• UPDATED: When the press prefers theater criticism to reporting

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    On Thursday we took issue with Jay Newton-Small's Time piece about the Pelosi/CIA story, noting that the entire article ignored the facts of the story and centered instead on the theatrics; how Pelosi had fumbled her way through her press conference and that's why the story continued to live on in zombie form.

    Media message received: It's her own damn fault.

    Well, Thursday afternoon Newton-small wrote another piece, this one for the Time blog, and this time the writer conceded that in the wildly over-hyped Pelosi-CIA showdown, Pelosi likely had the facts on her side, in part because not a single Republican can come forward with first-hand knowledge of the CIA briefings in question and knocked down Pelosi's story that she was misled. Nobody.

    Too bad Newton-Small couldn't find the space for that little nugget the first time around. But, of course, it's been strategic omissions like that have kept the story alive, so you have to wonder if, collectively, among the press corps the omissions regarding Pelosi have become intentional.

    After walking through the lack of evidence, Newton-Small concludes [emphasis added]:

    But all of this has been lost in the GOP sturm und drang, led, by – of all people – Pete Hoekstra and Newt Gingrich. Yes, Pelosi needs a serious lesson in public relations but it increasing looks like there's nothing wrong with her memory.

    Lost by whom? By the press, naturally.

    BTW, there's an insightful reader comment posted below the Time blog post that's worth examining. As part of Time's incredibly belated defense of Pelosi (i.e. Time's examination of the facts), Newton-Small notes:

    Perhaps the most astonishing response has been from the CIA Director Leon Panetta, who basically said: Don't trust our records. Which begs the question: what other issues have they kept questionable records on?

    Time thought it was a big deal, that in response to the CIA briefing controversy, the agency's top man raised doubts about the validity of some of the information.

    Here's what "zachpruckowski" wrote, and it is 100 percent accurate:

    There's an error in your article. Director Panetta has been saying from the outset that the documents are the agents' best recollections and may be inaccurate. That was in the original letter he sent to the Intelligence Committee, the one that contained the list of meetings that started this whole brouhaha. The blog post you linked to (Wash Post's Plumline blog) that reported on the letter did so two weeks ago. It's inaccurate to say that Leon Panetta "responded" to the controversy in the same document that began the controversy. That sentence was in the original letter that started this whole "Pelosi vs. the CIA" thing.

    Panetta made his claim about the veracity of the CIA briefing notes weeks ago and at the outset of the GOP-driven story. But the press, in order to prop up the anti-Pelosi story politely ignored the Panetta angle.

  • NYT, please define "returned"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Justin Elliott at TMPMuckraker highlighted this Times flip-flop, and it deserves the attention. The Times' lead, upper-right A1 story on Thursday was this [emphasis added]:

    1 In 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds

    In it, the Times' Elizabeth Bumiller claimed the following:

    An unreleased Pentagon report provides new details concluding that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has returned to terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.

    The conclusion could strengthen the arguments of critics who have warned against releasing any more prisoners as part of President Obama's plan to shut down the prison by January 2010.

    The Times left little doubt: According to the Pentagon, 1 out of 7 terrorist detained "rejoined jihad." They "returned to terrorism." That announcement went off like a firecracker with conservatives seizing upon the revelation as a way to bash the Obama White House for having a flawed strategy to deal with the detainees.

    But then appearing on MSNBC later in the day Thursday, Bumiller announced, "There is some debate about whether you should say 'returned' because some of them were perhaps not engaged in terrorism, as we know -- some of them are being held there on vague charges."

    Really? There was some "debate"? Among whom? Because there was little hint of any debate in the Times' original article. It's true, as Elliott noted, that the Times online later adjusted the wording of the article to reflect more ambiguity about the detainees' activity. But their supposed return to terrorism was the central thrust of the news report. That's what landed the story on A1. How could the Times not be sure about that before they published the piece?

  • Paul Kane again demonstrates difference between stenography and journalism

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Paul Kane thinks, or pretends to think, that he gets criticized for offering too much "balance and context":

    PelosiPalooza!: Agreed on the "gate" issue, Paul. On another chat yesterday, a Post chatter asked what types of stories we feel should be reported on that aren't. Tangential to that, I'd just like to add that whatever your reporting on (and love your work, by the way), what I think most of us want is not "fair and balanced" or "opposing viewpoints". Just give us the facts. In context. Easy as that. Thanks!

