Archive for July, 2010

Everything Wrong With the DC Media in One Simple Column

July 22, 2010

There are so many things to be angry and sad about while watching this sorry Shirley Sherrod episode unfold. Ms. Sherrod actually speaking of her racial awakening/evolution as a parable that shows our society may yet have some hope, only to have it cynically and purposefully edited out by some dime a dozen conservative fraud and then have it be fed on an instantly endless loop by purveyors of “The Liberal Media” would be foremost of course. But The President and his surprisingly dim and tin-eared coterie of advisors abject fear of Glen Beck and Fox News would be second. More on that later.

This column by Howard Kurtz says more between the lines than it does overtly. Has there ever been a more boring, milquetoast middle of the road, insubstantial hack than Howard Kurtz? He appears to be a meticulously designed paint-by-numbers caricature of Beltway “groupthink” tirelessly searching for the imagined “middle ground” in stories where there are none, or perhaps more importantly wherein the vaunted, much sought after “middle ground” invariably serves to help prop up an invariably weak conservative argument/talking point. His search for “the middle” is so clumsy, convoluted contradictory and misguided that it turns inward upon itself and he often appears in danger of dissolving into a cautious puddle of vapidity beneath the bright lights of his studio. Yet, he gets to work for CNN and the Washington Post peddling his special brand of inanity masked as “conventional wisdom” as a “Media Critic.” So here he comes on cue with a column defending poor ole’ beleagured Fox News from those fire-breathing libruls and resurgent black radicals.

He comes out swinging straight-away with exquisite, exemplary Beltway condescension branding Ms. Sherrod a “lower level” official. No Very. Serious. Beltway cocktail party circle-jerk circuit appearances for her. To belabor the point of her relative unimportance to people like Howard Kurtz, she is called “obscure” a few paragraphs after Kurtz includes this laughable email from Fox Senior Vice President Michael Clemente:

“Let’s take our time and get the facts straight on this story. Can we get confirmation and comments from Sherrod before going on-air. Let’s make sure we do this right.”

Fox News: Paragon of rigorous journalistic standards and integrity! According to them. I have the simpering, self-serving email to prove it.

Kurtz does at least acknowledge the following:

“While the excerpt showed Sherrod, an African American, telling the NAACP in a speech that she had discriminated against a white farmer as a nonprofit aid officer 24 years ago, the full speech made clear she was saying she had overcome that racial instinct and learned an important lesson.”

What poorly written, obfuscating rubbish. From that tortured sentence you might never notice the crucial fact that not only was the speech 24 years old and taken entirely out of context, Ms. Sherrod was not employed by the USDA when she gave it, making the fact that she lost her job over this vicious nonsense that much more egregious.

Kurtz continues by making a lackluster concession to the indisputable fact of previous Breitbart and Fox News collusion to hype up hysterical, racially tinged non-stories:

“Breitbart has worked closely with Fox opinion hosts in the past, most notably when he posted videos of two young activists ostensibly posing as a pimp and prostitute and seeking help from ACORN offices. Breitbart promoted those tapes on Sean Hannity’s Fox program and the network gave them heavy play.”

Nowhere does Kurtz note the central fact that these videos were convincingly exposed as edited, out of context frauds (sounds familiar) after, of course, they destroyed an organization dedicated to helping poor, mostly minority, mostly Democratic voters. You also have to love how the embarrassing “pimp” incident hucksters are dubbed “activists” and no-mention is made by Kurtz of their “obscurity,” “low level” or “arrested” status.

Kurtz takes the honorable Breitbart at his word that the video fell magically and coincidentally edited to show this woman in the worst possible light– into his lap. No follow-ups. No critical analysis, even of the paper thin variety he specializes in.

Then there’s more condescension, this time with a tinge of paternalism, from the aforementioned completely NOT racist Fox News exec. forgiving Sherrod for her “confusion” after she correctly stated that Fox would:

“love to take us back to where we were many years ago. Back to where black people were looking down, not looking white folks in the face, not being able to compete for a job out there and not be a whole person.”

It ends with Kurtz actually making a tortured attempt to blame some of the firestorm on NCAAP President Benjamin Jealous for not getting in touch with Fox sooner. At least I think that’s what he’s trying to imply. I don’t know what’s more tortured: the logic or the prose. He distorts you decide.

TPM’s Josh Marshall characterized “virtually all of what goes under the name of ‘media reporting’ these days” as a “crock” and I think Kurtz’s column can be admitted into evidence as Exhibit A.

Later in the same column Marshall observed that:

“most reporters are simply cowed by Fox and Breitbart and Beck and the rest of the organized forces of bamboozlement — too afraid, too bewildered, too hapless to apply anything remotely approaching standards in analyzing the fourth estate of which they are the nominal custodians.”

This is exactly right as it applies to people like Kurtz and it leads me into discussing President Obama and the White House’s reaction to this debacle. Marshall’s column is actually titled “Shame on Obama?’ and he goes into reasons why he believes anger at the White House is “preposterous.”

I respectfully disagree and evidence seems to suggest his quote above about reporters being “cowed by Fox and Breitbart and Beck and the rest of the organized forces of bamboozlement”, sadly, applies to the White House nearly as much as it applies to reporters. As evidence listen to the pathetic, self-congratulatory gibberish spewed by White House deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina who, reportedly, said of the White House’s reaction:

“We could have waited all day — we could have had a media circus — but we took decisive action, and it’s a good example of how to respond in this atmosphere.”

I understand that the “atmosphere” he’s referring to has been poisoned by the Fox/Limbaugh echo chamber, a powerful nexus of disinformation and propaganda unburdened by any sense of journalistic ethics or responsibility. I just don’t see how rational people with keen political instincts like Marshall can’t acknowledge the fear of the Right Wing Noise Machine implicit in remarks like these emanating from the White House. Kurtz has even more damning quotes:

“Sherrod may be the only official ever dismissed because of the fear that Fox host Glenn Beck might go after her. As Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack tried to pressure her into resigning, Sherrod says Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook called her Monday to say “do it, because you’re going to be on ‘Glenn Beck’ tonight.””

Again, I don’t know how else to look at the White House’s actions here as anything other than capitulation. As Cenk Uygur writes in a scathing column for the Huffington Post:

“In Washington, Fox News is very important and you get judged by how quickly you handle the media maelstroms they create. That’s viewed as a barometer of how well you handle “bad news cycles.” So, the rest of the Washington press corps judges you by how quickly you drop to your knees to end the “bad news cycle.” Congratulations Obama administration, you’re now professionals!”

This acute sensitivity to Fox by the White House is particularly aggravating and infuriating especially when contrasted with the apparent relish and glee people around the President like, the inexplicably still employed, Rahm Emanuel take in snubbing liberals and progressives at every turn. The President and his advisers may realize far too late, for men of such obvious intelligence on most other matters, that bending over backwards, whether in fear or not, to accommodate cynical, irrational people who don’t even accept your legitimacy and wish publicly for your Presidency’s failure time and again at the expense of the people who elected you is one of the most baffling, self-defeating and ill-advised political and electoral strategies of all time.

Uyguk also astutely observes that “bad news cycles are not created by genuine mistakes anymore, they’re artificially created by Fox News channel. You can’t make them go away by giving into them.” But this seems to be the exact strategy the Obama administration employs every time Fox News gins up some manufactured story usually hinging on race. And is Uyguk and others such as Rachel Maddow have noted: it’s not as if this was the first time Fox has forced the White House’s hand in dismissing someone, as Van Jones can attest.

The liberal blogs and pundits seem to be split on this question of White House fear. Obviously everyone involved reacted before seeing the entire video, but those comments uttered by Messina seem to confirm the pattern of fearful, skittish White House overreactions to manufactured, manipulated and outright falsehoods peddled by Fox.