Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 23, 2010

NO PULITZERS FOR YOU.... It occurs to me that this has not been a stellar week for the American political media. The Shirley Sherrod story was, of course, a humiliating fiasco for a lot of people and institutions, but it was especially humiliating for Fox News, and should serve as a permanent credibility killer for right-wing activist Andrew Breitbart.

But there were other serious missteps. Consider some of the developments of the last few days:

* Just days after Breitbart published misleading garbage, and he admitted to not having done any due diligence or used any professional standards, Politico named the activist one of the nation's "50 Politicos to Watch." Breitbart is one of those special few, Politico said, who "set this city's agenda." The accompanying profile -- in the "scenemakers" category -- included quotes about his "mystique" and "wit."

* Politico Executive Editor Jim VandeiHei equated Breitbart with the Huffington Post, only one of which feature actual reporters, editors, and professional standards. He went on to equate MSNBC and Fox News, which is as common as it is misguided.

* Tucker Carlson, Jonathan Strong, and The Daily Caller became obsessed with a listserv made up of center-left writers, reporters, academics, and wonks. In the process, they ran pieces that "have misstated fact, misled readers, and omitted evidence that would contradict" the agreed-upon conservative thesis. [Disclosure: I was a member of said listserv.]

* Politico made a candid concession about its interest in traffic. Greg Sargent summarized, "This is actually an important concession: Frivolous items about Sarah Palin do degrade our discourse, but we need to do them, because the simple fact is that people click on them in droves."

When we consider complaints about the "cravenness of the legitimate press," it's weeks like this one that stand out as especially egregious. Indeed, there's no real sense that major outlets realize they've erred, that those with no credibility deserve to be treated accordingly, etc.

When the Obama administration evaluated its handling of the Sherrod matter, and realized it had made a mistake, it did what many news outlets didn't -- it apologized and tried to set things right. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday:

"Just as the Department of Agriculture and this Administration will review its actions, I also hope this starts a conversation in the media about how it operates."

I'm not optimistic.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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Comments

I assume that blogs, like newspapers, weekly magazines, and broadcast media, are revenue driven.

That Steve loves what he does is a given. But I wonder how long WaMo would be on line without the right and left hand images, begging me to click on them.

Write a piece on Palin or Bachmann, or Angle, and, as Greg Sargent says, "people click on them in droves."

-Which came first, the chicken, or the egg? The blog or the ad?

Posted by: DAY on July 23, 2010 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Information is a commodity! No longer are news rooms working to disseminate information to a voting public for the sake of edifying the public on salient issues of the day. No, now we have media centers (glitzy named thingies like Wolf Blitzer's and O'Reilly's No Spin Zone) concerned more with sending a message than speaking truth to power!

The media has become the message, and those among us who lack the ability to discern the shit from the shinola have bought the shit at a very high price to our civil society! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on July 23, 2010 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "But there were other serious missteps."

With all due respect ... good grief Steve!

When will you stop blathering about "missteps" and realize that these people know exactly what the are doing?

"Humiliating for Fox News"?

"Credibility killer" for Breitbart?

ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ?!?

What happened was that Breitbart and Fox News succeeded in humiliating and destroying the credibility of Vilsack and the administration, by demonstrating that the Obama administration is just as ready as any Tea Party Ditto-Head to believe anything Fox News says and do stupid things as a result.

Humiliated? Fox and Breitbart's only worry is to be careful not to dislocate their shoulders by patting themselves on the back.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 23, 2010 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

I also hope this starts a conversation in the media about how it operates

Oh, they loved it! To the extent the "story" became "who screwed up in the Obama Administration?", they were able to write about process, not policy. Writing about policy requires hard work and some mastery of the subject matter. Process -- why that's rumor, gossip, innuendo.

And in any event, you ought not hold your breath waiting for them to take themselves to task for their sordid performance.

Posted by: DJ on July 23, 2010 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

I grew up in a newspaper family. My dad reminded me over and over again that the news business is a business. Without advertizing revenue my brothers and I would never have gone to college.

The problem with blogs is revenue is all about traffic count. You have to generate pretty healthy traffic to make money. My guess is Political Animal, which is one of the most successful political blogs, is doing better than breaking even. Most bloggers aren't making much at all. Most bloggers would be thrilled with 1/10th this blogs daily traffic. Those folks write because that is what they know how to do and they have something to say.

When you visit Breitbart's site you have to guess it is subsidized by somebody with money to burn and an axe to grind.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 23, 2010 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Of all the bad actors, only two have apologized, and they just happen to be the least culpable: Tom Vilsack and Obama.

I don't expect the fabricators and con-artists in this affair to apologize any more than I expect an armed robber to apologize. I assume the only remorse they feel would be at getting caught, and ought to be punished.

I expect an apology from the media because I still hold out hope against all evidence to the contrary that they are not fabricators and con-artists playing the same game as Brietbart.

But I wonder - had Obama not fired Sherrod, giving the media a way to accept the reality here and criticize the WH - would the media have continued to peddle this smear so long as the right refused to concede the tape was doctored, and present both sides equally?

Yes, that was rhetorical.

Posted by: Memekiller on July 23, 2010 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

I just visited Breitbart's site. It doesn't have anything like the number of ads you see here. It's ads are similar in number and quality to any number of struggling political sites I know about. My guess is biggovernment.com doesn't do that well. I couldn't find the site meter logo so I couldn't get the actual count, but it is pretty clear that site is not generating enough revenue to pay for itself.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 23, 2010 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

Great point Ron Byers - Breitbart's site probably doesn't generate enough revenue to pay for itself. Just like the 90s when Scaife and other billionaires funded attacks, the same thing is happening now.

Heh, wait, you know Harris and Vander Hei were both at the Post in the 90s when they were fed all the anti-Clinton propaganda and happily printed it. No questioning of the source, no questioning of the credibility, heh's it Whitewater in it goes. But now they claim its so different - so partisan, so nasty. Really - or are they just shilling to cover themselves?

Which brings the next point, Politico has a clear interest - and bias. Politicio is the Pravda of the DC establishment.

Posted by: sam Knight on July 23, 2010 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Secular Animist: Humiliated? Fox and Breitbart's only worry is to be careful not to dislocate their shoulders by patting themselves on the back.

Exactly so. They got the NAACP leadership to warn the NAACP membership not to make racist comments at future fundraisers. And they have drawn attention to the lack of incriminating videos of some widely reported "racist" incidents by Tea Partiers.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on July 23, 2010 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

"But I wonder - had Obama not fired Sherrod, giving the media a way to accept the reality here and criticize the WH - would the media have continued to peddle this smear so long as the right refused to concede the tape was doctored, and present both sides equally?" - Memekiller.

Alternate Universe:

A USDA or other Obama representative issues the following statement:

"We are withholding judgment on Ms. Sherrod until we hear her side of the story and all the facts are known.

Andrew Breitbart has a long and sordid history of distorting the truth, with the most recent example being his involvment in the now thoroughly discredited ACORN video.

We challenge Mr. Breitbart to produce the full, unedited version of the tape in question, as we are confident that the truth will fully vindicate Ms. Sherrod."

Then, when the real tape goes viral, Dems rhetorically eviscerate Breitbart's reputation, branding him as the lying sack of shit he is and labeling him as a standard republican propagandist.

In my dreams.

Posted by: bdop4 on July 23, 2010 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

I'd just like to say that I'm sick of hearing about Journolist.

From the right, and from those who were on it.

Just give it a rest, already. We have bigger problems in this country than your frackin' listserv.

Posted by: somethingblue on July 23, 2010 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

Just like Shirley Sherrod's father was literally, murderously shot in the back and killed forty-five years ago by a Klansman living on a farm next door, Shirley Sherrod earlier this week was figuratively stabbed in the back by Andrew Breithart, after which Fox News picked up the bloodied Breitbart knife and continued to stab Shirley Sherrod repeatedly in the back, continuing the Breitbart-instigated character assassination of Shirley Sherrod.

And then some gullible fools in the news media (except for CNN), at the Agriculture Department and the NAACP (who got ACORN'ed, swift-boated), apparently believing this character-assassination segment of a much longer highly-inspirational and non-racist speech, picked up this same right-wing-manufactured bloody knife and plunged it into Shirley Sherrod's back themselves, and only after getting all the facts, apologized and tried to remove the Breitbart/Fox News knife that they'd prematurely and blindly plunged into Shirley Sherrod's back.

This is how I see what happened this week.

And Shirley Sherrod even said she was shocked when informed that a video clip had been released by the knife-wielding rabid right-wing, one accusing her of being a racist, one that showed only a short segment of a much longer speech she'd given months ago, kind of like she'd been snuck up on from behind and ambushed, just like the Agriculture Department was ambushed, just like the Obama administration was ambushed, just like the NAACP was ambushed, just like Shirley Sherrod's dad was ambushed.

Posted by: The Oracle on July 23, 2010 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

Is it true that Shirley Sharrod said, on television, that Andrew Breitbart wants to re-enslave all African-Americans? That claim is making the rounds, but I have not seen the video myself.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on July 23, 2010 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

re MatthewRMarler @ 10:04 PM.
Now that you've pushed the latest know-nothing talking point, we know that you will have the sense to refrain from touching anything until AFTER you wash your hands. Such efforts to maintain the mental health of this country are always greatly appreciated.
We now return you to intelligent comments.

Posted by: Doug on July 23, 2010 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

That little sound bite: It's not about white versus black or hispanics. It's about haves versus have nots....

Should be made the center piece of a series of ads, web campaigns, and short news releases blasting Murdoch and FOX and others for a rush to judgement.

And side tracking the issues.

Pow! Wham! Oof!

Should be the noises coming from tbe tea party and Republicans...

So what if the NAACP called the tea party racist... Two wrongs do not make a right!

Note... if they have this kind of stuff on tap, I would suggest a good offense AND an excellent defense are needed.

There is a kooky element in America which suddenly has been given media by Murdoch, who is laughing as he whips us up into a frenzy.

Well, if a frenzy we must have lets attack the frenzy maker and the network he owns for selling out america to the wealthy.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on July 24, 2010 at 2:54 AM | PERMALINK

That little sound bite: It's not about white versus black or hispanics. It's about haves versus have nots....

Should be made the center piece of a series of ads, web campaigns, and short news releases blasting Murdoch and FOX and others for a rush to judgement.

And side tracking the issues.

Pow! Wham! Oof!

Should be the noises coming from tbe tea party and Republicans...

So what if the NAACP called the tea party racist... Two wrongs do not make a right!

Note... if they have this kind of stuff on tap, I would suggest a good offense AND an excellent defense are needed.

There is a kooky element in America which suddenly has been given media by Murdoch, who is laughing as he whips us up into a frenzy.

Well, if a frenzy we must have lets attack the frenzy maker and the network he owns for selling out america to the wealthy.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on July 24, 2010 at 2:54 AM | PERMALINK

If I may get my two cents worth in, the two outlets that published the debunked "Jones Act hinders clean up" story were the online Science Christian Monitor and the Voice of American.

Posted by: Maineiac on July 24, 2010 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

With all of the tea bagger frenzy about Obama secretly not being an American, their patrons - Fox news (which is certainly not news) led by an Australian is trying to do mischief in this country just like he did in the UK and his native country, who by the way cannot stand him.
Also, why does anyone ever think Politico is anything but a right wing organization?

Posted by: JS on July 24, 2010 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, I think in six months no one will remember who Shirley Sherrod (fortunately for HER) is, and Breitbart will keep right on spewing his filth.

Posted by: zppawannabe on July 24, 2010 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

Doug on July 23, 2010 at 11:04 PM

So you don't know either, do you?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on July 24, 2010 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Sheryl Sherrod?

Surely you jest.

Posted by: Roger Ailes on July 24, 2010 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Uhh, Steve, Huff Post doesn't have editorial standards, too.

1. It publishes a lot of New Agey bullshit under the alleged name of "medicine," including giving antivaxxers a platform.

2. It's spiked stories before out of fear of/influence from its biggest investor besides the Greek Goddess herself.

Fail, Steve.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 25, 2010 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK
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