Slate columnist Michelle Goldberg explained how an unfounded accusation spread throughout conservative media, claiming that Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign team tried to force Laugh Factory to take down a video about her.
According to the right-wing organization Judicial Watch, "Hillary Clinton's campaign is going after five comedians who made fun of the former Secretary of State in standup skits at a popular Hollywood comedy club." Judicial Watch claimed that a Clinton staffer called Jamie Masada, the comedy club's founder, asking for the names of the actors and for the video to be taken down.
In her November 19 Slate post, Goldberg explained that the threat to Masada came from an anonymous call that was not confirmed to be from Clinton's campaign and detailed how the unfounded accusation spread through right-wing media, despite the fact that Masada could not verify that anyone from Clinton's campaign had actually contacted him:
In short order, right-leaning sites including NewsBusters, NewsMax, Mediaite, the Daily Caller, and the Daily Mail aggregated the accusation.
This seemed bizarre. Even if you buy the most grotesque right-wing caricatures about Clinton's humorlessness and authoritarianism, it's hard to believe that the campaign would be so clumsy, especially at a time when it's going out of its way to make the candidate seem fun. Such a demand would only reinforce the worst stereotypes about Clinton while ensuring that the offending video went viral. Besides, there's nothing in the video itself to attract the campaign's notice: It's less than three minutes long and is mostly stale cracks about Hillary's clothes and age, along with familiar insinuations that she's a lesbian. One of those insinuations is even admiring: "I would love if you become president, divorce Bill, and then you marry a bitch," says Tiffany Haddish.
Yet there was Masada--a man who has won awards from the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, and has no discernable right-wing agenda--quoted as saying, "They threatened me. I have received complains before but never a call like this, threatening to put me out of business if I don't cut the video."
Masada doesn't actually know that the call came from the Clinton camp.
How does Masada know that John was actually from the Clinton camp? He doesn't. "I'm glad I'm not in politics or any of that stuff; you might know more than I do," he says. "Maybe it was a prank, I have no idea. Was it real? Not real? I have no idea. He didn't call back, that's all I can say." Nor is Masada sure how Judicial Watch even heard about the call. "The way I understand it, it's because one of the [Laugh Factory] employees told a couple of people," he says.
What we have here is a small-scale demonstration of how the Hillary smear sausage gets made. It starts with a claim that's ambiguous at best, fabricated at worst, and then interpreted in the most invidious possible light. The claim is reported in one outlet and amplified on Twitter. Other outlets then report on the report, repeating the claim over and over again. Talk radio picks it up. Maybe Fox News follows. Eventually the story achieves a sort of ubiquity in the right-wing media ecosystem, which makes it seem like it's been confirmed. Soon it becomes received truth among conservatives, and sometimes it even crosses into the mainstream media. If you watched the way the Clintons were covered in the 1990s, you know the basics of this process. If you didn't, you're going to spend the next year--and maybe the next nine years--learning all about it.
Right-wing media outlets are pushing Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy's deceptive claim that Hillary Clinton inaccurately told CNN in an interview that she had never been subpoenaed about the private email system she used as secretary of state. In fact, Clinton refuted a suggestion that she deleted personal emails unrelated to her work while she was under subpoena.
Right-wing media are seizing on a New York Times report that misleadingly stated that Paul Begala sought "talking points" from the State Department before a CNN appearance to discuss Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state to attack the CNN contributor as biased. But in the email in question, Begala actually requested a "briefing," not talking points.
Always viewing conflicts through the prism of partisan warfare, conservative media have been faced with a stark choice as Bill O'Reilly's long list of confirmed fabrications pile up in public view. They can defend the Fox News host no matter what, while lashing out his "far-left" critics for daring to fact-check the host. Or, conservative media outlets can let him fend for himself. (The third, obvious option of openly criticizing O'Reilly for his duplicitous ways doesn't seem to be on the table.)
Incredibly, as the controversy marches on and neither O'Reilly nor Fox are able to provide simple answers to the questions about his truth-telling as a reporter, some conservative media allies continue to rally by his side.
