For months, Newsmax has been running a campaign to rehabilitate the reputation of Bernard Kerik, the former New York police chief and would-be Homeland Security secretary currently under indictment on numerous corruption charges -- indeed, Newsmax loves Kerik so much it made him a columnist. That campaign moved to an absurd level with an article in the September edition of its magazine, hyperbolically headlined "Bernie Kerik: The Trial of an American Hero." Newsmax thought so much of this piece that a PDF of it was created and posted on the Newsmax website. But writers Dave Eberhart and Jim Meyers hide facts in order to portray Kerik is the victim of "overzealous federal prosecutors."
Eberhart and Meyers allow Kerik's attorney to criticize "government tactics in this case, especially the recent third indictment in a new jurisdiction, Washington, D.C." But they fail to accurately explain why those charges were filed in the first place, repeating a claim in an earlier article by Eberhart that the dismissal of certain charges in the New York-based indictment against Kerik "apparently irked the prosecutors, who decided on May 26 to open up the new indictment against Kerik in D.C., including charging him with crimes [Judge Stephen] Robinson had dismissed."
In fact, those charges were dropped specifically so they could be filed in D.C. The judge essentially told prosecutors to do exactly what they did -- as Newsmax itself reported at the time.
Eberhart and Meyers also obfuscate about what exactly Kerik is charged with doing, selectively citing charges that they feel can be easily rebutted. There's no mention, for example, of what The Washington Post described as a $250,000 loan allegedly granted to him on an interest-free basis by an Israeli businessman that Kerik allegely failed to disclose on federal tax returns and when he was nominated by President Bush to be Homeland Security secretary in 2004. There's also no mention of Kerik's alleged failure to report $500,000 in income to the IRS or falsely claiming tens of thousands of dollars in tax deductions.
Eberhart and Meyers reference an inquiry into "whether he aided a New Jersey construction firm in gaining city permits in return for a lowball price on the home work" on Kerik's house without mentioning that, as the Post also reported, the construction firm in question was under investigation by four government agencies for ties to organized crime at the time it did the work for Kerik.
The writers also falsely suggest that one of the charges Kerik faces involves wiretapped phone conversations with then-Westchester County District Attorney (and current TV judge) Jeanine Pirro, who "asked him to conduct surveillance on her husband, whom she suspected of marital infidelity. According to published sources, the tapes indicate Kerik had tried to talk Pirro out of the surveillance." But since Kerik apparently did nothing wrong, he was apparently never charged in that particular incident; the recordings came to light as part of the corruption probe of Kerik.
(Just as Newsmax enthusiastically touted Kerik's DHS nomination at the time, it promoted Pirro's abortive Senate campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2005, declaring any and all unsavory claims against her -- and there were many, largely centering around her two-timing, out-of-wedlock-siring, tax-cheat hubby -- to be "old news" even though most people weren't aware of them.)
Eberhart and Meyers are much more interested in burnishing Kerik's credentials. For instance, they note that "Kerik worked for the Interior Ministry in Baghdad training police recruits," but not that, as the Post reported, the stint "has been widely judged a failure" because Kerik abruptly quit after two months -- or, as Sen. John McCain put it: "Kerik was supposed to be there to help train the police force. He stayed two months, and one day left, just up and left."
The writers cranked up the melodramatic aspect of Kerik's purported victimhood:
Today, Bernard Kerik is fighting for his innocence with a criminal guillotine hanging over his head. Cut off from most of his business and media access, his income has withered.
Despite depleting his entire personal wealth, Kerik is going into the final rounds a wounded, but not beaten, man.
In other words, Eberhart and Meyers aren't doing reporting -- they're writing a hagiography.
Looks like somebody has been reading Betsy McCaughey's awful column. MSNBC's Contessa Brewer adopts McCaughey's the-bill-is-too-long nonsense, complete with a highly misleading prop:
That stack of paper sure is intimidating. But maybe Brewer should have let her viewers know that it's twice as high as it would be if legislation was printed the way pages are typically printed? After all, your twelve-year-old's Social Studies report can look intimidatingly long, too, if you print out one letter per page.
Brewer's stunt with the printout of the bill was deeply dishonest -- the kind of demagoguery that is annoying but expected from partisans trying to kill a bill, but not from journalists.
And Brewer's next step was just as bad. Since when does journalism consist of portraying complex issues as even more complex than they are, rather than explaining them?
