“Media Matters”; by Jamison Foser

In May, Greg Sargent wrote for The American Prospect's website:

In recent weeks, one member after another of the D.C. media establishment has gone out of his way to depict bloggers as hysterical, angry and destructive. To hear them tell it, bloggers sitting at their computers are akin to squalling brats in high-chairs chucking baby food at their sober, serious elders -- i.e., major figures at the established news organizations.

Media pounce on “screeching,” “frothing [liberal] bloggers” -- while waving on conservatives who advocate ... murder

In May, Greg Sargent wrote for The American Prospect's website:

In recent weeks, one member after another of the D.C. media establishment has gone out of his way to depict bloggers as hysterical, angry and destructive. To hear them tell it, bloggers sitting at their computers are akin to squalling brats in high-chairs chucking baby food at their sober, serious elders -- i.e., major figures at the established news organizations.

Not long ago, The Washington Post's Jim Brady lamented “blog rage.” Joe Klein's latest column complained about “vitriol” and “all the left-wing screeching.” Former Bill Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry recently told us that reporters are complaining they feel “intimidated” because “most of the blogosphere spends hours making them feel that way.” And a CBS opinion piece recently asked: “Does noise trump contemplation in the blogosphere?”

Three of the four examples Sargent cited -- Brady, Klein, and McCurry -- were complaining specifically about liberal bloggers. And that's a reasonable representation of major media reaction to bloggers: Liberal bloggers get dismissed as crazy and angry, often by reporters who don't bother to offer a single example to back up their sneering insults. Klein, for example, derided “all the left-wing screeching” by “frothing bloggers” and dismissed their “vitriol” as “uninformed, malicious and disproportionate.” He didn't, however, quote a single screeching or vitriolic blog post.

Meanwhile, vitriol, hate, and even threats of physical violence by conservative bloggers draw comparatively little attention. For example:

Misha of The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler on the Supreme Court: “Five ropes, five robes, five trees. Some assembly required.” [7/11/06]

BC of The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler on John Kerry: “Rope. Tree. Justice. The only three things that Qerry [sic] deserves for his 'service'.” [10/28/04]

Dean Esmay on New York Times reporters: “Exposing such a secret program is not whistle-blowing -- it is high treason. When I say 'treason' I don't mean it in an insulting or hyperbolic way. I mean in a literal way: we need to find these 21st century Julius Rosenbergs, these modern day reincarnations of Alger Hiss, put them on trial before a jury of their peers, with defense counsel. When they are found guilty, we should then hang them by the neck until the are dead, dead, dead.” [12/18/05]

Megan McCardle (who uses the pseudonym Jane Galt) on anti-war demonstrators in New York City: “I think some in New York are going to laugh even harder when they try to unleash some civil disobedience, Lenin style, and some New Yorker who understands the horrors of war all too well picks up a two-by-four and teaches them how very effective violence can be when it's applied in a firm, pre-emptive manner.” [2/13/03]

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit: “Civilized societies have found it harder, though, to beat the barbarians without killing all, or nearly all, of them. Were it really to become all-out war of the sort that Osama [bin Laden] and his ilk want, the likely result would be genocide -- unavoidable, and provoked, perhaps, but genocide nonetheless, akin to what Rome did to Carthage, or to what Americans did to American Indians. That's what happens when two societies can't live together, and the weaker one won't stop fighting -- especially when the weaker one targets the civilians and children of the stronger. This is why I think it's important to pursue a vigorous military strategy now. Because if we don't, the military strategy we'll have to follow in five or ten years will be light-years beyond 'vigorous.' ” [11/19/02]

Rocco DiPippo of The Autonomist provided the home address and contact information for Linda Spillers, the Times photographer who took photos of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's and Vice President Dick Cheney's weekend homes. [7/1/06]

Ted of The Autonomist provided directions to the home of Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger. [7/1/06]

Denny K of The Flying Monkey-Right Blog in reaction to the Rumsfeld-Cheney photos: “Let's start with the following New York Times reporters and editors: Arthur 'Pinch' Sulzberger Jr., Bill Keller, Eric Lichtblau, and James Risen. Do you have an idea where they live? Go hunt them down and do America a favor. Get their photo, street address, where their kids go to school, anything you can dig up, and send it to the link above. This is your chance to be famous -- grab for the golden ring.” [7/02/06]

(Progressive blogger Glenn Greenwald, the author of How Would A Patriot Act?: Defending American Values from a President Run Amok (Working Assets Publishing, May 2006), has cataloged more examples here, here, here, and here.)

