Right-wing media have been hyping reports from an Indian news agency that President Obama's upcoming trip to India will cost $200 million a day and will require 34 warships to be stationed off the Indian coast. In fact, the White House, the Secret Service and the Pentagon have called the claims false, and numerous U.S. media sources question the numbers.
The question for the mainstream press, as always, is how to deal with egregious falsehoods that take hold and quickly drive our political discourse. Sometimes I think the right-wing plan is to just drown everyone in so many lies that it becomes too time consuming for journalists to fact-check all the fabrications. And perhaps that's why so often the lies are not confronted.
Happily, the India trip lie is being forcefully knocked down from some mainstream media outlets such CNN and ABC News. And that's exactly the right way to confront a misinformation campaign -- call it out for what it is. Don't look away, or issue it's-just-Rush-being-Rush type of passes to powerful pundits who can't tell the truth. The correct thing to do is to say without apology, that these people are lying about the President of the United States, they don't seem to care that they're lying, and most likely they know they're lying. ($2 billion in security costs for a presidential visit? On what planet?)
And to his credit, that's essentially what Anderson Cooper did on last night's show:
And it's what ABC's Jake Tapper did on Good Morning America:
Meanwhile on her program last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow also debunked the India trip idiocy. But Maddow went a bit further and explained the larger, disturbing trend in play, which is how the "alternative, self-contained, right-wing media world" fabricates and deceives on purpose; how it's designed to spread misinformation. Maddow notes the increasing trouble with that is that more and more Republican political leaders are taking that right-wing misinformation ($2 billion) and deploying it into the real world.
Maddow laments that because of its self-contained structure there's no longer an effective debunking process for right-wing lies because nobody inside that world acknowledges the outside world. True to a point. But I still think it's effective and important and necessary for independent journalists to call out this nonsense and let right-wing pundits know they cannot always lie with impunity.
As much as novelty fact-checking (news outlets creating fact-check gimmicks when it should be a normal part of reporting) may be trivializing an important issue, it's good to see Christiane Amanpour continuing the practice on ABC's This Week which she helmed for the first time as its new host this weekend.
Back in April, This Week guest-host Jack Tapper partnered with PolitiFact.com to offer fact-checks each week of ABC's important Sunday show.
PolitiFact editor Bill Adair told Media Matters, "I met with This Week's executive producer Ian Cameron a few weeks ago and we decided that we really liked how it was going and that it was a valuable service for This Week's viewers and PolitiFact readers." Adding, "so, we decided to keep it going."
Thus far, This Week remains the only Sunday morning network political talk show to offer an independent fact-check. Media Matters' partner organization Political Correction has been providing fact-checks of the Sunday shows for seven months.
From the July 4 edition of ABC's This Week:
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First there was Jake Tapper, interim-host of ABC's This Week, partnering with PolitiFact.com to offer viewers a fact-check of the Sunday morning program.
In an act of policing itself, today TNR launches The In-House Critics, a blog that offers regular criticism of itself from the Right and Left.
Editor Franklin Foer explained in a statement that "while disagreement between writers exists in spades on TNR.com, The In-House Critics represents an experiment in formalizing it."
So they've asked Jim Manzi ("several clicks to our right") and Michael Kazin ("several to our left") to "regularly disagree with us-to write short pieces that call us out when they see us making dubious intellectual leaps, and to serve as collegial irritants to our assumptions."
While I doubt other publications will take TNR's lead it would certainly be refreshing to see others looking at their own work with a critical eye. I'm not holding my breath though. Remember, none of Tapper's rivals have followed his example. In fact, two of them have said people watching at home can fact-check on their own time.
Over the years, we've done a variety of reports documenting the lack of progressive voices as well as gender and ethnic diversity on the all-important Sunday morning network political chat shows. As Media Matters' Jamison Foser noted earlier this week:
Politico reported a finding by American University's Women & Politics Institute that "female lawmakers have composed 13.5 percent of the total Sunday show appearances by all representatives and senators this year." (That finding was consistent with a 2007 Media Matters study that examined all Sunday show guests -- not just lawmakers -- in 2005 and 2006, finding that about 80 percent of guests were men and roughly 90 percent were white.)
