ABC – State-Run Television

Sheldon Alberts has a good editorial on ABC’s decision to become a propaganda organ for the White House tonight:

At the president’s invitation, ABC News anchors Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer will host a prime time town hall-style meeting from the White House during which Obama – and Obama alone – will answer audience and viewers’ questions about efforts to cover 50 million Americans without health care insurance.

Talk about a bully pulpit for Obama to sell his proposal for the creation of a government-run public health insurance plan.
ABC News’ packaging of the health care special also includes a Good Morning America “exclusive” interview with the President on Wednesday morning, a live broadcast of ABC World News from the White House, a full edition of ABC’s Nightline devoted to the issue, an ABC News webcast and an ABC Radio special.

ABC is essentially become a journalistic whore—giving away their credibility in favor of access to their master’s house. Tonight’s programming will be little more than propaganda, despite ABC’s weak promises that they’ll be critical of Obama’s plans, they have not given any airtime for any dissenting voices to Obama’s attempts to “reform” health care.

In short, ABC has decided to become a political propaganda network for the White House. Not only is this blatantly against the “watchdog” role of the press, it also violates the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. That Code requires journalists to “[a]void conflicts of interest, real or perceived.” Here, ABC is trading objectivity for access, but even if they are not, the fact that not a single voice will be given time is more than enough to “perceive” a conflict of interest. The Code demands that journalists “[r]efuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.” Here, ABC is compromising their journalistic integrity in order to curry favor with the Obama White House and gain access to the administration. One could go one, but the point has been made: what ABC is doing is a violation of professional ethics.

It is ironic that a party that has called for a “fairness doctrine” to promote “balance” on the airwaves and criticizes other networks for being “biased” seems to be silent as ABC refuses to give equal time. It only exposes the hypocrisy of those who would censor talk radio to prevent dissenting voices from having a bully pulpit.

This sort of thing should not happen in a free society: and that this is not the product of government coercion is even more distressing. It is one thing to become a slavish propaganda organ for the ruling clique at the barrel of a gun—but that ABC will prostrate themselves of their own volition is even more disgusting.

ABC has no objectivity. They have allowed themselves to become an uncritical propaganda organ for the Obama Administration and should be treated with the same critical eye as one would treat any other state-run propaganda outlet.

The Decline of TV Political News

Stuart Rothenberg, one of the nation’s preeminent pollsters has a scathing indictment of the current state of TV political coverage. Rather than providing an opportunity for viewers to get a wide range of opinions, TV political coverage is now largely about attracting the most rabid partisans:

Chris Matthews is a smart, politically astute observer of politics, but my last appearance convinced me that “Hardball” has evolved from a straight political news program with quality guests to one that has more in common with its network’s prime-time slant. Like most of the evening programming on MSNBC and the Fox News Channel, “Hardball” has become a partisan, heavily ideological sledgehammer clearly intended to beat up one party and one point of view.

During the show on which I appeared, Matthews referred more than once to Republicans as “Luddites” and took every opportunity imaginable to portray them as crackpots. The show’s topics inevitably pander to the most liberal Democratic viewers and present Republicans and conservatives in the least flattering of terms.

I don’t mean to single out Matthews for criticism because he actually understands politics and I believe that he would prefer to do a serious political show. Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and the newest addition to MSNBC’s unfortunate lineup, Ed Schultz, are far worse than “Hardball.”

The reality is that TV news is based around appealing to the lowest common denominator—and there are a dwindling number of worthwhile TV news programs available. For example, while FOX is famous for the blowhards Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, they do have some very good straight political coverage and Brit Hume’s nightly show was one of the best in the industry. However, their bread-and-butter was in “opinion journalism” (an oxymoron if ever there was one). FOX had good political coverage, and for all their supposed conservative bias they did a good job of reporting on serious matters as well.

MSNBC, however, decided to become a cargo-cult version of FOX News with a leftward tilt. They managed to find an ego as big as Bill O’Reilly’s with an even bigger chip on his shoulder in the form of Keith Olbermann. Olbermann has all the tact and grace of a rabid pit-bull that just ate PCP-laced dog food. In his world, Republicans make Nazis look like Boy Scouts—making him unwatchable by anyone who doesn’t share a similarly rabid worldview. The execrable Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow are in a similar vein.

Sadly, there just doesn’t seem to be an appetite for hard news on TV these days—if you want to be informed about the world, you use the Internet and get the facts for yourself. Right now, TV news is used in the same way a drunk uses a lamppost—for support rather than illumination.

Perhaps if Chris Matthews had declined to allow himself to be prostituted out to MSNBC’s brand of acid-drenched partisanship it would have saved Hardball from becoming a mockery of itself. If more journalists wanted to report the facts rather than spin them the state of TV journalism would be better. However, that would require some serious intellectual diversity, and journalism in general is a monoculture. FOX has done yeoman’s work in allowing a different perspective to have a voice, but it’s set a standard for valuing kneejerk “opinion” over strong journalism. The rest of the TV networks are copying the worst of that model.

TV news networks are hemorrhaging viewers, and given this race to the bottom, it’s not hard to understand why.

Andrew Sullivan’s Further Descent Into Hackery

Andrew Sullivan went from being an astute conservative columnist to a frothing partisan hack somewhere around the 2004 elections. His latest column in The Sunday Times amply demonstrates his fall into hackery. Now, because the Republicans have the sheer audacity to defy the Leader and go against a budget-busting spending bill in a time of fiscal turmoil, they are akin to the Taliban.

So much for not questioning the patriotism of others.

For instance, Sullivan makes this blatantly silly argument:

From the outset, the Republicans in Washington pored over the bill to find trivial issues to make hay with. They found some small funding for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases prevention; they jumped up and down about renovating the national mall; they went nuts over a proposal – wait for it – to make some government buildings more energy-efficient; they acted as if green research and federal funds for new school building were the equivalent of funding terrorism. And this after eight years in which they managed to turn a surplus into a trillion-dollar deficit and added a cool $32 trillion to the debt the next generation will have to pay for. Every now and again their chutzpah and narcissism take one’s breath away. But it’s all they seem to know.

Which conveniently ignores the very nature of the bill—a trillion-dollar giveaway to Democratic special interests. It is hardly “narcissistic” or an act of “chutzpah” to cry foul when the Treasury is being raided in a time when America’s debts are already threatening our fiscal future. But Sullivans M.O. is already well established—Republicans are always evil schemers seeking to establish their own power while the Obama Administration is always pure of heart. His simple morality play has little to do with reality, but it is a constant struggle for Mr. Sullivan to ignore what is in front of his nose.

The Republicans are an opposition party, and they have finally rediscovered the idea that they are supposed to be the party of small and responsible government. Apparently to Sullivan, their job now is to roll over at acquiesce to whatever the Great Obama wishes them to do. That someone who so frequently quotes George Orwell cannot see the Orwellian implications of our times is distressing.

That Sullivan adds some faint condemnation of the Democrats is only due to it allowing him to show how magnanimous and post-partisan the Obama Administration is. That the Obama Administration is attempting to politicize the Census is ignored. That the Obama Administration’s attempts at partisan “compromise” is largely window dressing is ignored. The ethical scandals that surround the Obama Administration is immaterial to Sullivan’s worldview. The resignation of Sen. Gregg as Commerce Secretary? To Sullivan, this had nothing to do with the Obama Administration’s evisceration of the post in favor of having Rahm Emmanuel run the show, it was clearly an act by the Republican base.

Sullivan is capable of deep though, but he choses not to exercise it, instead going for the rhetoric of a third-string Daily Kos blogger. How tiresome must it be to be yet another unquestioning mouthpiece for the Obama Administration. One would think it to be intellectually deadening after a while. But perhaps Mr. Sullivan has become tired of thinking and would rather trade his insightfulness and relevance for the adulation of the “netroots” mob.

The loss of such a formerly insightful thinker, alas, diminishes our political rhetoric at a time when it’s at one of its lows.

The Media Watchdogs Have Become Obama’s Poodles

A recent Rassmussen poll shows that nearly half of all those surveyed think that the media is in the tank for Obama.

Proving that the other half haven’t been paying attention, The New York Times has refused to print an op-ed by Sen. McCain responding to Obama’s Iraq piece. The Times refused to print the piece partially on the grounds that McCain would not specify a timetable withdrawal—denying him the right to uphold his own position.

If the roles were reversed, the left would be demanding a reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine and rushing to hold Congressional hearings. For the right, the Times being a sycophantic propaganda organ of the left is about as surprising as the sun rising in the East. Yet having a media that is uncritical of one candidate or party is hardly a good thing for a democratic society. The American people are losing faith in the media, and for good reason. The media is supposed to be a watchdog against spin and deception. Now, they’ve become a virtual one-party state, leading to the Balkanization of the media into left and right as people wanting to get both sides are left to pick and choose.

The Times’ snub of McCain is just a symptom of a larger problem of media bias. The media is not fulfilling its function, and yet they can’t see why they are bleeding money and readership by the day. When half of the electorate can’t trust you to be objective, it’s not surprising that they’re not interested in hearing what you have to say.

