Hold on to your hats, this is the longest and most tedious thing I'm ever likely to post but don't blame me, blame Mr. Dvorkin, the NPR Ombudsman.
This post is a response to his inane response to criticism of recent comments by NPR reportor Mara Liasson on Fox News who went out of her way (or suffered a serious brain-fart) to paint the Abramoff scandal as being bi-partisan.
Called to account by Think Progress and Media Matters and intelligent "netizens" (sorry!) NPR Obmudsman Dvorkin responded by impugning all bloggers everywhere, the mentioned websites and the majority of NPR listeners without a shred of evidence or an ounce of logic.
I e-mailed him the following (though in fairness I have since added a colon or two and the odd otherwise missing word--none of which negates my intent, meaning or argument).
That which follows is adressed to Mr. Dvorkin and not to my regular or irregular audience who consistently exhibit the kind of wit, decorum and rational intelligence that Mr Dvorkin himself apparently neither possesses nor has apparently been exposed to of late.
Nonetheless I offer it here as an example of how a rabid, politically motivated other-directed moronic reactionary and vituperative blogger can not only challenge with facts and reason an accredited journalist and established obumdsman, but bludgeon the same into submission with his own metaphorical shoe and as an example of how fucking irritating it is to have to explain to members of the MSM how to do their own fucking job! I give you the following:
Guilt by Association: The NPR-FOX Connection
It is plainly evident in its variety of programs, contributors, personalities and the time it allots to each that NPR consistently presents as “bi-partisan” a “fair-and-balanced” delivery of news, analysis and information as possible. NPR’s broadcast product and the organization overall can I think be reasonably described as “non-partisan”.
However, and still perfectly reasonably, various individual NPR correspondents consistently demonstrate their own particular biases or partisanship (this is also true of other news organization).
It is quite understandable that any given correspondent (in any news organization) may lean towards one side or another of a particular story as it develops, and when asked in an interview to express an opinion, actually gives an opinion instead of a recitation of dry facts.
Given a fact (that is, corroborated evidence) or rather a set of facts a journalist may arrange those facts in a way that can emphasize one or more aspects over the others according to what the journalists thinks is most important or compelling about the story being reported.
Thus for instance a cat being rescued from a tree by firemen can be reported neutrally, or could emphasize the cat’s ordeal, or the firemen’s efforts or that cats getting stuck in trees are a waste of municipal resources--which might be the tack that a cat-hating journalist might choose to take (especially if his or her editor also hates cats).
Now, an emphasis or a bias in a reporter’s story does not necessarily invalidate the story, nor a given opinion, as long as all the relevant facts reasonably support the emphasis or bias of the story, or the opinion or argument expressed (as per the above cat-in-a-tree example).
You assert in your article “Guilt By Association” that:
“Frustrated public-radio listeners tell me that the NPR presence only serves as cover for FOX's claim that it is "fair and balanced."
I’m confident that some have indeed expressed that opinion as I’ve seen such viewpoints written elsewhere but it might help to substantiate your assertion by providing at least one verifiable example. Nonetheless I’m willing to accept it as very likely.
The particular claim by these critics that NPR correspondents’ appearances on FOX “serve as cover” to justify the FOX News appropriation of “fair and balanced” is a small issue in itself and not something for anyone to get excited about, were it not for the larger implications.
As I suggested above, NPR as an organization can reasonably claim to be non-partisan in its delivery of news and commentary over the course of its programming as a whole. Thus the “brand” of NPR may be considered synonymous with the phrase and common notion of “fair and balanced”. FOX News as a whole is demonstrably neither “fair” nor “balanced”.
If anyone deserves to use such a signature it is NPR, and not FOX News whose various reporters and personalities have consistently and across the board ignored established facts that would undermine their preferred perspectives, severely misrepresented public records, simply lied or have made unsubstantiated claims and presented them as fact or expert opinion without any foundation whatsoever and in editorials and opinion pieces that often make no sense at all.
Any public corrections tend to be made not by internal diligence, but only due to external pressure—and even then very rarely.
The examples of such “journalism” are legion but Bill O’Reilly, as FOX News’ most popular and successful pundit or “journalist” (and a former award-winning reporter) offers a rich and obvious vein of bias, lies and simply irresponsible journalism that, were he subject to NPR’s reputed typical oversight, wouldn’t last a day. Indeed he didn’t complete an interview with Terry Gross which I well recall (and as much as I admire Terry Gross’s professionalism I happen to think she performed below her usual standards that day).
O’Reilly for example has claimed he won two Peabody awards, and when challenged claimed he “misspoke” and had meant to say Polk, which was not true either (and never mind that the criteria for the awards are different).
He claimed that his call for a boycott of French goods due to French opposition to the invasion in Iraq led to a major reduction in French exports to the US—actually they increased---and he “quoted” the “Paris Business Review” to support his claim despite the fact that it was a complete fiction (within a day some wag had established a satiric website of the same name which of course did nothing to substantiate O’Reilly’s claim).
These are the better-known examples of FOX’s “golden boy” of radio, TV and print journalism and there are dozens more from him and his colleagues such as Brit Hume, Neil Cavuto, John Gibson, Sean Hannity and so on.
FOX News is not just overwhelmingly politically biased (which it is allowed to be, just as the Daily Worker is or any white supremacist or black-power newsletter is allowed to be under the 1st Amendment), it actively promotes disinformation, misinformation and indeed utter lies all the while claiming to be “fair and balanced” and in direct contravention of principles described by the U.S. Constitution which specifically identify a “free press” as being an essential additional check against the triumvirate of the Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary in the balance of political power so that the public might have a persistent voice and presence beyond and between elections in order that democracy might be maintained and endure.
Unlike NPR, which as an organization clearly takes its role as a member of the “Fourth Estate” quite seriously, FOX News has no regard for debate, dissent, honesty or accurate information.
FOX News overwhelmingly supports the party in power and perhaps more significantly, demonstrably attacks the minority, at the very least by claiming the mass media has a “liberal bias” when in fact most TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and books are owned by powerful right-leaning conglomerates invested in the Republican government and upon whom the Republicans depend.
Any reportage critical of either the party in power and of course it’s corporate media bedfellows is commonly attacked as being “un-American” with the critics being characterized as ‘traitors’ ‘treasonous’ ‘lunatics’ ‘deviants’ ‘satanists’ ‘terrorist sympathizers’ and more.
It is probably because of this clear and exclusive relationship between FOX and the GOP that members of the NPR audience feel they are losing a truly “fair and balanced” source of news and commentary when NPR correspondents regularly appear on the FOX network, apparently legitimizing a “news” organization that obviously functions as a powerful propaganda wing of one political party rather than being “fair and balanced” as an organization and as a whole.
But perhaps what galls complaining NPR listeners most is the revelation that certain NPR correspondents so clearly subscribe to the FOX “School of Journalism” which is miles distant from NPR’s well established standards or those of any other respectable journalistic entity (such as the Columbia School of Journalism).
The recent remarks of Maria Liasson provide a great example and your own remarks are quite illuminating too.
“On FOX News Sunday, for May 7th, NPR's Mara Liasson reported (accurately, in my opinion) that the polls indicate the public sees the Abramoff scandal as being essentially bipartisan even though only Republicans took money from the now disgraced, but once well-connected lobbyist.”
Here’s what Liasson actually said (emphasis added):
“And I think that every time you hear another one of these kind of bipartisan scandal stories, where it's Democrats, not just Republicans, taking money from Abramoff, it underlines a feeling that people tell pollsters over and over again, which is that everybody does it, that there's not really much difference. Now, of course, in terms of the lobbying scandals and the money-related scandals, there are more Republicans involved. They're the majority party.”
Now, firstly Liasson uses the words "bipartisan scandal stories"—she’s not talking about polls or opinions here, she is characterizing the scandal in question as being ipso facto bipartisan.
Then she states that Democrats as well as Republicans took money from Abramoff. That is patently untrue, as you yourself note.
So why would Liasson say something that is untrue, long after the claim had been debunked?
"...where it's Democrats, not just Republicans, taking money from Abramoff, it underlines a feeling that people tell pollsters over and over again, which is that everybody does it, that there's not really much difference.”
Well of course polls would reflect a view that the corruption was bipartisan if that’s what people are told repeatedly by reporters and pundits (and partisan republican guests like Newt Gingrich onTV news shows), even though it isn’t true!
Liasson is thus “reporting accurately” on the polls (supposedly) reflecting opinions based on a lie which Liasson herself just repeated---that Democrats took money from Abramoff.
Finally she states: “Now, of course, in terms of the lobbying scandals and the money-related scandals, there are more Republicans involved. They're the majority party.”
So Liasson’s masterful analysis is that because there are simply more Republicans than Democrats ‘logic’ dictates that more Republicans than Democrats would be implicated in the Abramoff scandal.
Except that there aren’t any Democrats involved, at all. That is a fact!
Bear in mind that Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review (not exactly The Daily Worker by anyone’s standards) wrote in a January 10 editorial (that’s over four months ago) that the Abramoff affair is “in its essence, a Republican scandal, and any attempt to portray it otherwise is a misdirection.”
So, to summarize for the moment:
Liasson herself first characterizes the Abramoff scandal as bipartisan (not true), repeats the lie that Democrats took money from Abramoff, then notes that the polls reflect a public belief in the lie she (and others) have promoted, and then further promotes the notion saying that more Republicans are involved (thus implying less Democrat involvement) simply because there are more Republicans (than Democrats). Is it any wonder then that public opinion reflects the disinformation provided by reporters?
Is it also any wonder then that NPR listeners who expect facts, truth and intelligent analysis would find Liasson’s performance on FOX less than satisfactory and complain about it?
When the audience itself is better-informed about a subject than the reporter and has to correct the reporter, clearly something is seriously wrong, wouldn’t you say?
And that brings me to the subject of your listeners (of which I am one and yes, I have given money to NPR).
“Frustrated public-radio listeners tell me that the NPR presence only serves as cover for FOX's claim that it is "fair and balanced." And that frustration is further pumped up by some political blogs, seeking to trash both FOX for being conservative, and NPR for looking like FOX's willing agents whenever its news representatives participate on FOX's programs.”
Pay no attention to your listeners that claim “the NPR presence only serves as cover for FOX's claim that it is "fair and balanced."
Anyone who disagrees with FOX’s worldview is ipso facto unfair and unbalanced, because FOX says so. FOX certainly doesn’t need the occasional NPR reporter to deflect criticism—the preferred method is simply to lie, tell its critics to shut up, question their patriotism or simply threaten them with FOX security.
Now as far as political blogs “seeking to trash both FOX for being conservative, and NPR for looking like FOX's willing agents whenever its news representatives participate on FOX's programs” , which political blogs do you mean? Little Green Footballs? PowerLine?
Or are you referring to Media Matters and Think Progress? Though their politics may be obvious, only one of these is a political blog—that would be Think Progress. Media Matters is a media watchdog organization.
By using the word “trash” you imply that these “political blogs” are indiscriminate in their criticisms of FOX and of NPR representatives who appear on FOX. If indeed you are referring to Media Matters (which isn’t actually a political blog) you will note that they take great pains in ensuring accuracy and in substantiating their criticisms.
That FOX is a common target is not indicative of some blind political vendetta, it is that FOX consistently distorts the truth, lies and actively promotes a clearly biased view—all contrary to the best practices of good journalism and clearly at odds with the slogan “Fair and Balanced”, and when NPR representatives such as Mara Liasson repeat lies and distortions that fit perfectly with FOX’s practices then clearly she is subject to the same criticisms as FOX and appears therefore as a “willing agent”.
Now let’s return to “The Abramoff Scandal (Again)”
You write (and note I’m trying to avoid parsing to maintain the integrity of what you wrote):
“It happened again, just the other day. On FOX News Sunday, for May 7th, NPR's Mara Liasson reported (accurately, in my opinion) that the polls indicate the public sees the Abramoff scandal as being essentially bipartisan even though only Republicans took money from the now disgraced, but once well-connected lobbyist.
The FOX transcript did not initially record it like that. Due to a misplaced comma, it left the impression that Liasson said that both parties had profited directly from Abramoff. FOX soon issued an accurate transcript, but the correction was ignored by two blogs, Media Matters and Think Progress.”
I haven’t seen the FOX transcript but Media Matters has the recording and Media Matters’s transcript excludes a few hesitations by Mara. The whole words and sentences are in order and in perfect synchronization with what she said. Unless Media Matters manipulated the video and thus the audio, the transcript provided matches perfectly.
It is true that a comma implies a pause, and Mara Liasson does not in fact pause when she says “…where it's Democrats not just Republicans...” and indeed she provides no emphasis at all. Were Media Matters (or myself) really interested in manipulating what she said to make her appear biased in an attempt to “trash” NPR and its representatives, the transcript might have appeared more like this: “...where it's Democrats! not just Republicans..” (or some variation thereof) to imply inflections and emphasis where none in fact exist.
So how does the inclusion or exclusion of a comma change the import of her words? It doesn’t! Nothing changes the fact that she maintained that Democrats were also involved in Abramoff’s corruption when in fact they weren’t (and this months after the claim had been debunked by journailsts from the political Left and the Right not to mention the actual facts of the case).
So why should Liasson resurrect and promote a falsehood? Is she stupid or not paying attention? Or does she have a vested interest in promoting a lie? Discriminating NPR listeners (those not all juiced-up by partisan blog rhetoric of course) might like to know.
Your protestation that the inclusion of a comma in the transcription of her words somehow significantly alters what she said beggars not just belief, but fact—it makes no difference to what she said; that Democrats as well as Republicans received money from Abramoff and thus the scandal was bipartisan; months after the facts the claim, like your excuse, has no merit.
“The blogs encouraged people to complain to NPR, and hundreds did, many with a surprising level of rancor and vituperation, which was shockingly intense, even in these times of "take-no-prisoners-and shoot-the-wounded" political debate.
Which blogs encouraged people to complain?
Think Progress? There is nothing on their site that encourages people to complain about anything and nothing in their Liasson post either.
Media Matters? Accompanying every article page is the following :
"When contacting the media, please be polite and professional. Express your specific concerns regarding that particular news report or commentary, and be sure to indicate exactly what you would like the media outlet to do differently in the future."
Media Matters has no control over the words used by those who choose to write to the media. It is in their best interests should they be referenced by a complainant that comments or criticisms NOT be vituperative or unreasonable lest Media Matters be found guilty by association. Ironically that’s the title of your article and it seems the foundation of your own complaints.
But let’s continue….
“The blogs got it wrong because FOX's original transcript was in error. But the blogs, unlike FOX, never bothered telling their supporters about the correction.”
“The blogs” (still presumably meaning Media Matters and Think Progress) didn’t use FOX’s transcript which you say “was in error”. Mara Liasson spoke quite clearly and quite fluidly and any normal person above the age of 10 would be able to write a perfectly accurate transcript from the footage.
Regardless of the accuracy or otherwise of the transcript the video is the primary evidence wherein Mara clearly says “…where it's Democrats not just Republicans taking money from Abramoff...” (note the lack of commas here).
Because neither used FOX’s transcript the blogs you criticize would have no reason to report that Fox had supposedly made a "mistake" in its transcript which was then “corrected”.
“The role of the blogosphere in this matter seems worth exploring because while it encourages people to express strong feelings, the level of pure acrimony in this case, seemed to me to rise to the level of hate speech.”
The “blogosphere” (the entirety of blogs) doesn’t “encourage” people to express strong feelings. The blogosphere simply reflects its constituents. It is up to individual bloggers to choose how to express themselves.
The number of blogs that make up the “blogosphere” is currently estimated at 50 million.
It would certainly be illuminating to visit every single one and note exactly how many of them encourage people to express strong feelings and how many of them employ acrimony and hate speech.
It would be even more interesting to determine which of those listen to NPR or read Media Matters or Think Progress.
It might help your claim if you actually provided some examples of pure acrimony and hate speech.
Whilst you are busy doing that, I’ll just think back to the time when the Washington Post shut down its blog after being inundated with “hateful” and “vicious” attacks from “bloggers” regarding Deborah Howell (also an ombudsman defending an employee with dubious credentials for honesty), at least according to Deborah Howell who eventually never came up with a single example (out of over 1000 comments received) to substantiate her claim.
But never mind that for the moment, we’re almost done deconstructing your article.
What About NPR on Other Media?
“At the same time, there is rarely any objection from listeners to NPR journalists appearing on or in other media. Political editor Ken Rudin is a regular on CNN. Reporters Nina Totenberg, Andrea Seabrook and Tom Gjelten, among others have often appeared on PBS.”
That may be so but you provide no evidence. Still, if NPR listeners do therefore have an apparently unreasonable anti-FOX bias as you seem to suggest here, as ombudsman are you going to listen to your audience, or ignore them?
“The few complaints I receive about those appearances are minor compared with the astonishing level of anger, rebuke and personal attack whenever NPR journalists appear on FOX”
Perhaps your listeners. when they find NPR reporters on FOX speaking the same lies and distortions that they’ve come to expect from FOX broadcasters feel perhaps a little betrayed by the news organization that they regard as being independent and “fair and balanced” such as NPR itself claims to be?
“The reasons for this are somewhat complicated, but I think it's worth looking into why normally mild-mannered public-radio listeners (if indeed, they are as they claim) start biting the carpet each time a blog points out the latest alleged NPR misstatement on FOX.”
Ah yes, “alleged…misstatements”.
How for instance would Mara Liasson’s statement on recorded television, where she says “...it's Democrats not just Republicans, taking money from Abramoff...” be in anyway alleged? She said it, that’s a proven fact, it’s on the record.
What’s more on Jan 12 2006 on All Things Considered Liasson said “Although a handful of Democrats did get money from Abramoff's clients, the vast majority of members and staff involved, are Republicans”.
That is in fact true ( finally some truth!) but the Abramoff scandal wasn’t and isn’t about Abramoff’s clients giving money to politicians of both parties (that is irrelevant and not what Abramoff has been charged with or admitted), it is about Abramoff defrauding his own clients and then giving money to Republicans in exchange for favors.
This earlier statement of Liasson’s at least emphasizes a deeper Republican involvement, but it is still shy of the fact that the scandal as defined by the courts was and is exclusively Republican.
Her more current statement, after months of reporting by others proving the exclusively Republican nature of the scandal, is actually undermined by her own earlier words. If Liasson has simply “misstated” a fact then she need only issue a correction—a standard journalistic practice---and would then be less prone to accusations of bias. Instead both you and FOX appear to have manufactured a defense by arguing that her innocence can be proven by misinterpretation of the presence of a comma in a transcript, political agitation and the rants of angry and hysterical bloggers possibly misrepresenting themselves as NPR listeners.
“First, for many in the blogosphere, the issue is FOX -- pure and simple. Many who write to me describe FOX as the "anti-NPR." They say that while NPR represents some of what is best about American journalism, FOX represents the worst.”
And what do you say? You have an opinion on “the blogosphere”; what about your opinion on FOX? Or does your role as ombudsman preclude you expressing an opinion?
“In a free country, free expression should be a sacred trust. But when the blogs launch a campaign, there is a mean-spirited, venomous quality to the e-mails. Of the hundreds I received complaining about Mara Liasson’s putative error, many were as nasty and as personal in tone as I have ever seen.”
The “blogs” haven’t “launched” this particular “campaign”; blog readers have taken it upon themselves to complain, and they are simply exercising their free expression. Even if Media Matters provided no immediately accessible link, I’m pretty sure the average internet user is capable of finding a web address on their own. And again the quality of any arguments you received is attributable only to the individuals, though a pattern may well be perceived from them. But it is still possible to express anger and yet make a valid argument.
Once more you claim Liasson’s statement to be an alleged (putative) “error”. Again it is not “alleged”, it is a fact that she said what she said and what she said was the repetition of lie, something she as a journalist should have known was a lie. So either she lied, or she’s a remarkably uniformed reporter.
“Perhaps only three or four of those who wrote to me had actually seen the report on FOX. Those listeners thought Liasson might have made the argument in a less ambiguous way. While the tone of their emails was oppositional, they were reasonable and respectful.”
And perhaps the rest of the complainants couldn’t be bothered to click on a few links to gain a larger perspective, determine the facts and then write because of course by your estimation bloggers apparently are all reactionary mental midgets who never research anything and abuse freedom of speech, unlike an NPR reporter who delivers facts and informed opinion!
As for those listeners you claim thought that Liasson "might have made the argument in a less ambiguous way", there’s simply no ambiguity in what she said.
A Journalistic Drive-By Shooting
“The rest of the e-mail traffic, however, had all the journalistic subtlety of a drive-by shooting. The reaction to Liasson's statement and other recent experiences with blog-inspired campaign [sic], leads me to an inescapable conclusion: These blogs appear to be making our public life even more crude and vulgar than it has been up to now. I'm sure that pointing this out will likely result in another wave of crude and nasty notes, though I hope it won't.
My question to the bloggers: When will you start running corrections and taking responsibility for your actions like the "mainstream media" you so disdain? “
My questions to you Mr Dvorkin are:
When will Mara Liasson of NPR correct her ill-informed statement for which she is responsible?
When will you recognize the difference between responsible blogging and mere invective?
When will you admit that there is a clear distinction between assertion posing as fact and supportable, verifiable fact?
When will you recognize that the MSM no longer controls public information and discourse?
When will you acknowledge that it is the MSM that is accountable to the public, and not the public to the MSM?
When will you and the MSM return to the principles of good journalism by reporting the facts and providing reasoned argument and informed analysis?
When will you and your colleagues take responsibility for what you write and say?
When will you understand that the public is mad as hell and is in not going to take being manipulated and talked down-to any more?
From NPR’s own ethics guide:
10. In appearing on TV or other media, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as journalists on NPR's programs. They should not participate in shows that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis; that whenever they appear in public, they represent NPR and its journalistic standards and practices. They should not express their personal opinions on matters of public controversy because that impairs their ability to report credibly on those same matters for NPR. NPR journalists have, in my opinion, an affirmative obligation to remain reportorial at all times.
Hoist by your own petard methinks, Mr Dvorkin.
And not one instance on my part as an NPR listener and a blogger of using invectives or hate speech! Note also the use of facts and reason.
To conclude let us return to the title of your original post: Guilt By Association.
NPR reporters represent NPR. An NPR reporter appears on FOX and repeats a common theme of FOC pundits that Abramoff gave money to Democrats as well as Republicans, which was not and is not true. Liasson perpetuated a lie and misrepresented a political story, complying with FOX’s modus operandi. Guilt by association, provided by your reporter, Mr Dvorkin!
You receive complaints via the internet encouraged, according to you, by “the blogs” though you only specify two, one of which you incorrectly identify as being political (Media Matters) and neither of which actually encourage a “campaign” against NPR or FOX (though both are clearly critical of misrepresentation masquerading as fact). Nonetheless you conclude and without any evidence that both named blogs have instituted a “campaign” and furthermore that blogs in general are participants in an organized criticism of FOX and NPR. Guilt by association.
You go on to say that the complaints you received were overwhelmingly filled with “rancour and vituperation” (you provide no evidence, though I’m sure you have some examples) and suggest that the majority of complainants are duplicitous (claiming to be NPR listeners) vindictive and likely part of the entire blogosphere that is populated by reactionary morons: Guilt by association.
Rather than prove your case against your critics and those of Mara Liasson with facts, you have proven your critics’ case by trying and failing to apply the very tool you accuse them of using: Guilt by association.
I look forward to your response to this dimwitted, confused easily manipulated NPR listener and vulgar blogger.
You remain my servant, as ombudsman and dependant on my generous contribution to NPR,