Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz thinks the Washington Post has done a laudable job covering health care reform, and that it's handling of the "Death Panels" lie peddled by conservatives was a particular high point. I don't agree -- perhaps because I've actually read the Post's coverage of that controversy, and Howard Kurtz apparently has not.
Last August, Kurtz pointed to a Washington Post article as an example of the media debunking the death panel lie. But it wasn't a particularly effective example, as I explained at the time. On March 28 of this year, Kurtz again pointed to that same article as an example of his contention that the media handled "death panels" well because "lots of mainstream news organizations said flatly that this was pure fiction." But even if you accept that the Post article in question did a good job of debunking the lie, that overlooks the fact that many other Washington Post articles -- and countless reports by other news outlets -- reported the Right's death panel claims without making clear that they are false. Last August and September, for example, the Washington Post routinely mentioned the claim without indicating their falsity.
That's why I think the Post and the media in general did a bad job of dealing with the death panel lie: They often repeated it without telling readers it wasn't true. As I wrote last week:
Kurtz doesn't seem to understand that debunking a lie occasionally isn't good enough; you have to make clear that it is a lie every time you mention it. And the media, including the Washington Post, have not come close to doing that. So it's true that on August 9, 2009, a Washington Post article by Ceci Connolly "said flatly" that death panels were "pure fiction" -- but it's also true that many, many other Post articles (some of them written or co-written by Connolly, by the way) have failed to do so.
For example, a February 28, 2010 Post article explained the controversy as follows:
"Death panels became part of the debate last summer, after prominent Republicans, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, claimed the government would set them up to decide who could live or die."
That's it. Not so much as a hint that it wasn't true.
I find it incredible that anyone -- particularly a person whose job is to assess the media's performance -- would fail to understand this basic point: If you mention a falsehood in two articles, but only make clear that it is false in one, you aren't doing a good job of conveying its falsity.
So I asked Kurtz about it during his online Q&A yesterday:
Q. Health care
You keep praising the media's health-care coverage, noting that news reports -- including some in the Post -- clearly stated that the "Death Panels" claim was false. But many other reports -- including several in the Post -- mention that claim *without* indicating that it was false. Do you think it is adequate for a news organization to *occasionally* make clear the falsity of such claims, or should they do so every time they mention those claims?
A. Howard Kurtz writes:
You'd have to cite me a specific instance. I don't recall a time when The Post gave any credence to the death-panels claim, but obviously reported on the fact that many people came to believe the claim was true.
Two quick points in response:
1) Kurtz must have read the question to quickly. Specific instances are not at all necessary to answer the question. The question is very simple: Is it adequate for a news organization to occasionally make clear the falsity of the claims it reports, or should news organizations make that falsity clear every time they report the claim?
2) Given that Howard Kurtz has praised the Post's handling of the "death panels" claim, and given that he is unaware of the fact that the Post has reported that claim without indicating its falsity, it seems clear that Howard Kurtz has been praising his employer's coverage of a key aspect of the health care debate without first reviewing that coverage.
That second one might be forgivable if Kurtz was any other Post reporter. But Kurtz is the Post's media critic. It's his job to assess media coverage. When he praises the Post's coverage of a controversy, readers have a right to expect that he has actually read that coverage. And they have a right to expect that Kurtz scrutinizes the Post just as thoroughly as he would if he didn't work there -- as he insists he does: "My track record makes clear that I've been as aggressive toward CNN -- and The Washington Post, for that matter -- as I would be if I didn't host a weekly program there."
Since when does "I've been aggressive toward" mean "I praise without reading"?
From Thomas Sowell's April 6 syndicated column:
Few combinations are more poisonous than race and politics. That combination has torn whole nations apart and led to the slaughters of millions in countries around the world.
You might think we would have learned a lesson from that and stay away from injecting race into political issues. Yet playing the race card has become an increasingly common response to growing public anger at the policies of the Obama administration and the way those policies have been imposed.
