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  • Actual Journalism!

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    While much of the media has relied on the Jeffrey Rosen Method of Determining Judicial Temperament (also known as "assuming that a small handful of anonymous quotes tell the whole story") NPR actually listened to recordings of oral arguments in two high-profile cases involving Sonia Sotomayor. NPR's Nina Totenberg concluded:

    Yes, these are tough questions, but are they mean, unduly snotty or abusive? No more so than the questions heard on a routine basis in the U.S. Supreme Court.

    But a handful of anonymous observers have said she is a bully. What could possibly explain those complaints, if they aren't consistent with actual audio recordings of Sotomayor in action? Oh. Right:

    Judge Guido Calabresi, former Yale Law School dean and Sotomayor's mentor, now says that when Sotomayor first joined the Court of Appeals, he began hearing rumors that she was overly aggressive, and he started keeping track, comparing the substance and tone of her questions with those of his male colleagues and his own questions.

    "And I must say I found no difference at all. So I concluded that all that was going on was that there were some male lawyers who couldn't stand being questioned toughly by a woman," Calabresi says. "It was sexism in its most obvious form."

  • A health care flashback

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Look what I came across while researching my column about media coverage of the American Medical Association (note the date):

    The Associated Press

    August 25, 1994, Thursday, AM cycle

    Health Reform Failure Wouldn't Neccessarily Mean Big Price Increases
    BYLINE: By STEVE SAKSON, AP Business Writer
    SECTION: Business News
    LENGTH: 750 words
    DATELINE: NEW YORK

    The price of health care could accelerate if Congress fails to pass major reforms, but that doesn't mean doctor bills will double or prescription drugs become a privilege of the rich.

    America's corporations - the biggest buyers of health benefits - have been forcing reforms on their own for years. Regardless what happens in Washington they'll keep cutting costs, reducing chances that drug companies, hospitals and other medical providers would seek to sharply raise prices.

    Just something to keep in mind the next time you see a news report offer industry-friendly spin that things won't be that bad if comprehensive health care reform doesn't happen.

  • Politico, please define "target"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Before this story completely slips away, let's take a quick look at this dubious spin from Politico:

    The weeklong scuffle between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and late-night comedian David Letterman has given many on the political right something they've lacked in recent months — a tasty target.

    Oh for crying out loud, conservatives have been running short on targets? The political right hasn't had anyone to rally its hate around? This is just too much.

    The truth is that conservatives, with the hyperventilating help of the GOP's media Noise Machine, have spent the last four months turning Barack Obama into a barn-size target, accusing the new president of every conceivable (and inconceivable) sin against humanity.

    Conservatives couldn't find a target before the Letterman kerfuffle? Please, target practice is the only game they play. Just as Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who right-wing talkers immediately demonized as a "racist."

    It's quite astonishing that a Beltway news outlet, such as Politico, witnesses the relentless, unprecedented attacks against Obama yet still thinks conservatives have been lacking in targets. The unhinged attacks on Obama represent arguably the biggest Beltway news story of the year, yet Politico remains oblivious to the destructive brand of hardball being played by the right.

  • Which is it? Separate Wash. Times opeds compare Obama administration to 1930s Germany, 1930s England

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    From Walter E. Williams' June 13 oped in The Washington Times, headlined, "Americans love government:

    I don't think that stupidity, ignorance or insanity explains the love that many Americans hold for government; it's far more sinister and perhaps hopeless. I'll give a few examples to make my case. Many Americans want money they don't personally own to be used for what they see as good causes such as handouts to farmers, poor people, college students, senior citizens and businesses. If they privately took someone's earnings to give to a farmer, college student or senior citizen, they would be hunted down as thieves and carted off to jail. However, they get Congress to do the identical thing, through its taxing power, and they are seen as compassionate and caring. In other words, people love government because government, while having neither moral nor constitutional authority, has the legal and physical might to take the property of one American and give it to another.

    The unanticipated problem with this agenda is that as Congress uses its might to take what belongs to one American to give to another - what President Obama calls "spreading the wealth around" - more and more Americans will want to participate in the looting. It will ultimately produce something none of us wants: absolute control over our lives.

    The path we're embarked upon, in the name of good, is a familiar one. The unspeakable horrors of Nazism, Stalinism and Maoism did not begin in the '30s and '40s with the men usually associated with those names. Those horrors were simply the end result of a long evolution of ideas leading to consolidation of power in central government in the name of "social justice." In Germany, it led to the Enabling Act of 1933: Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Nation. After all, who could be against a remedy to relieve distress? Decent but misguided Germans, who would have cringed at the thought of what Nazi Germany would become, succumbed to Hitler's charisma.

