How far out there is right-wing website WorldNetDaily? So far out that most of its fellow conservatives are not only disassociating themselves from it as fast as it can, but are actively figuring out how to boycott it. From an Aug. 31 post by Jon Henke at The Next Right noting WND's embrace of the claim that the federal government is building concentration camps for U.S. political dissidents:
The Birthers are the Birchers of our time, and WorldNetDaily is their pamphlet. The Right has mostly ignored these embarrassing people and organizations, but some people and organizations inexplicably choose to support WND through advertising and email list rental or other collaboration. For instance, I have been told that F.I.R.E (The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) -- an otherwise respectable group that does important work -- uses the WND email list. They should stop.
No respectable organization should support the kind of fringe idiocy that WND peddles. Those who do are not respectable.
I think it's time to find out what conservative/libertarian organizations support WND through advertising, list rental or other commercial collaboration (email me if you know of any), and boycott any of those organizations that will not renounce any further support for WorldNetDaily.
Ouch. That's gonna leave a mark -- well, it would if Joseph Farah, Jerome Corsi and crew had any sense of shame.
Oh, and one of the organizations that has rented WND's mailing list is ... the Republican National Committee. Here's a screenshot from an RNC email sent out August 27 on the WND list:
After playing a clip of Bill Clinton saying that as a matter of politics as well as policy, Democrats need to pass health care legislation, MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell asked Rep. Anthony Weiner:
Congressman, isn't it your colleagues in the House that are preventing something getting done, that they want all or nothing?
I've made this point before, but this is a ridiculously loaded question that could just as easily be asked of those who oppose, for example, a public plan -- but it never is.
Before I explain the double-standard, it's important to note that O'Donnell's question is simply false. House liberals aren't insisting on "all or nothing"; they have already made huge concessions. In fact, Weiner had said just seconds earlier that what he really wants is to "bypass the insurance companies altogether and have something like Medicare for all Americans."
But just seconds after being reminded that Anthony Weiner has already made concessions, giving up the single-payer plan he really wants, O'Donnell accuses him of stubbornly insisting on "all or nothing."
Now, the double-standard.
If people who want a public plan and won't vote for a bill without it can be described as "preventing something getting done" by insisting on "all or nothing," so can people who don't want a public plan and won't vote for a bill with it.
If two sides are fighting over an element of a bill, and neither will back down, it can't be the case that only one of them is stubbornly insisting on their way or the highway.
Finally, O'Donnell's question suggests that what's important is passing something, anything, rather than making sure it's something worth passing. That suggestion is dubious on both policy and political grounds, and isn't an assumption that should guide O'Donnell's journalism.
Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon reacts to the finding by his paper's ombudsman that about 85 percent of Post articles about health care reform have "focused on political maneuvering or protests":
Washington, DC: Hi Perry,
So even the Post's own ombudsman says that the paper's coverage of health care reform has focused way too much on politics and failed to explain the policy issues to the American people. How are you going to change your own reporting, in light of the ombudsman's conclusions?
Perry Bacon Jr.: I think we've had excellent coverage of the some of the major issues. Ceci Connolly wrote an excellent piece about end of life counseling, Alex Macgillis has wrote several smart pieces about the public option and had a great outlook piece laying out the bills themselves. Joel Achenbach took a smart look at the legislative process to write the bill. Shailagh Murray wrote about some of the medicare reforms. Could we write more? Of course. But I think and Andy agreed, we have to cover the politics as well.
So, confronted with evidence that the Post has focused overwhelmingly on politics rather than policy, and that the public doesn't understand the basics of health care reform, Bacon turns his Ombudsman's finding that the paper hasn't done a good job of explaining the policy into an endorsement of the coverage of politics. Smooth.
The bottom line is that the mass confusion about health care makes a strong prima facie case that every news organization could do a better job of explaining the basic facts. When that case is augmented by data showing that 85 percent of a given outlet's coverage has been about the politics rather than policy, the only reasonable response for an employee of that outlet is "We must do better." Instead, they all too often get defensive, pointing to this article or that. Fine. Let's say every article Bacon referred to was excellent -- a dubious assumption, but let's make it. The fact remains: The Post must do better.
Howard Kurtz writes:
Obama's essential appeal in 2008 was his vow to move beyond red and blue partisanship. But that has disappointed some of the liberal pundits who thought he shared their goals.
Really? To the extent that it's possible to identify Obama's "essential appeal" in 2008, it was probably "change," not "his vow to move beyond red and blue partisanship." Kurtz seems to think people who want change are disappointed because they don't understand what's really important: bipartisanship. That's typical of the way the media elite views the world, as I wrote back in January:
To many journalists, bucking your party -- like "centrism" and bipartisanship -- is a noble goal all by itself. But I suspect most people recognize that these things are means, not ends.
