Jay Rosen has an excellent post you should read. Go check it out; I'll wait. But come back, because I want to elaborate on something he writes.
OK. Here's Rosen:
My claim: We have come upon something interfering with political journalism's "sense of reality" as the philosopher Isaiah Berlin called it (see section 5.1) And I think I have a term for the confusing factor: a quest for innocence in reportage and dispute description. Innocence, meaning a determination not to be implicated, enlisted, or seen by the public as involved. That's what created the pattern I've called "regression to a phony mean." That's what motivated the rise of he said, she said reporting. [Emphasis added]
I don't disagree with anything Rosen wrote, but I think he left out something that is very important (and something I suspect he knows): When reporters omit reality from their stories in order to avoid being seen as "involved" or "taking sides," they are taking sides. And they are taking the wrong side. When you treat two statements -- one true and one false -- as equally valid and equally likely to be true, you are conferring an undeserved benefit on the false statement.
I will simply offer an analogy. When a basketball referee fails to call a foul late in a close game, broadcasters will often say the referee "didn't want to decide the game" or "wanted to let the players decide the game on the court." The implication is that if the referee calls a last-second foul, he is deciding the outcome of the game -- but that if he doesn't call it, he is letting the players determine the outcome. This may be aesthetically and dramatically pleasing to some, but as a basic matter of fact and logic, it is incorrect. By not blowing the whistle on a clear foul, the referee is doing the opposite of what the announcers say he is doing. He isn't really letting the players decide the game on the court; he's giving one team a distinct advantage. When the people in charge of enforcing the rules stop doing so, their actions are the opposite of neutrality. Not calling a foul is a decision, too -- and it, too, has consequences.
That was my initial reaction when I skimmed Bill Bennett's post over at National Review Online, in which the conservative talker, and former GOP Secretary of Education, took issue with Beck's CPAC speech this weekend. For the last 13 months I, along with lots of others, have been wondering when the supposed Wise Men of the GOP and the conservative movement would step forward and finally call Beck out for the kind of unhinged madness he propagates.
I've been wondering when people on the right who take politics and public policy seriously were going to summon up the courage and part ways with Beck as he spread his crazy, tinfoil hat, anti-government conspiracies, and denigrated the President of the United States as a racist, communist, socialist, Nazi dictator.
I've been waiting and waiting, but it's mostly been crickets. (That's like suggesting conservatives publicly disagree with Rush Limbaugh. Are you insane?)
So yes, my hopes were momentarily raised when I saw Bennett's piece because he watched Beck's CPAC speech Saturday night and Bennett did not like what he saw: [emphasis added]
There's a lot to say about CPAC. This morning the major papers are highlighting Glenn Beck's speech. I like Glenn a lot and I think he has something to teach us. But not what he offered last night.
And look at how the Bennett posted concluded:
The first task of a serious political analyst is to see things as they are...To ignore these differences, or propagate the myth that they don't exist, is not only discouraging, it is dangerous.
Wow. What Beck's doing is dangerous, wrote conservative Bennett.
But alas, Bennett's effort was no profiles in courage. Instead, Bennett's central beef with Beck -- the reason he's so dangerous -- was that at CPAC Beck suggested Democrats and Republicans are alike and they're both to blame the country's woes.
For uber-partisan Bennett, Beck finally crossed the line with that attack.
Politico's John Harris has a weird navel-gazing article about Jonathan Allen's return to journalism -- and Politico -- after a brief stint working for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Actually, it's about Politico struggling to decide whether it should take Allen back -- not because of doubts about his skills as a journalist, but because they feared a month working for a politician would irrevocably taint him:
It was a couple of weeks ago that we heard from Allen again. After a month on the job, he decided he had made a mistake. He concluded that his talents and temperament were those of a journalist, not an operative. He wanted to come back to POLITICO, if we would have him.
Ugh, again. Two thoughts were immediately at war: "Damn right, we want him," and "I'm not sure we can take him." Some critics would say he was too compromised by his brief sojourn in politics - in which he publicly aligned himself with Democrats and made a modest contribution to Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln - to return to straight reporting. I wasn't sure the critics were wrong.
I have no doubt about Jonathan Allen's ability, or my own ability, to separate personal or ideological views from reporting.
But I am enough of a traditionalist to be wary of the revolving door between politics and journalism. And it seemed likely that Allen's brief tenure with a Democrat might open us to shots at our fairness by Republicans. I viewed this as a matter of perception, not of reality.
So, Harris didn't have any doubt about Allen's ability to separate his personal views from his journalism, but worried that hiring a reporter who had a month of experience working for a Democratic politician might "open us to shots at our fairness by Republicans."
Huh. Seems like a good time for Harris to mention that Politico reporter Jonathan Martin previously worked for a Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate, two Republican congressional campaigns, and a Republican congressman, for whom he worked for more than three years.
But Harris never mentioned Martin. Weird.
Glenn Beck has worked hard to portray himself as a regular guy -- just an everyday Joe who fears for his country -- despite the fact that Beck, as my colleague Brian Frederick rightly pointed out, is hardly the everyman he likes to say he is.
