Jun 1 2005


False Positive

The Washington Times (5/13/05), covering a gathering of conservative leaders in support of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R.-Texas), reported a claim by a prominent right-wing media activist: “L. Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, said a Google search produced 833,000 matches for Mr. DeLay’s name and the word ‘scandal.'” The blog American Street (5/16/05) pointed out what should have been obvious to a professional media critic:

“Actually, if you search for ‘Tom DeLay’ and ‘scandal’ you get only 221,000 matches. In order to get near the figure quoted by Brent, you have to search for ‘delay’ and ‘scandal,’ which gives you not only info about Tom’s little lapses, but also ‘matches’ such as ‘Justice Department granted White House delay on order to preserve records in CIA exposure scandal.'” The blog described this as “a perfect example of the kind of media research done by Mr. Bozell and his center.”

Taking the Pentagon’s Word

The April 25 issue of U.S. News & World Report has a piece defending the Pentagon’s Office of Strategic Influence. Formed shortly after the September 11 attacks, OSI was shut down only a few months later when the New York Times (2/19/02) reported that OSI was planning a disinformation campaign that would plant news stories in foreign media. U.S. News declared it was unfair to call the office “Orwellian” or “duplicitous,” writing, “In fact, OSI was none of that.” On what does U.S. News base this claim? On the Pentagon’s saying that it found no evidence of a disinformation campaign in OSI’s internal documents: “Indeed, the only time the word [“disinformation”] appeared was tied to its use by America’s enemies.” Wow, you would expect a disinformation office would be more candid, wouldn’t you? But Douglas Feith, the Pentagon official who oversaw the office, explained the need for discretion: “We are going to preserve our ability to undertake operations that may, for tactical purposes, mislead an enemy,” he told AP (2/20/02), “but we are not going to blow our credibility as an institution in our public pronouncements.”

Everybody Loves Marketing

Last year, when NBC‘s Dateline devoted airtime to the finale of Friends and other NBC shows, Jeff Fager, the executive producer of CBS‘s 60 Minutes, promised that you wouldn’t catch him doing the same thing if one of his network’s top shows closed up shop: “We are not going to do the one-hour special for [CBS‘s] Everybody Loves Raymond‘s departure…[because] any viewers who tuned in and saw us doing that would leave in a heartbeat” (St. Petersburg Times, 6/6/04). On Sunday, May 8, 60 Minutes marked the conclusion of Everybody Loves Raymond‘s run with an interview with the series’ star. Hypocrisy? No, says Fager–because it wasn’t a full hour (AP, 5/6/05). It’s not clear how the viewers who “tuned in” figured that out before they left “in a heartbeat.”

Is Liddy’s Memory Shot?

Devoting a show to a dopey Air America skit (4/25/05) that suggested that gunfire was the “answer” to the White House Social Security plan, MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough (Scarborough Country, 4/27/05) asked his guest, talkshow host G. Gordon Liddy, “Are conservatives guilty of similar hate speech on their shows?” Liddy’s response: “Well, if they are, I certainly haven’t heard of it.” The former Watergate conspirator apparently wasn’t able to recall his own repeated advice to his listeners on how best to shoot federal law enforcement agents. To refresh his memory, here’s a bit of his August 26, 1994 show: “Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests…..Kill the sons of bitches.” Liddy repeated this theme so often that his callers began to exclaim “head shots!” to express their agreement with the host, the way Rush Limbaugh’s callers say “megadittos.”

The Red Herring Factor

“According to research done at Columbia University,” Bill O’Reilly declared (O’Reilly Factor, 4/26/05), “illegal immigration is now costing the USA $68 billion every year. So the next time you hear somebody mention the deficit, hit him with that.” The study in question (from the Center for Immigration Studies, 2/05) wasn’t about illegal immigrants, but about immigrants in general (including Rupert Murdoch, O’Reilly’s boss). The study reported that “the addition of immigrant workers makes the overall U.S. economy larger,” but found, somewhat controversially, that immigration lowers the incomes of native-born citizens by about $68 billion. (The income for all U.S. households is more than $4 trillion, so the projected decrease would be less than 2 percent.) Nothing in the study connected immigration to the federal budget deficit, which at $477 billion is approximately seven times as large as the alleged impact of immigration on native income. So why does O’Reilly think you should bring up this study when someone mentions the deficit? Apparently because illegal immigrants are a handy scapegoat for any problem, no matter how unrelated.