At Media Matters' we've repeatedly pointed out the media's inability to consistently identify the conflicts of interest or note-worthy connections of contributors and guests on various cable news outlets as well as those quoted in major newspapers as experts. Years' worth of examples of past Media Matters research on the subject can be found at the end of this post.
The Nation's Sebastian Jones has an incredible piece out this week detailing the results of a four month investigation which found that, "[s]ince 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials -- people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests -- have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that had paid them."
From Jones' report:
President Obama spent most of December 4 touring Allentown, Pennsylvania, meeting with local workers and discussing the economic crisis. A few hours later, the state's former governor, Tom Ridge, was on MSNBC's Hardball With Chris Matthews, offering up his own recovery plan. There were "modest things" the White House might try, like cutting taxes or opening up credit for small businesses, but the real answer was for the president to "take his green agenda and blow it out of the box." The first step, Ridge explained, was to "create nuclear power plants." Combined with some waste coal and natural gas extraction, you would have an "innovation setter" that would "create jobs, create exports."
As Ridge counseled the administration to "put that package together," he sure seemed like an objective commentator. But what viewers weren't told was that since 2005, Ridge has pocketed $530,659 in executive compensation for serving on the board of Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear power company. As of March 2009, he also held an estimated $248,299 in Exelon stock, according to SEC filings.
Moments earlier, retired general and "NBC Military Analyst" Barry McCaffrey told viewers that the war in Afghanistan would require an additional "three- to ten-year effort" and "a lot of money." Unmentioned was the fact that DynCorp paid McCaffrey $182,309 in 2009 alone. The government had just granted DynCorp a five-year deal worth an estimated $5.9 billion to aid American forces in Afghanistan. The first year is locked in at $644 million, but the additional four options are subject to renewal, contingent on military needs and political realities.
In a single hour, two men with blatant, undisclosed conflicts of interest had appeared on MSNBC. The question is, was this an isolated oversight or business as usual? Evidence points to the latter. In 2003 The Nation exposed McCaffrey's financial ties to military contractors he had promoted on-air on several cable networks; in 2008 David Barstow wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series for the New York Times about the Pentagon's use of former military officers--many lobbying or consulting for military contractors--to get their talking points on television in exchange for access to decision-makers; and in 2009 bloggers uncovered how ex-Newsweek writer Richard Wolffe had guest-hosted Countdown With Keith Olbermann while working at a large PR firm specializing in "strategies for managing corporate reputation."
Based on Jones' report, it looks like the problem is far more pervasive than previously known. It makes one wonder if Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, who has often failed to disclose his own conflicts of interest, will discuss the story on his weekend broadcast of Reliable Sources on CNN.
Be sure to check out Jones' expose in its entirety. It's well worth a read.
A while back, I expressed some entirely warranted exasperation that conservatives like the bias sleuths at NewsBusters continually use isolated weather events, like snowstorms in winter, as evidence that global warming is bunk. At the time, I surmised that the problem was that certain conservatives are "too abysmally thick to grasp even the basic idea of latitude."
Turns out I was being too generous.
NewsBuster Mark Finkelstein went after the New York Times this morning for reporting of the record snowfalls on the east coast:
But Dr. Masters also said that government and academic studies had consistently predicted an increasing frequency of just these kinds of record-setting storms, because warmer air carries more moisture.
Finkelstein was incredulous at the bit about warmer air carrying more moisture:
So more snow fell from Philly to DC because the temperatures were warmer than normal during the blizzards? That got me wondering: just what were the temperatures in DC on the snow days, and how do they compare to the norm? And guess what?
Bottom line: the temperature was colder than average on every one of the snow days. On average the snow days were about eight degrees colder than normal.
To spin these facts as proof that the blizzards are evidence of global warming because "warm air holds more moisture" is bunk.
This is so dumb it's actually frightening, so I'll try to explain it in a way that even a NewsBuster can understand.
Assume for the moment that there are basically two types of air -- warmer air, and colder air. Warmer air tends to have higher moisture content, as the New York Times reported. When a mass of warmer, wetter air meets a mass of colder, drier air, the warmer air is typically pushed up over the cold air, where it condenses, forming precipitation (that's a fancy science word for rain, snow, sleet, etc.). Once that precipitation gets heavy enough, it falls, and if the colder air beneath it -- the air that determines the temperature at the surface -- is below freezing, it falls as snow. It's basic meteorology, and it's all right here for your perusal.
