Washington Post television writer Tom Shales shares an anecdote:
I have a short antidote. I mean anecdote. Years ago I was phoned & asked to be on some news show, this happened a lot in years past, and first I was quizzed on the topic to be discussed. And what I said essentially was that I thought both sides of the argument had validity and that it wasn't a clear cut black&white issue. Bam - that was the end of THAT conversation. They wanted someone who totally adhered to ONE view or the other, not somebody who could see both sides. I think this is a very real problem that results in a lot of yelling where there should be an "exchange of ideas."
You see this kind of story from time to time -- another variant is the prospective guest whose services are no longer required after it becomes clear that he or she won't take the position the booker wants a guest to take.
The implication of the story is usually clear: Look how hackish television bookers and producers are; how they rig things to get the shoutfest they want, and to get on-air the opinions they want expressed.
But there's another side these stories: The clear implication is that the pundits you see as guests on television are the people who are most willing to play their assigned role; to tailor their actual views to what they think their hosts want them to say.
So the next time you're frustrated that the guest representing the "other" side is lying, or that the guest representing "your" side is ineffectual, remember: They didn't get there by accident.
Can someone please explain how in the world this guy is on television?
That's a very good question Jed. Lest we forget the "most trusted name in news" gave Beck his first show (under its Headline News banner). Fox News apparently loved his special brand of crazy enough to snatch Beck away before his contract had even expired.
Newsbusters thinks AARP's magazine is losing members because it put Bruce Springsteen on its cover. Here's Newsbusters' entire case against that cover:
AARP claims it's a "nonpartisan organization," an assertion increasingly challenged by senior citizens. The magazine's September-October issue may give members more evidence for that conclusion. It carries a cover story on rocker Bruce Springsteen, prominent in the presidential campaigns of both Barack Obama and John Kerry. The piece is adulatory, noting that Springsteen at his upcoming concerts "will play several roles - hero, leader, preacher, rebel - the performances unfolding like a novel."
The magazine devotes several pages to observations from his friends. One is liberal activist Bonnie Raitt:It was an incredible boost when Bruce committed to joining the No Nukes concerts. From the groundbreaking Amnesty International tour, to helping stop Contra aid in the '80s, to a steady stream of benefits, I don't know if any American artist has made as profound a difference.
Other Springsteen friends quoted are author Ron Kovic, Jersey Girl and "truth commission" advocate Kristen Breitweiser, and NewsSenator John Kerry, who states of the singer: "In good times and bad, he had my back. . ."
Odd that Newsbusters didn't identify Ron Kovic as the author of Born on the Fourth of July, isn't it? Given the tendency of conservatives to portray themselves as pro-military and pro-veteran, it's a little odd Newsbusters is complaining about a Purple Heart-winning Marine veteran who fought for better treatment of returning vets being quoted in an article. Then again, Newsbusters left out perhaps the best-known example of Springsteen's activism: the benefit concert he performed that saved Vietnam Veterans of America from financial ruin.
Anyway, count me as skeptical that an article about Bruce Springsteen is going to drive away AARP members.
Richard Cohen is, supposedly, a liberal columnist for the Washington Post. Never mind that he embraced the Iraq war, belittling those who did not buy the Bush administration's trumped-up case for war as "fools or Frenchmen." Never mind his defense of the Bush administration's outting of Valerie Plame, or his defense of Monica Goodling, or his defense of financial services executives who ran their companies into the ground and the business media that stood idly by while it happened, or his outrage that Stephen Colbert dared make fun of President Bush's low approval ratings at the White House correspondents dinner -- or the fact that he didn't seem to mind Bush's jokes at an earlier dinner about failing to find WMD in Iraq.
Never mind all that. Richard Cohen is the Washington Post's idea of a liberal. And Richard Cohen loves him some torture.
Here, Cohen describes the capture of a hypothetical terrorist:
Now he is in American custody. What will happen? How do we get him to reveal his group's plans and the names of his colleagues? It will be hard. It will, in fact, be harder than it used to be. He can no longer be waterboarded. He knows this. He cannot be deprived of more than a set amount of sleep. He cannot be beaten or thrown up against even a soft wall. He cannot be threatened with shooting or even frightened by the prospect of an electric drill. Nothing really can be threatened against his relatives -- that they will be killed or sexually abused.
"Harder than it used to be"? Only if torture works. If torture doesn't work, it may well be easier than it used to be.
Note, also, Cohen's nonchalant descriptions of torture: The repeated use of the word "even," designed to make the tactics (physically assualting a captive, making her think you're going to drill a damn hole in her head) sound like no big deal. A prohibition on making a captive think you're going to rape and murder his seven year old daughter is turned into "nothing really can be threated against his relatives."
