First Amendment to the Constitution
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the rights of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." -- Thomas Jefferson
"The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. ...Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe." -- Thomas Jefferson
"The need for the press to occupy an adversary role was clear to America's founding fathers. That is why they made freedom of the press the first guarantee of the Bill of Rights. Without press freedom, they knew, the other freedoms would fall. For government, by its nature, tends to oppress. And government, without a watchdog, would soon oppress the people it was created to serve." Jack Anderson, 1973
"By and large, the more famous you are, the less of a journalist you are. ...What a great privilege to be a free reporter in a free society, to be someone whose job is a search for knowledge." -- journalist David Halberstam, May 18, 2005, quoted by Glenn Greenwald
"If government is to regain the trust of the nation, the administration of justice must be even-handed and freed from the pressures of political favoritism. The recent custom of appointing election campaign managers as attorneys general must cease. It is transparent that the men who raise the money to elect a President cannot be expected to deal honestly with major contributors. The Justice Department, if its name is to have meaning, should be led by the nation's best lawyers, not its political hacks. Its proceedings should be open, its prosecutions just.
"The FBI, Justice's investigative arm, must be allowed to free itself from the web of politics now entangling it and regain its reputation as an unbiased, straightforward servant of the people. The responsibilities for internal security were thrust upon the bureau as America hurriedly geared itself for World War II. The emergency is long past; it is time for a new approach. No agency is as well equipped to fight crime as the FBI. That should be its job. The responsibility for evaluating political thought and activity should be turned over to a new branch of government closely supervised by Congress. America cannot afford a political police force.
"Perhaps most important of all, Congress must rip aside the veil of censorship that prevents the American people from knowing what their government is doing. The United States now possesses more than twenty million documents that are hidden from public scrutiny by the censor's stamp. Men familiar with this hoard insist that only ten to thirty percent of the papers have any genuine bearing on national security. The rest are classified to keep Americans from learning of malfeasance, or bungling, or simply because the censor lacked the wit to make the papers public.
"We are willing to agree, albeit grudgingly, that the President cannot make many of the cold, hard decisions he faces in the bright light of publicity. There are maneuvers of extreme delicacy that must be executed, and unpublicized deals that must be negotiated, if he is to meet his responsibilities. Let him keep these documents secret, for up to two years if necessary. Documents dealing with national security, of course, should remain secret as long as they remain sensitive. But the President and his underlings cannot be allowed to decide arbitrarily what will remain secret.
"We call for the establishment of a national commission on security, comprised of intelligent, trustworthy individuals from outside the government, who would periodically review those documents the government feels must remain classified. The burden of establishing the need for secrecy would be on the government, rather than the present rule, which compels scholars and researchers to show why certain papers -- some dealing with World War II -- should be made public.
"No other nation has been as successful as the United States in maintaining a free society. Yet the invasion of this freedom -- secrecy, the politicization of justice, the hoarding of authority, official deception -- are abuses of power that threaten our freedom.
"Power corrupts not only those who abuse it, but whole nations as well, when they tolerate this abuse." -- Jack Anderson, 1973
"The purpose of the First Amendment is not just to keep performers on the job, or newspapers above the libel laws, or media corporations in the black, or art museums abuzz. Free expression cannot serve to keep us free unless it ultimately tells us what weneed to know, so that we can dictate how the government is run and not vice versa. In short, the First Amendment is far more than just a license to offend. Shock value, so commonplace today, was a tactic unknown to the framers. They did not craft the Bill of Rights with Howard Stern in mind, or full frontal nudity, or Karen Finlay, or Ann Coulter, or Li'l Kim. Nor did they value freedom of the press because it might one day make Rupert Murdoch very rich and boost GE's stock price. The press was to be free purely for civic reasons: to help the people keep track of the government's performance, and to enable broad and vigorous debate about it and thereby stay in charge of this republic.
"This was the framers' goal in singling out the press -- the only private institution thus included -- for special constitutional protection. That the press must serve as an impediment to tyranny, by the state or by an ignorant majority, is a point on which the first Republicans were adamant and unambiguous. '[T]o the press alone,' wrote Madison, 'checkered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression.' Madison was zealous in defense of an unfettered press -- he wanted all newspapers mailed for free -- and he was not alone in that commitment. 'If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be,' wrote Jefferson, who also made this famous observation: 'Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the later.' ...'The only security of all is in a free press,' he wrote to Lafayette in 1823. 'The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted to be freely expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.'
"This view, which was self-evident to those early republicans who championed freedom of the press, strikes Bush & Co. as preposterous. 'I don't believe you have a check-and-balance function,' [chief of staff] Andrew Card has told reporters, and Bush himself has scoffed at the idea that news outlets 'represent what the people think.' What makes that deeply cynical idea so dangerous is not just that the president and all his men believe in it, but that the Fourth Estate has also bought it. Jefferson's belief in 'a free press,' in other words, is now regarded as eccentric by the US press itself." -- Mark Crispin Miller
"We must study this vile liberal technique of emptying garbage pails full of the vilest slanders and defamations from hundreds and hundreds of sources at once, suddenly and as if by magic, on the clean garments of honorable men, if we are fully to appreciate the entire menace represented by these scoundrels of the press." -- Adolf Hitler
"[W]hat I realized, with all the laughter and all the ridicule, is how easy it is to get vast numbers of people to believe anything. You just have to print it in enough newspapers." -- British conspiracy theorist David Icke, who insists that many of the world's most powerful and influential people are really twelve-foot alien lizards
"I admit it. The liberal media were never that powerful, and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failure." -- William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, 1995
"We damn well better make it clear we are not part of the government, and not part of a Washington insider's clique where politicians, publicists, and journalists are easily interchangeable parts. Once we lose our distinctive identity, it will not be long before we lose our freedom." -- David Broder, 1988
"One of the most entrenched and disturbing features of American journalism [is] its pack mentality. Editors and journalists don't like to diverge too sharply from what everyone else is writing." -- Michael Massing, the New York Review of Books, February 26, 2004
"The Right had spent so many years castigating the New York Times as the flagship of the liberal media that everyone believed it, including the Left, including the people at the Times themselves. But the truth was that the Times was the house organ of the Establishment. It was committed, both editorially and in its presentation of the news, to the interests of an Establishment: continuity, security, and legitimacy. Therefore they generally supported business and finance, the American version of empire, the government, and the president, until, and unless, some excess was so egregrious that it posed a threat to continuity, security, or legitimacy. Then the Times would turn on the destabilizers, as they did, at last, on the Vietnam War, on Nixon, and on Enron, in the interests of restoring continuity, security, and legitimacy." -- Larry Beinhart
"Conservatives enjoy their virtual monopoly over the nation's political conversation, of course. They paid a lot of money for it and they intend to keep it. They dominate the national debate not because their ideas are better (or more popular), but because they have more resources and a vast, coordinated infrastructure that has been built up during three decades. They also tend to dominate because -- unlike the supposedly liberal mainstream media -- conservatives are perfectly willing to stifle opposition. Liberal opinion is hard to find in conservative newspapers and liberal voices are rarely heard on conservative talk radio. This kind of political imbalance also pervades the 'objective' and comparatively nonpartisan media, which too often fall into line under the intense, unrelenting pressures from the right. Conservatives are quite proud of their ability to intimidate mainstream media executives, so cowed by the fear of being labeled liberal that they bend over backwards to placate conservatives. The result is that the most familiar political voices are on the right, and they make so much noise that it sounds as if practically everyone agrees with them. The buzz of conservative cant creates the illusion of consensus." -- Joe Conason
"Even some of the so-called liberal press -- say, the Washington Post (and I worked for Newsweek, which is part of the Post company) -- what I saw inside in the late Eighties and early Nineties was essentially a neoconservative orientation in the Washington Post companies, partly through the Graham family and through the editors they chose and promoted and kept in place. ...Instead of saying to us at Newsweek, 'Go out there and find the facts and we'll publish them,' it became much more, 'We want to take a certain position, and we want the facts to fit the position.' As a reporter, if you came back and had polished the facts up the way they wanted, they would like you. If you came back and said, hold it, that's not right -- the facts go this way -- you'd be in trouble. That sort of thing happened over and over and over again, and that's just how the business works. It's not some grand conspiracy here. It's just how it works, and it's how it's worked for a long time. Except now...you perhaps have fewer of the traditional news organizations out there. There are fewer family-owned newspapers. It's been more consolidated, which means that you don't have a chance as a reporter to say, 'I'm sick and tired of you, Mr. Editor. I'm going to go down the street and work for someone else.' There are just not that many others down the street. So that's the way journalism has been, and how it is. It's just gotten perhaps more limiting."
"What happened then and what continued in the 1990s was a more frivolous journalism. Also, in a sense, the mainstream press increasingly teamed up with the right-wing media, especially around the Clinton scandal. Then they went on to tearing down Al Gore, when he ran for President in 2000. ...If you remember the reporting on the Love Canal mess, the New York Times and the Washington Post published wrong quotes from Gore. They misquoted him, and then they took more than a week to correct the quote, while a whole furor arose that Al Gore was delusional, because of how the New York Times and the Washington Post had misquoted him. So you had really bad journalism. Journalists had this idea that, as long as you took it to the right, you were safe career-wise.
