"Media Matters"; by Paul Waldman

››› ››› PAUL WALDMAN

With her vigil outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, gaining more and more attention, Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, has become the latest target of the right wing.

This Week:

War moms beware: Don't criticize the president

James Dobson is not, repeat, not sorry

Golden oldie -- Sammon claims Kerry was Osama bin Laden's candidate of choice

Pay no attention to the tax behind the curtain

Intelligence failure

Rest in peace

War moms, beware: Don't criticize the president

With her vigil outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, gaining more and more attention, Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, has become the latest target of the right wing.

How did that happen? It started with Matt Drudge, who posted an item on his website on August 8, charging that Sheehan "dramatically changed her account" of a meeting she had with Bush in June 2004. How so? Drudge took quotes from an article in her local paper out of context to claim that she initially was happy with her meeting with Bush but is now critical of the president.

But did Sheehan change her story? No. In fact, as Media Matters has shown, the June 24, 2004, article in The Reporter of Vacaville, California, included quotes from Sheehan expressing her displeasure with the president:

"We haven't been happy with the way the war has been handled," Cindy said. "The president has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached."

The 10 minutes of face time with the president could have given the family a chance to vent their frustrations or ask Bush some of the difficult questions they have been asking themselves, such as whether Casey's sacrifice would make the world a safer place.

But in the end, the family decided against such talk, deferring to how they believed Casey would have wanted them to act. In addition, Pat noted that Bush wasn't stumping for votes or trying to gain a political edge for the upcoming election.

One quote Drudge cited from the Reporter article seemed to show that Cindy Sheehan was a great admirer of Bush in 2004, when she said, "That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together." This would become Exhibit A in the attack on Cindy Sheehan. As CNN's Anderson Cooper said when interviewing her on the August 11 edition of Anderson Cooper 360, "Some people have criticized you for changing your account of that original meeting you had with President Bush." He then read her the quote.

But what was the real context of the quote? Sheehan wasn't talking about her meeting with President Bush; she was talking about how the trip to Seattle for the meeting allowed her family to spend the day together, as Reporter staff writer Tom Hall noted in an August 9 article responding to Drudge. Here is the original section from the Reporter article:

The trip had one benefit that none of the Sheehans expected.

For a moment, life returned to the way it was before Casey died. They laughed, joked and bickered playfully as they briefly toured Seattle.

For the first time in 11 weeks, they felt whole again.

"That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together," Cindy said.

But when the members of the right-wing echo chamber saw the Drudge item, they knew just what to do. Within hours, it had been reproduced and discussed on a number of conservative weblogs. That evening, Fox News chief White House correspondent Jim Angle reported on Sheehan's criticism of Bush, then said, "But just after that 2004 meeting, she gave a very different account," citing the "gift of happiness" quote. The next night, it was Bill O'Reilly's turn. On The O'Reilly Factor, he charged that "Mrs. Sheehan has apparently changed her mind about the president," using the "gift of happiness" quote. O'Reilly then brought on conservative pundit and blogger Michelle Malkin, who said Sheehan's "story hasn't checked out," and O'Reilly readily agreed:

MALKIN: I mean, the New York Times editorial board is all too eager to prop her up as some sort of martyr and to buy her line, when, clearly, her story hasn't checked out.

O'REILLY: Yes, her story hasn't [sic] changed.

MALKIN: And so I think -- and I think that angle you're emphasizing is absolutely right here, which is the mainstream media just lapping this up and perpetuating myths and inaccuracies when they know it's not the truth.

O'REILLY: Yup. They don't identify -- in the New York Times editorial today, it was obvious they did not say her story has been inconsistent. And they did not pinpoint that she is in bed with the radical left.

On the next O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly responded to a viewer's letter critical of him and Malkin by saying, "Both Michelle and I were respectful to Mrs. Sheehan, sir. You are distorting and perhaps lying about the segment." Really? Well how about this statement he made on the August 9 show: "So, I mean, I think Mrs. Sheehan bears some responsibility for this, and also for the responsibility of other American families who have lost sons and daughters in Iraq, who feel that this kind of behavior borders on treasonous." And how about Malkin, who wrote on her weblog, "I can't imagine Army Spc. Casey Sheehan would stand for his mother's crazy accusations that he was murdered by his commander-in-chief, rather than the Iraqi terrorists who ambushed his convoy"? That's respectful, all right.

James Dobson is not -- repeat -- not sorry

Lately, the use of a Nazi analogy quickly produces a predictable series of events: condemnation, explanation, further condemnation, and finally the regretful apology. Unless you're James Dobson, that is.

