“Media Matters,” week ending July 1, 2005; by Jamison Foser

Since the revelation of the Downing Street memos in early May, many news organizations and media figures have justified their failure to cover the memos by saying they contain old news -- that we've long known that the Bush administration intentionally led the country into the Iraq war based on false premises.

Week ending July 1, 2005

This week:

New questions about “old news”

First of July, Supreme Court (Sandy)

Partisanship at CPB

What will it take for the LA Times to stop publishing John Lott?

Ed Klein update: He's still a liar

New questions about “old news”

Since the revelation of the Downing Street memos in early May, many news organizations and media figures have justified their failure to cover the memos by saying they contain old news -- that we've long known that the Bush administration intentionally led the country into the Iraq war based on false premises.

Los Angeles Times editorial and opinion editor Michael Kinsley argued:

Of course, if “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” rather than vice versa, that is pretty good evidence of Bush's intentions, as well as a scandal in its own right. And we know now that this was true. Fixing intelligence and facts to fit a desired policy is the Bush II governing style, especially concerning the Iraq war. But C offered no specifics, or none that made it into the memo. Nor does the memo assert that actual decision-makers told him they were fixing the facts. Although the prose is not exactly crystalline, it seems to be saying only that “Washington” had reached that conclusion.

Of course, you don't need a secret memo to know this.

A Washington Post editorial made the same argument:

One observation in the memos is vague but intriguing: A British official is quoted as saying that the “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” Yet it was argued even then, and has since become conventional wisdom, that Mr. Bush, Vice President Cheney and other administration spokesmen exaggerated the threat from Iraq to justify the elimination of its noxious regime.

“Nothing to see here,” the Post and Kinsley (and many others) tell us, “we've known all along that the Bush administration lied in making the case for going to war.”

But Media Matters has long pointed out the problems with this argument, and if news organizations think it is “old news” that the Bush administration misled the nation about the Iraq war, there are some obvious questions they should be asking -- but aren't. Given that, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted in June, a majority of Americans think the administration “intentionally misled the American public” in making the case for the Iraq war and 57 percent think that it “intentionally exaggerate[d] its evidence” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, shouldn't the media address the implications of this?

Pollster John Zogby asked one of the obvious questions in a recent poll, and found that “more than two-in-five voters (42%) say they would favor impeachment proceedings if it is found the President misled the nation about his reasons for going to war with Iraq.”

But there are other serious questions the media should address, both in news reports and in the polls they pay for. If the Bush administration lied to the nation about the need to go to war, and if, as the Post/ABC poll indicates, the majority of Americans believe that to be the case, what does that mean? We hope the news organizations that keep telling us it is old news that the administration lied start addressing some of the obvious implications of that:

  • What does this say about Bush's ability to govern?
  • Do people consider the Bush administration honest and trustworthy?
  • Does this hurt Bush's ability to act as commander in chief?
  • Do the American people trust the administration to tell the truth about the Iraq war now?
  • Are people more or less likely to believe the Bush administration if they argue for military action against another nation?
  • Does that make America more or less safe?

These are obvious questions that all news organizations should address -- but particularly those that argue that the Bush administration's lies about Iraq are “old news.”

First of July, Supreme Court (Sandy)

(Sorry; we couldn't resist)

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has announced her retirement.

We've already seen the media present the conservative viewpoint on O'Connor and the seat opened by her retirement -- while ignoring progressives.

Meanwhile, Fox News -- the channel that brought you Terry Schiavo analysis from psychic medium John Edward -- turned to The Godfather actor Gianni Russo to provide insight into the Supreme Court. Russo -- whose web site says he “believes it's his crooning that will ultimately separate him from the mob of other on-screen wise guys” -- isn't typically considered a leading court observer, but he did have a role in 1991's Out for Justice. Hey, anything to avoid giving air time to the Democrats, right, Rupert?

And we've seen Fox News turn to C. Boyden Gray as an “analyst” for its coverage of the Supreme Court vacancy. One problem: Gray founded and is chairman of the Committee for Justice, which is committed to ensuring the confirmation of President Bush's judicial nominees, presenting a serious conflict of interest -- a conflict Fox News did not disclose to its viewers.

