Media Milestones And Millstones For 2008

At the conclusion of a year that few people will miss, it is time once again to indulge in the hackneyed cliche of annual list-making. While some events are already etched into our collective memories (i.e. the election of our nation’s incoming, first-ever, African-American president; the shoe attack on our nation’s out-going, worst-ever, remedial president), other events may be more subject to fading recollection as a new year of stimuli compete for a place in America’s short attention span.

It is in this spirit that I submit the following collection of awards in the hopes of preserving these moments for history, if not for comedy.

Starting with the history-making presidential election, Barack Obama wins the Somebody Had To Say It Award for this:

Obama: “I am convinced that if there were no Fox News, I might be two or three points higher in the polls. If I were watching Fox News, I wouldn’t vote for me, right?”

Sticking with the campaign theme, Sarah Palin has repeatedly demonstrated her ignorance of the media’s role in public life. She believes that it is unconstitutional to criticize her, and that she is the one to restore the media’s credibility. That alone would be enough to merit an award, but Palin wins the What Constitution? Award by showing Carl Cameron of Fox News that she has no comprehension of the Constitutional role of the office she sought:

Palin: “The vice president, of course, is not a member – or a part of the legislative branch, except to oversee the Senate. That alone provides a tremendous amount of flexibility and authority if that vice president so chose to use it.”

Of Course, Palin has her fans – like Ann Coulter who along with Human Events Magazine named Palin Conservative of the Year. But that was not enough to pry away the Fatuous Infatuation Award from Rich Lowry of the National Review:

Lowry: “I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, ‘Hey, I think she just winked at me.’ And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.”

On the plus side, CNN’s Jack Cafferty played a stream of gibberish from Palin’s interview with Katie Couric. After which he said that if you aren’t afraid that she is a 72 year old heartbeat from the presidency, you should be. Then Wolf Blitzer tried to cover for Palin by saying that she was just trying to squeeze a lot into her answer. Cafferty’s reply earns him the Anchor Smackdown Award:

Cafferty: “Don’t make excuses for her. That was pathetic.”

I suppose I should give an award to Palin’s running mate…what was his name? Oh yeah…John McCain certainly deserves a mention for his aggressive attacks on the media. But that’s all he gets. While it takes real guts for a former press darling who hosts barbecues for his reporter pals to turn on them when the next object of media affection pops up, the act for which I will remember McCain is his promotion and exploitation of Samuel Wurlzebacher – aka Joe the Plumber – whose name is not Joe and who is not a plumber. Despite his obvious deficiencies, Plumber Joe became a staple of Fox News, particularly business chief Neil Cavuto. On one notable occasion, Cavuto queried Joe on the subject of Barack Obama’s patriotism. And for his response Joe gets the McCarthyism Reprise Award:

Wurzelbacher: “Oh you know, [Obama’s] ideology is something that is completely different than what democracy stands for, so I had some question there. In my opinion.”

However, Joe will have to be satisfied sharing this award with News Corp Chairman, Rupert Murdoch, who also earned this honor in an interview with Cavuto:

Murdoch: “[Obama’s] policy is really very, very naive, old fashioned, 1960’s socialist.”

Old Rupert was destined to have an over-representation on this awards program. That’s partly because of the expansive nature of his media empire, but mostly because that empire is a repulsive purveyor of smears and propaganda. There is so much of it that I could devote an entire set of awards to News Corp alone. Consequently, I’ll focus here on the more peculiar instances of journalistic abuse. Starting with Amy Chozick of the Wall Street Journal who wins the Biggest Loser award for an article titled, “Too Fit to Be President?” which asks:

Chozick: “…in a nation in which 66% of the voting-age population is overweight and 32% is obese, could Sen. Obama’s skinniness be a liability?”

Then there is Fox News’ own Liz Trotta, winner of the Death To America Award for her public call for assassinating Obama:

Trotta: “…and now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama …uh… Obama … well, both if we could.”

And don’t think I’ve left out the Grand Wizard of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly. Oh…where to begin? I’m going to skip over O’Reilly’s generous offer not to lynch Michelle Obama, and his assertion that 200,000 documented homeless veterans don’t exist, and even his delicious submersion into lunacy as demonstrated in any of the “Don’t Block the Shot / Dodge Us at Your Peril / We’ll Do It Live” rants. For some reason I get a kick out his delusional conspiracy theory that the TV ratings are fixed and that Nielsen is intent on destroying him. Never mind the fact that he is number one in those ratings and he frequently cites them as evidence of his ego-starved greatness. So for inventing enemies around every corner, O’Reilly gets the Paranoia Strikes Deep Award:

O’Reilly: “The bottom line on this is there may be some big-time cheating going on in the ratings system, and we hope the feds will investigate. Any fraud in the television rating system affects all Americans.”

When O’Reilly isn’t threatening “the folks,” his colleagues in conservative crime are doing it. Rush Limbaugh is this year’s recipient of the Domestic Terrorist Award for exhorting his listeners to attend the Democratic Convention and to “Screw the World! Riot in Denver!”:

Limbaugh: “[T]he dream end of this is that this keeps up to the convention and that we have a replay of Chicago 1968, with burning cars, protests, fires, literal riots, and all of that. That’s the objective here.”

Glenn Beck, not to be outdone, issued his own threats. But in an attempt to boost the degree of difficulty, Beck went off the scale. In November he told a story of how we had been accosted in a diner by a hostile trucker who threatened to run him down. He summarized the experience by saying that, no matter how much he disagreed with someone, he would never say such horrible things – not even to Michael Moore. However, just a few months prior, Beck said this about Moore and, thus, earned his Serial Hypocrite Award:

Beck: “Hang on, let me just tell you what I’m thinking. I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out – is this wrong?”

The Grand Prize for a year of countless media atrocities is reserved for a despicable act of greed and betrayal. Actually, it is a pattern of acts that has persisted for many years, but came to a head during the Bush administration and was courageously uncovered by the New York Times. It has been called the Pentagon Pundits scandal, though I call it SPINCOM. It centers around an initiative to stack the press with analysts who were willing to lie to support an illegal war and to fatten their own wallets. The Times gets the Milestone of the Year Award for revealing the rancid corruption of the media, the military, and the Bush warmongers:

NY Times: “Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance.”

“The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.”

Sadly, the heroic work of the Times was largely ignored by the rest of the press, particularly television. Of course, the TV news networks were the most aggressively abusive employers of the tainted pundits. It would have taken a powerful dose of integrity to criticize behavior that they were in the thick of engaging in. The failure to cover such a controversial issue that impacts so directly on themselves is further evidence of a media community that is untrustworthy and uninterested in serving the public. However, the story in the Times has resulted in an investigation at the FCC and another proposed in the next Congress. So, hopefully, some accountability will be brought to bear.

The fight for honest and independent journalism will continue into the new year. While there are some promising signs accompanying the incoming Obama administration, there will undoubtedly be much work to do. So in the spirit of optimism and renewal, and hopes for better future, I wish everyone a…


Fox News Fans Obama Assassination Flame, Again

What is it with these Fox News contributors who are incapable of repressing their fantasies of violence against Barack Obama? This morning on the Live Desk, a discussion on Obama’s emerging cabinet led to another disturbing and repulsive threat directed at the President-elect.

Eric Metaxas, an author of (get this) children’s books, was making the argument that naming Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State would be inviting trouble for Obama. Metaxas asserted that Clinton would seek to grab all of the attention and that her omnipotent power would overcome Obama. That analysis fails to give Obama credit for defeating her in the primary, which might suggest that he would not be so easily dominated. Metaxas, however, thinks Clinton is untrustworthy and having her in the cabinet would be like “dancing with a snake.” He likened it to President Lyndon Johnson during the Kennedy administration. I was unaware that Johnson overshadowed Kennedy. So was Bob Beckel, who then initiated the following exchange:

Beckel: Who got more attention – Kennedy or LBJ?
Metaxas: Who got shot?

Without sharpening my mind-reading skills, it’s difficult to know precisely what Metaxas meant by that. But I can’t come up with any justification for how that could be used in this context, other than that Metaxas believes that LBJ had something to with Kennedy’s assassination, and that Clinton will play the same role in the Obama saga.

There are plenty of Kennedy conspiracy theorists out there, and some finger LBJ as a participant. But Clinton would have to knock off Biden, Pelosi, and Byrd too, before she would benefit from such a plot. Consequently, Metaxes’ comment makes no sense. It is just an unnecessary passage into a dark territory that is all the more troubling due to the increasingly threatening environment that surrounds the new president. The Secret Service reports receiving more threats against Obama than any previous president-elect (thanks to Sarah Palin).

Metaxas’ remarks follow up on those made by another Fox News contributor, Liz Trotta, who said last May:

“…and now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama …uh… Obama … well, both if we could.”

And then there was Bill O’Reilly’s lynching party for Michelle Obama:

“I don’t want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there’s evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels.”

These are not random crackpots posting anonymously on some blog. These are paid commentators on a major news network. The cumulative effect of these repeated atrocities could plausibly lead to real crimes as mental suggestions are planted and a general numbness sets in.

The fact that Fox gets away with it is problematic not just because of the obvious disgust that it entails, but the very notion that they persist in this behavior with little notice or consequences makes my skin crawl.

Fox News Inspires KKK Threats

Just in case anyone still thinks that Fox News is merely an overtly biased right-wing mouthpiece for Republican issues and people, here’s a story of what trafficking in hate and lies can lead to in the real world:

“The white co-owner of a Palm Beach restaurant told her black employees they’d be fired if they voted for Barack Obama, and on the night of Obama’s victory, she wrote ‘KKK’ on their timecards and in notes she posted in the back of the restaurant.”

The owner of the restaurant claims that her actions were not meant to be taken seriously, but that is disingenuous at best. I cannot fathom how such behavior could be characterized as a joke. And in a startling attempt to defend herself, she sought to shift the blame:

“I think I got crazy with FOX News, watching too much FOX News.”

This is the sort of ugliness that is entirely predictable when you put unrepentant, racist provocateurs in the anchor seats of major television networks. It is what should be expected when those anchors invite other confirmed racists on their shows to affirm their repulsive views.

Throughout the past presidential campaign, Fox News led the rightist media in peddling racial hate. Let’s recap:

  • E.D. Hill: A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab?
  • Liz Trotta: [N]ow we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama …uh… Obama … well, both if we could.
  • Fox On-Air Graphic: Outraged Liberals: Stop Picking On Obama’s Baby Mama!
  • Bill O’Reilly: I don’t want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there’s evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels.
  • Bill O’Reilly: The question is: Did Martin Luther King really think of America as a bad country or a good country? Did he despise it the way Jeremiah Wright does? Or did he respect it? And that question is very difficult to answer precisely.
  • Bill O’Reilly: I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks, primarily black patronship.
  • John Gibson: Do your duty. Make more babies [or] Twenty-five years and the majority of the population is Hispanic.

Then there is also Sean Hannity’s close association with neo-Nazi Hal Turner and proud bigot Andy Martin. And Fox News “broke” the false story of Barack Obama attending a Madrassa in his youth. This lead to accusations of Obama being a Muslim that persisted throughout the campaign. Fox also led the charge against Rev. Wright with barely concealed racial overtones. This list could go on and on.

The bottom line is that when a concerted campaign of distrust and disparagement, focused on racial hatred, is part and parcel of a major news enterprise, only a fool would fail to anticipate that it would instigate behavior like that described above. Sadly, I don’t see it receding much as Fox News continues to engage in their repugnant brand of pseudo-journalism, and they continue to employ the worst offenders.

Update: It isn’t only Fox News that is inciting threats: Sarah Palin blamed by the US Secret Service over death threats against Barack Obama.

“The Secret Service warned the Obama family in mid October that they had seen a dramatic increase in the number of threats against the Democratic candidate, coinciding with Mrs Palin’s attacks.”

Submission Accomplished: MSNBC Demotes Olbermann

Keith Olbermann is MSNBC’s hottest property. His ratings eclipse those of the rest of the lineup. So clearly he is a significant draw for an audience that MSNBC has been struggling to expand and they would reward him commensurate to his contribution.

