Let’s take Mr. Peabody’s WABAC (Wayback) Machine to the not-too-distant past of September 2006, when George Bush II and John Kerry were just entering the final sprint of the presidential campaign.
Dan Rather, the most well-known and well-respected television anchor in America, fronted a report prepared by experienced and well-respected TV news producer Mary Mapes in a show called “60 Minutes Wednesday.” The topic: some memos purported to be written by a Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian that proved conclusively that Bush II shirked his National Guard duty during the Viet Nam War era.
Too bad the memos were forgeries. After defending Rather and Mapes for about two weeks, CBS admitted that the news team had inadequately investigated the memos. Mapes was fired almost immediately, and Dan rather, who was set to retire anyway, went more quickly and less elegantly than previously planned.
Fast forward to today and the Shirley Sherrod scandal, in which Andrew Breitbart, an RWRBB (right-wing rich-boy blogger), edited the speech of an African-American employee of the federal Department of Agriculture (DOA) to make her sound like a “Black racist” and posted it on his site. Fox ran the clip numerous times.
Now that we know that the RWRBB doctored the clip, why hasn’t anyone been fired at Fox? Not the anchor, not the producer, not a research assistant who might be responsible for fact-checking or sourcing video. Now why is that? Is it because journalistic ethics have declined over the past six years? Or does Fox have a lower standard of professionalism than CBS? Is Fox perhaps more interested in building a case for its political bias than it is in factual reporting?
If Fox wanted to be a serious news-gathering operation, wouldn’t it publicly put someone’s head on a platter and announce a new protocol for authenticating videos? Instead, Murdoch’s network has been pressing the attack, supporting Breitbart and making fun of the firing and offer to rehire.
Another question: why hasn’t the mainstream news dumped on Fox? Maybe because without Fox, they wouldn’t have a source for the many right-wing spins on issues that mainstream media is currently using to define and cover issues.
I’ve already covered the failings of the news media in establishing Breitbart’s credibility and then in not excoriating him, at least symbolically, for his unethical use of a favorite technique of Nazi propaganda—and Soviet as well now that I think about it. I understand that an article in the latest issue of Nation will detail the news media’s history of treating Breitbart with kid gloves.
A short take: I ranted against Parade Magazine some weeks back for publishing an article on “What Independence Day means?” in which seven out of eight people answering the question were actors. In focusing on entertainers, sports stars and other celebrities, the news media trains both children and adults to participate in celebrity culture. Celebrities thus become the aspirational role model, as opposed to scientists, engineers, elected officials, fine artists, literary writers, classical musicians, inventors, or university researchers. It dumbs down society and makes us more susceptible to mindless consumerism, which after all is the point of celebrity culture.
Parade is far from being the only media outlet to revel in celebrity culture. The August-July 2010 issue of AARP Bulletin, AARP’s 48-page Parade-for-seniors, has an article titled “99 Ways to Save,” which details tips for saving money, some submitted by readers. Included are photos of four famous senior citizens and the most youthful-looking female AARP member imaginable; next to each is his or her tip for saving money.
The four famous senior citizens: actress Pam Greer, actor Harrison Ford, actor Alan Alda and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright (whose new book came out last September, so she was a little bit in the news when the article was being planned). I guess one out of four ain’t bad.
Another short take: On July 20, I analyzed a July 19 article by Ross Douthat in the New York Times in which he used a recent study on the admissions practices of eight colleges to explain why he says poor whites feel abused and look unkindly on minorities and immigrants. In my blog entry, I demonstrated that even if Douthat was correctly interpreting the study that his article was full of logical holes and that his conclusion made no sense.
Yesterday, Time Magazine published an interview with the Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshale who authored the study. As Time so demurely puts it, Professor Espenshale “was quick to point out that the newspaper article had overreached its data.”
In other words, Douthat misinterpreted a study to get results that would allow him to perpetrate a completely illogical conclusion based on a dubious overstatement, i.e., that poor whites dislike minorities and immigrants. A truly shameful performance.