From the upcoming Feb. 16 broadcast of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
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Journalists who have been included on what is being called an "enemies list" of the National Rifle Association are speaking out about the designation, either welcoming the attention as a badge of honor for their work or criticizing the NRA for trying to intimidate them.
The list of 506 organizations, public officials, celebrities, and others was first posted on the NRA web site in September. After being highlighted online last week it has been widely covered and described as an "enemies list" by critics.
The NRA web site lists 37 columnists, cartoonists, and editors along with other organizations and public officials it sees as opponents of its efforts under the headline "National Organizations With Anti-Gun Policies."
The list claims that the journalists in question "actively editorialize in favor of gun control laws."
Several of those news people on the list criticized the NRA for the move in comments to Media Matters.
"I am proud to be on the NRA 'enemies' list," said Frank Rich, a former New York Times columnist currently writing for New York magazine. "But it says a lot that I didn't even know I was on it until [Media Matters] told me today. It just goes to show that NRA in the 21st-century is becoming something of a paper tiger and shouldn't intimidate anyone, including members of Congress. An 'enemies list,' after all, is a lame retread from the Richard Nixon playbook of Watergate."
E.J. Dionne, syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, welcomed being on the list, but offered concern such an effort might intimidate some non-journalists.
"Since I have long favored gun control and written rather passionately about the issue, I guess I would have been disappointed if I had not been on the NRA's list," he wrote in an email. "I don't think it is intimidating to opinion writers to be on such a list, but I wonder if it might intimidate people in other lines of work. I certainly hope not."
Last week, the Washington Post reported on a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll:
The poll found that misconceptions about the legislation persist, including the "death panel" falsehood propagated by opponents of the legislation.
"A year after the town meeting wars of last summer, a striking 36% of seniors said that the law 'allowed a government panel to make decisions about end of life care for people on Medicare', and another 17% said they didn't know," Kaiser Family Foundation chief executive Drew Altman wrote.
Brendan Nyhan argues that "motivated reasoning appears to play an important role in the persistence of the misperception ... 55% of seniors with an unfavorable view of the law believed in the death panel myth, while only 17% of those with a favorable view did so."
I would argue that something else surely plays a role: The failure of the media to consistently and clearly explain that the "death panels" claim was false. Sure, most major news organizations made that clear at least once. But they didn't do so consistently.
Let's take the Washington Post, for example, since it reported on the persistence of the myth.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz has praised his paper's "death panels" coverage, writing on March 22: "One stellar moment for the press was the refusal to perpetuate the myth of 'death panels.' ... journalists at The Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and ABC News, among others, said flatly that this was untrue." And Post political reporter Perry Bacon said in June 21 Live Q&A: "If you recall, the death panels issue got traction in conservative media, even as papers like ours did not cover it very much."
But this year alone, Post readers have encountered more than a dozen references to "death panels" that failed to explicitly state that such panels didn't exist. The following articles and columns mention the "death panels" claim without stating its falsity:
"The doctor is (finally) in; Medicare administrator must usher in low-cost, efficient care," David Ignatius, July 9
"A patriot's second act," Dana Milbank, June 3
"Under the new health-care law, what will happen when providers' morals conflict with patients' rights?," Rob Stein, May 11
"History shows that Democrats aren't exactly the boys of summer," Al Kamen, March 26
"44: Grassley touts provisions he authored in health bill he voted against," Michael Shear, March 24
"Three points for conservatives," E.J. Dionne, March 23
"The Republicans who stirred the tea," Dana Milbank, March 22
"Would Reagan vote for Sarah Palin?; He's their hero, but Palin and the tea partiers need to understand his true legacy," Steven F. Hayward (AEI) March 7
"Political theater with a point," Kathleen Parker, March 3
"Obama ready to advance on health care; In radio address, GOP compromise still offered but has limited shelf life," Anne Kornblut, February 28
"Trig and political calculus," Kathleen Parker, February 14
"How can apple pie suddenly turn bad?; To learn what's gone wrong with health-care reform, go back to 1994," Abigail Trafford, February 2
"Funding for health-care interest groups often fuzzy," Dan Eggen, January 7
"Leader without a cause," Richard Cohen, January 5
Yes, some of those are opinion columns, including one written by an AEI staffer rather than a Post employee. That isn't a relevant defense: Opinion columns have the ability to influence readers, too -- otherwise, why would they exist? And the Washington Post is responsible for everything that appears in its pages.
