caused, no apologies to those wronged. Some who had caused the most harm even saw their careers advanced by it. Mainstream journalism never faced up to it. It has never entirely gone away and now, it's returning with a vengeance.

This disorder became known, among those of us who managed to avoid infection, as "the Clinton rules." It manifests itself as a caveat in the canons of professional journalism. By the Clinton rules, the goal is negative press about Bill and/or Hillary Clinton and all journalistic standards are allowed to be abandoned in the pursuit of it. Rumor, innuendo, unsubstantiated allegations, ridiculous misrepresentations, outright fabrications--all are acceptable and even encouraged. As Bob Someby, who has long howled against the Clinton rules, put it, "Under 'the Clinton rules of journalism,' you can say any goddamn thing you want--as long as you say it about the Clintons." In the '90s, the Clinton rules produced Whitewater, "filegate", "travelgate", and on into infinity. Bill Clinton was accused of everything from selling missile tech to China to selling plots at Arlington National Cemetery to political contributors. The entire Clinton presidency was perpetually choked by a constant cloud of allegations and faux-"scandals," many of them fabricated by right-wing activists, few of them ever amounting to anything.

Hillary Clinton, now a candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, does little to conceal her contempt for the press. She's spent most of her time in the national spotlight being subjected to an endless stream of journalistic crimes, the reportorial equivalent of muggings, drive-by shootings and gang-rapes. Adore her or despise her, it's hard to argue she hasn't earned her bitterness. And, in fact, the current presidential contest has seen the press returning to its old pattern. Peter Schweizer is a conservative activist with a long history of unsubstantiated, misleading and false claims. In the abstract, not someone to whom mainstream journalists would give the time of day, but when he assembled the anti-Clinton tome "Clinton Cash," those same journalists were tripping all over one another to get a piece. Amy Chozik, writing in the New York Times, revealed that "major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author  to pursue the story lines found in the book." Essentially a conspiracy with a known smear-artist.[1]

Gabriel Sherman, writing in New York magazine, has just provided another example of the Clinton rules in an article about the Clinton Foundation's dispute with Charity Navigator, a non-profit that monitors charitable groups and that, in March, placed the foundation on its watchlist of potentially troublesome charities. The disconnect between the facts Sherman records and the conclusions he draws from them is almost unbelievable. "Clinton Foundation officials," write Sherman, "accuse the Navigator of unfairly targeting them, lacking credible evidence of wrongdoing, and blowing off numerous requests for a meeting to present their case." Following the pernicious "he said/she said" formula so common in the corporate press, he continues:
"Navigator executives counter that the Foundation has demanded they extend the Clintons special treatment. They also allege the Foundation attempted to strong-arm them by calling a Navigator board member."
The job of the journalist at this point is to evaluate who is telling the truth. The bare facts of Sherman's article support every one of the grievances of the Clinton Foundation, which renders dishonest Sherman's portrayal of them as merely self-serving accusations. Though Sherman sides with the claims of Charity Navigator, those same facts are not kind to them. The "strong-arm" remark invokes images of burly thugs slapping a hammerlock on some hapless fellow and demanding protection money. It's unclear whether this was a characterization offered by Navigator officials or by Sherman himself but Sherman's story offers absolutely nothing to support it. The Clinton rules.

By Sherman's account, "the Clinton Foundation was happy to promote Charity Navigator’s work (back when they were awarded its highest ranking)." This all changed on 11 March when the foundation received an email
"informing them they would be added to the [Navigator watch list] on Friday, March 13, unless they could provide answers to questions raised in newspaper accounts. Among the press controversies the Navigator cited: A Wall Street Journal report that noted 'at least 60 companies that lobbied the State Department during [Hillary Clinton's] tenure donated a total of more than $26 million to the Clinton Foundation.' Politico, meanwhile, revealed that the Foundation failed to report to the State Department a $500,000 donation from the Algerian government, a violation of the ethics agreement the Clintons had arranged with the Obama White House. Politico also reported that the Foundation’s former CEO, Eric Braverman, quit after a 'power struggle' with 'the coterie of Clinton loyalists who have surrounded the former president for decades.'"
Earlier, Sherman had asserted that these press reports had occurred "long before Clinton Cash," but the first two reports he cites occurred in late February, the last in March--all within a few days of one another--and it's a matter of public record that the publisher of "Clinton Cash" was shopping around its allegations to news outlets long before the book was released. In April, Matt Purdy, an editor at the New York Times, said, "Months ago, we were given early galleys of the book and offered exclusive rights to all the material in it." Meaning those stories did not appear "long before Clinton Cash." Were they connected to the Schweizer book? Schweizer does, in fact, raise a stink about the Algerian donation reported by Politico. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, is a part of the News Corp empire, which includes Harper Collins, the publisher of "Clinton Cash," and Fox News, which, as noted earlier, entered into some sort of deal with Schweizer. None of this featured fresh blood: The Journal's story dealt with events that had occurred while Clinton was Secretary of State but it appeared over two years after Clinton had left that post, and the donations it struggled to render sinister were all disclosed at the time they were made. And, of course, the material covered by the Journal was also covered in Schweizer's book. It's possible the Journal's story is unconnected to Schweizer in the same way it's possible I'll win the lottery this week.[2]