Maybe people would understand health care a little better if MSNBC explained it to them, rather than exaggerating how incomprehensible it is.
Bowden has a long piece online, which looks at the future of journalism at a time of partisan programming and deep staff cut-backs. He's correctly concerned about how those two trends are changing the type of news consumers get.
Bowden focuses on the Sotomayor coverage, and specifically how an amateur online conservative sleuth was able to dig up some dirt on Sotomayor before she was even nominated. How small-time blogger Morgen Richmond was able to uncover the video of her 2005 Duke University appearance where Sotomayor said amidst laughter that appellate judges "make law." And how Richmond uncovered Sotomayor's now-famous "wise Latina woman" quote from an address at Berkeley Law School.
Bowden, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, sees danger for journalism in simply airing the oppo work of a partisan like Richmond:
Richmond seems a bright and fair-minded fellow, but he makes no bones about his political convictions or the purpose of his research and blogging. He has some of the skills and instincts of a reporter but not the motivation or ethics. Any news organization that simply trusted and aired his editing of Sotomayor's remarks, as every one of them did, was abdicating its responsibility to do its own reporting. It was airing propaganda. There is nothing wrong with reporting propaganda, per se, so long as it is labeled as such.
Thankfully, Bowden did what so few Beltway reporters who covered Sotomayor did: He put the Duke and Berkeley comments in context. Bowden noted specifically that the "wise Latina woman" remark was made in reference to discrimination cases. A key point that reporters and pundits pretty much refused to do this summer, even though they knew the facts.
But that's also where I think Bowden let the press off way too easy in his piece, which focused on TV news outlets which aired the Sotomayor video clip that Richmond had unearthed from Duke, as well as the "wise Latina woman" passage he found. I don't think there was anything wrong, journalistically, with broadcasting the clip or referencing the quote Richmond found. The problem with the Sotomayor coverage--and print outlets were just as guilty as television--was that journalists refused to include the obvious context of the Duke and Berkley quotes.
Back during the confirmation coverage I stopped counting, but at one point I found more than 900 "wise Latina woman" news references that failed to mention her quote was made in the context of discrimination cases. The media, through no fault of an online activist like Richmond, categorically failed to include the context. The press simply reported as fact that Sotomayor had claimed that a female Hispanic judge would make better decisions from the bench, on all types of cases, than would a white male.
None of that is the fault of conservative sleuth Morgen Richmond, who helped uncover the Sotomayor nuggets. And journalists were right to report on the video clip and speech passage that he highlighted. The epic fail came when journalists consciously, and uniformly, failed to provide proper context. For like, five weeks running.
And on that count, I think Bowden goes way too easy on the press.
UPDATED: Blogger Scott Rosenberg makes a similar point:
The trouble with all this is that Bowden is focusing his ire on the wrong people. Richmond is not, as far as I know, claiming to be a journalist — and yet, as Bowden admits, he is actually "fair-minded" enough to feel that the Sotomayor quote was maybe not that big a deal. Surely the failure here is on the part of the TV news organizations that turned it into a marquee soundbite without looking more deeply into it. Wasn't that their job, their process, their vetting — the safeguard that ostensibly distinguishes them from the unwashed blogging masses? Aren't they the ones who are supposed to be after truth rather than scalps?
According to the Orlando Sentinel, on September 20, "MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard" will moderate a two-hour special featuring Bill Cosby and NAACP president Ben Jealous, "focusing on the parenting, education and health issues facing the poor in the United States."
Michelle Bernard is a frequent MSNBC guest, particularly on Hardball.
Bernard is also the president and CEO of the conservative Independent Women's Forum, in which capacity she is busy spreading lies about health care.
Like this one: "More American women are going to die of breast cancer if you and I surrender to President Obama's nationalized healthcare onslaught."
Here's how FactCheck.org describes the health care lies coming from Bernard's IWF:
A False Appeal to Women's Fears
Republican-leaning group claims health care legislation could lead to 300,000 deaths from breast cancer, but uses old statistics, faulty logic and false insinuations.
A conservative group with Republican ties called the Independent Women's Forum is airing an ad that says "300,000 American women with breast cancer might have died" if our health care were "government run" like England's, citing the American Cancer Society as a source for the figure. In fact, a spokesman for the cancer society's advocacy arm says that figure is "not reliable" and adds: "[I]t's not one that we have ever cited; it's not one that we would ever cite." Furthermore, an epidemiologist with the cancer society told us that the way this figure was calculated was "really faulty."
