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.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The "credibility" of the right-wing blogosphere

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV - Update V - Update VI - Update VII - Update VIII - AND:

Update IX - To cap everything off perfectly)

Packs of right-wing bloggers spent the last several weeks trying to destroy the credibility of Associated Press's war reporting by claiming that one of its sources, an Iraqi policeman named Jamil Hussein, does not exist, that AP simply invented him. As it turns out -- and as AP itself had the great pleasure of reporting (and then rubbing in the face of its irresponsible, taunting accusers) -- the Iraqi Government, which previously denied it, now acknowledges that Jamil Hussein does exist and he is a police officer in Iraq, just as AP reported accurately.

Eric Boehlert has written extensively about the right-wing blogosphere's attempt to destroy the credibility of AP's war reporting by insisting that their source was non-existent (and, needless to say, then became the immediate target of a campaign of personal attacks, assaults on his integrity, and childish name-calling).

And within the last twelve hours, multiple people have written comprehensively about the profound and long overdue humiliation which these right-wing bloggers just suffered. Greg Sargent re-caps how this incident exposes - yet again - the complete lack of credibility of the reckless, truth-free lynch mobs that compose the "right-wing blogosphere" and which hilariously see themselves as watchdogs over the media even though they traffic in the most reckless innuendo, gossip, and rank, error-plagued speculation that exists.

Here, Dave Neiwert documents but a fraction of the false accusations they made against AP, and during the controversy itself, he made the excellent point that this whole "controversy" was based on denials by the "Iraqi Government" and the U.S. military of Jamil Hussein's authenticity -- military and government denials which they mindlessly ingested and accepted as True like the good little authoritarians that they are.

To this superb commentary I want to add but one point -- there is nothing new, unique or surprising about this incident. Exactly this has happened repeatedly, time and again. This is what the right-wing blogosphere does. It is who they are and how they function. The only difference here is that they were so shrill and relentless in their attacks on AP, having prattled on about it for weeks without pause, that they actually pushed their accusations against AP into the national media.

And, to their great credit, AP -- which continues to aggressively defend its imprisoned-without- charges Iraqi photojournalist Bilal Hussein (whom right-wing bloggers repeatedly accused of being a Terrorist) -- fought back against these accusations. And now the right-wing blogosphere stands revealed as what they are -- a pack of gossip-mongering hysterics who routinely attack any press reports that reflect poorly on their Leader or his policies, with rank innuendo, Internet gossip, base speculation, and wholesale error as their most frequent tools of the trade. They operate in packs, constantly repeating each other's innuendo and expanding on it incrementally, and they then cite to each other endlessly in one self-feeding, self-affirming orgy of links, as though that constitutes proof.

And they are wrong over and over and over -- and not just in error, but embarrassingly so, because so frequently their claims are transparently, laughably absurd, and they spew the most righteous accusations without any sort of evidence at all. The New Republic has its Stephen Glass and The New York Times has its Jayson Blair. But those are one-off incidents. The right-wing blogosphere is driven by Jayson Blairs. They are exposed as frauds and gossip-mongerers on an almost weekly basis. The only thing that can compete with the consistency of their errors is the viciousness of their accusations and their pompous self-regard as "citizen journalists."

As Terry Welch points out on his Nitpicker blog, Glenn Reynolds told Christian Science Monitor in its article about the "watchdog" role of blogs:

The check on blogs is other blogs . . . . Because blogs operate in a reputation-based environment, nobody minds a bias. But they expect you to be honest about your facts. And if you get a reputation for not being honest about your facts, people pay lots of attention to you.

These right-wing bloggers love to piously masquerade around as "media watchdogs," keeping a watchful eye on the "MSM" and compelling them to adhere to facts. And ever since their involvement in the use by Dan Rather of fraudulent documents, and then heightened by Charles Johnson's oh-so-monumental observation that a Reuters photograph of Lebanon had been photoshopped to give the appearance of more smoke during an Israeli air strike on Beirut, the media has largely recited this storyline.

