Ethics at Risk: U.S. Republicans Assault the Media And Do Not Mind A Few lies

Posted on September 5, 2008

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Source “Media Matters”; by Jamison Foser

A few weeks ago, for example, there was a frenzy of conservative whining that Barack Obama had gotten more media coverage than John McCain. Now, the amount of coverage each candidate has gotten, by itself, tells us virtually nothing. What was the content of the coverage? Was it positive? Negative? True? False? Fair? Balanced? The conservative complainers made no attempt to assess this — they just yelled that Obama was getting more coverage. Well, O.J. Simpson got considerably more coverage than Mother Teresa in 1994 — anyone want to argue he got more favorable coverage? Anyone want to argue that, by covering Simpson too much, the media were demonstrating that they were in the tank for him?

Still, despite glaring flaws with the Republicans’ criticism, the media took them seriously, and many journalists adopted the complaints as their own.

The past week provides a useful case study of how the Republicans’ assault on the media works.

Last Friday, John McCain announced that he had chosen Sarah Palin to be his running mate. The media had a few questions — basically, who is she, and is she ready to be president? So the McCain campaign threw a tantrum, insisting the media were being unfair. As usual, the complaints were short on details and merit — but the media still took the complaints seriously, treating them as one of the most important topics of the past few week.

Perhaps the best example of how phony the GOP’s complaints were: the McCain campaign’s cancellation of an appearance by McCain on Larry King Live because, they said, CNN anchor Campbell Brown had behaved improperly in interviewing campaign spokesperson Tucker Bounds the night before. They didn’t really say what Brown had done wrong — probably because all she had done was ask simple questions that Bounds couldn’t answer. After Bounds said that as governor of Alaska, Palin leads the state’s National Guard, Brown asked him for an example of a decision she had made in that capacity. He didn’t answer. So she asked him again. That isn’t inappropriate; that’s exactly what she should have done — that’s journalism.

And that drove the McCain campaign crazy.

So, did all the complaints work?

Consider this: Wednesday night, Sarah Palin falsely claimed she had told Congress she did not want funding for the “bridge to nowhere.” She didn’t; that was a lie. Congress had said a year before Palin became governor that Alaska need not spend the federal funds on the bridge. And Palin had initially supported the bridge, not opposed it. And once she became governor, Palin kept the money. Palin’s false claims Wednesday night were not new: She had said the same thing in previous campaign appearances since McCain picked her — and several media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times had debunked the boast. But when Palin told the lie during her convention speech — after days of McCain complaints that the media had been too hard on Palin — those newspapers ignored the lie.

That wasn’t the only false claim in Palin’s speech that went un-debunked by the media. She falsely attacked Barack Obama’s legislative record — and media uncritically quoted the false claims. She lied about Obama’s tax plans — she said he “wants to raise” them, even though John McCain’s own economic adviser has admitted that is false — and, again, the media repeated her claim without debunking it.

Instead, much of the media gushed over her speech. If you watched MSNBC yesterday, you would have seen reporter after reporter talk about the McCain complaints that the media were too hard on Palin. And you would have seen reporter after reporter lavish praise on Palin’s speech. But you wouldn’t have seen them say much about the actual content of Palin’s speech — certainly not about whether she told the truth in it. [more]

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Posted in: Ethics & Morals