News Media

October 18, 2011

A Protest the Media Can Love

The Providence Journal's coverage of Occupy Providence differs markedly from its handling of the RI Tea Party.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:49 PM

May 25, 2011

A Comedy of Endorsement

Looking back at the Projo's endorsement of Congressman David Cicilline (D, RI) yields more than just a laugh.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:17 AM

January 24, 2011

The Journal's Us and Them

An entire front-page article about talk radio in the Providence Journal, last Sunday, did not once quote anybody associated with the medium.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

December 24, 2010

Truth-O-Meter, Pants on Fire

The Wall Street Journal outs PolitiFact as a propaganda organ.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

December 10, 2010

More Bias on Display

The RI face of the ACLU made a clearly false statement, yet the Providence Journal tagged it as "half true." How?

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

November 24, 2010

Headlines as Wish Fulfillment

Ideology helps to explain why a headline writer would proclaim exactly the opposite lesson from the article that follows.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:00 PM

November 19, 2010

Orwellian Media

Rob Long's description of NPR's Juan Williams firing is right on and broadly applicable.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

November 2, 2010

A Vague Election Night Mood

Glumness turned to optimism, paradoxically, when I remembered that the mainstream media is on the other side.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:41 PM

October 28, 2010

Further Tying Credibility to Cicilline Campaign

Cynthia Needham is at it again: putting her newspaper's PolitiFact feature in the service of naked political ends.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

October 22, 2010

No Country for Candid Commentators

Apparently, NPR commentators aren't allowed to express their natural emotional response to the existence of a global jihad.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:15 AM

October 11, 2010

Healthcare "Huh" for Today

Apparently, to the New England mainstream media, paying for something via premiums is the same as not paying for them.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:49 PM

October 10, 2010

Cynthia Needfacts and the Politiham Feature

On the Republican versus Democrat issue of Social Security, reporter Cynthia Needham costs her newspaper credibility.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:01 PM

September 28, 2010

Plenty of Anti-GOP News, Still No DOJ News

Without yet having reported on testimony that Obama's Department of Justice enforces the law with a racially tinged eye, the Providence Journal makes crystal clear its institutional political preferences.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

September 27, 2010

Willingly Distracted from the Real News

The Providence Journal was quick to report on mock Congressional testimony by Stephen Colbert, but has yet to cover testimony that Obama's Department of Justice has a racial litmus test.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

August 7, 2010

Subtle Admission of Truth

The New York Times has admitted, in the most minimal way possible, that Tea Party members gave no evidence of racism on the steps of the Capitol. Months later. And hedged.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:11 AM

April 21, 2010

What Ed Has to Believe

Providence Journal columnist Ed Fitzpatrick thinks the healthcare legislation will surely do more good than the Iraq War. I disagree.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:14 AM

April 16, 2010

The Common Wisdom of the Newsroom

The race card has become a broad shield for the president and is apparently deeply held common wisdom among the news media. Not surprisingly, they're missing the real storyline.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:56 AM

April 13, 2010

Jabbing from Old Media to New

Newport Daily News columnist Joe Baker responded to my reaction to his last-week essay, and what he didn't mention is the story.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:03 AM

November 4, 2005

Lost in the Shuffle

I've meant to mention, for some time, blogger Zman Biur's summary of a Jeff Jacoby talk delivered in Israel. Jacoby offered five reasons that the mainstream media appears hostile to that nation (and, of course, appearance is essence in news media):

  • Ignorance leads to reliance on accepted storylines.
  • Differences in access between Israel and its neighbors translate into an enforced gloss in Arab countries, while Israel lays bare all of the dark news on which reporters focus in any location.
  • Frequent association, both personally and professionally, among journalists encourages pack behavior. Breaking from the usual narrative will require explanation to editors and perhaps over martinis after hours.
  • Of course, with respect to ideology, members of the mainstream media tend to fall on the Left, from whence most anti-Israel sentiment currently derives.
  • The Israeli media is like other Western media in its penchant for criticism of its own nation and sympathy with others.

In breaking down the catchall excuse of "bias" in the media, I wonder if Jacoby has uncovered underlying reasons for leftist bias more broadly. On initial glance, the points he makes certainly seem applicable to other topics than Israel, as well as to other sources than journalists.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:50 AM | Comments (1)

November 2, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Published

Jeff Jacoby assesses coverage of the war in Iraq with characteristic clarity:

No question: If you think that defeating Islamofascism, extending liberty, and transforming the Middle East are important, it's safe to say you saw the ratification of the new constitution as the Iraqi news story of the week. ...

But that isn't a message Big Media cares to emphasize. Hostile to the war and to the administration conducting it, the nation's leading news outlets harp on the negative and pessimistic, consistently underplaying all that is going right in Iraq. Their fixation on the number of troops who have died outweighs their interest in the cause for which those fallen heroes fought -- a cause that advanced with the ratification of the new constitution.

Frankly, boredom at the anti-war crowd's gesticulations has played a (relatively small) role in my lack of blogging of late. But one instance has bothered me more than it should, recently, and Jacoby's piece provides a possibly fruitful context in which to mention it. From Rod Dreher's latest column:

Then there is the Iraq quagmire, which, even if initially a worthy cause, has become a rolling disaster.

A blogger could certainly spend some words wondering why a cause that was initially worthy would make a list of "unconservative things foisted upon America" by the President; at the very least, the foisting, so to speak, would appear to have been in accordance with conservatism in this case. With reference to Jacoby's column, though, my mind goes to other things. In a (coded) word: "quagmire."

Dreher, it seemed to me, began to drift not long after he made the leap from displaced red-stater-in-NY working for National Review to editorial writer and columnist for the mainstream media down in the Great Red Yonder. He's still to be counted among conservatives, without doubt, and fairness requires that I admit to not reading him much anymore.

Still, "rolling disaster" is a strong and unambiguous characterization of the war, and I wonder whether being steeped in media that "harp on the negative and pessimistic" explains the ease with which Dreher bowls it out. Or perhaps there are other considerations. A year-old blog comment of Dreher's comes to mind:

I am deeply concerned over the conduct of the war, and the prospect that family members of mine might die for the illusion that Iraq can be democratic. This is not an abstract threat. I'm looking at the possibility that my brother in law, a National Guard officer who never, ever imagined he'd be ordered to go fight in the Middle East (because who on earth could have invented such a prospect?), might have to leave his wife and three kids ... and never come home. If I still believed that this was a cause worth shedding American blood for, that'd be one thing. But now I'm thinking that our men are dying for an unwinnable war. You cannot force liberal democracy on people who don't want it.

Well, what about people who do want it — as evident in their ratification of a constitution? Perhaps the newspaper editors wouldn't allow space in his column for Dreher to discuss why something that appears to be a success is actually a disaster.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:00 PM | Comments (3)

October 12, 2005

On Being "Well Informed"

My latest column, "Speaking Past an Oppressive Template," remarks on the difficulty — in motivation and in practice — of being "well informed," and the accompanying difficulty of communicating.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:54 PM | Comments (1)

September 14, 2005

Racial Disaster

In "Katrina and the Media's Demand for Racial Division," I note that Hurricane Katrina seems to have undone some of the good that came from the evil of September 11 by rejuvenating racial divisiveness as a focus of conversation. Depressing. Sickening. Discouraging. And yet there's hope if only we can find the patience to let the unimaginative among us think matters through... ideally without further catastrophes for precipitation.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:31 PM | Comments (1)

March 15, 2005

Controversial Among a Handful

Wesley Smith makes an interesting observation about the spate of state laws that open the way for some of the more controversial types of biotech fiddling:

...under both bills, if the purpose of cloning and implantation is the gestation of a cloned fetus for use in medical experiments or body part harvesting, no law would be broken. ... Moreover, NONE of this year's crop of state legislation intended to legalize therapeutic cloning would place outright bans on implanting cloned embryos into real or artificial wombs. Not one.

This can only mean that there is a design and a purpose behind these proposals. The movers and shakers behind these bills want access to cloned fetuses when, technologically, they can be created. In other words, it ain't just about embryonic stem cells anymore.

Surely the just-ending stomach bug, following several sleep-little nights of sick offspring, and the flat tire this morning are affecting my outlook, but I'm beginning to get a feeling of dark inevitability. Note, particularly, the beginning of Smith's final paragraph:

What a story! Yet, it is goes unreported by the mainstream media.

Why does it seem that the made-for-TV controversies that never make it to TV are always those that might serve to wake the public up to the incremental steps toward an unrecognizable society that a handful of people are forcing on us all?

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:44 PM | Comments (3)

February 7, 2005

I Happen to Have That Right Here

You've probably seen this, but I just have to wonder out loud how many times folks in the news have wished they had thought or been quick enough to do what Don Rumsfeld did on Meet the Press. After Tim Russert showed that typical clip of the soldier asking Rumsfeld about Humvee armor and Rumsfeld's answer being edited to seem dismissive:

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: That was unfair and it was selectively taking out two sentences from a long exchange--there it is--that took place. And when you suggested that that's how I answered that question, that is factually wrong.

MR. RUSSERT: No, we...

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: That is not how I answered that question.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Mr. Secretary, it clearly represents the exchange and...

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: It does not.

MR. RUSSERT: All right. What is missing?

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: You want to hear the exchange? There is it. It's right here. I'll read it to you.

And read it he did.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:19 PM

February 3, 2005

Isolation in the Crowd

Tim Graham highlighted an interesting paragraph from a piece by Tina Brown, who writes:

Even reporters on the ground in Iraq could hardly believe what they were living through as they watched the power of an idea transmute into the living, breathing form of black-clad women, Marsh Arabs and throngs of Kurdish mountaineers festively making their way to the polls. The father of a young reporter who has spent most of the last two years in Iraq shared with me his son's e-mail from Baghdad. "We journalists are all sitting round and asking each other how we missed what's clearly a far deeper drive for political and societal change than we realized. It is a measure of our isolation here -- and also, I think, a measure of how the violence and humiliation of the occupation has masked people's very genuine feelings."

Perhaps the journalists on the ground should come on back to the states and surf the Web. I'll admit that I sometimes feel isolated here in my basement office, but if utter shock at Iraqis' "drive for political and societal change" and "very genuine feelings" behind what American journalists perceive as "humiliation [because of] the occupation," then we bloggers must be virtually on the scene.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:42 PM

February 1, 2005

The Deeper Payola of Personal Interest

When it comes to corruption, the focus is always money, and I have to wonder whether the obsession over direct cash payments doesn't distract from a larger complication in sorting through information to find the trustworthy. Consider a question that John Hawkins posed in a blog symposium:

John Hawkins: If we're talking about 2008 and a candidate with the resources to do it, I would buy blogs every month for 6 months leading up to the primaries, ask several bloggers to consult (no pay) mainly to stroke their egos, do some interviews. It's easy to stroke egos in the blogosphere and get a buzz going. Then next thing you know, all the bloggers are talking about candidate X and people pick up on it. It's a pretty good way to create a huge buzz around a candidate and make sure you get good press (even if they won't admit that's part of the reason they're doing it).

Karol Sheinin: I do invite bloggers to events..

La Shawn Barber: Would I take money from a political candidate to blog? Thinking...

Karol Sheinin: Hugh, you write in 'Blog' that everyone should have a blog. Wouldn't a lot of people then have conflicts of interest?

Hugh Hewitt: Yes, but the only conflicts I worry about are the bought-and-paid for variety. As a center-right Evangelical, pretty much everyone knows where I am going to come from. There is no hidden agenda, just an agenda. It is the hidden agenda that worries me.

Again, we focus on the money. So and so was given such and such a gift at such and such a value, but perhaps we underestimate the value of the giving. Everything from cash to advertising revenue to links to simple emails can "stroke the egos" of just about anybody. Pursuit of the favorable impression pervades politics, media, and business, requiring readers/voters to find ways to judge intentions on alternate bases whether money has changed hands or not.

I'm certainly naïve of the mindset of those who have enough money that it ceases to be something useful and becomes a form of compliment. Perhaps, though, it would assist us in understanding influence if we consider it in terms of that naïveté, rather than the jaded terms of the wealthy. As Hewitt suggests with his "just an agenda" comment, and as I've suggested in the case of Maggie Gallagher, there are more relevant kinds of evidence of sincerity — such as consistency. Seeing money as uniquely corrupting pulls our attention toward a shiny bauble for which many of the players about whom we should truly be concerned have no real interest.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:12 AM

January 1, 2005

All You Need to Know About "2004 in religion"

Richard Dujardin has a long piece in today's Providence Journal titled "2004 in religion," and what a telling first sentence it has:

It was a year when many gay couples in Massachusetts rejoiced, being able to marry legally for the first time.

(In case you're wondering, the fact that, "with the help of religious conservatives, 11 states banned same-sex marriages" is held until the second to last sentence of the piece.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:52 PM | Comments (1)

December 8, 2004

The Tenacity of the Resurgency

Although the Google searches have continued to appear in my referral logs, I thought Jimmy Massey's accusations against American troops were a dead issue when the mounting wave of coverage began to subside after my exploration of it in May. Well, Massey's still got creds among the mainstream media, apparently. As Michelle Malkin notes, in relation to her column about Jeremy Hinzman, an American Army deserter now seeking refuge in Canada has brought Massey is back into the picture.

Over in the Corner, Tim Graham objects to the title of a Washington Post piece, by Doug Struck, covering Massey's testimony on Hinzman's behalf: "Former Marine Testifies to Atrocities in Iraq: Unit Killed Dozens of Unarmed Civilians Last Year, Canadian Refugee Board Is Told." Although I'm loathe to evince the inflated beliefs that bloggers often have about what they do, I'm more bothered by Struck's credulous treatment of Massey. A query on any Internet search engine will produce links to discussions of Massey's questionable public testimony. (Google lists my post either second or fourth, depending on the use of quotation marks.)

I don't expect folks like Struck to contact me or other bloggers as experts or to cite our work in their MSM pieces. However, I know that my practice, when addressing (dare I say "reporting"?) potentially explosive claims, is to listen for general background noise in order to gauge my credulity. Even if the refutations are found on a Web site with arguably partisan motivations, one would think an objective reporter would take them under advisement and set his tone accordingly.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:05 PM | Comments (9)

November 9, 2004

The Candidate May Have Ceded, But...

With a note to John Kerry of "kindly don't leave the country," Keith Olbermann, MSNBC blogger and host of Countdown, is pleased to announce that "no Presidential candidate’s concession speech is legally binding":

This is mentioned because there is a small but blood-curdling set of news stories that right now exists somewhere between the world of investigative journalism, and the world of the Reynolds Wrap Hat. And while the group's ultimate home remains unclear - so might our election of just a week ago.

Stories like these have filled the web since the tide turned against John Kerry late Tuesday night. But not until Friday did they begin to spill into the more conventional news media. That’s when the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that officials in Warren County, Ohio, had "locked down" its administration building to prevent anybody from observing the vote count there.

Blood-curdling! Olbermann's mission, now, is to spread the spill. It's all under the impetus of fairness and democracy, of course. As Sheila Lennon puts it:

Everybody should welcome whatever recounts emerge. Faith in the integrity of our voting system is at the core of our democratic system. If anybody messes with the results, it damages us all. It's not fair, and could make voting in America no more reliable than in a tinpot banana republic. And if the numbers come out roughly the same, half the country won't have to spend the next four years saying, "We wuz robbed."

Moderating Lennon's "won't have to" language some, does anybody really believe that recounts will preclude the "we wuz robbed" syndrome? Not I. Imagining the worst-case scenario (from my point of view), I don't think you could test the civic temper any more ultimately than to reverse the election's results now — particularly as a result of an MSM-fueled investigation.

On a more plausible level, it seems to me that Olbermann's efforts will go a long way toward ensuring that various insinuations and myths gain a foothold among the fluid ranks of the malcontent Left. He certainly doesn't seem concerned about minimizing that effect. Consider:

Interestingly, none of the complaining emailers took issue with the remarkable results out of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. In 29 precincts there, the County's website shows, we had the most unexpected results in years: more votes than voters.

I'll repeat that: more votes than voters. 93,000 more votes than voters.

Oops.

What he neglects to mention is that Kerry won that county by 217,638 votes — 67% to 33%. Hey, maybe Kerry really won the county 78% to 22%.

Appearances to the contrary aside, if Olbermann would like to be objective in his investigation, he can pursue every curious decision and irregularity in the states that Kerry won by a similar margin of less than 150,000 votes. Every single one of them would be decisive if Ohio's 20 electoral college votes were to change hands. To help the MSM along, I'll even provide a list:

Delaware
Hawaii
Maine
Minnesota
New Hampshire
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
Vermont
Wisconsin
Posted by Justin Katz at 7:57 PM

November 8, 2004

Aging Suckers

Michelle Malkin uses leeches in her response to an ignorant anti-religious sneer from Maureen Dowd. At issue is Dowd's quip that the Bush administration will turn back the medical clock to an era of leeching, illustrating that the MoDo isn't aware that leeches are, in fact, useful medical tools. But it was something in Michelle's evidence that caught my eye:

For many people, leeches conjure up the image of Humphrey Bogart removing the bloodsuckers from his legs in African Queen, but FDA reports that leeches can help heal skin grafts by removing blood pooled under the graft and restore blood circulation in blocked veins by removing pooled blood.

Umm. I remember that scene, although I'd forgotten what movie it was in. Can't say it was the first movie to come to mind, and it probably wouldn't be for a majority of people under thirty-five, as Google attests:

"african queen" leeches: 1,450
"stand by me" leech: 3,410

ADDENDUM:
In contrast to my pop-culture reaction, Orrin Judd offers profundity:

Here's as good a definition of the difference between conservatism and liberalism as you're likely to find: liberals can't comprehend that leeches work, because we've used them for thousands of years, but they do think that Christopher Reeve would be walking around today if only they sacrificed enough lives at the altar of Stem Cell Research. And they think we're the fanatics.

Well said.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:25 PM

Media Back Onboard with American Troops

As I noted over at Anchor Rising, the first hints of a media tone-change with respect to goings-on in Iraq are beginning to emerge. I may have my media-cynicism adjuster set to eleven, but I wouldn't be surprised if the entire presentation of the Fallujah assault is almost unrecognizable from the Iraq-related reportage that has come before.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:00 PM

October 11, 2004

Shades of Headlines

An interesting juxtaposition of headlines is up on the Providence Journal's main page:

Gee, what do you suppose the storyline is meant to be? Reading the articles, themselves, one mightn't find an answer. In the first one, AP writer Jennifer Loven does open by decrying "no sign that the biting rhetoric [Bush] has aimed at Democratic challenger John Kerry in recent days is as aggressive as it's going to get." (Huh?) Still, a perusal of the included Bush quotes hardly amounts to evidence. Kerry's statements "don't pass the credibility test"; he "can run but he cannot hide" from his legislative record; he's "liberal." Perhaps the most foreboding quotation is this:

"There's a lot more in (Kerry's) record that the American people are going to hear and know about by the time it's all over," said Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser.

Nasty! Turning to AP writer Mary Dalrymple's piece about Kerry's devotion to the middle class (the members of which he's able to spot from a distance), the contrast in rhetorical heat is palpable:

"The president makes his choices," Kerry said. "The president's chosen the oil companies and the power companies. He's chosen the drug companies over you."...

"Here I am in the state of New Mexico. George Bush is still in the state of denial," Kerry told the supportive crowd Sunday. "New Mexico has five electoral votes. The state of denial has none. I like my chances."

Dalrymple doesn't mention whether there are signs that the biting rhetoric Kerry has aimed at George Bush in recent days, weeks, months, and years is as aggressive as it's going to get. Maybe we're just supposed to know that it's not.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:01 PM | Comments (1)

October 9, 2004

Speaking Truth to Conformity

Hats off to the editorial board of the Providence Journal. If only I could subscribe to just the section under these editors' control:

Actually, sanctions were already crumbling, because Saddam was bribing public officials and business people in various countries (especially France, China and Russia), as well as people in the United Nations -- which increasingly seems as much a festival of economic corruption as of hypocrisy. The U.N. "food-for-oil" program was an extraordinarily corrupt enterprise, which Saddam was manipulating, to, among other things, get back to making and stockpiling WMD. Not coincidentally, Security Council members France, China and Russia -- Saddam's major bribees in his partly successful efforts to get around the sanctions -- voted against U.S.-led efforts to get the United Nations to sign off on an invasion to enforce U.N. resolutions.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:56 AM | Comments (1)

October 7, 2004

The (Ratings) Bounce

Lane Core asks someone to explain the origin of the support that supposedly has Kerry in a statistical tie with President Bush:

Let's see now. The Catholic vote went for Gore in 2000 (Kyrie eleison) and Catholics polled for Kerry a few months ago. But Catholics now poll for Bush. And the Gender Gap is narrowing, if not quite disappearing. (And don't forget the "battleground" states that are already being abandoned by the Kerry campaign as losses, nor the "blue" states that are being hotly contested by the Bush campaign.)

So, tell me, somebody: how can the race be so close? What group(s) have shifted seismically towards Kerry to offset the shift towards Bush in two very large voting blocs?

Personally, I've been hard-pressed to resist a cynical smile with each bit of polling data. Before the debates began, one was apt to hear — from parents who've followed politics for decades, from Fox News, from blogs — how the media would be anxious for Kerry to close the widening gap, so as to make the race exciting and, therefore, closely followed, with all the media revenue that political photo-finishes attract.

What groups have "shifted seismically towards Kerry"? I can't say for sure, but I wonder if the polls' samples have been taken from among the MSM's phantom readers.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:37 PM | Comments (4)

October 6, 2004

Umm... Doesn't "Scrutiny" Mean "Attention"? Well, Bring It On!

One's daily schedule will affect analysis of such things, but I have to say that the whole Rathergate episode has made the media bias game a little less fun. As with liberalism, there's still much power to be overwhelmed and dissipated, but hounding the old media is beginning to feel like chasing the gnarled old grouch out of town after the grownups have finally all acknowledged that he's been playing tricks on the neighborhood kids.

However, some of the characteristic differences between old media and new — characteristic at least for the moment — make for interesting consideration. The following paragraph from a piece by Joseph D'Hippolito provides an example (free registration required):

Consider [Chicago Tribune managing editor James] O'Shea's remarks in another Editor & Publisher article about how bloggers create what he called "information anarchy." "You have to look at who these people are," he said. "We have to put some scrutiny on the bloggers."

Perhaps it is only because we are in the game for our own reasons, but most bloggers aren't as fearful of "scrutiny" as — for example — professional journalists might be. Hey, scrutiny means traffic, which is our currency. And since it is in our nature to lay everything important out in our writing, that which such scrutiny will uncover is very likely to be precisely that which we are advertising.

All in all, it seems to me a superior model that encourages the sort of broad review that established players can find threatening.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:06 AM | Comments (1)

October 5, 2004

More Stunning — the Message or the Man?

An all-too-typical column enumerating the iniquities of the Bush administration and lamenting the fact that John Kerry hasn't already been crowned to cheers of "Long live the somebody else!" didn't strike me as worth mention. Until, that is, I read the stunning ending:

Americans will tolerate much hypocrisy. But they're less forgiving when the hypocrisy involves money. John Kerry needs to change his vocabulary: to go beyond saying that Bush has "misled" the country or "mismanaged" Iraq.

Bush is cheating America and cheating on America. That's more akin to treason than mere lying.

Blogosphere readers will surely not be surprised to realize that the charge of being unpatriotic is apparently only offensive if spoken while facing left. What does raise questions, however, is the short author bio printed after the piece:

John R. MacArthur, a monthly contributor, is publisher of Harper's Magazine.

Funny, Harper's doesn't often seem to be treated as a full-tilt liberal publication in the mainstream media. I guess the lonely Rhode Island conservative can take comfort in the possibility that, with the doors open to this sort of writing, the Providence Journal will begin publishing an Ann Coulter column once per month. (Personally, I'd be satisfied — natch — with a Justin Katz column once every six.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:29 PM

October 1, 2004

Encouraged Misunderstanding

Is it me, or is the following AP headline (i.e., the only part of the story shown on the Providence Journal's homepage) indicative of the media's desire to make Iraq look like a mess so as to bolster Kerry and hurt Bush?

Over 100 Killed in U.S. Assault in Iraq

SAMARRA, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. and Iraqi forces battled their way into the heart of this Sunni stronghold Friday and moved house to house in search of militants in what appeared to be the first major offensive to regain control of areas lost to insurgents before the January elections.

More than 100 guerrillas were killed and 37 captured, according to an Iraqi official. The military said one American soldier was killed and four were wounded.

Maybe I just haven't seen it, but is it customary to make the enemies' death tally into the headline — particularly without specifying that that's what it is?

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:49 PM | Comments (12)

September 18, 2004

When You Reach the Edge of the Cliff... Turn

Having fallen out of the loop for a few day's, it's taken me a little while to reorient myself to the news of the day. As the election season heats up, it's easy to become acclimated to the pitch; step away for a time, however, and the line between the sides could not more clearly be a line between two entirely distinct realities.

Having picked one component of the investigation of Dan Rather's memos — the superscript — and decided, from personal experience, that the most superficial version of the evidence isn't true, Shiela Lennon grows in her respect for Mr. Rather:

A journalist's loyalty is to the ongoing truth of the story as it develops, whatever that may turn out to be.

I've seen very little of that in the blogosphere this week. I've seen a lot of whoops based on ignorant assumptions that were just plain wrong. ("Typewriters couldn't do that then" about things I did with typewriters then.)

Certainty based on nothing doesn't affect the truth of what happened one bit and is worthless.

Although I can't put my hands on it, at this moment, in the first day's rush of analysis, I did come across a blog post noting that some typewriters could superscript, but that the results looked nothing like the "th" in the CBS memos. (The particular post that I saw had images of the two, but I'm sure the observation has been made multiple times.) The point is that Ms. Lennon's superscripting experience as an intern at Brown University is incomplete in its application to the controversy: what did those superscripts look like? Surely, loyalty to the ongoing truth requires that comparison to be made.

To be honest, my editor's eye has led me to believe that Ms. Lennon meant her phrase to be written thus: "the ongoing anti-Bush truth of the story." Here's her very next paragraph:

This developing story brought a witness forward, Marian Carr Knox, secretary to Lt. Col. Killian in the '70s, a witness who knows what happened then, who says the memos reflect the reality she saw, but she does not know how that particular set of memos came to be. The tale of the memos themselves -- where they came from, who typed them, who held them, who turned them loose -- is now a sidebar to that story.

Knox, in short, renders Lennon's typing memory irrelevant, and her detraction fatuous. However, with a neat turn of paraphrasing, Lennon omits Ms. Knox's certainty that the documents were fake so as to pivot toward a Michael Moore-like assertion that the underlying truth can be captured with false evidence, and that the falsity of that evidence is immaterial. Also immaterial, apparently, is Ms. Knox's status as a Democrat parrot of such lines as "selected, not elected." (As well as all conflicting testimony from others who knew George Bush during his Guard days.)

My essential point is this: all sides of a political battle will be inclined (to one extent or another) to accept witnesses serving their own opinions without thorough scrutiny, but I think the American Left, particularly its representatives in the mainstream media (if that's not redundant), are reaching near delusion in their practice of what ought to be a natural tendency that one strives to neutralize. The dubious motivation of those who help John Kerry must be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (and even then...); the taint on those whose testimony helps Bush can be assumed by the fact that their testimony helps Bush.

For whatever reason, I prefer to believe that people realize, whether explicitly or subconsciously, that they're donning offal as finery. But do they? To some folks, Dan Rather is a hero; what percentage of his time does he spend speaking exclusively with them?

ADDENDUM:
There was another blog post comparing the superscripts with other superscripts from contemporary National Guard memos, with the latter being not only differently shaped, but underlined as well. However, this post was the one that I was thinking of. The bottom line is that, to approximate the superscript for his quick, never-to-be-seen memo, Killian would have had to switch the actual font ball in the typewriter and might have been required to make multiple tries to get the thing as perfectly as in the memos.

But remember: the point here is Sheila Lennon's scoffing at the blogosphere's "whoops based on ignorant assumptions," as compared to the serious journalism practiced by the likes of Dan Rather. Yet, here we have a widely linked blog post actually researching the technology involved and comparing samples. Many bloggers may not have been Ivy League interns in the early '70s, but they're clearly not afraid to follow a story to discover whether or not their claims are accurate.

Whoop!

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:09 PM | Comments (2)

September 16, 2004

Credibility Miser

Sheila Lennon links to Christopher Albritton's troubling account of events in Iraq:

Thousands of Iraqis are desperate to get a new passport and flee the country. These are often the most educated Iraqis — the have the money to get new passports and travel — so the brain-drain will accelerate.

The poor and the disenfranchised are finding their leaders in the populist and fundamentalist Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr or in the radical Islam of the jihadis, who are casting a long shadow on this formerly secular country. Iraq has its own home-grown Wahhabists now, something it didn't have 18 months ago.

In the context of all this, reporting on a half-assed refurbished school or two seems a bit childish and naive, the equivalent of telling a happy story to comfort a scared child. Anyone who asks me to tell the "real" story of Iraq — implying all the bad things are just media hype — should refer to this post. I just told you the real story: What was once a hell wrought by Saddam is now one of America's making.

But y'know, I have to tell you that I'm having trouble buying it. Something about the note from the anonymous MP offering "my perspective as a grunt who was on the ground" just rings a bit oddly — like a journalist's voice in a soldier's mouth. It doesn't help that Albritton's subsequent post is a request for confirmation of Bush's admission, "God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them. And then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did." (Following the first commenter's link for context, we are reminded that the quotation comes second-hand, by way of an anecdote shared by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas while in "cease-fire negotiations" with Islamic Jihad and the Popular and Democratic Fronts.)

It also doesn't help that, just a few days ago, Sheila Lennon tapped into the Gender Wars in order to distract from the fact that "a legion of young male bloggers" have caught Dan Rather and CBS peddling forgeries. (Although, Lennon says they're "likely" authentic.) Previously, she's implied that only the Right can be hateful, so much as to cause civil war.

Frankly, there's not a whole lot of credibility left on the Left to shake the conflicting impression that, for example, Arthur Chrenkoff leaves with his good news in Iraq posts. For one specific example, whereas Albritton's anonymous correspondent offers some vivid imagery...

No matter what we wanted to do, my squad was not going to restore electricity to Iraq. Every day for several months we had to drive past a blown up power tower with lines dangling about 20 feet off the ground.

... that imagery doesn't entirely square with Chrenkoff's military source, which notes:

U.S. engineers have helped place seven generators on line this month in Iraq, bringing the national electricity capacity to more than 5,300 megawatts - a level that exceeds the country's pre-war capacity of 4,400 megawatts.

Well, at least one can say with complete confidence that "power" is being lost somewhere.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:03 AM | Comments (6)

September 10, 2004

The Battle Begins in Earnest?

So, it looks like I was wrong about a pending media attempt to pump some life into the phony Bush memo story. As happy as I am to see that be the case, the media cynic in me can't help but wonder whether the story's handling would have been quite different if it hadn't been for the extent, accuracy, and attention to detail, as well as the sheer amount of commentary, online. Kimberly, of IrishLaw, makes the same point, based on a sentence in the above-linked WaPo piece reading, "After doubts about the documents began circulating on the Internet yesterday morning, The Post contacted several independent experts who said they appeared to have been generated by a word processor":

I'm glad the news coverage of the apparent forgery is being run as prominently as yesterday's reporting, but I'm amazed that the Post only thought to contact independent experts and do its own reporting after the blogosphere got cranking and Fox News picked it up. If the blogosphere wasn't here, would the same questions have been raised? Would people have thought to be less credulous of these heretofore undiscovered memos? Isn't being reasonably skeptical what good journalism is all about, no matter what the eventual results of investigation? But I suspect that the journalists were, rather, falling all over themselves to "balance" the negative happenings for Kerry over the last few weeks by jumping on new allegations against Bush.

The related point that struck me in Post writers Michael Dobbs and Mike Allen's sentence was the minimal extent to which the blog angle — a huge story by any measure, I would think — played a role in the Post's coverage. John Podhoretz follows that angle in the other Post:

THE populist revolution against the so-called mainstream media continues. Yesterday, the citizen journalists who produce blogs on the Internet — and their engaged readers — engaged in the wholesale exposure of what appears to be a presidential-year dirty trick against George W. Bush.

Of course, it's only natural for reporters and media organizations institutionally to be averse to exposing their decreasing influence, but after decades of excuse making about how such-and-such a story had to be reported because journalists ought only to judge newsworthiness, not content or effect, it's certainly worth a snort, here. Bordering on shocking, however, is Dan Rather's apparent decision to pick this battle in the ongoing war of the medias (new and old) to make a stand. The boys at Power Line, who have remained all over this story, speculate that Dan Rather is intending to retire soon, anyway, so he's cashing in his chips, including those usually reserved for legacy, in an attempt to get John Kerry in the White House.

Given, again, the sheer force and credibility with which the Internet media responded to this particular affront, however, the predictable stall of focusing on any coulda/maybe that still remains probably won't be an adequate guard to the flood. If it's not, then Dan Rather may very well take CBS News and perhaps even the already sinking Democrat party, if some of its members are right (or especially if it comes out that the Kerry campaign was involved in the promotion of the forgery), with him.

In response to my post on the subject from yesterday, Ben Bateman comments:

I imagine that nearly everyone who gets their news on the web pities the poor people who still rely on the old media. Perhaps this tale will play a key role in helping large numbers of those people understand just how ignorant they are choosing to remain.

To the extent that the general public actually follows news, rather than passively accepting whatever items land on the front step or the television, I imagine Ben is correct. What continues to amaze me, however, is the path that the mainstream media seems to be choosing. They could have adapted to the new reality — meaning not just the technology, but the revolutionary ethic, as well — and pretty much held their dominant positions, perhaps even using blogs as a sort of minor league from which to farm talent. Rather than swim with the current, however, they appear to be digging in, watching the flood rise, insisting that it will stop before it topples them.

Although it raises interesting questions about the degree to which the ideologues who populate the industry realize, deep down, that their views would not hold up to scrutiny, it's still a shame. Whether it's ultimately a more healthy scenario from society's vantage point may be a matter of debate for decades to come.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:25 PM | Comments (7)

September 8, 2004

That Conservative Media

The point has probably been made elsewhere, although it's the sort of perspective reminder of which one tends to lose sight over time and in the heat of discussion, but the argument over whether the mainstream media is biased might really be over the degree of leftishness that represents the objective center. The East Coast is discouragingly west if one is adrift in the Atlantic Ocean, after all.

Taking a look at Project Censored's top 10 "censored media stories of 2003–2004" (or the full list of the top 25) illustrates what people probably mean when they say that the "corporate media" tilts right, if anything:

#1: Wealth Inequality in 21st Century Threatens Economy and Democracy
#2: Ashcroft vs. the Human Rights Law that Hold Corporations Accountable
#3: Bush Administration Censors Science
#4: High Levels of Uranium Found in Troops and Civilians
#5: The Wholesale Giveaway of Our Natural Resources
#6: The Sale of Electoral Politics
#7: Conservative Organization Drives Judicial Appointments
#8: Cheney's Energy Task Force and The Energy Policy
#9: Widow Brings RICO Case Against U.S. government for 9/11
#10: New Nuke Plants: Taxpayers Support, Industry Profits

Curious as to what methodology — from a university-affiliated "media research group" — yielded a media bias list without a single conservative issue of complaint, I took a look at Project Censored's drippingly and unapologetically progressive Web site:

Between 700 and 1000 stories are submitted to Project Censored each year from journalists, scholars, librarians, and concerned citizens around the world. With the help of more than 200 Sonoma State University faculty, students, and community members, Project Censored reviews the story submissions for coverage, content, reliability of sources and national significance. The university community selects 25 stories to submit to the Project Censored panel of judges who then rank them in order of importance. Current or previous national judges include: Noam Chomsky, Susan Faludi, George Gerbner, Sut Jhally, Frances Moore Lappe, Norman Solomon, Michael Parenti, Herbert I. Schiller, Barbara Seaman, Erna Smith, Mike Wallace and Howard Zinn.

Recognize any names? Surprised that "wealth inequality" is the #1 "censored" story? (This is not a quantitative analysis; other conditions apply.) Who considers the media to be censorious of liberal causes? Well, group leader Professor Peter Phillips, for one. Of last year's reports of mass graves in Iraq and of prosecution of Serbian military leaders, Dr. Phillips writes:

These stories show how corporate media likes to give the impression that the US government is working diligently to root out evil doers around the world and to build democracy and freedom. This theme is part of a core ideological message in support of our recent wars on Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Governmental spin transmitted by a willing US media establishes simplistic mythologies of good vs. evil often leaving out historical context, special transnational corporate interests, and prior strategic relationships with the dreaded evil ones.

The hypocrisy of US policy and corporate media complicity is evident in the coverage of Donald Rumsfeld's stop over in Mazar-e Sharif Afghanistan December 4 to meet with regional warlord and mass killer General Abdul Rashid Dostum and his rival General Ustad Atta Mohammed. Rumsfeld was there to finalize a deal with the warlords to begin the decommissioning of their military forces in exchange for millions of dollars in international aid and increased power in the central Afghan government.

Upon reading the example of a Good v. Evil Mythology spoiler, perhaps you rubbed your eyes and looked again. You see, the U.S. isn't working to remove the power of evil doers and establish democracy and freedom. How could it be, when it's leveraged a warlord to remove a theocratic regime and then — talk about war being a last option — began efforts to buy-down the warlord's military forces? The simplistic right-wing mainstream media apparently chooses to hide the reality that the only options in dealing with unsavory geopolitical conditions are war and culpable complicity.

Here's more explanation, from Prof. Phillips, of how and why "the U.S. news is so biased against democratic liberation struggles all over the world":

The U.S. media ignores big questions like: Who loses in the process of economic growth and wealth accumulation? What about the one billion people in the world who are surplus labor and un-needed in the international market place? How are they to survive? What about the global issues of environmental sustainability and the using up of our unrenewable natural resources.

These are the questions of a socio-environmental apocalypse. Free market capitalism is creating an evil empire of corruption and waste that generates wretchedness for billions of people. All the indicators are that wealth and resources do not trickle down but rather become increasingly concentrated in the hands of the elites in the nation states of the First World and their senior and junior partners around the globe.

Now, I'm not a fan of all that Western culture exports with its dollars, but as I suggest to my fellow Christians, the responsibility for bringing our message across thresholds opened through economic means lies with us. So, too, could progressives see the removal of fascists, theocrats, and dictators as an opportunity. I guess the politically driven ideologues of the secular Left prefer other methods of... ahem... persuasion.

Frankly, I can't help but think that Doc Phillips is heading toward that conundrum whereby "democracy" involves the people's receiving a government and society that they wouldn't choose above the individualist "ideological messages" of the West. One might also find reason for scrutiny in the bifurcation evident in the statement that "[s]everal times over the past 100 years working people have joined with progressives." Who, in that partnership, did the heavy lifting, do you suppose?

From my perspective, working people are increasingly on to the progressives' game, and the further Left the "academics, progressives and leftists" manage to pull the mainstream media, the more discredited becomes the whole modernist bunch.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:15 PM | Comments (3)

September 6, 2004

Irreconcilable Self-Evidences

By way of a train of thought beginning with an area blogger who lives near there, as I walked into BJs wholesale club, today, another New England blogger came to mind — Bil Herron. And lo, what should I find in my email inbox this evening but a trackback from Mr. Herron responding to my previous post. School starts tomorrow, and I've only got a few more hours to prepare myself — both planning-wise and mentally — to walk the line between educating and entertaining 28 twelve year olds, but I do want to make a couple of points (seeing as Bil called me a "smart guy" and all).

What came to mind, when I noticed the AP's return to the Air National Guard story, were statistics like this, this, and this, as well as the grilling that White House spokesman Scott McClellan underwent over President Bush's National Guard pay stubs. In other words, I'm glad that I wasn't sipping any beverages when I read about the AP's having "identified five categories of records" that [insert innuendo] are absent from the president's records — in an article that doesn't happen to mention that John Kerry hasn't released his Vietnam-era government documentation.

As busy as I am — and this close to the election — I don't know that I can fruitfully debate the topic of media bias with somebody who, at this stage in the game, is still suggesting that "BIAS!" is just an "incredibly effective distraction" perpetuated by "the Big Republican Communications Machine." For instance, Bil finds it grasping that I highlighted the "heroism" paragraph as editorializing, but as I suggested, that paragraph serves to touch on the Kerry-related controversy without offering a single specific claim.

Saying that people have attacked somebody's "heroism" is akin to saying that they attacked his "patriotism" in that it's easily dismissed as dirty politics — even more so when 250 veterans are tagged as "some veterans who support Bush." (Note that I'm running out of time to check that 250 number, but it's about right.) For the sake of illustrating what I'm talking about (in case it isn't clear) let me contrast reporter Matt Kelley's language with something that I think would have been more balanced in an article that addresses very specific findings against Bush's record:

Democrat John Kerry commanded a Navy Swift boat in Vietnam and was awarded five medals, including a Silver Star. But his heroism has been challenged in ads by some veterans who support Bush.

Democrat John Kerry commanded a Navy Swift boat in Vietnam and was awarded five medals, including a Silver Star. But the circumstances under which he received those medals have been challenged in ads, public statements, and books by about 250 veterans who do not support his bid for the presidency.

Although I realize that it may seem a distraction, given the multiple pleas of busyness on my part, if Bil has the time and interest, I would very much like to see his substantiation of this claim:

Bonus points if you can do that while remembering that the AP duly covered the, let's say, "credibility-challenged," charges of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

In all sincerity, I truly could have missed something, but I haven't seen any AP (or other Big Media) coverage of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that comes anywhere near "duly" thorough. The existence of such reportage would seem a minimum requirement if we are to believe that media balance requires resurrection of the amply addressed Air National Guard story.

In the meantime, I'll be keeping an eye out — you know, in the BJs parking lot — for Bil's SAAB. Honk if the image is too perfect for comment.

(NB: that closing jibe is made in the spirit of respectful mirth that Bil's post about his bumper sticker seems to invite.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:48 PM | Comments (4)

Are You Kidding Me?

A partisan news service, the Associated Press, is going to bat for John Kerry:

Documents that should have been written to explain gaps in President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service are missing from the military records released about his service in 1972 and 1973, according to regulations and outside experts. ...

Challenging the government's declaration that no more documents exist, the AP identified five categories of records that should have been generated after Bush skipped his pilot's physical and missed five months of training.

Reporter Matt Kelley does mention attacks on Kerry's record — admitting, it seems to me, that his reportage is meant as return fire — but he manages to do so without citing a single specific accusation. Check out the editorializing:

Democrat John Kerry commanded a Navy Swift boat in Vietnam and was awarded five medals, including a Silver Star. But his heroism has been challenged in ads by some veterans who support Bush.

You know, it's almost getting boring to highlight these things. Maybe the growing public discontent with news services offers a partial explanation for AP reporters' hearing people boo everywhere they go.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:43 AM | Comments (1)

September 3, 2004

A Can of Whupass with His Name on It

Jay Nordlinger passes along an anecdote that made me laugh aloud (in a cheering way):

You may want to hear a little more from Zell Miller — this is from the Imus radio program: "A 73-year-old man doesn't have any business coming to New York and getting involved in all this stuff. He ought to stay down in Young Harris with his two yellow labs, Gus and Woodrow, and let the world go by, I guess. I had just been holding one" — just been holding one! — "for Chris Matthews ever since I saw him browbeat Michelle Malkin on his show that night. He wouldn't let that little 5'2", 95-pound girl say a word, and I just said to myself, 'If he ever gets into my face like that, I'm gonna pop him.'"

ADDENDUM:
For readers who are squeamish about violence (at least when insinuated by those of conservative bent), I note that Uncle Zell obviously meant a rhetorical pop.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:23 PM

Pop the Bubble

Proclaims Providence Journal blogger Sheila Lennon:

Nobody who voted for Al Gore is likely to vote for Bush this time, but a lot of 2000 Bush supporters -- fiscal conservatives, gay Republicans such as Andrew Sullivan, people living on fixed incomes, people of faith who aren't so sure that the voice speaking to George Bush and molding American policy is actually the voice of God -- are likely to stay home or vote for Kerry.

Sounds like repercolated by-the-coffee-machine wisdom from around the Projo staff lounge — "it stands to reason" logic on a question that ought to be a matter of evidence. Interestingly, just a few paragraphs down, Ms. Lennon mentions Zell Miller. Nobody, I guess.

I'm loathe to be over-confident, and I have to admit being a bit fearful of its extent, but I am so looking forward to reading around the Internet the day after President Bush wins (perhaps in a landslide). Will the by-the-coffee-machine chitchat include at least a hint of the honest question, "How could we have been so wrong?"

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:23 AM | Comments (11)

September 2, 2004

A Southerner and a Lady's Honor

Wizbang, who has a link to video, mentions it, but I haven't seen much commentary on what I think is one of the most interesting aspects of the Zell Miller v. Chris Matthews fight: the Senator's defense of Michelle Malkin's honor. From the transcript:

MILLER: If you are going to ask me a question, step back and let me answer.

MATTHEWS: Senator, please.

MILLER: You know, I wish we...

MILLER: I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel.

MILLER: Now, that would be pretty good.

Don't ask me—don't pull that...

MATTHEWS: Can you can come over? I need you, Senator. Please come over.

MILLER: Wait a minute. Don't pull that kind of stuff on me, like you did that young lady when you had her there, browbeating her to death. I am not her. I am not her.

MATTHEWS: Let me tell you, she was suggesting that John Kerry purposely shot himself to win a medal. And I was trying to correct the record.

MILLER: You get in my face, I am going to get back in your face. ... You ask these questions and then you just talk over what I am trying to answer, just like you did that woman the other day.

For a sense of Miller's effect on Matthews, just slowly scroll down the Miller interview portion of the transcript. After Matthew's chastening, the questions and answers come in large blocks — almost paragraphs. I'm not a big-time TV personality, but that sort of discussion seems much more productive, and much more interesting, to me. That a Senator had to demand it makes this comment from Matthews later in his show even more delectable:

I think when he goes back and starts reading what I said, instead of checking on the latest blog site, he will learn a lot more about what's going on here.

I think Miller does know "what's going on," and Matthews is beginning to figure it out, too. Online transcripts make it obvious who talks in incomprehensible bulletpoints. And even the talking heads are beginning to feel the media earth shaking.

ADDENDUM:
Michelle applauds here.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:26 AM | Comments (11)

August 28, 2004

The Mad Villain Rips Off His Mask

It's starting to seem as if having gone so far out on a credibility limb in support of John Kerry has given news folks a taste of honesty, and they like it. I mean, this post from Ramesh Ponnuru is simply jaw-dropping:

Doug Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, sent out a press release on the latest partial-birth ruling. Here's an email he got in response from Todd Eastham, the North American news editor for Reuters: "What's your plan for parenting & educating all the unwanted children you people want to bring into the world? Who will pay for policing our streets & maintaining the prisons needed to contain them when you, their parents & the system fail them? Oh, sorry. All that money has been earmarked to pay off the Bush deficit. Give me a frigging break, will you?"

Yes, yes, it's Reuters, and we all know what that means, but Mr. Eastham has just rendered nearly worthless any reportage that his company might offer on matters pertaining to abortion. And I'm surely not alone in believing that all he has done is to express what many of his peers wish professional ethics permitted them to say.

Personally, I'm thrilled to have the obvious laid out so candidly, and it's fascinating to watch. Still, waiting for the public to catch on can be frustrating; meanwhile, the scornfully presented misinformation continues.

ADDENDUM:
As Hugh Hewitt puts it, with reference to a separate incident:

But poor, embarrassed Jim Boyd has performed a service, even in his humiliation. His exposure as a blustery, bullying and ultimately bittter hack is another warning sign in a month of such warnings to old media. The rules have changed. The monopoly is broken. You can't ignore the truth or the people who publicize it, and if you slander them, they have the tools of both rebuttal and exposure. As I wrote last week, it takes a considerable amount more talent, learning and drive to succeed at the highest level of the law than it does to be a time-serving fast food outlet for cliches of the left at a largely ignored editorial page of a second tier paper. Boyd mixed it up with the wrong guys, and even if his friends won't tell him the truth, he must already know that his paper saw what he did and gave the Powerline men another column as a result.

BY THE WAY:
I've learned not to expect major blogosphere coverage of news mistakes and/or bias related to matters of abortion. One might call it a bias about bias.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:29 PM | Comments (3)

August 20, 2004

In a Sea of Snickers

I haven't had much to say about the Swift Boat Veterans and the media reaction to them, because it's in the high-profile blogger domain, and it's so obvious a call that I've nothing to add. See Instapundit for broad coverage; see Michelle Malkin's heavily trackbacked post for her first-hand encounter with the smoking and wheezing media spin machine in action.

As much as I've read on the topic, and as accustomed as we all are in the online world to stunning bias on the part of our better-paid counterparts in the mainstream, however, it's still a surreal experience to come across the coverage about which we're all complaining. Heading back from the post office, I just caught a brief ABC radio news segment related to the Vets, and the entire story — without mentioning what sorts of things the group is saying — was about how it might "backfire" on President Bush. ABC's official analyst George Stephanopoulos — yes, the former Clinton aide — described the dramatic moment at which John Kerry will turn to President Bush during a debate and say, "John McCain has condemned the Swift Boat Veterans' attacks on me. Why won't you?"

To anybody who's keeping track of both sides of this aspect of the campaign, that segment is reminiscent of one of those cliché scenes in a comedy when the con artist doesn't know that everybody else knows what he's up to and keeps going with some ridiculous story. I can't help but wonder how many people laughing behind their hands the newsies can willfully ignore before they find it necessary to try to salvage their credibility.

Can they even stop?

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:23 PM | Comments (3)

August 13, 2004

If a Tree Falls with No Coverage...

This part of Gary Aldrich's advice from experience to the swift boat vets is chilling:

The establishment can't stand people like you. Especially not now, not after the candidates have gone through the primary process and are coming down to the wire. There is much campaigning to come, and so much money to be spent. You just cannot have a circumstance where the people are given honest information that would alter the course of an election. It's just not done, you see?

Besides, the mainstream media does not like George Bush, and they will do nothing to help him win re-election. Did you think for a minute that they would rush to cover your press conferences and report the news that the majority of Veterans cannot stand John Kerry? Did you actually believe you would be invited on "Sixty Minutes"? Even now, reporters are out looking for your dirty laundry and trying to poke holes in your stories. After they find out that your stories match, have the ring of truth, and that you're decent folk just trying to do what's right, they will simply close their notebooks and quietly walk away.

That's an image to store away for future usage as the final scene of a book or movie. The notebook closes. It never happened.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:39 PM | Comments (5)

August 12, 2004

Embryonic Advertisement

ADDENDUM:
To change the layout of this page to one that you may find easier to read, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.


I'm not sure my blood pressure could take the viewing habits required of the good folks at the Media Research Center. That's my conclusion, anyway, after a half-hour of uncharacteristic television watching tonight.

Appropriately enough, the segment of ABC's Primetime Thursday that aired directly before Reagan daughter Patti Davis's report on a teenage activist for embryonic stem-cell research was called "The Joy of Selling." ABC ought to have run a disclaimer before Davis's segment admitting that it was an unpaid advertisement, not to be mistaken for reportage.

The segment profiled Tessa Wick, a thirteen year old daughter of Hollywood producers, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age eight. Sadly, somebody is leading Tessa to false hope:

"Nobody can tell you, tell a kid to their face, 'I don't care about you enough to help you,' " she said. "The science did their part, now it's [President Bush's] part to take a chance on it and he hasn't."

In fact, the scientists have not yet accomplished anything definitive, something that stands as a huge silence in the report: viewers would have no sense of how "potentially" (Dr. Gary Small's word) it is that "a stem cell could be developed that produces normal pancreatic cells, and those could be injected into somebody like Tessa who has juvenile diabetes, and in a sense she could grow a new pancreas." Even more resoundingly absent from the report is any mention of the fact that there's an alternative, thus far more promising, way of procuring and using the technology: adult stem cells.

President Bush, it merits mentioning, could represent the entirety of the opposition movement, as far as Primetime makes its viewers aware, so the segment is sort of a bias twofer — support embryonic stem-cell funding, don't vote for Bush. The online text version does acknowledge that private funds can still back the research, although it reads like an afterthought, and I didn't catch the factoid on the televised version. What did come through loud and clear was the mother's response to President Bush's stem cell speech a few years ago (emphasis added):

"We sat in front of the television as a family and sobbed," Fisher said. "Every single one of us, as we watched him talk about taking years off our child's life."

Increasingly, I've noticed a recurring discussion in the comments sections of some of the posts on this blog, about the appropriateness of equivalence between liberals and conservatives. While it is of course true that, for any given person on the Left, one can find an individual on the Right to stand as an antipodal representative, and vice versa, at this point in time, any sense of proportion — and of perception — belies assertions of broad balance. Primetime, if its handling of the stem-cell issue is any indication, is certainly no more "neutral" than Rush Limbaugh, and Rush's biases are headlined, rather than hidden. (Going by this segment, I'd actually place Rush a bit higher on the fair and balanced scale.)

Moreover, watching the flashy, polished presentation of the news shows, one gets a sense of the degree of production behind them. There are crews and professionals working together to make the shows happen. There's money. Power. And when those who wield it decide that they want some policy or other, well friend, let's just say that one shouldn't consider himself informed based solely on the "news" that they provide.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:53 PM | Comments (3)

August 3, 2004

Doonesbury Hatred

Garry Trudeau must be going through bad times, indeed, when newspapers are having to sacrifice readers in order to run Doonesbury:

I am amazed that you continue to print Garry Trudeau and his Doonesbury daily diatribe on the comics page. These vitriolic ramblings are no more comic than an obituary. Please cancel my subscription until such time as the cartoon is, preferably, removed from the paper altogether, or at least moved to the editorial page, where it might more appropriately belong.

SHELLY SHATKIN

Warren

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:12 PM | Comments (6)

July 29, 2004

The Day That Fox Mattered

Brent Bozell wrote something that caught my attention in a recent column about hatred of Fox News and a "documentary" that has emerged as its crystallized form:

When Fox News debuted in 1996, liberals couldn't contain their laughter at what they considered a sophomoric challenge to the dominant media. Then Fox became a pest, the proverbial gnat that wouldn't go away. Ultimately -- almost overnight -- Fox overtook its cable competitors and became king of the hill. Fox became a menace on the media landscape that should have been aborted before birth, a blatantly biased and bullying blight on America.

One would have to check ratings numbers and the like to confirm this, but my sense is that the exact "overnight" was that from September 11 to September 12, 2001. All Fox stations plugged into Fox News for a few days, and I can't be the only American who realized immediately that the network offered a chance to keep up with events without having to sift through agenda-driven distractions and to bite lips over inane liberal commentary. Personified, I couldn't stand to turn, for information about the horrific history unfolding, to the smirky, perky face of Katie Couric.

Thereafter, I went through the not-very-easy process of requesting that Cox Communications, my cable provider, carry Fox News in its regular line up. After calling several employees of the company, I finally learned that the pick-up had already been scheduled for some time in December (as I recall).

I don't know whether a wave of similarly persistent customers brought about that change after 9/11, although it's entirely possible, because it took me about a week of remotivation and effort to make my request. But just think about that: almost instantly, I realized that I could trust Fox News more than I could any other station. What does that say about the news sources with which we'd been living for the previous decades?

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:23 AM | Comments (3)

July 22, 2004

The Media Head Fake

So a report that nuclear missiles had been found in Iraq was pretty quickly refuted. Although coverage has been limited, a quick look at Yahoo!'s news search suggests that the refutation was reported more prominently than the possibility of discovery.

Probably very few supporters or, especially, opponents of war expect to find anything as clear as mounted nuclear warheads. Moreover, just as few supporters hinged their support on such a tremendous find. However, the blip does provide an opportunity to observe one way in which the media shapes the news.

As we've seen with many of the fool's gold finds for the Bush Lied! prospectors, massive reportage of a claim or finding gives the public a sense that something is, or at least could be, true. The subsequent retractions or substantial rephrasings, usually more subdued, are rarely enough to right the gut feeling of citizens whose politics are mostly decided at that level.

Sadly, the gut has increasingly reigned supreme even among those who are supposed to be better informed — hence the opinion among ostensibly respectable people that Michael Moore's film illustrates some underlying truth, even though it is built entirely upon falsehood, that "the confusions trailing Mr. Moore's narrative are what make 'Fahrenheit 9/11' an authentic and indispensable document of its time."

In an informational climate in which the charges of one side are shouted, while the rebuttals and other charges of the opposite side are whispered, who wouldn't be confused?

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:02 PM | Comments (1)

July 1, 2004

Who's the Objective News Source?

Check out this interactive stunner from the Providence Journal:

The sad thing is that, when I checked the results a little while ago, the combined responses for "Bush" and "Both" were exactly equal to "Hussein." (Although this seems to have improved somewhat already.) The encouraging thing is that many of the written responses fault the paper for even asking the question.

Perhaps better questions would be:

  • Do people's skewed views of moral equivalence implicate the news media?
  • Does "objectivity" mean giving credence to the rants of deposed tyrants?

ADDENDUM:
Well, look at that. The folks at Projo.com have replaced the survey.

Probably a good idea.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:05 AM | Comments (14)

June 28, 2004

The Economics of Bias

Bruce Bartlett has given some thought to the economic aspect of liberal media bias. This isn't representative of the breadth of the piece, but it begins to formulate a response to the economic "proof" that the media isn't too liberal:

Economic theory says that conservative news outlets should have come into existence to serve that market. However, Prof. Daniel Sutter of the University of Oklahoma points out that there are severe barriers to entry into the news business that make it very difficult to start a new newspaper or television network, thus allowing liberal bias to perpetuate itself.

Another answer comes from a study by Prof. David Baron of Stanford. He theorizes that profit-maximizing corporations tolerate liberal bias because it allows them to pay lower wages to liberal journalists. By being allowed to exercise their bias, they are willing to accept less pay than they would demand if they were in a business where bias was not tolerated. Conservatives are perhaps less willing to pay such a financial price.

I'm not so sure about that last sentence. To my limited experience, there are plenty of conservative writers who would pay that price were the offer on the table. Baron's point, it seems to me, is more of an extension of Sutter's. The bias is ingrained among the newsie folks, and the business folks let it remain thus not just because it enables lower wages, but perhaps more because a battle between the administrative and content departments would be hugely disruptive. (I'm sure there is also aversion to shifting an outlet's "voice" too quickly.)

ADDENDUM:
Chris Muir's got cartoon commentary related to this topic.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:47 AM | Comments (1)

June 17, 2004

The 9/11 Commission's Iraq/al Qaeda Statement Enters Phase 2

In April 2003, I noted the truth by repetition strategy of creating "common knowledge." In September, I described the mechanism whereby true statements are transformed into a pattern of deception. A sort of in between strategy — which I think I've described before but can't find just now — is to add layers of spin until an untruth is common knowledge. The 9/11 Commission's suggestion about links between Iraq and al Qaeda has already entered its second phase of spin.

The statement itself, the context of which seems to overstate what can be said to be "apparent," is simply: "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." From this, the Associated Press reported:

The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks found "no credible evidence" of a link between Iraq and al-Qaida in attacks against the United States, contradicting President Bush's assertion that such a connection was among the reasons it was necessary to topple Saddam Hussein.

Note the contorted language: "a link between Iraq and al-Qaida in attacks." What does that even mean, grammatically? What it means, in practice, is that the reporter, Hope Yen, was trying to find a way to reconcile the first-paragraph declaration of a Bush "assertion" with the sixth-paragraph admission that:

[The Bush administration] stopped short of claiming that Iraq was directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks but critics say Bush officials left that impression with the American public.

Be the difference between giving critics an impression and making an assertion what it may, "no evidence of cooperation" has become "no evidence of a link," something that the commission's document (PDF) clearly disproves:

The Sudaneses, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded Bin Ladin to cease this support [of anti-Saddam Islamists] and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Ladin in 1994... There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Ladin had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.

Nonetheless, the layering continues. Today, the AP blurs all distinctions between ties, links, collaboration on specific projects, and so on, and presents the commission's statement as evidence that one of the president's justifications for war has been undermined:

The independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks said Wednesday that no evidence exists that al-Qaida had strong ties to Saddam Hussein - a central justification the Bush administration had for toppling the former Iraqi regime. Bush also argued that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, which have not been found, and that he ruled his country by with an iron fist and tortured political opponents.

Although bin Laden asked for help from Iraq in the mid-1990s, Saddam's government never responded, according to a report by the commission staff based on interviews with government intelligence and law enforcement officials. The report asserted that "no credible evidence" has emerged that Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 strikes.

Bush said Saddam was a threat because he had not only ties to al-Qaida, but to other terrorist networks as well.

Now, "cooperation on attacks" is made to cover everything from vague "strong ties" to specific involvement "in the Sept. 11 strikes." Everything but the carefully worded claim that the commission actually made. In this way, the president can always be said to have premised the war on something that isn't proven.

Recollections may differ, and I'm not going to go in search of contemporary statements, but my sense is that the pattern hasn't changed from the very start, with "critics" saying that the president premised the war on specific involvement in 9/11, and the administration clarifying that the War on Terror is more broadly against a network of groups and states and that Iraq was part of it. When information comes out indicating a lack of links, the accusations of the "critics" grow broader. When information comes out indicating some communication, the claims of the "critics" become more specific. When pressed, the media throws up the "impression" screen.

At what level of the process, I wonder, is it necessary for mutually reaffirming delusions to give way to active (and despicable) deception?

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:03 PM

May 15, 2004

Too Tender for All but Our Own Evil

Jonathan Gurwitz has a good addition to the mounting commentary dealing with what the media thinks we can afford to be shown and what it thinks we can afford not to be shown:

Acknowledging this disparity does, however, reveal something about the motivations of those in the media who practice this double standard. Abu Ghraib is the realization of an anti-American fantasy, the embodiment of "the Ugly American" in the post-modern age. Its images are a montage of every perceived vice of American society, and every grievance against it. Islamic fundamentalists see the emancipation of women, homosexuality and sexual decadence taken to its logical -- American -- end.

Arab and Third World nationalists see evidence of American imperialism.

Multiculturalists see proof that American society is no better than the societies that globalization and the spread of democracy threaten to supplant.

Anti-war activists revel in a digital My Lai -- a final reckoning of decades-old indictments of the American military.

When all the images have been broadcast, when all this American self-flagellation is complete, perhaps the media will finally show us the Americans tortured by flames and forced to leap 100 stories to their death. Perhaps they'll give us the images of the other incomprehensible crimes that have occurred in the Mideast in the two weeks since the Abu Ghraib photos emerged.

Gurwitz isn't talking about our crimes, and he isn't optimistic about his maybe.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:41 PM | Comments (4)

May 13, 2004

Heroes Like in the Movies

Donald Sensing highlights an example of military heroism that is surely one of many:

He had his driver move the vehicle through a breach along his flank, where he was immediately taken under fire from an entrenched machine gun. Without hesitation, Chontosh ordered the driver to advance directly at the enemy position enabling his .50 caliber machine gunner to silence the enemy.

He then directed his driver into the enemy trench, where he exited his vehicle and began to clear the trench with an M16A2 service rifle and 9 millimeter pistol. His ammunition depleted, Chontosh, with complete disregard for his safety, twice picked up discarded enemy rifles and continued his ferocious attack.

When a Marine following him found an enemy rocket propelled grenade launcher, Chontosh used it to destroy yet another group of enemy soldiers.

When his audacious attack ended, he had cleared over 200 meters of the enemy trench, killing more than 20 enemy soldiers and wounding several others.

It wouldn't take much television production wizardry or creative report writing to make that a compelling war story. Yet, the wires show only a few papers and one television station mentioning Capt. Chontosh, and all but a niche market magazine were from Chontosh's local area in New York state.

Remember that the next time the necessity of entertainment value is cited as an excuse for skewed coverage.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:28 PM

May 12, 2004

Doctoring the News

Dr. Karl Stephens, of Barrington, Rhode Island, diagnoses the problem with the Providence Journal's coverage of Donald Rumsfeld's testimony before the Senate and House Armed Services Committee. Stephens notes that Rumsfeld and Gen. Meyers emphasized the actual timeline of events related to Abu Ghraib and the importance of allowing problem cases to work their way up the investigative chain, given the direct and strong authority of those of greater authority. Then:

Not surprisingly, none of the accounts of the hearing published by The Journal mentioned either point. Instead, the journalists preferred to concentrate not on the facts presented by Rumsfeld, et al., but on the deceitful implications of Senators Edward Kennedy, Robert Byrd, et al., that none of this would have ever been investigated if the pictures hadn't been -- illegally, one might add -- shown on TV.

The Journal still doesn't seem to understand that in this era of cable TV, with multiple news outlets, people can watch for themselves entire hearings and press conferences, and then see the next day how the newspapers distort what was said. (It is then especially disillusioning to realize it has probably always been like this.)

Wonder what Dr. Stephens's practice is. Barrington isn't that far away, and confirmation that I'm not insane would surely benefit my health.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:09 PM | Comments (5)

May 11, 2004

Barbarity Fools Technology

I realize that this is just an unfortunate confluence of a useful technology employed by Google's advertising program with a horrific story, but I have to admit that my eyes bulged when I spotted the following on the Providence Journal's Web page. I also have to admit that, fairly or not, all companies involved took a hit in my impression of them. Click the image for the actual-size version.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:17 PM

May 7, 2004

The Unexpected Week Makes the Month Unexpected

I was a little more snide than I ought to have been while responding, on April 15, to an AP article about an unexpected increase in the number of new unemployment claims. My hints that the Providence Journal only ran the piece because it was bad news have been made less justified by the paper's running a more sunny piece this week:

Employers added 288,000 jobs to their payrolls in April as the nation's unemployment rate slipped to 5.6 percent, reinforcing hopes for a sustained turnaround in the jobs market that had lagged for so long.

Payrolls have risen now for eight straight months, with 867,000 new jobs created so far this year, the Labor Department reported Friday. The strengthening jobs market comes just in time to aid President Bush's re-election efforts, which were in question a few months ago based on his economic record.

Bush is on track to be the first president since the Great Depression to have lost jobs under his watch. But the hiring gains in recent months have shrunk those losses to about 1.5 million.

One mitigating factor, for my part, is that the previous piece reported an unexpected weekly change:

The increase was far above the rise of 7,000 that economists had been expecting, but analysts cautioned against reading too much into a single week's change in the volatile series. Labor Department analysts noted that the period covered was the first week in a new quarter, a time when the jobless claims can be even more volatile.

Whereas the current piece notes an unexpected monthly change:

Revisions to payrolls also showed a stronger jobs market than previously reported. Last month's 308,000 payroll gains were revised up to 337,000. April's showing surprised analysts, who had expected payrolls of about 180,000 to 200,000.

I'm still not sure whether the Projo runs weekly updates, and as the monthly view shows, they don't appear to be particularly useful. Still, hopefully the improving job market will lift my baseline mood enough to temper my suspicions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:59 AM

May 1, 2004

An Anti-War Hat Trick

Gabriel Rosenberg commented to my post about the prison photos as follows, in part:

It seems to me that Goldberg is implying that since there was no need to influence government action, there was no need to run the photos. That seems rather odd to me. I don't think influencing government action should be the primary objective of the news media. Rather it should be to report the news. Now that requires making quite subjective decisions of what is news and how to tell the news story.

Actually, I took Goldberg to be applying the sabotage aspect of his comment to whomever handed them to the press to begin with. As for CBS, the point is that, barring some ethical requirement — like exposing a cover-up — its decision to publish is, as Rosenberg subsequently suggests, a prudential matter. In this case, I think the network made the wrong decision, one that will have a cost in both money and lives.

And, indeed, Goldberg has clarified along these lines. He also mentioned something that I'll look into if I have the time (which I probably won't):

CBS had a wide range of options available to it. It chose to do the (second) most sensational thing it could (apparently they had the pictures a while ago and held off at the army's request pending an investigation. Couldn't they have held off longer, pending a trial?) They deserve no praise and they cannot claim they had no choice.

The interesting part is in parentheses. The decision to hold off may very well have been out of courtesy, or even as part of some deal with the military, and I don't know that I'm prepared to attribute this level of coordination of anti-war activity in the media. But still, all in one batch, we've got these pictures, the Fallujah "pull out," and Ted Koppel's roll call of death. If I were trying to define a war effort as an echo of Vietnam, presenting these three events in close proximity couldn't hurt.

During sweeps. While the Democrat candidate's campaign is beginning to flag.

ADDENDUM:
Gabriel Rosenberg has pasted the following in the comment section of this post:

Two weeks ago, 60 Minutes II received an appeal from the Defense Department, and eventually from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, to delay this broadcast -- given the danger and tension on the ground in Iraq.

60 Minutes II decided to honor that request, while pressing for the Defense Department to add its perspective to the incidents at Abu Ghraib prison. This week, with the photos beginning to circulate elsewhere, and with other journalists about to publish their versions of the story, the Defense Department agreed to cooperate in our report.

He doesn't provide a link; I'll look into it when/if I have a chance.

ADDENDUM II:
Dr. Rosenberg has placed two relevant links in the comments section. The second, to a piece by William Scott Malone, has the more interesting angle:

But it was Rather's rather disingenuous statement at the end of the segment that set many tongues a wag. As Rather explained it, "with other journalists about to publish their versions of the story, the Defense Department agreed to cooperate in our report." Perhaps true enough on its face, but it was CBS News who had approached Hersh about the story in the first place.

In essence, Rather and crew played it rather well, pointing to "other journalists" as the cause for Gen. Myers to relent not only on his "appeal [for a] delay," as Rather carefully phrased it, but to provide the anchorman with an exclusive satellite interview with the deputy coalition commander, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit about the abuse allegations in Bagdhad.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:59 PM | Comments (4)

News to Turn the Nation

Joe Mariani, of Guardian WatchBlog thinks the news media is intent on breaking the stubborn will of the American people to support the President along the many fronts in the War on Terror:

It wasn't enough for the Left when the "mainstream" media made it a point to include the daily US soldier body count from Iraq in every news report in every medium. It wasn't enough when they unapologetically added the number of those killed in accidents in Iraq -- which, frankly, could have happened almost anywhere -- to those killed in combat, just to inflate the American body count further. It wasn't enough for the Left that, for the last half of 2003, the media talking heads almost gleefully announced a second daily Iraq soldier body count, with the tagline, "since President Bush declared major combat over on May first." Support for the liberation of Iraq from dictator Saddam Hussein remained strong, despite the best efforts of the Left to instill an anti-war attitude into every viewer.

Mariani notes various turns of strategy in this effort. Similarly, John Hawkins suggests that it's a pattern of behavior that leads a large portion of the American audience to be suspicious to the point of anger of Ted Koppel's lament-the-lives special:

Put simply, there are a lot of people, myself, who think the left leaning media's coverage of this war has been, largely for political and ideological reasons, lopsided to the point of being despicable. Remembering the lives ended and forever altered by the war is important, but obsessively playing up every life lost, every problem, and dramatically exaggerating every negative while either ignoring or downplaying the reasoning behind the war, what we're trying to do, and all the positive things that have been accomplished, should in no way, shape, or form, be considered to be objectively "reporting the news".

Hawkins believes that a non-sweeps-week production by Brit Hume would be received differently. Mariani asks why the casualties from Afghanistan aren't included in the honor roll. Me, I wonder if anybody in Koppel's crew considered splitting the screen to show pictures of smiling Iraqi children, a captured Saddam Hussein, or soldiers at work helping with reconstruction. The basic idea — names and faces, in this case — doesn't really convey the message of a thing. Presentation, author, and context do that.

Lane Core says the same, with reference to the President's belief that the media does not represent the public:

Journalism is politics by another name. The idea that "the press" represents "the people" is, and always was, smoke & mirrors. The press isn't objective; the press was never objective. The press, in its various manifestations, represents only those people who happen to agree with it. ...

If you follow a story in mainstream media and in conservative media, you'd often be tempted to think they're covering two different stories, the facts presented are so different and their presentation so different.

I agree with Lane that there's nothing wrong with this state of affairs, as long as one can turn to varying sources and find each reasonably explicit about its angle. In fact, that's ultimately a more effective way to dig through to the reality, because the contrast highlights which facts are identical (objectively true), similar (somewhat debatable), or conflicting (subjectively layered).

Of course, the mainstream media will guard the "objective" label on its door like a foreign hooker guards a clean statement of health. For one thing, admitting to partisanship lessens the target demographic (on paper, at least). For another, if the biases were well delineated, there would no longer be plausible deniability or basis for outrage when people point out which side of a dispute, controversy, or war each version of a story helps.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:54 PM | Comments (1)

Iconography in the Media's Hands

Sheila Lennon writes about those disturbing pictures of American soldiers humiliating Iraqi prisoners. She focuses on the wired man on the box:

There are more photos, and video, but this one photo above -- part scarecrow, part crucifixion -- is the one that sticks. Like the photo of the fleeing girl, her clothes burned off by napalm in Vietnam, it will be the icon for the Iraq war.

Terror? Can the person perched on that box, told he would die if aching muscles give way, be feeling anything else?

The icon for the Iraq war? Only if the members of the media strive to make it so. Only if they discard all those compelling pictures of liberation and falling statues. Only if they never bother to publish pictures of those large sections of Iraq returning to a state of life and freedom that they haven't known since the elders were children. Note Lennon's language: it will be. Not could or might, but will.

The despicable acts of a handful of idiotic soldiers — somewhere around one one-millionth of the total force — have unforgivably given these aging Boomers exactly what they wanted: hope that they can once again defeat the United States military. Pictures of Ba'athist prisoners. Pictures of coffins. Pictures like this one currently on the Providence Journal's main page:

Click on the picture and the next headline softens the message: "Marines Hand Over Positions in Fallujah." Read about two-thirds through the article, after relation of some incidents in other cities and a tally of casualties in April, and the reality shifts a little bit more:

Under the plan, a force of 600 to 1,100 Iraqis, many of them former soldiers from the Fallujah area, are to man checkpoints inside of the city. Marines will remain on or near the city's perimeter and at a later stage conduct their own patrols inside the city.

The fact that the withdrawal, such as it is, and the revelation of those photographs have hit the news at the same moment in time is unfortunate indeed. God help us if the media wins its war.

ADDENDUM:
Jonah Goldberg's comments raise a worthwhile point:

I don't blame 60 Minutes for running them -- though I don't applaud them either. But a person would/could be morally obligated to leak these pictures if the army was covering it up or refusing to investigate. It doesn't sound like that was the case. So releasing the photos isn't prodding the government to do the right thing, it's encouraging millions of Arabs to hate us. That's not whistle-blowing, that's sabotage.

ADDENDUM II:
Interesting how reporters pick what numbers to disclose and highlight. The Baltimore Sun piece by Ariel Sabar that Lennon quotes offers only the following numbers:

The Army said yesterday that 14 of the 17 soldiers implicated in an investigation of abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison are from the 372nd. They face either criminal or administrative charges.

In contrast, an AP piece by Salah Nasrawi offers the following:

Six U.S. soldiers facing courts-martial in the abuse allegations have been reassigned in Iraq. Their boss, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, and at least seven others have been suspended from their duties at Abu Ghraib, the U.S. military said.

The six seem to be the central group responsible, and although details are scarce, it would seem reasonable to guess that most of the others either knew of it at the time or found out later and are being punished for not reporting it (or similar offenses). In other words, if it's true that only the six were directly involved, the Sun almost triples the impression of the extent by making reference — without breaking down the numbers — to those "implicated." (That's assuming that the 17 figure came from a reliable source.) On this basis, Lennon declares an emblem to have been born.

Six soldiers out of a group that's currently 138,089 Americans strong. Think of the power of a handful of soldiers to tar the United States! The blame for the disproportionate damage rests centrally with the soldiers, but there's plenty of culpability for exaggerating the incident — declaring it representative, even iconic — to go around.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:15 AM | Comments (5)

April 30, 2004

And then There's the News Department

Was Jennifer Levitz able to find no one to offer a contrasting view for her Providence Journal article, "Doubts about the war hit home"? It wouldn't even have had to be somebody local; after all, she devoted 208 words to Virginia anti-war protester Larry Syverson.

It wouldn't be appropriate to fault grieving or just worried families for their sentiments, and Levitz only quotes some of those in the article regarding other people's reactions. But there's a growing storyline in the mainstream press:

The doubts about the Bush administration's steering of the war in Iraq are rising, according to experts who study public opinion, as April ends with the highest number of U.S. casualties in a month. Tomorrow marks one year since President Bush stood on an aircraft carrier and declared the mission accomplished. ...

People in the United States are making up their minds on how they view the war in Iraq, she said yesterday in an interview. ...

Americans are comparing those wartime sights with what they are hearing from the administration -- that the electricity is back in Iraq, and schools are open, and that only small parts of the country are unstable. ...

[Kathleen Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania] said that when the public starts asking itself these questions, "you have the potential" for an attitude shift.

A little research would show that the media has been proclaiming shifts in attitudes and doubts about the war all along, but frankly, the whole thing is too nauseating to investigate in depth. Levitz's entire piece offers not a single statement from anybody — family or "expert," local or national — declaring pride and the understanding that the job must be finished.

By way of contrast, in John Mulligan's "Historians, soldiers hesitant to call Iraq another Vietnam," we get this:

WHEN CRITICS of the war look at these problems, they see shades of Vietnam: a misplaced American confidence in its economic and military might and a refusal to take into account the cultural and political realities of a foreign country.

Further, the war's critics find echoes of Vietnam in the Bush administration's changing emphasis in its rationale for war. Before the invasion, Mr. Bush and his team stressed the "gathering" threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links to international terrorism.

Since the post-invasion failure to turn up evidence of such weapons, Mr. Bush has stressed the promise that Iraq holds "to change the world and make America more secure" by becoming a beacon of democracy.

"WE'RE FACING a quagmire in Iraq, just as we faced a quagmire in Vietnam," Kennedy said in a television interview after his April 5 speech. "We didn't understand what we were getting ourselves into in Vietnam. We didn't understand what we were doing in Iraq. We had misrepresentations about what we were able to do militarily in Vietnam. I think we are finding that out in Iraq as well. . . .

Suggestions that Iraq and Vietnam don't equate get a "but still"; statements that Americans are anxious about war (as well they should be) get unwavering reinforcement. We can only hope that Americans don't allow the media's assessment to be self-fulfilling spin. Every loss is lamentable. Every casualty is deserving of prayers and tears. But we cannot afford to forget that each one saves unknowable masses in the future... if we hold strong.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:01 PM | Comments (2)

April 23, 2004

The Perils of Local Blogging: Banned from the Conversation!

So Sheila Lennon has a survey on her Providence Journal blog, asking the following question:

The Bush Administration has banned news coverage of dead soldiers' homecomings at all military bases. The administration argues that this is done out of respect for those killed. Critics say it's an attempt to downplay the deaths of those killed. What do you think?

Unsurprisingly, the responses are running 74% to 22% against the policy. What is surprising is that I had to go out of my way to find out the running results. You have to be a registered user to take the survey, and every time I attempted to log in, I was rerouted to the sign-in form. Earlier this morning, thinking that it must have been a glitch, I decided to try again later.

Well, later came, and the rerouting continued, so I thought I'd try reregistering with another email address. And whataya know... it worked. Moreover, my original email address works for other content. So, unless I'm experiencing some weird technical quirk, I am blocked from taking Ms. Lennon's survey. It's true that there's also a comment feature, but it's anonymous, and comes with the disclaimer that "Comments will be previewed before posting." Not that I'd have said anything that might be considered a right-wing parallel to this (not out of place) comment, published at 10:02:56 today:

Bush is a draft-dodging lying moron and should resign immediately taking his greedy cabinet with him. We can hold a special election in a heartbeat and get us out of this mess he made in Iraq.

My being banned is especially curious, considering the subject of the survey. I wonder what the two commenters who've called the no-photo policy censorship would say.

ADDENDUM:
Just two quick responses to specific comments that have been left. One person says, "'Disagree' is just not strong enough....Show Americans the consequences of war - the 'good' and the 'bad.'" I could hardly agree more. Along with the running, front-page tallies of fatalities and terrorist attacks, the media should be investigating all of the personal interest pieces that would give citizens a sense of the good that is being accomplished in Iraq, despite the hardships.

Another commenter, believing the homecomings should be shown, correctly reminds everybody, "These are people, not numbers." Of course, they aren't flag-draped boxes, either.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:18 PM

April 22, 2004

Honoring the Dead with Honesty

Sheila Lennon directs readers' attention to establishment-media editor Tom Mangan's thoughts about the photo of flag-draped coffins printed by the Seattle Times (emphasis in original):

So, yeah, it's a storytelling photo. But what's the story? That we're shipping our dead home by airplane? Everybody who cares already knows that. That our soldiers have been dying in a war? Given the hornet's nest they're serving in, it could be argued that the biggest news is not how many are dead, but how many are still alive. ...

There's another story here that isn't so high-minded. It's about how we go with a photo like that because we have it and we're reasonably certain nobody else does. And because we know the authorities don't want us to publish it. The Pentagon/White House have forbidden us from taking pictures of coffins arriving home from the war, which instantly puts the thought in my head, "I'm running the first good flag-draped coffin pic I get, just to show those bastards they can't tell me what pictures I put in my paper." ...

This will always happen, it's the nature of the business. Still, I think people will respect us a lot more if we dump the pieties and just tell 'em: "look, it was a great scoop, and you'd have done the same if you'd been in my shoes." Otherwise we sound like politicians making the usual empty pronouncements.

Even with such forthright explanations, however, the press will still give the impression of rebellious teenagers — who happen to have very prominent podiums from which to stick it to the "authorities." The media's problem, in this respect, requires a much more fundamental, institutional change. In short, they would have to address the fact that very few people actually believe them when they say they run with such images to "honor the fallen."

Part of the solution might be to do a better job of respecting enlisted men and women — and the class from which they come — while they're still alive.

ADDENDUM:
Just a little disclaimer, here: I don't feel that the pieces of Mangan's post that I quoted give an accurate feel for the subtleties of what he's saying. I didn't lose much, but for a basis to react in more than just the specific way that I've done here, you should read the whole thing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:34 AM

April 21, 2004

Media Makes Message; President Speaks Through Action

In responding to my post about constraints on leaders' candor, Paul Craddick writes:

I think Justin's point definitely has merit; every time Bush and his administration have disappointed me with equivocation and avoidance of an issue, I have attenuated my disapproval by thinking of extenuating circumstances along the same lines. But if a politician is to stand for anything, at some point he/she needs to make bold and show willingness to be raked over the coals. And here I recall a valuable observation by one of my mentors at college: the moment anything interesting is said, it's amenable to misunderstanding and misrepresentation. There's little point in holding press conferences - which nominally aim at addressing questions of concern to the nation - if no serious effort is made to stake out a clear position.

First, I'm not sure what, about President Bush's position vis-à-vis Iraq and September 11, isn't clear. It may not be what Paul would like it to be, or its phrasing mightn't include exigencies that Paul would prefer, but I'd be willing to bet that he, along with most Americans, could paraphrase what that position is.

Second, correcting for press bias remains necessary, but it further must be considered that a threshold exists after which bold statements can't reach the people for whom they're intended. At some point a brave political risk becomes reckless bravado. Even if a prime-time press conference reaches a significant portion of the intended audience, weeks and months of media hammering away at what was said can transform the message. To some extent, the questions that the reporters asked already shaped our impression of the press conference in ways that obfuscate what the President said:

Mr. President, before the war, you and members of your administration made several claims about Iraq that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators with sweets and flowers, that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for most of the reconstruction; and that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, we know where they are. How do you explain to Americans how you got that so wrong? And how do you answer your opponents, who say that you took this nation to war on the basis of what have turned out to be a series a false premises? ...

Two-and-a-half years later, do you feel any sense of personal responsibility for September 11th? ...

One of the biggest criticisms of you is that whether it's WMD in Iraq, postwar planning in Iraq, or even the question of whether this administration did enough to ward off 9/11, you never admit a mistake. Is that a fair criticism? ...

Two weeks ago, a former counterterrorism official at the NSC, Richard Clarke, offered an unequivocal apology to the American people for failing them prior to 9/11. Do you believe the American people deserve a similar apology from you, and would you be prepared to give them one? ...

After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it? ...

I guess I just wonder if you feel that you have failed in any way? You don't have many of these press conferences, where you engage in this kind of exchange. Have you failed in any way to really make the case to the American public?

The last question is almost laughable in the context of this post. That the first question incorporates the spinning "we know where they are" meme illustrates the degree to which distortions compound. It's only my assessment, obviously, but these reporters were fishing for a headline. What could the President have possibly said? "Yup. It was right there in front of me; I missed it, and the deaths of thousands of Americans will be on my head until the day I join them in the grave." No, what he did say is perfectly reasonable:

There are some things I wish we'd have done when I look back. I mean, hindsight is easy. It's easy for a President to stand up and say, now that I know what happened, it would have been nice if there were certain things in place; for example, a homeland security department. ...

I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way, or that way. You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference...

Looking again at Paul's proposal for what Bush could say about the matter of WMDs, I note that — although, overall, he offers what I believe to be an appropriately qualified synopsis — he inserts this language, which would surely be cast as a preparation for backpedaling:

... there's no question that we haven't found what we - and Intelligence agencies 'round the world - were expecting. And that's not good.

Though we don't know to what extent, it's appearing more and more likely that we were all mistaken - our administration and Intelligence agencies, the previous administration, friends of the United States, UNSCOM, and others.

Indeed, that's the common wisdom, these days, and we already have evidence of how it would be handled coming from administration lips. Adding in Paul's accurate point about Hussein's capacity to make biological and chemical weapons, it seems that the President actually put forward more or less the same argument, but without the tone of admission of guilt, and without conceding as much regarding the likelihood of actually finding weapons (emphasis added):

Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe that we'll find out the truth on the weapons. That's why we've sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth, exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm [in Libya].

... We'll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time. However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today, just like it would have bothered me then. He's a dangerous man. He's a man who actually -- not only had weapons of mass destruction -- the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained people to inflict harm on America, because he hated us.

One can presume that the President's being obstinate for political purposes, or one can believe, remembering that he's got much more information than we do, that the President is being straightforward about his actual assessment. Whatever the case, it oughtn't be forgotten that our information is sifted and spun so thoroughly that entirely conflicting realities can be and are constructed. One side in this struggle is disingenuously pulling the truth toward what it would like it to be, and frankly, I find more evidence that it is the media.

Now, I don't think the administration always strikes the balance well between candor and sidestepping when it comes to specific issues. And ultimately the President is responsible for finding ways to communicate with the public. But isn't he? Despite the hostile media, isn't President get his message to the people?

I feel strongly about what we're doing. I feel strongly that the course this administration has taken will make America more secure and the world more free, and, therefore, the world more peaceful. It's a conviction that's deep in my soul. And I will say it as best as I possibly can to the American people.

I look forward to the debate and the campaign. I look forward to helping -- for the American people to hear, what is a proper use of American power; do we have an obligation to lead, or should we shirk responsibility. That's how I view this debate. And I look forward to making it, Don. I'll do it the best I possibly can. I'll give it the best shot. I'll speak as plainly as I can.

One thing is for certain, though, about me -- and the world has learned this -- when I say something, I mean it. And the credibility of the United States is incredibly important for keeping world peace and freedom.

It seems to me that the administration speaks through its actions, leaving it only to convey with words that it says what it means and means what it does.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:56 AM | Comments (2)

April 15, 2004

Going for the Bias Gold

Reuters is apparently shooting for the Most Biased Headline trophy with its piece "Tenet: Vacationing Bush Not Told of 9/11 'Clue'." This spin is all the more likely to win the prize because it is, of course, a facile favorite of lefty talkers and scribes to make a big deal about the President's time in Crawford. How delicious, for them, if they were to find a way to enable the delusion that those vacations caused 9/11. Note that the headline even spins off from the text:

Commissioner Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman, asked Tenet if he had ever mentioned to Bush the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui in mid-August 2001 after he had been detected behaving suspiciously in a Minnesota flight school.

Tenet said he had not spoken to the president at all that month, when Bush was staying at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Nor did he bring it to the attention of other senior officials, saying it was "not appropriate."

"He's in Texas and I'm either here or on leave for some of that time," he said. "In this time period, I'm not talking to him, no."

After Moussaoui's arrest, Tenet and other top CIA officials received a briefing headed, "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly."

It wasn't just the President, but the entire government seeing nothing wrong with pre-9/11 R&R. Even this, though, might provide fodder — were it not for a couple additional bits of information. Astute readers will have noticed that Reuters reporter Tabassum Zakaria, taking his cue from Commissioner Roemer, is careful to stick to Tenet's "mentioning" of the matter and whether he had "spoken" with the President. In this context, part of the transcript of Tenet's testimony is very interesting, mostly in the degree to which it was quickly passed by:

ROEMER: You don't see the president of the United States once in the month of August?

TENET: He's in Texas and I'm either here or on leave for some of that time, so I'm not here.

ROEMER: So who's briefing him on the PDBs?

TENET: The briefer, himself. We have a presidential briefer.

Even those citizens who insist on believing that something in Tenet's voice would have been the magic ingredient are going to have to look elsewhere for a factual basis for blame:

CIA records show that Tenet briefed the president twice in August, once in Crawford, Texas on Aug. 17, and once in Washington, on Aug. 31. A CIA analyst who accompanied Bush on his vacation briefed him approximately six days a week, Harlow said. "He momentarily forgot," Harlow said of Tenet.

ADDENDUM:
Anybody who's watched even a few moments of this charade and tried to imagine offering testimony will have to concede that it isn't exactly a conducive environment for relaxed memory recall. Literally surrounded by people, facing elevated politicians who loom over dozens of cameras, a person can certainly be forgiven for forgetting relatively routine meetings from years ago, back before the world changed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:23 PM

Confusing Jobs Reports

I'll admit that, when trying to look beyond the underlying message that the economy isn't recovering and we should elect John Kerry, I can't make any sense of an AP report about jobless claims:

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits, after having fallen to the lowest level in four years, shot up last week by the biggest amount since late 2002. The new report dealt a setback to hopes that the economy is finally beginning to produce a sustained recovery in jobs.

So new claims — not total unemployed — had fallen to the same level as in 2000 and then rose to... what? Not the rate in 2002, that's the last time there was a similar one-week increase. Neither number, of course, tells us how many people found jobs last week. The factoid also doesn't tell us whose hopes have been set back. (Not mine.)

The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits jumped by 30,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted level of 360,000.

The increase was far above the rise of 7,000 that economists had been expecting, but analysts cautioned against reading too much into a single week's change in the volatile series. Labor Department analysts noted that the period covered was the first week in a new quarter, a time when the jobless claims can be even more volatile.

So the claims increased 23,000 more than expected. However, the following indicates that number comparisons have quite a bit of room for error:

The four-week moving average for new claims, viewed as a better gauge of trends because it smooths out some of the volatility, was up by a smaller 6,750 to 344,250, the highest level since early March.

Were some of the aforementioned economists predicting that number? If so, then the reality is actually better. I also can't help but wonder what economists are out there making week-by-week unemployment-claim predictions. I certainly don't remember the AP report declaring the week before's 13,000 decrease.

Moving on, smack dab in the middle of the gloom is this paragraph that seems cut and pasted from somebody's more-optimistic piece:

The biggest sign yet that the labor market has finally turned the corner was the news that 308,000 payroll jobs were created last month, the biggest gain in four years.