"What that led to was the Bush administration. As we moved through 9/11, Bush was getting strong poll numbers, and there was an unwillingness -- one might call it a cowardice -- to challenge what he said. And that takes us to the 2002-2003 run-up to the war in Iraq, when the New York Times and the Washington Post played ball with the administration on WMD stories. They either ignored evidence to the contrary, or buried stories that might raise some questions, and they promoted claims that turned out to be false. It was a logical progression from the 1970s, '80s and '90s, to what took the country to war in Iraq. Only after that, only after the humiliation of news organizations being fully duped on the WMD issue, was there a little more push-back. But it's only been marginal. As Bush's poll numbers have gone down, there's been a little more courage to write stories that are skeptical or critical of what he said. But it took a long time. Frankly, it doesn't exactly inspire me that the press was only willing to do this when Bush was considered more of a wounded political figure. When he was a powerful, swaggering political figure, the press did not do its job for the American people. It cowered in the corner or acted as the courtiers. Because the American press corps so failed the American people, the press almost deserves whatever negative consequences are done to them." -- Robert Parry, quoted by Buzzflash
Of the American media's handling of political discourse, Lewis Lapham writes, "The technology favors the presentation of the national political argument as a Punch and Judy show -- on stage left a motley crew of liberal-minded people allied with the yearning of the human spirit and the mechanics of social reform, on stage right a military formation of conservative-minded people who stand, foursquare and all-American, for the sanctity of property and the punishment of scoundrels. Under the old rules of rhetoric allied with the parliamentary order of print, the proceedings make no sense. The meanings of the words 'liberal' and 'conservative' have been so mercilessly abused over the last twenty years that they offer more information about the person who employs them as insults than they do about the person on whose head they fall like stones. To say that A is liberal or B conservative is to say nothing intelligible about his or her politics, conduct, occupation, place of residence, or record of prior arrests. It is conceivable, even likely, that the woman identified as liberal thinks nothing of tapping her daughter's telephone and enjoys an after-tax income of $2 million a year supplied by eighty-year old seamstresses earning three dollars a day in a Chinese cellar. On the opposite side of the stereotype, it is equally conceivable that the man labeled as a conservative devotes his life and fortune to the protection of hummingbirds and refuses to eat grapes picked by nonunion Mexican field hands. As negative caricatures, however, the words retain a high-definition theatrical value for the troupe of polemicists seeking to lend gravitas to the pages of The Nation or The New Republic." -- Lewis Lapham
"For decades, nobody with the slightest interest in politics has been able to avoid the right's ranting about 'liberal bias' [in the mainstream media]. Conservatives complain so habitually and so monotonously about their exclusion that usually nobody notices the relative scarcity of liberal voices. It's more than a bit paradoxical that so many conservatives appear in so many publications and on so many broadcasts -- all insisting that their point of view isn't heard in the media." The truth is that their voices dominate the media. "To sustain this palpably ridiculous argument, the right-wingers deny reality with great vehemence. They protest too much, and then they protest some more." -- Joe Conason
Most people who flog the canard that the media is provably liberal rely on a 1995 study that shows 89% of Washington journalists voted for Bill Clinton in 1992. While few doubt that a majority of Washington-based journalists are registered Democrats, this particular study, conducted by Kenneth Dautrich and Jennifer Necci Dineen and entitled "Media Bias: What Journalists and the Public Say About It," is so riddled with methodological flaws that it is virtually worthless as any sort of measurement or reference. -- Paul Waldman
Former vice president Al Gore told the New York Observer on December 2, 2002: "Something will start at the RNC [Republican National Committee]...and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk show network and on Fox News.... And then they'll create a little echo chamber, and pretty soon they'll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they've pushed into the zeitgeist. And then pretty soon the mainstream media goes out and disingenuously takes a so-called objective sampling, and lo and behold, these Republican National Committee talking points are woven into the fabric of the zeitgeist." -- quoted by Paul Waldman
"Blubbering about liberal control of the media is a trick every professional conservative can perform, like a grifter working an old but reliable con. Among self-respecting rightists, however, this bogus grievance has been an inside joke for many years. Most of them can keep a straight face and avoid snickering when some boob starts griping earnestly about 'liberal media bias.' (The boob is usually a struggling cable TV host -- someone like Jerry Nachman or Mike Barnicle -- who hopes to ingratiate himself with the right and lure a few more viewers to watch his show.) Sophisticated conservatives know better, but occasionally one of them blurts out the truth. Back in 1995, the witty and sometimes candid conservative commentator Bill Kristol confessed that his movement had little reason to complain. 'I admit it,' Kristol told the New Yorker. 'The liberal media were never that powerful, and the whole thing was often used an an excuse by conservatives for conservative failure.' (Evidently Kristol, who edits the Weekly Standard, hasn't let his coeditor, Fred Barnes, in on the joke. Barnes continues to solemnly flog 'liberal bias' in their magazine and on Fox News Channel.) Rush Limbaugh made a similar point after the  midterm election, when he gloated over Democratic complaints about right-wing talk radio. 'There's been a massive change in media in this country over the last fifteen years. Now it's 2002 and the traditional liberal media monopoly doesn't exist anymore.'"
The relentless "liberal-bashing" of the media is part of a well-thought-out strategy on the right to increase its control of the media. In 1992, Rich Bond, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, put it in sports terms: "There is some strategy to it. I'm a coach of kids' basketball and Little League teams. If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is 'work the refs.'" To 'work the ref' means to yell and scream about the unfairness of every penalty so the referee will think twice before blowing the whistle. "Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one." "Conservatives have learned to 'work the refs' so diligently that their exclusion is one of the most widely discussed topics in the media -- with them doing most of the talking. Liberal bias is a perennial favorite on the cable circuit, a daily staple of talk radio, and an easy story for newspaper columnists who have nothing else to say. It is a subject that essentially has its own cable outlet, like money or sports or food, in the form of Fox News Channel. Yet the conservatives still demand pity as media outcasts. This paradox raises an obvious question: if liberals actually dominate the media, why do they spend so much time and effort publicizing their ruthless suppression of their adversaries."
Joe Conason notes that the right-wing media has an enormous financial advantage over their liberal adversaries, in large part because of huge influxes of cash from conservative foundations and individuals. The largest foundations which donate to right-wing media, and who work hand in glove, are the Smith Richardson, John Olin, Sarah Scaife, and Lynde and Harry Bradley foundations. "Coordinating their expenditures of hundreds of millions of dollars, the directors of those four foundations (along with many others) have underwritten a formidable infrastructure of think tanks, magazines, publishing grants, media programming, and academic research, all of which promote conservative ideas. The imbalance has been exacerbated by the reluctance of liberal foundation executives to match the ideological zeal and singular focus of conservative philanthropy. The result is that there are currently three national organizations producing media criticism on the right -- and only one performing a similar function on the left."
The oldest of the three is Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media, a venerable group that simplistically labels all "liberal media" as "anti-business, pro-big government, anti-family, and anti-religion." Irvine's insistence on pushing the story that former Clinton advisor Vince Foster was murdered in 1993 weakened his credibility, but Irvine and AIM are going strong thanks in large part to huge donations from conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. Brent Bozell's Media Research Center has recently stolen much of AIM's thunder. Bozell, the vociferous cousin of William F. Buckley, is open about his allegiance to the Republican party. (Bozell's father coauthored with Buckley a book defending Joe McCarthy's Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.) The third organization, the Center for Media and Public Affairs, is the smallest and least ideological of the three, though it clearly has a conservative bent. CMPA is a Washington think tank that provides copious amounts of research and data supposedly proving liberal media bias against businesses and other institutions. Founder Robert Lichter is a former fellow of the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute. His recent efforts have been to promote his organization's lack of partisanship, which works wonderfully to cloak its conservative thrust. The single organization on the left is the small and perenially underfunded Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), which has more of an allegiance with Ralph Nader than the Democratic party. The Democrats have no organization at all to compare with AIM, MRC, or the CMPA. --Joe Conason
The media environment in contemporary America is unbalanced, but not in the way the conservatives would have us believe. On one side are aggressive, partisan, conservative outlets, spewing bile at liberals and reciting Republican National Committee talking points; on the other side are establishment news outlets devoted to the ideal of objectivity and working endlessly to prove that they have no bias. Conservative columnists who never hesitate to resort to the most vicious attacks on Democrats are pitted against nominally liberal columnists who (with but a few exceptions) balance timid criticisms of President Bush with compliments to his integrity. Radio airwaves and cable news channels overflow with the hate-mongering and rantings of conservatives like Ann Coulter and Michael Savage, while no liberal nearly as far to the ideological fringe is anywhere to be found. When was the last time you turned on your television and heard a liberal advocate the murder of those she disagrees with, as Coulter does routinely? ...While Coulter has too many bookings to handle and a new conservative seems to get his own cable show each month, journalists get fired for attending antiwar rallies; radio networks ban music by artists who criticize the president; and Phil Donahue, the lone liberal with his own television show, is cancelled by MSNBC for opposing the Iraq war, despite the fact that his show was the highest-rated program on the network. -- Paul Waldman
"If publishers and editors are largely conservative, and reporters are mostly centrist, then what about the pundits who directly influence public opinion and political discussion? Those Republican editors -- who are hired and fired by even more conservative publishers -- choose the reporters who get columns, and also decide which syndicated columnists to publish. The unsurprising result is a much larger pool of conservative writers, who appear in many more newspapers than liberal writers do. For years the most widely syndicated columnists in America have been George Will, the dyspeptic Tory featured on ABC's This Week, and Cal Thomas, the religious right pundit and former vice president of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority." As early as 1990, Heritage Foundation writer Adam Meyerson wrote candidly, "Journalism today is very different from what it was ten or twenty years ago. Today, op-ed pages are dominated by conservatives. We have a tremendous amount of conservative opinion, but this creates a problem for those who are interested in a career after college.... If Bill Buckley were to come out of Yale today, nobody would pay much attention to him. He would not be that unusual...because there are probably hundreds of people with those ideas [and] they have already got syndicated columns." Nine years later, a survey by the industry magazine Editor & Publisher printed a survey that showed the four top-ranked columnists nationwide were all conservatives: Will, Thomas, Robert Novak, and Focus on the Family president James Dobson, who had threatened to leave the Republican Party some years earlier because of its left-wing excesses. Of the top 14 columnists in the study, 9 were conservatives, 3 were liberals, and 2 were moderates.
