Accuracy in Media

[February-B AIM Report]

While the liberal media sought to stake out the moral high ground in the first days after the tragic massacre in Tucson, the picture soon changed rather dramatically. Their indignation turned to hypocrisy, their journalistic standards stood exposed, and they lost control of the narrative as more facts became known about the alleged killer, about their own actions and words—on tape, on the Internet and in print—and about who was really to blame for creating a partisan and hostile environment in this country.

The Left was clearly hoping that the controversy would have the effect of silencing conservative voices in the media, and shaming the Republicans into backing off of their agenda that they were recently voted in to pursue, including plans to vote to repeal ObamaCare.

The shootings in Tucson intensified the often overheated rhetoric between Left and Right in this country, though it is quite clear that the alleged gunman was not driven to do what he did because of the comments or actions of conservative politicians or media personalities. The alleged killer, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, was clearly a very disturbed person, whose psychotic state was obviously exacerbated by heavy drug use. Charles Krauthammer, columnist and commentator, and previously a psychiatrist, has suggested that Loughner is a paranoid schizophrenic.

The killing of six people in Tucson on January 8, and the wounding of 13 others, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, has revealed many fault lines in our modern society. Among the issues that should be re-examined in light of Tucson are these: 1) Should news organizations rely on bedrock principles such as being more concerned about getting a story right than trying to be first?; 2) Should society adopt a more proactive posture on intervening in the lives of those with mental health issues? Think of the Virginia Tech killer, Cho Seung-Hui, who killed 32 people, of Major Nidal Hasan who killed 13 sol­diers at Ft. Hood, and now Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson. In all three cases, in reading about their recent pasts, one wonders what someone has to do to be stopped preemptively. It is a difficult issue when you’re talking about someone’s freedom, but this must be reconsidered; 3) What changes should be implemented so that a Jared Loughner, with an erratic and criminal background, cannot be able to buy guns and ammunition?; and 4) Will our mainstream media learn any lessons about waiting for facts to become known before speculating on the motive and ideology that might have provoked such an incident?

Not likely, though the finger-pointing became more tempered, in some cases, following President Obama’s Tucson speech on January 12th. But for the most part, crass political opportunism from the Left has continued unabated.

Starting in the very first hours after the shootings came the charge that this was likely a politically motivated act, somehow linked to a climate of hate created by the likes of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Party movement.

Paul Krugman, one of The New York Times’ most extreme left-wing columnists, wasted no time in of­fering his view of what had just occurred. Within the very first hours, while almost nothing was known of the alleged killer, Krugman wrote in his blog on the Times website that “A Democratic Congress­woman has been shot in the head; another dozen were also shot.

“We don’t have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was. She’s been the target of violence before…You know that Republicans will yell about the evils of partisanship whenever anyone tries to make a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc. and the violence I fear we’re going to see in the months and years ahead. But violent acts are what hap­pen when you create a climate of hate. And it’s long past time for the GOP’s leaders to take a stand against the hate-mongers.”

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, called by Time magazine the “dean of the left-wing bloggers” and the “proprietor of Daily Kos,” tweeted “Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin.” According to Matt Lewis in Politics Daily, Moulitsas also previously urged his readers to “target” Giffords and put a “bulls eye” on her district because she “sold out the Constitution…”

On Moulitsas’ Daily Kos website, there was a posting by a contributor who had worked for the re-election of Giffords, and who was angry that she had just voted against Nancy Pelosi to become the Mi­nority Leader in the House. He wrote, just two days before Giffords was shot, that Giffords was “now DEAD to me!”

Keith Olbermann had a special edition of his “Countdown” show on MSNBC the night of the shooting, in which he had a series of guests on who all specu­lated that Loughner was influenced by “right-wing extremists” and that the Right was far more guilty of violent and hateful speech than the Left, creating a climate conducive for this sort of action. In one of his so-called special commentaries that night, he demanded that other journalists and politicians repudiate and apologize for “suggestions of violence.” He said “if they do not begin their broadcasts with an apology, then those commentators and the others must be repudiated by viewers and listeners, by all politicians who appear on their programs includ­ing President Obama and his interview with Fox on Super Bowl Sunday and by the networks that employ them. If they are not responsible for what happened in Tucson, they must be responsible for doing what they can to make certain Tucson does not happen again.”

Then Olbermann said, “Once in a clumsy metaphor, I made an unintended statement of then Senator Clinton. It sounded as if it was a call of physical vio­lence. It was wrong then, it is more wrong tonight. I apologize for it tonight.”

The absurdity is that Olbermann, TV’s worst verbal arsonist, was making demands on others to meet his standards, or face repudiation. Plus the fact that all that he apologized for is one “clumsy metaphor,” after a career of hate-filled invective.

That evening, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County, where the shooting took place, fueled the partisan debate when he said at a press conference that “I want to tell you right now that people like myself are very, very angry at what’s going on in our country, and I think that it’s time that we take a look at what kind of hatred that we inflame by all the crap that goes on. I’m a close friend of Gabrielle Giffords, and she is one of the most beautiful hu­man beings that you can imagine. I think it’s time that this country takes a little introspective look at the [inaudible] crap that comes out on radio and TV.” When asked if there was any evidence linking Loughner to talk radio or TV, he said “no.” He added that Arizona had become “the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

We know that Loughner had been fix­ated on Giffords going back to at least 2007, when he was unhappy with how she answered a question he had asked her, said by his friends to be, “What is government if words have no meaning?”

Loughner had an extensive record of bizarre and criminal behavior, with mul­tiple reports from campus police, concerns expressed by fellow students, and a history of drug and alcohol abuse.

We know that Loughner claimed that among his favorite books were The Com­munist Manifesto and Mein Kampf. He posted a YouTube video of the burning of an American flag. According to a New York Times profile, “He became intrigued by antigovernment conspiracy theories, including that the Sept. 11 attacks were perpetrated by the government and that the country’s central banking system was enslaving its citizens. His anger would well up at the sight of President George W. Bush, or in discussing what he con­sidered to be the nefarious designs of government.”

The same Times article made references suggesting he was inspired or motivated by “right-wing extremist groups,” though when writing about his anger at the sight of President Bush and his 9/11 Truth Movement beliefs, those were not char­acterized as the views of left-wing groups. While there is nothing to suggest that he was motivated by Keith Olbermann or Ed Schultz or the far-left Daily Kos, there is certainly nothing to suggest he was in­spired by Sarah Palin or any talk-radio hosts. Any fair inference of Loughner’s politics should preclude the notion that he was influenced by Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh or the Tea Party movement.

And if we want to compare hostile state­ments, one could go tit for tat for a long time, trying to prove which side is more vitriolic. We have been bombarded (if I can still use that word) with the examples of Sarah Palin’s target map (see page 1), “lock and load,” and many others disturb­ing to the thought police on the Left. But they have their own body of statements and images to account for.

First is the use of harsh rhetoric and symbols. There are election maps with targets from the Democratic Leadership Conference and the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee).

There are quotes from recently defeated Democratic Representative Paul Kanjor­ski, now calling for civil dialogue, who said “Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to have him [Rick Scott] and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him.” There was a movie during the Bush years, called “Death of a President” that depicted President Bush being assassinated, to glowing reviews. John Kerry jokingly talked about killing President Bush. Jonathan Chait wrote a column, “The Case for Bush Hatred.”

President Obama’s own statements have also been highly provocative: “They bring a knife…we bring a gun!” Referring to ACORN and union mobs going after bankers, he said, “I don’t want to quell anger. I think people are right to be angry! I’m angry!” He told his followers that if they get hit, “Hit back twice as hard!” He told a group of Hispanic supporters to “Punish our enemies.” He said that he talks to people in the private sector “so I know whose ass to kick.”

But all this is just the heated rhetoric of passionate political debate. Politics and elections share a language with war and combat. It is “targeting,” “campaigns,” and “battleground states.” Democratic consultant Bob Beckel claimed to have invented targeting, and said he regularly used targets in ads. He acknowledged that the “rush to judgment” by the Left was “premature” and “unfair.”

What is much more troubling is how the Left just ginned up this controversy, and blamed conserva­tives for single-hand­edly creating a climate of hate and violence, and by implication, for what happened in Tucson. They had no evidence to begin with, and once the facts started coming out, it became clear that there was abso­lutely no basis for this theory. While the case could more easily be made that Loughner was a crazed left-wing­er, conservatives didn’t argue that he was in­spired by the likes of Keith Olbermann or Paul Krugman.The in­cendiary tone promoted by the Left since the Tucson massacre has not only not led us closer to a civil debate in this coun­try, but has ripped us further apart. They know they can throw these accusations out there, and not face any criticism from the mainstream media, who are generally more subtle making the same argument.

As Jonah Goldberg wrote in Nation­al Review, “The Left believes that their people are smart enough to distinguish incitement from metaphor,” unlike those on the Right.

Some on the Left have seen Tucson as an opportunity for President Obama to regain his political footing, much like they argue that Bill Clinton did after the Okla­homa City bombing in 1995.

Jonathan Alter of Newsweek wrote, “The shootings [in Tucson] and the re­sulting debate over the climate of incivility play to his strengths as a calm and rational leader. Just as Bill Clinton’s response to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings helped him recover from his defeat in the 1994 midterms, so this episode may help Obama change—at least in the short term—the trajectory of American politics.”

