May 1 2009


Racism? Not a Problem!

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (5/5/09) used the recent Frank Ricci Supreme Court case to attack affirmative action: “The justification for affirmative action gets weaker and weaker. Maybe once it was possible to argue that some innocent people had to suffer in the name of progress, but a glance at the White House strongly suggests that things have changed. For most Americans, race has become supremely irrelevant. Everyone knows this. Every poll shows this. Maybe the Supreme Court will recognize this.”

Affirmative action was never solely about racism—though corporate media have long talked as though it were (Extra!, 1-2/99). But to Cohen’s main point: Every poll shows that race is irrelevant? His own paper recently asked people about this in a poll (1/13-16/09); 74 percent thought it was a “big problem” or “somewhat of a problem,” while another 22 percent thought it was a “small problem.” Richard Cohen appears to be in the 4 percent who don’t think that racism is a problem at all anymore. The other 96 percent of us wish him luck in his journey back to the real world.

AP’s Fractured Fact-Check

Associated Press reporter Calvin Woodward has a history of straining to catch Barack Obama in factual errors (FAIR Blog, 10/30/08, 2/25/09). But Woodward’s review (4/29/09) of Obama’s April 28 press conference explored new realms of absurdity. Under the headline “Fact Check: Obama Disowns Deficit He Helped Shape,” the reporter took issue with Obama’s statement: “Number one, we inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit…. That wasn’t me.” AP’s criticism: “It actually was him—and the other Democrats controlling Congress the previous two years—who shaped a budget so out of balance. Congress controls the purse strings, not the president, and it was under Democratic control for Obama’s last two years as Illinois senator.” Well, if an Illinois senator bears more responsibility for the federal budget than the president, why is Woodward wasting his time covering what President Obama has to say about the budget? Shouldn’t he be interviewing Roland Burris instead?

From the ‘Left,’ Support for Torturers

When NewsHour left/right panelists Mark Shields and David Brooks were off on April 17, the PBS news show got former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson to sit in on the right. The “left,” meanwhile, was represented by Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, who warned Barack Obama right after his election of the “steep political price of governing in a way that is, or seems, skewed to the left” (11/5/08).

Marcus re-established her credentials as a media pseudo-leftist by praising Obama’s bravery for not only releasing Bush administration torture memos (which opened him to “criticism from the right”) but also for refusing to prosecute anyone who actually committed torture, by which “he opened himself up to a firestorm of criticism from the left… I know actually how much criticism you can get for this, because I wrote a few months ago that I didn’t think these folks should be prosecuted, and I was called a torture-enabler. And I don’t think of myself that way.”

In a world where torturers don’t think of themselves as torturers, you wouldn’t expect torture-enablers to think of themselves as torture-enablers. But what else are you supposed to call people who argue that laws against torture shouldn’t be enforced?

USA Today and the Meaning of Dissent

USA Today had a remarkable headline (4/29/09) on a story about Pennsylvania’s Sen. Arlen Specter switching from the Republican to the Democratic Party: “Leaving GOP, Specter Gives Dems a Boost in Stifling Dissent.” The headline mistakes the meaning of the word “dissent,” which is the expression of opposition to ruling policies, not the ability to prevent policies from being enacted even when they’re supported by a majority of elected representatives.

This same misunderstanding is found in the article itself, which reports, “As a minority in the House and without the votes to filibuster the Senate, Republicans would find it harder to block Democratic initiatives or even be heard.” Actually, each side does get a chance to debate in the Senate, even when there is no filibuster; if corporate media won’t cover the views of elected critics who don’t have the power to block legislation, that would seem to be a problem of—well, of media like USA Today that don’t understand what “dissent” means.

Wanted: More Than an Official Echo Chamber

On April 9 Washington Post reporter Paul Kane proffered what blogger Matthew Yglesias (4/9/09) aptly called a “full-throated defense of journalism-as-stenography.” Kane had been criticized by Media Matters for his story earlier that day that quoted Sen. Olympia Snowe (R.-Maine) as saying that Barack Obama’s use of the filibuster-avoiding budget reconciliation tool would make it “infinitely more difficult to bridge the partisan divide,” without noting that Snowe had backed budget reconciliation when it was used by George W. Bush. Asked in a chat to defend himself against this criticism, Kane responded:

“I’m sorry, what’s to defend? Someone tell Media Matters to get over themselves and their overblown ego of righteousness. We reported what Olympia Snowe said. That’s what she said. That’s what Republicans are saying. I really don’t know what you want of us. We are not opinion writers whose job is to play some sorta gotcha game with lawmakers.”

It’s a little dismaying to have to explain this to a professional journalist, but what we want them to do is to examine official claims and put them in context. It’s not clear why society would need the kind of institution that Kane thinks he works for; if we just want to find out what Olympia Snowe said, we can sign up for her RSS feed.

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July 2009 / May 2009