• Reporters make choices

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Steve Benen:

    It's rather amusing to listen to major media figures ponder the question of whether John McCain will be able to successfully change the subject away from the economy and towards controversial figures Barack Obama has met. It's entertaining, of course, because the media figures treat this as something they have nothing to do with -- as if the political discourse is some kind of independent animal, which news outlets are powerless to control.

    The reality is, McCain wants the political world to obsess over the three-headed Ayers-Rezko-Wright monster, and it will be successful if the media decides the three-headed monster is suddenly newsworthy. There's no great mystery here. In fact, the pundits' speculation is silly -- if they follow McCain's orders, and talk about what he wants them to talk about, McCain's plan will be a triumph; if not, it won't.


    The thing a lot of journalists don't seem to understand is that they don't have to cover attacks about Bill Ayers.

    If they have concluded that Obama's non-friendship with a Chicago education activist who did controversial things 40 years ago when Obama was a child isn't as important as, say, the economy, there's nothing compelling them to cover Ayers. Nothing at all. The fact that John McCain or his surrogates want reporters to talk about Ayers doesn't mean they have to do so. "Journalism" doesn't mean "doing what John McCain wants you to do."

    Candidates say thousands of words every day. The media ignores the vast majority of them. What makes MSNBC think they are required to broadcast the couple of dozen words Sarah Palin says about Bill Ayers? Particularly when she said the same couple of dozen words yesterday, too?

    So we have the bizarre situation where reporters talk about things like Bill Ayers, all the while suggesting that things like Ayers are "distractions." Right! So ... stop!

    If a reporter honestly thinks that with fewer than 30 days to go before election day -- and with early voting already underway in many states -- Bill Ayers is one of the most important things for voters to hear about, fine. He or sh should cover Ayers. But reporters who think that the economy, health care, war, terrorism, and the Constitution are more important should just cover those things. It doesn't matter if the candidates aren't talking about them -- reporters don't work for campaigns.

    Is that really so hard to understand?

  • Is Glenn Beck still on TV?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The right-wing talker's CNN Headline News ratings continue to embarrass.

    Look at the latest numbers from Friday night. Among total viewers, Beck attracted an audience of 304,000, which meant he got absolutely crushed by his time slot competitors, MSNBC's Chris Matthews (953,000), CNN's Lou Dobbs (1,204,000) and Fox News' Shep Smith (2,032,000).

  • Town Hall Sham

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Matt Yglesias points out that tonight's debate may be a "Town Hall," but moderator Tom Brokaw, not the audience, will pick the questions:

    In essence, Tom Brokaw and his staff will be asking the questions. They're sifting through a big group of people, and their pre-set questions, and picking the questions they like. Meanwhile, though, Brokaw and co. get to evade responsibility for the questions if people don't like them — it was real people asking! And no followups, so if John McCain gets a question about his plan to cut Medicare and wants to give an answer about Bill Ayers, nobody can stop him.

    Remember: Brokaw was the McCain camp's choice to moderate this debate -- and is NBC's liaison to the GOP candidate.

  • The end is near (for cable news)

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    While airing portions of John McCain's stump speech on Monday, CNN temporarily replaced the news ticker on the bottom of the screen with the running text of Twitter messages ("We're in deep doo-doo") that viewers were sending anchor Rick Sanchez.

    No joke. Look for yourself.

  • Richard Cohen won't name names

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    That's why it's called a club. As in the Beltway media club.

    Cohen's column in the WaPo today takes the press to task for being too easy on Sarah Palin's debate performance. He stresses that if, for instance, Sen. Hillary Clinton had done the things Palin did during her forum with Joe Biden (i.e. winking at the camera), the press would have unleashed non-stop ridicule.

    We don't argue with that point. But here's the telling part of Cohen's column:

    I could quote the hosannas of some of my colleagues, but I spare them the infamy that will surely follow them to their graves.

    Cohen thinks the press failed at its job in covering Palin but he won't name any names because that might be mean. No wonder the standards for Beltway journalism seem to be evaporating. Journalists have no fear of ever being held accountable by their peers.

  • Jerome Corsi's Kenya woes

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The anti-Obama author recently flew to Kenya, where Obama's father was born, to launch his book, file daily dispatches, and probe Obama's alleged ties to the country's prime minister. But Kenyan officials picked Corsi up at his hotel and are detaining him because he reportedly does have a proper work permit. The AP reports:

    Jerome Corsi, who wrote "The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality," was being held at immigration headquarters in Nairobi.

    Corsi was invited to Kenya by Christian missionaries, concerned about the rise of Islam there.

  • Conservative media and marketplace woes, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Want to know why the right-wing "comedy" An American Carol flopped so spectacularly at the box office over the weekend? It's not because, as one critic wrote, the movie "is about as not-funny as a comedy can get."

    It was because there was a Hollywood conspiracy in play to defraud the anti-liberal film. It's true, movie theaters purposefully failed to count all the American Carol tickets sold!

    If you still have your ticket stub you can go here and report any funny business. And rest easy, the movie's producers "are investigating."

  • Why does MSNBC call Bill Ayers "Willie"?

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Earlier today, MSNBC ran this chyron:

    MSNBC 'Willie' Ayers

    "Race gets personal: Willie Ayers & Keating 5 are latest topics on trail."

    But Ayers' name isn't "Willie" Ayers, it's "William" Ayers. Or "Bill" Ayers. Nobody calls him "Willie."

    So what's with MSNBC's chyron? Maybe they were just trying to save space? No, that can't be it - "Willie Ayers" takes up more screen real estate than "Bill Ayers." Strange.

    Strange enough that we can't help recall another "William" who became "Willie" during an election year: William J. Horton. Kathleen Hall Jamieson has explained:

    Although his given name is William, he calls himself William, court records cite him as William, a July 1988 Reader's Digest article identifies him as William J. Horton, Jr.,and press reports prior to the Republican ad and speech blitz name him "William," the Bush campaign and its supporting PACs identified the furloughed convict as "Willie" Horton. Even the crusading anti-Dukakis newspaper that won a Pulitzer Prize for its expose on the furlough program consistently identifies Horton as William Horton or William Horton, Jr. When the Maryland man who was stabbed by the furloughed convict contacted the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, he too referred to Horton as William Horton. In his account of the attack in the PAC ad, however, that man, Clifford Barnes, instead identifies the convict as "Willie" Horton.

    One might trace the familiar "Willie" to the naming practices of slavemasters, to our patterns of talk about gangsters, or to the sort of benign paternalism that afflicts adults around small children. Whatever its origin, in discussions of murder, kidnapping, and rape, "Willie" summons more sinister images of criminality than does "William." After all, it wasn't J. "Eddie" Hoover who hunted down "Alphonse" Capone. And during his trial, the person to that point known as Willie Smith was identified by family and attorney as either William or Will. After his acquittal on charges of rape, the family reverted to the name by which he had been known before the trial.

    The televised PAC ad titled "Weekend Prison Passes," as well as the PAC ads featuring Horton's victims, all refer to him as "Willie Horton." When his mug shot appears on the screen of "Weekend Prison Passes," the name under it reads "Willie Horton." Reporters reduced Dukakis on crime to the Republican sculpted image of "Willie Horton." In news reports, "Willie" Horton's name was mentioned more often by reporters than by George Bush or any of his representatives. Use of dramatic, coherent narrative increases the likelihood of recall. Once the Horton narrative was embedded in public consciousness, mention of his name should have been sufficient to evoke the entire story.