Sure, people want the politicians to stop bickering and get things done. But, more specifically, most people want the politicians to stop bickering and do things they want done. A single mother working two minimum-wage jobs to feed her kids might want politicians to come together in a spirit of bipartisanship -- but she doesn't want them to pass bipartisan legislation lowering the minimum wage; she wants a bipartisan bill raising the minimum wage. If she can't have that, I suspect she'd take a party-line minimum-wage increase, even if it means a decrease in the bonhomie at Washington cocktail parties she'll never attend.
For most people, bipartisan consensus is great -- but it is as a means of accomplishing tangible results, not a goal in and of itself. But many political reporters seem to have an ideological, if not religious, commitment to bipartisanship and centrism. But -- and here's where things get really problematic -- they don't really have any idea of where the "center" is.
Kurtz' line explains why the media is so eager for Democrats to cave on health care reform -- to them, it's more important that there be health care reform that passes with Republican votes (no matter how unlikely that is) than it is for health care reform to actually be good. They care more about "bipartisanship" than about effective solutions to the nation's problems.
W]hen it came to the ''death panels,'' The Washington Post's influential media reporter, Howard Kurtz, observed: ''For once, mainstream journalists did not retreat to the studied neutrality of quoting dueling antagonists.'' Reporters took the additional step of pointing out, on their own authority, that the proposals don't contain any such provision. To ''he said, she said,'' was added: ''we say.''
Trouble is, it hasn't really mattered. Even though news organizations debunked the claim, 45 percent of respondents to an NBC poll still believe the reforms would indeed allow the federal government to halt treatment to the elderly -- a staggering number.
Why? Maybe because, by Kurtz's count, Palin's ''death panels'' were mentioned 18 times by his own paper, 16 times in The New York Times and at least 154 times on cable and network news (not including daytime news shows.)
Plainly, refuting a falsehood doesn't keep it from doing harm. The solution isn't some cheap fix, first giving end-of-the-world play to some incendiary fantasy and then inserting a line that says the preceding was utter rubbish. The real problem goes to the core of traditional news practices. As Greg Marx noted in a sensible Columbia Journalism Review posting, the solution is ''making a more concerted effort not to disseminate false or dubious claims in the first place.''
As the saying goes, what really matters isn't what people think, it's what they think about: Debunking falsehoods is fine, but the more that news media embrace it as if it's a cure-all, the worse we'll all be. The solution isn't to refute, it's to ignore. End the practice of rewarding the most sensational, the most irresponsible, the most baseless allegations with top-of-the-news billing. The media bury worthwhile news all the time; how about burying the worthless stuff?
Wasserman makes an important point: As bad as the media's handling of misinformation about health care has been, the bigger problem is that they've done a lousy job of telling readers and viewers what is true. By not focusing -- repeatedly and clearly -- on the central facts about health care reform, they guarantee that the falsehoods will be what people think about.
Telling the truth requires more than telling people what the lies are.
As we sail into September, the rewriting the mini-mobs is all but complete. Thanks to the Beltway press corps which is both wildly impressed by GOP hardball and scared of the right-wing, along with its its nasty charge of 'liberal media bias,' the press has completely whitewashed the ugly, anti-democratic outpourings of hate this summer, where smears and misinformation were spread with abandon.
From today's Washington Post:
Conservative activists have dominated the public debate in recent weeks with dire warnings and noisy disruptions at town hall meetings, while national polls show declining support for Obama's ambitious plan to widen health insurance coverage.
Don't you just love the "dire warning" touch? It makes it sound like protesters actually knew what they were talking about, rather than wallowing in the paranoid right-wing fantasy that the federal government would soon be in the business of selectively killing old people. But that would made the protesters sound crazy, so the Post opts for "dire warning."
And the "disruptions"? I think there the Post is vaguely making reference to the fact that mini-mobs members purposefully made it, at times, impossible to have a public debate about health care. That some showed up waving swastika and Nazi posters, some arrived with loaded guns and others committed acts of vandalism. I think that's what the Post is referring to, although I'm not sure since the Post politely declined to detail any of the summer nastiness.
On Friday, I noted that the Washington Post devoted more than 2,000 words to a profile of National Organization for Marriage executive director Brian Brown -- without ever once quoting a criticism of Brown or NOM.
That's an appalling omission, but it only scratches the surface. The article was an extended mash note to Brown and his right-wing group, describing them as "rational," "mainstream," "sane," people put upon by shrill opponents who irrationally demonize them.
