Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Lying liars, and the lying stories they tell

Major news outlets' response to Obama's scandals
I've gone back and forth with my Lefty friends over the past few years about the Obama administration's scandals, and they've almost always mocked the idea that anything Republicans called a scandal -- the IRS targeting conservative nonprofits, Fast & Furious, Benghazi, etc. -- was truly scandalous.

If there was a real scandal, they argued, there would be more outrage.  No outrage = no scandal.

When I pointed out how much the media had ignored or downplayed the administration's actions, my friends ridiculed the very idea that the media would do that.

And yet, we keep getting concrete evidence that major, respected media outlets -- networks, national newspapers, major regional newspapers -- routinely refuse to cover stories that clearly show that the administration's actions were very scandalous.
What happens when the news media catch the White House in a demonstrable lie? That depends entirely on whether they like the administration. If they loathe the administration, it’s front-page news. If they like it, they spike the story. ...

That is exactly what the national media have done to an important story about the White House’s intimate working relationship with MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, who helped craft the Affordable Care Act. You may remember Gruber from his infamous videotapes, the ones in which he called the American public too stupid to understand the law. He added their stupidity was helpful to Obama, Pelosi, and Reid in passing the law.

The Obama administration snapped into action. At a press conference, the president noted that Gruber was not employed by the White House and said flatly that he had not played an important role in drafting the law. Nancy Pelosi said the same thing. On background, senior White House officials reinforced the story. They vaguely remembered somebody named Gruber or Goober or something but, fortunately, he played only a marginal role in health care. Thanks for asking. Next question?

Now, this may surprise you, but it turns out the White House knew Gruber very well and knew he played a crucial role in the health care bill. The White House simply decided to lie about it. ...

How do we know about Gruber’s role? Not because the White House released any documents, not because the media dug into it, but because the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, got MIT to turn over the relevant emails. There were 20,000 pages of emails back-and-forth between Gruber and the White House in the crucial months when the bill was being crafted and passed.

The Wall Street Journal just revealed the news about the Oversight Committee getting these emails in a major story. The key points are that Gruber was deeply involved in crafting the health care law, he worked very closely with the White House, and, when he became a political liability, the president and his senior aides simply lied about it.

Is that a big story? Not if you are a national TV network or major U.S. newspaper. Except for the Wall Street Journal, they maintained radio silence. Not a peep.
Most people don't follow the news closely.  That's why, as Andrew Breitbart said, what's important isn't what gets reported (since, in the era of bloggers, very little is completely covered up) but what gets repeated (the stories that are on the front page and leading the news shows every night).  Repeated stories create a narrative, and the narrative is what pierces people's consciousness.  No narrative = no awareness.

Even when major media types can't avoid admitting that an administration they like has done something scandalous, they still avoid coming down on it they way they would on an administration they don't like. What's worse, they go beyond refusing to call a spade a spade and actively spin the news in favor of the administration.
What happened on Morning Joe was fascinating. One of the hosts, Mika Brzezinski, called attention to the Journal story. Her co-host, former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough, followed up. Turning to Mark Halperin, who is the co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics and a former senior reporter at Time, Scarborough asked if the story was inconsistent with White House statements. “I owe my Republican sources an apology,” Halperin said, “because they kept telling me he [Gruber] was hugely involved, and the White House played it down.”

Then Scarborough asked the money question: “Did the White House lie about that?”

“I think they were not fully forthcoming.”

That answer did not come from a White House official or a Democratic operative. It came from a big-time reporter. And not just any reporter. It came from a reporter to whom the White House had deliberately lied in background briefings. Does he call them out? Nope. He spins for them.
The effects of this kind of systematic bias are truly insidious, rotting journalism from the inside out. Glenn Reynolds calls reporters "Democratic operatives with bylines," and it's hard to deny it in instances like this.

One insidious of this journalistic rot is that, by effectively colluding to keep stories from being reported on, major media outlets create the narrative that a story that's "only" covered by Fox News and the Wall Street Journal isn't trustworthy.

"If it was real news," the narrative goes, "it would be reported by real, unbiased news outlets like NYT and WaPo, not just by the right wing echo chamber."

The truth, as we can see above, is sometimes the exact opposite.

1 comment:

Howie Goodell said...

OK; deeply-involved is news, I agree. Lying about news, and reporters not caring, is scary.

I happen to think Gruber's comments, while expressed with amazing political insensitivity, weren't a scandal at all. Perhaps the reporters agree with me, and that's much of what moderated their reaction.

When the president of Harvard said he didn't expect many women would qualify for the Harvard faculty, he lost his job, but I think scientifically he was on reasonably solid ground. Many intelligence-related genes are on the X chromosome; so a man expresses them undiluted, while a woman expresses some from each X chromosome (I don't understand the details of how each gene is expressed or not). It is undeniable that there are many more severely-retarded males; probably the fact that most geniuses we know of have been male isn't purely an effect of male-dominated societies and more assertiveness, although these certainly matter.

Similarly, young people subsidize old people big-time in every medical insurance plan. I forget Gruber's other shocking faux pas, but I think I agreed with it factually as well. There's a big difference between shockingly bad phrasing and shockingly bad deeds. Spying massively on the public and lying about it, or starting a war with grossly-inadequate justification and lying about it I put in the latter category.