Monday :: Apr 11, 2005

How the Liberal Media Myth is Created - Part 12


by eriposte

This is a continuation of a series on how the "liberal media" myth is created. Previous installments covered myth-creation using "tone" of media coverage (Part 1), "catch-phrases" like 'right-wing extremist' v. 'left-wing extremist' (Part 2), "newspaper headlines" (Part 3), "topics" covered (Part 4), "think-tank" citations (Part 5), journalist ideology or voting preferences (Part 6), public opinion polls on media bias (Part 7), obvious, unintentional errors in news reports (Part 8), [the critic's] ignorance (Part 9), opinions to distort straight news (Part 10), and superficial fact checking (Part 11).  This part covers attempts to hint at or invent liberal media bias using no fact checking.

How can I start this section with a mention of anyone other than the master of the No Facts Coalition (NFC) Bernard Goldberg? Here's Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler:

Afternoon delight: We don’t doubt for a minute that "liberal bias" may infect the areas which Goldberg discusses. But the talk-show right is deeply lazy; it really likes to cry and play victim. In Chapter 11, Goldberg claims that the TV networks only give you good news about day care. Is that true? We don’t have the slightest idea. After all, we just read Bias:

GOLDBERG (page 170): Over the years, I have seen many stories about day care, and I have come away with the impression that most mothers who work pretty much have to in order to make ends meet. But it turns out that isn’t so. Many, in fact, work outside the house because "they prefer to arrange their lives that way," as [social scientist Mary] Eberstadt put it.

Note that Goldberg’s two propositions are not inconsistent. That is, it may be true that 1) "most mothers who work pretty much have to" and also that 2) "many work outside the home because they prefer to." But how do you like the research Goldberg has done about the reporting on day care? After watching many stories "over the years," he had "come away with the impression" that most mothers have to work. But forget about the impression he got—did the stories actually say that? No reports are actually cited. After quoting Eberstadt’s views on why women work, Goldberg goes back to his slumbers:

GOLDBERG (page 171): Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation found that "nearly 80 percent of preschool children using any form of day care come from married-couple families with two income earners." I don’t remember ever hearing that on the network news.

Yeah, and we don’t remember the Bolshoi Ballet, but that doesn’t mean it ain’t out there. Forget about what Goldberg remembers; what reports have actually appeared on the nets? You won’t find out in this book.

The clowns at NRO have time and again demonstrated their willingness to be part of the NFC, so here's an example from Michael Graham [*edited to correct error in name]:

Today's Washington Post has a 1-A story on former Oregon governor--and confessed child molester--Neil Goldschmidt's sexual assault on a 14-year-old girl while he was mayor of Portland. When I read to the jump and still didn't know Goldschmidt's party affiliation, I immediately deduced he was a Democrat. I was right.

But it's even better. Here's the only ID the Post gives of Goldschmidt's party: "Republicans in the state legislature are demanding that photographs of the former Democratic governor be removed from the capitol."

That's right: The word Democrat doesn't appear until AFTER the word Republican.

Can we all agree that, if Goldschmidt had been a GOP governor, the FIRST three words of the front page article would be "Former Republican governor..."

Jesse at Pandagon responded to Graham's fact-free insinuation here [*=my edit]:

Oh, God, Michael Graham, just shut the f*** up.

The GOP ran a pedophile for a Senate seat in 2000. (And if Gore and Lieberman had prevailed, he would have been a sitting Senator when the allegations broke.) Another Republican committed manslaughter. In many cases, reports on these two rarely mentioned their partisan affiliations, or if they did, buried them at the bottom of their reports.

Is a conservative media bias at work? This transcript never mentions Giordano's political affiliation. This story mentions Giordano without his political affiliation. This story takes 18 paragraphs to mention Giordano's political affiliation. The New York Communista Times doesn't even mention his affiliation.

Why must the media hide the pedophilic tendencies of Republicans???

The worst part about this is that political affiliation really shouldn't be mentioned unless it's necessary. It would be just as pointless to write "Republican Is A Pedophile" as it would be to write "Democrat Is A Pedophile", because political affiliation has nothing to do with it.

