Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Our Media

Can you doubt it?
Ben Frumin (TPM):
On Monday night, the Daily Show argued that a civilian trial in New York City for self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a bad idea -- not necessarily for some of the reasons offered by conservatives -- but because the media will definitely go way overboard.

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Atrios calls the following piece journamalism. I wonder why.
Newsweek Taps Bush Aide For Obama Reporting

See if you can follow this logic.

A recent article in Newsweek states that Democrats could have won a "very significant number of Republican votes in Congress" for the stimulus -- had there only been a "meaningful tax-cut component." Political journalism is often imaginative, but this verges on delusion. After all, Obama labored to add about $280 billion in tax cuts to the stimulus -- over objections from many Democrats -- and still netted zero Republican votes in the House. Then, the piece asserts that Obama has no "coattails," based on 2009 elections, and reports "early signs of Obama fatigue are emerging." (Again, another observer might note that Democrats have won all 5 special congressional elections this year.) The article also predicts that gubernatorial losses in Virginia and New Jersey "will" make some Democrats "very nervous" about health care reform, which is a "political risk" for the party.

"We appear to be witnessing the beginnings of a significant Republican revival," continues the piece, bringing home its quirky counter-narrative. Lucky for struggling Democrats, however, this Newsweek item closes with some free political advice. "Liberals in Washington would do well to let go of the Republican breakdown narrative," notes the final sentence, "and pull back to the center--or suffer the consequences."

It's the kind of article that might leave you wondering if the author simply works for the G.O.P.

Newsweek's byline states that the writer, Yuval Levin, is "editor of National Affairs and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center." It all sounds quite journalistic and non-partisan. But Levin is also a former aide to President George W. Bush. (He served on the White House domestic policy staff as recently as 2006). If anything, this government experience makes Levin's political analysis more interesting. Why keep it from readers?

As it happens, Levin's first piece for Newsweek, back in March, was prominently billed as Obama analysis from "a Bush veteran." So I put the question to Newsweek, and spokesperson Katherine Barna shares their rationale:

Levin's previous article for Newsweek involved the issue of bioethics, his primary focus while at the White House. He disclosed his prior position in the body of that piece. His most recent article was not related to that topic. We believe our readers are aware of Mr. Levin's background, and are able to discern a reported news article from argument, which Levin's recent piece was. (Emphasis added.)

Really? Does anyone think most readers keep track of White House staff by name? Or that readers memorized Levin's affiliation from March? It's hard to tell if the magazine somehow believes this argument, or just doesn't care that it's not very believable.

And, of course, the whole point of a byline is to provide "background." Levin's article already lists two affiliations for background -- they are just less relevant than his affiliation serving in a senior position in Obama's opposing party, since Levin is purporting to advise "liberals in Washington."

While we're at it, Levin has also been leading the fight to squash Obama's health care plans. He coauthored a June column with another former G.O.P. official, Bill Kristol, declaring, "ObamaCare is wrong. It should and can be defeated." Levin fails to disclose that position during his Newsweek health care coverage, which argues that reform is a "political risk" for Democrats, (his political opponents).

Now yes, people may be so accustomed to paltry disclosure and conflicts of interest that this all draws a collective yawn. Surely there are bigger problems to blog today. And so on. But it is striking that, as public views of the press hit 20-year lows, major media organizations still will not take responsibility for giving their readers basic transparency and information about contributors. And it's especially rich when the proffered explanation is that readers already know.

O'Reilly Asks Dobbs: 'Barack Obama - Is He The Devil?'

C&L: ADL report on tide of anti-Obama rage calls out Glenn Beck as 'fearmonger in chief'

It's nice to know that we're not alone in raising concerns about the increasingly unhinged nature of the kind of rhetoric right-wing talkers are unleashing in the name of their jihad against President Obama -- in no small part because such rhetoric inevitably produces acts of horrific violence.

Yesterday, the Anti-Defamation League confirmed that these concerns are anything but groundless, with a devastating report titled "Rage Grows in America: Anti‑Government Conspiracies":

Since the election of Barack Obama as president, a current of anti-government hostility has swept across the United States, creating a climate of fervor and activism with manifestations ranging from incivility in public forums to acts of intimidation and violence.

What characterizes this anti-government hostility is a shared belief that Obama and his administration actually pose a threat to the future of the United States. Some accuse Obama of plotting to bring socialism to the United States, while others claim he will bring about Nazism or fascism. All believe that Obama and his administration will trample on individual freedoms and civil liberties, due to some sinister agenda, and they see his economic and social policies as manifestations of this agenda. In particular anti-government activists used the issue of health care reform as a rallying point, accusing Obama and his administration of dark designs ranging from “socialized medicine” to “death panels,” even when the Obama administration had not come out with a specific health care reform plan. Some even compared the Obama administration’s intentions to Nazi eugenics programs.

Some of these assertions are motivated by prejudice, but more common is an intense strain of anti-government distrust and anger, colored by a streak of paranoia and belief in conspiracies. These sentiments are present both in mainstream and “grass-roots” movements as well as in extreme anti-government movements such as a resurgent militia movement. Ultimately, this anti-government anger, if it continues to grow in intensity and scope, may result in an increase in anti-government extremists and the potential for a rise of violent anti-government acts.

Just as we have frequently remarked here, this rage is being fed to a remarkable extent by mainstream media pundits on the right, particularly Glenn Beck, who has a long history of promoting extremist ideas and rhetoric:

Though much of the impetus for anti-government sentiment has come from a variety of grass-roots and extremist groups, segments of the mainstream media have played a surprisingly active role in generating such segment. Though a number of media figures and commentators have taken part, the media personality who has played the most active role has been radio and television host Glenn Beck, who along with many of his guests have made a habit of demonizing the Obama administration and promoting conspiracy theories about it. Beck has acted as a “fearmonger-in-chief,” raising anxiety about and distrust towards the government.

It devotes a whole section to exploring this:

The most important mainstream media figure who has repeatedly helped to stoke the fires of anti-government anger is right-wing media host Glenn Beck, who has a TV show on FOX News and a popular syndicated radio show. While other conservative media hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, routinely attack Obama and his administration, typically on partisan grounds, they have usually dismissed or refused to give a platform to the conspiracy theorists and anti-government extremists. This has not been the case with Glenn Beck. Beck and his guests have made a habit of demonizing President Obama and promoting conspiracy theories about his administration.

On a number of his TV and radio programs, Beck has even gone so far as to make comparisons between Hitler and Obama and to promote the idea that the president is dangerous.

The ADL report was issued that same day as Sam Stein's devastating examination of the extremists Beck has historically promoted on his programs:

The Huffington Post took a look some of the bombastic host's past guests and found names steeped in controversy. Beck has hosted, and even occasionally praised, a renowned white supremacist, a devout southern secessionist, a defender of slavery, and a 9/11 skeptic.

... If Beck were a self-avowed journalist -- which he's not -- these guests could be chalked up as an effort to foster intriguing debate, whether about immigration policy, constitutional principles or the strength of the dollar. But, taken as a whole, the roster reflects the host's partiality to an ideology that is far-right if not outright extremist.

Of course, this is a subject C&L readers are well familiar with. But the evidence keeps piling up: Glenn Beck is perhaps the foremost conduit for extremist belief systems and ideas to infect our mainstream conservative in the history of the mass media.

And he's just getting started. God only knows to what effect.

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