Campaign 2008, Media, Politics

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.


Hillary Shillery

Jonah Goldberg notes yet another case of Media Matters vigorously defending Hillary Clinton. He asks the key questions:

So here’s the question. The M&Mers insist they aren’t a mouthpiece for Hillary, but a “progressive” non-profit something or other. So why are they constantly carrying water for Hillary? This email doesn’t advance progressive causes. Indeed, by most accountings these days, Hillary’s the least progressive candidate on that stage (I’m not persuaded by those arguments, but that is the message the Clintonites want out there and it’s the one MM peddles whenever Hillary is dubbed too leftwing). Wouldn’t a truly progressive organization, not interested in partisan politics or advancing Hillary’s campaign, be more interested in pressing Hillary to answer the questions asked of her? Couldn’t a progressive truth-squad salute Russert for holding Hillary’s feet to the fire? The answer is, of course. But the reality is that Media Matters is a Hillary pitbull first, a Democratic mouthpiece second, a vanity project for Brock third and somewhere past that it might be something like a watchdog group.

The idea that it’s beyond the pale for Russert to focus on Sen. Clinton, who so happens to be leading the rest of the pack by 20%+ in most polls, doesn’t even pass the smell test. Of course she’s going to be the focus. It is not unfair for the press to ask tough questions of any candidate, no less a candidate whose chances of getting the Democratic nomination appear so strong.

The fact that Media Matters happens to be run by a host of ex-Clinton operatives and that it happens to be funded by a host of ex-Clinton operatives is one thing. But when it starts vigorously defending Clinton in the way they do, it demonstrates that those aren’t mere coincidences. Media Matters is not a 501(c)(3) organization, it is not a “progressive think tank,” it is a campaign organization and should be treated as such.

Idiotarianism, Media

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.


The Truth About The Jena 6

A local reporter takes a look at the web of deceit surrounding the case of the Jena 6, a case that has been frequently used to show how racist American society has become. What the reporter finds is that the media twisted the facts, failed to get the whole story, and let the narrative of racism influence how they reported on the events in Jena:

The media got most of the basics wrong. In fact, I have never before witnessed such a disgrace in professional journalism. Myths replaced facts, and journalists abdicated their solemn duty to investigate every claim because they were seduced by a powerfully appealing but false narrative of racial injustice.

I should know. I live in Jena. My wife has taught at Jena High School for many years. And most important, I am probably the only reporter who has covered these events from the very beginning.

The reason the Jena cases have been propelled into the world spotlight is two-fold: First, because local officials did not speak publicly early on about the true events of the past year, the media simply formed their stories based on one-side’s statements – the Jena 6. Second, the media were downright lazy in their efforts to find the truth. Often, they simply reported what they’d read on blogs, which expressed only one side of the issue.

The real story of Jena and the Jena 6 is quite different from what the national media presented. It’s time to set the record straight.

This isn’t surprising. We saw the same dynamic play out with the Duke rape case, in which the media immediately accepted the narrative that the white lacrosse players were rapists and the black stripper was the victim. It plays directly into their preconceptions of a racist America. When the truth finally came out, there was no evidence of rape, the Duke players had been railroaded, and the media had misinformed the American public.

Is Jena the same way? If this reporter’s account is accurate, it certainly seems that way. The media once again came in with their preconceptions and molded their reporting around the story that they wanted to tell.

In a democracy, we cannot have a media that deliberately manipulates the facts to bring out only the story that they think is important. Such racial bias has already ruined the lives of several Duke lacrosse players, and now the same dynamic is playing out in Jena once again. Picking at the wounds of real racial animus doesn’t advance the cause of racial justice and equality in this country—and in the media’s zeal to try to shape events rather than report on them, they’ve abandoned their objectivity.


