Hungry Like the Wolf


I hate to bigfoot Matt Welch's news-nannies-gnashing-teeth beat, but this coverage (via Drudge) of a speech called "The Wolf in Reporter's Clothing: The Rise of Pseudo-Journalism in America" by L.A. Times editor John S. Carroll is too good to pass up. Speaking to a crowd of hopefuls at the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication, Carroll reported that the Times has taken the "high road," while other organizations have ended up "in the gutter." A sample:

"All over the country there are offices that look like newsrooms and there are people in those offices that look for all the world just like journalists, but they are not practicing journalism," he said. "They regard the audience with a cold cynicism. They are practicing something I call a pseudo-journalism, and they view their audience as something to be manipulated."

In a scathing critique of Fox News and some talk show hosts, such as Bill O'Reilly, Carroll said they were a "different breed of journalists" who misled their audience while claiming to inform them. He said they did not fit into the long legacy of journalists who got their facts right and respected and cared for their audiences.

Carroll cited a study released last year that showed Americans had three main misconceptions about Iraq: That weapons of mass destruction had been found, a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq had been demonstrated and that the world approved of U.S intervention in Iraq. He said 80 percent of people who primarily got their news from Fox believed at least one of the misconceptions. He said the figure was more than 57 percentage points higher than people who get their news from public news broadcasting.

Leaving aside the selection of these myths believed by Fox watchers rather than, say, the belief in toxin-related cancer and birth defects at Love Canal that is held by New York Times readers, there's a legitimate question of whether the last one even qualifies as a "misconception." I think it's pretty clear that the vast majority of the populations in most relevant countries opposed the invasion of Iraq. But at the level of statecraft, which is what this question really tracks, is it possible to say whether the "world" approved or disapproved? Is the issue here that Fox fans are wrong or that Carroll doesn't like what they think?

"Don't be lured by the money or the big name of the employer," Carroll concludes, hinting at why he decided to hitch his fortunes to an obscure regional publication that has never been tempted away from the straight and narrow path.

Full story, with swooning reviews by audience suckups, here.

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  1. While this finding does not go very far to prove causation (maybe people who have the facts wrong to begin with tend to seek out supporting misinformation), it cannot be doubted that there is some sort of correlation here. Say what you want about the last of the three points, the first two are patently false. The fact that SO many americans believed them anyway must have something to do with the way news is reported in this country, or at least how it is digested.

  2. How about the majorities of irrelevant countries?

    I can’t imagine anyway to interpret “the world” such that “the world” supported the invasion, “level of statecraft” or no.

  3. I think Shady is missing the point; the reason the poll ois so slanted is not because the three “misconceptions” are true, but because they were carefully selected to make the pro-ar side look bad. A fairer poll would have asked about common misconceptions such as:

    -President Bush said Iraq posed an “imminent” threat.

    -Bush claimed Iraq had bought uranium from Niger.

    -America’s intervention in Iraq was unilateral.

    (from James Taranto’s column)

    People believe what they want to believe, on both sides.

  4. Actually, Kurt, I think semantics would make the difference in your arguments, contentious as they are. The statements cited in this blog are falsehoods that, if they were true, would justify invading Iraq. Considering we are in Iraq, those seem to be much more germaine.

  5. And to answer your question, here is what was said, among other things:

    “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
    ? President Bush’s SOTU address, 2003

    Iraq is “a serious threat to our country, to our friends and to our allies.”
    ? Vice President Dick Cheney, 1/31/03

    Iraq poses “terrible threats to the civilized world.”
    ? Vice President Dick Cheney, 1/30/03

    Iraq “threatens the United States of America.”
    ? Vice President Cheney, 1/30/03

  6. The hawks will say that:

    1) Nowhere in there is the word “imminent” used!

    (Competely ignoring the basic question: Did the administration exaggerate the threat posed by Iraq? Instead the hawks get stuck on the word “imminent.” Perhaps they should have a nice chat with Bill Clinton concerning the word “is”.)

    2) Bush merely said that the British learned this. Bush never said whether he believed it or not.

    (Which raises an obvious question: Does Bush think the British gov’t gave him credible info? If he didn’t necessarily believe them, then why would he go around reporting what they said? And why would he ask them to be major partners in a war?)

  7. Agonizing contortions aside, there is no sense in which the statement “The world approved of the US invasion of Iraq” is true. People who believe that statement believe a falsehood.

    People who believe the three statements offerred by Kurt, on the other hand, are believing statements that may or may not be true, depending on interpretation. It is possible to suggest imminence without choosing that word, for example.

