Dude, Where's My Intellectual Honesty? (10/16)

By Bryan Keefer

In his latest book Dude, Where's My Country? -- a polemic against President Bush -- liberal gadfly Michael Moore again demonstrates why he has a reputation as a slipshod journalist who has trouble getting his facts right. (Read the whole column.)

[Note to readers: Be sure to also check out the companion piece to this article, listing all the errors we found in Dude.]

10/15/2003 09:13:07 PM EST |


Moore's myriad mistakes (10/16)

By Bryan Keefer

Michael Moore makes at least 17 factual errors or misrepresentations in his latest book, Dude, Where's My Country?, ranging from stating disputed information as fact to repeating a media myth to twisting his own sources. As a companion to our article about Moore's mistakes in Dude and his history of such distortions, here is a list of all the errors that we found in the book. (Read the whole column.)

[Note to readers: Be sure to also read our review of Dude to see how all these mistakes undermine some of Moore's arguments and fit a pattern of sloppiness and distortion that has characterized his career.]

10/15/2003 09:12:37 PM EST |


The continuing saga of the Wesley Clark phone call narrative (10/16)

By Brendan Nyhan

The recall campaign may be over in California, but entertainment values are increasingly defining political coverage nationwide. With reporting emphasizing personality over substance, pundits and partisans are now working harder than ever to manufacture negative media narratives about candidates. Following the dramatic success of such a campaign against Vice President Al Gore in 2000, the latest target is Democratic presidential contender General Wesley Clark, who is being tagged as an inveterate liar based on statements that were at worst simply unclear. (Read the whole column.)

10/15/2003 09:04:26 PM EST |


O'Reilly repeatedly misquotes Glick (10/16)

By Brendan Nyhan

Bill O'Reilly, the host of "The O'Reilly Factor" on the Fox News Channel and a syndicated radio show, has become the latest pundit to misquote statements by public figures. During the February 4 edition of his television show, O'Reilly got in a heated argument with guest Jeremy Glick, the son of a man who died in the World Trade Center as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. O'Reilly eventually cut Glick's microphone and ended the interview early.

He specifically objected to the following claim from Glick:

Our current president now inherited a legacy from his father and inherited a political legacy that's responsible for training militarily, economically, and situating geopolitically the parties involved in the alleged assassination and the murder of my father and countless of thousands of others.

Glick later added, "starting in the Carter administration and continuing and escalating while Bush's father was head of the CIA, we recruited a hundred thousand radical mujahadeens" to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He alleged that Al Qaeda was among those who were supported by the CIA, calling them "radical extremists who were trained by this government." (It is not known how many members of the international terrorist network, which was founded in the early 1990s and includes people from all over the world, fought in Afghanistan or received US support.)

The interview has received substantial attention in the press during the months since. On Sept. 18, O'Reilly returned to the subject on "The O'Reilly Factor" and claimed that Glick "accused President Bush of knowing about 9/11 before it happened," which is clearly false. O'Reilly implicitly acknowledged this on the show the next day, when he actually quoted Glick directly and then made a different allegation than the night before:

Glick was saying without a shred of evidence that President Bush and Bush the elder were directly responsible for 9/11. Now that kind of stuff is not only loony, it's defamation. So I terminated the interview, after which Glick had to be escorted out of the building by Fox security because of his demeanor.

This is still misleading, however, with regard to President George W. Bush. Glick claimed he "inherited a legacy" that is responsible for the terrorist attacks, not that he was (as O'Reilly put it) "directly responsible" for them. (O'Reilly is correct that Glick did hold Bush Senior responsible for the attacks.)

Finally, during a combative interview with Terry Gross of National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" last week, O'Reilly admonished Gross to read the transcript of the Glick segment, claiming Glick "proceeded to blame President Bush and his father, Bush the elder, for orchestrating the [Sept. 11] attack on their own country." Again, this is a wild distortion of Glick's statement (the interview later ended when O'Reilly walked out).

O'Reilly, who frequently touts his shows as a "No Spin Zone," has been caught distorting the truth a number of times in recent months, including his misleading statements implying that the syndicated tabloid news show "Inside Edition" won the prestigious Peabody Award while he was hosting it. (It actually won a the somewhat less prestigious Polk Award after he had left the show, as satirist Al Franken revealed.) Maybe it's time for the "No Spin Zone" to include O'Reilly as well.

