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HOWARD DEAN WINS THE FOX AUDIENCE! Howard Dean had a good idea—and no clue about basic facts: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JULY 29, 2010

Andrew Breitbart gets a pass: On the bright side, Andrew Breitbart’s reputation has been damaged by last week’s events.

As you may recall, Breitbart posted a piece of tape which was so deceptively edited that even the mainstream press corps noticed. The gentleman has been routinely criticized, even by a string of pundits on major Fox programs. Breitbart’s sliming of Shirley Sherrod will be widely remembered. In the future, deceptive edits by Breitbart will almost surely be discussed in this context.

On the other hand, the mainstream press corps has clearly decided to take a powder on Breitbart’s past. The public is not being told about the gentleman’s previous adventures with deceptive editing. In particular, the clownish history of the ACORN tapes has largely been sent down the memory hole. Consider the way the New York Times has handled this past, clownish matter.

The Times shot its wad on the Breitbart affair in its Monday edition. On the front page of its “Business Day” section, David Carr wrote a column about Breitbart and Sherrod. Next to it, on that same page B1, Brian Stelter wrote a news report about the same topic. Each piece made some good points—but the “editing” of those ACORN tapes was treated in gingerly fashion. Here’s how Carr summarized the incident, early in his column:

CARR (7/26/10): Andrew Breitbart, a conservative blogger, lighted the race fuse by promoting a heavily edited tape of a relatively ancient speech by Shirley Sherrod, an Agriculture Department official. And last week, Tucker Carlson, creator of The Daily Caller, published another set of private postings from Journolist, a now shuttered e-mail list, that seemed to reflect a kind of conspiracy of left-leaning thinkers and journalists.

Both men, professed conservatives, would seem to be as much provocateurs as journalists. Mr. Breitbart famously brought Acorn to its knees by releasing heavily edited video clips that suggested the poverty organization had provided advice to a conservative activist posing as a pimp. Mr. Carlson has, among other things, bought the domain name KeithOlbermann.com, one more bit of mischief intended to bring attention and hits to The Daily Caller.

Welcome to Pravda! If you already knew what occurred in the ACORN case, you might have understood what Carr meant when he referred to “heavily edited video clips”—“heavily edited” clips which “suggested the poverty organization had provided advice to a conservative activist posing as a pimp.” But if you didn’t already know what happened, you couldn’t find out from Carr’s column. In what way were those ACORN clips “heavily” edited? Was anything wrong with the way they were edited? Did ACORN really “provide advice to a conservative activist posing as a pimp,” or did the tapes just suggest that this happened? Just a guess: Most Times readers wouldn’t know how to answer those questions. And if they didn’t know, they couldn’t find out from reading Carr’s column.

But then, the same problem obtained in Stelter’s report, which appeared right next to Carr’s piece. Stelter heavily focused on Breitbart, but discussed the ACORN matter thusly:

STELTER (7/26/10): The [Sherrod] incident has also renewed accusations of racism directed at Fox News, a unit of the News Corporation, which could conceivably affect Fox and its advertisers. The National Association of Black Journalists has faulted Fox for years for inaccurately portraying blacks. And Mr. Beck called Mr. Obama a racist last August, prompting an advertiser boycott that continues.

In the last month, Fox doggedly pursued an accusation of voter intimidation by a fringe hate group called the New Black Panthers on the day of the last presidential election. One news anchor, Megyn Kelly, devoted dozens of segments to the incident. (Ms. Kelly was even upbraided on the air by a Fox News contributor, Kirsten Powers, who accused her of doing the ''scary black man thing.”)

Last fall, Fox's news programs gave heavy play to heavily edited tapes that appeared to show counselors at the liberal community organizing group Acorn giving advice to an ostensible pimp and his prostitute about evading taxes and setting up a brothel.

Fox's news programs covered the story extensively. Rush Limbaugh claimed at the time that other media entities were ''doing their best to cover it up by ignoring it.'' Over the weekend, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, Howard Dean, accused Fox of pushing ''a theme of black racism.”

Much later, Stelter notes that Breitbart “is the person who last fall released the Acorn tapes to Fox News.” But look at the way that episode was described in those highlighted passages. The ACORN tapes were “heavily edited,” Stelter wrote, using the euphemistic phrase which has clogged the Times coverage of these events. And as with Carr, so too with Stelter: The tapes “appeared to show counselors at...Acorn giving advice to an ostensible pimp and his prostitute about evading taxes and setting up a brothel.” But did the tapes really show such a thing? Did such conduct really occur? Like Carr, Stelter never explained. Readers were left on their own.