    Today's Americans, enticed, perhaps enchanted, by charismatic speeches, are ceding so much power to Washington, and like yesteryear's Germans, are building the Trojan horse for a future tyrant.

    From Jeffrey Kuhner's June 13 oped in The Washington Times, headlined, "Capitulation in Cairo?":

    The liberals' mantra is that the majority of Muslims are nonviolent moderates. This is undeniably true. But it misses the point.

    During the 1930s, appeasement was based upon the notion that a majority of Germans were decent people who simply wanted peace and national self-determination. Thus, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made the fateful decision to give away the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia's ethnic German region, to Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.

    By betraying the Czechs at the Munich conference, Chamberlain believed he had secured "peace for our time." Instead, he had emboldened Hitler to wage a war of conquest. The end result was a Europe in tatters, 50 million dead and the Holocaust. The fact that there were countless moderate, anti-Nazi Germans meant nothing. Their refusal to speak out against Hitler's Aryan racialism guaranteed its march to power - and destruction. History reveals that it is militant minorities - not reasonable majorities - that often drive events.

    Across the Muslim world, Islamists are on the march. They may represent only 10 percent of the Muslim population, but that still amounts to nearly 150 million people. Mr. Obama rarely mentioned democracy and never said the word "terrorism."

    Yet the Middle East does not need greater empathy nor multicultural sensitivity. Rather, it needs to hear cold, hard truths: Its backwardness is rooted in the lack of Enlightenment modernity and liberal democracy. The region's despots foster anti-Semitic, anti-American hatred to distract citizens from their profound misrule. The absence of press freedoms, political accountability and the rule of law has only fueled Islamic fascism. The darkness of dictatorship breeds jihadism; to drain the terrorist swamp requires systemic democratic reform - which Mr. Obama refused to address openly and candidly.

    He could have called for Egypt's corrupt autocracy to release democratic dissidents rotting in its jails. He could have called for Saudi Arabia to no longer fund radical madrassas. He could have called on Arab rulers to stop persecuting Jews and Christians. He could have called on Syria to end its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. But he did not.

    Instead, Mr. Obama highlighted the core principle of his foreign policy: a tough line against Israel. He repeated his call for an independent Palestinian state and for Jerusalem to halt expanding settlements. The key issue in the region, however, is not Palestine. It is Iran.

    Mr. Obama is repeating Chamberlain's tragic mistake - except this time, the Israelis are to play the role of the Czechs, the sacrificial lamb at the altar of appeasement. Senior Israeli intelligence officials admit the Obama administration has privately told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington can live with an Iranian nuclear bomb. Mr. Obama believes it is only a matter of time. Moreover, should Israel attack Iran's nuclear sites to prevent the mullahs from achieving the bomb, Jerusalem - not Tehran - will be blamed for any military conflict.

  • Time, Jeffrey Rosen, and the importance of shaming

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    A few days ago, I referenced new research into the difficulty correcting misinformation once it takes root.

    Brendan Nyhan, the author of the new paper, makes an important point:

    Both this paper and my previous research with Reifler indicate that corrections often fail to reduce misperceptions and sometimes make them worse. For that reason, it's essential that elites who promote misperceptions be publicly shamed in front of other elites.

    This, as I have noted several times, is something the media does very, very poorly:

    Reporters tend to privilege lying, rather than punishing it. In order to remove the incentives for lying, the media should shun, rather than embrace, people who have a history of spreading falsehoods. ... The primary disincentive to political figures spreading misinformation is the possibility that they will be seen as dishonest. If the media refuses to make that dishonesty clear, there will be more misinformation.

    The problem is not, of course, limited to the media's treatment of political figures; it is perhaps even worse when it comes to the media's treatment of journalists and pundits.

    Just this week, for example, Time magazine published an assessment of Sonia Sotomayor written by Jeffrey Rosen. The same Jeffrey Rosen whose innuendo-laden hit piece on Sotomayor for The New Republic is probably the most widely, and correctly, criticized article of the year. The same Jeffrey Rosen who wrote that hit piece despite, by his own admission, not having read enough of Sotomayor's opinions or spoken to enough of her colleagues to reach a fair assessment. The same Jeffrey Rosen who took a 14-year-old quote in which a judge referred to Sotomayor as "smart," cut off the word "smart," and portrayed the quote as an example of people saying Sotomayor is not smart. The same Jeffrey Rosen who refused to correct that obvious inaccuracy even after it was pointed out by The New Yorker, by this blog, and via email.

    The proper response -- indeed, the only acceptable response -- to "journalism" such as Rosen's would be for him to be, as Nyhan put it "publicly shamed" so as to provide a disincentive to similar misinformation by him and others in the future.

    But that is not how the media elite treat the media elite. And so rather than being shamed into finally correcting his dishonest description of the quote, Jeffrey Rosen is handed high-profile Time magazine real estate to write about the very person he just finished smearing. And Time's Karen Tumulty (one of the better reporters the elite media has to offer) praises it as "worth a read." Well, no, it isn't. Nothing Jeffrey Rosen has to say is "worth a read" if he refuses to correct blatant falsehoods in his work. He simply cannot be trusted.

    That is how media elites treat media "elites who promote misperceptions" -- with praise. And they wonder why nobody trusts them.

  • What Frank Rich said

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    From today's column, headlined "The Obama Haters' Silent Enablers":

    Last week it was business as usual, as Republican leaders nattered ad infinitum over the juvenile rivalry of Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich at the party's big Washington fund-raiser. Few if any mentioned, let alone questioned, the ominous script delivered by the actor Jon Voight with the G.O.P. imprimatur at that same event. Voight's devout wish was to "bring an end to this false prophet Obama."

    This kind of rhetoric, with its pseudo-Scriptural call to action, is toxic. It is getting louder each day of the Obama presidency. No one, not even Fox News viewers, can say they weren't warned.

    Rich's emphasis on the enablers is an important one and really does represent Part II of the frightening, ongoing unhinged response to Obama from the right. And especially the right-wing media in America.

    Part I is that it's even happening. Part II is that virtually nobody--nobody--within the conservative movement will stand up and say boo about it. Even after a private physician was hunted down and murdered in his church, I couldn't find a single voice within the conservative movement who had the temerity to suggest Bill O'Reilly just might have gone over the line with his on-air crusade against the "baby killer" with "blood on his hands."

    Conservatives spent an awful lot of time and energy explaining why O'Reilly's radical rhetoric wasn't a big deal. (Defending this wave of militia rhetoric has become something of a full-time job for the conservative movement.) But nobody had the guts to stand up and suggest that everyone just calm down before more violence unfolds.

    Fox News is guilty, as Rich notes, of stoking the fears. But it seems to me that everybody else in the conservative media is guilty of playing along. Of enabling the hate.

  • Pat Buchanan prefers the old bigotry

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    But is that really a surprise?

    Here's Buchanan, on the possibility that affirmative action helped Sonia Sotomayor get into Princeton:

    This is bigotry pure and simple. To salve their consciences for past societal sins, the Ivy League is deep into discrimination again, this time with white males as victims rather than as beneficiaries.

    One prefers the old bigotry. At least it was honest, and not, as Abraham Lincoln observed, adulterated "with the base alloy of hypocrisy."

    Keep in mind, Buchanan is writing about the early 1970s. The "old bigotry" he prefers is segregation, if not slavery.

    It almost seems silly to take issue with anything else Buchanan writes after he has expressed his preference for "the old bigotry," but he churns out some other nonsense that requires response.

    Buchanan:

    Thus, Sotomayor got into Princeton, got her No. 1 ranking, was whisked into Yale Law School and made editor of the Yale Law Review -- all because she was a Hispanic woman. And those two Ivy League institutions cheated more deserving students of what they had worked a lifetime to achieve, for reasons of race, gender or ethnicity.

    "Whisked into Yale Law School"? What evidence is there of that? She got into Yale Law after winning Princeton's highest academic prize. Buchanan is pulling a fast one, here: Sotomayor has said that her SAT scores were lower than most of her Princeton classmates (though we don't know how much lower, and the same can be said for nearly half of all Princeton students.) But Buchanan implies, without offering any evidence, that her grades at Princeton, admission to Yale, and editorship of the Yale Law Review were also the result of affirmative action. (The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb has tried, with Wile E. Coyote-esque results, to argue that Sotomayor benefited from "preferential treatment" while at Princeton and Yale. But he hasn't been able to produce any evidence.)

    And what does "more deserving" mean, anyway? SAT scores are not a perfect proxy for how "deserving" a student is, and have never been used as such in college admissions. If they were, applications wouldn't involve essays or lists of extracurricular activities or leadership or volunteer experience, or even high school grades. Thousands of admissions department workers across the country would never have had jobs; colleges would simply rank all applicants by SAT scores, take the top X students, and call it a day. This is, again, literally never the way things have worked at any college. Ever. Anywhere.

    But Buchanan has to contend that "more deserving" = "higher SAT score," even though that is not how the world has ever worked, or should ever work. Otherwise, he'd have to deal with some sticky questions. Like: Was a woman of Puerto Rican heritage who grew up in the South Bronx and thrived academically in high school really less "deserving" of a spot at Princeton in the early 1970s than a white male child of wealthy parents whose academic record was comparable, but who scored a bit better on the SATs? It requires a highly questionable definition of "deserving" to conclude that she was not.