A more serious issue is the elaborate and ugly ("treason" etc.) BS perpetrated by Instapundit and his cohorts, on the Rumsfeld "War on Terror" memo. Let's start with Eric Muller's summary at Is That Legal:

I'm confused. Everybody seems to be screaming [eRiposte: This is an Instapundit link, where, among other gratuitous spin and crap is this sentence: "...while Rumsfeld is trying to learn how to better fight this war, the press is still fighting Vietnam."] about how this Rumsfeld memo was "leaked." But was it leaked? Or was it simply released?

UPDATE: I'm scanning everything that's being written about this "leak," and I'm still not seeing evidence that it was "leaked." (That evidence may be out there and I'm just missing it.) But what I see in the USA Today story is this: "Three members of Congress who met with Rumsfeld Wednesday morning said the defense secretary gave them copies of the memo and discussed it with them." This is not how you handle a confidential internal memorandum, is it, if you don't want it to see the light of day.

And when the Pentagon spokesman's reaction isn't outrage, but praise for his boss, you have to wonder. (I'm referring to this from USA Today: "Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita declined to comment specifically on the memo, but he said Rumsfeld's style is to "ask penetrating questions" to provoke candid discussion. 'He's trying to keep a sense of urgency alive.'")

I could certainly be wrong, but isn't it possible that we're all falling for a "leak" story here, when actually this dissemination was something that Rumsfeld may have desired?
...
AND ANOTHER: anonymousblogger [eRiposte: Actually this is his post], in the comments to this post, notes that the secret, confidential, leaked Rumsfeld memo is now available on the Pentagon's website. Do we get a retraction yet from the bloggers who were shouting "treason!" earlier today?

AND ANOTHER: Fox is reporting that Rumsfeld was "livid" that his memo made it onto the front pages. Meanwhile the Defense department has a press release out on its website. Nowhere does the word "leak" appear. Nowhere there (or anywhere else) do we see anyone--from Rumsfeld on down using the word "leak" (or any word like it) or asking for an investigation of how the memo got out. The most we see, in the midst of the DoD's defense of Rumsfeld's comments, is the Pentagon spokesman's assertion that he was "surprised" by the USA Today story.

Hmmm. Nobody's saying the document was leaked. Nobody at the Pentagon's wondering who let it go and why, or asking for an investigation.

But apparently I'm the one who is doing the spinning

As Muller pointed out in an update:

So today, according to FOX News, Rumsfeld drops in unannounced at a Pentagon press briefing to praise himself for the "leaked" memo. When he saw it in the newspapers, he says, he thought to himself, "Not bad." He himself says he was "not upset" to see the memo in the paper--and this after a "senior Pentagon official" said Rumsfeld had been "livid."

Here's Rumsfeld's account, from the FOX story:

"On Thursday, Rumsfeld said the memo was not supposed to be made public, but a staff member for one of the officials to whom the memo was addressed copied and distributed it for discussion, and one of those copies ended up in the hands of the reporter.

"'I sent it to four people,' Rumsfeld recounted. 'One of the people was out of town and his office received it, thought, "Gee, those are interesting questions; I'll staff it out," circulated it to a number of people, so that by the time the boss got back, he'd have their thoughts. And one of the people that it was circulated to, obviously, thought I'd issued it as a press release, which, I might add, was not the case.'"


Yesterday, Glenn approvingly quoted a blogger who called this episode "treason." (That charge seems to be much in fashion these days.) He also called for the canning and jailing of the "leaker." I know Glenn is busy the next couple of days, but I hope he'll come back to this story and bring it up to date. Maybe even admit to jumping the gun.

(Also see this note from Muller.)

Let's move on to another example from Ryan at Dead Parrot Society:

Let me start by saying this post isn't meant as a defense of the media's coverage -- especially its initial coverage -- of the Jessica Lynch story. But the blogosphere is persistent about pointing out media bias where it sees it, so this recent Instapundit post sort of jumped out at me ...

CORI DAUBER NOTES that folks in the media are again repeating long-discredited canards about Jessica Lynch -- even the bogus report of the BBC's John Kampfner that U.S. forces were firing blanks.

