Media Matters: ... and in this corner, Darth Cheney

This week, Fox News' Jonathan Hunt aptly described how the GOP's political tactics are successfully framing the torture debate around House Speaker Nancy Pelosi instead of the Bush administration. Hunt's comments come against the background of a media landscape still very much obsessed with Pelosi's criticism of the CIA, in which reports oftentimes fail miserably to live up to basic journalistic standards.

This week, Fox News' Jonathan Hunt aptly described how the GOP's political tactics are successfully framing the torture debate around House Speaker Nancy Pelosi instead of the Bush administration. Hunt's comments come against the background of a media landscape still very much obsessed with Pelosi's criticism of the CIA, in which reports oftentimes fail miserably to live up to basic journalistic standards.

Despite the media's inability to focus on the true issue at hand, a new made-for-TV skirmish managed to erupt in the form of “dueling” national security speeches from President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Perhaps Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show described coverage of the pairing best. The show aired a clip of The Weekly Standard's William Kristol saying of the back-to-back speeches, “Just going to be fun, don't you think? Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, you know? And I want to say that I was always on Darth Vader's side.” Stewart retorted, “Now you tell us. You know, as one of the main intellectual forces behind the Iraq war, that's kind of a weird thing to admit. You might have wanted to mention, 'Oh, quick caveat to my plan on a new American century: I'm on the Darth Vader side.' ”

So, on the speeches went, complete with play-by-play from the cable networks as though we were witnessing a presidential debate delayed by seven months.

MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan went on to refer to Cheney's remarks as “candid.” Similarly, over on Fox News, contributor Ralph Peters said of the speech, “every single point he raised was accurate. I am 100 percent behind him on this, because he's right.” Their high praise for Cheney missed the mark entirely. During his remarks, the former vice president offered discredited assertions with respect to the relationship between interrogation techniques used at the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and Abu Ghraib prison and whether detainees provided information without the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

On the other hand, MSNBC's Chris Matthews called Cheney's defense of the CIA “odd” considering he “was at war with” the CIA “through much of his administration,” while MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell said of the speech, “This was as sleazy a presentation by a vice president as we've had since Spiro Agnew. This was an absolute abomination.”

Keep in mind, for much of the past week, coverage of Cheney's media crusade to salvage the Bush administration's legacy has ignored important information related to the use of torture.

Despite covering questions regarding what Pelosi knew about the Bush administration's interrogation policies for the past 10 days, as of Monday, none of five major newspapers -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today -- had reported on a May 13 Daily Beast article reporting that Cheney's office “suggested waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner, a former intelligence official for Saddam Hussein, who was suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection.” On the May 17 edition of ABC's This Week, Cheney's daughter Liz, a former State Department official, was specifically asked twice about the report and dodged both questions.

Moreover, those same newspapers had yet to report on a May 15 McClatchy Newspapers article by Jonathan S. Landay highlighting comments made by Cheney in 2004 that detainees at Guantánamo Bay provided information confirming Iraq's involvement in giving chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda.

Other major stories this week:

David Brock: Get on the “Bus”

This week, David Brock, founder and CEO of Media Matters for America, reviewed the new book Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press by Eric Boehlert, a Senior Fellow at Media Matters. Brock writes:

In his new effort, Boehlert goes inside the liberal blogosphere and provides the most definitive and extensive look at the netroots movement to date. Using the historic 2008 White House campaign as a backdrop, Boehlert also details how bloggers helped set the agenda -- a role once considered to be the exclusive province of the establishment Beltway press corps.

Inspired by Timothy Crouse's landmark 1973 book, The Boys on the Bus, which unveiled modern campaign journalism at the time, Boehlert pulls back the online curtain and helps readers better understand the revolution that's taken place, as well as the unlikely participants who are leading it: students, housewives, attorneys, professors, musicians.

Bloggers on the Bus exposes the traditional press' outdated stereotypes about bloggers and leaves them by the roadside in order to paint a more complete portrait of this increasingly influential community.

You can now order your own copy of Bloggers on the Bus and help Media Matters at the same time. Either order your copy through for a reduced price by clicking here -- a small portion of sales will benefit Media Matters -- or make a contribution of $50 or more to Media Matters and receive an autographed copy of Bloggers on the Bus.

Limbaugh mockingly steps down as “titular head” of the GOP

We're still waiting for Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to apologize to El Rushbo for saying on Monday, “It's not up to Rush Limbaugh to decide who ought to be in the Republican Party.” After all, so many of his fellow GOP colleagues have backtracked after being critical of the conservative movement's de facto leader, it should only be a matter of time.

