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The Asylum

Welcome to the Asylum. This is a site devoted to politics and current events in America, and around the globe. The THREE lunatics posting here are unabashed conservatives that go after the liberal lies and deceit prevalent in the debate of the day. We'd like to add that the views expressed here do not reflect the views of other inmates, nor were any inmates harmed in the creation of this site.

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

Who are we? We're a married couple who has a passion for politics and current events. That's what this site is about. If you read us, you know what we stand for.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Friends And Allies Of Rome: Michael Hiltzik Has Returned

For those that read the Asylum, you know we're not hip on the MSM. Last month, Hugh Hewitt had LA Times "blogger" (and boy, do I use that word loosely in describing him) Michael Hiltzik on his show. Mr. Hewitt was gracious enough to spot my evisceration of the "journalist" (another loose term). I was, in a word, brutal.

Mr. Hiltzik has decided to launch a scathing attack on another blogger whom we read and respect. That would be Patterico's Pontifications. Paterrico is an excellent blogger, who did a year-end review of the bumbling, stumbling of the MSM over 2005. Mr. Hiltzik wasn't amused, and fired right back.

http://patterico.com/2006/01/04/4104/a-response-to-michael-hiltzik/ (I'll give Patterico the link. Hiltzik can rot before I'll link to him. His posts are below.)

Over the weekend, the conservative blogger who calls himself Patterico (and is, behind the curtain, a Los Angeles county prosecutor named Patrick Frey) posted a remarkable 11,000-word work of propaganda in the guise of his annual review of the Los Angeles Times’s alleged crimes of liberal bias.

Classless. There's a reason why many bloggers do use pseudonyms when they post (like myself) and that's to protect their identities. Further, my friends and associates know my name; I'd prefer everyone on the Internet not know it.

Frey, with whom I once had a perfectly cordial exchange by email, claims to have documented "an entire year’s worth" of "omissions, distortions, and misrepresentations" by this newspaper, and congratulates himself enthusiastically for making the effort. (Self-congratulation is a common characteristic of partisan blogs, like snouts on dogs.) As I will show in a followup post, Frey’s exercise is chock-a-block with plenty of omissions, distortions, and misrepresentations of its own. But the details aren’t my main topic today. Rather, I propose to examine the broader features of conservative criticism of the press.

Which is more than warranted. How many media failures will those in the MSM let slide before they realize they have a serious problem? For the love of God, NO media outlet was reporting accurate information in regard to Hurricane Katrina (which bloggers rallied around a charity effort that no one in the MSM covered; as a matter of fact, where were their contributions for those people??), the media's decision to run with stories about classified programs that our intelligence agencies are using during a time of war, or even the recent mining tragedy when so many papers had a severely incorrect headline on their front pages the following day. The list is endless for the malfeasance committed by the MSM on a daily basis.

Frey has several qualities in common with many other right-wing bloggers who have set themselves up as watchdogs of what they categorize, self-revealingly, as the "mainstream media." (If they regard newspapers, newsmagazines, and television news departments as mainstream, doesn’t that place them on the fringe?) Among those who have made it their personal business to ferret out "liberal bias" at the Los Angeles Times—the existence of which bias I have in the past described as an
"ignorant partisan trope"—they include Hugh Hewitt, a relentless shill for the Bush White House, and Mickey Kaus, a sort of neo-liberal who writes for the online magazine Slate. But the class includes a wide range of conservative and reactionary blogs for which it’s an article of faith that the traditional press is secretly devoted to inculcating the nation’s innocent readers with their liberal agenda.

Um, hello, what would you call it? It's anything but fair, accurate, and balanced. The old days of journalistic integrity are gone. The MSM omits key information in stories, refuses to check their facts, makes wild assertions regarding the legality of certain things, and takes second, and sometimes third-hand information, and they present it as news. Hugh Hewitt is hardly a "shill" for the White House. Among the blogosphere, I know of no White House kool-aid drinker who doesn't have a beef or two with the president. And that maybe one of the key differences between bloggers and the MSM: When we see something wrong committed by people we support, we call attention to it. We don't bury stories, and spin them away like what was done through eight years of Bill clinton. We don't try to build legacies for president's of the past. The legacy of Jimmy Carter was high inflation, a gutted and ill-trained military, a hostage crisis, long, tedious gas lines, and a general "malaise" in the nation. Bill Clinton's legacy revolves around more scandals than I have room for in one post. Pres. Bush (41) had a legacy that killed his chances at a second term. His legacy revolves around a failure to deal with an insane dictator, and "no new taxes." Pres. Reagan's legacy, on the other hand, was finishing off the Soviet Union, and ending the communist iron fist from Eastern Europe. His economic policies brought us the longest era of peacetime prosperity since World War II. As for his idea regarding bloggers being on the "fringe" how does he explain the blog explosion? Over 23 million blogs are active on the Internet, and a good majority of them address current events or politics. More people are reading blogs now than ever before. Companies are approaching bloggers to advertise on their sites. Meanwhile, readership for the LA Times and the NY Times is down, advertising dollars are walking away, and the LA Times announced they were closing down a division and laying off 10,000 workers. Hardly the sign of a stable business.

None of these critics appears to be genuinely interested in correcting factual errors or improving this newspaper’s, or any newspaper’s, performance as a journalistic institution—which are certainly legitimate goals. Their main purpose is to hunt down deviations from a political orthodoxy that they themselves define. Their techniques include a promiscuous use of labels as shorthand slurs ("leftist" and "liberal" being, of course, their most popular denigrations). They no doubt find this technique valuable because once they can hang a label on a newspaper or a journalist, they can dispense with anything so fundamental as discussion or argument. Some also favor imputations of treason or unpatriotism; contentions that the offending reporters and editors are detached in spirit from their readership; and suggestions that what underlies their political deviancy is moral turpitude.

Well, we'd love to have an intelligent conversation, but you proved last month he lacks the most important part of that idea in his 2 hour interview with Hugh Hewitt; that, of course, being intelligence. He lacked a basic grip of history, and had such a hard time discerning the difference between good and evil. We hang the monikers where it's appropriately needed. Most people in the media industry are liberals; Bernie Goldberg figures that in excess of 80% of the people in the media consider themselves "liberal," but then immediately profess that they don't report the news that way. Funny that as people like Patterico, Michelle Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, Ed Morrissey, and even us little fish here at the Asylum have pointed to many different stories that pop off the wires that outlets like the LA Times have cut, sliced, and editted to put it in their paper. When I read our two cage-liners each day, I look at stories on similar topics. One will be a wire report, and the other is covered by an MSM outlet (NY Times, LA Times, WaPo, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, etc., etc.) and they end up leaving out pieces of the story. When we question this--either via e-mail or telephone--we get the same song and dance from the editors. "Editor's choice" to fit the space in the paper. Ho-hum.

To back up their assertions, they often quote articles selectively, take out of context what they do quote, and ascribe imaginary motivations to reporters and editors, which they then feel free to decry. As any student of history knows, these are tools and techniques that were used to great effect during
the Stalinist show trials of the ‘40s and ‘50s. The functionaries who wielded them then had the same goals as the self-anointed press watchdogs on the right do today: To support the regime in power through intimidation and threat and to impose ideological conformity, while avoiding at all costs debate on the merits.

I take serious offense to this assertion. When my partners or I tackle a news story, 99.999999% of the time, we cite the whole piece. This way the "taken out of context" argument can't be used. There are the quotes, there are the words, do you stand by them? I know a few that do cite a paragraph or two to give the general gist of the story, but there's ALWAYS a link to the story so people can read it for themselves. That's the other thing that irritates people like Hiltzik: Bloggers back up their assertions with facts. And I'm so glad to be lumped in with Stalin. I've been called a "Nazi" so much that I thought I had hit the pinnacle. Now I feel a lot like the people slandered by Dick Durbin. The difference is he said it about the troops, which ticked them off; this is a compliment. And the only side that refuses to debate is the Left. They'll avoid the questions, they'll spin their answers, they'll change subjects, or move the goalposts. When they're nailed on a point, they respond with visceral emotion, name-calling, and insults. When we throw insults (a rarity for most bloggers, though we do like to use words like "moron" and "twit" here) we usually do it in good fun. We're not DailyKos here dropping F-bombs. We don't like to use profanity, and have used it rarely on the site (always censored). We don't intimidate anyone. We point out things that people should be aware of, and let the people deal with it.

