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“Fox ‘News’ Proof Of Old P.T. Barnum Adage”: Fox Is A Belief System, Not A News Network

Every once in a while the universe arranges itself to make you look smarter than you are. Lucky me, I am having such a moment now.

Last month, when NBC News anchor Brian Williams’ career imploded as he was caught in a high-profile, self-aggrandizing lie, I suggested in this space that there would be much less angst or fallout if someone from Fox “News” were caught lying.

Enter Bill O’Reilly.

Shortly after I wrote that, the liberal Mother Jones magazine ran a story questioning his claim to have been in the combat zone in the Falkland Islands while covering that war for CBS. From his Fox podium, O’Reilly dismissed Mother Jones as the “bottom rung of journalism in America,” which was gushing praise next to his takedown of reporter David Corn, a “liar,” an “irresponsible guttersnipe,” a “far-left zealot” and “dumb.”

Since then, however, other news organizations have reported other instances of questionable assertions on O’Reilly’s part.

For instance, he has long said he was outside the home of a figure in the John F. Kennedy assassination and heard the shot when the man killed himself. That suicide happened in Palm Beach. Former colleagues say O’Reilly was in Dallas that day.

He has claimed he was “attacked by protesters” while covering the 1992 Los Angeles riots for Inside Edition. Former colleagues say he is exaggerating an incident where an angry man took a piece of rubble to a camera.

O’Reilly has said he witnessed the execution of a group of American nuns in El Salvador. That happened in 1980. O’Reilly apparently did not reach El Salvador until 1981.

For the one falsehood, Williams received a six-month suspension without pay. For a handful of apparent falsehoods, O’Reilly has received unstinting support from his bosses at Fox.

This rather neatly makes the point I sought to make a month ago. Namely, that Fox — the window-dressing presence of a few bona fide reporters notwithstanding — is not a real news-gathering organization but, rather, the propaganda arm of an extreme right wing that grows ever more cult-like and detached from reality as time goes by. Fox is a belief system, not a news network. Exhibit A is the fact that O’Reilly is not now fighting for his professional life.

To anticipate what his believers will say in his defense: Yes, he is a pundit and yes, pundits are entitled to their opinions. But that does not release them from the obligation to be factual.

It is telling that Fox recently responded to sharp questions about all this from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow by sending her a statement noting that O’Reilly’s ratings are up despite the controversy. To act as if ratings answer, or even address, questions of credibility is to express contempt for the very notion of credibility. It suggests Fox’s full-body embrace of the old saying, often attributed to Barnum, about the birth rate of suckers.

But why shouldn’t Fox be sanguine? People who mistake it for a news outlet will never hold it accountable for failing to be one, because in the final analysis, news is not really what it promises them, nor what they seek. Rather, what it promises and what they seek is an alternate reality wherein birthers make sensible arguments, death panels are real, Trayvon was the thug, Sarah Palin is a misunderstood genius, and all your inchoate fears of the looming Other are given intellectual cover so they no longer look like the scaredy-cat bigotry they are.

It gives its viewers what they need. It tells them what they want to hear.

Because it does and because that’s all they ask, O’Reilly’s troubles will soon very likely blow away. Yes, he is apparently a serial fabulist. And yes, that would disqualify you from most newsrooms.

But this is Fox.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 11, 2015

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Journalism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Bill O’Reilly Is Not Going Anywhere, You Far-Left Pinheads”: Making Money, And Advancing The Goals Of The Republican Party

Bill O’Reilly suffers from the same malady as Brian Williams: a tendency to embellish stories of the dangers and horrors he has faced as a journalist (though in O’Reilly’s case, his career as a journalist was brief, before he discovered his true calling). They may have had a slightly different motivation; my interpretation of Williams’ tall-tale-telling is that he wanted to portray himself as heroically journalistic, in the center of the action, bringing people the most important news of the moment. I suspect that for O’Reilly, on the other hand, it’s more of a macho thing—he’s as tough as anyone, and if you doubt it he’ll shout you down like the pinhead you are.

But while Williams was suspended for six months and may never make it back to the anchor chair, nothing of the sort is happening to O’Reilly; Fox News has stood behind him, which won’t change no matter how much evidence emerges showing that he has lied repeatedly about his “war” record. The simple explanation for the difference many believe is that NBC News cares about facts and Fox News doesn’t. Which is true up to a point, but it isn’t the whole story.