The reason for this disparity is simple: the Sunday shows do not prioritize the diversity of their guest lists. This is true of gender diversity, racial and ethnic diversity, and, too often, diversity of viewpoints and policy positions. (In the run-up to the Iraq war, for example, Meet the Press hosted nearly three times as many Democrats who supported the Congressional measure authorizing the use of force as Democrats who opposed it -- despite the fact that a majority of Congressional Democrats opposed the measure.)
He goes on to note that the network's responsible for the disparity are offering nothing but excuses saying, it is "quite revealing that a Sunday show producer defends her team's efforts to book women by saying they've tried 25 times to book one woman, rather than saying they've tried to book 25 women." He continues:
If you were trying to increase the number of women who appear on your Sunday show, would you A) keep inviting the same woman over and over again, despite the fact that she has declined 25 invitations and despite the fact that you think she is "just unwilling" to be your guest, or B) Find other women to invite?
It's not the first time the networks' have offered up hollow excuses for their lack of diversity.
When Media Matters released its first Sunday show report looking at "nearly 7,000 guest appearances during President Bill Clinton's second term, President George W. Bush's first term, and the year 2005," there were several startling findings:
The networks responded with, you guessed it, excuses. Representatives from the CBS and NBC Sunday shows said that the party in the White House would undoubtedly hold a booking edge because they have so many more newsmakers. This particular excuse ignored the many advantages Republicans and conservatives had during President Clinton's second term. The shows then argued that it was because Republicans controlled Congress. Okay, so how would the right's booking advantage be affected when Democrats won the House and Senate in 2006?
Media Matters' follow-up report found that although control of Congress had switched hands, network practices remained largely unchanged with conservatives and Republicans holding many of the same advantages they had for so many years.
The dreadful Sunday show excuse parade doesn't only march surrounding questions of diversity.
After Jake Tapper -- interim host of ABC's This Week -- began working with PolitiFact.com on a trial basis to provide a weekly fact-check of the network's Sunday show, two of his rivals swatted away suggestions that they too take up the practice.
David Gregory -- host of NBC's Meet the Press -- said of fact-checking his program, "people can fact-check Meet the Press every Sunday on their own terms."
Bob Schieffer -- host of CBS' Face the Nation -- struck the same chord saying, "everybody's welcome to fact-check us all they want" adding "I kind of think that by the time we get around to fact-checking, we'd already be fact-checked."
Yep, people upset with the lack of accountability (and journalism) dolled out on Sunday are free to do their own fact-checking. Talk about avoiding responsibility.
I guess, If It's Sunday, It's Excuses.
Two weeks ago, I double-dog-dared Fox News contributor Sarah Palin to take ABC News' Jake Tapper up on his offer to appear on This Week.
As Media Matters' Eric Boehlert went on to note:
I hope she accepts the offer. But I don't think she'll bite, for the very simple reason that she has categorically refused to answer any questions from non-right-wing journalists, and non-Fox News cheerleaders, for going on a year now. That's a fact. But you don't hear Beltway journalists complain. (They don't seem to mind being habitually snubbed. In fact, they reward her with more free news coverage.)
We've simply never seen an instance in modern American politics where a high-profile political figure was able to not only hide from the press, but advertise the fact that he/she was going to boycott the press. (And do it with glee!) And then have the press roll over and accept the categorical rejection. I mean c'mon, reporters now routinely type out Palin's Facebook notes as news.
Does anybody honestly think that if, say, after his 2000 election loss, Al Gore basically refashioned himself into some sort of relentless attack hack, a kind of whirling dervish of partisan misinformation, and positioned himself for a possible run in 2004, and Gore refused to answer questions from the Beltway press for more than a year, that an ABC News host would try to cajole Gore into appearing on his show?
Now the former half-term Governor of Alaska is making the rounds on local television news -- I guess it was something the Dutch suggested.