  8. Please, Kurt, don’t tell me I’m agreeing with something in a Taranto column. I can only take so much bad news in one day.

    Fyodor, I’ll acknowledge that most countries, relevant and irrelevant, opposed the invasion, but I still don’t know any sure way to show that a person who believes the “world” supported the U.S. is wrong (except in the general sense that it’s obviously impossible to say what the “world” believes or doesn’t believe).

  9. Shady, do you know what “imminent” means? North Korea is also a threat to the United States, but not an imminent one. It indeed qualifies as “terrible.” It seems pretty basic to me that some threats are beyond rectifying once they’ve become imminent. Bush also cites a British intelligence report about “Africa,” not Niger specifically, and Joe Wilson in his new book basically reverses himself on his investigation in Niger, saying it was the Iraqi information minister who tried to make a uranium deal with Niger. Doesn’t give me much confidence in his interrogation abilities to have only got the truth out of his source a few months ago.

  10. Shady seems to have a rather “shady” definition of what is or isn’t “patently false.” Contrary to popular liberal/looneytarian/isolationist mythology, we have indeed found WMD in Iraq, albeit in lesser quantities than expected. The jury’s still out on any specific link to al-Qaeda, but there’s no question of Hussein’s general involvement in international terrorism, ranging from Hamas to Abu Nidal.

    Nevermind that, however. All that matters is that BushLied?, dammit. When his people said that Iraq threatened the U.S. and the civilized world (which it did), surely he meant that attack by Iraq was “imminent” (which it wasn’t). When he said “[t]he British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” (which it did), he meant to say “Joseph Wilson will personally attest to this fact sometime in 2003, rather than implying the opposite is true until he releases his book in 2004.” And dagnabbit, when he called for a “war on terror,” he really meant “war on al-Qaeda, or any states my stooges at Fox News can con you into associating with al-Qaeda.” BushLied?!

  11. People who believe the three statements offerred by Kurt, on the other hand, are believing statements that may or may not be true, depending on interpretation.

    It’s true that some people have been making up new definitions for the word “unilateral”, but I don’t see how believing that requires any fewer contortions than believing that the world supported the invasion*.

    * Just to be clear, I don’t believe the world supported the invasion.

  12. I wonder what a similar poll of NPR listeners would be if you asked them:

    Was the war all about the OIL?

    Probably 90% of them would answer in the affirmative.

  13. Tim,

    I suppose you’re saying it’s a nonsensical thing to say from the get-go. I would agree that it’s not the most articulate or eloquent wording one could use (which is why I only repeat it with quotes), but I think people do have some idea of what it means such that the truth or falsehoodness of it can reasonably be discerned. If either the majority of nations, as expressed by their heads of state, or a majority of the world’s population approved of the invasion, I would agree that the issue was at least in doubt. And of course it’s likely difficult at best to determine what the world’s population at large thinks, which may also be your point. But from everything I’ve seen, we have good reason to think the vast majority of the world’s population opposed the war and no reason to think it supported it. So while someone claiming the world clearly opposed it may be a bit out on a limb, anyone claiming the world supported it would clearly be claiming something contra-indicated by accepted facts. While the whole use of “misconceptions” as such is a stridently narrow, and in this case biased (as both you and Kurt rightly point out), way of putting things, at the risk of nitpicking, I still think Carroll has good reason to claim that the facts belie the belief that “the world” supported the invasion.

  14. How little you know your enemy, DC. 2/3 would say, “Yes and No” or “Sort of.”

  15. Without getting hung up on the word ‘imminent’, hasn’t it been pretty well established by facts that are well known that the administration did, in fact, hype the threat Iraq posed? History may prove them justified, but hype it they did.

    And is anyone THAT disingenuous to believe (regardless of how UN-credible the NYT may be) that FOX new IS credible journalism.

    Does anyone actually think that Bill O’Reilly is truly a ‘fair and balanced’ (cough) journalist?

    I studied journalism and worked as a reporter for 3 years. Regardless of what many folks think, it’s been my experience that MOST journalist ARE balanced, fair and dedicated to the facts.

    I would describe NYT, FOX and most large media juggernaughts as exceptions to that rule.

    I wouldn’t describe O’Reilly as a journalist. Hyper-ventilating, occassionally-makes-a-good-point, more-often-lies-through-his-teeth, overbearing, self-righteous loudmouth maybe…an entertainer, certainly…but not a journalist.

