“We Expect A Higher Standard From The Old Guard”: Brian Williams’ Lies Are Not Equal To Those Of Fox ‘News’
There’s this speech I give my students. Distilled, it goes like this.
“Your primary asset as a journalist is not your dogged curiosity, your talent for research or your ability to make prose sing on deadline. No, your one indispensable asset is your credibility. If you are not believable, nothing else matters.”
Which brings us, inevitably, to Brian Williams. The NBC Nightly News anchor saw his career crumple like used Kleenex last week after he repeated one time too many a story he has been telling for years: how a U.S. military helicopter on which he was a passenger was shot down over Iraq in 2003.
But the man who was flight engineer on that copter said on Facebook that Williams was never on it. Instead, he was on the one trailing it. Williams apologized for conflating the two, blaming the “fog” of memory.
The incident was remarkably similar to candidate Hillary Clinton’s false 2008 claim that she came under sniper fire as First Lady during a 1996 visit to Bosnia. As it turns out, an American dignitary was shot at in Bosnia — just not Clinton. Rather, it was then-Sen. Olympia Snowe, six months before.
Then, as now, one is tempted to ascribe the lapse to false memory, that phenomenon where you recall with clarity things that never happened. Then, as now, one is hampered by the sheer drama of the events in question. A person may honestly misremember eating at a certain restaurant or seeing a given movie. But you’d think you’d be pretty clear on whether or not somebody almost killed you.
So now, people are poring over old newscasts to determine whether this is an isolated incident. A statement by Williams of seeing bodies outside his hotel during Hurricane Katrina was initially mocked, but has been found on closer inspection to be more credible than first believed.
Fans of Fox “News,” at least to judge from my email queue, are having a ball with all this. I wrote a column a few weeks back blasting Fox for its habitual, ideology-driven inaccuracy. Attacking Fox is not for the faint of heart. Its viewers (like Rush Limbaugh’s listeners) tend to take it personally, responding with such a nasty, visceral outrage that a body might think you’d blasphemed their deity rather than criticized their news outlet. I savaged CNN in this space last year and while some folks took issue, no one called me a “bleephole” or invited me to “bleep” myself. With Fox fans, that’s the salutation.
So this latest news brings a flood of email crowing over Williams’ troubles and demanding I give him equal treatment.
As I wrote in the aforementioned column, serious people do not take Fox seriously. Indeed, consider the level of angst, the sense of expectations betrayed, that has attended Williams’ failure and ask yourself: Would there be a similar outpouring if someone at Fox had told this whopper?
Fox is what Fox is, but its distortions and mendacities are generally only mistaken for gospel by a stratum of the electorate already predisposed to its bizarre worldview. The rest of us like to think we can expect a higher standard from the old guard of the news media, meaning the likes of CBS, NBC and The New York Times. And usually we can.
But every time that belief is betrayed — meaning not garden variety errors of fact, but catastrophic failures of journalistic integrity — the damage is exponentially greater precisely because the level of trust is exponentially higher. Such failures feed the disaffection and cynicism of a politically polarized nation where the universally accepted fact is an endangered species.
It’s a state of affairs that makes it hard to run a country. Or to be one.
So people asking that I give Brian Williams equal treatment are missing the point. If, indeed, he lied, then his sins are not equal to Fox’s.
They are worse.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, February 11, 2015
Candidates may raise the unprecedented sums of political cash being funneled through Super PACs this year, and media strategists may decide how to spend them – but the people who actually wind up pocketing much of the money are America’s television broadcasters. Since the Supreme Court voided limits on political donations in Citizens United, more money than ever is being devoted to negative TV ads. Industry analysts predict that upwards of $3 billion will be spent on political advertising this year – a surge of more than $500 million over 2008.
“Election season has turned into Black Friday for broadcasters,” says Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, which fights for transparency in elections. “It’s just a huge bonanza.”
While TV stations are required by law to offer discounted airtime to politicians, Super PACs have to pay market rates. With these outside groups expected to buy more than half the ads benefiting the Romney campaign, the increased competition to place ads in battleground states only serves to drive up the price. In a key market like Columbus, Ohio, where campaign spots are already airing at a record pace, the ad buys are expected to exceed the haul from 2008, when political ads made up half of all TV spots purchased during the final week of the election.
