Accuracy in Media

Going completely over the deep end, former Nixon administration official-turned-liberal-anti-Bush activist John W. Dean has suggested that Pat Robertson broke the law in recommending the assassination of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The law prohibits threatening to injure another person. This is really a stretch. Robertson, host of the 700 Club and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, was offering his opinion that Chavez should go, and that it should be U.S. policy to take him out. You can agree or disagree, but that’s his opinion, and he’s entitled to it under the First Amendment. If Robertson were personally threatening to kill Chavez and had the capability to do it, Dean might have a point.

When liberals in the media call for killing people, there’s no comparable controversy. It didn’t take long to dig up a juicy quote from Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, who said in 1997 that “Saddam Hussein is the reason God created cruise missiles …So if and when Saddam pushes beyond the brink, and we get that one good shot, let’s make sure it’s a head shot.” George Stephanopoulos, a former intimate of President Bill Clinton, said of Hussein, “This is probably one of those rare cases where assassination is the more moral course…we should kill him.”

The Robertson brouhaha was merely another media attempt to smear Bush by exaggerating the importance of statements made by his supporters.

Part of the media strategy involved trying to associate other conservatives with Robertson’s comments. In a Laurie Goodstein story about Pat Robertson’s call for the assassination of Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez, the New York Times said that some “conservative Christian organizations remained silent, with leaders at the Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition saying they were too busy to comment.” So by not dropping other matters and issuing an immediate comment, these groups were condemned by the Times. This is an interesting way to conduct journalism. You find somebody making a controversial comment and then you survey various groups to see if they agree or disagree. And when they fail to meet the paper’s deadline, they are singled out for implicit criticism anyway.

This is the news business today: a major paper decides something is news and also decides that other people must comment or risk being portrayed as slow to respond in the same paper. The lesson is that when the Times calls, you better have an opinion―or else. We salute those organizations for failing to respond to the Times. They do not have to conduct their business on the schedule of the Times. Why should they comment on Robertson anyway? Is it the business of every conservative group on the planet to comment on everything Robertson has to say? And to say it when the Times demands?

It’s fascinating that the comment about killing Chavez is singled out, when it was merely Robertson’s opinion, and his statement about the support that Chavez provides to terrorists and communists is not subjected to any scrutiny at all. For example, the Times noted that Robertson had charged that Chavez was turning the country into “a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism.”  Since that wasn’t deemed controversial or worthy of comment or criticism by others by the Times, can we assume that it is a true statement? As a matter of fact, it is. That’s why it’s not controversial.

But if the Times made the substance of that statement controversial, then that would change the subject―from Robertson to Chavez. And the paper would prefer to beat up on Robertson rather than America’s enemies.

The Times added this statement: “One liberal watchdog group, Media Matters for America, sent a letter urging the ABC Family network to stop carrying Mr. Robertson’s show.” A watchdog group? This is an organization that works feverishly to suppress conservative voices in the media. It’s fine to disagree with Robertson, but to call for him to be kicked of the air because his opinion is controversial? 

Compare the Robertson statement to what the Times has done. This is the paper whose correspondent covered up Stalin’s engineered destruction of millions of Ukrainians. How does that record compare with Robertson’s opinion about the fate of Hugo Chavez?

Laurel Leff, an associate professor in the School of Journalism at Northeastern University, has written the book, Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper, published by Cambridge University Press. Here’s what Neff says, “the American media in general and the New York Times in particular never treated the Holocaust as an important news story. From the start of the war in Europe to its end nearly six years later, the story of the Holocaust made the Times front page only 26 times out of 24,000 front-page stories, and most of those stories referred to the victims as ‘refugees’ or ‘persecuted minorities.’ In only six of those stories were Jews identified on page one as the primary victims.”

So will Media Matters call for the closing down of this paper because it has such a poor record of covering atrocities that cost the lives of millions of people? The actions of the Times had a real―and negative―impact. Robertson’s comments didn’t hurt anybody.

The media, led by the Times, cover Pat Robertson because it helps to divert the public’s attention from other matters, such as the poor performance of the press.

Chavez is the issue, not Robertson. Let’s see some coverage of this madman’s support for communism and terrorism. Let’s also see some coverage of his involvement in the international oil cartel that manipulates the production and price of oil. Does the Times have an editorial comment on that? Or is it too busy to comment?

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