Media criticism is serious business, and no one takes it more seriously than the crack bias sleuths over at NewsBusters. They take it so seriously, in fact, that they really don't like it when some Johnny-come-lately struts around pretending to be a big-time media critic. Take, for example, NewsBuster Jeff Poor's latest entry, in which he goes after New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's blog post this morning attacking Fox Business Network, calling it Krugman's "media critic impersonation."
I actually have to agree with Poor on this one. Krugman may be a Nobel Prize-winning economist and columnist, but he has no idea how difficult it is to critique the media, to pick out those stories that really matter and dissect them, pulling out the most important facts and explaining the subtle nuances that direct and color news coverage.
Just look at this entry Jeff Poor posted to NewsBusters this morning, less than two hours before attacking Krugman for impersonating a media critic:
Chuck Norris: Obama Wants 'To Create a One World Order' at Copenhagen Climate Talks
Are the upcoming Copenhagen climate talks really about nothing more than hammering out a world-wide agreement about carbon emissions to curb warming? Not according to martial arts professional and actor Chuck Norris.
Norris appeared on the Fox News Channel's Nov. 11 "Your World with Neil Cavuto" to promote his new book, "The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book: 101 of Chuck's Favorite Facts and Stories." He explained the upcoming Copenhagen talks in December were a push by President Barack Obama to form a "one world order."
"Definitely," Norris said. "I really think he is going over there to try to create a one world order."
That's similar to Lord Christopher Monckton's belief, who recently warned Obama was "poised to cede U.S. sovereignty" at Copenhagen. Norris' fear is that since some third-world countries have not caught up economically to the United States, this would be a backdoor way to help them catch up - by giving "our money" to them.
Take notes, Mr. Krugman. That's how you critique the media.
Newsbusters' Matthew Balan complains:
CNN's Candy Crowley neglected to include sound bites from conservatives during a report about Sarah Palin on Tuesday's American Morning, other than from the former Alaska governor herself. While Crowley did acknowledge the widespread support that Palin has among conservative Republicans, she only used clips from moderate commentator David Frum, Democrat Bill Owens, and colleague Wolf Blitzer. [Emphasis added]
David Frum has worked as a speechwriter for George W. Bush, a senior fellow at the right-wing Manhattan Institute, and an editor for the right-wing editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. He has been an advisor to Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign and a contributing editor to National Review. He is a resident fellow at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, and serves on the board of directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition. He supported John McCain's presidential campaign, and has written books titled "Dead Right," "What's Right: The New Conservative Majority and the Remaking of America," "The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush," "Comeback: Conservatism that can win again." And he co-wrote a book with Richard Perle.
But Newsbusters' Matthew Balan says Frum isn't a conservative; he's a moderate, and that CNN's report therefore failed to fearture any soundbites from conservatives. Oh, except Sarah Palin.
Another, more sane, way to look at the report would be to say it featured clips of two conservatives, Frum and Palin, and only one progressive, Democrat Bill Owens.
Oh, and that Owens clip? Here it is, in its entirety:
CONGRESSMAN-ELECT BILL OWENS: Thank you very much.
Oh, the bias!
Newsbusters' Carolyn Plocher thinks the broadcast news networks should have been quicker to suggest a religious motivation for last week's Ft. Hood shootings. And that's not all -- she's also upset that half of the news broadcasts that did bring up the shooter's religion "included a defense of the Islamic religion":
Until then, the broadcast networks had also downplayed his Islamic connections. From Nov. 5 through Nov. 10, all three evening news programs only identified Hasan as a Muslim one-fourth of the time (14 times out of 48 reports). And out of those 14 times, seven included a defense of the Islamic religion and expressed concern about a "possible backlash against Muslims in the military."
So Plocher's ideal news report would have immediately blamed an entire religion for the Ft. Hood shootings, and omitted any indication that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful. She doesn't want the broadcast nets to practice journalism; she wants them to wage a campaign against a religion.