In fairness to Stelter and Carr (and their editors), this is an awkward topic for papers like the Times, which did a poor job covering the ACORN matter in real time. In fact, those “heavily edited tapes” did show some ACORN employees misbehaving in certain ways, as several investigations have found. On the other hand, at least one ACORN employee was wrongly fired because of Breitbart’s tapes (as Sherrod was wrongly fired last week), and a gross misimpression was widely conveyed by the clownish use of a pimp costume, which got paraded all over the land. These tapes involved a type of “editing” which was grossly, deliberately deceptive. Let’s repeat: A gross, deliberate act of deception characterized Breitbart’s last adventure with “heavily edited tapes.”

Some HOWLER readers may not understand what we’re talking about. In part, that’s because the mainstream press corps failed to report the clownish deception involved in Breitbart’s last “edits.” They didn’t report this matter in real time—and they decided to take a pass on the topic this week.

Stelter and Carr seemed to be writing for Pravda with their murky references to “heavily edited” tapes—tapes which “appeared to show” certain things. (The less euphemistic term would be “deceptively edited” or “misleadingly edited.” But Gotham’s great rag took a pass.) That said, the greatest failure in Monday’s Times occurred in its news section, Section A, where the paper presented this parody of news reporting.

Breitbart and Sherrod were in the news. This would have been the time and the place to let readers know that Breitbart had engaged in such conduct before, even getting another innocent party fired last year. Instead, the Times played duck-and-cover, offering a thoroughly pointless report about the White House telephone office. Why couldn’t this famous office get Sherrod on the phone? the Times dimwittedly asked.

The paper might as well have asked what color shoes she was wearing.

According to Nexis, Breitbart’s name hasn’t appeared in the Times since Monday. But then, the Washington Post hasn’t made the slightest attempt to report Breitbart’s back-story either. Almost surely, Breitbart will have to be more careful when he “edits” tapes in the future. But he has received a pass for last year’s conduct, in which his tapes were baldly deceptive, even clownishly so.

By the way: Do you remember Juan Carlos Vera, the innocent party who got fired last year? If you do, you’re better than most! On Monday, we cited Annette John-Hall, the Philadelphia Inquirer columnist who reminded her readers of what happened to Vera (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/26/10).

Last year’s unjust firing of Vera is remarkably similar to the unjust firing of Sherrod. But Sherrod is famous this week—and Vera remains in a memory hole. According to Nexis, John-Hall is still the only journalist in the country who has mentioned Vera’s name since the Sherrod matter broke.

Sherrod is famous—but Vera is toast. And Breitbart has gotten a pass.

What does “heavily edited” mean: Please note: In Carr’s column, even the tape of Sherrod’s speech is described as “heavily edited.” We have no idea why Carr said that. (Perhaps his editor made him.) What is “heavy” about the editing? The tape presented a two-minute clip from a much longer speech—but that sort of thing is done all the time. As far as we know, there were no edits within the shorter clip. If that clip is “heavily edited,” then “heavily edited” video clips appear in the news all the time.

The correct term here is deceptively edited. The tape was edited in such a way that it gave a grossly misleading impression. Why not just come out and say so? Would that involve telling the truth?

With respect to the ACORN tapes, the term “heavily edited” is more accurate. But as it was used in Monday’s Times, the term was also straight outta Pravda. A newspaper reader would know what it meant—if she already knew the story.

HOWARD DEAN WINS THE FOX AUDIENCE (permalink): Why does he go on Fox at all? On Monday night, Howard Dean was asked this question when he appeared on the Ed Show.

Ed Schultz often says that Dems should stay off Fox. He asked Dean why he appears there:

DEAN (7/26/10): Well, you know, there’s a debate about that which I think is legitimate. I go on because I like Chris [Wallace] and I think he’s a straight shooter, even though he does occasionally have to mouth the propaganda that [Roger] Ailes tells him to. But I think he’s a good guy.

I think other Democrats sometimes go on it because they do have an audience, and we need to talk to that audience. It’s really sort of like the 50-state strategy. If you never talk to people, then they get to believe all that nonsense they see on Fox every day.

[...]

