Matt Yglesias catches Politico's David Rogers privileging the lie in an article about high-speed rail funding in the stimulus bill. Rogers quotes GOP Rep. Candice Miller "explaining" that she voted against the bill because "the Senate majority leader has earmarked $8 billion for a rail system from Las Vegas to Los Angeles." The problem is, that isn't true - and Rogers doesn't tell his readers that.
Rogers ... knows what the truth is, knows what conservatives have been saying, and knows that the two are different things, but he can't quite seem to describe what's happening with regular English words. ... Rep Miller wasn't "explaining" anything, she was lying to her constituents. Nor were conservatives running a "campaign to find pork barrel projects int he stimulus bill" they were inventing fictional projects. Nor were obscure House backbenchers like Miller running a rogue operation here. House Minority Leader John Boehner led the charge on peddling this lie, and Senator Jim Demint was on the case as well.
This doesn't seem very complicated to me, but many reporters still don't seem to understand that when you quote a false claim without making clear that it is false, you are spreading a falsehood. You are granting an advantage to dishonest claims at the expense of truth.
And -- this part really should go without saying -- that's bad.
Eric Boehlert and I have both written a lot lately about the media's fetishization of bipartisanship -- and the fact that they insist on attempts at bipartisanship from Democrats much more than from Republicans. I devoted my latest column to that fact on Friday.
Today, Digby provides a striking example: Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen -- ostensibly a liberal columnist -- praising Republicans for their principled opposition to President Obama after having blasted liberals for "The demonization of Bush" during the 2004 campaign.
Anyway: Go read Digby.
A new statement from the Center for Economic and Policy Research blasts the media's coverage of the stimulus:
The media badly failed in its responsibility to inform the public about one of the most important economic policy proposals to come before Congress in the last decade. Most of the public still does not even know what stimulus means, in large part because reporters apparently did not want to call attention to the fact that spending is, almost by definition, stimulus.
The media also failed to put the proposal in any perspective, routinely using adjectives like "enormous" or "massive" without any reference to the size of the demand gap the stimulus was designed to fill. They also failed to put the various components of the stimulus in perspective by, for example, informing the public that the $50 million in funding for the NEA, that was so despised by the Republicans, was equal to less than 0.007 percent of the total package.
The media have the time to familiarize themselves with the concept of stimulus and to look up the numbers that would allow them to put spending and tax proposals in a meaningful perspective. Their audience does not have the time to do this work. The media once again badly failed the public in its reporting on a major economic issue."
Quite right. I have argued several times that the news media's obsessive focus on politics rather than policy serves their readers and viewers poorly. Here's one example:
Consumers of news lack the time, expertise, and, in many cases, ability to determine which of two contradictory statements by competing political figures is true. ... That's where news organizations should -- but, with depressing frequency, have not -- come in. They have -- or should have -- the expertise and the time to assess those claims, and to report the facts. That's what readers, viewers, and listeners need. That's what journalism should be all about.
On the other hand, as consumers of news, we don't need journalists telling us what the "political impact" of something is going to be; how it will "play at the polls." It's our job to decide that. It's our job to decide who we'll vote for and why; how we'll assess the parties' competing agendas and approaches to the problems we face.
Instead of telling us how they think we'll react, we need journalists to give us the information upon which we can make an informed decision. To tell us the facts, and the truth, and the relevant context. Then we'll tell them the political impact.
MSNBC's First Read:
John McCain has conducted yet another interview in which he argues that Obama has failed to live up to his promise of bipartisanship. You've got to give McCain credit; the guy knows how to continue to grab headlines. During the Bush years, he was the go-to Republican for Democrats who were looking to prove they could work with a Republican and find middle ground. Now, he's serving as the one-man judge and jury on whether something's bipartisan or not, despite running a hyper-partisan presidential campaign (remember that fellow Bill Ayers?). It's going to make the Obama White House crazy, but McCain's got enough of a following to pull this off for a few months.
MSNBC didn't mention this, but McCain's claim to be "judge and jury" on Obama's bipartisanship is particularly weak, given that a key message of McCain's presidential campaign was that Obama was insufficiently bipartisan -- an argument that last year's election results suggest the public just didn't buy.
That aside, it's clear that MSNBC recognizes that McCain is an imperfect messenger here, given the "hyper-partisan presidential campaign" he ran against Obama. Yet MSNBC doesn't seem to realize that the only reason McCain is able to "grab headlines" is that news organizations like MSNBC give him headlines.
If McCain's complaints don't have merit -- and MSNBC seems to suggest they don't -- but they get coverage anyway, that says something about the news media. So when MSNBC says "McCain's got enough of a following to pull this off," it's clear who that "following" consists of: The news media, including MSNBC.
It's likely to get suspect results. I'm just sayin'.
Here's the latest regarding a new Rasmussen poll that shows a drop in support for the Fairness Doctrine, which, if you listen to over-excited right-wing talkers and scribblers, represents the most pressing concern facing the nation today.
Problem is, we're not sure Rasmussen understands what the Fairness Doctrine was, or what it did.
According to Rasmussen [emphasis added]:
Only 26% of voters believe conservatives have an unfair advantage in the media, the argument several senior congressional Democrats use in pushing for the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine. Sixty-four percent (64%) disagree.
Most (52%) liberals say conservatives have an unfair advantage, while 79% of conservatives and 64% of moderates disagree.
Even a majority of Democratic voters (53%) say that conservatives do not have an unfair advantage in the media.
Seventy-four percent (74%) of voters overall say it is possible for just about any political view to be heard in today's media with the Internet, cable networks, satellite radio, newspapers, radio and TV available. Just 19% disagree.
It's sort of odd that Rasmussen asked people lots questions about whether conservatives enjoy "an unfair advantage in the media," and if people wanted to, they could find any political view if they searched the media landscape, including "Internet, cable networks, satellite radio, newspapers, radio and TV."
It's odd because those points have virtually nothing to do with the old Fairness Doctrine, which hasn't been the law of the land for more than two decades. Even when it was the law, the Fairness Doctrine did not deal with the Internet (obviously), or cable networks, satellite radio or newspapers. It only had to do with radio and TV (i.e. the public airwaves.) So why would Rasmussen be asking Fairness Doctrine questions and polling people about political views on media outlets completely unaffected by the Doctrine? Seems odd to me.
What also seemed odd was demanding to know if conservatives enjoy "an unfair advantage in the media." Again, the Fairness Doctrine did not apply to "the media." It only applied to radio and network TV. So why didn't Rasmussen ask that question? (Possible sample question: According to a 2007 study, 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming in America is conservative, and 9 percent is progressive. Do you think conservatives enjoy an unfair advantage on talk radio?)
Meanwhile, Rasmussen's press release announced [emphasis added]:
Just 38% of U.S. voters think that the government should require all radio stations to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal political commentary. Forty-seven percent (47%) oppose government-imposed political balance on radio stations, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.
Again, that's not what the Fairness Doctrine did. Seems that if Rasmussen is going to poll about the long-gone Fairness Doctrine, than Rasmussen ought to, y'know, figure out what the statute actually said.
I'm just sayin'.
Headline from ABC News [emphasis added]:
More Billions for GM, Chrysler? Auto Beggars to D.C.
We're having trouble remembering headlines that have depicted Wall Street bankers as "beggars" when they lobbied from government bailout help. Then again, in recent months the press has been pretty open about its contempt for middle class autoworkers.
From CNN.com, a headline that defines the current dog-bites-man mindset inside the Beltway when it comes to partisan Republicans criticizing the new president. (i.e. It's not utterly predictable, it's big news):
"GOP senators say Obama off to bad start"
From its editorial today, which lectures Obama about his learning curve [emphasis added]:
The narrow and rushed passage of his stimulus package underscored the difficulty of living up to his grand promises of transparency; the campaign trail talk about not cutting deals behind closed doors yielded to the demands of the moment.
The final vote for passage of Obama's $787 billion stimulus bill in the Senate was 60-38, and in the House, 246-183. But boy, votes don't get much more "narrow" than that, do they?
And I realize context has been banned within the Beltway when reporting on Obama's legislative 'struggles,' but if anyone's interested, back in 2001 when president Bush passed his $1.35 trillion tax cuts, the final vote in the Senate was 62-38, and in the House, 240-154.
I'm not even gonna check Nexis before I say that the first person to find a May, 2001, Washington Post reference to the "narrow" passage of Bush's tax plan, I'll send them a Media Matters rectangle magnet.
If the Fairness Doctrine didn't exist, I don't think anyone on the left could ever concoct a scheme that would so effectively drive conservatives in the press to such degrees of distraction. (They're trying to hush Rush!!) Has a political movement ever spent more time issuing dark warnings and assembling its troops for a piece of legislation that hasn't been on the books in two decades and isn't even being publicly debated?
Not that I'm complaining. It spectacle provides endless entertainment.
The latest three-alarm fire on the right stems from the fact David Axelrod didn't give a Fairness Doctrine answer that right-wing bloggers liked. (There's a shock, right?) Worse, Democrats are allegedly "brainstorming" with progressives regarding FCC initiatives. How dare they!! You'd think Dems had won an election, or something.
Newsbusters associate editor Noel Sheppard is unhappy with Media Matters work debunking Betsy McCaughey's latests health care falsehoods. Here's Sheppard:
[T]he leftwing shills at Media Matters for America ... began publishing -- and, of course, disseminating -- defamatory articles about McCaughey and all those having the nerve to quote her here, here, here, and here. Yes, four defamatory pieces about McCaughey in three days. I guess this is what America can count on from this George Soros-funded propaganda machine anytime anyone has the nerve to criticize an Obama-supported bill.
That's all Sheppard said about us. He refers to our items as "defamatory" twice in two sentences, but doesn't offer so much as a hint at what we might have gotten wrong. It doesn't seem to have even crossed his mind that it might matter whether what we wrote was true or not. (It was.) It's like he chose the word "defamatory" simply because he had heard it on TV once, and it sounded bad.
Indeed, in his entire post, there isn't a single effort to determine or demonstrate who is right: McCaughey or the numerous people who have pointed out her falsehoods.
Instead, he just calls Keith Olbermann names ("disgraceful") and asserts defamation without bothering to make a case. The closest he comes is linking to McCaughey's resume, as though that ends the discussion. I would imagine that even Noel Sheppard can figure out that having an impressive resume doesn't mean you're right. If he thinks real hard, he might even be able to think of someone with such a resume whose claims he would not assume to be true.
Given that Sheppard is associate editor of the conservative movement's preeminent media criticism organization, you'd think he would understand that pointing out factual errors and distortions in news reports isn't "defamatory."
Then again, Newsbusters seems to spend as much of their time making factual errors and distortions as they do correcting them.