Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On Major Networks, The Bernie Blackout Continues

To the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, the corporate press has dished out the usual treatment given liberal or left candidates; the Vermont Senator has been been persistently marginalized, talked down or simply ignored. Particularly ignored. This author has written about it more than once, as have others. Even as Sanders draws larger crowds than any other candidate of either major party, sets one fundraising record after another--nearly all in small donations--and has been leading in the always-prominent New Hampshire primary for months, the silence has just grown louder. Eric Boehlert over at Media Matters has been giving some attention in recent weeks to some work by media monitor Andrew Tyndall that quantifies this phenomenon with real numbers.

Tyndall tracks coverage of the various presidential candidates by the evening newscasts of the three major networks. From 1 Jan. to the last day of November, Sanders' campaign has received only 10 minutes of coverage--less than a minute a month. ABC's World News Tonight--the worst offender--gave Sanders' campaign only 20 seconds, a brief mention on the day of his official announcement that he had, in fact, entered the race. And part of that was devoted to Hillary Clinton's reaction to this development.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, managed nearly as much coverage as Sanders--8 minutes--merely be announcing he wouldn't be running again, something no one expected him to do anyway. Speculation regarding a potential candidacy by Vice President Joe Biden, something that never even materialized, received nearly an hour (56 minutes).

Who is getting the coverage?

Donald Trump is the Republican frontrunner but while his national poll numbers have consistently shown him on par with or behind Sanders in popular support, he's received over 23 times Sanders' coverage and is, in fact, the most covered candidate by far, drawing nearly 4 hours (234 minutes). That's over 1/4 of all coverage of all the various campaigns and nearly twice as much as that offered all of the Democratic candidates combined.

Jeb Bush is the second-most-covered Republican with 56 minutes devoted to his campaign. Ben Carson is at #3 with 54 minutes and Marco Rubio fourth at 22 minutes. All three of these candidates are way, way behind Sanders in popular support. Bush's campaign is stalled in single digits, Rubio is barely cracking double.

When Sen. Sanders launched his campaign, the biggest initial hurdle he had to overcome was that few knew who he was. The corporate press, following its dismal, long-established pattern with regard to liberal and left candidates, has done its level best to ensure that as few learn of him as possible. The press insists on treating Hillary Clinton, his chief Democratic rival, as the heir to be coronated. She is, overall, the second-most-covered candidate in the race. Nationally, she leads Sanders by more than 20% but she's received more than 11 times the coverage (113 minutes) and while, throughout the year, her numbers have trended flat or have declined, Sanders, who started as a 4% margin-of-error candidate, has, with his minimal coverage, managed to rise to more than 30%. One can only imagine where he could be if the press actually reported his existence.

--j.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Rush Limbaugh: Plagiarist

Many years ago. I was writing a book about Rush Limbaugh. It was never finished and then I lost most of it through a series of often ridiculous disasters. While the more polished, nearer-to-finished work is gone for good, a large portion of rough, unfinished, earlier versions of most of its chapters and sections managed to survive for many years. I've lost some of them since--more disasters--but I still have some of it and today, while going through it, I found a section in which I'd outlined an example of plagiarism by Limbaugh.

A little background: In 1992, Democratic challenger Bill Clinton and incumbent Republican President George Bush Sr. were duking it out in the presidential race. California Republican congressman Bob Dornan--one of the worst crackpots in congress at the time--would stay up late at night making special-orders speeches from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in which he weaved bizarre tales about Bill Clinton's college days, including suggestions that Clinton was working as an agent provocateur for the KGB during the Vietnam war after being recruited during a 1969 trip to the Soviet Union. These were conducted long after the House had finished its business for the day and the chamber was empty--Dornan was just talking to himself or sometimes to another Republican congressman--but the venue granted Dornan immunity from slander suits and his late-night ravings became a popular circus for C-SPAN junkies.

At the time, Dornan was a regular guest-host on Rush Limbaugh's radio show, sitting in when Rush was away. Though unsubstantiated by a single fact, his outlandish assertions regarding Clinton eventually bled into the rhetoric of an increasingly desperate Bush reelection campaign.

In his second book "See, I Told You So," Limbaugh was red-baiting Clinton and revisited this material. Of Clinton's college-era trip to Russia, he darkly asked, "...how about that mysterious vacation to Moscow and Prague in the dead of winter?" Later in the book, he comes back to the subject:

"Six weeks after he [Clinton] helped organize a massive anti-war, anti-U.S. protest in England in 1969, he turned up in the Soviet Union--the pre-Gorbachev Evil Empire that was supporting the communists in Vietnam with weapons and advisors."

This, I discovered, was plagiarized directly from a Bush campaign press release. Dated 5 October, 1992 and entitled "Back in the USSR," the copy read, in part:

"Six weeks after he helped organize a massive anti-war demonstration in London, at the height of the Vietnam war, then-student Bill Clinton turned up in the Soviet Union for a visit  during the dead of winter."

If anyone else ever caught this, I'm unaware of it. In more recent years, Limbaugh has had other interesting brushes with the plagiarism issue. In 2012, his newsletter blatantly plagiarized an image from a 2002 Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. In 2011, he falsely accused President Obama of plagiarizing him in a speech to the UN. In 2006, he came to the defense of right-wing blogger Bob Domenech who was caught up in a plagiarism scandal. In Limbaugh's fanciful version of what happened, the "left-wing fringe" complained about Domenech and "the liberal Washington Post buckled... and they concocted some phony excuse that the guy that they had hired was a plagiarist... [T]hey couldn't handle the heat from the left, and so they couldn't offend their audience, and so they had to get rid of the conservative blogger. At the same time, they had to put out a bunch of garbage to impugn his character and reputation at the same time." But in the real world, Domenech had admitted to the plagiarism and had apologized for it.

--j.