Brent Bozell's culture column is early this week, since the MRC HQ is buzzing and bustling toward our big 20th anniversary gala on Thursday night. If you want to see it live, we will have a webcast. Brent's column mocks a new compilation of essays titled "South Park and Philosophy," edited by Robert Arp, a professor at Southwest Minnesota State University. You know the drill: take a crude and simplistic pop-culture phenomenon and try to make it sound philosophically deep. It's like standing in a mud puddle and pretending it's the Pacific Ocean. Here's a sample:
How do professors like this stoop to the bizarre idea that children can be enlightened by a show that labors to fit 160 uses of the S-bomb into a half-hour? A show that delights in having Jesus Christ defecate on President Bush with his “yummy, yummy crap”? How can you elevate that into the idea that watching “South Park” should really be seen as a correspondence course, like Newt Gingrich’s “Renewing American Civilization” series?
When Rosie O’Donnell wasn’t urging the Googling of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident on ABC's "The View" on Monday, she was boasting of her knowledge of the Old Testament, based on her weekly private Bible study. She told Elisabeth Hasselbeck she could whip her in Jeopardy on the Bible.
The topic was teaching the Bible in public schools, as discussed in newspapers (and in this week’s Time magazine cover story). Like many secular journalists, Barbara Walters asserted "I know nothing about the Bible, and I think most people don’t." Joy Behar insisted "you can’t teach it as nonfiction. You have to teach it as fiction in many ways." When challenged about how the Bible could be taught, Behar blurted out: "People masturbate anyway."
The creator of the Discovery Channel’s sensationalistic documentary supposedly finding the lost bones of Jesus is rushing his flick to DVD, since the cable channel yanked its repeats and otherwise downplayed the film after it drew harsh criticism for its extremely sketchy claims. TV Week reports that Simcha Jacobovici said one of the yanked reruns was supposed to be his "105-minute special edition, which included re-enactment scenes such as showing a pregnant Mary Magdalene" that Discovery executives deemed too "sensitive" for U.S. audiences. Maybe because it's not exactly a "re-enactment" if it's fictional? Doesn't he know The DaVinci Code is already on DVD?
"This may be the most talked-about documentary ever," Mr. Jacobovici said. "The fact that nobody has been able to punch a hole in our reporting is a testament to how well we’ve done our homework. Even if it’s only a 50-50 chance [of being Jesus’ tomb], it’s still the biggest story on the planet."
During his online "Critiquing the Media" chat on Monday, Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz agreed with criticism that today's story on immigrant "victims" of mortgage lenders didn't seem to assume that borrowers are in any way responsible for failing to make their mortgage payments. He even agreed with the online questioner's suggestion there was "subtle racism" in the tone of the story:
Northern Virginia: Howard, question regarding the headline and terminology used in today's Post story on foreclosures. In both the current washingtonpost.com headline and the lede the term "victim" is used. The word implies predation and an I see an implication that these people aren't smart enough to understand what they're signing when they apply for mortgages. Am I reading too much into this or is there a subtle racism to writing about immigrant "victims"?
The top right-hand corner of Monday's Washington Post sounds like the return of Hurricane Katrina. "Foreclosure Wave Bears Down on Immigrants" is the headline. Reporter Kirstin Downey begins: "Immigrants are emerging as among the first victims of a growing wave of home foreclosures in the Washington area as mortgage lending problems multiply locally and across the country."
But the "victims of a wave" line fails to ask the question: at what point are people who make bad financial decisions responsible for their own fate? The heart-breaking individual stories Downey tells could have been avoided if the struggling homeowners had stared harder at the numbers.
There is no more consistent stack of baloney in the national media than Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom Watch" manufacturers claiming they represent what all of Washington is thinking -- instead of the liberal fraction of Washington. This week's edition (called the "Executive Privilege Edition") begins with a typical down arrow for President Bush: "Conditions for aides to meet Congress: No oath or transcripts. Sounds like one of Cheney's covert ops." They compare Bush to Nixon, but not to Bill Clinton, who also tried to block congressional ans special-prosecutor investigations with executive privilege claims. But there are three "Up" arrows for Democrats:
One of the nice things about having a television and newsletter archive at MRC is being able to bring up the old newscasts and recall how very different the tone and approach of the news was when a Democrat was in the White House. The U.S. Attorney-firing scandal is a strong example of how the network news can on one hand, sell a scandal as incredibly damaging for a political party it does not support, but downplays scandal as damaging to democracy and the people when it affects the political party it favors. Our latest Media Reality Check reminds readers of how different the news sounded ten years ago, when a Republican Congress investigated illegal foreign donations, mostly to national Democratic Party accounts. Take NBC:
NBC theorized that the media were too Clinton-scandal obsessed in 1997. On June 17, 1997, Today co-host Katie Couric asked reporter Bob Woodward: “But are members of the media, do you think, Bob, too scandal-obsessed, looking for something at every corner?”
Brent Bozell's culture column this week explored the outer reaches of the movie ratings system, and how the movie industry is looking hard at creating a more "respectable" adults-only rating of NC-17, which is often considered for movies featuring topless Nazis, toothy private parts, and grossly obese men chewing on babies.
Katie Couric was a guest on Thursday night's "Colbert Report" on Comedy Central. Her answers seemed rehearsed, just as if her Hillary-hand-me-down media consultant Matthew Hiltzik prepared her for the mock-hardballs. Two questions stood out as the most insulting: whether she had a "new hatchet" for anti-Bush hatchet jobs, and which job prepared her better for the anchor desk, being a cheerleader or a sorority sister. First, the hatchet exchange:
COLBERT: You're in -- you're in the desk. This is the -- in my opinion -- this is the news desk of news desks, CBS Evening News. Are you literally in Dan Rather's old chair? Do you sit in that chair?
COURIC: I sit in it, and I usually smell it before the show.
President Bush won't address the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention next week in Washington, but the journalists will hear from liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and Spike Lee, most recently infamous for spreading the theory that the government exploded the levees in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to drown the poor black folk. Last year, ABC promoted his conspiratorial vision, as Lee declared "As an African-American in this country, I don't put anything past the government."
The Washington Post can never decide whether its Page Two columnist Dana Milbank is writing news stories or editorials or "news-itorials." But his "Washington Sketch" on Al Gore's Wednesday testimony is artistic indeed, casting Gore as the "champion of scientific thought" and conservative Sen James Inhofe as the William Jennings Bryan character in "Inherit the Wind," the sad back-woods Bible-thumper arrayed against the wisdom of modernity:
Al Gore, star of an Academy Award-winning film, was in town for a double feature on Capitol Hill yesterday. But instead of giving another screening of "An Inconvenient Truth," the former vice president found himself playing the Clarence Darrow character in "Inherit the Wind."
Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold attempted to highlight a liberal rally against global warming that "drew several hundred people to the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol yesterday," but he seemed unclear on its historic significance:
The event, called a Climate Crisis Action Day, was billed in advance as Washington's largest demonstration ever on global warming. It was unclear whether that turned out to be accurate, but those attending said they sensed a powerful momentum building behind calls to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Earth to the Post: if you hold a rally against global warming and "several hundred people" show up, it's a little strange to pass that helpfully along as "Washington's largest demonstration ever" and as a sign of "a powerful momentum building" behind the liberal agenda.
On Tuesday morning's Good Morning America, ABC co-host Robin Roberts announced they would be airing a special town hall meeting about health care and veterans care with Hillary Clinton next Monday, March 26. In 1999, as First Lady Hillary Clinton prepared to run for the Senate, GMA handed over most of their broadcast to gun control and kids on June 4. This special included 45 minutes with Bill and Hillary talking to high-schoolers town hall-style about the horrors of school violence. Hillary's Senate opponents, Rudy Giuliani and then Rep. Rick Lazio, were never awarded comparative feasts of free air time. Roberts promoted their new broadcast gift to Hillary like this:
“And we want to tell everybody about a special event on ‘Good Morning America’ that’s coming up this Monday. It’s the first in our series of GMA town hall meetings leading up to next year’s election. And Senator Hillary Clinton will be here live to answer questions about health care and veterans care in a live town hall meeting that actually will be held in Des Moines, Iowa. That’s next Monday, only on GMA.”
You wonder just how much is too much of "The View" on ABC. Justin McCarthy not only captured the Hugo Chavez part of yesterday's discussion, but transcribed a discussion of a topic Elisabeth Hasselbeck was allowed to bring up, teaching love of country to your children. She talked about teaching her daughter the Pledge of Allegiance, but allegiance wasn't Topic A.
Predictably, Joy Behar and Rosie O'Donnell quickly equated patriotism with protest. Rosie said: "I grew up watching sit-ins on television. I grew up feeling that if you were a real patriotic person you would protest and stand in the streets and yell and scream until the government which really works for you represents you." Behar oddly claimed that "to be totally patriotic is almost not being patriotic in a way." From there, Rosie complained the weekend's "peace" protests were "hardly even covered on the news," and Joy complained that nobody's asked Americans to sacrifice with gas rationing. When Hasselbeck discussed having soldiers on the show, Rosie recommended focusing on a New York Times story on a soldier who hung himself.
In Monday's Los Angeles Times, reporter James Rainey raised the issue of a conflict between political reporting and family ties: "Some of America's most prominent political journalists are, quite literally, wedded to the 2008 presidential race: Their spouses work for one of the candidates." Rainey made a short list of four of the conflicted:
The Washington Post is so enamored of the idea of getting Attorney General Al Gonzales to resign for firing a few U.S. Attorneys that it's even seeping into the Sports section. In their attempted-humor column called "Starting Lineup," Dan Steinberg and Desmond Bieler mock underperforming Washington Redskins cornerback Adam Archuleta this way:
"Let's get this straight, a prominent Washington organization wants to shed one of its troublemaking employees because of performance-related issues? Um, paging Alberto Gonzales."
In their report on Saturday’s Pentagon protest, New York Times reporters David D. Kirkpatrick (formerly assigned to cover the conservative movement for the Times) and Sarah Abruzzese offered readers several things the Washington Post did not. Their story used the "liberal" label (twice), explained that the ANSWER Coalition was affiliated with the Workers World Party, noted the ANSWER signs celebrated communist icon Che Guevara, and quoted Cindy Sheehan’s speech (typically) calling out President Bush and Vice President Cheney as "war criminals."
Unlike the Post, the Times story was not featured on Sunday’s front page (and I can’t tell from the website whether it made the print edition at all.) The headline was unremarkable: "In March, Protesters Recall War Anniversaries." The Times duo quickly applied the liberal label to protest groups:
The Washington Post highlighted Saturday’s anti-liberation of Iraq protest march to the Pentagon on the front page, splashing a large color photo of a crowd of leftist demonstrators over the headline "4 Years After Start of War, Anger Reigns: Demonstrators Brave Cold to Carry Message to the Pentagon, as Counter-Protesters Battle Back." Counter-demonstrators won an article and two photos of their own in the Post, but Post reporters repeatedly referred to jeering conservatives giving the leftists a battering of abusive comments. The Post used no ideological labels or explained the communist origins of the organizers of the ANSWER Coalition – unlike The New York Times, which did both in their Sunday coverage.
The lead sentence of the front-page Post article by Steve Vogel and Michael Alison Chandler mentioned that the "anti-war" protesters were "jeered along the way by large numbers of angry counter-demonstrators, but the rest of the front page was devoted to the left, especially the standard sympathetic rookie protester: 72-year-old Korean War veteran Paul Miller "making his first appearance at an anti-war rally" who felt "so bad for the young Marines who are getting their legs blown off and losing their lives."
As is usual and customary, the peaceniks inside the Washington Post offered a second day of protest publicity before Saturday’s radical march to the Pentagon. The story by Steve Vogel and Michael E. Ruane doesn’t dominate the front page of the Metro section as protest coverage did yesterday, but it’s certainly promotional at the very bottom of Metro’s front. The headline is "Rousing, Emotional Start for War Protest."
Vogel and Ruane also employed the usual and customary practice of not using any ideological labels for protesters, and downplaying the radicalism of rally speakers. The main protest drew about 2,800 people at the Episcopalian National Cathedral. The reporters quoted Celeste Zappala, who lost a son in Iraq, saying "I am here tonight as a witness to the true cost of war...the betrayal and madness that is the war in Iraq."
Los Angeles Times columnist (and longtime political reporter) Ron Brownstein tackles the issue of the Nevada Democratic Party dumping Fox News Channel as a debate partner. He thinks this rejection is similar to how "conservatives deal with mainstream media organizations they consider biased against them." Put aside for a minute the odd notion that Republican Party organizations or politicians would refuse to do debates thrown by liberal networks. As if. In his March 16 column, Brownstein's peddling the old canard that Fox News is exponentially more biased than "mainstream" news organizations:
The situation isn't exactly parallel. For all the howling on the right, it's difficult to argue that mainstream news organizations operate with anything approaching Fox' partisan and ideological agenda. (E-mails: commence now.) But there's no question many conservatives feel as wronged by elements of the mainstream media as Democrats do by Fox.
While Washington Post reporters Dan Eggen and Paul Kane are getting keyboard blisters probing the White House shenanigans around U.S. attorney dismissals by Team Bush, know this: in 1993, the Post published no stories investigating what Bill Clinton, or Hillary Clinton, or their Little Rock henchman, Webster Hubbell, was doing behind the scenes.
About two weeks after the mass firing, on April 3, 1993 the Post front page reported on how Hubbell surfaced for a Senate confirmation hearing, and reporter David Von Drehle thought it was “pretty funny” that the Wall Street Journal would portray him as an “ominous” figure. “The Judiciary Committee can ask Mr. Mysterious all the questions the Journal and others have been dying to pose.” Notice the Post thought it was “funny” anyone had a question to pose. They’d like people to think they’re equal-opportunity investigators, but they certainly don't look that way on U.S. attorney firings.
Newsweek's Eleanor Clift complained on Friday's Diane Rehm show on NPR that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has drained all the independence out of his office, that he's acting too much like the president's "personal lawyer." In 1993, when Janet Reno announced the mass dismissal of all 93 U.S. Attorneys, no one demanded her resignation for her lack of independence from the White House. In fact, it could be because someone else was coordinating with the White House on how to run the Justice Department, the felonious Webster Hubbell. At that time, the Wall Street Journal editorial page found a "fascinating exchange" in an interview Reno granted to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw just after the Waco debacle on April 19:
BROKAW: Once the fire broke out, what did you tell President Clinton?
The Washington Post's reverence for protests -- the leftist ones, that is -- is clearly on display on the front of Friday's Metro section, with advance publicity for a Saturday "peace" march on the Pentagon starring Ramsey Clark, fresh from his unsuccessful defense lawyering for Saddam Hussein. (That fact is never mentioned in Steve Vogel's article.) On roughly the fourth anniversary of the initial blitz on Baghdad and forty years after the violent "levitate the Pentagon" protests of 1967, the Post splashes photographs down most of the front page of Metro, of 1967 at the top and 2007 at the bottom. The story sprawled out across most of B-3, and included another story by Michael Ruane on Christian "peace witness" at the White House.
The media’s historical omission of Clinton’s mass dismissal of 93 U.S. Attorneys has led to demands on the MRC archive for footage of Janet Reno’s declaration of the act – and our staff found an April 12, 1993 CNN special report where reporter Ken Bode called it a “one-day clean sweep.” Reno declared: “I have asked for their resignations at the request of the President…It’s important that we build a team that reflects our desire to have a Justice Department marked by excellence, marked by diversity, marked by professionalism, and integrity. I want teamwork where we’re both interested in achieving justice throughout America.” Video clip: Real (1.7MB) or Windows (1.9MB) plus MP3 (295KB).
