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"Here's how it works. The president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!"
As Media Matters has repeatedly documented, if there's one kind of story Fox News likes nearly as much as partisan smears of progressives, it's a story about the sex trade. From the arrest of a man who left his son in his unlocked vehicle while he went to a strip club to a porn star at a fundraiser to Playboy's newest Playmate of the Year to interviews with Victoria's Secret models to a segment advising women to show "less skin" at the workplace (a segment that, naturally, required Fox to air images of women showing a great deal of skin) to a piece about a pole-dancing Pamela Anderson, Fox takes every available opportunity to broadcast photos and video of scantily clad women.
So when you have a story that involves A) prostitutes and B) corrupt politicians, you would think Fox News would be all over it, taking advantage of the ratings gold that had fallen into its lap.
Ah, but the corrupt politicians allegedly involved are Republicans. That changes everything, doesn't it? And not just for Fox News -- as blogger Joshua Micah Marshall has noted, major media outlets have all but ignored a story about "members of Congress getting sauced up at rollicking parties and set up with hookers by crooked defense contractors in exchange for help bagging pricey defense contracts." Marshall and his colleagues at TPMMuckracker.com (along with Harper's Magazine's Ken Silverstein and The Wall Street Journal's Scot J. Paltrow) have taken the lead in covering the federal investigation into whether contractors implicated in the bribery case of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (currently serving a jail term for his misdeeds) provided Cunningham and other members of Congress with prostitutes and free limousines and hotel suites. As part of the probe, Silverstein wrote, the FBI is reportedly investigating current and former lawmakers on congressional defense and intelligence committees, "including one person who now holds a powerful intelligence post" -- a description that fits CIA director Porter Goss to a "T."
You'd expect the press to be all over it. As [TPMMuckraker reporter] Justin [Rood] reported yesterday, the legendary Watergate Hotel has already received mulitple [sic] subpoenas from federal investigators investigating the hotel's role in 'Hookergate'. So this thing's for real.
Yet, I'm not seeing any morning show's running with it.
And, while the [Patrick] Kennedy story is 'newsy' it doesn't really have any greater policy implications. And the public trust implications are minor. The Wilkes-Watergate-Hooker story, on the other hand, is both. It's salacious, which the press loves. And it's also directly tied to crooks ripping off taxpayers, probably allowing our service members abroad to have shoddy equipment or defense dollars going to worthless projects.
So, we're on the Kennedy case. But why the silence on the much bigger scandal bubbling up out of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee?
Cricket, cricket ...
Late Update: A number of readers have told me that NBC Nightly News has a piece on the story last night. Good for them.
How thorough was the media blackout on this burgeoning scandal? Goss abruptly resigned his CIA post today after barely a year on the job -- and the cable news networks held out as long as they possibly could before mentioning the "Hookergate" story.
CNN, for example, not only avoided mentioning the speculation that he is caught up in the investigation in its initial reports, it went so far as to tell viewers: "Taking a look at what's out on the Internet -- not much controversy involving the director himself."
Well, unless you count the suggestion that the Director of Central Intelligence may be implicated in an FBI investigation into whether contractors already involved in a bribery case also supplied prostitutes, limos, and hotel suites to members of Congress who sit on defense and intelligence committees. Other than THAT, there isn't much controversy involving Goss.
CNN wasn't alone in looking the other way, of course: Fox News and MSNBC also held out as long as they could. Initial reports by The New York Times and The Washington Post similarly failed to mention the prostitutes-and-limos story.
Eventually the investigation did seep into news reports -- but not for long. On CNN, former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), who served with Goss when both were Republican members of Congress, first pointed out that the Cunningham investigation is "starting to reach into the CIA":
CAROL LIN (CNN anchor): But Congressman, see, there's something that doesn't make sense here, you know? There's something that doesn't make sense. And what I am wondering is whether this resignation is an indication of something to come. Porter Goss wants to get out of the way. Do you have any sense of that on Capitol Hill or from your sources in Washington?
BARR: It could very well be. I mean, we've seen brewing out of the Duke Cunningham -- former Congressman Duke Cunningham scandal, which has been growing now for several months --
LIN: That he accepted bribes from defense contractors.
BARR: Right. It's starting to reach into the CIA. And that could very well be something that is going to -- you know, like a sore that's been festering. That could bust out sometime now. And maybe that could reach into the top levels of the agency.
LIN: Are you saying the director himself, Congressman? Are you saying the director himself?
BARR: I can't imagine that. I know Porter. I've known him for many years. I cannot imagine that he would be a part of that, but if you have the top two or three people at an agency working under him, and he's the one that put them in there and placed the faith and trust of the government in these people, and then they become tainted with this, it certainly reflects on the leadership.
Later, CNN senior national correspondent John Roberts elaborated:
ROBERTS: Now, just to add a little bit to what former Congressman Bob Barr was talking about, what's all swirling around the CIA with the Duke Cunningham case goes to a fellow named Brent Wilkes, who was an unindicted co-conspirator in that -- that Cunningham case. There is a fellow who has pled guilty in that case by the name of Mitchell Wade who contends -- and this is only a contention, allegations again -- that Wilkes had been procuring prostitutes and limousines for Duke Cunningham and had also been hosting poker parties at a couple of hotels in Washington, one of them being the Watergate hotel right down there by the Potomac, and the other one being the Westin Grand up on M street at 24th.