Tony Snow

Former White House Press Secretary and commentator Tony Snow has passed away from cancer at the age of 53.


Snow was truly one of a kind, someone who could operate in Washington yet never seeming to share in the cynicism that runs through the town. His optimism, his courage in facing cancer, and his amazing talent made him a truly irreplaceable man.

Kathryn Jean-Lopez of National Review says it with heartbreaking eloquence:

As for the rest of us, Tony Snow talks in that interview about “a depth of happiness” that cancer made possible in his life — he became closer to his wife, his family, being forced to think about the eternal things in a new way. The rest of us ought to sign off of our computers, turn the Blackberry off, and be with our loved ones — totally present — living this day as if it might be your last.

“God put us on earth to help each other,” Snow told Gregory. Consider these days of reflection on the example of Tony Snow as his help to all of us.

“When you die, you graduate,” Snow told Gregory. Happy Graduation Day.

Remembering Tim Russert

Douglas Kmiec has a wonderful, heartfelt tribute to Tim Russert:

One thing I know for sure, St. Peter is in no position to give Tim a hard time at the gate. If there is any delay whatsoever, look for Tim to sit the onetime fishermen and early church organizer down at the table and with that smiling but tenaciously prepared look ask, as heavenly PowerPoint goes up on the screen of judgment: “Isn’t it true, Peter, that earlier on the night before he died, you denied him three times, and yet here you are today the keeper of the gate of the kingdom. How do you explain that?” Like so many other guests on Meet the Press when confronted with the thoroughness of Tim’s preparations revealing an undeniable inconsistency of their own words, I suspect Peter might be tempted to bob and weave his way to some sort of answer. Advice to the first pontiff: Don’t try it. Just wave Tim on through—he more than deserves it.

There aren’t many journalists with the professionalism of Tim Russert, a man who created the real “no spin zone” long before any of the pretenders to the throne. He was relentless, but fair, and our media needs more of his kind.

Charlton Heston, RIP

Award-winning actor Charlton Heston passed away yesterday at the age of 84. From Ben Hur to Planet of the Apes, Heston was a Hollywood legend and an actor who could always be counted on to play larger-than-life characters.

Not only was he a great actor, but he was a tireless campaigner for human rights, from marching with Martin Luther King, Jr to campaigning for the rights of gun owners as president of the NRA.

Mitch Berg has a wonderful memorial to Heston’s life and career.


Blinded By Bias

Ed Morrissey has an excellent piece on The New Republic coming clean on the Scott Thomas Beauchamp controversy. They’re now admitting that they got hoodwinked once again, and that they didn’t check their facts. When Beauchamp’s wife is assigned to ensuring the accuracy of his piece, there’s already a massive red flag. TNR let their ideological biases get in the way, and it blinded them to the fact that they were being had.

If this were an isolated incident, it would be one thing. However, the Beauchamp scandal is emblematic of a larger problem within the American media. As the figures show, the vast majority of American journalists are ideologically homogenous—they believe in left-wing ideals and view the world through that ideological prism. Which means that the stories the tell are stories that have been twisted by those ideological assumptions. The Beauchamp story didn’t get published because The New Republic wanted to smear the troops, it got published because the story fit their own preconceptions of American servicemembers as either political pawns or mindless kill-bots. So few journalists have military experience that stories like a Bradley driver swerving to kill a dog didn’t set off their BS-detectors because almost none of them know what a Bradley Armored Vehicle looks like. Without that knowledge, it becomes harder to distinguish what’s fact and what’s convenient fiction.

Despite Franklin Foer’s lengthy attempt at apologia, the reality is that they hoodwinked again. They got what they wanted, not what was true, and they didn’t have the foresight to check their facts. It may have been a mistake borne from ignorance rather than malice, but it was a mistake none the less. To have come from a magazine that had already been the victim of another scam journalist (Stephen Glass) makes this sort of error even less understandable.

TNR has, sadly, frittered away its credibility. At the very least Franklin Foer should take responsibility and step down, along with all those who handled this story. Instead, he spends a great deal of time blaming others for their mistake. So long as that attitude prevails, TNR is unlikely to regain the credibility lost in this affair.

Kos v. Rove

Newsweek has announced that Karl Rove will be the right-wing answer to Markos “Kos” Moulitsas.

It’s actually an interesting matchup, all things considered. Kos’ raison d’être is to get Democrats elected. He’s a party hack. Karl Rove’s job has been to get Republicans elected. He could be fairly called the same thing. On that score, it’s a relatively even game.