Janeane Garafalo might be slipping in terms of celebrity when her interview with the Washington Post is for the Express, the free commuter tabloid -- well, not actually, in the tabloid, but on the tabloid's separate website, ReadExpress.com. All there was in Tuesday's paper Express was a photo and the promo that she called Ann Coulter a "clown" and Mitt Romney an "unprintable." She professed that doing cable talk shows doesn't do much for her: "it does nothing but result in my puppet's head getting blown off in Team America." She's at least this smart:
EXPRESS: In the last few years, what drew you into the world of political punditry and led you to take your views public? GAROFALO: Well, it wasn't because I thought I was good at it. And it wasn't because I thought people respected my opinions.
NBC's Today rolled out a rainbow-colored carpet for the gay-left Human Rights Campaign late on Monday morning's show. Eighties pop star Cyndi Lauper appeared to sing her hit "True Colors" and announce the HRC’s fundraising "True Colors Tour." She also bashed social conservatives for being against freedom for gays in America: "you're taught home of the free, you know, except for you guys there, not, not you."
Co-host Meredith Vieira played the publicist alongside her, asking her to explain how a dollar from every ticket goes to "something very important," that being the Human Rights Campaign. Not "something very liberal" or "something very pro-Hillary." When Lauper added other gay-activist groups as sponsors, Vieira could only manage an "Oh, terrific!"
Washington Post arts critic Philip Kennicott is enraptured in Tuesday's paper that an annual lecture sponsored by the federal-arts-subsidy lobby had evolved from "conservative curmudgeon" William Safire to a more traditional "bold and perhaps even controversial speech that included sustained criticism of religious fundamentalism." From who? Former PBS anchor Robert MacNeil, who used to be one-half of the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour. Like your average liberal media anchor, MacNeil wouldn't know a fundamentalist from an evangelical from an orthodox Catholic as he lectured (sigh) that Christian fundamentalists are awfully similar to Islamic fundamentalists:
"It is inevitable that artists should become the targets of such fundamentalist anxieties," he said. "Because it is in the nature of artists to push the frontiers of taste and morality, to show society both its pieties and its hypocrisies."
While I'm traipsing about in the Notable Quotables archive, let's bring some context to the media's enjoyment of Mayan priests purging the "bad spirits" of Bush on his Latin America trip. If the president meets with public opposition on his trips, that can be newsworthy. But plucking out colorful anti-Bush anecdotes can demonstrate that the "news" is sometimes what the reporter is eager to find, and not the whole picture. Ten years ago, the networks were not always eager to find anti-Clinton angles on Latin America trips. Instead, in this case they used a Clinton trip to make the case that America was too obsessed with Whitewater:
Digging around in the archives this morning reminded me that while the liberal activism of the global-warming cover of Sports Illustrated is shocking, it's not really new. In 1995, we noticed this contrast in Notable Quotables (scroll to the end):
"Whatever one thinks of Winslow's positions, it's encouraging to see a Stateside athlete -- particularly one who rose from the squalor of East St. Louis, Ill., to earn a law degree -- engaging himself in the world of which sports is only a small part." -- Sports Illustrated's 'Scorecard' feature on Kellen Winslow's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech supporting affirmative action and racial quotas, August 7, 1995 issue.
Liberal media outlets aren't usually sympathetic to the story of people growing upset at the changing shape of their neighborhoods, often at the arrival of new Hispanic or Asian immigrants. But AP reporter Lisa Leff reports sensitively from San Francisco that the distraught natives who dislike the invaders are gay men are upset at the arrival of -- gasp -- people with baby strollers:
SAN FRANCISCO -- Even on a weekday in winter, the Castro district vibrates with energy, most of it male. Men holding hands, walking dogs and lounging at cafes have long been the main attraction in a neighborhood known as a gay mecca the world over.