But they are nothing of the sort. Nobody is less interested in media accuracy than they are. Correcting media mistakes is so plainly not their agenda. They are nothing more than hyper-partisan hysterics who jump on any innuendo or rumor or whispered suspicion as long as it promotes their rigid ideological views and political loyalties and hatreds. They have a long, shameful and really quite pitiful history of incidents filled with ones like this Jamil Hussein debacle, including:

  • accusing AP photographer Bilal Hussein of abetting terrorism on the ground that he photographed a hostage in Iraq immediately prior to his execution and also after, even though the photograph in question only showed the corpse of the hostage;

  • accusing Bilal Hussein of photographing an ongoing execution on the streets of Baghdad, even though he had nothing to do with those photographs;

  • accusing The New York Times travel section of jeopardizing the lives of Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld by including photos of their vacation homes even though: (a) the Times photographer sought and obtained permission to take the photos beforehand, (b) other media outlets, including right-wing ones (such as Newsmax and Fox), had published the same information long before and (c) the whole notion that such photographs could jeopardize the security of the most-well-guarded officials in the world was beneath the level of judgment of which an average 8-year-old is capable;

  • accusing Democrats of inventing or forging -- and the media of touting -- a fake RNC memo regarding the Schiavo controversy, even though the memo was entirely accurate and was authored by Republicans (accusations repeated by, among others, the always gullible, right-wing-blog-fan Howard Kurtz);

  • insisting that the Iranian legislature enacted a law requiring Jews and other religious minorities to wear color-designated clothing identifying them as such, and continuing to repeat the claim after the story was revealed as a total hoax;

  • repeatedly claiming -- from the mouth of Glenn Reynolds -- that we have not taken military action against Iran because they are blackmailing us with the nuclear weapons they already secretly possess, a claim repeated by Reynolds as recently as yesterday;

  • Michelle Malkin going on Fox News the night of the midterm elections to announce that blogger Dan Riehl has "called the race for George Allen," prompting a smirking, condescending Brit Hume to observe -- correctly -- that when you have a blog, you can say whatever you want, and that it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong. Hume didn't know how insightful that observation was, or how perfectly chosen was the receipient of his observation.

These right-wing bloggers operate at a level several beneath the National Enquirer, literally. They simply fabricate facts and recklessly and maliciously launch serious accusations against the media whenever doing so advances their political agenda.

They leap on any innuendo or gossip from the Internet swamps and tout it as fact whenever doing so bolsters their ideological view or can be enlisted to destroy the credibility of a journalist who reports unpleasant facts. They desperately seek out any basis for attacking media reports that cast doubt on their Leader and his policies. They repeat government and military claims as fact and then accuse the media of "lying" whenever their reporting contradicts Official Statements from Our Leaders.

They operate in a credibility-free zone where there are never any consequences for their mistakes because the partisans who read them will always dismiss every one of these unfair smears on the media as well-intentioned (one of the bloggers on Malkin's Hot Air site emphasized last night in defending himself how "
well founded and well intended our suspicions were"). That led Malkin herself to add: "Just to clarify, I’m not apologizing for anything."

None of this is to mention the more general attacks over the last several years on media credibility in order to prevent the truth about their Leader and their War from emerging, as illustrated by several years (and ongoing) of posts from Glenn Reynolds and Charles Johnson, among others, claiming that the Media is On The Side Of Terrorists because they keep lying that the Glorious, Successful War in Iraq is not going well and that the Peaceful, Democratic Nirvana we created there is violent and chaotic.

In order to discredit the media and stories reflecting poorly on their political movement, they even go so far as to insist that it is the media that is our "enemy," post satellite photographs of the homes of prominent publishers, accuse the media of being on the side of Terrorists, and even assert that they are legitimate war targets who deserve to be attacked.

