We frequently point out the various ways in which our friends at NewsBusters reveal themselves to be sub-par media critics, and -- wouldn't you know it - we found another one. And it's a pretty good one, too. Yesterday, NewsBusters' Clay Waters observed that the New York Times had dismissed the Birthers as conspiracy theorists, but couldn't bring themselves to do the same for the 9/11 Truthers, to whom the paper showed "respect." Waters wrote:
Media reporter Brian Stelter's Saturday Business story, "A Dispute Over Obama's Birth Lives On in the Media," questioned those questioning Obama's birth certificate, his citizenship, and his resulting eligibility for the presidency. Good for the Times. But where is the Times's critcism when liberals gin up wackier conspiracy theories?
Back in June 2006, Times reporter Alan Feuer showed far more respect to a conspiracy theory many times more incendiary and implausible: That the 9-11 attacks were an inside job, that the controlled demolition of the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon were engineered by President Bush. Yet not once did Feuer dismiss the 9-11 Truthers bizarre charge as a "conspiracy theory," as Stelter did in the first line of his Sunday piece on the Birthers.
First of all, the 2006 Times article doesn't come anywhere close to conferring "respect" on the 9/11 Truthers - Feuer observed that one of the ringleaders lived in a cave, that another recites profanity-laced Roman history, and that the crux of their entire argument is undermined by thorough scientific analysis. But as to Waters' specific claim that Feuer never "dismissed" the Truthers as conspiracy theorists, let's take a look at Feuer's article, with relevant portions highlighted:
In fairness to Waters, nobody really reads headlines anyway...
Newsbusters' Brent Baker provides still more evidence that the conservative media critique is fundamentally absurd. Baker is upset that "Time magazine's online staff certainly undermined any notion of impartiality in how they littered the posted version of this week's cover story, 'Inside Bush and Cheney's Final Days,' with the links they chose to display between paragraphs and at page breaks of the article."
Baker's first example?
Others, however, reflected hostility and/or derision toward the two key players in the story, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, starting with "Visit RottenTomatoes.com for reviews of W., Oliver Stone's 2008 portrait of George W. Bush" and "Read 'Leahy's Plan to Probe Bush-Era Wrongdoings.'"
Wow. That's Baker's strongest evidence that Time's link package demonstrated liberal bias? The fact that a Time article about Bush mentions the fact that the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering investigations into Bush-era wrongdoing? A link to a movie review web site? Pretty weak stuff. But Baker's argument gets weaker from there:
The "See the top 10 unfortunate political one-liners" link goes to a collection which includes George H.W. Bush's pledge to not raise taxes: "Read my lips: no new taxes."
Baker forgets to mention this, but the list also includes two Bill Clinton quotes and one each from LBJ and Jimmy Carter. What the heck is Baker's point?
The link for "See pictures of polarizing politicians on LIFE.com" brings readers to a collection which has Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and Al Sharpton, but also George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani and Ronald Reagan.
OH MY GOD! THE BIAS! IT BURNS!
Wait. Uh ... what? That's an "Anti-Bush and Cheney Potshot Link"?
Media conservatives have been fearmongering over health care reform, baselessly claiming that it will result in the denial of care, or, in the words of Laura Ingraham, "death camps" for the elderly.
Newsbusters' Rich Noyes is irritated that ABC, CBS, and NBC all decided not to devote their news broadcasts to coverage of the 40th anniversary of Sen. Edward Kennedy's car accident at Chappaquiddick.
I know, I know -- you think I'm making this up. The conservative media critique can't possibly boil down to whining that news broadcasts fail to "report" on the anniversary of Chappaquiddick. But it does:
While the big liberal media usually find it hard to skip any news related to the Kennedy family, ABC, CBS and NBC breathed not a word about Saturday's 40th anniversary of Chappaquiddick.
The Saturday and Sunday New York Times and Washington Post also had nothing about Chappaquiddick.
Wow, conservative-style media criticism is easy! Let's give it a try: Other "anniversaries" the "big liberal media" doesn't report on: the "anniversary" of the time Newt Gingrich dumped his wife in her hospital room so he could marry his mistress and the "anniversary" of Pat Buchanan's memo in support of segregation. Bias!
Newsbusters' Noel Sheppard:
In another example of Barack Obama's appeal diminishing with the public, the White House was forced to reschedule Wednesday's press conference to 8PM from 9PM as NBC didn't want its summer hit "America's Got Talent" to be pre-empted.
Do you think Sheppard really doesn't understand that NBC sells ads during "America's Got Talent," but not during presidential press conferences? Do you think he really doesn't understand that this isn't an "example of Barack Obama's appeal diminishing with the public," but rather an example of NBC preferring to make a bunch of money rather than not make any money?