Though he traces the Clintons' problems in their many public disputes to "their lack of transparency" these facts suggest a rather different source for this particular dispute. The false assertion that all of this happened "long before Clinton Cash" bolsters the allegations by making them sound like the unconnected work of independent press outlets. Was Sherman actively trying to mislead his readers? Is this just a case of irresponsible sloppiness? In either event, this is a case of the Clinton rules. When it comes to slamming the Clintons, regular journalistic standards don't apply.

Sherman continues:
"Over the next few days [after the Navigator warning], Foundation officials desperately attempted to contact Navigator executives to rebut their claims but, inexplicably, couldn't get through to anyone on the phone."
A pretty significant part of the story. Other than writing it off as inexplicable, did Sherman even try to get any explanation for it? He doesn't say. Navigator sent its email on 11 March and the first successful contact Sherman records between the two parties occurs on the 13th, the day Navigator added the foundation to the watchlist. Sherman specifically says this happened in the evening, so presumably this contact was after the foundation had been added. Stepping away from Sherman's commentary and merely looking at the facts he records, one is left with the impression that Navigator staff had given the foundation two days to respond to the press reports in order to avoid being listed then went fishing, leaving Foundation officials with no avenue of appeal. That's extraordinary but it seems to have raised no red flags for Sherman.

That contact on the 13th was, as Sherman explains, "a detailed email rebuttal" from Clinton Foundation CEO Maura Pally:
"'All of the other organizations on your watch list have had substantiated allegations of financial, fiscal or other impropriety,' she wrote, according to an email the Foundation provided to New York. 'The stories you cite about the Clinton Foundation merely point to donations, or gossip around our operations, none of which constitute any wrongdoing.'
"It didn't work."
It does, however, raise questions that are of rather central importance to Sherman's story, questions Sherman entirely declines to properly cover.

As noted earlier, that Wall Street Journal report cited by Navigator wasn't about shady backroom deals--it dealt with fully-disclosed donations made to the Clinton Foundation. It wallows in innuendo--more of those Clinton rules at work--but its authors, James Grimaldi and Rebecca Ballhaus, specifically wrote:
"Corporate donations to politically connected charities aren't illegal so long as they aren't in exchange for favors. There is no evidence of that with the Clinton Foundation."
Likewise, the Politico piece about the donation from the Algerian government offers no substantive accusation of wrongdoing. At the beginning of Clinton's tenure at State, the foundation entered into a complex ethics agreement regarding, in part, various donations from various sources to various elements of the Clinton network. In 2010, an horrendous earthquake struck Haiti and the Algerian embassy donated $500,000 to a relief fund for the victims established by the Clinton Foundation. This was unsolicited and, as Politico notes, the foundation proudly displayed news of the donation on its website. The question here is whether, under the terms of the ethics agreement, the foundation should have cleared the donation with ethics officials at the State Department before accepting it. And the answer, it would seem, is no:
"Though the foundation is now conceding that the failure to clear the Algeria donation was a mistake, it’s not entirely clear that the treatment of the gift violated the literal terms of the November 2008 agreement... The deal... set rules only for the Clinton Global Initiative and... four other Clinton Foundation units... The agreement could not possibly have specifically addressed the project aimed at alleviating the impact of the Haiti earthquake, which took place 14 months after the pact was signed. The foundation’s Haiti relief fund did not exist before the earthquake. The agreement also appears to be silent on how any new Clinton Foundation project would be treated, although the foundation did pledge to disclose all of its contributors annually. The foundation says it did so with respect to the Algeria gift."
In regard to the relevant portion of the ethics agreement, Politico adds:
"The Clinton Foundation insisted at the time, and reiterated this week, that those steps were voluntary, not required by law."
In short, this is another non-story, another product of the Clinton rules. Sherman, practicing those rules himself, asserts that Politico had "revealed" that the Algerian donation was "a violation of the ethics agreement the Clintons had arranged with the Obama White House," which is false but has, since this "story" broke, been repeated into infinity by anti-Clinton elements.

When Maura Pally wrote to Navigator that these stories "merely point to donations, or gossip around our operations, none of which constitute any wrongdoing," she was entirely correct.