The Drudge Report is currently blaring the headline, "Obama Man: Raise Taxes, Start European-style VAT," in his signature red, scare font.
However, as per usual with Drudge, the article to which he links--a two-paragraph Reuters blurb on comments White House aide Paul Vockler made at a recent event-- isn't nearly as direct. Reuters reported that "Volcker, answering a question from the audience at a New York Historical Society event, said the value-added tax 'was not as toxic an idea' as it has been in the past." According to Reuters, he expressed an identical sentiment about "a carbon or other energy-related tax." The Reuters article also noted that though "both were still unpopular ideas, Volkler said getting entitlement costs and the U.S. budget deficit under control may require such moves. 'If at the end of the day we need to raise taxes, we should raise taxes,' he said." Notice the caveat: If the only way to get the deficit "under control" is to raise taxes, then we should raise taxes. Drudge sees the article and bam! An Obama adviser declared it is time to "raise taxes" and "start [a] European-style VAT."
But, given Drudge's history of false headlines, we shouldn't be surprised.
As we've previously noted, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn's advice to a constituent to not "catch yourself being biased by Fox News" is a ready-made situation for the trademark snark Fox typically issues to its critics, yet it hasn't uttered a peep about Coburn.
That silence extends to Fox's prime-time lineup. Its most-viewed hosts -- Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren -- said nary a word about Coburn's remark on their April 6 broadcasts. By contrast, these same hosts tend to follow the corporate line in defending their employer against other critics -- say, liberals or the Obama White House.
Then again, they may be too close to Coburn to take the usual scorched-earth approach to criticism. Coburn is a Republican after all, and he has received favorable treatment from at least two of these hosts when he appeared on their shows.
On the December 16, 2009, edition of his radio show, Hannity said to Coburn, "I hear you're really ticking off Bernie Sanders when you demanded his 765-page amendment [to the Senate health care reform bill] be read on the floor [of the Senate] today." Hannity went on to praise Coburn and fellow guest Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) for "standing really strong here and you're using every parliamentary procedure at your disposal."
On the December 21, 2009, edition of her show, Van Susteren allowed Coburn to tell "his side of the story" regarding his comment on the Senate floor that "What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote" on the Senate health care reform bill and also allowed Coburn to falsely claim that the bill permits federal funding of abortion. Van Susteren also interviewed Coburn in his Senate office for the October 6, 2009, edition of her show. Van Susteren said: "Nice to be in your office too. You're working hard."
It's difficult to bash or snark about a guy when you've gushed about being in the same room as him.
At this point we shouldn't expect Rupert Murdoch to have much of a grasp on reality. After all, it wasn't too long ago that the chairman of News Corp defended Fox News host Glenn Beck's comment that President Obama is a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred for white people" by saying, "he [Obama] did make a very racist comment." We're still waiting to find out what "very racist comment" Murdoch was talking about.
Now it seems he's lost touch with reality yet again, this time at a forum tonight in Washington, DC where he attacked the objectivity of rival news outlets in one breath and struggled to name a single Democrat at Fox News in the next.
Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports:
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose empire includes a host of predominantly conservative-leaning institutions, accused his competitors, on Tuesday night, of being the ones with the biases.
Speaking at a forum for the public affairs TV series, The Kalb Report, the News Corp. CEO valiantly declared that his rival networks -- MSNBC and CNN -- "tend to be Democrats" while those at his own Fox News "are not Republicans."
Asked later during the question and answer session to name a single Democrat who worked for Fox News, however, Murdoch struggled.
"They are certainly there... Greta Van Susteren is certainly close to the Democratic Party," he said, after blanking on names first and insisting that Ailes would have a long list. "She doesn't do many political stories. She is just a great journalist... but people who have been involved in Democratic politics and so on, yeah we have people..."
The media mogul was peppered with a host of comments related to bias, and in each case fought the perception that he's made his fortune by catering to the conservative audience. Asked by an official at the progressive watchdog group, Media Matters, for instance, whether it was ethical for officials at Fox to promote the Tea Party movement (as has been documented on some occasion) he replied without hesitation.
