In the wake of this week's revelations that Sen. Mel Martinez's (R-FL) office was responsible for a controversial “talking points” memo that described the Terri Schiavo case as a “great political issue” for Senate Republicans, Media Matters detailed two weeks' worth of false suggestions in the media that the memo was a fake produced by Democrats.
Quote of the Week:
From an April 8 National Press Club forum:
GARRETT GRAFF (editor, FishbowlDC): It's less that people attacked you because they disagreed with the question. They attacked you because they thought your work product was poor. ... It's not that liberals are attacking everyone who reports from the White House, because there's as far as I know, no widespread calls to kick Fox News out of the White House press briefing room.
“JEFF GANNON” : Well, you can hardly call Fox News “conservative.”
Hook, line, and sinker: Media fell for false claims that Democrats were responsible for controversial Schiavo memo
In the wake of this week's revelations that Sen. Mel Martinez's (R-FL) office was responsible for a controversial “talking points” memo that described the Terri Schiavo case as a “great political issue” for Senate Republicans, Media Matters detailed two weeks' worth of false suggestions in the media that the memo was a fake produced by Democrats:
These baseless accusations, apparently hatched on right-wing blogs and in conservative media such as The American Spectator, were given credibility by The Washington Post and CNN's Inside Politics. But as recent reports indicate, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) has admitted publicly that one of his aides is the true author of the memo.
As “evidence” for their claims that the Schiavo memo was a Democratic “dirty trick,” conservative blogs such as Power Line and media sources pointed to the fact that the memo was “unsigned” and not on official Senate letterhead. In another posting on March 22, Power Line suggested that the memo was “suspicious” because it “mix[ed] political strategy points ... with talking points for Senatorial argument.
Speculation by conservative bloggers, and some reporters who were all too willing to write a story based on nothing more than that speculation, culminated in an April 6 front-page Washington Times article headlined “Was the Schiavo memo a fake?” The Times apparently based its speculation that the memo might be a “fake” on the fact that Republican Senate offices denied being responsible for producing and distributing it -- hardly surprising, given how widely denounced the memo was.
Still, it didn't take long to answer the question the Times posed: No, we learned the very next day, it wasn't a fake.
But Washington Times reporter Brian DeBose, who co-wrote the paper's unfortunately timed article speculating that the memo might be a fake, took the news that it did, in fact, come from Martinez in stride. As Salon.com noted, DeBose quickly decided that the real scandal wasn't Martinez's politicization of the Schiavo matter, but rather the disclosure of his politicization of the Schiavo matter:
DeBose explains on the Times' blog that many Capitol Hill reporters believe that the leak of the memo was the “disgusting” part of the whole affair -- and he doesn't mean “just a little disgusting.” The leak was “disgusting,” DeBose writes, “just as many view abortion as disgusting; just as many District residents view as disgusting being shot to death with no way to defend themselves because the city has made it its business to infringe upon their Second Amendment rights; just as many residents also view as disgusting paying federal taxes without a voting representative in Congress.”
But even that's not the worst part, DeBose says. “From a journalistic perspective the real tragedy of the memo story is the irresponsible reporting that took place. ABC News and The Washington Post got spun on a story invented by the Democratic leadership that was wrong, not totally fabricated but wrong. And numerous other papers picked it up without doing their due diligence to find out the truth as this paper did.”
What was wrong about the initial reports from ABC and the Post? DeBose doesn't say. What was wrong about his report -- the one in the Times Wednesday that said not a single Republican Senator remembered seeing the memo and suggested that it might be fake created by the Democrats? DeBose doesn't say that, either.
Before Martinez confessed that the memo came from his office, conservatives, like Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, suggested that the whole matter was just another example of so-called “liberal bias” in the media -- that the “fake” memo was being reported as a real, Republican memo because the media is out to get Republicans. Now that we know that it really did come from Republicans, we can't wait to hear Barnes and others try to explain how it is that the so-called “liberal media” came to traffic in baseless speculation that Democrats faked the memo as some sort of “dirty tricks” operation. More likely, though, we'll see efforts to downplay the content of the memo -- perhaps through comments like CNN anchor Daryn Kagan's suggestion that outrage over the GOP's explicit efforts to use a woman's death for partisan gain is a sign that Washington is “just too sensitive.”
“Liberal media” strikes again: Fox hosts falsely dismiss DeLay scandal as liberal media invention
We noted last week that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) has benefited from spotty coverage of his ever-increasing ethical and political misadventures.
This week, as Media Matters noted, Fox News anchors (remember: they report, you decide) dismissed DeLay's troubles as the result of the “liberal media” being out to get DeLay. On April 6, anchor Brit Hume told Special Report viewers, “Here in Washington, the press is after Tom DeLay again, but wait 'til you hear the facts.”
