"Media Matters"; by Jamison Foser


In mid-January, TPM Muckraker -- part of the Talking Points Memo family of news blogs -- began reporting on the Bush administration's purge of several U.S. attorneys, including at least one who had conducted a successful -- and high-profile -- prosecution of a prominent Republican for corruption. Here's how the story began to unfold:

Whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast

In mid-January, TPM Muckraker -- part of the Talking Points Memo family of news blogs -- began reporting on the Bush administration's purge of several U.S. attorneys, including at least one who had conducted a successful -- and high-profile -- prosecution of a prominent Republican for corruption. Here's how the story began to unfold:

  • January 12: The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Bush administration asked U.S. Attorney Carol Lam -- a Bush appointee -- to step down from her post. Lam is best known for her high-profile prosecution of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham. The Union-Tribune noted that "indictments of others connected to the case may be forthcoming."

TPM Muckraker explained The Union-Tribune story, adding, "Lam's office has recently been troubling the CIA and Capitol Hill by pushing for documents related to the Cunningham investigation." The website noted, "The paper raises the possibility that Lam isn't the only U.S. Attorney who's being pushed out."

  • January 13: TPM Muckraker noted that "[t]he top FBI official for San Diego said that Lam's dismissal would jeopardize several ongoing investigations. 'I guarantee politics is involved,' special agent in charge Dan Dzwilewski told the [Union-Tribune] paper."
  • January 16: Under the headline, "What's the White House Doing to Prosecutors," TPM Muckraker reported: "During a floor speech on the topic moments ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said the White House has told her it was replacing from five to 10 Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys with its own interim appointees. We know of seven who have left during the last couple of months, many under unusual circumstances."

Later that day, TPM Muckraker further reported: "The administration is replacing U.S. Attorneys throughout the country. How'd they get that power? It was an obscure provision in the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, and it didn't take them very long to use it. The president signed it into law in March of last year -- by June, they were already moving to replace unwanted prosecutors. Former Arkansas USA Bud Cummins told the Wall Street Journal that 'a top Justice official asked for his resignation in June, saying the White House wanted to give another person the opportunity to serve.' Cummins was finally forced out in December, replaced with Timothy Griffin, formerly the research director of the Republican National Committee."

  • January 17: TPM Muckraker noted Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' claim that politics did not play a role in the firings: "Gonzales is mounting a PR effort to rebuff suggestions that the recent spate of administration-forced resignations of U.S. Attorneys may be politically motivated. 'Nothing could be further from the truth,' he told the Associated Press. 'We are fully committed to ensuring that, with respect to every position, we have a Senate-confirmed, presidentially appointed U.S. attorney. ... We in no way politicize these decisions.' "

At this point, with the story largely under the radar of national news organizations, Time's Washington bureau chief Jay Carney posted about it on the magazine's blog, Swampland.

  • January 17: In his Swampland post about the firings, Carney praised TPM Muckraker for playing a "laudable role" in uncovering the story -- but dismissed the suggestion that there is something suspicious about the firings as a conspiracy theory. Though Carney conceded that the fears of "liberal bloggers" that "independent-minded federal prosecutors are being forced out and replaced with administration toadies" are "not ungrounded," he mocked concerns about the firings: "It all makes perfect conspiratorial sense! Except for one thing: in this case some liberals are seeing broad partisan conspiracies where none likely exist."
  • January 18: Carney responded to criticism of his dismissal of concerns about the firings in another Swampland post: "What most of the criticism seems to miss is that I am not dismissing as "no big deal" either those resignations that truly were forced or the Patriot Act provision that gives the AG the power to appoint replacements. The Carol Lam firing in the Southern District of California has a particularly bad odor to it. But ... and this is a narrow disagreement ... what I don't see is a broad-based conspiracy." [Ellipses in original]

Time has not published another word about the firings since those two Carney posts -- not in the magazine, not on the website, not even on Swampland. Carney said Lam's firing "has a particularly bad odor to it" -- but dismisses broader concerns as a conspiracy theory.

And so Time yawns and looks the other way as the story continues to unfold -- and as it becomes more and more clear that the firings are just the latest fundamentally corrupt action by a fundamentally corrupt administration.

Even amid news that at least one of the prosecutors who was fired had previously rebuffed election-season pressure from Republican congressional members in connection with his investigation of a Democrat, Carney and Time remain strangely silent about the burgeoning scandal.

