Part 3—Slowest children from Michigan: In fairness, the timing was perhaps a bit odd.
Jeremy Peters’ “News Analysis” piece appeared in the New York Times this Tuesday.
That was Election Day! His report was perhaps a bit late!
But if the timing was somewhat odd, the subject matter was welcome. When last we looked in on Peters, he had offered a groaning report on an extremely tired old subject: the press corps’ Official Standard Greatest Moments from Past Presidential Debates.
Familiar though that offering was, it was one of the worst such compilations we had ever encountered. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/23/12.
This Tuesday morning, Election Day, Peters’ subject matter was more current. And it was quite worthwhile.
In his “News Analysis” piece, Peters reviewed the work of MSNBC and Fox, our dueling partisan cable news networks. As he began, he made his viewpoint perfectly clear—the election coverage at these channels had been less than inspiring:
PETERS (11/6/12): As the cable news channels count down the hours before the first polls close on Tuesday, an entire election cycle will have passed since President Obama last sat down with Fox News. The organization’s standing request to interview the president is now almost two years old.Say what? Even at The One True Liberal Channel, the work has been silly and small?
At NBC News, the journalists reporting on the Romney campaign will continue to absorb taunts from their sources about their sister cable channel, MSNBC. “You mean, Al Sharpton’s network,” as they say Stuart Stevens, a senior Romney adviser, is especially fond of reminding them.
Spend just a little time watching either Fox News or MSNBC, and it is easy to see why such tensions run high. In fact, by some measures, the partisan bitterness on cable news has never been as stark—and in some ways, as silly or small.
Newspapers like the New York Times tend to shy away from this general topic—but the subject is quite worthwhile. As he continued, Peters provided a taste of what he was talking about:
PETERS (continuing directly): Martin Bashir, the host of MSNBC’s 4 p.m. hour, recently tried to assess why Mitt Romney seemed irritable on the campaign trail and offered a provocative theory: that he might have mental problems.Ugh. According to Peters, the dueling partisan cable channels had been offering dueling shrinks.
“Mrs. Romney has expressed concerns about her husband’s mental well-being,” Mr. Bashir told one of his guests. “But do you get the feeling that perhaps there’s more to this than she’s saying?”
Over on Fox News, similar psychological evaluations were under way on “Fox & Friends.” Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and a member of the channel’s “Medical A-Team,” suggested that Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s “bizarre laughter” during the vice-presidential debate might have something to do with a larger mental health issue. “You have to put dementia on the differential diagnosis,” he noted matter-of-factly.
Neither outlet has built its reputation on moderation and restraint, but during this presidential election, research shows that both are pushing their stridency to new levels.
Sadly, Peters was being fair to MSNBC’s frequently gruesome Martin Bashir. He referred to a segment Bashir presented on October 1.
Over the years, we have rarely had occasion to cite work by the Media Research Center in a favorable way. But in this instance, the MRC’s Ken Shepherd produced a perfectly reasonable account of Bashir’s segment.
To watch that segment, just click here. Here’s how Shepherd described it. (On MSNBC, the hosts like to clown by referring to Romney as "Willard."):
SHEPHERD (10/2/12): Bashir called the segment "Being Willard Romney." He directed his first question to liberal pundit and Guardian columnist Ana Marie Cox. The MSNBC host first asked: “Mrs. Romney has expressed concerns about her husband's mental well-being, but do you get the feeling that perhaps there's more to this than she's saying?”For the most part, Cox and Capehart rejected the bait, just as Shepherd described. But Bashir is a frequent embarrassment as the corporate suits of NBC serve these plates of comfort food to us dumbed-down liberal marks.
Cox seemed a bit taken aback by Bashir's query: “Well, Martin, I actually think this is sort of one area where I'm hesitant to mock too much. I think that the relationship between Mitt and Ann...”
Interrupting Cox, Bashir shot back that he was dead serious:
“I'm not asking you to mock, Ana Marie, I'm asking you a serious question. No, I'm not asking you to mock. His wife has said, and volunteered, that her number one concern for her husband is his mental health and mental well-being. I'm asking you do you think that she knows things about him that provoke that kind of concern?”
Bashir then moved on to his other guest, Washington Post editorial writer and MSNBC contributor Jonathan Capehart, asking another version of the same question: “Jonathan, as this campaign has progressed, I've noticed that Mr. Romney has become increasingly impatient and testy, particularly when asked polite questions by the media. Is it therefore fair to assume that Mr. Romney does have difficulties when the pressure on him increases...?”
For our money, Peters was off to a good start with a worthwhile but challenging topic. But uh-oh!
Instantly, he veered off the rails. In our view, Peters stuck the shiv in MSNBC to a far greater extent than he did with the various gong-shows at Fox. And before long, he was displaying the lack of journalistic skill so common at the New York Times, a famous but intellectually challenged American pseudo-newspaper:
PETERS: MSNBC, whose programs are hosted by a new crop of extravagant partisans like Mr. Bashir, Mr. Sharpton and Lawrence O’Donnell, has tested the limits of good taste this year. Mr. O’Donnell was forced to apologize in April after describing the Mormon Church as nothing more than a scheme cooked up by a man who “got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it.”As he started, Peters was still doing A-minus work. O’Donnell’s undisguised anti-Mormon bigotry has been another strange embarrassment, one in a long list of embarrassments engineered by The One True Channel.
The channel’s hosts recycle talking points handed out by the Obama campaign, even using them as titles for program segments, like Mr. Bashir did recently with a segment he called “Romnesia,” referring to Mr. Obama’s term to explain his opponent’s shifting positions.
The hosts insult and mock, like Alex Wagner did in recently describing Mr. Romney’s trip overseas as “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”—a line she borrowed from an Obama spokeswoman. Mr. Romney was not only hapless, Ms. Wagner said, he also looked “disheveled” and “a little bit sweaty” in a recent appearance.
Not that they save their scorn just for their programs. Some MSNBC hosts even use the channel’s own ads promoting its slogan “Lean Forward,” to criticize the Republicans. Mr. O’Donnell accuses them of basing their campaigns on the false notion that Mr. Obama is inciting class warfare. “You have to come up with a lie,” he says, when your campaign is based on empty rhetoric.
In her ad, Rachel Maddow breathlessly decodes the logic behind the push to overhaul state voting laws. “The idea is to shrink the electorate,” she says, “so a smaller number of people get to decide what happens to all of us.”
But good grief! From there, Peters jumped to a segment called “Romnesia,” suggesting—but failing to demonstrate—that this was somehow “a talking point handed out by the Obama campaign.”
Why was this segment in bad taste? Peters didn't explain.
Just that quickly, it was Peters who was now presenting the D-minus journalism! He went on to describe Alex Wagner in a way which did take her words out of fair context. (To watch tape of Wagner’s remarks, click here.) He then lodged an extremely fuzzy complaint about something O’Donnell said in a network promotion.
By the end of this passage, Peters was complaining about a perfectly anodyne allegation by Maddow. What was supposed to be wrong with her comment?
She “breathlessly” provided her decoding, Peters said. This snark represented his only attempt to explain or suggest what was wrong with her troubling remark.
Can this possibly be the best the New York Times can do? For ourselves, we never cease to be amazed by this newspaper’s low intellectual standards—and by the way its D-minus work goes unremarked everywhere else.
In this case, Peters’ borderline work continued even when he discussed the work at Fox. By the end of this passage, he seemed to be complaining about the very idea that someone would dare to allege a “cover-up:”
PETERS: Lately the White House and Fox News have been at odds over the channel’s aggressive coverage of the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Fox initially raised questions over the White House’s explanation of the events that led to the attack—questions that other news organizations have since started reporting on more fully.In our view, Fox has provided horrible coverage of the Benghazi matter. But Peters doesn’t bother explaining what is actually wrong with the things the channel has said.
But the commentary on the channel quickly and often turns to accusations that the White House played politics with American lives. “Everything they told us was a lie,” Sean Hannity said recently as he and John H. Sununu, a former governor of New Hampshire and a Romney campaign supporter, took turns raising questions about how the Obama administration misled the public. “A hoax,” Mr. Hannity called the administration’s explanation. “A cover-up.”
Instead, he gets his shorts in a wad over the very idea that someone might make such unseemly statements—that someone might allege that a White House has played politics or conducted a cover-up!
Did the administration "mislead the public?" Did it conduct a "cover-up?" Peters seems angry that Hannity made such claims. But he makes no attempt to show that the claims are wrong.
Heaven help us if scribes like Peters had been on the job during Watergate! And uh-oh! As he closes, Peters even gets his shorts in a wad over a reference to that:
PETERS: Peter Johnson, a commentator and the personal lawyer to Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman, has suggested that the president is a liar and has even wondered whether the administration chose not to aid American forces in Libya for the sake of appearances. “Was there a political calculation that was made to sacrifice Americans on the ground so we didn’t kill innocents in front of the consulate?” he asked.Peters doesn’t try to evaluate the merits of Johnson’s “suggestions.” (Johnson’s suggestions rarely have merit.) To all appearances, we’re supposed to get upset just because he said “Watergate” at this point in time.
Mr. Johnson then noted another political scandal that broke in an election year and failed to receive adequate scrutiny at the time: Watergate.
Peters selected a valuable topic. There is a great deal to criticize in the work of these dueling cable “news” networks.
But Peters’ journalistic skills are virtually non-existent. Where do they find these scribes?
In Peters’ case, they found him at Michigan (class of 02). As is often the case in these origin stories, Peters “just happened to be sitting by the phone at the Michigan Daily when [the Times] called looking for a stringer.”
Again and again, it sounds like the Times simply grabs its children wherever it finds them when it's in need of warm bodies. When the New York Times needs a warm body, it grabs the first kid off the street!
In our view, the work they produce reinforces this tale. Tomorrow, slowest children from Stanford!
Tomorrow: Serial misstatements
Regarding that study by Pew: In his piece, Peters refers to this recent study by Pew, the organization’s most recent attempt to quantify “negative coverage.”
We always marvel at these Pew reports—and at the unquestioning way the mainstream press corps accepts them. At some point, we’ll review that study under a separate flag.