It is not exactly difficult to discern the real motive behind this sudden, intense, oh-so-earnest interest in whether a single story about 6 Iraqis victims of a burning is accurate. Discrediting this single story of this single episode of violence is intended to fuel their ongoing claims that it is the media -- rather than their Leader -- who is responsible for the loss of the war in Iraq, and that the media has continuously exaggerated the violence there and underplayed all the Great Successes which the Leader has enjoyed.

That media inaccuracy is not their concern is about as glaring and obvious a fact as one can discover. They don't seem to have noticed that this entire war was based upon inaccurate reporting -- a whole series of false claims about Saddam Hussein, the state of the Iraqi weapons program, its relationship to Al Qaeda, its involvement in the 9/11 attacks, the cost of our invasion, the consequences of it.

But there, "inaccurate reporting" generated what they craved -- some nice, bloody war in the Islamic world, so it didn't bother them at all, and still doesn't. I have read more right-wing blogs than I can count, with a depressing frequency, and I don't think I have ever seen a single post written by any of them examining or decrying the sloppy, inaccurate reporting of the "MSM" which endorsed every false claim by the Bush administration which drove the country to invade Iraq.

Someone who stands outside of a store and repeatedly lets burglars in -- and who even themselves frequently runs into the building to steal some nice merchandise -- isn't a "watchdog" in any meaningful sense of the term, even if they wear the uniform.

They are dishonest hacks with an agenda that is the opposite of what they claim. This Jamil Hussein humiliation would be rather compelling evidence, standing alone, to demonstrate how they operate. But this incident has plenty of company. At some point, isn't their total lack of credibility, the endless stream of irresponsible, false accusations, and the reckless disregard for facts that drives them going to be so apparent that it becomes undeniable to everyone but them? We have long ago reached the point where that ought to be the case.

UPDATE : Just to be clear, the list of examples above of the irresponsible spewing of false accusations by the right-wing blogosphere is very partial, only the ones I recalled. There are scores of others. As Blue Texan reminds me in Comments, just two weeks ago the right-wing blogosphere was hysterically alleging that Bill and Hillary Clinton had illegally tape-recorded the conversations of Princess Diana for all sorts of nefarious purposes -- yet another total hoax they propagated. The list is literally endless.

UPDATE II: For the right-wing bloggers who claim that they were merely intrested in holding AP to accurate reporting without any broader agenda to discredit the "negative" press accounts about the war in Iraq, see Glenn Reynolds:

MORE REPORTS OF BOGUS IRAQ STORIES FROM A.P.: Kind of makes you wonder about the reporting from Iraq. Okay, it's more like "confirms your suspicions" than "makes you wonder," really.

As Reynolds unwittingly revealed, that was the real point of the Jamil Hussein rants -- to call into question media reporting generally on Iraq, in order, in turn, to suggest that things are not actually going badly there. Or, as Reynolds put it just recently: "What if we are winning"?

UPDATE III: Richard Blair at All Spin Zone also has a superb recounting and analysis of this whole sorry affair. As he notes, much of it was fueled when the U.S. military issued a statement responding to the AP story which stated: "
We can tell you definitively that the primary source of this story, police Capt. Jamil Hussein, is not a Baghdad police officer or an MOI employee." He then demanded, on that basis, that AP issue a retraction or correction. Since the U.S. military never errs or issues false, self-serving statements, that was clear proof that the AP had invented its source.

UPDATE IV: This Tom Tomorrow cartoon captures rather perfectly the dynamic between the national media and media-hating right-wing blogs (and if you are a fan of his cartoons and live in the New York area, see this).

UPDATE V: E&P reports on the response to all of this from AP's top Editor, Kathleen Carroll, who says, among other things: "I think a little perspective is warranted here. While this has been going on, hundreds if not thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed and hundreds of serviceman have died."

She also questions why, after first denying that Jamil Hussein existed, it took the U.S. military and Iraqi Government six weeks to admit that he did -- all the while ensuring that the focus remained on this "AP scandal" rather than, say . . . . the fact that
"while this has been going on, hundreds if not thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed and hundreds of serviceman have died." As Glenn Reynolds says: "What if we're winning"?