Keith Olbermann, who parted ways with MSNBC less than two weeks after the shooting, and others on the Left, claimed that those on the Right overreacted and got very defensive, since, they argued, no one really accused them of anything. On January 11, Olbermann told Howard Fineman that “People, myself included, have said that the map and the gun talk was wrong. Nobody has said Loughner ever heard it, let alone was inspired by it, let alone could have comprehended it. So, why did Beck and Limbaugh and Palin and their cohorts—why did they get so defensive so quickly?”

Well, maybe because the accusations and suggestions never ceased. On Jan. 18, Wolf Blitzer interviewed Sheriff Dupnik:

BLITZER: Because a lot of people are ask­ing, Sheriff, if you don’t know that he was in­fluenced by these individuals, whether Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or anyone else, why make the accusation that they helped create this environment that resulted in six people getting killed?

DUPNIK: Well, it just happens to be my opinion based on 52 years in law enforce­ment.

BLITZER: You’re just speculating.


Roger Simon of Politico, said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” that “What’s too easy to do is to ignore the Sarah Palin ads and say, ‘we can’t know that these ads caused the killings,’ absolutely true, we can’t know, but then say, such ads do not require our criticism, do not require us to speak out against them, as the situation calls for.”

With Tucson, the media have fanned the flames of discord in America rather than cooling them down. They created a false narrative about what led to the Tucson tragedy, causing bitter acrimony. Instead of the nation coming together to grieve and heal, we have become more divided.

Editor’s Message

Dear Fellow Media Watchdog,

Above all, the Tucson shootings are a tragedy for the loss of life and injuries, and an inspiration for the heroism dis­played at the scene of the crime. We are encouraged by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ amazing speed of recovery, and sickened by the loss of nine-year-old Christina Green, born on Septem­ber 11, 2001, murdered by a madman on January 8, 2011. What caused this tragedy was a sick, twisted mind, fueled by drugs and paranoia. Jared Loughner might have had a totally different life. Just a few years ago he was a dedicated musician, with seemingly a devoted mother, and dreams of attending The Julliard School in New York. Instead, something went terribly wrong. He apparently hated George Bush and believed in the so-called 9/11 Truth Movement, that 9/11 was an inside job perpetrated by people within the Bush administration, a theory widely discredited, though still believed by a hardcore group in this country, mainly on the Left.

In the lead story, I look at how the media responded to the events of January 8, and how the immediate reaction by the liberal media was to somehow tie this to Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement, conservative talk radio, and a “climate of hate” that they argue is caused largely by conservatives. The fact that there was no evidence to support this as a cause of what happened didn’t seem to concern them. So why make this an issue? What is their motive?

It soon became apparent that if anything, the alleged killer fit the profile of a crazed left-winger, and the Left had used the same symbols and language that they had offered as evidence to hold the Right as somehow responsible.

One area that hasn’t gotten enough attention was how the media got it wrong in the first hours, reporting incorrectly that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead, and most major news organizations ran with it. It traces back, by most accounts, to National Public Radio (NPR). They are cited as the first to report that Giffords was dead.

Alicia Shepard, the ombudsman for NPR explained how it happened:

At 1:01 p.m. EST last Saturday [January 8], NPR’s Newscast unit broke the story that an Arizona congresswoman had been gunned down in a Tucson shopping center.

“NPR got a tip. The wife of Arizona Public Media’s news director, Peter Michaels, was at the Safeway when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others had just been shot. She phoned her husband who rushed to the scene, and called NPR, where he used to be newscast director.”

At 2:01 p.m. EST, NPR newscaster Barbara Klein said: “Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona has been shot and killed during a public event in Tucson, Arizona.” She didn’t say where they got that information. Their social media editor sent it out using Twitter to NPR’s two million followers. Within half an hour, all three cable news networks ran the headline that Giffords had died. “CBS and NBC did special reports, and Reuters also repeated the mistake, crediting NPR.”

At The New York Times, it slipped through the editing process as well. The editor in charge missed it. The standards editor said that ideally it should have gone through two editors. The Public Editor agreed, but he said, rather oddly, “but that takes time,” and in that environment on that day, “time seemed unavailable.”

This has been, and continues to be, a troubling, and revealing chapter in our na­tion’s ongoing history.

For Accuracy in Media,

Roger Aronoff

Obama Bows to Castro

By Cliff Kincaid

On “Meet the Press,” on January 16th, host David Gregory tried to use the Arizona tragedy to browbeat Re­publicans into stopping their tough criti­cism of President Obama’s agenda. Speak­ing to Republican Senator Tom Coburn, Gregory said, “you know as well as I do that there are people—and it is true that it’s very often on the right—who describe President Obama as somehow an outsider who’s trying to usher in a system that will do two things, that will injure America and deny them of their liberty. Do you condemn that belief…?”

Gregory failed to note that, two days earlier, late on Friday afternoon, Obama bolstered the communist dictatorship in Cuba.

The New York Times noted that the White House lifted restrictions on travel and payments to communist Cuba “when most Republican members of Congress were away on retreat and Democrats had left their offices for the long holiday weekend,” and that the timing “indicated that the administration hoped to enact the changes with as little fanfare—and backlash—as possible.” The changes were posted at 5:42 p.m. EST.

Another point, not mentioned, was that the nation was supposed to be in mourn­ing over the Arizona massacre. But Obama used this as an opportunity, in the words of Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, to “extend an economic life line to the Castro regime.” He said Obama was giving the regime “a much-need infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression and human rights violations.”

Travel to Cuba, through such venues as the Venceremos Brigades, has been a means by which the Castro dictatorship recruits Americans as agents of influence, trains them in guerrilla warfare tactics, and puts them in touch with international terrorists.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, new chair­woman of the House Committee on For­eign Affairs, said, “Loosening these regula­tions will not help foster a pro-democracy environment in Cuba. These changes will not aid in ushering in respect for human rights. And they certainly will not help the Cuban people free themselves from the tyranny that engulfs them. These changes undermine U.S. foreign policy and secu­rity objectives and will bring economic benefits to the Cuban regime.”

Politico reported that the pro-Castro ruling “was delayed until after the mid­terms at the request of some Florida Dem­ocrats who feared blowback from their Cuban-American constituents.”

To make matters worse, the Obama White House extended a helping hand to the communist regime at a time when American Alan Gross has been in prison in Cuba without charges for more than a year. Gross was working on a U.S. foreign aid project to help ordinary Cubans com­municate with the outside world.

The Times said, “The Associated Press reported Friday that the State Department was ‘cautiously optimistic’ that Mr. Gross, 60, who has had health problems, would be tried and then allowed to return to the United States.”

Health problems? He has lost 90 pounds in captivity and is losing feeling in his right foot.

No wonder the Obama Administration carried out this despicable policy change when it thought few people would be paying attention. The Obama position is one of hope that Gross will eventually be released, after being tried in a kangaroo court, while the Castro regime benefits from more spending on the communist-controlled island.

The White House timing and ploy worked. The major media ignored or played down Obama’s bow to the Castro brothers. The Times story was carried on page five; The Washington Post ran a story about this back on page nine.

On March 24, 2010, Obama had issued a statement on the human rights situa­tion in Cuba, noting the death of human rights activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and repression visited upon the human rights movement.

Not only has nothing changed for the better, in terms of human rights in Cuba, but an American continues to be held without charges.

Senator Marco Rubio declared, “I strongly oppose any new changes that weaken U.S. policy towards Cuba. I was opposed to the changes that have already been made by this administration and I oppose these new changes. I believe that what does need to change are the Cuban regime’s repressive policies towards the independent press and labor unions, its imprisonment of political prisoners and constant harassment of citizens with dis­senting views, and its refusal to allow free multi-party elections. It is unthinkable that the administration would enable the enrichment of a Cuban regime that rou­tinely violates the basic human rights and dignity of its people.”•

Spotlight on the Media

SPJ Executive Committee Votes to Retire Helen Thomas Award

By Don Irvine

The executive committee of the Soci­ety of Professional Journalists voted last week to retire the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement after the veteran journalist stood by controversial remarks she made about Israel. The recom­mendation will be sent to the full board of directors for a vote to retire the award with Thomas’ name attached.

From the SPJ press release:

“This is a complex issue, and the execu­tive committee considered comments and letters from both sides. Because of the importance of this decision, it is appropri­ate to put this before the full board,” SPJ President Hagit Limor said.

The executive committee said the fol­lowing in making its recommendation: “While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate.”

The committee considered removing Thomas’ name from the award in July after remarks she made earlier in the year but decided not to take any action say­ing it was a one-time spontaneous action for which she later apologized. However, when she reiterated those remarks in De­cember, it placed the SPJ in a difficult position and in the end they decided to move away from any further controversy by recommending that the board retire the award.

Even though the committee was slow to act and should have realized that Thomas has an outright hatred for Israel they did the right thing by voting to retire the award. They should have removed Thomas’ name from it at the same time. Hopefully the full board will follow through on the committee’s recommendation and put this tainted award behind them.

Ready to fight back against media bias?
Join us by donating to AIM today.


Comments are turned off for this article.