Part 4—Off to the Hamptons: Do we the people ever know squat? About squadoodle, that is?
Repeatedly, no—we do not. The mainstream press takes a loose approach to matters of substance and actual facts. Meanwhile, modern disinformation machines relentlessly churn and whirl.
Mainstream news orgs tend to avert their gaze from the work of these machines, and from the public’s screaming lack of knowledge. That’s why we were impressed with the Washington Post and reporter David Fahrenthold last weekend.
It just isn’t done, but Fahrenthold did it! On page 3 of Sunday’s Post, he offered this long report about the recent spread of some stupid misinformation.
Has the EPA been spying on Midwestern farmers with drones? The same kinds of drones that are used “over there?”
Fahrenthold’s piece bore a triple headline. Each part was important:
Rumors of EPA ‘drones’ gained the public’s attention quicklyMany members of the public got conned by the misinformation. Once the bogus claim entered the flow, an array of falsehoods swirled. And as usual, “multiple sources” peddled this dumb stupid tale.
Multiple sources lent the idea credence
But omigod—this just isn't done! In his report in Sunday’s Post, Fahrenthold named the names of the high-ranking players who pushed this bullroar along:
FAHRENTHOLD (6/17/12): First a couple of Twitter users got it wrong...As he continued, Fahrenthold named the names of three Republican congressmen who repeated the bogus tale.
That same afternoon, the falsehood spread to television. On a Fox News Channel "ensemble opinion show" called "The Five," Fox contributor Bob Beckel said. "They are drones, they are flying overhead."
"No, they're not," said fellow panelist Dana Perino, who served as White House press secretary under President George W. Bush. "They're taking pictures."
"No, no, no. They're drones," Beckel said.
On June 5, the falsehood hit a growth spurt.
"Republican lawmakers are demanding answers today after learning the Environmental Protection Agency has been using aerial spy drones for years to spy on cattle ranchers," Fox News Channel's Megyn Kelly told viewers. "These are the same drones we use to track down al-Qaeda terrorists, flying over Nebraska and Iowa." Asked about the source of Kelly's report, a Fox News Channel spokeswoman declined to comment for the record.
Two days later, "The Daily Show" made fun of Kelly but repeated the falsehood: "Those aren't the same drones!" Comedy Central's host Jon Stewart said.
On June 6, the fast-moving rumor made it to Capitol Hill...
Fahrenthold’s report ran more than 1200 words. Liberals may find his news report pleasing; he describes a piece of misinformation which spread largely thanks to the people at Fox. On the other hand, the pseudo-lib hustlers at MSNBC increasingly engage in this same sort of conduct.
Case in point:
Last night, on several cable shows, you could watch the newly-released videotape in which the Sanford, Florida police had George Zimmerman re-enact the killing of Trayvon Martin. In today’s New York Times, you can read a fairly one-sided report about the way lead investigator Chris Serino questioned Zimmerman “on Feb. 26, 27 and 29.”
Serino ended up recommending that Zimmerman should be charged with manslaughter.
This isn’t the sort of thing liberals were told when the disinformation was flowing. Night after night, week after week, MSNBC fed its liberal viewers a steady stream of misinformation about the work of the Sanford police—and about Zimmerman himself. (Go ahead—watch that tape, then reread the endless claims that the behemoth weighed 250 pounds when he overpowered Martin.)
Endless misstatements were pimped for weeks—misstatements which are still being repeated in the nation’s comment threads. In a nation which cared about its discourse, the work performed by Sharpton, O’Donnell and Blow (and others) would have been seen as a major press scandal.
You don’t live in that kind of country.
Millions of voters were disinformed about this matter, in some truly remarkable ways. But the Washington press corps didn’t say boo. The Kurtz didn’t bark.
We have begged for reporting like Fahrenthold’s for many years at this site. As we have repeatedly said: When public figures misinform voters in major ways, that should be seen as a news event—and it should be reported. That should be done if the offender’s name is Limbaugh or Hannity—or if it’s Sharpton/O’Donnell.
In an age of disinformation machines, you’d think this would be a common form of reporting. But quite plainly, it isn’t.
Fahrenthold’s report stood out because this type of reporting is rare.
We the people get misinformed in various ways, of course. Disinformation machines have been whirring for decades—but this isn’t the only we get false ideas in our heads. But one thing is clear—we the people are constantly misinformed, and big newspapers don’t like to discuss it.
They tend to avoid the very fact of our cluelessness. They tend to avoid the processes by which we get misinformed. Newspapers like to praise their customers, just as pols like to praise the voters.
“The American people are pretty sharp!” Everybody likes to say this, although it’s plainly false.
Big papers are soft on our big disinformers. One example, in the form of a pet peeve:
Within the last month, Donald Trump was at it again, re-pimping the notion that President Obama was born somewhere far, far away. Just this week, the latest survey showed the astonishing outcome of this sort of conduct. Remarkably, 64 percent of Republicans said they believe that Obama “was born in another country.” Only 22 percent said they believe he “was born in the United States.” (Fifteen percent “didn’t know.”)
It’s amazing that so many adults can get conned this way—but people like Trump are doing great harm when they push this stupid process along. But as best we can tell, the hometown New York Times has never written an editorial attacking its billionaire favorite son for his disgraceful conduct.
Rosenthal utters small peeps on-line. Out in the light of day, the Times refuses to speak, although they love to drop their bombs on minor rubes in the South.
Our big newspapers are very soft on facts and matters of substance. They seem to care about something else: They care about bourgeois values.
Over and over, again and again, the New York Times has drowned the public in human interest tales about the candidates. Mitt Romney’s hair—and Ann Romney’s clothes! Ann Romney’s unyielding love of dressage! The inane pointless views of the Romneys’ neighbors!
(We refer to their neighbors in La Jolla. That’s foreign for “the jewel!”)
And then, in the past few weeks, the bougie recitals about the Obamas. In the Post, a sprawling report about the president’s high school basketball years. And then, a follow-up: How did Barack become black? The same day, on page one of the Times, this long report about Michelle Obama’s (distant) white relatives.
Including awkward moments!
Peeping Toms get plenty of work during our fictitious White House campaigns. The bougie folk of the mainstream press keep pushing the human interest tales. Just yesterday, one of the New York Times’ silly children gave us this bougie delight:
“Romney’s Personal Touch Pays Off With Donors”
“Intimate dinners and one-on-one meetings make contributors feel like part of the family!” So the boxed sub-headline read.
Readers got to tickle their nethers as they wasted their time on this pap. But what have the candidates actually proposed? And what are the facts about any large topic? Yesterday, as Barbaro described those intimate dinners, the Times printed a sprawling parody of a news report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/21/12.) Complaints about the health care law were given big play above the fold. At no point did the Times attempt to say if these claims made any damn sense.
The New York Times, with its dominant Dowdism, doesn’t seem to care about that.
Darlings, the human interest will flow. At that point, it’s off to the Hamptons!