“Media Matters,” week ending December 17; by Jamison Foser

Quote of the week: “You don't see prominent conservatives cursing out Democratic members of Congress, for example.” -- Bill O'Reilly on the December 16 O'Reilly Factor, apparently forgetting this.

Week ending December 17, 2004

Quote of the week:

“You don't see prominent conservatives cursing out Democratic members of Congress, for example.”

-- Bill O'Reilly on the December 16 O'Reilly Factor, apparently forgetting this.

This week:

“Coward” Bill O'Reilly continues to smear Media Matters while ducking David Brock

Media Matters launches effort to bring balance to Sinclair broadcasts

Bush Social Security privatization scheme gets assist from inaccurate media reports

Bush administration failed to vet Kerik -- but so did the media

Does Lou Dobbs think Christmas is not a holiday?

“Coward” Bill O'Reilly continues to smear Media Matters while ducking David Brock

Bill O'Reilly -- apparently stung by criticism that he recently “play[ed] into one of the oldest anti-Semitic canards about Jews” with his "deeply insensitive" suggestion that a Jewish caller "go to Israel" -- has repeatedly lashed out at Media Matters for America for publicizing his comments.

This week, Media Matters for America President and CEO David Brock had enough, and wrote to O'Reilly:

As you can see, Mr. O'Reilly, you have repeatedly and personally attacked me, Media Matters for America, and my fine staff, calling us “vile,” “despicable,” and “weasels,” and comparing us to the Ku Klux Klan, Castro, Mao, and the Nazis. And you have refused my repeated requests to appear on your broadcast.

You once offered your viewers your definition of the word “coward.” On the January 5, 2004, O'Reilly Factor, you declared: “If you attack someone publicly, as these men did to me, you have an obligation to face the person you are smearing. If you don't, you are a coward.”

Well, Mr. O'Reilly, you have attacked me publicly on numerous occasions, and you refuse to face me. You, sir, are a coward -- by your own definition of the term. You are “hiding under your desk” (to paraphrase your August 26, 2003, claim about a “coward” who declined to appear on your show) rather than allowing me on your program to discuss your insults. You are “gutless,” to borrow the phrase you used on January 10, 2003, and February 8, 2001, to describe people who would not appear on your program. I attach additional examples of your pejorative descriptions of those who decline invitations to appear on your broadcast.

Your frequent complaint that your words are taken out of context appears to have spurred your recent assault on my organization. While reasonable people can disagree about conclusions we, or you, have drawn about your comments, you are simply wrong to say that we took you out of context. I remain willing and eager to appear on either your television or radio program to discuss your contention that my organization has taken your comments out of context.

Should you continue to refuse this offer, it is only reasonable that the American people will conclude that you are not only -- as you would put it -- a “coward,” but a hypocrite as well.

As of this writing, Media Matters for America has not received a response from O'Reilly.

Media Matters launches effort to bring balance to Sinclair broadcasts

This week, Media Matters for America launched a campaign to bring balance to Sinclair Broadcast Group's news programming, with the support of MoveOn.org, mediachannel.org, Free Press, Working Assets, Campaign for America's Future, and AlterNet:

The campaign aims to spur action against Sinclair Broadcast Group's use of the company's 62 owned and operated television stations to systematically promote partisan political interests. Of particular concern is a nightly “news” commentary titled “The Point” in which Sinclair Vice President, Mark Hyman, consistently espouses one-sided, conservative rhetoric without any counterpoint.

The vehicle for the initiative is a new website www.SinclairAction.com where you will be able to view video clips of “The Point” ; discuss this topic with others; and register your concerns directly with corporations that advertise on Sinclair's stations.

We believe the fairest way to remedy this situation is for Sinclair to provide a meaningful opportunity for those with an opposing point of view to respond to editions of the “The Point.” With your help, we can hold Sinclair accountable for their slanted news programming and demand it become a responsible steward of the airwaves, access to which it has been granted on behalf of the American people.

In response, Hyman declared: “As soon as MoveOn.org allows me to use their email lists and post to their Web site, maybe then we will have a conversation.” Hyman's comment suggests that he does not understand the difference between a media outlet (Sinclair) and an advocacy organization (MoveOn.org). The fact that Sinclair's vice president apparently considers his media company an advocacy organization pretty neatly sums up the problem with the company; we thank Hyman for making our point for us.