    Paul Kane: Hmmm, I still think I like LollaPelosi better. We try for balance and context, it's a goal I personally shoot for; I know this upsets people, especially at Media Matters, who think there's no need for balance because they already know what we all should know. So we should only present 1 side, their side, of the argument.

    I just can't assume to know which side is right, so I do try to provide both sides of the argument.

    That's pretty much the opposite of the truth.

    Here, for example, Media Matters criticized Kane for simply reporting Olympia Snowe's criticism of the potential use of budget reconciliation to pass health care legislation without noting that Snowe had previously supported the use of reconciliation to pass President Bush's tax cuts.*

    Kane responded to that criticism by writing "We reported what Olympia Snowe said. That's what she said. That's what Republicans are saying. I really don't know what you want of us," thus nicely illustrating the difference between stenography and journalism.

    See, Kane doesn't really get criticized for trying for "balance and context." He gets criticized for leaving context out, and for suggesting that context isn't necessary.

    Even in his post today, Kane suggests that his job is just to provide "both sides of the argument," because he can't know which side is right. Well, sometimes he can. Granted, it'll take a little more work than simply typing up what the two sides say, but he can do some research and find out if one side is saying something that is false, or that is undermined by its previous stance.

    For example, if Paul Kane hears that Hillary Clinton falsely claimed to have always been a Yankees fan, Kane could spend half a minute looking through his own newspaper's archives to find out if is true before passing the lie on. But that isn't Paul Kane's style; he thinks his job is just to repeat the lie as though it were true.

    That's the kind of thing that Paul Kane gets criticized for: making false claims and not understanding that it isn't enough to simply type up Olympia Snowe's comments without including the relevant context.

    Then there's this, in which Kane asserted that "the real fiscal answer is ... slashing Medicare benefits," which isn't exactly a balanced presentation of "both sides of the argument."

    For Kane to now claim that he's being criticized for providing "balance and context" and "both sides of the argument" is nothing short of hilarious. That's exactly what he has been criticized for failing to do.

    * If Kane still doesn't understand the problem with reporting GOP complaints about reconcilation without noting their previous use of it, his colleagues do. Just days after Media Matters pointed out the omission, another Washington Post article included the relevant information.

  • When the press prefers theater criticism to reporting

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    That's the path Time takes as it sizes up the Beltway's favorite process gotcha story; Pelosi vs. the CIA. The Jay Newton-Small article at first suggests it's going to examine the facts of the case:

    Self-Inflicted Wound: How Pelosi Got into the CIA Mess

    But no such luck. Instead, the Time piece is a basically a theater review of Pelosi's press conference. She's a "bumbler" who "fumbled through her notes, departed the podium, returned to the podium, departed again." That's right, according to the Time, the press has devoted the last ten days to skewering Pelosi because she (gasp!) departed the podium at a press conference.

    Don't people understand that kind of action demands press attention because it was "a disastrous public performance"?

    What's telling is that at no point does the Time article examine the facts of the dispute between Pelosi and the CIA regarding long-gone intelligence briefings. That's of no interest to Time. But the fact that Pelosi "fumbled through her notes," and won't take media training classes (I kid you not), is all the proof Time, and the rest of the Beltway press corps, need to confirm that a major scandal continues to unfold on Capitol Hill.

    UPDATE: Politico takes the exact same course as Time: This entire Polosi saga only exists because of Pelosi's crummy press conference. And like Time, in its analysis of the process gotcha story, Politico never bothers to examine the facts, which have been flushed down the memory hole.

    Meaning, in this she said/he said, only Pelosi is being held accountable. Nobody, it seems, within the press corps, caress about whether the CIA's version of events regarding seven-year-old briefings is accurate or not.

  • ABC News dutifully ignores facts in Pelosi story

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    At this point, it's the norm. It's what journalists are supposed to do. And ABC News delivers in its online report, "House GOP to Force Vote on Pelosi."

    Here's the meat:

    House Republicans today plan to force their colleagues to vote on whether to launch an investigation of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's allegation that the CIA misled her, a move that will force Democrats to take a stand on a politically contentious issue.