The Parallel Universe In Which We Live

Independent journalist Michael Yon has some pointed criticisms of the way in which the reality of life in Iraq is unrecognizably twisted by the media, meaning that the American people rarely get the real story of what is going on over there:

I was at home in the United States just one day before the magnitude hit me like vertigo: America seems to be under a glass dome which allows few hard facts from the field to filter in unless they are attached to a string of false assumptions. Considering that my trip home coincided with General Petraeus’ testimony before the US Congress, when media interest in the war was (I’m told) unusually concentrated, it’s a wonder my eardrums didn’t burst on the trip back to Iraq. In places like Singapore, Indonesia, and Britain people hardly seemed to notice that success is being achieved in Iraq, while in the United States, Britney was competing for airtime with O.J. in one of the saddest sideshows on Earth.

No thinking person would look at last year’s weather reports to judge whether it will rain today, yet we do something similar with Iraq news. The situation in Iraq has drastically changed, but the inertia of bad news leaves many convinced that the mission has failed beyond recovery, that all Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence, or are waiting for us to leave so they can crush their neighbors. This view allows our soldiers two possible roles: either “victim caught in the crossfire” or “referee between warring parties.” Neither, rightly, is tolerable to the American or British public.

Today I am in Iraq, back in a war of such strategic consequence that it will affect generations yet unborn—whether or not they want it to. Hiding under the covers will not work, because whether it is good news or bad, whether it is true or untrue, once information is widely circulated, it has such formidable inertia that public opinion seems impervious to the corrective balm of simple and clear facts.

There are a couple of factors which seem to be at play here. The first is that the media is simply lazy. Iraqi politics, Middle Eastern culture, the interplay between Sunni and Shi’ite, the tortured history of the region, all of these factors are important to a full understanding of the war, and all of them are incredibly complex. How does one distill all of that down to a 3 minute news piece? The simple answer is that it’s impossible. So the media “dumbs it down”—the media portrays the situation in Iraq as being about Shi’ites and Sunnis who hate each other and can’t get along, and the US is stuck in the middle. Of course, that’s an incredibly simplistic picture. For example, it clashes with the fact that many Iraqi tribes and families are mixed Sunni and Shi’ia. But reporting on that would confuse people, and the media constantly panders to the lowest common denominator. So the story is simplified beyond recognition to fit with our soundbite culture.

However, that’s not the only problem. The biggest problem is that the media is largely unified in their political views. More than 90 percent of American reporters are liberal Democrats. The media narrative on the war is that it was unnecessary, a waste, a failure, and everything about it is wrong. That media narrative colors nearly every view of the war. Had a President Gore done the exact same thing with the exact same results, the media would be clamoring for him to win a Nobel Peace Prize. (And by corollary Fox News would undoubtedly be trying to argue that Iraq was a distraction from the real war in Afghanistan.) They’d then have political reason to explore the humanitarian mission in Iraq, one of the most audacious exercises in national benevolence since the Marshall Plan.

Yon is right: America lives in a self-absorbed glass bubble. The media has little interest in breaking that bubble, and it’s up to independent journalists and others to try to get the real story out.

The problem is that societies who are that self-absorbed tend not to live very long. America seems firmly lodged in our >panem et circenses stage. We care more about Britney Spears’ custody battles than the bravery of men like 1st Sgt. Paul Ray Smith. Ultimately, our culture continues to slide because we seem unable to pay more than lip service to the values upon which our culture was founded. Those of us who read Edward Gibbon in school know what happens when a society abandon its values to a kind of social hedonism.

What happens in Iraq, like it or not, will have profound effects on the lives of not only the children of Iraq, but our children as well. By trying to sweep Iraq under the rug, by subordinating the real issues for crude and childish political battles, and by living in deep ignorance of what is really going on, we threaten to let other define our future. Our ignorance and our self-obsession is the greatest weapon groups like al-Qaeda has. In 1993, bin Laden looked at the carnage in Mogadishu and saw a paper tiger, a superpower so risk-averse and so unwilling to fight that a few body bags and a public show of depravity could change its course. Al-Qaeda flourished on that weakness. We dare not prove them right again.