Conservative columnist Michael Barone attacks the Washington Post for its coverage of Virginia political campaigns with a string of paper-thin complaints.
Barone starts off:
In the 2006 campaign season the Washington Post ran more than a dozen front-page stories on Senator George Allen's reference, at an August 11 campaign stop almost 400 miles from Washington, to an opposition campaign staffer as "Macaca."
What does the fact that the campaign event took place "almost 400 miles from Washington" have to do with anything? It's obviously an attempt to suggest the Post shouldn't have paid attention to something that happened so far from its base of operations. But that ... Well, it just doesn't make any sense.
George Allen was running for the United States Senate. The way the US Senate works is that each Senator represents an entire state. Are the Washington Post's many readers in Northern Virginia supposed to disregard comments a Virginia Senate candidate makes in another part of the state? That may well be the dumbest thing I've ever seen a purported political "expert" write.
Actually, it's probably dishonest rather than stupid: Barone must know the distance of the campaign stop from Washington just doesn't matter, as he doesn't even attempt to explain why it should. Instead, he seems to just hope the insinuation undermines the Post before anyone notices its fundamental irrationality.
Next, Barone threatens to make this kind of inanity an ongoing feature:
To provide a fair perspective, we'll start a Macaca watch, to list stories which make the front page of the Post not on the basis of news value but solely and obviously to defeat the Republican candidate.
Barone's first example of the Post putting a story on the front page "solely and obviously to defeat" a Republican?
Item number one on the Macaca Watch is the Sunday front page story on the thesis Bob McDonnell wrote in 1989 at Regent University where he obtained a masters degree in public policy and a law degree.
Really? The fact that a major-party gubernatorial candidate wrote a thesis arguing that working women and feminists are "detrimental" to the family is not legitimate front-page news? Does anybody really believe that?
Barone explains, continuing directly:
This is, as the story acknowledged, a publicly available document and its contents would certainly be a legitimate part of an article on McDonnell's background and the evolution of his political views.
Well, nice of Barone to acknowledge that such a thesis could be mentioned as part of a larger article. But what does the fact that the Post "acknowledged" the thesis is "publicly available document" have to do with anything? Like the "400 miles" business: nothing. Barone is again trying to undermine the article by describing utterly innocuous facts with loaded language.
Barone, continuing directly:
But the first paragraph of the story, prominently on the front page, sends the culturally liberal voters of Northern Virginia in the Post's local circulation area a pretty clear message: you better not vote for this guy. He went to an "evangelical" school (Regent University Law School), described feminists as "detrimental" and "said government policy should favor married couples over 'cohabitors, homosexuals or fornicators.'"
Oh, I get it: the Post shouldn't have mentioned the stuff about feminists, gays, and fornicators in the first paragraph. I guess it should have been a subordinate clause in paragraph 37.
Next, Barone discusses another Post article about McDonnell's thesis:
Those are pretty fair-minded descriptions of the arguments the two sides are marking. One wonders how they got in here: did a fair-minded editor insist on including that second paragraph over the objections of a partisan reporter, or vice versa?
Well, that's a nifty trick, using "fair minded descriptions of the arguments the two sides are making" as evidence of the Post's partisanship. We're through the looking glass, people.
Barone, continuing directly:
But of course they're not as prominent in the story as the lead paragraph's reference to "what he [McDonnell] wrote about working women, homosexuals and 'fornicators.'"
Is Barone kidding? That paragraph doesn't mention or even characterize what McDonnell wrote; it merely indicates the topic. It contains not even a hint as to why the writings were controversial. McDonnell couldn't have asked for a better lead paragraph in an article about the thesis. It isn't until the sixth paragraph that Post readers are told what McDonnell wrote -- after McDonnell is quoted attacking his opponent, and after McDonnell is paraphrased asserting that his views have changed. And after the Post makes the McDonnell-friendly assertion in it's headlines that McDonnell no longer holds the views he expressed in the thesis.
Yet Michael Barone wants you to think the Post unfairly led with a loaded description of McDonnell's comments. That's why he doesn't actually quote the Post article in any detail; doing so would show how dishonest he's being. The truth is that before the Post article ever gave any indication of why McDonnell's comments were controversial, it:
If this is the best Barone can do, he should retire his "Macaca Watch" before he makes a complete fool of himself.
During an online discussion today, Washington Post television writer Tom Shales made this emphatic point about the media:
CONSERVATIVES DOMINATE THE BROADCAST AND CABLE MEDIA IN THIS COUNTRY. They have very little to complain about in terms of access to an audience.
That led to this exchange later in the discussion:
Atlanta, Ga.: Tom, I'm a big fan, but can you explain this sentence?
CONSERVATIVES DOMINATE THE BROADCAST AND CABLE MEDIA IN THIS COUNTRY
I think you meant to write that Liberals dominate the broadcast and cable media in the country. True, Fox News has the highest cable ratings, but other left-leaning outlets on cable and, certainly, network television are more numerous than right-leaning.
Do you have examples of the conservative dominance?
Tom Shales: Well now let me see. The networks are all owned by Big Business and Big Businessmen certainly tend to be conservatives. The Fox News Channel isn't a minor detail to be lumped in with other networks; it is a 24-hour-a-day conservative propaganda machine; MSNBC is liberal only during prime-time and late-night, don't you think? Phil Donahue is off the air and has been for years; he was too "liberal." Perhaps with a liberal in the White House, the pendulum WILL swing the other way for a while. Chacun a son gout, n'est-ce pas? Yes nothing like some bad high-school French to end a chat. Thank you very, very much for joining in.
Shales forgot to mention the three hours a day that Joe Scarborough hosts on MSNBC, or the consistent tendency of MSNBC anchors like Andrea Mitchell and Norah O'Donnell to adopt conservative-friendly framing. And he didn't mention that CNN's only host with a clear ideological tilt is right-winger Lou Dobbs, he of the Birther conspiracy theories.
But that's picking nits: It's great to see a highly-respected employee of a massive media company acknowledge the conservative dominance on-air, as well as institutional factors like the tendency of news organizations to be owned by "Big Business."
Washington Post television writer Tom Shales shares an anecdote:
I have a short antidote. I mean anecdote. Years ago I was phoned & asked to be on some news show, this happened a lot in years past, and first I was quizzed on the topic to be discussed. And what I said essentially was that I thought both sides of the argument had validity and that it wasn't a clear cut black&white issue. Bam - that was the end of THAT conversation. They wanted someone who totally adhered to ONE view or the other, not somebody who could see both sides. I think this is a very real problem that results in a lot of yelling where there should be an "exchange of ideas."
You see this kind of story from time to time -- another variant is the prospective guest whose services are no longer required after it becomes clear that he or she won't take the position the booker wants a guest to take.
The implication of the story is usually clear: Look how hackish television bookers and producers are; how they rig things to get the shoutfest they want, and to get on-air the opinions they want expressed.
But there's another side these stories: The clear implication is that the pundits you see as guests on television are the people who are most willing to play their assigned role; to tailor their actual views to what they think their hosts want them to say.
So the next time you're frustrated that the guest representing the "other" side is lying, or that the guest representing "your" side is ineffectual, remember: They didn't get there by accident.
Can someone please explain how in the world this guy is on television?
That's a very good question Jed. Lest we forget the "most trusted name in news" gave Beck his first show (under its Headline News banner). Fox News apparently loved his special brand of crazy enough to snatch Beck away before his contract had even expired.
Newsbusters thinks AARP's magazine is losing members because it put Bruce Springsteen on its cover. Here's Newsbusters' entire case against that cover:
AARP claims it's a "nonpartisan organization," an assertion increasingly challenged by senior citizens. The magazine's September-October issue may give members more evidence for that conclusion. It carries a cover story on rocker Bruce Springsteen, prominent in the presidential campaigns of both Barack Obama and John Kerry. The piece is adulatory, noting that Springsteen at his upcoming concerts "will play several roles - hero, leader, preacher, rebel - the performances unfolding like a novel."
The magazine devotes several pages to observations from his friends. One is liberal activist Bonnie Raitt:It was an incredible boost when Bruce committed to joining the No Nukes concerts. From the groundbreaking Amnesty International tour, to helping stop Contra aid in the '80s, to a steady stream of benefits, I don't know if any American artist has made as profound a difference.
Other Springsteen friends quoted are author Ron Kovic, Jersey Girl and "truth commission" advocate Kristen Breitweiser, and NewsSenator John Kerry, who states of the singer: "In good times and bad, he had my back. . ."
Odd that Newsbusters didn't identify Ron Kovic as the author of Born on the Fourth of July, isn't it? Given the tendency of conservatives to portray themselves as pro-military and pro-veteran, it's a little odd Newsbusters is complaining about a Purple Heart-winning Marine veteran who fought for better treatment of returning vets being quoted in an article. Then again, Newsbusters left out perhaps the best-known example of Springsteen's activism: the benefit concert he performed that saved Vietnam Veterans of America from financial ruin.
Anyway, count me as skeptical that an article about Bruce Springsteen is going to drive away AARP members.
Richard Cohen is, supposedly, a liberal columnist for the Washington Post. Never mind that he embraced the Iraq war, belittling those who did not buy the Bush administration's trumped-up case for war as "fools or Frenchmen." Never mind his defense of the Bush administration's outting of Valerie Plame, or his defense of Monica Goodling, or his defense of financial services executives who ran their companies into the ground and the business media that stood idly by while it happened, or his outrage that Stephen Colbert dared make fun of President Bush's low approval ratings at the White House correspondents dinner -- or the fact that he didn't seem to mind Bush's jokes at an earlier dinner about failing to find WMD in Iraq.
Never mind all that. Richard Cohen is the Washington Post's idea of a liberal. And Richard Cohen loves him some torture.
Here, Cohen describes the capture of a hypothetical terrorist:
Now he is in American custody. What will happen? How do we get him to reveal his group's plans and the names of his colleagues? It will be hard. It will, in fact, be harder than it used to be. He can no longer be waterboarded. He knows this. He cannot be deprived of more than a set amount of sleep. He cannot be beaten or thrown up against even a soft wall. He cannot be threatened with shooting or even frightened by the prospect of an electric drill. Nothing really can be threatened against his relatives -- that they will be killed or sexually abused.
"Harder than it used to be"? Only if torture works. If torture doesn't work, it may well be easier than it used to be.
Note, also, Cohen's nonchalant descriptions of torture: The repeated use of the word "even," designed to make the tactics (physically assualting a captive, making her think you're going to drill a damn hole in her head) sound like no big deal. A prohibition on making a captive think you're going to rape and murder his seven year old daughter is turned into "nothing really can be threated against his relatives."
Next, Cohen suggests that torture is little more than what New York Times reporter Judith Miller went through: "Special prosecutors are often themselves like interrogators -- they don't know when to stop. They go on and on because, well, they can go on and on. One of them managed to put Judith Miller of The New York Times in jail -- a wee bit of torture right there."
Yes, that's right: Judith Miller's prison sentance -- during which she had to suffer the indignity of her newspaper arriving a day late, leaving her woefully uninformed for her frequent visits from people like Tom Browkaw and Bob Dole -- was kind of like being waterboarded and having your captors threaten to rape and murder your children.
Back to Cohen:
No one can possibly believe that America is now safer because of the new restrictions on enhanced interrogation and the subsequent appointment of a special prosecutor.
Nonsense. If you think torture doesn't work -- and there is a great deal of evidence that it doesn't -- then of course America is safer for not torturing. We no longer waste time on tactics that don't work. We no longer enrage the world by engaging in barbaric and inhuman torture.
Cohen's claim is absurd on its face. But it is also a striking reminder of one of his darkest moments as a columnist:
Richard Cohen, in a column headlined "A Winning Hand For Powell," declared that Powell's presentation "had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise." Cohen was careful to make clear that he based his own conclusion not upon an examination of Powell's arguments and evidence, but on Powell himself: "The clincher ... was the totality of the material and the fact that Powell himself had presented it. In this case, the messenger may have been more important than the message."
Once again, Richard Cohen mistakes his own inability to see through conservative talking points for the truthfulness of those talking points.
Sure, Cohen makes a late assertion of his "abhorrence of torture." But after wading through his spurious claims about torture working, only a fool would believe him.
Here are Glenn Beck's August 31 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
Remember that fawning Washington Post profile of National Organization for Marriage executive director Brian Brown? The one that omitted facts that make NOM and Brown look bad, and -- despite running more than 2,000 words -- didn't contain a single quote critical of Brown? Well, I just stumbled across something else Washington Post writer Monica Hesse left out.
Hesse's profile opens by drawing an explicit contrast between Brian Brown and people like Pat Robertson and James Dobson:
The nightmares of gay marriage supporters are the Pat Robertsons of the world. The James Dobsons, the John Hagees -- the people who specialize in whipping crowds into frothy frenzies, who say things like Katrina was caused by the gays.
The gay marriage supporters have not met Brian Brown. They should. He might be more worth knowing about.
The thing about the John Hagees and the Pat Robertsons is that some people consider them "fringe." And when they speechify, the people they're most persuasive with are the ones who already believe them.
But this country is not made up of people in the far wings, right or left. This country is made up of a movable middle, reasonable people looking for reasonable arguments to assure them that their feelings have a rational basis.
Brian Brown speaks to these people.
That set the tone for the profile: Brian Brown isn't like "fringe" activists like Robertson, Hagee, and James Dobson.
A bit later, Hesse makes passing mention of Brown's previous job:
After UCLA he accepted a position with the Family Institute of Connecticut, and worked to prevent the distribution of condoms in schools.
No explanation of what the Family Institute of Connecticut is. Well, guess what? Here's how the Hartford Courant described the group in 2005:
"It now is associated with Focus on the Family, the group headed by the nationally known conservative James Dobson, but the institute's budget of $450,000 comes entirely from individual contributions, Brown said."
Huh. So, Brown's last job was running a group associated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Seems like the kind of information that should be included in a profile that portrays Brown as nothing like that nasty James Dobson, doesn't it?
And, given that the profile echoes Brown's argument that he is just interested in preserving the "history" and "tradition" of "the institution of marriage" being "between a man and a woman," doesn't it seem like the Post should have mentioned that Brown opposes even civil unions?
And shouldn't a profile that adopts Brown's portrayal of himself as a friendly guy who doesn't have anything against gay people -- some of his "friends and family" are gay! -- but just wants to limit "marriage" as something between a man and a woman perhaps note that not only does Brown oppose gay marriage, he wants to keep gays out of his church?
Brian Brown, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut -- which led a petition drive for the Defense of Marriage Act -- was also among those marching with Wyatt. Brown said the acceptance of homosexuality in the church marked the destruction of the American family and marriage.
"That radical of a departure from Christian tradition ... warrants a march," Brown said as he wheeled his children, Elizabeth, 3, and Brian, 1, in a stroller. [Hartford Courant, 8/20/03]
And shouldn't a profile that emphasizes how reasonable and sane a person is maybe mention that he opposes cohabitation between men and women?
In the view of some, the increase in cohabitation between men and women is eroding the institution of marriage.
"I think the whole idea that you shack up, and this is how you figure out what you're going to do with your life, that isn't conducive to the type of commitment you need for a lifelong stable relationship," said Brian Brown, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut. [Hartford Courant, 3/13/03]
And shouldn't an article that describes Brown as someone who "takes nothing personally. He means nothing personal. He is never accusatory or belittling. His arguments are based on his understandings of history, not on messages from God that gays caused Hurricane Katrina" maybe acknowledge that Brown has referred to gay marriage as "the largest battle in the culture wars since Roe v. Wade"? [New York Times, 7/6/03]
At this point, you have to wonder whether Monica Hesse did any actual research at all -- or if she just met Brown, found him pleasant, talked to a couple of his buddies, and dashed off her profile.