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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Fourth Estate Cred Endangered

We’ve done our share of MSM-bashing hereabouts, and probably not enough shout-outs to the traditional media reporters and columnists who do a good job of covering politics. But MSM groveling at the behest of FoxTV and the wingnuts does seem to be on the upswing, and it requires a lot of effort just to hold them accountable.
For those who think this may be overstating the case, we refer you to Charles Kaiser’s Hillman Foundation article, published in The Nation, which does a solid job of chronicling some of the recent atrocities. Kaiser’s “The Shame of the Fourth Estate.” presents a thorough account of “the perversion of journalism” by “a band of vicious charlatans,” including in his words:

* Time magazine’s decision to ask Glenn Beck to assess Rush Limbaugh’s importance in America for the 2009 Time 100: “His consistency, insight and honesty have earned him a level of trust with his listeners that politicians can only dream of.”
* A decision by the editors of washingtonpost.com to allow Beck to host a chat there to promote one of his books.
* This hard-hitting assessment of Beck by Time magazine TV critic James Poniewozik, who gurgled on, “Sure, he may be selling a sensationalistic message of paranoia and social breakdown. But politics, or basic responsibility, aside, he has an entertainer’s sense of play with the medium of TV that O’Reilly, or perpetual sourpuss Neil Cavuto, don’t.” And why would anybody care about a basic sense of responsibility, anyway?
* A worshipful 1,943-word profile of Fox News founder and president Roger Ailes by David Carr and Tim Arango on the front page of the New York Times–which included this perfectly amoral quote from David Gergen, a perfectly amoral man:
“Regardless of whether you like what he is doing, Roger Ailes is one of the most creative talents of his generation. He has built a media empire that is capable of driving the conversation, and, at times, the political process.” And what a wonderful conversation it is.
* And finally, the most sickening piece of all in this splendid cohort: David von Drehele’s obscenely sycophantic cover story of Beck for Time magazine, which told us that Beck is a “man with his ear uniquely tuned to the precise frequency at which anger, suspicion and the fear that no one’s listening all converge;” that he is “tireless, funny, [and]self-deprecating…a gifted storyteller with a knack for stitching seemingly unrelated data points into possible conspiracies–if he believed in conspiracies, which he doesn’t, necessarily; he’s just asking.”

Here’s Kaiser on the MSM handling of the Sherrod and ACORN smears and Breitbart’s role.

But far worse than the kid-gloves treatment of Fox and its friends was the inexplicably benign approach the MSM took toward Andrew Brietbart, the original source of the doctored video of Sherrod’s speech before the NAACP that started this whole sorry saga.
In the Washington Post, he was a “conservative activist and blogger”; in Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s story in the Times, he was “a blogger” who “similarly…used edited videos to go after ACORN, the community organizing group;” in the Wall Street Journal he was “a conservative Internet activist” who “argued that the Obama administration is insufficiently sensitive to bias against white people”; in the Los Angeles Times, “a conservative media entrepreneur” and to Associated Press television writer David Bauder a “conservative activist” whose website “attracted attention last year for airing video of workers at the community group ACORN counseling actors posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend.”
But to find out who Breitbart really is, you would have had to read (h/t Joe Stouter) Joe Conason in Salon, who, “recalling Breitbart from his days as eager lackey to Matt Drudge…warned from the beginning that nothing he produced would resemble journalism.”

Regarding Glenn Beck’s splenetic smearing of the President, WaPo‘s Dana Milbank, quoted in Kaiser’s article, has this:

…Consider these tallies from Glenn Beck’s show on Fox News since Obama’s inauguration: 202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, according to transcripts, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels. Most of these were directed in some form at Obama–as were the majority of the 802 mentions of socialist or socialism on Beck’s nightly “report.”

Kaiser has more to say about the Sherrod smear and the press being hustled and intimidated by right-wing ideologues, and it all adds up to a very disturbing picture of one of America’s most important nongovernmental institutions. The time has come for America’s most influential print and electronic reporters and editors to do some soul-searching about their fearful compliance with neo-McCarthyism and reaffirm their commitment to social justice and journalism that serves the people.

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