Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Another Swift Boat misfire

Veteran Chicago Tribune reporter Charles Madigan tried mightily today to defend the MSM today against the evil New Media. Instead of making his case, he illustrated exactly why the MSM is dying.

Madigan's point was that the Tribune and by extension the MSM checks out rumors before printing them and therefore anything that appears there is fully vetted and safe for the eyes of the public.

In suggesting the New Media is sloppy and negligent, he cites the Barack Obama madrassa story and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth saga. I noted a few days ago that's the exact same argument other liberal commentators have been making.

As I pointed out, the madrassa story was not aired all that widely and when at least parts of the story were shown to be dubious, it was the New Media that helped shoot it down. On the spectrum of unfair stories and smears that appear every week across the country, this one barely registers.

On the Swift Boats, Madigan has his facts jumbled and wrong, which destroys the overall point of his op-ed piece.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth with their sneaky attack on Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the last presidential contest were info-pimps.

It would have been a lot easier if they had just said, "We hate his guts because he was anti-war and let his comrades down," and let it go. Betrayal is really bad enough. You don't have to pretend there is "news" involved.
Well, Charles, they did say so and there was nothing sneaky about it. On May 4, 2004, at a press conference in Washington, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth presented a letter signed by 200 Swift Boat veterans opposing the candidacy of John Kerry. Almost every one of Kerry's commanders signed the letter. Eighteen of the veterans stood up, one by one, and outlined why they opposed Kerry.

What they did was the opposite of sneaky. The only sneaks were members of the MSM, who treated the event as if it didn't happen. There's was virtually no coverage. Can you tell me with a straight face, Charles, that if a similar group of George W. Bush's National Guard colleagues stood up at a press conference in Washington the event would have been treated with the same yawn?

The irony of the snub was that it made the Swift Boat veterans a bigger story. Had the MSM covered the issue honestly, perhaps the matter would have gone away after a short while. What happened, of course, was that the Swift Boat veterans figured out a way to go around the MSM by producing a commercial and writing a book and using those vehicles to tell their story on cable news networks. That prompted a flood of donations to the veterans' website, which allowed them to make more commercials.

Once that happened, the MSM suddenly became interested but only as Kerry's "protector." The New York Times wrote a ridiculous story that traced every last Republican link to anyone in the group. Absurdly, they made a big deal of saying the company that produced the Swift Boat commercials also produced the famous "tank ad" ridiculing Michael Dukakis riding in a military tank, complete with helmet. Had the New York Times done an ounce of real research they would have known the company was picked because one of the veterans is related to an official with the company.

Then, Nightline and other media outlets took turns attacking the Swift Boat narrative. Only small bits were discredited, yet many media outlets to this day blithely state that the Swift Boat veterans' credibility was destroyed.

It's reminiscent of the MSM mythology that the Willie Horton ads in the 1988 presidential campaign were unfair to Dukakis. Like the Swift Boat ads, the Willie Horton ads were devastating because they were simple, believable and true.

There was no trickery in the Swift Boat ads. Most of them featured former military men speaking to camera about their dislike of John Kerry because of his false accusations against them after the Vietnam War. The ads used Kerry's own testimony before Congress to amplify the point. These were not rehearsed actors. The emotion was real.

The larger point that Madigan misses in his op-ed is selectivity. He says that the Tribune's work product is fact-checked at multiple levels and bloggers sometimes just throw stuff out there. That's true. It's not that the Tribune makes tons of factual errors. It's that the Tribune and other MSM outlets makes judgments every day on which stories to cover and they do so with a mostly liberal world view.

That's why Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and other conservative outlets do so well. Because the MSM shuts out half the "news" and the marketplace has found a way to provide some balance.

And to Madigan's point about the MSM not blindly following each other, perhaps he doesn't remember the Dan Rather/George Bush national guard story. When 60 Minutes aired yet another vapid story questioning George Bush's service, using an interview with a partisan Democrat as ammunition and a "letter to file" resurrected from the filing cabinet of a dead man, the rest of the MSM didn't bat an eye. They didn't critically question the story; they simply picked it up and aired across the country on front pages.

Just a few little ol conservative bloggers proved that the entire story was false. This was no little madrassa story that got limited play. This was a major hit job on a sitting president on the eve of a presidential election.

In that case, CBS was not only was horribly biased — devoting months of research to a story that has been done dozens of times and never has gone anywhere — it also got it wrong. CBS is not alone in its high profile bias — it is displayed every morning on the pages of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers and TV networks.

Madigan is selective in his memory and his facts are wrong on the Swift Boat veterans. In trying to make his point, he made mine.

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