The growing scandal surrounding conservatives' use of fake "news" reports, secret government propaganda, and payola to conservative commentators continued to accelerate this week. We learned that at least two more conservative columnists were paid by the Bush administration to promote policies without disclosing those payments; two other commentators the Bush White House consulted regarding the president's inaugural address later praised it on television without disclosing their role; and Media Matters for America demonstrated that a White House-favored "reporter" is little more than a partisan political operative disguised as a working journalist.
This week, Media Matters for America noted:
Talon News, a conservative company whose Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent Jeff Gannon is well-known for asking loaded pro-Republican questions at White House press briefings, appears to be more a political organization than a media outlet.
Media Matters for America revealed that Gannon has, on at least three occasions, written articles for Talon News that "used Bush administration and Republican National Committee (RNC) documents and releases ... verbatim and without attribution. In at least two of his articles, Gannon lifted more than half of the text directly from GOP 'fact sheets.'" During President Bush's press conference this week, Gannon asked Bush a loaded question designed to attack Democrats -- but that question, as Media Matters for America noted, contained factually incorrect assertions lifted from Rush Limbaugh.
Media Matters also demonstrated this week that Talon News is virtually indistinguishable from a company called GOPUSA, and that the two entities are much more like partisan political organizations than legitimate news outlets, raising questions about why the White House has given them press credentials. Perhaps it's because, as Gannon wrote on a conservative message board, White House press secretary Scott McClellan "usually knows what [questions] he's going to get from me." Or maybe it's because Talon/GOPUSA head Bobby Eberle was a delegate to the 2000 Republican convention that nominated Bush.
With the Armstrong Williams scandal still going strong, this week brought revelations that two more conservative pundits have contracted with the Bush administration to promote government policies -- even while they wrote columns about those policies that failed to disclose their conflicts of interest.
No word yet on which pundits took government contracts to promote the Iraq war, but there's always next week ...
In light of the Williams, Gallagher, and McManus revelations, Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer must be feeling cheated. After all, the famed conservative commentators were consulted for Bush's inaugural address, then praised it on FOX News -- but they apparently didn't receive any money for their efforts from the Bush administration.
We wonder what George Will would say about that.
In November, Media Matters noted that FOX News host Sean Hannity failed to disclose his ties to an organization whose president he interviewed; this week, Hannity finally acknowledged that he should have made such a disclosure.
This week, Media Matters noted that FOX News' flagship political news program, Special Report with Brit Hume,
regularly uses its daily one-on-one interview as a platform for conservatives and Republicans to express their views in a format that does not admit opposing views. Though Special Report is ostensibly a "hard news" program bound by FOX's commitment to "fair and balanced" reporting, the liberal media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has conducted three separate surveys of the guests in Special Report's solo interview slot, which show that guests are overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. FAIR's most recent study concluded that "[a]mong ideological guests, conservatives accounted for 72 percent, while centrists made up 15 percent and progressives 14 percent."
But even on the rare occasions when Special Report's solo interview slot does feature a liberal-leaning guest, the guest is usually invited to discuss a topic on which his or her specific views are known to be more conservative and/or more supportive of Republicans than the guest's ideological orientation would otherwise suggest.
Having successfully convinced much of the media not to refer to their plans for Social Security as "privatization," conservatives are now hard at work browbeating reporters not to refer to President Bush's plans as "private accounts," either. Republican pollster Frank Luntz went so far as to claim that doing so would be "unfair" and "tak[ing] sides" -- despite the fact that Bush himself uses that term. And it's working.
Just so everyone is clear: the word that best describes conservative plans for Social Security is "privatization." That's not a word progressives have made up to undermine the plan -- that's the word nearly everyone used for years. It's the word the Cato Institute, one of the leading advocates of privatization, chose when it came time to name its efforts; it launched the "Project on Social Security Privatization" (though it too has fallen in line, and the effort is now called the "Project on Social Security Choice").
"Privatization" is the word the right, the left, the middle, and the media used, until some conservatives took a poll a few years ago and discovered that people don't want to privatize Social Security. So they started referring to "private accounts," then "personal accounts," and next, if the media keeps letting them get away with it, we'll have "doubleplusgood accounts" or some such meaningless phrase that obscures reality and tricks people into supporting policies they might actually oppose.
Luntz is right: Reporters shouldn't take sides. Going along with conservatives' constant manipulation of the language is doing just that.