Looks like someone at CNN told contributor Erick Erickson to post an update to his smear of Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent, detailed here yesterday. Unfortunately, Erickson's update is just further nonsense, but I won't go into that here -- if you're interested, just read Erickson's update along with my post from yesterday and Sargent's.
Erickson's continued dishonesty about what Sargent wrote isn't really the interesting part -- after all, continued dishonesty is an Erickson specialty. The interesting part is the editor's note at the end of the update:
Editor's Note: The blog is a place for a freewheeling exchange of ideas and opinions. CNN does not endorse anything said by its contributors.
It's great that CNN is starting to feel some heat over its relationship with Erickson, but this doesn't fly. Erickson's CNN-hosted attack on Sargent wasn't an "exchange of ideas," it was a one-sided hit job. Even the update isn't an "exchange of ideas and opinions" -- if it was, it would contain some views of what happened other than Erickson's.
And the part about CNN not endorsing anything its contributors say? There are a few problems with that. CNN pays Erick Erickson. It gives him a television and internet platform. It promotes his comments. CNN's John King invites Erickson to attack liberals, then adopts Erickson's attacks in his own reporting. And in doing so, King ignores Erickson's history of doing the very things he attacks liberals for.
CNN can't credibly claim Erickson is just part of a "freewheeling exchange of ideas" when it treats him with kid gloves. And it can't credibly say it doesn't endorse his comments when John King invites him to level hypocritical attacks on liberals, then amplifies those attacks, all without questioning Erickson about the hypocrisy. Repeatedly.
If CNN wants to distance itself from Erickson, it's going to have to do better than this.
Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent notes that John King's CNN blog has posted a bogus attack on Sargent by CNN contributor Erick Erickson. Erickson pretends Sargent "encourag[ed] unions in Wisconsin to get violent," which, as Sargent ably explains, is nonsense. In fact, even Erickson acknowledges that Sargent was being sarcastic, though he does not seem to grasp the fact that Sargent was tweaking conservatives who have been so eager to decry union violence that they seem to be rooting for it to occur, just so they have something to complain about.
Anyway, Sargent doesn't need my help debunking Erickson's silly claims. And, as Sargent notes, the bigger problem is that CNN and John King are giving those silly claims a platform:
This kind of misdirection and and sleight of hand, of course, is par for the course for a huckster like Erickson. But you'd think King and the professional journalists at CNN would check out the facts of the matter before disseminating such an incendiary charge, particularly given Erickson's track record.
At bottom this is another cautionary tale, akin to the recent episodes involving Andrew Breitbart, about what happens when real news organizations let people like Erickson smuggle their complete absence of standards onto their platform. I'm assuming King and the other reputable journalists at CNN are unaware of what Erickson did here, since it's hard to imagine they'd be okay with CNN.com enabling Erickson's efforts to smear another reporter for political reasons.
Now, here's what's really appalling about all this: CNN and John King are promoting Erick Erickson's false claims about Sargent without noting Erickson's own history of violent rhetoric. This is becoming something of a habit for King and CNN, who have repeatedly invited Erickson to denounce rhetoric coming from liberals, all while politely avoiding mention of Erickson's own track record. Which, for those who are unfamiliar with Erickson's work, includes talking about pulling shotguns on government officials and beating state legislators to a "bloody pulp for being an idiot."
So, to sum up: CNN and John King are ignoring CNN contributor Erick Erickson's history of violent rhetoric, even as they invite him to criticize liberals' rhetoric and promote his falsehoods about Sargent.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent reports on his Plum Line blog:
It looks like lefty bloggers aren't the only ones irked by ABC News's decision to tap Andrew Breitbart for election-night analysis: People in ABC's newsroom were also caught completely off guard by the news, a newsroom source tells me.
"This blindsided a good portion of the team here," the source emails. "And not in a good way."
