Friday, June 25, 2010

Fox News' oily sheen Media Matters

Media Matters: Fox News' oily sheen

There is a disaster unfolding in America. The Gulf coast has become the scene of one of the greatest tragedies this country has ever seen. Innocent, hard-working people who were guilty of nothing except trying to earn their keep are up against it, their lives and livelihoods threatened by a growing, toxic mess that -- with a malignance that seems almost purposeful -- destroys everything it touches.

Oh, and there's an oil spill too.

That, of course, is the posture Fox News has taken towards the Gulf oil disaster, having decided that the real threat to the nation is not the millions of gallons of oil floating on and under the Gulf of Mexico but, rather, the Obama administration's reaction to the disaster and efforts to hold the culpable parties responsible. And, as you'd expect, such a ridiculous position requires some wild fractures of the truth and an almost complete abandonment of common sense.

The crux of the Fox News position is that the White House is simultaneously doing too much and not enough. If you've tuned in to the Murdoch network at any point over the past couple of months, you've probably seen the likes of Rudy Giuliani complaining that the Obama administration waited 50 days or so before offering any sort of response to the oil spill. America's perpetually confused mayor was off by about 49 days -- the Coast Guard was on the scene immediately and the president dispatched officials to the region the day after BP's rig exploded. None of those easily verifiably facts were enough to stymie the conspiracy theory, articulated by Fox News' Eric Bolling, that Obama "let it leak so he could renege on his promise to ... allow some offshore drilling."

Those Fox Newsers who were magnanimous enough to acknowledge that the White House was, in fact, responding to the disaster concocted a series of lies to claim that they were dragging their feet. Did the administration turn down foreign assistance for the clean up effort? Did the White House unreasonably delay the purchase of Maine oil booms? Did Obama dally in approving sand berm construction? The answer to each of these questions is "no," but on Fox News they were presented as the absolute truth.

The flip side to the administration's allegedly criminal neglect was their allegedly criminal efforts to hold BP accountable for the disaster. Echoing Rep. Joe Barton's (R-TX) now-infamous apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward over the deal the administration struck with BP to establish a $20 billion escrow fund to pay for spill-related damages, Fox News personalities rushed to declare the fund a "shakedown" and a "stickup." Others declared it was unconstitutional for the government to force BP to set up the account (even though BP volunteered to do it).

Indeed, BP has had no better friend than Fox News (no offense to Rep. Barton). Every move the administration has made to hold the oil company accountable has been met with derision from the conservative network. Glenn Beck likened the congressional hearings into the oil spill to the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings. Fox Business host Stuart Varney claimed the administration is "demonizing" BP and trying to "seize its assets."

The question that remains is: Why? Why would Fox News so vociferously and ardently defend BP when even Republicans were fighting to get in front of microphones to denounce Rep. Barton's apology and the company's approval rating is, quite literally, somewhere between O.J. Simpson and Saddam Hussein? It's the same reason they attacked Obama when he sent 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, and the same reason they attacked him for asking that the country pray for the Gulf coast. It doesn't matter what Obama does, Fox News will automatically gainsay it. It doesn't matter if they make no sense, look foolish, or wildly contradict themselves -- if Obama does it, it's wrong. He could replace Teddy Roosevelt's face on Mount Rushmore with Ronald Reagan's and they'd attack him for desecrating an American landmark.

But such things are to be expected from the self-proclaimed "voice of opposition."

Conservative media uses McChrystal controversy to label Obama "anti-American," anti-military
The week's big story came when Rolling Stone published an article quoting Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his aides making unflattering remarks about the Obama administration and its allies. The remarks not only relieved McChrystal of a job, it also gave the conservative media the opportunity to bash Obama as anti-military and dredge up old falsehoods.

Limbaugh, who said "what McChrystal has done here is not defensible," wondered how people like McChrystal can serve under someone like "community organizer" Obama, who has an "open disdain" for the military. Limbaugh added that Obama hopes for military defeat.

Beck, who said McChrystal "probably should" be fired, proclaimed that "we're intentionally having our troops very busy" and "break[ing] the spirit of our military." Last weekend, Beck endorsed the idea of a "private army" taking charge of the war in Afghanistan, with Beck specifically claiming that there are "private individuals that could probably take care of things in Afghanistan better."

Gretchen Carlson, meanwhile, twisted McChrystal's interview to falsely suggest that Obama doesn't support the Afghanistan effort. In Carlson's view, the decision over whether to fire McChrystal was so heavy that it compares to her own duties hosting a cable TV morning show (much to Jon Stewart's amusement).

Following Obama's announcement that Gen. David Petraeus would replace McChrystal, the usual cast of characters went into Obama attack mode. Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Monica Crowley accused Obama of being thin-skinned. Hannity, Fox & Friends, Michelle Malkin and Clear Channel radio host Jim Quinn distorted comments Obama made during Senate hearings in 2007 to falsely accuse him of "chastising" and "excoriating" David Petraeus. Limbaugh falsely accused Obama of not voting to condemn a Gen. "Betray Us" ad from several years ago.

Finally, radio host Michael Savage said the "Marxist, backstabbing anti-American" Obama made "the worst decision" because he "replaced a fighter with a fainter."

