What? Journalists Lie?

OReilly-Williams

As you’ve no doubt heard, NBC news anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for stretching the truth about his coverage of Iraq. Which just goes to prove that them librul journalists are all nothing but a pack of liars. (NBC is librul, of course; every network is assumed librul unless it proves otherwise by bashing Obama to a sufficient degree, and then it can be safely classified as fair and balanced.) And in the frenzy over that revelation, it has surfaced that Fox’s Bill O’Reilly is also guilty of padding his resume several times. Which just goes to show that them libruls have no compunctions about maliciously spreading the truth if it helps their cause.

And although it hasn’t received nearly as much attention, it happens that at least one more Foxer has been tipping the liar meter quite a bit for self-promotion: one Emily Miller has built a career out of an anecdote about a terrifying home invasion she supposedly experienced, but actually didn’t. Which just goes to show that them librulz… well, something or other. In any case, it’s all left a lot of people wondering to what extent journalists can be trusted, anyway.

If I absolutely had to answer that difficult question, I’d probably say something to the effect that I believe most journalists are trustworthy most of the time — and I say this having had a bit of experience as a journalist myself. Nonetheless, I know that inaccurate information does get reported; it’s just not easy to know exactly how often, even in this Age Of Google.

I’ve also been on the receiving end, having been written about in a fair number of media stories. And while the information reported in those stories was about 98 percent accurate, virtually every story contained at least one error — even when the writer had actually interviewed me. Usually, they were minor details that almost nobody but me would know about. And they were honest mistakes, generally the result of connecting dots that had no business being connected. Still, it makes you wonder how frequently the same sort of thing happens to reporters facing a blazing hot deadline to cover breaking news events.

But the fuss isn’t really about mistakes committed because journalists are human. It’s about deliberate misrepresentations such as those committed by Williams and O’Reilly. And with some frequency or other, they do indeed occur.

In 1981, Janet Cooke was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for a story she wrote for the Washington Post about an 8-year-old heroin addict named Jimmy. But she was stripped of her prize when the story turned out be just that. Jimmy was a figment of her imagination. Perhaps she felt justified with the fabrication because Jimmy represented certain genuine cases. But further investigation revealed that she’d also fabricated part of her own credentials and experience.

Many years ago when I was living in San Francisco, a respected dance critic was fired after writing a review of a performance he apparently didn’t attend. Had he done this kind of thing before? Quite possibly. This time he was caught only because he criticized a couple of dancers who, as it turns out, had been replaced at the last minute. Oops.

Ironically, this critic wrote for the S.F. Chronicle, which shortly thereafter was acquired by the Hearst Corporation. That’s Hearst as in William Randolph, who set an astoundingly high bar for journalistic disintegrity.  Although his reputed quote to the effect that “you furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war” is possibly apocryphal, it does give a good indication of his actual attitude, influence and modus operandi. Whether he uttered the statement or not, his propaganda did, to an extent, “furnish” action in the Spanish-American War.

In 1941, cinematic wunderkind Orson Welles produced, co-wrote, directed and starred in Citizen Kane, which many critics regard as the greatest movie of all time. But since the story appears to have been loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper baron did not take kindly to it, and barred the film from being so much as mentioned in his media properties. He also had his journalists repeatedly libel Welles, and he lobbied the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to avoid bestowing honors on the film. Not only did the “Greatest Film Of All Time” fail to win the Oscar for best picture, but Welles was even booed whenever his name was mentioned during the ceremony that year.

Hearst also waged a sensationalized crusade against marijuana, as did much of the media in his time — though the popular notion that it was fueled by a desire to eliminate hemp as a cheaper alternative to paper is highly dubious. Still, he was definitely a titan of yellow journalism and a highly vindictive practitioner of smear tactics. He was, in short, the Rupert Murdoch of his day.

Speaking of whom, it’s a sign of the times that there is so much focus being directed on the efforts of talking heads to swell their heads even bigger, and so little focus on the more pervasive falsehoods that potentially have much more impact on us all. By all indications, Fox lies far more often than any other network — which is hardly surprising, since Fox is only marginally a news network, and it’s questionable whether its personalities can even be classified as journalists. Politifact has found in recent cursory evaluations that Fox lied, at least in part, about 60 percent of the time. Another estimate has the network lying more than 80 percent of the time. (And bear in mind that its few truthful utterances include those that depart from its normal ideology.)

Jon Stewart (what a void he is going to leave) responded to Fox’s pot-and-kettle accusations that he had been lying by challenging them to a “lie-off”, and producing a clip of 50 Fox lies in 6 seconds. Of course the 50 lies had been gleaned from a much longer time span than 6 seconds; but as you may recall, I previously found 8 lies in a real-time Fox clip of just under two minutes. And it was a clip chosen essentially at random.

Stewart also bemoans the tortuous pretzels that the official story often gets twisted into in order to accommodate extreme right-wing dogma:

Fifteen states have approved Voter ID laws in the absence of any meaningful evidence of voter fraud. An Oklahoma state committee voted to ban AP history for not sugar coating slavery enough. Abstinence is approved sex education. Scientific fact isn’t reported now. It’s debated.

Actually, it’s even worse than Stewart indicates. We’ve reached the point that virtually any fact is considered negotiable; many people seem to have the attitude that evolution and global warming will just disappear if we have strong enough opinions about them. You’ve probably heard a lot about the “debate” over global warming and the “debate” over vaccines. In reality, there is no debate on either subject. There are only arrogant and gullible individuals who are convinced they know more than the experts. And in order to reinforce that belief, they are quite willing to latch onto whatever falsehoods the hucksters toss their way.

So let’s see now. We get a whole lot of media focus on Brian Williams. Much less on Bill O’Reilly. Less still on Emily Miller. And (aside from media watchdog sites on the left) damn little about Fox’s relentless dishonesty. Could it be that there is more attention paid to “liberal” dishonesty and considerably less to “conservative” dishonesty. Nah, can’t be. We all know that there’s an overwhelming librul bias to the media, right? So what’s the alternative? That the more trivial a lie is, the brighter the spotlight on it?

In light of the persistent and consistent record of Fox mendacity, it might seem a bit trifling to make such an opera out of a couple of TV personalities fibbing to boost their credentials. But they do say that sunshine is the best disinfectant; and maybe, just maybe, airing out the relatively petty transgressions of Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly will lead to some level of accountability for Fox. But my advice, for what it’s worth, is not to suspend all respiration until it happens.

Don’t Like History? Just Rewrite it!

“We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term.” — Dana Perino, Fox “News”

“I don’t remember any terrorist attacks on American soil during that time (2000-2008)”.   — Eric Bolling, Fox “News”

(Bolling later explained that he meant post 9-11. He was still ignoring a number of attacks, including three that the Bush administration itself labeled as terrorist.)

“Obama often complains about the problems he inherited from George W. Bush, but he also inherited a record of zero successful attacks on America after 9/11.”  — Michael Goodwin, NY Post

“The Bush administration had seven years after 9-11, no successful attacks in the United States.”  –Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post (speaking on Fox “News”)

“We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We’ve had one under Obama.” — Rudy Giuliani (yes, THAT Rudy Giuliani)

(NOTE: The one “attack” under Obama was actually a FOILED plot – which under a Democratic president counts as a failure rather than a success. During the Bush administration, on the other hand, there was the foiled “shoe bomber” plot, which counts as a resounding triumph for him, and therefore is not included in the attack tally by Giuliani or the others.)

The Great Tea Party Scam: The 5 Top Myths

As you may have noticed, the Tea Party is rapidly drying up. Well, maybe you haven’t noticed, since there isn’t nearly as much media fanfare about its demise as there was about its ascendancy. And let’s face it, the media hype hasn’t exactly been honest and accurate. In fact, few movements, if any, have ever depended more on deception to gain support. Here are the five most common myths you’ll hear about the tea brigade.

Myth # 1: It’s a new faction.
The Tea Party believes that taxes are evil, government regulation of business is evil, secularism is evil, and above all “liberals” are evil. And guns are supremely good. If this sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same sermon that radical Republicans have been preaching for years. So what exactly is new?

Myth # 2 : It represents a large segment of the American public.

Depending on the poll, as little as TWO PERCENT of the American public consider themselves members of the Tea Party (which in fact, is not even a single organization, but several groups sharing the same ideology). A larger percentage (25-30) of Americans have voiced support for some of the Tea Party’s stated objectives, but that covers a broad swath – and bear in mind that its claimed objectives and its actual objectives don’t necessarily mesh. The movement’s decline is probably due to the fact that people have discovered that Tea Partiers are really just radical Republicans in populist garb. Oh, and if you’ve ever enjoyed trying to find Waldo, you might want to study photos and videos of Tea Party rallies and attempt to spot minority faces.

Myth # 3 : It’s a grassroots movement.

The genuine grassroots movement is an endangered species these days, and the Tea Party is not exactly a preserve. Sure, there were a handful of “tea party” and “tax day” protests that sprang up spontaneously. That had been going on for years. But it didn’t become a full-blown movement, much less an official organization, until the media began loudly beating the drum – first right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin and then, immediately, Fox “News”, which has promoted Tea Party events relentlessly. (And by “promote”, we don’t just mean giving coverage to events that had already happened, but giving advance notice for future events and urging people to attend.)  One organization that got the kettle boiling was FreedomWorks (Notice how extremist groups like to co-opt noble words like freedom, liberty, and family?) This right-wing think tank is the brainchild of former congressman Dick Armey, a classic Texas Republican. Additionally, the movement has been heavily funded by a number of right-wing interests, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, who never spare any expense to provide the best democracy money can buy.

Myth # 4: They’re protesting higher taxes.

According to one poll, 44% of Tea Partiers believed that President Obama had raised their taxes, while 34% believed that he’d kept them about the same. Only 2% were aware (or just made a lucky guess) that he’d actually LOWERED their taxes. In fact, taxes in 2009 under Obama and the heavily Democratic Congress were the lowest they’d been since 1971 – that’s THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS, folks. Of course, that applies only to 98% of the population. Taxes indeed were increased on the richest 2% – which, by some wild coincidence, is the bracket to which the Tea Party masterminds belong.

Myth # 5: They’re doing what those guys in Boston did.

The protestors in Boston weren’t just opposing taxes. They were opposing a monopoly on tea that the crown had granted the British East India Company, the Wal-Mart of its day, which would have been able to jack up tea prices as high as it wanted. Given the fondness for unfettered corporatism demonstrated by today’s Tea Partiers, it’s likely that if those guys from Boston showed up at a Tea Party rally today, they’d be branded socialists and possibly subjected to violence.

Shooting the Messenger: More on Stewart/ PolitiFact/ Fox

One of the occupational hazards of telling people what they don’t want to hear is that it invites attacks. Particularly if you’re telling them that certain beliefs they cherish, and perhaps have cherished for years, are erroneous. I’ve already fielded a few attacks on this rather young and mild-mannered blog. So as you can imagine, a public figure like Jon Stewart is going to receive his share of harsh backlash. And when he dared criticize fairandbalanced Fox “News”, it’s not surprising that there were people out there who wanted to question his credibility. It’s worth taking a look at some of the techniques they used, since this is by no means the only time you’ll ever see them.

The Singular Standard

For one thing, some of his critics seem to have forgotten that Stewart is a humorist, and instead treated him like a journalist. Which is to say that rather than looking at his larger point that Fox “consistently” misleads viewers, they focused on whether his claim that this is reflected in “every poll” on “every issue” is literally accurate. Perhaps this is because they were under the mistaken impression he was speaking on a bona fide news program, rather than as a guest on Fox, where anything goes. In any case, fair enough, I guess. After all, Stewart, though he (to the best of my knowledge) has never painted himself as a journalist,  is considerably more accurate than many who do. And if you think I’m nodding in particular toward the TV network he was commenting on, you must be psychic.

Bait and Switch

Trouble is, PolitiFact’s criticism didn’t exactly address the same thing that Stewart’s remark did. Stewart said Fox’s viewers were the most MISINFORMED. Politifact cited polls to establish that they are not necessarily the most UNINFORMED (or “ill-informed”, which they were using in the same sense).  Two different things. Uninformed is not knowing things that are true. Misinformed is “knowing” things that are not true. Fox may correctly tell its viewers that Lincoln is the capital of Nebraska, but it also tells them (far more often) that global warming is a liberal hoax, and scientists can’t be trusted. An uninformed/ ill-informed person might not know who the president of the United States is. A misinformed person may know, but also may believe he’s a socialist/Nazi/Muslim/satanist.

