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FLYWEIGHT FOLLIES (PART 1)! Your press corps works on flyweight standards. Here—let the MRC prove it: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, MAY 17, 2005

E UNUM, PLURIBUS: As in the earlier case of Dan Rather, we’re puzzled when liberals, centrists and Democrats seem inclined to vouch for Newsweek in its recent blundering. Here, for example, is a pungent passage from today’s New York Times, from a front-page report by “Kit” Seelye:
SEELYE (5/17/05): Mark Whitaker, editor of Newsweek, said in an interview that the magazine was retracting the part of the article saying sources told Newsweek that a coming military report would say interrogators had flushed a holy book down the toilet to unnerve detainees. As it turned out, Newsweek now says, there was one source. And Mr. Whitaker said that because that source had ''backed away'' from his original account, the magazine could ''no longer stand by'' it.
As we’ve told you, your modern “press corps” has many slippery techniques for making weak stories seem stronger. (No one knows this any better than Seelye.) One of the slickest techniques was put in play here—the turning of one into many. Newsweek now says it had one source; in its original item, it claimed it had “sources.” This pluralization of the single is a familiar press corps technique, and it’s the mark of a cheat—of a fake, a dissembler. And by the way, these dissembling techniques have been widely used for the past dozen years against an array of Big Dems.

Who knows? The substance of this story may turn out to be true. And White House outrage is a gimmicked-up posture. But Newsweek made a serious accusation against the U.S. military—an accusation it can’t back up, in which it embellished its number of sources. Dems shouldn’t rush to defend such conduct. They ought to take this as a teaching opportunity—a chance to tell the public that, despite what you hear about “liberal bias,” this is exactly the sort of thing that has routinely been done to our leaders.

Oops, sorry—we almost forgot! That would force career “liberal” writers to bite the hands that may one day feed them. So liberal career writers won’t say these vile things. There’s no reason why amateurs shouldn’t.

SOB SISTER SALON: Horrifying. We refer to the judgment of the editors at Salon for publishing this defeatist Guardian piece about the David Rosen trial—the trial in which the prosecutors have said that Hillary Clinton has no involvement. That’s right—Clinton doesn’t have any involvement in the wrong-doing alleged against Rosen; the prosecutors have said so, right there in court (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/12/05). Why, you’d almost think that libs and Dems would want to spend their valuable time fighting slimy suggestions to the contrary. But for some reason, Salon chooses to publish a “defeat is just around the corner” piece which starts with this morbid premise:

HARRIS (5/16/05): It all sounds horribly familiar. Financial skullduggery, calls for a Senate investigation and the whiff of a sex scandal caught on tape. And all of it whirling around the Clinton name. A court case involving the fundraising activities of Sen. Hillary Clinton's former campaign finance chief threatens to put a time bomb under the former first lady's presidential ambitions.
Speaking of “horribly familiar,” what do you think when a liberal publication takes this approach to the Rosen trial—to a trial in which the prosecutors have said that Clinton has no involvement? Harris is right in one way, of course. This trial will “put a bomb under Clinton’s chances” if American’s weak-sister “liberal” elites respond in their usual defeatist manner, as Salon does by crossing the ocean to publish this hang-wringing piece. Indeed, by his third paragraph, their boo-hooing Brit is wallowing in Clinton’s future misery:
HARRIS: Clinton, prosecutors stress, is not personally involved in the trial, which began last week in Los Angeles district court, but the case is threatening to derail her preparations for a bid for the White House in three years' time. Even if Rosen is cleared, the case is likely to provide ammunition for her conservative critics.
Good God! Incredible, isn’t it? Even if Rosen himself is cleared, the case will do big damage to Hillary! And, of course, that prediction is perfectly true—if liberal sob-sisters like Salon behave in standard “born to lose” fashion, in the manner they adopted during wars against Clinton, then Gore.
How should liberals respond to the Rosen trial? Not by worriedly wringing their hands and trembling about the attacks that will come. If you don’t mind our saying so, liberals should respond as THE HOWLER has done—by going on the offensive for once against big scribes who try to trash Clinton. Indeed, Chris Matthews and Margaret Carlson have already given Salon a chance to take this daring approach (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/14/05). But instead, the editors tremble and moan. Instead of fighting on behalf of Big Dems, they wring their hands and piss and moan. Even if Rosen himself is cleared, this trial will do damage, they tell us!

Incredible, isn’t it? Even if Rosen himself is cleared, this trial will do big damage to Hillary! And yes, that’s almost surely true, with “liberal” cohorts like this in charge. “Surrender” is their middle name; defeat seems bred in their DNA. And no—they don’t seem eager to go after Matthews and Carlson. We’ll let each reader guess why.

Special report: Flyweight follies!

ID-ING DEE DEE (PART 1): What kind of flyweight intellectual standards currently rule your celebrity press corps? Consider a discussion from cable TV’s best press-critique program, Fox NewsWatch.

