• Suddenly conservatives determine the boundaries of good taste?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Talk about being unqualified for the job. But in the wake of the Wanda Sykes (zzzz) controversy, the right-wing has morphed into a Victorian outpost, where people just don't say those kinds of things.

    At the WSJ, James Taranto is quite upset that liberals (including that "smug" Obama!) laughed at two jokes that Taranto and the rest of the GOP humor police have decided should not have been laughed at.

    Taranto then unintentionally provides some comic relief himself as he patiently explains why the Limbaugh jokes were so awful:

    Why do liberals find this joke funny when they should find it embarrassing? The answer, it seems clear, is that this is an example of shock humor: a genre that relies on the frisson of violating taboos. By our count, Sykes runs afoul of five taboos in her Limbaugh joke: She equates dissent with treason. She likens a domestic political opponent to a foreign enemy. She makes fun of the disabled (Limbaugh's past addiction to painkillers would entitle him to protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act). She makes light of a form of interrogation that some people consider torture. And she wishes somebody dead.

    The comedy gold, of course, is that Taranto unwittingly describes, point-for-point, the Rush Limbaugh show as its been heard for nearly two decades. But over that 20 years time, how many times has Taranto taken to the Op-ed town hall to tsk-tsk Limbaugh's brand of hateful humor? This is just a guess, but I'm guessing it's a bullseye: ZERO.

    When Limbaugh or the GOP Noise Machine equates dissent with treason, likens political opponents to a foreign arm, mocks the disabled (paging Michael J. Fox), makes fun of interrogation and wishes somebody dead, it's funny and insightful. But when a liberal comedian does it, guess what? It's the end of the world as we know it.

    Thanks for the hollow lecture, James, but we'll pass.

  • John Yoo's hiring was probably inevitable

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    In 2007, Media Matters released a study showing that newspapers run far more columns by conservative syndicated columnists than by progressives:

    Sixty percent of the nation's daily newspapers print more conservative syndicated columnists every week than progressive syndicated columnists. Only 20 percent run more progressives than conservatives, while the remaining 20 percent are evenly balanced.

    In a given week, nationally syndicated progressive columnists are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of 125 million. Conservative columnists, on the other hand, are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of more than 152 million.

    But, as the news that the Philadelphia Inquirer has hired John Yoo as a columnist reminds us, the numbers only tell half the story. There's a huge qualitative difference between the conservatives given newspaper columns and their progressive counterparts as well. The conservatives tend to be more partisan, more aggressive, and more reliable advocates for their "team."

    The Washington Post employs as a columnist Bill Kristol, a hyperpartisan neocon Republican strategist who has been a key player in GOP efforts to block health care and start unnecessary wars. Who is supposed to be Kristol's counterpart? Richard Cohen, who opposes affirmative action, supports torture, and attacked liberals who opposed Kristol's war in Iraq?

    On the right, the noxious Karl Rove and the monstrous John Yoo have high-profile columns. Who on the left is even remotely comparable to these two? Nobody with the platform they have, that's for sure.

    It should be obvious how this skews the public discourse: the leftmost voices in the media are fairly moderate, while the rightmost voices are bloodthirsty war criminals advocates of unnecessary wars and immoral torture enhanced interrogation*.

    Actually, as Cohen reminds us today, many of the supposedly "liberal" columnists favor baseless wars and torture, too. When the people major newspapers try to pass off as their liberal columnists support the policies of Karl Rove and John Yoo, it really shouldn't be much of a surprise that eventually papers would go straight to the source and hire Rove and Yoo themselves.

    * Don't want to get sued!

  • Bob Herbert vs. Richard Cohen

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Richard Cohen, last week:

    For most Americans, race has become supremely irrelevant. Everyone knows this. Every poll shows this. Maybe the Supreme Court will recognize this.

    I don't know if Bob Herbert's excellent column today was meant to be a response to Cohen. Indeed, I rather doubt it. But Cohen's remarkably optimistic assessment came to mind while reading Herbert:

    [T]he press is still very color conscious in the way it goes about covering murder. Editors may not be asking, "What color is that victim?" But, on some level, they're still thinking it.

    Which is why we've heard so little about an awful story out of Chicago. Some three dozen public school students have been murdered since the school year began, most of them shot to death. These children and teenagers have been killed in a wide variety of settings and situations — while riding a city bus, playing in parks, sitting in the back seats of cars, in gang disputes, in robberies, in the crossfire of sidewalk shootouts.

    It's an immense and continuing tragedy. But these were nearly all African-American or Latino kids, so the coverage has been scant.

