Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Our Failed Media

DougJ: Liberal media
It’s easy to forget that before the Moonies put him in charge of the Washington Times, John Solomon was writing misleading, Democrat-bashing articles for the Washington Post and the AP:
In his pitch at the Heritage Foundation, Solomon made all of this explicit. The Times, he explained, played an important role in pushing stories that the White House didn’t like. “Before Andrew Breitbart did the ACORN series,” he said, “we did 47 stories about ACORN.” He explained how TheConservatives.com could run the news cycle by arguing that its “Right People” aggregator, which collects tweets and news from a small group of influential conservatives, changed the debate over Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The site was in demo mode, available to Times reporters.
“When we were demoing this, we were running Newt Gingrich as a personality,” explained Solomon. “Everything Newt Gingrich did on the social media space–on Facebook, on Twitter–was aggregating through the technology. We were sitting there–[seasoned Times reporter] Ralph Hallow was sitting alongside of me–and all of a sudden this little Twitter burst comes up from Newt, saying Sotomayor was racist. We jumped on it, we put that out there. That created, as you remember, days and days of a firestorm about whether her personal views about race and gender were biasing her views from the bench.”
Just to be clear: when Solomon was at the AP and Washington Post, he was widely accused of writing ideologically-motivated pieces of dubious authenticity. The Post and AP defended him to the hilt. Now he’s openly bragging about doing exactly what his critics accused him of.
Anyway, all of this proves that the media has a strong liberal bias.
Think Progress: Bob Schieffer Likens H1N1 Flu Vaccine Shortages To Hurricane Katrina 
This summer, the Obama administration announced that it would spend more than $2 billion to buy enough H1N1 flu vaccines to inoculate every American and said that companies could have up to 80 million ready by October. But only a fraction of those vaccines have been produced so far. “[W]e probably did overpromise, and we overpromised on the basis of what was represented to us” by the manufacturers, senior White House adviser David Axelrod said this week.
Some conservatives are now calling the mishap “Obama’s Katrina.” Today in an interview with Axelrod on CBS’ Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer advanced that view:
SCHIEFFER: What do you do to correct this kind of thing? You’re told one thing, you’d have so much and you didn’t. These are the kinds of things we heard after Katrina during a previous administration.
NPR’s Juan Williams noted the huge distinction between the two situations on Fox News Sunday this morning:
WILLIAMS: I must say that there’s a huge difference between Hurricane Katrina in government failure and what we’re seeing here in terms of delivery of the vaccine. This is a matter of private manufacturers not living up to promises in terms of the delivery system. …But I don’t think most Americans are blaming the Obama administration for this as they blamed, as they said that President Bush’s administration failed to properly understand or pay attention to what FEMA was not doing with regard to helping Americans with Katrina.
Indeed, Williams is right, Americans aren’t blaming the Obama administration. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, “69 percent of respondents said they were confident in a federal response to the outbreak.”
Even conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer acquitted the Obama administration of responsibility over the vaccine shortages today on Inside Washington. “I would be inclined to blaming this all on Obama but I rise in his defense because…this stuff is extremely hard to do safely, it’s a long process. … I would give him a pass in terms of assigning political blame,” he said.
Paul Waldman: Fox and Foes 
The Fox debacle isn't a tale of media versus government -- it's about a television network trying to rewrite journalism's rules.
This past week, we learned that the White House is "waging war" on Fox News. And what terrifying weapon is the administration wielding? What sinister tactic has the Fox faithful rending their garments? Well, the White House has said that Fox is more a political operation than a news organization, committed to advancing the Republican Party's goals. In other words, the White House is leveling the same charge people have made about Fox for its entire history. Watch the station for more than a few minutes, and you'll see it's true.
What's really been revealed in this little dustup is the way television journalists think that they should get to follow a set of rules different from the set their colleagues whose work appears in other media follow.
The drama started when White House Communications Director Anita Dunn was quoted as calling Fox "a wing of the Republican Party." Shortly after, adviser David Axelrod appeared on ABC's This Week and said, "[Fox]'s really not news ... and we're not going to treat them that way. We're going to appear on their shows. We're going to participate, but understanding that they represent a point of view." Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel echoed Axelrod on CNN.
Naturally, Fox wasn't happy about the administration's criticism. Liz Cheney went on Sean Hannity's show and called it "clear censorship" and "abuse of power." Fox commentator Karl Rove -- who, as an aide to President Bush, tried to get a Washington Post reporter he didn't like removed from the White House beat -- called it "demeaning to the White House" and "unhelpful for the country." The issue has been discussed on the network for hour after interminable hour, with plenty of high-minded proclamations on the administration's abhorrent contempt for the Fourth Estate.
