Snow Job: When "Conservative Journalism" Is Just Purposeful Propaganda

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

The charge was negligent homicide.

Incensed by a New York Post "exclusive" last winter about "arrogant" union sanitation workers who purposefully failed to plow local streets in the aftermath of a crippling blizzard in order to protest department budget cuts, some members of the GOP Noise Machine, having whipped themselves into a union-hating frenzy, suggested the worker were actually guilty of criminal misconduct.

The Post's plow story, which was thoroughly debunked by a just-completed city investigation, and which the right-wing media now remain universally silent about, presents us with a depressing case study of how so-called "conservative journalism" often works today. (And especially how Rupert Murdoch-bankrolled journalism works.)

As illustrated by the Post's hollow, union bashing "exclusive," as well as by the far-right press' feral hyping of the concocted story, conservative journalism is often nothing more than sloppy propaganda designed to deceive and to inflame partisan passions. It' a nasty brand of misinformation and operates outside any discernible ethical guidelines, which accounts for its fleeting interesting in truthful reporting, as well as its dedicated lack of accountability.

In the wake of the Anthony Weiner scandal, members of the conservative media are demanding respect for getting the story right. But they're conveniently forgetting about a whole laundry list of previous smear campaigns they peddled and have never apologized for.

This was the Post's outlandish claim:

Selfish Sanitation Department bosses from the snow-slammed outer boroughs ordered their drivers to snarl the blizzard cleanup to protest budget cuts — a disastrous move that turned streets into a minefield for emergency-services vehicles, The Post has learned.

New York's Strongest used a variety of tactics to drag out the plowing process -- and pad overtime checks -- which included keeping plows slightly higher than the roadways and skipping over streets along their routes, the sources said.

Keep in mind that city investigators have now determined that virtually nothing in the Post's breathless "exclusive" was accurate.

In other words, it was a hoax.

That finding is hardly a surprise considering the Post's "exclusive" was built around anonymous sources. The key sources were a handful of nameless union workers who supposedly spilled the beans of the slowdown plan to a local Republican city councilman, Dan Halloran. It appeared the daily never actually interviewed those sources, but rather interviewed Halloran, who relayed what the nameless sources supposedly told him.

Suffice it to say there's not a legitimate newsroom in America that would publish or broadcast a news story based on the type of flimsy second-and third-hand sources the Post relied on for its plow gotcha. (The sourcing was so weak that the city's current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and the city's former mayor, Rudy Giuliani, both dismissed the slowdown allegations.)

But among those who practice "conservative journalism," the Post allegation was immediately reported as fact. Fox News dubbed the Post report be a "huge," "incredible" story. (Bill O'Reilly applauded the "fine work" News Corp journalists had done on the plow story.) Appearing on Fox, Wall Street Journal columnist Steven Moore called the fictitious slowdown "despicable" and blamed workers for "putting people's lives on the line." More also warned that similar types of retaliation tactics by unions would be adopted nationwide.

Online, the Post hoax went off like a firecracker. Bloggers loved the angle of evil union workers who tried to screw over the citizens of New York City during the community's time of need.

And these:

- NYC Union Bosses Intentionally Slowed Blizzard Cleanup to Protest Budget Cuts…

- Selfish New York City Sanitation workers planned their slow response to the record snowfall as a protest for budget cuts.

- Sanitation workers neglected snowpocalypse to protest Mayor

- Union Deliberately Did Not Plow Snow in NY as Protest

Remember, there was no union slowdown. It didn't exist. The New York Post, with the help of a local Republican politician, simply invented the story. Then, not content to simply spread the smear, some right-wing bloggers, overcome by their disdain for union workers, suggested city employees were guilty of crimes for their (non-existent) slowdown.

From the blogger known as Patterico:

How is this not criminally negligent homicide on the part of every person who slowed down the snow removal on purpose?

The misguided blogger urged that a grand jury be convened so criminal charges could be brought up against the union employees.

An Andrew Breitbart blogger also jumped to criminalize New York's blue-collar union employees who worked endless hours trying to help the city recover from the historic blizzard:

Plain and simple: the union leaders who called for the job action should be charged with negligent homicide.

And this time, their utter selfishness may have contributed to the deaths of two innocent people.

Meanwhile, at the Washington Examiner, J.P. Freire denounced the distant sanitation workers as "craven" "thugs" who used "intimidation and retaliatory tactics to fill their wallets and negotiate." His colleague Mark Hemingway condemned the slowdown as representing "a callous indifference to human life."

To date though, the Washington Examiner has not acknowledged the New York Post's plow story was a fake.

Same with National Reviews Online's Jim Geraghty. Last winter he announced unequivocally, "A public sector union just refused to perform their duties in a snow emergency to make a point about a contract."

That allegation was unequivocally false. Yet since the city's plow report was released last week debunking that claim, Geraghty hasn't bothered to address the bogus allegation he made against union workers last winter.

There's no question the conservative movement's oversized disdain for unions drove the story last winter as the Post "exclusive" seemed to confirm the right-wing fantasy about how union workers have become all-powerful forces of evil in the American workplace.

Problem was, the story just wasn't true.

Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets couldn't resist the right-wing siren call last winter. CNN jumped on the bogus story, claiming that, "rumors swirled across New York" that sanitation officers had ordered workers to slow down cleanup efforts in retaliation for the city's belt-tightening measures. But since when is CNN in the business of reporting on "rumors"?

Telling: After reading the Post "exclusive," CNN producers still only considered the story to be a rumor. (That's how thin the sourcing was.) That alone should have been the red flag that kept CNN from chasing and promoting the bogus right-wing smear. Instead, as the Post hype spread last winter, a CNN anchor assured viewers the channel would be providing "hour-by-hour" updates.

To its credit, CNN.com published a report late last week detailing how the city investigation found no evidence of an organized plowing slowdown last year. The same cannot be side for most "conservative journalism" players, though. They have no interest in acknowledging the obvious errors they made, and the lies they spread about union workers.

Network/Outlet
New York Post, Washington Examiner, National Review Online
Person
Rupert Murdoch
Dropfox
NewsCorp Outrages
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.