TPM Muckraker -- an online-only, four-person news weblog -- has continued to perform important and credible journalism that the nation's oldest and most venerable weekly newsmagazine refuses to do.

On the other hand, as Media Matters senior fellow Eric Alterman has noted, you can still rely on Time to publish a wide range of columnists. Where else can you go for the latest from both Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer -- besides, of course, The Weekly Standard, where both serve as editors? But unlike Time, The Weekly Standard doesn't publish the National Review's Richard Brookhiser. So if you want the most complete range of right-wing opinion available, Time has you covered. You won't find out about the GOP's politically motivated meddling with prosecutors -- but you'll learn "Why Republicans Are Smiling."

While TPM Muckraker coverage of the prosecutor purge has put Time (and most other national news organizations) to shame, the weblog Firedoglake has similarly proven itself essential to those interested in the trial of former Cheney chief of staff "Scooter" Libby, as even The New York Times has acknowledged:

Firedoglake has offered intensive trial coverage, using some six contributors in rotation. They include a former prosecutor, a current defense lawyer, a Ph.D. business consultant and a movie producer, all of whom lodge at a Washington apartment rented for the duration of the trial.

All day long during the trial, one Firedoglake blogger is on duty to beam to the Web from the courthouse media room a rough, real-time transcript of the testimony. With no audio or video feed permitted, the Firedoglake ''live blog'' has offered the fullest, fastest public report available. Many mainstream journalists use it to check on the trial.

Left-leaning blogs like Firedoglake and Talking Points Memo offer some of the most interesting new approaches to journalism found anywhere on the Internet -- and progressive magazines like The American Prospect and The Nation feature original and thoughtful writers who express ideas and viewpoints that are too rarely found in the traditional national media.

Why, then, do establishment media figures like CNN/Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz continue to flatter right-wing bloggers who bring little to the table beyond an impressive indifference to the truth, a willingness to cavort with white supremacists, and a fondness for government internment of innocent civilians based on nothing more than their race?

We're referring, of course, to Michelle Malkin. As Media Matters senior fellow Eric Boehlert explained this week:

Malkin is not a serious person. In fact, she's ambitiously unserious, and her work is treated accordingly by most people in senior positions within the mainstream media (except at Fox News and the Post). That's because her daily blog is built on a foundation of hatred that literally knows no bounds -- namely, Malkin's unbridled, name-calling disdain for Democrats, peace activists, journalists, immigrants, and Muslims. Yet inside the Post newsroom, or more specifically, at the Post Style desk, Malkin is seen as a rising media star worthy of focused, fawning attention.

It would be one thing if Malkin were currently enjoying her victory lap -- if she'd been dead-on about Iraq and about the defeatists on the left who didn't have the foresight to back a wildly successful invasion of Iraq. But, of course, she's not. Malkin is the field general for a squad of bitter pro-war dead-enders who lash out online against anyone who dares speak the truth about the war. She has been wrong about Iraq in every conceivable way, with a losing streak dating back more than 50 straight months. The consequences for having habitually botched the most important policy issue of the last decade? She's taken to lunch by a Washington Post reporter (the same reporter Malkin once derided as incompetent), who then splashes a friendly profile in the paper while carefully refusing to inform readers about Malkin's glaring ignorance and unhinged loathing.

The rest of Boehlert's column can be read here. Kurtz sneeringly (and dishonestly) responded to Boehlert: "What a shock that an ideological liberal doesn't think a journalist should give a fair hearing to a conservative blogger."

Of course, Boehlert didn't write that Kurtz shouldn't have given "a fair hearing to a conservative blogger." He wrote that Kurtz didn't give Malkin a fair hearing -- he gave her fawning treatment in a "whitewash" of a profile, omitting crucial facts that would have revealed her as a liar and a practitioner of hate speech. (CJR Daily's Paul McLeary had a similar take on Kurtz's piece, calling it a "one-sided" profile of Malkin, adding that "to fail to contextualize anything she said, and quote husbands and friends extolling her virtues while shutting critics out, makes for a better press release than a profile.")

And Boehlert noted that the Post hasn't similarly profiled influential progressive bloggers:

Where, in the last two years, has the Post's Style section run a feature on Markos "Kos" Moulitsas Zuniga, whose DailyKos.com is the most popular political blog in the world? Where was the feature on progressive wunderkind organizer Matt Stoller, one of the forces behind the widely read MyDD website? Or pioneers like Eric Alterman (a Media Matters for America senior fellow) and Josh Marshall, who were among the first to establish progressive outposts online? Or John Amato, who revolutionized political blogging by posting video clips on his Crooks and Liars website, which, according to one recent survey, was the 10th most-linked-to political website in the world? Or Jane Hamsher, who founded influential firedoglake.com, and who's been leading a team live-blogging the Scooter Libby trial? Or Duncan Black (a Media Matters senior fellow), whose hugely popular blog, Eschaton, remains an online must-read? Or John Aravosis, the progressive activist who runs AMERICAblog and just a few weeks ago forced the candy giant Mars to yank online Snickers ads after Aravosis and others tagged them as anti-gay?

It would not, however, be accurate to say that the Post has ignored progressive bloggers. Instead, Post reporters frequently mock and deride them.

Just this week, for example, Kurtz cribbed from Malkin's blog in order to accuse The Huffington Post of giving a "megaphone" to "vile" comments about an unsuccessful attack on Vice President Cheney.

While acknowledging "that it's absurd to view these assassination fantasies as anything other than the rantings of the fringe, and that they shouldn't be used to tar an entire ideology," Kurtz seemed to do just that, intentionally or not. By listing several "vile" comments purportedly made by liberals and offering not a single example of similar or worse comments by conservatives, Kurtz left readers with the false impression that such sentiments are unique to the Left.

As Greg Sargent has explained, Malkin did -- explicitly -- use the vile comments to "tar an entire ideology." Despite the fact that he used Malkin's post as his source, Kurtz neglected to note that she had engaged in the very activity he claimed to disapprove of. That, apparently, is what he means by giving Malkin a "fair hearing."

Kurtz's one-sided recitation of "vile" blog comments by liberals is even more appalling given the fact that the comments in question were not made by high (or even low) profile progressive bloggers, but by anonymous comments submitted to The Huffington Post -- anonymous comments that The Huffington Post quickly removed.

As we have repeatedly noted, you don't have to go searching through anonymous guest comments to find examples of right-wing hate speech. Instead, you can go directly to leaders of the modern conservative movement like Rush Limbaugh, who has raised "vile" to an art form -- and who is embraced by Vice President Cheney and described as "mainstream" by none other than Kurtz himself.

Or you can turn on CNN Headline News, which rewarded Glenn Beck with his own television show after he fantasized on his radio program about killing Michael Moore and told listeners, "Every night I get down on my knees and pray that Dennis Kucinich will burst into flames." (The Post recently printed a profile of Beck that, despite taking up nearly 1,800 words, generously omitted any mention of his on-air violent fantasies.) After Beck demanded that the nation's first Muslim congressman "prove to me that you are not working with our enemies," ABC decided it wanted Beck's "distinct voice" for Good Morning America.

And, of course, there's always Ann Coulter, who has said she wished Timothy McVeigh had blown up The New York Times building and suggested the assassination of a sitting president of the United States -- comments that have helped make her a darling of the right. Just today, she gave a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told the audience, "I am happy to hear that after you hear from me, you will hear from Ann Coulter. That is a good thing. Oh yeah!" Coulter didn't disappoint her conservative fans, using her speech to call Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards a "faggot."

But you don't have to go to CPAC to see Coulter foam at the mouth. She'll be on NBC soon enough.

And, as we -- and Glenn Greenwald, and countless others -- have demonstrated countless times, the conservative blogs Kurtz and the Post favor are themselves a nonstop source of "vile" comments. The actual conservative bloggers, that is -- not just the type of anonymous commenter Malkin and Kurtz used to smear progressives.

(Kurtz, by the way, isn't alone at the Post in singling progressive blogs out for scorn. Reporter Lois Romano did so in an online discussion this week: "If we write an article the liberals blogs do not like we will be inundated with nasty, vulgar email.")

So: given the extraordinary and groundbreaking work being done at Talking Points Memo and others, the original and insightful commentary at Firedoglake and the analysis found at Tapped and The Nation, why does the Post seem to ignore them, lavishing praise and precious column-inches on unexceptional and unhinged conservatives like Malkin? And why do media outlets seem to go to great lengths to promote the notion that progressive blogs are bastions of "vile" commentary, while giving much more prominent conservatives a pass for similar behavior?

Is it, perhaps, because they see what TPM Muckraker has done on stories like the prosecutor purge, and what Firedoglake has done with the Libby trial -- and they're afraid of the competition?

Posted In
Government, Cabinet & Agencies, Ethics
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