Joe Conason points to the media's relentless pursuit of non-existent scandals during the Clinton adminstration, and the same media's refusal to investigate or even report on huge scandals and problems during the following Bush administration, as prima facie evidence of conservative bias in the media, a sentiment echoed by conservative strategist and former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed. Reed told the editors of the Los Angeles Times during a 1996 luncheon, "I think that if you look at the way Clinton's been treated, for example, I think you'd be hard-pressed to say that the personal liberal ideological views of most reporters...have somehow led to a free ride for Bill Clinton." Conason writes, "For eight years, the nation's largest mainstream news organizations devoted substantial resources to bringing down a Democratic administration. Investigative units at ABC News and NBC News chased scandal stories so zealously that they became virtual adjuncts of the prosecutors and conservative groups attacking the White House. The enmity between the Clintons and the 'liberal media' still remains legendary in Washington. That same enmity infected the coverage of Democratic nominee Al Gore during the 2000 presidential election. False stories designed to ruin Gore's reputation, including phony and distorted quotes, found their way from the Republican National Committee to the conservative media and seeped into the mainstream press. Hostility spanned the ideological spectrum, from the Washington Times to the New York Times. For more than three years, influential figures in the press shaped a story line about Gore as an insincere, dissembling caricature of a politician. Facts that didn't support this narrative disappeared from the 'liberal media's' stream of consciousness, just as falsehoods that did were maintained in circulation long after they had been exposed." -- Joe Conason
"The right prefers to demonize liberals and set up fights with 'politically correct' straw men rather than debate with real progressives. (That is why, for example, the bully boys and girls of the right-wing media almost never confront a labor leader on television; such a debate would instantly destroy the stereotype of the liberal 'elitist.') Stereotypes and caricatures are the most important type of message delivered by the conservative media. By 'defining' and discrediting their opponents, they can substitute invective for argument and images for facts. The technique is unscrupulous and almost foolproof. It's the big lie, repeated and repeated until the truth is obliterated and the lie is legimated. Whether the right-wingers who create and disseminate this vicious propaganda actually believe it is unimportant, although I suspect that the smarter conservatives know very well when they are lying. What matters is that their lies have spread unchallenged by facts for so many years." -- Joe Conason
"The right has made for its constituents a new designer consciousness. Having co-opted the media, the right can fill your head all day, all night, wherever you may go, as long as you're plugged in. You can watch only Fox News Channel and MSNBC, listen only to Sean Hannity et al, read only those newspapers that re-echo what you've seen and heard, hit only those Web sites that others like you also hit, and, if you should ever feel like curling up with a relaxing book, buy Bill O'Reilly's latest or Sean Hannity's -- all such products having been approved directly or inspired by the White House and the Republican National Committee, if not by sources even farther to the right." -- Mark Crispin Miller (Note: MSNBC, with the soaring popularity of Keith Olbermann's Countdown and the resurgent populism of fellow host Joe Scarborough, and the increasing impatience of the network's flagship host, Chris Matthews, with the Bush administration, may actually be moving more towards the center of the political debate -- which has prompted Rush Limbaugh to childishly begin referring to the network as "PMSNBC.")
One of the most effective strategies of the Bush administration in controlling the media is limiting access of reporters to President Bush. Bush's handlers rarely allow him to speak directly to the media on policy matters, and he has vastly reduced the number of press conferences as compared to his predecessors (the first Bush had held 61 press conferences by the fall of his third year as president; at the same point in his presidency, his son had held 8). -- Eric Alterman and Mark Green
"While Bill Clinton spent nearly his entire presidency under a state of siege from an aggressive, adversarial press corps, reporters have treated Bush with deference and respect. Every potential scandal is dispatched with a few days' worth of mildly critical coverage before the press's attention moves on to some other story, never to raise the fundamental questions that might bring Bush's claims of a flawless integrity into question. With every bullet Bush dodges, the idea that the media have a liberal bias becomes more and more absurd. It is a record of successful press manipulation that has continued nearly unabated to this day." -- Paul Waldman
"There is something crucial to be learned from an exact comparison of Clinton and Bush as each was covered by the mainstream press. Although he ran as the un-Clinton, vowing daily to 'restore honor and dignity to the White House,' Bush was all along, in fact, a man uncannily 'Clintonian.' [Miller uses the terms 'Clinton' and 'Clintonian' to refer to the persona of the man as created and promulgated by the right wing and their allies in the mainstream media as opposed to the real character of the former president.] Indeed, the more closely we examine Bush and Clinton -- or rather, Bush and 'Clinton,' the rightist fiction of that president -- the more we can perceive the sameness of those two apparent opposites, somewhat like Dorian Gray's relationship to his horrific portrait. To put it bluntly: Everything that Clinton was accused of doing, Bush has done; and everything that Clinton was accused of being, Bush is. And yet, while Clinton mostly had not done those things, nor was he that man, he was assailed relentlessly for doing so, and being so -- while Bush, who is all that, and who has done all that, has been treated with inordinate tact, however serious his crimes and misdemeanors. ...[T]his president, and not the one who came before him, is the actual 'Clinton' of the two: feigning warm concern for average folks while actually despising them, and working secretly to lord it over them while breaking every rule to have his way." -- Mark Crispin Miller
Even one of the most popular media myths, that of Ronald Reagan's sweeping popularity as a president, is proven wrong by the facts. "When stacked up against other presidents, Reagan's popularity was decidedly mediocre," observes Paul Waldman. "What are the facts? He averaged an approval rating of 52 percent over the course of his presidency -- better than Carter, Ford, Nixon, and Truman, but worse than Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Johnson, Kennedy, and Eisenhower. Reagan's best approval of 68 percent was bested at some point by every president since polling began under Roosevelt, with the exception of Nixon. Nonetheless, the myth of Reagan's popularity persists to this day. This myth took hold in no small part because Reagan's handlers were so adept at the staging of public events, and reporters -- perhaps believing that ordinary people are easily persuaded -- concluded that because the events impressed them, they must have impressed the American people as well." -- Paul Waldman
"In this battle for the soul of democracy, it is more and more clear that the press, which has a designed Constitutional role, can't be trusted, cannot be counted on. My gosh, if the press, which Constitutionally is protected so as to get at the truth, is this far off as often they are, then is it any wonder that there is a new media led by me, America's truth detector? No, there's not." -- Rush Limbaugh, spring 1995, quoted by Al Franken
"The New York Times and Washington Post are both infested with homosexuals themselves. Just about every person down there is a homosexual or lesbian." -- former GOP senator Jesse Helms
Media Matters's Jamison Fosor is quite eloquent about the media as the linchpin political issue of our time. "The defining issue of our time is not the Iraq war," he writes. "It is not the 'global war on terror.' It is not our inability (or unwillingness) to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health care. Nor is it immigration, outsourcing, or growing income inequity. It is not education, it is not global warming, and it is not Social Security.
"The defining issue of our time is the media.
"The dominant political force of our time is not Karl Rove or the Christian Right or Bill Clinton. It is not the ruthlessness or the tactical and strategic superiority of the Republicans, and it is not your favorite theory about what is wrong with the Democrats.
"The dominant political force of our time is the media."