The Post headline set the tone for the fawning that followed:
Opposing Gay Unions With Sanity & a Smile
NOM Head Moves His Cause to D.C.
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. He has a master's degree from Oxford, and completed course work for a doctorate in history from UCLA. He shoulders the accusations of bigotry; it's horrible when people say that your life's mission is actually just prejudice. He tries to help people see that opposing gay marriage does not make them bigots, that the argument should have nothing to do with hate or fear, and everything to do with history and tradition.
The reason Brian Brown is so effective is that he is pleasantly, ruthlessly sane.
Gee, isn't Brian Brown just swell? Isn't the National Organization for Marriage just swell? The Washington Post certainly thinks so -- and, though it couldn't find any space for criticism of Brown or NOM, it found room for this:
Bishop Harry Jackson, the Beltsville pastor who has been one of the most vocal gay marriage opponents in the area, sees a happy partnership between his followers and Brown's group. Jackson says Brown and NOM "have a sense of dignity about human beings. They simply believe that marriage between a man and a woman is the best for society. But they're not gay bashers."
Not gay bashers? Have a sense of "dignity about human beings"? Oh, really?
If the Post had the slightest interest in a balanced, fact-based assessment of NOM, that's where they would have included some criticism of the organization, and maybe even some facts that undermine Jackson's warm-and-fuzzy portrayal of the group. But the Post article contained nothing of the kind.
The Post did not, for example, mention that in a 2008 fundraising email, Brown approvingly quoted a description of the Prop 8 campaign as "the Armageddon of the culture war," and also included a quote comparing advocates of gay marriage rights to the devil:
As I close, I wanted to encourage you with a report from a pastors' conference call I had the chance to sit in on last week. With hundreds of pastors on the call, I was inspired by their passion and fervor. The mood was determined, confident, and upbeat.
Pastor Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in San Diego told the group of clergy: "One of the dumbest things the devil ever did was attack the institution of marriage." Rev. Jim Franklin from Cornerstone Church in Fresno told the group: "We must be consumed with a holy anger . . . this is the time to fight."
And so we press on. We are in the midst of the biggest fight for marriage our nation has ever seen. But we are confident that with God's help we will prevail. Thank you for standing with us in your prayers, financial contributions, and volunteer efforts.
And like this:
"Only when the father became powerless or absent in the lives of huge numbers of children did we start to realize some of the things people need a father for: laying the groundwork for a sense of moral judgment; praise that is believed so that it can instill genuine self-confidence."
(Really? Mothers are incapable of "laying the groundwork for a sense of moral judgment"? Interesting.)
The dark secret of homosexual society -- the one that dares not speak its name -- is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.
It's that desire for normality, that discontent with perpetual adolescent sexuality, that is at least partly behind this hunger for homosexual "marriage."
If America becomes a place where the laws of the nation declare that marriage no longer exists -- which is what the Massachusetts decision actually does -- then our allegiance to America will become zero. We will transfer our allegiance to a society that does protect marriage.
And I don't mean that civilized Americans will move. I mean that they'll simply stop regarding the authority of the government as having any legitimacy.
Oh, and this:
Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.
But The Washington Post insists NOM are not gay-bashers; no, they are sane and cheerful people just trying to preserve tradition. So the Post left out the bit about the NOM board member who thinks "homosexual behavior" should be illegal. It left out any mention of the NOM board member who announces that "our" allegiance to America will end if gay marriage is legal.
All of that -- the Card quotes, the Brown email -- was easily discovered in about twenty minutes of light Googling.
So how did a 2,000-word hagiography of NOM make it into the Washington Post?
George W. Bush's daughter has a new job:
NBC's "Today" show has hired someone with White House experience as a new correspondent - former first daughter Jenna Hager.
The daughter of former President George W. Bush will contribute stories about once a month on issues like education to television's top-rated morning news show, said Jim Bell, its executive producer.
Bell said Hager won't be covering politics. He said he didn't consider the job as a down payment for a future interview with her father, who has been living quietly in Texas since leaving office earlier this year. Attacks on NBC News by conservatives for the liberal bent of MSNBC also had nothing to do with it, he said.
Right. With no journalism experience and a couple of years as a teacher under her belt, Jenna Hager was simply the most qualified person available to cover education for the nation's top-rated morning news program. Didn't have anything to do with who her father is, or with appeasing conservatives. Sure.
