FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986.
For 17 years our colleagues Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon have worked with FAIR to present the P.U.-Litzers, a year-end review of some of the stinkiest examples of corporate media malfeasance, spin and just plain outrageousness.
Starting this year, FAIR has the somewhat dubious honor of reviewing the nominees and selecting the winners. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. So, without further ado, we present the 2009 P.U.-Litzers.
--The Remembering Reagan Award
WINNER: Joe Klein, Time
Time columnist Joe Klein (12/3/09), not altogether impressed by Obama's announcement of a troop escalation in Afghanistan, wrote that a president "must lead the charge--passionately and, yes, with a touch of anger."
He described the better way to do this:
Ronald Reagan would have done it differently. He would have told a story. It might not have been a true story, but it would have had resonance. He might have found, or created, a grieving spouse--a young investment banker whose wife had died in the World Trade Center--who enlisted immediately after the attacks...and then gave his life, heroically, defending a school for girls in Kandahar. Reagan would have inspired tears, outrage, passion, a rush to recruiting centers across the nation.
Ah, Reagan--now there was a president who could inspire people to fight and die based on lies.
--The Cheney 2012 Award
WINNER: Jon Meacham, Newsweek
Newsweek editor Jon Meacham declared (12/7/09) that Dick Cheney running for president in 2012 would be "good for the Republicans and good for the country." He explained that "Cheney is a man of conviction, has a record on which he can be judged, and whatever the result, there could be no ambiguity about the will of the people.... A campaign would also give us an occasion that history denied us in 2008: an opportunity to adjudicate the George W. Bush years in a direct way."
While the 2008 election might have seemed a sufficient judgment of the Bush years, it's worth pointing out that at beginning of the year (1/19/09), Meacham was adamantly opposed to re-hashing Cheney's record, calling it "the rough equivalent of pornography--briefly engaging, perhaps, but utterly predictable and finally repetitive." The difference? That was in response to the idea that Cheney should be held accountable for lawbreaking. Apparently a few months later, the same record is grounds for a White House run.
--The Them Not Us Award
WINNER: Martin Fackler, New York Times
The New York Times (11/21/09) describes the severe problems with Japan's elite media--a horror show where "reporters from major news media outlets are stationed inside government offices and enjoy close, constant access to officials. The system has long been criticized as antidemocratic by both foreign and Japanese analysts, who charge that it has produced a relatively spineless press that feels more accountable to its official sources than to the public. In their apparent reluctance to criticize the government, the critics say, the news media fail to serve as an effective check on authority."
The mind reels.
--The Thin-Skinned Pundits Award
WINNER: Dana Milbank, Washington Post
Washington Post reporters Dana Milbank and Chris Cilizza got into trouble when, in an episode of their "Mouthpiece Theater" web video series, they suggested brands of beer that would be appropriate for various politicians. What would Hillary Clinton drink? Apparently something called "Mad Bitch." The video, unsurprisingly, was roundly criticized, and was pulled from the Post site. So what lesson was learned? Milbank complained (8/6/09) that "it's a brutal world out there in the blogosphere.... I'm often surprised by the ferocity out there, but I probably shouldn't be."
Yes, the problem with calling someone a "bitch" is the "ferocity" of your critics.
--The Sheer O'Reillyness Award
WINNER: Bill O'Reilly, Fox News Channel--TWICE!
1) Asked by a Canadian viewer, "Has anyone noticed that life expectancy in Canada under our health system is higher than the USA?," Fox's O'Reilly (7/27/09) responded: "Well, that's to be expected, Peter, because we have 10 times as many people as you do. That translates to 10 times as many accidents, crimes, down the line."
2) Drumming up fear of Democrats' tax plans: "Nancy Pelosi and her far-left crew want to raise the top federal tax rate to 45 percent. That's not capitalism. That's Fidel Castro stuff, confiscating wages that people honestly earn."
Perhaps Castro was president of the United States in 1982-86, when the top rate was 50 percent. Or maybe all of the 1970s, when it was 70 percent. Or from 1950-63, when it was 91 percent.
--The Less Talk, More Bombs Award
WINNER: David Broder, Washington Post
Post columnist Broder expressed the conventional wisdom on Barack Obama's deliberations on the Afghanistan War, writing under the headline "Enough Afghan Debate" (11/15/09):
It is evident from the length of this deliberative process and from the flood of leaks that have emerged from Kabul and Washington that the perfect course of action does not exist. Given that reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision--whether or not it is right.
--The Racism Is Dead Award
WINNER: Richard Cohen, Washington Post
Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote (5/5/09): "The justification for affirmative action gets weaker and weaker. Maybe once it was possible to argue that some innocent people had to suffer in the name of progress, but a glance at the White House strongly suggests that things have changed. For most Americans, race has become supremely irrelevant. Everyone knows this. Every poll shows this."
For the record, "every poll" does not actually show this; the vast majority of Americans continues to recognize that racism is still a problem. Cohen went on to write months later--still presumably living in his racism-free world--that he did not believe Iran's claims about its nuclear program, because "these Persians lie like a rug."
--The When in Doubt, Talk to the Boss Award
WINNER: Matt Lauer, NBC News
Today show host Lauer announced a special guest on April 15: "If you really want to know how the economy is affecting the average American, he's the guy to talk to." Who was Lauer talking about? Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke. The ensuing interview touched on the Employee Free Choice Act, which Lauer noted was supported by many unions but opposed by some large corporations--leading him to ask Duke, "What's the truth?" Yes, look for "the truth" about a proposed pro-labor bill from the new CEO of an adamantly anti-labor corporation.
--The Socialist Menace Award
WINNER: Michael Freedman, Newsweek
Newsweek's "We Are All Socialists Now" cover (2/16/09) certainly turned heads, but one of the stories inside explained in more detail the real threat. As senior editor Michael Freedman asked: "Have you noticed that Barack Obama sounds more like the president of France every day?"
The real problem, though, is what that's going to do to us Americans, says Freedman: "If job numbers continue to look dismal, or get even worse, an ever-greater number of people will start looking to the government for support.... It's very easy to imagine a chorus of former American individualists demanding cushy French-style pensions and free British-style healthcare if their private stock funds fail to recover and unemployment inches upward toward 10 percent and remains there."
Pensions and healthcare for all--this is worse than we thought!
--The Iraq All Over Again Award
WINNER: Too Many to Name
After the invasion of Iraq, countless journalists who had treated allegations about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as facts were embarrassed when there were no such weapons to be found. So you'd think they'd be more careful about thinly sourced claims that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. But in 2009, many journalists are still willing to treat such allegations as facts.
-NBC's Chris Matthews (10/4/09): "As if Afghanistan were not enough, now there's Iran's move to get nuclear weapons."
-NBC's David Gregory (10/4/09). "Iran--will talks push that country to give up its nuclear weapons program?"
-Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (9/25/09): "All hell breaking loose as a new nuclear weapons facility is discovered in Iran, proving the mullahs have been lying for years.... Iran's nuclear weapons program has now reached critical mass. And worldwide conflict is very possible. Friday, President Obama, British Prime Minister Brown and French President Sarkozy revealed a secret nuclear weapons facility located inside Iran."
Some even went further, turning allegations of a nuclear weapons program into the discovery of actual nuclear weapons:
-ABC's Good Morning America host Bill Weir (9/26/09): "President Obama and a united front of world leaders charge Iran with secretly building nuclear weapons."
--The Talking Like a Terrorist Award
WINNER: Thomas Friedman, New York Times
In a January 14 column, New York Times superstar pundit Tom Friedman explained Israel's war on Lebanon as an attempt to "educate" the enemy by killing civilians: The Israeli strategy was to "inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical." Friedman added, "The only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians--the families and employers of the militants--to restrain Hezbollah in the future." That strategy of targeting civilians to advance a political agenda is usually known as terrorism; Osama bin Laden couldn't have explained it much better.
--The It Only Bothers Us Now Award
WINNER: Wall Street Journal editorial page
When Barack Obama only called on journalists from a list during a press conference, the Wall Street Journal did not like the new protocol (2/12/09):"We doubt that President Bush, who was notorious for being parsimonious with follow-ups, would have gotten away with prescreening his interlocutors."
Actually, Bush was famous for calling only on reporters on an approved list; as he joked at a press conference on the eve of the Iraq War (3/6/03), "This is scripted."
--The No Comment Award
WINNERS: MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski and Rush Limbaugh
When asked by Politico (10/16/09) to name her favorite guest, MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski named arch-conservative Pat Buchanan "because he says what we are all thinking."
Rush Limbaugh on Obama (Fox News Channel, 1/21/09): "We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles...because his father was black."