So have we turned the corner, or have we been set back? And what's with the preceding mention that "President Bush and other incumbents running for re-election are also hoping to see as evidence that the nation's long jobs slump is finally coming to an end"? Perhaps they should take a look at the raw data from the Department of Labor that the AP cites. Incumbents will surely be happy to note that the adjusted claims for the corresponding week last year numbered 435,000, 21% higher than this year's 360,000.

At the very least, incumbents would do well not to read to the end of this AP article:

The rise in unemployment claims came as economists were beginning to worry that signs of a strengthening economy and a worrisome inflation report might prompt the Federal Reserve to begin raising interest rates to slow things down beginning as early as this summer.

Does it seem as if every possible trend in the economy has the potential to be seen as bad news? I don't know. I'm still trying to figure out why it's newsworthy that initial unemployment claims saw "the biggest one-week jump since a rise of 42,000 in the week of Dec. 7, 2002, a time when the economy was still struggling to rebound from the 2001 recession," a week during which the total seasonally adjusted number reached 431,000 (or 71,000 higher than last week) and when there were roughly 500,000 more continued claims.

I'll keep my eye on the Providence Journal's main page for further weekly updates.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:03 PM

April 12, 2004

The Media: Expert Outsourcing for Criminals

Craig Henry articulates something that has surely crossed the minds of many people who follow the news and that has implications for everything from petty crime to international terrorism:

Modern media companies can draw upon the expertise of a large number and wide variety of authorities. This professional expertise is completely beyond the reach of the average individual. But when there is a hot story, the information and insights are just there for the asking on TV, in the newspaper, and on the Internet.

This problem is just one of many examples of the ways in which technology compounds the difficulty of weighing freedom and community safety. Freedom trumps, in most cases involving information that isn't classified, and it's a fortunate side-effect of the entire process that technology also helps to address complexity. But I know I've seen analysts on the news who've left me feeling better qualified to commit particular crimes for having benefited from their expertise.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:16 PM

April 3, 2004

Omitting Information That's Unhelpful to the Cause

Something just doesn't add up in a Providence Journal report today by Michael McKinney:

A Fall River foster mother, arraigned on charges of raping a 15-year-old girl in her custody, had previously been viewed by the state Department of Social Services as offering a "model foster home," according to a department spokeswoman.

The 26-year-old woman, Christina Machado, has been a foster mother since 1996 and has two children of her own as well as another foster child, and the 15-year-old accuser has been in the house since September 2002.

Machado is free on $5,000 bail and has moved out of the house rather than force the girl out. (Although the girl has apparently left, too, so perhaps Machado left so the other foster child could stay.) According to McKinney, she pleaded not guilty to charges that followed an investigation begun when the Department of Social Services "received a call on its hot line about two or three weeks ago about the accusations." DSS spokeswoman Denise Monteiro says, "At this point, we take every allegation seriously until it is proven or unproven." McKinney reports that specifics "of the alleged crime could not be determined... before a trial."

Monteiro said by phone yesterday that over some two weeks, DSS investigators found no witnesses to the alleged crime. It could not be determined yesterday if the police, which investigate separately, had found witnesses.

So, based on this article, it seems entirely plausible that the foster daughter — who went through who knows what before the age of 14 — might have made up a story, and it's just gotten out of hand. Every kid knows that DSS is one way to express power over mommy and daddy, but it is a little odd that this girl would target mommy and not follow the more predictable storyline. I mean, one would guess that there's a foster father, because (1) Machado has two children of her own, (2) Monteiro said that "they have been a model foster home," and (3) if the mother has left the house, somebody has to be there with the children.

But it's just quirky enough, and it's sufficiently nearby that there was a chance I'd know of the family, so I figured I'd Google Machado, whose name the Projo provides (along with her home address). Doing so, I discovered that the Boston Herald covered the story yesterday, in a piece by David Guarino entitled "Rape rap fuels gay fight: Lesbian foster mom charged in assault."

Well, that's an interesting omission from the Projo piece! Perhaps McKinney or his editors didn't want to taint the front-page encomium of RI House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, who is basking in the affection resulting from his public coming out the other day. But Machado's lifestyle isn't the only bit of information that the Boston Herald reveals that the Providence Journal wouldn't or couldn't:

Sources said a teacher at the girl's school made the report after she had been "acting up."

Sources familiar with the lengthy police report said the rapes allegedly occurred within five days of one another last month. The sources said a friend of Machado's "witnessed the abuse and was instrumental in telling police what happened." ...

The girl had been in the care of Machado and another woman, who sources identified as her partner, since November 2003 after living in several other foster homes.

The girl was examined at a Fall River hospital by doctors who confirmed she had been raped, according to a source. ...

DSS records show one call to report abuse last year but Monteiro said it was "unsupported."...

Three other younger children are still in the Walnut Street home, including another foster child, a boy.

That makes it sound quite a bit less like a teenage foster child's revenge gotten out of control. It also raises a number of questions about the case and about the Providence Journal. Regarding the former, we have a lesbian who's been a foster mother since she was 18. Perhaps her partner is older, because that seems awfully early to sign up for that role, but then how did the 26-year-old lesbian come to have two children "of her own"?

The Herald puts the 15-year-old in the house about four months before the two alleged incidents (as opposed to the Journal's year and a half), which makes the timing of abuse more plausible. If the Herald is correct, it would mean that the same girl probably wasn't the one who made the "unsupported" accusation last year. The Herald's vague details also raise disturbing questions about the nature of the case. What sort of lesbian rape would leave traces that a doctor could confirm? And under what circumstances did the "friend" witness the abuse? Was the behavior consensual?

I'm not confident that the Projo will be the place to watch for answers to these questions. It's possible that Guarino has better sources at the Fall River police station than McKinney does, but the nature of the household is a pretty basic detail — one that he seems deliberately to have written around. If that's true, then the news division of the Providence Journal left out information specifically because some readers might have found it relevant.

Discouraged by the lack of real debate about the marriage bills currently in the Rhode Island legislature, I submitted a column to the Projo earlier in the week. Ever since, I've been thinking that it mightn't have been prudent for me to react so harshly to some of its coverage in the past, as merited as I believe my criticism to have been. But McKinney's piece is an embarrassment, at best, and an outrage, at worst — particularly because it is entirely in line with the paper's already clear agenda. How can interested citizens not react harshly when the state's only major newspaper shifts to advocacy?

ADDENDUM:
A local TV news station has online video (mostly of the house and neighbors who can't believe such things could happen in their neighborhood). I've also found the Fall River Herald News report. (I'd tried earlier, but the paper's main page is quirky, and I gave up.)

Both of these sources accord with the Providence Journal with respect to the length of time that the girl had been in the home (since fall 2002). The TV news did mention that Machado lives with another woman, but without using the "L" word. The Herald News, conspicuously, only mentions that she "lives with another foster child and two natural children." Both of these sources also report that the 15-year-old was removed from the home immediately, and the newspaper adds this peculiar bit of information:

Monteiro would not discuss the details of the investigation, but did say the alleged victim has been traumatized and is "a troubled girl."

Was she "troubled" before living there or only after? And what does Monteiro mean to imply — mentioning this aspect of the case for public consumption?

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:19 PM | Comments (5)

April 2, 2004

Changing the Storyline

Earl Appleby has noticed a liberal's quick turnaround on the reason Condoleezza Rice isn't is testifying for the 9/11 commission.

Meanwhile, the New York Times considers it news that Hollywooden activists are writing Bush hatred into their scripts:

Galvanized politically in ways they have not been since the early 1990's, Hollywood's more liberal producers and writers are increasingly expressing their displeasure with President Bush with not only their wallets, but also their scripts.

In recent weeks, characters in prime time have progressed beyond the typical Hollywood knocks against Washington politicians to calling out the president directly or questioning his policies, including the decision to go to war in Iraq, the support of the antiterrorism law and the backing of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

That's was an interesting authorial decision on Times writer Jim Rutenberg's part, leading with the punchline: the entertainment liberals haven't been this energized to defeat a President since the last time there was a Republican President to defeat! And boy, do they want to defeat President Bush:

Ms. David and her like-minded peers are putting a lot of money behind the push. She, for one, has given $100,000 to the Media Fund and America Coming Together, Democratic groups using unlimited donations to run television commercials and to motivate voters against the president. Marcy Carsey, whose production house Carsey-Werner-Mandabach produces "Whoopi," has given $500,000 to the Media Fund, federal election records show. Ms. Carsey declined to be interviewed for this article.

On Wednesday night alone, Senator John Kerry's campaign was estimated to have raised $2.5 million at a fund-raising event in Beverly Hills attended by powerful studio executives like Sherry Lansing, the chief executive of Paramount Studios, and stars like the actors Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson.

Personally, I think Mel Gibson made a better — and more effective — investment.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:08 PM

March 31, 2004

But Rove's a Bad Guy

Philip Terzian reacts to coverage of the storming of Karl Rove's home, which most bloggers apparently thought too typical to note with much outrage. What's notable is that Terzian pointed his finger by means of a mainstream paper, the Providence Journal:

The Washington Post treated the incident as mildly comical, although one has to wonder what the tone would be if a crowd descended on the home of a Post editor, threatening violence and frightening his children. ...

... I am tempted to apply the reliable Reagan-Bush Test. Imagine if the mob had represented not a left-wing "community improvement" coalition, but the Young Republicans, or an anti-abortion organization, or Rush Limbaugh's enthusiasts, and had surrounded the home of, say, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, or Harold Ickes, or Sen. Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.), screaming obscenities and pounding on windows, threatening violence.

Would that be treated as a light-hearted lesson in the perils of politics, or a symptom of the ugliness now rampant in public discourse?

It is precisely in coverage such as that of this incident that the media's bias-driven storyline is most evident. Rove is a bad guy in their world — not only a political operative who knows the game, but a Republican political operative who knows the game. It would be an outrage were those whom Terzian lists the subjects of the same "activism" because they're the Good Guys. Even if they're crooked or mean or what have you, their intentions are good (according to this way of thinking).

You know, it seems to me that there's an inherent admission in this discrepancy that conservatives are the mature adults. It's as if, deep down, media-style liberals know that they're acting out emotionally on unsupportable convictions. We treat children and adults with the same sort of distinction between maturity and fragility, and John Hawkins highlights how apt the analogy really is:

So you have busloads of kooks encircling Karl Rove's house, yelling, & banging on the windows. His kids are quite understandably terrified and then after a furious Rove finally meets with these lunatics, their leader Palicios is crying and trembling like she's the victim. Poor her! Karl Rove yelled at her for bringing a mob to tresspass on his property and terrify his children over some bill that probably 500 people outside of the loons who were protesting know or care about.
Posted by Justin Katz at 8:10 PM | Comments (4)

March 30, 2004

Spontaneous Planned Reactions

Diogenes reacts to a homosexual Catholic journalist who spontaneously disrupted a mass that he had gone out of his way to attend:

[Chuck] Colbert, who has degrees from Notre Dame University and, more recently, the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, frequently writes news stories for the National Catholic Reporter. Several reports on the clergy abuse crisis in the Boston area have appeared in the NCR under his byline. Well, does the Rosenthal Rule apply here? He might still pen opinion-essays as an advocate, but are we supposed to pretend that Colbert -- who plants himself in a parish he doesn't belong to, who claims he couldn't "sit there and take it" when the video he went out of his way to see is shown, who then stages a bit of calculated agit-prop to further the cause of gay rights -- is a neutral and objective observer of the situation?

I'll admit that the video is a bit over the top in its use of imagery; in fact, it's almost funny at times. But it's hardly "misinformation," as Colbert called it. It simply makes the case as starkly as it can in a few minutes.

A larger story, however, considering that the video hasn't exactly been shown in parishes around Massachusetts, let alone around the country, is the media-event character of Colbert's action. As Diogenes notes, the story hit the AP wire just before 4:00 p.m. on the same day that Colbert attended a 9:00 a.m. Mass. (That's what the story says, but Diogenes found that the church's Masses are at 7:30 and 9:30.) Considering the additional research and quote gathering, that's quite a turnaround time.

To suggestions that the "sit there and take it" line is curious considering that it wasn't his parish, Colbert says that he's free to visit any church and "wanted to see how [the video] was presented." That's curious, too, considering that it seems Colbert might have been aware that the video was online, which would suggest that he'd already seen it. The whole thing seems pretty well organized, to me — right up to the major-media coverage.

Anybody still believe that civil marriage will be the stopping point for many in this movement?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:27 AM | Comments (2)

March 26, 2004

Stunning the Host

Today's Day by Day cartoon reacts to Eric Alterman's appearance on Dennis Miller's show. I have to agree with Sheila Lennon that this wasn't Miller's shining moment. However, given even the beginning of a grumpy mood, I'm not sure I'd have been able to muster the will to argue with Alterman, who has clearly taken the precaution of dismissing the strongest arguments of the other side out of hand.

This is what Alterman is talking about where the online video picks up, and where Miller begins to lose interest:

[Bush] certainly does mislead the country. There's absolutely no regard for truth one way or another... It's sort of an existential question about whether or not you want to call it a lie.

Alterman is toward the top of his heap, and the distilled, for-TV litany — what the New York Observer's Joe Hagan called (on March 24) "laying out his arguments on autopilot" — is a structure of myriad little pieces all twisted out of shape to fit a preordained pattern. There's no denying that Miller was way off his game, and he should have pressed for specifics until something came up that he could address on the facts. However, one can understand his reaction to a guy whose argument, it seems, exists on another plane of reality.

Alterman's one-line description of his book, What Liberal Media, got laughs, for crying out loud. Definitely not a guest for whom one can afford to be underprepared, because there's almost no middle ground from which to wing it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:54 PM | Comments (1)

But That's Entirely Distinct from Our Careers as Journalists

Lane Core notes some big names of media who helped Senator Kerry to become sufficiently liberal to win them back from Howard Dean's thrall:

In an effort to galvanize the message Kerry wants to deliver in the time remaining, he convened a powerful roster of journalists and columnists in the New York City apartment of Al Franken last Thursday [Dec. 4, 2003]. The gathering could not properly be called a meeting or a luncheon. It was a trial. The journalists served as prosecuting attorneys, jury and judge.

Among the most fascinating aspects of modern political culture is the degree to which we're supposed to pretend that the obvious is not true. Concurrent with an increase of space between the Republicans and the Democrats in government (and a shifting the Republicans to the political right), it is crucial that the Big Media liberals be toppled, as well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:19 AM | Comments (1)

March 23, 2004

Bias Becomes Boring

Perhaps it's indicative of apathy, perhaps of a belief that it my limited voice would have no effect, or perhaps I was just busy that day, but I never got around to posting about a shamefully biased report by long-time Providence Journal reporter Karen Lee Ziner. The piece was about a rally for a bill that would define marriage as between a man and a woman in Rhode Island, and a letter from Mark Gordon, executive director of Fidelity Forum, puts my feelings well:

What is disturbing about Ziner's journalism is that she deliberately sought out the most egregious sentiment possible and then proceeded to feature it as the lead in her story. In so doing she cast the entire event in the shadow of D'Ovidio's assertion, painting all of the marchers -- and, by extension, anyone who agrees with their position -- as hateful, intolerant bigots.

Ziner has been writing long enough to understand that her piece would achieve precisely the effect she intended. Her story represents the deliberate and malicious injection of a reporter's own biases -- in this case a pro-gay marriage, anti-Catholic agenda -- into the news.

I suggest that if Karen Lee Ziner wants to become an opinion columnist, she should begin her apprenticeship somewhere other than the news pages of The Providence Journal. By the same token, if the editors of The Journal have a point to make they should be plain about it rather than hiding behind the feigned objectivity of reportage.

Regarding the Projo's advocacy, that's been obvious for about as long as the issue of same-sex marriage has been in the news. As for Ziner's piece, my thought was that I should begin "covering" such events, because one simply can't trust a journalist who reports on a rally attended by over 100 people and kicks off the top-most article on the front page of the Rhode Island section thus:

Liliana D'Ovidio believes that God allowed The Station nightclub fire "because there are homosexuals in the state."

"He withdraws his blessing," D'Ovidio explained at a rally against same-sex marriage, held at the State House Rotunda yesterday.

A member of Catholics for Life, D'Ovidio held a sign reminding people that "God set fire from the heavens to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah," two supposedly wicked cities described in the book of Genesis.

One reason I didn't mention the piece was that I couldn't tell, from Ziner's phrasing, whether D'Ovidio was just an attendee or a speaker. Researching her on the Net (although I didn't bookmark the pages), I discovered that she's a seventy-something widow who is very active in pro-life events. At this particular event, she was just an attendee. My guess: her sign attracted Ziner's attention, and either pointed questions or mangled context gave the reporter enough to frame her story as she did.

And that framing did have an effect. The state representative who proposed the bill and organized the rally, Victor G. Moffitt, issued an apology, and D'Ovidio has clarified (apparently to Ziner, and not on any front pages, as far as I can tell); even her sign gets a different description in the follow up article:

Liliana D'Ovidio, the woman who made the remarks to a Providence Journal reporter, carried a sign at the rally with a phone number for Courage, a 12-step program for gay Roman Catholics who try to abstain from same-sex relationships because they believe them to be immoral. D'Ovidio said Courage helps homosexuals be "cured of their tendencies."

Yesterday, D'Ovidio said her quote about the Station fire was taken out of context.

"It is not because of homosexuals that people are punished," D'Ovidio said. "For one thing, there are some persons with homosexual tendencies who live virtuous, celibate lives."

D'Ovidio continued, "God cannot bless a country and its people that is the greatest exporter of pornography, allows over 60,000 pornographic sites on the Internet available to children, and kills 4,500 babies a day through abortions -- with over 100 a week of these in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people because of all of our sins."

Frankly, I could see something very similar to that statement resulting in the objectionable paraphrase, which makes me wonder why Ziner wouldn't offer the full original quotation in the follow up piece. Why, for that matter, do journalists so rarely seem inclined to explain themselves? They just roll on, with the very same woman whose reportage is at issue reporting the reactions to it. Clearly, editorializing or not, Ziner is as much an actor in this story as D'Ovidio.

ADDENDUM:
Although it's only incidentally related, a story about some vandalism in Johnston, Rhode Island, to which Jeff Miller directed my attention, seems to fit as an addendum to this post. As the Projo reports in a Digital Bulletin:

The face of the statue, depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd with a lamb over his shoulder, was painted black. Paint was also sprayed over a carved inscription on the statue's stone pedestal that says, "Pray for an end to abortion." The words "Anti-choice Nazis" were painted on top of a masonry garden box surrounding the statue.

As one might expect, the incident sparked that famous Catholic hatred:

"The parishoners are very concerned. They're saddened," said Rev. Douglas Spina, pastor. "It gives us the opportunity to pray for the people who would do this kind of thing."
Posted by Justin Katz at 6:10 PM

March 20, 2004

Confidence in Media Balance

I'm sure that next Wednesday's KidsPost section of the Washington Post will address the social and theological arguments of those who support traditional family structures, with one article presenting a sympathetic profile of a child living in one and another article explaining the (actual) history and foundations of marriage from Adam and Eve on. Something along those lines would certainly fortify the paper's reputation for complete objectivity, as a counterweight to last Wednesday's KidsPost, which Chris Fields describes thus:

The page contained two articles on the subject by Fern Shen: "Defining Marriage" and "What's Best for Kids?"

"Defining Marriage" offered a look at the life of a 10-year-old boy, Justin McGuire, who, along with his infant half-sister, is being raised by his mother and her lesbian partner. In it Shen labels the mother's partner as "Justin's other mother" and writes that though Justin lives with his "two mothers" he also sees his father on the weekends. Shen notes that "Justin says it doesn't feel like a big deal, being in this kind of household." ...

The author subsequently notes in "What's Best for Kids?" which religions are offering such teaching: "Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, traditional Muslims and some Protestants." She does not, however, mention any religions that teach marriage to be between anything other than a man and a woman. Shen mentions that some ministers and rabbis are performing ceremonies for homosexuals, but fails to concede that that does not mean that Christianity (Catholicism or Protestantism) and Judaism consider gay marriage permissible.

I encourage you to read both Fields's piece and the two that he's addressing. Interestingly, at no point does anybody address whether men and women — mommies and daddies — are different from each other in ways that even children (especially children) can understand. Shen quotes Maggie Gallagher as saying that "children do best in a stable household with both of their biological parents," but that's a little abstract for kids to understand without any examples of why that is. Also interestingly, nobody mentions that only men and women can have children of their own. (Of course, that unfortunate actuality is probably only a fact of life because the current stork, who holds a lifetime appointment, as I understand, is a bigot, too.)

And just as soon as that edition of the Washington Post hits the racks, I'm sure that the librarian at Rachel Freeman Elementary School, in Wilmington North Carolina, will stock a children's book about a prince who casts off his royal lifestyle to become a humble Christian missionary.

ADDENDUM:
Stern Nijland, co-author of King and King, a book that Freeman Elementary already carries, suggests that her tale of events leading up to two princes' wedding-day kiss is just "a funny story, nothing more." In fact:

Nijland says it's the uproar, not the book, that's doing the damage. "I think it is sad for a little girl to know of now harm and she just wants to read nice books," Nijland said in her broken English. "It is sad she is learning this so early... taboos."

In her fairy tale country of the Netherlands, "this kind of thing is normal." Of course, increasingly normal there, as well, are out-of-wedlock births, which have swung up a classic increase curve from about 5% of all births to 25% from 1980 to 2000 (PDF). Meanwhile, the much larger and demographically diverse United States has less than doubled over the same period, from around 18% to around 33% (PDF), in a curve that has been leveling off after a 10% jump during the '80s.

We're not all roses and regalia, over here, either — that's for sure. But I think we do well to avoid emulating the land of double kingships and discarded taboos.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:40 PM | Comments (2)

March 16, 2004

Not Getting the Obvious Conflict

Perhaps you, too, will find it difficult to believe that Political Science Professor Jacob Levy really doesn't understand why the San Francisco Chronicle has decided not to assign same-sex marriage stories to a pair of lesbians who were recently "married" in that city's spate of activism-driven ceremonies. Here's Levy:

I get the Chronicle's intuition, of course: the reporters now have a personal stake in whether the SF marriages are eventually upheld as legal. But one doesn't prohibit all married reporters from reporting on every legal fight over the meaning, benefits, and incidents of marriage. Married reporters cover the debate over the marriage penalty, arguments about divorce law, and so on. Having a stake in the legal consequences of one's marriage hasn't ever been a disqualification from reporting on marriage.

It's almost enough to leave one speechless. Luckily, the Chronicle's executive editor, Phil Bronstein, offered the explanation that Levy requires in the very same letter to which the professor is reacting (emphasis added):

It is that notion alone - being personally involved in such a specific way in the story one is covering - that drove our decision that Rachel and Liz should no longer cover same-sex marriage. Specifically, we believe that the central issue and defining moment of the same-sex marriage story is same-sex marriage, while it may or may not be a central and defining issue in, say, the tenure of Newsom as mayor, or in the gay and lesbian civil rights movement.

Comparing this to having a stake in the marriage penalty is beclouding to say the least, both in the directness of involvement and in the emotional force behind the issue. I almost feel like a dupe for stating something that seems so obvious, but participating in controversial weddings and then covering them is not the same as being married and covering discrete issues that affect every married couple.

However, I will concede that Levy is just attempting to flip the pillar already laid on its side by media bias. He goes on:

Moreover, the reporters also would have had a stake in the outcome of the story had they not gotten married but simply intended to once the legal situation was resolved.

That, folks, almost brings Levy around to being right. By getting married, all the lesbian reporters have done is to crack open the curtain of journalistic pretensions toward objectivity. And by acting as though their "marriages" have no more specific import than the average heterosexual marriage, all Levy has done is to highlight just how massive an illusion the public is being asked to believe.

ADDENDUM:
Jacob Levy has punfully taken note of this post. In response to his confirmation that his is a sincere question, as well as to questions put forward in the comment section, here, I thought it worth expanding on what I find so obvious.

Those marriages — of themselves — represent the controversy that makes the story newsworthy. Engaging in them, at this time, is akin to signing a petition for the legalization of same-sex marriage, or marching to show advocacy.

In a comment to this post, Jenny engages in a game that a sufficiently creative person could pursue for days on end. (Here's my submission: "Could an Earthling cover debates about efforts to track and destroy potential-impact comets?") With the possible exception of a hypothetical reporter in the midst of a divorce covering divorce law debates, Jenny's questions are suitably contrived to serve her rhetorical purposes. However, there are certainly circumstances in which a reporter's interest in any issue can become sufficiently direct as to merit reassignment of its coverage.

A paper is certainly free to allow anybody to cover anything. And frankly, I adjust for the very bias at issue as a matter of course in my own reading. As Levy notes, these reporters were just as likely to be biased before the marriage as after. The solution that I would prefer is the dropping of the objectivity curtain altogether; it's practically so attenuated as to be translucent, anyway, particularly for the SSM issue.

Nonetheless, as I wrote in the multiblog miniblog "Into the Ether" (see my sidebar), I admit that there is a measure of unfairness in the San Francisco Chronicle's decision. After all, I haven't heard of a single instance in which a mainstream media outlet has removed one of its fundamentalist Christian reporters from the gay marriage story.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:14 PM | Comments (3)

March 13, 2004

Pay No Attention to the Employer Behind the Curtain

Yeah, I know it's everywhere, but I just had to note the outrageous political spin going on in the media regarding Susan Lindauer, the spy (or whatever) for Iraq. For one thing, I've been getting the impression that everybody's connected to everybody, in some way, in the government/media axis.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:09 AM

March 4, 2004

Controversy and the Fairy Tale

Craig Henry highlights another indication of that non-existent bias that seeps into the media as a result of like-mindedness:

Controversial.

That seems to be the required adjective for any story about "The Passion of the Christ". Further, stories about the movie always include opponents.

In contrast, stories about the end of "Sex and the City" were generally celebratory. Producers did not feel compelled to interview people who found the series pernicious, unrealistic or biased.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:47 PM

February 25, 2004

More Advocacy from the Velvet Rag

The Providence Journal, which has barely mentioned a major protest against gay marriage in Boston and not so much as whispered about smaller protests in closer cities for which it serves as the major paper, is giving top billing to a small gathering of the most liberal of liberal ministers in Rhode Island.

It's just shameful. Saddening and shameful. In an article about religious people, on a topic for which the biggest strawman is that the only arguments against gay marriage are religious, the paper didn't offer a single opposing argument. We're told that the Catholic Church opposes gay marriage, and we get this:

"This group of clergy got together to announce and demonstrate to the public that they, a respectable church, and members of other respectable churches -- in distinction from only the Roman Catholic Church -- were in support of this change in social policy," Perry said after the news conference.

Earlier this month, a spokesman for Bishop Robert Mulvee, the head of the Providence Catholic Diocese, said the bishop would work to oppose any bills legalizing gay marriage.

While most speakers at the event yesterday did not specifically refer to the Catholic Church, some urged legislators not to oppose gay marriage on religious grounds.

Instead, it would seem, legislators are to support it on religious grounds:

The Rev. Dr. William C. Trench, of the United Methodist Church in East Greenwich, said his support for gay marriage is based on his religious beliefs.

Marriage, he said, "is a promise made before God and the community to love one another forever."

And the Velvet Rag continues to sell its soul for gay marriage.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:49 AM

February 22, 2004

All 'Cause of Little Ol' Me?

I just noticed that the Providence Journal's Web folks replaced the picture of their front page that I had used in my post about its coverage of reaction to Gov. Carcieri's terrorism bill to a blank, while every other picture is still available. Curious.

If their concern had been for the resources used for each download, one would have expected techies to remove the file or just change its name. Guess I'll return to the practice of hosting pictures on my own server.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:35 PM

February 19, 2004

The Spin Before the Lie

Apparently, in a smaller, less ballyhooed, front-page article by Gerald Carbone in its Wednesday edition, the Providence Journal merely spun the information that, today, it leaves out. That doesn't, to my mind, mitigate its complete disregard for the truth today, particularly considering that yesterday's article is absent from its extended online coverage. (I had to dig for yesterday's piece.)

Look, I agree that the definition of "weapons of mass destruction" that the bill suggests ought to be tightened so some overzealous prosecutor and judge don't conspire to include guns, but that's why our legislative process works as it does. Language changes as it moves toward approval. And to the extent that citizens cannot trust those who claim interest in protecting their rights, the system will not function as intended. Consider:

Carcieri's bill defines terrorism as: "a violent act or an act dangerous to human life" that is "intended to: intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of a unit of government by murder, assassination, kidnapping or aircraft piracy." ...

Steven Brown, executive director of Rhode Island's ACLU, wrote: "This definition of terrorism has the potential to significantly chill legitimate protest."

Picket lines, for example, are "at least in part designed to 'intimidate' or 'coerce.' If a striking worker shoves a person trying to cross a picket line," he or she could be sentenced to life in prison for committing a violent act while trying to coerce a civilian, Brown wrote.

The Projo's published definition, inexplicably, leaves out the words "that is in violation of the criminal laws of this state." That isn't an insignificant, or innocent, omission. The hypothetical striking worker's shove, in other words, would have to rise to the level of a crime in its own right. Furthermore, it would take more than a little license on a judge's part to construe the line-crosser as "a civilian population." And further still, this is simply a definition, to which laws describing criminal acts and penalties refer — as I described in the previous post.

Of course, that judges can't be trusted not to stretch definitions beyond the ability of legislators to be specific is among the major problems that our country currently faces. (Not that it isn't a precedent that the ACLU often seems inclined encourage.) But again, this is why the governor doesn't make laws all by himself. This is why there's an extended procedure for moving bills through the legislative process.

For non-profit organizations and ostensibly objective media outlets to indulge in reactions that can only be motivated by politics is more dangerous than anything the governor has proposed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:36 AM | Comments (2)

The Providence Journal and Untruth

I hereby dub today, February 19, 2004, as A Day of Complete Astonishment. The Providence Journal, the "news" section of which I'll be hardly inclined to treat as nonfiction hereafter, is hyperventilating over a bill proposed by Rhode Island's governor, Donald Carcieri:

Constitutional scholars and First Amendment advocates reacted with shock yesterday at Governor Carcieri's homeland security proposal, saying it threatens protected free speech and assembly in ways not seen in decades.

No other state in the nation, they said, has attempted such an encroachment on civil rights in the name of fighting terrorism. And they predicted the legislation could never survive a constitutional challenge.

"When I was reading it in the newspaper this morning, my jaw dropped," said Lawrence E. Rothstein, a lawyer who teaches political science at the University of Rhode Island. "It shocked me that anyone would try this."

"Did he do this in writing?" asked Paul McMasters, a nationally recognized expert at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.

Carcieri has proposed, among several other steps, making it illegal in Rhode Island to "speak, utter, or print" statements in support of anarchy or government overthrow.

This is simply false. Something not true. A lie. But it goes on for several dozen paragraphs, even citing a media ethics professor who goes along with the deception. The only section that even risks breaking the storyline, presenting the other side, or causing confused brows to furrow comes at paragraphs 16 and 17:

On Tuesday, Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, characterized the 1919 laws as dormant and "blatantly unconstitutional."

Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said the laws had existed without court challenge and government abuse for nearly a century. He said the lack of prosecutions under these laws "points to the tremendous amount of discretion that has been employed" by prosecutors.

Should this buried slip-of-the-truth inspire sufficient curiosity to read a third of the way through the legalistic bill, which the Projo offers (only online) as a PDF, one's faith in the objectivity and interest in educating readers at the state's major newspaper might be shaken. The essential purpose of the bill is merely to add language to include terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in existing law. In fact, the paragraph that the Providence Journal believes to justify quoting "expert" after "expert" accusing the governor of seeking to become a fascist dictator is Title 11 of the General Laws Chapter 43, Criminal Offenses, Treason and Related Offenses, Advocating forcible overthrow of the government. And the sweeping change that the governor proposes that would "take the state of Rhode Island back 200 years"? The governor would like to add the phrase, "or advocates an act or acts of terrorism."

That's it. That's the news — the actual information — and it somehow didn't find its way into Tom Mooney's breathless reportage on the front page of the Providence Journal.

Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable.

ADDENDUM:
Huh. The Providence Journal's Web folks replaced the picture of their front page to which I had linked to a blank, while every other picture is still available. Curious.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:37 AM

February 17, 2004

Abusing the Numbers

Glenn Reynolds — probably inadvertently — puts a little spin on the topic of priestly sex abuse as he passes it along to his readers:

Bottom line: It's huge: "even though the report entirely discards incidents involving a further 3,300 priests who had died, and only deals with incidents in which a victim of abuse has come forward, the number still represents over 4 percent of all priests who served in that period."

At the very least, it would seem a significant oversight for Reynolds not to include a consideration that Patrick Belton, whom he quotes, mentions in passing: that 4% represents accusations, not confirmed incidents. Closer inspection shows, however, that while the CNN report from which Belton gets his information certainly shows that sex abuse was a problem, Belton misstated the perspective, leading Prof. Reynolds to convey some outright errors.

For one thing, that 3,300 number isn't priests; it's accusations. And more importantly, they apparently are included in the 4% figure. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

The survey, to be released February 27, found that children made more than 11,000 allegations of sexual abuse by priests. The 4,450 accused priests represent about 4 percent of the 110,000 priests who served during the 52 years covered by the study. ...

More than half of the accused priests had only one allegation against them. Nearly 25 percent, or 1,112 priests, had two or three allegations, and almost 13 percent, or 578 priests, had four to nine allegations, according to the draft report. Nearly 3 percent, or 133 of the priests, had 10 or more allegations.

The report said that 6,700 of the 11,000 allegations were investigated and substantiated, and another 1,000 were unsubstantiated. The remaining 3,300 were not investigated because the priests involved had died by the time the allegation was made.

Objectively speaking, I imagine that the substantiation rate for the deceased priests would be lower than the average (since there's that much less disincentive to make a false accusation), but for this post, let's assume that the 87% of accusations that held up in the 7,700 cases that were investigated is valid for the total. That makes a total 9,570 substantiated accusations.

Unfortunately, we don't know how many priests are exonerated by those 1,430 unsubstantiated claims. We can figure out that 59%, or 2,627, of the 4,450 priests were only accused once. If all of the unsubstantiated claims were made against this group, that would leave the total number of priests facing substantiated charges at 3,020, or 2.7% of priests who served over the 52-year period.

Obviously, if all of the unsubstantiated claims were made against priests with other, substantiated, accusations against them, the number would remain at 4%. But that's really not very likely. I'd guess that one-accusation priests would have a higher rate of false claims than the average, but let's not assume that. Instead, let's just apply that 87% substantiation rate directly to the number of priests. That leads to 3,872, or 3.5% of the 110,000 serving priests.

Of course, Reynolds, following Belton, conveyed that 3,300 priests weren't investigated, which would have left 1,150 priests, or 1% of all priests serving. Furthermore, Reynolds didn't mention that we're dealing with "accusations," so the number that fits the circumstances he conveys to his readers (cutting out the 13% of unsubstantiated claims) would drop another 150 priests out of the total, leaving 1,000, or 0.9% of the pool of priests. As in:

It's huge: "even though the report entirely discards incidents involving a further 3,300 priests who had died, and only deals with incidents in which a victim of abuse has come forward, the number still represents 0.9 percent of all priests who served in that period.

Any abusing priests are too many, of course, but for purposes of "perspective," we do well not to over report the problem by 444%. Now that's huge.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:08 PM | Comments (1)

February 10, 2004

Bias Bias Everwhere

Allow me to take a moment to offer moral support to Chris Boucher at my alma mater, the University of Rhode Island, who is keeping up a fight in which I engaged not so long ago:

I also feel the need to remind you that the term "Wealthy White Republicans" aside from being blatantly racist as well as biased, is a misnomer. A significant portion of the wealth in Rhode Island has sided with the Democrats, and from my own observations as a past candidate, the Republicans are predominately made of hard working people that own small businesses, pay their taxes, and send their kids to state colleges, like URI. Though it may surprise you, some of them are actually not white!

He's addressing the young writers and editors of the Good 5¢ Cigar, a paper that, today, offers a "news" story lamenting the failure of a Cuban government official to secure a visa and speak at the university. Somehow the fledgling reporter failed to mention that Cubans, including journalists, don't have to make plans to visit U.S. campuses to be "robbed of the right to information and dialogue." Of course, one can see how that angle has much less relevance than the fact that "Cuba has universal health care and free education."

Meanwhile, the major media is busy egregiously spinning news from Iraq, as Glenn Reynolds has noted. Although, ABCNews provides a ray of hope. Acknowledging a problem is, after all, the first step in fixing it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:00 PM

The Frightening Influence

My mind keeps drifting back to the ordeal with Dan Yorke yesterday, so perhaps it'll help to exorcise the demon if I write out my thoughts.

The sentence about his seeing marriage as "not unlike a job" clearly overstated the concept that I was trying to get across. What I was trying to convey was the oversight in his conclusion — that he attributed the fact that he didn't think to recommend a priest to a friend considering divorce to something that the Church is doing wrong, without considering what it indicates about his own perspective.

In conjunction with his dogged repetition that the only significant question is whether "it affects my marriage if two guys get married" reflects the one-generation-deep thinking that has wrought so much damage in our society. That this rhetoric has been such a long-standing declaration on his part, treated as utterly decisive, suggests that framing the issue thus gives Yorke an intellectual excuse for his emotional preference.

He went on to suggest that the Boston diocese's efforts, through demonstration and democracy, to affect the government of the state somehow violates the principle of separation of church and state. This isn't a poorly informed teenager in the high school debate club, some ignorant libertarian blogger, or a vitriolic atheist running off copies of his pamphlet at Kinkos; Dan Yorke has a relatively high degree of influence in this state, with a high platform and large megaphone.

Of course, I have the ability not to listen. And obviously, I have a right to use whatever platform I can establish to criticize him. The problem is that there's no proportionate forum through which to uphold the other side of the debate, and with the issue at hand, there is apparently a pervasive groupthink at the radio station and in every newspaper in the state. That fact alone ought to lead any insiders who privilege fair debate to question themselves.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:37 AM

February 9, 2004

Shame on the Providence Journal!

I'm trying to put together — for myself, and perhaps to sell as an essay — a coherent, conservative, compassionate, and principled strategy for handling the gay marriage debate that could, in the long run, serve everybody's interests. But what so often derails me in this sort of thinking is my raw fury at ostensibly objective media sources taking it upon themselves to be nothing short of propaganda organs for gay marriage proponents.

Yesterday, 2,000 people gathered in Boston to demand the right to vote on gay marriage. And the Providence Journal — hereafter the Velvet Rag — which hasn't, as far as I know, said a single word about smaller protests for the same purpose in other cities for which it is the closest major paper, ran an embarrassing puff piece on the promising future of the gay marriage industry in Provincetown. "The Cape Cod community long known for welcoming gays and lesbians is already marketing itself as a wedding mecca."

Note that last word — "mecca" — in the lead, and then consider the potentially offensive image with which the paper ran this story below the fold on its front page:

The story says not a single word about the protests, not one mention of the arguments of those who oppose gay marriage. Instead we get flowery imagery:

Massachusetts requires a three-day waiting period, so the "I do's" could start here on May 20, just as the crocuses are bursting behind white picket fences.

And Provincetown is described as having a "spirit of openness," "welcoming qualities," and "tradition of tolerance." And the kicker? The most egregious aspect of this non-news news story, published by a major newspaper that is geographically located in the thick of things but that can't be bothered to present anything other than raw propaganda?

The Velvet Rag borrowed it from the Los Angeles Times.

Reasonable people can disagree about gay marriage — both concerning its validity and the way in which that validity ought to be determined and translated into policy — but the joint co-option of what are perhaps the two most important secular institutions for the preservation of individual liberty — the courts and the press — for radical minority group advocacy ought not be tolerated by anybody whose interest in freedom and cooperation rises above waist level.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:42 AM

February 8, 2004

A Trimmed Word Here, a Tucked Conjugation There

From the first time I saw the phrase, "we were almost all wrong," as a headline, I knew that the presentation of David Kay's opinion was going to be... well... edited in a certain way. A little removal of context, the change of "were" to "was," and here's what we get, in this instance from the Associated Press:

Bush said former chief weapons inspector David Kay, who has said that U.S. intelligence was "almost all wrong" about Saddam's arms, said Saddam found the "capacity to produce weapons."

The take away message: everything we thought we knew was wrong (and Bush is lying). But of course, that's not at all what Kay meant. Here's what he said (and here's the video):

Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here.

Sen. [Edward] Kennedy knows very directly. Senator Kennedy and I talked on several occasions prior to the war that my view was that the best evidence that I had seen was that Iraq indeed had weapons of mass destruction.

I would also point out that many governments that chose not to support this war -- certainly, the French president, [Jacques] Chirac, as I recall in April of last year, referred to Iraq's possession of WMD.

The Germans certainly -- the intelligence service believed that there were WMD.

It turns out that we were all wrong, probably in my judgment, and that is most disturbing.

Kay is clearly saying that everybody was wrong about the extent of Iraq's existing WMD stockpiles, not that anybody in particular was wrong about everything. One could perhaps suggest that the AP just let a little bit of a grammatical error slip in — which would be unforgivable enough for an international news wire to do — except that reporter Deb Riechmann used "U.S. intelligence" to represent a group that included such varied parties as David Kay himself, the French, and the Germans (and perhaps even Saddam Hussein).

This is precisely the reason that I find myself instinctively searching for original transcripts. Now, that would be a worthwhile service: a wire that provided the actual words that people use, in context.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:01 PM | Comments (3)

January 31, 2004

The Many Ways to Slice a Kay

Paul Craddick (whose blog is very handsomely designed, by the way) focuses on David Kay's statements with respect to Syria in a post that is very much worth reading. Parsing various sources, he concludes the following to be the nuanced opinion that Kay has found it difficult to convey through professionally conducted interviews:

To sum up my impression: "WMD-related stuff probably went to Syria, but we don't know exactly what; it would be good to pursue the matter further, but we can't; since we're focusing on what we can establish at least somewhat definitively, this one will most likely have to be filed under 'intriguing and unresolvable'."

That's the sense that I've gotten, although I would emphasize something that Paul addresses: we don't know what, in all this, abuts classified information. In other words, the view that Kay is presenting for public consumption is inherently broad.

But turning back toward the media, Paul's post reminded me of something that I've neglected to point out in any of my writing on this topic. To see the mechanics of the distortion of Kay's message, consider this exchange from an interview with Tom Brokaw:

TB: Intelligence report says ... "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with range in excess of U.N. restrictions. If left unchecked it probably will have a nuclear weapon within this decade."

DK: Well, I think it’s got elements that we have certainly seen are true. The area that it’s probably more seriously wrong in is in the nuclear area.

TB: But as you know, the vice president and, to a lesser degree, the president of the United States, raised the nuclear threat as a reason that the United States had to go to war against Iraq.

DK: I think the weight of the evidence — was not great.

If you watch the video (which isn't working for me just now), you'll see that Kay's tone and body language were sending quite a different message than the words suggest of themselves. So much is this true that it's obvious that MSNBC edited the video a split second before Kay was able to say "but." Unfortunately, the original interview is currently locked away in the network's vaults, so it's unlikely we'll never know what degree of "not great" he meant.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:12 AM

We Can Fix It (Although Nothing's Wrong). Really!

The Providence Journal's editorials are generally fair and well considered. This, however, lightly highlights an attitude that contributes considerably to the problem:

As far as the BBC is concerned, Lord Hutton's report was full of recommendations about reforming its editorial processes to avoid a recurrence of that one faulty story. Our conclusion is that news organizations, even government-subsidized ones like the BBC, are well equipped to improve practices on their own, and that the last thing a free press needs is government "guidance" such as Lord Hutton suggests.

It wasn't just one story, and it wasn't just a fault. I haven't read the Hutton report, so I don't know if this remains an officially unstated truth, but the underlying problem is that the BBC acted out of naked political, ideological interest. It didn't just err; it deliberately "sexed up" its story on intelligence being "sexed up" out of an inexcusably similar motivation to that of which it accused Blair's government.

How can news organizations be "equipped to improve practices on their own" when they don't realize that anything substantive needs improvement? Frankly, I'm beginning to think — not only out of wishful thinking, but out of observation and analysis — that the day of "big media" as some mythically objective social institution and political force is coming to its sunset.

The major outlets, such as the Providence Journal, aren't going to disappear; they've too many resources and investments for that. But they will become, in essence, better-funded, more-polished, but no more credible bloggers.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:37 AM

January 28, 2004

The Victor Reporter Writes the History

Craig Henry makes a great point:

My question is, how many J-schools focus on what went right and wrong with war reporting in SE Asia? Do any of them discuss how the military victory of Tet '68 was portrayed as a military defeat for the US and why this mistake was made? Do any of them remind students that it was an armored blitzkrieg from NV, not a peasant uprising which doomed Saigon in 1975?

I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of journalism professors continue to believe that Tet was a defeat. More broadly, I don't know that I've ever heard of journalism schools' performing that sort of analysis — although some probably do in certain courses.

Beyond the process of (and building a career in) journalism, most of what one hears has to do with the "ethics of journalism." You know, the sort of would-you-tell-the-soldiers- that-they're-about-to-be-slaughtered kind of ethics.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 PM

January 27, 2004

More on Kay

Jim Miller, who also spotted the abysmal failures of that NPR David Kay interview, linked to a related New York Times article from yesterday. I'm not going to go into the specifics of it, here, because the Times's handling of the interview raises important questions.

The piece is essentially a summary of the interview, and because it appears to have been conducted by Times reporter James Risen, there is nowhere to turn for the original audio or even a transcript. Frankly, I only reluctantly trust anything within that paper's pages that isn't surrounded by quotation marks (and even then, one must be careful). As Roger Simon asks:

Why is not the interview with such an important person on such a key issue published directly without "interpretation" or filtering of what he said, allowing us to draw our own conclusions?

Well, we can guess — remembering that it is an election year. Bill Hobbs's comment focused elsewhere certainly applies to the media treatment of the war from the very first whispers of its possibility:

Having forced Bush to go to the UN - even though it gave President Clinton a pass when he deliberately avoided the UN in the decision to intervene in the Balkans - Congressional Democrats narrowed the focus to Iraq's WMD. Now they complain the war was not justified because, it seems, Iraq had little or no WMD. They may be right about Iraq's WMD, but they are wrong about need to go to war.

Although, according to Scott Ott, Secretary Rumsfeld has apparently had a change of heart.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:01 PM

Our Spy at Davos

Reading Jay Nordlinger's annual reports from the elite Davos sip-and-grip is neat. One can imagine him wandering the halls feeling like an infiltrator. Among the insights from the third part of this year's edition is this instance of those mephitic mutual congratulation sessions that one senses are common among the lights of the Left:

At one session, the Saudi ambassador — Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Saud — decries "the occupation of Iraq and Palestine." And at this same session, there is what I can only describe as a Two Minute Hate — although it lasts about ten minutes — against Robert Kilroy-Silk, the BBC commentator who was fired for making what were judged intemperate and intolerable remarks about Islam. In the audience, a man from London arises to say — to brag, really — that he led the effort to get Kilroy-Silk sacked. The moderator of the session, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, responds, "Let me applaud you. It's up to people like you to hold us in the media to account." Patricia Mitchell, the head of PBS in America, heaps yet more praise on him. She also contends that, before 9/11, Americans didn't know anything about Islam. You couldn't find anything on the subject in the media. I wonder what she was reading (or watching).

Not to be outdone, Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, says, "Let me express my gratitude" for the Kilroy-Silk antagonist.

Of course, such play acting can quickly run into harsher reality, and I would have liked for Mr. Nordlinger to describe the audience's reaction to this:

To his credit, Lord Carey does happen to mention that it would be nice to have a church in Saudi Arabia, someday. The ambassador responds that if only Christians accepted Mohammad as a prophet, they could come to mosques to pray. What need have they of churches?

I imagine a "tasteful silence."

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:14 AM

January 22, 2004

MoDo's Self Fisking?

Maureen Dowd is a walking, writing argument for government regulation of supposedly respectable opinionistas. Fortunately, she's not a very good argument for anything.

So bad has she become — such an outright joke — that she's now mocking herself, albeit perhaps not (yet) consciously. How else to explain a delusional column titled "Riding the Crazy Train"? How else to explain the fact that "ombudsman" is the final word of the piece? She's like a con artist whose deeply buried conscience is inspiring risks with the hope of being caught.

She even provided a perfect, obvious, and easily checkable example of her M.O.:

You wonder how many votes he scared off with that testosterone festival: the taunting message, the self-righteous geographic litany of support? The Philippines. Thailand. Italy. Spain. Poland. Denmark. Bulgaria. Ukraine. Romania. The Netherlands. Norway. El Salvador.

Can you believe President Bush is still pushing the cockamamie claim that we went to war in Iraq with a real coalition rather than a gaggle of poodles and lackeys?

The litany that the President actually offered was:

Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador, and the 17 other countries

It could not have been other than a conscious choice that she skipped the first four and Hungary. In other words, she knows that she's hawking (perhaps believing) a distorted view. The message is unmistakable: "I don't care about reality."

One might suggest that the New York Times joins her in the additional statement: "I don't care about the truth."

ADDENDUM:
Following the trackback link to this post leads to a useful illustration by Citizen Smash for Ms. Dowd's and others' benefit — a map of Europe making the distinction between the Coalition of the Willing and Old Europe. Somehow, I think Ms. Dowd's view of Europe is more akin to this.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:50 AM

January 14, 2004

NY Times: War Changes Nothing

So, did anything significant change, for Saddam Hussein, between the decade plus leading up to early spring last year and the following summer? Apparently, the New York Times doesn't think so. Here's the news:

Saddam Hussein warned his Iraqi supporters to be wary of joining forces with foreign Arab fighters entering Iraq to battle American troops, according to a document found with the former Iraqi leader when he was captured, Bush administration officials said Tuesday.

The document appears to be a directive, written after he lost power, from Mr. Hussein to leaders of the Iraqi resistance, counseling caution against getting too close to Islamic jihadists and other foreign Arabs coming into occupied Iraq, according to American officials. ...

Officials said Mr. Hussein apparently believed that the foreign Arabs, eager for a holy war against the West, had a different agenda from the Baathists, who were eager for their own return to power in Baghdad. As a result, he wanted his supporters to be careful about becoming close allies with the jihadists, officials familiar with the document said.

One might reasonably assume that Hussein's tremendous loss of power and resources might have changed his thinking with respect to working with an international terrorist organization somewhat. Nobody ever suggested that ties between Saddam and Osama were anything other than individually self-serving. However, the paragraph that I cut out with the ellipsis suggests that the Times doesn't consider this changed perspective to have been much of a factor:

It provides a second piece of evidence challenging the Bush administration contention of close cooperation between Mr. Hussein's government and terrorists from Al Qaeda. C.I.A. interrogators have already elicited from the top Qaeda officials in custody that, before the American-led invasion, Osama bin Laden had rejected entreaties from some of his lieutenants to work jointly with Mr. Hussein.

No, it provides evidence that any cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda was based not on their mutual well-being, but mutual dedication to our defeat. In fact, it sounds as if their alliance has taken about the same form that has been claimed, on a larger scale, for before the war: "Military and intelligence officials say they have detected cooperation at the tactical level, on individual attacks, but have less evidence of any coordination at a broader strategic level."

Does the Times require its writers to have or to seek to acquire any acumen at all when it comes to analysis of tactical matters? Or even just critical thinking? The overriding principle must be "Get Bush" if a news story about Hussein's advice to his followers not to work with Islamic jihadists too closely after the war prompts analysis that the President was wrong that the two groups had ties before it.

Of course, "contention of close cooperation" is a strawman — and vague, too — meaning that the Times is now on its third or fourth tier of flawed analysis.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:48 PM

January 13, 2004

Put Up or Admit Bias

This is neat:

The president of a media watchdog group is challenging NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw to a $1 million challenge over comments the anchor made during a recent interview with Columbia Journalism Review.

Brokaw directly took on the Media Research Center and its president Brent Bozell, denying the credibility of their evidence of liberal bias in the press.

"What I get tired of is Brent Bozell trying to make these fine legal points everywhere every day. A lot of it just doesn't hold up," said Brokaw. "So much of it is that bias -- like beauty -- is in the eye of the beholder."

"I know our evidence does 'hold up' and we'll prove it," Bozell responded. "I issue this challenge to NBC and its anchor: Let's assemble a mutually agreeable third-party panel and have them review a compilation of the Media Research Center's 16 years of evidence of liberal media bias."

Wonder if Brokaw will take the MRC up on the bet. Well, I don't wonder too much.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:14 PM

January 10, 2004

The Pen That Shoots Off (And the Gun That Doesn't)

Jay Nordlinger points out an instance of the all-too-common practice of journalists — even for news wires — shooting off at the pen, so to speak, by inserting commentary where it has no business being:

A Reuters report out of Washington yesterday began, "Looking to draw more Hispanics behind his re-election bid, President Bush on Wednesday will propose a temporary worker program to help millions of immigrants work legally in the United States, officials said."

Notice that the very first words of this news report are commentary: "Looking to draw more Hispanics behind his re-election bid . . ." That is sheer speculation, or analysis, if you like. It may be perfectly correct. But it is the lead in a news item.

The next sentence begins, "Facing a possibly close election next November, Bush is reviving an issue put on hold . . ."

More commentary — in the news story of a wire service! Journalism is becoming badly degraded, when we can hardly tell the difference between straight newsies and opinionists (like me). There should be a great, great, great gulf between Reuters and Impromptus. But there is much less of one than there should be.

The news and information market falls naturally into three subdivisions: straight news, straight commentary, and analysis, which will inevitably have a tinge of opinion. There's overlap, of course; discerning relevant facts requires some analysis, while commentary that is devoid of facts is useless. However, because analysis is interesting to a broader section of people, business considerations are pushing straight news toward it. And because heavy reliance on facts makes commentary easier — at least with respect to a semblance of value and credibility — writers drift that way, as well.

The scenario that I would consider most valuable would be a spectrum of clearly defined and identifiable work. As Mr. Nordlinger notes, however, the straight news end of that spectrum is sparsely populated, indeed, when wire reports pass off analysis as fact, probably without the reporters' even being aware of it. In such a market, my advice to readers is to gather variegated analysis in which the direction of opinion is clear and open, which is to say, that is toward the commentary end.

Of course, to many of us, the direction of opinion is clear. As Jay rhetorically asks, "And does this commentary-within-reporting ever slant the conservative way?" Unfortunately, it is hardly open, which adds layers of disagreement and barriers to the decisions that we in the public must make.

ADDENDUM:
I just wanted to point out, for your future use, something that Mr. Nordlinger put very well, while explaining how slimy Wes Clark really is:

But preemptive action is in conflict with a smoking gun. The whole idea — as Clark once grasped and articulated — is that you strike before your enemy's gun goes off.

That's sure to be a useful quip to have in your arsenal. Mr. Nordlinger is a master of commentary.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:06 AM