Apr 1 2004


No Reason for Skepticism

New York Times assistant managing editor for “standards” Allan M. Siegal was asked on NPR‘s On the Media (3/5/04) whether his paper should have been more skeptical of the anonymous U.S. government accounts of the removal of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. “There was no reason at that time to be skeptical about it,” Siegal replied. “I don’t think there were sources available to give us any other version.”

Siegal’s boss, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., expressed a similarly credulous standard in explaining why he doesn’t blame reporter Judith Miller for falsely reporting that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons: “The administration was wrong. And when you’re covering it from the inside like that you’re going to get things wrong sometimes,” he told a journalism class (Editor & Publisher, 3/23/04). “I blame the administration for believing its own story line to such a point that they weren’t prepared to question the authenticity of what they were told.” Apparently, though, it’s not the standard of the Times to require journalists to question the authenticity of what they are told.

No Desire to Argue

“I think we were very deferential because…it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on primetime live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.”

New York Times White House correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller, on coverage of Bush before the Iraq war (Baltimore Sun, 3/22/04)

No Need to Pay Attention

“I have a confession to make: I am the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times and I didn’t listen to one second of the 9/11 hearings and I didn’t read one story in the paper about them. Not one second. Not one story. Lord knows, it’s not out of indifference to 9/11. It’s because I made up my mind about that event a long time ago: It was not a failure of intelligence, it was a failure of imagination.”

–Thomas Friedman (New York Times, 3/28/04)

Everyday People

Fox News Sunday (3/21/04), on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s decision not to recuse himself from a case involving his friend Dick Cheney after the two took part in a hunting trip together:

Ceci Connolly, Washington Post: I mean, Scalia says this was not an intimate setting. But let’s face it: How many of us ride on Air Force Two with the vice president…?

Brit Hume, Fox News: Lots of us. Lots of us. Reporters, are you kidding? All the time.

“Few” Is Relative

When Bill Moyers announced he would leave his PBS show, NOW, in November, the news brought smiles to the faces of some right-wingers, who had criticized the show as being progressive–apparently a no-no on television. Fox News Channel‘s Bill O’Reilly pointed out on his February 20 broadcast that “our pal, Bill Moyers, is quitting his show over at PBS. Few people watch it.” The day before O’Reilly’s crack, the Associated Press (2/19/04) noted that NOW gets about 2.6 million viewers. According to Nielsen ratings for December 2003 (Daily Variety, 12/5/03), O’Reilly’s own O’Reilly Factor typically attracts about 2 million–or about two-thirds of the audience Moyers has.

Selective Outrage

Bill O’Reilly has been warning viewers lately about a “fifth column of so-called journalists in the elite media…working for the Democratic Party” (3/23/04). On his March 22 broadcast, he offered as evidence the “stunning admission” that a number of journalists–largely opinion columnists–had met in an apartment with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. “Can you imagine,” asked O’Reilly, “if the president of the Fox News Channel and the editor of the Wall Street Journal met with President Bush in some apartment some place? There’d be outrage.” Actually, about three weeks earlier, the Washington Post had reported (3/3/04) that Bush had held “an unusual 80-minute session in the Oval Office with five network correspondents who agreed that his comments would not be directly quoted or attributed to him…. In the view of the White House and by the agreement of the networks, the conversation never officially occurred.” Perhaps this meeting didn’t provoke “outrage”–from O’Reilly or anyone else–because it didn’t take place in an apartment.

One Out of Two’s Not Bad

“Most Economists Credit Bush’s Tax Cuts in Rebound” was the headline from a February 17 USA Today report. That’s a provocative headline–but the story that followed used exactly two economists to back it up. One, Goldman Sachs’ Ed McKelvey, said that the cuts were one contributing factor in the recent higher economic growth rate–though he also warned that they could hurt the economy in the longer term by increasing deficits. The other economist quoted on whether the tax cuts sparked a rebound was Harvard’s Benjamin Friedman, who told USA Today: “There were so many things going on over the past few years. Disentangling them is extremely difficult–almost impossible.” But it seems it’s not impossible to generalize about “most economists” based on a sample of two.