On Sunday, Howard Kurtz's MediaBuzz program on Fox came to O'Reilly's aid by doing everything it could to whitewash the allegations against the host.
Over the weekend at Newsbusters--a far-right clearinghouse for endless, and often empty, attacks on the media--Jeffrey Lord denounced the O'Reilly fact-checking campaign as "wrong" and "dangerous." And Fox News contributor Allen West actually told the Washington Post that all the allegations against O'Reilly had been "debunked." (Lots of attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week shared West's contention.)
What's the peril for blindly protecting O'Reilly this way? Simple: It completely undercuts the conservative cottage industry of media criticism. Because why would anyone care about media critiques leveled by conservatives who are currently tying to explain away O'Reilly's obvious laundry list of lies.
"O'Reilly's story, intended to portray him as an enterprising journalist unfazed by potential danger, is a fiction," noted Gawker. "It is precisely the sort of claim that would otherwise earn Fox's condemnation, and draw sophisticated counter-attacks to undermine the accusers' reputation."
And how do we know that to be true? Because the entire conservative media apparatus spent last month unleashing sophisticated counter-attacks to undermine NBC News anchor Brian Williams after doubts were raised about his wartime reporting. Today, the same conservative media are either playing dumb about Bill O'Reilly, or actually defending him.
Obviously, you can't have it both ways. You can't demand Brian Williams be fired and that Bill O'Reilly be left alone. Not if you want anyone to pause for more than three seconds when considering your press critiques.
CNN anchor Miguel Marquez misquoted Hillary Clinton this morning, claiming she told the Guardian newspaper that she and her husband are "not truly well off." That's inaccurate. What Clinton told the Guardian was that unlike "a lot of people who are truly well off," she and her husband "pay ordinary income tax."
Here's the full context from The Guardian interview [emphasis added]:
America's glaring income inequality is certain to be a central bone of contention in the 2016 presidential election. But with her huge personal wealth, how could Clinton possibly hope to be credible on this issue when people see her as part of the problem, not its solution?
"But they don't see me as part of the problem," she protests, "because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we've done it through dint of hard work," she says, letting off another burst of laughter. If past form is any guide, she must be finding my question painful.
CNN's false quote fits with the interpretation that many in the media have made, which is that Clinton was contrasting herself with the "truly well off."
A headline from The Week:
Hillary Clinton Explains How She and Bill Aren't 'Truly Well Off'
Hillary Clinton: We're Not 'Truly Well Off'
But at least as good an interpretation of the quote is that Clinton included herself and her husband among the "truly well off," but was saying that unlike many of them, they pay ordinary income tax.
During the 2012 campaign, Mitt and Ann Romney came under scrutiny for taking most of their income as capital gains and dividends, therefore paying a much lower tax rate of 14 percent.
The rocky rollout of Obamacare has prompted commentators to attack the president and his team for having three years to plan for the launch and still not getting it right. That's a legitimate critique as problems persist. But the same can be said for an awful lot of reporters doing a very poor job covering Obamacare. They also had three years to prepare themselves to accurately report the story.
So what's their excuse?
The truth is, the Beltway press rarely bothers to explain, let alone cover, public policy any more. With a media model that almost uniformly revolves around the political process of Washington (who's winning, who's losing?), journalists have distanced themselves from the grungy facts of governance, especially in terms of how government programs work and how they effect the citizenry.
But explaining is the job of journalism. It's one of the crucial roles that newsrooms play in a democracy. And in the recent case of Obamacare, the press has failed badly in its role. Worse, it has actively misinformed about the new health law and routinely highlighted consumers unhappy with Obamacare, while ignoring those who praise it.
As Joshua Holland noted at Bill Moyers' website, "lazy stories of "sticker shock" and cancellations by reporters uninterested in the details of public policy only offer the sensational half of a complicated story, and that's providing a big assist to opponents of the law."