Speaking of MSNBC and conservatives, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz was up to his old tricks again last week, ignoring the existence of Joe Scarborough in order to portray the cable channel as a hotbed of liberalism. Here's Kurtz in last week's online discussion:
Bethesda, Md.: The issue does not seem to be that the traditional media is 'impotent.' It is that it is increasingly difficult to determine what the traditional media is and is not. CNN, MSNBC, others have 'news' hours and 'opinion' hours so interchangably that no attempt to divide these is successful in dispelling the perception that the media outlets simply report opinions and slant as news facts. ...
Howard Kurtz: You're right about the first part--CNN (where I'm a contributor) has Dobbs, MSNBC has Olbermann and Maddow, Fox has Hannity, O'Reilly and Beck. As for American news organizations being seen as having a slant, that is in the eye of the beholder. But I will tell you that there are many news organizations that try hard to deliver balanced reporting.
MNSBC also has Joe Scarborough, of course -- and Mika Brzezinski, who says conservative Palin supporters (unlike the rest of us) are "real Americans."
Now, if this was just a one-time thing, Kurtz's omission of Scarborough would be no big deal, even though he does set up a contrast between MSNBC's liberal hosts and Fox's conservatives.
But this isn't a one-time thing. Kurtz has a long track record of pretending Scarborough doesn't exist in order to portray MSNBC as liberal. It's a track record I've documented extensively. It's a track record Kurtz has been criticized for in previous online discussions, and via Twitter.
Now, with Jenna Bush's new gig, Kurtz has someone else to ignore when discussing the political leanings of MS/NBC journalists.
Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander weighs in on his paper's coverage of health care:
In my examination of roughly 80 A-section stories on health-care reform since July 1, all but about a dozen focused on political maneuvering or protests. The Pew Foundation's Project for Excellence in Journalism had a similar finding. Its recent month-long review of Post front pages found 72 percent of health-care stories were about politics, process or protests.
"The politics has been covered, but all of this is flying totally over the heads of people," said Trudy Lieberman, a contributing editor to Columbia Journalism Review, who has been tracking coverage by The Post and other news organizations. "They have not known from Day One what this was about."
Kaiser's president and CEO, Drew Altman, worries that the media have devoted too much attention to "accusation and refutation" stories instead of focusing on the "core questions about health-care reform that the public wants answered."
By "gravitating toward controversies" such as the recent boisterous town hall meetings on health care, he said, the media may "unwittingly" be allowing coverage to be shaped by evocative rhetoric and images.
None of this should come as a surprise to anybody who has been paying attention. The media's coverage of the health care debate has been atrocious -- focusing on polls and politics rather than explaining the facts about health care; allowing false claims to drive the discourse, and generally failing to help anyone understand anything useful. I've been writing that for weeks.
There is, however, one person who was probably surprised by Alexander's findings: Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, the biggest name in the business. He has frequently defended media coverage of health care over the past several weeks.
Alexandria, Va.: Overall, I think the fabled mainstream media has done a great job covering protests and opinions on both sides of the health-care debate, but they get a D- on presenting an overall, easy to understand what it all means. I've been disappointed that controversy, over detailed analysis wins yet again. Sorry, those multiple Web links to copies of the bill don't help. This should be a major national debate, but overall, the coverage is too much flash and not enough substance.
Howard Kurtz: I'm going to partially disagree. If you look at the major newspapers, and the recent Time cover story, there has been a lot of detailed substance published about almost every aspect of the health care debate: public option, Medicare reimbursement, industry lobbying, end-of-life counseling, you name it. It's out there. It's not hard to find.
Louisville, Colo.: You have written and talked about "horse-race" coverage many times but it's still frustrating to watch. Approximately 95 percent of the TV coverage about health-care legislation boils down to "will it pass or won't it".
The coverage of the the actual substance of the proposed legislation continues to be minimal. Is it just too much work to find out what is actually in the legislation?
Howard Kurtz: You know, I think that's a bum rap. I could point you to literally dozens and dozens of stories in the NYT, WP, LAT, WSJ and even on television that deals with the substance of the legislation.
Howard Kurtz: The hard fact is that most people think the system is broken but are relatively satisfied with their own health care. Or they're not satisfied with having to deal with infuriating insurance companies but some fear the Obama plan could be worse. It's a very complicated issue with lots of moving parts, including the gargantuan task of how to pay for covering more of the uninsured, and I think the reporting has actually been pretty good. There is a tendency to get too caught up in each little twist and turn on the Hill, but that's true of all political reporting.
Howard Kurtz has a bigger platform than any other media critic in America. It sure would be great if he didn't use it to act as head cheerleader for the media's failed health care coverage.
From Fox Nation, as it appeared on August 30: