Monday, July 26, 2010


E.J. Dionne has a good, strong column today about how the mainstream press and the Obama White House are being played for chumps by the agenda-driven right-wing noise machine, as in the case of Shirley Sherrod:

The mainstream media and the Obama administration must stop cowering before a right wing that has persistently forced its propaganda to be accepted as news by convincing traditional journalists that "fairness" requires treating extremist rants as "one side of the story." And there can be no more shilly-shallying about the fact that racial backlash politics is becoming an important component of the campaign against President Obama and against progressives in this year's election.

Absolutely right. The maximum amount of skepticism should be applied to whatever rancid product emerges from the right's propaganda factories, and it should never be assumed that these people are making a good-faith effort to get at the truth -- just the opposite, in fact. It needs to be recognized that they're not playing by the same rules as everyone else in the media.

However, I don't agree with this:

The traditional media are so petrified of being called "liberal" that they are prepared to allow the Breitbarts of the world to become their assignment editors. Mainstream journalists regularly criticize themselves for not jumping fast enough or high enough when the Fox crowd demands coverage of one of their attack lines.

Thus did Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander ask this month why the paper had been slow to report on "the Justice Department's decision to scale down a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party." Never mind that this is a story about a tiny group of crackpots who stopped no one from voting. It was aimed at doing what the doctored video Breitbart posted set out to do: convince Americans that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.

But it's never enough to recognize a trumped-up non-scandal for what it is and just ignore it, because the GOP propaganda machine will generate enough noise on its own to make the story a big part of the public discussion no matter what the rest of the press does. In the Shirley Sherrod case, the mainstream press (and the White House) rose to the bait. In the New Black Panther Party case, the MSM mostly hasn't responded, nor has the administration. Guess what? Both stories have harmed Democrats -- because the GOP noise machine goes to eleven (and then some).

The only way to counter the right's generation of disinformation is to debunk the disinformation -- and that means, alas, that the rest of the media must respond to these phony, trumped-up scandals.

But it must respond to them with precisely the skepticism Dionne recommends. It must recognize that the people responsible for the scandals routinely act in bad faith and act with the sole aim of harming liberals, non-whites, and Democrats.

That means, yes, letting people like Andrew Breitbart (and Roger Ailes) become the press's assignment editors. But that's not how this should be regarded. Andrew Breitbart should be seen as the MSM's anti-assignment editor: when he makes a big enough noise, the press should assume that he's full of it, that there's a story in proving that he's full of it, and that not telling that story allows a lie to live and thrive.

No comments: