Saturday, August 02, 2008


Newspaper meltdown 5: Maybe we would buy more papers if they wouldn’t try to manipulate us

by Larry Geller

I mean, who needs more of Mike Gordon pushing the Bush administration’s line on Iran the way he deceived the public on Iraq? And he works (still) for the New York Times, the paper I thought, as a kid, could tell no lies.

My ideal reporter would be the character Anne in Henlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land:


From Wikipedia, Stranger in a Strange Land


A Fair Witness is an individual trained to observe events and report exactly what he or she sees and hears, making no extrapolations or assumptions.

In Heinlein's society, a Fair Witness is a highly reputable source of information.

Fair Witnesses are prohibited from drawing conclusions about what they observe. As a demonstration, Harshaw asks Anne to describe the color of a house in the distance. She responds, "It's white on this side,". Harshaw explains that she would not assume knowledge of the color of the other sides of the house without being able to see them.

If the New York Times would fulfill my childhood (and I suppose childlike) expectations for honest, truthful, unbiased reporting, mightn't I want to subscribe?

Back home, if the Advertiser would be straight with us on rail transit (and some other things)(more on this soon), wouldn’t I look forward to reading it each day?

Fox News is a lost cause, but I do expect better from newspapers, especially those that fancy themselves “the paper of record” and wonder if they would have an easier time in the current media crisis if they stepped up to their responsibilities.

On Mike Gordon and Iraq, I’ll rely on Glen Greenwald at (as usual, I recommend reading the full article if you’re interested):

Michael Gordon, the administration's best friend at the Times

In the lead-up to the Iraq War, Michael Gordon of The New York Times wrote one of the most discredited, journalistically irresponsible, and damaging articles of the last decade -- a September 8, 2002, front-page article, co-authored with Judy Miller, which, in the first sentence, "reported" that "Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today." The article continued: "In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes."

On the day that article was published, Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press and he specifically cited Gordon and Miller's article as "evidence" that Saddam was pursuing nuclear weapons [2/12/2007]

Despite the paper’s famous mea culpa, Gordon is still there and still doing his thing for Bush:

Who needs Dana Perino when you have the NYT's Michael Gordon?

On Meet the Press yesterday during an interview with Barack Obama, Tim Russert said:

The administration, we have reported at NBC, are drawing up some plans for potential airstrikes in Iran at different missile weapons factories or special force compounds because we have indications, evidence that the Iranians are helping some of their supporters within Iraq to kill U.S. troops.

It's unclear whether the "we" in Russert's statement ("we have indications, evidence") refers to the U.S. Government or NBC News, though that distinction is essentially nonexistent. Russert didn't bother to describe this purported "evidence" leading to our planning air strikes against Iran, but he did then ask Obama: "If it could be demonstrated that was a fact, would you be in support of such limited attacks in Iran?"

Like clockwork, the administration's most stalwart surge supporter/journalist -- the New York Times' Michael Gordon -- has a lengthy article today bolstering the administration's war-justifying accusations against Iran. It claims in the lead sentence that "militants from the Lebanese group Hezbollah have been training Iraqi militia fighters at a camp near Tehran," and that "the training, the Americans say, is carried out at several camps near Tehran that are overseen by the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Command, and the instruction is carried out by militants from Hezbollah, which has long been supported by the Quds Force."

As usual with Gordon's articles, nothing is done here other than uncritically repeating Bush administration claims under the cover of anonymity. Virtually every paragraph in this article is nothing more a mindless recitation of uncorroborated assertions which he copies from Bush officials and then weaves into a news narrative, with the phrase "American officials say" tacked on at the end or the phrase "according to officials" unobtrusively interspersed in the middle, … [, 5/5/2008]

Enough on Gordon and the Times. The problem is pervasive.

We’re in an election year, so media critics focus on the difference in coverage between the candidates. Aside from the fluff on haircuts and cleavage, we’ve often been treated to articles that give little insight into what candidates might be like if elected. And then there are distortions, which, if you keep a scorecard, are hard to say are not deliberate. Yes, Virginia, the media is manipulating you, they are neither neutral, honest, nor fair witnesses.