Only two months until Glenn Beck brings the civil rights movement "back to its conservative white roots"

This week, when Glenn Beck wasn't busy smearing President Obama and George Soros with blatantly false and absurd conspiracy theories or devoting entire shows to defending Joe McCarthy's legacy, he was promoting his upcoming 8-28 rally in Washington, D.C.

After Beck discovered that he accidentally scheduled the rally on the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, he saw a great opportunity to engage in his favorite pastime: delusional self-promotion.

According to Beck, his rally's scheduling was "almost divine providence" because King's legacy has been "corrupted." As a result, Beck has repeatedly characterized his rally as a way to "reclaim the civil rights movement," saying things like "we were the people that did it in the first place." As usual, every Beck story needs a villain, and he has blamed the "distortion" of the civil rights movement on -- you guessed it -- "progressives." As Stephen Colbert put it: "Finally, someone is bringing Martin Luther King's movement back to its conservative white roots"

As reported by Media Matters' Will Bunch, top U.S. civil rights leaders have accused Beck of "hijacking" King's legacy, and have planned a counter-rally the same day as Beck's.

According to Beck, his rally "will be remembered in American history as the turning point," and "is going to be one for the history books," because it will be seen in 100 or 200 years as the "moment America turned the corner."

Based on the way Beck has promoted the rally, hopefully this "turning point" will be the moment everyone in the country stopped taking Beck seriously

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Don't use my name

Don't use my name: The anonymity game Washington Post

You've heard the pledges before: We're going to swear off the stuff, really we are. Or at least -- hic! -- reduce our consumption.

But journalists seem more addicted than ever to the elixir of anonymous sources. I'd be fine with unnamed sources who'd tell us what was really going on at the Minerals Management Agency while oil companies were allowed to write their own ticket with no real contingency plans. You know, people who might lose their jobs if they blew the whistle on wrongdoing -- the kind of folks for whom the shield of anonymity was intended.

For day-to-day political potshots, though, it's really become a kind of free pass: Here, say something snarky about someone who ticks you off and we'll publish it.

The latest example -- and this instantly hit the cable/talk radio circuit -- was the unnamed White House aide who took a swipe at the unions who backed Blanche Lincoln's primary opponent before her victory. "Organized labor," said the "senior White House official" who called Politico, "just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toilet on a pointless exercise."

Now you could say the White House ought to be above such pettiness. But if journalists simply said no -- no name, no blind quote -- such potshots wouldn't happen. Hey, if political antagonists want to poke each other in the eye, be my guest -- but don't depend on reporters to hide your identity.

Salon's Glenn Greenwald uses the incident to tee off on the D.C. press corps:

"Corruption and dishonesty are among the Washington vices which receive substantial attention, but cowardice is often overlooked, despite how pervasive it is. The news cycle of the last two days has been driven by an attack on organized labor from a 'senior White House official' who was willing to express these views only while hiding behind the fetal wall of anonymity extended by Politico. . . .

"That there is no remote journalistic justification for granting anonymity for these kinds of catty comments is self-evident, but that's not worth discussing, since the Drudgeified Politico has long ago established that they operate without any ethical constraints of any kind when it comes to such matters. The only anonymity standard Politico has is this: we grant it automatically the minute someone in power wants it (though on some level, in a warped sort of way, that's almost more admirable than what the NYT and Post do: pretend that they have strict anonymity standards while basically handing it out as promiscuously as Politico does).

"But what is striking is how often top White House officials -- who are among the most politically powerful people in the country -- are willing to inject views into the public discourse only if they can be assured that they will never be accountable for what they say. That is just unadulterated cowardice."

But some of us just make it too easy for them.

Separately, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander chastises the paper for excessive use of anonymity:

"Last month, a story about conflicts between parents and childless adults began with an anecdote about an unleashed puppy pestering a toddler in a District park. After the child's father complained, the dog's owner told The Post that parents of children can be 'tyrants' and she urged them to keep their kids inside the park's fenced-in play area. 'I think children are fine,' she was quoted as saying, but 'I don't think they own everything.'

"For this, The Post identified the woman only as Linda, a veteran journalist, 'because she didn't want to be seen as hostile to children.'. . . .

"Too often it seems The Post grants anonymity at the drop of a hat. In a recent politics story, a Democratic strategist was afforded anonymity so he could be 'candid.' In April, a source was granted anonymity for an inoffensive quote 'because he is reluctant to have his name in the paper.'

"Late last year, a Post story on then-White House social secretary Desir?e Rogers quoted a friend who was granted anonymity 'in order not to offend.' Another source in the story was given anonymity 'so as not to upset' Rogers."

Well, I'm upset. But nothing is going to change until news organizations pay a price for this sort of thing.

Video confrontation

I felt an initial twinge of sympathy for Rep. Bob Etheridge in the wake of the viral video that has forced him to apologize.

The North Carolina Democrat is walking down the street when a couple of young men, one armed with a video camera, start asking him questions and refuse to say who they are or where they're from.

But Etheridge completely and totally overreacts, grabbing one man's arm and then the back of his neck, all while the camera is rolling. It looked absolutely awful, as he now recognizes:

"I have seen the video posted on several blogs. I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction and I apologize to all involved. . . . No matter how intrusive and partisan our politics can become, this does not justify a poor response."

Andrew Breitbart's Big Government site -- famous for the ACORN sting -- was the first to post the video, while concluding that "this guy is a moron" who violated assault laws.

But one weird thing remains: How come the "students" involved haven't surfaced and identified themselves? Was Breitbart's operation involved? Not that that would let Etheridge off the hook, but it'd be fascinating to know who targeted him.

The Greene riddle

It's still a head-scratcher in South Carolina.

As National Review's Jim Geraghty asks, "How the heck did Alvin Greene, an unemployed veteran who lives with his parents and who had no discernable campaign activity, not only win the South Carolina Democratic Senate primary, but win by a wide margin?

"So unexpected is this result that official Washington is shaking off its stunned shock and throwing a mild tantrum. . . .

"Does anyone actually want to stake his reputation on an accusation of a vast conspiracy to commit ballot fraud, for the sole purpose of getting Alvin Greene instead of Vic Rawl on the ballot against Jim DeMint?. . . .

"Greene's fairy-tale mystery victory is one of the most joyfully refreshing developments in modern politics, because it subversively suggests that everything we think we know about campaigns, elections, and democracy itself might be completely wrong. The voters may ignore almost everything we have been conditioned to consider important metrics in modern campaigning. Greene managed a runaway victory without television or radio advertising, a website, voter contact lists, any identified campaign staff, any yard signs, any bumper stickers, any get-out-the-vote operations -- hell, as far as anyone can tell, Greene has no discernable positions or platform!"

And he's terrible at giving interviews, too. Meanwhile, Fox's Shep Smith interviews Camille McCoy, a 19-year-old South Carolina student who, according to charges, was approached by Greene in a school library. Smith asks her to explain what Greene showed her "without skeeving us out."

"It was woman-on-man porn," she says. "I told him it was offensive and he needed to leave. He laughed, and he said, Let's go to your room right now. . . . I was shocked and freaked out and scared."

In the state's other big race, the NYT runs a generally favorable profile of Nikki Haley, noting that her given name is Nimrata Nikki Randhawa and that she and her husband were married in two ceremonies, one Methodist and one Sikh. She is now an avowed Christian and none of that seems to matter in the race.

Push comes to shove

The NYT discovers that Meg Whitman may have been a little too hands-on as a chief executive:

"In June 2007, an eBay employee claimed that Ms. Whitman became angry and forcefully pushed her in an executive conference room at eBay's headquarters, according to multiple former eBay employees with knowledge of the incident. . . .

"The employee, Young Mi Kim, was preparing Ms. Whitman for a news media interview that day. . . . Two of the former employees said the company paid a six-figure financial settlement to Ms. Kim, which one of them characterized as 'around $200,000.' "

That, by the way, strikes me as an appropriate use of unnamed sources.

Watered-down tea

Republican candidates often run to the right in primaries and tack to the center in the general; Democrats do the opposite. But are tea partyers now watering down their strong brand? Huffington Post's Sam Stein finds some examples:

"The moderation of the Tea Party seems to have begun, as a number of the movement's high-profile candidates transition from primary battles to general election campaigns.

"On Monday morning, Nevada Republican Senate candidate Shar[r]on Angle told 'Fox and Friends' that, contrary to popular belief, she does not in fact want Social Security to be privatized. '[T]hat's nonsense,' said Angle. . . .

"Angle, as pointed out by Jon Ralston, the dean of the Nevada political press corps, has been fairly unapologetic in the past about her desire to see Social Security privatized. At one point, she said the program itself is 'hard to justify.' That she's now tempering that position illustrates the clear sense among the national Republican establishment that she needs to moderate her platform if she stands a chance of beating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fall."

As for Rand Paul, he "has toned down earlier remarks saying that the government was being too rough on BP in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf, telling a local Kentucky radio station that the federal regulations in place 'apparently wasn't enough.' "

Harry Reid just aired his first attack ad, with scary music and an ominous-sounding female narrator saying, "Shockingly, Sharron Angle wants to wipe out Social Security."

President and the press

President Obama started his two-day swing through the Gulf on Monday, and he delivers his big Oval Office speech Tuesday night. At the Nation, Ari Melber offers some advice to a chief executive who regularly complains about television's role in the 24/7 news cycle:

"Obama has not only chosen to empower TV-driven news coverage of his administration, he has done so at the cost of access for print and alternative media. The White House arranges far more TV interviews for the president than print interviews. (The line about performing for cable shows came during an interview with the 'Today Show.') The decrease in official press conferences further limits access for print reporters, since it is the only venue for many print reporters to ever have a shot at questioning the president. And during one of the few press conferences that Obama has held as president, he made the highly unusual choice of refusing to take a single question from the four national newspapers (The Times, Journal, Washington Post and USA Today.). . . .

"Obama is rightly annoyed by the made-for-TV quality of oil spill criticism -- the main character needs to show more anger in this scene -- but instead of complaining on TV about TV, he should try changing the channel. He could hold more press conferences, and invite not only White House reporters, but also environmental experts for a deeper exchange on the crisis."

Sure, but I've also read plenty of print journalists saying Obama needs to show more emotion in the oil crisis. In fact, when Roger Simon asked how he could connect with people on "emotional levels," the president said: "I want to be absolutely clear that part of leadership always involves being able to capture people's imaginations, their sense of hope, their sense of possibility, being able to move people to do things they didn't think they could do. The irony, of course, is, is that the rap on me before I got to office was that that's all I could do -- right?"

Meanwhile, internal BP e-mails continue to reveal the company's cost-cutting measures on the ill-fated well, such as this engineer's note shortly before the explosion: "This has been nightmare well which has everyone all over the place."

Reality bites

This just turned my stomach, when you stop to think that a 16-year-old girl's life was at stake:

"The father of teen sailor Abby Sunderland told the New York Post that he's broke and had signed a contract to do a reality show, "Adventures in Sunderland," about his family of daredevil kids weeks after she set off on her doomed and dangerous solo sail around the globe.

"Laurence Sunderland, a sailing instructor who lives in the middle-class Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks with his pregnant wife and seven kids, opened their home to film crews four months ago."

Is there anything people won't do to get on television? And unlike the Balloon Boy hoax, young Abby actually attempted to sail around the world.

Meet the men

The Sunday talk shows -- although one is hosted by a woman and a second is about to be -- remain heavily male when it comes to the guest lineups.

"Even as women have vaulted to be House speaker and hold a host of other influential positions on Capitol Hill, female lawmakers continue to be under-represented as guests on the Sunday shows," Politico reports.

"According to research by American University's Women & Politics Institute, female lawmakers have composed 13.5 percent of the total Sunday show appearances by all representatives and senators this year.

"The suggestion that the Sunday shows are less hospitable to women has prompted a debate over who's to blame among network producers, Capitol Hill political operatives and women's advocates."

Here's what's interesting: Producers say some female members of Congress, led by Nancy Pelosi, make themselves difficult to book or are busy on weekends, adding to the imbalance.

Today's Tiger

Is this report in Britain's Sun true? Who knows?

"Troubled Tiger Woods fathered a secret love child, a new TV documentary claims this week.

"A journalist who helped the golfer hide affairs says he knows someone who has full details of the girl -- and DNA evidence."

Tiger is troubled in more ways than one: He needs to work on his swing after failing to make the cut in his last tournament.

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

a push toward polarization On cable TV and talk radio

Michael Smerconish
Nationally syndicated radio host and columnist and an MSNBC contributor.

Any conversation about political polarization would be incomplete without a look at the media's role in shaping opinions. From my view on the front lines, I have seen a rapid escalation of extreme dialogue -- sadly, something sure to guarantee high ratings. Indeed, Campbell Brown's departure from her CNN show last month marks another tombstone in the graveyard of moderate, thoughtful analysis.

Why does this matter? I'd argue that the climate in Washington is being shaped by an artificial presentation of attitudes on cable TV and talk radio. To view and to listen is to become convinced that there are only two, diametrically opposed philosophical approaches to the issues. And yet, working daily in both mediums, I often think that the only people I meet who see the world entirely through liberal or conservative lenses are the hosts with whom I rub shoulders.

Buying gas or groceries or attending back-to-school nights, I speak to people for whom the issues are a mixed bag; they are liberal on some, conservative on others, middle of the road on the rest. But politicians don't take their cues from those people. No, politicians emulate the world of punditry.

Opinions from the middle are underrepresented, even shunned, in the modern debate. Consider: In May 2008, a few weeks after Pennsylvania's presidential primary, I was scheduled to appear on CNN's "Larry King Live." During the customary pre-interview with a program producer, I gave a summation of how I saw the presidential race. The producer was satisfied. At the conclusion of our chat, I asked how I would be identified.

"As a John McCain supporter," I was told.

"But I'm not sure I will vote for McCain," I responded.


The producer asked whether CNN could identify me as a conservative. "Well, if someone who supports harsh interrogation, thinks we should be out of Iraq but in Pakistan, doesn't care much if two guys hook up, and believes we should legalize pot and prostitution is conservative, fine," I replied.

More silence.

Why not just introduce me as a radio host, columnist and author, I asked. I was told to await a call-back to see whether I was still needed. (Ultimately, I did appear on the program, under the heading of "talk-radio host, columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer. He is a Republican.")

Another time, a Fox News producer invited me to appear on a program to discuss then-candidate Barack Obama. I was told they were "looking for someone who would say he's cocky and that his cockiness will hurt him, if not in the primary, definitely in the general election against McCain." I declined. A few hours later, the same producer made a new pitch: "What about a debate off the top of the show on whether or not Hillary is trustworthy? We have someone who says she is and we're looking for someone who says she isn't."

The message of both episodes is clear: There is no room for nuance. Either you offer a consistent (possibly artificial) ideological view or you often don't get a say.

Unfortunately, this approach is rewarded with ratings, because ratings are driven by passion, not universal appeal or general acceptance. While the most recent polling and voter registration data suggest that political power lies in the middle, it remains largely untapped because it lacks the fervor of the extremes. This also explains the lack of loyalty by centrists for media personalities such as Campbell Brown, unlike the devotion the far right and left have for their own torch-bearers. The more doctrinaire the viewpoint, the better the odds it will be heard.

Brown abandoned her 8 p.m. program because, in her words, "not enough people want to watch." "The 8 p.m. hour in cable news world is currently driven by the indomitable Bill O'Reilly, Nancy Grace and Keith Olbermann," she said. "Shedding my own journalistic skin to try to inhabit the kind of persona that might co-exist in that lineup is simply impossible for me."

Viewers and listeners have become conditioned to expect -- and accept -- only perspectives that line up on one side of the aisle. Interestingly, while the audience hears the extremes, the populace appears headed in a different direction. A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll last month found that more respondents deemed their approach to issues as "moderate" (37 percent) than any other classification (very liberal, somewhat liberal, very conservative or somewhat conservative). Nevertheless, politicians, keyed up by on-camera conflict and forced into constant campaign mode by the 24-7 news cycle, strive to placate the most reliable voters, those who vote in primaries, tend to be the most polarized and make the most contributions. Ask South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson (R-"You lie!") or Florida Rep. Alan Grayson (D-"Die quickly") how their fundraising went in the quarters after their outlandish outbursts regarding the president's and the Republicans' respective health-care plans.

No wonder that, when elected, many treat their legislative colleagues the way they would a pundit on a split screen. Collegiality used to be commonplace. Now it's political kryptonite.

The endangered part of the political spectrum is now the middle. Centrists such as Republican New York Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava get ridiculed as weak or lacking in principle. Sen. Arlen Specter's decisive loss in Pennsylvania and Sen. John McCain's fight for his political life in Arizona are signs of the vulnerability of nonideologues running in primaries that cater to the passions at the ends of the spectrum.

All of which leaves more elected officials beholden to the fringe elements of their parties, which in turn means less gets done. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it is robbing our televisions and radios of the substantive dialogue the country desperately needs, while leaving our politics a petty and unproductive mess.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fox Business Low on ratings, high on Fox falsehoods

Media Matters: Fox Business: Low on ratings, high on Fox-patented GOP boosterism and falsehoods

When News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch introduced the Fox Business Network in 2007, he made no attempt to hide the fact that the financial channel would reflect his own conservative philosophy. The financial media, in his view, should be in the business of "celebrat[ing]" free-market capitalism.

As Murdoch saw it, the existing media were too quick to ''leap on every scandal" and "are not as friendly to corporations and profits as they should be." In contrast to purportedly anti-business CNBC, Fox Business would be ''more business friendly" and "celebrate the freedom and sense of optimism that free markets have given Americans." America, according to Australian-born Murdoch, has the best "corruption-free companies in the world. Our companies are beacons of success that the rest of the world looks to, not that you'd know that through much of the business coverage we see every day."

As he did with Fox News, executive Roger Ailes has imported Murdoch's conservative philosophy to FBN, where the network's coverage and most visible personalities are unabashedly conservative and dismissive of progressives. The head of FBN's news division is senior vice president, host, and tea-party booster Neil Cavuto, who donated to President Bush, bashed the "awful" Democratic health care bill, and sports a record of misinforming viewers about economic issues.

Morning anchor Stuart Varney is a British expat whose shtick involves complaining that "socialist" Democrats are pushing America in the direction of his former country. Varney is described by Fox Business as a "business journalist" and news "anchor." Yet he admits that he's "very partisan," "very clearly partisan" and can't resist bashing Democrats while propping up Republicans. Varney also -- stop the presses -- misinforms viewers about economic issues,

David Asman, another "journalist," hosts the prime-time show America's Nightly Scoreboard. Asman, lover of Milton Friedman, makes it a habit to assail Social Security, Democrats, and "hypocrite" environmentalists who dare get in the way of activities like more oil drilling. Asman is one of the channel's biggest proponents of the tea parties, once telling viewers they "need to go" to a tea party merchandise site. Asman also -- hold the phone -- misinforms viewers about economic issues.

John Stossel, host of his own weekly "libertarian" show, has argued that the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act should be repealed to restore the right to discriminate and that the "free market" would have likely resolved the issue of racial discrimination by businesses -- a claim that civil rights expert Andrew Grant-Thomas called "ahistorical" and "unempirical." Stossel recently keynoted a fundraising luncheon for a "research" organization with heavy ties to the energy industry. When Stossel joined Fox, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said he'd be "very natural fit" because "he's conservative." Stossel also has a history of -- call grandma -- misinforming viewers.

Fox, which defends itself by claiming that its "fair and balanced" reporters just report the news, employs FBN "reporter" Tracy Byrnes, who said Democrats voting yes on health care "make me sick," and "senior correspondent" Charles Gasparino, who said he wouldn't vote for the Democrats' health care bill ("Who would?").

FBN also recently announced promotions for Eric Bolling and Andrew Napolitano. Bolling, previously of the canceled afternoon show Happy Hour, will get a weekday prime-time show, his apparent reward for shilling for Republican candidates, and -- start the Drudge siren -- misinforming viewers about economic issues.

Napolitano, meanwhile, will bring his previously online-only show Freedom Watch to FBN on a weekly basis. Napolitano is an unabashed libertarian, meaning that while he disagrees with some of his Fox colleagues on certain social and national security issues, he'll fit right in on economic matters. In its online iterations, Freedom Watch frequently gave a platform to fringe guests like 9-11 conspiracy leaders Alex Jones and Jesse Ventura; Thomas E. Woods Jr., who has been a member of the League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called a "racist" hate group; and "libertarian anarchist" Lew Rockwell, who excoriates Abraham Lincoln and openly pushes for secession. Napolitano has used his Fox perch to push inane conspiracy theories and -- insert any remaining idiom here -- misinform viewers.

How many people not getting paychecks from Media Matters will actually watch those shows, though, remains a question. While Fox News has undoubtedly achieved ratings success, Fox Business, in its third year, continues to post "feeble" ratings. While CNBC is available in more than 90 million households, FBN is available in just 50 million. Vanity Fair's Matt Pressman wrote last November that "it's fairly safe to assume" that "most of its shows fall short of attracting 35,000 viewers," or roughly one-tenth of CNBC's audience and a hundredth of SpongeBob SquarePants'.

The most high-profile show on FBN -- a dubious honor -- isn't even a business-oriented show. Last October, FBN began simulcasting Don Imus, best known for helping pioneer shock jock radio decades ago and smearing female basketball players. Imus, as he has self-deprecatingly acknowledged, has no expertise in business news, which is why FBN incorporates several business updates on his show.

Fox hopes to grow its fledgling business channel by cross-promoting it on Fox News, which also struggled with early ratings. Fox News has begun using hosts like apparent financial wizards Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck to tout FBN as "no-spin talk you can trust" and the network that "wants you to succeed." Varney, Bolling, Byrnes, and others regularly appear on FNC, where they're touted as financial experts -- facts to the contrary -- while Cavuto incessantly uses his afternoon FNC show to implore viewers to "demand" FBN from their cable providers.

In a new ad for the network, Fox states that Fox Business and Fox News offer "two networks, twice the power." Indeed, from its inception to its recent hiring decisions, Fox Business has made it clear that like its sister channel, "fair and balanced" is merely a wink and a nod to viewers looking for a reaffirmation of conservative myths and blatant GOP boosterism.

Glenn Beck continues his public embarrassment tour
If a week goes by without Media Matters documenting something embarrassing or pathetic from Glenn Beck, it's probably because he's on vacation.

Case in point, the self-described "rodeo clown," last seen making fun of an 11-year-old girl, refused to apologize for promoting the work of pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, racist Elizabeth Dilling. As Beck tells it, he sat down with the book The Red Network one night and found it so inspiring that he had to share it the very next day. Yet The Red Network contains passages rife with racism ("colored men" are dancing with white women!), anti-Semitism (let's be fair to Nazi Germany's anti-Jewish activities), and religious bigotry (Hinduism and Islam are "debasing and degrading"; Judaism and Hinduism spread "propaganda").

On the topic of books, Beck will soon release his brand new "thriller" The Overton Window, which he promises will "drive the left insane." Beck's right: Media Matters obtained a copy of the book before its Tuesday release, and as Media Matters' Simon Maloy and Ben Dimiero note, the "awful" novel contains "plot holes, ridiculous narrative devices, and long-winded limited-government sermonizing passed off as dialogue." Beck's Overton Window includes the phrase soon to engulf college campuses and future Gossip Girl episodes: "Don't tease the panther."

Beck also began touting his 8-28 rally -- the same day as Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington -- as one that will "reclaim the civil rights movement" and "be remembered as the moment America turned the corner." Beck, who informed readers may know is not a civil rights hero, has compared himself to civil rights heroes Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Gandhi, and African-Americans who had "dogs and fire hoses" released on them. Beck's even gone so far as to claim that he's advancing "the plan that [God] would have me articulate, I think" against "darkness."

In an interview with The New York Times last year, multimillionaire rodeo clown Beck said that if people take what he says "as gospel, you're an idiot" -- food for thought for the Beck followers buying 8-28 rally plane tickets or Overton Window books.

Fox News hates Boxer, loves former colleague Fiorina
Fox doesn't like Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

According to those on the channel's payroll, Boxer is an embarrassing, condescending, big-spending, anti-military liberal "dope" who "stands for everything that is wrong with Washington."

While that hyperpartisan venting sounds like something from Fox News' "opinion" side, "reporter" William La Jeunesse has been one of Boxer's most frequent smearers. Not only did La Jeunesse state, in his own words, that Boxer "stands for everything that is wrong with Washington," he also forwarded the ridiculously false attack by opponent Carly Fiorina (R) that Boxer "is more interested in protecting climate change and the weather than actually the public."

Fiorina is a former member of the Fox News family, having been hired in October 2007 as a Fox Business Network contributor. Fiorina's financial disclosure statement states that she received nearly $58,000 for her employment with the "Fox Broadcasting Company."

Unsurprisingly, Fiorina has received glowing coverage and interviews on the network and netted endorsements from Fox Newsers Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, and Dick Morris. But she stumbled this week when an open mic caught her appearing to disparage Fox News host Sean Hannity. Perhaps realizing Fox's role in the GOP apparatus, Fiorina directly apologized to Hannity.

In the midst of embarrassments like Glenn Beck, the Fox Business Network, and its Fiorina coverage, Fox News is pushing to get Helen Thomas' front-row seat in the White House briefing room. Media Matters' Jeremy Holden wrote that the White House Correspondents Association should resist any efforts to give Fox the seat, given its history. Appearing on Imus, Wallace said that Fox getting the seat would be "poetic justice" since Thomas is considered liberal. After prodding from Imus, Wallace quickly backtracked by claiming he meant Fox News is "fair and balanced," then added that maybe he should "stop digging."

This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Eric Hananoki, a research fellow at Media Matters for America.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Glenn Beck Conundrum

Media Matters: The Glenn Beck Conundrum

Let's start with a multiple choice question.

When Glenn Beck opens the week by spending more than 15 minutes addressing his despicable attack on President Obama's 11-year-old daughter and says he has "never" dragged an opponent's family "into the debate," is he:

A Correct. This was an unprecedented departure from his usual behavior.

B Wrong, and well aware he is being dishonest.

C Wrong, and somehow either oblivious to his history or self-deluded enough to convince himself he is right.

Option A is categorically false. As we have detailed extensively, Beck's attack on Malia Obama was merely the latest in a long string of smears of the first family. For example, last April -- in a video that truly needs to be watched to appreciate how unnecessarily vicious it is -- Beck cracked himself up while brandishing a cane and repeatedly mocking Obama's aunt's "limp." It's unclear how this information was relevant to Obama's aunt's visa status, which is what he was purportedly discussing.

On multiple occasions, Beck has attacked President Obama's parents, blaming them for raising "the most radical president ever." His attack on Malia Obama wasn't even his only attack on the President's children last week. Beck speculated that Sasha and Malia may think "Jews are destroying the world" because of their exposure to Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

So, Beck is absolutely wrong when he claims he has "never" dragged an opponent's family into the debate. There is no wiggle room here -- which leaves us with the final two options. He is either willfully lying to his viewers, or has become so untethered from reality that he actually believes his own falsehoods.

Therein lies the Glenn Beck Conundrum. (For additional illumination of this, watch this segment from last night's Daily Show in which Jon Stewart demolishes Beck's ridiculously false claim that only Beck and Fox News aired Israeli footage of the flotilla raid.)

Of course, it's not unusual for Beck to completely misrepresent his own behavior. In addition to his inaccurate explanation of his attack on Malia, on his radio show on Wednesday, Beck attempted to clear up what he perceived as possible confusion over his comparison of American progressives to Nazis in Germany, saying that "anyone who thinks that they are mimicking Nazi Germany or whatever -- or they think that that's what I'm saying -- that's not what I'm saying at all."

If that's not what he's been "saying," it's hard to decipher what his point was when he repeatedly compared various Obama administration officials and Al Gore to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Not to mention the countless other times he has portrayed Obama and perceived progressive policies as Nazi or Hitler-like.

Beck also said during his explanation of his smear of Malia that he hoped the attack is his "bottom," adding, "All Friday, I asked myself, how could it have happened?" The suggestion is clear: Beck had been driven to anger that was totally out of character. Contrary to Beck's suggestion, vicious personal assaults on his perceived enemies and their families are not at all out of character for him. Among other examples, Beck has:

reportedly retaliated against a rival radio host by calling the rival's wife and mocking her for having a miscarriage. On the air.
enumerated the various people, including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), that he wanted to "beat to death with a shovel."
reportedly attacked Terri Schiavo's husband, Michael -- after he had previously run segments mocking Terri's condition -- as a "murderer" who sired two "bastard" children
attacked Katrina victims as "scumbags," adding "I didn't think I could hate victims faster than the 9-11 victims."
reportedly resorted to "vicious personal assaults on fellow radio hosts," including lobbing "exceedingly cruel, pointless" "fat jokes" aimed at an overweight rival host during his time as a DJ in Louisville, Kentucky.
This behavior led Beck biographer Alexander Zaitchik to remark in an interview with Media Matters' Joe Strupp this week that he "wasn't prepared for the depth of Beck's mean streak."

Proving Zaitchik's point, mere days after suggesting that attacks on opponents' families were out of character, Beck joined co-host Pat Gray in impersonating Al and Tipper Gore, laughing about the dissolution of their marriage.

While addressing his attack on Malia Obama, Beck also lamented that he doesn't "know why we're not having real conversations" in America. This was during the same show wherein he compared the current state of our country to the biblical story of Moses and the films Star Wars and Robin Hood, and cited a supposed epic national division between supporters of Woodstock and the Apollo Project.

This is also the guy who once illustrated President Obama's policies by mimicking pouring gasoline on a person, who frequently suggests progressives will resort to violence against conservatives -- including last week saying "eventually they just start shooting people" -- and who has spent much of the past year and a half scrawling absurd conspiracy theories on a chalkboard. But Glenn Beck "doesn't know why we're not having real conversations." OK, then.

Which brings us back to the Glenn Beck Conundrum.

Which is it, Glenn? You are either willfully lying to you viewers, or you are completely, provably wrong -- yet somehow convinced you aren't.

Regardless, one thing is certain: When you say that you've never dragged people's families "into the debate," you certainly aren't right.

And if you don't want to answer that, at least let us know why you spent several minutes on your radio show today promoting the book of a raging anti-Semite who praised Hitler and denounced the Allies.

Conservatives not giving up on the overhyped Sestak/Romanoff "controversies" any time soon
More than a week after the wheels came off conservatives' latest attempt to drum up a phony scandal, media figures like Dick Morris are still pushing the idea of "impeachment."

And, it's still overblown nonsense.

In the past couple of weeks, conservative media figures have relied on a series of myths and falsehoods to promote the supposed scandal involving the White House's conversations with Democratic Senate candidates Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff concerning those candidates taking positions in the administration.

To recap a few of the big ones: With Sean Hannity leading the charge, conservatives have claimed that the Sestak offer violated federal law. This has been systematically debunked by both Media Matters and legal experts. Hannity, among others, has repeatedly suggested that the Sestak offer violated the bribery statute, as well as a series of other laws. Legal experts, including former Bush ethics adviser Richard Painter, have repudiated this idea.

On to Romanoff: Conservatives claim Romanoff was "offered a job" to exit a Senate race. He wasn't. They claim the White House committed a crime during the Romanoff conversations. It didn't. They have claimed the White House lied about the discussion. Wrong again.

Lost in all of this is the staggering hypocrisy of conservative media figures. As numerous historians and legal experts have noted, this kind of conversation is commonplace (including among right-wing heroes like Ronald Reagan). But for truly A-grade, gold medal hypocrisy, we turn (as we often do) to Karl Rove. Rove, who insisted the Obama administration violated a federal statue in its Sestak conversations, once reportedly offered someone from the other political party a job to prevent him from running for re-election.

After Scooter Libby was indicted, several members of the conservative media decried what they deemed "criminalizing politics." No longer the party in power, many of these same media figures have rushed to declare that the White House's "garden-variety" politics broke laws.

While this is all par for the course for the noise machine, supposed "mainstream" press outlets have fallen down on the job merely by giving this ridiculousness the attention and oxygen it needs to survive. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder captured this problem well in an article ripping the media's reporting of the Sestak and Romanoff "controversies" [emphasis added]:

More potentially pernicious than liberal bias, than the false equivalences bias, than really just about any other bias that journalism that inject into a public discussion of a story is the power that comes from merely selecting which subjects to cover. Whatever the collection of facts about White House officials attempting to influence primary elections is, it is not a scandal. It is not the type of story that journalists with credibility and experience should be selecting to cover. It's the type of story that journalists ought to resist covering, precisely because the act of giving it attention elevates the arguments that don't correspond with the truth. If journalism is good for anything, it is to provide what Republican Bruce Bartlett calls "quality control" over the narrative. Well, a big mess just slipped by.

Unfortunately, it looks like we'll be cleaning up this particular mess for a while.

Sarah Palin hates oil spills, honesty
Speaking of messes, the BP oil spill continues unabated, which has given conservative media figures ample opportunity to act like clowns. They haven't disappointed.

Kicking off the trend of conservatives ludicrously blaming environmentalists for the catastrophic BP oil spill, Sarah Palin took to Twitter this week with her usual blend of condescension and dishonesty:

Palin clearly implied that her slogan "drill, baby, drill" -- which was eagerly co-opted by Fox News -- was only about drilling in places like ANWR, not offshore. It's a typically Palin-esque way to deflect blame. Big problem, though: It is outrageously, jaw-droppingly false.

As Media Matters' Simon Maloy noted this week, Palin repeatedly, explicitly promoted offshore drilling while on the campaign trail. And, to top it off, last month Palin said that the BP spill should not change the state of our offshore drilling during an interview with Greta Van Susteren.

Despite Palin's suggestion that the spill somehow vindicated her position on drilling, it did no such thing. Now do you get it, Governor?

Sadly, Palin and fellow conservatives' attack on environmentalists for the oil spill was not the only depressingly inane media coverage of the oil spill this week.

Enter Fox & Friends Brian Kilmeade.

On Wednesday, Kilmeade seamlessly transitioned from attacking the Obama administration for announcing a criminal investigation into BP's role in the oil spill to praising Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's call for accountability for BP. Kilmeade complained that the Justice Department's announcement had "just tank[ed] the stock market," adding, "Was that smart?" Only a few minutes later, Kilmeade praised Jindal for "taking action" and saying to BP "you're going to be held accountable."

To follow Kilmeade's logic here: Accountability is good as long as it is both theoretical and discussed by a Republican, but bad when it is concrete and announced by a Democrat.

Kilmeade wasn't alone in attacking the Justice Department for its criminal investigation of BP. He was joined by Charles Krauthammer, Peter Johnson Jr., Stuart Varney, The Washington Times,, and Rush Limbaugh.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

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