Monday, September 3, 2012

Fact-Check Free Journalism For Sale Near You!

I was,  for thirty-odd years, a regular subscriber to a New York based magazine called "Newsweek".  In the days before the Internet, it was one magazine I read throughly every week, along with newspapers and whatever magazines I could snap up or read in the library.    Sort of a "platform" periodical as it were. 

I could pretty much account for any  slants of all the commentators like George Will,  the late Meg Goodman and Robert Samuelson and the good upfront reportage of writers like Eleanor Clift, Mark Starr, Michael Isakoff,  and Gloria Borger. Back then, there was something called "investigative journalism" and no one in power in Washington or Wall Street  was immune from getting their bad behavior blown up in the pages of this magazine.  

It's true that time passes,  but it's also true that many institutions like the media do not just slide down the chute in terms of value. But Newsweek certainly has done it. In fact, it can slide no longer I would say thanks to the efforts of ex-glamour magazine editor Tina Brown and her staff of fact-check free hacks who now fill what is left of that periodical with lies and half-truths and other muck. 

  I refer to the latest issue as  exhibit "A" of bad journalism--a hit piece against Barack Obama.   Reading this I was struck by how unusually close Mr. Niall  Freguson's column  was to the speakers at the Republican National Convention.  If only this snotty Tory intellectual had actually made his case based on facts and evidence.  But that was not to be.  Apparently Ferguson feels he can say anything and his work will not get spiked or reviewed.  Or if it is reviewed he will just weasel out of the argument by backtracking and quoting Margaret Thatcher to justify his inaccuracies.  Makes you wonder what he's up to?   

 That such a story made it to the cover of the magazine shows just how sensationalistic  this former news publication turned rag has become. 

Gene Lyons, who formally wrote for the magazine did the best commentary on the Ferguson piece.

Ferguson’s surely entitled to his opinions (although not his vote, as he’s a British subject, not an American citizen) but to paraphrase the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he’s not entitled to his own facts. Riddled with ludicrous errors and manifest deceptions, the article’s publication on the cover of a major news magazine at first struck me as ominous.

That Ferguson’s a professor made things worse. Academics theoretically hold themselves to more strenuous standards than journalists. I even found myself rummaging around in the University of Virginia honor code, where I went to school, for definitions of academic fraud.

And yes, it’s that bad. Vote for whomever you like. But if you make your choice based upon the following howler, then you’ve been had: “The president pledged that health-care reform would not add a cent to the deficit,” Ferguson charged. “But the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance-coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012–22 period.”

In fact, as New York Times columnist and Princeton economist Paul Krugman pointed out, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that Obamacare will actually reduce the yearly budget deficit by an estimated $210 billion over the decade. There’s a chart documenting that non-obscure fact on page two of the CBO report.

Krugman demanded a correction by Newsweek.

Instead, editor Tina Brown’s latest plaything allowed Ferguson to double-down. Rather than apologize, he posted an online rejoinder calling Krugman’s objection “truly feeble,” and boasting that he’d “very deliberately” written “‘the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA,’ not ‘the ACA.’”

In short, Ferguson very deliberately misled his readers to the tune of $1.4 trillion–considering only the debit half of Obamacare’s balance sheet, but not its revenues and savings. Then he falsely cited the CBO to cover his tracks.

Even his alibi quoted the CBO report out of context. Internet sleuths quickly caught him out.

And it wasn't just Lyons or the New York Times'  Paul Krugman who went after Ferguson.  John Cassidy of "The New Yorker" and others did as well. 

What is pretty remarkable about the latest dustup is the weakness of the arguments presented by Ferguson, a streetwise public intellectual who, according to his Web site, now holds positions at four different élite academic institutions. If called upon three months before an election to pen a provocative cover story in a national newsmagazine clamoring for the President to be chucked out, most writers would make every effort to avoid giving the other side easy opportunities to tear down their arguments. And yet, here comes Ferguson blatantly twisting a report from the Congressional Budget Office and presenting numerous other distortions and half-truths that anybody with access to Google could discredit in a few hours.--

Read more
(John Cassidy in The New Yorker")


Of course, conservatives might remember this recent cover of the magazine where Mitt Romney was derided as a "Wimp" (See below)  and say "See, Newsweek goes after Mitt Romney, too. So both sides are being judged with vitriol and distortions. So its all fair!" 

