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Journalism's Age of Shame | The Nation

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The Liberal Media

Journalism's Age of Shame

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The black political art of "working the refs" with constant and vociferous complaints of "liberal bias" in the media has a long and distinguished history. Few of its practitioners, however, have succeeded so frequently—and nakedly—as the ex-Drudge drudge and Arianna acolyte Andrew Breitbart. The estimable E.J. Dionne terms Breitbart to be the MSM's virtual "assignment editor" and, indeed, it's hard not to be impressed. Breitbart has already been exposed as a provocateur who cares not a whit for honesty or accuracy in his self-declared war on all things liberal. Yet reporters, editors and producers remain so frightened by his accusations that they continue to trumpet them as they search their souls to purge themselves of the bias that prevented them from seeing the world from a Tea Party point of view.

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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Forty years after President Richard Nixon resigned, our leaders have become even less accountable.

Remember, the very same techniques deployed to defame Shirley Sherrod and discredit the NAACP were employed to destroy ACORN, albeit aided by the idiocy of a couple of low-level ACORN employees. Breitbart's underlings, the admitted criminal James O'Keefe and his associate Hannah Giles, lied to ACORN about their respective identities for the purpose of surreptitiously taping their words and actions and then releasing a doctored version of the tape to the credulous media. They misrepresented their own dress and demeanor in this visit—they were not dressed up as a comic-book pimp and ho—and O'Keefe also claimed that an undercover video campaign was a "nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation" implicating numerous ACORN employees. In the heavily edited videos Breitbart released of their encounters at eight ACORN offices, he (and they) failed to note that in at least six of these, they did not get their desired result. (Some ACORN employees contacted the authorities.) Of course, we did not learn any of this until after the MSM conspired with Breitbart and company to help destroy ACORN based on this false and defamatory narrative.

Recall, again, that vis-à-vis ACORN, media machers could not flagellate themselves fast enough for their previous failure to follow Breitbart into the gutter. Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism explained, "Complaints by conservatives are slower to be picked up by non-ideological media because there are not enough conservatives and too many liberals in most newsrooms." Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli worried, "We are not well-enough informed about conservative issues. It's particularly a problem in a town so dominated by Democrats and the Democratic point of view." Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander added that "traditional news outlets like The Post simply don't pay sufficient attention to conservative media or viewpoints." New York Times managing editor Jill Abramson admitted "insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio." Meanwhile, on ABC News, George Stephanopoulos thought the ACORN fable worthy of being raised in a rare one-on-one interview opportunity with President Obama, who replied that he wasn't following the story very closely and, by the way, had more important problems to address. (US grants to ACORN, already suspended at the time, accounted for less than one-thousandth of 1 percent of annual US government spending.)

In the now infamous case of Shirley Sherrod, Breitbart deployed doctored video again to falsely accuse Sherrod of discriminating against whites as a federal employee, pretending that a story about overcoming racism was really one endorsing it. When that lie was exposed, he insisted that his real target had been the NAACP, for allegedly cheering on Sherrod's alleged racism. This too was a lie. There was no applause in the undoctored video for any racist statements. Nothing Breitbart said about the story checked out once the full video became available.

And the MSM machers? Well, they can't help but notice that they got taken this time, but they prefer to chalk it up to "ideology." "There's been this proliferation of partisan media—whether it's MSNBC and Fox at night, or it's Breitbart on the right or Huffington Post on the left," complains Politico executive editor James VandeHei, and it makes honest folk like MSM reporters "overreact." Writing with Politico editor in chief John Harris, VandeHei pronounces the dawning of an "Age of Rage," equating Breitbart and company's perversion of the truth with the fact that some liberal journalists and academics participated in occasionally less than polite discussions about conservatives (and one another). The private discussions of this listserv, called "Journolist"—discussed in my previous column—were either hacked by or leaked to Tucker Carlson's right-wing website, The Daily Caller, and, as with the Sherrod tape, edited for the purposes of deception and false accusation. In the careless reasoning of the Politico honchos, these discussions deserved equation with Breitbart's nefarious techniques because both "featured sharp personal attacks against political opponents. Both revolved around indignant claims from people claiming to be victims of bias and the corrupt ideological agendas of their opponents—all the while stoking and profiting from the bias and conspiratorial instincts of partisans on their own side." As a result, they worry, "Responsible people in power and in the mainstream media are only beginning to grapple with this new environment—in which facts hardly matter except as they can be used as weapon or shield in a nonstop ideological war."

Talk about facts hardly mattering. Do the Politicos even notice that they are embracing yet another false narrative put forth by right-wing ideologues? If this is how "responsible people in power and in the mainstream media" distinguish between truth and falsehood, no wonder Breitbart and company feel empowered to lie and manipulate data to suit their ideological agenda. Call it journalism's "Age of Shame."

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