Fosor writes, accurately, that the media's obsession with the Clinton "scandals" was obsessive to the point of monomania, while both Bush I and Bush II have had very little problem ducking out of their own, far more overarching and far more documented, scandals. Even most media figures now acknowledge this, making excuses such as "'sex sells,' while George Bush's false claims about Iraq are much harder to explain" to the public. As Fosor notes, "This excuse is simply nonsense." There's nothing difficult about the idea that Bush lied repeatedly and methodically about the so-called WMDs in Iraq. Furthermore, "[h]is administration has been marked by corruption, incompetence, lies, secrecy, and flagrant disregard for bedrock constitutional principles. None of that can be too complicated: Polls suggest that the majority of Americans believe all of those things." Secondly, it's the job of the media to ensure that the public does understand the issues behind the scandals. Thirdly, the entire argument is ridiculous on its face in light of the years of coverage of the legalistic, virtually incomprehensible Whitewater "scandal." Fosor writes, "Whitewater had nothing to do with sex, and nobody understood it -- probably because there was nothing to understand. And that's not even going into Travelgate, Filegate, Vince Foster's suicide, or the myriad other 'scandals' the media covered that did not involve sex."
In just one example, culled from Eric Boehlert's book Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, in the two years spanning January 1994 through January 1996, when no one had heard of Monica Lewinsky and the headlines were dominated by stories of a tangled Arkansas land deal, ABC's Nightline devoted 19 programs to the story -- a story which did not result in a single criminal charge or indictment of anyone in the Clinton White House. The Washington Post called for an independent counsel to investigate Whitewater, even as it wrote, "even though -- and this should be stressed -- there has been no credible charge in this case that either the president or Mrs. Clinton did anything wrong." Fosor says, "That's right: The Post called for an independent counsel to investigate 'no credible charge.'" Now scan the two years of Nightline programs from September 2003 through September 2005. The program devoted only three -- not 19, but three -- programs on the unfolding CIA leak investigation, an investigation which culminated (so far) in the indictment of the chief of staff of the vice president, Lewis Libby. On the night that Libby's indictments were announced, Nightline devoted a whopping 5% of its broadcast to that particular story. "And that's pretty much how things have been for the past five years: Clear, conclusive evidence exists that Bush and his administration have committed countless transgressions far more serious than whatever it is reporters thought Bill Clinton might have done," Fosor writes. "And it has received far less coverage than Clinton's non-scandals.
"To be clear, this isn't simply about the CIA leak investigation, or the Downing Street memos, or Tyler Drumheller, or any other individual matter. It's about a clear and consistent pattern of under-reporting stories that would be damaging to Bush -- a pattern that began before Bush even took office." Fosor gives as an example the virtual ignoring of the story surrounding the illegal insider trading committed by Bush when he sat on the board of Harken Energy. This story, if pumped by the media with anything approaching the vigor it pumped Whitewater, would have possibly inflicted heavy damage on the Bush candidacy. So, did the media's coverage of the Harken story during the 2000 presidential campaign approach the coverage of Whitewater during the 1996 campaign? Here's one example: the Washington Post had this to say on July 30, 1999: "Even now, questions linger about a 1990 sale of Harken stock by Bush that was the subject of a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission."
That's it for the Post's coverage of the Harken stock scandal. Other outlets covered the story far more thoroughly, notably the Associated Press and Bloomberg.com. What did the New York Times, that bastion of the "liberal media," do with the substantive articles from these sources? Reprint them? Put their own investigative reporters on the trail? Neither -- it ignored them entirely. What about the Washington Post? USA Today? ABC, NBC, CBS, even the all-news CNN? Ignored it. Fosor writes, "CNN is an all-news channel; it has a whole day to fill with news every single day. Surely CNN managed to squeeze in a mention or two of new evidence that a major-party presidential candidate may have made a fortune in an insider-trading scheme that was covered up by cronies of his father the president? No, CNN didn't even mention it. Not a word." The story was no more complicated than the Whitewater "scandal," for which the media gave us endless details and explanations. And yes, the SEC had already investigated the Harken deal -- but then again, Whitewater had been investigated over and over again, and that didn't stop the media from continuing its bloodfest.
"Why do we insist on revisiting ancient history?" Fosor asks. "Because the same garbage keeps happening over and over again. Because too many people -- journalists, activists, progressive leaders -- downplay the media's failings. Sure, they went overboard with Clinton, they say, but sex sells. But it wasn't just sex, and it wasn't just Clinton. Sure, they were a bit unfair to Al Gore, someone might concede, but he had it coming -- he was stiff and insincere. But it isn't just Al Gore. Sure, too many reporters may have been complicit in the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's smears of John Kerry, but he invited it by speaking openly and honestly about his service. Sure, Howard Dean's 'scream' was overplayed, but he had it coming -- it was crazy! Sure, media elites fawn all over Bush, but he's just so likable! And John McCain, too. And Rudy Giuliani. They're all just so real and authentic.
"At this point, you'd have to be blind to miss the pattern. Every prominent progressive leader who comes along is openly derided in the media as fake, dishonest, conniving, out-of-the-mainstream, and weak. We simply can't continue to chalk this up to shortcomings on the part of Democratic candidates or their staff and consultants. It's all too clear that this will happen regardless of who the candidate or leader is; regardless of who works for him or her. The smearing of Jack Murtha should prove that to anyone who still doubts it.
"Meanwhile, any conservative who comes along is going to be praised for being strong and authentic and likable. Ask yourself: What prominent Republican is routinely portrayed in the media as a phony the way Al Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton are?"
Fosor provides one recent example of senseless media vitriol, from the putatively liberal Slate. Editor Jacob Weisberg attacked Hillary Clinton for answering a question in a "calculated" manner that "suggests premeditation, if not actual poll-testing." The question: what kind of music is on her iPod? (Her answer included songs by the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, the Eagles, the Rolling Stones, and U2 -- standard classic-rock fare. It's worth reading Fosor's shredding of Weisberg's indictment of Clinton's musical tastes.) In contrast, Weisberg fawns over reports of what Bush listens to on his own iPod (Van Morrison, The Knack, John Fogerty, George Jones): "[T]this all sounds pretty uncalculated. Bush doesn't worry about being politically correct or care what other people think of him. He likes to listen to white guys singing country and rock and doesn't care if Jerry Falwell objects to some of the lyrics." Weisberg is just another example of Fosor's assertion that "[e]vidence, facts, logic, and reason simply don't matter when it comes to media coverage of politicians. Journalists have decided: George Bush is authentic and honest, no matter how many lies he tells. Hillary Clinton is dishonest and calculating, no matter how obviously honest her answers are. And everything is evidence of these two premises."
Al Gore, that favorite punching bag of the mainstream media, came in for his own attack by inane media pundits over a tidbit of personal history that was revealed during discussion of Gore's May 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth. While in Cannes, where the film wowed audiences and critics, Gore said that he spoke French so well because when he was 15, he came to France during the summer: "We were not allowed to speak anything but French," he reveals. Conservative gadfly Jonah Goldberg finds a reason to question Gore's veracity, once again bringing up the old canard of "Gore as serial liar." Goldberg notes that Gore once said he spent his 15th summer working on his family farm. Working on the farm or France -- which one is it? Gore must be lying! As it turns out, Gore could well have done both -- spent a week or two in France during a summer devoted mostly to farm work -- or, perhaps, he is thinking of his 14th, or his 16th, summer, a summer that happened well over 40 years ago. Fosor writes, "Even more significantly: Who cares? Seriously, who cares? Is Goldberg suggesting Gore didn't really work on the farm? No, he can't be -- not honestly, anyway: he has previously acknowledged that Gore did. Is he seriously suggesting that Gore didn't really travel to France as a teen? No, he isn't doing that, either. So what is he suggesting? He's trying to demonstrate that Al Gore is a liar because maybe he really went to France when he was 16, not 15. That's how weak the evidence is that Al Gore is a liar. And yet, his purported dishonesty and tendency to exaggerate is the underlying premise of so much media coverage of him."
And of course, any excuse to make unwarranted sexual allegations against Bill Clinton must be exploited to the fullest. In late May, the New York Times printed a front-page story about the state of the Clintons' marriage, a story worthy of the supermarket tabloids. It bottomed out when it recycled the old, baseless rumor of a sexual relationship between Clinton and Canadian politician Belinda Stronach. Did the media, having learned its lesson from the "bimbo explosions" that marked its coverage of the entire Clinton presidency, repudiate the Times's decision to print such codswallop? Not hardly; instead, once again the Washington press leapt aboard the bandwagon for another run around the track. David Broder, the "dean" of the Washington press corps, couldn't wait to go on Tim Russert's Meet the Press and call for more investigation into the Clinton-Stronach rumor, labeling the story a "hot topic." Hardly the same Broder who wrote in 1992, "The ransacking of personal histories diverts journalism from what is far more important -- the examination of past performance in public office and the scrutiny of current policy positions." (Interestingly enough, the same Times journalist wrote a similarly tawdry "exposé" piece about John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry shortly before the 2004 election.) Has any mainstream media outlet printed similar stories about George and Laura Bush? Why bother to ask?