On 17 March, Pally and Ken Berger, then-CEO of Navigator, clashed over the phone. When Pally said the stories were without substance,
"Berger insisted that since the newspapers published the articles, they were relevant. 'Our whole thing is, if major media outlets say there's something here that you should be aware of, we're not going to be judge and jury on what the media says,' Berger later told me. 'We felt there had been enough questions.' As a matter of practice, the Navigator doesn’t conduct its own investigations. On its website, they state: 'Charity Navigator … takes no position on allegations made or issues raised by third parties, nor does Charity Navigator seek to confirm or verify the accuracy of allegations made or the merits of issues raised by third parties that may be referred to in the CN Watchlist.'"
This conversation is the source of the earlier claim that Foundation officials tried to "strong-arm" Navigator. Nothing about Sherman's account of it supports that characterization and Navigator, not the Foundation, is the org with the power in this dispute. Pally subsequently attempted to arrange a meeting with Berger to discuss the matter further and Berger refused. Sherman quotes him on the matter:
"We were not opposed to having a sit-down meeting. The point was, what is it that we're going to cover? We've already been around the block. What's the value of this?"
Sherman records that his own examination of the matter had led Pally to resume talks with the Navigator but she has a problem:
"'I remain at a loss as to what information we can provide to address Charity Navigator's concerns and be removed from the Watchlist,' she wrote Tim Gamory, the Navigator's acting CEO."
Sherman doesn't explain how the Foundation can address Navigator's concerns either. He ends by mocking the Clinton camp:
"For its part, the Clinton camp sees the episode as another reason to feel aggrieved. But even some Clinton advisers have been frustrated that they don’t appear to have learned from past self-inflicted wounds... Unfortunately for Hillary’s campaign, the Navigator’s policy is that charities that land on the list stay there for a minimum of six months. Sandra Miniutti, the Navigator’s spokesperson, told me that, in order to get off the list, the Clintons need to publicly address each of the controversies raised by the media with a convincing response.
"The clock is ticking."
Line up these facts:

The press collaborates with a smear-artist to produce anti-Clinton stories, stories built entirely on innuendo that contain no substantive charge of wrongdoing and thus nothing that can be substantively rebutted.

Based on these stories, a charity watchdog threatens to add the Clinton Foundation to a watchlist otherwise populated by charities plagued by proven improprieties, thus smearing the Foundation by association.

Officials at the watchdog give the foundation only two days to reply then don't answer their phones for the duration of that period then add the foundation to the watchlist.

When the Foundation's CEO notes that the press accounts are without substance, the watchdog CEO replies that it isn't his job to investigate or evaluate the press reports--the reports that form the basis of his org's decision to add the foundation to the watchlist.

When the Foundation's CEO presents a vigorous defense in the face of this Kafkaesque farce, the watchdog CEO characterizes this as an effort to strong-arm him and a demand for special treatment.

The watchdog's policy is that, once listed, a charity automatically remains on the list for at least six months and a spokesman for the watchdog insists that, in order to get off the list, the foundation will have to respond to the press accounts, those press accounts that contain no substantive charge of wrongdoing and thus nothing that can be substantively rebutted.

There's a scandal here all right but it sure as hell isn't the one Gabriel Sherman is trying to sell. Given Charity Navigator's scope and influence, its officials' insistence that the sort of treatment doled out to the Clinton Foundation is standard operating procedure would, if taken seriously, be rather chilling. Except by Sherman's accounting--a substantial caveat, one must concede--what the Foundation's officials have said appears to be entirely correct; that, for whatever reason, the foundation is being singled out for very unfair treatment. That treatment and the why of it are both stories the press should pursue but won't. That a journalist could come along and, surveying these facts, blame the Clintons and their foundation is... well, it's the Clinton rules. And it's probably just going to get worse.

--j.

---

[1] The first fruits of this collaboration was a "bombshell" article on the front page of the New York Times, which insinuated that Clinton had facilitated the sale of an uranium mine to Russian interests in exchange for contributions to the Clinton Foundation from some interested Canadians.

Yeah.

Columnist Gene Lyons, a longtime critic of the Clinton rules, wrote, "there’s a reason articles like the Times’ big exposé are stultifyingly dull and require the skills of a contract lawyer to parse. Murky sentences and jumbled chronologies signify that the 'Clinton rules' are back: all innuendo and guilt by association. All ominous rhetorical questions, but rarely straightforward answers." Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler chopped it to pieces and the story completely disintegrated.

[2] The third cited story, the Politico piece about Eric Braverman's resignation from the Clinton Foundation, doesn't hint at any wrongdoing and Sherman doesn't bother to tell his readers what concerns Navigator may have had with it.