These critics equate a newspaper’s failure to parrot a conservative, Republican, or Bush Administration line with inaccuracy, or cavalierly interpret it as evidence of "bias." Unconcerned with a free press’s duty to challenge official versions of events, they fault newspapers and newsmagazines for failing to fall into lockstep in support of George W. Bush and his policies.

We don't parrot the points either. And when the MSM blatantly mis-reports a story, such as in the NY Times NSA story, then we have a problem. The NY Times keeps referring to this as an incident of "domestic spying." It's not. No one is looking over ALL the information gathered. Computers make the captures, and break it down. Only hard, relevant, actionable intelligence is ever read by a human. The computers do 95% of the work. And we're running off of things that we've obtained through the capture or killing of al-Qaeda operatives. During the CIA raids in Afghanistan in early 2002 that captured Abu Zubaydah and his associates, the government seized computers, cell phones and personal phone books. Soon after the raids, the National Security Agency began trying to listen to calls placed to the phone numbers found in al-Qaida Rolodexes. That's how we get these things. But to listen to the NY Times hype up this story, one would think the president committed a crime when none was committed. This is a serious case of not only presenting classified information to the public, but grossly mis-reporting the facts. Nowhere in the piece is it mentioned that people aren't reading and listening, but rather computers are. It took bloggers all of 2 hours, or so, to find this out. (I did it in less time because I've got some decent knowledge regarding intelligence work.) Doesn't Mr. Hiltzik believe that journalists should get the story right, with all the facts presented?

Although some have worked in daily or weekly journalism, characteristically they come to their tasks without any conception of how a newspaper actually operates on a day-to-day basis. Among the conservative critics of the L.A. Times, Frey, as I mentioned, is a county prosecutor in Los Angeles. Hewitt is a lawyer and a former official of the Nixon Library whose attitude toward open discourse,
as I have written before, is elucidated by his attempt in 1990 to subject researchers to a partisan and ideological test before granting them access to its archives. (Hewitt calls this assertion a "lie," but when I offered him a chance to explain away 15 years of unrefuted reports on his proposed policy—including during my two-hour appearance on his radio show last month--he refused to do so.) Kaus worked some stretches at public affairs magazines including the New Republic, but doesn’t have extensive experience in daily journalism. The regular contributors to the conservative website "Oh, that Liberal Media" whose day jobs are disclosed include a computer software consultant, a web developer/investment analyst, and a "psychometrician."

First of all, that's a bald-faced lie about Hugh. I posted the ENTIRE transcript, and never once did Hiltzik challenge him regarding the Nixon Library. Second of all, this is a new charge launched by the MSM. We don't know what journalists go through. (I do; I worked for a newspaper for a short time, and have been pushing for a columnist position at the East Valley Tribune for awhile.) Before this charge was the slam by the MSM that bloggers are just muckrakers in pajamas that are ignorant about everything. After that came out, the resumes from bloggers started showing up. Hewitt, the guys at PowerLine, Glenn Reynolds are all lawyers. Glenn and Hugh are law professors. Brian Maloney, who is still working on the Air America money scandal with Michelle Malkin, works for the NY Sun. This assertion that we don't know what we're doing or talking about is a cop-out; usually launched by those on the Left when they've lost the argument. I may not have a law degree to my name, YET, but I'm working on it, and have a damn good grasp of the law, thus far. I also have a range of knowledge that would scare most people. And yes, I do feel that bloggers have a right to question the press. We're getting bogus BS from the MSM most of the time, and garbage that's anything but relevant. Last night, CNN decided that Larry King's interviews with the miner's families was more important than covering the news that Ariel Sharon had another stroke--one that almost killed him--and that he was in surgery for almost nine hours. They didn't break into his show with updates; they let him run with his show. When it was over, they covered Sharon's condition for all of about three minutes before moving on.

I’m not suggesting that a lack of traditional journalistic experience is inherently a disqualification for the role of press critic. On the contrary, the ranks of critics and reviewers in all fields are replete with credible commentators who couldn’t direct a movie, paint a landscape, cook an edible meal, or, indeed, report on a factory fire to save their lives. This distance from the craft is sometimes a plus: One role of a critic is to assess objectively the effect of a work on an audience that itself may not be familiar with or appreciative of the finer points of technique.

And our assessment of the MSM to date--since bloggers took the scene by storm--is that they're failing miserably. People saw this on the heels of the Dan Rather peddling of forged documents, the press' refusal to ask John Kerry serious questions, and the virtual protection of Eason Jordan after implicating our troops in what would have been deemed a war crime, then refusing to back it up. And we do address the MSM's malfeasance objectively. Very rarely do bloggers go on the attack in the way which Mr. Hiltzik is claiming that we do--in the way he claims Patterico did.

But shouldn’t a serious critic at least be interested in the craft he or she is examining—in its traditions, its history, its tools and techniques? Responsible critics approach this duty in various ways. To take the spectrum of film critics as an example, the late Pauline Kael took a sabbatical from the New Yorker to work at a Hollywood production company; Penelope Gilliatt was a screenwriter. Stanley Kauffmann is an expert in film and cultural history; Andrew Sarris a theorist of cinema dialectic; Roger Ebert a well-informed and broad-minded connoisseur. Most daily or weekly reviewers see hundreds of movies a year, which provides them with a large template from which the more intelligent draw informed judgments; most attempt to expose themselves to a wide range of movies--slasher films and teen comedies, Hollywood blockbusters and "message" films, American "indies" and foreign language art films.

To answer his question, no. Histories and traditions don't matter; not in the here and now. And citing film critics is a lame attempt to spin his argument. I used to work at a video store, and I've probably watched as many movies as most of those critics. If I watch "Apocalypse Now," I don't compare it to "The Godfather." Two different movies, two different views despite the fact they're both directed by the same man. Likewise, history plays a role in our critique of the MSM. As I just pointed out above, over the last couple of years, the big stories that the MSM has refused to touch or address are prime examples of the malfeasance I claim the MSM commits on a near-daily basis. Why is it that the other MSM outlets could look at the Iraqi elections with a level of optimism, yet the LA Times ran doom and gloom, predicting that the country would fall into chaos. (Yes, they did this, and I cut-and-pasted their editorial of their predictions the day of the elections, as well as my commentary. I remember that day because we were doing our best to live-blog as much as possible, or we picked up Omar and Mohammed's posts at Iraq The Model, and posted those so people would know what was going on.)

Many of today’s blog-bound press critics don’t even appear to give their target newspapers a thorough reading, much less to educating themselves about the profession. Whether deliberately or by sheer indolence, they sometimes fail to read through the entire article they purport to examine. Hewitt has implicitly admitted to not reading the entire Los Angeles Times; Kaus and Frey have each bragged of intending or attempting to drop their subscriptions.

Did Mr. Hiltzik forget that the LA Times is available, for free, online? For Hugh to not read the entire LA Times, I commend him. My eyes glaze over after the main sections. And if Patterico and Mickey Kaus choose to drop their subscriptions, that's their choice. They'll still have access to the site if they want to keep up with the paper. I have no subscriptions to any papers. If I want to reead the cage-liners in Arizona, I have them at work. I prefer to read all the news sites online. And I do read the whole story. As people can see right now, I'm answering each and every assertion made by Mr. Hiltzik. This shows that I'm reading it, and I can assure him that I'm not the only one. Patterico, Hugh Hewitt, and others do, too.

Such reveling in ignorance of one’s subject is a new phenomenon in criticism. You don’t hear movie critics bragging about never going to the cinema, TV critics dropping their cable subscriptions, or book critics swearing off reading. But it’s not at all unusual to hear the blogging critics urge readers to cancel their subscriptions to their daily newspapers, as though their goal is to reduce their followers to the same state of blissful benightedness to which they aspire themselves.

Again, the utter foolishness in his examples is beyond understanding. If I'm a movie critic, and I swear off movies, I'm not much a critic, am I. What a twit. And we don't want people to be blissfully ignorant, we want them to be informed. Bloggers are among the most informed people in America; especially those that cover current events and politics. When we cover the news, we know what we're talking about because we've done the research. And therein lies the problem that Mr. Hiltzik can't seem to get past. Bloggers, when they don't know something, will research it. The MSM simply assumes, in general, that they know all already, and don't need to take that step.