It's part of a troubling trend. Fresh off of blaming both sides for the GOP's wholly-owned, and thoroughly engineered, government shutdown, the press is now botching its Obamacare reporting by omitting key facts and context -- to the delight of Republicans. It's almost like there's a larger newsroom pattern in play.
And this week the pattern revolved around trying to scare the hell out of people with deceiving claims about how Obamacare had forced insurance companies to "drop" clients and how millions of Americans had "lost" their coverage.
Any plans that CNN may have had to hire Fox News associate producer Chris White have been scuttled following the firestorm over the controversial four-minute segment attacking President Obama that White reportedly created and which Fox aired twice yesterday.
Several news outlets had speculated and even reported that White's move to CNN was in the works at the time he produced the video, which many have compared to a political attack ad. But a CNN spokesperson confirmed to Media Matters Thursday that White will not be hired by CNN.
Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming for Fox News, told Mediaite yesterday that the four-minute segment "was created by an associate producer and was not authorized at the senior executive level of the network. This has been addressed with the show's producers."
With Fox failing to even acknowledge that airing the video was a mistake White appears to be the only one at the network who has suffered from their repeated airing of the video - with the apparent punishment coming from a different news outlet. This morning the hosts of Fox & Friends - who praised both White and the video at the time they aired it - did not address the controversy.
Since the piece aired, several news outlets have claimed White was heading to CNN, with some speculation this might have been his way of departing the network.
The same Mediaite item stated about White: "Mediaite hears that White may be heading to CNN in the near future."
Hollywood Reporter wrote: " ... the associate producer responsible for it, Chris White, likely has already decided to leave Fox for CNN."
CNN would not say if White had been under consideration prior to the latest incident, but The New York Times' Jeremy W. Peters reports that White had "his offer revoked."
On January 20, Mike Evans, a relatively unknown entertainment journalist, claimed on a Twin Cities classic rock station that he had talked to Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) and "Neil says that he searched everywhere using his powers as governor ... there is no Barack Obama birth certificate in Hawaii. Absolutely no proof at all that he was born in Hawaii."
Evans' story was a hoax. Six days later, Evans told FoxNews.com that "Neil never told me there was no birth certificate ... I never talked to him."*
The retraction wasn't surprising. There is no evidence President Obama was born outside of the United States, and Abercrombie told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on January 18 that Hawaii indeed has proof of Obama's birth.
In other words, responsible media outlets should have been hesitant to promote the Evans "no proof" story. Instead several, led by Mediaite, helped legitimize the story, and fuel the fantasies of birthers.
I find that when I'm engaging in media criticism, it's helpful to have a basic grasp of the facts. Mediaite founder Dan Abrams apparently disagrees, and his website seems to be happy to curry favor with the boss by covering up his ignorance.
Last night on CNN's Parker/Spitzer, Abrams -- publisher of a media reporting and analysis website -- posited that it's no big deal that five potential candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are currently working at Fox News. I disagree with Abrams -- as we've documented, Fox has donated at least $40 million in airtime to these potential candidates, while providing them with an extraordinarily friendly platform to promote themselves. But I'm willing to acknowledge that reasonable people can disagree on this.
The problem is that Abrams' explanation for his opinion exposed that he doesn't actually know what he's talking about:
WILL CAIN: Dan, I got the first question for you. It's complicated. So what? What's the big deal that the Republican primaries are going to take place on FOX News?
ABRAMS: Look, I don't know that they're going to take place at FOX News because remember, these people are commentators. These are not hosts of shows. If these people were hosting primetime shows, then I might say, you know what? This is going to be a real vehicle for them to get their positions out there, to advocate.
But as commentators, they are answering questions. And sure, that means they get publicity but they're also not the only ones in the country -- these five -- who have considered political -- or political aspirations and they are commentators on TV.
