"Media Matters"; by Jamison Foser


In articles on November 17 and 18, The Washington Post and The New York Times covered speeches by Vice President Dick Cheney, in which he attacked critics of the Iraq war, and by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA), in which he called for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

This Week:

Wash. Post, NY Times promote Bush administration attacks on Democrats; ignore responses

Time for Wash. Post editorial page to come clean about Iraq falsehoods

Inspector general's report details Tomlinson's attempts to inject politics in public broadcasting

LA Times dumbs down; replaces Scheer with Goldberg

Woodward repeatedly criticized Plame investigation without disclosing conflict; Post executive editor Downie downplayed Woodward's failures

Wash. Post, NY Times promote Bush administration attacks on Democrats; ignore responses

In articles on November 17 and 18, The Washington Post and The New York Times covered speeches by Vice President Dick Cheney, in which he attacked critics of the Iraq war, and by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA), in which he called for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

In covering Cheney's speech, both newspapers printed his attacks on Democrats, and supporting comments by President Bush and White House aide Dan Bartlett, without offering a word of Democratic response. By contrast, both newspapers included Republican attacks on Murtha in their coverage of his speech.

In its November 17 article about Cheney's speech, the Times quoted Cheney blasting war critics for making "irresponsible comments" and calling allegations that the Bush administration manipulated prewar intelligence "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city." The Times also quoted the Republican National Committee's website, quoted Bush accusing Democrats of "irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics," and quoted Bartlett saying the attacks on critics would continue. The Post's coverage was substantially the same.

Glaringly absent in the coverage of Cheney's speech was a single word quoting -- or even paraphrasing -- Democrats' response to the attacks. Instead of providing both sides of the dispute, the Times and Post simply turned their pages over to the Bush White House, giving readers nothing more than a stenographer's recitation of the administration's attacks on its critics -- a performance that would have made Pravda proud.

The Times not only ignored the responses of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and other Democrats, it ignored Republican Senator Chuck Hagel's (R-NE) statement this week that the Bush administration has been un-American in the way it has attacked its critics. On November 15, Hagel denounced the administration for suggesting -- as President Bush did in a November 11 speech -- that critics of administration policy give aid and comfort to the enemy:

Suggesting that to challenge or criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democracy nor what this country has stood for, for over 200 years. The Democrats have an obligation to challenge in a serious and responsible manner, offering solutions and alternatives to the Administration's policies.

Vietnam was a national tragedy partly because Members of Congress failed their country, remained silent and lacked the courage to challenge the Administrations in power until it was too late. Some of us who went through that nightmare have an obligation to the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam to not let that happen again. To question your government is not unpatriotic -- to not question your government is unpatriotic. America owes its men and women in uniform a policy worthy of their sacrifices.

Hagel, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, essentially said the president of the United States is violating the principles "this country has stood for for over 200 years" -- and The New York Times ignored it. They ignored it the day after the speech, and the next day, even as they ran an article repeating the very kinds of attacks by the Bush administration that Hagel denounced.

To The New York Times, apparently, a senior Republican senator criticizing the Republican president is not newsworthy -- but a Republican vice president criticizing Democrats is. The Grey Lady has seemingly abandoned the traditional notion that a man biting a dog is news -- but a dog biting a man is not.

The Post did mention Hagel's comments in its article, but it bizarrely ignored his criticism of Bush, pretending instead that he simply defended Democrats:

Bush added his voice hours later during a news conference Thursday afternoon in South Korea, where he is meeting with Asian leaders. Asked if he agreed with the vice president or with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) who said this week that it was patriotic to question the government during a war, Bush's face tightened and he answered sharply, "The vice president."

One might assume that, since the Times and the Post reported Republican criticism of Democrats in their November 17 editions without including any response from the Democrats, they must have given similar treatment to Murtha's speech in November 18 newspapers.

Not even close.

The Times article about Murtha's speech quoted him declaring that "[o]ur military has done everything that has been asked of them. It is time to bring them home." The Times article then included, in the fourth, fifth, and sixth paragraphs, Republican responses:

President Bush, in South Korea, continued on Friday to be questioned by reporters about the debate over Iraq. His press secretary issued an unusually blistering statement responding to Mr. Murtha's call for a pullout, declaring that the Democrat was ''endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.'' Page A16.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois said in a statement that Mr. Murtha and Democratic supporters had ''adopted a policy of cut and run.''