Now, Wilkes has denied any involvement in this prostitution idea, but we do know that he did have some poker parties and that a very senior official at the CIA had been a guest at a few of those poker parties, a fellow by the name of Dusty Foggo, who is actually the number three at the CIA. There is an inspector general's investigation at the CIA going on over Foggo's appearance at those poker parties. And the CIA, I should say, has also come out to say that at no time did CIA director Porter Goss ever appear at one of those poker parties. So, this is reaching into the highest levels of the CIA.
Curiously, however, CNN omitted any reference to the investigation from the article it posted on CNN.com more than an hour later -- despite the fact that the article quoted other comments from Barr, including his statement that "I think there's going to be more coming out; we don't know the whole story." CNN's judgment about the significance of Goss's resignation is illustrated by the CNN.com front page at 4:30 p.m. ET, which is dominated by news of Rep. Patrick Kennedy's statement that he is entering a rehabilitation program for an addiction to prescription pain medication; Goss's resignation is given a three-word link to an article that omits mention of the Cunningham investigation.
Right-wing radio host Glenn Beck's new hour-long television talk show makes its debut on CNN's Headline News next week. In fact, CNN is so high on Beck, Headline News will broadcast his show at 7 p.m., 9 p.m., and midnight ET -- meaning that, for a six-hour stretch, Beck will get half the channel's airtime. That's quite an investment in someone who has never hosted a television show before; CNN was apparently taken by what it describes as Beck's "often amusing perspective" and his "humorous, self-deprecating style."
Media Matters has compiled some examples of Beck's "perspective" and "style" -- but there's nothing "amusing" or "self-deprecating" here. Instead, we found the angry braying of a far-right bigot and bully:
- On antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan: "That's a pretty big prostitute."
- To the 7-year old African-American author of a controversial poem: "You want to go to Africa? I will personally purchase your airfare."
- On immigrants entering illegally from Mexico: Either "they're terrorists," "they're escaping the law," or "[t]hey can't make a living in their own dirtbag country."
- On families of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: "[T]his is horrible to say, and I wonder if I'm alone in this -- you know, it took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims' families? Took me about a year."
- On filmmaker Michael Moore: "Hang on, let me just tell you what I'm thinking. I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out -- is this wrong?"
- On the father of Nick Berg, American civilian beheaded in Iraq: "The want to be a better person today than I was yesterday says he's a dad, he's grieving, but I don't buy that. I'm sorry, I don't buy it. I think he is grieving, but I think he's a scumbag as well. I don't like this guy at all."
More of Media Matters' Beck research -- and contact information for CNN -- is available here.
It's no secret that Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and the Wall Street Journal's editorial board are all quite conservative -- and that they are all among the most influential media voices in America. That alone should be enough to cast serious doubt on conservatives' claim that the media is overrun with "liberal bias."
But the most convincing evidence that the "liberal media" is about as real as a "fair and balanced" Fox News host doesn't have anything to do with Fox or Limbaugh or the like. Instead, let's take a quick look at some recent comments by specific people the right-wing Media Research Center holds up as examples of the "liberal media."
Time magazine columnist Joe Klein was described by the MRC in 2004 as "made a career of out of being offended by virtually every political act taken by Republicans." As a columnist for Time and a frequent guest on television news programs, Klein is the epitome of the purportedly-liberal/serious-thinker insider. Yet Klein just can't stop attacking liberals, claiming that the "left wing" of the Democratic Party has a "hate America tendency," that "the Left sometimes indulges in 'hate America' rhetoric, especially when it comes to foreign policy," that "some on the left have the knee-jerk assumption that America is always wrong when it uses force," while "others on the left seem to assume that America is a malignant force in the world," and concluding: "I have no time for those who assume our country is somehow evil." He has also described Democrats as "a party with absolutely no redeeming social value."
Moving on ... to "liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen." This week, Cohen blasted comedian Stephen Colbert, whose performance at the White House correspondents' dinner skewered guests from President Bush to the journalists who invited him. Cohen's complaint? Colbert was too hard on Bush, even going so far as to make "jokes about Bush's approval rating, which hovers in the middle 30s." Oh, the horror! By comparison, Cohen never uttered a word of complaint about Bush's own performance at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association in 2004, which featured Bush making jokes about the weapons of mass destruction he falsely told America were the reason why he sent thousands of our troops to die in Iraq. In other words, to Richard Cohen, joking about your false claims that got Americans killed is fine -- but joking about the low poll numbers of a president who made false claims that got Americans killed is being a "bully." Perhaps that isn't surprising; Cohen, after all is one of the ever-shrinking number of people who still don't think Bush knowingly made a false case for war. He even went so far as to defend the Bush administration's outing of a covert CIA agent as "what Washington does day in and day out."
