Some observations after being involved in a Fox News report

The Fox tactics of distorting news are extreme, but they are far from uncommon

By Glenn Greenwald
December 23, 2008 3:15PM (UTC)
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(updated below - Update II - Update III)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the extreme disconnect between reality and reporting in the John Brennan controversy.  Specifically, the case against John Brennan as CIA Director -- from the beginning -- was based almost exclusively on comments he made on television, after he left the CIA, in which he supported rendition and what he called "enhanced interrogation tactics."  Anyone without any lingering confusion or doubts about that, or about whether Brennan made such statements, should see here.


The anti-Brennan case was not based on any claims that he helped implement those programs at the CIA.  It was not based on the theory that anyone in a top level position at the CIA in this decade should, for that reason alone, be deemed "tainted."  It was, instead, based on the post-CIA, pro-rendition and pro-"enhanced interrogation tactic" comments he made -- period.  It is obviously p0ssible to dispute the opinion that those comments from Brennan should disqualify him from consideration for CIA Director, but it is not reasonably possible to dispute that (a) Brennan made these statements in support of rendition and "enhanced interrogation tactics" and (b) the campaign against Brennan was based almost entirely on those publicly expressed viewpoints of his.

Nonetheless, no matter how many times that is pointed out and documented, journalists and Brennan allies continue to recite the mantra -- like mindless, programmed zombies wholly unaffected by external stimuli -- that the case against Brennan was grounded in his critics' unfair theory that merely being at the CIA makes someone "tainted," or, more inaccurately still, based on the critics' false accusation that Brennan himself helped to implement the CIA's torture program.  Those claims are pure fantasies; they had nothing to do with anything.  Yet like so many total myths that take root in our political discourse, it's impossible to dislodge this storyline, no matter how much linguistic clarity and factual documentation are marshaled against it.  After awhile, one feels as though one is speaking a different language, or residing in Alice in Wonderland.

I bring all of this up again only because, roughly two weeks ago, I was interviewed for about 20 minutes by Fox News' Jim Angle regarding the Brennan withdrawal, and last night, his report was broadcast on Brit Hume's Special Report.  Angle was fully aware of and conversant about the case made against Brennan.  Still, knowing that the media was systematically mis-reporting the story, I made certain to weave into almost every answer I gave a clear statement that the case against Brennan was based on the pro-rendition-and-torture comments he made, and not any claim that he was "tainted" merely by virtue of his service at the CIA.


Just watch how little good that did.  Marvel at the total nonsequiturs on which the entire report was based.  As though it were anything other than pure fantasy, Brennan allies marched forward to decry the outrageousness that "bloggers" had sunk Brennan based on the patently unfair theory that Brennan's mere service at the CIA rendered him tainted, or due to "their" false accusation that Brennan helped implement the programs.  Granted, this is Fox News, but there was nothing they did that everyone else reporting on this story -- from The New York Times to NPR -- didn't do (and which they continue to do).  If anything, the Fox report was actually better, since they at least included a quote from me referencing Brennan's pro-rendition-and-torture statements -- though I might as well have spoken in Farsi given what little impact that had on the rest of the commentary:



 Here is what the Brennan reporting has sounded like to me from the beginning:

REPORTER:  Critics of Brennan say that his service at the CIA during the time these controversial programs were implemented renders him "tainted."

BRENNAN CRITIC:  Actually, the case against Brennan wasn't about that at all.  It was about the statements he made, once he left the CIA, defending rendition and torture.  Mere service at the CIA wouldn't disqualify anyone.  It was the fact that Brennan, with his television comments, made clear he supported many of these programs.

BRENNAN ALLY:  What the bloggers did here is really outrageous.  They're saying that any high-level service at the CIA disqualifies you from a top intelligence post because it makes you tainted.  They're also lying and claiming that Brennan helped to implement the torture programs.

REPORTER:  The torpedoing of Brennan raises a vexing question:  is it even possible for Obama to find any qualified person for CIA Director, given that bloggers on the Left continue to object that anyone who worked at the CIA during the last eight years should be deemed disqualified?

And on and on and on . . . . That method is hardly unique to this story.  One just sees it more vividly as a result of direct involvement in a story.

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Also embedded throughout this narrative -- not just on Fox but in all of these reports -- are the sneering references to "bloggers" and "blogs."  Given that virtually every establishment media outlet now regularly writes in this format, I'm really not sure -- nor is anyone else -- what distinguishes a "journalist" from a "blogger" these days.  The terms have no real definition and no real purpose other than to allow the former some instrument for demonizing, sneering at, and feeling superior to the latter. So while these terms have long ago lost their definitional clarity, their true purpose means they're unlikely to disappear any time soon.


In any event, my comment about blogs was somewhat distorted by the truncated nature of the cable news format (which I wrote about here).  My statement about whether Obama should ignore blogs was made in response to Angle's observation that the Brennan controversy was "strange" because it had been confined to "the blogs," and hadn't even been mentioned in newspapers or "on cable" -- as though nothing matters until Fox talks about it. 

As I pointed out, it's unlikely in the extreme that the Brennan withdrawal happened due exclusively to opposition on blogs (far more likely is that the anti-Brennan evidence marshaled on blogs signaled that it could easily grow into a larger controversy).  Nonetheless, the audience size for some political blogs is larger than some cable news shows, and thus, it's foolish to to ignore what is said on blogs and only pay attention to what cable news shows discuss, particularly since blog commentary often foreshadows what will eventually occur in the wider discourse.