We've previously noted that ABC's George Stephanopoulos has called out Breitbart for pushing claims about Shirley Sherrod that were "clearly not true." And we've noted Bretibart's career of authoring and promoting falsehood-laden journalism.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent has been calling on his fellow journalists to make clear that there's really no comparison between the tactics employed by right-wing "media" like Fox News and Andrew Breitbart and liberal journalists:
As I've been noting here, the real takeaway from the Shirley Sherrod mess is this: Not all partisan media are created equal. Right wing media are willing to engage in tactics that simply have no equivalent on the left -- even if mainstream news orgs and commentators keep taking refuge behind the notion that "both sides do it."
To make this point one more time, it's true that "both sides," to one degree or another, let their ideological and political preferences dictate some editorial decisions, such as what stories to pursue, how to approach them, who to interview, etc. But what's underappreciated is the degree to which the Breitbart-Fox axis goes far beyond this, openly employing techniques of political opposition researchers and operatives to drive the media narrative.
This is an important difference that's critical to understanding the rapidly shifting landscape in the new-media age. If I ran the universe more media figures would come right out and say what the Times hinted at today: No, both sides don't do it.
Sargent is, of course, completely right: The media should stop drawing false equivalencies and make clear that both sides don't do it. But I think it's worth spelling out why. The first reason is, I hope, rather obvious: Journalists shouldn't be in the business of misleading their audience. The second is that drawing such false equivalencies incentivizes bad behavior.
When the media blames both sides equally for a flaw that is significantly more prevalent in one side, that encourages the bad actors to continue doing what they're doing: They get the benefit of lobbing false allegations, and they don't get any more blame for it than their victims do. This is a form of privileging the lie.
It does something else, too: It gives the people who aren't bad actors incentive to become bad actors. If you're getting equal blame for your counterpart's dishonest behavior, anyway, you might decide -- consciously or not -- that it's time to level the playing field by spreading some lies yourself. (I do not endorse this reaction. I am merely pointing out that it is an obvious consequence of an environment in which the media stacks the deck in favor of liars at every turn.)
The perverse result of all of this is that by falsely insisting that both sides engage in the same kind of dishonest behavior, the media actually encourage both sides to do so. And if, instead, they blasted the guilty -- and only the guilty -- and refused to let dishonest claims drive their coverage, they would discourage dishonest behavior.
It's a simple choice, really: Journalists can be accurate and discourage dishonesty, or they can be inaccurate and encourage dishonesty.
On January 1st, Politico ran an article by Ben Smith and Carl Lee headlined "Democrats' worst nightmare: Terrorism on their watch." The "nightmare" in question was not, as you might assume, hundreds or even thousands of dead Americans. No, the "nightmare" was the political fallout of such an event -- and Politico thought that nightmare came true with a Christmas Day attempt to down an airplane:
[T]he White House's response to last week's attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit could rank as one of the low points of the new president's first year. Over the course of five days, Obama's Obama' reaction ranged from low-keyed to reassuring to, finally, a vow to find out what went wrong. The episode was a baffling, unforced error in presidential symbolism, hardly a small part of the presidency, and the moment at which yet another of the old political maxims that Obama had sought to transcend - the Democrats' vulnerability on national security - reasserted itself.
It was the perfect Politico article: It focused on style over substance, it reflected the attacks Republicans like Dick Cheney were making on President Obama, and it forecast political struggles for Democrats based not on any actual data, but on outdated assumptions and stereotypes.
Smith and Lee asserted:
[Obama's] response failed to reckon with the intense public interest in a story of repeated government failures and a near-fatal attack.
the listlessness of an initial response remains a puzzle
Explanations of Obama's low-key reaction in the face of a terror attack include the characteristic caution of a president who resists jumping to conclusions and being pushed to action. They also include the White House's belief - disproven repeatedly in 2009 - that it can evade the clichéd rules of politics, which include a suspicion of Democratic leadership on national security. Only Sunday night, when criticism of the system "worked" comment was not going away, did White House aides realize their approach was not working and that they needed to shift course.
Again: the article included not a single poll result or other actual fact indicating the slightest public concern with Obama's handling of terrorism or national security. Not one. It was simply a regurgitation of GOP spin and conventional wisdom: President Obama's handling of national security must be a political weakness, because he is a Democrat.
