Friday, August 24, 2012

The Daily Caller Ineffectually Finkels on the Press

There was an op-ed over at the Daily Caller on Tuesday in which a lawyer named Mendy Finkel tries to have his cake and eat it too regarding one of the right's favorite boogeymen, the "liberal media."

The premise of the article, if it's to be taken seriously, is that the the national corporate press is liberal and in the tank for Barack Obama to such an extent that it downplays stories that would advance liberal causes in order to protect him.

The first big hole in that is apparent right away: the Obama has governed from the center-right throughout his administration. If the press is protecting him, it certainly isn't doing so out of any liberal impulse. Finkel lists four stories that would have damaged Obama if they'd been adequately covered; every one of them provides an example of right-wing media bias. None of them support Finkel's curious premise.

The first is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, an environmental disaster by any definition. Finkel is quite correct in his assertion that coverage of the story was inadequate[1] and that, as "the scale of the disaster grew, the media’s coverage of it declined." Adequate coverage would hurt the corporate scum that caused the disaster, which, as Finkel concedes, would have been just fine with most liberals. It would have led to louder calls for regulation, which liberals have wanted for years. And we are, after all, talking about an environmental disaster--a liberal, not conservative, issue.[2] The Obama could have been, should have been but wasn't roasted for having called for further offshore drilling only a few weeks before the disaster occurred but that would have been criticism for a right-wing policy, not a liberal one. Finkel fails to say how he he thinks adequate coverage of the spill would have damaged the Obama, other than to assert that Obama "was initially trying very hard to ignore the spill." He's so lost in his fantasy about the "liberal media" that he asserts, "under a different president, the media would have treated this story like the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Hurricane Katrina, and the Enron scandal … combined." A fantasy he apparently doesn't consider to have been rather dramatically deflated by the actual coverage the story received.

His second example is "due-process-free executions."

In setting this up, Finkel presses his fantasy further, asserting that "reporters and pundits were outraged" by the Bush administrations' illegal wiretapping operation. In reality, of course, the New York Times uncovered that story in 2004 then expressed its "outrage" by sitting on it for a year so George Bush Jr. could be reelected. When the paper did get around to telling the public, it faced repeated calls, from the punditocracy, that it be prosecuted for having revealed it. The initial story was covered then basically ignored and Bush and the rest of those responsible for it--a systematic criminal enterprise in violation of the constitution itself--were allowed to walk and even to continue what they were doing.

Finkel then contrasts this with the treatment of the Obama administration's announcement that it had killed a U.S. citizen without due process. Finkel is careful to avoid providing any details of that incident and for good reason. The U.S. citizen in question was an alleged terrorist operating abroad, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike.[3] Finkel's efforts to contrast this with the illegal Bush wiretapping scheme amounts to a lie in itself, because the assassination program under which this fellow was killed was established by the Bush administration, which carried out such extrajudicial executions on a regular basis. Finkel, swimming through his fantasy, writes that "it's probably safe to conclude that if Obama decided to reinstate waterboarding, the national media would give him a pass on that as well" but the press was as uninterested in the murder program under Bush as it has been under the Obama. Some of us found it reprehensible under both--we're called liberals.

Finkel's item #3 is poverty. Finkel spins a brief fantasy wherein the press just can't wait to cover poverty during Republican administrations but has ignored the matter under Obama, when the poverty rate "is higher than it has been in decades." A press only looking to slam Republicans could just as easily write tons of stories today about the present awful poverty rate and note--correctly--that it is the result of the depression that occurred under the Bush administration. It could write those same stories about how poverty has continued to be unnecessarily high because congressional Republican obstructionism prevents doing anything about it and Republican austerity policies prolong the economic mess. But it hasn't. In reality, the press, in general--unlike those darn liberals--rarely cares about poverty, regardless of who is in office.

Finkel's fourth item is rather bizarre. It's Wikileaks and his case, in this instance, is based on either ignorance of basic facts relating to the subject, or, as with the drone strike business, he knows the truth and is choosing to lie about it. He outlines it like this:

"Poor Julian Assange. Had he only released those classified government documents prior to Obama taking office, he would have been heralded by the media as an international hero: a man who risked his life and freedom to expose government misdeeds and speak truth to power. It would have been 'Pentagon Papers Part II.'

"But because it was Obama who was running the War on Terror at the time of these leaks, the mainstream media had no use for any information that could cause problems for the president."

There's lawyerly weasel-wording aplenty here. Wikileaks opened for business and started receiving and publishing "those classified government documents" in 2006, during the Bush administration, and to date, most of the relevant U.S. government documents it has released, even during the Obama administration, have been Bush-era. Finkel is quite correct that Assange has been vilified by much of the press and that much of the press has been entirely disinterested in the info Wikileaks has provided. What he conceals is that this was just as much the case under the Bush administration as it has been under Obama. Wikileaks info has included things that are, indeed, often scandalous but they're mostly Bush scandals and the press--unlike a liberal press--has ignored them, regardless of who was in office.[4]

And that's pretty much it. Finkel starts from the premise that Obama is a liberal and that, because of this, the press is in Obama's corner; he says the press will do just about anything to support the Obama, even though, by his own account, Obama isn't governing as a liberal at all; he says that, in order to support the liberal Obama, the liberal press is ignoring stories that would, if covered, further liberal goals. If you can find the logic in any of that, I'd say you have everyone else--Finkel included--beaten. If his article is intended as satire, it's brilliant. If, however, it's meant to be taken at all seriously, Finkel probably shouldn't give up his day-job.

Good job, Daily Caller. As usual.



[1] That's not to say the story didn't receive saturation coverage right after it happened, just that the coverage was totally inadequate. The big story there was one of corporate malfeasance, whereas the press coverage (outside of MNSBC's liberal hosts, who covered it more than anyone) mostly focused on the consequences of the disaster and technical matters of containment.

[2] Such issues shouldn't be liberal vs. conservative but are because conservatives insist on making them so.

[3] Finkel's management of the facts is so complete that he doesn't even name the fellow who was killed--Anwar Al-Aulaqi.

[4] The Obama administration's treatment of Bradley Manning, Wikileaks' most famous leaker, has been disgraceful, but is also ignored by the press.


Mfinkel said...

I appreciate the critique. I'll respond with a comment soon.

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Mfinkel said...

"every one of them provides an example of right-wing media bias. None of them support Finkel's curious premise."

This is sort of my whole point.  That the media dispensed with all their liberal tendencies in order to protect Obama.  And yes, in effect this created a right wing bias on these subjects.

"Finkel fails to say how he he thinks adequate coverage of the spill would have damaged the Obama, "

Perhaps I should have elaborated on this point, but in general presidents get blamed for things that go bad during their tenure, even if the event is beyond their control.  It might not be fair but it's reality.  

About your assertion that the media wasn't outraged at the illegal wiretapping, I disagree.  While there were exceptions (as there always are), my impression both following the events at the time and reading them again before running this was that they were outraged.

And details about aulaqi were left out since I assumed most people know that Obama was targeting a suspected terrorist.  A few other points: we don't know how many execution orders there have been against Americans.  Several Americans aside from aulaqi have been killed in drone strikes (including his 17 year old son in a separate attack), but Obama won't confirm whether they were targeted or just collateral damage.  Also bush never ordered the execution of any American, when Obama did it it was a first.

About wikileaks, the big releases occurred after obama took office.  Also, the fact that most of the info was about bush is why the comparison to the pentagon papers is so apt (which was mostly about nixons predecessors but still caused problems for Nixon).   

classicliberal2 said...

"That the media dispensed with all their liberal tendencies in order to protect Obama."

...who isn't a liberal. You can have your cake or eat it, but you can't do both.

You know very well your presentation of the Anwar al-Awlaki matter was fundamentally dishonest. The murder program under which that was carried out was the one created by Bush, and ran by him for years. The legal theory that people, including American citizens, have no rights, and can be squashed by a determined executive at will was also Bush's. We have no idea if Bush ever ordered the killing of a citizen; the complete secrecy in which that program operated and continues to operate was another of his legacies. It should also be noted that the fact that the fellow in this case was a U.S. citizen isn't, legally speaking, relevant--any law that would have been violated for killing a U.S. citizen would have applied equally to a non-citizen.

A liberal press would have roasted both Bush and Obama for this. The actual press roasted neither. You compared the coverage of this under the Obama to the coverage of illegal wiretapping under Bush, which, besides concealing the Bush origin of all of this, compares coverage of different things, when comparable coverage of the same thing was available. You did it because the comparable coverage--almost complete indifference, in both cases--refutes your point.

The Pentagon Papers caused problems for Nixon because he was continuing what they revealed to be a fundamentally dishonest policy, one that had torn the country apart for nearly a decade, and, most especially, because of the way he handled their being made public. There isn't any real comparison with Wikileaks, beyond the fact that both involved challenges to government secrecy (such challenges are, in my view, a good and even essential thing).

Unknown said...
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