  16. XLRG makes some valid observations but didn’t mention that for eight years all senior staff of the Clinton white house were also convinced that Iraq had WMD and posed a serious threat to the world.

    Bush may be a dunce (or not) but it’s a tough sell to convince me that he just flat lied.

  17. Thank you to all who had the good sense to tear apart these semantic loopholes as they were posted. I guess it is true that the truth can be a slippery thing.

    Kurt, you seem to be very good at picking apart the neocon’s motivation to go to war, maybe you should give the people at ANSWER a call, they can use spinners like you.

    Way to pick up on my name, there Xrlq, I guess my pseudonym is sort of an ad hominem venus flytrap, way to be a fly. Those weren’t the WMDs we were looking for actually, we are sure because we still have the receipt. Oh, and we sure are doing a good job extricating all that Al-Quaeda terrorism from Iraq.

    David, you just set yourself up a great strawman, there, have fun knocking it down. I suppose I could counter by saying most of the FoxNewsphiles have never heard of a thing called the PNAC.

  18. Burning the ground I break from the crowd
    I?m on the hunt I?m after you
    Scent and a sound, I?m lost and I?m found
    And I?m hungry like the wolf

    Strut on a line, it?s discord and rhyme
    I howl and I whine I?m after you
    Mouth is alive all running inside
    And I?m hungry like the wolf…

    Sorry, I thought this was a Duran Duran blog.

  19. anyone click the link Xrlg provided? Now THERE is some fair and balanced news!

  20. Is Madpad for real? I shudder to think that anyone who writes like that may have been allowed near a newspaper for three months, let alone three years.

  21. What? Caroll thinks that because the LA Times carries a column by Virgina Postrel once in a while that it isn’t biased?

    Guess he missed the part where the Times editors shoved the news of Governor Gumbi’s (Gray Davis) ongoing physical abuse of female staff members down a convenient rathole while waiting for the recall results.

    Might have been Moxie, No, No, it was Jill Stewart that brought that to our attention.

  22. Yes, I know Slate and the BBC are a bit slanted to the left, but hey, that’s what I had to work with.

  23. Who cares? I quit newspapers along time ago because of the obvious “Pravda-envy”.

  24. Well, thank God somebody has finally stepped up to challenge the media domination of Bill O’Reilly and the Fox news channel, with its monolithic 1.3 market share during peak hours.

    It’s about time we clamp down on this free speech, otherwise, somebody might actually engage in criticism or dissent. And at that point, well, no telling what might happen. Newspaper circulation at the LA Times might drop, for one thing, i suppose.

  25. There was an al-Qaida connection in Iraq as well – Abu al-Zarqawi had connections to al-Qaida, and had been treated in a Baghdad hospital and allowed to stay in Baghdad. Zarqawi now appears to be the main terrorist in the area, and a couple of months ago an Iraqi ‘safe house’ was raided and a letter from Zarqawi to al-Qaida leaders was discovered, asking for the assistance to set up various attacks to inflame Sunnis and Shiites in hopes of kicking off a civil war. Pretty much exactly what’s going on now in Iraq.

    To dismiss the Zarqawi link would be a mistake. It would be fair to say that we don’t know the extent of the connection and have no evidence of any formal planning between al-Qaida and Saddam’s regime, but the link is certainly there. No one gets treated and put in safe houses in Iraq without Saddam’s blessing.

    As for weapons of mass destruction, it’s certainly true that no large quantities of chemicals or biological agents have been found. What HAS been found is plenty of evidence of a ‘fast start’ program that uses dual use facilities to be able to ramp up production of such chemicals in short order. Also found so far are missiles with ranges longer than U.N. limits allowed, a UAV program that has ranges longer than allowed by U.N. limits, buried components of a nuclear centrifuge, and numerous other violations of U.N. resolutions. The military has also found unexpected but troubling things like a production facility for making suicide belts almost identical to those used by Palestinians.

    This was a bad guy, who was in clear violation of the U.N. resolution that the Bush Administration sought.

    As for ‘imminent threats’ – not did the administration avoid ever using that term, but Bush himself said in the state of the union that the threat was NOT imminent, but that waiting until it was would be too dangerous. Instead, he referred to Iraq as a ‘grave and gathering danger’, which is a term that implies some time span until the danger is fully realized.

    So how many watchers of, say, the CBS evening news would get it wrong if they were asked whether any proof had been found that Saddam was in violation of the U.N’s last resolution threatening force if it was not complied with?

