"Media Matters," week ending October 15; by Jamison Foser

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

On October 9, the Los Angeles Times reported that Sinclair Broadcast Group is ordering the 62 TV stations it owns or operates to preempt primetime programming in order to air a film attacking John Kerry. Sinclair Broadcast Group is best known as the conservative media organization that has given more than $60,000 to Republicans this cycle and blocked its ABC affiliates from broadcasting an episode of Nightline in which anchor Ted Koppel read the names of American soldiers who died in Iraq. Senator John McCain called that Sinclair decision "a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces" and "unpatriotic."

Week ending October 15, 2004
www.mediamatters.org
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Conservative media company orders broadcast of anti-Kerry film

Memo draws attention to lack of proportionality in media coverage

There's nothing about Mary

MSNBC's debate coverage skewed far right

"Context"? Or "coverup"?

Media conservatives echoed GOP distortion of Kerry terrorism comment

Conservative media company orders broadcast of anti-Kerry film

On October 9, the Los Angeles Times reported that Sinclair Broadcast Group is ordering the 62 TV stations it owns or operates to preempt primetime programming in order to air a film attacking John Kerry. Sinclair Broadcast Group is best known as the conservative media organization that has given more than $60,000 to Republicans this cycle and blocked its ABC affiliates from broadcasting an episode of Nightline in which anchor Ted Koppel read the names of American soldiers who died in Iraq. Senator John McCain called that Sinclair decision "a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces" and "unpatriotic."

The film, Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, was made by Carlton Sherwood, a former Bush administration official, and attacks Kerry for his antiwar activities in the early 1970s.

Conservative defenders of Sinclair and Stolen Honor claim that critics of the film and Sinclair's decision to broadcast it (such as MMFA) are disingenuous, as they haven't yet seen the film. The Wall Street Journal, for example, editorialized: "None of 'Stolen Honor's' critics appears to have actually seen the show. ... We haven't seen 'Stolen Honor' ... Sinclair Broadcast Group doesn't own a station in our metro New York City market, though we're now tempted to hop on a plane to Buffalo or St. Louis to check out what all the fuss is about."

Well, we at Media Matters for America are familiar with a little thing called the Internet -- you'd think the august Wall Street Journal would be as well -- so we checked Stolen Honor's website. Turns out you can watch the film online, for $4.99.

It was not money well spent.

Nonetheless, MMFA reviewed the film:

Having reviewed the film, MMFA can confirm that at least two of the POWs featured in the film, Paul Galanti (MMFA has noted Galanti's false attacks on Kerry, which he made while a guest on FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes) and Ken Cordier (former member of the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign's National Veterans Steering Committee, appointee to a Bush administration advisory committee, and vice chair of Veterans for Bush-Cheney '00) also appeared in Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads attacking Kerry.

[...]

Stolen Honor falsely claims Kerry labeled all veterans war criminals

[...]

As MMFA has repeatedly noted, in his 1971 Senate testimony, Kerry was simply relating the personal experiences of other Vietnam veterans who had come forward and told their stories; Kerry focused blame on the leaders at that time, not the soldiers, for the atrocities they claimed to have committed or witnessed.

[...]

Stolen Honor falsely claims Kerry had secret meeting with North Vietnamese in Paris

[...]

A Swift Boat Vets attack ad released in September also claimed that Kerry "secretly met with enemy leaders in Paris." But as MMFA and The Washington Post noted at the time, the meeting was not a secret. Kerry spoke about his meeting with Nguyen Thi Binh (then-foreign minister of the Provisional Revolutionary Government and a top negotiator at the Paris Peace talks) in his 1971 public testimony before the Senate.

The New York Times editorialized on October 15:

The Sinclair Broadcasting Group, one of the nation's most powerful television conglomerates, has a sad record of using its public license to promote Republican causes. Earlier this year, Sinclair tried to censor an installment of "Nightline" on its 62 stations when Ted Koppel announced plans to read out the names of soldiers killed in Iraq. Now the company, owned by financial backers of President Bush and other Republican politicians, plans to actively join the re-election campaign. ... The company already compels them [local stations] to broadcast editorials and commentaries favorable to Mr. Bush and his policies. But this is a whole new arena, and little different from making the stations give donations to the Republican campaign.

Memo draws attention to lack of proportionality in media coverage

Last week, Media Matters lamented "the media's apparent belief that 'balance' requires treating false claims and misstatements by all candidates equally -- even if the false claims greatly differ in severity. ... If John Kerry says in the second presidential debate that two plus two equals five, and George W. Bush says two plus two equals 127,000, we fear The Washington Post will tell us they're both equally guilty of fudging the numbers."

Little did we know that the conservative media was about to attack ABC News political director Mark Halperin for saying something quite similar. Hours after our critique of the media's lack of proportionality in covering the candidates, the Drudge Report revealed an internal ABC memo in which Halperin argued:

We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides "equally" accountable when the facts don't warrant that.

Halperin's statement caused an uproar in conservative media circles, but it's hard to imagine why. All he was saying is that not all lies and distortions are created equal. Saying two plus two equals five is not as bad as saying two plus two equals 127,000. The media is doing a grave disservice to the public if they pretend otherwise.

What does it tell you about a group of people who argue that the media should treat all distortions as equal? Maybe that they know they're guilty of greater distortion?

There's nothing about Mary

Lost amid much (contrived) media outrage about John Kerry's mention of Dick Cheney's daughter's sexuality during the last presidential debate is this Cheney quote from August:

"Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with. ... With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone. People ought to be able to free -- ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to."

We don't remember seeing any outrage that Cheney "dragged" his (fully grown adult) daughter in to the presidential campaign - a campaign in which she serves in a senior staff role.

Why the outrage now? And aren't those in the media who suggest that Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney was "mean" or an "attack" just revealing their own anti-gay attitudes? Kerry didn't say anything critical of Mary Cheney -- unless you think that saying someone is gay is criticizing them.

Most importantly: why, barely more than two weeks before a presidential election, is the media talking about Mary Cheney, rather than, say, Osama bin Laden? Or Iraq? Or Al Qaeda? Or manufacturing jobs? Or health care? Or education? Or terrorism?

MSNBC's debate coverage skewed far right

MSNBC's coverage of the presidential debates showed a pronounced rightward tilt, as MMFA has noted throughout the last two weeks.

Following the final presidential debate on October 13, MSNBC's guest list was overwhelmingly Republican:

In the hour following the October 13 presidential debate between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, MSNBC's coverage oversampled Republican "analysis" of the debate: Four of the first five guests on the program were supporters of President Bush, and the second Kerry supporter was not interviewed until exactly an hour after the debate had concluded (11:31 p.m. ET). After interviewing Kerry political adviser Robert M. Shrum, the next four guests were Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), Bush campaign senior adviser Karen Hughes, former New York City mayor and Republican National Convention primetime speaker Rudolph Giuliani, and White House communications director Dan Bartlett.

On October 8, Hardball's pre-debate panel consisted of three journalists and Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg, until recently employed as national counsel to the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign. After the debate, the panelists were Ginsberg and longtime Republican operative -- and presidential candidate -- Pat Buchanan.

Finally, The American Prospect's Ayelish McGarvey noted that MSNBC allowed Andrea Mitchell to criticize Kerry for a debate statement in which he criticized Alan Greenspan. MSNBC viewers were not told that Mitchell is married to Greenspan:

MSNBC: WORSE THAN FOX? Chris Matthews just asked Andrea Mitchell, NBC's news correspondent, for her reaction to tonight's debate. Mitchell made a few cursory remarks and then, struggling not to roll her eyes, said that John Kerry, "frankly, pandered on the issue of Social Security." Now of all issues, why on earth would Mitchell be so irked about Social Security, of all things? ... Aha! Turns out, Kerry's criticism of the Fed chairman hit a little too close to home for Mitchell. Alan Greenspan, of course, is Andrea Mitchell's husband. And in the interest of full disclosure, Mitchell and the other members of the panel said ... absolutely nothing at all. No conflict of interest there, folks. Nope, none at all.

"Context"? Or "coverup"?

During the October 13 presidential debate, President George W. Bush denied he'd ever said he wasn't worried about Osama bin Laden, as Senator John Kerry stated. In fact, Bush did say it, as a March 13, 2002, video clip, which was played repeatedly by broadcast and cable networks after the debate, demonstrates. But even with a video clip that starkly contradicted Bush's assertion, several pundits and reporters rushed in the hours after the debate to claim, falsely, that Bush's 2002 comments about bin Laden were being taken out of context.

Knight Ridder reported after the debate:

"Kerry accused Bush of saying 'I'm not that concerned' about the al Qaida leader when asked where bin Laden was. The context, though, was misstated. Bush was saying bin Laden could not elude U.S. forces forever and also said of bin Laden at the time: 'He's the one who needs to be worried.'" [Knight Ridder, 10/13/04]

That isn't true. At no point during his March 2002 press conference did Bush say bin Laden is "the one who needs to be worried," or anything like it. Knight Ridder was apparently referring to comments Bush made nearly two months earlier, on January 22, 2002.

On October 14, MSNBC anchor Randy Meier twice claimed that the "context" around Bush's 2002 quote showed that he meant that bin Laden should be more concerned about us. And on FOX News Channel, Fred Barnes said: "I mean, he did say I'm not too worried about him. Now he was meaning that he's the guy then -- and he went on to say Osama bin Laden's the guy that should be worried."

Media conservatives echoed GOP distortion of Kerry terrorism comment

John Kerry was quoted in the October 10 New York Times Magazine as saying "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance."

A casual observer might have assumed that terrorists themselves would be the only people who would disagree with the statement that we should reduce the threat of terrorism to the point that it is nothing more than a nuisance. Indeed, no less an authority than retired General Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor the first President Bush, said in 2002:

"Can we win the war on terrorism? Yes, I think we can, in the sense that we can win the war on crime. There is going to be no peace treaty on the battleship Missouri in the war on terrorism, but we can break its back so that it is a horrible nuisance and not a paralyzing influence on our societies."

But, as it turned out, President took issue with Kerry's desire to reduce terrorism to a nuisance. And, in the process, he lied about what Kerry said, claiming that Kerry thinks terrorism is currently nothing more than a nuisance.

Predictably, media conservatives piled on, dishonestly parroting Bush's rhetoric and distorting Kerry's quote:

  • Pat Buchanan: Kerry seems to have this -- obviously they try to portray him as a girlie man at the Republican Convention. But he seems to play into this with the phrase about sensitive war, and global test, and now terrorism is a nuisance. [MSNBC, Scarborough Country, 10/11/04]
  • Sean Hannity: He [Kerry] is saying, these are his words, this is his little debate he's had with himself, and the fact that 3,000 of our fellow citizens were slaughtered on 9-11 -- and here we are -- we're supposed to believe that these terrorists are only a mere nuisance -- just a nuisance. [ABC Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 10/11]
  • Hannity: You know that nuisance that John Kerry was talking about? We're going to win the war on terror so that American cities and American malls and the American people are going to be safe. That's what the war has always been about. [FOX News Channel, Hannity & Colmes, 10/11]
  • Tony Snow: But first, our top story tonight, the political heat is on as we count down to November 2. President Bush and Senator Kerry are back on the campaign trail, pounding away at each other, verbally, of course. This morning, the president pounced on a quote in Sunday's New York Times Magazine where Senator Kerry called terrorists a nuisance. [FOX News Channel, The O'Reilly Factor, 10/11]
  • Gary Bauer: Listen up, Senator Kerry. We're fighting Jihadists, Islamofascists, not just a nuisance or law enforcement problem. [CNN, Crossfire, 10/12]
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