On the other hand, Karl Rove has years of political experience, is a genius when it comes to the tactics and skills needed to organize a campaign, and is a decent enough writer. Kos, by any real comparison, is an amateur whose been able to raise some decent amount of money, but whose political achievements are minimal at best. Karl Rove defeated John Kerry, a well-financed national candidate. Kos has at best thrown money at candidates who were likely to win anyway. About the only credible claim he can make for political success is supporting Jon Tester in Montana, and even then it was because Tester was running against a very vulnerable Republican.

The other reason why Kos is on the losing end of this deal is because Karl Rove knows how to argue. Politics isn’t about screaming and yelling and declaring your position to be the only right position and treating all who disagree as heretics. It’s about being persuasive and framing issues. Kos has never been able to do that. He preaches to the choir, and that’s why his appeal is limited to only those who already agree with him.

That’s the essential problem with Newsweek’s matchup. Setting up two partisans and letting them fight gets boring after a while. Is either of them going to say anything surprising? Would either of them go “off script?” It doesn’t seem likely.

A battle between someone like Jonah Goldberg and Peter Beinart is interesting because both of them share some principles and are willing to discuss real issues. A matchup of someone like Joshua Micah Marshall versus John Hinderaker would be fascinating because both are partisans, but they’re intelligent partisans who aren’t afraid to get into deeper discussions than “my candidate is good and yours sucks.”

While the Kos/Rove matchup could be interesting, Newsweek is taking the easy way out. After a while, the same old fights get boring. Then again, I suspect that if this works it will be because of the NASCAR effect: people will watch to see what happens when somebody ends up crashing all over the guardrail. There’s a certain amount of appeal in that, but Crossfire this ain’t…

UPDATE: Power Line has the best take on the pairing:

The two are perfectly matched. Rove led the Republican party to ascendancy in the state of Texas. He then helped steer George W. Bush to the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, and managed Bush’s two successful general election campaigns.

Markos helped spearhead Howard Dean’s march to the Democratic nomination in 2004. Then, in 2006, he was instrumental in unseating Sen. Joseph Lieberman. More recently, Markos was the first to realize that Mark Warner would emerge as the frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic nomination.

Apart from ideology, the only difference I perceive is that Rove surely writes better than Markos.


Shattered Glass Redux?

Even after the Steven Glass embarrassment, The New Republic once again faces yet another major journalistic scandal. Earlier this year they published pieces by a “Baghdad Diarist” and “Scott Thomas” that talked of how US soldiers abused Iraqis, killed dogs and insulted a woman horribly disfigured in an IED blast. His piece, entitled “Shock Troops” was designed to paint a terrible picture of how US soldiers were cracking under the horrors of war. Those in the military immediately latched on to gaping holes in the stories, such as the fact that heavy Bradley fighting vehicles couldn’t be driven in such a way as to swerve to hit things. The questions mounted as The New Republic and its editor, Franklin Foer, continued to stall.

The Baghdad Diarist was revealed to be a Pvt. Scott Beauchamp, who did serve in Iraq, but began to quickly change his story. First, he admitted that the story about the burned woman didn’t occur in Iraq, but claimed it had occurred in Kuwait. This admission itself undercut the whole point of his story that the Iraq War was turning soldiers into monsters. Beauchamp also happened to be married to a TNR staffer, Elspeth Reeve.

Now, it appears that his story is falling completely apart. An Army investigation into the matter has revealed absolutely no evidence that any of his stories were true. No other witnesses, no corroborating evidence, and findings that Beauchamp wanted to the next Hemingway and had manipulated the truth to get there.

This report, along with other evidence uncovered by Matt Drudge paints a very damning picture. Beauchamp himself doesn’t stick by his stories, and understandably doesn’t want anything more to do with the story. He doesn’t directly confess to TNR, but the Army’s Article 15 papers indicates that he has confessed and the Army has found that a preponderance of evidence supports his stories being false.

In short, TNR got hoodwinked again. They fell for someone who told them the stories that matched the biases, and they didn’t bother to check. After all, “Scott Thomas'” allegations fit their particular worldview. They had no way of knowing that his story was false since so few journalists have any military experience and tend to be lazy in checking facts. So they ran with the story, defended in from the initial attacks and dug in against their critics.

One would think that TNR would have learned from the Steven Glass scandal—but sadly, they seem to have made the same mistake again. What this means for the future of TNR is not yet known. However, their credibility has been destroyed not once, but twice now. The numerous journalistic scandals of the past few years only highlight the need for substantial reform in American journalism. The question then becomes whether or not it will take even greater collapses and scandals before professional journalists get the message.