Pathetic.

UPDATE: Patrick Belton points out how The Guardian got it wrong back in May. No doubt an apology from The Guardian will be forthcoming. . . .

...

Cori Dauber doesn't do much in the way of citing examples where these myths have been repeated. She offers one anecdote about a CNN anchor incorrectly citing the source of early information, but nothing else. She certainly offers no examples of anyone repeating the most damnable myth, the one about the rescuers "firing blanks." (Update: See below; Cori Dauber explains.)

If this was being mentioned to any extent, it would indeed be pathetic, and presumably also would be cataloged at Google News. The only source talking about firing blanks there, though, is the Arab News. But here's the thing: You don't even need to trust that Google News would have caught it. If any media outlet was actually repeating the myth of the blanks, you can darn well bet the blogosphere would be piling all over it. That's what bloggers do.
...
Next, Glenn links to an OxBlog criticism of a Guardian report, in which Patrick Belton contrasts a May 15 story that claimed Jessica Lynch was treated well in prison with the recent report that she was raped after being captured.

The May 15 Guardian story had plenty of problems, to be sure. (It does quote someone who implies that the rescuers were using blanks.) And the revelation that Jessica Lynch was raped is truly horrific. Let's make those things perfectly clear. The problem is, the excerpt that Belton is picking apart is largely concerned with her treatment while in the hospital. On on that count, the Guardian's story is pretty much corroborated by Jessica Lynch herself, who says the staff never mistreated her, never abused her, and in fact tried to reassure her (she was understandably skeptical of this, though). One of her quotes -- "I mean, I actually had one nurse, that she would sing to me" -- even suggests that the Guardian was onto something in this characterization:

She was assigned the only specialist bed in the hospital, and one of only two nurses on the floor. "I was like a mother to her and she was like a daughter," says Khalida Shinah.

Beyond discussing treatment by the hospital staff, the Guardian piece is largely intent on questioning the news management of the rescue story. That, too, is something that Jessica Lynch appears to be backing up. And neither of these points is repudiated by the Nov. 6 reports that she was raped. In actuality, the most recent news and interviews with Jessica Lynch do far more to corroborate that particular Guardian story than they do to show how "the Guardian got it wrong."

...
Update: I just received a reply to an email I sent to Cori Dauber. My interpretation of her post was correct. She said she's watched bits of misinformation tag along with "story about the story," re-emerging with each cycle of Jessica Lynch news. And after seeing CNN repeat the misunderstanding over early sourcing on the story, she wanted to warn people to keep their eyes out for a new wave of myths. She did not mean that news reports were once again claiming that the rescuers fired blanks. Nor did she mean that she'd seen other misinformation repeated; the sourcing problem was the only explicit example she intended to make.

Fair enough. Unfortunately, some read the post (or read links to the post) and gathered that the media was currently spreading the more egregious Lynch myths.

In fact, if you read the opening sentence in Dauber's post, it is quite obvious that she phrased it in a way that it is impossible to conclude from it what she claimed later to Ryan (bold text is my emphasis) :

Several myths are just in the air about who said what when about the rescue of Jessica Lynch, and they are being repeated now that her book is out and with the Diane Sawyer interview.

So Dauber makes an allegation without fact-checking and then claims she did not mean what her post clearly meant. How convenient.

Jesse at Pandagon mentioned another egregious, fact-challenged post of Dauber's (I've truncated some details [...] at the end of the post):

Cori Dauber asks why the media is showing the Paul Johnson video and not the Nick Berg video. Ignoring that they all did show the Nick Berg video, just not on the 24-hour repeat loop that many conservatives would have preferred, she goes on to declare that it's because they don't want to make us angry, they want to make us sympathetic.

Apparently a professor in the UNC system, this line of logic feels a little bit too close to Mike Adams' for it to be a coincidence. Besides whitewashing recent history, I don't see why terrorists holding a hostage isn't a story that should be covered actively. When the Berg video was released, there wasn't a whole lot more to the story - Johnson's captors are making active demands with his life in the balance. It's simply a different story.

