Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Writing for the Ombudsman or Someone Like Him

Another day, another ombudsman has a fit. This time it's Jeffrey Dvorkin at NPR, complaining that Media Matters and Think Progress distorted what Mara Liasson said last week on Fox and whining that he got a lot of nasty emails as a result.

Dvorkin says that Media Matters and Think Progress misrepresented what Liasson said because they relied on a misleading Fox transcript—"Due to a misplaced comma, it left the impression that both parties had profited directly from Abramoff." Media Matters and Think Progress say that they did not rely on the Fox transcript for their reports; they relied on their video of Liasson's commentary, which you can watch here.

At issue, really, is whether Liasson was trying to spin the Abramoff scandal as a bipartisan one when it's overwhelmingly a Republican one. Let's see. Abramoff himself gave only to Republicans; some of Abramoff's clients did give to Democrats but shifted their giving toward Republicans after dealing with Abramoff. Whether both parties are capable of corruption is not the issue. Both parties are made up of human beings, and all human beings are capable of corruption; therefore, both parties are capable of corruption. But that's speaking generally; the corruption in this particular case largely involves Republicans. It's not surprising that some Republicans and/or their media supporters would try to shift the focus from the particular to the general—when what is at issue is this particular scandal, they lose. Another way to say "shift the focus," of course, is to say "misdirect." Misdirection is the stock-in-trade of conjurors and other tricksters: get the audience looking here while the important stuff is happening there. Result: the audience is fooled, and it doesn't know how.

Alas, I fear that Jeffrey Dvorkin is desperately trying to shift our focus, too—away from the overall tenor of Liasson's remarks and toward a misplaced comma. If you can even figure out from his post what "misplaced comma" he's talking about, congratulations. All his post says is that the misplaced comma "left the impression that Liasson said that both parties had profited directly from Abramoff." In its own response to Dvorkin, Media Matters is more helpful: "Dvorkin attacked Media Matters and defended Liasson's comments, asserting that the Fox News transcript had incorrectly included the comma after 'Republicans', leaving 'the impression that Liasson said that both parties had profited directly from Abramoff'." Hmm. Here's the excerpt that Media Matters included in its May 7 post (emphasis theirs):

WALLACE: Mara, Democrats, as Brit [Hume, Fox News anchor and Washington bureau managing editor] points out, have been making a big deal so far this year about Republicans and the "culture of corruption." Do Democrats now have their own glass house?

LIASSON: Yes. Well, look. I think that voters think there is a culture of corruption. They just don't think it's a Republican culture of corruption yet. And I think that every time you hear another one of these kind of bipartisan scandal stories, where it's Democrats, not just Republicans, taking money from Abramoff, it underlines a feeling that people tell pollsters over and over again, which is that everybody does it, that there's not really much difference.

Now, of course, in terms of the lobbying scandals and the money-related scandals, there are more Republicans involved. They're the majority party. But I think that the way this is playing out politically is that if you are an individual congressman involved in something like this, you're going to have some trouble in November unless you're in a super safe seat.

It might add to a general feeling of anger at incumbents, just the fact that there's more stuff that people don't like in Washington, and that adds to the anti-incumbent view. But I think to make a big partisan indictment, which is what the Democrats are trying to do, to say this is a Republican culture of corruption, I think makes it a lot harder.

Now here's the smaller excerpt at Think Progress (emphasis theirs). Note that there's no comma after 'Republicans':
I think every time you hear another one of these kind of bipartisan scandal stories, where it’s Democrats, not just Republicans taking money from Abramoff, it underlines a feeling that people tell pollsters over and over again, that everybody does it.
Hmm. Here are the two options:
  1. another one of these kind of bipartisan scandal stories, where it's Democrats, not just Republicans, taking money from Abramoff
  2. another one of these kind of bipartisan scandal stories, where it’s Democrats, not just Republicans taking money from Abramoff
What's that you say? In both, the main idea is Democrats taking money from Abramoff? That the comma after 'Republicans' in (1) is quite correct, grammatically speaking, since it sets off nonessential information that interrupts the main flow of the sentence? That (2), while it does place slightly more emphasis on Republicans taking money from Abramoff, is actually grammatically incorrect? And its main idea—Democrats taking money from Abramoff—is the same, anyway? Congratulations. You know how to read.

Nice try, Mr. Dvorkin, but I'm not buying the comma crap. It's misdirection, anyway. Go ahead: watch the clip of Liasson at Media Matters. Tell me that the overall thrust of her remarks isn't an attempt to shift the focus away from this particular scandal (in which Republicans are heavily implicated) and toward there's a culture of corruption in general, so stop picking on Republicans. Go ahead. I dare you.

I'm sorry that you got some nasty emails, Mr. Dvorkin; I wish that more people would follow the advice that Media Matters itself gives:

When contacting the media, please be polite and professional. Express your specific concerns regarding that particular news report or commentary, and be sure to indicate exactly what you would like the media outlet to do differently in the future.
I'm sorry that some people see email more as a convenient way to vent anger than as a convenient way to communicate reasonable thoughts and criticisms. But I also understand why some people might get angry enough to bombard you with nasty emails: Despite the very NPR ethics guide that you mention in your post, one of your correspondents repeatedly goes on Fox and dutifully recites Republican spin—and, what's worse, she does so by repeating "zombie lies" that were debunked long ago. Put yourself in the position of a viewer, and ask yourself: Is this not profoundly disrespectful toward those on the consuming end of media? Ask yourself also: Is not anger an understandable response when you are treated with such disrespect?

"I just want to be loved; is that so wrong?"
This is not to say that such anger should simply be vented; on the contrary. It is far better to subject such passions to the controlling hand of reason (which is not to be confused with Willem Dafoe's hand). I am merely pointing that your listeners have good reason, if you'll pardon the expression, to be angry. Alas that now, with your attempt at misdirection by blaming the whole brouhaha on a misplaced comma that makes no real difference, and your accusations that Media Matters and Think Progress are practicing "guilt by association" in criticizing an NPR correspondent for repeatedly trafficking in Republican zombie spin lies, you have given them even more reason to be angry. Expect more emails. We'll expect more whining.

Jeez, you want Guilt By Association? The right-wing media can take you to school. Check out what they've done since Iranian President Ahmadinejad sent that recent letter to Bush:

"I'm your boogeyman, that's what I am."
Not to be outdone, Oliver North and Sean Hannity have tried to blame Howard Dean for a bunch of anti-gay protesters who have been protesting at military funerals. Why? Apparently because they haven't heard Howard Dean denounce them. Hannity even tried to blame "the anti-war left" for the protests staged by Fred Phelps and his hate-filled followers. Apparently, the fact that these people protest at military funerals is enough to link them to the left—because the left just hates the military, dontcha know.

Do you see what we're up against, Mr. Dvorkin? Do you see why some people might get angry when they see an NPR correspondent playing the same sick game that these people play?

Hey, kids—play along at home! It's fun:

Speaking of whiny ombudsmen, I see that former New York Times "public editor" number one Daniel Okrent is going to be on Fresh Air today. What do ombudspersons travel in? A herd? A flock? An agony??

Guilt by association, indeed. Democratic politicians were loathe to appear at anti-war rallies for fear of being labeled ANSWER stooges. Oh, the horror! Dworkin and his precious NPR let themselves be bamboozled into an illegal, immoral war. I remember their "reporting" on the protests. I remember Scott Simon's idiot responses to Robert Jensen. Fuck these cocktail weenies!
Dvorkin is on the same level as listeners who send in "corrections" to NPR, in the vein of "The True Story Behind the Use of the Backstitch in Pennsylvania Dutch Quilting, 1870-1873." I'm thinking of people like the one whose letter was read on the most recent Weekend Edition Sunday, saying "Shame On You NPR For Promoting The 'Road Food' Book, Don't You Know About The Obesity Problem in America?" But at least people like that can fall back on OCD as an excuse.
Ah, Scott Simon. I haven't heard that old warmongering ex-Quaker in a long time (This . . . is an ex-Quaker), as I haven't listened to Weekend Edition in a long time. Is he still tsk-tsking war critics, or has he actually learned something from the Iraq debacle?

(Jules is the party responsible for the Willem Dafoe's hand reference, by the way. I'm reminded of another odd connection she once made. We were watching Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. There's a scene where you see Chomsky disembarking from a small plane and striding across a windswept tarmac, his hair flopping about in the breeze. Out of nowhere, Jules says, "It's a Flock of Chomskys!" STILL cracks me up.)

Hilarious examples, Mr_Blog! I confess, though, that I had to look up OCD. And then look it up several more times just to be sure.
Is he still tsk-tsking war critics, or has he actually learned something from the Iraq debacle?

Seems to have Willem Dafoe's hand on his ass if you ask me. ;)
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