Extra! May/June 2008

    The Press Corps' Unshakeable Crush on McCain

    If you pay even passing attention to national politics, you know that presumptive GOP presidential candidate John McCain is a maverick who bucks his own party’s line and never wavers in his political beliefs. At least, that’s what the corporate media say—reality tells a very different story. A candidate could only get away with such an elaborate and long-running con with the media as willing accomplices. “The press loves McCain,” explained NBC host Chris Matthews (9/10/06). “We’re his base.” For much of the press, the early stages of the 2008 presidential campaign were a chance to fall in love all ...


    'Tribal' Label Distorts African Conflicts

    When post-election violence erupted in Kenya at the end of December, U.S. media quickly settled into a familiar story: African tribes were savagely tearing each other apart. Journalists described the events as “savage tribal killings” (L.A. Times, 1/2/08), “gruesome ethnic killings” (Washington Post, 1/6/08) and “tribal riots” (Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 1/3/08). “This is a tribal situation,” explained CBS (Early Show, 1/2/08). “And what is terrifying is that the veneer of this country is so thin, that there’s so much tension and hatred that’s been here all along.” The crisis began after Kenyans voted in the country’s December 27 presidential ...


    Failing to Use the 1st Amendment to Defend the Bill of Rights

    The striking new midtown Manhattan tower of the New York Times seats all of the writers and editors together in one giant dual-story open plan. But this, it seems, is not enough to forge story conversations between neighboring desks when it comes to the central issues of Americans’ civil liberties and the presidential campaign. In a March 6 editorial, “What We’d Like to Hear,” the Times editorial writers spoke poignantly about the need for serious candidate discussion of topics that go to the heart of our democracy. “After eight damaging and divisive years, there is certainly a lot that needs ...


    Fair Study: TV's Low-Cal Campaign Coverage

    The second-tier candidates, they get angry. They think that the press doesn’t focus on them, spends too much time talking about the front-runners in the debates, in the coverage day by day. But we say to them, "Well, make your mark. Start showing some growth. Start showing some resonance with the populace and you’ll get the same kind of coverage." They’ll say: "Wait a minute. How do we get resonance if we’re not covered?" It's an important issue that we have to keep examining, our own behavior.—Tim Russert (NBC Nightly News, 1/3/08) Coverage in the early phase of a presidential ...


    Media Miss Bigger Picture in Healthcare Debate

    In the 2008 Democratic primary campaign between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, each is offering a slightly different variant of individual mandate-based healthcare plans relying on the private insurance industry. Media coverage has magnified the slight variations while almost entirely ignoring the big picture: Both health plans are based on a model that has consistently failed to get off the ground in numerous states. Most media analysis has focused on the political advantage provided by each proposal, rather than on the evidence that either plan would actually deliver quality, affordable care to all Americans. Obama proposes that parents be mandated ...


    Misogyny's Greatest Hits

    It may have been the first time an audience heckler yelled “Iron my shirt!” at a United States senator (AP, 1/7/08), as well as the first time a presidential candidate has had a pair of nutcrackers fashioned in her likeness (New York Post, 9/7/07). Sen. Hillary Clinton’s run for the Democratic nomination has been fraught with sexism, exposing an ugly streak within the American press. There were several repeat offenders—MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, the New York Times’ Bill Kristol—but degrading, misogynist and ageist attacks on Clinton spanned from print to radio, from the Web to television. The level to which media ...


    From Water Torture to 'Waterboarding'

    On May 13, 2004, a novel euphemism was delivered into the public lexicon by anonymous “counterintelligence official” sources cited in a New York Times article. The piece reported the CIA had been using “a technique known as ‘water boarding,’ in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.” The technique was described by the Times as one of several “methods [that] simulate torture.” Before long, Alan Dershowitz (Boston Globe, 5/15/04)—the Harvard law professor who advocates for a system of “torture warrants" (San Francisco Chonicle, 1/22/04)--had coined a brand new catchphrase by ...


    Reprivatizing Elvis

    There aren’t many places where social activists and conservative economists agree, but copyright is one of them. Milton Friedman famously announced that he wouldn’t sign an amicus brief in the Eldred case, which challenged the extension of U.S. copyrights by 20 years, unless it included the term “no-brainer.” It didn’t, but he and 16 other economists signed anyway. The economists and activists lost that one, but their alliance showed how large and complex the battle over copyright has gotten. The latest battle is over the European Union extending the copyright for recorded performances from 50 to 95 years. It’s not ...


    William F. Buckley, Rest in Praise

    Over the course of his career, William F. Buckley routinely reproached the "liberal media" from his perch high atop it. By his death on February 27, he'd published dozens of books, written decades of syndicated columns that appeared in hundreds of newspapers, and made thousands of television and radio appearances, among them some 1,500 on his own PBS show, Firing Line, the longest-running public affairs show in public television history. Unsurprisingly, that same "liberal" media treated Buckley’s passing as the loss of a great intellectual and upstanding human being, with admiring obituaries that largely ignored a massive body of unfavorable ...


    Letters to the Editor

    Polls Apart Peter Hart’s excellent article (Extra! Update, 2/08) on the over-reliance by political pundits on polls missed only the follow-up: Despite the polls having been grossly incorrect in New Hampshire, and again and again repeatedly in subsequent primaries, the overemphasis on polls has remained undiminished! The pundits hadn’t even caught their breath talking about the inaccurate New Hampshire polls before they started touting the next round. As Bill Kristol has demonstrated so powerfully, an almost unblemished record of inaccuracy is no impediment to continued employment in the media, as long as the message is the “right” one. Eli Stephens ...


    News Frames in Election Coverage

    Frame Dominant Stories/Percent Present Stories/Percent Campaign Analysis/Strategy 252 / 65% 333 / 86% News 45 / 12 58 / 15 Polls/Voter Mood 39 / 11 119 / 31 Human Interest/Local Color 23 / 6 27 / 7 Issues 19 / 5 159 / 41 Media/Advertising 5 / 1 83 / 22 Biography 1 / 0.3 2 / 1 Extra! May/June 2008


    SoundBites

    Conspiracy Theories In a piece purporting to explain how the press really works, Newsweek’s Evan Thomas (3/10/08) wrote that “conspiracies abound” among those accusing media of bias: “Right-wing talk-show hosts love to go on about the liberal media establishment,” while “lefty commentators accuse the press of rolling over for George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq.” Crazy, right? (Thomas is the guy who wrote that “it is up to U.S. armed forces to stop” the “demonic” Saddam Hussein for fear he “could decide to take Baghdad with him” in a “green mushroom” cloud—Newsweek, 3/17/03.) Back in the real world, ...


    Total mentions on Nightly Network News

    Chart accompanying TV's Low-Cal Campaign Coverage Number of times each candidate appeared on World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News (12/26/07-2/5/08). An appearance was tallied each time a candidate was mentioned, had a soundbite or interview, or had a campaign ad included in the newscast. Barack Obama: 1,204 Hillary Clinton: 992 John McCain: 931 Mitt Romney: 904 Mike Huckabee: 503 John Edwards: 392 Rudy Giuliani: 238 Fred Thompson: 62 Chris Dodd: 22 Mike Bloomberg: 21 Bill Richardson: 16 Joe Biden: 10 Ron Paul: 10 Dennis Kucinich: 7 Extra! May/June 2008


    NPR Disappears Iraqi Dead

    In a segment looking back on five years of the Iraq War, NPR anchor Scott Simon reported (3/15/08), “Estimates on the number of Iraqis killed range from 47,000 to 151,000, depending on the source.” But what sources are those? The New England Journal of Medicine (1/31/08) had a write-up of a survey, conducted by the Iraqi government for the World Health Organization, that estimated that 151,000 Iraqis had died by violence between the invasion and June 2006—so there’s NPR’s top figure. The NEJM write-up began: “Estimates of the death toll in Iraq from the time of the U.S.-led invasion in ...