"Media Matters," week ending August 13; by Jamison Foser


As the second week of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth multimedia onslaught against John Kerry comes to a close, it is increasingly clear that whatever their motivations, "truth" isn't one of them.

Week ending August 13, 2004

This week:

Swift Boat Vets Capsize

As the second week of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth multimedia onslaught against John Kerry comes to a close, it is increasingly clear that whatever their motivations, "truth" isn't one of them.

Miraculously, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth chairman and co-founder Roy Hoffmann's memory seems to be improving with age. In early May, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, "Hoffman acknowledged he had no first-hand knowledge to discredit Kerry's claims to valor and said that although Kerry was under his command, he really didn't know Kerry much personally."

But -- amazingly -- as time wears on, Hoffmann's memory of events that occurred 30 years ago and half a world away improves. By early August, Hoffmann's memory had improved enough for him to state: "I knew him well enough to know him. ... He's the most vain individual I've ever met -- aloof and arrogant."

His memory improving by the day, Hoffmann then got angry at claims (like the one he himself made just months earlier) that he didn't really know Kerry: "for them to suggest we don't know John Kerry is pure old bull."

But Hoffmann's miracle memory isn't the Swiftly Shifting Swift Boat Story of the Week.

That honor goes to Jerome Corsi, co-author of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry. As Media Matters for America first revealed on August 6, Corsi has a lengthy history of posting hate speech on a far-right Internet message board. On FreeRepublic.com, Corsi has, among other things, said that "ragheads" are "boy buggers"; called Senator Hillary Clinton a "Fat Hog"; referred to "Chubby Chelsie" Clinton; called Katie Couric "Little Katie Communist"; suggested Kerry was "practicing Judaism"; and suggested that the "senile" Pope John Paul II thinks "boy buggering" is "okay."

But after MMFA exposed his comments, Corsi (with a book to promote and a presidential candidate to smear) quickly changed his story, saying, "I don't stand by any of those comments and I apologize if they offended anybody."

An apology for Unfit for Command has not yet been forthcoming.

At least one right-wing commentator is apparently willing to stand by Corsi's hate speech: Michael Savage defended Corsi on his radio show: "Corsi wrote: 'Islam is a peaceful religion, just as long as the women are beaten, the boys buggered, and the infidels are killed.' Is that racist? Does that sound to you like -- is that offensive to you? They beat their women in most of these primitive communities, everybody knows that. The women are lower than cattle in these nations -- women are treated like filth. And they wanna kill infidels; I don't see a problem with that line."

Savage aside, Corsi's comments were so roundly condemned, his own co-author, John O'Neill, has begun backing away from him and, in an effort to salvage what remains of Unfit for Command's credibility, suggested Corsi -- whose name appears on the book's cover as an author -- really had very little to do with it. Just some editing and light typing, perhaps.

O'Neill claimed on MSNBC's Scarborough Factor that Corsi was "simply an editor and not really any sort of co-author." But Corsi is listed on the book jacket as an author. His photo and profile appear in the book. A dedication from Corsi appears in the book, and the book's acknowledgments section is written in the plural form, making clear that the book was very much a joint O'Neill-Corsi effort. The book's preface notes that Corsi and O'Neill's friendship dates back 30 years and says, "After reconnecting, they decided to work together to write this book."

On CNN's Crossfire, O'Neill claimed he has had "no serious involvement in politics of any kind in over 32 years." But, as MMFA first revealed, O'Neill has contributed more than $14,000 to federal candidates and political organizations -- all Republicans.

While O'Neill has begun backpedaling away from Corsi, one person who hasn't distanced himself from the Swift Boat Vets or their vicious, false attacks on John Kerry is George W. Bush -- despite Sean Hannity's claim to the contrary. Hannity said on his FOX News Channel show that Bush has disassociated himself from the ad -- but that isn't true, as the Washington Post reported after Senator John McCain called on Bush to denounce the ad: "White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to do so then and again yesterday [August 10] when pressed by reporters about the attacks from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth."

In the past, Bush has been willing to denounce outside groups that try to help campaigns he is involved with; in 1992, Bush sent a letter to more than 85,000 donors to his father's presidential campaign, asking them not to donate to a right-wing group that was attacking his father's opponent. Since Bush obviously lacks a philosophical objection to denouncing outside groups, and since he refuses to do so in this case, it seems he has no objections to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Finally, after the Boston Globe reported that one of the SBVT members had retracted his attacks on Kerry, right-wing commentators launched a smear campaign against the reporter who wrote the article. The veteran in question, George Elliott, claimed he was misquoted in the Globe (though the Globe article contained several different quotations that would have to be incorrect for Elliot's claim to be meaningful) and said that he stood by his criticism of Kerry. At that point, Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh led the predictable attack on Globe reporter Michael Kranish, falsely claiming he "has been commissioned to write the foreword of the Kerry-Edwards campaign book" and that he is "being paid by the [Kerry] campaign, while a reporter on The Boston Globe."

Memo to Reporters: You're Doing it Again

In recent months, news organizations and reporters have been tripping over themselves in a rush to critique pre-war reporting. The New York Times and The Washington Post have published extensive criticism of their own coverage, concluding they were too trusting of pro-war sources, and not skeptical enough.

On August 12, for example, the Post's Howard Kurtz wrote: "[S]ome critics say the media, including The Washington Post, failed the country by not reporting more skeptically on President Bush's contentions during the run-up to war. An examination of the paper's coverage, and interviews with more than a dozen of the editors and reporters involved, shows that The Post published a number of pieces challenging the White House, but rarely on the front page. ... The result was coverage that, despite flashes of groundbreaking reporting, in hindsight looks strikingly one-sided at times."

Kurtz went on to quote Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr.: "[W]e were so focused on trying to figure out what the administration was doing that we were not giving the same play to people who said it wouldn't be a good idea to go to war and were questioning the administration's rationale. Not enough of those stories were put on the front page. That was a mistake on my part."

Such mea culpas (as well as criticisms of rivals' coverage) are important, but they obscure something just as important: too many in the media are doing it again.

They fell for the Bush Administration's spin about the war. They didn't challenge the questionable statements about the war. Now they tell us they're sorry, but they're doing it again.

Every day, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their surrogates lie about matters connected to the Iraq war -- and about many other things. And the press -- fresh off a round of self-flagellation for failing to question the Bush camp's claims -- fails to question the Bush camp's claims.

Example: On August 12, Slate.com's William Saletan quoted Bush saying: "My opponent has found a new nuance. He now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq. ... Senator Kerry now agrees with me that even though we have not found the stockpile of weapons we believed were there, knowing everything we know today, he would have voted to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power."

Kerry said no such thing. In fact, Kerry never voted to "go into Iraq." He voted to give Bush authority to do so, if necessary. Those are two completely different things: giving the President the ability to go to war isn't the same as saying he should go to war. Bush lied about what Kerry had said -- or, frighteningly, doesn't know the difference. But not once in his 2,000-word article did Saletan tell his readers Bush was lying. Instead -- incredibly -- he criticized Kerry's statements.

Example: Also on August 12, the New York Times reported "Bush ... stuck in the knife on Tuesday, telling a rally in Panama City, Fla., that 'he [Kerry] now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq.' The Kerry camp says that interpretation of Mr. Kerry's words completely distorted the difference between a vote to authorize war and a decision to commit troops to the battlefield." The Times should have known that Bush had, in fact, distorted both Kerry's words and his vote. But the Times pretended it was a difference of opinion.

"For five days now ... Mr. Kerry has struggled to convince his audiences that his vote to authorize the president to use military force was a far, far cry from voting for a declaration of war," the Times article began. Perhaps Kerry is struggling because the New York Times isn't doing its job; instead, it is allowing -- even helping -- the Bush administration to muddy the water by distorting Kerry's statements and votes.

Example: Interviewing George McGovern on July 28, CNN's Judy Woodruff said "Well, they [Republicans] say he's [Kerry] got the most liberal record in the U.S. Senate." But Woodruff not only didn't bother to tell her viewers that the Republicans who say this are lying, she used the GOP lie to question her guest, as though it had some basis in reality.

Example: On August 5, the Washington Post reported, "In Bush's revamped stump speech Friday, he drew particular glee in focusing on the vote over the $87 billion. 'He tried to explain his vote by saying: I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it. End quote,' Bush said to laughter. 'He's got a different explanation now. One time he said he was proud he voted against the funding, then he said that the whole thing was a complicated matter.' Bush then added: 'There is nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat!'"

Bush was being disingenuous, at best, since he himself threatened to veto a version of the bill he ultimately signed -- but the Post didn't tell it's readers that. As Bob Somerby wrote: "Six days after Kerry's "no" vote, Bush said he would veto the bill if the reconstruction money included loans, as the Senate had voted. Let's repeat that: Six days after Kerry voted 'no' -- rejecting a form of the bill he disfavored -- Bush said he would veto the bill if it included provisions which he didn't like! ... Even in a 1400-word presentation which stresses Bush's mocking claims ... [The Post] kept readers barefoot and clueless ... [it] didn't tell them about Bush's veto threat."

A plea to our friends in the media: please, stop writing about your past failure to challenge the Bush camp on their lies, and start challenging them on their current lies. We don't want to read another round of apologies in a year.

As Bush himself has said, "There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."