Fosor's outrage is palpable: "[W]e don't think personal lives are the business of anybody but the people involved. But if the media are going to put candidates' personal lives on the table, it's time they do so for all candidates. If common decency and the shame that should accompany behaving like voyeuristic 10th-graders aren't enough to convince the David Broders and Chris Matthewses and Tim Russerts of the world that the Clintons marriage is none of their damn business -- or ours -- then basic fairness dictates that they treat Republican candidates the same way. Because the only thing worse than a bunch of reporters peering into bedroom windows of candidates is a bunch of reporters peering into the bedroom windows of only one party's candidates."
The excuse for the window-peering into the Clintons' private lives is that Hillary Clinton may run for president in 2008. Why then are there no exposes about John McCain's marital history? He divorced his first wife after repeatedly cheating on her, then married a wealthy and politically connected heiress just in time to launch his political career. Interesting, in a tabloid sort of way, but not being reported. Is the Times exploring how many days a month the McCains spend together, as they did with the Clintons? Why didn't McCain know that his wife had a serious prescription drug abuse problem, which drove her to steal painkillers from a charity she founded and end up in drug rehab? What does this say about the state of their marriage? Maybe we shouldn't even ask the questions -- but if the Clintons are fair game, why not the McCains? Fosor writes, "Is this the sort of thing that should be a front-page story in the New York Times? No. Is it the sort of thing that Tim Russert and Chris Matthews and David Broder should tout and hype as a 'hot topic' of McCain's presidential campaign, and speculate about endlessly? No. But there is simply no justification for covering John McCain and Hillary Clinton in such disparate ways. If Hillary Clinton's marriage is relevant, so is John McCain's."
The tabloids are currently reporting (as of May 2006) that the Bushes are estranged, that they are leading "separate lives" because of "booze problems." Tawdry stories whose reliability is questionable at best, and not the fodder for real journalism. Yet in the 1990s, the wildest tabloid stories about the Clintons regularly appeared in the mainstream press, and judging by the recent coverage, they are again. Why, then, isn't the mainstream press reporting about the Bushes' marital problems? Fosor closes his column thusly: "We expect that some of our readers are angry that we're raising these matters. Good. You should be angry that anybody would raise John McCain's wife's addiction to painkillers, or a supermarket tabloid report about George and Laura Bush's marriage. It is, as David Broder once wrote, no way to pick a president.
"But if you're angry about this, you should be far more angry that for years, the media has employed a double-standard in covering progressives and conservatives. You constantly hear about the Clintons' personal lives on television; you read about it in the newspaper. John McCain doesn't get the same treatment; nor does George Bush or Rudy Giuliani. Intrusive, irrelevant tabloid-style coverage of candidates is wrong. Intrusive, irrelevant tabloid-style coverage of some candidates, while others are afforded an appropriate zone of privacy is even worse. And it can't go on." -- Jamison Fosor, Media Matters
Fosor has published a follow up article. He writes, in part, "[T]oo many journalists and progressive activists shrugged off years of obvious journalistic misdeeds in pursuit of the Whitewater 'story.' Sure, maybe reporters got a little overzealous, the argument went, but it's just because the Clintons were a little dodgy -- they didn't answer questions completely or quickly enough, and it was suspicious that they didn't remember every detail of an ancient real estate deal. Surely that kind of frenzy -- or the Lewinsky-era media malpractice -- was something unique to coverage of Clinton.
And then Al Gore came along and, as the Daily Howler's Bob Somerby argues convincingly, was treated to the most relentlessly hostile (not to mention dishonest) media coverage any major party presidential candidate had ever seen. He was mocked for wearing 'earth tones' (who doesn't?). Reporters simply made up quotes they attributed to him, then declared him a liar because the quotes -- which he never spoke -- were exaggerations. And, to be clear: when we say reporters made up quotes, we aren't talking about Rush Limbaugh or Matt Drudge. We're talking about the New York Times and the Washington Post.
"And still, reporters and pundits and progressive activists and Democratic leaders -- people who should have known better -- chalked it all up to Gore being a lousy candidate. Sure, they said, the media exaggerated about Gore's exaggerations, but they wouldn't have if he wasn't such an exaggerator. Never mind that every example given fell apart under scrutiny: each lie told about Gore being a liar reinforced the others. It was Gore's fault the media went overboard, just as it had been Clinton's. And his consultants' fault, too -- there were too many of them, or too few, or too inside, or they weren't good enough. And so people who should have known better thought it wouldn't happen again; not when there was a new candidate with new consultants.
"Then Howard Dean emerged as the front-runner for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. And the media depicted him as a crazy man, a wild-eyed hippie liberal freak -- despite the fact that he had won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association during his career as governor of Vermont, during which time he was widely regarded as a moderate.
"And still, reporters and pundits and progressive activists and Democratic leaders -- people who should have known better -- chalked it all up to Dean being a little crazy: How could he not be a little crazy: Remember that scream in Iowa? Sure, some reporters eventually acknowledged that they overplayed it. Sure, some eventually reported that audio and video clips of the 'scream' were wildly misleading. Still: he must have brought the ridiculous coverage on himself. The same press corps that swoons daily over the notoriously ill-tempered John McCain relentlessly attacked Howard Dean for being 'angry.' And people who should have known better blamed Dean. And his staff -- they were too young, too inexperienced, too outside, too liberal.
"Enter John Kerry. Sure, Clinton, and Gore, and Dean had all been misleadingly slimed by the national media. But that's just because, by stunning coincidence, they were all deeply flawed candidates who brought it on themselves. But John Kerry was a genuine war hero -- and so people who should have known better by then were surprised when right-wing activists connected to the Bush campaign smeared his military service, with the ready assistance of the nation's leading news organizations. And they were surprised (or worse, thought nothing of it) when Kerry was portrayed in the media as a flip-flopper and Bush was given a pass on his own lengthy history of flip-flops.
"And still, too many journalists, pundits, progressive activists and Democratic leaders chalked this up to John Kerry's failings as a candidate, or his consultants failings. They blamed the victim (again): Kerry talked too much about his military service, they said: he was asking to be smeared by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. He spoke with too many qualifiers (remember: when Dean was blunt, he was derided as angry and crazy). He flip-flopped too much (Bush's own flips and flops escaped similar scrutiny).
"Those who would apologize for the media's treatment of Clinton, Gore, Dean, and Kerry -- or who somehow fail to recognize it even now -- chalk it up to Clinton's supposed slickness, or Gore's trouble with the truth, or Dean's craziness, or Kerry's liberalism, and on and on and on -- somehow failing to recognize that they're excusing flawed media storylines about these candidates by citing those same flawed storylines. Hopefully hoping for the day when a progressive leader would emerge without these weaknesses.
"Enter Democratic Rep. Jack Murtha. Murtha is, by general consensus, a conservative Democrat. A US Marine and a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. Ranking member of the Defense Appropriations committee. The kind of politician the media tends to refer to as a 'pro-military Democrat' (buying into the ridiculous and offensive right-wing smear that most Democrats are anti-military). A serious, plain-spoken man with an impeccable record of serving his country and a 'leading Democratic hawk.'
"Surely, if Clinton, Gore, Dean, and Kerry faced such abusive media coverage because of there own faults, here was a Democrat who didn't share those flaws.
"Of course, Murtha has been the target of relentless attacks anyway. Bill O'Reilly calls him a coward. (Yes, that Bill O'Reilly.) James Taranto calls him 'pro-surrender.' The Washington Post dutifully gives prominent coverage to baseless smears of Murtha's military record (sound familiar?) Chris Matthews lies about Murtha's proposal to withdraw troops from Iraq as soon as possible. And Fox News gives John O'Neill, who spearheaded the Swifties' smears of John Kerry, airtime to do the same to Murtha.
"Who else? How about Hillary Clinton? Media heavyweights like David Broder and Chris Matthews and Patrick Healy have stopped even pretending that they don't hold her to a different standard than the one to which they hold Republican candidates.
"Last week, we noted that Patrick Healy's 2,000-word front-page New York Times gossip article about Clinton's marriage set off a media feeding frenzy, led by Broder and Matthews. This week, all three have responded to criticism of their obsessive focus on Clinton's personal life.
"...Appearing on CNN's Paula Zahn Now, Healy acknowledged that the time the Clintons spend together is 'pretty similar' to other families that include a member of Congress. Yet Healy didn't mention that fact in his article. Nor has he written a 2,000-word front-page article on the marriages of those other Congressional families.
"Broder, during a June 1 broadcast of Washington Post Radio's Post Politics On-Air, acknowledged that he has heard from many readers who had told him Sen. Clinton's marriage 'is her business and her husband's business, and it's nobody else's business.' Broder claimed to 'wish that were the case,' before arguing that 'in reality, because of the special role that he has played in her life -- played again yesterday in making a nominating speech, in effect, for her at the Democratic convention up in Buffalo -- he is not a silent partner.'
"The 'special role' Bill Clinton plays in Hillary Clinton's life is, of course, 'husband.' If that 'special role' demands the media explore the Clintons' personal lives and traffic in rumor and innuendo and leering speculation, the same is true of John McCain and his second wife. And Rudy Giuliani and his third wife. And the personal lives of all other candidates.