From a July 15 NewsBusters.org entry:
Newsbusters' Warner Todd Huston complains about Jeffrey Toobin's reference to Ruth Bader Ginsberg as a "cautious and careful liberal":
In his July 13 piece, for instance, Toobin calls Sotomayor a "cautious and careful liberal" like Ginsburg and Breyer.
Since when is Ginsburg a "cautious and careful liberal"? She was, after all, once the chief litigator for women's rights for the extremely leftist group the ACLU. The reason she was picked by President Bill Clinton to take a seat on the Court is because she was an activist liberal. Not "cautious" in the least.
Well, that would be news to conservative Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who recommended that Clinton choose Ginsburg. And it would be news to Yale Law School professor Paul Gewirtz, whose study found that from 1994 to 2005, Ginsberg was the second least activist member of the Supreme Court - far less activist in her votes than Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, among others.
But never mind those inconvenient facts: Warner Todd Huston says Bill Clinton chose Ginsburg "because she was an activist liberal." So it must be true. Warner Todd Huston wouldn't just make that up.
Newsbusters -- the Media Research Center blog that thinks news outlets that produce accurate reporting should be fined -- is unhappy that CBS' Harry Smith dared to challenge a Republican Senator's talking points:
Responding to Senator Jeff Sessions describing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as a "typical liberal activist judge" CBS Early Show co-host Harry Smith argued: "You feel like her record indicates that? I mean, she gets a glowing review from the American Bar Association. Her record doesn't seem to necessarily match up with her - what - some of the things she said."
So, Sessions broke out the tired old "activist judge" talking point, and Smith challenged him to explain what he means, pointing out that Sotomayor's record doesn't substantiate that charge. That's what reporters should do when politicians make baseless charges. That's journalism. And Newsbusters just hates it.
But here's what's really funny: Sessions acknowledged that Smith was right. Here's the transcript, as presented by Newsbusters:
SESSIONS: Well, I think there's some truth to that because I believe we are in this country debating about the directions our courts could go and should go. I believe this nominee, from what I've seen so far, is the typical liberal activist judge who will push the law, who believes that – in identity type politics and seeing people as groups more than individuals. Who is-
SMITH: Would her record – you feel like her record indicates that?
SESSIONS: Harry, you know, she-
SMITH: I mean, she gets a glowing review from the American Bar Association.
SESSIONS: I understand-
SMITH: Her record doesn't seem to necessarily match up with her – what – some of the things she said.
SESSIONS: Right. There is a disconnect there, I will agree. Her record is better than her speeches. Her speeches tend to reflect, I think, her philosophy.
NewsBusters' Tim Graham repeats a Gawker post claiming that, in Graham's words, "the White House press elite partied down with President Obama on ahem, Independence Day" in an off-the-record event that featured a performance by the Foo Fighters. Graham went on to tut-tut: "Even if you weren't a fan of Obama (or a fan of picnics, or the Foo Fighters), an ambitious reporter might take the tickets just to get some off-the-record schmoozing in with people they'd like to line up as sources. It would be nice to know which ones who daily pledge to uphold the 'people's right to know' attended and accepted the pledges of secrecy."
What Graham didn't mention is that President Bush did the very same thing. A 2006 New York Times article noted that "Mr. Bush holds an annual off-the-record barbecue with reporters during his summer vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Tex."
We searched the archives of NewsBusters and its parent organization, the Media Research Center, and couldn't find any mention of Bush's reporter barbecues, let alone evidence that Graham was similarly outraged by the "off-the-record schmoozing" going on there.
(Not that there was all that much of it going on at the Obama event: As Politico's Michael Calderone points out, most of the "White House press elite" weren't there because they were on their way to Moscow to cover Obama's trip to Russia, and the president himself left early.)
Or, rather, Brent Bozell agrees with me.
Media Research Center Brent Bozell thinks the media should devote more coverage to "the tragic deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan."
I agree. The media should do a better job of showing the human costs of war. In fact, I've been saying that for years.
Bozell, on the other hand, spent the Bush years attacking journalists who wanted to be able to bring their readers and viewers pictures of coffins containing troops who died in Iraq.
Anyway, it's great that he's come around.
Here's Newsbusters' Brent Baker complaining about media coverage of Sarah Palin's announcement that she is quitting the governorship of Alaska:
Sarah Palin's "bombshell" holiday announcement that she will resign as Governor of Alaska managed to trump Michael Jackson as the lead on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts Friday night ... CBS reporter Nancy Cordes reflected the tone of the stories when she described "a rambling, at times confusing announcement," while on all three newscasts Palin's decision was called "bizarre."
And here's Baker's colleague, Brad Wilmouth:
Also similar to the DNC statement, CBS managed to squeeze in the word "bizarre" twice as a description of Palin's announcement as Cordes first showed a soundbite of the Politico's Mike Allen calling Palin's actions "bizarre," and, moments later, as he appeared with substitute anchor Maggie Rodriguez to discuss the story, CBS News political consultant John Dickerson also used the word. Allen: "This is very unusual, even bizarre." Dickerson: "It's bizarre, and there's no good explanation."