There's much more, but the bottom line is clear: Michelle Bernard and the Independent Women's Forum are lying in order to stop health care reform.
So why is MSNBC turning to Bernard to moderate a two-hour special about, among other things, "health issues"?
Could it be that MSNBC is in favor of lying in order to stop health care reform?
A couple of weeks ago, I noted that Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz expressed bewilderment that people believe lies about health care -- even as he was validating people who tell lies about health care, like Fred Barnes:
Here's an example: Later in today's column, Kurtz quotes Fred Barnes' latest Wall Street Journal column. In that column, Barnes promotes the death panel nonsense that Howard Kurtz knows and says is false. Yet not only does Kurtz quote the Barnes column, he doesn't write a single word of criticism of Barnes. (He does quote Time's Joe Klein blasting Barnes, but doing it this way sets up a he-said/she-said in which some readers will dismiss Klein's views.)
This, Mr. Kurtz, is why people like Barnes feel free to spread lies: They know people like you will keep quoting them as though they are serious thinkers who deserve a place at the center of the public dialogue.
So who do you think Kurtz gives the last word about Barack Obama's speech tonight in today's Media Notes column? That's right: Fred Barnes.
If you treat people who spread lies as respectable and important thinkers, they're going to keep telling lies. If they keep telling lies, the public will believe lies. I suppose you can come up with a justification for why treating them as respectable and important thinkers constitutes acceptable journalistic practice, but you certainly can't smack your head in wonder at the fact that the public believes lies told by the people you are treating as respectable and important thinkers.
Meanwhile, in an online discussion yesterday, Kurtz continued to suggest the media debunked the "death panel" nonsense as well as they could have:
Re: Numerous news organizations said flatly that this was a bogus charge, and yet, for a great many Americans, it didn't matter.: I wonder if this points to a basic problem for "traditional" media -- one that may not be easily solved. News organizations did point out that the "death panels" did not exist, but it took them a while. The first headlines said "Sarah Palin attacks Obama's 'death panels'". Then, after there was time to investigate, the stories changed to "nothing in the proposed bills supports Palin's accusations." I'm paraphrasing, but that was the general idea, and it was too late. The story had already spread through the non-traditional media.
Howard Kurtz: I don't think speed was the issue, as you'll see in the timeline below. But the bogus "death panels" did seem to crowd out other coverage -- in other words, even as journalists said and wrote that there were no such panels, they kept the controversy alive in a way that may have made some people say, hmmm.
From my column last month:
Less than seven hours after Palin posted her charge Aug. 7, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann called it an "absurd idea." That might have been dismissed as a liberal slam, but the next day, ABC's Bill Weir said on "Good Morning America": "There is nothing like that anywhere in the pending legislation."
On Aug. 9, Post reporter Ceci Connolly said flatly in an A-section story: "There are no such 'death panels' mentioned in any of the House bills." That same day, on NBC's "Meet the Press," conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks called Palin's assertion "crazy." CNN's Jessica Yellin said on "State of the Union," "That's not an accurate assessment of what this panel is." And on ABC's "This Week," George Stephanopoulos said: "Those phrases appear nowhere in the bill."
I have previously explained why Connolly's article was not the effective debunking Kurtz expected it to be. The fact that the nation's most famous media critic is surprised that throwaway line in Connelly's article was insufficient is simply amazing.
Andrea Mitchell just asked Valerie Jarrett whether Barack Obama would follow House Democrats in insisting on "the public option, do or die."
I'm still waiting for Mitchell to ask a conservative whether they insist on "the public option, don't or die."
Today's Washington Post features an article entitled "Opposition to Health-Care Reform Revives Christian Right."
Oddly, the article makes no attempt to explain how opposing universal health care and maintaining insurance company profits are essential to -- or even consistent with -- the practice of Christianity. No effort to explain, or to ask the "Christian Right" leaders to explain, what Biblical basis there is for opposing a plan to care for the sick.
It seems whenever there is a news report about the religious left, the report goes out of its way to make clear that some of the positions the religious left takes are inconsistent with the teachings of various churches. Yet here's a case where on the very issue in question, the "Christian Right" seems to be taking a position that is not entirely consistent with Christian teachings -- and the Post makes no mention of that tension.
From The Fox Nation, accessed on September 9:
So, some reporters are proclaiming the end of the Drudge Era.
I'm not impressed.