To catch you up, last week David Corn and Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones published this article documenting all the times O’Reilly has claimed that he has reported from “war zones” and “combat.” In fact, the closest O’Reilly ever got to combat back when he was a reporter was filing dispatches from Buenos Aires during the Falklands war—1,200 miles from the actual fighting. When confronted with this fact, O’Reilly has claimed that he was in the war zone because he covered a violent protest in Buenos Aires. That would be ridiculous on its own terms, but it turns out that even his account of that protest is likely bogus as well; while the protest was certainly chaotic and violent, no other news report from the time, from CBS News (for whom O’Reilly worked) or any other organization, substantiates his claim of Argentine soldiers “gunning these people down,” and in the days since a number of his former CBS colleagues have challenged his description of the events.

So it’s pretty clear what’s going on here. Desperate to paint himself as a macho globe-trotting journalist who’s seen danger and laughed in its face, O’Reilly has for years been saying that he saw “combat” and served in a “war zone,” when the closest he got was more than a thousand miles away. During the time of the Falklands War. The Falklands. And as Lloyd Grove noted, O’Reilly has been caught lying about his own awesomeness before, as when he claimed falsely to have won two Peabody awards for his work on that paragon of serious journalism, Inside Edition. That didn’t hurt his career, either.

So why not? Let’s look at Williams again. NBC didn’t suspend him because their profound integrity and commitment to the truth demanded it. They suspended him because they were afraid that he had been compromised among his viewers, and if they had left him on the air those viewers would desert the network’s news program. In other words, it was a financial decision. Williams’ success depends on a combination of personality and credibility; viewers want to know they can trust him, but mostly they tune in because they like him. Take away the credibility, and they won’t like him so much anymore.

You could say that O’Reilly depends on the same two factors, personality and credibility. But his credibility comes from an entirely different place, and it’s the reason he not only wouldn’t but couldn’t apologize, or even admit that he had exaggerated his combat derring-do. For O’Reilly, credibility means not that he’s a source of truthful information but that he’s a source of information and opinions his audience finds pleasing. Almost nothing is more important for him than to standing up to liberals, sticking it to ’em, fighting the secularists and the America-haters and the welfare coddlers with his usual brio. O’Reilly’s persona is all anger and defiance; he may be sitting behind a desk, but he wants viewers to believe that he’s ready at any moment to come out from there and punch somebody in the face if they need to be taught a lesson. He’s the person they want to be, channeling their rage and their resentments.

For O’Reilly, a loss of credibility wouldn’t come from being dishonest, it would come from showing weakness, from opposing liberals with anything less than maximal militance. As far as he and his angry old white viewers are concerned (the median age of O’Reilly’s viewers is 72), nothing shows weakness more than apologizing to your enemies. Which is why he has reacted to the charges with a stream of invective (calling David Corn a “far-left zealot” and a “guttersnipe”) and an insistence that he never made a single mistake. And the facts? Well, as Stephen Colbert said, the facts have a well-known liberal bias.

It isn’t just liberals who are O’Reilly’s enemies, it’s also the media—all of it. So when O’Reilly is being criticized, whether it’s from Mother Jones or The New York Times, it just proves how right he is about everything and how much of a threat he is to the craven comsymps of the liberal elite. So when a reporter from The New York Times contacted him about the story, he told her that if he didn’t like what she wrote, “I am coming after you with everything I have. You can take it as a threat.” Just try to imagine Brian Williams, or anyone who wants to maintain a reputation as a journalist of any sort, objective or opinionated, saying such a thing and not losing their job.

An episode like this plays right into the centerpiece of Fox’s ideology, its very raison d’être: the idea that Fox News is not just a brave outpost of truth-telling but the only place to get the real scoop uncontaminated by liberal bias. It tells its viewers that everything they hear from any allegedly non-partisan or objective source is nothing but a steaming pile of lies; the only thing you can trust on the TV dial is Fox. So when O’Reilly comes under fire, the viewers know two things: the substance of the criticism is bogus by definition; and the whole episode just proves what Fox has been saying all along. They are the righteous ones, which is why the forces of darkness are out to get them.

