On The Lee Rodgers Show, a caller suggested that Sen. Barack Obama's remark that "you can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig" was directed at Gov. Sarah Palin and said: "[I]t's a little indicative of a Muslim attitude towards women that's creeping up, you know, and he just can't help but say it, how he feels." Brian Sussman responded: "Well, there's no question that Muslims, at least the religious ones, look at women as second-class citizens. ... I don't know if it was his father's genetic DNA welling up inside of him or not, but I'll tell you something: It was stupid."
NBC News Washington bureau chief Mark Whitaker said that the controversy over Sen. Barack Obama's "lipstick on a pig" comment "seems like a frivolous story" but it is "important to watch" because it's an example of "how good the McCain campaign is at ... driving the news cycle day after day." He did not acknowledge the media's responsibility in choosing what they cover.*
Conservative talk radio hosts have recently seized on comments Sen. Barack Obama made on ABC's This Week in order to suggest that the comments prove Obama is really a Muslim, not a Christian.
Fox News' Major Garrett uncritically quoted a portion of an ad by Sen. John McCain's campaign that claimed that Sen. Barack Obama's biggest accomplishment on education was teaching "comprehensive sex education to kindergartners." Garrett gave no explanation of Obama's actual position on sex education, provided no response from the Obama campaign, and gave no indication that he had sought such a response, nor did Garrett note that the bill Obama supported would have required school sexual education programs to give "age and developmentally appropriate" materials and instruction for students in kindergarten through 12th grade and included material warning children about sexual predators.
The Times and the Post will repeat the McCain camp's petty lies and slams without an ounce of critical analysis, not because they believe the spin, but because there's a massive conservative infrastructure devoting to working the refs and getting the coverage the right wants. Try as David Brock and John Podesta may, Media Matters and Think Progress just don't have the same level of influence. I absolutely guarantee that if the Ron Fournier situation were reversed - if the AP Washington Bureau were run by a shameless Democratic hack instead of a GOP hack like Fournier - there'd be hell to pay. Howls of "liberal media bias" would be echoing across every talk radio station, the major conservative blogs, Fox News, and into the mailboxes, real and virtual, of every Republican voter. The bureau chief would be gone or tamed within a week or two. As it currently stands, Fournier still has his job, and he's still doing it as badly as you'd expect. Liberals just aren't as good at ref intimidation.
Part of the reason why this is true is that the Right realizes that it isn't enough for the Media Research Center and Accuracy In Media and the Heritage Foundation to engage in media criticism. They all do it; it's a staple of the entire conservative movement. So the refs get worked every day, by a wide variety of people -- from local activists to the President of the United States. The Republicans are all media critics.
Progressives understand this much better than they did a few years ago, but there's a long way to go. (Ezra Klein is doing his part: his writing about the media's coverage of the presidential campaign has been excellent lately.)
Media entities could have had an internal conversation along the lines of: "This is stupid; let's cover the education stuff." Instead, news outlets are either giving McCain evil-genuis points for turning a nothing into a something, or are calling out the McCain campaign for being mean and duplicitous, but in any event, voters on the periphery of the conversation only hear enough to hear the accusations anyway.
Right. The important thing to remember is that nobody is forcing journalists to behave this way. They choose to do so. They choose to behave in a way that benefits stupid and dishonest claims.
And they can choose to stop. Or they can choose to continue. But either way, they're making a choice.
On Fox News, Carl Cameron reported that a McCain campaign ad "will attack the Obama campaign for having sent what it will call a small army of lawyers into Alaska to smear Sarah Palin." But Cameron gave no indication that he had sought any comment from the Obama campaign nor did he note that the DNC has reportedly said the assertion is false and that neither the DNC nor the Obama campaign has sent anyone to Alaska to do research.
After likening cable TV to "a 500-pound guy looking for a 100-pound burro to get on" and then "rides it until it dies," Chris Matthews said to Joe Scarborough, "I want to ask you, what will we talk about two days from now?" Scarborough replied: "Whatever the McCain campaign wants us to talk about, because the McCain campaign is assertive."
In an article regarding Sen. Barack Obama's recent comment about Sen. John McCain's policies -- "[Y]ou can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig" -- AP's Nedra Pickler baselessly asserted that Obama's audience "clearly dr[ew] a connection to [Gov. Sarah] Palin's joke even if it's not what Obama meant." However, Pickler provided no evidence for her assessment of the audience's reaction, and, indeed, the interpretation by New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny of the audience's reaction was completely different.
Behold, our Fourth Estate.
Tom Tomorrow seems to have anticipated today's news coverage.
In related matters: MSNBC's Contessa Brewer just asked McCain spokesperson Nancy Pfotenhauer about the McCain camp's lipstick-on-a-pig nonsense: "If it's so important, Nancy, then why aren't we hearing from John McCain and Sarah Palin? They just got finished giving the same stump speeches we've seen over and over again, and did not address this at all. So if it's so important, why aren't we seeing them address it?"
That's a pretty good question for Pfotenhauer.
Here's a better question for MSNBC: If it isn't important enough for McCain and Palin to mention it, why is MSNBC treating it as the most important story in the world right now?
MSNBC.com conducted a poll September 9 asking readers "Do you think Sen. Barack Obama went too far with his 'lipstick on a pig' remark?" Not only did the poll frame the question in a way that baselessly presumed Obama was referring to Gov. Sarah Palin, but MSNBC did not offer readers the opportunity to respond that Obama did not go "too far" or to criticize the McCain campaign's reaction to the comments.
On Hannity & Colmes, Mike Huckabee and Howard Wolfson both disagreed with Sean Hannity's claim that Sen. Barack Obama was "talking about [Gov.] Sarah Palin" when he made his "lipstick on a pig" comment. Wolfson asserted: "[T]here's no question that he was referring to [Sen.] John McCain, not Sarah Palin, and I think anything to the contrary is ridiculous."
Jill Zuckman, on MSNBC, about the McCain campaign's "lipstick on a pig" lie: "Even if we all think the charge may be a little bit flimsy, they have got all of us talking about it."
First, the charge isn't "a little bit flimsy," it's a lie.
Second: Reporters don't have to play along with this nonsense. They can refuse to report the McCain camp's false attacks. Or they can use their coverage to make clear that this is the latest in a long line of false smears from McCain, and indicative of the kind of campaign he is running, rather than pretending there is some open question about whether Obama called Sarah Palin a pig, or behaving as though the important question is "will the attack work" rather than "what does the lie say about the person telling the lie."