 That isn't the point.    

 The point is that such covers would not have even made the final cut at the old magazine   under editors like Richard Smith or Jon Meacham.  These editors knew the difference between their magazines and trash tabloids that appeal to the lowest common denominator crowd with its thirst for the name-calling and the sensational.

  Tina Brown isn't in business to sell information backed up with accuracy--she is in this to sell magazines apparently, period, and do so with apparently little reliable and verifiable  facts on the table.     Journalism without any respect for facts is just bias on a rampage.        


  1. Absolutely agree with you. And it's getting worse, not better.

  2. Its funny how many lies are out there to spurn the american voter. And most believe those lies, especially the old white voter who hates the black man from early childhood. And they dont have a computer to check any facts they hear or read, they just believe it. And those rags that are supposed to be good journalism are lying thru their teeth because they are paid to do so by the extreme right.

  3. Thanks Iri Ani. And, yes, it is getting worse in part because more and more journalists are being replaced by hired talking heads who are simply glib and opinionated.

  4. Yes, Marty, the voter who grew up susceptible to racist attitudes is finding AM radio and cable outlets to suit their old prejudices. What's maddening is that now we see politicians spouting lies and then their handlers say "we don't care about fact-checkers" as if the proven record itself now can be dismissed as biased. It's a variation on the "big lie" premise popularized in Germany a while back.

  5. 80 Years Of Newsweek Covers That Explained The World
    The iconic weekly magazine announced its print edition is almost dead...

  6. That's the tone of sobriety I would rather see in the print media, Good Stuff. Thanks!

  7. Even as far back as high school, I was wisely advised that of the (then) three major newsmagazines, Newsweek was the most conservative, US News and World Report was the most middle-of-the-road, and Time was the most liberal.

    While I might dispute how liberal Time was, it was generally true then and has stayed so... with the exception of US News facing bankruptcy and going strictly online.

    That said, I was never all that enamored with Newsweek. The articles always seemed overly-edited and trite... and none ever carried the punch and literary humor ("punch") of Time or the depth of The New Yorker.

  8. Not only is that not the point, it's not even actually "the case."

    That "wimp" issue (which, as fate would have it, I had occasion to read at a doctor's office) wasn't a diatribe against Romney the way, I suspect, the Obama issue was towards the President, but simply a quasi-rhetorical wondering-aloud if Romney isn't just too good for his own good.

    That's hardly an accusation as much as a back-handed compliment.

  9. Well I won't dispute the better overall content of "The New Yorker" (much higher in depth) or the wit of many of the writers of "Punch". But Newsweek was a good foundation for the coming week I thought.

    I was advised and distilled myself that "Time" and its other sister publications as more conservative than what Post-Newsweek brought out. It might have been a difference not worth the debate. "US News" did read more middle of the road, and less slick than the other two.

  10. Exactly Chuck. It's clear that a lot of people want another pro-business simpatico in the White House who spends as much time as possible at his various private homes, playing family games and riding about in overpowered boats like the Bush Clan seemed inordinately fond of doing.

  11. For truly even-handed vitriol I can only invite you to Total Truth TV, where as you know Doug, I happily pour opprobrium on both sides with equal glee and vigour...Not to mention an overwhelming sense of egalitarianism to make up for the absence of any of that particular ideology in the subjects under critical review. I had to look up Niall Ferguson, he seems to be a Transatlanticist, a breed that has never really benefited either side of the Atlantic, but who have never failed to benefit themselves. One of the 'official' information sources, I imagine his prominence in Newsweek is calculated to increase the Obama sympathy vote by setting him up as a straw the outsider who has the temerity to overlook the culpability of the British empire whilst slagging off the American emperor. It is precisely this Transatlantic view that I oppose from the perspective of English self determination and the anti Britishness that has been slow to catch on in England (now this is changing), but in Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland is an institutional fact of life, an outcome of devolved political power.
    Having said that I would however defend Mr Ferguson's right to tweak the tail of the Hegemon, via his own propaganda platform like Newsweek and therein reveal a view of the US presidency that is more widespread than the PR pundits would like, or expect it to be in the Anglosphere at this point in history. So fair play I say, the Obama regime will of course be the ultimate winner as it capitalises on its 'hurt', but the outrage is a very positive result in my view and is what journalism really should be about. In the west I think this is true more now than at any time in the last 50 years at the very least.