It’s also important to note that the rightist bloggers rarely concern themselves with the press’s coverage of matters outside politics and a few highly politicized public issues, such as abortion. It’s rare to find them discussing the treatment of sports, business, entertainment, or science (except when the latter winds up in the courtroom). One does occasionally find the same remarkable narrow-mindedness in other fields of criticism. But it’s generally recognized as a lesser echelon of the trade. You can appraise movies largely on their likelihood to garner Oscars, for example, but if so, you’re
Joel Siegel.

We don't tackle highly-politiczed issues? First off, people who read the Asylum have seen me address abortion. I've argued that Roe was decided wrongly, and I've backed it up with a solid Constitutional argument rooted in jurisprudence; something that Justice Blackmun didn't do in his decision. As for sports, I addressed the Longhorns win over USC last night on our site today, but people don't come to the Asylum for sports topics; they come for relevant current events news and political commentary. Some people aren't looking for a "news site" in a blog; PowerLine has expanded their horizons, and introduced PowerLineNews, which covers a wide variety of news. So, again, his argument doesn't wash.

The main drawback of the blogging critics’ ignorance of or uninterest in journalistic tradition and practice is that it unleashes their own prejudices. They’re largely unfamiliar with the requirements imposed on reporters and editors by deadline haste and space constraints. They read an article through the prism of their own political mindset, and if they judge that its effect is to promote a "liberal agenda," they invariably assume that the effect is intentional.

On the contrary, we are interested in the MSM. We want them to get the story right. Requirements imposed on reporters and editors must be fairly lax considering some of the stories of recent. Mr. Calame, the NY Times omsbudsman, has a list of questions--supposedly--for the Times editorial staff regarding the NSA story. He's getting the same response that bloggers are. Chirping crickets. When you won't even answer the guy in charge of handling the public when the public gets ticked, what would Hiltzik proclaim that to be, proper journalistic integrity? And why is it that every time someone questions one of their stories that they take it as an affront. When we continue to get the same garbage out of the MSM when we question them, it's natural to assume that they don't want to make adjustments. And he can't disavow the liberal bias; the alphabet networks are hiring "conservatives" in an effort to balance their coverage of events.

Frey on the Times editing of a Reuter dispatch about the killing of an Italian agent by U.S. troops who fired at his car at an Iraq checkpoint in March. A key issue in the dispute between U.S. and Italian authorities over the incident was whether the car was speeding, and therefore appearing to the soldiers to be a greater threat than it was. Among the various changes Times editors made in the item was the removal of a line attributing to CBS News a report that a U.S. satellite had filmed the incident and established that the car was traveling at (according to some versions) more than 60 mph.

According to some versions? Has Mr. Hiltzik not read the after-action report filed by the soldiers involved in that incident. Their stories don't change. they were there. They perceived a speeding car--mind you this FACT is backed up by Ms. Sgrena in her own column!--as a threat as it approached the checkpoint. She claims they were driving so fast that they nearly lost control of the car as they sped through Baghdad. So, we have the soldier's statements the car was speeding. We have her account the car was speeding. We also have the CBS report, citing satellite surveillance, that the car was speeding. What part about this doesn't Hitlzik get?

Anyone familiar with newsroom practice might consider that the various cuts and changes were made to conform the Reuters item to LAT style and to fit it into the space laid out for it in advance. Under such circumstances, obviously, something has to go. In this case it’s logical to assume that the wire editor judged a reference to a second- or third-hand and otherwise unattributed report was, among all the information in the piece, the most dispensable.

Frey, apparently believing that a newspaper can expand infinitely to accommodate everything that flows into the newsroom on any given day, described the editing process as a deliberate anti-American effort:

"[T]he paper’s editors now see fit to hide from their readers the fact that satellite footage proves the car was speeding. …What possible justification is there for the suppression of proof resolving that issue?"

And I have to question that as well. My other half, Marcie, covered this incident extensively on her original site.
Scroll down through that month, and you'll see her posts, including a complete refuting of Ms. Sgrena's story. She's got pictures up on her site of the car Ms. Sgrena was in. Ironically, March of 2005 also brought to light the North Korea puff-piece penned by Barbara Demick, the LA Times Seoul bureau chief; this story she also covered. So much for trying to paint the LA Times in a different light.

