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Context of 'May 2008: Former Press Secretary Lauds ‘Skeptical,’ Liberally Oriented Media, Chides ‘Deferential’ White House Press Corps'

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Roger Ailes, the senior media consultant for the Nixon administration (see 1968), writes, or helps write, a secret memo for President Nixon and fellow Republicans outlining a plan for conservatives to “infiltrate and neutralize” the mainstream American media. The document will not be released until 2011; experts will call it the “intellectual forerunner” to Fox News, which Ailes will launch as a “fair and balanced” news network in 1996 (see October 7, 1996). John Cook, the editor of the online news and commentary magazine Gawker, will call the document the outline of a “nakedly partisan… plot by Ailes and other Nixon aides to circumvent the ‘prejudices of network news’ and deliver ‘pro-administration’ stories to heartland television viewers.” The document is entitled “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News.” Ailes, currently the owner of REA Productions and Ailes Communications Inc., works for the Nixon White House as a media consultant; he will serve the same function for President George H.W. Bush during his term. Ailes is a forceful advocate for using television to shape the message of the Nixon administration and of Republican policies in general. He frequently suggests launching elaborately staged events to entice favorable coverage from television reporters, and uses his contacts at the news networks to head off negative publicity. Ailes writes that the Nixon White House should run a partisan, pro-Republican media operation—essentially a self-contained news production organization—out of the White House itself. He complains that the “liberal media” “censors” the news to portray Nixon and his administration in a negative light. Cook will say the plan “reads today like a detailed precis for a Fox News prototype.” The initial idea may have originated with Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, but if so, Ailes expands and details the plan far beyond Haldeman’s initial seed of an idea. (Roger Ailes 1970; Cook 6/30/2011) In 2011, Rolling Stone journalist Tim Dickinson will write: “This is an astounding find. It underscores Ailes’s early preoccupation with providing the GOP with a way to do an end run around skeptical journalists.” (Dickinson 7/1/2011)
Focus on Television - Ailes insists that any such media plan should focus on television and not print. Americans are “lazy,” he writes, and want their thinking done for them: “Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication. The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you.” Ailes says the Nixon administration should create its own news network “to provide pro-administration, videotape, hard news actualities to the major cities of the United States.” Other television news outlets such as NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and PBS News, are “the enemy,” he writes, and suggests going around them by creating packaged, edited news stories and interviews directly to local television stations. (Years later, these kinds of “news reports” will be called “video news releases,” or VNRs, and will routinely be used by the George W. Bush administration and others—see March 15, 2004, May 19, 2004, March 2005, and March 13, 2005. They will be outlawed in 2005—see May 2005.) “This is a plan that places news of importance to localities (senators and representatives are newsmakers of importance to their localities) on local television news programs while it is still news. It avoids the censorship, the priorities, and the prejudices of network news selectors and disseminators.” Ailes and his colleagues include detailed cost analyses and production plans for such news releases. In a side note on the document, Ailes writes: “Basically a very good idea. It should be expanded to include other members of the administration such as cabinet involved in activity with regional or local interest. Also could involve GOP governors when in DC. Who would purchase equipment and run operation—White House? RNC [Republican National Committee]? Congressional caucus? Will get some flap about news management.”
Dirty Tricks - Ailes suggests planting “volunteers” within the Wallace campaign, referring to segregationist George Wallace (D-AL), whose third-party candidacy in 1968 almost cost Nixon the presidency. Ailes knows Wallace is planning a 1972 run as well, and is apparently suggesting a “mole” to either gather intelligence, carry out sabotage, or both. (Wallace’s plans for another run will be cut short by an assassination attempt—see May 15, 1972.) Ailes also suggests having his firm film interviews with Democrats who support Nixon’s Vietnam policies, such as Senators John Stennis (D-MS) and John McClellan (D-AR). Though Stennis and McClellan would believe that the interviews were for actual news shows, they would actually be carried out by Ailes operatives and financed by a Nixon campaign front group, the “Tell it to Hanoi Committee.” In June 1970, someone in the Nixon administration scuttles the plan, writing: “[T]he fact that this presentation is White House directed, unbeknownst to the Democrats on the show, presents the possibility of a leak that could severely embarrass the White House and damage significantly its already precarious relationship with the Congress. Should two powerful factors like Stennis and McClellan discover they are dupes for the administration the scandal could damage the White House for a long time to come.”
Volunteers to Head Program - Ailes writes that he wants to head any such “news network,” telling Haldeman: “Bob—if you decide to go ahead we would as a production company like to bid on packaging the entire project. I know what has to be done and we could test the feasibility for 90 days without making a commitment beyond that point.” Haldeman will grant Ailes’s request in November 1970, and will give the project a name: “Capitol News Service.” Haldeman will write: “With regard to the news programming effort as proposed last summer, Ailes feels this is a good idea and that we should be going ahead with it. Haldeman suggested the name ‘Capitol News Service’ and Ailes will probably be doing more work in this area.” Documents fail to show whether the “Capitol News Service” is ever actually implemented. (Roger Ailes 1970; Cook 6/30/2011)
Television News Incorporated - Ailes will be fired from the Nixon administration in 1971; he will go on to start a similar private concern, “Television News Incorporated” (TVN—see 1971-1975), an ideological and practical predecessor to Fox News. Dickinson will write: “More important, [the document] links the plot to create what would become Television News Incorporated—the Ailes-helmed ‘fair and balanced’ mid-1970s precursor to Fox News—to the Nixon White House itself.” (Cook 6/30/2011; Dickinson 7/1/2011) A former business colleague of Ailes’s will say in 2011: “Everything Roger wanted to do when he started out in politics, he’s now doing 24/7 with his network [Fox News]. It’s come full circle.” (Dickinson 5/25/2011)

Fox News logo.Fox News logo. [Source: Fox News]Fox News begins broadcasting on US cable television. Fox News provides 24-hour news programming alongside the nation’s only other such cable news provider, CNN. Fox executive Roger Ailes, a former campaign adviser for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), envisions Fox News as a conservative “antidote” to what he calls the “liberal bias” of the rest of American news broadcasting. Ailes uses many of the methodologies and characteristics of conservative talk radio, and brings several radio hosts on his channel, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, to host television shows. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 47; Sherman 5/22/2011) Referring to Ailes’s campaign experience, veteran Republican consultant Ed Rollins later says: “Because of his political work, he understood there was an audience. He knew there were a couple million conservatives who were a potential audience, and he built Fox to reach them.” (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Ailes Planned for Fox News as Far Back as 1970 - Ailes began envisioning a conservative news provider to counter what he considers the mainstream media’s “liberal bias” as early as 1970, when he became heavily involved with a Nixon administration plan to plant conservative propaganda in news outlets across the nation (see Summer 1970). In 1971, he headed a short-lived private conservative television news network, Television News Incorporated (TVN—see 1971-1975), which foundered in 1975 in part because of its reporters and staffers balking at reporting Ailes-crafted propaganda instead of “straight” news. Ailes told a New York Times reporter in 1991 that he was leaving politics, saying: “I’ve been in politics for 25 years. It’s always been a detour. Now my business has taken a turn back to my entertainment and corporate clients.” But Ailes misinformed the reporter. He continued to work behind the scenes on the 1992 Bush re-election campaign, providing the campaign with attack points against Democratic contender Bill Clinton (D-AR) and earning the nickname “Deep Throat” from Bush aides. Though Ailes did do work in entertainment, helping develop tabloid television programs such as The Maury Povich Show and heading the cable business news network CNBC for three years, Ailes has continued to stay heavily involved in Republican politics ever since. Ailes became involved in the creation of Fox News in early 1996 after he left NBC, which had canceled his show America’s Talking and launched a new cable news network, MSNBC, without asking for Ailes’s involvement. Fox News is owned by News Corporation (sometimes abbreviated NewsCorp), an international media conglomerate owned by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch. When NBC allowed Ailes to leave, Jack Welch, the chairman of NBC’s parent company General Electric, said, “We’ll rue the day we let Roger and Rupert team up.” Murdoch has already tried and failed to buy CNN, and has already begun work on crafting news programs with hard-right slants, such as a 60 Minutes-like show that, reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “would feature a weekly attack-and-destroy piece targeting a liberal politician or social program.” Dan Cooper, the managing editor of the pre-launch Fox News, later says, “The idea of a masquerade was already around prior to Roger arriving.” Eric Burns, who will work for ten years as a Fox News media critic before leaving the network, will say in 2011: “There’s your answer right there to whether Fox News is a conventional news network or whether it has an agenda. That’s its original sin.” To get Fox News onto millions of cable boxes at once, Murdoch paid hundreds of millions of dollars to cable providers to air his new network. Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth will later write: “Murdoch’s offer shocked the industry. He was prepared to shell out half a billion dollars just to buy a news voice.” Dickinson will write, “Even before it took to the air, Fox News was guaranteed access to a mass audience, bought and paid for.” Ailes praised Murdoch’s “nerve,” saying, “This is capitalism and one of the things that made this country great.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)
Using Conservative Talk Radio as Template - In 2003, NBC’s Bob Wright will note that Fox News uses conservative talk radio as a template, saying: “[W]hat Fox did was say, ‘Gee, this is a way for us to distinguish ourselves. We’re going to grab this pent-up anger—shouting—that we’re seeing on talk radio and put it onto television.’” CBS News anchor Dan Rather will be more critical, saying that Fox is a reflection of Murdoch’s own conservative political views. “Mr. Murdoch has a business, a huge worldwide conglomerate business,” Rather says. “He finds it to his benefit to have media outlets, press outlets, that serve his business interests. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a free country. It’s not an indictable offense. But by any clear analysis the bias is towards his own personal, political, partisan agenda… primarily because it fits his commercial interests.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
Putting Ideology Over Journalistic Ethics, Practices - Ailes, determined not to let journalists with ethical qualms disrupt Fox News as they had his previous attempt at creating a conservative news network (see 1971-1975), brought a hand-picked selection of reporters and staffers with demonstrable conservative ideologies from NBC, including business anchor Neil Cavuto and Steve Doocy, who hosts the morning talk show “Fox and Friends.” Both Cavuto and Doocy are Ailes loyalists who, Dickinson will say, owe their careers to Ailes. Ailes then tapped Brit Hume, a veteran ABC correspondent and outspoken conservative, to host the main evening news show, and former Bush speechwriter Tony Snow as a commentator and host. John Moody, a forcefully conservative ABC News veteran, heads the newsroom. Ailes then went on a purge of Fox News staffers. Joe Peyronnin, who headed the network before Ailes displaced him, later recalls: “There was a litmus test. He was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals.” Ailes confronted reporters with suspected “liberal bias” with “gotcha” questions such as “Why are you a liberal?” Staffers with mainstream media experience were forced to defend their employment at such venues as CBS News, which he calls the “Communist Broadcast System.” He fired scores of staffers for perceived liberal leanings and replaced them with fiery young ideologues whose inexperience helps Ailes shape the network to his vision. Before the network aired its first production, Ailes had a seminal meeting with Moody. “One of the problems we have to work on here together when we start this network is that most journalists are liberals,” he told Moody. “And we’ve got to fight that.” Reporters and staffers knew from the outset that Fox, despite its insistence on being “fair and balanced” (see 1995), was going to present news with a conservative slant, and if that did not suit them, they would not be at Fox long. A former Fox News anchor later says: “All outward appearances were that it was just like any other newsroom. But you knew that the way to get ahead was to show your color—and that your color was red.” The anchor refers to “red” as associated with “red state,” commonly used on news broadcasts to define states with Republican majorities. Ailes will always insist that while his network’s talk-show hosts, such as O’Reilly, Hannity, and others, are frankly conservative, Fox’s hard-news shows maintain what he calls a “bright, clear line” that separates conservative cant from reported fact. In practice, this is not the case. Before Fox aired its first broadcast, Ailes tasked Moody to keep the newsroom in line. Early each morning, Ailes has a meeting with Moody, often with Hume on speakerphone from the Washington office, where the day’s agenda is crafted. Moody then sends a memo to the staff telling them how to slant the day’s news coverage according to the agenda of those on “the Second Floor,” as Ailes and his vice presidents are known. A former Fox anchor will later say: “There’s a chain of command, and it’s followed. Roger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.” After the 2004 presidential election, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will admit, “We at the White House were getting them talking points.”
Targeting a Niche Demographic - Fox New’s primary viewership defies most demographic wisdom. According to information taken in 2011, it averages 65 years of age (the common “target demographic” for age is the 18-24 bracket), and only 1.38% of its viewers are African-American. Perhaps the most telling statistics are for the Hannity show: 86% describe themselves as pro-business, 84% believe government “does too much,” 78% are “Christian conservatives,” 78% do not support gay rights, 75% are “tea party backers,” 73% support the National Rifle Association, 66% lack college degrees, and 65% are over age 50. A former NewsCorp colleague will say: “He’s got a niche audience and he’s programmed to it beautifully. He feeds them exactly what they want to hear.” Other polls from the same time period consistently show that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers, and one study shows that Fox News viewers become more misinformed the more they watch the network’s programming.
Ailes's Security Concerns Affect Operations, Broadcasting - Ailes is uncomfortable in his office, a second-floor corner suite in the Fox News building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. His office is too close to the street for his tastes; he believes that gay activists intend to try to harm him, either by attacks from outside the building or through assaults carried out from inside. He also believes that he is a top target for al-Qaeda assassins. Ailes barricades himself behind an enormous mahogany desk, insists on having “bombproof” glass installed in the windows, surrounds himself with heavily-armed bodyguards, and carries a firearm (he has a concealed-carry permit). A monitor on his desk shows him what is transpiring outside his office door; once, when he sees a dark-skinned man wearing what he thought was Muslim garb on the monitor, he will order an immediate lockdown of the entire building, shouting, “This man could be bombing me!” The man will turn out to be a janitor. A source close to Ailes will say, “He has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim—which is consistent with the ideology of his network.” A large security detail escorts him daily to and from his Garrison, New Jersey home to his Manhattan offices; in Garrison, his house is surrounded by empty homes Ailes has bought to enhance his personal security. According to sources close to Ailes, Fox News’s slant on gay rights and Islamist extremism is colored by Ailes’s fear and hatred of the groups.
'We Work for Fox' - Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and Reagan biographer, will say: “Fox News is totalized: It’s an entire network, devoted 24 hours a day to an entire politics, and it’s broadcast as ‘the news.’ That’s why Ailes is a genius. He’s combined opinion and journalism in a wholly new way—one that blurs the distinction between the two.” Dickinson will write: “Fox News stands as the culmination of everything Ailes tried to do for Nixon back in 1968. He has created a vast stage set, designed to resemble an actual news network, that is literally hard-wired into the homes of millions of America’s most conservative voters. GOP candidates then use that forum to communicate directly to their base, bypassing the professional journalists Ailes once denounced as ‘matadors’ who want to ‘tear down the social order’ with their ‘elitist, horse-dung, socialist thinking.’ Ironically, it is Ailes who has built the most formidable propaganda machine ever seen outside of the Communist bloc, pioneering a business model that effectively monetizes conservative politics through its relentless focus on the bottom line.” Former Bush speechwriter David Frum will observe: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us. Now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)

Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke.Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke. [Source: Department of Defense]While detailed plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq are well underway, the administration realizes that the American people are not strongly behind such an invasion. They aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and unsure about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. White House and Pentagon officials decide that using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” in the national media can help change hearts and minds (see April 20, 2008). Assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria “Torie” Clarke, a former public relations executive, intends to achieve what she calls “information dominance.” The news culture is saturated by “spin” and combating viewpoints; Clarke argues that opinions are most swayed by voices seen as authoritative and completely independent. Clarke has already put together a system within the Pentagon to recruit what she calls “key influentials,” powerful and influential people from all areas who, with the proper coaching, can generate support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s agenda. After 9/11, when each of the news networks rushed to land its own platoon of retired military officers to provide commentary and analysis, Clarke saw an opportunity: such military analysts are the ultimate “key influentials,” having tremendous authority and credibility with average Americans. They often get more airtime than network reporters, Clarke notes. More importantly, they are not just explaining military minutiae, but telling viewers how to interpret events. Best of all, while they are in the news media, they are not creatures of the media. Reporter David Barstow will write in 2008, “They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.” And even those without such ties tended to support the military and the government. Retired Army general and ABC analyst William Nash will say: “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army. It is my life.”
'Writing the Op-Ed' for the War - As a result, according to Clarke’s aide Don Meyer, Clarke decides to make the military analysts the main focus of the public relations push to build a case for invading Iraq. They, not journalists, will “be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Meyer recalls. The military analysts are not handled by the Pentagon’s regular press office, but are lavished with attention and “perks” in a separate office run by another aide to Clarke, Brent Krueger. According to Krueger, the military analysts will, in effect, be “writing the op-ed” for the war.
Working in Tandem with the White House - The Bush administration works closely with Clarke’s team from the outset. White House officials request lists of potential recruits for the team, and suggests names for the lists. Clarke’s team writes summaries of each potential analyst, describing their backgrounds, business and political affiliations, and their opinions on the war. Rumsfeld has the final say on who is on the team: “Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” Krueger will say. Ultimately, the Pentagon recruits over 75 retired officers, though some only participate briefly or sporadically.
Saturation Coverage on Cable - The largest contingent of analysts is affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the networks with 24-hour cable news coverage. Many analysts work for ABC and CBS as well. Many also appear on radio news and talk broadcasts, publish op-ed articles in newspapers, and are quoted in press reports, magazine articles, and in Web sites and blogs. Barstow, a New York Times reporter, will note that “[a]t least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.”
Representing the Defense Industry - Many of the analysts have close ties with defense contractors and/or lobbying firms involved in helping contractors win military contracts from the Pentagon:
bullet Retired Army general James Marks, who begins working as an analyst for CNN in 2004 (until his firing three years later—see July 2007) is a senior executive with McNeil Technologies, and helps that firm land military and intelligence contracts from the government.
bullet Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
bullet CBS military analyst Jeffrey McCausland is a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. His team proclaims on the firm’s Web site, “We offer clients access to key decision makers.”
bullet Shortly after signing with CBS, retired Air Force general Joseph Ralston became vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen (also an analyst for CNN). The Cohen Group says of itself on its Web site, “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market—whether in the United States or abroad—requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers.”
Ideological Ties - Many military analysts have political and ideological ties to the Bush administration and its supporters. These include:
bullet Two of NBC’s most familiar analysts, retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, are on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to push for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. (Barstow 4/20/2008) Additionally, McCaffrey is chief of BR McCaffrey Associates, which “provides strategic, analytic, and advocacy consulting services to businesses, non-profits, governments, and international organizations.” (Kurtz 4/21/2008) Other members include senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and prominent neoconservatives Richard Perle and William Kristol. (Cohen 4/28/2008) Both McCaffrey and Downing head their own consulting firms and are board members of major defense contractors.
bullet Retired Army general Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 through 2007, shares with the Bush national security team the belief that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was due to negative media coverage, and the commitment to prevent that happening with the Iraq war. In 1980, Vallely co-wrote a paper accusing the US press of failing to defend the nation from what he called “enemy” propaganda—negative media coverage—during the Vietnam War. “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. Vallely advocated something he called “MindWar,” an all-out propaganda campaign by the government to convince US citizens of the need to support a future war effort. Vallely’s “MindWar” would use network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” (Barstow 4/20/2008)
bullet Ironically, Clarke herself will eventually leave the Pentagon and become a commentator for ABC News. (Goodman 4/22/2008)
Seducing the Analysts - Analysts describe a “powerfully seductive environment,” in Barstow’s words, created for them in the Pentagon: the uniformed escorts to Rumsfeld’s private conference room, lavish lunches served on the best government china, embossed name cards, “blizzard[s] of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, says: “[Y]ou have no idea. You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” Allard calls the entire process “psyops on steroids,” using flattery and proximity to gain the desired influence and effect. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’” Allard says. “It’s more subtle.”
Keeping Pentagon Connections Hidden - In return, the analysts are instructed not to quote their briefers directly or to mention their contacts with the Pentagon. The idea is always to present a facade of independent thought. One example is the analysts’ almost perfect recitation of Pentagon talking points during a fall and winter 2002 PR campaign (see Fall and Winter 2002). (Barstow 4/20/2008)

Fox News is the only national television news broadcaster to cover a speech by President Bush on Iraq. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh calls the lack of coverage by other broadcasters the “final confirmation” of liberal bias among the news media. “If there was any remaining doubt about the networks’ editorial bias and ideological preferences,” he tells his listeners, “there shouldn’t be any longer.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 149-150)

Several journalists question a recent White House press conference that was entirely scripted and orchestrated by the White House with the knowing complicity of the reporters present (see March 6, 2003). Journalist Russell Mokhiber, who attends the conference, later says it “might have been the most controlled presidential news conference in recent memory.… The president had a list of 17 reporters who he was going to call on. He didn’t take any questions from reporters raising their hands.” White House communications director Dan Bartlett later retorts, “If you have a message you’re trying to deliver, a news conference can go in a different direction.” However, “In this case, we know what the questions are going to be, and those are the ones we want to answer.” (Rampton 4/2003)
'Deferential Reporters' - ABC political reporter and commentator Sam Donaldson, a fixture of the White House press corps during the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations, later recalls “wincing” as he watched “deferential reporters” questioning President Bush during the “scripted” conference. Donaldson will say: “People ask me, ‘Do you wish you were back at the White House?’ And I say, ‘No, not really.’ [But] there are moments like Thursday night when—yeah—I want to be there!” Veteran White House reporter Larry McQuillan of USA Today says Bush’s “call sheet” of preselected reporters “demeaned the reporters who were called on as much as those who weren’t.” Another correspondent at the conference later says: “They completely played us. What’s the point of having a press conference if you’re not going to answer questions? It was calculated on so many different levels.” New York Observer commentator Michael Crowley notes that the press corps itself must share some of the blame: “Although some asked reasonably pointed questions, most did with a tone of extreme deference… that suggested a skittishness, to which they will admit, about being seen as unpatriotic or disrespectful of a commander in chief on the eve of war. Few made any effort to follow up their questions after Mr. Bush’s recitation of arguments that were more speech-like than extemporaneous: Saddam Hussein is a threat to America, Iraq has not disarmed, Sept. 11 must never happen again.… The press corps seemed mainly to serve as a prop, providing Mr. Bush with an opportunity to deliver another pro-war speech while appearing to bravely face the music.” ABC’s Terry Moran reflects that he and the rest of the press corps shirked their duty: “The point is to get [the president] to answer questions, not just to stand up there and use all the majesty of the presidency to amplify his image.” (Crowley 3/16/2003)
'Kabuki' Conference - Salon’s Eric Boehlert will later write: “The entire press conference performance was a farce—the staging, the seating, the questions, the order, and the answers. Nothing about it was real or truly informative. It was, nonetheless, unintentionally revealing. Not revealing about the war, Bush’s rationale, or about the bloody, sustained conflict that was about to be unleashed inside Iraq. Reporters helped shed virtually no light on those key issues. Instead, the calculated kabuki press conference, stage-managed by the White House employing the nation’s most elite reporters as high-profile extras, did reveal what viewers needed to know about the mind-set of the [mainstream media] on the eve of war.” (Boehlert 5/4/2006)

