October 24, 2004

A Pox on Bad Media

The Media Is Far From Innocent When the Blame
Starts Getting Passed Around for This Stupid War
and This Stupid Administration.

(Thanks to the website associated with Micah Ian Wright's book.)

During the debates, a couple of issues involving presciption drugs were brought up. I watched a very interesting interview on Franken's show the other day with an activist who also happens to be a VP of Marketing for Pfizer (and Pfizer definitely doesn't like what this guy is doing with his private life). He explained that there are really no good arguments against reimporting drugs from Canada other than wanting to give American drug companies a multi-billion dollar windfall profit (only a small fraction of which would be reinvested in research for new useful life-saving drugs instead of the next generation of Viagra).

One thing he said was that, ok, so Furious George is worried about the safety of drugs that are imported from Canada and wants to make sure they are safe. Well, ok, but stop and think for a minute about how much food we import. Are you going to check every banana as it crosses the border to make sure it isn't somehow contaminated by a bunch of foreign scoundrels, that it hasn't been loaded with some nefarious biological agent thanks to Al Qaeda operatives? It's really ridiculous when you think about it.

I should be able to see that kind of perspective on the front page or at least prominently in the newspaper after the debates. Instead, I see enormous tracts of space being taken up by Kerry's mention of Cheney's "lesbian" daughter. This is just one of so many mainstream media failures. If Air America weren't around, who on Earth would give this guy an interview so he could share his knowledge and perspective from a significant platform (and Air America at this point barely counts as significant)? The answer is easy: no one (in America, anyway).

A very helpful media watchdog is "Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting", or "FAIR", which was one of the first to publish a big selling fact check of Rush Limbaugh. Their latest alert notes more stupid behavior by the so-called liberal Washington Post trying to turn this campaign into a "on the one hand" moral equivalence festival:

On September 30, a FAIR action alert urged the Associated Press and Washington Post not to exercise "false balance" in their reporting on the exaggerations and deceptions coming from the major presidential candidates. By straining to include an equal number of Bush and Kerry statements to "fact check," news outlets give the impression that both sides are equally culpable of deceptive rhetoric.

On October 20, the Washington Post put a new spin on that formula by suggesting one candidate has increased his output of inaccurate rhetoric: John Kerry. The Post's Howard Kurtz wrote that "Kerry has pushed the factual envelope less often than the president-- until recently," suggesting that Kerry's deceptions now equal or exceed Bush's.

But the evidence Kurtz presented did not support his charge. He listed four of Bush's exaggerations, including his characterization of Kerry's health plan as "government-run," his claim that Kerry "voted for education reform and now opposes it," and his repeated use of an out-of-context Kerry quote as proof that Kerry thinks terrorism is merely a "nuisance."

But Kurtz presented only two examples of Kerry pushing the "factual envelope," and neither one makes a convincing case for Kerry's misuse of facts. Kurtz wrote that Kerry plays loose with the facts when he says that Bush "has a plan that cuts Social Security benefits by 30 to 45 percent." Kurtz countered this by noting that Bush, "while favoring allowing younger workers to put part of their benefits in private accounts, has never put forth a plan-- and has vowed that any change would not affect current retirees."

But Kerry is not talking about current retirees; the TV ad in question is based on a Congressional Budget Office study of one of the plans put forth by Bush's Commission to Strengthen Social Security, and the possible cuts in benefits would apply to future retirees. It is true that Bush has not explicitly endorsed any particular privatization model-- instead describing his commission's proposals as "a variety of ideas for people to look at" (debate, 10/13/04)-- but given that the contributions being made by workers now go to pay the benefits of current retirees, any plan that significantly shifts worker contributions to private accounts will require increased taxes, reduced benefits or both.

The second Kerry deception, according to the Post, concerns the military draft. Kurtz wrote that "Kerry said last week that there is a 'great potential' that Bush will reinstate the draft." This is inaccurate, according to Kurtz, because Bush has issued denials about reinstating a draft: "The president has repeatedly denied this, and Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt, in a common campaign refrain, said the charge shows Kerry 'will do or say anything to get elected.'"

By this logic, the Post would have ruled "inaccurate" a hypothetical ad in 1988 that asserted that the elder George Bush would raise taxes-- because he had declared "read my lips, no new taxes." As any political observer knows, it's hardly "push[ing] the factual envelope" to suggest that politicians don't always keep their promises-- but by the Post's standards, Kerry is being deceptive if he doesn't take Bush at his word.

And there are, in fact, credible reasons to believe that Bush policies might require a draft in a second term. As Paul Krugman pointed out in a recent column (New York Times, 10/19/04), a study commissioned by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld found that the U.S. has "inadequate total numbers of troops and lack of long-term endurance" (Navy Times, 10/4/04). And Bush constantly stresses that he is more willing to take pre-emptive military actions than his opponent-- actions that would be difficult if not impossible to undertake without a draft, given how stretched U.S. troops already are.

(Interestingly, also on October 20, Washington Post online columnist Dan Froomkin used the same two examples-- Social Security and the draft-- to make the claim that Kerry was making "basically groundless," "essentially unsupported charges" as part of a "sordid" political game. Froomkin's column does even less than Kurtz does to justify the assertion that Kerry's charges are inaccurate.)

Kurtz is not afraid to assert that Bush has been more deceptive than Kerry-- in the past. When talking about the present, however, he continues the Post's practice of straining to counterbalance outright Bush misstatements with something that can be painted as a Kerry stretch-- no matter how far-fetched.

With friends like the media, we liberals hardly need enemies. Another example is with endorsements. This morning I learned that the Cleveland Plain-Dealer editorial board had voted 5-2 to endorse John Kerry, but the ownership of the paper overruled them and told them to endorse Bush (the endorsement editorial has been officially postponed until they sort this out, because the editorial board is making a rare stand).

This just goes to the point I've brought up many times and is echoed by Eric Alterman's book "What Liberal Media": While it may be true that a large fraction of journalists lean toward liberal ideas, according to the current definition of liberal, most publishers and owners are conservatives, and they control a lot of what goes into the paper. The Media Horse once linked to a funny exercise that demonstrates this principle entitled Virtual Journalist. You should go try it.

Posted by Observer at October 24, 2004 09:56 AM

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