Newsbusters associate editor Noel Sheppard is outraged that CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Lou Dobbs know what marijuana looks and smells like:
There were some potentially interesting and concerning admissions on CNN Monday night when Wolf Blitzer said he thought he could identify a marijuana plant by its smell, and Lou Dobbs followed by saying he could recognize it "rather readily" by sight.
Granted, this exchange might seem trivial.
However, there is a push towards illicit drug legalization in America. Many believe California will legalize marijuana in short order.
With this is mind, a couple of middle-aged, high-profile CNN anchors matter-of-factly discussing what marijuana plants look and smell like adds to the ongoing desensitization of the public towards "casual" drug use.
Those against legalization should find such casual discussions by prominent media figures concerning.
Notice that Sheppard's complaint isn't that Blitzer and Dobbs advocated the use of marijuana; they didn't. Nor is his complaint that they advocated the legalization of marijuana -- they didn't do that, either. His complaint isn't even that they acknowledged having used marijuana, for they didn't do that either. No, Noel Sheppard thinks it is "concerning" that Blitzer and Dobbs know what marijuana looks and smells like. Apparently he won't be happy unless reporters respond to mention of marijuana by claiming never to have heard of the plant.
I marvel sometimes at the versatility of the crack bias hunters over at NewsBusters. Even though they've spent the better portions of their careers failing to make sense and embarrassing themselves, they still manage to come up with new and inventive ways to look completely foolish. Take, for example, Brent Baker's latest complaint that ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson "had time to convey President Barack Obama's praise of Edward Brooke for 'breaking barriers' as the first popularly-elected black U.S. Senator, but not to inform viewers he broke that barrier as a Republican."
OK, I'm feeling generous -- if Baker wants to argue that ABC should have identified Brooke as a Republican, that's fine. One could just as easily argue that Brooke's accomplishment transcends parties and politics. But then Baker goes on to note that Brooke was "a fairly liberal Republican," and in case you're not a regular reader of the blog, NewsBusters really, really hates liberal Republicans and they get very mad when the media fail to ID such Republicans as "liberals." So Baker is upset that ABC didn't identify as Republican someone who, by virtue of his liberalness, would otherwise be treated as a leper by his blog.
But then it gets even dumber.
Here's the context in which Baker characterized Brooke as a "fairly liberal Republican":
Neither Gibson nor [NBC's David] Gregory pointed out that after two terms representing Massachusetts, in 1978 Brooke, a fairly liberal Republican, was challenged and beaten by one of the media's liberal heroes, the late Paul Tsongas -- a Democrat who was a white guy.
Can anyone explain to me how Paul Tsongas' whiteness is at all relevant here? What is he implying -- that Massachusetts voters in 1978 were racists for voting out a black Republican? That Tsongas himself was a racist for challenging a black Republican? I seriously can't figure it out, and Baker offers no explanation.
And this is what passes for media criticism on the right.
So yeah, it's dumb. Perhaps not as dumb as Matt Lauer's terrorist neckwear, but still pretty dumb.
I'm still trying to figure out what conservatives expect from Larry David. The star of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm is about as liberal as you can get, doesn't hide his disdain for conservatives and Republicans, and routinely mocks Christians, Jews, and organized religion in general. On the show he has eaten Jesus and Mary and gotten into a fistfight with Joseph, interrupted a Christian Science prayer circle with his Hava Nagila ringtone, exhumed his mother's body because she was put in the wrong section of a Jewish cemetery, and pretended to speak Hebrew in order to ingratiate himself to an orthodox Jew. Most recently, he accidentally urinated on a picture of Jesus, prompting its owners to believe that the picture had miraculously started crying.
This latest bit of blasphemy has sent NewsBusters into fits of outrage, calling the scene "disgraceful," and reprinting an angry statement from Catholic League president Bill Donohue, as well as an e-mail from a BigHollywood.com reader who wrote that "the hypocrisy is that Mr. David would never exhibit such gross contempt for any other religion, especially Islam." That, of course, is not true - Larry once attempted to set his blind friend up with an ugly Muslim woman whose unsightly features were hidden by her burqa.