...Of course, what would commentary about hostages, hoods, and prisoners be without the Morally Bankrupt Abu Ghraib Reference of the day?

And one other thing: yesterday, before the footage and the threat that Mr. Johnson would be killed, the media were hyperventilating over the terrorists threat that they would do to him as was done to the prisoners at abu Ghraib.

Do you really think that's why the family was so frightened? If they really believed that this man was going to have some ladies panties put on his head, have his picture taken, and then be released, I don't think they would have been all that frightened -- do you?

It's funny, because like the Nick Berg thing, it's a complete misrepresentation of history! They could sexually abuse and rape him, beat him - oh, yeah, and murder him.

What, you might ask, is her area of academic specialty?

Cori Dauber...is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies...her focus since September 11th has been on the performance of the media in its coverage of the war on terrorism.

The only explanation I can give is that she's been on sabbatical since Bush got elected. Otherwise, she's just very, very godawful at her job...

Let's wrap up this post, with a final example (which could have also been in Part 9), also from Jesse at Pandagon:

Mitch Berg, playing perfectly to type, declares that the flood of endorsements for Kerry "plays to type" - it shows how liberal the media is.

Or - I suggest this is more likely - it says that the liberal-slanted mainstream media had their endorsements written long before the campaign began; had the Democrat convention endorsed a set of wind-up chattering teeth for President, the New York Times would be saying "We believe that with Mr. Windup Chatteringteeth as president, the nation will do better."

Mitch, unfortunately, has done zero research. I've been pointing out for weeks that in 2000, Bush stomped Gore in newspaper endorsements. It was a nearly 3:1 ratio in Bush's favor, and whenever I've brought this up with conservatives, they say that editorial endorsements don't reflect any systemic bias...when they benefit a conservative candidate.

Mitch's smirking satisfaction that the endorsements are more anti-Bush than pro-Kerry also makes one wonder if he started paying attention to politics in the last month or so. Elections like this are referendums on the incumbent. People tend to make their decision based on whether they think the person in power has done a good job, and if they're dissatisfied enough with him, they change course. Contrary to Bush's campaign's assertion, this election is about what Bush has done the past four years. I can't understand why conservatives think we're running an election where Bush's term is off the table, but they also think the media's biased towards liberals.

Glenn Reynolds also goes delusional, declaring that the Chicago Tribune's endorsement of Bush is "surprising". The Tribune has endorsed one Democrat in the entire century and a half it's been operating, according to a reporter from the newspaper on CNN.

It shows something about the "liberal media bias" meme that it requires one to be so totally ignorant of what the media's actually done in order to continue believing in it.

The moral of this post is simple. Media critics on the Right, more often than not, seem to have an aversion and contempt for real fact-checking. Bernard Goldberg epitomized this perfectly, as Somerby noted:

Here is the question put to him by that nattering professor:

PROFESSOR: When you were thinking about writing this book, did you consider not using anecdotes, but rather having a research assistant to do a systematic analysis of the number of times Rather, Jenning, Brokaw said "conservative" and not "liberal," because I think that one of the criticisms one can lodge at you is that, "Hey, you heard Jennings say it once. How many times has he said it over the course of a year?"…As a social scientist, I think you could have and should have.

We chuckled at the perfesser’s assumption—his assumption that a CBS newsman would have to hire an assistant to gather some actual facts. But Goldberg’s reply simply says it all about Bernie and others just like him:

GOLDBERG: I did think about it. And I didn’t want this book written from a social scientist point of view. I understand the question and it’s a perfectly legitimate question. But I am sure enough, based on things that I’ve seen that social scientists did do—people in this town have done studies that they named conservatives like ten times more than liberals. And I also knew—and please understand how I mean this; this is not some smart-ass thing I’m about to say—I also knew that this would be important to social scientists, but not to regular folks who just want to read about what somebody experienced at CBS News.

Incredible, isn’t it? "Social scientists" might care if Goldberg is right, but "normal people" just want a good story. That is a process we’ve often described. We’ve called it "throwing feed to the cattle."

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