"The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over," announced the World Health Organization on May 9, declaring a cautious end to the deadly wave that claimed 4,700 Liberian lives since last summer. That outbreak, of course, eventually sparked panic in the United States last September and October when a handful of Ebola cases were confirmed domestically. Ebola mania raged in the media for weeks and became one of the biggest news stories of 2014.
So how did the American media cover the latest, good-news Ebola story in the days following the WHO announcement? Very, very quietly.
By my count, ABC News devoted just brief mentions of the story on Good Morning America and its Sunday talk show, This Week. On NBC, only the Today show noted the development, while CBS This Morning and the CBS Evening News set aside brief mentions. None of the network newscasts have given this Ebola story full segments, according to a transcript search via Nexis.
A scattering of mentions on cable news and a handful of stories including in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others, rounded out the remaining coverage in the past week.*
Pretty amazing, considering that late last year the U.S. news media were in the grips of self-induced Ebola hysteria. During one peak week, cable news channels mentioned "Ebola" over 4,000 times, while the Washington Post homepage one night featured at least 15 Ebola-related articles and columns, many of which focused on both the international crisis and the political dynamic, and the problems Ebola was supposedly causing President Obama.
That's not to say the tragic outbreak was not a big story worthy of any news coverage. It was, but American media went into overdrive hyping concerns that a deadly domestic outbreak was imminent -- only to rapidly forget.
The recent look-away coverage from Ebola shouldn't come as a surprise. The American media lost complete interest in the story right after Republicans lost interest in the story, which is to say right after last November's midterm elections, when they brandished Ebola as a partisan weapon.
That's no exaggeration. From Media Matters' research:
The latest Washington Post poll released this week surveying the race for governor in Virginia found what virtually every poll has this season: Democrat Terry McAuliffe has amassed surprisingly large lead in a "purple" state and in a race that was supposed to have been a toss-up between the two parties.
McAuliffe's impressive campaign run represents what appears to be a certain Democratic victory and may be a bellwether for the 2014 midterm elections. But as a longtime confidante of Bill and Hillary Clinton, McAuliffe's imminent win can also be seen as yet another political triumph for the former president and first lady.
Yet that's not how the October 24 issue of The New Republic played the unfolding campaign. In a cover story that stressed McAuliffe's ties to the former president (he's "the consummate Washington insider, Clinton vintage"), the Beltway magazine presented an amazingly snide and insulting portrait of the Democratic candidate.
Depicted as shallow, dishonest rube who fit right in with his Clinton pals, the derogatory language used to describe McAuliffe was startling: He represents "so much of what some people find gross about the subspecies" of the Washington insider; the "shamelessness," and the fact he's "so ardent in his lack of earnestness." He's a man who "managed to sell a used car - himself - to the voters of Virginia."
Imagine the tone of the coverage if the Clinton intimate were losing the Virginia race?
The New Republic's nasty piling-on of McAuliffe is just more evidence that the press, once again, may be starting to declare something of an open season on the Clintons, and those who inhabit their political universe. As Hillary Clinton segues from Secretary of State to possible presidential candidate, the Beltway media, after focusing on the rise of Barack Obama and his administration for the last six years, is also transitioning.
Unfortunately, instead of new insights and fresh perspectives, we're seeing a new generation of writers adopt the same tired, cynical tropes that the Clintons, and news consumers, have been subjected to for two decades running: Bill and Hillary are phonies who keep fooling the American public. They're relentlessly selfish people, obsessed with lining their own pockets and the source of non-stop "personal dramas."
Of course, the "drama" surrounding the Clintons often springs from the media's endless obsession with the couple, married with today's click-bait business model for news.
A new study from The New Republic determined that the Drudge Report's use of race-baiting headlines has soared in the last five years, a fact that lends context to the recent flood of conservative media amplifying random, interracial crimes and baselessly assigning them a racial motive.
Matt Drudge's conservative website Drudge Report is infamous for its obsessive coverage of alleged black-on-white crime and race-baiting headlines. But it's only getting worse, according to a new analysis by The New Republic. The magazine analyzed Drudge's use of race-related terms in headlines after 2008 -- the year President Obama established himself as a national figure with his first presidential campaign -- with Drudge headlines before 2008, and the results are striking. According to the analysis, since 2008, Drudge headlines:
Notably, the analysis highlighted that Drudge often altered headlines to inject a racial component when the original source contained none. This method of race-baiting has spilled over into the broader media. Recently, conservative outlets have seized upon local crime stories and baselessly assigned them racial motives when no such evidence existed. This spate of reckless race-baiting has been repeatedly accompanied by inapt comparisons to the killing of Trayvon Martin, an attempt to highlight a supposed double standard among civil rights leaders and media figures.