    The measure has virtually no chance of passing, given the Democratic majority in the House, and the wide support inside the caucus for Pelosi, D-Calif.

    But Republican aides say they want to force the full House to vote on whether to create a special, bipartisan subcommittee to investigate the speaker's claims -- a move that keeps Pelosi in a harsh spotlight for another day, and forces some Democrats into a potentially awkward vote.

    Brilliant! The GOP is going to force an "awkward" vote that will surely embarrass Pelosi. The facts that ABC dutifully ignores? This: Those same House Republicans are adamantly opposed to approving a so-called truth commission to investigate what the Bush administration did with regards to torture. A truth commission Pelosi supports.

    See, if ABC News included the fact that Republican want to investigate torture but only as it applies to what Pelosi knew, and refuse to investigate what the Bush administration actually did, well Republicans would look like hypocrites.

    But since ABC News left out that important nugget of information, Republicans just look savvy and super smart. Again!

  • Does David Broder think all Republicans served in the military?

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    David Broder:

    Some adaptation is necessary for almost every president because few experiences can really prepare them for the challenges [of becoming Commander in Chief of the military] Obama described to Meacham. George W. Bush went through it after Sept. 11, 2001, subordinating his domestic agenda to focus on the terrorist threat -- and never changing.

    But the step is harder for today's Democratic presidents than for their predecessors -- or their Republican contemporaries.


    And a third reason is that today's Democrats really are isolated from the military. Harry Truman had been an artillery captain; John Kennedy and Carter, Navy officers. But Bill Clinton did everything possible to avoid the draft, and Obama, motivated as he was to public service, never gave a thought to volunteering for the military.

    As opposed to George W. Bush, who got out of serving in Vietnam due to his daddy's connections, then skipped out on his National Guard Duty?

    And, since Broder made the broad claim that "today's Democrats" (not just recent Democratic presidents) "really are isolated from the military" due to a lack of military, what about Dick Cheney, who had "other priorities" than serving in Vietnam? Or Newt Gingrich? Or these Republicans?

    There are 96 military veterans in the House of Representatives, and 25 in the Senate. That leaves more than 400 members of congress who are not veterans. I'm not going to bother counting them up by party; suffice to say: there are a lot of Republican members of Congress who didn't serve in the military. Broder's suggestion that Democrats, and only Democrats, are isolated from the military because of a lack of military service is nonsense.

  • The Red Scare Index: 80

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Here is today's daily Red Scare Index -- our search of CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, MSNBC and CNBC for uses of the following terms: Socialism, Socialist, Socialists, Socialistic, Communism, Communist, Communists, Communistic, Marxism, Marxist, Marxists, Marxistic, Fascism, Fascist, Fascists and Fascistic.

    Here are the numbers for yesterday, Wednesday, May 20, 2009:

    TOTAL: 80
    Socialism, Socialist, Socialistic: 72
    Communism, Communist, Commnistic: 6
    Marxism/Marxist: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 2

    By Network:

    CNN: 8
    Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 8
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 0
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 0

    CNN Headline News: 2
    Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 2
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 0
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 0

    Fox News Channel: 23
    Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 21
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 2
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 0

    Fox Business Network: 4
    Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 0
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 3
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 1

    MSNBC: 39
    Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 37
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 1
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 1

    CNBC: 4
    Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 4
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 0
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 0

    The above numbers are the result of a power search for these terms on these networks.

  • Coulter: "How about having the president throw out the ceremonial first fetus, like on opening day in baseball?"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    From Ann Coulter's May 21 column on

    So instead of inviting a constitutional lawyer to yammer on about this purported constitutional right, why not show it being practiced?

    How about a 21-vacuum hose (D&C) salute? Maybe have the Notre Dame marching band form a giant skull-piercing fork? How about having the president throw out the ceremonial first fetus, like on opening day in baseball? I'm just brainstorming here, folks -- none of this is written in stone.

    Being such a prestigious institution, Notre Dame could probably get famed partial-birth abortion practitioner George Tiller to do the demonstration at next year's graduation. Obama could help -- inasmuch as Tiller the abortionist is a close friend of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

    This is a "constitutional right" like no other.