MoveOn.org, meanwhile, accepted Hyman's challenge, with the group's executive director, Eli Pariser, promising: “If Sinclair will agree on a way to share its license to broadcast into millions of homes, we'll gladly send our members an email with a Sinclair message.”

To date, Sinclair hasn't responded.

Bush Social Security privatization scheme gets assist from inaccurate media reports

President Bush's plans to privatize Social Security have gotten a helping hand from a series of misleading media reports this week.

Media outlets and personalities, like NBC's Tim Russert, have generally repeated the Bush administration line that Social Security “faces a crisis.” In fact, Social Security assets are not projected to be exhausted until 2042, at the earliest -- hardly the dire emergency the administration and the media portray. And even if no changes are made, tax income at that point would still cover 73 percent of costs, and the system could still pay out 68 percent by 2078.

Another pro-privatization talking point that frequently gets repeated by the media is that the declining number of taxpayers per retiree means the Social Security system is doomed. CBS's John Roberts, for example, reported on December 15:

Franklin Roosevelt's Social Security safety net is quickly developing huge financial holes. In 1935, the system was flush: 16 workers paid in for every one that drew retirement benefits. That ratio is now just a little more than three to one. By the time all the baby boomers have retired, [that ratio will be] just two to one.

Roberts wasn't the first to make this point; Russert made a similar statement as far back as 2000, when he mentioned it during a Republican presidential primary debate, as Bob Somerby reminds us:

RUSSERT (1/6/00): Let me turn to an issue -- before we allow the candidates to question one another -- Social Security and Medicare. And Senator [John] McCain [R-AZ], let me start with you.

When Social Security was created there were ... 42 workers for every retiree. There are now going to be, soon, two workers per retiree.

But does the declining ratio of workers to retirees really mean anything? Neither Russert not Roberts explained why it does. Somerby, however, took the trouble to look for the answer, and noted that economists Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot, in their book Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 1999), dismiss the talking point:

BAKER/WEISBROT (continuing directly): But the decline in this ratio has actually been considerably steeper in the past. In 1955 there were 8.6 workers per retiree, and the decline from 8.6 to 3.3 did not precipitate any economic disaster.

These figures also neglect to take into account the reduced costs faced by the working population from having a smaller proportion of children to support. A more accurate measure of the actual burden faced by the employed labor force would be the total dependency ratio, which includes both retirees and children relative to the number of workers. This ratio is projected to increase from 0.708 today to 0.796 in 2035. This is not a large increase, and the latter figure is considerably below the ratio for the year 1965, which was 0.947.

Other media reports have been even less accurate; as Media Matters noted this week:

[O]n CNN's December 9 edition of Live From..., anchor Kyra Phillips teased a segment on Social Security by stating falsely that "[i]t's trillions of dollars in the red," asking: “What else can be done to save Social Security? President Bush talks about it.”

Social Security is not “in the red,” and won't be anytime soon.

Proponents of Social Security privatization are doing their best to create the false impression that the retirement system needs drastic, immediate changes. Unfortunately, many in the media play into their hands by getting the facts wrong.

Bush administration failed to vet Kerik -- but so did the media

Though The New York Times has been quick to accept the White House's contention that it thoroughly vetted Bernard Kerik's failed nomination to head the Department of Homeland Security, it seems clear that was not the case, as Kerik was nominated despite a host of troubling facts about his background.

As the Bush White House failed to sufficiently look into the background of the man it chose to lead America's homeland security efforts, the media likewise failed to give Kerik the scrutiny he deserved.

Kerik was a prominent surrogate for the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign, frequently attacking John Kerry. But while the media dutifully reported his attacks, they didn't look into his credibility, as Media Matters for America noted this week:

Much about Kerik has been uncovered by the media since his nomination for Department of Homeland Security secretary, and even more since that nomination was withdrawn, including allegations of corruption and abuse of authority during his tenure as police commissioner, questions surrounding his business associations and transactions, and questions about his abrupt departure from Iraq. But even before his nomination, there was plenty of available information -- including the very stridency of his attacks on Kerry -- that should have raised serious questions about his credibility. But the media, which so willingly gave him a forum to tout the president's war on terrorism (and rail against the purported threat Kerry posed to the country's security), never pursued those questions.