    More Buchanan:

    Two weeks ago, The New York Times reported that, to get up to speed on her English skills at Princeton, Sotomayor was advised to read children's classics and study basic grammar books during her summers. How do you graduate first in your class at Princeton if your summer reading consists of "Chicken Little" and "The Troll Under the Bridge"?

    No. That is a lie. The New York Times did not report any such thing. The Times reported that Sotomayor "spent summers reading children's classics she had missed in a Spanish-speaking home." That's different from reporting that she was advised to do so. And the Times gave no indication that such children's classics were the extent of Sotomayor's "summer reading," or that "children's classics" meant things like Chicken Little rather than, say, The Hobbit.

    If you think those are inconsequential differences, ask yourself why Buchanan felt the need to exaggerate the Times' reporting. If Buchanan really cannot see the difference between what the Times reported and what he says the paper reported, perhaps he should spend some time with Chicken Little this summer.

    More Buchanan:

    From college days to court days, that career reflects, in word and deed, a determination to use any power she achieves to create a society where the demands of diversity triumph over the ideal of equal justice under law. For Sotomayor, the advancement of people of color over white males is justice.

    People who have actually looked at Sotomayor's rulings have concluded pretty much the opposite, which may be why Buchanan doesn't cite a single example in support of his claim.

  • Why didn't the NYT mention AMA's reliance on drug company funding?

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Matthew Yglesias explains a few things about the AMA that I didn't include in my column on Friday:

    The AMA's self-presentation is as a membership organization of doctors. But many doctors, of course, are not AMA members, and the group "inflates its numbers by giving reduced membership fees to medical school students and retirees, who make up about half of the dues payers." ... [T]he AMA has found that it can't rely on membership dues to generate the kind of revenue that the AMA leadership is looking for. Instead, they've turned to corporate sponsorship—businesses with money to make by casting a veneer of medical respectability around their pursuit of profit find a relationship with the AMA to be useful.

    ...

    These days, fortunately, the AMA isn't on the hook to tobacco companies for its money and it's not into anything as deadly as touting the health benefits of cigarettes. What they are on the hook for, however, is the pharmaceutical lobby which provides at least 20 percent of the AMA's budget. And PhRMA is in the midst of a multimillion dollar advocacy campaign against many progressive health reform ideas.

    Ouch. Add that to the list of things the New York Times probably should have included in its report about the AMA's opposition to a public health care option.

  • UPDATE: Fox News downplays the Holocaust Museum killing

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Media Matters today reports [emphasis added]:

    After having criticized other media for inadequately covering the June 1 shooting at an Army recruiting center in Arkansas, which resulted in the death of Pvt. William Long, Fox News host Sean Hannity has devoted a total of one sentence over two editions of his Fox News show to the June 10 shooting of Stephen T. Johns, a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, allegedly by white supremacist James W. von Brunn.

    Nope, nothing to see here folks, just keep moving along.

  • Failing up, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Just to add to Jamison's point about Jeffrey Rosen's star turn on the back of now infamous hatchet job on Judge Sonia Sotomayor for TNR, and how Rosen continues to land assignments from fancy, 'important' magazines. (He's got buzz!).

    The fact is Rosen, now writing for Time, still can't write honestly about Sotomayor. In fact, Rosen can't even perform Journalism 101.

    This is utterly predictable, but behold nonetheless [emphasis added]:

    Republican critics of Sotomayor are planning to use the Ricci decision as Exhibit A in what they hope will be confirmation hearings focused on her views about race. Exhibit B is a speech she delivered in 2001 that included the following 32 words: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." ...Sotomayor expressed regret about her word choice to Senator Dianne Feinstein. But after the Senate Judiciary Committee released Sotomayor's complete list of speeches, it emerged that she had delivered many versions of the same stump speech — seven by one count — between 1994 and 2003. In all of them, she suggested that a judge who was a "wise woman" or a "wise Latina woman" would issue a better opinion than a male or a white male judge.

    Sotomayor's defenders say that those words were taken out of context and that her appellate opinions are hardly radical on race.

    Rosen claims that in every instance, Sotomayor was making the sweeping claim that a "wise Latina woman" would make better decisions from the bench than white men. But oh yeah, her supporters say the quote was taken out of context.

    That's it. Rosen never explains what the actual context was. (i.e. The "Latina woman" reference was made specifically in terms of discrimination cases.) Instead, Rosen adopts the GOP spin about the quotes and pretends Sotomayor was announcing the unequivocal superiority of Latina women.

    But Rosen's safe, because inside the Beltway that's how the "Latina woman" story must be covered. Can a Vanity Fair feature assignment on Sotomayor be far off?