At times like this, you see what a thin understanding many people have of the First Amendment. Fox has the right to say anything it likes and report in whatever manner it chooses. That's a right it exercises every day. But freedom of speech and the press also means that other people are allowed to criticize you for the manner in which you exercise your rights. People can suggest that your reporting is slanted or say that your adherence to the facts is inadequate or even call you a bunch of jerks, and they haven't infringed on your right to speak and report.
What has the administration actually done to Fox? It hasn't tried to censor the network. It hasn't forbidden Fox reporters from entering the White House -- those reporters are still there, doing their jobs. Obama staffers have -- brace yourself -- criticized them. Egad!
The White House has also decided, as Axelrod said, to stop pretending that Fox is a legitimate news organization. So when Obama did a round of interviews on the Sunday shows a few weeks ago, he neglected to add Fox News Sunday to the list. Is that a choice the White House doesn't have the right to make? No one would argue that Obama has some sort of duty to give interviews to Rush Limbaugh or National Review, just as no one expected George W. Bush to sit down for a chat with Keith Olbermann or The Nation. Yet for some reason, the fact that Fox is a television network is supposed to confer upon the president an obligation to treat it with deference. No such obligation exists.
Yes, Fox broadcasts pictures as well as words. Reporters for television networks may be better paid, dressed, and coiffed than their ink-stained counterparts from the print media, but the fact that their faces appear on television doesn't mean they should be subject to a set of rules different from the one other journalists follow.
Fox News was launched in 1996, back when the White House was occupied by another Democrat who drove conservatives around the bend. Seeing an exploitable market niche, mega-mogul Rupert Murdoch decided to create a conservative cable news network and chose Roger Ailes -- media guru to both Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush -- to run the show. What Ailes created couldn't have been more different from the stodgy CNN. Fox was fast, loud, and personality-driven. And from the beginning, it offered conservatives a place where their worst fears would be validated and their opinions treated as the gospel truth.
Though Fox has defended itself by trying to distinguish between its news coverage and its opinion programming, the news is often hard to find. From the early morning fun on Fox & Friends (just as right-wing as the rest of the network but so insipid it makes Jackass look like a meeting of the Oxford Union), to the cheerleading for unfettered capitalism on Neil Cavuto, to the nightly tirades from the prime-time lineup of Beck, O'Reilly, and Hannity, to the weekend shows hosted by the likes of Oliver North and Mike Huckabee, Fox is the place to go if you want to learn how Republicans are strong and manly, Democrats are crooks, and Obama has a secret plan to lead America toward a socialist nightmare. That isn't to say there aren't a few real journalists at Fox -- there are. But the occasional bleats of reality they offer are overwhelmed by a tsunami of conservative bloviating.
The wave of "tea party" protests against the Obama administration over the summer showed how Fox is different from actual news organizations. It relentlessly promoted the protests, encouraging its viewers to attend and offering lots of information on how they could do so. Fox had its personalities fan out to appear at protests around the country. One Fox producer was caught on tape trying to whip up the crowd so it would appear more dynamic. When it was all over, the network ran a newspaper ad chiding its competitors for not going with the same wall-to-wall tea party coverage it did (see this report for details of all the network's tea party promotion). And the activism didn't end there -- just last week, we learned that John Stossel, who recently came to Fox from ABC, will be a featured performer at anti-health-care reform town halls put on by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
You can't engage in that kind of activism, then turn around and demand to be treated like a legitimate news organization. You especially shouldn't expect special privileges, like presidential interviews, that very few other news organizations get. To repeat, Fox has every right to say whatever it wants. Opinion-driven journalism is healthy for democracy. But Fox shouldn't be surprised that when it tells its viewers to protest the president, the president becomes less interested in doing it any favors. In the past, Obama has given interviews to Fox personalities including Chris Wallace and Bill O'Reilly. If he doesn't feel motivated to do so anymore, Fox has no one to blame but itself.
The president has obligations to the press -- to give information, to be transparent, and to answer questions. And when the administration begins criticizing a particular news organization, we should pay careful attention to what it's arguing: If it's saying that journalists shouldn't aggressively report on what the administration is doing or that certain questions are out of bounds or that -- as the Bush administration believed -- a group of reporters has no particular claim on the government, then that would be a serious problem.
But the idea that the administration has to treat every single news organization with the same respect is ludicrous. The fact that Fox is a conservative television network, and not a conservative magazine or a conservative radio station or a conservative Web site, shouldn't make any difference.

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