Extra! September/October 2008

    The Myth of Pro-Obama Media Bias

    If there has been one unquestioned assumption of the 2008 election, it is that the media love Barack Obama. Rush Limbaugh declared that the media were following Obama with “their tongues dragging along the concrete to the floors.” “Lenin, Stalin never got this kind of coverage from their media,” Limbaugh claimed (7/22/08), which he blamed on the “chickification of our culture and the news business” (7/21/08). Joseph McQuaid, publisher of the conservative New Hampshire Union Leader, wrote an editorial headlined “Obama Orgy” (7/21/08) that denounced “the outrageous imbalance in the major media’s coverage of the candidates.” Such proclamations bolstered a ...


    Media's 'Girls Gone Wild' Fantasies

    When Time magazine (6/30/08; online edition, 6/19/08) reported that “nearly half” of 17 pregnant teenagers at Gloucester High School in Massachusetts had made a pact to have children simultaneously, corporate journalists latched onto the story and scurried to express their dismay on newspaper pages, blogs and 24-hour cable news. Time’s article, which reporter Kathleen Kingsbury largely sourced to school principal Joseph Sullivan, told of a group of girls who repeatedly visited the school clinic for pregnancy tests. The girls, according to the principal, “reacted to the news that they were expecting with high fives.” And “the story got worse,” Kingsbury ...


    The Illusion of Immigrant Criminality

    Immigrants aren't a crime problem. "The foreign-born commit considerably fewer crimes than the native-born," as President Herbert Hoover's National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement concluded in 1931 (National Lawyers Guild Quarterly, 10/39; Immigration Policy Center, Spring/07). While noncitizens now make up more than 8 percent of the U.S. population, the available evidence indicates that they account for no more than 6 or 7 percent of the people incarcerated for crimes in the United States, less than 170,000 of the 2.3 million inmates currently in our federal, state and local penal systems--not including some 30,000 immigrants in administrative detention on ...


    When a 'Flip-Flop' Is a Badge of Honor

    When is a “flip-flop” evidence of moral character rather than a moral failing? To many in the corporate media, it seems, it’s when the perpetrator is John McCain. While Barack Obama was roundly disparaged for his “flip-flop” on public financing—criticism that largely ignored Obama’s actual promise to pursue an agreement on public financing with his Republican opponent (Extra! Update, 8/08)—the media deeply downplayed McCain’s reversal on the same issue. McCain’s transgression, unlike Obama’s, may have actually been illegal: McCain had pledged to accept public financing for the primary elections, and used that forthcoming public money as collateral for a $3 ...


    CounterSpin Interview: The Media Ignore Their Core Duty

    From Iraq to Enron, from Hurricane Katrina to No Child Left Behind, from torture to civil liberties to healthcare and much more, it would be hard to overstate the role the U.S. media played in enabling many of the policy debacles of the Bush years. And yet media accountability rarely goes beyond the half-hearted internal investigation, followed by, if we’re lucky, the half-hearted mea culpa. That the media are not prone to self-criticism isn’t a new thing. As crusading journalist George Seldes said decades ago, “The most sacred cow of the press is the press itself.”   CounterSpin talked to ...


    Letters to the Editor

    Dubious Responses Jacqueline Bacon’s article on the debates (“Dubious Debates,” Extra!, 7-8/08) only further documents my reaction as I watched them. My question, however, is: Why did the candidates meekly put up with those questions? When someone is asked why he still runs when polls show he has very weak support, the answer should have been something like this: That’s a question only the voters can, and should, answer. They want to know what my positions are. Then they can decide if they want to support me. Ask questions about what I want to do about healthcare, the economy, or ...


    Meanwhile, in Iraq . . .

    When Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki called for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troop (Der Spiegel, 7/19/08), U.S. corporate media coverage of his statement displayed a remarkable condescension. The New York Times' Steven Lee Myers (7/10/08) suggested that al-Maliki didn't mean what he was saying and was just doing what Iraqi politicians have to do, explaining that the prime minister's announcement "is partly a nod to Iraqi political realities, since Iraqi politicians must call for the end of the American occupation. No one in Iraqi realistically expects to throw out the Americans anytime soon--and few in Iraq ...


    Media Push an Unpopular Trade 'Centrism'

    As America heads toward a critical presidential election, “free trade” advocate Robert Reich, who as Bill Clinton’s labor secretary in 1993 fought hard for passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), glumly admitted that the constituency for “free trade” has severely eroded. “I’m still a free trader, although I will tell you . . . there are fewer and fewer of us,” he told MSNBC host Chris Matthews wanly (Hardball, 10/8/07). “It’s a very unpopular position.” Unpopular with the public, but certainly not the media. Leading pundits and editorial writers for corporate media have persisted in counseling Democratic ...


    SoundBites

    McCain’s Warm Sedate Reception NPR guest Robert Traynham (7/16/08) described the “warm response” McCain received at an NAACP convention, including a “standing ovation” for his plan to promote school vouchers. But why would the NAACP, which opposes vouchers as a drain on public schools, be so enthusiastic about McCain’s proposals? Maybe they weren’t. The Baltimore Sun (7/17/08) reported that McCain received a “somewhat sedate reception—with only a smattering of applause for his education plan.” The discrepancy might be explained by Traynham’s perspective: Although NPR’s Farai Chideya introduced her guest only as “D.C. bureau chief for the Comcast cable network CN8,” ...


    Inventing Obama's Race Problem

    Barack Obama has a race problem—though corporate media can’t quite decide what it’s supposed to be. Take an article by New York Times political reporter Adam Nagourney published toward the end of the primary race with Hillary Clinton (5/6/08): If Mr. Obama loses in Indiana because of white blue-collar support for Mrs. Clinton, it would be the third time in a row, after Ohio and Pennsylvania, that he has lost a big state because of an inability to win over enough of those kinds of voters. So Obama’s problem is “white blue-collar support.” The very next paragraph, though, gives him ...


    Spinning the Surge

    The most conspicuous thing about the mainstream media’s election-year discussion of the Iraq War is the lack of one. The numbers tell much of the story. Although it had been the main news story between January and May of 2007, totaling 20 percent of the news hole, that number declined to just 4 percent in the first three months of 2008—while the presidential campaign occupied 43 percent (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 3/26/08). Media decisions to treat the Iraq War as an afterthought have caused some correspondents to speak out publicly—most notably CBS correspondent Lara Logan, who said on Comedy ...


    David Brooks vs. the Real World

    Appearing on MSNBC Live (6/2/08), New York Times columnist David Brooks said that though Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy represented a “big historic movement,” the candidate may lack the common touch: The magic is not felt by a lot of people. It’s not felt, obviously, by a lot of less educated people, downscale people. They just look at Obama, and they don’t see anything. And so, Obama’s problem is he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee’s salad bar, and people think he fits in naturally there. The fact that Applebee’s doesn’t have salad bars ...


    Still Taking the Pentagon's Bait:

    The General Accounting Office released a report June 23 that condemned the Bush administration’s “surge” strategy in Iraq. The same day the Pentagon released its own overwhelmingly positive report, “dated June 13 but not released until yesterday” (Washington Post, 6/24/08), which might reasonably be seen as a blatant White House effort to take the air out of the GAO’s findings. How did the Pentagon do with such a transparent gambit? Lamentably well. In write-ups in both the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, reporters used the Pentagon’s self-assessment just as its producers must have hoped: to counterweigh and cast ...