Unger chews Isikoff a new one
July 7, 2004 5:39 AM   Subscribe

The Newsweek-Fahrenheit wars - Michael Isikoff's "seven errors, distortions and selective omissions of crucial information" detailed by Craig Unger, "House of Bush, House of Saud" author (read excerpts of his book at Salon.com, for members or by a "day pass") Isikoff has heavily cited Unger's book but, it seems, not bothered to read Unger's generously provided source files. "Liberal" PBS is not excluded, as credulous (or ignorant) "On the Media" host Bob Garfield's July 2 interview with Isikoff demonstrates. What shall we call such pervasive, ongoing and seemingly willful patterns of inaccuracy, distortion, and selective omission?
posted by troutfishing (34 comments total)
Isikoff cherry-picks information that suits his agenda and leaves out the rest.

That's about it in a nutshell, I'd say.
posted by kgasmart at 5:59 AM on July 7, 2004

posted by dagny at 6:16 AM on July 7, 2004

I listened to Bob Garfield's interview with Isikoff - it sounded so very reasonable - and so I was so very disappointed to find out that, once again, I'd been duped by public radio. D'oh!

PBS : Fox's patrician cousin lives up on the hill and goes to gala events at the art museum and on wine and cheese tasting celebrity led sightseeing tours (with photo chronicles of the journey taken for the cultural edification of colored folks at home), to partake of the splendors of sunny Provence. Or perhaps to the Galapagos, to stroll along the beach past Iguanas and Lava-lizards, with glasses of excellent chardonnay in hand, whilst discussing with Nina Totenberg the unbearable weight of serious things.

Fox was never so slick.

Bob Somerby - who has written "...propaganda campaigns have been launched in which outraged, phony critiques of the film go well beyond the faults of the film-maker" deconstructs (or eviscerates) one recent, shrieking piece of movie review gibberish here, with typical Somerbyesque thoroughness.
posted by troutfishing at 6:21 AM on July 7, 2004

dagny: I wish you hadn't said that. It is a nauseating cliché.
posted by ed\26h at 6:24 AM on July 7, 2004

So what's new? Isikoff was doing the same thing to Cliinton a while back. The question is, is there anyone we can believe on either side of the fence?
posted by donfactor at 6:25 AM on July 7, 2004

dagny - I think this would more accurately be termed "we're all eating the lies that media blows out it's ass" filter.
posted by troutfishing at 6:26 AM on July 7, 2004

donfactor - I held Isikoff up as an examplar of a wide pattern which some assert is growing more pervasive - due to media consolidation and other factors. But, I don't see two sides to this fence at all or - rather - I see supersized (titanic, even) and well-financed mainstream media, with blaringly loud megaphones, on one side and, on the other, alternative media inches tall and correspondingly loud which issue challenges that are largely drowned by the ear-splitting blasts coming from the other side.
posted by troutfishing at 6:37 AM on July 7, 2004

What shall we call such pervasive, ongoing and seemingly willful patterns of inaccuracy, distortion, and selective omission?

Damn liberal media? :-) Or not.

Corporate media that is too lazy and self-absorbed to do its damn job?

Media whores? Giving slurpees to anyone with enough cash?

Mr. Scaife's and Mr. Moon's little elves?

Great post once again trout.
posted by nofundy at 6:40 AM on July 7, 2004

This is all part of the mainstream media spin to try and discredit the film - coarsens the discourse, don't you know. But my question is, is the same degree of outrage shown over similar types of "propaganda" proferred by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity (and others) on a daily basis?

I mean, if Moore is the Ann Coulter of the left, why does the "liberal media" so fixate on Moore's perceived sins, but no one gets much worked up when Ann calls all liberals "treasonous?"
posted by kgasmart at 6:48 AM on July 7, 2004

(to donfactor) But to answer your immediate question - Craig Unger's book, "House of Bush, House of Saud" is the real pivot here, in that it provides by far the most comprehensive account of a good deal of the facts that are at contest in the attacks of critics on "Fahrenheit". So, I think it's significant that Unger - whose book has been widely praised even though he was unable to find a publisher to print it in the US - is in essence calling Isikoff - who nonetheless relies heavily, for his attacks on Moore, on Unger's material - a blatant liar.

Unger has found a UK firm to publish his book.

To put this in a different light also :

What is news? Is it "news" that big media lies constantly ? Or is that "news" only when big media calls it "news", which is to say - never ? There are two rather different vision of "news" at play here :

1) News is found.

2) News is constructed, from material that is culled from the field of the permissable.

This is also relevant - Captains of Consciousness
posted by troutfishing at 6:58 AM on July 7, 2004

It's all happy entertainment until your own kid is dead.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:08 AM on July 7, 2004

A Measure of Media Bias
Tim Groseclose
Department of Political Science, UCLA, and Graduate School of Business, Stanford University
Jeff Milyo
Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago
September 2003

Seebach: Researchers surprised by liberal bias of media
The authors say they expected to find that the mainstream media leaned to the left, but they were "astounded by the degree." So when people say, for example, that The New York Times may be tilted left, but people can compensate for that by watching Fox News, they don't take into account that the Times is much further from the center than Fox. "To gain a balanced perspective, one would need to spend twice as much time watching Special Report as he or she spends reading The New York Times."

