Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Star wars: Pelosi rises, media empire falls

A long time ago in a world far, far more sane, I gave up trusting what I heard, saw, or read in media without fact-checking the information myself. Today, I am not alone.

One of my favorite Sophia men, Glenn Greenwald at Salon, examined the false coverage of Nancy Pelosi's Syrian trip by media pundits. A sampling of commentary included CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, Fox's Brit Hume, NBC's Tim Russert, and Matt Lauer.

The spiel:

Two weeks ago, our nation's greatest and most cherished media stars lamented how "controversial" and irresponsible was Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria (she went even though the President said not to), and they warned how very harmful that would be to Democrats, because it made Democrats -- as always -- look weak and irresponsible and unserious, and proved yet again that they cannot be trusted when it comes to the big, strong, serious, important matters of National Security.

The facts from the Washington Post-ABC News Poll (April 12-15):

Pelosi's approval ratings from before her Syria trip and after are virtually identical (her approval rating increased by 3 points [to 53%], her disapproval rating by 4 points [to 35%]). And Pelosi remains the most popular of the three key Washington political leaders. Compare the +18 gap in her approval ratings to George Bush's -27, and even Harry Reid's +13 gap. And Pelosi's 53% approval ratings are far ahead of Bush's (35%) and also ahead of Reid's (46%).

From a historical perspective, when the last seismic shift occurred from the Republican takeover of the House and Newt Gingrich first banged the gavel as Speaker, Newt's approval ratings never reached above 40% by March 1995. That's 10 points behind Pelosi's lowest rating in February after her first month in action. Have we heard about Pelosi's favorable ratings in media? Not over the snarls. Noooooo.

Glenn zeroed in on how public opinion unplugged from the negative slant media attached to Pelosi's trip to Syria. "Media stars" predicted doom and gloom for the new Democratic majority and fabricated a false story line. However...

...the percentage of Americans who trust Democrats over Bush to handle the situation in Iraq increased after Pelosi's trip -- from 54% to 58%. And the gap between those who trust Democrats more than The Great War Leader George W. Bush with regard to the war is now a startling 25 point gap -- up from 20 points as compared to the period before Pelosi went to Syria....

After Pelosi's Syria trip, there is a 15-point gap in favor of Congressional Democrats over Congressional Republicans. These media stars have absolutely no idea what and how "Americans" think. They take the conventional Beltway wisdom they pass amongst one another -- all generated by their White House confidants and other right-wing sources who have long ruled Washington (and therefore "their world") -- and they mindlessly assume it to be true and then run around repeating it without any effort to determine if it is actually true (or they know it's false and repeat it anyway).

Or, as The Boston Globe's editor, Martin Baron, put it yesterday in explaining what Charlie Savage did to merit a Pulitzer Prize that distinguishes him from other journalists: "he covered what the White House does, not just what it says."

By stark contrast, the Tim Russerts, Matt Lauers and Suzanne Malvaeux's hear what their secret White House and Bush following sources tell them ("Americans don't want negotiations with Syria -- Pelosi is in big trouble on this one -- this feeds the image of Democrats as weak and untrustworthy on national security - this was a major unforced error from Pelosi -- she's really overreaching here -- Karl Rove is chortling over the pictures of Pelosi in Damascus") and then they run around repeating those cliches.

That whole week, the media stars were simply copying the right-wing talking points fed to them about Pelosi's trip, and then making one false claim after the next about how Americans think. For instance, the week of Pelosi's trip, GOP Rep. Eric Cantor in National Review wrote that "the Speaker and many of her Democratic allies have become so drunk with grandiose visions of deposing Bush that they break bread with terrorists and enemies of the United States." That was the premise the media stars adopted -- that Americans see Syria as "the enemy" and therefore will view Pelosi's trip as fueling the image of Democrats as subversive, soft-on-terrorism losers who cannot be "trusted on national security."

But that is how the right-wing fringe thinks (and therefore how our media stars think), not how most Americans think. The vast majority of Americans favor negotiations with the Syrians ("By 64% to 28%, respondents favored the [Baker-Hamilton] group's recommendation to open direct talks with Iran and Syria"). And only a small minority of Americans share Rep. Cantor's view that Syria is even our "enemy" at all.


There is a profound and fundamental shift taking place among the American populace with regard to their views on American foreign policy, this President, and his party. But the only ones who seem not to realize it -- or who realize it but deliberately pretend it does not exist -- are our nation's journalists and media stars. In their world, Republicans are On The Rise Again because Nancy Pelosi did not pick Jane Harman for House Intelligence Chair, or backed John Murtha for House Majority Leader, or went to Syria.

But in the real world, that is just meaningless, deceitful Beltway chatter. America has fundamentally turned against, and continues to turn against, the President, his party, and his policies. And everyone seems to realize that except our nation's Beltway media.

Click the Salon link to view all the polling data Glenn posted. You will also find the evidence supporting my remarks.

Goes without saying that the Madame Speaker commands my highest admiration and respect. In presidential succession, she's behind Dick Cheney. Making her the POTUS after impeaching Bush and Cheney would please me. Greatly.

And the media stars? America tunes them out more and more. From Pew. Survey says:

The increasingly fragmented media landscape has diminished the prominence of the nation's top journalists. Two decades ago, the vast majority of Americans had a "favorite" journalist or news person, and the top picks were representatives of the big three broadcast television networks. Today, only a slim majority can name the journalist they admire most and the preferences are much more scattered...

More bad news for the empire: "For the first time in years, every sector of television news lost audience in 2006." Nugget from the full report: "The press is no longer gatekeeper over what the public knows."

We know.

UPDATE: I deleted a Star Wars image that, on second thought, didn't seem appropriate during our national mourning of the VA Tech massacre.