Last Saturday, the NewsWatch panel did a “quick take” about a new “study” of press corps bias—a “study” conducted by the Media Research Center, one of our gooniest pseudo-con interest groups. Host Eric Burns laid out the problem:

BURNS (5/14/05): Headline number one: "What's in a Name?" The morning network news shows, and the evening network news shows, have used the words "liberal" and "conservative" in their stories a total of 454 times since last November's election. "Liberal" was used 59 times; “conservative,” 395 times. All of this according to a conservative group called the Media Research Center.
“We can assume that they counted properly,” Burns said—although that is a large assumption when we deal with the MRC (see below).

What kind of flyweight intellectual standards currently rule your celebrity press corps? When it comes to flyweight work, the MRC are frequent world champs. Here’s the way the MRC explained what its new study meant:

MRC REPORT: In the six months since November’s elections, network reporters have zeroed in on “conservatives”—especially “religious conservatives”—as an energized and unwelcome force in American politics. As TV told it, George W. Bush won re-election because of strong support from “social conservatives” and would pack the courts with “conservative” judges. It was “conservatives” who pushed Terri Schiavo’s right-to-life case, and “conservatives” like Tom DeLay and John Bolton were embroiled in controversy.

It’s true conservatives have been making a lot of headlines, but even as the networks painted the right side of the spectrum as ideological, and even a tad fanatical, reporters rarely used ideological terms to define liberals. Since Election Day, network reporters branded politicians or groups as “conservative” 395 times, compared to 59 “liberal” labels, a greater than six-to-one disparity.

Why have networks used the word “conservative” so much? Of course! The networks have been “zeroing in on conservatives as an unwelcome force in American politics!” And not only that—they’ve been “painting the right side of the spectrum as ideological, and even a tad fanatical!” But according to the MRC, even as the networks have trashed conservatives, they have “rarely used ideological terms to define liberals.” This is a familiar example of an old sob-story—a story Bernie Goldberg pimped hard in his flyweight best-seller, Bias. News orgs ID conservatives to single them out. When they fail to ID liberals, they treat such people as mainstream.

Could there be such a problem with news coverage? Of course, there could be such a problem, but given the press corps’ flyweight standards, propagandists like the gang at the MRC rarely bother developing evidence. In Bias, Goldberg made no attempt to support his sweeping claims (see our endless reports in January 2002 and November 2003); the MRC makes no real attempt to support its charges here, either. Indeed, how flyweight is this well-known group? Try to believe—just try to believe—that this is their number-one example of the terrible bias they’re describing:

MRC REPORT: An Imbalanced Approach: On the April 26 Today, Katie Couric introduced a debate segment by branding just one side: “Dee Dee Myers was President Clinton’s first White House press secretary, and Tucker Carlson is a conservative commentator and host for MSNBC.” Were we supposed to believe Myers is non-ideological?
Incredible, isn’t it? The MRC studied six months of news reports and this is its number-one outrage? This is the best example of a news org “branding just one side?” For those who have just arrived from Neptune, let’s note the foolishness of this complaint. When Couric identified Myers as Clinton’s press secretary, she was, in fact, identifying Myers’ place on the “ideological” spectrum. She balanced this by describing Carlson as what he says he is—a conservative. Is this the worst abuse in the pack? Here was the MRC’s only other example:
MRC REPORT (continuing directly): On the March 2 NBC Nightly News, David Gregory talked about “the conservative group USA Next” and the “senior lobbying group AARP,” ideological opposites in the Social Security debate. On all four occasions the networks mentioned USA Next by name, they correctly called it “conservative,” but not once during the six-month study period did a network reporter describe the AARP as “liberal.”
But is the AARP a “liberal” group? That point is hardly clear. After all, a conservative group like USA Next can form in opposition to a centrist or non-ideological group, as well as to one which is liberal. Yes, USA Next is clearly conservative; indeed, the group self-describes that way. But it isn’t at all clear that AARP is correspondingly “liberal.” (In its most recent reference, on March 22, NBC Nightly News IDed the AARP as one of “the president’s opponents.”)

Why have big news orgs been saying “conservative” more than “liberal?” On NewsWatch, Jane Hall took the first shot at an answer:

HALL (5/14/05): Let me surprise you and say I think they [the MRC] have a point. It was a point that Bernie Goldberg made in his book about—about bias, that they don't identify Ted Kennedy as a liberal.

I'm always skeptical of these counts. And also, conservatives have been—they're the winners of the last—of the last political fight, so that may be a factor.

Based on our review of the evidence, Hall’s second point is much stronger than her first. As we have shown in the past, Goldberg’s claim about Kennedy was factually wrong—and by the way, the big news orgs aren’t mentioning Ted much these days. Why does the word “conservative” appear so often in our evening news broadcasts? Because news orgs are reporting on the big, self-described conservative groups which are actually driving the agenda. For example, here’s a report from NBC Nightly News about a major political conference. This is the official transcript as it appears on Nexis:
BRIAN WILLIAMS (2/18/05): We are back with “NBC News In Depth” tonight. The fight over remaking Social Security and the latest possibility to be floated in Washington, increasing the current $90,000 cap on wages that are subjected to the Social Security tax. President Bush said this week he wouldn't rule it out but as NBC's Chip Reid tells us tonight, this idea is going nowhere even with members of the president's own party.