This phenomenon isn't limited to coverage of bloggers, of course. In July 2004, the first edition of this newsletter noted that liberals are frequently portrayed by the media as “angry” and full of “hate,” while conservatives escape similar characterization:

The contrast in media coverage of controversial remarks by comics Whoopi Goldberg and Dennis Miller illustrates how pervasive the “mean, angry liberal” story line has become. More than a week after Goldberg made comments at a July 8 fundraiser for Senator John Kerry, the cable news networks continued to devote significant primetime attention to the controversy around her remarks. But Miller's comments at a rally for President George W. Bush, in which he suggested a homosexual relationship between Kerry and Senator John Edwards, got relatively little attention. Media Matters for America reviewed FOX News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN primetime coverage between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. (ET) on July 15 and found that the three cables addressed Whoopi Goldberg's remark a total of 19 times. In contrast, Dennis Miller's comments were addressed only twice; CNN Crossfire co-host Paul Begala called it “an interesting example of the double standard in the media.”

Continuing the double standard, on July 21, USA Today ran an article titled “Celebrities declare own war -- on Bush” that asserted “Bush-bashing is turning into an en vogue celebrity sport. But unsolicited anti-Bush rhetoric, which appears to be spinning out of control, is alienating both Republicans and Democrats.” USA Today didn't mention Miller's anti-Kerry rhetoric, or vitriolic Kerry-bashing from such right-wing figures as Rush Limbaugh. As Salon.com's Eric Boehlert wrote, “Tip for USA Today; just because the RNC claims Bush-hating celebrities are out of control, that doesn't make it so. Let alone news.”

We've returned to that point again and again and again because many political reporters have bought into the liberals-are-angry (and/or crazy) storyline -- and ignore or downplay far more angry (and crazy) comments made regularly by Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and countless other conservatives. Blogger and journalist Joshua Micah Marshall noticed an “unhealthy addiction to conventional wisdom” driving journalists' portrayal of the 2004 Democratic National Convention:

[O]ne thing I've heard a lot is this sense that this convention is brimming over with anger and anti-Bush rage and that the organizers are busy tamping it down and doing all they can to keep a lid on the rage.

I haven't see [sic] that.

From Republicans this is spin, which is fair enough or at least understandable. From journalists I think it's just laziness or an unhealthy addiction to conventional wisdom. This is my third day now milling through the crowds, listening to conversations, talking with activists and elected officials. And the impression I have is almost exactly the opposite.

Journalists suggest Al Gore is crazy because he grew a beard (really) and Howard Dean is a nut because he ... well, because he kind of yelled once and opposed the Iraq war a little too soon for the comfort of national political reporters and pundits. Meanwhile, they embrace the likes of Coulter (who, according to Time magazine's 2005 cover story, writes “with particular sensitivity”) and Limbaugh (a "mainstream conservative," according to The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz).

While news organizations condemn (usually without evidence) supposedly angry and unhinged liberals, they heap attention on the likes of Coulter, inviting her on national news broadcasts and honoring her with a cover story in Time. As we recently explained:

[A]fter Coulter's June 6 appearance on the Today show, in which she stood by her claim that the widows are “enjoying” their husbands' deaths, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams reported that Coulter had gone “over the line -- the line that is shared by just about everybody because some things, it turns out, are still sacred.”

What the heck did NBC think was going to happen if it gave Coulter access to the airwaves? This is a person who says 9-11 widows are “enjoying their husband's deaths”; who has suggested assassinating a sitting president; who has repeatedly called for violence against liberals and journalists. And NBC wants you to believe it is shocked and dismayed that she would cross “the line,” piously telling you that some things “are still sacred.” Coulter's calls for violence -- assassination, even -- against liberals and journalists didn't clue them in to the possibility that she went “over the line” (not to mention 'round the bend) years ago? Of course NBC knew Coulter was “over the line” before it invited her: She didn't say anything in her appearance that was further over the line than what she wrote in her book -- a passage Today host Matt Lauer read on-air. NBC just didn't care.


This is what NBC and the rest of the media have made of our public discourse: They routinely confer legitimacy on venomous, hate-filled right-wing pundits. Uber-pundit Howard Fineman, for example, said on the June 7 edition of MSNBC's Hardball: “I think Ann Coulter often has interesting and provocative things to say about the clash between liberalism and conservatism.” Interesting? Which part: Her desire for the military to kill U.S. journalists? Or her suggestion that Bill Clinton be assassinated?

