media wars

Here is a nice article about the impoverished state of our media, drawing on some contemporary happenings.

This article talks about Glenn Beck’s accusation that Obama is a “racist,” and how many sponsors are asking that their ads not be run during Beck’s show. Of course, the ads have just been moved around and so neither sponsors nor fox news loses any money (maybe a little because Beck commands a large audience and so moving the ads around takes away some eyeballs from these ads).

But the larger theme of this article is that the media cannot fulfill its one valuable role: providing information. In this post, I gave a chart showing how prevalent belief in death panels, was, and the article above adds a layer of nuance to the problem:

While there is legitimate debate about the legislation’s funding for voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions, the former Alaska governor’s claim that government panels would make euthanasia decisions was clearly debunked. Yet an NBC poll last week found that 45 percent of those surveyed believe the measure would allow the government to make decisions about cutting off care to the elderly — a figure that rose to 75 percent among Fox News viewers.

Less than seven hours after Palin posted her charge Aug. 7, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann called it an “absurd idea.” That might have been dismissed as a liberal slam, but the next day, ABC’s Bill Weir said on “Good Morning America”: “There is nothing like that anywhere in the pending legislation.”

On Aug. 9, Post reporter Ceci Connolly said flatly in an A-section story: “There are no such ‘death panels’ mentioned in any of the House bills.” That same day, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks called Palin’s assertion “crazy.” CNN’s Jessica Yellin said on “State of the Union,” “That’s not an accurate assessment of what this panel is.” And on ABC’s “This Week,” George Stephanopoulos said: “Those phrases appear nowhere in the bill.”

Still, some conservatives argued otherwise. On the Stephanopoulos roundtable, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said the legislation “has all sorts of panels. You’re asking us to trust turning power over to the government when there clearly are people in America who believe in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards.”

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And on Fox the next night, Bill O’Reilly played a clip of former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean saying Palin “just made that up. . . . There’s nothing like euthanasia in the bill.” O’Reilly countered that as far as he could tell, “Sarah Palin never mentioned euthanasia. Dean made it up to demean Palin.”

What I find most interesting is that Olbermann was the first to denounce Palin’s death panel claim. I think this probably contributed to the strength of the death panel buzz. Olbermann is factually right in lambasting Palin’s claim, but since he is no different than O’Reilly or any of the other incendiary right wing news show hosts, his criticism lacks credibility.

Here’s the moral of the story. When absurd partisan claims are made, partisans from the other side are often the most interested in refuting them, but since they lack objective credibility as well, their refutations do nothing other than convince people that there was something to the original claim. In most situations, the fact that Olbermann is yelling about a claim made by a republican is probably strong evidence that the republican is on to something.

My point is that when a party plays the game of media charlatanism, then its no surprise that it will have trouble dispelling actual falsehoods.


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