There’s things to be said in favor of talking to the Fox audience, and there’s also things to be said staying off the programs run by bullies.

On balance, we tend to agree with Dean. But however one might judge this question, there are surely things to be gained by talking to Fox’s large audience. Some Fox viewers are hard-core Republicans with fixed views; presumably, other such viewers are not. Presumably, there are things to be gained by talking to that large audience.

Then again, there’s little to be gained by going on Fox and grossly bungling, in a way Fox viewers will quickly spot. And that is largely what happened last weekend, when Dean appeared on Fox News Sunday, paired with Newt Gingrich. Chris Wallace started with questions for Gingrich, challenging him rather tartly about his loud accusations of racism—his harsh accusation against Shirley Sherrod, his harsh accusation last year against Sonia Sotomayor.

“Why so quick to call people racists?” Wallace asked. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/28/10.)

Truly, that’s an excellent question—a question for the current age. We thought Wallace questioned Gingrich fairly well, though the two-guest format is restricting. But then, he turned to Dean—and though we like Howard Dean a lot, we’d have to say he did a horrible job bringing The Message to the Fox audience. Can we talk? Dean was gruesomely unprepared for his appearance this Sunday. And even though we like Howard Dean, we’d have to say he behaved in a bit of bad faith, about our nation’s most important, most sacred topic.

Dean came out of the box quite hard, though bungling lay just down the road:

WALLACE (7/25/10): Let me bring in Governor Dean, because the fact is—

DEAN: Yeah, Chris, let's just—

WALLACE: Go ahead, sir.

DEAN: Let's just be blunt about this. I don't think Newt Gingrich is a racist, and you’re certainly not a racist, but I think Fox News did something that was absolutely racist. They took a—they had an obligation to find out what was really in the clip [of Sherrod’s speech]. They had been pushing a theme of black racism with this phony Black Panther crap and this business and Sotomayor and all this other stuff. You—I think you've got to be very— I think, look, the Tea Party called out their racist fringe and I think the Republican Party’s got to stop appealing to its racist fringe. And Fox News is what did that. You put on—

At this point, Wallace broke in. Text of disaster below.

We wouldn’t have started that way ourselves, though it’s hard to weigh such approaches. “Absolutely racist” is a very tough charge—the kind of charge which tends to make people who aren’t on your side stop listening. And just for the record: in failing to “find out what was really in that clip,” Fox News had done the very same thing the Obama Administration had done; the NAACP had failed to find out as well. (Duh. Gingrich had just finished making this point in defense of his own accusations.) For ourselves, we’d like to see people suggest to Fox viewers that all that New Black Panther Party coverage was misleading and overwrought—that it was frequently less than accurate, that it may not have been “fair and balanced” in this network’s grand tradition. We’re not sure if calling the coverage “crap,” and referring to that “racist fringe,” is the best way to launch such a task.

Do we liberals want to influence voters—or do we want to call people names? Newt Gingrich isn’t a racist, the governor grandly proclaimed, failing to show his work on the subject. He then suggested that the audience to whom he wanted to talk may be comprised of such people!

We wouldn’t have started that way ourselves—but it’s hard to weigh such approaches. Calling, or seeming to call, people names ain’t always a great way to start. But if Governor Dean wanted to influence that Fox audience, what happened next almost surely brought his effort to a halt. Wallace pushed back in defense of the hearth—and Dean floundered and failed.

We like Howard Dean a lot, but what followed was simple malpractice. There’s no earthly point in going on Fox if you plan to bungle in the way Dean now started to bungle:

WALLACE (continuing directly): Wait, wait, wait, wait. Governor—

DEAN: Yes, I think the Obama people—

WALLACE: Governor? Governor? I know facts are inconvenient—I know facts are inconvenient things, but let's try to deal with the facts. The fact is that the Obama Administration fired, or forced Shirley Sherrod to quit, before her name had ever been mentioned on Fox News Channel. Did you know that, sir?

DEAN: I—what I do know is that video came out while this was—

WALLACE: Did you know that, that her name—did you know that her, that she was fired before her name was ever mentioned on the Fox News Channel?

