May 01, 2005

Complicity of the US News Media

Complicity of the Corporatist News Media
A Quarterly Report from Bush-Cheney Media Enterprises
By Norman Solomon
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 01 April 2005
The first quarter of 2005 brought significant media dividends for the Bush-Cheney limited liability corporation.
Stakeholders received windfalls as mainstream news outlets deferred to consolidation of power from the November election.
A rollout of new "democracy" branding - kicked off by the State of the Union product relaunch - yielded at least temporary gains in psychological market share. For instance, repackaging of images in the Middle East implemented makeovers for several client governments. Actual democratic threats, inimical to Bush-Cheney LLC interests, remain low.
Our major domestic financial goal, the privatization of Social Security, is out of reach for the next several quarters. However, in view of the magnitude of potential profits, this massive effort will continue.
More problematic, in retrospect, was the March expenditure of political capital in the Schiavo gambit. Returns on media investment, as gauged by opinion poll data, have been disappointing. However, base earnings are likely to accrue to beneficial levels due to high volume from fundamentalist buy-ins.
Some media damage is inevitable, like the March 30 New York Times op-ed by John Danforth claiming that the Republican Party "has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement." But such refined GOP sensibilities are not a big part of our base. In fact, the further melding of religious and patriotic symbolism augurs well for investors. With the Cross in one hand and the Dollar Bill in the other, this limited liability corporation is moving forward to advance the interests of its various constituencies.
Unfortunately, the first quarter closed with a looming personnel problem on Capitol Hill. On balance, as indicated by a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, the House majority leader's baggage has approached the tipping point. Tom DeLay may need to be dumped before the fourth quarter.
On cable television, satisfactory trends continue. At MSNBC the process of imitating Fox News Channel is apparently secure. Other good news: The benign junk quotient on prime-time CNN continues to rise, with a welcome boost from the Michael Jackson trial. Overall, the ambient TV trajectory is edging toward our target, "No journalism is good journalism."
Negative impacts of the Armstrong Williams "payola" scandal continue to dissipate. Our in-house audit of the cost/benefit ratio indicates that such payments to media pundits amount to a short-term plus but long-term minus. In general, crass payoffs are inappropriate and unnecessary to curry favor with sycophant columnists.
Less problematic are the "video news releases" skewered by the New York Times. Taxpayer funding for some of our PR operations is a significant enhancement of perception management, and little ground need be given in this area. (If the Times were as scrupulous in avoiding stories we plant as it urges TV news departments to be with our videos, many of the paper's articles wouldn't exist.) Blow-over anticipated by end of third quarter.
Regarding the Iraq war: Despite occasional barbs from "the liberal media," they are largely taking cues from weak-kneed Democrats in Congress who ignore the significant opposition to the war that exists at grassroots as measured by opinion polling. With many stakeholders in Bush-Cheney LLC still receiving major financial benefits from war-related contracts, the status quo remains lucrative while the political hazards appear to be manageable over the next few quarters.
As in the past eight quarters, the spectacle of US servicemen and servicewomen in harm's way must be utilized to deflect criticism of the policies that put them in harm's way. CEO Bush will continue his Jimmy Stewart imitations during appearances with soldiers and their families, while CFO Cheney will further develop his persona of stern and slightly avuncular paternalism.
On the talk-radio front, the emergence of Air America as a liberal network, while troubling, does not currently threaten the airwave dominance of B-C LLC clients. Our proprietary echo chambers - with such booming amplifiers as Rush Limbaugh, the Weekly Standard, the Washington Times, the New York Post, Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal's editorial page - provide a steady barrage of media blasts unmatched by anything the left-of-center can possibly offer.
Cautionary note: The interests of the Bush-Cheney limited liability corporation remain vulnerable to realization by a majority of the population that their financial interests and long-term security are being undermined by our policies.
Norman Solomon's latest book, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, will be published in early summer. His columns and other writings can be found at: Norman

CNN's Schneider claimed record-low Bush approval rating "isn't too bad"; Gallup disagrees

CNN political analyst Bill Schneider opined that President Bush's 48 percent approval rating, as measured by a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, "isn't too bad." But Schneider did not mention Gallup's own observation (subscription required) that "Bush's public support is significantly lower than support for all other two-term presidents at similar points in their second terms."
While Gallup made that statement based on an earlier poll, conducted March 21-23, that placed Bush's approval rating at 45 percent, the historical data Gallup presented indicates that 48 percent, Gallup's most recent figure, is still lower than the approval ratings of all other presidents since World War II at similar points in their second terms:
President Approval rating Date of poll
Truman 57% March 6-11, 1949
Eisenhower 65% March 15-20, 1957
Johnson 69% March 18-23, 1965
Nixon 57% March 30-April 2, 1973
Reagan 56% March 8-11, 1985
Clinton 59% March 24-26, 1997
Bush 45% March 21-23, 2005
Reporting on the poll on the April 5 edition of CNN's Inside Politics, Schneider asserted: "Despite all the complaints, President Bush's overall job approval rating is 48 percent, which isn't too bad." But in contrast to Schneider's spin, USA Today's report on the poll was headlined "Poll finds Bush suffering from 'second-term-itis,' " based on a comment about Gallup's findings from Andrew Kohut, director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for People and the Press.
Gallup noted that while 45 percent is the lowest approval rating of Bush's entire presidency, "there are some silver linings for him" because "other presidents' lowest approval ratings [at different points in their presidencies] were much lower" and because "Bush's average rating while in office remains among the most positive for recent presidents." But Gallup added that Bush's high average ratings are due "[i]n large part because of his response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks."
Reporting on Gallup's findings, an Editor & Publisher article remarked: "It's not uncommon to hear or read pundits referring to President George W. Bush as a 'popular' leader or even a 'very popular' one. Even some of his critics in the press refer to him this way. Perhaps they need to check the latest polls."
— J.C. & G.W.
Posted to the web on Wednesday April 6, 2005 at 5:15 PM EST
Un-Embed the Media
By Amy Goodman and David Goodman, AlterNet. Posted April 8, 2005.

Government-supplied propaganda has become pervasive in mainstream media, from hiring journalists to write puff pieces to credentialing fake reporters to fawning reports from embedded reporters in Iraq. Where is independent media? Story Tools

This originally appeared in the Baltimore Sun on April 7.
Recent revelations that the Bush administration has been fabricating news stories, secretly hiring journalists to write puff pieces and credentialing fake reporters at White House news conferences has infuriated the news media.
Editorials profess to being shocked -- shocked! -- by the government's covert propaganda campaign in which, as The New York Times revealed March 13, at least 20 federal agencies have spent $250 million creating and sending fake news segments to local TV stations.
But the media have only themselves to blame for most people -- including TV news managers -- not being able to distinguish journalism from propaganda. The line between news and propaganda was trampled not only by the public relations agencies hired by the government but also by reporters in the deserts of Iraq.
The Pentagon deployed a weapon more powerful than any bomb: the U.S. media. Embedded journalists were transformed into efficient conduits of Pentagon spin. Before and during the invasion of Iraq, the networks conveniently provided the flag-draped backdrop for fawning reports from the field.
As if literally adopting the Pentagon's propagandistic slogan -- "Operation Iraqi Freedom" -- for their coverage weren't enough, the networks bombarded viewers with an unending parade of generals and colonels paid to offer on-air analysis. It gave new meaning to the term "general news."
If we had state-run media in the United States, how would it be any different?
The media have a responsibility to show the true face of war. But many corporate journalists, so accustomed by now to trading truth for access (the "access of evil"), can no longer grasp what's missing from their coverage. As CBS' Jim Axelrod, who was embedded with -- we would say in bed with -- the 3rd Infantry Division, gushed: "This will sound like I've drunk the Kool-Aid, but I found embedding to be an extremely positive experience. ... We got great stories and they got very positive coverage."
It should come as no surprise that the Bush administration, having found the media so helpful and compliant with their coverage of the Iraq war, would seek to orchestrate similarly uncritical coverage of other issues that they hold dear.
TV viewers nationwide have watched and heard about how the "top-notch work force" of the often-criticized Transportation Security Administration has led "one of the most remarkable campaigns in aviation history," how President Bush's controversial Medicare plan will offer "new benefits, more choices, more opportunities," how the United States is "putting needy women back in business" in Afghanistan, and how Army prison guards, accused of torturing and murdering inmates in Iraq and Afghanistan, "treat prisoners strictly, but fairly."
Such crude government-supplied propaganda would be laughable were it not being passed off as news on America's TV stations. Even sadder, nothing about the sycophantic reports seems out of the ordinary.
The first casualty of this taxpayer-financed misinformation campaign is the truth.
Mr. Bush must have been delighted to learn from a March 16 Washington Post-ABC News poll that 56 percent of Americans still thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the start of the war, while six in 10 said they believed Iraq provided direct support to al Qaeda.
Americans believe these lies not because they are stupid but because they are good media consumers. The explosive effect of this propaganda is amplified as a few pro-war, pro-government media moguls consolidate their grip over the majority of news outlets. Media monopoly and militarism go hand in hand.
It's time for the American media to un-embed themselves from the U.S. government. We need media that are fiercely independent, that ask the hard questions and hold those in power accountable. Only then will government propaganda be seen for what it is and citizens be able to make choices informed by reality, not self-serving misinformation. Anything less is a disservice to the servicemen and women of this country and a disservice to a democratic society.
Amy Goodman, host of the radio and TV news show Democracy Now!, and David Goodman, a contributing writer for Mother Jones, are authors of The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them, just published in paperback by Hyperion. Amy is currently on a 50-city 'Un-Embed the Media' tour.