The scientist cited in the Times did not say that more snow fell "because the temperatures were warmer than normal during the blizzards." He said that the warmer air that condensed to form the precipitation contained more moisture than normal -- hence, more snow. This was obvious to anyone who had paid attention in fourth-grade science.
But, of course, Finkelstein's inept turn as weatherman was enthusiastically endorsed by Rush Limbaugh and Finkelstein's colleague Noel Sheppard, whose serial climate change idiocy is becoming tiresome.
If conservatives want us to believe they know better than the climatologists, they should start by at least getting temperature down pat.
As reported on the New York Times' website on Wednesday (and in print Thursday), "Two former employees of Blackwater Worldwide have accused the private security company of defrauding the government for years by filing bogus receipts, double billing for the same services and charging government agencies for strippers and prostitutes, according to court documents unsealed this week."
It seemed to be a story tailor-made for Glenn Beck. Last year, during and following the ACORN "scandal" that Beck had worked to turn into a national story, he had railed again and again against the corruption choking Washington, D.C.
Beck's anger was also predicated on the nature of the supposed crimes being committed: specifically, ACORN's theoretical willingness to support prostitution.
And so, it was intriguing to watch his reaction to the latest accusations facing Blackwater, which is embroiled in numerous legal investigations. Beck's Thursday Fox News broadcast included seven mentions of the word "socialist" or "socialism" and five mentions of "communist" or "communists." He even mentioned "fascism," "Hitler," and "Van Jones" once each.
But Blackwater? Beck didn't mention it once.
For the host, such obvious and overt hypocrisy is nothing new. Last September, Media Matters set out to establish if there was any consistency to his professed concern with "corruption" in Washington. Our researchers reviewed the transcripts of every episode of his television programs, beginning with his May 2006 debut on CNN Headline News and ending on September 18, 2009. During the period, several corruption scandals broke involving major U.S. military contractors Blackwater, KBR, and Halliburton, as well as Republican lobbyists and office-holders, such as Jack Abramoff and Bob Ney.
The results were striking: During the time period studied, Beck's programs were approximately 50 times more likely to reference ACORN than any of the military contractors and approximately 149 times more likely to discuss ACORN than either Abramoff or Ney. This, despite the fact that Halliburton, KBR, and Blackwater received tens of billions of dollars in military contracts. (By comparison, ACORN has received an estimated $53 million in federal funding over the past 15 years, which is an average of $3.5 million per year.) Furthermore, KBR was even connected to the fatal electrocutions of 13 U.S. service members between the start of the Iraq war and July 2008 due to faulty electrical work that the company performed.
In case there was any doubt about his priorities, Beck answered them just two days after our report came out. On September 25, 2009, he dismissed the idea that he was disproportionately focused on ACORN. After playing a clip of Roland Burris defending the organization and criticizing Blackwater, Beck said, "I don't think I can take the Blackwater thing anymore. I can't take any of it...What about ACORN?"
I'm not sure it's physically possible for The Note push any harder it's beloved Obama's-presidency-is-teetering-on-collapse storyline that it's been hyping since, like, September. But take a look at today's rather hysterical lede and it sure looks like The Note is trying [emphasis added]:
So it was that, in a single week in President Obama's second February in office, everything basically broke down, or at least froze in place.
Tracking a chaotic couple of hours... A former president was hospitalized for a heart procedure... The Kennedy political dynasty moved toward a quiet close...
A blizzard sparked a climate debate... Health care reform waited out another week... Glimmers of bipartisanship were promptly extinguished in the Senate... And we filled our snow-stuffed days with visions of Sarah Palin and David Paterson and John Edwards...
This is Washington at its most dysfunctional -- leaving aside the monstrous snow piles cutting down on the parking spots.
Note the very un-subtle way ABC News tries to connect all those disconnected events and to drop them at the feet of Obama; to make them--and the week-- seem like they're a reflection on Obama's administration.
But look at the highlights on that grocery list again: Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin, John Edwards, David Paterson, Patrick Kennedy and a blizzard. What does Obama or his adminstration have to do with any of those things?
Nothing, of course.
Newsbusters asks readers what they see as the "central theme" of the tea party movement -- and, in doing so, defines their "first principles":
So, "guns" are a "first principle" over at Newsbusters, but limited government and freedom, among other things, are not. Good to know.
Last month we highlighted the pointless nature of one-sided generic polls for elections that don't actually take place for more than 30 months. But this week, Gallup (headline trolling?) put out a new one that generated a lot of Politico/Drudge-fueled buzz. Why? because Obama only leads his "nameless" Republican opponent by a couple points. And that's news.
But is that really so shocking to give voters a choice between a well-known politician whom they may or may not like, and pit him against a nameless (i.e. flawless?) candidate? Wouldn't it be more revealing if polling firms like Gallup inserted the names of actual Republicans and then asked who'd they prefer if running against Obama?
That's what Fox News recently did. It inserted the names of real Republicans (flaws and all) and asked voters who'd they prefer. Look what happened when Fox News put in the names "Mitt Romney," and "Sarah Palin," and "Newt Gingrich" and asked voters to pick between Obama and them.
As I noted last month, according to the Fox News survey, Obama would waltz to re-election against Romney, sail to a second term against Palin, and probably wouldn't even have to campaign against Gingrich.
UPDATED: The truly odd part of the Gallup survey is that the pollsters specifically asked Republican respondents who''d they like to see as the GOP nominee. (i..e Romney, Palin, McCain, etc.) So Gallup has a cheat sheet handy. If it's really interested in taking a snapshot of the electorate, Gallup should use that list to ask voters who they'd prefer against Obama using the names of real Republicans.
UPDATED: I honestly don't know the answer to this and haven't been able to find it yet, but I'd sure be interested to find out if Gallup was polling George. W. Bush's re-election bid 30-plus months out via generic, nameless match-ups. Or Bill Clinton's. Or if this a new polling strategy has been adopted specifically for Obama. It kind of feels that way.
Of the many objectionable things said at this past weekend's Tea Party Convention, former Rep. Tom Tancredo's call for "civics literacy tests before people can vote" was perhaps the most flagrantly offensive and, arguably, anti-American. The idea of a "civics literacy test" as a prerequisite for voting rights is not only illegal, it conjures up the still raw memories of Jim Crow segregation in the post-bellum South.
Over at Andrew Breitbart's BigJournalism.com, though, Tancredo's comments were no big deal. They were so innocuous, in fact, that they attacked MSNBC's Rachel Maddow for denouncing Tancredo, calling her a "race-baiting demagogue."
BigJournalism.com contributor Izzy Lyman tried to explain why Tancredo's comments were OK:
Tancredo didn't say "literacy," and he wasn't talking about race. He said "civics literacy," which implies a basic understanding of U.S. government and history. Thanks to multiculturalism and unsecured borders, there are far too many people in this country who don't speak a word of English and will never bother to do so. Here is one reason why state campaigns to make English the official language of government business are so successful.
This is a distinction without a difference. Any sort of "literacy test" as an impediment to voting rights -- be it actual literacy or governmental literacy or historical literacy -- is illegal. In fact, literacy tests administered prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did test knowledge of civics and history. If, as Big Journalism suggests, that's the type of "literacy test" Tancredo was advocating, then it's still illegal and discriminatory. And to argue that the Tancredo wasn't "talking about race" when slamming people "people who could not even spell the word 'vote,' or say it in English" is willfully obtuse, given Tancredo's past racially inflammatory rhetoric.
Earlier this week, Breitbart made a big deal about how he doesn't support Birtherism, even though his websites had wallowed the Birther swamp on numerous occasions. Will someone ask him now why his websites apparently condone Tancredo's call for the resurrection of Jim Crow in the United States?
It's almost like she's still in campaign mode, dontcha think, Fox News?
If Murdoch's minions, picking up a favorite right-wing meme, are going to spend the month of Februrary documenting how many times Obama says "I" and "me" (read: narcissist much?), then I suppose turn about is fair play. And boy, Sarah Palin sure packed a lot of "I's" and "me's" into her weekend appearance at the Tea Party convention.
