Media Moments That Didn't Smell Right
—Magical Politicians Award: Mark Halperin
On NBC‘s Meet the Press (11/10/13), Time reporter Mark Halperin had this to say about New Jersey’s Republican governor: “Chris Christie is someone who is magical in the way politicians can be magical, like our last three presidents.”
–The Sponsors Speak Award: PBS
The January 23 episode of PBS series Nova was a mostly upbeat report on drones and surveillance. What viewers may not have known about “Rise of the Drones” was that it was funded in part by Lockheed Martin–the giant aerospace corporation that just happens to be a major drone manufacturer.
When it appeared that the US would carry out a military attack on Syria, some CNN reporters stepped right into Pentagon PR mode. Anchor Brooke Baldwin (8/30/13) declared that US warships “can carry cruise missiles able to strike targets more than 1,000 miles away with pinpoint accuracy.” A few days later, CNN correspondent Tom Foreman (9/2/13) told viewers: “Cruise missiles are extraordinary weapons. They’re very reliable. They have pinpoint accuracy.”
–The Richard Cohen Award: Richard Cohen
The Washington Post columnist attempted to write a piece (11/11/13) about the GOP and racism–but wound up revealing his own: “People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York–a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children…. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.” This wasn’t Cohen’s only racist outburst this year; this summer (7/16/13), he said that while he was sorry that Trayvon Martin had been gunned down, he was “wearing a uniform we all recognize.”
–Misremembering Thatcher Award: David Ignatius, John Burns
When former conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died in April, pundits lined up to pay tribute. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius (4/10/13) wrote that he saw Thatcher “take down the British class system.” He cheered that “the upper classes became porous” and “life became a Ralph Lauren ad.” And the New York Times‘ John Burns (PBS NewsHour, 4/9/13) recalled: “The Britain I grew up in, in the wake of the Second World War, was a country which was in precipitous decline, which had entirely lost its national self-confidence. And Mrs. Thatcher put that right.” (In the actual England under Thatcher, inequality and poverty increased markedly–Guardian, 4/8/13.)
-‘Both Sides’ Want to Cut Social Security Award: David Brooks and Mark Shields
On the PBS NewsHour (4/12/13), conservative David Brooks thought Barack Obama’s proposal to cut Social Security was “brave” and a “move to the center.” And the PBS version of the left, Mark Shields, thought it was “gutsy…. He should get credit for doing something bold and difficult.”
-Short Memory Award: Joe Scarborough
MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough (3/19/13) marked the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion by heaping scorn on media outlets like the New York Times that failed to acknowledge their responsibility for leading the country into war: “The very same people who spent years beating up George Bush were the very ones beating the drum for Iraq’s regime change and Saddam Hussein’s ouster.”
But 10 years earlier, Scarborough (4/9/03) criticized media for not being pro-war enough: “I doubt that the journalists at the New York Times and NPR or at ABC or at CNN are going to ever admit just how wrong their negative pronouncements were over the past four weeks.” The next day (4/10/03), he declared, “I’m waiting to hear the words ‘I was wrong’ from some of the world’s most elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types…. Their wartime predictions were arrogant, they were misguided and they were dead wrong. Maybe, just maybe, these self-anointed critics will learn from their mistakes.”
—Know Your Enemy Award: David Gregory, Michael Grunwald
To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?
On Twitter, Time correspondent Michael Grunwald (8/17/13) mused: “I can’t wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange,” referring to the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief. Grunwald later deleted the tweet (NewYorker.com, 8/18/13), citing the argument that “it gives Assange supporters a nice safe persecution complex to hide in.”
–Everyone (I Know) Is Rich: David Gregory
During a discussion of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), NBC‘s Meet the Press host David Gregory (7/7/13) said that while he wasn’t sure how the law would work out, he did know one thing: “Anybody who gets a paycheck in this country understands one thing, that there’s a new line item. And it says Medicare surtax.”
Actually, that additional Medicare tax doesn’t apply to “anybody who gets a paycheck”—it applies to people making over $200,000, who are in the top 2 percent of household income.
Fareed Zakaria dedicated a portion of his October 13 CNN show to a discussion of income inequality and the second anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. But he didn’t bring any Occupy activists or advocates for the poor to the discussion; instead, he talked with three CEOs: Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, Duke Energy’s Jim Rogers and Digicel’s Denis O’Brien.
–Not Enough Skyscrapers Award: AP’s Pamela Sampson
After the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Associated Press business reporter Pamela Sampson (3/5/13) offered this assessment:
Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.
That’s right–who would want to provide for the poor when you could build a really tall building?
–Big News Out of Iran Award: Brian Williams
The NBC Nightly News anchor (9/27/13) saw a big shift coming from new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani: “This is all part of a new leadership effort by Iran, suddenly claiming they don’t want nuclear weapons.” That “sudden” shift is nonexistent, though–Iran’s leaders have long made the same claim that they are not seeking nuclear weapons. In fact, Williams knows this–he reported it himself, once telling viewers (9/19/06) that the previous president’s claim that Iran was “not working to manufacture a bomb” was also “a new stance that we witnessed here today.”
–Send a Union-Busting Message Award: Chris Matthews
During a discussion about how the Obama administration should control the scandals swirling around the White House, MSNBC‘s Chris Matthews (Hardball, 5/14/13) brought up one president who did it right: Ronald Reagan, when he broke the PATCO air traffic controllers union in 1981:
I think actions speak louder than words. And I got to tell you something. When Reagan broke the PATCO strike and fired them all for breaking their oaths, everybody in the world, including the people in Moscow, got the word…. It’s one of the reasons we ended the Cold War, because they knew we had a strong president.
–Deadly Website Award: Michael Shear
The botched rollout of the Healthcare.gov website was certainly widely covered, but it was New York Times reporter Michael Shear who thought it could be compared to a deadly hurricane that killed nearly 2,000 people (11/15/13):
The disastrous rollout of his health care law…raises questions about his competence in the same way that the Bush administration’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina undermined any semblance of Republican efficiency.
Who exactly was raising this question? Shear attributes it to…a former adviser to George W. Bush. But the website = Katrina line was soon everywhere–which seemed absurd, until NBC‘s David Gregory explained that the more apt comparison would be the Iraq War (FAIR Blog, 11/18/13).