The Drudge Report, NBC News, And Edited Tapes

Blog ››› ››› SOLANGE UWIMANA

Right-wing media attacked NBC News and MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell for not airing a 1998 tape of President Obama on Wednesday before the network could authenticate it, accusing NBC of a "double standard" and of being a subsidiary of the Obama administration.

In fact, in seeking to verify the full context of what Obama said 14 years ago, comments first publicized by the Drudge Report and subsequently distorted by right-wing media, NBC News was doing exactly what is required of news organizations: checking the facts.

On September 18, the Drudge Report linked to an edited video of then-Sen. Obama saying, "I actually believe in redistribution." Right-wing media then jumped on the video to attack Obama as a socialist, while Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney used it to deflect from his comments that the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income tax "are victims" and claimed "they will vote for [President Obama] no matter what."

The next day, discussing the Drudge tape on her MSNBC show, Mitchell stated:

MITCHELL: Let's explain this redistribution issue because we have not authenticated this 14-year-old tape from Loyola college when Barack Obama was a state senator. So because we have not independently, at NBC News and MSNBC, authenticated it, we're not airing it.

But the basic issue is, they're accusing President Obama, as John Sununu said to me yesterday, of class warfare.

In an email to Politico, an NBC News spokesperson added:

"In any instance like this -- regardless of the source or topic -- NBC News Standards will issue guidance instructing broadcasts to not air content unless or until we can determine that it is authentic, unedited, and not taken out of context."

Mitchell and NBC were immediately attacked. 

Over a clip of Mitchell's comments, a Fox Nation headline, written in all caps, read: "NO SURPRISE: NBC DOUBLE STANDARD -- ROMNEY SECRET TAPE FAIR GAME, OBAMA REDISTRIBUTION TAPE NOT." In a post highlighting Mitchell's comments, NewsBusters accused Mitchell of a "double standard," writing:

Apparently Todd and Mitchell believe that the Obama campaign's lack of denial over the authenticity of the audio isn't enough evidence to justify playing the audio on their network. Unsurprisingly, NBC had no problem rushing to play a video obtained by the liberal Mother Jones and plastering the video all over their networks, even though it was clearly placed in a liberal publication to further an anti-Romney feeding frenzy in the media.

Rush Limbaugh seized on Mitchell's comments as a sign that the media were in the tank for Obama, trying to "make the reality" -- that Romney is losing the presidential race -- "occur." He added: "I shudder to think what's going to happen when he loses. Will they accept it? Will they refuse to leave? Will they -- lookit, we know about these reporters, at least the reporters for Pravda, Izvestia, they had an excuse. They could be sent to the Gulags if they didn't do the right thing. These guys are doing it on their own."

On Fox & Friends this morning, co-host Steve Doocy claimed that Mitchell "refused to run it, even though the White House eventually did authenticate it, because she said, I can't verify that it's really him." Contributor Michelle Malkin replied, "Yeah, that's right. I mean, she is a frequent winner of mine of the drool bucket award for Obama, and all of a sudden she puts on this pose of neutrality and objectivity." She added: "It's laughable."

In fact, that's not what Mitchell said. She was referring to the context of Obama's comments, as NBC News told Politico. And it turns out Mitchell was right to be wary.

NBC News reported last night that in an extended version of the 1998 video, Obama speaks positively about competition and the marketplace:

NBC News has obtained the entirety of the relevant remarks, which includes additional comments by Obama that weren't included in the video circulated by Republicans. That omission features additional words of praise for "competition" and the "marketplace" by the then-state senator.

In the whole clip, Obama says:

I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot.  How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities.

[...]

The video circulated by Republicans, which has used as fodder for an attack on Obama, includes a longer reflection by Obama about talking about how government action can be effective. But the clip has been cut short after the word "shot;" Obama's words about competition, the marketplace and innovation are omitted from the clip.

Moreover, there is nothing controversial about Obama's comments, as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein pointed out. In fact, he wrote, "Mitt Romney, like pretty much every other American politicians, believes in redistribution," adding, "Romney might believe in slightly less redistribution than President Obama does, but the idea that he doesn't believe in redistribution is belied by every single thing he has ever said he will do as president, and for that matter, by everything he ever did as governor of Massachusetts."

Conservative critics have also pointed to the fact that Chuck Todd, NBC News' chief White House correspondent, aired the video on his MSNBC show, The Daily Rundown, hours before Mitchell's show. But Politico reported that "the network's standards team had put a hold on the clip, in order to authenticate it, as soon as it was posted to YouTube on Tuesday." Politico continued:

But the next morning, "The Daily Rundown" ran with it anyway, albeit while emphasizing that it was a YouTube clip being touted by the Romney campaign. Following Todd's show, standards reiterated that MSNBC programs should not use the clip until it could be verified -- which it was, but not until shortly after Mitchell's program.

The Washington Post's Erik Wemple has more on how NBC went about its vetting process.

In light of what NewsBusters tried to argue -- that the Drudge Report's actions are comparable to Mother Jones' release of Romney's "47 percent" comments, let's also shine a light on the source here.

Put simply: The Drudge Report is not Mother Jones -- they're not even in the same league. Mother Jones is a liberal publication with real investigative journalists on staff. The Drudge Report, on the other hand, is a right-wing outfit designed to fuel attacks on the Obama administration.

Just this morning, Drudge posted a picture of Obama sitting with a man dressed as a pirate over the headline, "But No Time For Netanyahu..." suggesting that Obama snubbed a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in favor of other things like posing for pirate pictures (false). Except that the picture is three years old -- something Drudge didn't note or simply didn't care to check. (The picture has been removed from the front page.)

But Fox News' Fox & Friends went with it anyway, claiming this morning that the pirate in the photo "got a sit-down in the Oval Office yesterday." The show was forced to retract its reporting, which it did via Twitter. The Associated Press later reported that "Fox had no additional comment."

How many times has the Drudge Report gotten things wrong to promote a false impression of Obama and his administration? Too many to count:

  • Drudge highlighted a headline from the conservative CNS News that read: "Obama: 'I Don't Think Ethics' Was My Favorite Subject." But Obama was discussing what he thought about an ethics class he took in eighth grade.
  • Drudge used an out-of-context headline to mislead readers into thinking that Obama is looking for ways to circumvent Congress, but omitted his comment noting that "we've got laws on the books that have to be upheld."
  • Drudge promoted an article claiming that Obama's father was "categorised with others as 'anti-American and anti-white' when he moved to the United States in 1959." In fact, no one actually labeled Obama's father "anti-white." The term was a generalization about Kenyan students by a British diplomat.
  • Drudge deceptively edited Obama's words to falsely suggest that he proposed additional bailouts or government control of private industry, when in fact, he promoted proposals to keep jobs in the United States.

Also, Drudge has repeatedly hyped stories questioning Obama's U.S. citizenship.

Let's be clear: The Drudge Report isn't a news organization. And the Shirley Sherrod episode should serve as a reminder for news organizations reporting on edited videos culled from right-wing media sites.

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.