How to Bore Reporters
Setting the scene for Hillary Clinton’s famous “tearing up” in New Hampshire, reporters Faye Fiore and Peter Nicholas of the Los Angeles Times (1/10/08) revealed more about the press corps than they did about the candidate: “For more than an hour, the discussion was so wonkish that campaign reporters fiddled with their BlackBerrys and fought the urge to nod off. The ‘intimate chat’ included such polysyllabic critiques as ‘I will immediately begin to reverse this sense of arrogance and unilateralism and preemption that the Bush administration has propagated.'” Seriously, it’s pretty hard to discuss Bush administration foreign policy if you think “unilateralism” and “preemption” are big words that are too boring to pay attention to.
You Can Say McCain’s Critics Are Lying
Elisabeth Bumiller is the New York Times reporter who infamously said (Extra!, 1-2/05): “You can’t just say the president is lying. . . . You can in an editorial, but I’m sorry, you can’t in a news column. . . . That’s a judgment call.” But now Bumiller has discovered that there is such a thing as lying: It’s when people say mean things about a politician she likes, whether they’re true or not. In a January 17 article, she characterized various attacks on Sen. John McCain as “distortions and lies,” including accurate references to his “1980 divorce from his first wife, Carol, who raised the couple’s three children while Mr. McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam,” and charges that he “has voted to use unborn babies in medical research”—which is true if, like many on the religious right, you consider an embryo to be an “unborn baby.” Bumiller mentioned other aspects of the “smear campaign” against McCain that the candidate’s “truth squad” would be counteracting: that he supports restrictions on campaign donations, and is a critic of the Confederate flag. She doesn’t mention that these “smears” are both true, but, then, maybe that would be a “judgment call.”
The Good ‘Populist’
Newsweek’s Evan Thomas and Holly Bailey (1/14/08) illustrated corporate media’s idea of good populism and bad populism when writing about Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee: “Huckabee struck a populist chord that seemed much more up-to-date than the old-time religion preached by Democrat John Edwards, who sounds like a figure out of the Great Depression or even earlier—William Jennings Bryan, railing against the money-changers in the election of 1896.” Likewise, a New York Times news article (1/5/08) referred to Huckabee’s tax policies as the “economic populism” that distinguished his platform: “Mr. Huckabee is also sharpening the populist economics that, while light on policy details, set him apart from the Republican field.” Times economic columnist David Leonhardt (1/9/08) provided an antidote to the media portrayal of the “populist” Huckabee: “Whatever its other pluses and minuses, his national sales tax, known as the Fair Tax, would undeniably increase the share of taxes paid by the middle class while cutting the share paid by the wealthy. If voters can just forget what he is saying, Mr. Huckabee is the candidate for those who think the country needs to stop soaking the rich.”
Let Them Watch Tivo
When Bill O’Reilly (1/15/08) mocked John Edwards’ concern for homeless veterans—saying, “We’re still looking for all the veterans sleeping under the bridges . . . so if you find anybody, let me know”–filmmaker Robert Greenwald went out on the street and found half a dozen within hours–posting a short video online along with a petition asking O’Reilly to apologize. Naturally, no apology was forthcoming, but what was a little surprising was the O’Reilly camp’s choice of counter-attack: Confronted by some of the people his boss claimed were imaginary, O’Reilly producer Jesse Watters “asked the vets if they had heard the comments firsthand” (New York Daily News, 2/1/08). Memo to homeless veterans: Better get a cable subscription if you want your existence to be acknowledged by Fox News.
The Venezuelan ‘Wave’
In a January 23 front-page report headlined “Rise of Chávez Sends Venezuelans to Florida,” New York Times reporter Kirk Semple evoked parallels with the exodus from Fidel Castro’s Cuba. The family in his lead example, though, moved to the U.S. because of the economic havoc caused by a 2002 strike by U.S.-backed opponents of President Hugo Chávez—a strike Semple credited with “paralyzing the country’s oil industry and devastating the economy.” But the reporter still presented them as “part of a wave of Venezuelans, mostly from the middle and upper classes, who have fled to the United States as Mr. Chávez has tightened his grip on the country’s political institutions, imposing his socialist vision and threatening to assert greater state control over many parts of the economy.” This “wave” amounts to about 87,000 Venezuelans who have moved to Florida since 2000—which is, as the Times didn’t point out, about 0.3 percent of Venezuela’s population. An accompanying chart indicated that among the most rapidly growing Latin American communities in Florida, Venezuelans fall well behind Uruguayans and Guatemalans, and only slightly ahead of Argentines and Hondurans—suggesting that this story might have less to do with imposed socialist visions and more to do with normal immigration patterns.