When an Ann Coulter appears on NBC or in Time magazine, those news outlets not only tell the world that Coulter is someone to be taken seriously, they nudge the bounds of acceptable discourse a bit further to the right. Suddenly, far-right politicians appear mainstream by comparison. Suddenly moderates appear liberal, and liberals appear extreme, and people who are VERY liberal ... well, you don't see them on television at all.

Sure, Bill O'Reilly will tell you that "[n]o doubt some far-left pundits have said far worse things than Ann Coulter will ever say, and the mainstream media often celebrates them." But he's lying. There simply is no progressive pundit who has mused publicly about killing a U.S. president; called for violence against American reporters and conservatives -- and been a guest on the Today show three times in eight months. It doesn't happen. Nor should it. But why the double-standard? Why do the media define the acceptable rightward bounds of public discourse to be Ann Coulter and her bottomless reservoir of hate, and, by doing so, pull the discussion of serious issues further and further to the right?

Make no mistake about it: Coulter, et al., do push the debate to the right. When they launch a full-scale assault on The New York Times, the major news media come along for the ride, exploring a “debate” between conservatives who think Times editors and reporters should be hung from the nearest tree and journalists who think they shouldn't be.

Here's who appeared on the July 2 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources to talk about The New York Times flap: Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, Washington Post editor and columnist Gene Robinson, former Post ombudsman Geneva Overholser, and “radio talk show host and blogger” Hugh Hewitt.

That's three journalists and Hewitt, a partisan (actual Hewitt book title: If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends Upon It) with an interesting approach to journalism: while director of the Richard Nixon presidential library, Hewitt reportedly said: “I don't think we'd ever open the doors to Bob Woodward. He's not a responsible journalist.”

What's missing? A progressive media critic. Someone who might argue that not only is the right-wing complaint about the Times story on the Bush administration's bank-tracking program off-base, but that the Times' real shortcoming in recent years has been its repetition of conservative misinformation and its failure to adequately challenge the Bush administration.

And this happens again and again. In March, when some Iraq war supporters ratcheted up their complaints that media coverage of the war was too negative, news outlets like CNN quickly gave them plenty of attention -- and set up a debate between conservative war supporters and the media, with the sole question whether the media was too negative. As we explained at the time:

And that's a characteristic of nearly all of the media's navel-gazing about their coverage of the Iraq war -- the question addressed is almost always whether war supporters' claims that the media are too negative have merit. Where is the CNN segment exploring whether the media are adequately covering Murray Waas's revelations about the Bush administration's cover-up of evidence that Bush lied to the nation about the Iraq war? Where is the CNN segment about whether the media are sanitizing the war?


[W]hen the media assess their own performance in covering the Iraq mess, they don't talk about these things. Instead, they consistently focus on complaints from conservatives and war supporters -- complaints that their coverage is too negative, never that it's too positive.

Kurtz, for example, wrote a 1,300-word washingtonpost.com article on March 27 that began with the question "Have the media declared war on the war?"

Not one of Kurtz's 1,300 words addressed -- or even hinted at the existence of -- complaints that maybe the media aren't being critical enough in covering the war. Not a single word.

Post ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote her own column about coverage of the Iraq war. The expanded online version of the column ran to more than 3,900 words.


For more than 3,900 words, Howell discussed the Post's coverage of Iraq [...] as an issue of whether the Post is “excessively negative and too focused on violence” or just right. No discussion, no mention, not even a hint of the possibility that the Post's coverage of Iraq is excessively positive, or doesn't do an adequate job of illustrating the violence and chaos in Iraq.

The way Howell and Kurtz and [CNN's Candy] Crowley and [CNN's Wolf] Blitzer and the rest of the media cover the coverage of the Iraq war, you'd think [documentary filmmaker Gabriel] Rotello was all alone in his belief that the media are sanitizing the war. But he isn't. A CBS News poll conducted earlier this month found that 24 percent of Americans think the media are “making things in Iraq sound better than they really are,” compared to 31 percent who think the media are “making things sound worse than they really are.”

Imagine what the numbers might be if the media actually presented both sides of the debate.

So while the media ridicule liberals as crazy and angry, they not only grant a platform to hatemongers like Ann Coulter -- they allow her inane and hostile ramblings to set the agenda, to drive the national conversation.

Enough is enough.

Join Media Matters in sending a message to news organizations that angry, hateful, violence-inciting demagogues like Coulter don't deserve the prominence and influence they're given. Sign our petition -- and tell your friends and family about it.

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