By Doug Porter
The last few weeks of the year are like a black hole for journalists. Politicians and their media minders are on vacation. Celebrities aren’t doing celebrity stuff (unless they die). And research oriented organizations are waiting for the year to wrap up so their statistics can be complete.
This information void leads to stories with headlines like “Military Couple Relocates Wedding for Obama’s Golf Game” and airtime for a Fox News talking head speculating about confusion over the metric system as the cause of an AirAsia flight gone missing.
When stupidity won’t do the trick, stuff just gets made up, like the boy wonder featured in New York Magazine who claimed he’d made $72 million on Wall Street trades during his lunch hour at Stuyvesant High School. Or the story making the rounds on Facebook about the eight NYPD officers who were refused service in a Chipolte restaurant.
This leads us to the listicle, a time honored method for rehashing old news in a manner pleasing to editors (and hopefully readers). As a columnist with bytes to generate five days a week, I heartily endorse this notion. Given the columns I’ve posted over the past week (and intend to post this week) this should be obvious.
Let’s scout out some listicles of lies, for your reading pleasure.
The Washington Post has the biggest “Pinocchios” of the year, a compendium of of untruths uttered in the name political expediency in 2014. The Post, which has been struggling mightily to connect with the Right in recent months, made sure its list was bi-partisan, even if most of it concerned things of interest to nobody. Nobody, it seems, has ever told the truth about Obamacare. And that Vladimir Putin guy? His nose is casting shade all over Russia.
The Tampa Bay Times PolitiFact took on the internet, coming up with 18 “chain emails, shareable Facebook memes and other Internet detritus” all proven to be untrue, even if they were typed in ALL CAPS by your crazy uncle.
The meme common to left/liberal crazy uncles/aunts about Fox News successfully arguing in court that “broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves” turns out to be not true.
And that story about former Vice President Cheney and President Bush not being able to travel overseas due to outstanding warrants for their arrest? Sadly untrue.
As a consolation prize, I offer the fake news internet site post about the National Park Service preparing rules and regulations for pissing on the grave of Dick Cheney.
“It’s important to remember,” said a spokesman, “That Cheney does not have an actual grave at this time since he is not dead. However, public interest in pissing on his grave makes it increasingly urgent to have plans in place.”
“Ordinarily, we do not encourage urinating in public places. However, Cheney is so universally hated that we see no practical way of keeping it from happening, and have decided instead to regulate it like any other recreational activity.”
Lists About Lists
On the cultural front, the data mongers at FiveThirtyEight.com have concluded there are “way too many Best of 2014 lists.” They even have a chart with the “Least Original ‘Best Of’” movies, book and TV show lists.
On the social media side of things, Facebook coughed up its top ten topics most talked about for 2014. According to the Associated Press this list was based on the number of posts, comments, likes, photos and videos shared.
- World Cup
- Ebola Virus Outbreak
- Elections in Brazil
- Robin Williams
- Ice Bucket Challenge
- Conflict in Gaza
- Malaysia Airlines
- Super Bowl
- Michael Brown/Ferguson
- Sochi Winter Olympics
The Columbia Journalism Review has “the worst journalism of 2014,” eight news accounts topped by Rolling Stone’s error filled story about rapes at the University of Virginia. In addition to the aforementioned $72 million dollar whiz kid, they also threw a dart at Fox & Friends:
Fox & Friends has faced plenty of criticism over the years for its lack of journalistic scruples, and deservedly so. Still, some on-air exchanges stand out. After TMZ published security footage of Ray Rice, a 206-pound professional football player, cold-cocking then-fiancee Janay Palmer in an elevator and then dragging her limp body across the floor, the show’s hosts had peculiarly rosy analyses. “I think the message is, take the stairs,” co-host Brian Kilmeade said. Apparently unaware of the hole his colleague had just dug, counterpart Steve Doocey dug deeper: “The message is, when you’re in an elevator, there’s a camera.” The program drew more than 1 million viewers that day. –
A Package of Local Voices
Locally, Voice of San Diego used the concept of Voice of the Year to package their retrospectives. They were true to the narrative espoused by VOSD as the local outlet for Propaganda from the Middle of the Road.
Since I know that anything I say about VOSD will be challenged, here’s an explanation of the concept from a 1989 article at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) by Jeff Cohen:
If, for simplicity’s sake, we define the left as seeking substantial social reform toward a more equitable distribution of wealth and power, and we define the right as seeking to undo social reform and regulation toward a free marketplace that allows wide disparities in wealth and power, then we can define the political center as seeking to preserve the status quo, tinkering with the system only very prudently to work out what are seen as minor glitches, problems or inequities.
How do these three positions play out journalistically? Unlike left-wing or right-wing publications which are often on the attack, centrist propaganda emphasizes system-supporting news, frequently speaking in euphemisms. If scandals come to light, centrist propaganda often focuses less on the scandal than on how well “the system works” in fixing it.