When a video of three teenage students beating up another student on a Florida school bus surfaced in early August, local media reported that the attack was in retaliation for the victim notifying school officials that the three teens tried to sell him drugs. But because the perpetrators happened to be black and the victim white, conservative media broke into a chorus of race-baiting, complaining that civil rights leaders hadn't spoken about the assault. Fox News bragged about its insertion of race into the crime, highlighting that it was the only network to bring race "to the forefront" on the story.
When three teens -- two black, one white -- allegedly shot and killed an Australian college student last month because they were "bored," law enforcement officials emphasized there was no evidence "to indicate that the killing of Christopher Lane was related to either his race or to his nationality."
Undeterred by facts, right-wing media again repeatedly manufactured a racial motive. Fox argued that the murder was "likely motivated by race" and even criticized other media outlets for "ignoring the race issue" in the crime. Drudge featured photographs of the two black suspects, neglecting to include the photo of their alleged white accomplice.
Recently, The New Republic launched a feature on its website called the "In-House Critics" wherein they've called upon two columnists to help them in "Keeping TNR Honest." One of these columnists is Jim Manzi, a contributing editor at National Review and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Manzi is a conservative who acknowledges the realities of climate change, but argues against action to mitigate its effects.
As Joseph Romm noted over at Climate Progress, the notion of hiring Manzi as a "critic" of TNR's articles on climate change is quite bizarre, given Manzi's recent track record. In his first column titled "Why the Decision to Tackle Climate Change Isn't as Simple as Al Gore Says," Manzi's argument against action on climate change essentially boils down to the notion that the impact of climate change on the global GDP will be less than the cost of attempting to mitigate carbon emissions and rising global temperatures.
However, Romm and many others have noted that this rationale is quite easily discredited. Not only does Manzi's argument disregard the non-economic impact of climate change on the planet (which marine ecologist John Bruno describes as including "increased morbidity and mortality from heatwaves, floods and droughts" and "increased damages from storms and floods") he also ignores the fact that the IPCC report he cites states that "developing countries are expected to experience larger percentage losses."
Additionally, Bruno notes that "when the variance around the cost and benefit values in Manzi's analysis is taken into account, there isn't any difference between them. In other words, based on the available information, the 1-5% of GDP benefit is not different from the ~6% GDP cost."
It really makes you wonder: Why would The New Republic invite someone to "call [them] out when they see us making dubious intellectual leaps" whose own argument is quite "dubious" itself?
First there was Jake Tapper, interim-host of ABC's This Week, partnering with PolitiFact.com to offer viewers a fact-check of the Sunday morning program.
In an act of policing itself, today TNR launches The In-House Critics, a blog that offers regular criticism of itself from the Right and Left.
Editor Franklin Foer explained in a statement that "while disagreement between writers exists in spades on TNR.com, The In-House Critics represents an experiment in formalizing it."
So they've asked Jim Manzi ("several clicks to our right") and Michael Kazin ("several to our left") to "regularly disagree with us-to write short pieces that call us out when they see us making dubious intellectual leaps, and to serve as collegial irritants to our assumptions."
While I doubt other publications will take TNR's lead it would certainly be refreshing to see others looking at their own work with a critical eye. I'm not holding my breath though. Remember, none of Tapper's rivals have followed his example. In fact, two of them have said people watching at home can fact-check on their own time.
The New Republic praises Andrew Breitbart for avoiding the extreme elements of the "Tea Party" movement:
While bashing the media, Breitbart is a firewall against some of the tea party movement's more extreme, insular elements. His sites have never veered into birtherism, and he defended Generation Zero director Steve Bannon when the crowd instinctively booed the filmmaker's Harvard-to-Goldman Sachs career track.
Boy, "never" just isn't what it used to be.
If you go to Big Hollywood's home page and type in the words "Obama birth certificate," the fourth hit is a piece titled "In Defense of the Birthers." The author of that piece says he isn't a birther, but they make some good points, and argues "For all of these reasons and many, many more, Barack Obama seems to be, if not un-American, then at least not-American. Which brings us back to citizenship. The question the Birthers are really trying to ask isn't 'is Barack Obama one of us.' He plainly is not one of us."
The second hit is a column arguing "For my part, I hope Obama is an American citizen. ... The hypocrisy of liberals is apparent in the fact that not a single one has expressed any concern over Obama's refusal to offer up any of those documents or expressed the slightest alarm over the Constitution's being treated like so much toilet paper."
And there's more.
So, we know The New Republic didn't bother to do a quick search on MediaMatters.org for "Breitbart birther," and they didn't bother to search Breitbart's web sites, either. The question, then, is what TNR based its claim that Breitbart's "sites have never veered into birtherism" upon? Did they just take Breitbart's word for it?
