Prompted by Media Matters, the Los Angeles Times posted this correction at Andrew Malcolm's blog:
FOR THE RECORD:
A Top of the Ticket post Tuesday on the relative popularity of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama erred in stating in the text and the headline that there was a Palin-Obama gap of 1 point. Two separate polls were cited, as the post notes, so the findings are not directly comparable.
In yesterday's column about the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times' David Carr noted some ways in which the paper's coverage has leaned to the right since Rupert Murdoch took over:
Reporters say the coverage of the Obama administration is reflexively critical, the health care debate is generally framed in terms of costs rather than benefits - "health care reform" is a generally forbidden phrase - and global warming skeptics have gotten a steady ride.
As I noted yesterday, that's a tendency that is common to media not owned by Rupert Murdoch, too.
The Washington Post's Ezra Klein provided a much fuller explanation of this concept in a bog post yesterday yesterday morning:
By now, you're probably used to hearing about the $900 billion health-care bill. But what about the 150,000-life health-care bill?
Oddly, that label hasn't made its way into the conversation. But it is, if anything, a conservative estimate.
We're very comfortable talking about the financial cost of health-care reform. We're less comfortable talking about the human benefits.
But we don't like to talk about it that way. Occasionally, people justify this methodologically: It's too hard, they say, to know exactly how many people die because they don't have access to health insurance. But projecting the cost of the bill is no easier, or more certain, and yet we use those numbers with impunity.
In reality, people don't like to talk about health-care reform in terms of lives because it seems, on some level, unfair. It sounds almost like an accusation of murder. That's common rhetoric when talking about wars but not social policy.
But it isn't an accusation of murder. It's a statement of benefits. And there are iterations in which the costs could outweigh the benefits: The money could do much more good elsewhere, say, or the regulations would thoroughly impede medical innovation. That's an argument worth having, but it should be had. As it is, we talk about the costs in very specific terms and the benefits in very abstract terms. That biases the discussion toward the opposition and against, well, the 150,000 or so people whose lives would be saved by by this bill.
That is exactly right, and it applies to far more than health care. And it's why the reaction from some quarters to another Klein post, in which he described Joe Lieberman's willingness to kill health care reform as "caus[ing] the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people," was so predictable.
Klein's Post colleague Charles Lane flipped out, posting a bizarre rant in which he stipulated that health care reform would save lives and stipulated that Lieberman was opposing it out of a desire for revenge, but blew a gasket at Klein's willingness to spell out that opposing reform would cost lives. Lane's conclusion -- that Lieberman is opposing reform out of spite, even though reform would save lives, but that Klein is the one whose actions are "beyond the pale," because he said what Lieberman is doing -- demonstrates just how uncomfortable many journalists are talking about the effects of legislation.
And then Martin Peretz of The New Republic weighed in. Note that Peretz didn't really address the substance of anything; he just sputtered on about how rude Klein was to his longtime associate Joe Lieberman, as his longtime associate Charles Lane had argued.
See, it's fine for politicians -- and media figures -- to point to the negative consequences of legislation when those consequences are higher taxes on the rich, or deficits. You see dire warnings of these things all the time, and nobody bats an eye. But when you warn of other consequences -- lives lost, for example -- that's "beyond the pale." (And no, Charles Lane, this is not just like "Death Panels." Death panels don't exist. People dying without health care do.)
That, as Klein noted, biases the discussion towards those who dislike taxes and social programs.
Andrew Breitbart, the Matt Drudge protégé and Internet entrepreneur behind BigGoverment, BigHollywood, and Breitbart.tv -- with other sites in the works -- is trying to position himself as the avant-garde leader of conservative media. In reality, Breitbart is nothing new. He's merely the latest right-wing activist to digitize the conservative media machine that has held such sway in America for decades. As such, his work contributes not to the evolution of journalism, but to its dissolution.
And yet, Breitbart has styled himself as a journalistic savior, as someone willing to ask the tough questions and report what the mainstream media supposedly hide due to their allegiance to the political left. He recently explained the thinking behind one of his upcoming online ventures, BigJournalism, in the following way: "Our goal at Big Journalism is to hold the mainstream media's feet to the fire. There are a lot of stories that they simply don't cover, either because it doesn't fit their world view, or because they're literally innocent of any knowledge that the story even exists, or because they are a dying organization, short-staffed, and thus can't cover stuff like they did before."
