Media Matters has a long history with Andrew Breitbart. We've disagreed more than we've found common ground, but there was never any question of Andrew's passion for and commitment to what he believed.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today.
This past Saturday, February 4, Big Journalism contributor Charles C. Johnson made a novel argument about how the January jobs report proves that the media were wrong about the economic recovery. The crux of Johnson's argument was that "only 125,000 jobs were added in January," a drop-off from December's 200,000 jobs:
But digging a little deeper into these December jobs report finds that 42,000 were Christmas couriers and messengers, one in five of the 200,000 jobs allegedly created during December was shipping and delivering goods. These holiday jobs were hardly the jobs of the future; they weren't even the jobs of the next month.
Indeed, according to CNBC, the jobs report showed that only 125,000 jobs were added in January, compared to 200,000 created in December. This is very bad news and it essentially ends the hope of a recovery as the economy needs to generate 125,000 jobs a month just to stay apace with the growing population.
There's nothing unusual about media conservatives trying to make lemons out of lemonade regarding the improving jobs picture. What set Johnson's argument apart from the others was the curious assertion that the jobs report showed "only 125,000 jobs" were created in January. The BLS report put the number at 243,000, nearly double what Johnson claimed, and an increase from December. What accounts for this discrepancy, upon which the entirety of Johnson's argument was based? Let's take a look at that CNBC report he linked to.
Here's the key passage:
Economic reports in the coming week could be mixed, as the January jobs report Friday is likely to show lower job growth in January, with an increase of nonfarm payrolls of about 125,000 jobs.
December's report showed 200,000 jobs were added, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent.
Now things begin to come into focus. Johnson based his argument on a CNBC article published on January 27, one full week before the actual jobs report was released. Either he didn't bother checking the dateline, or he didn't quite register the fact that the article clearly looked forward to the forthcoming release of the jobs report. Whatever the explanation, it's an embarrassing error.
And it gets worse.
You'll notice that I haven't linked to Johnson's Big Journalism post yet. That's because I can't. Breitbart's website scrubbed it sometime on Sunday. It no longer appears on Big J's front page, nor does it show up in Johnson's author's page. It does live on, however, in the Google cache, and can be seen here for as long as it remains cached. (And we grabbed a screenshot, for posterity's sake.) The tweet Big Journalism sent out promoting it is also still around.
What Big Journalism neglected to do was to post a correction or any sort of editorial notation regarding the story's disappearance -- a curious oversight for an outfit that enthusiastically demands corrections of other media outlets at every given opportunity.
With signs that the Republican nominating process may take much longer, and become much more contentious, than once thought, fault lines are beginning to appear within the conservative media, which has traditionally been very disciplined in their messaging.
What's confusing though, is watching conservative bloggers, who traditionally bash the press for being unfair to Republicans, suddenly claiming the press is being too nice (too fair?) to certain GOP hopefuls.
Last week, Andrew Breitbart's editorial panel at Big Journalism, claiming to have spotted a long-term press conspiracy, lashed out at the mainstream media for giving Mitt Romney a free ride prior to his possible nomination:
John McCain's Romney oppo file makes its way to the Internet. Will the media now begin to talk about some of the troubling things in Romney's record, or will they "Obama him" and allow a candidate to skate through the primary with little vetting -- except what the candidates can push through before they're jumped on and called "mean?" The media doesn't want to vet Romney now; they're holding their fire in the event he becomes the nominee, after which they will unload.
This week, conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, who has been forceful in her support of Romney, lashed out at the mainstream media for giving Newt Gingrich a free ride while supposedly "grilling" Romney with "enthusiasm":
The key question for tonight's debate is whether the NBC moderators will serve up more hanging curveballs over the plate for Newt Gingrich to bash out of the park or whether they will actually scrutinize him with the same enthusiasm they have shown in grilling Mitt Romney.
There's something surreal in watching conservatives complain the press is being too nice to a Republican candidate during primary season.
A network that employs one contributor who repeatedly threatened to pull a "gun" on government employees and another who praised U.S. Marines for apparently urinating on dead Afghans is now hosting discredited liar Andrew Breitbart to provide political commentary. CNN anchors previously said that Breitbart lacks credibility following his use of deceptively edited video to smear former Obama administration official Shirley Sherrod as a racist.