We expect there to be a great deal of conservative misinformation about the Supreme Court vacancy in the media in the coming weeks -- and we need your help identifying and correcting it.

If you see inaccurate, misleading, or imbalanced coverage of the Supreme Court vacancy, please send us an email at mm-tips@mediamatters.org or post on our message boards.

Partisanship at CPB

This week, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) released raw data from the “study” of public broadcasting guests commissioned by Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Tomlinson commissioned the secret, taxpayer-funded $14,000 study to prove his contention that public broadcasting demonstrates a liberal bias. Dorgan called the study “a little nutty,” noting that its tally of “liberal” and “conservative” guests identified Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska as a “liberal.”

Tomlinson's study not only purported to count liberals and conservatives who appeared on PBS programs, it also categorized guests -- including many journalists -- as “pro-Bush,” “anti-Bush,” “anti-DeLay” and so on; the study even calls conservative former Congressman Bob Barr “anti-Administration,” according to Dorgan.

Media Matters president David Brock wrote a letter to Sen. Hagel this week, asking if he agreed with the study. Hagel's communications director replied:

Senator Hagel's record speaks for itself. This is silly. America has many more serious things to worry about than this study.

That is surely true; it is just as surely true that it would have taken less time -- and been less of a distraction from “more serious things” -- to simply write “No, Senator Hagel doesn't agree.” Instead, Hagel left open the question of his liberalism -- and of whether he thinks it is an appropriate use of taxpayers' money to try to ferret out “anti-Bush” voices in public broadcasting.

What will it take for the LA Times to stop publishing John Lott?

On June 28, the Los Angeles Times ran yet another op-ed by American Enterprise Institute resident scholar John R. Lott Jr. Media Matters demonstrated that Lott's op-ed “presented false statements and misleading comparisons to assert a supposed link between falling crime rates and the September 2004 expiration of the federal assault weapons ban.”

But that shouldn't be surprising; it has been extensively documented that Lott is a serial liar who has been caught using fraudulent data, lying about it to cover his tracks, and using a fake Internet persona to hype the falsified work. Media Matters summarized some of Lott's many suspect claims:

Lott claims he conducted a 1997 survey on defensive gun usage, but strong evidence suggests he never conducted such a survey. A February 11, 2003, Washington Post article noted that “his critics are asking: What national survey? Lott has been unable to produce the poll data, which he says were lost when his computer crashed.” He also misrepresented the findings of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on voter disenfranchisement in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. A useful summary of Lott's various scholarly misdeeds is available here from blogger Tim Lambert. In November 2004, Media Matters for America endorsed a plea to Los Angeles Times editorial page editor Michael Kinsley by Kevin Drum, author of Washington Monthly's "Political Animal" weblog, to stop publishing Lott's columns.

Lott has been published in the Los Angeles Times six times in the last two years. We wonder what he'll have to get caught doing before the Times will decide his lies are no longer fit to print.

Ed Klein update: He's still a liar

Edward Klein, author of the hate-eography misleadingly titled The Truth About Hillary, continued his promotional tour this week, his already stormy relationship with the truth taking new hits every day.

This week was highlighted by Klein's ever-shifting claims about the circumstances surrounding Hillary Clinton's pregnancy with the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea.

Klein has spent weeks claiming, without much success, that he never made the sickening suggestion that Chelsea was conceived when Bill Clinton raped Hillary Clinton. Klein argued that the point of the chapter wasn't about rape:

KLEIN: The point of the story is that my source, who was with the Clintons in Bermuda and quoted Bill's boastful remarks to me, was stunned when Bill phoned him a few months later and told him he just learned of Hillary's pregnancy by reading about it in the newspaper!

But now, as Media Matters demonstrated, Klein is backing off even further. Now he isn't even claiming that Bill Clinton “learned of Hillary's pregnancy by reading about it in the newspaper” ... now he claims that Bill Clinton learned about the public announcement of the pregnancy by reading the newspaper.

At the rate that Ed Klein is backtracking, retracting, and changing his story, we fully expect him to endorse Hillary Clinton's re-election campaign by Labor Day.

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