Detroit news reporters who've covered the city's fiscal problems for years say claims from conservative commentators that the recent bankruptcy is due to liberal agendas, federal policies, or even President Obama are wildly inaccurate.
Journalists, some with decades in the Motor City, contend such national coverage has missed the true cause of the financial debacle, which includes decades of population decline, mismanagement of city debt, and recent individual corruption.
By contrast, right-wing commentator and Detroit native Ted Nugent recently claimed that "Liberal democrats took hold of the greatest, most productive city on earth and turned it into a bloodsucker excuse-making hell," adding, "If allowed to continue, our President will do the same to the whole country. Heartbreaking and tragic."
Similar coverage from Fox News -- which misleadingly claimed other cities could fall into Detroit's bankruptcy path - and National Review's Rich Lowry, who tried to blame it on "a toxic combination of Great Society big spenders, race hustlers, crooks, public-sector unions, and ineffectual reformers," is misleading, local reporters say.
They contend that Detroit's problems are unique and driven by demography and decades-long trends, not ideology.
"I don't agree with that thesis," Jim Kiertzner, a reporter at ABC affiliate WXYZ-TV who has covered Detroit news since 1983, said about some of the conservative claims. "This was a city, like the auto industry, [where] in the heyday the money rolled in. When the decline started, nobody kept ahead of it and made the cuts necessary."
He added that the decline has "been in the making for decades. Detroit has been on a long steady decline."
Kiertzner and other reporters pointed to the population drop that began decades ago when wealthier families moved to the suburbs, reducing the population from 1.8 million in 1950 to 1.2 million in 1980 to only 701,000 in 2012.
Detroit-based journalists contend that drop reduced both job opportunities and city revenue, but with a rising maintenance cost because the city still had to pay for police, fire and other services. And with a 138-square mile area, one of the largest in the nation, the cost is vast.
"You have one of the largest areas that the police need to cover, the fire department, street lights, and keeping roads maintained and roads plowed," said Brett Snavely, a Detroit Free Press reporter covering the bankruptcy. "The cost of keeping this city maintained is fundamentally higher than in many cities."
With such rising costs and reduced revenue, the city of Detroit kept borrowing money and raising its debt, the reporters say. It also failed to pay into its pension fund properly, leading to the current situation in which city worker pensions are $3.5 billion in the red.
"The city didn't meet its obligations paying along the way, they gave the pensions IOU's, they are also looking at possible bad investments where they lost millions of dollars," says Kiertzner. "It wasn't just the employees, it is not a fair assessment to blame the unions."
Kathleen Gray, another Detroit Free Press reporter, added, "Its mismanagement, it's the downturn in the economy, it is not a single thing. We get a lot of [reader] feedback here that it is the liberal management of Detroit, but I don't agree with that assessment."
Charlie Langton, a reporter at WWJ News Radio and a 10-year Detroit journalist, said trying to link Detroit's situation to some outside influence is misleading.
"There is a combination of a couple of things, certainly mismanagement of the city's assets play a major role," he said. "For many years Detroit borrowed money to pay down its debt and Detroit lost a significant population."
Berman of the Detroit News said some of the problems were the result of the same sub-prime mortgage lending that hurt other cities, and even Wall Street banks continuing to lend Detroit money as its debt bloomed.
"The biggest mistake here is that no one tried to solve problems as they arose. They tried to paper over them, there was no problem solving, everything got pushed back," Berman said. "There was continued borrowing and there was no payback. They would shop the debt to Wall Street. You could blame Wall Street for not questioning that they were enablers, they gave them that credit. Why did Moody's write Detroit bonds?"
For Curt Guyette, news editor of the alternative weekly Metro Times, trying to blame liberal policies or some progressive approach is too narrow.
The president of the National Association of Black Journalists is criticizing columnist George Will's claim that President Obama may be re-elected because he is black, calling the assertion "narrow-minded."
NABJ President Greg Lee, who is also executive sports editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, reacted to Will's October 1 column, in which the Washington Post scribe wrote that President Obama's "administration is in shambles, yet he is prospering politically."
Will suggested that the explanation for this alleged contradiction may be that Americans seem "especially reluctant not to give up on the first African American president."
"I think it's a slippery slope, you are making a broad sweeping suggestion that the only reason why Obama would be given a second term is because he is black. I think that's very narrow-minded and not looking at the totality of what Obama had to go through his first four years and what Mitt Romney has said during his campaign and also his resume in the past," Lee told Media Matters by phone Tuesday. "To make a broad sweeping generalization, it is a very dangerous thing to do, to just use race an excuse in this election. It's not an overall fair assessment if you are going to use that as a litmus test to decide a president because of their color."
In the column, Will sought to compare Obama's election as the first African-American president to that of Frank Robinson, the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball:
A significant date in the nation's civil rights progress involved an African American baseball player named Robinson, but not Jackie. The date was Oct. 3, 1974, when Frank Robinson, one the greatest players in history, was hired by the Cleveland Indians as the major leagues' first black manager. But an even more important milestone of progress occurred June 19, 1977, when the Indians fired him. That was colorblind equality.
Managers get fired all the time. The fact that the Indians felt free to fire Robinson -- who went on to have a distinguished career managing four other teams -- showed that another racial barrier had fallen: Henceforth, African Americans, too, could enjoy the God-given right to be scapegoats for impatient team owners or incompetent team executives.
After being fired by the Indians, Robinson went on to manage three other teams, and won the American League Manager of the Year Award in 1989. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005.
Three panelists who appeared with President Barack Obama at the 1998 conference where he mentioned "redistribution" agree that his comments were wrongly taken out of context by the conservative press and some mainstream media outlets.
The panelists at the Loyola University event also recall then-state senator Obama discussing funding of education and other social programs through foundations and public funds.
"Shame on them," said Maureen Hellwig, who was a program coordinator for the Policy Research Action Group, a consortium of non-profit community organizations, when she appeared on the panel. "How do you take one phrase and say therefore this person is a socialist? You need to know a lot more about him, give other examples. He wasn't discussing socialism at the meeting, he was discussing distribution of public funds to produce good public adult education."
The conference made news this week after a video clip of Obama at the event was posted on YouTube and picked up by The Drudge Report and several news outlets.
Initially, Drudge linked to a video clip with a photo of Obama and the headline, "I actually believe in redistribution." That quote was picked up by Gateway Pundit blogger Jim Hoft who used the video to call Obama "America's Socialist In Chief."
But the quote flagged by Drudge and other conservatives left off the end of Obama's sentence: "at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot."
Obama was talking about the role of government in providing services, but also criticizing ineffective forms of government. For instance, Obama says in the audio, "We do have to be innovative in thinking, what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live?"
He was speaking broadly about pooling resources to make sure that everyone has fair access.
Transcript of the YouTube audio:
OBAMA: Let me just close by saying, as we think about the policy research surrounding the issues that I just named, policy research for the working poor, broadly defined, I think that what we're going to have to do is somehow resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective at all. There has been a systematic -- I don't think it's too strong to call it a propaganda campaign against the possibility of government action and its efficacy. And I think some of it has been deserved. Chicago Housing Authority has not been a model of good policymaking. And neither necessarily have been the Chicago Public Schools.
What that means, then, is, is that as we try to resuscitate this notion that we're all in this thing together, leave nobody behind, we do have to be innovative in thinking, what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live? And my suggestion, I guess, would be that the trick -- and this is one of the few areas where I think there are technical issues that have to be dealt with, as opposed to just political issues -- I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot.
But that didn't stop several news outlets, including Fox News, from hyping the edited clip and failing to offer full context to suggest that Obama is a closet extremist.
NBC News posted and reported on the full context of the clip Thursday, stating on its website:
Mitt Romney's campaign this week has pounced on a 14-year-old clip of Obama speaking about "redistribution" in October 1998 at a conference in Chicago, in which the future president seems to extol the virtues of redistributing wealth.
Yet NBC News has obtained the entirety of the relevant remarks, which includes additional comments by Obama that weren't included in the video circulated by Republicans. That omission features additional words of praise for "competition" and the "marketplace" by the then-state senator.
Journalism veterans and ethics experts are criticizing Fox News' Bret Baier for treating as credible the false claim that President Barack Obama might not have been born in the United States, with one experienced news person calling his recent coverage of the issue "a complete abandonment of integrity and responsibility."
Baier, often viewed as among the more credible news people at Fox News, reported in a news brief Monday night that Arizona Republican Secretary of State Ken Bennett threatened to remove Obama's name from the Arizona ballot if Hawaii officials didn't prove to his satisfaction that Obama was born in Hawaii.
Baier stated: "Bennett says he is not, quote 'a birther' but wants to clear up the issue for concerned Arizonans." But Baier failed to "clear up the issue" for Fox's viewers by stating outright that President Obama was, in fact, born in Hawaii, as indicated by his birth certificate and a contemporaneous newspaper announcement of his birth.
This marked at least the third time this year that Baier reported on developments in the debunked 'birther' movement without providing this crucial context.
By contrast, Fox News' own Shepard Smith stated in 2011: "Well, he has produced a birth certificate. It shows his mother gave birth to him in Hawaii. It is stamped and sealed by the state of Hawaii. It is confirmed, and Fox News can confirm the president of the United States is a citizen of the United States, period."