Breitbart has appeared on CNN four times this year, including interviews with the network's hosts Dr. Drew Pinsky and Piers Morgan in panel segments during their coverage of the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina and New Hampshire Republican primaries. Pinsky also hosted Breitbart on the January 20 edition of his show, Dr. Drew.
CNN is well aware of Breitbart's history of fabrications and his lack of credibility. After his infamous Sherrod smear unraveled, CNN's own Anderson Cooper calling his actions "a classic example of what is wrong with our national discourse." Cooper joined a wide array of media who criticized Breitbart's tactics and pointed to what Ben Smith called his "growing credibility problem."
As recently as last November, CNN's Don Lemon reported that a remark from President Obama had been "taken out of context" in an ad produced by Mitt Romney's campaign and commented, "for those on the right who are jumping on the lazy bandwagon, perhaps they should remember that context is everything. And there's always the videotape. Just ask Andrew Breitbart and Shirley Sherrod."
Even Morgan has said that it is "perfectly natural to be suspicious of Mr. Breitbart" and "understandable people might be at least skeptical" of his reporting "given his track record."
In 2010, ABC News drew widespread criticism, including from its own newsroom, after Breitbart's website reported -- and Media Matters confirmed -- that he would be providing analysis for the network during its election night coverage. ABC's George Stephanopoulos had previously called out Breitbart for pushing claims about Shirley Sherrod that were "clearly not true." The network subsequently announced that Breitbart would "not be a part of the ABC News broadcast coverage," but rather would be "participating in an online-only discussion and debate" for ABCNews.com. After many recriminations, with Breitbart saying he had been promised broadcast time and ABC responding that he had "exaggerated the role he would play," ABC dropped him from its elections coverage.
Surely CNN can also find a conservative to discuss elections who hasn't had his credibility rightfully criticized by the network's own anchors.
From the January 11 edition of Fox Business' Power and Money:
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Another year, another concerted effort by conservative leaders to play catch-up with liberals and to finally launch effective media and messaging tools online. They can keep trying, but until conservatives change their behavior, their goals will remain elusive and their established trend of failure will continue indefinitely.
The news this week came in the form of a Politico article announcing the launch an outpost called Center for American Freedom, which will house a conservative news outlet called the Washington Free Beacon. Its founders are touting the launch as an effort to match the impressive gains progressives have made at places like Center for American Progress, the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo. The founders are also candid about how their side has been getting lapped by progressives for years in this arena.
The reason remains simple: Partisan conservatives have routinely shown they have neither an interest in genuine journalism, nor the skills to practice it. Conversely, progressives over the last decade have put in the hard work, held themselves to professional standards of conduct, and have reaped the rewards. So it's no surprise that year after year conservatives moan that progressives have built a new media infrastructure and are outclassing them, especially online.
Sometimes you can learn all you need to know about the precarious state of the right-wing media by looking at who they select as opponents for public scraps in their never-ending cultural war battles. Sometimes by examining the unsuspecting adversaries, you learn more about the confused far-right players than you do by paying attention to their diluted arguments.
I'd suggest now is one of those helpful, crystallizing moments as the right-wing media, supposedly led by adults, have recently whipped themselves into various states of frenzy while calling out the evil forces behind The Muppets, the Girl Scouts of America, and a song sung by third graders in Virginia. (For the absurd sets of circumstances, see here, here and here.)
Talk about a Murderer's Row.
Now, anyone who regularly reads Media Matters as we monitor the dim stars of the conservative Noise Machine understands that being robotically, systematically unserious remains a prerequisite for a leadership role in that community. So the notion that misguided conservative media outlets waste their time concocting nonsense isn't exactly news. And I guarantee you that as 2012 unfolds, we will uncover countless instances of head-scratching ineptitude that will replace the current meltdowns that seem so defining.
But it's worth noting, I think, this current trilogy of insipidness disguised as political commentary, and to pay particular attention to the targets of of the burning right-wing wrath. I repeat, The Muppets, the Girl Scouts of America, and a song performed by third graders.
From the December 9 edition of Fox Business' Follow the Money:
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What a humiliating week it has been for Andrew Breitbart and his team of editors as they continue to struggle with the fact that Big Government editor-in-chief Mike Flynn posted an entirely erroneous report that an Occupy activist had been murdered inside a protest camp in Savannah. The claim was patently false. But rather than acknowledge that fact and apologize for the mistake, Breitbart's editors have chosen instead to keep digging a very deep and very embarrassing hole, while piling lies on top of lies.
