Many observers wrote off PolitiFact, a group that claims to rate the relative accuracy of political claims, when it declared (12/20/11) that the “Lie of the Year” in 2011 was a statement—”Republicans voted to end Medicare” —that was actually true (Political Animal, 12/20/11).
The group provided more evidence that it has jumped the shark when it evaluated Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s claim that “the majority of Americans are conservatives.” PolitiFact Florida (2/14/12) cited Gallup polls showing that 40 percent of Americans describe themselves as conservative—and, based on this, declared Rubio’s statement to be “Mostly True.” The group’s Bill Adair explained (Politico, 2/15/12), “We felt that while the number was short of a majority, it was still a plurality.” The group later changed its evaluation of Rubio’s statement to “Half True”—as if a plurality were still kind of a majority.
Clearly consistency isn’t PolitiFact’s strong suit. As Jamison Foser (Twitter, 2/15/12) pointed out, when Ron Paul suggested that a majority of Americans favored the gold standard, the group’s Texas affiliate (1/3/12) ruled this was “False.” Why? Because “44 percent isn’t a majority.”
Why Me, Wonders Apple’s Favorite Reporter
When Apple offered ABC’s Bill Weir an exclusive glimpse of Foxconn, the Chinese factory complex where iPhones are made under reportedly abusive conditions (Extra!, 3/12), Weir (ABCNews.com, 2/20/12) wondered publicly why Apple picked him. Was it because “I’ve said nice things about their products on the air”? Because “ABC News is owned by the Disney Corporation and Disney CEO Bob Iger serves on the Apple board of directors”? Because “the Steve Jobs Trust is Disney’s largest shareholder”? No, it must be because “they enjoy Nightline,” since “the first three would have no bearing on my reporting and I’m pretty sure Apple knows it.”
Or maybe Apple execs saw Weir’s softball coverage of Walmart in China (ABC World News, 9/20/05; Extra!, 11-12/05), where he gushed that “China’s exploding middle class is discovering the novelty of free samples and a wide selection of everything,” and glossed over the company’s obsession with low wages by noting approvingly that at Walmart, “it’s not who you know, it’s what you know about keeping costs down.” No doubt they also caught Nightline’s coverage (10/5/11; Extra!, 12/11) of Steve Jobs’ death, when Weir said the late CEO “was our Edison, our Disney, our Da Vinci.”
When ‘Scrutiny’ Is Conducted by B-52
The New York Times (2/15/12) warned readers about Iran’s nuclear power program: “The new uranium enrichment plant, known as Fordo, has raised Western concerns because it is buried deep underground, making it more impervious to scrutiny.” Which is strange, because Fordo is regularly visited by UN inspectors (Just Foreign Policy, 1/11/12), as Times reporter Rick Gladstone seemed to be aware, since he wrote a few paragraphs later, “Last month, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, confirmed that Iran had started uranium enrichment at Fordo.”
The Times’ specialized usage of the word “scrutiny” was clarified by a New York Times Magazine article (1/29/12), which explained that Fordo is “in a bunker that Israeli intelligence estimates is 220 feet deep, beyond the reach of even the most advanced bunker-busting bombs possessed by the United States.” That’s apparently the kind of “scrutiny” that Fordo is impervious to.
Elsewhere in the paper, the Times (2/15/12) noted that “Iranian saber-rattling is increasing the sense of instability in the Middle East.”
Anonymous Smears Defend Attacks on Civilians
When the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a British media group, put out a report (2/4/12) on civilian drone victims, the New York Times (2/6/12) wrote up its findings that “the CIA’s drone strikes on suspected militants in Pakistan have repeatedly targeted rescuers who responded to the scene of a strike, as well as mourners at subsequent funerals.”
Reporter Scott Shane, however, felt compelled to quote an unnamed “senior American counterterrorism official” in response, who retorted: “One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions—there are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al-Qaeda succeed.”
The Times officially forbids the granting of anonymity “as cover for a personal or partisan attack.” But how about to smear critics of U.S. policies as terrorist sympathizers?
Color Me Skeptical
“It’s unfortunate that the experience in Iraq has so colored the debate on Iran, as to perhaps make it more
difficult to focus on what the real issues are,” complained NBC reporter Michael Isikoff (Huffington Post, 2/17/12). “People who are skeptical about claims about an Iranian nuclear program will point to the Iraq experience.” If only we could have an Iran debate uncolored by a recent reminder that government lies can kill hundreds of thousands of people.
Anthony Shadid, 1968-2012
The death of foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid shook people throughout the journalism world. He was a peerless chronicler and interpreter of events in the Arab world, from the Iraq War to the uprisings of the Arab Spring. It has been said that one of corporate media’s greatest failures in wartime is the tendency to cover conflicts from the perspective of U.S. bombs as they are launched, telling us little about what happens to the people living where they land. Those were the stories that Anthony Shadid brought the world, in the pages of the Washington Post and New York Times. His work speaks for itself.
Less well-known was Shadid’s openness and accessibility, even with those who take a very critical view of the media outlets he worked for. Shadid told stories of pushing back at his editors at the Times. And you got a clear sense that Shadid felt that being an Arab-American reporter for the most powerful newspaper in the world informed his work, giving it a deeper mission and urgency. As journalist Nir Rosen put it, Shadid “had the clout to humanize Arabs or let them speak directly.” We hear that reporters shouldn’t have a point of view, but Anthony Shadid most certainly did—and it is part of what made him a great reporter.—Peter Hart (CounterSpin, 2/24/12)