If it seems that relentless news coverage of the federal deficit is coming at the expense of covering other economic issues, such as employment, that's because it has. And if it seems that the conservative movement has been able to force the media to pay attention to precisely what they want them to (i.e. the deficit), that's because conservatives have.
The press is suffering from "deficit" overload and Tea Party leaders are likely quite pleased, having made deficit reduction a hallmark of far-right movement. Indeed, the deficit coverage illustrates what happens when Republican and conservatives frame a national issue: the Beltway press falls in line.
Deficit! Deficit! Deficit!
Or, as an NPR anchor recently put it while introducing a political discussion, "the massive public debt" represents "the biggest problem facing the nation."
Note however, that the media obsession is clearly out of sync with mainstream America, according to Gallup. And the latest CBS News poll found that when asked which issue is the most important one facing the country today, 48 percent said the economy and/or jobs, compared to just ten percent who selected the deficit.
We've seen this response time and again this year: News consumer peg the economy and jobs as being the most important issue of the day, while the Beltway press obsesses over the deficit [emphasis added]:
Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing with executives from the world's five largest private oil companies. One of the main topics of the hearings was how the oil companies could justify the billions of dollars it saves every year in tax breaks while simultaneously recording record profits. According to the Associated Press, "Democrats accused the oil companies of not paying their share to help the country emerge from economic hard times. Republicans derided the hearing as a dog-and-pony show staged to score political points." But Republicans were not the only ones going to bat for the oil companies. The right-wing partisans at Fox also bravely stood up to defend the tax breaks for oil companies.
The hearing culminated a weeks-long campaign by the right-wing media to defend the oil companies at all costs. First, they promoted the false claim that proposing and end to the subsidies is tantamount to "[coming] out in favor of even higher gas prices." They also attempted to deflect criticism by attacking subsidies on wind and solar energy, despite the fact that those subsidies are miniscule by comparison. But on this morning's Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade took a new tactic and dismissed the proposal to end tax subsidies for oil companies as "a feel good move for people who think we're spending too much."
National Public Radio is supposed to be a bastion of liberalism and biased journalists who ridicule the American right, right?
I mean, that's been one of the key claims fueling the relentless conservative attempt to defund NPR this year: It's a Democratic outpost and doesn't deserve taxpayer funding. Of course, the problem conservatives have had is showing how NPR is liberally biasing and illustrating the ways in which its journalism is unethical and untrustworthy. They say it's all left-leaning and anti-GOP; they just can't point to any concrete examples.
But for those looking for more proof that the right-wing attacks on NPR are utterly hollow, watch the video below, recently posted by Crooks and Liars. It captures NPR commentator Amy Dickinson blasting MSNBC for its liberal views, bragging about listening to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh every day, and then agreeing with GOP partisans who claim NPR has a liberal bias.
And the search continues for a coherent conservative argument to back up the far-right claim that National Public Radio is hopelessly liberal and bias. We all know conservatives want to defund NPR. But most of us still are not sure why.
Here's the latest supposed sin of NPR, as devised by NewsBusters:
NPR Leans Toward Democrats 7 To 3 On Federal Budget Showdown
I'll make sense of the confused headline: In a report on the looming budget showdown, NPR quoted Democrats seven times and Republicans only three times.
Until, that is, you examined the NPR report, which consisted mostly of quotes from President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Speaker of the House John Boehner. Note that two of the three key figures in the budget battle are Democrats because Democrats control the White House and the Senate. So yes, logic dictates that if they're each quoted, there will be more quotes from Democrats. And no, that does not constitute bias on the part of NPR.
But don't tell far-right critics.
In the first half of the report, NewsBusters objects to the fact that NPR quoted the President of the United States three times, the Senate Leader once, and the House Speaker once. And yes, this is how hollow the right-wing's supposed critique of NPR has become; complaining that the POTUS gets quoted too often in news stories.
I'm still searching for a conservative media critic who can explain what NPR's liberal media sins.
By contrast, and in a nice bit of irony, notice this week that NPR's David Folkenflik provided some real media reporting and analysis (as opposed to what NewsBusters did), when he examined six months worth of programming on Fox News' Special Report. Folkenflik found that the anchor program of Fox News' supposedly serious news coverage chronically underrepresented liberal voices during its round table "All Star" segments, where partisan conservatives are featured and often pitted against non-ideological journalists and reporters.
Based on the detailed research, Folkenflik's point about the tilt at Special Report was unassailable. Meaning, what NPR did was produce an actual piece of journalism and media analysis. What NewsBusters produced, on the other hand, was a complaint that the president was quoted too often in a single news story.
National Public Radio's Board of Directors was so panicked by James O'Keefe's initial video sting release last month that it requested its CEO resign just as the organization was getting its hands on the transcripts to O'Keefe's unedited video. It was the unedited video that later revealed how the original NPR tapes released to the public had been heavily, and unethically, edited by O'Keefe in order to make the NPR executives captured on tape look as bad, and partisan, and as possible.
NPR's former CEO, Vivian Schiller, explained her forced resignation during a recent sit-down interview at the Paley Center For Media on Tuesday. She said the Board was under intense pressure to save its public funding and moved immediately to try to contain the O'Keefe story.
She stressed the irony of the controversy was that when the story first broke, she was determined to take things slow and to not make what she conceded were mistakes in the handling of Juan William's firing last year:
SCHILLER: In fact, when the video tape, the sting video emerged on the morning, I think it was, of March 9th, the first thing, actually, popped into my head was, "okay let's not make the mistake we made in October. Let's slow down. Let's look at what this tape is. Let's take a look at the whole two hour version of it." It was almost an opportunity to, you know, say let's fix what we didn't do right in October.
SCHILLER: The timing was, the edited video hit at about ten o'clock. They released the two hour version I think it was about two o'clock in the afternoon. We rushed to get a rush transcript. But even a rush transcript --it was two hours, it takes two hours, at a minimum. So we were just getting our hands on that long one. But then, anyway, the Board met and the rest is history.
It's been a few days, but the Media Research Center has finally finished crafting their response to Media Matters' report that Fox News' Bill Sammon admitted lying on-air about Obama advocating "socialism," and it is as follows:
I'm not joking:
Soros Grantee Aids Soros Grantee: NPR Covers 'Scandal' of Fox News VP Calling Obama a 'Socialist'
By Tim Graham
In the same week, leftist hedge-fund billionaire/philanthropist announced he was giving millions to Media Matters for America and to National Public Radio. So NPR might have found it wise to avoid publicizing Media Matters initiatives and risk being seen by many as a walking conflict of interest. That's not what's happening. Instead, Soros is happily seeing his grantees play very nicely together. On March 26, Politico reported that Media Matters declared "war on Fox" and a campaign of "guerrilla warfare and sabotage" against not just Fox, but Rupert Murdoch's empire in general. Three days later, on the March 29 All Things Considered, NPR was participating in it.
It began with Media Matters giving the world a tape of FNC executive Bill Sammon on a 2009 fundraising cruise for Hillsdale College proclaiming that he thought 2008 charges that Barack Obama was a socialist were "rather far-fetched," but thought Obama made it very plausible upon taking office. Media Matters said the tape showed "Lying" by Sammon. NPR media reporter David Folkenflik, already looking like a robot-for-hire in his reporting on NPR's Schillergate scandal, became the wind beneath their wings in promoting it.
Let's address matters of factual accuracy, shall we?
First off: yes, both Media Matters and NPR have received donations from George Soros or his Open Society Institute (OSI). However, the OSI donation to NPR that Graham highlights was specifically earmarked for a project to "better inform the public about the impact that the actions of state governments has on citizens and communities." How that would impact media reporter David Folkenflik's reporting on Fox News is anyone's guess. Graham certainly didn't explain, but instead lazily implied some sort of conspiratorial quid pro quo.
Second: Graham's description of Media Matters' report omitted the key fact it uncovered: that Sammon acknowledged speculating on-air about charges of Obama's socialism despite privately believing them to be "far-fetched" -- which Sammon himself described as "mischievous." Given that Sammon is a news executive at Fox and directs their Washington coverage, that makes it a major media story, Graham's protestations notwithstanding.
Notably, Graham didn't even attempt to defend Sammon. Instead, he just wrote "Soros" over and over and berated Folkenflik over matters unrelated to the story in question. Sort of makes you suspect they don't have a whole lot to say.
From the March 29 edition of NPR's All Things Considered:
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In the wake of James O'Keefe's orchestrated gotcha on National Public Radio, Republicans in the House passed a bill to permanently strip public radio of its federal funding support. The bill appears to have little chance of passing in the Senate, but it's clear the Republican Party and the conservative movement have made NPR a prime target of partisan attacks; attacks that will continue for years to come. (Cultural wars are never-ending.)
So even the though O'Keefe's videos have receded from the headlines, how the public radio network responds to the increasingly unethical volleys in the future remains crucial. It's crucial for NPR and it's crucial for other targets of dishonest right-wing assaults. Following the O'Keefe sting, for instance, a defensive NPR made several missteps, including not waiting until all the facts were known about the undercover tapes. (Just like the Dept. of Agriculture did in the Shirley Sherrod case.)
Incredibly though, NPR leaders deny they moved too quickly, which raises questions about what NPR learned from its unwanted time in the partisan spotlight.
The Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik has been busy writing about the recent NPR controversy. Since the story of the James O'Keefe's attempted sting broke last week, seven of the last ten blog posts on Zurawik's newspaper blog have been about NPR.
The only problem? None of them have acknowledged that the O'Keefe tapes have been revealed to be highly edited and done so in an unethical way to make the comments from the NPR executives seem much more damning than originally believed.
What's ironic is that when the story first broke, Zurawik wrote a long item about the ethics of undercover stings and how it's crucial for those behind them to be honest and tell the truth. Zurawik was also highly critical of NPR executives, calling the comments captured on tape "troubling" and "disturbing." He denounced the NPR "stupidity" and arrogance" as presented by O'Keefe, while hyping the "bombshell" NPR sting, and suggesting O'Keefe was effective at getting "at the lies some people in the media tell us."
Missing from any of Zurawik's media analysis? The simple acknowledgement that the O'Keefe tapes have essentially been debunked.
Right-wing media have been cheering the House vote to defund NPR, continuing to call the organization "liberal" and "biased." Yet even conservative commentators have admitted that NPR's coverage is "fair."
We've been reporting that honest conservatives acknowledge that NPR produces good journalism.
During debate over defunding NPR at yesterday's House Rules committee hearing, Rep Louise Slaughter (D-NY) noted that some "conservatives commentators" say that NPR provides "the truth." As Slaughter noted, Tony Blankley, Michael Medved, Glenn Reynolds, and David Brooks have all defended the network, and several Tea Party activists have said that NPR treated them fairly.
Watch the video:
In the wake of the James O'Keefe smear campaign against NPR, which arrived in the form of dishonestly edited undercover tapes (does O'Keefe know any other form?), public radio host Ira Glass expressed dismay that nobody was "fighting back" against the right-wing attacks. "I find it completely annoying, and I don't understand it," said Glass.
Instead of fighting back against the right-wing attacks led by Fox News, NPR hit the panic button last week. It prematurely condemned a colleague and got busy "rolling bodies out the back of the truck," as the New York Times' David Carr put it, referencing the public sacking of CEO Vivian Schiller and senior fundraiser Ron Schiller, who was featured in the O'Keefe tapes. Both were made sacrificial lambs for the O'Keefe stings; lambs that were sacrificed before the full truth about theunethical tapes were revealed.
Note to NPR: If you don't stand up, the bullying is never going to stop.
The Daily Caller's Matthew Boyle has been spearheading that publication's exclusive coverage of James O'Keefe's series of NPR videos, and he's back again this morning with a stenographic write-up of the latest O'Keefe offering.
Under the headline: "New O'Keefe tape shows George Soros has donated to NPR before last year," Boyle writes:
In conservative James O'Keefe's Project Veritas's third major National Public Radio (NPR) sting tape release, Betsy Liley, the taxpayer-funded radio network's director of institutional giving is heard saying controversial left-wing billionaire George Soros has donated to the organization before last October's $1.8 million gift.
Shocking, right? Well, no -- NPR has publicized their Soros and Open Society funding, including it in press releases going back to 2000. This is easily obtained, publicly available information, and it completely undermines what O'Keefe claims is the big reveal of his video. It's the sort of information that a journalist -- or, at least, someone pretending to be a journalist -- would research before accepting O'Keefe's allegations at face value. It's clear that neither Boyle nor his editors took the time to fact-check O'Keefe's allegations. Or maybe they did and just didn't care.
The Daily Caller should update and correct Boyle's story, and then perhaps take a refresher course on basic due diligence.
Discredited conservative activist James O'Keefe is out with yet another NPR video, and its auteur took to Twitter to tease its SHOCKING REVELATION:
Yep, that's the big story, and in his narration to the tape O'Keefe delivers this breaking news: "Betsy Liley went on to explain that [an October 2010 grant] was not the first time George Soros' Open Society Institute had donated to NPR. In fact, the public will learn for the first time that George Soros' Open Society Foundation has donated to NPR in the past, starting as many as 15 years ago."
Actually, Soros and Open Society funding of NPR programming is not a secret. In fact, NPR has openly publicized the fact that they've received Soros and Open Society money.
Here's a 2000 NPR press release announcing that the Soros Foundation provided funding for an All Things Considered documentary on people who witness executions in Texas.
Witness to an Execution was funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Soros Foundation.
Here's a 2001 NPR press release announcing Open Society funding for their American RadioWorks documentary unit:
This American RadioWorks documentary aired on All Things Considered® from NPR News and was made possible through major funding by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Florence and John Schumann Foundation, with additional project support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation, the U. S. Institute for Peace, and the Glaser Family Foundation.
This information was obtained via a Google search. It took less than 10 minutes to find and was quite literally the bare-minimum of fact-checking one could do.
Heckuva scoop, O'Keefe.
UPDATE: TPM Media's Benjy Sarlin further dismantles O'Keefe's allegation:
But donations from the Open Society Institute have long been public. They reported in their IRS 990 forms for 1997 and 1998 donations of $50,000 to finance a series on criminal justice and a series of grants totaling about $80,000 to support coverage of Central Asia. In addition to these direction donations, OSI has provided dozens of grants to individual public radio stations like WNYC and Minnesota Public Radio, some of whom have produced programming used by NPR.
I realize that with more and more news consumers getting their news online, the question about which content from newspapers appears in print editions and which appears only online is becoming less relevant. But still, when it comes to the New York Times and its role as the newspaper of record, I think the issue does still matter. Articles that appear in the print newspaper carry with them a certain weight and signal a larger importance.
And that's why I think it's telling that last week the Times ran four articles in its print edition about the undercover sting operation that James O'Keefe ran against NPR. For different times, reporters and editors signaled to readers that the NPR controversy was a priority and was worth carving out space in the print edition to report the story out.
Fast forward to this week though, and all kinds of questions have been raised about O'Keefe's undercover video and the apparently unethical way he edited them. Those revelations completely undercut what O'Keefe and the right-wing media were peddling about NPR last week, which found itself at the center of a raging media controversy. And again, for that story the Times printed up four separate accounts.
But for the debunking of the tapes, the Times has relegated that news to online-only, in the form of this report last night. The article is useful and informative and explains how the NPR gotcha videos that were looped on TV last week aren't really what they appear. But given the amount of print space the Times gave the story last week while NPR was floundering, this update should have appeared in the print edition, as well.