And, if a new CNN poll is any indication, Politico's basic premise was wrong. Here's Greg Sargent:
Okay, some new polling from CNN just landed in the old in-box, and it appears to suggest that the public isn't buying claims that Obama's handling of the Christmas Day plot was too detached, cool, or weak:
As you know, a man has been charged with attempting to use an explosive device on Christmas Day to blow up a plane that was flying to Detroit. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama has responded to that incident?
No opinion 4%
I'm sure Politico will now run a piece acknowledging that they got it all wrong and apologizing for running such a piece without any actual facts or data to back it up. Yep, I'm sure that's coming any minute now.
The Plum Line's Greg Sargent gets Politico editor John Harris to defend Politico's uncritical copying-and-pasting of Dick Cheney's attacks on the Obama administration. But Harris's defense doesn't hold water.
Harris writes "[I]t seemed to me that the people who found Cheney's comments most objectionable were the ones who found them most newsworthy." What does that even mean? That the people who found Cheney's comments objectionable objected to them, which means they were noteworthy? That's incredibly circular. Further, Harris is ducking: He ignores a key aspect of the criticism of Politico, which was not merely that Cheney's comments didn't deserve attention, but that Politico failed to place them in appropriate factual context.
Next, Harris suggests that it's ok that Politico uncritically passed along Cheney's attacks because other Politico articles filled in some of the gaps:
If you look at the other stories we ran at the same time as the Cheney quote there was a Josh Gerstein piece leading the site comparing Obama's response to Bush's after the 2001 shoe bomber and debunking the notion that Obama's response was more sluggish. We also had a piece looking at GOP politicization of national security.
If anyone should be aware of the need for individual articles to stand on their own, it should be a Politico editor. How many people sit down and read Politico cover-to-cover? Somewhere in the neighborhood of "none," I'm guessing. If it was ever adequate for a news organization to pass along unfiltered partisan attacks in one report, then add the necessary context in other reports, that time is long gone. It simply doesn't reflect the way people consume news.
Finally, Harris offers this:
Trying to get newsworthy people to say interesting things is part of what we do. Also in December we had a long Q and A with the other prominent former vice president Al Gore. That story might also have looked to some like providing an uncritical platform if you viewed it only isolation.
Another misleading dodge. The Cheney article that drew criticism wasn't the result of a "long Q and A." It was based on what Politico described as a Cheney "statement to Politico." A press release, in other words. Which Politico reporter Mike Allen dutifully copied-and-pasted in its entirety. It isn't a "Q and A" if the person providing the A doesn't face any Q.
From Sargent's "The Plum Line" blog:
CNN has acknowledged in a statement to me that a high-profile Republican commentator who frequently discusses health care on the air is also the media buyer for one of the ad campaigns bankrolled by America's Health Insurance Plans, the major industry trade group currently waging war against the White House and Dem reform proposals.
CNN tells me his ties to the industry will be disclosed in the future.
The CNN contributor, well-known GOP consultant Alex Castellanos, is best known for producing the racially-charged "Hands" ad, has repeatedly appeared on the network attacking Dem health care plans and the public option, which is strongly opposed by AHIP.
Castellanos's consulting firm, National Media, also recently placed over $1 million of TV advertising for AHIP, according to info obtained by Media Matters. AHIP's most recent $1 million ad buy attacks the health care plan as a threat to Medicare.
This connection, you'd think, should be disclosed whenever Castellanos appears on CNN discussing health care. Asked for comment, CNN spokesperson Edie Emery acknowledged the tie and promised full disclosure in the future. She emailed:
"When Alex Castellano returns from his vacation and next appears on CNN, we will clearly disclose to our viewers relevant information including his firm's relationship with AHIP."
CNN doesn't appear to have known about Castellano's work, and this is not the first time outside help retained by AHIP in the health care wars has created a PR mess. AHIP took heavy criticism after the firm it retained to release a study faulting the reform proposals publicly undercut its own findings.