"But Broder doesn't think so; he prefers to explore the Clintons' personal lives while giving Republicans privacy. During a June 2 online discussion, Broder was asked, 'When can we expect an article from you on the marriages and divorces of the top Republican contenders for the presidental race of '08?' Broder's response? 'Why would I write such an article? I know of no occasion for that.'
"...MSNBC's Chris Matthews confirmed his own double standard during the June 1 edition of Hardball. When guest Hilary Rosen pointed out the ridiculousness of focusing on the personal life of the spouse of one candidate while ignoring the personal lives of other candidates, Matthews defended it...." He took issue to Rosen terming the focus on Hillary Clinton "sexist" by repeating, "Why don't we just limit that discussion to people who have been impeached over the issue?" an interesting take considering that Matthews and many other journalists spend plenty of time and ink denying that the impeachment had anything to do with his sexual transgressions and everything to do with his supposed perjury and obstruction of justice (on October 1998, he told conservative publisher William Kristol that focusing on Clinton's sex life was "the wrong place to put the emphasis."
"In 1998, when they wanted to justify impeaching a wildly popular president, pundits like Matthews insisted that it wasn't about sex. It was about lying; it was about the rule of law. And now, when Matthews wants to justify peering in the Clintons' bedroom windows, he insists that it's relevant because President Clinton was impeached over his personal life.
"For anyone still not convinced that the media's treatment of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Howard Dean, John Kerry, Jack Murtha, and Hillary Clinton has less to do with their shortcomings and more to do with the media itself, we offer one more example: Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.
"One need only look at the coverage Reid has received in the Associated Press in recent months to recognize that something is wrong here.
"In February , Media Matters demonstrated that an AP article co-written by John Solomon left out important details of two incidents that purportedly link...Reid to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff." The "details" prove that Reid actually opposed the legislation he was supposedly bribed to support, and prove that a piece of legislation to raise the minimum wage in the Northern Mariana Islands, legislation that Abramoff supposedly bribed Reid to thwart, was actually co-sponsored and supported by Reid. In other words, the article was a farrago of lies designed to smear Reid with accusations of criminal actions that are easily disproven. Of course, other media outlets quickly picked up on the story.
Did Solomon correct himself? No, instead he pumped out yet another Reid accusation. "On May 29 , the AP published a Solomon article that breathlessly reported: 'Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid accepted free ringside tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission to three professional boxing matches while that state agency was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing. Reid, D-Nev., took the free seats for Las Vegas fights between 2003 and 2005 as he was pressing legislation to increase government oversight of the sport, including the creation of a federal boxing commission that Nevada's agency feared might usurp its authority.'" Again, the article is written to mislead readers into believing that Reid took gifts in return for his vote. The truth is far different: for one, the "free ringside tickets" were credentials with no cash value and no monetary worth; the Athletic Commission is in fact prohibited by law from taking money for them. Reid did not loll about in fancy ringside seats, as Solomon suggests, but sat on a folding chair in a small, cramped area. Two days later, Solomon tried to suggest that Reid "abruptly reversed course" to abandon his previous defense of his acceptance of the credentials.
Again, Solomon is just outright lying. Reid made the error of believing that the Senate's ban on gifts was more stringent than it actually is, and said so. (For the record, Reid did not break the Senate's gift ban.) But Solomon twists Reid's words to portray him as admitting some sort of guilt; he prints the actual facts of the matter towards the very end of the story. The New York Times piled on by running a version of the AP article that leaves out altogether the key sections explaining the true nature of Reid's statements. Jamison Fosor writes, "And the AP's faulty reporting was quickly repeated by the New York Times editorial page, as well as other news organizations: the New York Times ran an editorial that ludicrously lumped Harry Reid in with convicted felon Randy 'Duke' Cunningham -- the former member of Congress who gave lobbyists a bribe menu. Fox News amplified the AP's distortions. CNN and NPR and countless other news outlets repeated the 'story.'
"To anyone who remembers Whitewater, the pattern should be clear: an overheated, excessively prosecutorial article in a major news outlet downplays exculpatory information and makes suggestions not quite supported by the facts. It's quickly debunked -- but not before other news organizations repeat it so often it 'becomes true.' And the news outlet that got the story wrong in the first place, rather than acknowledging its error, compounds it in an effort to save face." Fosor quotes Arkansas journalist Gene Lyons from his 1996 book, Fools For Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater: "[T]he role of the New York Times and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the Washington Post in creating and sustaining the Whitewater hoax can hardly be overstated. Having bungled the Whitewater story to begin with, both newspapers' goal for months, indeed years, has been to protect themselves and their damaged credibility. ...Having bungled the Whitewater-Madison Guaranty S&L story in the first place, the Times found itself in the position of a bookkeeper who'd 'borrowed' a couple of thousand from petty cash and, finding himself unable to return it, had two choices: own up and face the music or borrow more cash, head to the race track, and play the trifecta. For whatever combination of reasons, Times reporters and editors opted to gamble. In so doing, the newspaper's coverage fell captive to Republican partisans with a vested interest in promoting scandal. The rest of the media obediently followed. ...[I]t all began with a series of much-praised articles by investigative reporter Jeff Gerth in the New York Times: groundbreaking, exhaustively researched, but not particularly balanced stories that combine a prosecutorial bias and tactical omission to insinuate all manner of sin and skullduggery."
"That's what seems to be happening at the Associated Press right now: for whatever reason, Solomon has repeatedly ignored or downplayed key exculpatory evidence in several articles that purport to detail ethical problems on the part of Democrats Harry Reid and Byron Dorgan. The AP, like the Times before it, has a decision to make: own up and face the music, or head to the track.
"Whatever the AP does next, however, nobody -- no journalist, no activist, no political leader -- should make the mistake of thinking this kind of shoddy reporting will be limited to Harry Reid. Just ask Bill Clinton. Or Hillary Clinton. Or Al Gore. Or Howard Dean. Or John Kerry. Or Jack Murtha. -- Jamison Fosor, Media Matters
(Screen captures courtesy of Welcome to Pottersville)
"What's more cynical than forming an ideological news network like Fox and calling it 'fair and balanced?' What we do, I almost think, is adorable in its idealism. It's quaint." -- satirist Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, quoted by Frank Rich, p.87
Fox News, who claims credit for throwing the 2002 midterm elections to Republicans, isn't the only conservative mouthpiece on the TV schedule, observes author and journalist Joe Conason. "[T]he programming lineup on NBC, CNBC, and MSNBC is slanted powerfully to the right. Former Nixon White House aide John McLaughlin has had not one but two time slots on the network for many years. The Wall Street Journal editorial board had its own weekly program on CNBC, hosted by Stuart Varney, until 'editorial differences' led to its cancellation. Far-right ideologue Alan Keyes and conservative pundit Laura Ingraham were awarded their own programs, both of which also flopped. Other right-wing personalities featured on the NBC channels have included Oliver North, Bay Buchanan, Pat Buchanan, Robert Novak, Lawrence Kudlow, Jerry Nachman, and the majority of McLaughlin's regular guests on The McLaughlin Group. (The only liberal ever to host his own program on NBC cable without a conservative 'for balance' was Phil Donahue.) [Editor's note: this comment is pre-Keith Olbermann.] Then there's Don Imus, the radio personality whose show is featured on MSNBC in the morning. The obnoxious 'I-man' is in a class by himself. His penchant for racist invective has led him to refer to a black female journalist as a 'cleaning lady,' and to another black writers as a 'quota hire.' He has mentioned that he picked one of his producers to write 'n*gger jokes.' While Imus has tended to favor Republicans and mock Democrats, he may or may not be a conservative -- but he certainly isn't an example of 'liberal bias.'"
In October 2002, the CEO of GE, which owns NBC, told Fox News that he believes MSNBC producers were trying to emulate Fox owner Roger Ailes. And NBC isn't the only one to lurch rightward. ABC, which makes some effort to present some balance, hired Dorrance Smith straight from the communications office of the Bush I White House; Smith left ABC in 2000 and turned up working for the Florida Bush-Cheney campaign.) ABC routinely runs specials produced by John Stossel, the only network journalist allowed to produce hour-long broadcasts with overtly conservative biases. Predictably, Stossel's work is often marred by distortions and falsehoods; just as predictably, he has not been reined in for his journalistic transgressions. "What conservatives really hate most is a fair fight, which brings out their inner wimp. In the spring of 2001, when CNN revamped the tired format of Crossfire and introduced fiery liberal Democrats James Carville and Paul Begala to the lineup [along with conservatives Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson], Republican leaders started muttering about a boycott. An informal directive to avoid Crossfire leaked out from the office of the Senate Republican leadership, perhaps in an effort to intimidate the aggressive new hosts or the CNN management. Conservatives aren't really worried about liberal bias, because they know that it doesn't exist. They just prefer a fixed fight." -- Joe Conason
"The foremost connoisseurs of this truth regarding the possibilities in the use of falsehood and slander have always been the liberals...." -- Ann Coulter
Fox's particular stance, as Michael Wolff wrote [in a New York Magazine published on December 5, 2002], is "about having a chip on your shoulder; it's about us vs. them, insiders vs. outsiders, phonies vs. nonphonies, and, in a clever bit of postmodernism, established media against insergent media." Paul Waldman observes, "[A] good part of Fox's popularity can be explained by the fact that is gives its largely conservative viewership not only validation of their political views but validation of their suspicion that the media have a liberal bias -- and the opportunity to feel like noble underdogs. No other news network spends as much airtime complaining about about other networks' coverage."
