"Media Matters," week ending May 20, 2005; by Jamison Foser


Think Progress points out the inconsistency in the White House's claim on the one hand that a few words in a Newsweek "Periscope" blurb caused deadly rioting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and President Bush's defense of the decision made by two Rupert Murdoch-owned newspapers, the New York Post and the Sun in Britain, to publish photos of Saddam Hussein in his underwear.

Week ending May 20, 2005

This week:

Bush's Newsweek/Murdoch double standard

Downing Street Memo update

Filibuster falsehoods

Controversy continues to swirl around CPB

Hannity ignored Santorum's Hitler comparison

Right-wing bloodlust

Bush's Newsweek/Murdoch double standard

Think Progress points out the inconsistency in the White House's claim on the one hand that a few words in a Newsweek "Periscope" blurb caused deadly rioting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and President Bush's defense of the decision made by two Rupert Murdoch-owned newspapers, the New York Post and the Sun in Britain, to publish photos of Saddam Hussein in his underwear:

President Bush, when asked if he thought the pictures would stoke more anti-Americanism in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, voiced some doubt.


"You know, I don't think a photo inspires murderers. ... I think they're inspired by an ideology that is so barbaric and backwards that it's hard for many in the Western world to comprehend how they think."

We can't help wondering if the president would have been so understanding if it had been Newsweek -- or CBS -- rather than a newspaper that endorsed his re-election, that ran the photos. Regardless, his words should serve to slow the flood of angry denunciations of Newsweek that have come from his administration, and from much of the media.

Downing Street Memo update

Two weeks ago, Media Matters noted that the U.S. media had all but ignored the "Downing Street Memo," which claimed that President Bush had decided by summer 2002 to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. After two weeks of complaints from Media Matters and others, including Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, and thousands of concerned citizens, several news organizations that had previously ignored the story have finally given it some attention.

The Washington Post, as we noted last week, finally ran an article about the memo on page A18 of its May 13 edition. Two days later, Post ombudsman Michael Getler devoted his entire column to discussing the paper's failure to cover the matter:

My e-mail in-box was once again inundated last week by write-in campaigns provoked by two self-described media watchdog organizations, both on the liberal side of things. The first critic out of its box and into mine is called Media Matters for America. The second one was FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), an organization that I wrote about last month.

There were more than 1,000 e-mails, plus some phone calls, all of them blasting The Post and some of them blasting me.


I've said in earlier columns that I don't like massive e-mail campaigns. But I've always made clear that the points these challenges raise can often be legitimate, and that's the case here.

Last week, we took CNN to task for failing to give the memo proper attention, specifically mentioning Wolf Blitzer:

There's something seriously wrong with a cable "news" network that virtually ignores a secret intelligence memo that suggests the Bush administration deliberately manipulated intelligence in order to support its policies; virtually ignores a letter signed by 89 members of Congress demanding an explanation -- but covers the fact that one of those congressmen writes about it on his blog. CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who boasts nightly that he brings his viewers "hard news," hasn't covered the memo; at CNN, such news is left to "Inside the Blogs."

Three days later, Wolf Blitzer Reports covered the memo.

Conyers, meanwhile, has been keeping track of news stories about the Downing Street Memo on his blog. He recently pointed out that while several news organizations have belatedly covered the memo, that coverage is still inadequate:

Just as I was logging off, I noticed the following -- in Friday editions, the New York Times finally chimes in on the Downing Street Memo. To be fair, the Times reported on this shortly after it became an issue in the British elections. However, this is the first time the Times has reported it in the context of its consequences for the United States government, as opposed to the Blair government. I have no doubt that the belated, but appreciated, reporting on this is the result of citizen interest and activism and internet acitivism [sic] in particular. Congrats.

We still have yet to see the insistent and repeated inquiries from then press about the contradictions this document brings to light. If a President deceives to the American people on matters of war and peace, that -- in my view -- is the most serious type of abuse of power. This story has yet to be treated with that degree of gravity.

By the way, where is Fox News?

Filibuster falsehoods

This week, Media Matters detailed and debunked the Top 10 filibuster falsehoods -- a thorough look at how conservative misinformation has shaped media coverage of the debate over Senate filibusters.

Media Matters has repeatedly pointed out mistaken media claims that the term "nuclear option" is a Democratic invention; in fact, the phrase was coined by Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, a Republican. But some news organizations -- the Associated Press, NPR, and CNN among them -- continue to report this falsehood.

Speaking of NPR and the "nuclear option," NPR political editor Ken Rudin continues to miss the point. After Media Matters pointed out that NPR reporter David Welna attributed the phrase to Democrats during the April 25 edition of Morning Edition, Rudin angrily mocked listeners who complained about the sloppy reporting. Now, in his latest online column, Rudin acknowledges that his comments were "intemperate," but he still doesn't seem to understand the problem with Welna's report:

I will 'fess up and acknowledge that my language in dismissing the e-mailers was a bit intemperate (though tame compared with much of the vitriolic e-mail that came in). My point, which could have been better phrased, was not to dismiss bloggers or how words can be misinterpreted. I just thought it was a bit over the top for the e-mailers to call us Karl Rove pawns (and worse) simply because Welna's piece failed to identify Lott as the source for "nuclear option." And I didn't hesitate to say so.

But the problem isn't that "Welna's piece failed to identify Lott as the source" for the phrase "nuclear option." The problem is that Welna's piece attributed the phrase to Democrats. And Democrats didn't create the term; Lott did. Honestly, is that really so hard to grasp?

Controversy continues to swirl around CPB

Amid increased controversy over Corporation for Public Broadcasting chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson's efforts to move public broadcasting rightward, media coverage of CPB has left much to be desired.

Among the recent developments:

  • Media Matters detailed a series of misleading claims Tomlinson made during an interview on National Public Radio (NPR).
  • The New York Times and The Washington Post have both falsely claimed that Tomlinson hired two ombudsmen, one liberal and one conservative. In fact, one is a fellow at a right-wing think tank and endorsed the Republican candidate for governor of Indiana last year. And he's the "liberal."
  • Bill Moyers gave a speech at the National Conference for Media Reform in which he offered a devastating critique of Tomlinson's efforts to hijack public broadcasting: "I was naïve, I guess. I simply never imagined that any CPB chairman, Democrat or Republican, would cross the line from resisting White House pressure to carrying it out for the White House. But that's what Kenneth Tomlinson has done."
  • Common Cause have launched petitions targeting Tomlinson.

Check out www.MediaMatters.org for more about public broadcasting in the coming days.

Hannity ignored Santorum's Hitler comparison

In January 2004, MoveOn.org came under fire for an ad that appeared on the group's web site that compared President Bush to Adolf Hitler. The video was not produced by MoveOn, but was simply one of more than 1,500 videos that were submitted for a contest the organization held. Though MoveOn didn't produce or promote the video, and removed it from the web page, it has been mentioned or referred to in hundreds of news reports in the year and a half since. Conservative media figures consistently attack MoveOn for the video; as recently as May 19, CNN Crossfire co-host Terry Holt attacked MoveOn:

HOLT: At one point they compared President Bush To Adolf Hitler. This is --

BEGALA: No, they did not. Someone put out an ad that MoveOn -- took it down right away. MoveOn took it off. Anyway, I don't want to defend them. They never compared Mr. Bush to --

HOLT: Nobody wants to defend it after seeing it. It may be funny, but it's tacky and it's ridiculous and kind of embarrassing, I think, if you are affiliated with it. I just wonder: Is this the best the Democrats can do in terms of supporting their arguments to be made about a serious issue?

Within hours of Holt's indignant denunciation of the video that appeared on MoveOn's web site a year and a half ago, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) took to the Senate floor to argue that Democratic complaints about the "nuclear option" are "the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying: I'm in Paris, how dare you invade me, how dare you bomb my city. It's mine."

Will the comparison of Democrats to Hitler, made by the chair of the Senate Republican Conference, draw the scrutiny MoveOn faced when one of 1,500 ads submitted to its website compared President Bush to Hitler?

Not if Fox News' Sean Hannity has anything to do with it.

Earlier this year, after Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) referenced Hitler, Hannity called him "unhinged," condemned his Hitler remarks as "atrocious" and "disgraceful," and asked, "Could a Republican ever get away with comparing Democrats to Adolf Hitler?" Then, on the May 19 edition of Hannity & Colmes, Hannity ignored the Hitler comparison Santorum made earlier that day. Hannity let Santorum "get away with comparing Democrats to Adolf Hitler" -- even after co-host Alan Colmes brought it up.

Right-wing bloodlust

Radio hosts Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly continued the noble tradition of right-wing pundits fantasizing about death and destruction:

  • Glenn Beck, May 17: "Hang on, let me just tell you what I'm thinking. I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out -- is this wrong?"
  • Bill O'Reilly, May 17: "Go to LATimes.com. I want everybody in the country to read this editorial, 'cause it just -- I mean, you'll be sitting there pounding the table like I did. How can they -- how can they think this way? How can anyone think this way? You know, 'Shutting down Guantánamo and giving suspected terrorists legal protections would help restore our reputation abroad.' No, it wouldn't. I mean that's like saying, well, if we're nicer to the people who want to KILL US, then the other people who want to KILL US will like us more. Does that make any sense to you? Do you think Osama [bin Laden] is gonna be more favorably disposed to the U.S. if we give the Guantánamo people lawyers? I mean, but this is what they're saying. It is just -- you just sit there, you go, 'They'll never get it until they grab Michael Kinsley out of his little house and they cut his head off.' And maybe when the blade sinks in, he'll go, 'Perhaps O'Reilly was right.'"
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