Breitbart, by the way, calls the TNR article a "must read":
Gee, I wonder why.
UPDATE: TNR has now changed its article to read "Breitbart is a firewall against some of the tea party movement's more extreme, insular elements. His sites have only occasionally* veered into birtherism..." That's what qualifies you as a "firewall" against the "extreme" these days? "Only occasionally" veering into birtherism? Wow. And I'd still love to hear an explanation for how TNR got that wrong in the first place, given that the most cursory check possible would have shown that it isn't true that Bretbart's sites "never" veer into birtherism.
Here's The New Republic's Jonathan Chait:
In my field, we have something called the National Magazine Awards. Magazine writers tend to be both obsessed with who wins and convinced the process is a pathetic joke. This isn't just sour grapes, either. The last time The New Republic won a National Magazine Award, it was for publishing Betsy McCaughey's infamous anti-Clintoncare screed "No Exit," which is probably the worst article in the history of TNR. It's as if the last American to win the Nobel Peace Prize was Timothy McVeigh.
Which, of course, raises the question of why TNR hasn't given back the award -- and why its editor claims the magazine has "recanted" and "apologized" for "No Exit," even though it has done nothing of the kind.
The New Republic's Michelle Cottle examines "the never-ending lunacy of Betsy McCaughey," including a lengthy examination of the largely-forgotten hilarity and insanity that marked McCaughey's time as Lieutenant Governor of New York.
Cottle's article seems to be part of TNR's continuing efforts to make up for inflicting McCaughey's lies on the rest of us in the first place. Just this morning, for example, Politico's Michael Calderone quotes TNR editor Franklin Foer saying of the magazine's publication of McCaughey's falsehood-riddled attack on the Clinton health care bill "an original sin that I hope we can expunge."
Cottle pulls few punches in her profile of McCaughey, beginning with a description of Brookings Institution scholar Henry Aaron's opening statement during a recent debate with McCaughey, which Aaron used to make clear his opponent's dishonesty:
So it is that Aaron finds himself standing in the Crystal Ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, running through PowerPoint slides that detail--quote by excruciating quote--McCaughey's reputation as among the most irresponsible, dishonest, and destructive players on the public stage. He starts with Politifact.com's categorization of her commentary as "Pants on Fire," followed by New York Times articles debunking her assertions, followed by complaints from economist Gail Wilensky (adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign and head of Medicare financing under the first President Bush) that "these charges of death panels, euthanasia and withholding care from the disabled give rational, knowledgeable, thoughtful conservatives a bad name." Next comes a denunciation of McCaughey's "fraudulent scare tactics" by John Paris, professor of bioethics at Boston College; AARP executive vice president John Rother's protest that her statements are "rife with gross--even cruel--distortions"; a scolding editorial by The Washington Post about McCaughey's characterization of White House health policy adviser Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel as "Dr. Death"; and, to wrap it all up, Stuart Butler, vice president of domestic policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, expressing dismay that the "personal attacks on good people like Zeke are outrageous. There are real policy issues that should be debated vigorously, but slandering a good person's name is beyond the pale." At one point, the debate moderator felt moved to reach over and give McCaughey's hand a comforting pat.
Cottle concludes that McCaughey's refusal to acknowledge her own dishonesty is what makes her infuriating:
Since her earliest days in the spotlight, McCaughey has presented herself as a just-the-facts-please, above-the-fray political outsider. In reality, she has proved devastatingly adept at manipulating charts and stats to suit her ideological (and personal) ambitions. It is this proud piety concerning her own straight-shooting integrity combined with her willingness to peddle outrageous fictions--and her complete inability to recognize, much less be shamed by, this behavior--that makes McCaughey so infuriating.
I don't think that is actually what makes McCaughey infuriating. There are plenty of liars in the world who nobody gets worked up about -- because their lies don't drive major media coverage about an important issue. That's what's infuriating about Betsy McCaughey: major news organizations give her a platform. They run her op-eds, they host her on television, they quote her, they allow her falsehoods to shape the public debate about health care. They do this despite knowing that she's a liar.
That's what's infuriating: that someone whose defining quality for the past 15 years has been her dishonesty about health care reform should be granted a role shaping the debate over health care reform by major media outlets. And, unfortunately, Cottle doesn't address that issue at all. How did TNR come to publish McCaughey in the first place? Don't they employ fact-checkers? Shouldn't they? How do her false claims continue to make it into print? Why do television news shows book her? What does it say about the news media that they grant McCaughey a platform? That's the important part. If McCaughey was just another crackpot spouting off lies and conspiracy theories while nursing a cup of coffee at the local diner, nobody would care.
But she isn't. And as Calderone notes, TNR owner Martin Peretz still stands by her:
"I do not think Betsy is an intellectual fraud. Not at all," Peretz wrote in an email.