Next, Cohen suggests that torture is little more than what New York Times reporter Judith Miller went through: "Special prosecutors are often themselves like interrogators -- they don't know when to stop. They go on and on because, well, they can go on and on. One of them managed to put Judith Miller of The New York Times in jail -- a wee bit of torture right there."
Yes, that's right: Judith Miller's prison sentance -- during which she had to suffer the indignity of her newspaper arriving a day late, leaving her woefully uninformed for her frequent visits from people like Tom Browkaw and Bob Dole -- was kind of like being waterboarded and having your captors threaten to rape and murder your children.
Back to Cohen:
No one can possibly believe that America is now safer because of the new restrictions on enhanced interrogation and the subsequent appointment of a special prosecutor.
Nonsense. If you think torture doesn't work -- and there is a great deal of evidence that it doesn't -- then of course America is safer for not torturing. We no longer waste time on tactics that don't work. We no longer enrage the world by engaging in barbaric and inhuman torture.
Cohen's claim is absurd on its face. But it is also a striking reminder of one of his darkest moments as a columnist:
Richard Cohen, in a column headlined "A Winning Hand For Powell," declared that Powell's presentation "had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise." Cohen was careful to make clear that he based his own conclusion not upon an examination of Powell's arguments and evidence, but on Powell himself: "The clincher ... was the totality of the material and the fact that Powell himself had presented it. In this case, the messenger may have been more important than the message."
Once again, Richard Cohen mistakes his own inability to see through conservative talking points for the truthfulness of those talking points.
Sure, Cohen makes a late assertion of his "abhorrence of torture." But after wading through his spurious claims about torture working, only a fool would believe him.
Here are Glenn Beck's August 31 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
Remember that fawning Washington Post profile of National Organization for Marriage executive director Brian Brown? The one that omitted facts that make NOM and Brown look bad, and -- despite running more than 2,000 words -- didn't contain a single quote critical of Brown? Well, I just stumbled across something else Washington Post writer Monica Hesse left out.
Hesse's profile opens by drawing an explicit contrast between Brian Brown and people like Pat Robertson and James Dobson:
The nightmares of gay marriage supporters are the Pat Robertsons of the world. The James Dobsons, the John Hagees -- the people who specialize in whipping crowds into frothy frenzies, who say things like Katrina was caused by the gays.
The gay marriage supporters have not met Brian Brown. They should. He might be more worth knowing about.
The thing about the John Hagees and the Pat Robertsons is that some people consider them "fringe." And when they speechify, the people they're most persuasive with are the ones who already believe them.
But this country is not made up of people in the far wings, right or left. This country is made up of a movable middle, reasonable people looking for reasonable arguments to assure them that their feelings have a rational basis.
Brian Brown speaks to these people.
That set the tone for the profile: Brian Brown isn't like "fringe" activists like Robertson, Hagee, and James Dobson.
A bit later, Hesse makes passing mention of Brown's previous job:
After UCLA he accepted a position with the Family Institute of Connecticut, and worked to prevent the distribution of condoms in schools.
No explanation of what the Family Institute of Connecticut is. Well, guess what? Here's how the Hartford Courant described the group in 2005:
"It now is associated with Focus on the Family, the group headed by the nationally known conservative James Dobson, but the institute's budget of $450,000 comes entirely from individual contributions, Brown said."
Huh. So, Brown's last job was running a group associated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Seems like the kind of information that should be included in a profile that portrays Brown as nothing like that nasty James Dobson, doesn't it?
And, given that the profile echoes Brown's argument that he is just interested in preserving the "history" and "tradition" of "the institution of marriage" being "between a man and a woman," doesn't it seem like the Post should have mentioned that Brown opposes even civil unions?
And shouldn't a profile that adopts Brown's portrayal of himself as a friendly guy who doesn't have anything against gay people -- some of his "friends and family" are gay! -- but just wants to limit "marriage" as something between a man and a woman perhaps note that not only does Brown oppose gay marriage, he wants to keep gays out of his church?
Brian Brown, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut -- which led a petition drive for the Defense of Marriage Act -- was also among those marching with Wyatt. Brown said the acceptance of homosexuality in the church marked the destruction of the American family and marriage.
"That radical of a departure from Christian tradition ... warrants a march," Brown said as he wheeled his children, Elizabeth, 3, and Brian, 1, in a stroller. [Hartford Courant, 8/20/03]
And shouldn't a profile that emphasizes how reasonable and sane a person is maybe mention that he opposes cohabitation between men and women?
In the view of some, the increase in cohabitation between men and women is eroding the institution of marriage.