Note the loaded language. An unconfirmed report by CBS News (not normally a news source that Frey or any other right-wing blogger would regard as definitive) has somehow morphed into a "fact" that "proves the car was speeding," and one deliberately suppressed by the paleo-liberals at the L.A. Times.

By the way, it’s proper to ask what eventually transpired with this "satellite footage." To make a long story short, it never surfaced. No other news agency ever claimed to have seen this elusive evidence, and CBS itself seemed to drop the subject almost as fast as it raised it. The Defense Dept.’s own official inquiry into the shooting, which was issued on April 30 and can be
downloaded here in unredacted form, never refers to any satellite footage, and indeed laments "the inability to reconstruct the event so as to provide accurate data for…speed of the vehicle." The report does, however, indicate that there is no genuine disagreement over the speed: It quotes a U.S. soldier who witnessed the incident and was an expert in estimating vehicle speeds as placing it at 50 mph, and the vehicle’s own driver at estimating it at 70-80 kilometers per hour—i.e., between 43.5 and 49.7 mph.

Again, stupidity from Mr. Hiltzik. When someone approaches a checkpint, one usually slows down. The report filed states point blank that there was no attempt to slow down. And I've read that redacted report, one released by Il Manifesto earlier this year. They produced the non-redacted copy online (we linked to it) and it created another firestorm on the 'Net because they didn't even have the decency to redact the names of the troops involved. The vehicle's driver should be considered an unfit witness as his story changed twice in the first 72 hours of the incident. At first, he claimed they were speeding. The next time he spoke on it, he assured everybody that he wasn't going any faster than about thirty miles an hour. Mr. Hiltzik, this incident occurred in March of last year. I barely paid attention to it, and I know more than you do about the incident.

Frey has never acknowledged that the satellite footage seems to have been a canard—indeed, in his year-end review this week he still calls its existence, and its purported support of the U.S. government position, a "critical fact" whose absence from our pages he hails as evidence of bias.

What a twit. He's pointiong out an obvious piece of evidence that the LA Times refused to cite in the investigation, and didn't bother looking up. Patterico wouldn't have cited it unless it was backed up. I remember a couple of sites that had links to the imaging. It was grainy, but you could still see what was happening. You could see the car approaching, and the discharge of the weapons.

It should be plain that press criticism of this nature passes muster only if you’re preaching to the choir. But then, these critics aren’t really interested in persuading the unpersuaded; they’re interested in reinforcing the prejudices of their followers through a chorus of mendacious commentary and rhetorical cant. They don’t wish to improve the free press, they wish to coerce it into supporting those with political power. Later, we’ll examine how this process works in detail, with Frey’s effort as an instructive text.

It's so nice to see him levying the same judgment he despises in us towards Patterico. We're not trying to persuade anyone. Bloggers pick up the slack when the media drops the ball, as they have quite often. If we persuade someone that what they thought was wrong, great. That's a plus. But all too often, and many people will attest to this, it's nearly impossible for a conservative to change the mind of a liberal, or vice versa. It takes major events to do that. Ask Christopher Hitchens, or Bernie Goldberg, or Charles Krauthammer. All three seemed to have a change in ideology after 11 Sept. I personally know a couple of people who changed their mind, their party affiliation, and their thinking after 11 Sept. It takes something greater than two people arguing about a topic.

What I think Mr. Hiltzik is displaying for everyone isn'tr just his bias; he hates bloggers. He's also showing shades of jealousy in this post. It's pathetic for him to nit-pick what Patterico did. Bloggers like us keep tight tabs on what the media does and says. We don't always pounce on them unless we see something egregious. With the Alito hearings coming up next week, much of our time is going to be taken up in dealing with that. Little time to slap around the MSM sources, so we'll leave it to others. But until the MSM realizes that what they're doing is ticking off a lot of people, they're going to have problems. They're going to continue losing subscribers. Their advertising dollars will continue to disappear. And with "bloggers" like Michael Hiltzik working for MSM outlets that have more problems than I can count, those outlets are going to continue to die on the vine.

Publius II


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