As Politico's Patrick Gavin reports:
It's not exactly a new strategy (ask George W. Bush...), but we've noticed that Sarah Palin is focusing more on local media lately (of course, having an exclusive contract with Fox News forbids her from going on certain other national outlets...).
As my colleague Ken Vogel put it, "Take that Lame Stream Media!"
I guess Tapper is only going to get that interview if he takes a demotion and moves to a rural ABC affiliate.
Perhaps I should have gone with the rarely used and "sinister triple-dog-dare."
From the June 6 edition of ABC's This Week:
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Ever since Sarah Palin became a Fox News contributor, nearly all of her media interviews have been on the conservative cable outlet, save for a few other appearances to promote her memoir and other endeavors.
It's a sweet deal for the former half-term Governor of Alaska. She pops up on Fox News in between Facebook postings for the occasional softball interview never facing tough questions while many in the media dutifully promote her ramblings as if they in and of themselves have some sort of news value.
Even during paid speaking gigs Palin doesn't provide much access to the non-conservative press.
Which is perhaps why this Twitter post flagged by Mediaite.com from the interim host of ABC's This Week -- Jake Tapper -- caught my eye:
As Mediaite.com's Tommy Christopher notes:
I asked Jake why he has chosen Twitter as the vehicle to entice Palin onto his show: (via email)
"We've been trying for sometime now to have Gov. Palin as a guest on This Week, so far to no avail. Knowing how connected she is to the internet and how responsive she is to her supporters, I thought appealing to her on twitter might work. We'll provide a fair forum for her to share her thoughts on politics and policy; I hope she comes on."
Under Tapper's interim host-ship, This Week has implemented several innovations, the most buzzworthy of which is their partnership with Pulitzer winning fact-check website Politifact. The show has also made ratings inroads against its competition, once again gaining to 2nd place last week ahead of CBS' Face the Nation. A Palin appearance would be a huge win for This Week, but it could also benefit Palin tremendously.
I hope Palin goes on too. In fact, I double-dog-dare her to go on This Week with Tapper. If for no other reason than it serving as an excellent opportunity for someone, anyone to hold her accountable for the myths, lies, conspiracy theories and general misinformation she's been pushing since she left Alaska's Governorship in favor of greener (money) pastures. You know, the things the folks at Fox News will never address during her appearances.
Sunday morning is still serious real estate in American television, a place where serious news still is discussed. It's one of the last bastions of serious news... so for me the real motivating factor was to be able to translate, and to be able to take all that I've learned and done and take it to another level.
She's right. The all-important Sunday morning network political talk shows still have tremendous sway over our media and politics. In a very real sense, these broadcasts define conventional wisdom.
The real question is what Amanpour will do with This Week when she takes the helm. More than simply discussing "serious news" of the day, Sunday shows should be a place viewers can turn to for accurate information.
For several weeks now Jake Tapper has been interim-host This Week. In that role he has partnered with PolitiFact.com to offer a weekly fact-check of the program -- something other Sunday shows have declined to do thus far.
If Amanpour is serious about taking what she's done to "another level" with This Week, and I have every reason to believe she is serious, it is incumbent upon her to follow Tapper's lead and continue with the weekly fact-checks. Doing so will allow her to make a positive mark on the Sunday morning line-up right out of the gate.
Conservative media have suggested that the Department of Homeland Security is to blame for alleged Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad boarding a plane. However, administration officials have stated the airline failed to review the updated no-fly list after Shahzad's addition, and that sending the passenger manifest to Customs and Border Protection successfully prevented Shahzad's escape.
On Friday, Christiane Amanpour left CNN after 27 years at the network. As we noted in March, the cable news mainstay is set to pick up hosting duties for ABC's This Week later this summer taking over for ABC News' Jake Tapper who will continue to fill-in as host until Amanpour's transition is complete in August.
For his part, Tapper has partnered with PolitiFact.com to offer a weekly fact-check of This Week -- something other Sunday show hosts like NBC's David Gregory and CBS' Bob Schieffer have declined to do thus far instead leaving it up to their viewers.