"I think the whole idea that you shack up, and this is how you figure out what you're going to do with your life, that isn't conducive to the type of commitment you need for a lifelong stable relationship," said Brian Brown, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut. [Hartford Courant, 3/13/03]
And shouldn't an article that describes Brown as someone who "takes nothing personally. He means nothing personal. He is never accusatory or belittling. His arguments are based on his understandings of history, not on messages from God that gays caused Hurricane Katrina" maybe acknowledge that Brown has referred to gay marriage as "the largest battle in the culture wars since Roe v. Wade"? [New York Times, 7/6/03]
At this point, you have to wonder whether Monica Hesse did any actual research at all -- or if she just met Brown, found him pleasant, talked to a couple of his buddies, and dashed off her profile.
It's not an uncommon position. If you know, for example, that Betsy McCaughey has a 15-year record of making false claims about health care, why on earth would you call her for comment about health care? Why would you quote her? Why would you take anything she says seriously? Why would you give her attention, and give her a platform from which to continue to make false claims? Even if you debunk her false claims, you're probably doing a lousy job of it, and you're certainly letting those falsehoods shape the debate. What's the upside? Why is it important that people who have no credibility be part of your coverage?
Now, there are arguments against this shun-the-liars approach. For example, you can argue that some people -- say, Sarah Palin -- are famous enough and have enough fans that their statements are newsworthy, even if their history of untruths should have torpedoed their credibility by now.
But the basic premise that people who lie repeatedly shouldn't be trusted, shouldn't be relied upon for analysis, shouldn't be called for comment, and shouldn't be rewarded with media attention, is quite common, and should be easy to understand.
But, incredibly, Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon appears to be entirely unfamiliar with the concept:
Washington, D.C.: At what point does the media declare somone an unreliable source and stop giving them a platform? I'd think that anyone who continues to spout inaccuracies and/or falsehoods, no matter their political leanings, would be banished at some point. Why do they continue to get platforms on TV and in print to keep giving out bad info?
Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't quite know who you are referring to. I think most writers, myself included, try to note in a story if someone is quoted saying something that is flatly wrong. It's not like falsehoods like the "death panels" thing grow from people declaring it on CNN. It stars on blogs, then gets to talk radio and people believe things before the more traditional media has time to look into the issue.
Forget about the second half of the answer, in which Bacon blames everything on blogs; that's nonsense. It wasn't the blogs or talk radio that invented the falsehood that Al Gore claimed to have discovered Love Canal; it was Perry Bacon's Washington Post colleague Ceci Connolly (who Bacon praised in the same discussion.) Yes, a lot of misinformation starts in the fever swamps and blogs and talk radio and message boards -- and a lot starts at the Washington Post, too. But that isn't at all relevant to the question Bacon was asked.
The question Bacon was asked was very simple: Why does the media continue to give a platform to people who have proven to be unreliable sources? And Bacon doesn't understand the question. It has apparently never crossed his mind that it's one thing to "try to note in a story if someone is quoted saying something that is flatly wrong" -- but the obvious next step is: Stop taking them seriously. Stop quoting them. Stop giving them a platform.
Again: There are reasons you might not agree with that approach. But Bacon isn't disagreeing with it; he appears to be unfamiliar with the concept. That speaks volumes about the elite media: it never occurs to one of the Washington Post's star reporters that maybe he should stop giving attention to liars.
How far out there is right-wing website WorldNetDaily? So far out that most of its fellow conservatives are not only disassociating themselves from it as fast as it can, but are actively figuring out how to boycott it. From an Aug. 31 post by Jon Henke at The Next Right noting WND's embrace of the claim that the federal government is building concentration camps for U.S. political dissidents:
The Birthers are the Birchers of our time, and WorldNetDaily is their pamphlet. The Right has mostly ignored these embarrassing people and organizations, but some people and organizations inexplicably choose to support WND through advertising and email list rental or other collaboration. For instance, I have been told that F.I.R.E (The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) -- an otherwise respectable group that does important work -- uses the WND email list. They should stop.
No respectable organization should support the kind of fringe idiocy that WND peddles. Those who do are not respectable.
I think it's time to find out what conservative/libertarian organizations support WND through advertising, list rental or other commercial collaboration (email me if you know of any), and boycott any of those organizations that will not renounce any further support for WorldNetDaily.
Ouch. That's gonna leave a mark -- well, it would if Joseph Farah, Jerome Corsi and crew had any sense of shame.
Oh, and one of the organizations that has rented WND's mailing list is ... the Republican National Committee. Here's a screenshot from an RNC email sent out August 27 on the WND list: