Presswatch

Presswatch

The Klein Clan

By From the October 2010 issue

Journalistic bias has traditionally been a matter of groupthink. "For decades liberal media elites were able to define current debates by all kicking in the same direction, like the Rockettes," as the Wall Street Journal put it in a 2004 editorial. In an age of media diversity, they can no longer reliably do this. Perhaps as a result, some liberal journalists have resorted to out-and-out conspiracy -- not that it's been effective.

Over the summer the Daily Caller, Tucker Carlson's new online magazine, obtained a tranche of messages from Journolist, a defunct, ideologically exclusive (no conservatives allowed) e-mail list that included academics, bloggers, and think-tankers as well as reporters and left-liberal commentators. Journolist, run by Ezra Klein, a young blogger at the Washington Post, had some 400 members, and the Caller's series of reports provided an often hilarious though occasionally disturbing look into the media hive.

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The Legend of Helen Thomas

By From the September 2010 issue

There are almost as many Helen Thomas awards in journalism as there are Robert C. Byrd federal buildings in West Virginia. The Society of Professional Journalists, which gives out the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement, describes Thomas as "a living icon of journalism for her dogged pursuit of the truth in a career that has spanned almost 60 years." Thomas's alma mater, Wayne State University in Detroit, honors Thomas's "many years of exemplary service" with its Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award. The Washington Post's Sally Quinn, a past recipient (with husband Ben Bradlee) of the Helen Thomas Award from the American News Women's Club, writes that "Helen Thomas set the standard for excellence in journalism."

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We’re From the Government

By From the July 2010 - August 2010 issue

A curious linguistic consequence of America's constitutional structure is that the phrase "the government" means something quite different from what it does in a parliamentary democracy. In, say, Britain "the government" is transitory, created anew after each election by the victorious party or a coalition of parties. In the U.S., where the executive and legislative branches are separate, "the government" refers to permanent bureaucracies and other institutions, especially the departments and agencies of the executive branch. The president and his political leadership are "the administration."

This semantic artifact has consequences for the way in which journalists describe the workings of the administrative state. By ascribing a decision or action to "the administration," or to the president or one of his appointees, a reporter or commentator can fix political accountability. By attributing it to "the government" or to an agency, he can avoid laying political blame or giving credit.

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Tea and Sympathy

By From the June 2010 issue

The tea party movement has acquired strange new respect-and not in Tom Bethell's original sense of the phrase, in which a conservative moves left and wins plaudits from the media. Rather, all of a sudden this spring, journalists seemed to realize that they had gotten the story wrong. The most striking example is this CNN.com story, written by political producer Shannon Travis and posted on April 7:

When it comes to the Tea Party movement, the stereotypes don't tell the whole story.

Here's what you often see in the coverage of Tea Party rallies: offensive posters blasting Presi-dent Obama and Democratic leaders; racist rhetoric spewed from what seems to be a largely white, male audience; and angry protesters rallying around the Constitution.

Case in point: During the health care debate last month, opponents shouted racial slurs at civil rights icon Georgia Rep. John Lewis and one person spit on Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. The incidents made national headlines, and they provided Tea Party opponents with fodder to question the movement.

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Bar Fight

By From the May 2010 issue

Demagogues on the right are smearing loyal Americans as disloyal and charging that the government is being undermined from within," thumped the New York Times in a March editorial:

These voices -- often heard on Fox News -- are going after Justice Department lawyers who represented Guantánamo detainees when they were in private practice. It is not nearly enough to say that these lawyers did nothing wrong. In fact, they upheld the highest standards of their profession and advanced the cause of democratic justice. The Justice Department is right to stand up to this ugly bullying.

The controversy began when Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, asked Attorney General Eric Holder for information about Justice Department lawyers who previously represented terrorist detainees. Holder responded that the department employed nine such attorneys, but he named only two: Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal, who successfully argued the 2006 Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, and Jennifer Daskal, who formerly worked for Human Rights Watch.

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Censorship Inc.

By From the April 2010 issue

"The majority is deeply wrong on the law," according to a critic of January's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. "Most wrongheaded of all is its insistence that corporations are just like people and entitled to the same First Amendment rights. It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money."

Whose opinion is this? We don't know exactly, because it is not attributed to any individual. It is an unsigned editorial in the New York Times. That is to say, it reflects the collective opinion of the Times editorial board, a division of the New York Times Co., a corporation that exists to make money.

It's lucky for the New York Times Co. that the Supreme Court upheld its First Amendment rights. Otherwise, it could not have exercised its First Amendment right to denounce the court for upholding its First Amendment rights.

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Glenn Beck Isn’t Lonesome

By From the March 2010 issue

Glenn Beck, the demonstrative host of the eponymous program on Fox News Channel, identifies with Howard Beale from the 1976 film Network. Beale, played by Peter Finch, is a news anchor on a fictional broadcast network who, after having a nervous breakdown on air, becomes a raving populist and a big hit with viewers.

When I interviewed Beck recently for the Wall Street Journal, he quoted the fictional anchorman's most famous line: "I am mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." Then he drew a distinction: "The part of Howard Beale that I liken myself to is the moment when he was in the raincoat, where he figures everything out, and he's like, ‘Whoa, whoa, wait a minute! Why the hell aren't you up at the window shouting outside?' What the media wants to make me is the Howard Beale at the end, the crazy showman that's doing anything for money. That I don't liken myself to."

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Peer Pressure

By From the February 2010 issue

How urgent is the threat of global warming? Listen to an editorial that the Guardian, England’s leading left-wing daily, published early in December, as the Copenhagen climate summit was opening:

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security.

Global warming is so urgent that editorial writers at 55 other newspapers around the world (including one in the U.S., the Miami Herald) cannot be troubled to do their jobs and write their own editorials about it. Decisive action indeed.

A few weeks earlier, the world of global warmism had been rocked by a whistle-blower’s release of thousands of e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia, which showed widespread corruption of the scientific process. The mass editorial devoted just one sentence to the scandal widely if unimaginatively dubbed “Climategate”:

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Caprice Prize

By From the December 2009 - January 2010 issue

The first week in October saw a stunning turnabout in coverage of Barack Obama. Pro-Obama coverage might have hit its peak on Monday, October 5, when CNN's Situation Room aired an astonishing segment "fact checking" a comedy sketch. No joke.

The skit had appeared two days earlier on Saturday Night Live. Fred Armisen, playing President Obama, delivered a speech in which he said, "When you look at my record, it's very clear what I have done so far. And that is nothing." He continued: "Almost one year and nothing to show for it. You don't believe me? You think I'm making it up? Take a look at this checklist." He then rehearsed a series of campaign promises -- closing Guantanamo, improving Afghanistan, taking over the health care system, and so on-and declared all of them undone.

CNN interviewed Bill Adair of the St. Petersburg Times's PolitiFact.com, one of those supposedly nonpartisan fact-checking outfits, which had actually published a "study" of the SNL skit earlier that day. Adair said:

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‘Call Fox’

By From the November 2009 issue

By the time readers of the New York Times met Van Jones, the Obama administration's so-called green-jobs czar, he had become the Obama administration's former so-called green-jobs czar. Jones's departure came over Labor Day weekend, in the wee hours of Sunday morning. The Times managed to squeeze into Sunday's paper 71 words of an Associated Press dispatch about Jones's resignation. The next day, the Times published a full story on his rise and fall:

Jones...signed a petition in 2004 questioning whether the Bush administration had allowed the terrorist attacks of September 2001 to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East.

He also used a vulgarity to refer to Republicans just before being appointed to his White House post early this year, and he has publicly supported Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is on death row for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer....

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