It doesn't seem to have occurred to the Newsbusters crew that Palin's speech is being widely described as "bizarre" because it was bizarre. This is exactly the kind of thing the word "bizarre" was created to describe.
Without getting too bogged down listing the many ways in which it was bizarre, let me just note that Palin denounced taking "a quitter's way out" in the middle of a speech in which she announced that she is quitting. You can watch or read the speech and decide for yourself; I have no idea what Newsbusters is complaining about, and no idea how you could report on the speech without calling it bizarre.
Fox Nation -- Fox News' purportedly non-"biased" and "fair and balanced" website -- has frequently promoted posts from the falsehood-ridden conservative blog NewsBusters.
Newsbusters' Noel Sheppard complains about last week's CBS/New York Times poll:
Realizing that Barack Obama's healthcare initiative has hit some roadblocks in Congress, the good folks at CBS News and the New York Times figured they'd help it along by creating a new poll on the subject that WAY oversampled people who voted for Obama.
As can be plainly seen on page 7 of the poll's data, only 73 percent of respondents divulged who they voted for last November. 48 percent said Obama, 25 percent McCain.
What this means is this poll surveyed 66 percent Obama supporters versus 34 percent McCain.
Uh ... no. What this means is that 48 percent of respondents say they voted for Obama, and 25 percent say they voted for McCain, and 27 percent either say they didn't vote, say they voted for someone else, or refuse to say for whom they voted. You can't just wish away those 27 percent and pretend that the poll "surveyed 66 percent Obama supporters versus 34 percent McCain."
And while we're on the topic, it's a pretty widely-known fact of polling that questions that ask who respondents voted for in the last election tend to overstate the vote for the winner, so Sheppard's conclusion that the poll "WAY oversampled" Obama voters isn't really supported by the evidence he provides.
And, as Eric Boehlert noted earlier, "the Times sampling in terms of party affiliation was in line with years' worth of previous polls." Not to mention the fact that the poll found that, by an 11-point plurality (50 to 39), Republicans favor a "government administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans." So the Times poll could have consisted only of Republicans, and it still would have shown strong support for a public plan.
Sheppard's conclusion would seem to apply better to Sheppard himself than to the New York Times (were it not for the unconstitutionality and general stupidity of applying it to anyone):
Honestly, stuff like this should be illegal and any news organization found doing it should be significantly fined.
In any industry you could name, such deception of the public would meet with very serious consequences.
Why are so-called news outlets allowed to get away with such obvious deceit with total impunity?
Actually, that pretty nicely sums up the conservative media critics' view of journalism: They think it should be illegal for news organizations to do things they don't like (even when their unhappiness is based on a complete lack of understanding of polling and basic math) and the journalists involved should be fined.
In other words, conservative media critics like Sheppard don't believe in independent media. They don't believe in freedom of the press. So why on earth should any journalist ever take anything they say seriously?
Newsbusters complains that the New York Times didn't report the fact that journalist David Rohde was held by the Taliban, even though it did disclose government torture:
In their watchdog role of keeping the public informed, the New York Times has over the years disclosed government secrets regarding anti-terrorism tactics, overseas prisons, interrogation tactics, and military tactics, that critics contend have harmed the effectiveness of the programs and put America and our military at greater risk.
So when Times journalist David Rohde was captured by the Taliban and held for seven months, the Times was going to report that, right? After all, doesn't the public have a right to know about the threats they may face while traveling in Afghanistan?
Yeah, because getting kidnapped is exactly the same as torturing people and conducting warrantless spying on American citizens.
Seriously, that's what Newsbusters is saying: Because the New York Times reported that the Bush administration was probably violating the law, the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and basic human decency, the Times was obligated to report that the Taliban was holding Rohde, even if it may have jeopardized Rohde's life.
That is lunacy, though the blatant disregard it shows for Rohde's life probably shouldn't be surprising coming from people who are, after all, defending torture.
From a June 2 NewsBusters entry:
George Tiller, the Kansas doctor notorious for his commitment to performing late-term abortions, was killed May 31 while attending a Sunday morning church service.
By his count, Tiller performed 60,000 abortions. His clinic, Women's Health Care Services in Wichita, was one of only three clinics in the United States that offered abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy.
Loss of human life is a tragedy and should be reported as such, and premeditated murder is always wrong - something all the mainstream pro-life groups were quick to affirm in the wake of the killing. But in reporting this tragic story, the news media have much to say about a man who helped provide women with the "right" to end their pregnancies, but have little to say about lives he helped to end. In failing to highlight what Tiller's work actually entailed, reporters do nothing to help their audience understand why this man was targeted.