Selective Reading

In addition to a misreading of the word “misinformed” there was a selective reading of the word “every”, which can be interpreted in at least a couple of different ways. I call them the comprehensive (Every state has its own flag.) and the cumulative (Every time I forget my umbrella, it rains.).  In other words, “every” may mean either “all” or “each”. Did Stewart mean all polls on all possible issues? Not bloody likely, since he surely realizes that it would be virtually impossible to devise a poll covering every possible issue – and if you did it would be so damn lengthy no one would sit still to answer it. Most likely, he meant that each poll conducted reveals Fox viewers to be among the most misinformed on each topic covered. But some, apparently having intimate knowledge of the inner workings of his psyche, insist that not only did he mean the first sense, but he was deliberately misrepresenting the facts; in other words HE was the one lying! It’s somewhat like saying, “Every skunk I smell causes me to throw up”, and then me saying, “Liar! You haven’t even smelled every skunk.”

Sleight of Hand

As you well might expect, another ploy has been to question the credibility of the polls themselves. Well hey, that’s not such a bad idea. Sometimes polls are untrustworthy because of faulty methodology or deliberate bias or both. But this becomes considerably less likely when a number of polls stack up in the same direction. One critic of Stewart found one poll particularly questionable because it gauged Fox viewers’ misinformation on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But, notes this commentator, Iraq did possess such weapons once upon a time, and furthermore, they still had some just before the U.S. invasion. (How do we know this? Because he says so!)

It turns out, however, that the poll he references actually asked whether WMD’s were FOUND in Iraq AFTER the U.S. invasion. The correct answer, I suppose, is that it depends on what the definition of “is” is.  I suppose that if the Iraq Survey Group had found thousands of skeletons in body armor, Fox could have argued that they constituted a mighty army. What they found was nothing that qualified as an active WMD, nor as evidence that a WMD program was still in place. They only found impotent remnants of chemical weapons that had been stashed for a decade or so, and which the ISG and the CIA determined were of no military value. But Fox, of course, knows better, and so do its viewers.  Just as they do on numerous other issues, including some covered in that very same poll.

Red Herrings and Straw Men and Tangents, Oh My

Oh yes, and there was even the suggestion that Fox shouldn’t be given credit for the lies it relentlessly promotes if someone on its payroll didn’t actually originate them. C’mon, do I really need to comment on that??? True, Fox didn’t invent the Death Panel rumor. Nor, for that matter, did one of Fox’s specific components, one Sarah Palin. That honor apparently belongs to Betsy McGaughey, a former director for (Surprise!) medical supply corporations. But she only said it a few times, and how many people have even heard of Betsy McGaughey? Fox has repeated it dozens if not hundreds of times, and how many people are familiar with Fox?

This is probably not an exhaustive list of the smear tactics used against Stewart, mind you. It’s just a suggestion of a few things to look for as you hear this thing they call a debate.

A New Record for Lying?

climategate

Call Guinness World Records. We have a stupendous achievement to report that surely must set a new standard.

 

It happened Nov. 19 on Fox News (sic) when two lieutenants of the network’s pinocchio platoon, Sean Hannity and Brent Bozell, were posing as the ultimate experts on climate change (Is there anything these people are not experts on?) and discussing the faux scandal of “Climategate”. Within the space of just under two minutes, they managed to squeeze in at least 10 lies. That’s an average of at least one lie every 15 seconds! Surely this outdoes their previous record – although at the rate they’re going, this one won’t stand long, either.

 

To be fair, some of these lies were repetitions or paraphrases of what they’d already lied before. On the other hand, our count includes only statements uttered by these two learned gentlemen.  And it doesn’t even include the unintentional punchline at the end.

 

Be warned that if you watch this video, you may need to have your brain sprayed with Lysol afterward. You may think that your ears are playing tricks on you. But unlike many videos aired on Fox, this one has not been doctored.

 

Fox. The most trusted name in news.