Can we talk? As things turned out this day, Governor Dean didn’t seem to know much. By the time he finished answering Wallace’s question, we’ll assume that he had completely failed to gain purchase with anyone watching Fox—with people who did know the basic facts he himself didn’t seem to have learned. As he continued, Dean was reduced to asking questions about the way Fox had covered this matter—and to imagining, quite bizarrely, what was “about to” happen at the time Sherrod got fired:

DEAN (continuing directly): What about the video? Where did that play? What about the incomplete video from a right-wing—

WALLACE: The video had never played—the video had never played on the Fox News Channel before the White House fired her. It was on Andrew Breitbart, BigGovernment.com. We're not responsible for them. I agree with you it was out of context, but it wasn't on Fox News. So maybe you shouldn't be using a “racist” phrase either.

DEAN: And it—and it was about to go—and it was about to go on Glenn Beck, which is what the administration was afraid of.

“It was about to go on Glenn Beck?” Readers, avert your gaze! In fact, Beck went on the air that night—and he didn’t mention Sherrod at all, even though the news of her firing hadn’t yet reached the press. Almost surely, most people in Sunday’s Fox audience knew that. Presumably, they simply stopped listening to Dean when they saw that he didn’t.

Simple story: Dean was ginormously unprepared for his appearance with Wallace. He went on to ask more questions about the coverage on Fox—questions whose answers he should have known before he appeared on this program. He didn’t even know enough to challenge one small part of what Wallace had said—to note that the “edited” clip of Sherrod’s speech had been available, that first day, on the Fox News web site. But if you want to see a good example of the way not to stage an appearance, you just have to read through Dean’s performance, culminating with his absurd remark about what was “about to” occur on Beck’s program. Whatever one thinks of Howard Dean’s theory, a performance like that will never change the minds of Fox viewers. More likely, it will harden a long-standing notion: You simply can’t trust what Democrats say, especially when they talk about Fox.

One night later, Dean made matters worse—though this time, only liberals were watching. When he appeared on the Ed Show, he was praised for the brilliant way he had stood up to Wallace. (“Howard Dean went into their own Fox-hole and gave it right back to them,” Schultz said.). Eventually, incredibly, Governor Dean ended up saying this:

DEAN: And by the way, you know, I happen to like Chris Wallace, but he was really not being exactly accurate when he talked about “We didn’t say one word about this before the Secretary of Agriculture fired her.

The fact of the matter is they were pushing this story very, very hard all day. It may be true that they didn’t mention her name, but they sure did run the tape without mentioning her name. And they cranked up this story after getting this piece of junk from Breitbart, which any third grader could have told you was cut off.

We happen to like Howard Dean. But the governor should be ashamed for making such ludicrous statements. They were pushing this story very, very hard all day? It may be true that they didn’t mention her name, but they sure did run the tape without mentioning her name? We have no idea what Dean was talking about. The story did exist on the Fox web site, but Sherrod’s name was on the site too. Dean seemed to be saying that Fox News had pushed the videotape on the air, without actually naming Sherrod. We have no idea why he said such a thing—but this statement was weirdly inaccurate.

Schultz could have clarified the facts at this point. Instead, he turned to the R-bomb. “So is Fox News racist in what they do?”

“Sure they are,” Dean replied.

Dean wanted to talk to viewers of Fox—and then, he did so, in the worst way. One day later, he still didn’t seem to know the simplest facts of this case. In such ways, our unprepared liberal leaders often make themselves look bad. In the process, they often make worthless conservative hacks come off looking good.

And oh yes, this one last thing: They also display their sneering contempt for the blood of our racial martyrs. We liberals claim that we care about race. Why do we tolerate conduct like this? Is there any subject on which we expect our leaders to be respectful—to show up minimally prepared?

Tomorrow: Making Matt Lewis look good!

Are they dumber than third graders too: “Any third grader” could have told you that the tape “was cut off,” Dean said, in a setting where knew he wouldn’t be challenged. This was his way of telling us liberals that Fox News had been absolutely racist.

But Benjamin Jealous didn’t tell us that the tape was cut off, over at the NAACP. Tom Vilsack didn’t tell us that either. Are they dumber than third graders too? Is Jealous racist, like Fox?

Fox has offered some horrible coverage of some matters involving race. (On Tuesday, Chris Matthews authored some very similar coverage of the New Black Panther affair.) We’d love to see someone go on Fox and make this case in a skilled, informed way. But that isn’t what Dean did. And he kept misstating on Monday.

“Why so quick to call people racists?” Wallace asked this question of big loud Newt. But it’s a fairly good question all around.