The bottom line for Brian Williams’ bosses at NBC News is money, and journalistic integrity is necessary to keep that money flowing. For Bill O’Reilly’s boss, Roger Ailes, things are just a bit more complicated. Ailes’s genius has always been his ability to make his network simultaneously serve two purposes: making money, and advancing the goals of the Republican Party. An on-air personality could lose his job if he threatened either of those goals, but O’Reilly hasn’t.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 24, 2015

February 25, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Journalists | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Own Worst Enemy”: The 13 Most Bizarre Things From Edward Snowden’s NBC News Interview

While watching Brian Williams’ interview with Ed Snowden, I actually agreed with Glenn Greenwald about something. Back in 2012, Greenwald referred to Williams as “NBC News’ top hagiographer,” using “his reverent, soothing, self-important baritone” to deliver information in its “purest, most propagandistic and most subservient form.”

It’s worth noting at the outset that Greenwald flew all the way to Moscow specifically for the NBC News interview, and he appeared on camera with Snowden and Williams, answering questions from this so-called “hagiographer.”

Now, I’m not a Brian Williams hater. I think he’s a fine news anchor. But his interview with Ed Snowden was yet another in a long, long line of deferential, uninformed, unchallenging genuflections before a guy whose story and motivations are more than a little specious. But it’s not a stretch to presume that Greenwald, the man who once aimed all of his wordy, caustic vitriol in Williams’ general direction, referring to him as possessing “child-like excitement” over gaining access to a source, probably loved every minute of it. However, don’t break out the champagne just yet, NBC News, Greenwald will immediately shift gears sometime very soon and continue to indict any and all mainstream news outlets, including NBC, as being impotent, pernicious, drooling shills for President Obama and the D.C. elite.

So what about the telecast itself? Here are the 13 most bizarre things from Snowden’s NBC News interview.

1) Snowden claimed he has “no relationship” with the Russian government and that he’s “not supported” by it. That’s odd, given how the Russian government has twice offered him asylum and one of his lawyers, Anatoly Kucherena, is an attorney with the Russian intelligence agency, the FSB (formerly the KGB). Tell me again why anyone should trust this guy?

2) “Sometimes to do the right thing you have to break a law.” So it’s really up to each of us individually to decide whether our own interpretation of “doing the right thing” necessitates breaking the law? A lot of awful things have occurred with that exact justification. Also, what if NSA feels the same way, Ed?

3) Snowden said that no one has been harmed by his disclosures. Yet. Already, though, one of his documents escalated tensions between Australia and Indonesia, and another document endangered lives in Afghanistan to the point where Greenwald refused to publish the name of that country. It’s only a matter of time, sadly.

4) Early on, Snowden said, “I’m not a spy.” Later he famously confessed to being “trained as a spy.” Huh?

5) Snowden said he destroyed his documents before going to Russia. This is really strange. I have no idea whether he really destroyed his NSA files, but he did in fact meet with Russian officials in Hong Kong, when he reportedly celebrated his birthday at the Russian consulate. Did he still have his documents at that point? Earlier, he said his goal was to fly to Latin America, so why did he anticipate being in Russia to the point where he destroyed his documents to prevent Russians from acquiring them? These are all follow-up questions that a journalist who was informed about the details of Snowden’s timeline would’ve asked. Williams was not and therefore did not.

6) NSA can “absolutely” turn on your iPhone, which is “pretty scary.” This section was like whiplash. Snowden started out by sounding reasonable by defining that NSA only acquires data when “targeting” drug dealers or terrorists. And then, BLAM!, this shitola about NSA being able to turn on your phone. If true, why hasn’t this been disclosed from Snowden’s NSA documents?

7) Snowden said that by googling the score of a hockey game, NSA can find out whether you’re cheating on your wife. Someone’s been wearing his tinfoil hat a wee bit too tightly.

8) NSA can observe people drafting a document online and “watch their thoughts form as they type.” Let’s assume for a second this is true. Reading your thoughts (IEEEEE!!!) is a hyperbolic internet-age method of essentially describing a wire-tap. A police detective can get a court order to have a suspect’s phone tapped and listen to that suspect forming thoughts on the phone, too. But to call it a “wire-tap” is too ordinary and familiar, so Ed went with mind-reading.

9) Snowden didn’t deny turning over secrets that would be damaging or harmful. He only said journalists have a deal with him not to do it. Just a reminder: we really have no idea how many reporters or organizations have copies of the documents or the total number of documents (it’s a Greenwald/Snowden secret), but we do know that Snowden documents have been reported by so many publications that the question arises: who doesn’t have Snowden documents?

10) Snowden’s watching HBO’s The Wire. The second season, he said, isn’t so good. He’s right.