But what kind of journalistic world would Breitbart really like to create? It wouldn't be a more accountable or accurate one. It would instead be a world of pure partisanship, one largely devoid of any meaningful journalistic standards at all -- or, for that matter, standards of decency.
On December 10, Mediaite, the online news-industry aggregator, published an interview with Breitbart in which he railed against "the Democratic-media complex," adding that his current and future initiatives would "fight the mainstream media -- New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, and CNN -- who have repeatedly, and under the guise of objectivity and political neutrality, promoted a blatantly left-of-center, pro-Democratic party agenda." Two days later, Politico ran another profile of Breitbart, interpreting him as possessing "an interest in fighting the cultural wars that he feels the left has been winning for 40 years." (In that interview, he also emphasized his particular antipathy toward Media Matters. "I'm 100 percent at war with those people," he was quoted as saying.)
Such rhetoric should not be overlooked. As Eric Boehlert recently explained, conservative activists like Breitbart aren't interested in actual journalism. Nor is he against media bias. To the contrary: He is media bias. Everything Breitbart touches is unapologetically imbued with his world view -- one which is defined by a combination of right-wing pseudo-populism and old-line nativism. His content is geared toward, in his words, "a largely underserved audience who fiercely believe in free markets and don't think Western Civilization sucks." Just to eliminate any ambiguity, Breitbart has said his viewers and readers are "Tea Party-esque." In spite of this, he pretends, as do most conservative media figures, that he speaks for the people. "If we aren't 50% of the country," he told Mediaite, "we are damn near close," the same kind of baseless inflation Glenn Beck traffics in.
With such clear conservative credentials, Breitbart's work is all too predictable. He is concerned almost exclusively with smearing and attacking individuals and organizations associated with Democrats or progressives. As is the case with such ventures, facts and standards of evidence are unimportant. The ACORN "scandal" was case in point, as Breitbart trumpeted undercover footage of low-level ACORN employees as unimpeachable evidence that the entire organization was systemically corrupt. As I wrote at the time, it was literally the opposite of the way in which an actual journalistic investigation takes place. No attempt was made to demonstrate that the offending employees represented the norm. Hannah Giles, James O'Keefe, and Breitbart himself all claimed that Giles and O'Keefe had never been turned away from an ACORN office -- a lie twice over. And of course, ACORN never actually helped O'Keefe or Giles carry out their proposed crimes. Breitbart offered no evidence that the verbal assistance they received would have translated into any actual action.
No organization or individual should be above legitimate criticism. But the key word is legitimate. Breitbart's assault on ACORN was a partisan hit-job, and it accomplished its goal, helping to convince 52 percent of GOP voters that the group "stole" the 2008 presidential election. (Mediaite's Colby Hall described the attack as "arguably one of the biggest stories of the year." It was, but Mr. Hall should have noted that ACORN wasn't the real story -- Breitbart and his tactics were.)
Breitbart's latest fixation is Department of Education official Kevin Jennings. Jennings already suffered an initial round of right-wing attacks several months ago, when he was accused of having failed to report, and to even having encouraged, the statutory rape of a high school student -- a lie Media Matters conclusively debunked, first by revealing that the student in question (named Brewster) was at least 16 years old at the time of the supposed incident, and then obtaining a statement from Brewster in which he dismissed the entire story and praised Jennings. And that was just the beginning. Jennings was soon compared to Roman Polanski, was called an advocate for NAMBLA, and accused of "indoctrinat[ing]" schoolchildren about homosexuality."
And the right won't stop. Jennings is back in the news -- and this time, Breitbart is leading the charge. BigGovernment has published an endless number of vulgar articles accusing Jennings of having known in advance about the content of a seminar in which two Massachusetts Department of Education employees engaged in an explicit discussion of sexual practices with a teen audience. But Jennings didn't know, and it turns out that the "evidence" to back up the claim is from MassResistance, an anti-gay organization that has been labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Despite that, Breitbart is all too happy to do the bidding of the right's homophobic attack-dogs.