In a radio interview Tuesday Bennett stated he had withdrawn the threat and told listeners: "If I embarrassed the state, I apologize." The Arizona Republic reported that a "Hawaii official sent Bennett's office verification of birth for President Obama on Tuesday, according to both Bennett and Hawaii officials."
Baier did not respond to several requests for comment.
Several veteran journalists and media critics criticized Baier for his reporting on the subject.
"Whatever the motivation of Arizona's secretary of state it is a complete abandonment of integrity and responsibility for any news gatherer or disseminator not to ask the questions necessary to put a report on the secretary of state's actions in a context that would allow the reader or viewer of the report to make a decision on how he or she can use the information," said Bill Kovach, co-founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and former Washington, D.C. bureau chief of The New York Times. "In this case there is a rich history on the subject that raises deep and serious question about the motivation of anyone questioning President Obama's qualification for holding office including his citizenship and matters surround the time and place of his birth. To ignore this rich history of facts is irresponsible."
Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former executive editor of The Miami Herald, cited Baier's error of omission.
"An error of omission is the more insidious error because it typically escapes being corrected," Fiedler said in an email. "Nothing in his report is inaccurate. The problem lies in Baier's failure to include one additional fact: that, in due regard for the laws of Hawaii, the president has released an official copy of his birth certificate stating as legal fact that his mother gave birth to him in Honolulu. The state of Hawaii accepts this. The U.S. State Department accepts this."
In response to President Obama's declaration of support for marriage equality this afternoon, Fox Nation ran the following headline:
Fox Nation's post linked to a Yahoo News article on Obama's announcement, which ran the headline "Obama declares support for gay marriage."
Update: Within an hour of posting its original headline, Fox Nation removed the "war on marriage" language from its post:
From the July 6 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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In a New York Times article, Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote that President Obama "never served in the military and campaigned as an antiwar candidate." In fact, Obama did not campaign as "an antiwar candidate"; Obama has repeatedly said that he doesn't "oppose all wars" but is opposed to "a dumb war" or "a rash war."
The New York Times' Maureen Dowd falsely claimed that President Obama is not "liv[ing] up to his own no-earmark pledge from the campaign," echoing a Times article false claim that Obama made "campaign promises to put an end to the practice" of earmarks and Sen. John McCain's accusation that Obama has gone back on a promise to "work to eliminate ... earmarks." In fact, Obama promised to reform the earmark process and cut wasteful spending.
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Dennis Miller falsely suggested President Obama supported California's Proposition 8. After Miller described a call to his radio show in which the caller suggested that "had [Obama] been a California resident," he "would have voted for Proposition 8," O'Reilly stated that the caller "probably listened to The Radio Factor and then called you because we had said that." In fact, Obama opposed Proposition 8.
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Guest-hosting The Lee Rodgers Show, Brian Sussman said: "I'm noticing this -- pictures of Sarah Palin. No getting around it: She's a babe. She really is an attractive woman. And the left loathes her for that." Sussman later challenged co-host Tom Benner to "show me one liberal, female politician who is a babe." Benner responded, "Yeah, I can't. I can't do it. I mean, all I think of is a frowsy -- frowning, annoyed, downturned." Sussman later called Rep. Barney Frank a "queen."
On Hannity & Colmes, Ann Coulter announced that she will appear on the January 6, 2009, edition of NBC's Today show to promote the release of her new book. NBC has repeatedly provided Coulter a platform to spew her inflammatory rhetoric even as NBC-affiliated hosts and anchors have expressed disapproval of Coulter's statements or criticized the media for promoting her.
On his radio show, Bill Cunningham advanced baseless speculation that President-elect Barack Obama will not be inaugurated because of the scandal involving Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Also, accusing the media of "latch[ing] on" to evidence undermining any suggestion of wrongdoing by Obama, Cunningham falsely claimed that "parts" of the criminal complaint against Blagojevich "clearly indicate that Obama is up to his eyeballs in fraud." But as U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald made clear, the complaint indicates nothing of the sort.
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Sean Hannity falsely asserted that President-elect Barack Obama "talked about in the campaign cutting tens of millions of dollars in defense spending" when, in fact, Obama said he would cut "tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending." Hannity also asserted that Obama said "[h]e's not gonna weaponize space, slow development of Future Combat Systems" and that he would "set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons" without noting that former Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and other prominent GOP figures have advocated similar positions.
On his radio show, Michael Savage said, "I am telling you that there's gonna be a wholesale firing of competent white men in the United States government up and down the line, in police departments, in fire departments. Everywhere in America, you're going to see an exchange that you've never seen in history, and it's not gonna be necessarily for the betterment of this country."