11) Snowden said he can’t speak out on Russian issues because he can’t speak the language. Hey Ed, here. Free shipping, too. You’re welcome.

12) “People have unfairly demonized the NSA to a point that is too extreme.” Why is Snowden an apologist for the surveillance state? Drooling! Vast!

13) Snowden said he can “sleep at night” because of his actions. Well, good for him.

Ultimately, Snowden is his own worst enemy and his ongoing ability to say crazy things in a calm, collected voice continues. What’s abundantly clear at this point is that no one will ever land an interview with Snowden who will be as adversarial against the former NSA contractor as Greenwald has been in his own reporting in defense of Snowden. It’ll never happen.

 

By: Bob Cesca, The Huffington Post Blog, May 31, 2014

June 3, 2014 Posted by | Edward Snowden, National Security, National Security Agency | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Irresponsible Knee-Jerkery”: Very Bad News From ABC, NBC And CBS

Despite completely misreporting on administration emails related to the pretend Benghazi “scandal,” after they were misquoted (and/or fabricated) to him by a reportedly Republican source, ABC News and their White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl still refuse to properly correct and apologize for having lied about“obtaining” those emails.

Had Karl’s error — compounded by his “cover-up” even more than his original “crime” — contained news that falsely appeared good for Democrats instead of for Republicans, he would have been hammered and forever discredited by the right until finally fired by ABC News. But, alas, his completely false report on Benghazi benefited Republicans rather than Democrats, so no biggie, it seems. He gets to keep his career!

ABC’s Karl, however, wasn’t the only top-tier network newsman who blew it big time, further tarnishing the profession over the past week. Not by a long shot.

Here’s how NBC’s Brian Williams opened — opened! — NBC Nightly News last Tuesday, the same day that the Treasury Department’s Inspector General report was released, offering zero evidence of White House involvement in the so-called IRS “scandal”

BRIAN WILLIAMS: “As a lot of American adults not so fondly remember, the last time the government was found looking into the phone calls of reporters and using the IRS for political purposes, it was the Nixon era, and while times have changed and circumstances are different, that subject came up at the Obama White House today as the administration now scrambles on several fronts.” (NBC Nightly News, May 14, 2013)

Odd. The “last time” we ”not so fondly remember…the government…found looking into the phone calls of reporters and using the IRS for political purposes”, was during the George W. Bush era, not the Nixon era. Did Williams sleep through that decade? Seemingly so. Or, it’s safer to allude to the discredited Nixon than the off-scot-free Dubya. Or, Williams simply felt like lying to his audience. Either way, why has Williams also failed to correct or apologize for his grotesquely absurd, remarkably misleading and demonstrably inaccurate opening? And why has he seemingly faced little or no pressure to do so (unlike Karl) from others in the media?

Finally, the network Sunday news shows this week — what we were able to catch of them, anyway — proved to be the usual misinformative lockstep knee-jerkery that keeps us from even bothering to check in on them much anymore. From ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos (which, astonishingly failed to even mention Karl’s extraordinary journalistic lapse, but managed to end its broadcast nonetheless with the straight-faced voice-over: “ABC News: Accurate. Credible. Unmatched.”) to NBC’s Meet the Press to Fox “News” Sunday, they all pretended that last week’s week of “scandals” was on par with Watergate, Iran-Contra, Teapot Dome and other actual presidential scandals. That must be what they train for.

But the award for irresponsible knee-jerkery under the guise of seasoned journalistic commentary must certainly go to CBS’ Bob Schieffer, who, as seen on his Twitter account, appears quite proud of his breathless “dumb and dumber” finger-wagging on this week’s Face The Nation, despite its lack of tether to reality or verifiable facts…http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50147143n

So, ya didn’t even bother to read the IG’s report before describing the IRS scandal as “dumb and dumber”, did ya, Bob? We’ve sent that question to CBS and will update if we receive a response. But based on his commentary, it seems he clearly has not. Else, he could not have described the IRS as trying to “get away with” having “gone after the Tea Party” — not based on the currently existing evidence, anyway. Nor could he have made his completely irresponsible comparison to Watergate in the bargain.

So that’s a major fail, by the very highest echelons of each and every broadcast news outlet in a single week. And yet some dare to criticize us — a mere “blog” after all — for getting the story right, time and time again?! Seriously?!

 

By: Brad Friedman, The National Memo, May 20, 2013

May 22, 2013 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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