In truth, as far as right-wing ideologues go, Andrew Breitbart is remarkably ordinary. If there is anything that distinguishes him, it's his shocking immaturity and vindictiveness. His Twitter feed is evidence enough of that, the venue where he chooses to post some of his most petty, juvenile, and objectionable invective. He routinely engages in name calling -- for example, Eric Boehlert is "Earache Boehlert," and Media Matters CEO David Brock is "David Brockovich." More recently, he has posted a host of puerile, scatological attacks on Jennings reminiscent of the tantrums of a child desperate for attention.
Despite such an overwhelmingly clear record, some have legitimized Breitbart's websites as nothing more than a response to The Huffington Post, which ironically, he helped found. Is Breitbart simply a conservative media entrepreneur hoping to emulate the success of progressive news and opinion sites? Hardly -- it's a classic case of false equivalency. While The Huffington Post is undeniably a forum for progressive bloggers and commentators, it has also made a serious investment in real journalism, having founded The Huffington Post Investigative Fund earlier this year. The Fund is staffed by seasoned journalists with long track records. Compare that to Breitbart's BigGovernment, a website deriving its content from a string of Republican Party officials and right-wing activists. To cite but one example: Jim Hoft, the BigGovernment writer currently spearheading the Kevin Jennings assault, is also the man behind Gateway Pundit, a conservative blog as unconcerned with accuracy as Breitbart himself.
As Andrew Breitbart works to build the kind of online media brand that Matt Drudge did years ago, all serious journalists owe it to themselves, and to their profession, to remember who he really is: a far-right activist devoid of integrity. He has no respect for actual journalism, seeking to turn the field into a province defined solely by partisanship and politically potent smears. Any reporter who cares about their craft should recognize that at his core, Breitbart would be all too happy to see them out of a job.
Check out this MSNBC graphic:
"Cougar," for the three people still blissfully unaware, is a slang term applied to women who date younger men.
Men who date younger women, on the other hand, are typically described with a slightly less loaded term: "men."
In addition to being an extraordinarily angry far-right blogger, Pam Geller is a columnist for Newsmax. While Geller seems to have slightly tempered what she writes in her Newsmax column, she's gone absolutely nuts on her own Atlas Shrugs blog, viciously smearing Obama.
From a Dec. 11 post:
Obama is pressuring Jews to "evacuate" from parts of Israel? And what Warsaw ghetto does the muhammadan president have in mind? I think I am gonna hurl.
The Jews will not go. The Jews will not submit to this century's nazis and Mansourian poser. No way, bloodsuckers. Not again. Never again.
From a Dec. 14 post:
It's as if the floodgates of hell have been thrown open. The moratorium on the holocaust is officially over and all the savages are free to incite, hate and destroy. Clearly those "Kick a Jew" days discussed here and here in schools are part of this growing evil Evil unleashed with an anti-semite in the White House.
From a Dec. 15 post:
Obama is bringing his jihad to Illinois. Has anyone asked the people of Chicago if they want KSM's soul mates in their state? Obama's treachery is breathtaking. A killer's paradise.
After its experiences with other columnists making extreme claims over the past few months -- John L. Perry advocating a military coup against Obama, Pat Boone calling for a "tenting" of the White House to kill the "varmints" within -- is Geller really the kind of columnist Newsmax wants to have? Or is Newsmax willing to allow Geller to be as disgusting and hateful as she wants to be on her blog as long as she tones it down for her column?
Yesterday, we pointed out that Fox News' unofficial gay-baiter Maxim Lott had followed up on his false allegations against Department of Education official Kevin Jennings - which resulted in a humiliating retraction - with a new smear piece.
In an article headlined "Obama's Safe Schools Czar Tied to Lewd Readings for 7th Graders," Lott reported that Jennings "is under fresh attack after it was revealed that the pro-gay group he formerly headed recommends books his critics say are pornographic." Lott buried the group's disclaimer that those books recommended for grades 7-12 "contain mature themes" and the recommendation that "adults selecting books for youth review content for suitability," grossly distorted the contents of those books, and at least two of the "critics" he cited are anti-gay bigots.