American TV's information gap creates a new world of danger

James Robinson talks to veteran CBS correspondent Tom Fenton on the blinkering of US news by corporate bosses

Sunday April 10, 2005
The Observer

Anyone who has travelled to America knows how difficult it can be to find out what is happening back home, particularly if a TV set in a hotel bedroom is your main source of information; the US networks seem to regard foreign news as an expensive turn-off.
With hundreds of correspondents in Rome and Windsor this weekend to cover the Pope's funeral and Prince Charles's wedding, it may not be the most appropriate moment to bemoan the paucity of American foreign coverage. But veteran CBS foreign correspondent Tom Fenton, who retired earlier this year at the age of 74, believes that its virtual absence has had a devastating effect on the quality of public debate in America, with potentially disastrous consequences for the rest of the world.
In his 34-year career at CBS, much of it based in London, Fenton has covered momentous events, including the fall of communism and numerous wars, winning eight Overseas Press Club awards and four Emmys. Now he has written Bad News , arguing that the slow but gradual relegation of foreign coverage to the bottom of the networks' news agendas needs to be reversed.
'There are parts of the world that just don't exist as far as the American media are concerned - especially the broadcast media,' Fenton says from his London home. More than 80 per cent of Americans cite the broadcast media as their main source of news, a far higher proportion than British consumers, so the network's blinkered approach to the world - the Arab-Israeli conflict aside - is potentially far more damaging.
Even 11 September didn't shake the networks from their torpor for long, he argues. 'There was a brief revival of reporting and money was no longer the object for some months. I went to Hamburg and Pakistan on the trail of al-Qaeda, but it didn't last'. Fenton argues that the 'dumbing down' of news in general, and foreign news in particular, can be explained by a confluence of events; the corporate takeover of American TV news and the Cold War's end.
The collapse of the Soviet Union gave the conglomerates which bought the major broadcasters an excuse to scale back expensive overseas operations. At the same time remote conflicts easily explained in the context of the ideological struggle with communism became harder to understand, allowing news editors to ignore complex foreign stories.
'At the end of the 1980s the American mainstream media began to demobilise. They closed bureaux, got rid of foreign correspondents, almost precisely the same thing that the intelligence agencies did. When the mainstream American media turned their backs on the rest of the world, I think the corporations assumed they could cash in on the peace dividend. They thought we were at peace. The problem was we weren't at peace. We were at war.'
The bombing of US embassies and military targets in Yemen, Kenya and elsewhere didn't go unreported, but the motivations of the perpetrators were not examined or properly understood, he says. 'It was almost impossible to get the gate-keepers interested in the story of al-Qaeda or the terrorism threat. In 1996 CBS weren't even interested in an interview with al-Qaeda when we set one up,' Fenton complains.
If Americans are less interested in news from abroad, it is also true that the cost of gathering it has proved prohibitive in an age when major networks are in the hands of large corporations. ABC is owned by Disney, NBC by General Electric and CBS by Viacom. CNN is part of Time Warner and Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
'The other, more impor tant, factor was money,' says Fenton. The strict regulatory controls designed to guarantee editorial impartiality, which were enforced by the FCC, the US media regulator, have gradually been eroded. 'Over the years, the corporations have successfully lobbied the government for their removal, so they can pursue the bottom line. It was incremental. You didn't notice it, but the networks began to concentrate almost solely on their responsibilities to shareholders. In the old days, news was considered a loss-leader. Now they are profit centres in their own right and they are required to meet the same profit targets.
'Foreign news is twice as expensive as domestic news [and] today to get out of the door you have to hand in a budget to New York for approval, and tell them what you're going to bring back.'
It was all very different when Fenton moved from newspapers to join CBS as a junior in its Rome bureau. 'The most important thing was beating the competition. If you needed a Lear jet, you got a Lear jet. When I first started, I was worried because I came from a newspaper background where you had to count every pencil. I sent a telex to the foreign editor [on ways to cut costs]. He said: "Fenton. You're in the news-gathering business, not the money-saving business".'
All this could be easily dismissed as the romantic musings of an old-timer pining for a golden era of TV journalism that never actually existed. But Fenton has wheeled out the most senior members of America's news establishment to back his argument, including legendary anchor Walter Cronkite and his successors, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather. 'They all felt [disturbed] at the cost-cutting. Rather and Jennings were so worried they offered to give back $1 million a year from their salaries.'
Fenton fears that the lack of foreign news may deter young journalists from travelling abroad. 'Foreign correspondents are no longer big names. Christiana Amanpour is one of the very few. We don't have an equivalent of John Simpson, for example. Working in the field is no longer seen as the highway to promotion, it's much better to do domestic stories. It's lost its allure. In fact, it's hard to get people to do it because it's difficult, it's dangerous and you don't get much airtime.'
The results of being badly informed are potentially catastrophic, he argues. 'A few months before 9/11, Mohammed Atta [who piloted one of the planes that hit the World Trade Centre] went to a US Department of Agriculture loan officer and applied for a loan to rent a commercial plane, convert it and use it as a crop-sprayer. He started to talk to her about an organisation called al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who would be a great world leader one day. None of this meant anything to her because so little had been written about it. It was only after she'd seen his picture in the paper she went to the FBI.'
Fenton believes that she may have done so earlier if the media had acted more responsibly. 'Now there's a "What if?"',6903,1455870,00.html
Conservative Coup at CPB Brings Anti-Public-Interest-Oriented Ken Ferree to Agency’s Head
Statement of Jeff Chester, executive director, Center for Digital Democracy