Just compare the daily visitor count at Daily Kos with the most recent Total Viewership Numbers (in thousands) for the various cable shows in Brit Hume's time slot and in the hour before and after:



The number of visitors to Kos is roughly equal to the viewership of the prime-time CNN shows, greater than the MSNBC shows for this time period, and roughly half of the viewership for the Fox shows. It's true that total blog visitors (which can count multiple same-day visits as unique visitors) and Nielsen TV viewer statistics aren't the same, and Kos is the largest of the liberal blogs by a fairly sizable margin.  But the point is still clear:  the number of people who read blogs -- and who, in particular, are exposed to a story when (as was the case with Brennan) many large blogs discuss it and thus amplify each other's coverage and multiply the numbers who are exposed -- is in the same general range as those who are exposed to a story covered by cable news. 


A story covered extensively on large blogs is going to reach (at least) hundreds of thousands of high-information, highly engaged political consumers, as well as most opinion-makers in politics and the media -- still almost certainly a lesser quantitative reach than cable news shows currently have, but only by degree, not by level.  It's simply a myth that if a story appears only on "blogs," it's reaching only a small, fringe audience as compared to what happens if it's discussed on cable news.  And whatever mild disparity does still exist is diminishing by the day.

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Speaking of invented storyline myths becoming entrenched in our media discourse and then never dissolving no matter how factually inaccurate it is, here is a superb video compiled by Jed Lewison documenting the completely fact-free reporting that has driven the tawdry media attempt to connect Barack Obama (through Rahm Emanuel) to the Blagojevich scandal.  Obviously, it's perfectly appropriate to ask questions about Obama and Emanuel's involvement, but the media simply invented a pure fiction to implicate Obama in order to drive the story -- a fiction that has had a considerable impact on public perception:



That's almost certainly damage that will never be undone. That's why it is, in my view, worthwhile to dissect the Brennan coverage -- what one finds there is a deceitful methodology that is used in almost every story.

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Finally, as a bonus, here is the type of email that one receives after appearing on Fox.  I really don't think this is representative of anything other than the specific individuals sending the email, but since a long-time favorite tactic of the right-wing noise machine (including Fox News) is to highlight individual cases of bad behavior on "the Left" in order to imply some unwarranted generalized inference, it's worthwhile to illustrate now and then how cheap and easy that tactic is.



UPDATE:  Both Digby and Bob Somerby have much more on the sleazy, dishonest tactics used by many in the media to pump up the Blagojevich scandal and link Obama to it even as they recognize there is no linkage.  Of particular note is the painfully inane Meet the Press "discussion" which Somerby documents between David Gregory, NBC's Erin Burnett and NPR's Michele Norris, though Digby cites some equally painful instances of extreme media inanity on this issue. 


UPDATE II:  Substantially bolstering the argument above, a new Pew poll, released today, finds that, among Americans, the Internet "has now surpassed all other media except television as a main source for national and international news."  And, for young people, "the internet now rivals television as a main source of national and international news. Nearly six-in-ten Americans younger than 30 (59%) say they get most of their national and international news online; an identical percentage cites television."


And here is another Digby post, from today, on the media's behavior in the Blagojevich scandal that is well worth reading.


UPDATE III:  Here is The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz in his weekly online chat yesterday:

Howard Kurtz: You know, the more I hear about people willing to pay for Post content online, the more I wonder whether there shouldn't be a button for doing so--perhaps through volunteer payments that would involve a few extras, such as more extensive searching of the archives, or having bloggers like me come to your house with a thank-you card.

Kurtz writes a column for the Post and hosts a weekly media show on CNN, yet wants to label himself a "blogger."  It's hard to imagine something that more compellingly illustrates how these terms have lost any real meaning.

Thoughts shared by Fox viewers

Thank GOD. Glenn Greenwald (insert your embarrassing high school story about Glenn here) is being considered important enough that he should weigh in on the Pres-elect's pick for Chief Intelligence Officer.

"Blogs do have significant influence," said blogger Glenn Greenwald, one of those critical of Brennan. "I think the Obama team would be foolish if they just ignored what happened on blogs, and I know for a fact that there are people high up in the Obama campaign and now the transition team who read blogs regularly."

Guessing, and I emphasize guessing...I might wager that you know JACK SHIT about anything related to both a) intelligence and b) national security. So that is cool.

STFU and keep up the pro-gay marriage works well for you.

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Your critism of harsh tecniques against terrorists is unreal...Maybe we the world are giving you fucking jews too much support..When u can't even support the fight against terrorism...I guess the Arabs are right about u people u want everything and don't want to give back to anyone...U jews and the fucking scum bag lawyers that get these criminals off are ruining our Country.....joe

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I have been reading about you on, and I find you to be a most arrogant person. I know arrogant people. I have, unfortunately, spent much more time than I like around Harvard, Yale and Wharton graduates. I must tell you, you come across with a really special kind of arrogance. In your world of relative morals, you are probably extremely proud.

First, you say you are not liberal or conservative, but agree with Rachel Maddow on most any subject. Who is naive enough to not see you as a far left liberal? I am sure that person does not understand what liberal means.

Second, you have been nothing more than a lawyer. Since when does being a lawyer make you something special? It doesn't make you a leader, a good judge of character or knowledgeable on any subject except the law. I can't believe that the Obama team would even consider your opinion for one second. You must have some really damaging information on Obama or someone inside his inner circle. I read your latest blog and it does not convince me that you have reached a sound logical conclusion.

Third, you criticize Jon Brennan, and you are completely wrong. He did disagree with the policies of Bush and Cheney that are torture. Of course you are an ideologue, so facts will never get in the way of your crusade.

You are neither qualified, knowledgeable nor even fair in your criticism of John Brennan. But of course, that doesn't matter to you. You see anyone who disagrees with you as evil, stupid, conservative or some combination of the three. Every time I hear about or read a blog like yours, I am reminded of the Reichstag in 1933 and the Enabling Act. There will be no criticism, no dissent, no compromise. You are the very thing you rail against.

Glenn Greenwald

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