Terry Mattingly at Get Religion surveys the landscape for this year's Oscars, and predicts that new gay-cowboy movie is going to be a phenomenon: "I think it’s going to be one of the three or four hottest religion/cultural stories of the year in 2006. More than one friend of mine out on the left coast has said that 'Brokeback Mountain' is a dead lock for the best-picture Oscar, in part because the competition is so weak and all of the true blockbusters this year are films for young people that the academy will laugh at. One thing is certain, it’s going to be a very political year at the Oscars." (USA Today adds to the mix "Syriana," and "Munich," and "Good Night and Good Luck.")
At TimesWatch, Clay Waters noticed the kind of politicized flattery "Brokeback" is drawing at the New York Times, with Stephen Holden raving, "This moving and majestic film would be a landmark if only because it is the first Hollywood movie to unmask the homoerotic strain in American culture". Mattingly addressed it earlier here.
One final blog from the MTP transcript. When Russert asked what's an underreported story in 2005, Brokaw said the failings at General Motors and the general problem of guaranteeing pensions. From there, Koppel brought up the "scandal" of the lack of government health insurance:
But, you know, to follow up on Tom's point. I think the medical care, which is a function of what we're talking about--yes, we have been priding ourselves on having the best medical care in the world--and you know something? You can get the best medical care in the world, he can get the best medical care in the world, I can. Most Americans can't. And there are 43 million Americans who aren't getting any medical care at all. That is a scandal. And...
Next, Russert moved on to Iraq. As liberals, the anchors responded only to liberal criticisms of their coverage. The concept that these networks were too fervently in favor or liberals or Democrats was not entertained. But the idea that they were too soft on the Bushies was assumed to be the dominant, if not the only legitimate, critique. Said Koppel: "Do we have a right to ask critical-- not just a right; do we have an obligation to ask critical questions? And did we fall short of that prior to the Iraq War? That's a perfectly legitimate point, and I think we all have to plead guilty, to one degree or another, to having been, you know, a little bit soft on the administration beforehand."
Brokaw tried to defend the media against the Eric Altermans of the world by saying the liberal Democrats were pathetic in their opposition:
Ick, you almost won't want to look at the Meet the Press transcript from yesterday. With Tim Russert hosting Ted Koppel and Tom Brokaw and no one else, it was predictably an hour of liberal sermonizing. It's a scandal that America won't raise taxes. It's a scandal that America won't acknowledge they go to war for oil. It's a scandal that some people still don't have government-funded health insurance. They started with Hurricane Katrina. Brokaw railed against America still having a "permanent underclass." (MRC nerd point: This is the official transcript, not reviewed against tape.)
I thought it stripped away in this country what we've all known but failed to acknowledge: that--this kind of permanent underclass that we have in this country, with so few resources available to them. To the rest of the world, it was shocking. Here's the United States of America, the richest country in the history of the world, you know, portraying itself around the globe now as the patron of democracy and to show the way, and then we have this happening in our midst. And it's a question of, now, how we move forward and begin to deal with it.
Some other 2005 fluff for our slow posting period: Brent Baker and Rich Noyes looked back this June at our wackiest stuff in the special-edition 2000th CyberAlert.
The Christmas holidays remind some to evaluate how the media covers the world's religions. I've put together two religion reports this year. Our major study on a year of TV news coverage of religion ("Secular Orthodoxy Still Reigns") is here. After Pope John Paul died in April, I reviewed the media coverage: "Shepherd of Souls or Antiquated Authortarian?" Any thoughts you have on religion coverage, share it today.
The little Washington Post Magazine that comes with the Sunday paper had two episodes of weirdness this week. First, to promote their typically one-sided sympathetic cover story on two lesbians who felt forced to move out of "backward" Virginia as it voted to prevent so-called "gay marriage," Post reporter Michelle Boorstein signed on the Post "Discussions" site Monday at midday to answer reader questions. (The article's tilted title was "Paradise Lost: After years of hiding their love, Barbara Kenny and Tibby Middleton found a place where they felt comfortable being a couple -- until Virginia's lawmakers chased them across the Potomac." Not that they felt chased, but that they were chased, as if the legislators were running behind them with pitchforks.)
This year’s Christmas season has been marked by a pitched battle sparked by John Gibson’s book "The War on Christmas." The trend is hot enough that liberals are taking umbrage at the idea that Christians like the word "Christmas" and want to tell America’s most massive retailers that the last few weeks of the year are not centered on some winter festival without religious significance. But there's an entirely different "war," Brent Bozell writes this week, a nastier, more intolerant war going on in cable TV-land:
The Viacom corporation is an active participant through its Comedy Central channel. Its method is not excessive sensitivity, but wild-eyed insensitivity. This cable sinkhole is attacking Christianity with contemptuous mockery. It’s TV programming that approximates urinating on the Koran, except that is to be condemned, and this is to be celebrated.
Over at "Best of the Web," James Taranto has provided another very typical service of his, knocking the bias and inaccuracy at the Reuters wire service. (Trying to find any data on the Internet on the survey "by the Chicago-based National Qualitative Centers" reported below outside this strange Reuters article is tough, although there is this liberal delight from a public-radio station discussion board.) Reports Taranto:
Something is wrong with the arithmetic in this dispatch from Reuters:
President George W. Bush ranks as the least popular and most bellicose of the last ten U.S. presidents, according to a new survey.
TVNewser notes that Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person In The World" feature on his MSNBC chat show "Countdown" will be made into a book published by John Wiley & Sons. (Hmm, you wonder if he'll have any place in the book for "close seconds," as in "A very close second, Brent Bozell -- yeah, the wacky guy from that Media Research Center scam." )
Olbermann tells the Cox News Service the "worst person" designation is "a euphemism for somebody who's wrong and egregiously stupid and abusing their own position." Can someone get Keith a dictionary? Euphemism is defined by Webster's as "the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant." I hardly think calling someone "Worst Person In The World" is agreeable and pleasant. Speaking of the not-euphemistic, maybe we should seek a book deal out of our feature "The Kooky Keith Award (for Keith Olbermann's Conspiratorial Rants)."
1. On the Finkelstein-strike beat, MRC’s Scott Whitlock says NBC reporter Michelle "Canoe Girl" Kosinski used the I-word ("illegal") for the first time on "Today" in reporting, "The illegal strike is taking a toll on the city’s economy, says the city’s mayor."
2. Scott also notes that CBS’s "Early Show" brought up the other I-word ("impeachment") again this morning, as co-host Hannah Storm asked CBS analyst Gloria Borger about the NSA surveillance hubbub, "What is the fallout of this going to be? Some people are already talking of impeachment proceedings." Borger shot that down: "Well, I think that’s a bridge too far." That's milder than Jonathan Turley's encouraging words about Bush's high crimes yesterday.
MRC's Megan McCormack reports that on Thursday's "Good Morning America," ABC reporter Jake Tapper gave some air time to the view that Steven Spielberg's new film "Munich" has a "dangerous naivete," arguing that "fighting the terrorists only makes them more likely to commit acts of terror." Granted, when skepticism is coming from liberal magazines like The New Yorker and The New Republic, publicizing it on ABC is not as shocking. Tapper leaves out the role of screenwriter Tony Kushner, the controversial hard-left gay playwright. The transcript follows:
Robin Roberts: "But first, opening tomorrow, a new movie directed by Steven Spielberg that's causing controversy before it even hits the screen. Spielberg took extraordinary steps to keep details of the film secret, with only a few actors even allowed to see the entire script. The film is called 'Munich,' and the controversy over how the movie treats terrorism. Here's ABC’s Jake Tapper."
On Tuesday morning, the network morning shows all began with full stories on the New York City transit strike (no doubt involving dozens of struggling network employees). As I remarked today to Mark Finkelstein on his strike blog post, the New York-based media has an annoying tendency to elevate itself into the center of the news universe on local issues. (Put the same event in San Francisco or Seattle, and the national media would barely whisper.) And now, an example: merely a few weeks ago, at Halloween time, Philadelphia also had a transit strike. As Rich Noyes pointed out to me, it drew an 800-word story in the November 1 New York Times headlined "400,000 Hit by Philadelphia Transit Strike." Major morning show hubbub? Of course not.
There is some very weird liberal opinion on display in this week's Newsweek. Which is goofier?
A) Cindy Sheehan interviewed by Newsweek in the "Fast Chat":
But the peace movement in the U.S. remains small. Why? One thing that has prevented the peace movement in America is the media. I spoke with 5,000 people in North Carolina on March 19, 2005, and the press called the protest "insignificant." They covered the Terri Schiavo case instead.
You feel like you were mistreated by the press? They got hold of everything I've ever said and scrutinized it so carefully. They never scrutinized what Bush said...
After President Bush concluded his press conference, the networks decided he was passionate, even "testy," said Tim Russert. That's virtually always a good description of White House reporters facing a Republican president. To be specific, MRC's Scott Whitlock noticed that Tim Russert proclaimed, "The Bush media blitz continues. This was a President who was passionate, animated, even testy about the eavesdropping situation, Brian. He realizes that this issue has legs, if in fact Republicans in Congress go forward with their investigation." Russert insisted the contoversy over domestic "spying" is "still a big question and clearly the President does not enjoy being challenged about it."
On ABC, MRC's Megan McCormack watched ex-Clinton spin artist George Stephanopoulos holding court with his "nonpartisan" opinions on how the "humble" Bush of Sunday night was the "defiant" Bush of Monday morning. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas noted his vigor in defending a "secret spying program." (As opposed to a overt, watchable spying program?)
Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales surfaces this morning to offer his critical take on the president's speech and beaches himself on another failed attempt to provide TV criticism instead of political criticism. For example, he tries to put his Bush-bashing jokes in the mouths of others. On the Sunday night at 9 PM air time, Shales quipped: "Watch for one wag or another to say that 'Desperate Housewives' followed 'Desperate President.'" After a whole review trying not to completely lose his skimpy veil of objectivity, he lets it all hang out at the end:
Over on the smaller networks that have no news departments, regular programming continued without interruption, since the president's speech was not aired. The WB happened to be showing "The Wizard of Oz," which once aired opposite a speech by Ronald Reagan. Mrs. Reagan later said she enjoyed published comments comparing the president to the wizard. Bush seems less likely to be likened to Oz except to the extent that the wizard is at one point denounced as "a humbug." Moments later, told he is "a very bad man," the great and powerful Oz says, "Oh no, my dear, I'm a very good man. I'm just a very bad wizard."
Time’s decision to let their hearts bleed for global poverty and name Microsoft-fortune philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates and rock star Bono ("The Good Samaritans") as their Persons of the Year is a bit predictable. Mr. and Mrs. Gates made the cover of Newsweek a few years back for their massive philanthropy. You could argue the cover story looks like a payback, a big thank-you card: in the Gates article, Time admits: "Each day, the Gates Foundation receives about 140 requests for money or help. (It was a major sponsor of the Time Global Health Summit, held in New York City in November.)" Bono made the cover of Time previously for his globe-trotting activism, with the headline "Can Bono Save The World?" That cover story and this one have the same author, Josh Tyrangiel, and in both, Tyrangiel writes glowingly like a press agent about how effective and egoless and inspirational the rock singer is in lobbying for development aid. (It is interesting that Bono treats conservatives from John Kasich to Jesse Helms as serious people with good hearts and good brains, unlike, mmm, Time magazine most weeks.) Nancy Gibbs summarizes the award decision this way:
The really interesting stories in today's Washington Post are hiding off the front pages. On page A-23 (and not even the TOP of A-23) is the Dan Balz story "Pelosi Hails Democrats' Diverse War Stances." That's a sunny way of saying again, "Democrats Have No Iraq Plan." Balz begins his summary of a Pelosi sit-down with the Post:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday that Democrats should not seek a unified position on an exit strategy in Iraq, calling the war a matter of individual conscience and saying differing positions within the caucus are a source of strength for the party.