The latest incarnation came during his keynote address at the CPAC conference (which itself is such an everyman thing to do), where Beck told the audience about how he grew up working in his father's bakery and became the first person in his family to go to college, and how he only went for one semester because he couldn't afford it:
BECK: My father, eventually, business, because of the 1970s and the small town was dying, we went out of business. He moved. But you know what? I learned from that. I learned from the mistakes. I learned from the failure.
I'm the first person to go to college in my family. I went for one semester. I took one class. Do you know why? I couldn't afford it. Now I never once even thought: "This isn't fair." I never once thought: "I want to take it from him, how come he gets to go and I can't go?" I never once thought I was owed an education. I was 30 when I went. I was trying to find answers.
When I couldn't afford to go anymore, I was okay. I went to work, I got -- I picked up my kids from school. I spent the afternoon with them. I put them down to bed, or whatever we did. I did my homework, if you will, for the next days show, and I went and I read. I educated myself. I went to the library -- the books are free. I went to the bookstore. I read until two, three o'clock in the morning some nights -- I still read until two, three o'clock some mornings -- after everything's done.
I educated myself. My education was free and I'm proud of that. When did it become something of shame or ridicule to be a self-made man in America?
Now, working to try and afford college while trying to support a family is a story being played out all over America. However, in Beck's case key details widen the gap between his everyman persona and reality. See Beck -- who has reportedly said, "I was making, I don't know, a quarter of a million dollars by the time I was 25" -- previously stated that the reason he was able to attend Yale (the everyman school) was due to a letter of recommendation from a sitting U.S. Senator. As he explained in his book, A Real America (a real everyman title)
I know Joe [Lieberman] very well. Well, we're not buddies or anything, not like we're out buying yarmulkes together. But Joe is responsible for my being accepted at Yale. He wrote a recommendation for me, and I attended Yale University. [A Real America, p111]
Of course, with details like that, his everyman act might start to feel as contrived as Beck's regular waterworks.
Her recent declaration was quite definitive:
"We never claimed that he went in with a pimp costume," said Giles. "That was b-roll. It was purely b-roll. He was a pimp, I was a prostitute, and we were walking in front of government buildings to show how the government was whoring out the American people."
Of course, 'never' is a dangerous word in terms of making sweeping denials, especially in the age of Google, and especially when Giles and her ACORN partners, James O'Keefe and Andrew Breitbart, were so talkative last year about their ACORN sting. (I've already documented how both men pushed the phony dressed-as-a-pimp storyline.)
So before I write anything else on this topic, and as a courtesy to Giles, I'll ask again: Does she intend to stand by her claim that she and her cohorts "never" suggested O'Keefe was dressed as a pimp when he entered the ACORN offices?
Apparently Andrew Breitbart is spending his entire CPAC weekend in permanent whine mode (does he have any other?), as he moans and cries about how nasty and untrustworthy the press is. This, of course, coming from the same guy who won't fess up to helping spread the ACORN lie that James O'Keefe wore his pimp outfit into offices last year as part of his undercover sting.
He didn't. Breirtbart made that part up. And today he won't admit his role in peddling the falsehood. But he's shows up at CPAC and berates the press about its lack of standards, and pretends he's the people's watchman. (More like their clown.)
More importantly, note how Breitbart went about his press-bashing routine at CPAC:
Kate Zernike of the New York Times, are you in the room? Are you in the room? You're despicable. You're a despicable human being.
How's that for whipping up a crowd and putting a Times journalist in a potentially dangerous situation? Asked to cover a right-wing conference already filled with press-hating attendees, Breitbart, in pure demagogic mode, walks to the podium, asks if a specific Times reporter is the in the room, and then denounces her as being "despicable human being," as the audience laughs and cheers. (I half expected to see CPAC security guards drag Zernike away at Breitbart's command.)
Can't say I didn't warn folks in the press about Breitbart and his unstable, press-hating ways. (Journalists are unpatriotic, terrorist sympathizers!) Maybe now journalists will stop producing puff pieces about this guy. Because trust me, he's going to get one of you seriously hurt.
UPDATED: And BTW, here's the RW's pointless complaint about Zernike's coverage at CPAC.
UPDATED: Note to Breitbart: Stop digging!
At CPAC today, the propagandist finally addressed the falsehood about O'Keefe being dressed in a pimp outfit inside ACORN office. From Washington Independent [emphasis added]:
"I have to apologize to the nation because the pimp in the pimp and prostitute video apparently wasn't dressed like a flamboyant pimp," said Breitbart, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "I'm so sorry to this nation. I don't know what to say."
"Apparently"? Ha! Does Breitbart not know the answer? Is Breitbart unwilling to simply confess that he made the pimp costume story up? Does he need more time to study the unreleased ACORN videos to come to a final decision on the issue?
UPDATED: Does the comedy ever end? More from the Washington Independent's David Weigel at CPAC:
In a short conversation after his speech — which was taped by a film crew that was hovering around us — Andrew Breitbart chided me for asking Giles about the "no outrageous costumes" attack, saying that it was a "distraction" thrown up by the Center for American Progress and Media Matters.
Ha! Press critic Breitbart has decreed that journalists are not allowed to ask his employees questions that he has deemed to be a "distraction." Y'know, questions that go to the heart of a massive falsehood Breitbart helped spread last year.
Let's face it, in Breitbart's world, facts are a "distraction."
UPDATED: Breitbart really hates pointed question about O'Keefe and his pimp costume. At CPAC Mediaite's Tommy Christopher got into a hallway showdown with Breitbart and when the topic turned to O'Keefe's pimp outfit, Breitbart cut off the interview.
Breitbart's parting word:
Put your dick back in your drawers.
Behold, "conservative journalism."
UPDATED: When in doubt, Breitbart tweets about "fisting."
During a discussion on tonight's Hannity about Michelle Obama's campaign to fight childhood obesity, Mike Huckabee explained that the initiative is not a "nanny-state solution" or a "leftist position" and warned that "conservatives" would engage in reactionary attacks against the program. Not to point out the elephant in the Fox newsroom, but it's not just your garden-variety "conservatives" that are "going to" attack the program; CPAC keynote speaker Glenn Beck has already used his Fox News program to unleash an all-out assault against the "wonderful government campaign," which came straight out of the "progressive playbook."
Huckabee previewed his interview with Michelle Obama -- scheduled to air on his Fox News show on February 20 -- and noted that the first lady's initiative involved educating parents and students on proper nutrition and exercise and ensuring that the school lunch program is sufficiently nutritious. Huckabee stated, "She does not believe that it is a government solution and that government should dictate what size cheeseburger you eat." He concluded:
On this issue, I think the first lady is right on it, and she's not taking a leftist position on it. And the conservatives are going to immediately say, "Oh, we're against this." They need to listen and be part of the solution.
Now, flash back to one week ago: Beck used his Fox platform to stake out an unequivocal position against the campaign to fight childhood obesity:
BECK: This is torn from the pages of the progressive playbook. You're too stupid. You need the government to fix your life, and they agree with you that government has no place in this business. But we're just going to help make things better.
Yes. They're coming and they are slowly but surely taking away your freedom under the guise of helping you.
Of course, it's never been entirely clear that Glenn Beck wants to be part of the solution.
At least 80 advertisers have reportedly dropped their ads from Glenn Beck's Fox News program since he called President Obama a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred for white people." Here are his February 19 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
*Allergan, Inc was previously erroneously identified as a parent company of Hydroxatone, LLC. Media Matters regrets the error.
The Wall Street Journal's John Fund is back at work attacking one of his favorite targets, ACORN, at this week's CPAC with an amusing bit of pretzel logic. Fund was discussing supposed congressional efforts to enact universal voter registration (Fund was previously forced to retract his claim that Rep. Barney Frank was pushing such legislation after Frank called Fund's report a "lie"), and explained that since nobody has heard of this proposal, that was great evidence of its existence.
That's right, since nobody is talking about it, this must mean it's true. This completely explains why the congressional plan to give Texas to the Martians is undoubtedly true. How do I know? Because nobody is talking about it!
It had to happen sooner or later. After a panel on women in the conservative movement we were introduced to radio host Laurie Roth, who offered the following well-considered and rational thoughts on President Obama's record on terrorism:
That's good stuff.
Anyway, a quick Google search for Roth brought up a link to an article posted on the website of Roth's radio show -- appropriately called The Roth Show -- titled "The International squeeze against all our freedoms." Presumably written by Roth, it starts out:
Already we see evidence in this administration of media tampering, intimidating and even threatening if certain subjects are covered such as the President's eligibility which millions of Americans want to know about. Is it not a fair question to ask....why has this President spent over 1.5 million dollars to hide every one of his records, passport, birth certificate, all college and school records? Gee, inquiring American minds want to know. Wouldn't you be proud of your school records? Why hide them?
The article linked to a website called "ObamaCrimes," a birther haven purporting to offer all manner of news "concerning the eligibility of President B.H. Soetoro/Obama."
Some more assiduous Googling turned up another Roth Show article, this one titled "Threats, birthers and Obama. Has the media been muzzled or sold out?" In the piece Roth observed:
For some time we have seen the media big dogs completely avoiding the issue of where Obama was born and if he complied with our constitutional requirements about being born in the U.S. Bill O'Reilly has poo poohed [sic] it for some time on his national show, while others pretend it isn't there or worse.
Recently, even Glenn Beck on his show, while visiting with Michelle Malkin mentioned talking mostly about czars, "I have to tell you, the - I mean, first of all, the birther thing, what are you going to do. Even if it was true, what, are you going to take him out of office? You can't do that."
She also wrote that she would have some "HUGE, documented breaking news" about Obama's birth certificate on August 8, 2009. I didn't bother to check out what that "HUGE, documented breaking news" was because, frankly, it doesn't matter.
What's amazing is that with Birchers and Birthers giving speeches and throwing in sponsorship dollars, there are conservatives out there who still have the gall to dispute the idea the CPAC is a "venue for the right fringe."