This week: right-wing pundits' hate speech reached a deafening crescendo; the cable news networks skimped on their coverage of the Democratic convention, but none more than FOX News Channel; baseless smears of Senator John Kerry continue to spread through the media; and more.
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Brilliant Disguise: Right-wing activists dressed up as Kerry shipmates, pretended to have dirt on candidate's service; media dutifully reported bogus claims
On August 4, Internet gossip Matt Drudge began hyping a group called "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," members of which have been attacking John Kerry for months. As Media Matters for America has previously documented, the organization is made up of longtime Republican activists, at least one of whom was originally recruited by the Nixon administration to smear Kerry. Other members of the group include a doctor who claims to have treated Kerry for wounds (but he wasn't the medical official who signed the relevant medical reports) and another accuser who has previously admitted he had no firsthand knowledge of Kerry and didn't know him personally.
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is funded by a wealthy right-wing Texan who is a longtime ally of President George W. Bush and Karl Rove. Swift Boat Veterans is promoted by another longtime Republican operative and consists of right-wing activists who didn't serve alongside Kerry; didn't know him personally, didn't sign his medical reports, and don't have proof to support their vicious attacks.
This sham organization is now running a misleading and dishonest TV advertisement in which its members claim to have "served with" John Kerry, despite the fact that they were not his crewmates. The men who actually did serve with Kerry tell a far different story: As Wall Street Journal columnist Al Hunt noted, "10 of the 11 men who served on his two swift boats all have sworn by John Kerry," and nine were by his side at the Democratic convention. The members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who claim to have served with Kerry are, simply, liars. They weren't on Kerry's boat. They didn't serve alongside him.
After Senator John McCain (R-AZ) denounced the ad as "dishonest and dishonorable," Retired Adm. Roy Hoffmann, head of the Swift Boat group, said they respected McCain's "right to express his opinion and we hope he extends to us the same respect and courtesy, particularly since we served with John Kerry, we knew him well and Sen. McCain did not."
But, as anyone familiar with Hoffmann and his fellow smear artists might have guessed, that was a lie. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in May, "Hoffmann acknowledged he had no first-hand knowledge to discredit Kerry's claims to valor and said that although Kerry was under his command, he really didn't know Kerry much personally."
That's right: Three months ago, Hoffmann admitted he didn't know Kerry personally and had no firsthand knowledge. Now he claims to have "served with John Kerry" and says he "knew him well." He's lying -- as his own words prove.
Naturally, then, the media has ignored the unfounded allegations, peddled by established liars, that Kerry didn't deserve his Purple Hearts?
Not quite. FOX News Channel and MSNBC aired the group's new ad on August 4, giving it free airtime before it was formally released -- and neglecting to report key facts that expose the group as a fraud. CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and other news outlets all covered the story as well. While some of them reported some information that discredits the organization and its attacks, they led with the Swift Boat group's smears, thus furthering the group's false and despicable message.
But the wind may already have been knocked out of the Swift Boat Vets' sails. Just today, the Boston Globe reported that one of the group members, George Elliot, has retracted his criticism of Kerry, saying he had made a "terrible mistake." Elliot signed an affidavit, which the anti-Kerry group used to support its allegations; but he now says, "I knew it was wrong. ... In a hurry I signed it and faxed it back. That was a mistake."
And Senator John McCain, who like Kerry, is a Vietnam war hero who saw his courageous service to his country subjected to vicious slurs while running against George W. Bush, came out quickly in Kerry's defense: "I deplore this kind of politics. I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable. As it is, none of these individuals served on the boat [Kerry] commanded. Many of his crew have testified to his courage under fire."
David Horowitz, editor-in-chief of the right-wing FrontPageMag.com, also made outrageous and false claims about John Kerry's Vietnam-era activities this week. Horowitz claimed on C-SPAN that Kerry in the early 1970s thought "that the Communists were just nationalists and basically was happy to see them win." Horowitz claimed this was clear in Kerry's performance during a debate televised on the Dick Cavett show in 1971. The transcript of the show proves that Horowitz is lying; Kerry said nothing of the kind. Kerry did say, later that year, "I don't like Communists," Kerry said. "In fact, I hate them. I hate all totalitarians. I'm totally dedicated to representative, pluralistic, free democracy."
Perhaps that's what Horowitz meant to say: not that Kerry was "happy" to see Communists win but, rather that Kerry "hated" Communists. We can see how such a mistake would be made.
Hearts of Stone: Conservative commentators resort to playground insults
In recent weeks, conservative commentators and pundits have become increasingly angry, shrill, and nasty. Perhaps depressed, perhaps desperate, or perhaps just mean, right-wing pundits from Bill O'Reilly to Michael Savage to Tucker Carlson have increasingly resorted to petty insults, name-calling, and hate speech.
Like a pack of sixth-graders who just discovered a new insult and can't stop using it, conservative commentators have recently become fixated on comparing progressives to Nazis. Among the recent examples:
Radio host Glenn Beck: Beck compared Fahrenheit 9/11 to "the [Joseph] Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda, where they would take truths, half-truths, and out-and-out lies and mix them all together."
Tucker Carlson: On August 3, Carlson compared Democrats to Nazis, saying "Democrats who keep track of racial data more assiduously than Himmler ever did."
Daniel Henninger, of the Wall Street Journal editorial page: Henninger compared German-born filmmaker Roland Emmerich -- the director/writer/producer of The Day After Tomorrow, a recent Hollywood film depicting a nightmare scenario in which global warming causes severe and sudden weather to ravage North America -- to infamous Nazi-propaganda filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.
Bill O'Reilly: O'Reilly compared Moore to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels: "I believe that he [Michael Moore] has power now. He has more power than probably anybody else other than Kerry and Edwards. It's scary. It's scary. You know this happened in Nazi Germany. ... Who was the most powerful person in Nazi Germany other than Hitler and Himmler and Goering, who? You guys know? ... Goebbels. The propaganda minister. That frightens me when truth no longer exists, gentlemen. It doesn't exist for Michael Moore, it doesn't."
More O'Reilly: O'Reilly has also compared Michael Moore and Al Franken to Goebbels and Hollywood celebrities to the Nazi faithful.
Radio host Michael Savage: Savage referred to Democratic leaders using German titles used by the Nazi party, calling former President Bill Clinton "Obergrupenführer Clinton," former President Jimmy Carter "Grupenführer Carter," and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) "Brigadeführer Daschle."
More Savage: Michael Savage called convention speaker and Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt "the president of planned deathhood action fund" and compared her to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
Still More Savage: On the July 7 broadcast of Savage Nation, Savage said, "And yet John Edwards has the nerve to say that he fought for the little guy by fighting HMOs and insurance companies. It's utterly -- It's a big lie. It's absolutely a Goebbels lie that if you tell a big lie often enough it becomes the truth. It's the absolute opposite of what he did."
Even More Savage: Savage compared philanthropist George Soros to "Hitler's media man" -- in reference to Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels -- and repeatedly called Soros "Goebbels." Soros is a Hungarian-born Jew who survived Nazi occupation of Budapest.
The right-wing name-calling and bitter invective isn't limited to Nazi references, though:
Savage called poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou a "liar," "moron," "fraud," and "dirtbag."
Radio host Neal Boortz: After mocking the Shahada (the Islamic creed), "There is no true God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God," Boortz revealed his thoughts on the religion: "Say that with conviction, folks, and the next thing you know, you're strapping on a suicide bomb."
FOX host Chris Wallace: After Teresa Heinz Kerry's speech at the Democratic convention, Wallace compared her to Eva Peron, wife of former Argentinean dictator Juan Peron.
O'Reilly: Defending Wallace's reference to Evita, O'Reilly said to Ms. Magazine editor-in-chief Elaine Lafferty, "I don't think anybody watching this broadcast tonight, with the exception of you and the Ms. Magazine babes, are offended by that comment."
With so many conservative pundits and commentators spewing so much hate and anger, FOX News Channel knows its role: accuse progressives of being motivated by hate. FNC's recent up-is-down, black-is-white coverage:
FNC contributor Michael Barone: Baron claimed the Democratic convention "is really more about hate -- hatred of [President] George W. Bush. That's what is motivating these people."
FNC host Brit Hume: "There is not much doubt about what unites the Democrats here. And it isn't particularly John Kerry. It's really the fear and loathing of George W. Bush."
More Hume: "Next on Special Report, can the Kerry camp really keep all that Bush hatred among the delegates from boiling over on to the convention platform?"
FNC contributor Morton Kondracke: "You know, there was so much Bush hatred among the Democratic activists here at the convention that if they start throwing them red meat, God knows what might happen."
FNC host John Gibson: "It's true that hating George W. Bush has been the fuel that has driven the Democratic machine for months, if not years, but it's going underground for now. ... [T]he Dems can try to hide the fact that what motivates Democrats this year is how much they hate George W. Bush."
57 Channels (And Nothin' On): Cables gave convention speeches little airtime; FOX lagged far behind
An exclusive Media Matters for America analysis of the cable networks' coverage of the Democratic convention shows that none of the three networks - CNN, FOX and MSNBC - devoted even 90 minutes a night to live broadcast of convention speeches. FOX brought up the rear, airing only 3 hours and 40 minutes of speeches over the four nights of the convention . just 55 minutes a night, far less than its two competitors. CNN aired 74 minutes of live speeches per night, while MSNBC gave its viewers the most unfiltered coverage, broadcasting 82 minutes of live speeches per night.
On the first night of the convention, which featured former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, former Vice President Al Gore, and former First Lady and current Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, FOX News Channel aired only 41 minutes of speeches. The cable networks' coverage was so bad, FOX News Channel host Cal Thomas was moved to note: "If cable networks do the same thing at the Republican convention and interrupt or not cover Republicans, I think the conservatives out there, especially those who are fans of this network are going to scream and yell. So if you're going to be fair and balanced, I think you have not to cover at least as much of the Republican speakers as you've not covered of the Democratic speakers."
Code of Silence: Media reported Pakistan's arrest of Al Qaeda suspect - but kept quiet about White House pressure on Pakistan to announce arrest during Democratic convention
Just hours before John Kerry's speech at the Democratic convention, Pakistani officials announced the capture of an Al Qaeda operative wanted in connection with the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa. Given that the operative had actually been captured a few days earlier; the fact that the announcement of his capture came just hours before Kerry's speech seems a little suspicious.
It's even more suspicious in light of a July 8 article, published on The New Republic's website, which reported that the Bush administration was pressuring Pakistani officials to make arrests of so-called "high-value targets" during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. CNN's Aaron Brown reported on the New Republic article at the time, saying, "The New Republic, in a piece to be released tomorrow, will allege that the administration through various means is pressuring the government of Pakistan to deliver bin Laden and his henchmen before the November election, preferably during the Democratic Convention."
Curiously, when news of the capture broke on July 29, CNN kept silent about the information it had reported three weeks earlier, making no mention of the fact that the Bush administration pressured Pakistan to announce a capture during the convention. Much of the rest of the major media ignored The New Republic's previous reporting as well, though MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann hosted Spencer Ackerman, who co-wrote the article, on July 30.
Leap of Faith: Media follows Drudge's lead, reports unsubstantiated smear of Kerry
Last week, in explaining that Internet gossip Matt Drudge's "exclusive" report about John Kerry reenacting Vietnam battle scenes for film, Media Matters noted that the story was debunked in 2002 by Bill Keller, who is now executive editor of The New York Times. "Matt Drudge had a larger influence on free media than does Bill Keller," we noted, pointing to the fact that Drudge's smear had been repeated by other media outlets, and that Keller's column debunking the charges had been essentially ignored. Little did we know how right we were. Not only did the story reverberate around cable news and talk radio, even Keller's own newspaper printed an article based on Drudge's claims - without noting Keller's work debunking it.
A July 30 Times article did note that "people who have viewed his [Kerry's] film from the war have said they have seen no re-enactments," - but didn't mention that Keller was one of those people. The Times even reported that Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center, "cited an article in The New York Times in 2002 in which Mr. Kerry said he had 'no intention of using it [the video]' for campaign purposes," but failed to note that the article Graham cited was Keller's piece -- which completely debunked the charge in the first place.
Worlds Apart: Public opinion, media reporting on public opinion bare no resemblance to each other
Recent media coverage and analysis of public opinion has been noteworthy for how badly it distorts actual poll results.
Sean Hannity, for example, claimed during an interview with Kerry campaign spokesperson Michael Meehan, "[O]n the war in Iraq, on the war on terror, and issues of national security, by far the president has a significant lead over Kerry." But according to the Washington Post/ABC News poll to which he was referring, Kerry has a two-point lead on handling the situation in Iraq, a five-point lead on "improving the U.S. intelligence agencies" and an eight-point lead on who is "better qualified to be commander in chief of the U.S. military"
The Wall Street Journal's John Fund was more specific in his distortions, claiming "Nine out of 10 [Democratic convention] delegates polled totally oppose the Iraq war, three-fourths support abortion with no restrictions whatsoever. Only 4% want tax cuts and 95% say that gay marriage should be legally recognized." None of that is true.
Distortion of public opinion wasn't limited to right-wing ideologues like Hannity and Fund, though. The New York Times reported on August 4 that "Polls show that Mr. Bush's handling of terrorism remains his only clear advantage over Mr. Kerry." The article offered no polling data to support this claim. In fact, in the entire article, there wasn't a single mention of any specific polling result having anything to do with Kerry.
The only specific polling results the Times mentioned were from a recent CBS News poll showing that the percentage of people who approved of Bush's handing of terrorism has dropped nine points since March, while the percentage who disapprove has gone up eleven points. Those results certainly don't substantiate the Times' claim that Bush enjoys a "clear advantage" over Kerry on terrorism - a claim that is contradicted by the Washington Post/ABC News poll mentioned above, as well as a recent Newsweek poll that found that respondents "just barely prefer Bush to Kerry (48 percent to 43 percent) on handling terror and homeland security, issues on which they had preferred the president by 21 points in March."
Finally, Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of National Journal's The Hotline, said on MSNBC, "Democrats forget, people, particularly in the middle, believe their government. They believe their president. They may not agree with him, but they believe their president." Todd's statement may be true of presidents in general, but it isn't true of this president. A recent Washington Post poll found that only 41 percent of the American public believes that Bush is "honest and trustworthy." A new CBS News poll indicates that 39 percent of Americans believe Bush has "more honesty and integrity compared to others in public life." And a recent Gallup poll found that only 43 percent call Bush "honest and trustworthy."