    In contrast, the news media gave the public enormous amounts of information about the Wesleyan student, Johanna Justin-Jinich, and — in another big story — about Julissa Brisman, the masseuse who had advertised on Craigslist and was killed in a Boston hotel room last month.

    It's a searing double-standard that tells us volumes about the ways in which we view one another, and whose lives are considered to have value in this society and whose are not. Another disturbing aspect of the coverage is the extreme prurient interest that drives it. The press goes wild over stories about murderous attacks on women who are young, attractive and white.

    Read the rest.

  • The Red Scare Index:29

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Here is today's daily Red Scare Index -- our search of CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, MSNBC and CNBC for uses of the following terms: Socialism, Socialist, Socialists, Socialistic, Communism, Communist, Communists, Communistic, Marxism, Marxist, Marxists, Marxistic, Fascism, Fascist, Fascists and Fascistic.

    Here are the numbers for yesterday, Monday, May 11, 2009:

    TOTAL: 29
    Socialism, Socialist, Socialistic: 18
    Communism, Communist, Communistic: 3
    Marxism/Marxist: 1
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 7

    By Network:

    CNN: 1
    Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 1
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 0
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 0

    CNN Headline News: 0
    Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 0
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 0
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 0

    Fox News Channel: 6
    Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 4
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 0
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 1
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 1

    Fox Business Network: 18
    Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 12
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 2
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 4

    MSNBC: 0
    Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 0
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 0
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 0

    CNBC: 4
    Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 1
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 1
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 2

    The above numbers are the result of a power search for these terms on these networks.

  • How much is the Philadelphia Inquirer paying John Yoo?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Bush's torture memo man is now an Inquirer columnist. Coming on the heels of the revelation that the Inquirer pays former GOP senator Rick Santorum $1,750 to write a quickie column, which is about five times the going rate for that kind of work, we have to wonder how much is the Inquirer paying Woo?

    Of course, lots of people are wondering why the Inquirer is paying Yoo anything at all. And why the newspaper would want somebody as tainted and discredited as Yoo pontificating on the Op-ed pages.

    Writing at the crosstown Philly Daily News, Will Bunch sums up the mess:

    Most famously, Yoo was known as the author of the infamous "torture memos" that in 2002 and 2003 gave the Bush and Cheney the legal cover to violate the human rights of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, based on the now mostly ridiculed claim that international and U.S. laws against such torture practices did not apply. Working closely with Dick Cheney, Cheney's staff and others, Yoo set into motion the brutal actions that left a deep, indelible stain on the American soul....As an American citizens, I am still reeling from the knowledge that our government tortured people in my name. As a journalist, the fact that my byline and John Yoo's are now rolling off the same printing press is adding insult to injury.

    Only in our "liberal media," would a resume like Yoo's land him a perch at a prestigious newspaper.

  • Buchanan cites "record cold temperatures" to claim "that global warning [sic] is a crock"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    From Buchanan's May 11 World Net Daily column:

    More and more Americans are coming to conclude, after the record cold temperatures in many cities this winter, that global warning is a crock - that there is no conclusive proof it is happening, no conclusive proof man is the cause, no conclusive proof it would be a calamity for us or the polar bears.

  • Fox News, please define "gets a pass"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Fox News has been among those playing up the story of comedian Wanda Sykes' jabs at Rush Limbaugh during her stand-up routine at the White House Correspondents Association dinner this weekend. News anchor Trace Gallagher wonders why Sykes "gets a pass" for her nasty jabs about Limbaugh being a terrorist with a suspect kidney, while CBS golf analyst David Feherty was forced to apologize for suggesting U.S. soldiers, if given the chance, would killer Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Sen. Harry Reid.

    Gallagher suggested the treatment of Sykes and Feherty wasn't fair, and that Sykes had gotten off easy in the wake of her controversial statement, yet there had been "a load of outrage," following Feherty's comments.

    The comparison doesn't hold up for a number of reasons. First, how, exactly, has Sykes gotten a pass? Her jabs were immediately seized upon by conservatives who have waged a nearly non-stop campaign against her. How does being vilified all over the Internet, in print, as well as on cable TV, constitute getting a pass? And despite Gallagher's misinformation about how Sykes' Limbaugh lines generated big laughs, audible boos were heard inside the hotel ball room, no doubt coming from the Limbaugh supporters. But now for entertainers, getting booed mid-act qualifies as receiving "a pass"?

