"Media Matters," week ending April 22, 2005; by Jamison Foser

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

This week's Time magazine features a 5,800-word cover story about right-wing pundit Ann Coulter that downplayed Coulter's extensive history of false claims and offensive comments, setting off a firestorm of criticism of the article.

Week ending April 22, 2005
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This week:

Time cover story reveals more about Time than about Coulter

Convoluted DeLay defenses continue to shape media coverage

Fox's Murdoch: "We challenge anyone to show Fox News has any bias in it"

Newsweek sanitized one offensive Limbaugh comment; what will it do with the next?

Time cover story reveals more about Time than about Coulter

This week's Time magazine features a 5,800-word cover story about right-wing pundit Ann Coulter that downplayed Coulter's extensive history of false claims and offensive comments, setting off a firestorm of criticism of the article.

Time reporter John Cloud wrote that "Coulter can occasionally be coarse," leading Media Matters to respond:

"Occasionally" coarse? A "little bit" of a polemicist? This about a "commentator" who claimed that the Democratic Party "supports killing, lying, adultery, thievery, envy"; who said of the idea that the American military were targeting journalists, "Would that it were so!"; who said President Clinton "was a very good rapist"; who insisted that "[l]iberals love America like O.J. loved Nicole"; who said that "I think a baseball bat is the most effective way these days" to talk to liberals; who said it was lucky for former senator Max Cleland's political career that he lost an arm and two legs in Vietnam; who has said her "only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building"; and who wrote that the only real question about Bill Clinton was "whether to impeach or assassinate."

Even worse, Cloud judged Coulter to be mostly accurate, writing: "Coulter has a reputation for carelessness with facts, and if you Google the words 'Ann Coulter lies,' you will drown in results. But I didn't find many outright Coulter errors."

But even the simple Google search Cloud described -- hopefully not the extent of the research he put into a nearly six-thousand-word article -- does, in fact, yield many "outright Coulter errors." Coulter has a reputation for carelessness with facts because she quite frequently doesn't tell the truth, as Media Matters, Eric Alterman, Spinsanity, Salon, and countless others have documented.

But Cloud's Time whitewash of Coulter's lies and offensive comments was just the beginning of the fun. He went on to "defend" his work in an interview with CJR Daily, in which he bizarrely equated Coulter, whose claim to fame seems to be that she suggested killing the president, with Alterman, a highly esteemed academic, author, critic, and journalist; Alterman's writing about popular music is more serious than Coulter's writing about politics and policy.

Cloud's "defense" of his article went on to attack Media Matters and its president, David Brock:

[H]e [Alterman] picks up something from David Brock's Web site [Media Matters] and reprints it on MSNBC's website. Now David Brock is a very famous hater of Ann Coulter. They used to be friends, they're not friends anymore. He is also a serial liar. David Brock wrote a whole book saying, "Oh, my other books? They were lies." So I don't think David Brock has a lot of credibility on the question of Ann Coulter. And what they are doing is a smear job. That's his other history -- David Brock has a history of smear jobs. And this is a smear job against me personally.

As Media Matters responded:

The observant reader will note that in this response Cloud challenged not one fact in the Media Matters item; questioned not one conclusion drawn. Instead, he simply leveled personal attacks against Media Matters' president.

It's also worth noting that the Media Matters item wasn't about either Coulter or Cloud "personally"; it was about his article. Again, Cloud didn't challenge a single fact the item contained, which makes his characterization of it as a "smear job" ... well, a smear job.

Cloud defended his contention that it's hard to find many Coulter errors by saying that "[m]y job in this story was not to be a fact-checker" and adding that "a lot" of her errors have been corrected by her publisher in subsequent versions of her books -- an excuse that not only stipulates that she makes "a lot" of errors in the first place, and not only ignores the many errors she makes in her columns and public statements, but also ignores the fact that, as Media Matters pointed out, her publisher hasn't corrected all of the errors in her books.

Cloud concluded his interview with CJR Daily by saying:

What I'll say is that I think Eric Alterman and Ann Coulter engage in the same kind of debate. They don't often make actual arguments. Instead, they throw names around. This is the point of my article. This is the way politics is engaged in debate now. And I think that his response to my article proves our point that this kind of dialogue, which is the Ann Coulter kind of dialogue, now holds sway.

Cloud may be right; the "Ann Coulter kind of dialogue" of "throw[ing] names around" instead of "mak[ing] actual arguments" may now "hold sway." How better to explain the fact that a Time reporter, rather than making an argument that Media Matters misrepresented his work or got the facts wrong, instead simply called us names and attacked David Brock personally?

Cloud's own comments prove his point about the coarsening of political discussion. In that way, at least, Cloud was right: Coulter represents the shrill invective and blatant disregard for the truth that has long characterized her cohorts in the right-wing media (see: Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Robert Novak, etc.), and that has now seeped into even Time magazine.