  26. I get most of my news from websites, with being the one I check more than any other single site. I don’t recall any article on there stating that WMD had been found or that an Al Qaeda-Iraq connection had been demonstrated. What “the world” thinks is, as has been pointed out, a more slippery question, and I’m not sure what may have been claimed about it on Fox News.

  27. madpad,

    Bill O’Reilly is NOT a journalist – he is NOT in the NEWS business; he is in the OPINION (and entertainment) business.

    criticize the op-ed guys for their opinions, but don’t confuse News with Opinions.

    As to the LA Times guy lecturing anyone about journalism …

  28. madpad,

    you might have said the samething – if so, my apologies!

  29. The attention on O’Reilly is very strange. What he does is also done by Al Hunt, Bob Novak, James Carville, George Will, Al Franken, Janine Garofolo, Rush Limbaugh, Joe Scarborough, and dozens of other commentators.

    What has some people’s panties in a bunch is simply that O’Reilly is obnoxious and has huge ratings. That makes him public enemy #1 (displacing Rush, I guess). But none of these commentators have ever claimed to be unbiased. They are opinion journalists, using their access to the media to promote their point of view and entertain an audience.

    And they are far less dangerous than those who have bias but hide it behind the mask of objectivity. Dan Rather, for example. When you present yourself as an unbiased documenter of fact, people accept your word with less scrutiny than they would if you came out and said, “I support Bush (or Kerry), and here are some reasons why.” People like Rather proclaim their objectivity and then work their biases into their reporting anyway.

  30. Dan said: “But none of these commentators have ever claimed to be unbiased.”

    I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Bill O’Reilly softly whisper one or two things about a no-spin zone, about his being a registered independent voter, etc. But he’s not dangerous in the sense you discuss above because his biases are so obvious that a comatose chimp could tell what they are.

  31. Yeah, and Rush Limbaugh calls himself something similar, doesn’t he? But the plain fact is that both men have strong political opinions, and don’t hesitate to announce to the world what they are. Is there a human on the planet that doesn’t know Rush and O’Reilly approach issues from the right? The ‘No Spin Zone’ thing is just marketing.

  32. From John Hensley’s link:
    “Coalition forces discovered Monday a “huge” suspected chemical weapons factory”

    What part of “suspected” made that link say that it actually was a chemical factory? English is my second language, but even I knew better than to assume “suspected” meant “actual”

    Oh, and in case you actually (not that I suspect you did) read the whole thing:
    “…but said it was premature to call the Najaf site a chemical weapons factory. ”

    And even further down in that article:
    “…since much of the international criticism of the U.S.-led war has focused on the fact that United Nations inspectors had not found any banned weapons in Iraq. ”

    I am starting to think that the infamous poll was given to a bunch of liberals playing “pretend” instead of to actual Fox viewers.

  33. The article is about the media, not Iraq.

    Go check out a 1974 remake of The Front Page (Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau). In it a prison PR flack issues a statement to a bunch of reporters. Each reporter immediately rushes to a telephone and reports to his newspaper using that paper’s slant. Hilarious.

    That was back when cities had several independent newspapers. And you could get everyone’s take on the news.

    IMO the main problem “journalism” has today is the idea that reporters are “fair and unbiased” and “just report the news.” That has killed off more traditional newspapers than anything. If there’s only one Associated Press slant, why publish two papers?

    And now with more than three national network news shows and the addition of the Internet, we’re getting back to more targeted publications. And the “high-road journalism” folks are losing control of the handwriting on the wall.

  34. Sorry it took so long for me to enter the fray, but as a long time LA Times reader, I’m still dumbfounded that Gray Davis lost the recall vote.

  35. Well J, the problem is that “suspected” wasn’t in the original report (oops!). Search Google for: fox “chemical weapons plant” to get a few copies of the original.

    I guess the BBC isn’t the only one stealth-editing its articles.

  36. What’s most shocking about this is that it appears to be written by someone studying journalism – but who clearly has an extremely uneasy relationship with the English language.
    I’d give the scribe an F.

  37. Just think, I lived through the golden age of liberal news bias and lived to tell the tale.

  38. I think some of the commenters are reading too much into the phrase “no spin zone.” I’ve never took it to mean that the show was supposed to be an opinion-free zone. Quite the opposite; I think it means “tell me your opinion, but say what you really mean, and say it directly rather than trying to package it as something it’s not.” O’Reilly is pretty good about adhering to that principle, most of the time. That’s why so many people love him, while so many others love to hate him.

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