This excerpt from The Daily Show, blogged by Atrios, is just too good not to repeat in full:
STEWART: Here's what puzzles me most, Rob. John Kerry's record in Vietnam is pretty much right there in the official records of the US military, and haven't been disputed for 35 years?
CORDDRY: That's right, Jon, and that's certainly the spin you'll be hearing coming from the Kerry campaign over the next few days.
STEWART: Th-that's not a spin thing, that's a fact. That's established.
CORDDRY: Exactly, Jon, and that established, incontravertible fact is one side of the story.
STEWART: But that should be -- isn't that the end of the story? I mean, you've seen the records, haven't you? What's your opinion?
CORDDRY: I'm sorry, my *opinion*? No, I don't have 'o-pin-i-ons'. I'm a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called 'objectivity' -- might wanna look it up some day.
STEWART: Doesn't objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence, and calling out what's credible and what isn't?
CORDDRY: Whoa-ho! Well, well, well -- sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! [high-pitched, effeminate] 'Ooh, this allegation is spurious! Upon investigation this claim lacks any basis in reality! Mmm, mmm, mmm.' Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.
STEWART: So, basically, you're saying that this back-and-forth is never going to end.
CORDDRY: No, Jon -- in fact a new group has emerged, this one composed of former Bush colleages, challenging the president's activities during the Vietnam era. That group: Drunken Stateside Sons of Privilege for Plausible Deniability. They've apparently got some things to say about a certain Halloween party in '71 that involved trashcan punch and a sodomized piñata. Jon -- they just want to set the record straight. That's all they're out for.
STEWART: Well, thank you Rob, good luck out there. We'll be right back.
It's sad, really, when a satirical program has a better grasp on the deficiencies of the media than the media itself does. We really should give thanks every now and then that Jon Stewart and the writers and producers of that show know what's what.
Of course, they're not the only ones. Atrios also links to this Campaign Desk entry:
Campaign Desk has written many times about the perils of "he said/she said" journalism, the practice of reporters parroting competing rhetoric instead of measuring it for veracity against known facts. In the wake of the first SBVFT spot early this month, cable news programs for the most part offered viewers two talking heads, one on each side of the issue, to debate the merits of the claims. Verifiable facts were rarely offered to viewers -- despite the fact that military records supporting Kerry's version of events were readily available. Instead of acting as filters for the truth, reporters nodded and attentively transcribed both sides of the story, invariably failing to provide context, background, or any sense of which claims held up and which were misleading. And sometimes even that was asking too much. According to Media Matters, the Aug. 4th editions of FOX News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" and MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" both reported and aired the ad without mentioning (1) that despite the ad's claims, those featured in it did not serve on Kerry's boat, (2) that the SBVFT was wrapped in Republican ties, dating all the way back to former Nixon protege John O'Neill, or (3) the fact that the doctor who claims to have treated Kerry in the ad was not the medical official who signed his medical records
Reporters can, and do, argue that it is not their job to ascertain the veracity of such claims unless and until the Kerry campaign itself raises its voice in protest. But even if you buy that antiquated job description of a good reporter -- and we don't -- there's another ball most of the press is dropping in its coverage of the swift boat imbroglio. Once the Kerry campaign itself began to hit back by questioning the credibility of the Swift Boat Veterans' claims and arguing that the group was doing the president's "dirty work," the press still failed to adequately scrutinize the competing arguments at hand. When Kerry called on Bush to condemn the Swift Boat ads, the White House pointed out that the president had himself been the target of harsh attack ads run by independent "527" groups supporting Kerry, and repeated its months-old contention that all such outside advertising should be banned.
The press dutifully reported this argument. But rarely if ever did reporters see fit to assess the validity of the comparison the Bush campaign was making. The anti-Bush ad most often cited by the White House as comparable to the Swift Boat spot was a MoveOn ad that questioned the president's service in the National Guard. But each one of the claims made in the MoveOn ad -- that Bush used family connections to get into the Guard, that he was grounded after failing to show up for a physical, that he wasn't seen at a Guard meeting for months, and that he was released eight months early to attend Harvard Business School -- is not in dispute. The overall tenor of the ad is harsh, to be sure -- so harsh, in fact, that Kerry quickly called it "irresponsible" -- but there's been no real argument that any of its assertions are untrue.
Compare that to the Swift Boat ads. Given that military records support Kerry's version of events, and that the credibility of many of Kerry's accusers is now in doubt, it would seem that if anyone should be on the defensive for lacking corroboration and documentation, it's those defending Bush's service record, not Kerry's. No anti-Bush ad from MoveOn has flown in the face of the preponderance of evidence in the way that the Swift Boat ad does. The press, then, should have pointed out the illogic of grouping the two spots as one and the same.
In the end, as always, the information that voters receive depends entirely on the way in which the press frames the story. The problem is that once an easy storyline is entrenched -- that Kerry and his detractors disagree -- too many reporters fail to press on. In this case, they neglected to either test the veracity of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth or to compare their ads with those financed by other 527s like MoveOn.
There have been dozens of press failures during this presidential campaign. But this one, even given the Times' and the Post's belated efforts to get to the bottom of things, has to rank as a low point.
In the end, the whole ball of wax certainly did nothing to help the mainstream press' credibility with what is an increasingly dubious audience.
The question Brad De Long asks constantly is "Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?" (his latest instance is here).
There's no reason we couldn't, of course, since the press corps used to be better in living memory, if never perfect. The fact that it isn't, that it's really quite bad, that it's getting worse and not better as time goes on, that sources for information that one used to be able to count on as relatively objective and dispassionate (such as the Associated Press) can no longer be trusted, that there is at times no longer even a pretense of objectivity or even-handedness (or one so flimsy -- such as Fox News' slogan "Fair and Balanced" -- as to constitute a wink and a nod to those in on the deception), all of this is a fairly good indication that what many people have long suspected to be the case really is true, that powerful forces in this country want and need the press to behave in this way in order to maintain their control and dominance.
And yes, I know that verges on tin-foil hat conspiracy thinking, but I really can't help it, that's just where the evidence leads.
Update (8/27): It doesn't help that the executive editor of the Washington Post is apparently deluded about just what, exactly, his job entails:
"We are not judging the credibility of Kerry or the (Swift Boat) Veterans, we just print the facts."
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.