See, Matt Drudge was never really as influential as the media insisted he was. He was their mascot, not their quarterback.
Drudge's thinly-sourced "scoops" and badly-skewed, sensationalist spin on mundane stories seemed to carry the day not because he enjoyed a svengali-like grip over the diligent reporters at MSNBC and the Washington Post who wanted nothing more than to produce solid, factual, balanced journalism but were led astray by Drudge's irresistible breaking-news beacon. No, Drudge seemed to carry the day because those journalists wanted to focus on the gossip, wanted to pursue irrelevant, salacious, and often false stories rather than write about policy, wanted to behave like cliquish thirteen-year-olds. They used Drudge as an excuse, not as a guide.
If they no longer feel it necessary to blame their shortcomings on Matt Drudge, that's only because they've embraced the fact that they are Matt Drudge.
An op-ed by serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey is, indefensibly, featured in today's New York Post:
When President Obama addresses Congress and the nation tonight, he should pledge to do three things.
First, he should announce that he will discard the 1,018-page health bill drafted in the House of Representatives and replace it with a 20-page bill in plain English. Twenty pages should be sufficient. The framers of the US Constitution established an entire federal government in 18 pages.
This is absolute nonsense.
First, as Betsy McCaughey surely knows -- though most of her readers do not -- the number of pages is wildly misleading. See, legislation is printed on pages with very wide margins. Text is double-spaced -- and lines are numbered. Here, for example, is what page 483 of the House bill looks like:
Page 483 -- a typical page -- contains only 151 words. That's about half as many words as appear on a page in a typical book. So it's more useful to think of the health care legislation as running about 500 pages. That's quite a bit shorter than a Harry Potter book. Surely it isn't unreasonable for legislation governing the nation's health care and insurance systems to run two-thirds as long as a children's book, is it?
Next: McCaughey says the bill should be written "in plain English." But legislation is written in highly precise and technical legal language for a reason: If it were written in "plain English," it would introduce more ambiguity, not less. Enforcement of laws would be more dependent upon judge's interpretation, and less dependent upon the intent of the elected representatives who wrote the law. (A prospect that would make a conservative like McCaughey twitch, if she were honest.)
Think about a "plain English" agreement between you and your daughter: If she cleans her room, she can have ice cream. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Now, think of all the complications that could arise: Who decides what qualifies as "clean"? What if she enlists the help of a friend? How soon does the room need to be cleaned? What kind of ice cream is she entitled to -- the stuff in your freezer, or the soft-serve chocolate-vanilla twist at her favorite ice cream stand, three towns over? How much ice cream? Et cetera. Those details need not be spelled out when you're dealing with your daughter -- at the end of the day, you can impose your will on the situation easily enough. It isn't so easy when you're trying to get your insurance company to cover your prostate exam.
Next: McCaughey says "20 pages should be sufficient" to revamp the nation's health insurance system. That's nothing short of crazy, as the ice cream comparison probably makes clear. Some things need to be elaborate and complicated. Next time you get on an airplane, think about whether you want the pilot's dashboard controls to be as complex as they are, or whether you'd prefer it to consist of an on/off switch, a steering wheel, and a break pedal. Think about whether you'd prefer the mechanics who service the plane to work off detailed step-by-step instructions making clear the 300 safety tests they must perform before each flight, or whether you'd be more comfortable if they were just told "Check it out."
Finally, as Betsy McCaughey surely knows, the Constitution did not establish an entire federal government in 18 pages. It laid out the basic framework for such a government. Betsy McCaughey understands the difference -- she just hopes her readers don't.
McCaughey's dishonesty and fundamentally-flawed thinking make the rest of her argument impossible to take seriously, but let's look briefly at her next demand:
Secondly, the president should announce that the purpose of his 20-page bill is to cover the truly uninsured. Period.
And do nothing for the already-insured, whose health care costs are skyrocketing? Nothing to stop health insurance companies from doing everything they can to avoid paying for necessary medical care so they can maximize profits? Nothing for people who are locked-in to their current jobs for fear that if they change jobs, they will be unable to get insurance due to "pre-existing conditions"? Nothing to force insurance companies to compete? Nothing to lower costs? Nothing to prevent insurance companies from placing caps on health care payments, which can -- and does -- result in people with top-of-the-line health insurance going bankrupt due to health costs?
Well, at least McCaughey made her perspective clear: She doesn't want to do anything to stop insurance companies from denying payment for necessary procedures. Good to know.