While the Jeff Cohen piece focused on foreign policy coverage, I’ve come to believe his thesis applies equally well to many of the 21st century non-profit news start-ups. For the record, I am not saying “centrist propaganda” is intrinsically wrong, I’m just calling it as I see it.
So, in this context there’s Jerry Sanders as the Voice for Business, along with Voices for Charter Schools, Our Vulnerable Arts Scene, Workers and Women, the Density Debate, Victims and Nativists.
And then there’s Todd Gloria, the Voice for a Progressive San Diego. Cough. cough. Here was my immediate reaction on Facebook:
No, he’s not. Yes, he’s seized upon some issues like minimum wage that actually transcend the progressive agenda (note all the red states that voted it in this year) and I thank him for his leadership on these particular issues. But there’s big divide between activism on a few issues and leadership of a movement.
Don’t get me wrong, Gloria is a really nice guy. But he’s an elected official in an environment where being consistently “progressive” gets you nowhere fast. He’s already been punished for coloring outside the lines by going public in support of a minimum wage increase as the first sitting council president to get the boot.
But in VOSD’s construct a belief system must have leaders and Gloria fit their criteria.
I have one more item for today, not related to the notion of listicles.
Revenge of the Right Wing
One of the groups from SDFP’s own listicle (A Dozen Organizations Doing Good Deeds in San Diego) made the UT’s Watchdog today.
A local environmental group is being accused of violating federal tax law by accepting payments from an allied political group to fund staff work on behalf of the Democratic mayoral campaigns of Bob Filner and David Alvarez.
In a complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service this month, the conservative group Cause of Action in Washington, D.C., alleges the Environmental Health Coalition violated tax laws barring political activity by nonprofit groups.
The charity accepted payments for mayoral campaign work by its staff in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Environmental Health Coalition officials say the payments are legal and proper.
While the coalition is organized as a tax-exempt charity, prohibited from doing political work, it also has a separate social welfare organization that isn’t subject to the ban.
This shocking revelation is old news if you happen to be a reader of fringe outlets like the Washington Beacon (“Obama Appointee’s Taxpayer-Backed Green Group Accused of Illegal Politicking”) or Newsmax (“Obama Appointee’s Group Accused of Illegal Politicking”). In fact, it’s 10 days old.
The story behind all this is–I think– a ploy to get even for the Environmental Health Coalition’s work in supporting the Barrio Logan Community Plan (Props B&C in the last election).
Valley Center Attorney Mark Ginella (the man who filed the complaint) has a history of right wing activism, dating back to anti-gay activist James Hartline’s leadership of a group of “concerned” Christians voicing outrage over a city council vote to proclaim a special day for the retiring head of San Diego’s Planned Parenthood affiliate.
From the Free Republic:
The activist told the council “political leaders who have radical and extremely controversial agendas can honor whom they will on their own time.”
Hartline declared “on matters such as abortion, where there is so much disagreement, so much pain, so much controversy and so much death, it is a disgrace that the city council would use these chambers as a platform to promote the radical and destructive ideology of the abortion industry.”
Another speaker, attorney Mark Ginella, said: “Let’s be honest, these are not health clinics. Mr. Salo is being praised for opening and making more profitable Planned Parenthood abortion clinics. These are not health centers because they are treating women for sickness and disease. These women are not sick or dying, they go in as healthy young pregnant women and they come out without their child.”
This complain is unlikely to go very far, because a) the IRS randomly picked EHC for an audit (still ongoing) in September and b) the IRS is writing new rules concerned non-profits and social welfare organizations following a Congressional brouhaha claiming the White House was persecuting conservative groups, and c) the GOP-led House has once again cut funding for the Internal Revenue Service.
Oh, and Congressman Darrel Issa’s report on the IRS came out last week.
From Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times:
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) wasted enormous congressional resources over the last 18 months trying to inflate the IRS “scandal” into a mountain. The release Tuesday of his final, petulant report on the affair marks what may be its final decline into a mouse.
The bottom line: Contrary to his assertions in countless appearances on Fox News, there’s no evidence that the Obama White House directed — or indeed was involved in any way — in the supposed targeting of conservative nonprofit groups for special scrutiny by the IRS. There’s no evidence that “tea party” groups were exclusively targeted, as opposed to tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations from across the political spectrum.
The evidence set forth in the report, which was issued by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s GOP majority without sharing it first with the Democratic minority, instead depicts an IRS struggling to apply complicated rules for nonprofits engaging in political activity, all without guidance from Congress.
On This Day:1890 – The U.S. Seventh Cavalry massacred over 400 men, women and children at Wounded Knee Creek, SD. This was the last major conflict between Indians and U.S. troops. 1970 – After years of intensive lobbying by the labor movement, a comprehensive national safety law is enacted as President Nixon signs the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970, creating the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) 1997 – Hong Kong began killing 1.25 million chickens, the entire population, for fear of the spread of ‘bird flu.’
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