There is a wide choice of websites that compulsively keep tabs on our misleading media. One is and their program Counterspin, which airs on public radio (6:30 p.m. Wednesdays on KIPO) and is available as a podcast. The current program analyzes whether the troop surge in Iraq really worked and whether the war in Afghanistan would benefit from a similar escalation.

I’ll close with another, Media Matters for America, which can be emailed to you. I usually quote snippets, but to show how comprehensive their daily survey is, here is the complete current email (with the hopes that quoting this will bring them some new subscribers):

Here are today's news items from Media Matters for America, click on the title or 'read more' to read the entirety of each story.

Dobbs falsely identified convicted former Republican Rep. Janklow as a Democrat
On CNN, Lou Dobbs asserted that "[f]ormer Congressman Bill Janklow, a Democrat from South Dakota, was convicted of striking and killing a motorcyclist with his car in 2003. He was sentenced to 100 days in prison." In fact, Janklow was a Republican member of the House of Representatives. Read More

On Hannity & Colmes, another Corsi falsehood about Obama
On Hannity & Colmes, author Jerome Corsi claimed that in his upcoming book, The Obama Nation, "I do a great deal of analysis of [Sen. Barack Obama's] autobiography." Corsi then asserted, "Obama first presents his father as a great hero, and the truth was, his father was a polygamist and a alcoholic." However, contrary to Corsi's suggestion that Obama did not address these issues in his memoir Dreams From My Father, he discusses his father's alcoholism and polygamy in multiple passages in the book. Read More

Rather than acknowledge flaws in Obama column, Wash. Post's Milbank mocked critics in online chat as "whiners"
In an online discussion, Dana Milbank dismissed participants' criticisms of his July 30 column -- a "sketch" of Sen. Barack Obama's "premature presidency" -- as "whines." Milbank began the discussion by acknowledging that "some of you have some thoughts you'd like to share about yesterday's Sketch on the premature presidency of Barack Obama," and before taking questions, wrote: "I've decided to approach today's chat as a wine writer would. ... Today, I am inaugurating the Whine Enthusiast, in which I will rate your whines." Read More

Misinformation in Freddoso's anti-Obama book comes early
The introduction and first few pages of David Freddoso's forthcoming book, The Case Against Barack Obama, are marked by false and misleading assertions about Obama, accompanied by dubious citations. Read More

Wash. Times' Pruden repeated false allegation that Obama sent Western Wall prayer to media
The Washington Times' Wes Pruden repeated the debunked allegation that Sen. Barack Obama released the written prayer he placed on the Western Wall in Jerusalem to Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv. In fact, while a spokesman for Ma'ariv reportedly told other Israeli publications that the Obama campaign gave copies of the prayer to the media before he went to the Western Wall, The New Republic's Zvika Krieger wrote in a blog post: "I finally heard back from the Ma'ariv spokesman, who denied that the Obama campaign leaked the memo to them or gave them approval to print it, and who disavowed the alleged spokesman who gave quotes to at least four Israeli publications." Read More

Gingrich repeatedly mischaracterized Obama's energy policy
On Hannity & Colmes, Newt Gingrich ridiculed Sen. Barack Obama for encouraging people to properly inflate their tires and falsely suggested that that constituted Obama's only "energy strategy." In fact, Obama has proposed a "Plan for a Clean Energy Future," which includes proposals to "invest $150 billion over 10 years in clean energy," "improve energy efficiency 50 percent by 2030," "support next generation biofuels," and "double fuel economy standards within 18 years." And, Gingrich's ridicule aside, the Department of Energy and the EPA, as well as Republican governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Charlie Crist, have all referred to the fuel economy benefits of properly inflated tires. Read More

Maybe newspapers historically never really fulfilled my expectations. But still, I ask again, would they (and other media) have an easier time during the current crisis if they were actually bringing us unbiased, complete, truthful, and honest news?

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