Drudge + warbloggers = foolery

››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Is there any tag team capable of doing more damage to the truth than over-eager warbloggers enlisting with gossip guru Matt Drudge? The two factually challenged camps joined forces last week in an effort to slime CNN's Iraq reporter Michael Ware by spreading the bogus story that he'd heckled Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during a Baghdad press conference. It actually took less than one day for the malicious falsehood to be debunked. And in the end, Drudge and the warbloggers -- those bitter, pro-war, dead-enders -- simply made April fools of themselves for peddling the concocted tale.

Is there any tag team capable of doing more damage to the truth than over-eager warbloggers enlisting with gossip guru Matt Drudge? The two factually challenged camps joined forces last week in an effort to slime CNN's Iraq reporter Michael Ware by spreading the bogus story that he'd heckled Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during a Baghdad press conference. It actually took less than one day for the malicious falsehood to be debunked. And in the end, Drudge and the warbloggers -- those bitter, pro-war, dead-enders -- simply made April fools of themselves for peddling the concocted tale.

But before the embarrassing hiccup fades into oblivion, it's helpful to detail the events in order to really understand the willful disconnect warbloggers have with reality, and particularly when it comes to smearing journalists trying to cover the deadly fighting in Iraq. Even a week after Drudge's blunder, warbloggers were still clinging to dubious evidence to support their smearing of Ware.

It's also instructive because despite being wrong about the war for four years running, warbloggers still retain an unfortunate amount of media influence, thanks in part to the fact that the mainstream press refuses to detail the warbloggers' blatant failings.

And as the Ware attack illustrated, left to their own woefully inadequate ethical standards, warbloggers have almost no interest in acknowledging their sloppy errors or expressing regret for the harm those errors cause.

The media dust-up began when war supporter McCain recently went on conservative Bill Bennett's radio show and announced that there were neighborhoods in Baghdad where the two of them could walk around safely. The wishful thinking was part of McCain's latest push to suggest things were improving in Baghdad and that the press wasn't telling the American people the full, optimistic story. Responding on-air, CNN's Ware wondered what parts of "Neverland" within bombed-out Baghdad McCain was referring to where Americans could roam freely on the streets. (McCain later conceded that some of his claims about Baghdad were not true.)

That set up the Drudge smear. Relying on a single anonymous "official," Drudge reported on April 1, that Ware had "heckled" McCain during the senator's press conference in Baghdad. "I've never witnessed such disrespect. This guy is an activist not a reporter," said Drudge's "source." (Raise your hand if, over the years, you've simply assumed that most of the anonymous quotes Drudge uses in his "exclusive" reports are fabricated. Me, too.) The charge was bold and unequivocal. It was not that Ware had giggled or talked during the press conference. It was that Ware had had repeatedly interrupted McCain with argumentative questions.

Giddy warbloggers, thrilled at the chance to denigrate a journalist whose reporting from harm's way challenges their claims of "progress" in Iraq, cheered the Drudge scoop.

The glee proved short-lived. The next day, Raw Story reported that two CNN videos of the press conference could be viewed online and that they undercut the Drudge story about Ware heckling McCain. The clips failed to provide any audible evidence of heckling but did confirm Ware's account that he never even asked McCain a question at the press event.

In a way, I wish the definitive videos hadn't surfaced for at least a couple more days, or even weeks. That would have given warbloggers more time to whip themselves into a Jamil-Hussein-type of righteous indignation. As it was, warbloggers had less than 24 hours to embarrass themselves before the truth was revealed. At least they made good use of their time.

  • Rick Moran (brother of ABC's Terry Moran) at Right Wing Nuthouse suggested Ware had been "act[ing] like an ass" during the McCain presser.
  • Scott Johnson at Power Line claimed Ware was "unfit to cover the war."
  • Kesher Talk accused Ware of "disgracing the journalism profession on network [sic] news."
  • Confederate Yankee accused Ware of being an "activist" with an "agenda."
  • John Tabin at American Spectator tagged Ware as "rude" and "dishonest."
  • Warblogger Roger Morrow called Ware a "useful idiot" because he "heckled John McCain."

The Ware smear also highlighted the unique double standard the mainstream media uses when dealing with Drudge. Too many news outlets are quick to echo whatever stories Drudge hypes, allowing the site to dictate the news agenda. Yet the very same news outlets ignore whenever The Drudge Report is caught peddling fabricated tales.

For instance, in the last month National Public Radio, MSNBC, Bloomberg Radio, Fox News, CNN, and CNBC have all (foolishly) cited the Drudge Report as a source or an on-air reference to support a particular story. Yet all of them turned away last week when Drudge smeared a well-known journalist with a lie. And here's 10 bucks that says those very same news outlets in coming weeks will go back to citing Drudge items.

I guarantee that if Huffington Post, or Daily Kos, or any other very high-profile progressive online site had billboarded an "exclusive" accusing a public figure of outlandish, unprofessional public behavior, and liberal bloggers coast-to-coast linked to the story, and then it quickly became apparent that the report was a complete fraud, The Washington Post, for instance, would have covered that event as news, highlighting, no doubt, the "angry" tone of the loose-lipped liberal bloggers.

But when Drudge made up a story about a CNN reporter, the Post played dumb.

It's a shame, because I think a little public humiliation would do the warbloggers some good. Note that prominent warblogger Michelle Malkin was notably absent from the attacks on Ware. It's possible Malkin's still chastened from the prominent role she played in the recent Jamil Hussein debacle and she actually thought twice before joining the pitchfork crowd online in trumpeting more dubious allegations about Iraq-based reporters.

In the Jamil Hussein case, warbloggers erroneously claimed the Associated Press had quoted a "fake" Iraqi police source, and that the source had concocted incidents of violence in order to create the illusion of chaos in Baghdad. (The only thing fake about the Hussein story was the warbloggers' allegation itself; the Iraq police captain was legit.)

At the time, Malkin claimed the AP's actions were deliberate because the "terrorist-sympathizing, anti-Bush press" wanted more bloodshed in Iraq. "[M]any in the American media ... have a vested interest in exaggerating the violence as much as possible," she wrote. The warbloggers' bottom line: The press was losing the war in Iraq.

That's a gospel truth among warbloggers, who consider journalists to be "the enemy." And it's the enemy in the literal sense, as in they're cowardly traitors working in concert with insurgents. Seriously. The accusation is routinely made. In fact, it's the warbloggers' creed. And sure enough, it surfaced during the Ware episode, with the CNN reporter being denounced as "a blatant advocate of defeat," (Blackfive), "a shill for terrorists," (Flopping Aces), "the newsman more terrorists trust" (Morrow), and being "biased in favor of the enemy" (Wizbang's Lorie Byrd).

Online amnesia

What was telling about the warbloggers last week wasn't that they took a comical swing-and-miss at Ware, (their whiffs now occur like clockwork), it was how warbloggers reacted once Ware denied the heckling allegation and then the videos confirmed that denial.

Wrestling with the blatant discrepancy, Malkin's blogging buddy Allahpundit posted the headline, "Video: CNN reporter denies heckling McCain; Update: Press conference video appears to support Ware." The text continued directly, "Sort of. He denies having said anything at the press conference -- but strictly speaking, he wasn't accused of having said anything."

Fact: Drudge's report accused Ware of "heckling" McCain. Fact: Ware insisted he never spoke at the press conference. So Allahpundit then deduced that perhaps Ware heckled McCain without speaking? According to the Random House College Dictionary, heckle means "to harass (a public speaker, performer, etc.) with impertinent questions, gibes, or the like."

When the videotapes of the press conference then surfaced, Allahpundit, in an update, simply announced that Drudge's report was inaccurate. Well, that was obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes who watched the clips. (Well, almost anyone; we'll get to that.) The question for the warbloggers was: Were any of them going to not only acknowledge that Drudge's report was a fabrication, but also to apologize for their knee-jerk embrace of the phony report in an effort to insult Ware? Hint: As I wrote in January, being a warblogger means never having to say you're sorry.

For instance, certain that Drudge's report was accurate, warblogger Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive tagged Ware as a "one man clown car," an "unhinged" "media jackal," and an "idiot". Jimbo later posted a sneering video apology, in which he referred to Ware as "excremental" and a "tool."

Meanwhile, after viewing the videotape of McCain's presser, RedState's Mark Kilmer could not decide "if Matt Drudge owes Mike Ware an apology."

At least Kilmer pondered the possibility; other warbloggers couldn't even be bothered with going through the motions of a retraction, let alone an apology. For instance, The Jawa Report announced categorically that Ware had been "caught heckling and mocking" McCain. But the Jawa Report never updated the story after it was proven to be completely false.

The poorly named warblog Brutally Honest claimed Ware's heckling of McCain represented "a tip of the biased media iceberg." Brutally Honest then failed to acknowledge that the heckling allegation was not true.

Meanwhile, Gateway Pundit apparently suffered from a nasty case of amnesia. The warblog was quick to condemn Ware's alleged heckling but noted to readers, "I have not seen any video of this. If anyone finds it, I'd appreciate a heads up." When the video then appeared online Gateway Pundit made no mention of it, nor the fact that Drudge's report was bogus.

Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs awarded "the despicable" Ware's (fictitious) heckling incident the "Arrogant Mainstream Media Moment of the Day." When the definitive video surfaced, LGF conceded "there's no visible evidence on this video of heckling" but still insisted the visual proof "won't settle the debate." At least, not among people who disregard simple facts.

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit did post an update in which he acknowledged the obvious; that Drudge got the story wrong. Or more specifically, he acknowledged Drudge "seems to" have gotten the story wrong. (Apparently Reynolds didn't want to rush to any conclusions.) Reynolds then bragged about how he always tries to correct any errors with items that he links to. But what about an apology for Ware? In his original post, Reynolds, relying entirely on Drudge's handiwork, attacked Ware's professionalism and honesty. There was no mention of that in Reynolds' update.

Here, coming in the wake of often detailed, and even flowery, denunciations of Ware, are, in their entirety, a sampling of tacked-on clarifications and retractions warbloggers made. In other words, after warbloggers devoted hundreds of words to condemning Ware, when the central allegation was proven to be wrong, these were the clipped-on, eight or nine-word sentences warbloggers posted in the name of 'transparency':

Meanwhile, this comment posted on Tabin's blog is too good to pass up. It perfectly captures this comical "Never mind" brand of commentary that warbloggers routinely engage in:

Wow, the Roseanna Roseanna Danna [sic Emily Litella] school of journalism. Write a story based on totally concocted bs. Find out the story is totally concocted bs. Leave entire story up (showing your stupidity) and put "Just kidding" at the bottom. I'd punish my 4-year old for that kind of work. Nice job.

It should be noted that a week into this manufactured press controversy, not a single person connected with McCain's office, nor anyone traveling with the senator to Iraq, would substantiate the anonymous heckling claim. It wasn't until April 10, nine days after Drudge posted his exclusive, that McCain, appearing on Sean Hannity's radio show, said he'd been told by others that there was chuckling and laughing going among reporters while he spoke in Baghdad. The right-wing blog RedState immediately -- and erroneously -- claimed McCain had "confirmed" that he'd been "heckled" by Ware. But McCain did no such thing. He claimed, based on second-hand knowledge, that some reporters (not Ware) had been laughing (not heckling) at the press event.

In fact, McCain's vague comments raised a number of questions:

1. Why did McCain, who was standing just a few feet away from reporters during the press event, not notice they were laughing out loud? Meaning, why did he have to rely on others to confirm the account when he was looking directly at the reporters the whole time?

2. And why did the podium microphone from the press conference fail to pick up the reporters' allegedly boisterous behavior? Watching the CNN video of the press event, viewers can hear a pin drop while McCain is speaking.

And meanwhile, so what if reporters laughed? The press event was unintentionally funny. That's because also appearing with McCain in Iraq was war cheerleader Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), who told reporters that the visit he and McCain had taken that morning to a Baghdad marketplace was just like any visit to an Indiana marketplace in the summertime. Except, of course, that Pence and McCain were accompanied by 100 soldiers, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache attack helicopters. Other than that, sure, it was just like a summertime Hoosier stroll.

But for warbloggers, journalists do not have the authority to question, or even mildly mock, people like McCain, even when he flies into Baghdad for a photo op about a war he's been wrong about for nearly 50 straight months. The job of journalists, according to warbloggers, is to simply regurgitate the pronouncements of government officials.

And the job of warbloggers? That's to denounce and denigrate journalists who have the nerve to raise uncomfortable questions about their beloved occupation of Iraq.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
The Drudge Report
Person
Matt Drudge
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.