As Media Matters discussed last week, Dobson, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, used the August 3 edition of his radio show to liken stem cell research to Nazi experiments on concentration camp victims, an analogy many people found utterly appalling. Two days later, Dobson was unapologetic, saying his comments were "being spun like a top by the ultraliberals who don't care about unborn life." He claimed that he has stated "many times" before that experimentation on human embryos has "a Nazi-esque aura to it" and that his August 3 statements were "not new." He responded to the Anti-Defamation League's suggestion that he apologize to Holocaust survivors by saying, "And to imply that I need to apologize to the Jewish people for my comments about that is just off the wall. And I reject it categorically."

But Dobson wasn't done; on August 8, he went on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes to discuss the issue further, saying, "Well, I was talking about the philosophy behind the two. ... I've done a lot of studying of the concentration camps, and I just -- it boggles the mind to see what happened there. And there's no way that that was being minimized by what I talked about. But what I was saying is that life is life, and you can't begin killing human beings at any age for a utilitarian purpose in order to use them for science or for other people. Once you start that, there's no place to stop." Naturally, co-host Sean Hannity rose to Dobson's defense, saying, "But you were talking about ethics and morality. And science must be guided by that. You said if any ethics or morality is removed, then you have Nazi Germany. You were very clear. You weren't making a comparison." In other words, it's an apt comparison, but he wasn't making a comparison. Or something.

Golden oldie

From the Department of Retro-Spin, this week we saw Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon offering "analysis" of the latest videotape released by Al Qaeda: "It reminds me of the weekend before the election in November, when a similar tape like this came out ... bin Laden urging people, essentially, to vote for Kerry. And that backfired, too. So I mean, in case anybody thinks that, you know, we're going to forget about the war on terrorism, these tapes helpfully remind us of why we have to be so tough on these people."

Sammon, the author of such even-handed, objective books as At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election (Regnery, May 2001) and Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry, and the Bush Haters (ReganBooks, June 2005), has unsurprisingly been a Bush favorite for some time. As he told CJR Daily in 2004, "As for access, I have conducted at least five solo interviews of President Bush, including two in February for my forthcoming book on him. I also was granted extensive, one-on-one interviews with Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House political strategist Karl Rove and Chief of Staff Andrew Card, among others."

Is there a single other reporter who has been granted five solo interviews with President Bush?

Pay no attention to the tax behind the curtain

The latest right-wing book to hit the bookstores is The FairTax Book (ReganBooks, August 2005), written by conservative radio host Neal Boortz and Rep. John Linder (R-GA). Shockingly, the book is being heavily promoted on Fox News. But interviewers on Fox News and CNN have failed to question the authors about some of the deceptions that lie within their argument that our entire federal tax system could be replaced by a national sales tax.

Boortz and Linder are pulling a bait and switch, playing down any discussion of the fact that their 23 percent "inclusive" tax is really a 30 percent tax, since the sales taxes we already pay are "exclusive." In other words, if an item costs $100, under Boortz and Linder's tax you'd pay $130, but they want to convince you that you're only paying 23 percent. Not only that, Boortz and Linder claim their tax is "revenue-neutral," but, according to some analyses, in order to raise as much money as the current tax system, it could have to be as high as 56 percent.

While we'll no doubt be seeing Boortz and Linder all over the place promoting this book, if this first round of interviews is any indication, they won't face any serious challenge on the nature of their "inclusive" tax.

Intelligence failure

The conservative attack on science proceeds apace, and we get the latest from radio host, columnist, and former Fox News anchor Tony Snow. "Evolutionary theory, like [intelligent design], isn't verifiable or testable," Snow wrote in his weekly column. "It's pure hypothesis -- like ID -- although very popular in the scientific community. Its limits help illuminate the fact that hypotheses are only as durable as the evidence that supports them." Here we go again.

Like most evolution opponents, Snow attempts to argue that evolution and intelligent design should both be given equal weight, because, hey, it's all just theory, right? Well, no. Part of the definition of a scientific "theory" is that it makes predictions that can be tested. And, in fact, evolutionary theory makes lots and lots of predictions, most of which have turned out upon testing to be correct. Intelligent design, on the other hand, is indeed, as Snow terms it, "pure hypothesis" -- it's an explanation about the world, but one that can't be tested. So is the religion of Scientology, but President Bush has yet to advocate that Scientology be taught in schools, as he did with intelligent design, "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Rest in peace

Members of the media reacted with sadness when it was announced this week that ABC News anchor Peter Jennings had died. But others reacted differently. As we noted, the response of the Media Research Center was to use Jennings's death to advance its own agenda, quickly posting quotes from Jennings in which he seemed to acknowledge bias in the media. After Media Matters produced an item about the MRC's action, MRC posted a condolence note on its website.

But even the MRC could not match the vulgar callousness of right-wing polemicist David Horowitz, who, as we discovered, responded to Jennings's passing by writing, "While he was alive Peter Jennings did considerable damage to the cause of civilization and human deceny [sic] by his sympathy for Jew-hating terrorists and their supporters."

-- Paul Waldman

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