Between January 1 and November 2, 2004, Kerik made 15 guest appearances on CNN, 12 appearances on FOX News Channel, and six on MSNBC (CNN aired previously recorded Kerik quotes an additional 14 times, FOX and MSNBC aired clips of Kerik one time each), according to a search of transcripts available on Nexis. Kerik made one appearance on NBC News (on the March 13 edition of the Today show, where he was asked to comment in the aftermath of the Madrid train bombings); CBS News aired one clip of Kerik, and Kerik did not appear on ABC News.


While most of the allegations did not emerge until after his nomination to the Cabinet, there were some reports about the multitude of personal and ethical problems surrounding Kerik before and during the 2004 presidential campaign.


Concerning his activities as New York City correction commissioner and police commissioner, a May 19, 2003, New York Daily News article reported that Kerik “once ordered a coverup of accusations that his top aide had beaten up a girlfriend and threatened her at gunpoint.” A March 11, 2002, New York Times article discussed other alleged instances of Kerik's abusing his power as police commissioner. The article mentioned the dispatch in November 2001 of “at least five of the city's leading homicide investigators” to investigate reports of a missing cell phone and necklace belonging to former FOX News host Judith Regan, with whom Kerik was linked romantically and who was the publisher of Kerik's autobiography, The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice (HarperCollins, 2001). The article also noted: “Last month, the Conflicts of Interest Board fined Mr. Kerik $2,500 for using a police sergeant and two detectives to do some of the research for his book.” None of these reports were mentioned by any of the networks or cable news channels.

But the media's failings to look closely at Kerik didn't stop when he was nominated to head DHS -- or even after his nomination was withdrawn, as Media Matters for America explained this week:

The media have largely accepted without challenge former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik's claim that he had a “nanny problem” that he had previously failed to disclose to the White House. In not unearthing the details of that claim, the media have allowed Kerik, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and the Bush administration to escape scrutiny over why the purported problem was not discovered earlier, and over the possibility that the nanny issue was a pretext to avoid a full investigation into far more explosive and embarrassing allegations (Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk outlined the allegations here), which the administration either knew about and dismissed, or failed to uncover in its purportedly thorough vetting process.

Does Lou Dobbs think Christmas is not a holiday?

CNN host Lou Dobbs bizarrely claimed that the phrase “Happy Holidays” “exclude[s] everyone who celebrates Christmas,” adding that people who think “Happy Holidays” covers Christmas are “wrong.” Presumably, Dobbs must not think Christmas qualifies -- or should qualify -- as a holiday.

Dobbs is just the latest in a line of pundits advancing an increasingly weird “Christmas under siege” storyline. Most recently, FOX News guest Mathew Staver, of the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel, claimed that a former Florida mayor was hostile to Christianity because he was “apparently Jewish.”

New York Times columnist Frank Rich takes off on the right wing's “ever-growing drumbeat that Christianity is under siege in America,” intoning (need we say, sarcastically?) “among those courageously leading the fight to save the holiday from its enemies is Bill O'Reilly,” who, Rich notes, has taken to smearing the Anti-Defamation League over the organization's umbrage at O'Reilly's suggestion to the Jewish caller that perhaps he would be more comfortable among his people in Israel. Rich also noted (as did Media Matters for America here and here) that, in Rich's words, Reverend Jerry Falwell and O'Reilly “have gone so far as to name [New York City Mayor] Michael Bloomberg an anti-Christmas conspirator because the mayor referred to the Christmas tree as a 'holiday tree' in the lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center.” Rich blames “the power of this minority” within the Christian majority on “its exaggerated claims on the Bush election victory,” but also lays some of the blame on the press for (as Media Matters for America has documented) “invit[ing] religious leaders to discuss 'values' in the aftermath of the election and limit that discussion to all-male panels composed exclusively of either evangelical ministers or politicians with pseudo-spiritual credentials.”

Jamison Foser is Executive Vice President at Media Matters for America.