Here, from just a partial transcript from the Tea Party event, or some of her me-centric phrases:
"I'm so proud"
"I guess down here"
"I look forward"
"I want to start off"
"I think that's good"
"Let me say"
"I just say" "That scares me" "I ask" "I think you would agree with me" Do politicians say "I" and "me" a lot? Yes. Is it foolish and juvenile to try to read too much into that, and to try to divine truths from that verbal tic? Yes. Which, of course, is why Fox News is spending the entire month of February doing just that.
"I just say"
"That scares me"
"I think you would agree with me"
Do politicians say "I" and "me" a lot? Yes. Is it foolish and juvenile to try to read too much into that, and to try to divine truths from that verbal tic? Yes. Which, of course, is why Fox News is spending the entire month of February doing just that.
... and we're going to continue to be part of the problem.
Politico's Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Martin write that the media cover Sarah Palin too much, and take her too seriously as an important political figure:
A new poll out Thursday should make those of us in the media take a look in the mirror and ask: Should we really be giving so much attention to somebody who faces so many hurdles to becoming president or even the GOP nominee in 2012?
According to the Washington Post/ABC survey, she is viewed favorably by 37 percent of Americans while 55 percent view her unfavorably. That's what pollsters call being "upside down" and, if she were an incumbent, would usually spell defeat.
Beyond polls, consider this: if Palin were to announce a bid for the White House, how many party officials would support her? Would a single governor or senator get behind her candidacy? More than 10 House members? And how about donors - how many of the bundlers that seeded President Bush's two campaigns would do the same for her?
VandeHei and Martin contend that the saturation coverage of someone so unpopular is simply a result of the fact that stories about her attract eyeballs. They do concede that they're part of the problem -- but they have no plans to stop:
We know we're part of the problem - and we'll surely continue to run stories about Palin. But, we're looking at your top newspaper editors and network executives, listen to your grumbling political reporters when they try to tell you why going over board on the Hockey Mom beat isn't wise. Palin is no doubt a phenomenon - she's going to draw monster crowds and be an in-demand fundraiser for GOP candidates this fall. And she may overcome her weaknesses to make a run for the White House. But to cover her as the chief alternative to Obama and the presumptive frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2012 borders on dishonest.
Yes, she's good copy and yes she's good for business. But that doesn't mean she should be treated like a president-in-waiting.
Now, when Jim VandeHei begs "top newspaper editors" to "listen to our grumbling political reporters" when they say Palin doesn't merit such attention, it's important to keep in mind that Jim VandeHei is no mere beat reporter: He is Politico's executive editor. Who is forcing Politico reporters to cover Palin, if not Jim VandeHei himself?
And VandeHei and Martin downplay a screamingly obvious point: The problem isn't just that media outlets like Politico give Palin too much attention, it's that the coverage they give her too rarely notes her massive shortcomings, including the poor poll numbers VandeHei and Martin lay out. It's one thing to constantly cover someone who doesn't merit the attention; it's something else altogether to dishonestly constantly cover someone who doesn't merit the attention, portraying her as a popular phenomenon when she is wildly unpopular, and glossing over her stunning lack of honesty.
VandeHei and Martin seem to have some glimmer of recognition of this; they do note that it "borders on dishonest" to cover Palin as "the chief alternative to Obama." But they suggest that's about the quantity of Palin coverage. it is, in part. But it is about the quality of that coverage, too.
UPDATE: In case you were wondering how I can be so sure that Politico won't change, here's a November 18, 2009 article by Politico's Michael Calderone:
The Palin-media co-dependency
By: Michael Calderone
November 18, 2009 04:51 PM EST
Sarah Palin talked on the campaign trail about trying to get around the elite media filter, but this week she's pushed her way straight through it.
And the media - liberal and conservative, bloggers and network anchors - have responded by dedicating magazine covers, air time and online real estate to everything related to the book-promoting, media-bashing former governor of Alaska. No matter where Palin goes, the media follow - Andrea Mitchell even hosted her MSNBC show Wednesday from the Barnes & Noble in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Palin's scheduled to sign books.
For Palin's book sales, all press is good press. And for the press, Palin is all good for the bottom line.
Since then, Politico has continued to obsess over Palin. And now Politico's executive editor writes, as though it's news, that the media and Palin have "a tangled, symbiotic affair - built on mutual dependency and mutual enabling." That isn't news -- that's basically the headline of a piece Politico itself ran three months ago!