Convoluted DeLay defenses continue to shape media coverage

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Fox News' Brit Hume used a misleading Washington Times article to accuse Democratic members of Congress of committing the same ethics violation of which DeLay has been accused. Hume and Scarborough claimed that Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) took a trip paid for by a lobbyist; Scarborough said the same of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). As Media Matters explained, the Washington Times article they based their claims on suggests that the trip was not paid for by a lobbyist, but rather by the advocacy organization Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques -- a completely permissible arrangement. The Times itself misled readers, headlining its article "Lobbyist paid for Jones' '01 trip," even though the article didn't support that conclusion.

On CNN, anchor Miles O'Brien turned to contributor Bob Barr to assess the DeLay situation. But neither O'Brien nor Barr mentioned the fact that Barr, a former Republican congressman who served with DeLay, took more than $10,000 from DeLay's PAC during his political career; Barr also contributed $1,000 to DeLay's legal defense fund in 2001. O'Brien didn't even mention that Barr and DeLay served together as Republican members of Congress.

But once again, we got proof that anything CNN can do to spread conservative misinformation, Fox News can do better. While CNN turned to a recipient of DeLay PAC money to provide an objective analysis of DeLay's ethics situation, Fox News went straight to the most "fair and balanced" of all sources: an email DeLay sent to his supporters. As Media Matters explained:

In a report on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), Fox News correspondent Brian Wilson presented DeLay's own misleading talking points without rebuttal. Displaying a graphic of "bullet points" taken directly from "an email DeLay sent to his supporters in the Houston area entitled 'What the press isn't telling you,' " Wilson repeated DeLay's claim that he is being targeted by "a left-wing syndicate."

[...]

Wilson featured the talking points and echoed DeLay's own defenses without noting the well-documented facts that belie those assertions. He aired a clip of the interview in which DeLay claimed he was being targeted by "a left-wing syndicate" and repeated DeLay's contention that "Democrats and their outside front groups are targeting him," but he failed to note that DeLay has been criticized by prominent Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT). Media outlets clearly not part of any "left-wing syndicate" have also been critical of DeLay, including the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, and several editorials by newspapers that endorsed Bush in 2004. Rather, Wilson simply noted that "DeLay said he is not getting an even break from the media" and aired a clip of DeLay claiming to be the victim of "journalistic activism."

There you have it: Tom DeLay said that he's the innocent victim of a "left-wing syndicate." Case closed; what more could Fox viewers possibly need to know about the situation?

Speaking of "left-wing syndicates," we've noted in the past that some media outlets have suggested that George Soros is behind criticism of DeLay, a bizarre suggestion given that DeLay's critics have included The Wall Street Journal, Newt Gingrich, and Republican congressman Christopher Shays. This week, Media Matters extensively detailed the ongoing pattern of media figures suggesting that DeLay's troubles can be blamed on Soros:

Initiated by DeLay and other House Republicans and rapidly repeated by conservative commentators, references to Soros have become a common tactic for dismissing critics of DeLay and have now found their way into daily media coverage of the controversy, often with no indication of their GOP origins. This tactic creates the false perception that only liberal organizations are raising ethical questions about DeLay and that Soros' funding impugns the motives of watchdog groups or indicates a "liberal conspiracy" to get DeLay.

DeLay's defenders' invocation of Soros -- and the media's complicity in their efforts to taint both Soros and the progressive causes with which he is associated -- mirror a similar conservative strategy from the 2004 presidential campaign. Apparently thinking that voters would be swayed by associating Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry with Soros -- who Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley called "a Jew who figured out a way to survive the Holocaust" -- media conservatives repeatedly assailed Soros, doctoring quotes, distorting positions, and, in at least one instance, accusing him of attempting to take control of the Democratic Party.

It is noteworthy that neither DeLay's defenders nor the news outlets that repeat their comments about Soros typically explain in detail what groups Soros has funded; what that means in the context of the large and diverse group of DeLay critics, or why, exactly, it would be wrong or controversial for an organization to receive funding from Soros.

Fox's Murdoch: "We challenge anyone to show Fox News has any bias in it"

No, really: That's what Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Fox's parent company, said in an interview.

We'll just let this one speak for itself.

Newsweek sanitized one offensive Limbaugh comment; what will it do with the next?

Media Matters noted this week:

In its April 25 issue, Newsweek altered a quote from nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh to remove the term "blow job," which he had used during a segment of a recent radio broadcast.

[...]

In at least three cases (here, here, and here) in recent years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has fined radio broadcasters for airing explicit discussions of oral sex. All three cases were ultimately part of a $1.7 million settlement reached in June 2004 between parent company Clear Channel Communications and the FCC.

Also this week, Media Matters drew attention to Limbaugh's insulting comments about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY): "She puts her pants on one leg at a time like every other guy does."

While we hope the media gives Limbaugh's petty grade-school insults the scrutiny and ridicule they deserve, we fear that if Newsweek gets its hands on Limbaugh's comments, the quote will quickly become "She puts her pants on one leg at a time like every other person does."

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