In essence, broadcasters are now profiteering from a vicious circle of corruption: Politicians are beholden to big donors because campaigns are so expensive, and campaigns are so expensive because they’re fought through television ads. The more cash that chases limited airtime, the more the ads will cost, and the more politicians must lean on deep-pocketed patrons. In short, the dirtier the system, the better for the bottom line at TV stations and cable systems. According to an analysis by Moody’s, political ads are expected to account for as much as seven cents of every dollar broadcasters earn over the full two-year election cycle for 2012.
The influx of political cash also means that TV news divisions have what Allison calls a “huge conflict of interest” when it comes to reporting on campaign finance. The profit motive stifles critical coverage of top donors and meaningful reforms, such as public financing of elections. “Broadcasters have an incentive not to see the system changed,” he says.
But while there’s no hope of curbing campaign spending in the near term, a new FCC rule could soon give the public real-time data about who is profiting from the Super PAC marathon. In April, the commission ruled that affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in the nation’s 50 biggest markets must post their revenue from political ads online, for all to see. (Such records have long been public – just inaccessible, kept in paper form in files at each station.) The reform would help expose some of the “dark money” spending by mega-donors like the Koch brothers, but it’s only a modest start: Many communities in battleground states – like Fort Myers, Florida, and Reno, Nevada – are located in smaller markets that are not covered by the new rule. A study by the Campaign Media Analysis Group suggests that at least 40 percent of spending on over-the-airwaves presidential ads may remain exempt from disclosure.
But the rule’s shortcomings haven’t kept broadcasters and their GOP allies from going all out to stop it. In June, Republicans on the House Financial Services Subcommittee voted to block disclosure and enable donors to operate in secrecy. And on July 10th, the National Association of Broadcasters filed an emergency motion to postpone the rule, arguing that it will allow cable and other competitors to undercut their business. “Shifting even a small percentage of this advertising away from television,” the NAB confessed, would cost TV stations “millions of dollars in revenue.”
The rule is scheduled to go into effect in August – but the NAB move could delay it until well after the election. One bright spot: Time Warner has voluntarily begun posting online records of its political ad buys, even though the new FCC rule doesn’t apply to cable companies. Its records are not sortable by dollar amounts – so the public can’t quickly tally how much money the Obama campaign is spending on, say, ESPN2. But voters can now examine individual ad buys. In Columbus, for example, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, one of the largest and most notorious dark-money groups, has booked three daytime ads to run on Fox News during the last week of October. The spots may be designed to aid Romney and the GOP, but Time Warner will enjoy a tidy bit of political profiteering: The cable company is charging $24 per ad – a staggering 12 times what the same ads would have cost in May.
By: Tim Dickinson, RollingStone.com, August 6, 2012 (This story is from the August 16th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone).
A month ago, conventional wisdom had it that the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney were somehow failing terribly — notwithstanding the fact that they’ve been key parts of every other campaign Democrats and Republicans have run against Romney going all the way back to 1994. And yet all of a sudden, the Obama campaign is going full outsource/Bain attack on Romney at every opportunity. So they think it’s working great. New polling suggests they may be on to something. And in the most telling development, in the days leading up to the surprise Supreme Court ruling, the Romney campaign itself is mounting a mammoth pushback, signaling more clearly than anything that they think it’s working too.
So what happened?
Consider three basic factors. First, round one of the Bain Wars was almost entirely hashed out in what you might call the Acela corridor — an insular community, overwhelmingly affluent and educated, and decidedly not the audience for the message or the folks who find themselves on the receiving end of capitalism’s creative destruction.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) visited TPM’s DC offices last week as part of our Newsmaker interview series and said basically: trust me, this message worked in Ohio. Maybe he was right all along. I suspect he was.
But there was another rhetorical dimension. ‘Private equity’ is a weird phrase. Most people have no idea what it does or doesn’t mean. And the Romney campaign through it’s surrogates was able to hit its opponents with something like ‘Hey, it’s poor form to be going all Nation magaziney and pretending that private equity isn’t awesome!’