WASHINGTON -- April 9 -- The ideologically driven majority on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) now has the perfect apparatchik to run its zealous campaign to promote conservative/GOP-approved public broadcasting programming. Ken Ferree is now its “acting president.” That spells trouble for those who care about the fate of PBS and NPR--with a capital F.
Ferree was the key aide to FCC Chairman Michael Powell on media policy. As head of the FCC’s Media Bureau until March of this year, Ferree delivered to Powell--as he will deliver to his new boss, CPB Chair Kenneth Tomlinson--whatever was required to advance ideological interests. Ferree helped engineer the Commission’s 2003 rules on media ownership that swept away what little was left of restraints on the conglomerates. More importantly, he supported policies that undermined the rights of viewers and listeners--and citizens--to a media system that fosters discourse, creative expression and democracy. It was Ferree’s plan for Powell that ignited unprecedented opposition to the FCC, with millions writing to Congress and the commissioners. Ultimately, the Powell/Ferree plan was undone--for now--by the courts (and in part by Congress).
Moreover, Ferree was unwilling to engage in the kind of public dialogue that is essential when dealing with critical issues, such as the future of the First Amendment. As the new “go-to man” for the cabal on the CPB board, he will undoubtedly be the eager soldier in their pressure campaign on public broadcasting. The board’s majority is convinced that PBS and NPR are mired in “objectivity and balance” problems. Yet, study after study done by the board, we are told, shows there isn’t a problem. In this case, CPB isn’t really working for the American people. It’s a co-conspirator with the GOP leadership and establishment who think that Big Bird is a “card carrying Communist” and that too many “American Masters” failed to "name names."
The hasty departure yesterday of CPB President Kathleen Cox (done in a Nixonian “Saturday Night Massacre” style) is just the latest case of key employees disappearing. Unless one passes the right-wing litmus test there is no security of employment at CPB. It’s also no coincidence that in the same week CPB’s board created a new “thought police” division, naming two “ombudpersons” to review all programming on public radio and TV stations--even those not funded by CPB or the federal government.
Those who care about the future of PBS, NPR and noncommercial programming will need to watch Ferree, Tomlinson, and Co. closely. Under a spotlight, they are likely to reveal themselves as working to undermine the mandate of public broadcasting established almost 40 years ago.
CPB President Kathleen Cox Names Ken Ferree Chief Operating Officer, 14 Mar. 2005
CPB Establishes Ombudsmen Office, 5 April 2005
Joint Statement of Kathleen Cox, CPB president and CEO, and Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chair, CPB board of directors, 8 April 2005
Time Covers Coulter:
Magazine's Cover Story a Sloppy, Inaccurate Tribute to Far-Right Pundit

Action Alert (4/21/05)

A week after she was praised in Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People" issue (4/18/05), the magazine went a step further by making far-right pundit Ann Coulter the subject of a lengthy April 25 cover story. Readers who might have looked for a critical examination of the overexposed, factually challenged hatemonger found something else: a puff piece that gave Coulter a pass on her many errors and vicious, often bigoted rhetoric.

Throughout the article, Time reporter John Cloud gave Coulter every benefit of the doubt. Her clear, amply documented record of inaccuracy was waved away. Coulter's notoriously vitriolic hate speech was alternately dismissed as a put-on or excused as "from her heart," while the worst Cloud could say about her was that she can "occasionally be coarse." Time readers learned that Coulter is an omnivorous reader (one of exactly two examples of her consumption being the Drudge Report website), and that she regards herself "as a public intellectual." Coulter, who writes a syndicated newspaper column and makes frequent cable news appearances, is dubbed "iconic" by Time because she "epitomizes the way politics is now discussed on the airways."

In reality, there are few who "discuss" politics the Coulter way-- by smearing opponents as traitors, calling for a renewal of McCarthyism and endorsing the killing of reporters.

Coulter's Accuracy

"Coulter has a reputation for carelessness with facts, and if you Google the words 'Ann Coulter lies,' you will drown in result," wrote Cloud. "But I didn't find many outright Coulter errors."

That would depend on how one defines "many" or "outright." Websites like the Daily Howler, Tapped, Media Matters and Spinsanity have pointed out literally dozens of errors in Coulter's book Slander and other Coulter statements. Coulter directed Cloud to one error she now admits to making, about the New York Times supposedly ignoring the death of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt (an error she lied about making when she appeared on FAIR's CounterSpin--8/9/02). Coulter managed to make yet another error in her explanation to Cloud, but this didn't seem to lead Cloud to dig any deeper. As Salon's Eric Boehlert pointed out (4/19/05), Slander's publisher made five corrections after its initial printing-- and should have made at least six more.

But it's important to acknowledge that Coulter is, in a sense, hard to "fact check" because she rarely makes arguments based on facts. Appearing on television programs to say that liberals "want there to be lots of 9/11s" (Fox News, 10/13/03) can either be treated as a serious argument for which she has no evidence, or explained away as "opinion." Such cheap and disgusting smears tend to be acceptable by mainstream media standards-- so long as they're coming out of Coulter's mouth.

Benefit of the doubt

Throughout the article, Cloud presented instances where Coulter was allegedly misunderstood or underappreciated. And in each case, Cloud either gave Coulter a pass, or concluded that her opponents were wrong. Cloud generously wrote that Coulter "likes to shock reporters by wondering aloud whether America might be better off if women lost the right to vote"-- as if she writes or speaks such things on national television only to get a rise out of journalists. Cloud also argued that Coulter can "write about gender issues with particular sensitivity," an odd trait to attribute to someone who recently claimed that women are "not that bright" (Fox News, 9/23/04).

Cloud also recalled a TV debate over environmentalism where Coulter offered her typical hyperbole: "God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the seas.... God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.'"

Unfortunately, wrote Cloud, "her rape-the-planet bit would later be wrenched from context and repeatedly quoted as Coulter nuttiness." The context, apparently, is that she was laughing when she said it-- and that, as Coulter put it, her critics "don't get the punch line"--which was that raping the Earth is preferable to "living like the Indians." Cloud admitted that maybe not everyone would find the slur funny-- but doesn't seem to understand that laughing about "raping" the Earth is no less offensive than making the suggestion with a straight face.

In recounting two of Coulter's more notorious TV appearances, Cloud found fault with everyone else. Recalling her firing from MSNBC for disdainfully telling a disabled Vietnam vet, "No wonder you guys lost," Cloud interjected that the veteran, Robert Muller, was incorrect when he claimed that 90 percent of U.S. landmine casualties in Vietnam came from "our mines" used by enemy forces. Cloud-- who had been unable to find many errors in Coulter's work-- rebutted Muller by saying that a 1969 Pentagon report found that "90 percent of the components used in enemy mines came from U.S. duds and refuse"-- a minor if not meaningless distinction. Cloud also recalled that the MSNBC incident "became an infamous--and oft-misreported--Coulter moment" because outlets like the Washington Post had misquoted Coutler as saying, "People like you caused us to lose that war." Cloud ignored the fact that the source of the paraphrase was Coulter herself (Extra!, 11-12/02).

