Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Media Matters Sometimes

(Before I lay into Media Matters in this post, I should mention that...heh...we have a history.)

Basically, Media Matters has been bashing the Washington Post the last couple of days because of an article that contained one line that represented the Bush Administration's position.

The other week, Franklin Foer wrote a controversial blog entry for The Plank at the New Republic Website which critiqued the dominant liberal blogosphere attacks on the press:

Last month, I wrote a column against the Mainstream Blogosphere. I argued that the MSB has made a grave mistake in relentlessly attacking the credibility of the New York Times and Washington Post. For decades, conservatives have been trying to shred these institutions. Now, the left-wing bloggers have made common cause with the media's conservative critics, trying to bring down the "mainstream media." The NSA domestic spy story has provided a powerful case study in why the left's attack is so dangerous. Here, the Times has exposed an important example of Bush's imperial presidency, a potentially pernicious violation of civil liberties. Instead of praising the Times for excellent reportage and bravely bucking presidential pleas to bury the story, the MSB has heaped disdain on the Times. They have trashed the Times for sins ranging from throwing the election to Bush to turning a blind eye to these abuses. (Hey, Atrios: When was the last time that you exposed such a big story?)

Although The Washington Post's Dafna Linzer didn't break a big story when she wrote "Secret Surveillance May Have Occurred Before Authorization," any reasonable person could see that it wasn't an article that Bush Administration officials would be trumpeting on the Sunday talk shows. Linzer wrote of how NSA began spying on American citizens without obtaining warrants even before the Bush Administration formally "authorized" it ("authorized" is in quotes...since the jury is still out whether the Bush Administration had the power to do such a thing).

But Media Matters is making a big deal out of the second sentence in the following paragraph:

The NSA program operated in secret until it was made public in news accounts last month. Since then, President Bush and his advisers have defended it as legal and necessary to protect the country against future attacks and have said Congress was repeatedly consulted.

Is that sentence true?

Yes, it is. That has been the Administration's position.

From a December 19 press briefing, here's President Bush:

"We monitor this program carefully. We have consulted with members of the Congress over a dozen times. We are constantly reviewing the program."

Was President Bush telling the truth?

Not really.

But the question on the table: Does the press have an obligation to counter statements or partisan postions in their articles each and every time they publish something that is untrue, sort-of-true, or arguable?

If that were the case then nearly every single article published would be so unforgivingly long that most newspaper readers would never even finish reading them.

A counter-example:

In an article published by The Washington Post on January 7th called "Report rebuts Bush on spying," Carol D. Leonnig wrote about the bi-partisan Congressional Research Service's report which dismissed Bush Administration arguments that offered justification for the warrantless eavesdropping.

But the report did not declare the operation illegal, just that the "legal justification" wasn't as "well-grounded" as officials were making it out to be.

But included in Leonnig's article was this paragraph:

"This report contradicts the president's claim that his spying on Americans was legal," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), one of the lawmakers who asked the CRS to research the issue. "It looks like the president's wiretapping was not only illegal, but also ensnared innocent Americans who did nothing more than place a phone call."

Leonnig chose not to counter Senator Lautenberg's misleading-at-best statement. The report never suggested that the operation was illegal...simply that the "legal justification" provided so far didn't measure up and that due to classified information it was "impossible" to determine anything further:

Whether an NSA activity is permissible under the Fourth Amendment and the statutory scheme outlined above is impossible to determine without an understanding of the specific facts involved and the nature of the President’s authorization, which are for the most part classified.

That's part of my problem with Media Matters.

They only care about media "misinformation" when it's coming from the right. "Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media."

Real media critics don't act in such a partisan manner.

Real media critics help to correct misinformation no matter which side of the political spectrum it's slanted to.

Real media critics wouldn't waste so much time nitpicking articles that are factually accurate but not as one-sided as they'd prefer them to be.

Call them Media Matters Sometimes.


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