OK. So Abrams thinks it would be a problem if one of these Fox candidates had their own show, but since none of them do, it's no big deal. The idea that these potential candidates can't "advocate" because they're just commentators seems deeply flawed - anyone who's ever watched Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum on Fox knows that they are not asked challenging questions, and have wide latitude to "get their positions out there." But more importantly, Abrams' premise - that none of the Fox candidates has their own show - is just flatly inaccurate.
Dan Abrams, meet Mike Huckabee.
Mediaite's Tommy Christopher weighs in on Andrew Breitbart's "evidence" that several Congressmen are lying about tea partiers hurling racial epithets at them at the U.S. Capitol Building in March:
Earlier this week, conservative media figure Andrew Breitbart seized upon a New York Times story correction as proof that Civil Rights hero John Lewis (D-Ga) and others were "lying" when they claimed that a crowd of protesters had hurled the "n-word" at them as they walked to the Capitol to vote on health care reform.
Breitbart supports his claim by submitting "conclusive" video "evidence" that nothing "racially charged" occurred on March 20, 2010. I took a closer look at the NY Times correction, and Breitbart's video, and it doesn't take much to poke some pretty big holes in Breitbart's basic claim, which somehow presupposes that the failure to meet a burden of proof is, in and of itself, "conclusive evidence."
Instead, Breitbart offered the thinnest refutation possible: there was no video of the incident. He was presumably able to do this perhaps due to the expectation that the mainstream media, cowed by their embarrassment at his hands over the ACORN controversy, to go along with it, or at least accept the premise that a lack of video evidence was somehow an equal counterbalance to the testimony of three members of Congress. Or that such evidence is somehow a prerequisite to reporting a story. By the way, that's going to make a lot of print reporters very unhappy.
Sadly, this premise echoes the voice of every stereotypically racist sheriff in the 60's who ever uttered "Nobody's gonna believe you, boy!" Ironically, it also echoes the white grand jury who refused to indict the murderer of Shirley Sherrod's father.
Breitbart now presents several crudely-shot, 5 to 7 second video clips of poor audio quality as proof positive that nothing happened that day. Although that idea is, at best thin on its face, even those cherry-picked snippets contain proof that Breitbart's "proof" is in fact, false.
Included in his post is a video you won't want to miss with some tough questions for Breitbart.
As Media Matters' noted yesterday, Fox News' Dana Perino apologized for falsely claiming last week that President Obama supported the release of the Lockerbie bomber. Perino said she was "glad there's a website out there that can track my every move and keep me honest."
Mediaite's Tommy Christopher says others can learn from Perino, even if the apology was a bit "sarcastic":
Perino may have been a tad sarcastic in her veiled praise for Media Matters, but hers is exactly the right attitude to take. All too often, when a media figure gets called out, the tendency is to point the finger elsewhere. It was refreshing to hear Perino own her mistake, and thank those who pointed it out.
There will be some who will note that her apology comes a week late, but I think it works out better that way. She's speaking to the same audience who heard her initial report, and the distance from last week's story gives the apology some air of its own to breathe.
Mediaite's Glynnis MacNicol wins the "credulous nonsense of the day" award with this gem:
Presumably Breitbart is in possession of the entire tape, how else could he release a mere clip and and state so assuredly that Sherrod was making a racist remark if he didn't know the full context.
Seriously? MacNicol can't imagine how Breitbart could make such a claim without knowing the full context? Two obvious explanations should come immediately to mind. If you want to give Breitbart the benefit of the doubt, maybe he just didn't realize it was possible that further context could clear Sherrod? Seems far-fetched, but it's possible. More likely is the possibility that Breitbart is willing to make all kinds of wild, unsubstantiated (and, indeed, false) claims because he knows many people will assume he has good reason for doing so.
If it's the second one, MacNicol just validated his strategy.
To the extent that Breitbart and those like him have power, it is in large part because people who should know better assume that there must be some validity to their claims.
Mediaite's Michael Triplett writes of my criticism of Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander's New Black Panther Party column:
Paul Waldman at the American Prospect's TAPPED said Alexander didn't know what he was doing as ombudsman while Jamison Foser at Media Matters for America accused Alexander of "promoting" another right-wing attack while ignoring "race-baiting."
Apparently, allegations that the Justice Department dropped the ball or didn't pursue a case should be examined among ideological opponents but not by the Washington Post. If the story is a hit-job on the Obama administration, who better to ferret that out than the Washington Post as opposed to the ideological bomb throwers.
Who better to ferret that out than the Post? Anybody could do it better! The Post did a lousy job! That has been my central point all along, in blog posts that Tripplet linked to and criticized (and that I would therefore hope he read.) My posts have spelled out the fact that the Post and Alexander omitted a ton of factual information that completely undermines the NBPP story. That's how the Post and Alexander failed: They repeated the right-wing attacks, and failed to include essential information that demonstrates the emptiness of those attacks. That's what I criticized Alexander and the Post for doing.
And yet Mediaite's Michael Triplett thinks I shouldn't have done so because if the attacks are bogus, "who better to ferret that than the Washington Post"? Is he kidding?
My former colleague Paul Waldman is quite capable of defending himself, so I'll just note that Triplett completely missed his point, too. Waldman didn't say Alexander shouldn't have written about the story; he offered a number of questions Alexander should have addressed but didn't.
This is beyond maddening.
Mediaite's John Bershad has a piece up this morning attacking Keith Olbermann for, as he puts it, blaming the New Black Panther case on President Bush. Bershad's complaint is that Olbermann, in pointing out that the Bush Justice Department determined the voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panthers did not "constitute a prosecutable violation," was incorrectly implying that "they were the ones who dropped all the charges." He then launches into a pox-on-both-houses routine, claiming that both Fox News and MSNBC are "exaggerating" the story to fit their own ideological agenda.
Here's the thing: Keith Olbermann was not "blaming" the Bush administration for failing to prosecute the New Black Panthers. He was debunking the central accusation driving the New Black Panther story on Fox News -- namely, that the Obama administration dropped the case for, in the words of Fox News' Megyn Kelly, "political and racial reasons." When matched against the undisputed fact that the Bush administration declined to pursue the case and the undisputed fact that the Obama administration obtained judgment against one of the New Black Panthers, that accusation crumbles.
This isn't a case of two groups of partisans blaming the other party's administration for a controversial legal decision. This is all about the conservative media completely disregarding the facts as they stand to accuse the first black president and attorney general of being racially biased.
Funnily enough, Bershad acknowledged that the facts Olbermann brought to bear against Fox News should "take some wind out of their sails" and that Olbermann had a "good point" about the "uncomfortable racial tinge" to the network's coverage, but nonetheless hyped his colleague Steve Krakauer's crusade to force the media to follow Fox News' lead in covering the New Black Panther story.
Mediaite's Steve Krakauer has a post up asking: "Will DOJ Black Panther Case Whistleblower Story Break Mainstream?" He's referring to the allegation, popular among talk radio hosts and right-wing bloggers, that the Obama Justice Department dropped voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party because the black president and the black attorney general are unfairly biased towards black people. Fox News' Megyn Kelly has made the story her own this week, conducting an "exclusive interview" with former Justice Department attorney J. Christian Adams, who claims that politics motivated the DOJ to drop the charges.
There are many reasons not to trust Adams on this one. He's a longtime GOP activist who was hired to the Bush-era DOJ by Bradley Schlozman, a political appointee who was ultimately found to have improperly politicized DOJ hiring. Also, Adams' interview with Kelly consisted mainly of unsubstantiated hearsay and conjecture. What's more, the Bush-era DOJ that Adams worked for declined to pursue charges against the Minutemen in a 2006 voter intimidation case based on nearly identical circumstances.
But Krakauer wants this story to be covered more widely: "So far, the story has not been discussed on FNC's cable news competitors or any of the broadcast networks. When we return from the July 4 holiday weekend, that very likely will change - and it should." Why does he think it should be covered? Because Fox News is making a big deal of it.
We're seeing the reemergence of a very familiar pattern.