And within that community, it worked. Thus Cory Booker, Bill Clinton, and a lot of other Democrats. ‘Private equity’ means a lot of different things. My own sense is that some parts of it are incredibly destructive while others create efficient allocations of capital. But who cares what I think? Wherever you come down on that question there’s simply no question that private equity is at the tip of the the spear of creative destruction in our society. So in a country where everybody gets to vote, it’s sort of crazy to think criticizing something like that would somehow be beyond the pale like attacking the Pope or crapping on motherhood and apple pie. But there it was.
‘Outsourcing’ though and ‘Offshoring’ — these are just more graspable words, more concrete concepts. Everybody understands them. Everybody knows what they mean. I’m pretty sure the Romney campaign wants to say something like, ‘C’mon, our whole economy today is based on stuff like this and we all know it and everybody accepts it so don’t pretend otherwise.’ But they can’t. And what really got them all boxed up was when they got themselves into this ridiculous debate over whether Mitt’s an ‘outsourcer’ or an ‘offershorer’. As I said Monday, that’s an argument you lose by winning. Or lose by losing. Whichever way, you lose.
Even really smart strategists manage sometimes to charge into a brown paper bag like this. But this was a bad move because it opened Romney up to that most lethal political weapons: ridicule and mockery. The Obama camp seemed to get this early and just decided to drive a freight train right through him. Holding out for this distinction seemed incredibly stupid and more than that wildly out of touch since the difference is basically immaterial to people who lose their jobs as a result of it. And, as always, weakness which invites attacks.
In a country afflicted for decades by loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs and chronically stagnant working class and middle class wages it’s crazy to think that Romney’s history as a private equity king — especially one working the lower tiers of the private equity world — wouldn’t be a liability for a lot of voters. But it was something that DC reporters were best positioned to miss.
By: Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, July 2, 2012
It’s not easy being Fox News in today’s highly politicized media environment. When it says it’s “fair and balanced,” the mainstream media sneer disbelief. When the cable news ratings leader reveals figures proving its coverage is balanced on a specific hot-button issue, it gets slapped for pandering to conservative dogma.
That’s a conclusion one might reach from a first-of-its-kind study in the authoritative International Journal of Press/Politics of how Fox, CNN, and MSNBC cover the issue of global warming. The bottom line: Being balanced and providing supportive and critical views of global warming is actually biased because it gives critics a louder voice. Worse: Fox covers global warming about twice as much as CNN and MSNBC combined, meaning those critics get much more airtime, another sign of bias.
“Although Fox discussed climate change most often, the tone of its coverage was disproportionately dismissive,” says the study by four professors, two from George Mason University, the others from Yale and American University. They wrote, “Fox broadcasts were more likely to include statements that challenged the scientific agreement on climate change, undermined the reality of climate change, and questioned its human causes.”
The new study looked at global warming stories on the three networks in 2007-08, the peak of coverage of the issue. Of 269 stories, 182 were on Fox, 66 on CNN, and 21 on MSNBC. About 60 percent of the Fox stories had a “dismissive” tone, while less than 20 percent were “accepting” of global warming. Over 70 percent of those on CNN and MSNBC accepted the global warming argument, which the study authors also endorse. There were no “dismissive” stories on MSNBC, and just 7 percent on CNN, a proper balance, the study suggests.
The authors also looked at the opinions of guests. Here Fox again out-balanced the competition. Of Fox’s 149 guests, 59 believed in global warming, 69 didn’t, with the rest someplace in the middle. Of CNN’s 53 story guests, 41 were “climate change believers” and nine were “doubters.” On MSNBC, 11 of 20 guests were believers.
The study acknowledges that Fox was the most balanced from the numbers perspective, but the network still gets an F. The reason, it says, is because viewers are influenced by what they see, and seeing more critics of global warming makes more viewers critics. “The more often people watched Fox News, the less accepting they were of global warming. Conversely, frequent CNN and MSNBC viewing was associated with greater acceptance of global warming,” the study concludes.
By: Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, January 6, 2012