But there's a larger point to be made. In the past, NewsBusters has stood behind mockery of religious figures as expressions of free speech. When a Swedish paper printed cartoons depicting Mohammed's head on a dog's body, NewsBusters attacked the "manufactured outrage in the Islamic world" and praised the paper for writing "an excellent editorial defending free speech, especially the freedom to parody." They later returned to the issue, writing: "Islamic radicals continue to spread irrational hate against the Swedish Mohammed dog sketches."
Is NewsBusters' outrage at Larry David any more legitimate? Does he not enjoy the same right to parody?
When you defend mockery of one religious figure as free speech and then roundly condemn mockery of another, that's not outrage, that's hypocritical bigotry.
Numerous right-wing websites, including the Fox Nation and the Drudge Report, have parroted a misleading headline posted on October 26 by Real Clear Politics and NewsBusters asserting that Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) stated, "We are trying on every front to increase the role of government." In fact, while specifically discussing financial regulation, Frank actually said, "[W]e are trying on every front to increase the role of government in the regulatory area" [emphasis added].
A new poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal indicates that there has been an uptick in support for the public option in upcoming health care reform legislation. As Media Matters has shown, support for the public option has always been pretty high despite the media's ignorance. But what's great is how Noel Sheppard of Newsbusters has created a conspiracy theory that this poll result has been timed out between NBC/WSJ and Senator Reid. Here is Sheppard's evidence:
Isn't THAT convenient?!?
See? He used two question marks. And an exclamation point. No actual evidence of any sort, but why do you need that for a pretty incendiary accusation when you have two question marks? I'm convinced.
Working at NewsBusters must be one of the cushier gigs out there. If a NewsBuster spies a bit of news that he or she doesn't like, all they have to do is write the equivalent of "OMG TEH BIAS" stretched out to a couple of hundred words. And they certainly don't need facts to form the basis of an argument, they just start from the premise that the media is liberally biased and let the conjecture flow from there. The entire enterprise is one big logical fallacy -- they start at the conclusion and work backwards.
Take, for instance, the new Washington Post/ABC News poll showing strong support for a health care reform bill that contains a public option. Clearly, a conservative outfit like NewsBusters wouldn't care for such a dataset, so they set out to discredit the poll with -- you guessed it -- accusations of liberal bias. NewsBuster Tim Graham noted that the poll sample was 33 percent Democrat compared to 20 percent Republican, and accused the Washington Post (but not ABC, for some reason) of "stuffing its poll sample with a few extra Democrats" to get the result they wanted. Mind you, he has no actual evidence that the Washington Post did this, he's just using the following logic, if it can be called that:
1) The Washington Post/ABC News poll sampled more liberal Democrats.
2) The Washington Post is part of the liberal media.
3) The liberal Washington Post rigged their liberal poll to get the liberal result they wanted. Liberal.
Accusing a polling outfit of cooking its data to achieve a predetermined outcome is a pretty serious charge. It's also fairly outlandish and can be easily dismissed with just a basic understanding of one of the fundamental aspects of opinion polling -- the random sample. Polling guru Nate Silver gave an excellent rundown of this very topic last fall when liberals complained about a Fox News poll that oversampled Republicans:
As for the FOX poll, I'm a little bit taken aback at the number of people who assume that, just because the poll is from FOX, it must somehow have been cooked. Sixteen times out of 20, an aberrant result (and I'm not sure you can really call this "aberrant", since a couple of other pollsters show the race at about 3 points right now) is the result of statistical noise. Perhaps 3 times out of 20, it might be the result of a poor sampling procedure. And then there might be that one case in 20 where the pollster feels compelled to put his finger on the scale in some way -- but these cases are extremely rare. And there's no particular reason to accuse FOX News of this behavior. Their polls haven't had much of a partisan lean this cycle, and for that matter, they were among the only pollsters to have John Kerry winning the popular vote in 2004. If there's a problem with FOX News polls, it's not that they're biased, but that they're simply not all that good.
It's true that FOX's sample included a materially higher percentage of Republicans this time around. FOX, however, does not choose its sample; its sample chooses itself. In this case, when they drew their ping-pong balls out of the jar, they came up with a slightly higher percentage of red ones. This kind of thing will happen all the time unless a pollster weights by party ID, which FOX News and many other pollsters do not. The Pew poll that came out the other day, for instance, had a big increase in the number of Democrats in its sample.
ABC News polling director Gary Langer responded yesterday to criticism from Newt Gingrich, who said that the poll was "deliberately rigged," and pointed out that not only was their sampling legit, but it was also completely in line with their past polls, contemporaneous polls from other outfits, and the general direction of party identification in the country:
Nor is this out of pattern with the long-term trend in political partisanship in this country. After nearly a generation of gradual advance, the Republican Party in 2003 attained parity with the Democrats; on average that year, for the first time in our polling since 1981, equal numbers of Americans identified themselves as Democrats and as Republicans, 31 percent apiece.
But that trend since has been disrupted. In response to the war in Iraq and the increasingly unpopular presidency of George W. Bush, Republican self-identification has been declining since 2003. (It's no coincidence that Republicans in 2008 made up their smallest share of the electorate since 1980.) The dire news for the GOP in party ID since 2004 is nothing new; we've been reporting it steadily the past five years.
In short, there's absolutely no reason to believe that the Washington Post or ABC News had their fingers on the scales. NewsBusters is just smearing the pollster as evilly liberal because they, quite literally, have absolutely nothing else to say.
NewsBusters' Ken Shepherd sneaks in right before the deadline with the runaway winner for "Worst Example of Purported Liberal Media Bias of the Week." His latest blockbuster scoop is headlined: MSNBC Promo Narrator Also Does Work for Pro-ObamaCare Group. Take it away, Ken:
But it's not just the on-camera talent that has all the fun cheerleading liberal policies. It seems a promotional ad narrator for MSNBC also does voiceover work for a pro-ObamaCare group, Health Care for America Now (HCAN).
I noticed the HCAN ad at 11:20 a.m. EDT today and worked up a mashup featuring excerpts of the HCAN ad and a promo for tonight's MSNBC programming.
You can watch for yourself, but a quick note for Shepherd: when your video hinges on the premise of people being disturbed by a narrator saying things like "What's MSNBC talking about tonight?" and "MSNBC: The Place for Politics," you probably don't have much of an argument. Though in Shepherd's defense, I could definitely detect the narrator subliminally encouraging a public option in the way he pronounced "tonight."
Helpfully, Shepherd does most of the work demolishing the entire point of his post with his final paragraph:
NBC Universal's Alana Russo informed NewsBusters via e-mail that MSNBC's announcers are freelancers, "not in-house staff employees." Asked if there were any "contractual limitations" barring those freelancers from "doing political ads while under contract with MSNBC," Russo answered that "[t]hey do not have exclusive contracts with MSNBC."
I have spent the better part of an hour trying to determine how Shepherd thought this was worth posting after receiving a perfectly reasonable response from MSNBC. The narrator is a freelancer. Let's hope Shepherd doesn't hear the same narrator in a promo for Dan Brown's latest DC-based thriller -- he'll be connecting those dots for weeks.
Here at County Fair, we have made it a bit of a cottage industry mocking the blog commonly seen as our counterpart on the right, and with good reason. By comparison, let's have a look at what an actual conflict of interest surrounding health care reform coverage at a major news outlet looks like, courtesy of fellow County Fair blogger Matt Gertz:
Media Matters for America has obtained evidence that CNN contributor Alex Castellanos' political consulting firm, National Media, is the ad buyer for the insurance industry group America's Health Insurance Plan's (AHIP) new ad blitz attacking Democratic health reform plans. CNN has a responsibility to insure that Castellanos' obvious conflict of interest does not tarnish their future coverage of the health care debate.
One of these things is not like the other.
Conservatives have been all excited about right-wing investigative journalism coming from the likes of Andrew Breitbart. They're less excited, however, when the investigative eye is trained on one of their own.
Last week, we highlighted reporting noting that the record does not necessarily support Glenn Beck's longtime claim that his mother committed suicide when he was a teenager -- in fact, there is a possibility that her death may have been an accident. We made no editorial comment about it but merely noted what had been reported.
But that was too much for some. At NewsReal, the group blog at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Kathy Shaidle was unhappy that we committed such a horrible act, going on to falsely suggest that we claimed "Glenn Beck is modeling his life and career on that of fellow Washingtonian... Kurt Cobain." (Shaidle also asserted that "billionaire leftist" George Soros "bankrolls Media Matters." He doesn't.)
Meanwhile, NewsBusters' Jeff Poor uncritically repeats Beck's "impassioned plea to stop looking into his past," noting that "the McClatchy-owned The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash. and the left-leaning Salon.com ran stories questioning whether or not Glenn Beck's mother, Mary Beck committed suicide. It was later propagated by the left-wing storefronts." The "left-wing storefronts" remark links to Media Matters. Doesn't that make Poor's employer, the Media Research Center, a "right-wing storefront"?
Poor seems to be missing the point. Isn't a person's demand that the media stop looking into him a red alert that the media should be looking even more? If Beck has nothing to hide, why is he acting like he does? And why don't conservatives want anyone to know?
Here's MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, interviewing Time's Karen Tumulty moments ago:
Karen, let me ask you one other thing. There was an event with doctors at the White House at the Rose Garden yesterday. And I have to pursue this more, in more depth, but do you know anything about this photo opportunity when they were told to bring their white lab coats, and those who forgot and came in, in business attire were handed lab coats by White House staff members so they would look like doctors for the photo op?
After Tumulty noted that this is "not such a huge deal" because the people were in fact doctors and do in fact "support the basic bill," Mitchell haltingly replied:
Well, again, it is an interest group, Doctors for America, but it was certainly, uh, assisted by White House staff. It just seems like a lot of choreography for a White House which claims to be doing things authentically. [Smirking, shaking head] It just, you know.
It just, you know.
Well, no, I don't.
Here's a free tip: When you're unable to articulate what's wrong with an action more eloquently than saying "It just, you know" while scrunching up your nose and shaking your head, its probably because there's nothing wrong with it.
Look: These were actual doctors. If they were not doctors, and the White House dressed them up to look like they were, that would be problematic.
But that isn't what happened. They were doctors. There was nothing misleading about asking them to wear lab coats so people would know they were doctors rather than, say, insurance company executives.
(By the way: handing someone a lab coat is not "a lot of choreography." It takes about two seconds.)
Now, why did Mitchell feel she had to ask Tumulty about this? Why does she think she has to "pursue this more, in depth"? How much "depth" is there to pursue?
Mitchell can't articulate a reason why it matters, but the right-wing is up in arms, so she thinks she has to "pursue" the Great Doctors Wearing Lab Coats Scandal of Ought-Nine in more depth.
UPDATE: According to Tommy Christopher at Mediaite, the controversy is not only dumb -- it isn't true. Under the header "Why Was The NY Post Alone in Reporting 'White Coat-gate? Because It's Not True," Christopher writes:
The picture bothered me, because I didn't recognize the staffer who was handing out the white coats.
I checked on it, and a White House source told me that the White house did not provide the extra lab coats. Doctors for America paid for and brought the extras. OOPS!
I wonder if Mitchell's in-depth pursuit of this crucial story has turned up that little detail yet.