The same day, The Big Story host John Gibson mused, “The liberal media is hammering 'The Hammer' -- Tom DeLay under a microscope and under the gun. Is this simply a media hit job?” To get to the bottom of such fair and balanced questions as whether it is “fair to say that the liberal media is out to get Tom DeLay” and whether the allegations against DeLay are “a vast left-wing conspiracy,” Gibson turned to guest Rich Lowry. Lowry, of course, is editor of the conservative National Review, proving once again that to Fox, “fair and balanced” means giving viewers both sides of the story -- the conservative viewpoint and the very conservative viewpoint.
And on Hannity & Colmes, host Sean Hannity asked guest J.C. Watts if DeLay is “the target of a smear campaign.” Watts, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, suggested that the charges against DeLay are “frivolous.”
But despite claims that the DeLay saga is just another example of the “liberal media” trying to “get” a Republican, DeLay and his associates have has taken stinging criticism from the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, Fox News' own Bill O'Reilly, and conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks. And, as Media Matters has noted, the Congressional Ethics Coalition -- a group of organizations that have been critical of DeLay and the House ethics process -- includes the far-right Judicial Watch and the Campaign Legal Center, which is run by a Republican.
Another journalist on GOP administration payroll
It looks like Republican governors are learning valuable lessons in media manipulation and propaganda from the Bush administration. Last month, the Associated Press reported that California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has used the same kind of government-produced fake “news” stories that have gotten the Bush administration in hot water with the Government Accountability Office.
Now the Boston Globe reports that “Governor Mitt Romney's administration has awarded a $10,000 contract to a Boston Herald op-ed columnist to promote the governor's environmental policies” -- a contract reminiscent of Bush administration payments to Armstrong Williams and others.
Pharmacists for Life update: What the media (still) won't tell you about Karen Brauer
Media Matters recently noted that Karen Brauer, president of Pharmacists for Life, an obscure organization that advocates the “right” of pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions they object to on religious grounds, has gotten a free pass in her media appearances. While Brauer has appeared on CNN and CBS and has been quoted in several print reports, neither she nor her organization has received much scrutiny.
An April 8 Christian Science Monitor article offers a fresh example of how poor a job many reporters do of giving readers and viewers adequate information about the sources they cite. The Monitor described Brauer this way:
“We intervene and stop prescriptions and make doctors change prescriptions,” says Karen Brauer, a pharmacist in Lawrenceburg, Ind. The pharmacy she works at refuses to stock contraceptives -- a fact she explains if people come in looking for them -- but she feels that workers at any pharmacy need to be able to follow their conscience.
Ms. Brauer, along with some other pharmacists, has a particular problem with emergency contraceptives because they work by inhibiting ovulation, fertilization, or implantation. While most medical professionals define pregnancy as beginning with implantation in the uterus, she and some others consider a fertilized egg, even before implantation, to be human. “We should be free to opt out of killing humans at any stage of development,” she says. “If women really want this drug, they are going to have to find a willing provider.”
Monitor readers weren't told that Brauer is president of Pharmacists for Life; they certainly weren't told that, as Media Matters noted, Pharmacists for Life believes that pharmacists do not have to follow government laws if they believe it would violate “Divine Law,” or that the organization is prone to controversial comments like its recent reference to “The modern day 'Sanhedrin' in charge of the political/justice machine” and comparison of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to Slobodan Milosevic. Nor were they told that Brauer herself has said “Birth control serves to make women sexually available to men at the convenience of men and not at the most convenient time necessarily for women. It's really to place women at the service of men.”
Most importantly, they weren't told that Brauer was fired from a previous job after she lied to a patient about prescribed medication, refused to fill a prescription, and refused to promise to fill prescriptions in the future. Recent references to Brauer in The Economist and on ABC News also lacked detail about who Brauer is.
In Brauer's increasingly frequent appearances in news reports, she is described only as a pharmacist. And Pharmacists for Life emphasizes Brauer's standing as a pharmacist in order to bolster her credibility; a recent posting on the group's web page noted in the caption of a screenshot of a Brauer appearance on CBS's Early Show, “Brauer is the only one in the photo with a pharmacy degree and credentials.”
If Pharmacists for Life is going to continue to use Brauer's “degree and credentials” as a pharmacist to bolster her credibility, and if news organizations are going to implicitly do likewise in identifying her as a “pharmacist,” shouldn't those news organizations give readers and viewers a more complete understanding of her credibility on these matters, perhaps by noting that -- by her own admission -- Karen Brauer is a pharmacist who lies to patients when she doesn't want to fill their prescriptions? Isn't that the kind of detail that might help readers assess her credibility?
Jamison Foser is Executive Vice President at Media Matters for America.