The Storyline's the Story

The media's tendency to shape the news in order to fit pre-existing (though often inaccurate) storylines continues to show itself in coverage of the presidential campaign.

The Washington Times, ever eager to present John Kerry as a "flip-flopper," distorted a Kerry comment: "As late as July 11, Mr. Kerry called the Iraq war a 'mistake.'" But he hadn't. Kerry actually said on July 11 that "the president made a mistake in the way that he took us to war." But reporting Kerry's actual quote wouldn't allow the Times to portray him as a flip-flopper, so they twisted his statement.

Similarly, an article in the August 12 New York Times suggested that Kerry's deeply "nuanced" explanation of his vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq is causing him political trouble. But, as The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby has noted, Kerry's position really isn't "nuanced" at all; it simply comes down to, in Somerby's words, "Bush deserved to have the authority, but he used it unwisely." That's not "nuanced," that's quite clear.

The Times article "reported" in its first paragraph that "Mr. Kerry has struggled to convince his audiences that his vote to authorize the president to use military force was a far, far cry from voting for a declaration of war." Of course, a vote to authorize the use of force is very different from a vote to declare war -- though the Times didn't tell it's readers that, instead focusing on the "nuance" in Kerry's statements and quoting a Council on Foreign Relations scholar who said Kerry looks "flip-floppy" and "evasive" on the issue. Many paragraphs later, the Times noted -- almost as an afterthought -- that "in interviews since the start of the year, Mr. Kerry has been relatively consistent in explaining his position."

So, Kerry has been "consistent" in explaining his position ... and the New York Times plays up a characterization of him as a "flip-flopper."

Kerry said he thought the President should have had the authority to go to war, but shouldn't have gone to war the way he did ... and the New York Times suggests that is an unclear, "nuanced" position.

(Somerby has been in fine form this week; see also his critique of the press corps' failure to correct obvious lies by candidates.)

O'Reilly Compared MMFA to Mao, Castro, Klan; We're Still Waiting for Inevitable Comparison to Goebbels

Last week, Media Matters looked at the increasing tendency of right-wing pundits to resort to petty name-calling and insults, perhaps out of desperation. Right on cue, Bill O'Reilly proved our point.

In a debate with Paul Krugman aired on the August 7 edition of CNBC's Tim Russert, O'Reilly compared Media Matters for America to the Ku Klux Klan and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Two days earlier, O'Reilly had compared MMFA to Mao Zedong. O'Reilly seems to be going to great lengths to avoid comparing us to Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels, one of his favorite insults. Let's see how long he can hold out.

Also during the debate with Krugman, O'Reilly lied about Krugman's writing, claimed states have too much money for education, falsely claimed "Bush would have won [Florida] no matter what," and falsely said FOX "put[s] more liberal voices on the air than conservatives." The topic didn't come up, but we feel certain that, if asked, O'Reilly would have loudly claimed that up is down.

On his August 5 O'Reilly Factor broadcast, O'Reilly claimed that his critics were "hiding" and refuse to "defend their work on this program." Well, we're a critic of O'Reilly's and we're willing to appear on O'Reilly's show: Nearly three months ago, MMFA President and CEO David Brock wrote to O'Reilly, asking to appear on The O'Reilly Factor. Brock reiterated the offer on August 9.

So far, O'Reilly continues to hide from Brock.

Right-Wing Human Rights Watch

Michael Savage, columnist Michelle Malkin, and FOX News Channel host Stuart Varney made a series of offensive and bizarre comments about gays and minorities this week.

Savage attacked the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and human rights activists in general, calling them "the worst people in America ... communist or Nazis or both" and told listeners, "When you hear 'human rights,' think gays. When you hear 'human rights,' think only one thing: someone who wants to rape your son. ... When you hear 'human rights,' think only someone who wants to molest your son, and send you to jail if you defend him. Write that down, make a note of it."

FOX host Varney, in the middle of an interview with Disney president Robert Iger, abruptly and oddly turned a discussion of a new children's computer made by Disney into a rant about homosexuality: "You got any 'Gay Days' on the Mickey computer?" Varney asked Iger, adding, "You don't protect the kids from 'Gay Days' at the theme parks, do you?"

And Michelle Malkin -- a FOX News Channel contributor, right-wing columnist, and author -- actually defended the internment of Japanese-Americans and other ethnic minorities during World War II. Malkin even said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta should be fired because he was interned during the war and it has "clouded his view of what needs to be done." According to Malkin, "one of the main problems with public education today" is the "America-bashing" criticism of the World War II internment policies.

We know of no surveys that have asked either teachers or parents to rank "mention of the internment of minorities during World War II" among the problems with public education, but we suspect both groups would put it pretty far down on the list, beneath things like "lack of funding" and "need for greater parental involvement."

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