And, to be sure, some of those references are critical of the "death panels" rhetoric. The March 23 E.J. Dionne piece, for example, read:
In its current incarnation, conservatism has taken on an angry crankiness. It is caught up in a pseudo-populism that true conservatism should mistrust -- what on Earth would Bill Buckley have made of "death panels"? The creed is caught up in a suspicion of all reform that conservatives of the Edmund Burke stripe have always warned against.
But it didn't say the "death panels" claim wasn't true. (To Dionne's credit, his July 26 column was explicit: "There were no 'death panels' in the Democratic health-care bills. But this false charge got so much coverage that an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll last August found that 45 percent of Americans thought the reform proposals would likely allow 'the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly.' That was the summer when support for reform was dropping precipitously. A straight-out lie influenced the course of one of our most important debates.")
No such credit is owed to Kornblut's February 28 news article, which simply stated "Death panels became part of the debate last summer, after prominent Republicans, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, claimed the government would set them up to decide who could live or die." Or Kamen's misleading statement that "the tea partiers got their operation in gear at the usually dull town hall meetings with lawmakers, berating them for supporting those death panels." Really? "those" death panels? Which death panels are "those"?
Washington Post readers shouldn't be surprised to learn that many people still believe in "death panels" -- not when the Post has repeatedly mentioned the death panel claim without debunking it.
Incidentally, Washington Post reporters and editors won't answer this simple question: Does the Post think it is sufficient to occasionally debunk falsehoods, or does the paper believe it should do so every time it prints those falsehoods?
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus writes:
Blogging is about speed: the early post catches the Google. It is about linking, which may sound like creating a community and encouraging diversity of views but which too often deteriorates into a closed circle of reinforced preconceptions. It is about provocation. Shrillness sells. Even-handedness goes unclicked. Once the people in my business spent time checking and rechecking facts and first impressions. Opinion writers mulled things over. In the world of the blogosphere, mistakes can always be crossed through and corrected; seat-of-the-pants reactions refined.
Except: Shirley Sherrod.
I am being unfair, in part, by singling out the blgosphere. The Sherrod story originated there, but the sins of Andrew Breitbart were aided and abetted by bloggers' co-conspirators on cable news. And, of course, in the Obama administration.
And, of course (though Marcus never so much as hints at it): The Washington Post.
The Post's first Sherrod article was absolutely horrible. And it came long after many of those shrill bloggers Marcus criticizes had gotten the story right. It must feel good for legacy media to wag their fingers at irresponsible bloggers -- but they'd do far more good by calling out their peers.
Another Post columnist, E.J. Dionne, did just that today:
[T]he Obama team was reacting to a reality: the bludgeoning of mainstream journalism into looking timorously over its right shoulder and believing that "balance" demands taking seriously whatever sludge the far right is pumping into the political waters.
This goes way back. Al Gore never actually said he "invented the Internet," but you could be forgiven for not knowing this because the mainstream media kept reporting he had.
There were no "death panels" in the Democratic health-care bills. But this false charge got so much coverage that an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll last August found that 45 percent of Americans thought the reform proposals would likely allow "the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly." ...
The traditional media are so petrified of being called "liberal" that they are prepared to allow the Breitbarts of the world to become their assignment editors. Mainstream journalists regularly criticize themselves for not jumping fast enough or high enough when the Fox crowd demands coverage of one of their attack lines.
Thus did Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander ask this month why the paper had been slow to report on "the Justice Department's decision to scale down a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party." Never mind that this is a story about a tiny group of crackpots who stopped no one from voting. It was aimed at doing what the doctored video Breitbart posted set out to do: convince Americans that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.
This is racially inflammatory, politically motivated nonsense -- and it's nonsense even if Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh talk about it a thousand times a day. When an outlandish charge for which there is no evidence is treated as an on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other-hand issue, the liars win.
The Sherrod case should be the end of the line. If Obama hates the current media climate, he should stop overreacting to it. And the mainstream media should stop being afraid of insisting on the difference between news and propaganda.
From the July 25 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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From the March 7 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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