Cloud also recounted a recent interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where Coulter, arguing that Canada should participate in the war in Iraq, claimed that "Canada sent troops to Vietnam." When CBC interviewer Bob McKeown said she was wrong about that, Coulter pledged to get back to them about it-- but never did. Cloud rushed to the rescue by noting that "Canada did send noncombat troops to Indochina in the 1950s and again to Vietnam in 1972." Cloud is making quite a stretch to prove that Coulter was correct-- Canada was officially neutral during the Vietnam War, so if any noncombat troops were sent (none are mentioned in a detailed 1975 U.S. Army history, Allied Participation in Vietnam), they would not have been sent to support U.S. forces there. Again, Cloud went out of his way to cast doubt on statements made by Coulter's critics, applying no such scrutiny to Coulter herself-- the ostensible subject of his article.

Coulter's Bigotry

Cloud downplayed Coulter's record of rank bigotry and racism. Recounting her defense of racial profiling, Cloud wrote, "It would be easier to accept Coulter's reasoning if a shadow of bigotry didn't attach to many of her statements about Arabs and Muslims." Cloud did not explain how this bigoted "shadow" mysteriously "attaches" itself to Coulter's words, but the strange metaphor does serve to distance Coulter from her obvious hatefulness. Ironically, in another part of the story, Cloud recalled that Coulter once wrote that school desegregation has led to "illiterate students knifing one another between acts of sodomy in the stairwell." One wonders if the "shadow" of racism will find its way to that statement as well. Cloud also noted that Coulter once said in a speech, "Liberals are about to become the last people to figure out that Arabs lie"-- a comment Cloud dubbed "flagrantly impolitic," as if it's simply bad form to make a slanderous generalization about an entire ethnicity.

Misleading Graphics

To illustrate the left's reaction to Coulter, the article was accompanied by a photo of a demonstration where a poster labels Coulter a "neo-imperialist criminal" and an "enemy," and her mouth is covered by a censorious red X. "Protesters blast Coulter at the GOP Convention in New York City last year," the caption explained. What readers weren't told is that the poster was a right-wing satire, part of a pro-Republican counter-demonstration; Time cropped out the name of the organization responsible for the poster-- "Communists for Kerry"-- as well as another sign behind it promoting "Criminals for Gun Control." Does Time really pay so little attention to the graphics that it uses-- or was the cropping an attempt to make sure that readers wouldn't be in on the joke?

(The online version of Time, which ran an uncropped version of the photo, now identifies the sign-holders as "pro-GOP protesters" and appends a correction saying that "the original caption incorrectly stated that these protesters were blasting Coulter.")

Any Precedent?

Time readers who aren't aware of Coulter's work might wonder why a far-right TV pundit would be worth so much attention. Some media observers, like Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz (4/19/05), recalled that filmmaker Michael Moore made the magazine's July 12, 2004 cover.

Moore and Coulter share little in terms of tone or content; nonetheless, the comparison is worth exploring, since it reveals that Moore was held to a much different standard. The text on the Coulter cover asks, "Is she serious or just having fun?" For Moore, the release of his film Fahrenheit 9/11 led Time to ask on its cover, "Is this good for America?"

The Moore feature included a stand-alone sidebar that addressed his alleged inaccuracies, and gave ample space to critics who derided the movie. On top of that, conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan was given a separate piece to savage Fahrenheit 9/11 along with Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," calling them "crude, boring, gratuitous," and charging Moore with using "innuendo, sly editing, parody, ridicule and somber voiceovers to give his mere assertions a patina of truth."

The point is not that Moore should be treated the same as Coulter. In fact, Moore's film was premiering across the country, smashing all box-office records for documentaries, and had won international acclaim, making his work of bonafide journalistic interest. By contrast, Coulter's latest book is a months-old collection of columns, and if not for a handful of cable news appearances this year she would be almost completely invisible in the national debate.

At one point, Cloud asked rhetorically: "How did such a flagrantly impolitic person become such a force in our politics?" The answer is obvious: The mainstream media has granted her the time and space to spread her message. And if Cloud's own credulous writing is any indication, that's not going to change anytime soon.

Please contact Time's John Cloud and tell him you were disappointed that his article played down Ann Coulter's bigotry and inaccuracy.

Time Magazine
Phone: (212) 522-1212

As always, please remember that your comments have more impact if you maintain a polite tone.

Posted by richard at May 1, 2005 11:06 AM