    What's frustrating conservatives, I think, is that golf announced Feherty chose to apologize for his bizarre comments, in which he painted a sort of right-wing militia fantasy of the U.S. military staging a mini, anti-Democratic Party coup inside the nation's capitol by murdering key leaders.

    When a network sports announcer paints that kind of public, violent portrait of murdering politicians, he's likely going to have to apologize if he wants to keep his job. But when a comedian at a roast makes jokes about a highly controversial and partisan figure who has made all kinds of hateful, disparaging remarks about the president, that performers not likely going to have to apologize.

    That's why the debate about who gets "a pass" remains a pointless one.

  • Another reason not to trust the British press

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    And especially its Beltway correspondents. Because they often don't adhere to common journalism standards (i.e they make stuff up), and the GOP Noise Machine often uses their shoddy 'reports' to attack Democrats.

    Latest example of sub-par offerings comes courtesy of the Sunday Telegraph with an article that carries provocative headline and virtually no proof to back the claim up [emphasis added]:

    Barack Obama's rich supporters fear his tax plans show he's a class warrior: Some of Barack Obama's richest supporters fear they have elected a "class warrior" to the White House, who will turn America's freewheeling capitalism into a more regulated European system.

    Yikes, Obama's rich supporters are in revolt. That would make for an interesting piece of journalism if the Sunday Telegraph, y'know, actually bothered to locate any of Obama's rich supporters who felt that way. But the daily can't, so it just muddles its way through.

    Again, the entire premise is that Obama's backers are angry at the new president's supposed hard left turn. But in a nation of 300 million, the Telegraph can't find a single American to quote by name who backs up the newspaper's "revolt" angle. (In real newspapers, that's when articles like this get spiked by editors.)

    In fact, the entire article only contains two blind "rich supporter" quotes knocking Obama, and they come from God's-know-what-type-of-sources the Telegraph uses. And yes, to my ear the quotes have a certain Drudge-like quality. i.e. Blind quotes that are a bit too good to be true.

    But who cares if the Telegraph has no standards? The Noise Machine loves the headline, so it the passed the article all around the web, which of course will only encourage Telegraph reporters to keep concocting awful journalism like this.

  • Was "swine flu" coverage actually excessive?

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Nearly everyone seems to agree it was. Here's Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, for example, in an online discussion today:

    Howard Kurtz: I think there's been almost no soul-searching over this. The swine flu story has now virtually vanished, from television at least, without so much as an acknowledgment that the media played a crucial role in pumping it up. It's like Emily Litella: never mind.

    .... here's what I said yesterday:

    I have good news to report this morning. We're not all going to die...

    The tone and the volume were just out of proportion to what we knew about the outbreak. Of course it was a story that people were interested in, that journalists had to cover, that had the potential to turn into a public health crisis. But the key word is "potential."

    Even as medical reporters sounded cautionary notes, the saturation coverage turned excessive, even scary. And then, well, the thing fizzled...

    I can't tell you how many people have complained to me about what they see as the media's wild overreaction on swine flu. Whatever short-term bump you might get in the ratings is outweighed by a loss of confidence among news consumers, and there's no vaccine for that.

    But just because the swine flu didn't kill half the country doesn't mean the coverage was excessive.

    Let's say a virus exists, and the medical and scientific communities agree with absolute certainty that the virus will wipe out half the population if people behave as they typically do ... but that it could also be stopped if people took some basic precautions, like washing their hands and staying home if they are sick, so as not to infect their schools and offices. And let's say the news media reported all of that. And, given the potential severity of the situation, they reported it a lot. And in response, people would wash their hands a little more often than usual, and stay home from work and school if they felt sick.

    The result would be that, despite all the media coverage suggesting we could all die, nothing much would seem to happen.

    And that would be exactly how you would want it to play out.

    The fact that half the country didn't end up dead wouldn't mean that the media hadn't done it's job. It would mean that the media had done its job very well - it had made the public aware of vital information in time for the public to act upon that information.

    Is that what happened? I don't know. But Kurtz, and many others, aren't even considering the question of what would have happened had the media downplayed the story, or what could have happened.

    They're just concluding that, because millions of people aren't dead, the media did something wrong.

    That's an odd way to assess things, to say the least.

    There is no shortage of things the media obsess over that they shouldn't. Lipstick-on-a-pig political "controversies," for example. Shark attacks. Crimes involving missing (rich, white, cute) children. Things that have virtually no potential to significantly affect anyone other than the very few people directly involved. But we shouldn't be so quick to assume H1N1 was one of them.

    (Kurtz, if memory serves, has in the past criticized wall-to-wall media coverage of things like shark attacks and runaway brides.)