Extra! April 2010

    Falling for the ACORN Hoax

    When conservative activist James O’Keefe was arrested on January 25 for attempting to interfere with the phone lines of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu from Louisiana (Washington Examiner, 1/26/10), outrage in the media was hard to come by. O’Keefe secretly filmed two accomplices as they impersonated telephone company employees in the senator’s office; he claimed he had “decided to investigate” why constituents couldn’t get through to the senator’s office (Big Journalism, 1/29/09) after the senator said in December that her phone lines had been “jammed for weeks” with calls about healthcare reform (Advocate, 12/23/09). After O’Keefe’s arrest, commentators cautiously distanced themselves ...


    Covering a Son's War at the NYT

    Can a journalist neutrally cover a conflict that his child is fighting in? That’s the question posed by the news that the son of New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner joined the Israeli Defense Forces. The Times’ policies acknowledge that family members’ activities might require a journalist to “to withdraw from certain coverage”; their example is a business reporter or editor with “a brother or a daughter in a high-profile job on Wall Street.” If a child’s livelihood might color one’s reporting, wouldn’t that child’s life itself do so even more? When activists asked New York Times public ...


    The Flawed Media Narrative of the Healthcare Debate

    Through all the twists and turns of the healthcare reform debate, one thing has remained constant: Progressive ideas with majority popular support are falsely portrayed as radical, ideological fantasies, while those who oppose them are praised as pragmatic and reasonable. This trend began when Washington insiders excluded the idea of a single-payer public health insurance program at the beginning of the reform process (Extra!, 6/09). It culminated when the Senate finally passed a bill that, as a result of a few obstructionist senators and the acquiescence of Democratic leaders, was stripped of its most progressive remaining reforms—including the “public option,” ...


    Glenn Beck Gets Progressively More Paranoid

    Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck had a surprising 2009 (Extra!, 6/09), becoming a high-profile advocate for the right-wing Tea Party movement and attracting millions of viewers to his late afternoon cable talk show. How does one top that? By spinning out elaborate theories about the “progressive” assault on the Constitution and the country, hinting that the left’s disenchantment with Barack Obama could very easily manifest itself in violence—that’s how. Beck’s ruminations make no logical sense, and the proposals he attacks do not bear even the faintest resemblance to the political agenda of the White House or congressional Democrats. But ...


    Deficit Fascinates Media--Its Causes, Not So Much

    The role of George W. Bush’s tax cuts in the current federal deficit is tremendous. Their role in corporate media’s current round of deficit obsession, however, is tenuous at best. Sometimes acknowledged in editorials or op-eds, the cuts generally only make it into news reports as assertions from the White House or Democrats, rather than established and relevant economic fact. Elite papers lately issue near daily alarms on the deficit—“gargantuan,” “unprecedented,” “unimaginable a few years ago.” Virtually all accounts speak portentously of the costs of benefit programs like Social Security, often described as “the main causes for expanding federal spending ...


    'It's Tough to Be Haitian, Isn't It?'

    One of the most striking images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was of poor New Orleans residents crowded together outside that city’s convention center, days after the storm had subsided, chanting, “We want help!” It was a scene that shocked viewers and reporters alike, who had not realized that a major U.S. city could be home to so many people who lacked the economic means even to flee in the face of oncoming danger—though the promised national conversation about poverty that was supposed to result never really arrived (Extra!, 7-8/06). Such images couldn’t help but come to mind in ...


    The Right's Library of Fake Quotes

    Abraham Lincoln despised class warfare, Thomas Jefferson detested bailouts and the founders of the nation were all Bible-believing Christians. These are among the historical “facts” you’ll learn as a regular consumer of talk radio, Fox News and other conservative sources. While non-conservatives have been known to misquote historical figures to add credibility to their own views, the right seems to have a special enthusiasm for putting words in dead people’s mouths. Take what has become known as the “The Ten Cannots,” a list repeatedly misattributed to Abraham Lincoln. It begins: You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot ...


    Letters to the Editor

    Hunting for Orion in Green Press List I enjoyed the environment focus published in my recent e-edition of Extra! (2/10), but I am puzzled by the omission of Orion magazine from Miranda Spencer’s round-up of notable environmental magazines and websites (“Environmental Journalism in the Greenhouse Era”). Orion magazine is an extremely ambitious and high-end nature magazine, focused on the very topics Ms. Spencer raises. On the topic of climate change, it has consistently published writers and works of the top rank, and is a far more important voice than the others Ms. Spencer highlights, especially Mother Jones, which saw fit ...


    SoundBites

    Better to Mislead Than to Take a Side In the third paragraph of a report on the stimulus program in the New York Times (2/18/10), readers were told, “There is little dispute among economists that the measure has kept the jobless rate from being even higher than it is.” Clear enough. But since reporting must be “balanced,” the Times recited Republican talking points—essentially, that the stimulus couldn’t have succeeded because unemployment is still high—and then suggested that such critics have a point: “Economists say that Mr. Obama and the Republicans are both, in a sense, correct.” The economist the Times ...