  12. For that, we have The Onion.
    HA HA

  13. Well said, AA!

    I think that's the best one sentence description of Ferguson and his fellow "Uncritical-of- Wall Street Tory Crawlers" I've read yet. They are creatures committed to transnational pandering, a new breed of Kissingers who see people, their cultures and any nations they come from or adopted simply in as places to fly over on their way to meetings with Very Important Men.

    Total Truth TV has elevated the conversation. You've been part of a select group of bloggers on Multiply who have kept us all on our toes around here, and reason alone to lament the demise of Multiply.

  14. Of course Ferguson should be defended to say what he likes, AA---but when he disregards Obama's real record it's equally defensible to see other members of the chattering classes like Krugman and Gene Lyons bring him up for a sharp rebuke.

    It would be more useful if the idea of the American Hegemony itself were called in question by foreign voices. Ferguson's voice I predict will not be one of those--he attacks not the overweening power, but who occupies the seat. Not very useful in my mind to make things "better" by putting a bigger tool into the White House than Bush the Younger.

    If some Brits like Fergie wish to boost their career prospects in a bigger media market, fine---just so they don't think they can go unchallenged, or think they can first grossly misstate positions of opponents, and then defend themselves by claiming, in Niall's case, that his academic credentials ("I am a tenured professor at Harvard and Jesus College at Oxford, don't you know!") render him beyond reproach, or do some trimming to alter his original written broadside.

  15. Yes, thank goodness for The Onion, Chuck.

  16. Fair comment Doug. This person is clearly an apologist for both the British and American Empires and I have no reason to agree with him nor support him

    It seemed to me a bit rich - given the massive disinformation and propaganda crescendo in the corporate media - to become overly concerned about the distortions contained in this one particular article. I don't really know that much about Ferguson, except it seems that he is a rightwing neoliberal academic at Harvard where he is a doyen of "Counterfactual history" or in other words self-indulgent fantasies about how things might have been. At least 'counterfactual history' admits it is all made up - which official histories tend to avoid mentioning although it is largely true of them too I think.

    I do think Ferguson is precisely one of the Transatlantic Bilderbergians I accused him of being above, he has had teaching posts at Harvard and before that New York University going back 10 years, he is a friend of the American empire and therefore not simply some British hack on the make (although he might be that as well) he is a spokesman for the globalist elite and the PNAC neo-imperialists and in that he has more in common with Barack Obama than either of them would probably care to admit.

  17. Yes, I certainly concur with you, AA, that distortions are put out on both sides of the mainstream political spectrum. It really is true I harped a bit on one essay, but I did it to show me a trend where more and more publications are becoming tabloid in nature and stretch the facts in their main frame articles.

    "Counterfactual history" of course is not history, but entertainment. High-profile Doyens of such pursuits need to stick to the facts as they are and not as they wish them to be.

    Obama certainly has his own share of problems left to solve, especially in the Middle and Near East. And, yes, he has more connections transnational corporatists than I would care for in a better world---but Barack Obama is a more humble and self-aware candidate than the American electorate's other plausible choice.

    I know ONE thing is true. We need to rid ourselves of Presidents who are "nation-building" and who arm-twist our allies on behalf on PNAC or any bunch of money-changers who treat working people as mere cogs. That is not the future I want.

    The important thing about this new media we are all a small part of here right now is that it is becoming more democratic. And that will help shape not only the way we communicate but will shape the very future of who we choose to be leaders, our attitude toward people as fellow citizens of one planet and not abstract "foreigners". That's my hope at least, AA.