REID: In Washington, the largest annual conference of the nation's leading conservatives, the tax-cut true believers. But the faith of some of these Bush supporters has been shaken. The president, well-known for his tax-cutting zeal, made clear this week that he is now open to the possibility of increasing Social Security payroll taxes for people making more than $90,000 a year. How do conservatives respond? David Keene of the American Conservative Union:

KEENE (videotape): They rise up and say, “No. We don't want that. That's not why we're here. That's not why we elected you. That's not why you said you wanted to get elected.”

REID: Many here point to the president's recent State of the Union speech.

BUSH (videotape): We must not jeopardize our economic strength by increasing payroll taxes.

REID: That, they say, was a clear promise not to raise payroll taxes in any way.

LESSNER (American Conservative Union): That statement the president made in the State of the Union was indeed a “read-my-lips” moment, and we hope that he sticks by that, doesn't back down off it.

REID: Many of the president's conservative allies are now drawing a line in the sand against any payroll tax increase, hoping the president gets the message quickly and drops the idea. The conservative Heritage Foundation says increasing the payroll tax cap would increase taxes for millions of middle class families. The Wall Street Journal editorial page today called the president's openness to increasing payroll taxes `punishment for his own supporters.' And the two top Republicans in the House of Representatives have flatly rejected it. The powerful Majority Leader Tom DeLay on CNBC today:

DELAY: It's a tax increase. And as far as I'm concerned, it's not on the table.

REID: So why did this tax-cutting president put a payroll tax increase on the table? One reason, it's an effort to gain Democratic support for his plan to reform Social Security. But some conservatives here say it could cost him even more support from his own party. Chip Reid, NBC News, Washington.

The word “conservative” appears again and again because NBC was reporting on conservatives—was reporting on the powerful groups which were driving the current debate. Earlier in this month, NBC did identify MoveOn.org as a “liberal” group, just as it IDed the Heritage Foundation as “conservative” in the report we have posted. But guess what? We examined network reports from the month of February, and NBC didn’t spend much time talking about groups like MoveOn.org. Instead, it talked about conservative groups, producing an imbalance in its use of words—an imbalance which had little to do with who it IDed and more to do with who it discussed. (For the record, NBC Nightly News used the word “conservative” 23 times in the month of February. Seven usages came in this one report. Seven more occurred on February 9, in a similar in-depth report about the way conservative groups viewed the Bush Admin spending plans.)

How flyweight is your celebrity press corps? Just go back to that clownish example—the one about Myers and Tucker Carlson. How flyweight are the intellectual standards accepted all over the Washington press? Your celebrity “press corps” buzzes like flies, imposing almost no real standards. All week, we’ll ask you to laugh-and-cry at the utterly flyweight world from which your discourse emerges.

GABLER GETS IT RIGHT: On NewsWatch, Gabler basically got it right when he took his go:

BURNS (continuing from Hall’s statement above): Yes, but that's not the point. The point is, why is one group identified, Neal, so much more than the other?

GABLER: Well first of all, to really understand this, you have to see how many times they have so-called right-wingers and so-called left-wingers on the air, and the percentage of times that they're labeled. They didn't even do that study. But here's something that the clowns at MRC might want to think about—

CAL THOMAS: They're not clowns.

GABLER: As Jane just said, conservatives won the election. Conservatives control the Senate and the House. There are more conservatives on television than there are liberals.

Indeed. When we examined the news networks’ work in the month of February, we found the phenomenon Gabler discussed; we found that there “are more conservatives on television than there are liberals.” MoveOn.org was IDed as “liberal.” But the org wasn’t talked about much.

For the record, here was one possible occasion for the Standard Bernie Goldberg Complaint. Except oops—look what happened when NBC’s Reid discussed two famous old pols:

REID (2/3/05): For all the obituaries written for the [Bush Social Security] plan, there are some members, mostly Republicans, who believe there is room for compromise, but only if both sides make painful sacrifices. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says there is a model. 1983, when conservative Ronald Reagan, against all instinct, agreed to increase taxes and liberal speaker of the house Tip O'Neill reluctantly agreed to cut benefits by increasing the retirement age.
Oops—there are Reagan and O’Neill, carefully IDed as “con” and “lib”—precisely the thing the MRC says the big new orgs won’t do. We will offer one small complaint about the work of the NewsWatch panel; although they discussed the MRC report, none of the panelists seemed to have examined the news reports the group said it had “studied.” (Thanks to Nexis, it doesn’t take long.) But don’t worry—no one else will critique this mess either. Your “press corp” works on flyweight standards—standards we’ll examine all week.

FRUIT FLIES: How goony does the work of the MRC get? In Bias, Goldberg cut-and-pasted an old MRC post, in which the org complained about the New York Times’ outrageous bias against males. In fact, the quote in question was from a science report—a report about the limited role of males in insect reproduction! “Flyweight” hardly captures this level of clowning. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/12/02 and 11/19/03. For the MRC’s similar problems with fly fishing, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/19/03.