UPDATE VI: Brit Hume, whose show now frequently repeats innuendo from the right-wing blogosphere, "reported" on the false AP accusations last night on Fox. Any Fox viewer who trusts Hume would assume from the content and tone of his report that AP had simply invented a fake source in order to publish what Hume called "stories that are often critical of the U.S."

UPDATE VII: The Brit Hume video in the above update -- touting the AP accusations -- was broadcast on January 2. Last night, Hume was forced to acknowledge what is painfully obvious: "the AP, it appears, has been vindicated on this." That such a conclusion is painfully obvious has not, needless to say, been even a small impediment in the attempted continuation today by right-wing bloggers of this "scandal."

UPDATE VIII: Eric Bohelert sent me an e-mail with the subject "Unintended howler" -- which, as it turns out, was an understatement. Eric's e-mail consists of an excerpt from this post from Instapundit yesterday:

JAMIL HUSSEIN: IS HE OR ISN'T HE? Bob Owens has some thoughts. . . . I'm expecting Michelle Malkin to get to the bottom of this.

It's honestly hard to believe that someone could say that without sarcasm, but Reynolds is being very earnest here. He would never joke about something as sacrosanct as Michelle Malkin's investigative skills.

And Greg Sargent thoroughly debunks yet another fraud from the right-wing blogosphere -- the "John Kerry dines alone" idiocy from last week. That "story," which sent scores of right-wing bloggers into a serious frenzy, was so patently inane from the beginning that I paid little attention to it, but as Greg documents, it was as fact-free as most of their controversies.

UPDATE IX: The entity that calls itself "Pajamas Media" thought it had scored some sort of great coup when it landed Michael Ledeen of National Review and the American Enterprise Institute -- who has devoted his life to insisting that the U.S. change the regime in Iran -- as a Pajamas Media commentator.

And yesterday, Pajamas thought the prestigious "signing" had begun to yield big, big dividends, when they announced, based on Ledeen's "source close to Pajamas Media," that Iran's
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had died -- a "fact" which nobody else had reported. And a day later, still nobody else has. Ledeen yesterday wrote: "Breaking News.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, is dead." Pajamas itself touted it as its breaking story.

As Malkin's Hot Air said
: "This is either going to be a two-ton feather in Pajamas’s cap or a major embarrassment." A day later, nobody else has reported this. Today, Iran denied the "Internet rumor," and as James Wolcott notes (read his whole post for the real story), Pajamas Media is backing away as fast as their little rumor-mongering legs can carry them. As Wolcott says, comparing this to the Jamil Hussein debacle: "
there's another potential fiasco belching in the furnace of the right blogosphere perhaps birthing an even bigger embarrassment of riches."

Meanwhile, Malkin's Hot Air site -- in response to Greg Sargent's fact reporting -- has retracted its claims about John Kerry based on its "lonely diner" hysteria from last week. So, just to re-cap the week in Right-Wing Blogosphere Credibility:

* they suffered a complete humiliation on their Jamil Hussein "scandal"

* they are forced to retract their John Kerry "dining alone" story in Iraq

* there is a possible, pending humiliation over its Michael Ledeen "scoop" about the death of the Iranian leader

These are the people who have anointed themselves as the "citizen journalist watchdogs" over the "MSM," because the "MSM" is unreliable and only reports events in a way that promotes their political agenda. By contrast, the right-wing blogosphere is here to crusade for accuracy and agenda-free reporting.

UPDATE X (a new record): Right-wing bloggers are not, of course, the only ones plagued by reckless commentary and an endless string of errors. I have an article in the current edition of American Conservative Magazine concerning the dishonesty of pro-war and pro-Bush pundits generally, specifically the way in which they simply ignore or outright lie about their history of false and misleading claims. The article features the illustrative examples of Michael Ledeen, Charles Krauthammer, Peggy Noonan, and Ralph Peters.

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