ABC's Tapper got "Down and Dirty" to attack Media Matters but hit only himself

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

In a post on his ABC News weblog, ABC correspondent Jake Tapper accused Media Matters for America of "engag[ing] in standards more fit to last-minute political attack ads than to fair and objective journalism." Yet Tapper's post contained the same elements of "last-minute political attack ads" he falsely accused Media Matters of employing.

A November 1 Media Matters item about news reports that have mischaracterized Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s concurring opinion in the 2000 abortion case Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey v. Farmer included Tapper among the journalists who have misrepresented that opinion.

Some news reports have suggested that Alito's vote to strike down the abortion ban indicates that he has a "nuanced" history of opinions on abortion that has included both opposition to, and support for, abortion rights. But Alito's Farmer opinion specifically indicated that he was voting to strike down the abortion ban in question only because he was obligated to follow Supreme Court precedent -- by which he will not be bound if confirmed to the high court -- not because of his own views of the law or of abortion. Media Matters noted several examples of news reports that misrepresented Alito's opinion, including two that appeared on ABC News:

Alito's Farmer opinion was mischaracterized in numerous October 31 television reports. For example, on ABC's Nightline, correspondent Chris Bury cited the decision as evidence that "Judge Alito has come down on different sides" of the abortion issue, without noting that Alito said he was merely following Supreme Court precedent. Similarly, on ABC's World News Tonight, correspondent Jake Tapper cited Farmer as evidence that "in some cases, Alito has voted for abortion rights."

That's the extent of Media Matters' mention of Tapper. In response, on November 1, Tapper wrote an invective-filled blog post aimed at Media Matters:

Being in the mainstream media, one is regularly subject to the slings and arrows of media critics pushing their various political agendas. That's fine; it comes with the territory.

But you as a viewer/reader should know how dishonest this criticism can be.

[...]

Here's an example. Media Matters -- a liberal media group -- today is complaining that the opinion Judge Alito handed down in 2000, striking down New Jersey's ban on what abortion opponents call "partial birth abortion" in the Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey v. Farmer decision, "was mischaracterized in numerous October 31 television reports. ... on ABC's World News Tonight, correspondent Jake Tapper cited Farmer as evidence that "in some cases, Alito has voted for abortion rights."

[...]

Interesting point. Except they only used half of my quote.

I said: "But in some case Alito has voted for abortion rights previously defined by the Supreme Court."

Interesting point. Except it changes nothing.

The italicized portion of Tapper's quote doesn't change the fundamental problem with what he said; he still inaccurately claimed that "Alito has voted for abortion rights." In fact, in the Farmer case, Alito voted for following Supreme Court precedent, which he is obligated to follow as an appellate judge -- not "for abortion rights," as his opinion clearly explained. Tapper's quote, in full, suggested that Alito is in favor of the rights the Supreme Court has defined. There is no evidence of that; there is only evidence that Alito is in favor of not having his decisions reversed by the Supreme Court.

Thus, the second "half" of Tapper's quote -- which he accuses Media Matters of dishonestly omitting -- does nothing to change the substantive error in his reporting.

But Tapper didn't stop at merely accusing Media Matters of being "dishonest" by omitting a portion of his quote; he continued his attack by resorting to name-calling:

The dishonesty inherent in their truncating my quote may help satisfy their partisan martyrdom and help fill their professional coffers, but it does a disservice to the American people.

I don't intend to make a regular habit of responding to this type of clearly partisan attack from organizations that are clearly all-too-eager to engage in standards more fit to last-minute political attack ads than to fair and objective journalism. (It's the old saying about don't wrestle with a pig; the pig loves it and you just get dirty.)

For the record, the original Media Matters item did not characterize Tapper in any way. It did not criticize him personally. It simply -- and correctly -- pointed out that he mischaracterized Alito's Farmer opinion. In response, Tapper accused Media Matters of being "dishonest," of "view[ing] news through the colored lenses of dogma," of seeking "partisan martyrdom," of resorting to "dishonesty" in order to "fill their professional coffers," and of leveling a "clearly partisan attack."

Incredibly -- and with no hint of irony -- after this stream of insults, Tapper compares Media Matters to a "pig" who "loves" getting others dirty.

It's worth noting that the title of Tapper's blog -- the entire blog, not just his post attacking Media Matters -- is "Down and Dirty."

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