The bogus story that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had filed for bankruptcy appeared on Boston.com, the sister website of The Boston Globe, through a third-party content provider that posts content without editorial approval and provides such content to more than 200 web outlets.
That provider, meanwhile, took the story from an Austrian-based blog without any editorial review or fact-checking of its own, a practice that is becoming more and more common in the Internet content sharing world. The blog has since deleted its post and all posts from the author appear to have been removed from Boston.com.
The false story, which had its roots in a satire by the website Daily Currant, was subsequently picked up by the conservative site Breitbart.com, a move later criticized by Krugman himself and numerous news outlets from The Atlantic to Politico. Breitbart.com has deleted the post, with its author blaming Boston.com, which he says he "trusted" for the story.
But according to Boston.com, they played no role in the creation of that post, an editorial mechanism which troubles some observers.
He said he reached out to financialcontent.com at roughly 9 a.m. EDT today to have the item removed. It was removed at 11:34 a.m. EDT.
"The reason why we partner with them is to provide stock data," Agrella explained Monday, just hours after the item was taken down. "That is why we contract with them. The stories are additional content provided on the side. We have partnered with them for 10 or 12 years."
Financialcontent.com had picked up the item from an Austria-based business blog, Prudent Investor, without any editorial review of its own, according to financialcontent.com CEO Wing Yu.
"We are a technology company, we don't have an editorial desk," Yu explained. "There is an RSS feed that we parse from each content provider. We have categorized [Prudent Investor] as a business content provider and the content is syndicated along with the byline."
YU said Prudent Investor is one of more than 400 content providers that financialcontent.com draws on for news and data, which it then forwards to some 200 news outlets such as Boston.com, as well as others owned by McClatchy, Media News Group and AOL.
The Prudent Investor website is based in Vienna, Austria, and run by Toni Straka, who describes himself on the blog as "an INDEPENDENT Certified Financial Analyst who worked as a financial journalist for 15+ years and now evaluate global market trends."
Yesterday, we documented how the conservative media, following the release of a report by the Secretary of the Senate, covered up obstructionism by Senate Republicans in order to cast Democrats as "do-nothing" and "lazy." In fact, Republicans have routinely resorted to filibusters to try to block bills that would have otherwise passed the Senate.
But the right-wing media would not easily get away with this if not for the complicity of the mainstream media. On Monday, a majority of senators voted in support of legislation to enact the Buffett Rule, which would set a minimum effective tax rate for annual income in excess of $1 million. Fifty-one senators voted in favor of the bill, while 45 senators opposed it. The legislation did not pass the Senate, however, because a Republican filibuster meant that a supermajority of 60 senators was needed in order to pass the bill.
But the mainstream media was noticeably derelict in reporting that the bill had majority support and was blocked by procedural tricks by the minority. For instance, The Boston Globe article on the subject stated: "Monday night's Buffett rule vote, which blocked consideration of the bill in a 51-45 tally, was timed to coincide with Tuesday's IRS filing deadline." The article continued: "Republicans prevented the measure from receiving the 60 votes necessary to open debate. All Republicans but Senator Susan Collins of Maine voted against it. All Democrats except for Mark Pryor of Arkansas voted for it."
Unless a reader knew the number of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, the reporting makes it seem that 51 senators voted against the bill rather than in favor of it.
USA Today similarly failed to inform its readers that the bill received majority support.
Citing a study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, the largest oil and gas industry trade group, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry claimed he could create over a million jobs by expanding domestic fossil fuel production. That estimate is based on highly dubious assumptions, but several news outlets have uncritically repeated it.
Michael Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, did what so many news media outlets have proven unable or unwilling to do, and actually scrutinized API's numbers. He concluded that they are "unrealistic":
The numbers that Perry and Romney are offering for job creation in the energy sector are unrealistic. They assume that they will be reversing deeply anti-industry Obama policies that don't actually exist (which is not to say that the Obama policies have no flaws), ignore real constraints at the state level, and don't fully account for market dynamics. Five hundred thousand is a reasonable upper limit for the number of jobs that a new policy might create by 2030, of which 130,000 or so might actually be in oil and gas. Taking into account market dynamics could lower those numbers further.
The Washington Post also recently reported that that "only a third of the 1.4 million positions created would go to people working directly for the petroleum industry." API's job creation estimate includes "a seldom-used category known as 'induced jobs' that API says covers everything from valets to day-care providers, from librarians to rocket scientists," according to the Post. The article added that energy economist Philip Verleger said "The API is the best there is at lying with statistics."
Yet according to a Nexis search, several news outlets simply repeated Rick Perry's claim that his energy plan could produce more than one million jobs.
In a Boston Globe column titled "Cooler heads prevail against climate panic," Jeff Jacoby denounces what he deems to be "climate fearmongering" about the dangers posed by unchecked greenhouse gas emissions. I agree that hyperbole is often damaging to public discourse, however Jacoby should acknowledge that misleading and fallacious claims are of equal concern.
We could start with his own suggestion that those concerned about global warming engage in "end-of-the-world doomsaying" akin to Harold Camping's apocalypse prophesies. As a side note, Rush Limbaugh, who's known for his thoughtful and moderate rhetoric, said the same thing a couple weeks ago.
In his column, Jacoby forwards the claim that "rising carbon-dioxide levels" are not "anything to fear," citing physicist William Happer's assertion that "carbon is the stuff of life." Jacoby also quotes from Happer's statement that "about fifty million years ago" CO2 levels were "much higher than now. And life flourished abundantly." (For his part, Happer thinks that those concerned about climate change are far worse than Harold Camping -- they're more like Nazis.)
Jacoby's argument misrepresents the anxieties that so many, including the national science academies of 13 nations and the U.S. military, have about climate change. The existence of Earth or of life itself is not in question. Indeed, if that's the standard for taking action, then I can't think of any tragedy or injustice that would merit concern.
Rather, as scientists contacted through the Climate Science Rapid Response Team explained, climate change demands attention because it is altering the environments in which our societies operate faster than we are adapting, and the transition may be difficult, expensive, and painful in many cases -- all the more so if nothing is done to slow the changes and mitigate our vulnerabilities.
Happer's comparison to the Eocene epoch (56 - 34 million years ago) contributes little to the debate over whether global warming is a serious problem. As Purdue University's Matthew Huber explained via email, the world 50 million years ago was quite a bit different from the one we know, with "crocodiles, palm trees, and ginger plants near the North Pole," temperatures in continental North America that were 10-15°C warmer, and sea level "about 100m higher." Needless to say, these are not the assumptions upon which we have built our cities, economies, or food and water systems, and any rapid shift in the climate toward these conditions would cause major disruptions.
Despite the scientific consensus that human-caused global warming is real and is negatively affecting the planet, the media have repeatedly provided a platform for critics who argue that the Earth is in a period of "cooling" or that the issue of global warming does not need to be addressed.
The Boston Globe and The Washington Post echoed the discredited accusation, advanced by conservative media figures, that Sen. Hillary Clinton did not condemn controversial comments by Suha Arafat during a 1999 trip to the West Bank, where Arafat, according to the Globe, "launched into an unscripted tirade accusing Israel of poisoning Palestinian children." In fact, Clinton reportedly "condemned Mrs. Arafat hours later, after receiving, she said, an official translation of her remarks."
In a New England Cable News video posted on the Boston Globe website, two comments by Sen. Barack Obama are spliced together, falsely suggesting that his comment that "[y]ou can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig" immediately followed a reference to Gov. Sarah Palin. In fact, the "lipstick" comment immediately followed Obama's comments about Sen. John McCain's policies and political tactics.
Several media outlets have uncritically reported the false charge by Sen. John McCain's campaign that Sen. Barack Obama "just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii." In fact, according to the Hawaii Department of Land and Resources, all beaches in Hawaii are public.