''They would prefer that the United States surrender to terrorists who would harm innocent Americans,'' Mr. Hastert said.

Before returning to Murtha's comments, the Times went on to quote Cheney's Wednesday comments, which were then two days old and had already appeared in The Times:

In a speech on Wednesday night, Vice President Dick Cheney said senators who had suggested that the administration had manipulated the intelligence were making ''one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.''

Though this was the second consecutive day the Times printed Cheney's comments, it still didn't bother to include a response from a Democrat. Instead, the Times finally mentioned Hagel's comments -- but only in passing, only in a paraphrase that ignored his criticism of Bush, and only to set up a quote of Bush attacking Democrats:

Mr. Bush was eager on Thursday to join Mr. Cheney in taking on the critics of the use of the intelligence. Asked about whether Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, was correct when he said it was patriotic to question the president's use of the intelligence, Mr. Bush answered in unusually personal terms.

''I think people ought to be allowed to ask questions,'' he said. Then, leaning forward and emphasizing his words, he said, ''Listen, it's patriotic as heck to disagree with the president. It doesn't bother me. What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics.''

Hagel didn't simply say "it was patriotic to question the president's use of the intelligence"; he suggested the president's comments attacking such questions were un-American. Yet the Times, in finally acknowledging that Chuck Hagel spoke, completely ignored the fact that he criticized Bush, suggesting instead that he had simply defended Democrats.

The Times then included a brief response to Bush's comments from Reid:

"We need leadership from the White House, not more whitewashing of the very serious issues confronting us in Iraq," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader.

Finally, in the 20th paragraph, the Times returned to Murtha.

Readers of the Times' website saw even more imbalanced coverage: The November 18 article on site about Murtha's comments included a sidebar linking to a transcript of a press conference held by 12 House Republicans attacking Murtha. The November 17 article about Bush and Cheney attacking Democrats did not include a link to the Democratic response. Not only are the articles themselves skewed in favor of the Bush administration, so are the links the Times provides its online readers.

In its coverage of the Murtha speech, the Post also quoted Bush, Hastert, and other Republicans criticizing Murtha.

To recap: When Bush and Cheney attacked Democrats, the Times and Post gave them an entire article, with no mention of a word of Democratic response.

When Murtha called for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the Times devoted most of the first half of its article to Republican attacks on Murtha, and the Post quoted several Republicans' responses.

And when a senior Republican senator who sits on both the Foreign Relations and the Intelligence committees denounced, in the harshest terms possible, the Bush administration's assault on "what this country has stood for, for over 200 years," the Times and Post completely ignored the criticism.

If the Times and Post aren't taking sides, what are they doing?

Time for Wash. Post editorial page to come clean about Iraq falsehoods

Media Matters detailed several examples of Washington Post editorials that backed the Bush administration's two principal -- and faulty -- arguments for going to war. Those Post editorials contained several false claims and distortions that the newspaper has not yet corrected -- and, in some cases, has continued to defend.

Read the full analysis here.

Inspector general's report details Tomlinson's attempts to inject politics in public broadcasting

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting's (CPB) inspector general released a report this week detailing former CPB chairman Kenneth Tomlinson's abuse of his position to promote a partisan Republican agenda.

Free Press executive director Josh Silver outlined the inspector general's findings:

Former CPB Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson "violated his fiduciary responsibilities and statutory prohibitions against Board member involvement in programming decisions" in creating the "Journal Editorial Report."

The report found that "political tests" were a "major criteria" used by Tomlinson in recruiting Harrison in violation of "statutory prohibitions against such practices."

The report criticizes the secretive hiring of Republican operative Frederick Mann to monitor "Now with Bill Moyers" and other programs without authorization from the CPB board of directors.

While the report concludes the violations were primarily the result of Tomlinson's "personal actions to accomplish his various initiatives," it also identifies "serious weaknesses" in the CPB's governance system.

But, Silver noted, Tomlinson's resignation may not eliminate partisanship from CPB:

The remaining leadership of the CPB have close ties the Bush administration. Halpern and Gaines are veteran GOP operatives and mega-fundraisers, who have praised Tomlinson for "his legitimate efforts to achieve balance and objectivity in public broadcasting." Tomlinson's hand-picked choice to run the CPB, Harrison, is a former chairwoman of the Republican Party who recently oversaw "public diplomacy" efforts at the State Department.

Silver's colleague at Free Press, campaign director Tim Karr, noted the report's failure to include controversial email traffic between Tomlinson and White House senior adviser Karl Rove:

Missing from the report is email traffic between Tomlinson and White House political advisor Karl Rove, reportedly provided to Inspector General Kenneth Konz by investigators at the State Department. This evidence, which reveals the White House's hand in manipulations of public broadcasting programming, is still under lock and key at the heavily partisan CPB.


The report also said "cryptic" e-mails between Tomlinson and the White House indicated by their timing and subject matter that Tomlinson "was strongly motivated by political considerations in filling the president/CEO position."

The IG document, however, does not reveal these emails. Nor does it share the reported emails between Tomlinson and his "close friend" Rove.


It's clear that Tomlinson isn't the lone culprit at CPB. Its board members and staff are continuing his work to undermine the foundation of public broadcasting.

But to learn more about the extent to which Rove was involved, Congress needs to turn up the pressure to disclose all the evidence that Konz and the CPB have on hand.

LA Times dumbs down; replaces Scheer with Goldberg

The Los Angeles Times recently fired columnist Robert Scheer, who had been with the paper for more than 30 years. One of the first journalists to question the White House's claims about Iraq, Scheer has consistently been right about the war.

While firing Scheer, the Times brought aboard the consistently wrong Jonah Goldberg. In Goldberg's very first column for the Times, he provided immediate support for the notion that the paper made a grave mistake.

Goldberg, after beginning the column by calling some people who think Bush lied about Saddam Hussein "deranged moonbats," actually went on to argue that it doesn't matter if Bush lied:

If Bush succeeds -- still a big if -- the painful irony for Bush's critics is that he will go down in history as a great president, even if he lied, while they will take their paranoia to their graves.

Read that again: Goldberg takes the position that it doesn't matter if George Bush lied in order to take the nation into a war in which more than 2,000 American troops have died.

The majority of Americans think that if Bush didn't tell the truth about his reasons for going to war, he should be impeached. Goldberg thinks that if Bush didn't tell the truth about his reasons for going to war, he's a great president.

Remind us again who the "deranged moonbat" is?

Goldberg's defense of lying does make sense in the context of his other writing, however, as Media Matters has documented:

  • Goldberg has claimed "Sens. Evan Bayh [D-IN], Joseph Biden [D-DE], Hillary Rodham Clinton [D-NY], John Kerry [D-MA], and John Edwards [D-NC] all voted for the war. Most of these Democrats had access to the same intelligence as the president." Goldberg wasn't telling the truth.
  • Goldberg has asserted that, under the so-called "Patriot Act," "not one library was ever searched. Ever." But Goldberg has no way of knowing that; he was apparently just making it up.
  • Goldberg wrote that a Democratic National Committee Election Day manual "instructs party operatives to 'launch a pre-emptive strike' by charging voter intimidation even if there is no evidence any such thing is taking place." Goldberg wasn't telling the truth.
  • Goldberg claimed that a survey of Democratic convention delegates found that "5 out of 6 say the war on terrorism and national security aren't that important." The survey found nothing of the kind.

Suddenly, Goldberg's defense of lying doesn't seem so surprising -- though the Los Angeles Times' decision to give him a column remains inexplicable.

Woodward repeatedly criticized Plame investigation without disclosing conflict; Post executive editor Downie downplayed Woodward's failures

Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward has repeatedly criticized the Valerie Plame investigation and special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald while failing to disclose his own involvement in the matter. Woodward testified under oath November 14 that in June 2003, a "senior administration official" told him that Plame worked at the CIA. News of Woodward's involvement in the matter calls into question the propriety of his previous public statements about the investigation.

Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. has repeatedly downplayed Woodward's actions, saying that Woodward made "one mistake" or "two mistakes" in not telling Downie about his involvement and in opining about the investigation on television.

But Woodward isn't guilty simply of a minor, one-time transgression. He kept his involvement in the Plame outing secret from his bosses, colleagues, and readers for years. He repeatedly made a decision to appear on television to discuss the case without disclosing his involvement. He repeatedly decided to criticize the investigation and the investigator, without disclosing his obvious conflict -- namely, if the investigation had ended, he would not have had to testify.

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