"Media Matters," week ending March 4, 2005; by Jamison Foser

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

CBS' Bob Schieffer, who has enjoyed a personal "friendship" with President Bush for years, downplayed criticism of Bush's Social Security plan of partial privatization. As Media Matters noted.

Week ending March 4, 2005
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This week:

Social Security: Bush pal downplays opposition to president's proposal

Gannongate: the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?

Right-wing extremism watch

Boston Globe reporter violated paper's polcies by posting anti-Kerry, pro-Bush comments on websites

Meet the new NY Times op-ed columnist, same as the old NY Times op-ed columnist

Social Security: Bush pal downplays opposition to president's proposal

CBS' Bob Schieffer, who has enjoyed a personal "friendship" with President Bush for years, downplayed criticism of Bush's Social Security plan of partial privatization. As Media Matters noted:

CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer stated on the program's February 27 broadcast that "critics say that the plan to create these personal savings accounts will cost $1 trillion to $2 trillion down the line and does nothing to resolve the problem of solvency with the system [emphasis added]." But these claims do not depend on the credibility of unnamed "critics"; the Bush administration itself has confirmed that they are accurate.

Meanwhile, a Media Matters review of TV appearances by Charles W. Jarvis, president of pro-privatization group USA Next, found that despite the organization's extensive ties to the Republican Party and funding by the pharmaceutical industry, Jarvis and USA Next were typically described in a way that "left the impression that USA Next is a grassroots, issue-based advocacy organization representing seniors."

Gannongate: the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?

While all-too-common claims that the controversy surrounding Jeff Gannon is all about racy web sites and quirky characteristics seem to have had most news organizations to drop -- or ignore completely -- Gannongate, serious questions remain about how and why he got into the White House. And serious people continue to seek the answers to those questions.

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman wrote:

[T]the Jeff Gannon/James Guckert saga is far from over. It remains unclear how a graduate of a conservative training program, someone with no previous journalism experience, someone whose writings were often lifted directly from White House press releases, still managed to gain access to the White House press room, where he spent two years lobbing gentle questions at the press secretary and the President.

And some political analysts who monitor President Bush's relations with the media insist that Gannon ... should not be viewed as an isolated case. Rather, they contend that Gannon is symptomatic of a broader White House strategy to undermine the traditional media by disseminating the Bush message in creative new ways.

[...]

[H]istorians say that Bush, unhappy with what he calls "the filter," is courting controversy in his quest for innovative formats. Several conservative commentators have been paid to trumpet Bush policies in their work; one recipient, Armstrong Williams, is being investigated by the Federal Communications Commission. And two agencies have disseminated pro-Bush videos that look like TV newscasts, without disclosing the Bush sponsorship - a breach of federal law, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The White House has stated that these media decisions were made independently by the agencies. Nevertheless, former Republican strategist Jim Pinkerton, who later worked in the senior George Bush's administration, says: "It's quite clear this White House is exploring radical alternative ways to getting its message out - through the aggressive hiring of flacks like Williams, and the presence, or even planting, of friendly so-called journalists like Gannon.

"The Bush people are challenging all the old assumptions about how to work the press. They are ambitious - visionary, if you will - in ways that Washington has yet to fathom."

Larry Gross, who runs the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California, says: "Richard Nixon hated the press, Bill Clinton hated the press - but they accepted the basic rules of the game. Bush has a strategy of discrediting, end-running, and even faking the news. Those prepackaged videos sent to local TV stations 'looked' like news, much the way Gannon 'looked' like a reporter. We're seeing something new: Potemkin-village journalism."

New York Times columnist Frank Rich threw down the gauntlet, challenging his fellow journalists to follow the story:

We still don't know how this Zelig, using a false name, was given a daily White House pass every day for two years. Last weekend, Jim Pinkerton, a former official in the Reagan and Bush I White Houses, said on "Fox News Watch," no less, that such a feat "takes an incredible amount of intervention from somebody high up in the White House," that it had to be "conscious" and that "some investigation should proceed and they should find that out."

Given an all-Republican government, the only investigation possible will have to come from the press.

While Rich is skeptical the "all-Republican government" will find answers, that hasn't stopped 26 members of the House of Representatives from trying; led by the ranking members on the House Judiciary, Rules, Homeland Security, Ways & Means, and Government Reform committees, they are trying to require "the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to turn over all documentation in their possession about how James Guckert (also known as Jeff Gannon) gained access to White House press events."

Right-wing extremism watch

Media Matters has previously detailed "increasingly angry, shrill, and nasty" rhetoric from right-wing pundits and commentators. Examples range from Ann Coulter's use of the phrase "oily Jews" to Kellyanne Conway's comparison of homosexuality to being a "slut" to Bill O'Reilly's regular comparisons of people with whom he disagrees to Nazis to Rush Limbaugh's ... well, to nearly every Rush Limbaugh broadcast.

Recent comments by Limbaugh, Coulter, and others demand an update:

  • Michael Barone, author of the "nonpartisan" National Journal Group's "definitive" Almanac of American Politics attended the 2005 Conservative Political Action Conference, where he claimed that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) has "already thrown her broom into the ring" for the 2008 presidential race and accused Democrats in Washington state of trying to "steal" votes.
  • "Choo-choo train of truth" Rush Limbaugh claimed: "The life expectancy of men is drawing closer to that of women. Women still live longer than men because their lives are easier."
  • Radio host Bill Cunningham seemed to advocate child abuse by teachers, telling FOX News' Alan Colmes that "we need more teachers beating people about the face and head, especially on the derriere. If we had more of that, believe me, we'd have less people thinking like you." Colmes' co-host, Sean Hannity, responded by telling Cunningham he is a "great American," a compliment Cunningham returned.
  • Finally, Ann Coulter -- fresh from calling veteran journalist Helen Thomas an "old Arab" -- claimed that the Democratic Party "supports killing, lying, adultery, thievery, envy." Coulter's contention that Democrats are pro-killing is par for the course for the right-wing pundit, but accusing an entire political party of supporting "envy" strikes us as beyond the pale.

Boston Globe reporter violated paper's policies by posting anti-Kerry, pro-Bush comments on websites

Media Matters for America revealed this week that:

While reporting on the 2004 presidential campaign for The Boston Globe, technology reporter Hiawatha Bray apparently wrote posts for several weblogs in which he declared his support for President Bush, attacked Sen. John Kerry, and bolstered discredited allegations by the anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (now Swift Vets and POWs for Truth).

A Globe spokesperson later acknowledged that Bray's postings "were inappropriate and in violation of our standards," though the spokesperson offered the impressively hair-splitting defense that "Mr. Bray is a technology reporter and did not cover the presidential campaign, other than a minor technology-related story on very rare occasions."

In other words, he didn't cover the campaign -- except when he did.

Meet the new NY Times op-ed columnist, same as the old NY Times op-ed columnist

The New York Times this week chose John Tierney to replace William Safire on its op-ed pages. Safire, whose casual relationship with the truth led Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons to note, "It seems people on the Times Op-Ed page can make up their own facts," is ably replaced by Tierney; Media Matters has noted Tierney's reliance on phony statistics and decision to cite a professor whose work has been funded by white supremacists. Columbia Journalism Review's CJR Daily added:

-- Tierney "has a tendency to support his point of view using sources with a clear ideological or special interest agenda, without properly identifying them."

-- Tierney has repeatedly selectively cited sources, cherry-picking studies that support his view, even if they contradict the wider body of evidence.

-- In his Times pieces, Tierney has ignored major sides of a debate in his desire to adopt a contrarian position, often "flouting basic journalistic norms whose observance might weaken his case."

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