The latest effort today comes from Joel Pollak, editor-in-chief of Breitbart.com, who contributes a weak attempt to deflect attention from the Savannah debacle. In his angry pushback, Pollak lobs all kinds of unrelated attacks against Media Matters, because we helped highlight the Flynn fiasco. But what does he have to say about the botched Savannah report? Pollak pushes the flimsy lie that Flynn had moved quickly this week to correct his post. Pollak also claims the Savannah story was confusing, and there was so much breaking news, nobody could really tell what was going on.
Except everyone else in Savannah was able to follow the story. Only Flynn, who made up the claim about a murder inside the Occupy camp, seemed to have trouble keeping up.
The problem Breitbart's team cannot get around, and still refuses to concede, is that Flynn made an astonishing sloppy error in his original post on Monday. Basing his item on an Occupy Savannah Facebook posting that announced the sad news that local activist Jonathan Brazell had been shot and killed over the weekend, Flynn immediately reported the killing took place inside the Occupy camp.
It did not. And nowhere in the Facebook posting was it suggested that it did. (According to press accounts, police say Brazell was the victim of an attempted robbery that occurred ten miles from the Occupy camp.) Flynn though, made the erroneous connection and then used that manufactured connection to smear the Occupy movement, which Breitbart's sites have been doing obsessively for two months.
Colleagues of Brazell though, began to flood Big Government to denounce Flynn's fabricated claim about a murder inside the camp, as well Flynn's tasteless attempt to politicize it.
So what did Flynn and Big Government do? Nothing. Flynn posted his report on Monday. On Tuesday morning, Media Matters called out the falsehoods in the item. It wasn't until Wednesday that Flynn attached a non-correction, non-retraction "update" to the top his misguided story [emphasis added]:
"Savannah police have now clarified this morning to Big Government via telephone that the shooting of Occupy Savannah activist Jonathan Brazell is being investigated as an ordinary robbery, due partly to the fact that it occurred at a significant distance from the protest site itself.
Savannah police "have now confirmed?" But they confirmed that on Monday!! So why did it take Flynn until Wednesday to acknowledge facts that were already widely known? Do you see just how incredibly dishonest this all is?
The sad part is nobody should be surprised this week by the unethical and borderline amoral behavior displayed by Breitbart's editors. They seem to thrive not only on concocting stories and spreading misinformation, but doing it in the most hateful and distasteful ways possible. And when they're caught, they refuse to behave like grownups.
Like I said, it's been a humiliating week for all of them involved.
Yesterday, Big Government editor-in-chief Mike Flynn posted a report claiming somebody had been murdered at the Occupy Savannah protest. Flynn's post fit in with an obsession at Andrew Breitbart sites to portray the Occupy movement as a haven for rapists and murders and drug addicts. The right-wing media has spent months now relentlessly trying to demonize the activists.
Flynn seemed eager to add to the list of alleged crimes [emphasis added]:
Social media has been the principal vehicle of communication for the #Occupy movement. Through Facebook and Twitter, the loosely-knit band of anarchists, communists and leftist agitators have coordinated their actions and disseminated news to supporters around the world. There has also been a very dark side, but we'll leave that aside for now. This afternoon, #OccupySavannah, through its Facebook page, announced the murder of an activist at the #Occupy camp:
False. The Facebook post in question did not announce the murder of an activist "at the #Occupy camp." Instead, it passed along the sad news that a local musician, and Occupy protester, had been killed in Savannah the day before.
According to police, the man was shot during a robbery that occurred in another part of town from where the Occupy protests are being held. But having already botched the story about the murder taking place "at" Occupy Savannah, Flynn, just hours after a man had been murdered, charged ahead and made sure to claim there was a political connection:
I will temper my thoughts in the wake of this tragedy. But it bears repeating that earnest, well-intentioned, but misguided youth like Mr. Brazell have been cynically exploited by the progressive-industrial machine for political gain. They have been lured into situations that are increasingly dominated by criminals and predators.
Wow. The murdered man in Savannah had been "lured" to his death by the Occupy movement, even though the man was the victim of a robbery approximately ten miles away from the protests?
What's even more remarkable is that press accounts debunked Flynn's erroneous claim, and even after readers at Big Government posted links that completely debunked Flynn's erroneous claim, no correction or retraction has been posted by Flynn or Breitbart.
