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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Disney/ABC and Hugh Hewitt's audience of "millions"

(updated below - updated again re: Patterico's guest blogger, Justin Levine)

One of the most incriminating aspects of Disney's conduct is that it made Path to 9/11 screeners available only to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt and even obscure right-wing bloggers, while expressly refusing to provide a copy to liberal bloggers, including those with large audiences, or even to Bill Clinton and the former high-ranking Clinton officials smeared by the film.

Hugh Hewitt, who has become as much of a blindly loyal apologist for Disney's film as he is for the Bush administration, had this to say in response to that complaint (emphasis added):

First, hundreds of people have screened :The Path to 9/11," including me and many other critics and/or hosts of large audience shows. (Complaints from tiny lefty bloggers that I received a screener and other s didn't ignore the fact that I requested it weeks ago and that I have an audience in the millions, not the tens.)

According to Hewitt, it was audience size which determined who received screeners, not ideology. Currently, the average number of visitors to Hewitt's blog is 41,000. Firedoglake has 50% more; blogs such as Crooks & Liars and Atrios have almost triple Hewitt's audience; and the readership of DailyKos is ten times larger than Hewitt's. If one were using audience size as the determining factor for which bloggers received screeners, Hewitt would still be waiting for his. But he was one of the first to receive a copy, while others with larger audience (measured in the tens of thousands, not the "tens") were expressly refused.

If Hewitt is referring to his talk radio show, that still doesn't seem to justify his flamboyant, self-promoting claim. Talkers Magazine, an industry trade publication, published a 2005 list of the radio talk show hosts around the country with an audience of 1 million or more. Hewitt is not even on the list. If Hewitt's show does not even have an audience of 1 million, what is his basis for claiming that he has an "audience in the millions?"

Independent of all of that, Think Progress has documented that bloggers with -- to use Hewitt's sneering description -- "tiny" audiences received screeners, but they were individuals who were certain to ooze with praise for the film. And ooze with praise is exactly what they did (emphasis added):

I have been fortunate enough to see an advance showing of The Path to 9/11 - due to air in 2 parts on ABC on 9/10 & 9/11 respectively.

For those who have been asking for a clear historical account of the build-up to the 9/11 disaster, free of political spin, politically correct whitewashing and partisan wrangling - I can say wholeheartedly that this is the film that you have been waiting for.

“The Path To 9/11″ is astonishing.

It is an amazing achievement on many levels. It is flat-out one of the best made-for-televison (sic) movies seen in decades. The only thing that would keep this movie from theatrical distribution is its nearly 5-hour running time (split over two days in this instance). Forget CNN’s “replay” broadcast from 9/11 - Trust me and mark your calendars to watch ABC these nights.

Many of the most prominent television critics who have seen the film have mocked it mercilessly on dramatic and artistic grounds alone, but Disney obviously knew that if it fed its biased, fictitious product into the mouths of the most biased political hacks -- those who have been trained to consume fiction as their political diet (Iraq is going really well, Saddam worked with Al Qeada, Bush is a popular president, only the fringe Left is anti-war, etc. etc.) -- they would generate the type of drooling, mindless praise evidenced in the above quote, or by the Rush Limbaugh monologues, or by every Hugh Hewitt post over the last week on this topic.

While promoting this film as an unbiased account leading up to 9/11 based on the non-partisan 9/11 Commission, Disney was ensuring that only the most reliably Bush-worshipping partisan hacks received screeners of the film. Disney knew full well that it was preparing to broadcast a one-sided account which only Bush worshippers would love. The outright falseness of Hewitt's defense of Disney's conduct here makes that glaringly clear.

UPDATE: In response to this post, L.A. County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Frey (who blogs under the name "Patterico") claims that the reason his guest blogger (quoted above) received a screener of Path to 9/11 was because the guest blogger is the highly influential Justin Levine, who, Frey says, "produces the highest-rated morning talk radio show in Los Angeles." The link which Frey provides for that claim takes one to a post that was written by Levine, but which has nothing to do with Levine's work for any radio show. where Levine links to the website of a show on a local radio station in Los Angeles, KFI-AM.

Either way, there are all sorts of liberal commentators with audiences comparable to, or larger than, that which listens to the show Levine produces. Alan Colmes and Keith Olbermann come to mind, as does Markos Moulitsas and Jon Stewart. By contrast, Levine, based on what Frey wrote, doesn't have his own audience, but merely produces a local radio show that has an audience.

