Nel's New Day

November 12, 2013

No Excuses for the Media

The entire news media are liberal, according to conservative complaints. Only the Fox network can be trusted, the far-right claims. A close look at politics on mainstream media, beginning with 60 Minutes, shows a different view. One of the recent stories on this venerable program was about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic million in Benghazi (Libya) over a year ago. The biggest flaw in the story is that 60 Minutes reporters did their fact checking after the story was shown, not before.

The centerpiece of the story was a man called Morgan Jones who told about his scaling a 12-foot wall at the compound and using the butt end of his rifle to knock down an extremist while desperately trying to rescue the people there. He also reported that after he failed in his task, he saw the body of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens at a hospital. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) got so excited about this black eye on the Obama administration that he told media he would block all the president’s nominees until Congress heard from the U.S. survivors of the attack. Those include Jeh Johnson for Secretary of Homeland Security and  Janet L. Yellen as head of the Federal Reserve.

The problem with the 60 Minutes report—and Graham’s delighted reaction—is that Dylan Davies, who pretended to be Morgan Jones on the program, told his employer three days after the attack that he spent most of that night at his beach-side villa. The Britain-based contractor hired to handle the compound’s perimeter security wrote in his report, “We could not get anywhere near . . . as roadblocks had been set up.” He added that he learned about Steven’s death after a Libyan colleague came to Davies’ villa and showed him a cellphone photograph. According to his 21.5-page report, he didn’t go to the compound until the following day when he photographed the devastation.

Both the State Department and GOP Congressional aides confirmed that Davies’ report was among tens of thousands of documents that lawmakers had available. Yet this week Davies’ book by Sergeant Morgan Jones, The Embassy House which has the same story as the 60 Minutes report, was supposed to be released. The co-author, Damien Lewis, doesn’t even believe Davies’ account because the man’s superiors told him by telephone during the attack to stay away from the compound. Simon & Schuster, the book’s publisher announced last Friday, “We are suspending the publication.” The company is asking stores to return any books that they have received.

As bad as the false report is 60 Minutes’ weak apology. After stating last Friday that the program would “correct the record on our broadcast on Sunday night,” Lara Logan gave a 90-second comment at the end of the show. This followed several days of CBS’s support of its story after Media Matters pointed out the holes in Davies’ story and Davies used other media outlets, including The Daily Beast, to defend himself against “smears.”

 The media about Logan’s Benghazi report error, a story that sent the GOP in Congress into another witchhunt, was equally shabby. Washington Post headlined its defense of her as “brutal criticism,” and the author of the piece, Paul Fahri, described her as “glamorous” with “striking looks” and “femininity.” Obviously enamored by her appearance as she trick-or-treated with her children on Halloween, he wrote that she “dressed in a hot-pink bodysuit costume, set off with high heels.” No discussion of the 60 Minutes debacle until the next page.

Fahri—and most other media—failed to point out that Logan’s original report was not only wrong but also seriously lacking information. Although Logan claimed that the report was over a year in the making, it didn’t discuss the country’s historic and violent transition in Libya at the time of the Benghazi attack. U.S. forces had helped to overthrow the Qaddafi regime with resulting disorder because of the revolution. She represented Libya as only a place with a diplomatic mission and brave men with only cowards in Washington.

The U.S. media is in a tragic situation when the best reporting comes from comedy shows The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. For the best in humor and accuracy, check here and here.

Somewhat chastised by the inability of 60 Minutes to provide accurate reporting on the subject near and dear to his heart, Graham is still clinging to his rationale for blocking the president’s nominees. When questioned on Sunday, he said, rather weakly, that he had “released” two nominees for ambassadors but would continue to block the others.

In his response to 60 Minutes’ error/sort-of apology, Jon Stewart also tackled the reference of Christie’s photo on Time‘s cover to “the elephant in the room.” Accompanying the media’s awkward description of Christie is the inability of hosts on media political “talk shows” to elicit any meaningful information from their subjects.

David Wiegel uses the four interviews of Christie last Sunday to show the fluff that pretends to be political interviews. Tim Russert, past host of Meet the Press, was worth watching. When then Sen. Barack Obama appeared on his show seven years ago, Russert didn’t ask him if he thought a black man could become president. Instead he referenced Obama’s book and began by asking him if legislators had an obligation to solve issues although they would benefit from staying “out of the way.” The interview continued with Russert quoting from Obama’s book and asking other policy questions.

The latest host of Meet the Press, David Gregory, is just the reverse of Russert. He started Christie’s interview with whether he planned to run for president and continued with others about what impact Christie might have on the GOP and how the party could be saved. About Medicaid, Gregory asked if conservatives would attack Christie for expanding it.

On This Week, George Stephanopoulos asked Christie about relieving sanctions on Iran. Christie said other people would know more, and Stephanopoulos immediately moved to another subject. In a discussion about immigration, Christie pontificates on the “broken” federal system with no interruption from the host and no follow-up question of how Kentucky was able to set up a largely trouble-free exchange.

On Face the Nation, Christie claimed he’s just the governor of New Jersey, and host Norah O’Donnell gave him a pass by asking him what lessons he has for the GOP and what goals he has for next year. When Christie brags about the people in his state not being “involved in this train wreck” of the Affordable Care Act, O’Donnell doesn’t point out that they are locked into the healthcare.gov system. Nor does she ask him why all his endorsed state GOP senate candidates lost.

As David Wiegel wrote:

“In not one of the interviews did Christie get a potentially irritating, but fact-based, question about whether his lack of coattails said anything about the limits of his appeal or strategy. He got no questions, really, that he’s never had to answer before—not on the Voting Rights Act, not on the gay rights bill moving through Congress, not on the minimum wage ballot measure that passed in New Jersey on the same day he was elected, nada, nothing.”

Graham’s desperation most likely comes from his up-coming re-election campaign. Instead of easily sliding back into office, he is opposed by—thus far—four Republicans in the primary on .The most recent one has some validity, having almost won lieutenant governor in 2012. With the contender a Democrat who has three Nevada felony convictions, the primary winner will probably go to the U.S. Senate.

For their failures, however, the media have no excuse!

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