Think again:

“MSNBC is removing Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews as the anchors of live political events, bowing to growing criticism that they are too opinionated to be seen as neutral in the heat of the presidential campaign. “

This is another example of the media being so petrified of disapproval from right-wing critics that they act in opposition to their own interests. By effectively demoting their top talent, MSNBC is agreeing with critics that their coverage is slanted and that Olbermann is a journalistic liability. This action is remarkably stupid and short-sighted. Why would NBC want to denigrate their own reporting and insult their most popular program host? Apparently all is takes is a letter or two from the White House or the Republican National Committee to make NBC execs tremble.

To put this in perspective, try to imagine Fox News making a similar schedule adjustment in response to complaints from liberal sources. Obviously they get such complaints by the thousands on a daily basis. And not just from liberals, but from respected, independent journalistic institutions and professionals. Yet Brit Hume, Megyn Kelly, Neil Cavuto, etc. – not to mention Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity – all have safe jobs and have never been chastised in the slightest for their brazen bias and partisan pandering.

What’s more, the contrast in tone between the left and right media is disturbing, to say the least. Liberals are accused primarily of partisanship and favoritism. But rightists are are guilty of far more hostile activity. Recall Fox News’ Liz Trotta who joked that Barack Obama should be assassinated along with Osama Bin Laden. And then there’s that continuous thread of racism that permeates Fox News. These ethical violations, however, are not sufficient to warrant corrective action on the part of the conservative press.

In addition to dissing Olbermann, muting an alternative perspective, and likely suppressing their ratings (and, thus, their income), NBC is also giving ammunition to their competitors, who will not praise this as a step toward neutral reporting, but cite it as evidence of bias. So MSNBC gains nothing from their capitulation. Fox News is already reporting on these events as having taken place due to MSNBC’s lack of neutrality. That Fox can even say that, without a hint of irony, demonstrates how low the media neutrality bar has sunk.

The timing of this announcement couldn’t be worse. With the party conventions over, the general election commencing formally, and debates coming soon, NBC has chosen to very publicly tarnish their own brand. This could only happen at a network that is faulted as being liberal by the entrenched media establishment. And yet, the myth that the media is liberal will persist despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

The real problem is that it is only the few liberal islands in the media sea that are punished for expressing their views. The monopolistic corporations who control the media, and their benefactors on the conservative side of the political spectrum, are the dictators of what the news audience will see and hear. They will always bend to the right and, sadly, cowards like those at NBC will choke the breadth of opinion from the airwaves to the point of suffocation.

Liz Trotta Of Fox News Jokes About Knocking Off Obama

It doesn’t get much worse than this. Liz Trotta is a Fox News contributor and former New York bureau chief of The Washington [Moonie] Times.

As if it isn’t enough to conflate Osama and Obama by mixing up the names (as many have done before her), she goes on to assert with giddy laughter…

“and now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama …uh… Obama … well, both if we could.”

The Fox anchor, Eric Shawn, merely laughed along saying, “Talk about how you really feel.” This is, sadly, not the first call for violence from Fox News personalities. Bill O’Reilly told listeners that he didn’t want to lynch Michelle Obama unless there was “evidence.” Sean Hannity said that keeping Nancy Pelosi from becoming Speaker of the House was “worth fighting and dying for.” Non-Foxie Rush Limbaugh has been inciting his dittoheads to “riot in Denver” at the Democratic National Convention.

I suppose this just validates O’Reilly’s warning that “before this presidential election year is over somebody is going to get hurt.” And it makes me wonder what he, and the rest of the Fox terrorists, know that we don’t.

Update: In some quarters of the InterTubes™ there is grumbling that the video above was deceptively edited. For anyone interested, here is a longer clip. I don’t see how the context changes with regard to Obama, but it does include Trotta disparaging Clinton as an evasive, lying, pandering, race-baiter. So much for objectivity.

Update II: Trotta apologized this morning:

“I am so sorry about what happened yesterday and the lame attempt at humor. I feel all over myself, making it appear that I wished Barack Obama harm or any other candidate, for that matter, and I sincerely regret it and apologize to anybody I have offended. It is a very colorful political season, and many of us are making mistakes and saying things we wish we had not said.”

I’m glad she apologized, but did she have to tack on the qualifier at the end that implies an excuse because, “Hey, everybody’s doing it.”?