Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Appendix For Boehlert on "Liberal Media Bias"

Earlier this week, Eric Boehlert had a noteworthy piece over at Media Matters, bidding "farewell to another decade of 'liberal media bias.'" In the real world, of course, there isn't any such creature when it comes to the corporate press, and Boehlert assembles an impressive little catalog of information aimed at setting the record straight on the point. Such a catalog can never be thorough enough, though, particularly in the space of a mere column, and, given the significance of the subject, I thought I'd add to it.

Boehlert begins at the dawn of the decade:
"The orgy of resentment that erupted toward Gore during the 2000 campaign season was likely unprecedented in American politics, as media elites did very little to hide their disdain for Gore. For years, they mocked him, bad-mouthed him, and made up nasty stories about him. (Hint: Inventing the Internet.)"
Fairly strong wording, but not strong enough, in my view, not by half. Not for what was happening at the time. Boehlert uses quotes from media figures about the hatred of the press for Gore, but, back in 2000, I focused on the actual results of this hatred, and provided more than a "hint" of the stories that were, indeed, being routinely fabricated from whole cloth, then repeated ad infinitum in an all-out effort to personally destroy the Democratic candidate. Assembled a catalog of my own about the extensive--and intensive--press efforts, and I'd offer it (and a brief follow-up I assembled, as well) as an appendix to Boehlert's piece.

"And how did the same press corps spend the years between Gore and Obama?" asks Boehlert. "Lying down for Bush, of course." I wouldn't characterize what occurred as "lying down," as that implies passivity, when, in fact, the press corps was largely an active, enthusiastic advocate for Bush for nearly the entirety of his time in the White House.

Specific examples of what Boehlert calls "lying down" are, as Boehlert notes, "too many to count." I would note that the press hatred of Gore in his contest against Bush continued into the ugly post-election dispute in Florida, where the press was in-the-tank for Bush, offering daily news "reports" that were essentially thinly re-written press-releases from the Bush campaign and the RNC, with no effort to correct the ludicrously false claims and implications contained therein. The corporate press was largely responsible for Bush's "victory," in Florida and thus nationally, just as it had been largely responsible for the closeness of the election in the first place. Months later, when a press consortium completed their recount of the Florida ballots and found that Gore had, in fact, won the state by every available counting standard, the story was buried--mostly ignored, or reported under blatantly misleading headlines that falsely suggested Bush had actually won. No one noticed, in any case.

The election aftermath was, of course, nothing compared to how deeply the press embedded itself in Bush's orifices in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.. To get some idea of how bad this became, I'd quote right-wing activist/liar/fraud/clown Brent Bozell. Bozell's Media Research Center devotes itself to bitching about alleged "liberal bias" in the corporate press, a breed of bitching in which any hint of less-than-absolute-true-believer devotion to right-wing causes is written up as a sign of hopeless media dedication to heathen liberalism. That doesn't leave Bozell and co. with much to write about, of course, so they often just have to lie, mischaracterize, and misrepresent in order to have anything to sell. They can find "liberal bias" in a facial tic. After the terror attack, Bozell defined the mission of the MRC as open propagandist for the state:
"We are training our guns on any media outlet or any reporter interfering with America's war on terrorism or trying to undermine the authority of President Bush."
With all of that as prologue, here's how Bozell characterized the performance of the press after the terror attacks:

" the unforgettable present, as now our own land has come under attack, as our own citizens have died needlessly in collapsing heaps of metal and cement, as the crushing reality hits that our very freedom is now imperiled, our national press corps has responded, showing that in a real crisis, they are the best of the best. I know I speak for millions when I offer a heartfelt thank you to our entire national media for their sobriety, their sincerity and their refreshing sense of national purpose. Like all our leaders, they have responded to tragedy by showing us how to display the best of ourselves when we're feeling the worst."
--MRC head Brent Bozell (9/17/01)

Over the next few weeks, Bozell would, from time to time, use his column as an opportunity to slander a few critics of the "War On Terrorism," but his position on the press remained unchanged:

"Surely, the media are doing something right when this Blame America First crowd accuses them of 'pandering to the public's appetite for revenge.' In this conflict so far, our media have not succumbed to the above-America lobby, that the high calling of journalism is all about alienated 'independence,' somehow above being a neighbor or a citizen. They have suffered with all of us, and they are welcome in our saddened homes."
--Bozell (9/21/01)

"Much has been written about the terrific job done by so many in the wake of the Sept. 11 horror. Now Hollywood is weighing in, and it's played it well so far."
--Bozell (9/26/01)

This continued for months:

" this struggle, the far left is all alone, thoroughly out of the mainstream of political thought. As America struggled to process the toll of death and destruction, even the media elite cast aside their usual usual wartime cynicism. In the days following Sept 11, there was no wave of obnoxious claims that this President Bush had something to prove about his manhood or his military record. There was no declaration that this was somehow a conflict masking greedy designs for oil or other resources. There were no breast-beating demands for a reporter on every secret mission. As the war began, there was very little liberal bias, and conservative critics could only respond by thanking the media for the sobriety of their coverage. This must be driving [liberal columnist] Norman Solomon nuts."
--Bozell (1/3/02)

The assessment of one of the most rabid partisans in the business, an open propagandist for the state who feigns the ability to spot "liberal bias" in a reporter's cough.

With regard to press coverage of the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, Boehlert notes:
"A survey conducted by the liberal media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, which focused on the first two weeks of February 2003, found that of 393 people interviewed on-camera for network news reports about the war, just 17 percent of them expressed skepticism about the looming invasion."
Unmentioned is that FAIR followed up on that survey, beginning the day Bush launched the war, and continuing for three weeks. This one cast an even wider net--it examined the Iraq coverage of the three networks, PBS Newshour, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Reports, and Fox’s Special Report with Brit Hume. In this period, there were 1,617 sources appearing, but the results were even worse than before:
"Nearly two thirds of all sources, 64 percent, were pro-war, while 71 percent of U.S. guests favored the war. Anti-war voices were 10 percent of all sources, but just 6 percent of non-Iraqi sources and 3 percent of U.S. sources. Thus viewers were more than six times as likely to see a pro-war source as one who was anti-war; with U.S. guests alone, the ratio increases to 25 to 1... While the percentage of Americans opposing the war was about 10 times higher in the real world as they were on the nightly news (27 percent versus 3 percent), their proportion of the guestlist may still overstate the degree to which they were able to present their views on U.S. television. Guests with anti-war viewpoints were almost universally allowed one-sentence soundbites taken from interviews conducted on the street. Not a single show in the study conducted a sit-down interview with a person identified as being against the war."
Boehlert covers the pro-war position of the New York Times, but, remarkably, fails to mention one of the most important aspects of it; the dismal "work" of Judith Miller, who, in a series of "scoops" in the Times, acted as a stenographer for phony administration claims (often provided by phony "defectors") about Iraqi WMD programs. Though these stories wouldn't have held up under even minimal editorial scrutiny, they were approved and even placed on the front page of the Times. They became national news, picked up throughout the corporate press, and helped sell the public the administration's lies about Iraq. Miller was allowed to continue her streak for more than a year (after it became apparent there had been no Iraqi WMDs for years, she pimped the completely baseless "theory" that they'd existed, but had been moved to Syria before the invasion).

This wasn't the Times' only service to Bush. When, in 2005, it reported that Bush had been running a completely illegal surveillance operation, this uncharacteristic effort at legitimate reportage led right-wing critics to call for the prosecution of those at the Times. Unfortunately, just when it looked as if the Times had done something right, it emerged that the paper had actually uncovered the story during the 2004 presidential campaign, and had sat on it for a year instead of reporting it, thus helping ensure Bush re-election.

The best one can say is that it eventually did get reported. In a period of years when virtually nothing coming out of the administration bore any resemblance to the truth, it was difficult to find stories critical of Bush anywhere. Boehlert mentions the complete failure to report on the Downing Street memo, and while that is certainly one of the most egregious examples of the utterly broken nature of the corporate press, it's only one of enough examples to fill an encyclopedia. For 8 years, Bush was allowed to sit in governance over "the land of the free" and establish the framework for a monstrous dictatorship while the press cheered him on and left the public, which it's supposed to inform, almost entirely unaware of what was really happening. It's still mostly unaware, and that--the measurable results--is really the final nail in the coffin of right-wing nonsense about "liberal media bias."