It's not just the cable guys: conservative misinformation on Sunday morning
Research ››› ››› GABE WILDAU, NICOLE CASTA & SHANT MESROBIAN
On May 23, conservative misinformation flooded the four major Sunday broadcast news shows -- NBC's Meet the Press and The Chris Matthews Show; ABC's This Week; and CBS's Face the Nation.
On the May 23 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert convened a panel comprising Washington Post staff writer Robin Wright; Wall Street Journal political editor John Harwood; nationally syndicated Washington Post political correspondent David S. Broder; and New York Times columnist William Safire.
A former aide and speechwriter for former President Richard M. Nixon, Safire has been a source of misinformation for years, as documented by Salon.com's Joe Conason. The Nation's Washington editor, David Corn, debunked Safire's February 11 column; and writer and blogger Joshua Micah Marshall posted his take on Safire's May 19 column, which Marshall called a "clotted mix of discredited ridiculousness, slurs, false claims of racism, disinformation and lies."
During a May 23 panel appearance on Meet the Press, Safire claimed that, despite problems in Iraq, Senator John Kerry had not gone up in the polls: "The prison scandal on top of all the casualties and the fact that the president's ratings have gone down is logical. One would expect that. The fact that Kerry hasn't gone up is very interesting." But according to a May 21 poll, support for Kerry has increased: "As Americans express growing unease about Iraq, President Bush's job approval rating has taken a hit, according to a poll released Friday by CNN and Time magazine. That development appears to be helping Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. He wins the support of 51 percent of likely voters, compared to 46 percent for Bush. In February, Bush was ahead of Kerry by two percentage points."
Also on Meet the Press, Broder -- widely known as the dean of the Washington press corps -- rebuked Kerry and the Democrats over suggestions in the press that Kerry was considering postponing his acceptance of the nomination in order to forestall campaign spending limitations. Broder said, "I have to say that we used to blame Republicans as being the party where money really drove everything. It's the Democrats that are allowing money to drive everything. ... It is ridiculous. They are destroying institution after institution of political significance by this preoccupation with chasing money." Safire added, "This is the stupidest move that John Kerry could possibly make."
Neither Broder (who has been a longtime advocate of campaign finance reform) nor the other panelists noted that, in 2000, George W. Bush was the first eventual nominee to opt out of the public matching fund system; that, as president, George W. Bush opposed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation until he reluctantly signed it in 2002; and that he has raised over $200 million for his 2004 reelection campaign -- more than any other candidate in history. (It was left to a conservative on the FOX Broadcasting Company's FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace to offer a different view: Weekly Standard editor William Kristol said of Kerry's possible decision to postpone acceptance of the nomination, "The money is not unimportant. Once you have the convention, the $75 million public financing kicks in, and you can't spend the money you've raised privately, as you can in the primaries. This would even the field, the Kerry people think, with Bush. They'll both begin September 1st with the general-election money. ... I think they ought to do this, and I think they're more serious about this than people realize.")
On the May 23 edition of This Week with George Stephanopoulos, George F. Will (The Washington Post's and Newsweek's conservative syndicated columnist) and Newt Gingrich (American Enterprise Institute senior fellow, FOX News Channel contributor, and former Republican speaker of the House) appeared alongside Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) and ABC News chief Capitol Hill correspondent Linda Douglass.
Will's career as an opinion-maker has been fraught with conflict of interest, which the national media watch group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has documented. In a March 3, 2003, Washington Post column, Will praised the writing of Conrad Black (a member of the British House of Lords and the owner of international media conglomerate Hollinger International Inc.) without mentioning that, until two years before the publication of the column, Will held a lucrative position on Hollinger's international advisory board. FAIR reported:
In the column, Will failed to mention that he has been a paid employee of Conrad Black, who named Will, along with several other mostly conservative luminaries, to the international advisory board of Black's Hollinger International. Each time he attended the board's annual meetings, the New York Times revealed (12/22/03), Will received compensation of $25,000. Queried by the Times, Will could not recall how many meetings he had attended, but fellow board member William F. Buckley estimated his own take at "perhaps $200,000 or more."
Media Matters for America documented a recent distortion by Will. In a May 9 column in The Washington Post, Will used a discussion of political analyst Michael Barone's new book, Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation's Future, to bash "blue states" -- states that Vice President Al Gore carried in the 2000 election -- claiming that these states are parasitic on the productivity and discipline of red states -- states that George W. Bush carried in 2000 -- even though recent economic analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation indicates that the "blue states" on average pay into the federal government more per capita than they receive, with the "red states" receiving more than they contribute.
Gingrich is a legendarily partisan Republican who -- as Al Franken noted in his 2003 book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them -- sent a letter to his Republican colleagues in the early 1990s "advising them to characterize their Democratic opponents with words like 'corrupt,' 'sick,' 'pathetic,' 'greedy,' and 'traitor.'" Gingrich is currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Bayh, on the other hand, is chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) as well a member of the New Democrat Coalition and the bipartisan Senate Centrist Coalition.
On Face the Nation on May 23, host Bob Schieffer interviewed syndicated columnist and CNN Crossfire co-host Robert Novak, who was at home in Delaware. Identified by Schieffer as "a weather vane of the Republican right," Novak went on to describe conservatives' current views of President Bush's political difficulties. Novak said: "They want him to win. I mean, John Kerry getting elected is a fate worse than death." Although The Washington Times reported that a majority of evangelical Christians oppose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, preferring that the process go through the states -- and other prominent conservatives, such as Los Angeles Times columnist Max Boot, say the amendment is a lost cause -- Novak's advice to Bush was, "And what he really has to do, Bob, I really believe, to solidify his conservative base, is become much more aggressive on the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment." At the close of the interview, Schieffer thanked Novak for his "candor."
Novak is more than merely a passive register of conservative opinion. His history of using his commentary as a platform for Republican propaganda stretches back to the Nixon era. In testimony before the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973, former Nixon campaign aide Herbert Porter described leaking Democratic presidential campaign memos obtained in the infamous Watergate Hotel break-in to Novak "on plain bond." Novak again became embroiled in scandal surrounding a in July 2003, when -- citing two unnamed senior Bush administration officials -- Novak wrote a column revealing the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA covert operative who is the wife of a retired American diplomat (Joseph Wilson, who had become a vocal opponent of the Bush administration's use of intelligence surrounding the war in Iraq). On May 1, Media Matters for America found Novak eagerly repeating dishonest Republican National Committee attacks on John Kerry, even after the dishonesty behind such attacks had been amply exposed in the press.
The May 23 panel on The Chris Matthews Show featured two political correspondents: NBC News White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell and Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman; U.S. News & World Report columnist and co-host of CNBC's Capital Report, Gloria Borger; and conservative pundit and Novak's Crossfire co-host Tucker Carlson.
During the panel discussion, Carlson railed against Democrats, saying: "[M]y experience is they absolutely do have contempt for churchgoers":
I don't think it's about the President's perceived piety or real piety, I think it's because people perceive that the democratic base is very hostile, openly hostile to traditional religion; that the attacks on the Christian right, for instance, are really attacks on Christianity, traditional Christianity itself. And I think it's true. I think people perceive that. People who run the Democratic party, its activist wing have contempt for churchgoers, and my experience is they absolutely do have contempt for churchgoers.
Carlson offered no support for this assertion. Moreover, as Media Matters for America has reported, polls show that many liberals do in fact have faith and believe in God.
- 2004 Elections