"The charge of liberal bias is Fox's stated raison d'etre and an all-purpose retort to criticism. Since the rest of the news media is so hopelessly liberal, they argue, Fox only seems conservative in comparison. Their twin mottos, 'Fair and Balanced' and 'We Report, You Decide' are themselves preemptive strikes against the charge of conservative bias and posed as counterpoint to the alleged bias of the rest of the media. As the Weekly Standard's Matt Labash said when asked about the conservative media, 'The conservative media likes to rap the liberal media on the knuckles for not being objective. We've created this cottage industry in which it pays to be unobjective. It pays to be subjective as much as possible. It's a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket. I'm glad we found it actually.'" -- Michael Wolff/Paul Waldman, Al Franken
In a different fashion, radio behemoth Clear Channel has been as useful as Fox News in aiding and abetting the rise of the right, both socially and politically. In 2004, Clear Channel owned 1,200 radio stations, covering the gamut from FM music to AM talk radio, and 70% of the live music and entertainment events occurring in the US are controlled through Clear Channel. Not surprisingly, Clear Channel, whom many believe has a strong rightist political agenda, is headquartered in Texas. Company founder Lowry Mays is a Texas Republican whom George W. Bush appointed to a state technology council when he was governor. Both Mays and Clear Channel board member Tom Hicks were investors in the 1989 Texas Rangers deal that made George W. Bush a very rich man. Mays, who began stockpiling radio stations in 1972, saw an unprecedented opportunity for growth in 1996, when the Telecommunications Act passed that year virtually eliminated restrictions on ownership of national radio stations. In 1999, Clear Channel bought Jacor, the firm that owned Rush Limbaugh's radio show. Mays has said, "We're not in the business of providing news and information. We're not in the business of providing well-researched music. We're simply in the business of selling our customers products." But the right-wing talk radio boom of the 1990s was largely created and controlled by Mays and Clear Channel. The company has also acted to promote music acts that are less politically controversial -- by that, read less progressive and anti-Bush -- as well as, in general, contributing to what many feel is the homogenization and "blanding down" of radio music programming. Wondering why concert tickets are so expensive and the events are saturated with commercial sponsorship and advertising? In part, Clear Channel is responsible. Wondering why larger national and regional radio stations are saturated with right-wing hosts? Blame Clear Channel. -- Rolling Stone
"The media is ruled by Satan. But yet I wonder if many Christians fully understand that. Also, will they believe what the media says, considering that its aim is to steal, kill, and destroy?" -- evangelist Jimmy Swaggert
"Bush is well aware that a single photo opportunity can be worth more in the public mind than a hundred retrograde policy actions. It is not merely an accident that the image and the reality are not aligned; rather, the image is constructed for the very purpose of obscuring the reality." -- Paul Waldman
"God's punishment to liars is that they believe their own lies." -- an unnamed Methodist minister, quoted by Al Franken
Newsweek called Bush "the warrior king." Publishers rushed to print breathless biographies and treatises such as Bob Woodward's lickspittle Bush at War and David Frum's The Right Man that painted Bush and his officials as ramrod-straight warriors fighting for Good against Evil. One article praised the administration's "steely, eye-of-the-storm serenity," another said Bush was "casting his mission and that of the country in the grand vision of God's master plan." The media said that the war plans were "impervious to doubt." The mass media went into paroxysms of rapture over Colin Powell's masterful presentation of lies and misrepresentations on February 5, 2003 to the United Nations, saying that Powell, the most trustworthy of the Bush cabinet, had erased any doubts that bombing Iraq back to the Stone Age was right and proper. The February 15 outpouring of protests around the world against the upcoming war -- demonstrations in over 600 cities, with over 250,000 in New York, 750,000 in London, 1.3 million in Barcelona -- were dismissed as aberrations, likened by Bush as an assembling of an ad agency's focus groups, unworthy of consideration. -- Lewis Lapham
"The notion that Bush isn't too smart is key to how the Bush machine has manipulated the media, and thereby the American people, into ignoring his dishonesty. The one area where Bush has received plenty of criticism from neutral observers, sometimes even devolving into ridicule, is that of his lack of felicity with his mother tongue. Bush has been lampooned a great deal for his malapropisms, and there is no doubt they are amusing. But they also serve to distract us by leading us to view Bush as merely a comic figure. Although he may sometimes say foolish things, Bush is no fool. He is a shrewd political strategist who has managed again and again to compile political victories while maintaining the impression that he is possessed of minimal skills and thus each deft move, no matter how small, should be hailed as an extraordinary accomplishment. The image of Bush as an amiable dunce started as a liability, eventually turned into as asset, and quickly became a strategy. Nicholas Lemann reported this clever remark from the Bush campaign bus in New Hampshire: 'I haven't unleashed my great line yet, which is that my mother taught me not to be a know-it-all.' (Pause for a perfect beat, quick innocent glance around the room.) 'I didn't let her down.' Even while calling attention to the artifice and calculation behind his words, Bush offers a little insouciant smile that says, 'Is this a great act, or what?' We are all supposed to laugh along with him.
"Bush and his people realized that reporters had decided that Bush was incapable of lying, because if he said something untrue it must have been that he made a mistake or was too dumb to know what the truth was. 'The story line is Bush isn't smart enough and Gore isn't straight enough,' said [ABC reporter] Cokie Roberts during the 2000 campaign by way of explaining the post-debate coverage that savaged Gore and let Bush off the hook for the multiple lies he had told. 'In Bush's case, you know he's just misstating as opposed to it playing into a story line about him being a serial exaggerator.' It didn't 'feel' like a lie. Since Roberts 'knew' that when Bush said something untrue 'he's just misstating,' as opposed to intentionally lying, she and her colleagues felt the need neither to correct the misinformation nor inform citizens that Bush had lied to them. The cascade of falsehoods issued from the White House once Bush took office did nothing to change reporters' minds." -- Paul Waldman
"The members of the right-wing media are not interested in conveying the truth. That's not what they're for. They're an indispensible component of the right-wing machine that has taken over our country. They employ a tried-and-true methodology. First, they concoct an inflammatory story that furthers their political goals. ('Al Gore's a liar.') They repeat it. ('Al Gore lies again!') They embellish it. ('Are his lies pathological, or are they merely malicious?') They try to push it into the mainstream media. All too often, they succeed. ('Tall Tales: Is What We've Got Here a Compulsion to Exaggerate?' New York Times, October 15, 2000.) Occasionally, they fail. (Despite their efforts, the mainstream media never picked up the Clinton-as-murderer stories.) But even their failures serve their agenda, as evidence of liberal bias. Win-win. You've got to admit. It's a good racket." -- Al Franken
"Let's do a 'what if' so I can make a point. I think it's a good one. I think it's so good, I'd like to hear from anyone who disagrees. What if a show like Dateline did a 'hatchet job' on George W. Bush? It wouldn't have to really be a hatchet job, but any honest appraisal of that idiot's qualifications would prove he's a non-thinking rich man's boy -- and that's all. But what would happen if Dateline did an unflattering portrait of Bush? I'll tell you what would happen: The vulgar Pigboy [Rush Limbaugh] would spend at least three hours saying it wasn't true and he'd offer hours of rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Bill O'Reilly would spend at least an hour on his show saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Sean Hannity would walk all over Alan Colmes for an hour that night, saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. [Paula] Zahn would spend at least an hour that night saying it wasn't true and she'd offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying.
"The Beltway Boys would spend at least an hour that night saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Brit Hume and Tony Snow would spend at least an hour on Sunday saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. [NPR's] Juan Williams and Mara Liason would spend their entire allotted time saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. John McLaughlin would spend at least an hour on his syndicated show saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Chris the Screamer [Matthews] would spend at least an hour on his show saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. G. Gordon Liddy would spend at least three hours on his radio show saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Laura [Scheslinger] would spend at least an hour on her radio show saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Michael Medved would spend at least an hour on his radio show saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Sam [Donaldson] and Cokie [Roberts] would spend at least an hour on This [Week] saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. George [Stephanopoulos] and George...Will would spend their entire allotted time swearing that it wasn't true. Bob Scheiffer would spend at least an hour on Face the [Nation] saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Tim [Russert] would spend at least an hour on Meet the [Press] saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. John Hockenberry would spend at least an hour on his show saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Ollie North would spend at least an hour on his radio show saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Robert Novak would spend at least an hour on his cable TV show saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Paul Weyrich would spend at least an hour on his cable TV show saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying.