Washington Post TV writer Tom Shales, fresh from defending TV news no matter how wrong it is (as in Mary Mapes), is fussing this morning that Terry Moran had the unmitigated gall to question the TV coverage of Iraq as less than three-dimensional:
Moran sounded similarly specious Monday night with a report he taped in Iraq. "It's not the place you see on TV every night," he said. "Much of the media coverage here is one-dimensional." So then, what? We should put on our 3-D glasses? "Nightline" was going to show all the bad boys of broadcasting how to do it? Moran's report wasn't revolutionary and didn't justify his lecturing others in the TV news business.
New York magazine's Meryl Gordon captured the end of Ted Koppel's arrogant reign over "Nightline," and Koppel grew especially cranky (he "drips with contempt") when asked about the Bush administration's public relations on the war in Iraq.
Twice in the past two years, Koppel has raised the ire of the Bush administration with segments called "The Fallen," in which he read aloud the names of the soldiers who had died in Iraq. "I didn’t do it to piss them off," he says. "It was to honor the people who have lost their lives, to remind us that a tiny fragment of the population is bearing a disproportionate burden." His voice drips with contempt as he talks about the Bush team’s spin tactics on Iraq. "There’s this sense, ‘Don’t worry your pretty little heads about what’s going on over there—just do what we tell you, don’t question it. We know what we’re doing, leave the grown-ups alone.’ It’s not smart, it’s not healthy, and in the final analysis, it doesn’t work."
Inside the A section today, Washington Post reporters Jonathan Weisman (economics beat) and Alan Cooperman (religion beat) combine to publicize the latest stunt by religious leftist Jim Wallis. The story is headlined: "A Religious Protest Largely From the Left: Conservative Christians Say Fighting Cuts in Poverty Programs Is Not a Priority." Give the headline writer a thimble of credit for at least using "Left" in the headline, although it may seem required for contrast. But the Post makes the typical liberal Wallis assumption: that the Christian imperative to help the poor is completely synonymous with favoring government welfare programs. Christians apparently must give at the office, instead of giving from their own wallets and hearts.
Just in time for the media’s latest knee-jerk reflex of gloom preceding this week’s elections, MRC’s Rich Noyes has updated his year-long study of 2005 Iraq war coverage on ABC, CBS, and NBC. A new review of media coverage in October and November continues the pessimistic trend, with the traditional broadcast networks airing six stories in negative tones for every Iraq story with a positive angle. Read the whole thing for a summary of John Murtha’s instant TV stardom and Jake Tapper’s readiness to believe wild claims of detainee abuse, carefully excluding wacky claims that American soldiers use lions to scare detainees. The official story count falls this way:
[B]etween October 1 and November 30….we could classify only 34 stories (10%) as positive or optimistic, compared to 200 (62%) that emphasized negativity or pessimism about the Iraq mission, a six-to-one disparity. (The remaining 90 stories were neutral.) During the first nine months of the year, we found 211 stories (15%) emphasizing positive developments, compared with 848 (61%) that relayed mainly bad news. For the year, the number of negative stories on Iraq stands at 1,048 (61%), to just 245 positive stories (14%).
As Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco prepares for testimony on Capitol Hill tomorrow, some credit should go to CBS for reporting on surfacing documents that show Blanco "in an embarrassing light." It’s a little balance after the FEMA-pounding Olympics at the time. MRC's Mike Rule found that Bob Orr reported:
"As New Orleans was drowning, the staff of Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco feverishly tried to avoid a public relations disaster. New e-mails just released by Republican congressional investigators show the governor's staff worked to portray her as hands on, in control, and a working executive.
"Please put Governor Blanco in casual clothes, a baseball cap, etc," reads one of the emails from a political consultant. "She needs to visit a shelter in prime time and talk tough, but hug on some folks and be sensitive."
Permit me one more morsel from the Geoff Dickens basket of bias. Today's Matt Lauer interview with Tim Russert naturally followed Katie's space trip with Ramsey Clark. Amazingly, Matt said Clark's lawyering for Saddam was a problem for....Bush? What? Isn't Clark's lawyering an embarassment for Democrats? Doesn't his resume say he was an attorney general for a Democratic president, who ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in 1974? Apparently, none of that matters when everything is Another Problem for Bush:
Lauer: "Let's talk about what Mr. Clark said. Interesting you know he said that the U.S. has tried to demonize Saddam Hussein. He says he doesn't recognize demons only human beings. You can do anything you want to a demon they have no rights. How much does Ramsey Clark complicate this issue for the administration?"
Katie Couric's interview with Ramsey Clark today started out way too soft. As Clark made completely bizarre claims about mistreatment of poor Saddam, the NBC graphic said only "Defending Saddam: Ramsey Clark Inside Iraq." (Unlike Bush-shoving headers like "Rhetoric vs. Reality," or on the Plame case, the evil-or-evil choice "Dirty Politics or Broken Laws?") Katie Couric began by questioning the dictator's lawyer about the latest news: Windows Media Player or Real Player
It's hard not to reproduce the entire transcript of Katie Couric's interview with Ramsey Clark today. MRC's Geoff Dickens transcribed it all, since I said "transcribe Clark's insane parts" and he said "it's all insane." Let's start with where Couric does her job as a journalist. Near the end of the interview, Couric finally arrives where she should have begun, on the grave human rights abuses of Saddam. Windows Media or Real Player
Couric: "He's being charged with killing, the killing of 148 people from the village of Dujail in 1982. He's also likely to face subsequent charges, the gassing of 5000 people in the Kurdish, Kurdish village in March of 1988. The, the Iran-Iraq war during which about a million people were killed. The invasion of Kuwait and the violent suppression of the Shiite uprising back in 1991. Do you believe he is guilty of any of these crimes or any crime at all?"
Clark: "Katie I believe absolutely in the presumption of innocence. Not as a rule of law but as a rule of life. If you can't presume someone is fair, you can't judge them can you? Not to presume fairness is to prejudge. That's prejudice. So of course you presume but you think a lawyer's supposed to go around talking, 'well I think he's guilty of this or that or maybe this?' Can a lawyer do that for his client? What kind of a relationship can you establish with your client if you don't have a good relationship how can you represent him effectively? So the very question is asked all the time and it's not a good question."]
The media have been in a bit of a buzz about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's speech last week attacking media coverage of Iraq. A peek at the official D.O.D. transcript shows the media section came near the end, and are only about 25 percent of his remarks. I thought it might help to post those original remarks for discussion, especially since media accounts tended to avoid quoting much of it.
We have arrived at a strange time in this country where the worst about America and our military seems to so quickly be taken as truth by the press and reported and spread around the world -- often with little context and little scrutiny -- let alone correction or accountability after the fact. Speed it appears is the critical determinant. Less so, context.
While conservative talk radio blazed this week over DNC chair Howard Dean's comments on Iraq, that the idea we're going to win is "wrong," an important question arises: did the average American who does NOT listen to talk radio, but relies on network morning or evening news, hear the same uproar? Are the aware of the brouhaha? Don't bet on it. A quick search of the name "Howard Dean" in Nexis from Sunday to Friday showed no Dean mention on ABC. None on CBS. NBC had this snippet on Wednesday morning from Kelly O'Donnell: "The president dismissed comments from Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean, who compared Iraq to the Vietnam war." That's the closest the networks came.
What if you live in fly-over country and read the national papers online, or bought copies across the country of USA Today, or the New York Times? If you read USA Today last week, you'd know nothing of Dean's comments. The New York Times mentioned them in an A-5 story by Sheryl Stolberg on Wednesday headlined "Democrats Still Search for Plan on Iraq." Dean surfaced in paragraph 13. The Washington Post was rare for putting the story front and center on Tuesday, in a story by Jim VandeHei and Shailagh Murray headlined "Democrats Fear Backlash at Polls for Antiwar Remarks" featuring Dean's comments in paragraph two, on the front page. How about National Public Radio?