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10/15/2003 08:44:50 PM EST |


Safire tries to revive Dean media myth (10/14)

By Bryan Keefer

In what has now become an all-too-common occurrence, a lazy press corps, combined with intellectually dishonest partisan pundits, have once again combined to invent a story about a presidential candidate. New York Times columnist William Safire took Democratic presidential candidate and former Vermont governor Howard Dean to task yesterday for supposedly attempting to deny a comment he made disparaging the killing of Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay. Safire and a number of other reporters are the ones who should be taken to task, however, for spinning another media myth.

On July 22, Dean, who opposed military intervention in Iraq, commented at a New Hampshire campaign stop that the deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay were "a victory for the Iraqi people ... but it doesn't have any effect on whether we should or shouldn't have had a war. I think in general the ends do not justify the means."

In context, "in general the ends do not justify the means" is clearly a comment supportive of the deaths of Uday and Qusay, but expressing the view that that positive end does not justify the means of the war in Iraq. A Washington Post story printed July 23 confirms that Dean was pleased with the deaths of the two Iraqis, quoting him as stating "I applaud the elimination [of] Saddam's sons," but the "major question still has to be asked: Why are we in Iraq?"

An Associated Press story published on the 22nd, however, midwifed the birth of a media myth. The lead paragraph stripped Dean's quote of any context, making it appear as though he was referring directly to the deaths of Saddam's sons. The story began, "Presidential candidate Howard Dean, a staunch opponent of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, shrugged off the deaths of Saddam Hussein's two sons Tuesday, saying 'the ends do not justify the means.' He scolded Democratic rivals for backing the conflict." Only at the very end of the piece does it report Dean's full remarks. The article was picked up in the Boston Globe, among other outlets.

The misinterpretation gained legs on July 23rd. On "Hardball with Chris Matthews" that evening, Matthews quoted Dean in full, and asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for his opinion. McCain concentrated on only the second half of the quote, ignoring the first, and told Matthews he "could not disagree with [Dean] more to say that the ends doesn't justify the means. The ends were the eradication of two psychotic murdering rapists, and the means were through legitimate use of the American military helped out by some excellent information that they gained. How in the world someone could in any way think this end was not justified by anything which was the removal of two odious characters, frankly, is beyond me."

That same day, Spencer Ackerman opined on the New Republic's web site that "upon learning that U.S. forces in Mosul killed Saddam's blood-thirsty heirs, Uday and Qusay, in a pitched battle, Dean was once again caught in the act of being himself. Dean told a Manchester, New Hampshire audience that "the ends do not justify the means," and went back to attacking his presidential rivals as Johnny-come-latelys to the Bush administration's intelligence scandal." Ackerman concluded by comparing Dean's out-of-context reaction unfairly with those of other Democratic hopefuls, quoting them responding positively to the deaths of Uday and Qusay.

The next step in the spin took place in a Washington Times article of July 25. In a page one news story, James Lakely wrote that "Asked Tuesday about his reaction to U.S. troops killing Saddam's two brutal sons, Uday and Qusai, in an attack in Mosul, Iraq, Mr. Dean dismissed the achievement. 'The ends do not justify the means,' he said as he issued a flurry of critical comments about the president's justification for the war and about those who supported it." And in an editorial on July 28, the Times flogged its own spin, repeating the quote without context, suggesting that Dean had "criticized getting rid of the monsters."

Despite a few more repetitions, including another page one story by Lakely on August 5, the myth appears to have vanished from the radar screen until earlier this month. Then, in an October 8 story about McCain in the New York Times, reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg repeated the out-of-context snippet, writing that "Mr. McCain cited Dr. Dean's remark that 'the ends do not justify the means,' in reference to the death of Saddam Hussein's sons."

Safire ratched up the spin yesterday, reporting that Dean criticized Stolberg at a New York Times-sponsored lunch last week for reprinting the out-of-context quotation. Safire then cites the full quotation, but suggests that Dean's attempt to correct the record is somehow disingenuous, writing that "Dean spinmeisters will abandon their candidate's untenable 'never said any such thing' and argue that the words 'in general' remove the quoted sentence from an answer to the specific question about killing Saddam's sons. They will blow smoke about Dean offering a philosophical observation entirely detached from the rapists who were the subject of the question." Safire concludes, "By repeatedly denying the words ever came out of his mouth thereby imputing inaccuracy to the A.P. reporter and blatant dishonesty to McCain he compounds the original blunder that all too tellingly revealed his mindset."

The media has an obligation to report the words of presidential candidates accurately and those candidates have every right to speak up when mistreated by the press. Safire's attack on Dean's efforts to be understood in context is an example of our pundit class at its worst.

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10/14/2003 08:24:57 AM EST |