"Still with me? We're close to the end.... [M]SNBC's Brian Williams would spend at least an hour on his show saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Wolf [Blitzer] would spend at least an hour on his show saying it wasn't true and offer rebuttal as to why Dateline was lying. Bill Schneider and Candy Crowley would do an hour special on [CNN] saying it wasn't true, and offering rebuttal. John Stossel would have a special on ABC: Is lying OK for liberals? Then Howie Kurtz would spend 30 minutes on Reliable Sources asking if the media wasn't being too hard on a developmently-disabled child. ...Ann Coulter would write a book condemning Dateline. Laura Ingraham would write a book condemning Dateline. Peggy Noonan would write a book condemning Dateline. Andrew Sullivan would write a book condemning Dateline. William Safire would write a book condemning Dateline. OK, we're going to call the above 'Exhibit A.' Now, everyone on that list has done at least a dozen hit pieces on Clinton. My question is, Where is 'Exhibit B?' When those 38 people attack Clinton...who does the rebuttal? Even you ditto-sheep have to admit that nobody on that list has EVER defended a fabricated lie against the president. There is no 'Exhibit B,' because there are so few liberal voices on television. The closest you can get is Eleanor [Clift] on McLaughlin or Geraldo [Rivera], but there is barely a liberal whisper on television, even though there are DOZENS of right-wing, Smirk-apologist shows whose livelihood is lying about liberals. I don't think you ditto-heads can offer an answer. Prove me wrong." -- Bartcop, 2001
George W. "Bush no doubt learned valuable lessons about truth in politics from his father. When it was revealed that the elder Bush had lied about his opponents during his 1984 debate with Geraldine Ferraro, his press secretary, Peter Teeley, scoffed at the notion that Bush would pay a price. 'You can say anything you want during a debate and 80 million people hear it,' Teeley said. When the reporter interviewing him asked what then happens if journalists exposed the candidate's statement as untrue, Teeley responded, 'So what? Maybe 200 people read it, or 2,000, or 20,000.' Let's be clear about what this means: the lie is seen by millions, and the correction by journalists is seen by a fraction. And exploiting this is an accepted practice." -- Paul Waldman
The timidity and eagerness to curry political favor of the American media is not new to the current crop of media outlets, reporters, and pundits. Hunter S. Thompson wrote in his October 10, 1974 Rolling Stone essay: "But the climate of those years was so grim that half the Washington press corps spent more time worrying about having their telephones tapped than they did about risking the wrath of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Colson by poking at the weak seams of a Mafia-style administration that began cannibalizing the whole government just as soon as it came into power. Nixon's capos were never subtle; they swaggered into Washington like a conquering army, and the climate of fear they engendered apparently neutralized the New York Times along with all the other pockets of potential resistance. Nixon had to do everything but fall on his own sword before anybody in the Washington socio-political establishment was willing to take him on." -- Hunter S. Thompson, quote sourced by Daily Kos
Note: There are numerous instances throughout these pages of the American media's complicit behavior with the Bush administration in cheerleading for war. This section does not begin to attempt to comprehensively address this phenomenon; rather, it serves to highlight some thoughts on the subject.
"As there was a self-aggrandizing tone to many of the [media] hawks' prose after they turned on the war, so there had been to their cheerleading before the war. The strutting among the boomer journalistic pundits often suggested an overwhelming desire to prove that they could be a part of a greater generation post-9/11, even if it was other people's children who would have to do the fighting. Their contempt for the war's critics often seems so defensive in retrospect that it's hard not to wonder if the overheated rhetoric was a reflection of their own deep-seated, unmentioned doubts about the Iraq project." -- Frank Rich, pp.222-3
When RAND's Eric Larson, a public opinion expert, tried to explain the public support for the looming invasion of Iraq in February 2003 by saying, "It is very unusual for members of the public to support an operation before the president actually has made his full case. Americans just have a set of beliefs about Iraq and the nature of the threat," writer Mark Crispin Miller took umbrage. "Of course, we did not 'just have a set of beliefs about Iraq and the nature of the threat,' as if we had been born with them or raised on them," Miller writes. "That Americans were simply misinformed by their own government and uninformed by their own press, and therefore often willing to support the war, becomes quite clear when we compare US mass opinion vis-a-vis Iraq with the prevailing view in countries where the press still functions as it should, even without constitutional protection. Major news outlets worldwide would, naturally, do more than parrot the official US line, and so their readers, viewers, and listeners knew enough to give the US line the credence it deserved. This was the case not only in, say, the region served by al-Jazeera, but throughout Europe, in Canada and Mexico, Japan and India, Thailand and the Philippines, and on and on. Despite Israel's enormous interest in the conflict, that nation's press was far less tame than their US counterparts, and, ironically enough, the authors of the First Amendment surely would have deemed the British media far more 'American' than ours.
"The British people never were convinced by Tony Blair's fantastic allegations, not because they're any smarter than Americans, but because the BBC, the Guardian, the Glasgow Evening Herald, the Independent, and other British press outlets demanded more specifics from the eloquent prime minister, who never could come up with any. That his assertions were contested by a number of trustworthy sources was enough to slow down his war chariot (but not enough to stop it). In contrast, the US press, likewise confronted with a lot of wild and scary charges by the head of state, uttered not a peep of contradiction and kept contrary experts off the air, or, as with [former weapons inspector Scott] Ritter, made all contradictions sound like treason. Bush's statements came and went unchallenged (except out on the culture's margins) and were therefore taken, by and large, as true.
"By failing to subject our leaders to tough scrutiny, and by belittling or ignoring the accounts of expert dissidents as well as other valid points of view, the press has failed America; its broad collusion in Bush/Cheney's propaganda plans amounts to institutional treason." -- Mark Crispin Miller
"More daunting than the mere ascendancy of a particular cabal, and more frightening than the media's routinely spreading government disinformation, is the deeper problem of a press that serves no rational purpose whatsoever, but functions mainly as a medium of angry rightist passion. In other words, the threat lies not just in the countless twisted facts per se -- errors that can be corrected, by and by. The deeper threat lies in the general animus that drives the press to keep on spewing out those fabrications and distortions.
"By this I mean far more than that the press maintains a certain 'bias' to the right. To call it 'bias' is to understate the media's overall belligerent emotionality, and its function as a giant instrument of mass unreason, channeled and deflected for the benefit of rightist interests. Somehow the US press has long since been transformed into a pure extension of the rightist psyche, urging us, until it was too late, to see the world as Bush & Co. see it -- which was to see the world as it is not. The mainstream media, in short, routinely seconds the apocalyptic worldview that now dominates our government -- and that is also thriving elsewhere in the world, frequently against this government. It is a Manichean worldview, purist, fierce, explosive, and uncompromising, yet terrorstricken too and livid with self-hatred." -- Mark Crispin Miller
In mid-2004, former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer summed up three years of mainstream media headlines regarding Iraq and Afghanistan in the following compendium of "headlines" that accurately reflect both the cheerleading for the military offensives in those two countries, and the virtually complete lack of understanding of what is actually going on in them: "Victory in Afghanistan. Taliban destroyed. Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri cowering in Afghan caves. Al-Qaeda remnants soon to be captured. Pro-Western, democratic regime rules in Kabul. Enthusiasm for Islamism and jihad waning, becoming, per director of central intelligence, the 'fringe of the Muslim lunatic fringe.' Israeli prime minister Sharon -- 'Man of Peace.' War on al-Qaeda not war on Islam. Anti-terror war has nothing to do with religion. Bin Laden hates United States for its freedom, not its policies. Islamists hate America for what it is, not what it does. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia support US war on al-Qaeda. West dries up funds for bin Laden. Road Map for Israel, Palestine working. Victory in Iraq, no Islamist insurgency. Iraq nears secular government, democracy, sovereignity." Every one of these faux headlines can find real-life parallels in the large news providers of America, and every single of them is wrong. Stories contradicting these rose-colored headlines can certainly be found in the mainstream media, but with relative rarity and usually buried in the back pages. Scheuer wrote this in 2004; only now, in mid-2006, is the mainstream media fitfully and sporadically beginning to report on something approaching the truth of the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles, though a quick scan of news reports still echoes many, if not all, of these complacently ignorant headlines.
Scheuer also notes the tremendous discordance of the two "sets" of stories, often with one story declaring victory published on the same day, and even on the same page, with stories of dire warnings issued by intelligence chiefs or retired generals warning of imminent destruction and further massive terrorist attacks. Such dichotomous storylines not only pump up the sales of American flags and duct tape, but keep Americans confused and in a constant state of agitation and apprehension. "Are we to reach for champagne or a rosary?" he asks. -- Michael Scheuer
"TV news owners and management love stories that keep viewers passive, on the sidelines -- as spectators. They fear the ones that might motivate us to take action, on the field -- as citizens. ...TV news is trying desperately to hold onto its audience of passive consumers: those who know everything about [accused child murderer] John Mark Karr's dinner of pate and chardonnay, and next to nothing about the court ruling that Bush's warrantless wiretapping is unconstitutional." -- former MSNBC producer Jeff Cohen
"Political language...is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to ive an appearance of solidity to pure wind." -- George Orwell