Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Not...Quite...

Their own words:

Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

Oh! So close!

A word on why Media Matters is important. First off, it is not a small organization, nor is it obscure in the world of journalism. I was first drawn to it after hearing it mentioned by Clarence Page, a personal hero of mine. It is a watchdog organization designed to catch the lies perpetuated and concocted by the media. How beautiful a concept this is! And what a much better place the world would be with more of these!

They do some things very well. On occassion, (but more often than we'd like to think) a news outlet will state something as fact, when it's not. Either a subjective statement is stated as fact, or a piece of information has been misconstrued. I'm reticent to claim (as Media Matters seems to imply) that these are "lies" -- the purposeful mistatement of truth. I would hope that those of you out there with a silver of idealism left in you (cockroach both in size and nature) believe the same thing.

Did you catch the word "conservative" in that mission statement though? This is an organization dedicated to only a certain type of lie. Their modus operandi is drawing attention to half-truths and no-truths that favors the conservative movement. No word on their reaction towards lies that favor the liberal side of the country. If a news program came on and declared that Obama could shoot lasers from his man-pretty eyes, would Media Matters object? Their mission statement, and their actions seem indicate that no, they would not care.

In practice, their organization doesn't seem to do much. Point of fact, I now know why liberals are stereotyped as being, well, pussies. Media Matters spends far too much time criticizing news outlets for subjective statements that other people make about liberal or democratic party members. Here's my favorite example, from a while back:

A week after referring on MSNBC to Sens. Barack Obama and John Kerry as "two Ivy League fancy lads," GOP strategist Andrea Tantaros again referred to Obama as a "fancy lad," this time on Fox News' America's Newsroom. In neither case was her remark challenged by the anchors of the shows.

Now, c'mon guys, Obama's a grown man. I'm sure he doesn't need your help when someone calls him a "fancy lad". And really, as far as insults go, "fancy lad" is pretty tame. His skin's not made of paper here.

And besides, what are they expecting a news organization to do about this? The impression I had from the article is that Media Matters feels that Hemmer and Shuster were supposed to stop the interview and say, "Hey Tantaros, not cool."

Here's the thing though: stopping the interview to tell Tantaros to shut up is the opposite of what an effective, objective news organization should do. First off, the statement that Obama is a "fancy lad" is completely subjective. Even if you were to attempt to catergorize that as an objective statement, it's mostly true, since Obama is more fancy than not, and definitely more male than female. Can you stop an interviewee from saying something subjective? Let me give the answer they gave me in my 100-level journalism class: Nope.

In case you need an explanation as to why this is a journalism no-no, consider the alternative: Shuster or Hemmer interrupts Tantaros to say, "No, Obama is not a fancy lad." Oh shit. Now they just made a subjective statement. This has now ventured into pre-journalism 101 territory and into the realm of common sense.

There is a third option, and that is not to necessarily disagree with whatever subjective statement was just made, but make it clear that subjective statements are not welcome on this show. It's not practical. The show would move at a snail's pace just long enough to make a televised "debate" (or whatever it is you want to call it that people do on TV these days) nothing more than two or three very simple facts, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it might just get people reading newspapers again instead of ingesting this drivel.

So, as I said, Media Matters only concerns themselves with misinformation of the conservative variety. Did you read the transcript of the show? There is more than its fair share of bipartisan misinformation within. Observe, Beckel, the "democratic consultant", being held to the same standards that Media Matters holds to Tantaros:

BECKEL: That's right. The answer is I don't -- I don't quite get what the big furor [subjective statement] is. Look, on the one hand, the guy gets beat up [subjective] because he doesn't have enough foreign policy experience and that he ought to go over and meet our allies. He's going over to meet our allies and giving a speech. And look, for the last eight years, we've had a president of the United States that gets booed when he goes to Europe [implications bordering on hyperbole]. It'd be a nice idea to have someone to be cheered. My guess, he'd get cheered.

And if we decided to break this down into the bare-bones facts-of-the-matter, here are the only objective statements in that paragraph:

Breckel: Obama is going to Germany. He is giving a speech. We have had a president for eight years.

It's that booing line that really gets to me, and the hypocrisy of Media Matters. It's one thing to say that someone is a "fancy lad" (what the hell does that mean anyway?) but it's another thing entirely to say that an entire continent of people hate you.

Actually, the word "hypocrisy" in that last paragraph is staring me in the face. I guess Media Matters' hypocrisy isn't my problem, because, let's face it, that happens a lot. (Too much.) What bugs me is the disappointment of Media Matters. This is an organization that has the opportunity to do so much good in the media, and it chooses to squander all its hard work for the sake of one agenda. Yes, there is misinformation on both sides of any national debate, but to support the half-truths of one side, while condemning the half-truths of the other makes you no better than the liars themselves.
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