For the press, it was too good to be true -- and it was. The news media was eating up anything it could find about Solyndra when Bloomberg ran a September 28 report headlined "Solyndra Plant Had Whistling Robots, Spa Showers" focused on the amenities of Solyndra's facility including "robots that whistled Disney tunes." Fifteen paragraphs in, Bloomberg eventually explained:
Robots that resembled "a big freezer with wheels" maneuvered around the factory transporting panels from one machine to another, said George Garma, 49, a former Solyndra equipment maintenance technician from Fremont. The Disney tunes alerted workers to the robots' presence.
Or, as Politifact recently reported, the "robots" were "automated guided vehicles" designed to transport materials -- a common technology used since the 1950's -- and the "whistling" was preloaded music played to alert workers that the vehicles were nearby for safety reasons. The automated vehicles were not lavish expenses, but standard technology that reduced labor costs. Music is used instead of beeping, which "can drive workers nuts -- and sometimes they tune it out, presenting a safety hazard," according to Politifact.
But Greenwire and CNN's American Morning didn't see fit to explain any of that. Neither, of course, did Fox News in its coverage of the "singing robots" on Your World, On The Record, and Special Report. Andrew Napolitano declared on his Fox Business show that Solyndra executives "entertain themselves with robots whistling Disney tunes in the hallways." I could be entertained by this for hours:
During an appearance in New York Thursday night, Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson said that former Wall Street Journal Europe publisher Andrew Langhoff did "the honorable thing" by resigning.
During a panel discussion at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism -- which included Bloomberg BusinessWeek chairman Norman Pearlstine and Stephen Adler, editor-in-chief of Reuters -- Thomson was asked about recent News Corp. troubles.
Among the issues is the resignation of Langhoff, who stepped down this week following concerns over two articles published about a company with contractual links to the paper's circulation department.
In addition, The Guardian broke more information about the situation, reporting:
The Guardian found evidence that the Journal had been channelling money through European companies in order to secretly buy thousands of copies of its own paper at a knock-down rate, misleading readers and advertisers about the Journal's true circulation.
The bizarre scheme included a formal, written contract in which the Journal persuaded one company to co-operate by agreeing to publish articles that promoted its activities, a move which led some staff to accuse the paper's management of violating journalistic ethics and jeopardising its treasured reputation for editorial quality.
Responding to questions from panel moderator Stephen B. Shepard, dean of the graduate school, Thomson prefaced his statement by saying that "because it's the subject of legal things, one has to be careful about what words one uses."
"But there was the perception of pressure," said Thomson, adding, "The lesson of it is that no matter how far-flung -- and this was a supplement for The Wall Street Journal Europe -- there has to be a very clear line between church and state. That line simply cannot be breached, and creating a circumstance where even the appearance of a breach can take place is unacceptable. And so ... Langhoff did the honorable thing and resigned."
Thomson said that the situation surrounding Langhoff's resignation was "clearly" related to "a circulation agreement which involved bulk sales on the Continent." But he argued that "it's pretty fair to say The Wall Street Journal Europe is not the only newspaper with bulk sales on the Continent."
"But there has to be transparency," added Thomson. "There has to be ... contractual transparency, and there certainly has to be transparency for the reader -- that you cannot pay for play."
Without citing any source, Fox claimed that President Obama's visit to Ireland might include discussions of a U.S.-funded "bailout" for Ireland. In fact, such claims are baseless; Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny reportedly briefed Obama on Ireland's position regarding a European Union bailout, but there have been no reports that he did or plans to ask Obama to directly intervene in negotiations on Ireland's behalf.
Or put another way, is there any limit to how small or poorly attended a Tea Party rally can be before the press finally stops showering the right-wing movement with coverage? Based on the avalanche of reporting that yesterday's minuscule Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C., generated, the answer appears to be, no.
Just how sparse was the Tea Party crowd? A Bloomberg dispatch tactfully noted the rally attracted "dozens" of supporters.
I realize the fact that many high-profile members of Congress were scheduled speak at the Thursday rally meant it was going to be covered regardless, that there was an automatic news hook in place regardless of the Tea Party turnout.
But still, it's long past time that reporters and pundits started telling the truth about the incredibly shrinking Tea Party movement in America. And it's time members of the press corps asked themselves why they continue to cover Tea Party events that draw "dozens." (I guarantee you that if Media Matters promoted a rally in the nation's capital and invited members of Congress to speak, there would be a hell of a lot more than "dozens" of supporters. I can also guarantee you most news organizations would not cover the event.)
Remember, this is supposed to be a grassroots movement, which means one of the newsworthy angles is that so many Americans are supposedly getting involved in the Tea Party initiative. But if the party calls for a major Washington, D.C., rally and promises to have members of Congress addressing the crowd, but only "dozens" show up? That in and of itself is news. (i.e. What's become of the Tea Party?)
Of course, the wheels actually came off the Tea Party's grassroots movement a long time ago. Flashback: Activists predicted 3-4,000 Tea Party faithful would flock to Philadelphia last summer to hear Andrew Breitbart address the masses. Except only one-tenth of that bothered to show up.
How many disappointing rallies with crowds numbering in the low hundreds does the Tea Party have to suffer through before the press acknowledges there's no there there?