MRC has described MSNBC's Chris Matthews as "out in far left field" and claimed that he "at least doesn't deny that he brings his liberal opinions with him when he anchors the third-place cable news networks [sic] live coverage of political events." That's the same "liberal" Chris Matthews whose guest list tilts far to the right, who earned Media Matters' 2005 Misinformer of the Year award for his sycophantic praise for President Bush (who, according to Matthews, "glimmers" with "sunny nobility") and regular attacks on and insults of liberals and Democrats, who continues to gush over White House officials and Republican politicians while attacking Democrats. This week Matthews -- apparently unfamiliar with the old saying about glass houses and stones -- asserted that former Vice President Al Gore had a "psychological problem" after the 2000 election because he "he went off and grew that beard and got weird."
That's the "liberal media" for you: attacking and belittling liberals; praising conservatives.
Still, the myth of the "liberal media" lives on -- and is even frequently invoked to explain media coverage that suggests exactly the opposite of a "liberal media." CNN's Lou Dobbs this week wondered whether it was a reflection of the mainstream media's "liberal bias" that Colbert's performance at the White House correspondents' dinner "was not more heavily criticized."
Stop us if you've heard this one before: with the Bush administration apparently itching to go to war with a country that may or may not be a threat, a compliant news media falls in line, hyping the threat ...
Media Matters offered several examples of media conservatives -- the same ones who played up the Iraqi threat -- hyping the military threat posed by Iran:
In recent months, Media Matters for America has noted numerous instances in which conservative commentators and media sources have hyped Iran's progress in developing a nuclear capability and have made assertions that contradict the public estimates provided by the United States intelligence community and independent experts. Many of these same commentators similarly touted Iraq's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons in 2002 and early 2003 while making the case for war. On the third anniversary of President Bush's premature declaration of victory in Iraq, Media Matters has compiled examples of media that sounded alarms over Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction capabilities now sounding similar alarms over Iran.
Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto, meanwhile, is already thinking ahead to the next next war, warning of the emerging Bolivian threat to a free America.
Regular readers have may have noticed that we frequently quote or cite Rolling Stone contributing editor Eric Boehlert, whose work documenting conservative misinformation in the media has been invaluable. The very first edition of this weekly report quoted Boehlert, and we've relied on his work ever since for facts, analysis, and inspiration.
Boehlert's new book, Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, May 2006), offers a healthy -- and welcome -- dose of all three. From Lapdogs:
... how the mainstream news media completely lost their bearings during the Bush years and abdicated their Fourth Estate responsibility to report without fear or favor and to ask uncomfortable questions to people in power. And how, most dramatically, the press came to fear the facts and the consequences of reporting them. Morphing into a status quo-loving group, the mainstream media became trapped in a dysfunctional hate/love relationship; the Republican White House hated the press, but the press loved the White House. Or at least feared it. Yes, there were exceptions, and some within the mainstream media during the Bush years produced shining examples of industrious reporting and refused to adopt the telltale timidity. Many of those examples are cited in this book. But taken as a whole, the mainstream media's political reporting during Bush's first five years in office was infected with unfortunate nervousness. The mainstream media filter favored Bush. (For the sake of brevity, mainstream media will hereafter be referred to as MSM.)
Abandoning their traditional role of public watchdog, the MSM for years meekly adopted a gentlemanly tone more reminiscent of the Eisenhower era than what was to be expected at the dawn of the twenty-first century when the press's investigate zeal, displayed during the Clinton era, appeared unmatched. The forces behind the news media's dramatic mood swing, which conveniently coincided with Bush's first presidential run, were many. Key factors included the consolidated media landscape in which owners were increasingly -- almost exclusively -- multinational corporations; the same corporations anxious to win approval from the Republican-controlled federal government to allow for even further ownership consolidation. The press timidity was also fueled by the Republicans' tight grip on Congress and the White House, mixed with the GOP's love of hardball, and the MSM's natural tendency to revere Beltway power. Not to mention the deep-pocketed Republican media noise machine, created decades ago in an effort to denounce and distract the MSM. The timidity was also driven by Beltway careerism; by media insiders who understood that despite the cliché about the liberal media, advancement to senior positions was actually made doubly difficult for anyone with a reputation for being too far left, or too caustic toward Republicans. On the flip side, that same Beltway career path rewarded journalists who showed a willingness to be openly contemptuous of Democrats. And there are many eager to do so.
Part of that seemed to be visceral. News gathering is not supposed to be a popularity contest, but it was obvious journalists simply don't like or respect prominent Democrats such as Al Gore, John Kerry, Howard Dean, and Nancy Pelosi, and the coverage reflected that. And while the MSM might have respected President Bill Clinton's legendary political skills, much of the D.C. press flashed an odd, personal contempt for him, even before the Monica Lewinsky scandal came to light. The stunning stick-to-itiveness the press displayed in flogging the phony Whitewater real estate scandal, for example, illustrated a deep desire among journalists to try to find wrongdoing -- real or imagined -- inside the White House. It was a desire that evaporated upon Bush's arrival in Washington, D.C.
Boehlert's Lapdogs goes on to document failed media coverage of Bush's National Guard record, the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the Downing Street memos, the Iraq war, and more, providing an indispensable account of how media have failed us, and compelling explanations of why and how this happened.