On the heels of ACORN filing a lawsuit against conservative activists Hannah Giles, James O'Keefe, and Breitbart.com LLC, Sean Hannity, Andrew Breitbart, HotAir.com's Allahpundit, and NewsBusters have offered to -- in the words of Hannity -- "put out the word" to "help" Giles and O'Keefe raise money for their legal defense. Conservative media figures -- led by Glenn Beck -- helped Breitbart strategically release and aggressively promote the undercover videos that sparked ACORN's lawsuit.
Newsbuster Geoffrey Dickens:
Worried Lauer Asks Bill Clinton if NY Gov Hurting Democratic Party
During a wide-ranging interview with Bill Clinton, on Tuesday's "Today" show, about his Clinton Initiative summit, NBC's Matt Lauer wanted to get the former President's advice on whether current New York Governor David Paterson should run again. Lauer, seemingly concerned about the GOP capturing the governorship in New York state, asked Clinton if the unpopular Democrat's reelection bid might "hurt the Democratic Party."
Gee, another way to interpret that is that Lauer's question -- which included a statement that Paterson's "popularity ratings are anemic," called Paterson "embattled," noted that the White House suggested he step aside, and asked Clinton to side with either Paterson or Obama -- was a tricky one that highlighted a political challenge for Clinton's party.
But Dickens would rather attempt to read Lauer's mind and just assert that Lauer is "worried" and "concerned" about Republicans winning the governorship. Based on absolutely nothing. Based on a question that asked a Democratic politician about political peril facing the Democrats. That's evidence, according to Newsbusters, of bias.
For NewsBusters, it's OK if you are a conservative who is attacking President Obama.
Here's NewsBusters' Tim Graham yesterday, slamming Matt Lauer for not criticizing Michael Eric Dyson for his "vicious attack on Rep. Joe Wilson and other conservatives as comparable to terrorists, like the suicide attackers of 9/11" during the previous day's edition of NBC's Today:
NBC spotlighted radical black Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson to rail against President Bush as a "clueless patrician" in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and then Brian Williams threw those words in Bush's face. On Wednesday, they spotlighted Dyson's vicious attack on Rep. Joe Wilson and other conservatives as comparable to terrorists, like the suicide attackers of 9/11. Matt Lauer didn't find this an occasion to interrupt and interject. Instead, he then read Maureen Dowd's New York Times column calling Wilson a racist. Here's how Lauer brought Dyson in:
LAUER: Michael, I don't know which is worse. Is it worse if, in fact, some of this opposition to President Obama is fueled by outright racism? Or is it worse if some liberals, in an attempt to defend President Obama and his plans, invoke the charge of racism to discredit the critics?
DYSON: Well clearly the first would be the problem, Matt. The existence of an abuse is far worse than those who trump it up. But let me say this. You don't ask the person who's been, you know, the abuser what the status of the, the progress is. You ask the people or the person who's been abused. Or if we look at terror, there's only been one terrorist strike, 9/11, but since then we've had terror alerts, we've been proactive, we've been preemptive. So race is the same way. Race is not only a former of terror, it is terror.
And here's NewsBusters' Brad Wilmouth today, cheering actor Alan Autry for "observ[ing] that the conditions created by the federal government by intentionally withholding water are similar to what he would have expected in the aftermath of a terror attack" on last night's Hannity:
Then, actor Alan Autry, a former Republican mayor of Fresno who is also famous for starring in the television series In the Heat of the Night, slammed President Obama for refusing to intervene. As he recounted post-9/11 fears that al-Qaeda would target the water supply to hurt American agriculture, Autry observed that the conditions created by the federal government by intentionally withholding water are similar to what he would have expected in the aftermath of a terror attack. Autry:
One of the things we were charged with by the federal government was to work together locally to protect the water supply to farming communities so they could continue to provide food for the nation. Now, if you would have told me that those – that water would have stopped, I would have believed maybe al-Qaeda struck, not the federal government.
Can't anybody over there play this game?