The Swiftboating of CNN: “Working the Refs”

 

 

CNN

He’s at it again. Apparently immune to self-humiliation, a certain self-described “citizen journalist” with a long history of producing dishonest and deceptively edited videos has released another one. His previous efforts have gotten him arrested, sued, forced to pay $100,000, and repeatedly debunked and proclaimed a sham even by (some of) his fellow right-wing fanatics. But he still gets plenty of media exposure for being a fraudulent hack, so he still keeps doing it.  And this time he has a target that his fans are particularly eager to pounce on: CNN.

It’s astounding, and slightly amusing in a perverse way, to hear how often people peg CNN as a staunchly “liberal” network, whatever that means. Mention to one of your right-wing friends or relatives what a cesspool Fox “News” is, and chances are the Pavlovian response will be something like “Oh yeah? Well what about CNN?” During the recent presidential campaign it was common for reactionaries to refer to it as the Clinton News Network. And the current White House Occupant himself, who simply parrots brainlessly whatever he hears from the loony fringe media, has declared the network to be “fake news” and barred it from media conferences.

All of which is supremely ironic; CNN is also a frequent target of criticism by Media Matters, which is devoted to exposing “conservative misinformation”.  In fact, almost every day, Media Matters documents at least one instance of right-wing bias at CNN — evidently the highest frequency of any non-Fox media source. Furthermore, CNN has hired two of the White House Occupant’s lackeys as commentators. And lest we forget, it gave us a decade or so of Lou Dobbs, who, while nominally a centrist, railed against President Obama in a manner reminiscent of Father Coughlin railing against FDR, and now has found a home at Fox. CNN also has offered a frequent platform to the likes of George Will, Robert Novak, Charles Krauthammer, William Bennett, Jonah Goldberg, Tucker Carlson, and even Pat Robertson and Ann Coulter.

Of course, the network also has its instances of left-wing bias. But that’s just the point. Whatever its shortcomings may be as a journalistic source (and it does indeed have some) it’s rather balanced ideologically.  The Pew Research Center ranked it slightly left of center based on the ideology of the average viewer:

Network bias

And bear in mind that such a criterion as viewership probably makes CNN seem more left-leaning that it really is, since progressive (“liberal”) viewers face more limited options — as witness the domination of the media landscape by a rabid Fox,  which sends other networks scrambling to match its strides.

So why would the right-wing punditocracy single out such a relatively middle-of-the-road network to externally brand as the flagship of the legendary (and largely mythical) librulmedia? Simple: precisely because it is relatively middle-of-the-road. Establishing CNN as a benchmark for “liberal bias” by playing up its leftward tilts and ignoring its rightward tilts, the manipulators hope to utterly discredit anything even slightly left of center.

Immediately after the fraudulent anti-CNN video was released, White House spokesbot Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared that any media criticizing her president is “fake news” and in almost the same breath urged everyone to watch the video, “whether it’s accurate or not”. The head can’t stop reeling from the bombardment of irony these days.

Meanwhile, the White House exploited the video in a fundraising letter (Fundraising?? Wasn’t the point of electing a pampered billionaire so the president wouldn’t be so dependent on the public’s money?), citing it as proof that CNN is “pushing phony news stories to boost their ratings, rile up their (wait for it) rabid liberal base, and take us down”.

It’s a tactic that Eric Alterman describes nicely in his book What Liberal Media?, which is well summed up in a column at The Nation. (It is Alterman, by the way, from whom I have borrowed the strikingly appropriate term punditocracy.) He quotes then-chair of the GOP Rich Bond:

If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is ‘work the refs.’ Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one.

Right-wingers have carried this strategy to outrageous extremes. They howl about the “liberal bias” of the media any time there is a news report that does not reinforce their narratives and beliefs. It’s all part of a strategy to work the refs, shift the goalposts and tilt the playing field. And it’s paying off handsomely.

The ultimate objectives in crying wolf over the librulmedia are twofold: first, to bully media outlets into being even more right-leaning than they already are, and second, to have mainstream news outlets branded as radically leftist in the mind of the public; and by comparison, then, an unhinged right-wing outlet like Fox will be perceived as … well, fair and balanced.  And we’ve already traveled very far down that Orwellian road.

 

Advertisements

Sunday News Shows and Media Bias

Bias graphic 1

On January 31, Media Matters published, as it does every year, an analysis of the biases exhibited in the Sunday network news talk shows during the preceding year. And even though its findings pretty much replicated what it discovers every year with a similar survey, the results might be quite a surprise to many people. Because contrary to the persistent narrative we hear about the “liberal media” dominating the American landscape, the survey, as always, indicates a very pronounced right-wing bias in mainstream media.

Now you may say that Media Matters is itself biased, and so this survey can’t be trusted. And you’d be half right. Media Matters is definitely biased, as I’ve mentioned before. But bias in itself isn’t necessarily a problem; biased is not a synonym for inaccurate or dishonest, even if they frequently all go together. (See previous post, Shades Of Subjectivity). Media Matters has an extraordinary track record of honesty, accuracy, and even balance. If you can find a more accurate accounting of media bias during the past year than the one it presents, I’d love to see it.

Besides, the type of survey in question is pretty much foolproof. Media Matters did not attempt to determine the biases evident in the stances taken on various issues, as that would have entailed too much subjective judgment. Instead, what it did was tally the biases of the personalities involved. And it’s almost always a simple matter to determine whether an individual — particularly a public figure — has exhibited an ideological position, and if so, what it is.

The report examines the four leading Sunday morning political talk shows: ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, Fox’s Fox News Sunday and NBC’s Meet the Press. And it examines each of them for six types of ideological bias: ideology of guests, ideology of interviewees,  dominant ideology of panels, ideology of elected and administration official guests, ideology of elected and administration official solo interviewees, and ideology of journalist guests. (Note that there is some overlap.)

Only one network, ABC, displayed even a slight tilt to the left: it leaned slightly leftward on 3 of the factors, rightward on 2 of them, and was evenly balanced on the other.  The other three networks were, with the exception of a single instance, consistently “conservative”, often to an extreme degree. The single deviation was that in the category of elected and appointed administration official guests NBC’s Meet the Press hosted “liberals” over “conservatives” by a slim 50-48 margin — hardly stunning given that it’s a Democratic administration. Nonetheless, Fox managed to dig up more Republicans to interview.

Of particular interest is the distribution of journalist guests:

Bias graphic 2

As you can see, all 4 networks featured far more “conservative” than “liberal” journalists, even though allegedly there are far more “liberal” journalists to pick from. Yet 3 of the networks featured far more independents than either left or right; but good old fairandbalanced Fox had considerably more “conservative” than neutral journalists.

Are you shocked yet? None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who’s paying attention, but it runs very counter to the dominant narrative of the “librulmedia”. (Am I the only person who’s noticed that when people parrot the myth of the “liberal media”, they’re generally repeating a refrain they’ve heard from the “liberal” media?)

In his 2003 book What Liberal Media?, Eric Alterman comments that the persistent hammering away at the narrative of the “liberal media” is part of a tactic that he calls “working the refs”: by constantly complaining about a supposed “liberal” bias, the right-wing punditocracy hopes to nudge the mainstream media even farther rightward than it already is. If that’s the case, the strategy seems to be working quite handsomely.

Propaganda Factors that Boosted Mitt’s Chances (Part 2)

Benghazi consulate

Factor # 3: Obama Derangement Syndrome

Rule of thumb: to ensure that large numbers of people swallow a rumor, no matter how wacky, just insert the word “Obama” into it. From birth certificates to death panels to socialized medicine to Islamic Nazism to FEMA concentration camps, nothing is too idiotic for people to believe if it attacks the current U.S. president. But of course none of it could possibly have anything to do with racism. So don’t you even suggest such a thing.

But in addition to the usual rumors that we’ve already discussed in the post The Biggest, Baddest, Brassiest Lies About Barack Obama (and a Few Dishonorable Mentions), the stage of world events dropped a new gift into the laps of the Obama Haters just a few weeks before election day: the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Now we all know what happens when there is a terrorist attack against Americans: Americans put aside their differences and unite behind their commander-in-chief.

No, wait. That was during the Bush years.  On his watch there were no  fewer than 7 — count them, SEVEN — deadly attacks on U.S. consulates and embassies. No big deal, eh? But that was then, and this is now; and the new way of the world is to exploit such an occasion to the hilt for political partisanship and fresh smears against the cat in The Oval Office.

First, there was a major brouhaha about Obama failing to call the incident a terrorist attack immediately. That’s right: “conservatives” who love to kvetch about the “word police” associated with “political correctness” were chomping at the bit to impeach the president over a single word — not because he used it, but because he didn’t.

Except that, um, he did. The day after the attack, he delivered a speech about it from The Rose Garden, in which he said:

“No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.  Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America…”

Hmmm… The purpose of this speech was to make a statement about the attack in Benghazi. So you don’t think it’s possible that maybe he meant the words acts of terror to apply to that event? Well, if not, there was another speech a day later, in which he said:

“So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished.”

So for those who want to make a major issue out of his terminology, there you have it. Not good enough for Mitt Romney and many others, however, who insist that the administration didn’t officially and explicitly label it as terrorism until 14 days later, which would prove… well, something, I’m sure.

And after all, there was also speculation that an anti-Islam video might have helped inspire the timing; and if that’s the case, it couldn’t possibly also be a planned act of terror, could it? Apparently not, at least not in right-wing fantasyland. (In fact, some of the attackers themselves commented that the video was the catalyst for their actions.) To top it off, the president’s officials stated that the administration was still investigating the incident — and heaven forbid that a president actually should do his homework.

But the silliness didn’t end there. Led by Fox ‘News” which seemed determined to dissolve any lingering trace of doubt about its utter lack of scruples, right-wing extremists launched the meme that there was a “cover-up”  of Benghazi, even if they didn’t quite make it clear just what was being covered up or why, and spread the outrageous lies that the administration was slow to respond, had refused back-up to personnel there (back-up actually arrived almost immediately), and “abandoned Americans to die”. They were determined to make a scandal out of the tragedy, to paint it as yet another in the president’s series of supposed Watergates.  (At least one source reports that security had been scaled down that evening at the request of the late Ambassador Stevens himself, who was having a tryst with his boyfriend. If Obama is “covering up” anything, it could be that, out of respect for Mr. Stevens.)

It’s especially galling to see Republicans try to lynch the president for his supposed laxity in security when they themselves have been gutting the funding for State Department security. As Dana Milbank notes in The Washington Post:

For fiscal 2013, the GOP-controlled House proposed spending $1.934 billion for the State Department’s Worldwide Security Protection program — well below the $2.15 billion requested by the Obama administration. House Republicans cut the administration’s request for embassy security funding by $128 million in fiscal 2011 and $331 million in fiscal 2012. (Negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate restored about $88 million of the administration’s request.) Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Republicans’ proposed cuts to her department would be “detrimental to America’s national security” — a charge Republicans rejected.

Playing the “Liberal Bias” Card

800px-Orson_Scott_Card_at_BYU_Symposium_20080216_closeup

And it’s especially disconcerting to see noted science fiction/ fantasy writer Orson Scott Card, for whom I’d heretofore had a great deal of respect and admiration, commit himself to this nuthouse, excoriating the president in the vilest terms imaginable — including, natch, plenty of Hitler references. Card is, like Mitt Romney, a Mormon; and I suppose it’s understandable that such ideological kinship might jaundice his judgment and lead him to conclude that Romney is “a decent, intelligent, moderate, honest man of proven ability”. (You may pause here to catch your breath before resuming.) But that hardly accounts for or excuses his delusions about President Obama, whose response to Sandy was, he affirms, at least as inept as Bush’s response to Katrina. No, seriously.

One suspects that Mr. Card has kept his head in the fantasy realm so much that he’s taken up permanent residence. In his alternate universe (where Kenneth Starr is a noble and intrepid muckraker who was doing the media’s job for them) the librulmedia conspired with Obama to cover up The Truth About Benghazi and get him reelected; and Fox “News” is the last bastion of honest and conscientious mainstream journalism. Meanwhile, here in our own universe, Fox’s coverage of Benghazi was, like its coverage of everything else, an orgy of smears, misinformation, irresponsible conspiratorial speculation, and wholesale fabrication. The network was instrumental in torpedoing the nomination of Susan Rice for Secretary of State, crucifying her for stating — CORRECTLY — that U.S. intelligence suspected — CORRECTLY — the offensive video was a catalyst. Fox and others even tried to link the Benghazi “scandal” to the sex life of Gen. David Petraeus. I kid you not.

Since Card makes such a point of comparing the media’s treatment of Obama to that of George W. Bush, we might remind ourselves, in case anyone forgot, that exactly 11 years before the Libya massacre, there was another terrorist attack against Americans – not on the other side of the world, but right on American soil. It didn’t kill 4 Americans, but a mere 3000 or so. And Bush, a Republican (which made him, according to Card and  many others, an object of media scorn) was in office then. His administration, unlike Obama’s, had received some very explicit warnings about the impending strike, but brushed them aside.

Now we must note here that most of the criticism of how Obama handled Benghazi (and even some of the criticism about how Bush handled 9-11) can be attributed to a perception bias that is sometimes called creeping determinism. Which is a fancy way of saying that when we’re armed with hindsight, past events often seem much more predictable than they actually were when we were armed only with foresight. Even so, one might make a case that Bush’s lack of preparation was impeachably negligent, depending on how much “noise” (i.e., similar warnings that proved false) he’d had to filter out.

His handling of the attack after the fact was unmistakably less than stellar. When informed that a major terrorist strike against the U.S. was in progress, he didn’t do a goddamn thing for at least half an hour except pose for photos while Americans were roasting alive in Manhattan. His eventual “response” was to continue being chummy with Saudi Arabia (a brutal dictatorship that supplied 15 of the 19 hijackers, thank you very much) and instead launch an invasion (justified by fraudulent “evidence”) of another country that was ruled by one of bin Laden’s enemies. This action has resulted to date in the deaths of thousands of additional Americans, as well as untold thousands – quite possibly millions – of  Iraqi civilians. Not to mention a price tag in the billions. And if you want to talk about lies and cover-ups, the Bush administration lied at least 230 times about the conflict, and changed its story about the motive for invading at least 30 times.

Yet you never heard about any of this from the mainstream librulmedia until Michael Moore shone such a bright spotlight on it that some of them must have felt too embarrassed not to give it at least a cursory mention. There was little probing into the Bush family’s longstanding close relationship with the Saudi royal family, and it scarcely was deemed worth mentioning that both the Bush family and the bin Laden family had strong ties to The Carlyle Group, a significant U.S. Defense contractor. (But fear not, a few years later the same media cartel would go apeshit over Barack Obama’s passing acquaintance in the past with “terrorist” William Ayers.) The attitude of the mainstream media toward Bush was best summed up in the words of Dan Rather:

“Wherever he wants me to line up, tell me where.”

And line up they did, praising his brilliant “leadership” in a time of crisis, and his “courage” and “strength” and “resolve” in waging his “War on Terror” that probably encouraged more terror. Under the media’s prodding, Dubya was handed a second term, and achieved the highest presidential approval rating in the nation’s history — despite his having seized the office through nepotism, cronyism and election tampering.

Liberal bias, anyone?

Snope It Out!

As mentioned previously, wacky rumors are still circulated on the Internet quite frequently these days – perhaps more often than ever. Which is really bewildering since it is easier than ever to discredit them, thanks to a number of online resources, some dedicated especially to deflating myths. One of the best is Snopes.com. They do a thorough, prompt and even-handed job of examining myths, urban legends and rumors, and they do so without partisanship – therefore, not surprisingly, they’re often accused of “liberal bias”. (In fact, the site was founded by a Canadian citizen and a registered Republican.)

Snopes doesn’t just cover political rumors, though, but rumors in 41 categories. So if you read it in a forward, chances are you can see it debunked there. I can’t guarantee that the site is infallible, but I’ve never known it to err yet. At the very least, it’s an excellent place to start.

Since it was an Obama rumor that sparked this whole discussion, it’s worth noting what his coverage on Snopes indicates about the intense campaign of hatred and rumor mongering that has been waged against the current president. It’s especially illuminating to compare his “Snopes index” with that of his predecessor.

George W. Bush governed with an arrogant “my way or the highway”, “you’re with ME or with THEM” stance that is guaranteed to make some enemies. (It was the kind of chest-thumping insolent insularity that has dominated his party as a whole for the past 30 years or so- but ratcheted up a notch or two.) Even though in the 2000 election he lost (at the very least) the popular vote, he admonished congressional Democrats to get aboard his agenda or “be left behind”. After the 2004 election, which itself was rather close, he boasted, “I earned political capital, and I intend to spend it”. (He was referring to both elections, incidentally.) The media spun this hubris as “strong leadership”; and the ever-entertaining National Review, while jumping on that bandwagon, also suggested that perhaps his greatest asset was his modesty. Seriously.

Naturally, this kind of polarizing figure is going to inspire some rumors. Accordingly, after his 8 years in office, Snopes has listed 46 Bush rumors, 20 of which are true and 17 false. (Nine of them are partly true, doubtful, or undetermined.) We should acknowledge that not all of these rumors are negative; one includes the claim that Bush’s house is more ecologically friendly than Al Gore’s. (This is true as far as it goes, but there are additional facts you might want to consider before circulating it – particularly if your aim is to peg Gore as a “hypocrite”.) The vast majority of the rumors, however, are considerably less complimentary.

Now consider Barack Obama, who’s spent less than 3 years in office. Unlike Bush, he’s been quite willing to compromise and work with the opposition -just compare the boldness of the original healthcare bill with the emasculated version that barely survived. (To the spinmeisters this makes him, simultaneously, a pussy and a tyrant.) His Snopes total so far is 103 rumors – more than double that of Bush in less than half the time.  Of these, only 12 are true (11% compared to 43% for Bush) and 69 false (67% compared to 37% for Bush). The number of decidedly false rumors circulated about Obama considerably exceeds the total number of rumors circulated about Bush. All of which solidly underscores the conclusion that the vendetta against Obama is based on something besides his actual performance on the job.

But the purpose here is not to defend or denounce any particular politician. The purpose is to remind you that sooner rather than later, you will be forwarded some breathtaking allegation about Obama. Or Bush. Or Hillary Clinton. Or Jane Fonda. Or somebody. And you may be so outraged that you’re tempted to pass it on, particularly if it reinforces beliefs you already hold. But you might want to pause and snope it out first. It just might prevent you from making a fool of yourself.

 

NOTE: (Added 11/4/11) Some Internet rumors include the claim that the information has been “verified by Snopes” when it hasn’t. In some such cases, Snopes has even discredited it. There’s no substitute for checking it out yourself.

25 Things You’re Supposed to Believe (Because You’re Just Supposed to Believe, So Shut Up and Don’t Ask Questions)

4025e1479933310o9653

1. The U.S. is in every way vastly superior to every other nation on earth. And we’re God’s favorite.

2. Everyone deserves his or her financial status, whether rich or poor. If you work hard enough, you’ll be successful, and if you’re poor, you’re just lazy. The only rich people who are just lucky are Hollywood celebrities, who are pampered airheads totally out of touch with the real world. (Except for Chuck Norris.)

3. Giving a pittance in handouts to the poor encourages dependency and is a major burden to taxpayers; giving billions in handouts to the rich encourages industriousness and is good for the economy. If we take care of the rich first, it will trickle down to everyone else.

4. The Confederacy was a noble cause, and the Civil War was inevitable. It was really about states’ rights rather than slavery.

5. The bombing of Japan was necessary to end the war, and it saved more lives than it destroyed.

6. The Democratic Party is the party of tax and spend, and the Republican Party is the party of fiscal restraint.

7. Eating meat makes you strong and healthy.

8. Ronald Reagan won the cold war, and brought about the downfall of the Soviet Union.

9. The Founding Fathers were all Christian, and intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation.

10. Islam is a more violent religion than Christianity.

11. It’s impossible to have a moral compass without religion.

12. It’s easy to read and understand the Bible; the English translations we have are very accurate.

13. Trying to guarantee equality of economic opportunity is the same as trying to guarantee equality of economic achievement; and it’s socialist/ communist/ fascist/ whateverist.

14. Capital punishment deters crime.

15. Outlawing abortion is an effective way to prevent it.

16. Pro-choice is the same as pro-abortion.

17. The Second Amendment gives you the right to own a gun.

18. Firearm regulation (“gun control”) means trying to outlaw guns.

19. Evolution means that humans descended from apes; and it’s only a theory.

20. Secularism means suppression of religious freedom.

21. There is an “invisible hand” guiding the economy, and if we just leave it alone, everything will turn out fine on its own.

22. Regulation of business practices is an unwarranted interference in free enterprise, and is socialist/ communist./ fascist/ whateverist.

23. Sex education just gives kids ideas that they’d never be able to think of otherwise; what really works is to tell kids to just say no.

24. “Political correctness” is a totalitarian mindset that squashes free speech.

25. There is a “liberal” bias to American media.