The predominance of liberals (however identified) in major media is well-documented, but there remains a great deal of controversy over how much that fact influences news reporting (this analysis looks only at news reports, not editorials, reviews or letters to the editor). Most journalists I know say they work hard to keep their personal views out of their news reporting (again, excepting people like me who are supposed to be expressing opinions). And most of them, I'm sure, sincerely believe they succeed. This is evidence that what they succeed best at is sounding like Democrats.
posted by David Dark at 7:52 AM on July 7, 2004

Fifty-nine Deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11
By Dave Kopel

fahrenheit fact
Fahrenheit Fact is a joint presentation between a_sdf and RecoveringCynic. Here we attempt to bring to light those "other" facts about Michael Moore's new film "Fahrenheit 9/11". We try not to make this an opinion blog- it is a fact one. We make sure to source every post, and will either cite or link to the source of the provided fact. It is our desire to see a well-armed populous that is ready to evaluate the film from an informed perspective.
posted by David Dark at 7:57 AM on July 7, 2004

David Dark, please see Manufacturing Consent by Chomsky. Good book.
posted by efalk at 8:00 AM on July 7, 2004

DD, if that article shows anything, it shows, if you go down far enough on the academic food chain you'll eventually find someone who says what you want to hear... at least on their own time. Their methodology is just silly (what percentage of news stories cite think tanks of any kind? Does a given mention of a think tank indicate agreement or disagreement?), the article does not appear to be peer reviewed or appear in a recognized journal. The authors may be assistant or associate professors somewhere, but their institutions don't seem to think enough of their papers to issue them under their own imprimatur.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:09 AM on July 7, 2004

I heard the Garfield-Isikoff thing too. It was amazing. I was yelling at the radio - Garfield must be aware of Isikoff's agenda: it's his job, for the luvva, um, Mike.
posted by mwhybark at 8:13 AM on July 7, 2004

I suppose that it is appropriate to respond to David Dark's links with one to Eric Alterman, a REAL scholar. I totally recommend reading the book to all wing nuts like David.
posted by nofundy at 8:16 AM on July 7, 2004

This entire fucking study was based on which think tanks were cited in media stories?

Then there's even less substance to this study than I'd imagined.

Listen, David-in-the-Dark, I work for a newspaper, and I'm admittedly liberal. But my editor is an unregistered independent; the woman who writes the editorials is decidedly conservative. And the publisher and owners of this newspaper are extraordinarily conservative, and give considerable financial support to conservative candidates. Unlike them, I am prohibited for ethics reasons from contributing a fucking dime to a candidate of my own choosing.

And I'm sure you believe I spout out stories with liberal slants on a regular basis, but stop for a minute, perhaps, and consider what my extraordinarily conservative uber-bosses might do if they decided that I was letting my bias creep into my news stories.

This is the great dodge of "the liberal media" myth; I don't give a fuck what percentage of reporters vote for Democrats; it is the people who sign the paychecks who are really calling the shots. Now, if you can show me some poll that suggests they are predominantly liberal, then maybe I'll buy the thesis. It'd be a lot more representative than figuring out who cites which think tank.

posted by kgasmart at 8:34 AM on July 7, 2004

David Dark, that study has been expertly deconstructed. "If you take the trouble to read the study carefully, it turns out to be based on unsupported, ideology-driven premises and to raise what would it would be most polite to describe as severe issues of data quality."
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:49 AM on July 7, 2004

Gee, I wonder why the "liberal media" isn't covering this story?

Too damaging to the BushCo gang perhaps?
posted by nofundy at 8:55 AM on July 7, 2004

if that article shows anything, it shows, if you go down far enough on the academic food chain

No. Tim Groseclose and Jeff Milyo are not far enough down on the academic food chain. They're absolutely at the top of their game. They could easily be pretty far wrong, especially with stuff that's as new and untested as this, but that's part of the game.

Their methodology is just silly

It might well be wrong, but it's not silly. They're trying to come up with a metric of news ideology that doesn't rely on someone saying "That seems liberal to me!" or the reverse. To do that, ya gotta have something that you can tie in to other metrics of ideology (like ADA scores). This turns out to be Really Hard because politicians and news-anchors don't behave the same way or use the same language. You need something that news-anchors do and that politicians do frequently enough to link the thing the news-anchors do to ideology. Doing things that are Really Hard necessarily has a greater than normal chance of fuckup, but

There are lots of problems with the study, and I'd guess that Tim and Jeff are trying to prove a point. Using ADA scores inflates polarization relative to other ideology measures, which shoves the "average" Representative firmly to the right, so an outlet near the "average" Representative is moderately far-right, not centrist. Using elite-level data to describe ideology has a similar effect.

the article does not appear to be peer reviewed or appear in a recognized journal

It's not, and I'd guess it has a lot of work to do before it sees publication. At least, it would if I were reviewing it.
It's an early stage going to conference presentation in the fall.

