Monthly Archives: September 2004

Debate Primer

The Washington Post continues its “For the Record” series today with a debate “primer,” telling us where the two candidates misrepresent the issues. It’s a perfect example of how the headline writers, striving for “balance,” sway the debate. If you read the headline and the sub-head, one might be tempted to not read the article and say pox on both your houses. Both sides lie would be a fair conclusion.

The headline is “A Primer for Tonight’s First Debate, but the sub-head is “Both Bush and Kerry Have Set the Stage With Some Misleading Claims.”

But when you read the article, roughly 80 percent of the text that debunks either’s claims or attacks is about Bush’s exaggerations, false implications and outright lies.

But to say that Bush is by far the more dishonest wouldn’t be considered partisan. And the headline writers, who I suspect are more junior journalists, don’t want to be accused of playing favorites. So what we get is misinformation.

The Wounded Lie

According to a report that just aired on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” the Pentagon has posted on its web site the official totals for dead and wounded in Iraq. Dead: 1,152; wounded: More than 7,500.

Apparently a lot more according to the report. One count (I didn’t catch the reference) is that 20,245 military personnel have been so injured that they had to be transferred to hospitals in Europe and the U.S.

Many of the wounded lie in hospitals with diseases and injuries that prevent them doing something as simple as tying their shoes. The story will be available around 7:30 this evening.

Debate Spin

Don’t expect much from tonight’s debate. They’re so scripted that the substance is expected to be versions of the stump speech. That will leave reporters looking at how the candidates stand, sweat and look at and to the home audience. “Who won” will be the bottom line for most journalists, and most of them will decide that based on whose post-debate spin they believe.

Jay Rosen writes about how the media will cover the debates and cites one reporter whose is charting his own path. As the Miami Herald reported,

Some experienced reporters shun the spin. In fact, Adam Nagourney, The New York Times’ national political correspondent, is going to watch the debate and write his story from his office in Washington.

”I avoid Spin Alley at all costs,” he said. “I think it’s degrading for reporters and degrading for political operatives.

“What’s important to me is what the candidates say. I don’t care about anyone else.”

There are links within Rosen’s post that are worth exploring. Comparing Nagourney’s report with those of the talking heads after the debates could be elucidating.

Qs for the Debate

Some think most bloggers “are not fit to carry a reporter’s notebook.” But ask some veteran reporters what they would ask Bush and Kerry at the debates and you don’t get anything more compelling that the average pajama-wearing blogger would ask. Instead, you get a lot of versions of the “still beat your wife?” question.

Except for Jack Germond, former political columnist for The Baltimore Sun.

For Bush: “You have depicted the war in Iraq as a patriotic cause, so why haven’t you urged your daughters and other young people in your family and administration to help fight it?”


CBS Protects Bush

So much for the judicial use of anonymous sources by The Washington Post. But in this case, it’s somewhat understandable, given that most of the sources are either of current or past intelligence officers. By talking to the press, even is they are retired, there could be dire consequences. And given this administration’s track record, e.g., Joe Wilson, it’s good bet there would be vindictive consequences.

The story’s lede is unequivocal.

A growing number of career professionals within national security agencies believe that the situation in Iraq is much worse, and the path to success much more tenuous, than is being expressed in public by top Bush administration officials, according to former and current government officials and assessments over the past year by intelligence officials at the CIA and the departments of State and Defense.

Kevin Drum has a summary of some of the comments, if you don’t want to read the whole story. But I recommend reading it. The entirety of the charge is overwhelming.

The administration’s sunny optimism, even that based on false evidence as Wilson pointed out, is getting a boost from CBS, according to FAIR. CBS is holding a story about the “forged documents that the Bush administration used to sell the Iraq war….”

CBS, which in the past refused to run MoveOn’s ad about the Bush deficits during the Super Bowl (and gave us Janet Jackson’s breast instead) and pulled the Regan documentary after pressure from the GOP that it was too critical, decided the timing was off.

A network spokesperson issued a statement declaring, “We now believe it would be inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election.”

Why in the world would a news organization withhold information because it’s too close to an election? Are they afraid it might hurt the candidate they love? FAIR says that’s a legitimate question.

Maybe CBS is too embarrassed after being duped by false documents about Bush’s national Guard service, or lack thereof. But FAIR points to another reason.

Sumner Redstone, CEO of CBS’s parent company Viacom, made an unusual political statement at a gathering of corporate leaders in Hong Kong (Asian Wall Street Journal, 9/24/04):

“I don’t want to denigrate Kerry… but from a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on. The Democrats are not bad people…. But from a Viacom standpoint, we believe the election of a Republican administration is better for our company.”

Redstone repeated these sentiments in an interview with Time (10/4/04):

“There has been comment upon my contribution to Democrats like Senator Kerry. Senator Kerry is a good man. I’ve known him for many years. But it happens that I vote for Viacom. Viacom is my life, and I do believe that a Republican administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one.”