President Bush holds a press conference—only his eighth since taking office—in which he conflates Iraq and Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 attacks and the global war on terror at least 12 times. For instance, he says: “Iraq is a part of the war on terror. It’s a country that trains terrorists; it’s a country that could arm terrorists. Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country.” Perhaps his most alarming statement is, “September the 11th should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield.” (White House 3/6/2003; Boehlert 5/4/2006; Moyers 4/25/2007) Bush insists that he has not yet decided to take military action against Iraq (see March 6, 2003). (Boehlert 5/4/2006)
Scripted and Orchestrated - Oddly, none of the 94 assembled journalists challenge Bush’s conflations, no one asks about Osama bin Laden, and no one asks follow-up questions to elicit information past the sound bites Bush delivers. There is a reason for that. In 2007, PBS’s Bill Moyers will report that “the White House press corps will ask no hard questions… about those claims,” because the entire press conference is scripted. “Sure enough, the president’s staff has given him a list of reporters to call on,” Moyers will report. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer later admits to giving Bush the list, which omits reporters from such media outlets as Time, Newsweek, USA Today, and the Washington Post. After calling on CNN reporter John King, Bush says, “This is a scripted—” and then breaks into laughter. King, like his colleagues, continues as if nothing untoward is happening. Author and media commentator Eric Boehlert will later say: “[Bush] sort of giggled and laughed. And, the reporters sort of laughed. And, I don’t know if it was out of embarrassment for him or embarrassment for them because they still continued to play along after his question was done. They all shot up their hands and pretended they had a chance of being called on.” Several questions later, Bush pretends to choose from the available reporters, saying: “Let’s see here… Elizabeth… Gregory… April.… Did you have a question or did I call upon you cold?” The reporter asks, “How is your faith guiding you?” Bush responds: “My faith sustains me because I pray daily. I pray for guidance.” Boehlert will later say: “I think it just crystallized what was wrong with the press coverage during the run up to the war. I think they felt like the war was gonna happen and the best thing for them to do was to get out of the way.” (White House 3/6/2003; Boehlert 5/4/2006; Moyers 4/25/2007)
Defending the Press's Complicity - New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, a participant in the conference, will later defends the press corps’ “timid behavior,” in Boehlert’s characterization, by saying: “I think we were very deferential because… it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.” (Boehlert 5/4/2006)
Compliant Media Coverage - The broadcast news media, transmitting the live feed of the conference, could not have been more accommodating, author and media critic Frank Rich will later note. “CNN flashed the White House’s chosen messages in repetitive rotation on the bottom of the screen while the event was still going on—‘People of good will are hoping for peace’ and ‘My job is to protect America.’” After the conference, Fox News commentator Greta van Susteren tells her audience, “What I liked tonight was that in prime time [Bush] said to the American people, my job is to protect the American people.” (Rich 2006, pp. 70)
Follow-Up Coverage Equally Stage-Managed - Boehlert notes that the post-conference coverage is equally one-sided. On MSNBC’s flagship news commentary show, Hardball, host Chris Matthews spends an hour discussing the conference and the upcoming invasion. Matthews invites six guests on. Five are advocates of the war, and one, given a few moments for “balance,” questions some of the assumptions behind the rationale for war. The five pro-war guests include an “independent military analyst,” retired General Montgomery Meigs, who is one of around 75 retired military officers later exposed as participants in a Pentagon propaganda operation designed to promote the war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). (Boehlert 5/4/2006)
Some Criticism Leveled - Several journalists later write harsh critiques of the conference and the media’s complicity (see March-April 2003).

Sheldon Rampton.Sheldon Rampton. [Source: Sheldon Rampton]Author Sheldon Rampton, an expert on public relations and propaganda, observes that the Bush administration uses what he calls “the framework of a ‘propaganda model’ of communication” in releasing information to the public and coordinating communications between administration officials and outsiders (see Early 2002 and Beyond, January 2003, and March 6, 2003). Rampton says such a model’s “strategies and assumptions are fundamentally contrary to a democratic model.… The goal of the propaganda model is simply to achieve efficient indoctrination, and it therefore tends to regard the assumptions of the democratic model as inconvenient obstacles to efficient communication.”
Inherent Contradictions - Rampton notes that using the propaganda model as a communications strategy on such a large scale is impossible in the long term. One problem the Bush administration is facing is in countering the growing disaffection with the US among other nations while simultaneously refusing to listen to criticism from these nations. He cites as examples Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s contemptuous dismissal of European opponents to the Iraq invasion as members of “old Europe” (see January 22, 2003), and Bush’s dismissal of recent worldwide protests with over 11 million participants by saying he doesn’t “decide policy based upon a focus group.” Rampton writes, “Bush’s statement speaks volumes about his inability to think outside the framework of a propaganda model of communication.” The Bush administration is an avid consumer of polls, though it goes to extraordinary lengths to give the impression that it does not. Columnist Joshua Green recently wrote that instead of using polls to determine policy, as the Clinton administration was often accused of doing, in the Bush White House, “[p]olicies are chosen beforehand [and] polls [are] used to spin them.… Because many of Bush’s policies aren’t necessarily popular with a majority of voters, [his pollsters’] job essentially consists of finding words to sell them to the public.” The administration has similar problems with spreading propaganda among foreign nations, particularly among Middle Eastern nations. Rampton writes: “The real problem with the Bush administration is that it doesn’t listen to anything but focus groups. It never thinks of public opinion as worth considering in its own right, and instead merely uses it to refine the message points that go out each day in its ‘Global Messenger’ emails” (see January 2003).
Self-Indoctrination - Rampton notes that while the Bush administration’s propaganda efforts often fail to produce the desired effects, at least to the degree desired, such persistent propaganda practices often have more success in “indoctrinating the propagandist themselves.… The discipline of ‘ensuring message consistency’ cannot hope to succeed at controlling the world’s perceptions of something as broad, sprawling, and contradictory as the Bush administration’s foreign policy. However, it may be successful at enabling people like George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to ignore the warnings coming from Europe and other quarters. As our leaders lose their ability to listen to critics, we face the danger that they will underestimate the risks and costs involved in going to war.” (Rampton 4/2003)

A Wall Street Journal op-ed claims that President Bush never claimed the Iraqis posed an “imminent threat” with their putative WMD programs, and that former ambassador Joseph Wilson is unfairly “moving the goalposts” by saying that the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD never passed what they call the “imminent threat test.” As far back as September 2001, after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration began claiming that Iraq posed a serious threat to the US (see September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, August 2002, and September 6, 2002). Bush had apparently characterized Iraq as an “imminent threat” even before becoming president (see May 17, 2000). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has used the term “imminent threat” (see September 18, 2002), as have other members of the administration, such as press secretary Ari Fleischer, communications chief Dan Bartlett, and Defense Policy Board chief Richard Perle. Vice President Dick Cheney had publicly threatened Iraq with military action as far back as December 2001 (see December 11, 2001). Bush had included Iraq as one of the now-infamous “Axis of Evil” in early 2002 (see January 29, 2002). And Bush, Cheney, and top White House officials had characterized Iraq and Saddam Hussein as a threat since March 2002 (see March 24, 2002, August 15, 2002, August 20, 2002, August 26, 2002, Fall and Winter 2002, September 7, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 13, 2002, September 18, 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 26, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 3, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, January 10, 2003, and March 6, 2003). Wilson will later observe, “While the Journal may have been technically correct that the president had not uttered those exact words, he [and his top officials] walked right up to the phrase.” He will note that Bush’s “staff and administration allies, of course, had been less concerned about splitting hairs as they promoted the invasion.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 367-368)

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh announces the results of a poll finding: “We have a great Gallup poll, folks. Sixty percent of conservatives, 40 percent of moderates, and 18 percent of liberals say the media is too liberal.” Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella later write that Limbaugh “creates an interpretative frame for the information,” with Limbaugh saying, “We all know that moderates are liberals anyway, so that would be 58 percent of liberals and 60 percent of conservatives, that’s over 100 percent of the people who think the media is too liberal.” Neither Jamieson nor Cappella point out the creative mathematics and regrouping Limbaugh is performing. They do note, however, that on Fox News, commentator Tony Snow reports the same poll results, and accuses the “liberal media” of failing to report the poll in a widespread fashion. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 149)

Political scientist Timothy Groseclose of UCLA and economist Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri-Columbia release a study entitled “A Measure of Media Bias” that purports to document the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media. Unfortunately for Groseclose and Milyo’s conclusions, their measure of “bias” is found severely wanting, and they fail to mention the substantial body of scholarly work that challenges their theories. The study contains observations of 20 mainstream news outlets, including national newspapers, news magazines, and network and cable television news channels. (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; MSNBC 12/19/2005; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Previous Positions at Conservative Institutions - Groseclose and Milyo have previously received significant funding for their research from three prominent conservative think tanks: the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. Groseclose has served as a fellow of the Hoover Institution, while Milyo received a $40,500 grant from AEI. Both were named as fellows by the Heritage Foundation. The two authored an article for the conservative American Spectator in 1996.
Flawed Study - Groseclose and Milyo, according to their study, “measure media bias by estimating ideological scores for several major media outlets” based on the frequency with which various think tanks and advocacy organizations were cited approvingly by the media and by members of Congress over a 10-year period. In order to assess media “bias,” the authors assembled the ideological scores given to members of Congress by the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action; examined the floor speeches of selected members to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were cited by those members; used those citations as the basis for an ideological score assigned to each think tank (organizations cited by liberal members were scored as more liberal, whereas organizations cited by conservative members were scored as more conservative); then performed a content analysis of newspapers and TV programs to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were quoted. If a news organization quoted a think tank mentioned by conservative members of Congress, then it was said to have a conservative “bias.” The authors write: “As a simplified example, imagine that there were only two think tanks, and suppose that the New York Times cited the first think tank twice as often as the second. Our method asks: What is the estimated ADA score of a member of Congress who exhibits the same frequency (2:1) in his or her speeches? This is the score that our method would assign the New York Times.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will call the methodology “bizarre,” and will write: “If a member of Congress cites a think tank approvingly, and if that think tank is also cited by a news organization, then the news organization has a ‘bias’ making it an ideological mirror of the member of Congress who cited the think tank. This, as Groseclose and Milyo define it, is what constitutes ‘media bias.’” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005) In December 2005, the parent company of the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and Co., will question the study’s validity, noting: “[I]ts measure of media bias consists entirely of counting the number of mentions of, or quotes from, various think tanks that the researchers determine to be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.‘… And if a think tank is explicitly labeled ‘liberal” or “conservative’ within a story to provide context to readers, that example doesn’t count at all. The researchers simply threw out such mentions.” (Poynter Online 12/21/2005)
Classifying Organizations - Groseclose and Milyo assign “scores” to a variety of partisan and nonpartisan advocacy groups and think tanks. Some of these scores are problematic:
bullet The National Rifle Association (NRA), widely characterized as a strongly conservative organization, scores a 49.5 on a 100-point scale, classifying it as barely conservative;
bullet The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization closely affiliated with the Defense Department, scores a 60.4, classifying it as strongly liberal;
bullet The Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan political organization featuring both Republicans and Democrats on its board and headed by a former Bush administration official, scores a 60.2, classifying it as solidly liberal;
bullet The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization consistently reviled by conservative pundits, scores a 49.8, classifying it as slightly conservative;
bullet The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks political contributions, scores a 66.9, classifying it as highly liberal;
bullet The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense policy think tank chaired by former Democratic House member Dave McCurdy, scores a 33.9, classifying it as more conservative than AEI and the hard-right National Taxpayers Union.
Lack of 'Balance' Indicates Bias in Study - According to Media Matters, Groseclose and Milyo classify news stories as exhibiting a partisan bias if they fail to balance a “liberal” group’s quote with a “conservative” group’s quote, regardless of the nature of the reporting. For example, the authors cite the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which they classify as staunchly liberal, as one of the organizations most often quoted without “balancing” quotes from conservative groups. Media Matters will write, “[B]ecause there are no pro-racism groups of any legitimacy (or on Groseclose and Milyo’s list), such stories will be coded as having a ‘liberal bias.’” In contrast, stories featured in the study that quote a spokesperson from the NRA are often “balanced” by quotes from a “liberal” organization, Handgun Control, Inc., though, as Media Matters will note, that organization renamed itself the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in 2001, and Groseclose and Milyo do not include that name in their statistics, “therefore, it is impossible to determine from reading the study if Groseclose and Milyo’s score reflects post-2001 citations by legislators and the media of the group under its new name.” Moreover, because the study only assigns partisan weight to quotes from advocacy groups or think tanks, if a story cites a member of Congress as taking a position and contrasts that position with a quote from a think tank, that story, according to the authors, is “biased” in favor of the think tank’s position. Media Matters calls this practice “miscategorization.”
Assuming Reporter, News Outlet Bias - One of the most questionable practices in the study is the assumption that if a reporter quotes a source, that reporter—or his or her news outlet—must believe the opinions expressed by that source. Media Matters will write that “most, if not all, reporters across the ideological spectrum would find [that assumption] utterly ridiculous.” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005) The Dow Jones statement will find, “By this logic, a mention of al-Qaeda in a story suggests the newspaper endorses its views, which is obviously not the case.” (Poynter Online 12/21/2005) The authors say that only two mainstream news outlets, Fox News and the Washington Times, slant rightward. The study finds that Fox News’s coverage is quite moderate; in a 2005 interview on MSNBC, Milyo will say that Fox’s news coverage can be equated with the moderate Republicanism of Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), considered the most “liberal”-leaning Republican in Congress. (MSNBC 12/19/2005)
Bias Findings at Odds with History - The study makes some odd conclusions about liberal bias: for example, the Wall Street Journal, whose op-ed page has long avowed itself as a champion of conservative thought, is characterized by the study as having more “liberal bias” than any news outlet surveyed. The authors claim that they studied only news reporting and not editorial writings, but as Media Matters will note, “the Journal is respected on both the right and the left, and it would be shocking to hear even the most rabid right-winger assert that the Journal is America’s most liberal news outlet.” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Methodology Flawed - In December 2005, a spokesman for Dow Jones will call the study “logically suspect and simply baffling.” The statement will note that Groseclose and Milyo only studied four months of Journal reporting, from 2002, while they studied 12 years of CBS News reporting, 11 years of National Public Radio reporting, eight years of reporting from US News and World Report, and two years of reporting from Time Magazine. The Washington Post and Washington Times were also only studied for brief periods. “Yet the researchers provide those findings the same weight as all the others, without bothering to explain that in any meaningful way to the study’s readers,” the statement will note. It will conclude, “Suffice it to say that ‘research’ of this variety would be unlikely to warrant a mention at all in any Wall Street Journal story” (see December 21, 2005).
Failure to Mention Other Studies - The authors fail to mention a large number of previous studies of “media bias.” They do, however, cite three studies that, according to Media Matters, are as “questionable” as this particular study. One assumed that since conservatives say in surveys that the media is biased, then that bias unquestionably exists. The second assumed that news magazines that sold more subscriptions in geographic areas weighted towards Democratic voters were biased in favor of Democrats. The third is an AEI study whose statistics and methodologies were found to be deeply flawed. Groseclose and Milyo ignore one of the most rigorous and exhaustive studies in recent years, a 2000 analysis by the International Communication Association, which found that newspapers and news magazines exhibited little measurable bias, and television network news broadcasts exhibited measurable but relatively insubstantial bias. That study included 59 other studies, all of which go unmentioned in the Groseclose-Milyo study.
Conservative Bibliography - Media Matters will write that the authors seem almost unaware that other studies of media bias exist. The study’s bibliography is heavily freighted with citations from conservative media critics such as Brent Bozell (founder of the Media Research Center) and Reed Irvine (the late founder of Accuracy in Media). The bibliography also cites an article from the hard-right Internet publication WorldNetDaily. It does not cite any entries from dozens of well-known scholarly journals of communication and media studies, most of which have examined the topic of media bias in their pages. (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005)

The authors of a new media study say that they were “surprised” to find how much of a “liberal bias” exists in the American press. The study will later be found to be fundamentally flawed in its methodology and its conclusions (see December 2004). Even the Wall Street Journal and the right-wing Internet media and gossip outlet the Drudge Report are liberally biased, authors Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo find. The most centrist media outlet of the ones studied is, the authors claim, PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. The news report on the study, by the UCLA Newsroom, claims the report is “the first successful attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them accordingly.” Groseclose says: “I suspected that many media outlets would tilt to the left because surveys have shown that reporters tend to vote more Democrat than Republican. But I was surprised at just how pronounced the distinctions are.” Milyo adds, “Overall, the major media outlets are quite moderate compared to members of Congress, but even so, there is a quantifiable and significant bias in that nearly all of them lean to the left.” The news report explains that the authors “based their research on a standard gauge of a lawmaker’s support for liberal causes. Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) tracks the percentage of times that each lawmaker votes on the liberal side of an issue. Based on these votes, the ADA assigns a numerical score to each lawmaker, where ‘100’ is the most liberal and ‘0’ is the most conservative. After adjustments to compensate for disproportionate representation that the Senate gives to low-population states and the lack of representation for the District of Columbia, the average ADA score in Congress (50.1) was assumed to represent the political position of the average US voter. Groseclose and Milyo then directed 21 research assistants—most of them college students—to scour US media coverage of the past 10 years. They tallied the number of times each media outlet referred to think tanks and policy groups, such as the left-leaning NAACP or the right-leaning Heritage Foundation. Next, they did the same exercise with speeches of US lawmakers. If a media outlet displayed a citation pattern similar to that of a lawmaker, then Groseclose and Milyo’s method assigned both a similar ADA score.” “A media person would have never done this study,” Groseclose says. “It takes a Congress scholar even to think of using ADA scores as a measure. And I don’t think many media scholars would have considered comparing news stories to Congressional speeches.” According to the study, the “leftward tilt” of news broadcasts by ABC and CBS is “nearly perfectly balanced” by the slight rightward tilt of Fox News. “Past researchers have been able to say whether an outlet is conservative or liberal, but no one has ever compared media outlets to lawmakers,” Groseclose says. “Our work gives a precise characterization of the bias and relates it to known commodity—politicians.” (Sullivan 12/14/2005)

The media discovers a study from late 2004 purporting to show that the mainstream media in the US is heavily biased towards liberal views (see December 2004 and December 14, 2005). On December 19, MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, a conservative, interviews one of the study’s authors, Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri-Columbia. Milyo repeats the study’s contention that news outlets such as CBS News, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal are heavily liberal in their coverage. Carlson calls the statement “terrifying.” Milyo repeats the assertion often made by conservatives that most reporters “tend to be about as liberal as the voters in Berkeley, California.… And the same is true in academia too, by the way, and you know, so that doesn’t mean that those preconceptions or biases or favoritism infects the job that people do.” (MSNBC 12/19/2005) The study is also cited on the December 19 edition of Fox News’s morning show, Fox and Friends (Fox News 12/19/2005; Media Matters 12/21/2005) , and that evening on Fox’s Special Report with Brit Hume. (Fox News 12/19/2005) Several other press outlets, such as CBS News, the Memphis, Tennessee Commercial Appeal, and Investors Business Daily also report on the study. (Media Matters 12/21/2005) On December 20, CNN commentator Jack Cafferty tells viewers: “Let’s talk about media bias. It’s real, according to a new study led by the University of California at Los Angeles, which shows there is a strong liberal bias. Well, there’s a bulletin. Researchers found out that of 20 main media outlets, 18 scored to the left of center. The most liberal of all were the news pages of the Wall Street Journal, not the editorial pages, the news pages. Followed two, three, and four by the CBS Evening News, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. In this study, only Special Report with Brit Hume over there on the F-word network [Fox News] and the Washington Times scored to the right of the average voter. The most centrist media outlets in the country, The News Hour With Jim Lehrer and USA Today.” (CNN 12/20/2005)

The Wall Street Journal’s parent company, Dow Jones and Co., issues a statement that challenges the findings of a recent study claiming that the Journal is one of the most “liberally biased” news outlets in America (see December 2004 and December 14, 2005). Dow Jones states: “The Wall Street Journal’s news coverage is relentlessly neutral. Of that, we are confident. By contrast, the research technique used in this study hardly inspires confidence. In fact, it is logically suspect and simply baffling in some of its details. First, its measure of media bias consists entirely of counting the number of mentions of, or quotes from, various think tanks that the researchers determine to be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’ By this logic, a mention of al-Qaeda in a story suggests the newspaper endorses its views, which is obviously not the case. And if a think tank is explicitly labeled ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ within a story to provide context to readers, that example doesn’t count at all. The researchers simply threw out such mentions.” The statement criticizes the study’s failure to “characterize” a number of “important policy groups” such as, “say, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the AFL-CIO, or the Concord Coalition, but that does include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?” It goes on to call the study’s attempt to rank the various groups “simply bizarre.” The statement concludes, “Suffice it to say that ‘research’ of this variety would be unlikely to warrant a mention at all in any Wall Street Journal story.” (Poynter Online 12/21/2005)

Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard.Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times receives 8,000 pages of Pentagon e-mail messages, transcripts and records through a lawsuit. It subsequently reports on a systematic and highly orchestrated “psyops” (psychological operations) media campaign waged by the Defense Department against the US citizenry, using the American media to achieve their objectives. At the forefront of this information manipulation campaign is a small cadre of retired military officers known to millions of TV and radio news audience members as “military analysts.” These “independent” analysts appear on thousands of news and opinion broadcasts specifically to generate favorable media coverage of the Bush administration’s wartime performance. The group of officers are familiar faces to those who get their news from television and radio, billed as independent analysts whose long careers enable them to give what New York Times reporter David Barstow calls “authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.” However, the analysts are not nearly as independent as the Pentagon would like for Americans to believe. Barstow writes: “[T]he Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse—an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.… These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.”
Administration 'Surrogates' - The documents repeatedly refer to the analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who can be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.” According to the records, the administration routinely uses the analysts as, in Barstow’s words, “a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents.” When news articles revealed that US troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor (see March 2003 and After), a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues, “I think our analysts—properly armed—can push back in that arena.” In 2005, Ten analysts were flown to Guantanamo to counter charges that prisoners were being treated inhumanely; the analysts quickly and enthusiastically repeated their talking points in a variety of television and radio broadcasts (see June 24-25, 2005).
Ties to Defense Industry - Most of the analysts, Barstow writes, have deep and complex “ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.” The analysts and the networks almost never reveal these business relationships to their viewers; sometimes even the networks are unaware of just how deep those business connections extend. Between then, the fifty or so analysts “represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.” Some of the analysts admit to using their special access to garner marketing, networking, and business opportunities. John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including from Iraq. In company promotional materials, Garrett says that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Garrett’s access and experience helps him “to know in advance—and in detail—how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies. Garrett calls this an inevitable overlap between his various roles, and says that in general, “That’s good for everybody.”
Exclusive Access to White House, Defense Officials - The analysts have been granted unprecedented levels of access to the White House and the Pentagon, including:
bullet hundreds of private briefings with senior military officials, including many with power over contracting and budget matters;
bullet private tours of Iraq;
bullet access to classified information;
bullet private briefings with senior White House, State Department, and Justice Department officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Conversely, analysts who do not cooperate take a risk. “You’ll lose all access,” says CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist Jeffrey McCausland.
Quid Pro Quo - Fox News analyst and retired Army lieutenant colenel Timur Eads, who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a rapidly growing military contractor, later says, “We knew we had extraordinary access.” Eads confirms that he and other analysts often held off on criticizing the administration for fear that “some four-star [general] could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’” Eads believes that he and the other analysts were misled about the Iraqi security forces, calling the Pentagon’s briefings about those forces’ readiness a “snow job.” But Eads said nothing about his doubts on television. His explanation: “Human nature.” Several analysts recall their own “quid pro quo” for the Pentagon in the months before the invasion (see Early 2003). And some analysts were far more aboveboard in offering quid pro quos for their media appearances. Retired Army general Robert Scales, Jr, an analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio, and whose consulting company advises several firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, asked for high-level Pentagon briefings in 2006. In an e-mail, he told officials: “Recall the stuff I did after my last visit. I will do the same this time.”
Repeating White House Talking Points - In return, the analysts have, almost to a man, echoed administration talking points about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, even when some of them believed the information they were given was false or inflated. Some now acknowledge they did so—and continue to do so—for fear of losing their access, which in turn jeopardizes their business relationships. Some now regret their participation in the propoganda effort, and admit they were used as puppets while pretending to be independent military analysts. Bevelacqua says, “It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.’” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, calls the campaign a sophisticated information operation aimed, not at foreign governments or hostile populaces, but against the American people. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he says (see Late 2006). The Pentagon denies using the military analysts for propaganda purposes, with spokesman Bryan Whitman saying it was “nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people.” It is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department,” Whitman says. And other analysts, such as McCausland, say that they never allowed their outside business interests to affect their on-air commentaries. “I’m not here representing the administration,” McCausland says. Some say they used their positions to even criticize the war in Iraq. But according to a close analysis of their performances by a private firm retained by the Pentagon to evaluate the analysts, they performed to the Pentagon’s complete satisfaction (see 2005 and Beyond).
Enthusiastic Cooperation - The analysts are paid between $500 and $1,000 per appearance by the networks, but, according to the transcripts, they often speak as if the networks and the media in general are the enemy. They often speak of themselves as operating behind enemy lines. Some offered the Pentagon advice on how to outmaneuver the networks, or, as one said to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some alerted Pentagon officials of planned news stories. Some sent copies of their private correspondence with network executives to the Pentagon. Many enthusiastically echoed and even added to administration talking points (see Early 2007). (Barstow 4/20/2008) Several analysts say that based on a Pentagon briefing, they would then pitch an idea for a segment to a producer or network booker. Sometimes, the analysts claim, they even helped write the questions for the anchors to ask during a segment. (Barstow 4/21/2008)
Consequences and Repercussions - Some of the analysts are dismayed to learn that they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents, and some deny that their Pentagon briefings were anything but, in the words of retired Army general and CNN analyst David Grange, “upfront information.” Others note that they sometimes disagreed with the administration on the air. Scales claims, “None of us drink the Kool-Aid.” Others deny using their access for business gain. Retired general Carlton Shepperd says that the two are “[n]ot related at all.” But not all of the analysts disagree with the perception that they are little more than water carriers for the Pentagon. Several recall being chewed out by irate defense officials minutes after their broadcasts, and one, retired Marine colonel Wiliam Cowan of Fox News, recalls being fired—by the Pentagon, not by Fox—from his analyst position after issuing a mild criticism of the Pentagon’s war strategies (see August 3-4, 2005). (Barstow 4/20/2008)

Former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan, in his book What Happened, provides his observations on the so-called “liberal media.” McClellan writes: “I’m often asked about the ‘liberal media’ critique. Is it true? Is the problem with Washington in part a result of the fact that left-wing journalists are, in effect, at war with conservative politicians and trying to bring them down? My answer is always the same.”
Less Pronounced Leftward Tilt to Reporting - “It’s probably true that most reporters, writers, and TV journalists are personally liberal or leftward leaning, and tend to vote Democratic,” he writes. “Polls and surveys of media professionals bear this out (see February 24, 2009). But this tilt to the left has probably become less pronounced in recent years, with the ascendancy of a wider variety of news sources, including Fox News.… And more important, everything I’ve seen, both as White House press secretary and as a longtime observer of the political scene and the media, suggests that any liberal bias actually has minimal impact on the way the American public is informed.” McClellan notes that, in his opinion, “the vast majority of reporters—including those in the White House press corps—are honest, fair-minded, and professional. They try hard to tell all sides of the stories they report (see March 6, 2003), and they certainly don’t treat information or statements coming from a conservative administration with excessive harshness or exaggerated skepticism. And even when a bit of bias does seep through, I believe the public sees it exactly for what it is.”
Press Corps 'Too Deferential to the White House' regarding Iraq - McClellan writes: “We in the Bush administration had no difficulty in getting our messages out to the American people. If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war with Iraq. The collapse of the administration’s rationale for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should have never come as such a surprise. The public should have been made much more aware, before the fact, of the uncertainties, doubts, and caveats that underlay the intelligence about the regime of Saddam Hussein. The administration did little to convey those nuances to the people; the press should have picked up the slack but largely failed to do so because their focus was elsewhere—on covering the march to war instead of the necessity of war. In this case, the ‘liberal case’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”
'Liberal-Oriented Media ... a Good Thing' for Countering Right-Leaning Administrations - He continues: “I’ll even go a step further. I’m inclined to believe that a liberal-oriented media in the United States should be viewed as a good thing. When I look back at the last several presidential administrations—the two Bushes, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford—I see conservative/centrist leaders, either right of center or just left of center, who pursued mainstream policies designed to satisfy the vast bulk of middle-class American voters. All of these presidents were at least moderate on economic policy, generally pro-business in their orientation, and within the mainstream in most other issues, from foreign policy to education to the environment. And the Congressional leaders they worked with were, generally speaking, from the same mold—conservative or centrist. Over the past 50 years, there have been no flaming liberals in positions of greatest power in American politics.”
'Comforting the Afflicted and Afflicting the Comfortable' - “Under these circumstances, a generally liberal or left-leaning media can serve an important, useful role,” McClellan writes. “It can stand up for the interests of people and causes that get short shrift from conservative or mainstream politicians: racial and ethnic minorities, women, working people, the poor, the disenfranchised. As the old saying goes, a liberal reporter ought to take up the cause of ‘comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,’ speaking out on issues that otherwise would be neglected or ignored, exposing wrongdoing, and helping to keep the powerful in government and business honest.”
Welcomes 'Skeptical, Untrusting' Media - McClellan continues: “Furthermore, I welcome media that are skeptical and untrusting. The more so the better—as long as they are honest and fair. Those who are in positions of power should have to continually earn the trust of the governed. They should be constantly challenged to prove their policies are right, to prove they can be trusted, and to prove they are accountable. That is the way we are more likely to get to the important, sometimes hard truth.”
Fixation on 'Controversy' Obscures 'Larger Truths' - He concludes: “So I don’t agree with those who excoriate the ‘liberal media.‘… The real problem with the national media is their overemphasis on controversy, the excessive focus on who is winning and who is losing in Washington, and the constant search for something or someone to pick on and attack. These bad habits too often cause the larger truths that matter most to get lost in the mix.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 156-158)

Within hours of Pittsburgh resident Ashley Todd’s claim that she was attacked by a black Barack Obama supporter whom, she says, carved a “B” (for “Barack”) into her face during the attack (see October 22, 2008), conservative blogs and political Web sites begin an outpouring of enraged and supportive posts and articles supporting Todd and lambasting the Obama campaign and the “liberal media” which, they say, will do its best to cover up the alleged attack. Todd uses her Twitter account, and her connections as a member of the College Republicans and a McCain campaign volunteer, to spread the word about her alleged attack. The photograph of her and her wounds, taken by her friend Dan Garcia and given to police and the College Republicans, is quickly posted on the popular conservative news and gossip site Drudge Report, which calls the attack a “mutilation.” The Drudge article takes the controversy to a national level. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008; Sargent 10/24/2008; Dupuy 10/24/2008)
Bloggers Respond - Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, writing for the popular blog Instapundit, uses the Drudge article for the basis of his own post (repeating the claim that Todd was “mutilated”), and writes, “This is so serious that I predict it will get almost one-tenth as much national coverage as something some guy may have yelled at a Palin rally once.” He repeats a comment from another blog that says, “But, were it a black woman with an ‘M’ carved in her cheek [presumably for ‘McCain’], we’d be getting 24/7 coverage.” (Glenn Reynolds 10/23/2008) Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey, writing for another popular blog, Hot Air, calls the attack a “maiming,” though he does not blame the Obama campaign for it, instead writing that “this particular criminal sounds like he’s a couple of bricks short of a load even for that crowd.” Morrissey initially resists the idea that Todd may be perpetuating a hoax, writing, “Not too many young women would scar their faces just to create a political hoax,” but later admits that Todd lied and calls her a “very, very disturbed young woman.” (Ed Morrissey 10/23/2008) A blogger for College Politico calls the attack “horrifying” and derides bloggers at the liberal Daily Kos for being “unsympathetic,” citing comments that expressed doubts about Todd’s veracity, calling them “deprived” (apparently intending to call them “depraved”) and saying that the Kos bloggers “have absolutely no reason to doubt her.” He goes on to criticize conservative bloggers who also express their doubts about Todd’s story, calls some of the skepticism “idiotic,” and says the fact that the “B” is carved backwards “MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” (caps in the original). The blogger later posts updates acknowledging that the story is a hoax, and calls Todd “the lowest level of scum.” (College Politico 10/24/2008; College Politico 10/24/2008) A blogger calling himself “Patrick” for the conservative Political Byline posts the picture of Todd and writes, “So, this is what they do to people who support McCain.” In his title, he says Todd’s attacker is “One of Barry’s fans, I’m sure,” referring to Senator Obama, and calls Obama the “Marxist Magic Negro.” Like the others, he eventually acknowledges that the story is a hoax. (Political Byline 10/24/2008)
Malkin Expresses Doubts - One conservative blogger who does not immediately leap on the Todd story is Michelle Malkin. When the story breaks, she writes of her suspicions about the “B” being carved so neatly into Todd’s face, and carved backwards, and how she finds Todd’s initial refusal to accept medical treatment questionable. Before Todd admits to the fraud, Malkin writes: “We have enough low-lifes and thugs in the world running loose and causing campaign chaos and fomenting hatred without having to make them up. I’ve been blowing the whistle on the real, left-wing rage not on the front page and in-your-face tactics throughout the election season. Hate crimes hoaxes—by anyone, of any political persuasion, and of any color—diminish us all.” (Michelle Malkin 10/23/2008)
Presidential Campaigns Respond - The McCain campaign issues a statement denouncing the attack as “sick and disgusting”; the Obama campaign issues a statement deploring the attack and demanding that Todd’s assailant be quickly brought to justice. Both McCain and his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), telephone Todd with expressions of concern and support. The Pennsylvania communications director for the McCain campaign, Peter Feldman, quickly spreads the story, along with the photo of Todd, to reporters around the state, along with what reporter Greg Sargent will call “an incendiary version of the hoax story about the attack on a McCain volunteer well before the facts of the case were known or established.” Apparently Feldman is the person who first tells reporters that the “B” stands for “Barack.” (Sargent 10/24/2008; Dupuy 10/24/2008; Strange 10/25/2008)
Obama Campaign Demands Explanation, Corrections - Todd soon admits that she lied about the attack, and though she claims her memory does not well serve her, says she probably scratched the “B” into her cheek herself (see October 24, 2008). When the national press learns that Todd lied about her attack, the Obama campaign becomes incensed, demanding that the McCain campaign explain why it was pushing a version of the story that was, in Sargent’s words, “far more explosive than the available or confirmed facts permitted at the time.” The Obama campaign also pressures some news outlets, including KDKA-TV and WPXI-TV, to rewrite their reports to remove the inflammatory and “racially charged” information concocted by Feldman, including claims that the alleged attacker told Todd he would “teach [her] a lesson” about supporting McCain, and that the “B” stood for “Barack.” There is no evidence of the national McCain campaign becoming involved in promulgating the falsified Todd story. (Sargent 10/24/2008)
'Okay Obama Frame-Job. ... I'd Give You a 'B' - After the story is exposed as a fraud, many post irate or sarcastic rejoinders on Twitter, using the hash tag ”#litf08” to ensure their viewing on the College Republican Twitter account, “Life in the Field,” where Todd made many of her Twitter posts. A former blogger for the Senate campaign of Christopher Dodd (D-PA), Matt Browner-Hamlin, asks: “Anyone know which Rove protege is responsible for #litf08? Because they lack the execution skills of the man himself.” Browner-Hamlin is referring to former Bush administration campaign manager Karl Rove. Another commenter writes: “Hmm, it was an okay Obama frame-job, just a few inconsistencies snagged you. Overall I’d give you a ‘B.’” And another commenter asks, “Do 50 College Republicans [the description of the ‘Life in the Field’ volunteers] try this kind of stunt often?” College Republicans executive director Ethan Eilon claims his organization “had no idea” Todd “was making this story up.” (Wired News 10/24/2008)
Pittsburgh Councilman Demands Apology from McCain Campaign - The Reverend Ricky Burgess, a Pittsburgh City Council member, will demand an apology from the McCain campaign for deliberately spreading a story it had not confirmed, and for embellishing it to make it even more racially inflammatory. “That one of your campaign spokespersons would spread such an incendiary story before any confirmation of the facts is both irresponsible and runs counter to our nation’s constitutional guarantee that no one be denied life, liberty, or property without due process,” Burgess writes. He demands an apology for “inflaming the divisions of this country,” and later says: “I don’t know why they chose to push this story. But it just seems suspicious to me that they would target this story, which has a fictional African-American person harming a non-African-American person in this city.” A McCain campaign spokesman initially derides Burgess and his source, the progressive news blog TPM Election Central, writing: “The liberal blog post that the councilman cites has no basis in fact. The McCain campaign had no role in this incident. We hope the young woman involved in the incident gets the help that she needs. It’s disappointing that Pittsburgh law enforcement time and resources were wasted by her false allegations.” (WTAE-TV 10/27/2008; Burgess 10/27/2008 pdf file; Burgess 10/27/2008 pdf file)

Cover of Grabe and Bucy’s ‘Image Bite Politics.’Cover of Grabe and Bucy’s ‘Image Bite Politics.’ [Source: University of Indiana]An Indiana University study shows that the three American broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, systematically favored Republicans in their election news coverage from 1992 through 2004. The study is presented by two professors in the Department of Telecommunications, Maria Elizabeth Grabe and Erik Bucy, and is published in book form, entitled Image Bite Politics: News and the Visual Framing of Elections. The Indiana University press release notes, “Their research runs counter to the popular conventional notion of a liberal bias in the media in favor of Democrats and against Republican candidates.” Grabe says: “We don’t think this is journalists conspiring to favor Republicans. We think they’re just so beat up and tired of being accused of a liberal bias that they unknowingly give Republicans the benefit in coverage. It’s self-censorship that journalists might be imposing on themselves.”
Focusing on 'Image Bites' - Grabe and Bucy focused on visual coverage of presidential candidates. Between 1992 and 2004, they found, candidates were shown more visually over the years, in what the authors call “image bites,” while their verbal statements, or “sound bites,” steadily decreased in average length. Grabe and Bucy examined 62 hours of broadcast news coverage, totaling 178 newscasts, between Labor Day and Election Day over four US presidential elections between 1992 and 2004. Cable news outlets such as CNN and Fox News were not included in the study. The professors are now examining broadcast coverage for the 2008 election.
Favoritism in Visual Coverage - According to the press release: “Grabe and Bucy found the volume of news coverage focusing exclusively on each party—one measure of media bias—favored Republicans. Their research found there were more single-party stories about Republicans overall and in each election year except 1992. When they studied the time duration of these stories, no pattern of favoritism was evident. But they did spot differences when they studied visual coverage, that is, with the volume turned down.” Grabe and Bucy note: “Reporters do exercise control over production decisions. The internal structure of news stories—their placement in the newscast, editing techniques and manipulations related to camera angles, shot lengths, eyewitness perspectives and zoom movements—is at the volition of news workers, free of the influence of image handlers.”
Editing Techniques Favor Republicans - The authors examined several “visual packaging techniques” used in editing a film of a candidate. Two techniques worthy of note were the “lip-flap shot,” in which a reporter narrates over a video of the candidate talking, and the “Goldilocks effect,” wherein a candidate gets the last word in a piece and thus is better remembered by viewers. The “lip-flap shot” is considered so negative for a candidate that it is considered a “violation of professional television news production standards,” according to the authors. Both techniques were employed to the benefit of Republicans, the authors report. Democrats were more apt to be subjected to “lip-flapping,” while Republicans more often got the last word in (except in 2004, when the “Goldilocks effect” was relatively even-handed). Other techniques that are considered detrimental to candidates are extreme close-ups, with a face filling the screen, and long-distance shots. In general, both techniques were used to affect Democrats more often than Republicans. And Republicans garnered more favorable views with such techniques as low-angle camera shots, which the authors say demonstrably “attribute power and dominance to candidates in experimental studies.” Most professional cameramen and journalists are trained not to use low-angle or high-angle shots, says Grabe, and instead to favor more neutral eye-level shots. She notes: “It takes the same amount of time to rig a camera for a low-angle shot as for a more neutral eye-level shot. It doesn’t take any extra effort to be professionally unbiased. There is evidence that the pattern favoring Republicans is stable across networks, because there are no statistically significant differences between them.”
Impact on Poll Numbers - The impact of these negative and positive “packaging” techniques on daily polls was measurable, Grabe says: “When negative packaging over time spiked for a candidate, public opinion generally went down. You can observe the same inverse trend. When detrimental packaging subsides, public opinion is at its highest point. In experimental research, these production features have been shown to have an impact—now we have indications that they have broad impact on public opinion.”
Conclusion - Bucy concludes: “Visuals are underappreciated in news coverage. You can have a negative report. You can have the journalist being opinionated against the candidate. But if you’re showing favorable visuals, that outweighs the net effect on the viewer almost every single time.” (University of Indiana 2/24/2009)

Eric Boehlert.Eric Boehlert. [Source: Simon & Schuster]Eric Boehlert, an author and editor of the progressive news watchdog organization Media Matters, writes that, in his eyes, the media is ignoring the biggest “political story of the year”: “the unhinged radical-right response to [President] Obama’s inauguration and the naked attempt to dehumanize and delegitimize him through a nonstop smear campaign,” which he says is sponsored by the Republican Party and its conservative supporters. “The misguided movement breaks all kinds of taboos in American politics,” Boehlert writes, “as well as in the press, and is redefining our political culture—for the worse. Yet the press continues to play dumb.”
Playing the Nazi Card - Boehlert takes as his springboard the relative disinterest the mainstream media shows to the repeated accusations that Obama and/or Congressional Democrats are Nazis, or Nazi sympathizers, or have Nazi-like goals and ideals (see July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10-11, 2009), as well as the virtually unreported use of Nazi symbols and rhetoric at anti-health care protests (see July 25, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 8, 2009). Boehlert notes that in January 2004, the liberal advocacy organization MoveOn received weeks of negative publicity and media attention when it briefly posted two amateur video clips on its Web site submitted as part of a contest for 30-second Internet advertisements against the policies of the Bush administration. The organization removed the clips within hours and apologized for posting them, but was berated for weeks over the ads. Now, Boehlert notes, Rush Limbaugh and other prominent conservative spokespersons routinely use accusations of Nazism in their rhetorical attacks on Obama and Democrats, with virtually no acknowledgement from the press. Boehlert writes: “Despite the fact that Limbaugh has not apologized for his comments—unlike MoveOn in 2004—and is continuing to compare the Obama White House and the Democratic Party with Nazis, many in the media don’t consider it newsworthy and haven’t condemned it. And more important, journalists don’t show any signs of believing that the episode tells us anything about the radically unhinged nature of the right-wing media in this country today.” Apparently, he writes, most media analysts just consider Limbaugh’s extreme rhetoric a case of “Rush being Rush.” But, he asks, if Limbaugh is going to be considered the de facto leader of conservative thought in America, why isn’t he being challenged on his use of what Boehlert calls “his radical and outrageous rhetoric.… He went to a place that previously was considered unconscionable and unpardonable by the press.… Why isn’t Limbaugh uniformly condemned for his words?”
Accusations of Racism, Racist Pronouncements - And Limbaugh is merely one of many. Fox News commentator Glenn Beck recently accused Obama of being a “racist” and having a “deep-seated hatred of white people” (see July 28-29, 2009), and outside of the small number of progressive/liberal hosts on MSNBC and a few scattered notations in the press, the accusation was virtually ignored. “At the [Washington] Post, which obsesses over the intersection of the media and politics,” Boehlert writes, “the jaw-dropping attack by Fox News’s superstar host wasn’t considered newsworthy. That’s correct: Two of the most popular and powerful conservative voices in America have recently called out Obama as a Nazi and a racist.”
Legitimizing Extremism - Boehlert assigns part of the blame to journalists being “spooked by decades’ worth of ‘liberal media bias’ attacks” that drive them to “refuse to connect the glaringly obvious dots on display.” The extreme rhetorical attacks dovetail with what he calls “the town hall mini-mobs that are wreaking havoc across the country” and “the bizarre birther conspiracy theory” that insists Obama is not a US citizen, but some sort of “plant” from Kenya brought to America to bring down American democracy. “The three right-wing phenomena are all related,” he writes, “and they all revolve around a runaway hatred of Obama (as well as the federal government), and they’re all being fueled by the [conservative media operation], especially Fox News and Limbaugh, both of which no longer recognize common decency, let alone journalistic standards. Yet instead of putting Limbaugh on the receiving end of well-deserved scrutiny and scorn, rather than turning his comments into a political firestorm, the press plays dumb and actually goes out of its way to legitimize the worst offenders of the GOP’s hate brigade.” Boehlert condemns ABC News for inviting conservative blogger and columnist Michelle Malkin to take part in a discussion of health care reform “with Pulitzer Prize-winning writers.” Malkin, he writes, is a prime member of the “hate brigade,” helping push the increasingly angry and violent mob confrontations as well as exhorting readers to believe that the Democrats want to exterminate the elderly (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10, 2009). The New Yorker recently praised Michael Savage, who routinely attacks women, gays, liberals, and minorities with the worst rhetorical excess (see January 10, 2008, February 1, 2008, February 21, 2008, March 13, 2008, April 3, 2008, June 6, 2008, June 6, 2008, August 25, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 22, 2008, November 10, 2008, and November 18, 2008), calling him “fun” and “addictive.”
Comparing the Statistics - Boehlert notes that in January 2004, the Indianapolis Star published five letters to the editor about the MoveOn controversy. To date, it has not published a single letter about Limbaugh’s Nazi accusations towards Obama or Democrats. In January 2004, 28 of the nation’s largest newspapers published a total of 54 stories, articles, or letters about the MoveOn controversy. To date, that group has published a combined total of six stories about Limbaugh’s Nazi allegations. No paper has printed more than one story on the topic. In January 2004, the MoveOn-Nazi story garnered 300 percent more airtime on CNN than the Limbaugh-Nazi story has received. (Boehlert 8/11/2009)

A person described as a “former Fox News insider” tells author and Media Matters columnist Eric Boehlert that Fox News is indeed “a propaganda outfit” calling itself a news provider. In an interview, the source tells Boehlert that Fox routinely reports false information to “prop up Republicans and knock down Democrats,” and calls the news channel a “purely partisan operation” that actively spins almost every news story to reflect a Republican/conservative slant (see November 3, 2003, April 1, 2009, April 1-6, 2009, and April 23, 2009). “I don’t think people would believe it’s as concocted as it is,” the source says; “that stuff is just made up (see February 14, 2003).… It is their MO to undermine the [Obama] administration and to undermine Democrats (see December 2002, January 2009, February 24, 2009, April 3, 2009, and August 11, 2009). They’re a propaganda outfit but they call themselves news” (see 1995, January 20, 2003, and July 2004). Boehlert says that “[e]veryone knows” Fox News has always reported news with a conservative slant: “Everyone who’s been paying attention has known that since the channel’s inception more than a decade ago” (see October 7, 1996). But over time, Boehlert writes, Fox News has become “an open and active political player, sort of one-part character assassin and one-part propagandist, depending on which party was in power.” The source confirms Boehlert’s observation, saying: “They say one thing and do another. They insist on maintaining this charade, this facade, that they’re balanced or that they’re not right-wing extreme propagandist[s].” The facade is one that, Boehlert writes, “permeates the entire Fox News culture and one that staffers and producers have to learn quickly in order to survive professionally.” The source says: “You have to work there for a while to understand the nods and the winks. And God help you if you don’t because sooner or later you’re going to get burned.” Virtually every hard-news story is presented in a way that either bolsters conservative ideology, criticizes liberal/progressive ideology, or both. “[A]nything—anything—that was a news story you had to understand what the spin should be on it,” the source says. “If it was a big enough story it was explained to you in the morning [editorial] meeting. If it wasn’t explained, it was up to you to know the conservative take on it. There’s a conservative take on every story no matter what it is. So you either get told what it is or you better intuitively know what it is” (see June 8, 2004). The source says with some apparent sarcasm: “My internal compass [on ‘spinning’ a story] was to think like an intolerant meathead. You could never error on the side of not being intolerant enough.”
Spin Training - The source reflects on how Fox News executives trained its employees to “spin” news stories, saying: “When I first got there back in the day, and I don’t know how they indoctrinate people now, but back in the day when they were ‘training’ you, as it were, they would say, ‘Here’s how we’re different.’ They’d say if there is an execution of a condemned man at midnight and there are all the live truck outside the prison and all the lives shots. CNN would go, ‘Yes, tonight John Jackson, 25 of Mississippi, is going to die by lethal injection for the murder of two girls.’ MSNBC would say the same thing. We would come out and say, ‘Tonight, John Jackson who kidnapped an innocent two-year-old, raped her, sawed her head off, and threw it in the school yard, is going to get the punishment that a jury of his peers thought he should get.’ And they say that’s the way we do it here. And you’re going, alright, it’s a bit of an extreme example but it’s something to think about. It’s not unreasonable.”
Changed over Time - Fox News officials always insisted that they were serving as “a bit of a counterpart to the screaming left wing lib media,” the source says. “So automatically you have to buy into the idea that the other media is howling left-wing. Don’t even start arguing that or you won’t even last your first day.” However, things have changed since the source first joined Fox: “For the first few years it was let’s take the conservative take on things. And then after a few years it evolved into, well it’s not just the conservative take on things, we’re going to take the Republican take on things which is not necessarily in lock step with the conservative point of view. And then two, three, five years into that it was, ‘We’re taking the Bush line on things,’ which was different than the GOP. We were a Stalin-esque mouthpiece. It was just what Bush says goes on our channel. And by that point it was just totally dangerous. Hopefully most people understand how dangerous it is for a media outfit to be a straight, unfiltered mouthpiece for an unchecked president.” As time went on, the source says, the news reporting became ever more strident and more partisan.
Siege Mentality - Using the source’s descriptions, Boehlert describes it as an “us-vs.-them mentality… a siege mentality that network boss Roger Ailes encourages, and one that colors the coverage his team produces.” The source confirms Boehlert’s observation, saying: “It was a kick-_ss mentality too. It was relentless and it never went away. If one controversy faded, godd_mn it they would find another one. They were in search of these points of friction real or imagined. And most of them were imagined or fabricated. You always have to seem to be under siege. You always have to seem like your values are under attack. The brain trust just knew instinctively which stories to do, like the War on Christmas” (a seasonal series of stories by Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly and others that regularly claim liberals, progressives, and the like “hate Christmas” and want to see it “destroyed”). It is rare for former Fox employees such as the source to share “insider” information after leaving, in part because of a strict non-disclosure agreement each exiting employee is asked to sign, and in part because of Ailes’s “siege mentality.” The source says that Ailes is bent on presenting a “unified Fox News front to the outside world,” to the point where he refuses to publicly criticize or critique other Fox employees regardless of how unprofessionally or even outlandishly they may behave on the air (see April 1, 2003, February 3-4, 2005, September 28-October 1, 2005, March 6, 2007, June 4-5, 2008, June 26, 2008, February 9-10, 2009, February 10, 2009, February 20, 2009, March 3, 2009, March 16-17, 2009, March 17-24, 2009, March 25, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 5-6, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 28, 2009, July 8, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28-29, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, September 29, 2009, November 3, 2009, March 24, 2010, and October 3, 2010). The source says: “There may be internal squabbles. But what [Ailes] continually preaches is never piss outside the tent. When he gets really crazy is when stuff leaks out the door. He goes mental on that. He can’t stand that. He says in a dynamic enterprise like a network newsroom there’s going to be in fighting and ego, but he says keep it in the house.”
Evidence Bolsters Source's Claims - Boehlert notes that along with the source’s contentions, a great deal of evidence surfaced in 2010 that showed Fox News to be deliberately propagandistic in its reporting (see March 13, 2009 and After, March 23-24, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, June 2, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 30, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 1, 2009, September 12, 2009, September 18, 2009, and November 5-8, 2009). He cites the recently leaked emails from inside Fox News in which a senior editor instructed his newsroom staffers to slant the news when reporting on issues such as climate change and health care reform (see October 27, 2009 and After and December 8, 2009 and After); the over 600 instances of Fox News personalities raising money, endorsing, and actively campaigning for Republican candidates and/or organizations; and the over $1 million donated by Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch to organizations dedicated to electing Republicans (see June 24, 2010 and After and September 30, 2010). Boehlert says that according to Media Matters estimates, Fox News has in essence donated $55 million worth of free airtime to Republican presidential hopefuls who also work for Fox News (see October 26, 2009). The source says Fox News is anything but a legitimate news outlet, and says both the Washington press corps and the general public has been duped by Murdoch’s relentless “fair and balanced” marketing campaign over the years. “People assume you need a license to call yourself a news channel,” the source says. “You don’t. So because they call themselves Fox News, people probably give them a pass on a lot of things.… I don’t think people understand that it’s an organization that’s built and functions by intimidation and bullying, and its goal is to prop up and support Republicans and the GOP and to knock down Democrats. People tend [to] think that stuff that’s on TV is real, especially under the guise of news. You’d think that people would wise up, but they don’t.”
Source Critical of Other News Outlets for Not Criticizing Fox News - The source is harshly critical of other news outlets, including their reporters and pundits, for failing to criticize Fox News for its propaganda. The source explains: “They don’t have enough staff or enough balls or don’t have enough money or don’t have enough interest to spend the time it takes to expose Fox News. Or it’s not worth the trouble. If you take on Fox, they’ll kick you in the _ss. I’m sure most [journalists] know that.” Boehlert notes that journalists who have criticized Fox News have come under heavy fire from Fox News (see November 17-18, 2010). The source says he/she was perplexed in 2009, when Obama administration officials questioned Fox News’s legitimacy as a news source (see September 18-19, 2009 and October 11, 2009), only to have Washington press corps figures rush to Fox’s defense. “That blew me away,” the source says. The White House’s critique of Fox News “happens to be true” (see October 17, 2009). (Boehlert 2/10/2011)

Sandra Fluke.Sandra Fluke. [Source: Alex Wong / Getty Images / New York Times]Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh insults Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who testified in favor of federal law mandating that health care providers pay for contraception (see March 1, 2012), as a “slut” and a “prostitute” who wants the government to pay her for having sex. On his radio show, Limbaugh, who wrongly identifies her as “Susan” Fluke, says: “What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. The johns, that’s right. We would be the johns—no! We’re not the johns. Well—yeah, that’s right. Pimp’s not the right word. Okay, so, she’s not a slut. She’s round-heeled. I take it back.” Think Progress reporter Alex Seitz-Wald comments on Limbaugh’s characterization, “While it’s probably not even worth engaging with Limbaugh on the facts, Fluke’s testimony was about a friend who is a lesbian and needed birth control for non-sexual medical reasons, so he’s only wrong about three times over, and offensive many more times over than that.” Seitz-Wald notes that Fluke never discussed her own use, or non-use, of contraception, nor did she allude to her sexual activities at all. (Media Matters 2/29/2012; Seitz-Wald 2/29/2012; Seitz-Wald 3/1/2012)
Misrepresentation - Seitz-Wald will note that Limbaugh is deliberately misrepresenting Fluke’s position and the position of Congressional Democrats. “Fluke’s testimony, and the entire contraception debate, is about insurance companies paying for contraception as part of their health coverage, the… way they pay for any other medication, such as Viagra. Morevoer, Fluke’s testimony was not about herself, but about a friend who need contraception to fight cancer and other fellow law students. This conservative narrative, which is pure fantasy, seems to be based on a single bogus article from Cybercast News Service (CNS), which Limbaugh repeatedly cites, with the ludicrous headline, ‘Sex-Crazed Co-Eds Going Broke Buying Birth Control, Student Tells Pelosi Hearing Touting Freebie Mandate.’” (Bannister 2/29/2012; Seitz-Wald 3/2/2012)
Other News Outlets Join Limbaugh - Other conservative news outlets join Limbaugh in attacking Fluke and other women who use contraception. In the article cited by Limbaugh, CNS’s Craig Bannister says that “sex-crazed co-eds” like Fluke should cut back on the amount of sex they’re having to pay for other needs such as books and food. Fox News’s Trace Gallagher mocks Fluke, saying: “And see, I was gonna go to law school, but I thought all you did was study in law school, right? So, I guess I was wrong on that.” Fox News correspondent Monica Crowley says the government should not pay Fluke and others to have “recreational sex.” CNN commentator Dana Loesch calls Fluke and other women “nymphos” for wanting access to contraceptives, and says Fluke and feminists “support… female genocide.” (Media Matters 2/29/2012; Bannister 2/29/2012)
Fox Business Commentator: Fluke's Testimony Part of a Pro-Abortion Scheme by House Minority Leader - On Fox Business Channel’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, regular guest Bill Donohue calls Fluke a “little brat.” Dobbs asks Donohue to comment on what he calls Fluke’s demand that she be given free contraception, a mischaracterization of Fluke’s testimony (and one contradicted by the clip of her testimony Dobbs plays before Donohue’s comments). Donohue begins by lambasting Georgetown for having a group called “Hoyas for Choice,” which he calls “Hoyas for Abortion,” but not groups like “Hoyas for Racism” or “Hoyas for Anti-Semitism.” Donohue suggests that the university and Hoyas for Choice raise “the nine dollars a month” Fluke needs for her personal contraception needs, and Dobbs notes that Georgetown is “one of the most expensive universities in the country.” Donohue attacks Fluke for “obviously dressing well” but then asking taxpayers to pay for her contraception and, without basis in fact, for her university education to boot. Why aren’t taxpayers funding his anti-gout medication? he asks. “This is what we’ve come down to in this country,” he concludes. “You have these little brats who come on TV and they testify and they say, ‘I want, I want, I want,’ and somehow I have a moral responsibility? They have a lien on me to pay this? It’s all about getting the Catholic Church, obviously, to pay for their abortion-inducing drugs, which is why we’re having this debate.” Donohue says that Fluke’s testimony is part of a scheme by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), “who actually brought her on there to speak,” to force the Catholic Church to amend its position on abortion. (Media Matters 2/29/2012)
'Shockingly Ugly Hatred' - Conservative blogger Charles Johnson, who in recent years has become highly critical of the race- and gender-based rhetoric from the right, writes that the right’s reaction to Fluke constitutes “shockingly ugly hatred,” and says Limbaugh’s attack is “another step into the gutter.” (Charles Johnson 2/29/2012) Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates agrees with Johnson, noting that Limbaugh is not just an “entertainer,” but a powerful opinion leader of the Republican Party, and says that Limbaugh’s comments are part of what Coates calls “the normalization of cruelty” and “evidence of the lowest aspects of humanity.” (Coates 3/1/2012) Eric Boehlert, a senior writer at the liberal media watchdog Web site Media Matters, calls Limbaugh’s “radio outburst” an example of his “rancid misogyny,” and writes: “[I]t was perhaps the talk show host’s incessant need to bully powerless people from the safety of his studio that was so striking. That, and the glee Limbaugh seemed to take in not only maligning the young woman, but her parents as well. It’s jaw-dropping.” Boehlert goes on to remind readers that Limbaugh is not just a voice on the radio or an entertainer, but “the voice of America’s conservative movement, as well as the Republican Party.” (Boehlert 3/1/2012)
House Democrats Call for Condemnation - House Democrats, including Pelosi, call for Republican Congressional leaders to condemn Limbaugh’s remarks (see February 29, 2012).
Statement from Law Student - Fluke will issue a statement repudiating Limbaugh’s rhetoric (see March 1, 2012).
Continued Attacks - Limbaugh will continue his attacks on Fluke the next day (see March 1, 2012).

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh spends much of his three-hour show lambasting Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, who testified in opposition to a House amendment that would have allowed health care providers to deny contraceptive coverage and other health care necessities if they had religious or moral objections (see March 1, 2012). The day before, Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” who is having “so much sex she can’t afford the contraception” and wants the government to pay for it (see February 29, 2012). Limbaugh begins by saying that Fluke and others who criticized his comments (see February 29, 2012 and March 1, 2012) were having “a conniption fit” that he finds “hilarious.” He offers a compromise, offering to buy “all the women at Georgetown University as much aspirin to put between their knees as possible” (see February 16-17, 2012), and says he believes he is being “quite compassionate.” Limbaugh later returns to the topic, saying that having the government pay for contraception is “flat-out thievery” that would force taxpayers to pay to “satisfy the sexual habits of female law students at Georgetown.” He characterizes Fluke’s objections to the House amendment as her saying: “I’m going broke having sex. I need government to provide me condoms and contraception. It’s not fair.… Ms. Fluke, have you ever heard of not having sex? Have you ever heard of not having sex so often?… Who bought your condoms in junior high? Who bought your condoms in the sixth grade? Or your contraception. Who bought your contraceptive pills in high school?” He says Fluke is apparently “having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk.… She and her co-ed classmates are having sex nearly three times a day for three years straight, apparently these deadbeat boyfriends or random hookups that these babes are encountering here, having sex with nearly three times a day.” He advises Fluke that she can get “free condoms and lube” from the Washington, DC, Department of Health. He then says: “So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis (see May 21, 2007 and July 2008), here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” He finishes his tirade by accusing Fluke of being “a plant… an anti-Catholic plant from the get-go” who is working behind the scenes as part of a “Democratic plot” to “create a new welfare program and, at the same time, try to cast Republicans in an election year as anti-female.” Fluke, he says, is “a woman who is happily presenting herself as an immoral, baseless, no-purpose-to-her life woman. She wants all the sex in the world whenever she wants it, all the time, no consequences. No responsibility for her behavior.” He concludes that he, not Fluke, is the victim, and says he is being persecuted by those who wish to see him removed from the airwaves. (Seitz-Wald 3/1/2012; Holden 3/1/2012; MSNBC 3/2/2012)

For the third straight day, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh spends the majority of his show attacking Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, who testified in opposition to a House amendment that would have allowed health care providers to deny contraceptive coverage and other health care necessities if they had religious or moral objections (see March 1, 2012). On Wednesday, February 29, Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” who is having “so much sex she can’t afford the contraception” and wants the government to pay for it (see February 29, 2012); on Thursday, Limbaugh continued to smear Fluke’s character and demanded that if she wanted the government to pay her to have sex, then he wanted her to post videos of her having sex online so the public could watch (see March 1, 2012). Today, Limbaugh defends his earlier comments, saying: “This woman comes forth with this frankly hilarious claim that she’s having so much sex, and her buddies with her, that she can’t afford it. And not one person says, ‘Did you ever think about maybe backing off the amount of sex that you have?’” He goes on to say that asking health insurers to cover contraception is “no different than if somebody knocked on my door that I don’t know and said: ‘You know what? I’m out of money. I can’t afford birth-control pills, and I’m supposed to have sex with three guys tonight.’” Limbaugh calls criticism of his call for Fluke to post sex videos online “absurd,” saying his critics should “realize that we’re illustrating absurdity here by being absurd” and that people should “lighten up.” Limbaugh initially refuses to comment on Fluke receiving a telephone call of support from President Obama (see March 2, 2012), saying, “I’m gonna button my lip on that one.” However, in response to Obama’s remark that Fluke’s parents should be proud of her, Limbaugh says that if his daughter had testified that “she’s having so much sex she can’t pay for it and wants a new welfare program to pay for it,” he’d be “embarrassed” and “disconnect the phone,” “go into hiding,” and “hope the media didn’t find me.” He also says, apparently sarcastically: “Oh that’s touching, Obama just called Sandra Fluke to make sure she’s all right. That is so compassionate, what a great guy.” Limbaugh denies he hates women, and defines “misogynist” as “a man who hates women almost as much as women hate women.” He observes that Fluke is having so much sex that her boyfriends are “lined up around the block. They would have been in my day.… [Fluke’s] sex life is active. She’s having sex so frequently that she can’t afford all the birth-control pills that she needs. That’s what she’s saying.” As with his remarks yesterday, he concludes that he, not Fluke, is the victim in this controversy, saying: “And amazingly, when there is the slightest bit of opposition to this new welfare entitlement to be created, that all of a sudden, we hate women, we want them barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, all of these other things. And so, that’s where we are. And so, at the end of this week, I am this person that the women of America are to fear the most.” (Holden 3/1/2012; Madison 3/2/2012; Seitz-Wald 3/2/2012) Liberal blogger David Atkins writes after Limbaugh’s broadcast that judging from his remarks, Limbaugh thinks female birth control pills work like Viagra—the more sex one wishes to have, the more pills one must take. “Anyone remotely familiar with oral contraceptives knows that to work properly, women have to take one pill a day over the course of their monthly cycle. It doesn’t matter if you have unprotected sex once a month or 300 times a month. It’s still the same number of pills, and therefore the same cost. How much sex someone has is utterly irrelevant to the cost of contraception unless they choose to abstain for the entire month.” Atkins writes that Limbaugh is combining ignorance and misogyny in his attacks on Fluke. If indeed Limbaugh does think that female birth control works like Viagra, Atkins writes, “Rush assumes that since it costs him money every time he has sex, it must cost a female college student money, too.” (David Atkins 3/2/2012)

Conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh issues an apology for his three-day verbal assault on Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke. Fluke testified in opposition to a House amendment that would have allowed health care providers to deny contraceptive coverage and other health care necessities if they had religious or moral objections (see March 1, 2012) and was vilified by Limbaugh (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012). Limbaugh, echoing claims from his anti-Fluke broadcasts, claims he was merely joking in calling Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” alleging that she wanted the government to pay for her having promiscuous sex, and demanding that she post online videos of the sex he claimed he would be paying for. On his blog, Limbaugh writes: “For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke. I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a presidential level (see March 2, 2012). My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.” (Rush Limbaugh 3/3/2012) Premiere Radio Networks, the subsidiary of Clear Channel Entertainment that distributes Limbaugh’s show, quickly emails the apology to reporters, but initially declines to comment. Limbaugh’s chief of staff Kit Carson refuses to comment as well. On March 4, the network will email a statement by a spokesperson that reads: “The contraception debate is one that sparks strong emotion and opinions on both sides of the issue. We respect the right of Mr. Limbaugh, as well as the rights of those who disagree with him, to express those opinions.” The company refuses to divulge the names of the largest advertisers on Limbaugh’s show, nor how much revenue Premiere is losing by the advertiser defections. A Twitter account called “Stop Rush” posts: “I think this attempt at damage control labeled as an apology actually makes things worse. You know what Rush’s so-called apology means? Your efforts at delivering real accountability are working!” MSNBC talk show host Lawrence O’Donnell posts on Twitter, “Lawyers wrote that apology.” (Stelter 3/3/2012; Associated Press 3/4/2012) Think Progress reporter Alex Seitz-Wald notes that Limbaugh conflates contraception with governmental purchases of sneakers, and continues to imply that Fluke and other women advocate for contraception coverage solely for their own personal sexual activities. Seitz-Wald recalls that Fluke testified to Congress on behalf of a friend who needed birth control pills to manage polycystic ovarian syndrome. (Seitz-Wald 3/3/2012) Liberal blogger Kaili Jo Gray writes in response: “Shorter Rush: ‘I’m sorry if any sluts were offended by being called sluts, but if they’d stop being sluts, I wouldn’t have to call them sluts.’ Obviously, the campaign to demand that Rush’s sponsors pull their advertising from his show is working” (see March 2, 2012 and After). (Kaili Jo Gray 3/3/2012) Others agree. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), the Democratic National Committee chair, says, “I know he apologized, but forgive me, I doubt his sincerity, given that he lost at least six advertisers.” And Eric Boehlert of the progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters says he doubts the apology will “stop the pressure that’s being applied to his advertisers.” In an email, Boehlert says, “His comments were so egregious, naturally advertisers will have doubts about being associated with Limbaugh’s brand of hate.” (Stelter 3/5/2012) It is possible that Limbaugh issues the apology in hopes of fending off a lawsuit by Fluke (see March 2, 2012) and/or to stop advertisers from removing themselves as sponsors of his show. Regardless, the exodus will intensify, and will spread to advertisers asking that their ads be removed from Limbaugh’s political talk-show colleagues as well as from his own show (see March 9, 2012).

Premiere Radio Networks logo.Premiere Radio Networks logo. [Source: Premiere Radio Networks]Premiere Radio Networks, the company that distributes radio shows by an array of right-wing hosts, including Rush Limbaugh, announces that 98 out of 350 advertisers, including a number of major corporations, have requested that their ads only appear on “programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity).” The Premiere email says, “Those are defined as environments likely to stir negative sentiment from a very small percentage of the listening public.” Limbaugh vilified law student Sandra Fluke for three days on his radio show (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012), and though he issued an apology on his Web site (see March 3, 2012), advertisers have dropped their sponsorship of his show in increasingly large numbers (see March 2, 2012 and After) following a widespread outcry of anger against Limbaugh’s rhetoric. Now, large advertisers such as Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Allstate, Geico, Prudential, State Farm, McDonald’s, and Subway Restaurants have asked that their advertising be removed from Premiere’s right-wing talk shows. Industry insider Valerie Geller tells a reporter: “I have talked with several reps who report that they’re having conversations with their clients, who are asking not to be associated with specifically polarizing controversial hosts, particularly if those hosts are ‘mean-spirited.’ While most products and services offered on these shows have strong competitors, and enjoy purchasing the exposure that many of these shows and hosts can offer, they do not wish to be ‘tarred’ with the brush of anger, or endure customer anger, or, worse, product boycotts.” For nearly two decades, Limbaugh has been at the forefront of the movement that insisted conservative talk shows on radio and television must counterbalance what he and others have termed the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media (see Summer 1970, October 7, 1996, October 9, 2002, October 8, 2003, December 2004, December 14, 2005, December 19-20, 2005, December 21, 2005, May 2008, October 23-24, 2008, February 24, 2009, and August 11, 2009). After cable television and Internet access fragmented the market, “niche” audiences such as Limbaugh’s have provided the most reliable listenership and viewers, and the highest comparative ratings. However, the demographics are changing for right-wing talk. Limbaugh, Levin, Savage, Hannity, and others generally rate best among aging white males, a demographic that is less profitable than it used to be. Now, the prize advertising demographic is women aged 24 to 55, a demographic that has been leaving the right-wing talkers in steadily increasing numbers, and now makes up the forefront of the angry pushback against Limbaugh over his public savaging of a young female law student over a political disagreement. Some, including Limbaugh’s brother, right-wing talk show host David Limbaugh, have complained of a “left-wing jihad” against conservative radio hosts. However, as reporter John Avlon writes: “[T]he irony is that the same market forces that right-wing talk-radio hosts champion are helping to seal their fate. Advertisers are abandoning the shows because they no longer want to be associated with the hyperpartisan—and occasionally hateful—rhetoric. They are finally drawing a line because consumers are starting to take a stand.” Moreover, the advent of social media has made the response time for protesters and angry consumers almost immediate. Geller says: “In the past, a letter, petition, or phone campaign took a few days to put together and longer to execute. But now customers [listeners] can instantly rally using Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging to make their displeasure with a client, product, or service known immediately. These movements can happen fast.” Avlon concludes: “When big money starts shifting, it is a sign of a deeper tide that is difficult to undo, even if you are an industry icon like Rush Limbaugh. It is a sign that the times are changing. Let’s hope that what emerges is an evolution of the industry, away from stupid, predictable, and sometimes hateful hyperpartisanship and toward something a little smarter and more civil.” (Radio-Info.com 3/9/2012; Avlon 3/10/2012)


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