The authors may be assistant or associate professors somewhere

Stanford, UCLA, and Chicago are hardly "somewhere."

but their institutions don't seem to think enough of their papers to issue them under their own imprimatur

Huh? That's not what happens. At no school I'm aware of is there any internal review process whatsoever that determines what might be released under their imprimatur. If you happen to have an institute or paper series, you can release whatever you want under it.

Really. There are problems with the piece, but not the ones you cite.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:22 AM on July 7, 2004

nofundy: Because it's in a norwegian newspaper. Don't trust those fscking scandis.
posted by spazzm at 9:25 AM on July 7, 2004

Seems like we can all agree that the mainstream media isn't doing a good job, be that it's too liberal, too conservative, too lazy, or too interested in answering to shareholders. My personal sense is that Big Media leans far to the right in choosing what it covers, but slightly to the left in how it conducts that coverage. Anyway...

Question is: what are you doing about our media's problems (other than kvetching)? Have you gotten involved with Free Press, the Media Access Project, or any of the other groups working to reform the media?
posted by drywall at 9:31 AM on July 7, 2004

Since this thread involves Farenheit 9/11 and its detractors I must point you to an excellent response by Matthew Yglesias to critics of the movie. Here's an excerpt:

The funny thing, though, is that if I wrote "The 56 Deceits of George W. Bush" (as, indeed, many people have done) then some very intelligent Volokh Conspirator (as, indeed, many of the conspirators are) would doubtless have written a post in response (as, indeed, I've read at the Conspiracy) arguing that most of the alleged "lies" weren't lies per se (and, indeed, they're mostly misleading juxtapositions of technically true information) and that these sorts of ad hominem attacks don't really prove that the presidents' policies are actually wrong.

The really funny thing, though, is that while George W. Bush is president of the United States and wrecking (a) the country's foreign policy and (b) the country's fiscal policy, Michael Moore is a somewhat famous guy who makes movies. Get it?

posted by nofundy at 9:56 AM on July 7, 2004

It might well be wrong...

Hmmm.... well, it seems pretty clear to me that it is wrong. Silly? I can see your point, I suppose. Maybe they were just floating such a methododology to make a point or something, but it's really, really disingenuous of them (at best) to release preliminary findings without much qualification when their methodology is so clearly suspect.
posted by lodurr at 9:56 AM on July 7, 2004

Every American must see the first 30 minutes of F9-11.

Feel free to rip it from BitTorrent; Moore's okayed that.

The reason you must see the first 30 minutes is that you need to see -- even if you ultimately reject it -- a startling overview of the last US election from a smart and fastidious shit-disturber's point of view.

It is very important to go into this next election fully informed. And Moore's film will inform you to great extent. You can then do some fact-checking and investigative digging of your own, and independently decide for yourself what the truth is.

Yes, the truth is very likely not exactly as Moore presents it, but it sure as hell isn't at all like the mass media has been presenting it.

You need to do some groundwork of your own, and the only way you'll know where to start digging is by finding out what the critics of the media and administration are saying. Moore efficiently puts it all together, giving you a base to start working from.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:30 AM on July 7, 2004

Thought I'd link to this interesting take by Canadian columnist Eric Margolis, Degrees of Fahrenheit. Margolis has an intersting perspective as he is right-wing and admires the U.S. but is highly critical of it's Middle East policy.

His main criticism of the film is that it put's too much emphasis on Bush's connection with the Saudis and thinks the Iraq war had more to do with "the administration's neocon cabal, led by VP Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, Richard Perle and their media allies, who fed false information to the White House and the public."
posted by bobo123 at 10:31 AM on July 7, 2004

Unger has found a UK firm to publish his book.

Other way around, Trout: there is no UK publisher for the book, but Scribners put it out in the US. You can not legally sell a copy of Unger's book in the UK because of the overly restrictive libel laws.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:55 AM on July 7, 2004

I've mentioned this before, but just thought I'd warn any newcomers. David Dark is the devil. Beware.
posted by Outlawyr at 11:18 AM on July 7, 2004

it's really, really disingenuous of them (at best) to release preliminary findings without much qualification when their methodology is so clearly suspect

No, that's just normal academic science. Some people release preliminary findings with whatever qualifers they want. If others disagree, they say "You're full of shit for reasons X, Y, and Z," and the process continues.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:46 AM on July 7, 2004

From David Dark's link to the fahrenheit fact blog.
Hardly a case of discrimination, wouldn't you say? In fact, since most counties ignored the list, and the list actually under-represented blacks in the first place, and the list increased the probable Bush margin, it would appear that if Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush were doing any discriminating at all, it was against the white or Republican members of these counties.
posted by euphorb at 1:44 PM on July 7, 2004

Woooh. I just read through that entry, and it is so wiggin' bizarre that I'm left stunned. The end logic just pulls a sharp right and tries to turn the claim of unfair discrimination against blacks into a claim of unfair discrimination against whites, as if that somehow makes any of the discrimination acceptable!
posted by five fresh fish at 4:38 PM on July 7, 2004

drywall: as noted, I yell at the radio.
posted by mwhybark at 5:20 PM on July 7, 2004

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