Right-wing media have used questioning by CBS' Steve Kroft of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to accuse her of a "conflict of interest" based on an investment in Visa, ignoring her shepherding of historic credit card reform. Kroft's questioning will air on tonight's 60 Minutes, which was reportedly based on a forthcoming book by Peter Schweizer, the editor in chief of one of Andrew Breitbart's websites. Schweizer has worked on behalf of President Bush, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin, and drew criticism for a previous false attack on Pelosi.
More details continue to emerge putting to rest the claims by conservative media activists that Rep. Nancy Pelosi faced a conflict of interest as speaker of the House because of an investment in Visa she made during that time.
On Thursday, 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft asked Pelosi whether her family had invested in Visa while she served as speaker, thereby creating a conflict of interest as she oversaw credit card reform. Andrew Breitbart and Fox Nation quickly sought to create a mini-scandal by linking to the video with salacious headlines.
The smear was completely discredited by the fact that, during that time, Pelosi oversaw the passage of historic credit card reform -- legislation aggressively opposed by the financial services industry and touted by consumer advocates.
Today, Politico further discredited the story, reporting that Pelosi's investment did not create a conflict of interest based on Congressional ethics rules:
[T]he House Ethics Committee notes that "ownership in a publicly traded company generally will not present a conflict of interest requiring recusal from voting" on legislation affecting that company. In that instance, lawmakers are treated as part of a "class" of investors rather than as individuals and are allowed to vote.
The Pelosi's holdings in Visa stock would likely not have been seen as significant in a company with hundreds of millions of shares outstanding.
Right-wing media figures are accusing Rep. Nancy Pelosi of a "conflict of interest" based on an investment in Visa when she was Speaker of the House. But as Pelosi herself noted, while she was Speaker she oversaw historic credit card reform that was opposed by the financial services industry and touted by consumer advocates.
Something is not adding up when it comes to the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests.
According to the right-wing media, which has showered the movement with endless coverage for the last six weeks and done its best (worst?) to demonize it, Occupy Wall Street and its protesters are "anti-American," "communist, Nazi....pot-smoking, sex addicted morons." They're "anti-Semitic" "whiners," "loons," "parasites," and "petulant little children." They're lunatic," "comrade", "losers" who represent the "fringe of the fringe of the fringe," are becoming "increasingly violent" and follow the lead of Hamas. They're "anarchists," and "smug stupid idiots" who "sound like the Unabomber."
The disconnect? According to the latest CBS/New York Times poll, a plurality of Americans support Occupy Wall Street.
In terms of messaging and propaganda, we may be witnessing one of the right-wing media's all-time great failures.
Rick Perry's surprising embrace of birther rhetoric this week produced a head-shaking response among some conservatives who expressed bewilderment at the prominent candidate's turn toward a long-ago debunked conspiracy theory.
That Perry had to spend the two news cycles trying to extricate himself from his birther missteps seemed to confirm the complaints that his comments to Parade reporter and then a CNBC interviewer were misguided and did little to inspire confidence in his candidacy.
Meanwhile, one Republican Hill staffer complained Perry's actions were "a total disgrace," and David Freddoso, author of The Case Against Barack Obama, suggested the Texan's birther turn was "disqualifying for the presidency."
So yes, in some conservative circles Perry's birther rhetoric was denounced. But Republican loyalists this week never called out the real source of their frustration and never condemned the entity most responsible for cultivating a conservative culture where wallowing in birther rhetoric, even by a presidential candidate, seems like a good idea.
Fox News has done more to mainstream birther charges this year than another media outlet. Despite occasional bouts of sanity from hosts like Shep Smith and Greg Jarrett, the balance of birth certificate coverage on Fox has consisted of countless segments where the bogus tale was hyped and treated as legitimate. Together with faux candidate Donald Trump, Fox News this year launched the story wide, and still treats Trump as a reputable political figure even after he was humiliated when the White House released Obama's birther certificate last spring.
Meanwhile, just this month Sean Hannity peddled the false claim Obama "grew up in Kenya." Fox News has pushed the birther story in a way that not only defied common sense, but also did real damage to the Republican Party, which has to reach out to independent voters next year during the presidential campaign.
The Fox News universe represents a hermetically sealed media bubble of Republican activists that GOP candidates desperately want to reach and engage with. It's a right-wing media bubble, and culture, where questioning the president's birth certificate still passes as a pedestrian activity.
And that's what Rick Perry tapped into.