In terms of yesterday's coverage, I thought The Atlantic and Slate got it about right with their headlines, "Some, But Not Many, Tea Partiers Rally on Capitol Hill" and "The Tea Party Comes to D.C., in Small Numbers, On Message," respectively. And other news outlets, such as CBSNews.com, at least made it plain in their articles that the rally turnout was surprisingly (shockingly?) small.
Others, though, camouflaged that fact. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, politely made no references to miniature Tea Party crowd size in its report. And of course, neither did Fox News. Its online dispatch mentioned the "energized" and "boisterous" crowd. Missing from the report? The fact that the rally attracted dozens of supporters.
Whenever Fox News is in the mood to pretend that its "fair and balanced" slogan is anything more than a punchline, it resorts to drawing distinctions between its "straight news" and "opinion" broadcasts -- distinctions that are, basically, phony.
Still, given how frequently Fox pretends to take seriously the differences between news and opinion, it's amusing how frequently Fox obscures those differences when it suits their partisan needs.
Take this Fox Nation item, for example:
Click through and you'll find an excerpt from an "article" declaring that Christie "like Ronald Reagan before him, has an uncanny ear for what troubles Americans" and insisting that "super-slick Obama" has "enraged so many Americans."
That sounds more like an opinion column than a news report -- but Fox Nation goes out of its way to present it as an objective news article:
Notice the lack of a byline? The link at the end referring to the "full article" -- article, not column?
Well, if you actually do click through to the original "article" you find that it is, in fact, a column by right-wing activist Kevin Hassett, director of economic-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
Fox's portrayal of an opinion column by a conservative AEI employee as a straight news article is not only deeply dishonest, it also makes a mockery of the cable channel's insistence that people not conflate its (purportedly) neutral news reporting with its opinion shows.
According to a report in The Guardian, Rupert Murdoch – chairman of News Corp, the parent company of Fox News – has "paid out more than £1m (about $1.6 million) to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists' repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories."
Fair and balanced (and illegally obtained?)
Romenesko summarized the sordid story:
...Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper subsidiary paid about $1.6 million to settle court cases involving allegations that its reporters worked with private investigators to hack into numerous public figures' cellphones. Murdoch tells Bloomberg News that's news to him. "If that had happened, I would know about it."
Numerous media figures have compared President Obama and his administration to the mafia, frequently referencing films and television shows such as The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos.
Print media have uncritically quoted Republican senators criticizing congressional Democrats' decision to use the budget reconciliation process to advance health-care reform and education initiatives as overly partisan, without noting that congressional Republicans -- including the senators quoted -- voted to allow the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass major Bush administration initiatives.
Several media outlets have asserted that AIG's payment of controversial employee-retention bonus packages could squelch or impede President Obama's ability to promote his policy agenda. Most of those reporting the claim failed to elaborate on how disclosure of the bonuses could impede Obama's ability to pass aspects of his agenda such as health-care reform and climate change policy.
In a March 6 news article headline, Bloomberg referred to the "Obama Bear Market," and The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed on the same day with the headline "Obama's Radicalism is Killing the Dow." In fact, the market has been on a decline since October 2007, and, as the Financial Times' Dan McCrum said, "it's the economy which is driving the market down here" and that "what's important is that President Obama doesn't try to address that in the short term. He's quite right that short-term market movements aren't -- shouldn't be driving government policy. What he needs to do is concentrate on fixing the economy, and the market will sort itself out."
Bloomberg columnist Caroline Baum asserted that "[a]s the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee," before he became chairman in 2007, Rep. Barney Frank "consistently opposed stricter regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." In fact, Frank has supported legislation to strengthen oversight over Fannie and Freddie, both as ranking member and as chairman. Further, Frank advocated for "a bill that would have enhanced the regulatory structure for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac" during a hearing from which Baum quoted in the column.
Bloomberg uncritically quoted Sen. Mitch McConnell criticizing the economic recovery plan as being neither "timely, targeted nor temporary," but did not point out that McConnell voted in support of a proposed amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint that would replace the recovery bill entirely with permanent tax cuts, some of which DeMint has called "broad based."
The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore and Fox News anchors Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly promoted the falsehood -- which first appeared in a Bloomberg "commentary" by Betsy McCaughey and was subsequently promoted by Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge -- that the economic recovery bill includes a provision that would, in Moore's words, "hav[e] the government essentially dictate treatments." Limbaugh later took credit for spreading this story.
Rush Limbaugh repeated a falsehood in a Bloomberg "commentary" by Betsy McCaughey that claimed that under a provision in the House-passed economic recovery bill, "[o]ne new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and 'guide' your doctor's decisions." In fact, the provisions McCaughey referenced address establishing an electronic records system such that doctors would have information about their patients "to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care."
In a Bloomberg News article headlined "Obama Faces Rebellion From Democrats on Stimulus, Nominations," the only evidence cited in the article of "rebellion from Democrats" on President-elect Obama's "nominations" was that Sen. Dianne Feinstein "said she hadn't been consulted on the pick" of Leon Panetta for CIA director "and preferred a CIA director with more experience in intelligence," and that Rep. John Conyers "took aim at reports that Obama is considering naming CNN reporter Sanjay Gupta as surgeon general." In fact, Feinstein reportedly stated that she was "going to vote for" Panetta. And as a member of the House of Representatives, Conyers will not have a vote on Gupta's confirmation.