Thus, if it were true -- as Frey claims -- that Levine received a copy not because he is a mindless, Bush-loving partisan hack writing on Patterico's blog, but instead because "publicists have obviously been trying to generate buzz by promoting the movie on talk radio," then one would logically expect that all radio talk show hosts and bloggers with large audiences -- and television commentators and newspapers columnists, for that matter -- would have received copies. But they didn't. Only mindless, Bush-loving partisan hacks like Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt and even Justin Levine did, while liberals and other Bush critics with larger audiences did not, and were even refused copies when they requested one.

Frey is right that Disney distributed the screeners because they wanted to "generate buzz," but only positive, reverent buzz. Thus, they sent the screeners only to those they knew would warmly embrace the film because it is so skewed to their partisan biases -- namely, mindless, Bush-loving partisan hacks -- and purposely prevented those who would object to the film's fabrications from being able to view a copy.

Frey's claim -- which was echoed earlier by Hewitt (that unlike what Hewitt called "tiny bloggers," Hewitt has what he claimed is "an audience in the millions, not the tens," which is why he received a screener) -- would make sense only if Disney sent out the screeners to everyone with a large audience (or other buzz-generating abilities) without regard to their ideological leanings. That is exactly what Disney did not do, because they knew they had on their hands such an abjectly biased product which only partisan hacks would like.

UPDATE II: This interview with Justin Levine (h/t HM) tells you all you need to know about why he received a Path to 9/11 screener. His prior jobs: serving as an intern for David Horowitz, working on behalf of Matt Drudge in Sydney Blumenthal's libel lawsuit against Drudge, and then, after that, working as a screener for Drudge's radio show (where, according to Levine, he was fired for stalking his ex-girlfriend). The stalking issue to the side, Levine is obviously the exact person whom Disney would want screening Path to 9/11 -- a former colleague of David Horowitz and employee of Matt Drudge who now works for a highly "conservative" radio station.

Levine also says in the interview that he is "one of three producers on the Bill Handel morning show on KFI," and that his duties include "dealing with fan mail and hate mail." Does that really sound like the kind of person with towering influence which Disney, in normal circumstances, would want to ensure has a screener? Isn't it infinitely more likely that it was his connections to Horowitz and Drudge, and the reliable ideological leanings those connections reflect, which caused a video to end up in his hands, ensuring that the quite predictable praise would thereafter gush forth?

UPDATE III: Patterico has now removed entirely -- just zapped out of existence -- the post where he responded to me. I hope it was nothing I said. [After a brief hiatus, the post has been restored].

UPDATE IV: John Aravosis finally obtained a copy of the film and is reviewing it as he watches it. This post, regarding the fictitious Sandy Berger scene, makes crystal clear exactly why Disney wanted this film only in the hands of the Limbaughs, Hewitts, and Levines -- how could Disney not know what it had?

UPDATE V: Patterico has now written a second post (and one will be shocked if it is his last one) in response to this post, claiming that my post contains "paranoid rantings," and that I made "wild and untrue accusations," all because, Patterico now claims, Disney did not send a screener to Levine as I suggested. Instead, Patterico says, Disney sent it to someone else at Levine's radio station, and Levine simply picked up a copy.

Where could I have possibly gotten the idea that Disney sent a copy to Levine himself? How about Patterico's first post today:

This is either disingenuous bilge, or lack of familiarity with the facts. I have already explained, and Justin has confirmed that Justin received his advance screening, not because the publicists knew he would be writing guest posts on an “obscure” blog with a “tiny” audience — but because he produces the highest-rated morning talk radio show in Los Angeles.

Since the publicists have obviously been trying to generate buzz by promoting the movie on talk radio, it’s natural that Justin would get an advance screening.

One minute, Patterico says that it's so obvious that Levine got the film because he's a producer of a highly important (conservative) radio show, so of course Disney would get him a copy. The next minute, he calls it "paranoid rantings" and "wild and untrue" to suggest -- based on Patterico's own post -- that Disney gave Levine a screening.

These shifting explanations of Patterico and his friend, Justin, are, in any event, wholly besides the point. The radio station at which Levine works is a conservative station. Included in its line-up are Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, and the Drudge Report. Their afternoon drive show is "John and Ken," a rough version of a talk radio Michelle Malkin. These were the targets of Disney's marketing campaign, all while denying liberal bloggers, and even an ex-President, copies of the film.

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