In any case, Rush Limbaugh resigned this week as the "titular head of the Republican Party," mockingly suggesting that Colin Powell take his place. Limbaugh's resignation came following days of attacks by the right-wing talker on Powell, who he said “represents the stale, the old, the worn-out GOP that never won anything,” adding, “Frankly, I'm more interested in what Gisele Bündchen thinks than Colin Powell.”

Limbaugh's antics failed to go unnoticed. Former Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) called on GOP chairman Michael Steele to “defend Republicans who are being criticized by the talk show hosts.” While Fox hosted Limbaugh to explain why "[t]he Republican Party is a mess right now," Chris Matthews discussed Rush's “shout goodbye” as “titular head” of the GOP, and CNN's Wolf Blitzer managed to squeeze a “Nice try, Wolf” out of Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) when asking the House GOP leader to comment on the Limbaugh/Powell controversy.

Ultimately, Limbaugh made his point quite clear, saying that Boehner, Rep. Pete Sessions (head of the National Republican Congressional Committee), and Steele “don't run the Republican Party,” nor does “anybody in Congress or the Senate.”

That doesn't leave many options.

CAFE standards change causes conservative media hyperventilation

Following the news from the White House this week that Obama would “for the first time in history ... set in motion a new national policy aimed at both increasing fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas pollution for all new cars and trucks sold in the United States,” media conservatives wasted little time attacking the policy.

On Fox News, actor and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein described the president's plan as “the nerdy kids in high school who didn't have cars or had to take the bus to school or mothers had to drive them to school, they're taking revenge on the cool kids who had the cool cars.” Over on the Fox Business Network, Neil Cavuto likened the administration's plan to a fictional mob boss, saying, “It is not the American way, but it may be the Tony Soprano way.”

Additionally, numerous media outlets (National Public Radio, Reuters, CBS News, Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, and CNBC) this week falsely asserted or suggested that Obama's proposal alone would increase the cost of the average car by $1,300. In fact, according to the administration, its proposal would add $600 to the price of the average car by 2016, with an additional $700 increase resulting from increased emissions requirements included in the Energy Independence and Security Act, which was signed by President Bush in 2007.

With an environmental issue like increased CAFE standards on the table, media conservatives took the opportunity to repeat bizarre, simplistic, scientifically deficient claims relating to climate change.

Pointing to the natural occurrence of carbon dioxide, media conservatives continued to ridicule the idea that it can be harmful to the environment. Of course, scientists do not assert that it is inherently harmful; they simply point to the danger posed to the atmosphere by excessive discharges of CO2. Fox example, on the May 20 broadcast of Clear Channel's The War Room with Quinn & Rose, co-host Jim Quinn stated, “Carbon is not pollution. I repeat, carbon is not pollution. We are made of carbon. Carbon is essential. Carbon dioxide is essential. As a matter of fact, we probably have too little carbon dioxide in the air right now. We could use more.”

In particular, Fox's Sean Hannity led this week's war on science. On his nationally syndicated radio program, Hannity falsely claiming that "[t]here's now pretty much consensus that we're in a period of global cooling," defying “the phony science of global warming,” and saying “we breathe carbon dioxide ... there's nothing wrong with the automobile.”

To give you an example of just how demented the right has become when it comes to the issue of climate change, you need look no further than nationally syndicated radio host Michael Savage. Following news of the president's CAFE standards proposal, the San Francisco hate radio talker said that Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) could help “redesign the tailpipes” of “Government Motors” cars.

Report: Conservatives dominates Lou Dobbs Tonight

Media Matters this week released an analysis of guest appearances on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight for the first four months of 2009 showing that significantly more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and progressives have appeared on the program -- a result consistent with a 2006 Media Matters study on Dobbs' guest lineups. Despite this conservative tilt in the Lou Dobbs Tonight guest list and Dobbs' frequent falsehoods and distortions, CNN domestic network president Jon Klein reportedly contends that Dobbs -- while the network's most opinionated anchor “by a mile” -- is “doing more of a straight newscast than he's ever done before.”

The most recent Media Matters analysis found that of the 326 guest appearances on the show from January 1 to April 30 of this year, 143 -- or approximately 44 percent -- were Republicans or conservatives. By contrast, 94 -- or approximately 29 percent -- were Democrats or progressives. In other words, 52 percent more Republicans and conservatives appeared than Democrats and progressives. The study classified the remaining 89 appearances -- approximately 27 percent -- as neutral. Read the entire report here.

This week's media columns

This week's media columns from the Media Matters Senior Fellows: Eric Boehlert asks who cares what Newt Gingrich thinks, and Jamison Foser looks at Karl Rove, Super Genius.

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This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Karl Frisch, a Senior Fellow at Media Matters. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web as well as original commentary.