May 1 2008


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, Thomas went on to say that “the need to sell newspapers or win over advertisers is real,” but “such pressures almost never affect news decisions”: “If they did, there would be less political or foreign coverage, which is plentiful and is the subject of many of the criticisms leveled at the MSM.” Of course, U.S. newspapers did shut down one out of every four foreign bureaus in a recent four-year period (Washington Post, 2/18/07), and Newsweek itself lost almost half its international coverage between 1985 and 1995 (CJR, 11-12/97)—but you’d have to be paranoid to think that had anything to do with financial pressures.

Bad News Is No News

When Gwen Ifill, host of PBS’s Washington Week and senior correspondent for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, appeared on Meet the Press on March 9, she questioned Barack Obama’s strategy of calling attention to Hillary Clinton’s vote for the Iraq invasion: “It’s understandable why the Obama people think there is some gain in reminding people that she voted for the war, but I’m beginning to wonder that, absent any new bad news out of Iraq, that is something that is useful.” That morning’s papers carried news of a mass grave unearthed near Baqubah, with perhaps 100 bodies, some of them children. The L.A. Times noted that Iraqis used to associate mass killings with atrocities under Saddam Hussein’s regime, but that in the five years since the U.S.-led invasion, mass killings have become a tactic in sectarian fighting. But that’s not what you’d call really bad news—not at PBS, anyway.

Strange Ways

After giving airtime (Meet the Press, 3/30/08) to CIA director Michael Hayden’s argument for his “personal belief” in an Iranian nuclear program—“Why would they go through [U.N. sanctions] if it were not to develop the technology?”—NBC’s Tim Russert countered: “I can hear a lot of listeners, viewers, asking, ‘Well, then why did Saddam Hussein not cooperate more fully if he, in fact, did not have weapons of mass destruction?’ Sometimes people behave in strange ways that we don’t understand.” The answer to Russert’s rhetorical question is that the U.S. was using U.N. weapons inspections as a pretext to spy on Saddam Hussein (FAIR Action Alert, 9/24/02)—tracking his movements at a time when the U.S. was trying to kill him. Being reluctant to cooperate with people who are trying to kill you is normally considered rational behavior, not an example of people “behav[ing] in strange ways we can’t understand.”

Stenography Is Journalism

The New York Times (3/24/08) summed up the U.S. vice president’s trip to the Middle East with the headline “Cheney Meets Israelis and Palestinians to Pro-mote Peace.” But anyone who read on in the article soon discovered that the Times was using a rather strange definition of “peace”—one that could more accurately be described as a declaration of war against Hamas, the political party elected by Palestinians: “Cheney said that peacemaking also required ‘a determination to defeat those who are committed to violence’ and deny Israel’s right to exist, meaning Hamas.” Perhaps the Times could find a more appropriate word than “peace” to describe this type of policy? Or, at least, they could give George Orwell credit when they crib from him.

Ideologically Loyal Reporting

Describing how some Vene-zuelans use bogus credit card transactions, complete with phony receipts, to evade currency exchange restrictions, the New York Times’ Simon Romero wrote (3/13/08): “These intermediaries say the receipts, often for electronic items, offer the travelers alibis in case they are audited in Venezuela by bureaucrats ideologically loyal to Mr. Chávez.” By “ideologically loyal to Mr. Chávez,” of course, he meant “trying to enforce the law.”

Don’t Trust ‘Market’ Media

Exploring the economic approaches of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, New York Times reporter Edmund L. Andrews (3/28/08) reported that “the ideological clashes are less about whether the government should intervene in the economy, and more about whom it should try to rescue,” citing the chair of the Cato Institute: “Democrats are more likely to propose protecting individuals, and Republicans are more likely to propose protecting markets.” Yes, Republicans love to protect “markets”—especially wealthy, well-connected “markets” like Citigroup and Bear Stearns. It’s not surprising that the Cato chief would adopt this euphemism—advocating for corporations by pretending you’re supporting free markets is what Cato’s brand of libertarianism is all about—but in the next paragraph, Andrews made this obfuscation his own: “Despite differing approaches, Democrats and Republicans may end up in a similar place because it will be difficult to protect individuals without protecting the markets, and the markets will remain fragile if individuals suffer huge declines in their personal wealth.”