Amanpour will be the only woman hosting one of the all-important Sunday morning network political talk shows -- an accomplishment to be sure. It remains to be seen however, if she will continue Tapper's trial partnership with PolitiFact.com. Should she continue such a partnership, and I'm hoping that she does, it will further distinguish This Week from its more reticent rivals.
More news in the continuing saga of fact-checking the Sunday shows. A brief recap:
Now, CBS' Bob Schieffer -- host of Face the Nation -- has weighed in with his thoughts. Yahoo! News media writer (formerly of Politico) Michael Calderone reports:
Bob Schieffer, host of CBS' "Face the Nation," similarly described his role as "the front line on fact-checking," when a guest makes a dubious claim, he's there to ask follow-up questions.
And if an inaccurate statement slips by, Schieffer said he expects that viewers and media-monitoring groups on the left and right will call attention to it quickly, noting that "everybody's welcome to fact-check us all they want."
"I kind of think that by the time we get around to fact-checking," he added, "we'd already be fact-checked."
We've noted that ABC's This Week is working with PolitiFact.com on a trial basis to provide a weekly fact-check of the network's Sunday show and that rival David Gregory, host of NBC's Meet the Press has said of fact-checking his program, "people can fact-check Meet the Press every Sunday on their own terms."
Not content with letting Gregory off the hook, a pair of college students has launched MeetTheFacts.com in an effort to put pressure on the NBC Sunday show to do the right thing. Says the website:
Meet The Facts is a non-partisan grassroots effort to encourage the NBC television program Meet The Press to incorporate a formal fact checking procedure for all statements made on air by its guests. That analysis would then be released to the public, preferably within several days of the broadcast.
Reached for comment, MeetTheFacts.com co-founder Chas Danner -- a journalism and writing student at The New School in New York City -- said the website was launched because, "Meet the Press has lost a lot of its journalistic relevance. Guests from both ends of the political spectrum know how to come on the show and get away with making false statements."
Danner added, "Jake Tapper and This Week are definitely out in front on this issue, but even they have said it's only an experiment. This should be an essential component of all Sunday shows."
Asked if the Sunday shows should conduct their own in-house fact-checking or rely on a neutral third-party, Danner said, "a third-party fact-checking organization is the way to go, but I don't think it's a deal breaker if they want to do it in-house...I think both the guests and hosts should have their statements verified, and obviously that is easier to ensure with an independent source."
Danner met MeetTheFacts.com co-founder Paul Breer -- a political science student in Kansas -- on Facebook just last Sunday. As of approximately 11:30 a.m. this morning, their effort had purportedly resulted in more than 1,100 unique visitors (several from within NBC Universal.)
MeetTheFacts.com offers visitors a variety of ways to take action including the use of Twitter/Facebook, sending emails, making phone calls and mailing letters ("Remember Those?" the website asks.) Check it out and if you feel so inclined, go ahead and take action.
Last week, we noted that ABC's This Week would begin working with PolitiFact.com to provide a weekly fact-check of the Sunday show. Said PolitiFact.com's Bill Adair in making the announcement:
Jake Tapper, the interim host of This Week, liked the suggestion and asked us to fact-check the show on a trial basis. So starting this Sunday, we'll be fact-checking the newsmakers who appear on the program. We'll post the items on our home page and on the show's Web site. The items will also be archived on PolitiFact's This Week page, so you'll be able to check back periodically and see how the newsmakers are doing.
Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's Colbert Report, isn't pleased. As he puts it:
I don't care about facts. I gut-check my show. I say, "gut, does that feel true to you," and gut says, "yes it does Stephen, let's get a grilled cheese sandwich."
Colbert also ribbed David Gregory, host of NBC's Meet the Press, for this disappointing statement:
People can fact-check Meet the Press every Sunday on their own terms.
I hope Gregory will come to his senses. It would do all Sunday show viewers a great deal of good if Meet the Press, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday (and the cable/syndicated ones too) followed This Week's lead rather than Colbert's, which is how they seem to do it now.