Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus writes:
Blogging is about speed: the early post catches the Google. It is about linking, which may sound like creating a community and encouraging diversity of views but which too often deteriorates into a closed circle of reinforced preconceptions. It is about provocation. Shrillness sells. Even-handedness goes unclicked. Once the people in my business spent time checking and rechecking facts and first impressions. Opinion writers mulled things over. In the world of the blogosphere, mistakes can always be crossed through and corrected; seat-of-the-pants reactions refined.
Except: Shirley Sherrod.
I am being unfair, in part, by singling out the blgosphere. The Sherrod story originated there, but the sins of Andrew Breitbart were aided and abetted by bloggers' co-conspirators on cable news. And, of course, in the Obama administration.
And, of course (though Marcus never so much as hints at it): The Washington Post.
The Post's first Sherrod article was absolutely horrible. And it came long after many of those shrill bloggers Marcus criticizes had gotten the story right. It must feel good for legacy media to wag their fingers at irresponsible bloggers -- but they'd do far more good by calling out their peers.
Another Post columnist, E.J. Dionne, did just that today:
[T]he Obama team was reacting to a reality: the bludgeoning of mainstream journalism into looking timorously over its right shoulder and believing that "balance" demands taking seriously whatever sludge the far right is pumping into the political waters.
This goes way back. Al Gore never actually said he "invented the Internet," but you could be forgiven for not knowing this because the mainstream media kept reporting he had.
There were no "death panels" in the Democratic health-care bills. But this false charge got so much coverage that an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll last August found that 45 percent of Americans thought the reform proposals would likely allow "the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly." ...
The traditional media are so petrified of being called "liberal" that they are prepared to allow the Breitbarts of the world to become their assignment editors. Mainstream journalists regularly criticize themselves for not jumping fast enough or high enough when the Fox crowd demands coverage of one of their attack lines.
Thus did Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander ask this month why the paper had been slow to report on "the Justice Department's decision to scale down a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party." Never mind that this is a story about a tiny group of crackpots who stopped no one from voting. It was aimed at doing what the doctored video Breitbart posted set out to do: convince Americans that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.
This is racially inflammatory, politically motivated nonsense -- and it's nonsense even if Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh talk about it a thousand times a day. When an outlandish charge for which there is no evidence is treated as an on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other-hand issue, the liars win.
The Sherrod case should be the end of the line. If Obama hates the current media climate, he should stop overreacting to it. And the mainstream media should stop being afraid of insisting on the difference between news and propaganda.
From Marcus' April 14 Washington Post column, "Vilifying Tom Coburn for a moment of civility":
Coburn went on: "What we have to have is make sure we have a debate in this country so that you can see what's going on and make a determination yourself. So don't catch yourself being biased by Fox News that somebody is no good. The people in Washington are good. They just don't know what they don't know."
The howling was swift.
Rush Limbaugh: "Well, who cares if she's nice? . . . Al Capone was a nice guy. Hitler had friends, for crying out loud. . . . So Coburn says, 'There's no intention of putting anybody in jail.' No, no, no. . . . Somebody tell Tom Coburn she was specifically asked about possible jail time, and she said 'the legislation is very fair in this respect.' " Glenn Beck: "The Republican that I'm supposed to defend because he's so unlike Nancy Pelosi was defending Nancy Pelosi."
Mark Levin, who manages to make Limbaugh and Beck sound like calm voices of reason: "We don't need you hack, detestable politicians telling us a damn thing. Most of you are a bunch of pathetic, unethical morons. And so, no, Mr. Coburn, we won't be told to sit down and be quiet. We won't be told by you to watch CNN to balance off Fox. You got that, pal? Who the hell do you think you are? You sound like a jerk, to be perfectly honest about it. You, the jerk, who backed John McCain."
In my column last week about media coverage of health care reform and abortion, I pointed out some flaws with arguments by Chris Matthews and others that money is fungible, so any government funds that go to any insurance company that also provides abortion coverage constitutes federal funding for abortion.
In today's Washington Post, Ruth Marcus makes an excellent point I wish I'd thought of:
The same folks who squawk about money being fungible when it comes to federal funding and abortion take the opposite view when it comes to federal funding and parochial schools, or federal funding and faith-based programs.
When the Catholic Church takes government money to run homeless shelters or soup kitchens, it frees up dollars for other, religious expenses that wouldn't be a permissible use of government funds. Somehow, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which pushed the Stupak amendment, isn't bothered by this reality.
When the government gives low-income families tuition vouchers to use at parochial schools, or sends educational material and equipment to parochial schools, the bishops aren't worried about whether that money is being commingled to subsidize religion.
"The simple fact that broad governmental social programs may have some effect of aiding religious institutions . . . cannot be cause for invalidating a program on Establishment Clause grounds," the bishops argued in one case before the Supreme Court.
Last week, Matthews insisted:
Everybody knows that money's fungible and that this is basically an accounting trick. And I don't think it'll work with people who have a moral problem with abortion funding by the federal government.
For some reason, I doubt he'll address Marcus' point on his show tonight.
From Ruth Marcus' November 11 column, "Health scare tactics":
I'm hoping, for your sake, that you didn't spend your Saturday night as I did: watching the House debate health-care reform on C-SPAN.
Pathetic, I know. The outcome wasn't in doubt, and the arguments were as familiar as an old pair of slippers. Moral imperative! Government takeover! Long-overdue protections! Crippling mandates!
The falsehood-peddling began at the top, with Minority Leader John Boehner:
"If you're a Medicare Advantage enrollee . . . the Congressional Budget Office says that 80 percent of them are going to lose their Medicare Advantage."
Not true. The CBO hasn't said anything of the sort. Boehner's office acknowledges that he misspoke: He meant to cite a study from the Medicare actuary estimating that projected enrollment would be down by 64 percent -- if the cuts took effect. Choosing not to enroll in Medicare Advantage is different from "losing" it.
But Boehner wasn't alone.
Kentucky Republican Brett Guthrie: "The bill raises taxes for just about everyone."
Not true. The bill imposes a surtax on the top 0.3 percent of households, individuals making more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million.
Georgia Republican Tom Price: "This bill, on Page 733, empowers the Washington bureaucracy to deny lifesaving patient care if it costs too much."
Not true. The bill sets up a Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research "in order to identify the manner in which diseases, disorders, and other health conditions can most effectively and appropriately be prevented, diagnosed, treated, and managed clinically."
Are Republicans against figuring out what works? There's nothing in there about cost, and certainly nothing about denying "lifesaving patient care."
Price, again: "This bill, on Page 94, will make it illegal for any American to obtain health care not approved by Washington."
Not true. The vast majority of Americans get their insurance through their employers. The bill envisions setting minimum federal standards for such insurance, in part to determine who is eligible to buy coverage through the newly created insurance exchanges. This is hardly tantamount to making it "illegal" to obtain "health care" without Washington's approval.
Michigan Republican Dave Camp: "Americans could face five years in jail if they don't comply with the bill's demands to buy approved health insurance."
Not true. The bill requires people to obtain insurance or, with some hardshipexceptions, pay a fine. No one is being jailed for being uninsured. People who intentionally evade paying the fine could, in theory, be prosecuted -- just like others who cheat on their taxes.
California Republican Buck McKeon: "I offered two amendments to try to improve this bill -- one to require members of Congress to enroll in the public option like we're going to require all of you to do."
Not true. No one is required to enroll in the public option. In fact, most people won't even be eligible to enroll in the public option or other plans available through the exchanges.
Florida Republican Ginny Brown-Waite: "The president's own economic advisers have said that this bill will kill 5.5 million jobs."
Not true. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, has estimated that the bill would increase economic growth and add jobs. Republicans misuse Romer's previous economic research on the impact of tax increases to produce the phony 5.5 million number.
You have to wonder: Are the Republican arguments against the bill so weak that they have to resort to these misrepresentations and distortions?
The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus responds to some criticism of her complaints about the Obama administration's "'dumb' war with Fox News":
My observations about the Obama administration's "dumb" war with Fox News seem to have touched a nerve -- 868 nerves, going by the latest tally of comments. They ran the gamut from "another idiotic column" to "Amen, Ruth." I confess, I didn't read them all, but I got the drift. Meanwhile, the 869th nerve belonged to my lefty friend Chuck, who emailed, complete with links to angry liberal bloggers, to bemoan my "false equivalency" between Fox News and MSNBC.
One of my sentences provoked particular derision from the left. "Imagine the outcry if the Bush administration had pulled a similar hissy fit with MSNBC," I wrote. I confess to having forgotten about the Bush administration's public tangle last year with MSNBC.
For the record, Chuck, I don't think that Fox and MSNBC are equivalent. Fox is more over the line, more often.
While Marcus brought up the criticism she received for drawing a "false equivalency" between Fox News and MSNBC, she didn't actually respond to it. She did acknowledge at the end that MSNBC isn't as bad as Fox News, but she still suggests MSNBC is a liberal cable channel. That follows her original post, in which Marcus wrote:
Certainly Fox tends to report its news with a conservative slant -- but has anyone at the White House clicked over to MSNBC recently? Or is the only problem opinion journalism that doesn't match its opinion?
Marcus didn't address that line in her second post, but it's as silly as her false suggestion that the Bush administration never pulled a "hissy fit with MSNBC."
MSNBC is the home of Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan and Chris Matthews. Their hosts and reporters regularly traffic in conservative misinformation and -- wittingly or not -- adopt conservative frames for their reports. The fact that they also employ a handful of journalists who lean to the left does not mean it is a liberal channel, any more than CNN's embrace of Lou Dobbs means it is a right-wing channel.
The fact-free insistence by journalists like Marcus that MSNBC is a left-wing news organization does as much to skew public discourse to the right as does Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.
Courtesy of the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus:
Imagine the outcry if the Bush administration had pulled a similar hissy fit with MSNBC. "Opinion journalism masquerading as news," White House communications director Anita Dunn declared of Fox. Certainly Fox tends to report its news with a conservative slant -- but has anyone at the White House clicked over to MSNBC recently? Or is the only problem opinion journalism that doesn't match its opinion?
Has Marcus "clicked over" to MSNBC lately? Or is she just mindlessly parroting the right-wing talking point that MSNBC and Fox are equivalent?
If she Marcus did watch MSNBC, she'd see former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough hosting three agenda-setting hours each morning. She'd see Mika Brzezinski, JoeSco's ostensibly "liberal" sidekick, spouting off about how conservative Sarah Palin fans are the "real Americans."
She'd see former Nixon and Reagan aide and three-time Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan -- the nation's most famous bigot.
She'd see Chris Matthews, whose has for years displayed open contempt for liberals, overt misogyny, and an archaic belief that minorities are not "regular" people.
She'd Michelle Bernard take a moment away from sending lie-filled anti-health care reform attack-emails to host an MSNBC special dealing with, among other things, health care.
And then maybe she would remember that MSNBC is the channel that brought us Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, and Don Imus. The channel that fired Phil Donahue despite strong ratings simply because Donahue opposed the Iraq war. The channel that specializes more than any other in apologies for employees' offensive on-air statements.
Any journalist who says MSNBC is in any way the liberal equivalent to Fox News lacks either judgment or honesty -- and, either way, should not be taken seriously -- about anything.
From the August 16 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus claimed that "80 percent of those with employer-sponsored coverage" would be "unaffected" under President Bush's health care proposal. But, in fact, most workers with employer-sponsored coverage would presumably be affected, because they would pay less into Social Security -- and therefore receive smaller payments when they retire.