"No. I don't think we should be supporting the Tea Party or any other party. But I'd like to investigate what you are saying before condemning anyone."
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 April 6 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
We've been following the comments of CNN's Erick Erickson who said late last week: I'll "[p]ull out my wife's shotgun" if they try to arrest me for not filling out the American Community Survey.
Tough talk from the editor of the right-wing RedState.com who told CNN's Howard Kurtz just days earlier that he'd learned, "I don't have to get personal in blogging to make my point. I definitely evolved over time" following mounting criticism over his long history of incendiary, mean-spirited and otherwise hateful rhetoric and CNN's decision to hire him.
Now the White House is weighing in with its opinion.
Asked by progressive radio host and author Bill Press to comment on the controversy surrounding Erickson's "shotgun" comments during today's White House press briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs called them "remarkably crazy."
BILL PRESS: Robert, on the Census, Erick Erickson, a commentator for CNN, a couple of days ago, he said he was not going to fill out his Census form, and if a Census worker came to the door, he said he would "pull out my wife's shotgun and see how that little twerp likes being scared at the door." So my question is, do those remarks concern the White House? And are there any -
ROBERT GIBBS: It should concern CNN -- probably first and foremost. Probably concerns his wife as well.
PRESS: Any thoughts about protection for Census workers?
GIBBS: Well, I think there are a lot of people that get on cable TV and say stuff so that people will quote it back to other people.
Obviously the Census determines the representation you have in what we call representative democracy. I think it's why somebody like Karl Rove, who obviously I and others in this administration have disagreed with for going on many years, understands that the lunacy of ripping up your Census form or not sending it in or, God forbid, the remarkably crazy remarks of somebody that would threaten somebody simply trying to ensure that they're adequately represented in this country. These days it never ceases to amaze you -- and usually it's only trumped by what somebody will knowingly say tomorrow about -- I think it was Lincoln who said, "Better to be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt." I think that would be my advice.
From an April 6 post by managing editor David Swindle at David Horowitz's NewsReal, headlined "Barack 'Mr. Blonde' Obama Raises the Razor on America":
CNN contributor Erick Erickson has come under widespread criticism for his remark last week that he would "[p]ull out my wife's shotgun" if the government tries to arrest him for not filling out the American Community Survey. It wasn't the first time that Erickson has suggested he would respond to potential problems with the government by pulling out a firearm.
In March 2009, Erickson wrote an angry post about legislation banning "dishwasher detergent made with phosphates" in Washington state. Erickson asked: "At what point do the people tell the politicians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator's house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?"
Erickson concluded that post by writing, "Were I in Washington State, I'd be cleaning my gun right about now waiting to protect my property from the coming riots or the government apparatchiks coming to enforce nonsensical legislation."
On his radio show today, Erickson attempted to defend his post to a critical caller by claiming that it "was not a statement advocating violence but a statement predicating that at some point the tyranny of small things will overwhelm the American public and they're going to get mad." During the approximately three minute segment, Erickson did not address his statement about "cleaning my gun."
As my colleague Eric Boehlert pointed out earlier today, Fox News received some rather unexpected criticism from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) for their biased reporting and health care misinformation. Now, the standard operating procedure for Fox News is to lash out at pretty much anyone who dares to criticize them, be it politician or cable news competitor, with a snarky response from an often-unnamed spokesperson.
But it's been a long while now since Coburn called out Fox for their biased and erroneous reporting, and we can't find any indication that they've upbraided the Oklahoma Republican for his intemperate remarks. Time's Michael Scherer thinks we probably won't hear a peep, but I'm forever the optimist...
While we wait and wonder what's taking so long for Fox News to attack a Republican senator, let's do a quick review of all those people and groups who have found themselves on the bad side of Fox News' notoriously thin-skinned press department after questioning the network's commitment to "fair and balanced" journalism.