In short, he did an atrocious job. But hey, if there's anything we've learned over the past months, it's that there's a market for smears of Jennings; no matter how dubious, the right-wing fever swamp will run with it.
And so, Gateway Pundit - who's been channeling Jennings smears from the anti-gay "hate group" MassResistance for the past few weeks -- quickly picked it up:
And, of course, it's currently the top story on Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com:
Oh, by the way, neither Hoft nor BigGovernment are acknowledging that Lott actually debunks one of the false smears they pushed - that "fisting kits" were distributed at a 2001 GLSEN event. According to Lott, "The kit was actually for making a "dental dam" -- designed to prevent STD transmission during oral sex." Which, of course, was pretty obvious, given that the kit reportedly consisted of "a single plastic glove, a package of K-Y lubricant," and instructions titled "How to Make a Dental Dam From a Latex Glove."
Paul Ryan: Obama would lose if election were held today
Lede [emphasis added]:
President Barack Obama wouldn't be elected to that position if the election were held today, a top Republican claimed Monday.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee, said that more than a year after Obama was elected president with 53 percent of the popular vote, Americans wouldn't select him if the vote were held again today.
What's next from The Hill, breaking news articles about GOP members of Congress who oppose health care reform?
Yesterday, Dean Baker and I argued that journalists should remember that they don't know what politicians think or believe, they only know what politicians say -- and their reporting should reflect that.
Now here's MSNBC's Kelly O'Donnell explaining Joe Lieberman's opposition to the Medicare buy-in a few minutes ago:
Some moderates, most notably Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, were against this idea, feeling it would put too great a burden on a federal program that's already stretched very thin.
No. Kelly O'Donnell does not know that Joe Lieberman feels any such thing. She knows he says it -- but, if she's been paying attention at all, she has good reason to suspect he isn't telling the truth.
See, O'Donnell didn't mention this, but Lieberman has supported the Medicare buy-in. He supported it as long ago as 2000, and he supported it as recently as three months ago. Between that and the fact that so many of his comments about health care this year have been false or inconsistent, there's no reason to assume his stated reasons for opposing the Medicare buy-in are true.
And, indeed, there is a growing universe of journalists who recognize this.
The NBC News political unit notes there is "growing evidence that Lieberman's objection to the Medicare 'buy-in' compromise isn't necessarily based on principle. ... This is why the charge of playing politics with the left is looking so believable to some." The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports that "there have apparently been a number of private assurances given -- and broken -- by the Connecticut senator in recent weeks." And even Lieberman defender Charles Lane says Lieberman is motivated by a desire for political "pay back."
So why do Kelly O'Donnell and the New York Times continue to take Lieberman's claims at face value? Do they understand that when they do so, they're covering up -- rather than revealing -- what's really happening? That they're helping a politician mislead the public?
Does the New York Times have some sort of policy against pointing out that Joe Lieberman's justifications for opposing health care reform are bunk?
Two days ago, Times reporters Robert Pear and David Herszenhorn quoted Lieberman saying the public option would "add to the deficit" without noting that the Congressional Budget Office says it will reduce the deficit. (Pear and Herszenhorn know the CBO says that -- they've reported it in other articles. They just kept quiet about it when it would contradict Lieberman.)
Today, Herszenhorn and David Kirkpatrick devote (another) entire article to Lieberman's opposition to health care. Here's how they present Lieberman's stated reasons for opposition the public option and Medicare buy-in:
Mr. Lieberman says he favors the essential elements of the health care legislation but fears that expanding government programs would compound the federal debt.
Again: no mention of the fact that the CBO says the public option would reduce the deficit (and, therefore, would not "compound the federal debt.")
At this point, a key part of the health care story is that Joe Lieberman is either deeply dishonest or has absolutely no idea what he is talking about (or both), Steve Benen and Jonathan Chait, among others, have noted. Yesterday, Marc Ambinder pointed out that Lieberman has been breaking promises to colleagues. Even Lieberman's defenders say he is killing health care reform to get revenge against liberals who opposed him in 2006. Yet the New York Times persists in taking Lieberman's obviously bogus claims at face value, and ignoring facts they have reported elsewhere that undermine his statements.