"I have not read the Cottle piece and I do look forward to doing that," he continued. "But the issue that McCaughey went after was one of the most intricate and economically challenging ones that America has faced, as we can see from the present debate."
Also, Peretz wrote, "their [the Clinton administration's] worst tactical error was to do up what was I think [was] an eleven-page memo 'rebutting' the New Republic article, a sign of its importance and weight."
The owner of a magazine that published a deeply dishonest attack on the Clinton health care reform efforts thinks it's appropriate for him to lecture the Clinton administration on why they were unsuccessful in combatting the lies he published?
That's the story here. Not Betsy McCaughey's shamelessness -- the irresponsibility of the news organizations that promote her, and the arrogance of someone who lectures others for failing to properly clean up his own mess.
Rolling Stone recently revealed that in 1994, tobacco giant Philip Morris implemented a "strategy to derail Hillarycare," which included an "effort to 'work on the development of favorable pieces' with 'friendly contacts in the media'" -- specifically mentioning the company's collaboration with serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey on her 1994 New Republic hit piece on the Clintons' health care reform bill. This latest disclosure, combined with a previously exposed conflict of interest, should destroy any remaining credibility she has with the media as an expert in health care reform acting in the public interest.
Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson reports that Betsy McCaughey's mid-1990s lies about health care reform -- lies that helped torpedo the Clinton administration's efforts to provide universal health care -- were, in effect, the result of tobacco-industry propaganda:
McCaughey's lies were later debunked in a 1995 post-mortem in The Atlantic, and The New Republic recanted the piece in 2006. But what has not been reported until now is that McCaughey's writing was influenced by Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, as part of a secret campaign to scuttle Clinton's health care reform. (The measure would have been funded by a huge increase in tobacco taxes.) In an internal company memo from March 1994, the tobacco giant detailed its strategy to derail Hillarycare through an alliance with conservative think tanks, front groups and media outlets. Integral to the company's strategy, the memo observed, was an effort to "work on the development of favorable pieces" with "friendly contacts in the media." The memo, prepared by a Philip Morris executive, mentions only one author by name:
"Worked off-the-record with [The] Manhattan [Institute] and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part exposé in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan."
Now, it isn't necessarily shocking that a reporter would talk off-the-record with business interests while writing an article about legislation that would affect them. But McCaughey's relationship with Big Tobacco was merely not that of "reporter" and "source."
See, McCaughey was working for The Manhattan Institute at the time. And The Manhattan Institute was funded by -- you guessed it -- tobacco companies.
While Phillip Morris was "working with" McCaughey in 1994, the tobacco giant was also budgeting $25,000 for The Manhattan Institute for 1995. The Manhattan Institute has also taken tobacco money from Brown & Williamson, R.J. Reynolds, and Lorillard.
So that's where McCaughey's dishonest New Republic article -- the article that did more than any other to kill health care reform in the 1990s -- came from. The tobacco companies that funded the "think tank" that employed McCaughey "worked off-the-record" with her to shape the article.
The New Republic eventually "recanted" McCaughey's article, a decade after the damage was done, and apologized for it (though then-editor Andrew Sullivan stands by the decision to publish the article.)
So, now that Betsy McCaughey is again trying to kill health care reform, you have to wonder -- who is paying for her deception this time? And which news organizations will eventually have to apologize for promoting her dishonest work?
A New Republic article wrongly described Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as "one of the only Republican governors to accept money from Obama's stimulus package." In fact, all Republican governors have requested and received funds from the stimulus package.
The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen and Fox's Andrew Napolitano cited criticisms by unnamed former law clerks of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a potential Supreme Court candidate. According to an American University law professor, Rosen's and Napolitano's citation of law clerks is "extremely problematic."
A New Republic article on Judge Sonia Sotomayor falsely asserted that "a conservative colleague, Ralph Winter, included an unusual footnote in a case suggesting that an earlier opinion by Sotomayor might have inadvertently misstated the law in a way that misled litigants." But Winter's footnote neither says nor suggests any such thing.
In a Politico op-ed, The New Republic's James Kirchick cited Wesley Clark's comments about Sen. John McCain on CBS' Face the Nation as part of a "pattern of attacks meant to insinuate that McCain's Vietnam experience not only shouldn't count as meaningful 'experience,' but rendered him psychologically unfit for presidential office." In fact, Clark did not "attack" McCain's Vietnam experience or suggest that it "rendered him psychologically unfit for presidential office." Kirchick also asserted that "one would be foolish not to at least consider the possibility they [the "attacks"] were coordinated by the Obama campaign." But Clark has been saying for months that McCain's military service alone does not make him qualified to be president, including while he was speaking on behalf of Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.