According to a write-up by Forbes (9/23/04)– the sponsor of the conference where Redstone issued his endorsement of Bush– the CEO asserted that “he never gets involved in any aspects of the network’s news coverage.” But that claim, hard to believe when made by any media industry chief executive, seems particularly dubious given Forbes’ report that ”Redstone said he has been talking daily to top CBS officials and to Viacom board members about the controversy” over the Guard memos.

Ironically, the report was supposed to air the night CBS’ “60 Minutes” ran the story about Bush’s National Guard service.

You can write CBS at or call them at 212.975.3247 to complain about the network’s bias.

DOJ Intimidation

John Ashcroft has decided to get the phone records of two New York Times reporters in an investigation of leaks to them about a planned raid upon, and freezing assets of, Islamic organizations shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

When the Justice Dept. couldn’t obtain them from the Times, the DOJ says they’ll get them “from third parties unlikely to be interested in challenging its authority.” Sounds like the phone (“We don’t care ‘cause we don’t have to”) company to me.

It’s just another example of the loss of freedom we’re suffering under this administration. It’s blatant attempt to intimidate sources who will worry that if they talk to reporters, the DOJ can at any time get records that would expose them. Do we really want John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney and George Bush to have that power?

Jon Stewart, Intrepid Reporter

I’ve mentioned Jon Stewart as one of the most incisive observers of the body politic. But the Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk blog goes one step further, naming Stewart among the top ten reporters covering the campaign.

Not bad for a guy who would never call himself a reporter but a “dancing monkey.”

Update: More on Jon Stewart from Jay Rosen at PressThink. The entire post is worth a read.

Jon Stewart, who is in every sense a professional, is part of this plurality. He delivers a take on the news that is more truthful than the news for a good hunk of the audience. And so Stewart is cited by Campaign Desk for some of the most original work of the year. Often, he’s more believable than both the candidates or the press.

It’s possible to describe The Daily Show as just one more source of information about politics. But it’s really a competing system of trust for viewers in a Spin Age. Stewart’s executive producer Ben Karlin: “Many people in this country have strong bullshit detectors. For some reason, most major media outlets have turned theirs off out of fear of being labeled partisan.”

Another Update: It now seems that Jon Stewart’s audience is smarter. Of course smarter than whom? you may ask. Well, we admit, smarter than Bill O’Reilly’s audience. Not really fair, huh. If that’s the criteria, my son’s goldfish is smarter.

Giving A Lie Legs

According to FAIR, this is what Tom Brokaw said Sept. 24 (correction) on NBC News.

The Republican National Committee now has acknowledged sending mass mailings to two states that say liberals want to ban the Bible. Republican Party officials say the mailings in Arkansas and West Virginia are aimed at mobilizing Christian voters for President Bush. Some Christian commentators say liberal support for same-sex marriage could lead to laws that punish sermons denouncing homosexuality as sinful.

The FAIR alert doesn’t say so precisely but leaves the impression that this is the entirety of Brokaw’s story. I believe that’s correct.

This is a perfect example of how the mainstream media’s reporting of a charge that is clearly a lie helps give that lie legs.

But I sometimes don’t think mainstream reporters are intentionally trying to perpetuate the lie. In fact, sometimes I think they report such outlandish charges in a straight laced fashion because they think everyone will see, as they do, that this is outlandish. In other words, it’s delivered with a wink and a nod that these people are crazy.

But many in their audience don’t see it that way. If there is irony in the delivery or the script, they miss it. What they here, and I think FAIR rightly charges, is an accusation that is bolstered by the right, in this case the “Christian commentators” – a neutral term for right wing nuts. Meanwhile no one on the left is allowed to refute the charges.

Update: Sure enough, NBC News tried to claim that the FAIR transcript of the story was “incomplete” and left out a line in which a representative of a progressive religious group condemned the claim that liberals sought
to outlaw the Bible.

But then the NBC aide admitted that the line might have been in the script at one time but was edited out before airing.

This makes the story even more egregious. NBC apparently recognized the need for balance (if not the imperative to ignore the story altogether) but chose to disregard it.

The email address for NBC was no longer in service, as I found out when I sent my email. FAIR now has a new one for NBC. The second FAIR alert is in the extended portion of this post.

Read More…

Crawford Paper Endorses Kerry

Buhs’s hometown newspaper endorses John Kerry. Don’t you love it?”

Four items trouble us the most about the Bush administration: his initiatives to disable the Social Security system, the deteriorating state of the American economy, a dangerous shift away from the basic freedoms established by our founding fathers, and his continuous mistakes regarding Iraq.

A little paper with a circulation of 425 describes succinctly the reasons to kick Bush out of office.