Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Squeaky Wheel: Post-Dispatch Reporting Pandering to the Right

I've argued many times on this blog that local media outlets have given tea parties overly favorable coverage and refused to do in-depth research about the tea party's claims. However, I'm not sure I've ever before seen a case that illustrates so perfectly the basic problem in the relationship between the tea party and the mainstream media. Basically, the problem is this: when the tea party complains loudly enough, the mainstream media caves in to them, regardless of whether the complaints have any merit. The mainstream media interacts with the tea party in the same way a bad parent interacts with a spoiled child: by always giving in if the child holds his breath long enough, or screams loudly enough.

To make the case, recall that back on August 17, someone broke the back window of Russ Carnahan's campaign office and threw in an incendiary device. Jake Wagman at the Post-Dispatch included the following passage in his story:
Apart from Martin, Carnahan is weathering a tumultuous political environment. A year ago, several people were arrested at a Carnahan town hall forum after a fracas broke out between protesters and Carnahan supporters.
Loesch freaked out about this throwaway comment, claiming that Wagman "misrepresented" the August incident and was blaming the tea party for the firebombing. Here's what Loesch wrote in response to Wagman's passage:
No. Protesters were harassed by people who identified themselves as Carnahan volunteers and people not even of the 3rd district, OFA bussed people in who were loud and disruptive at the meeting (I know, because they assumed me and the veteran who attended the townhall with me were with OFA and snuck us through the side door), and Carnahan supporters attacked a man they profiled as being a conservative. I and others have endless video and photographic footage of the evening. The “fracas” came from Carnahan supporters and there isn’t a police report or eyewitness that has stated otherwise. To report otherwise is disingenuous and the omission of the above implies that those targeted at the townhall contributed to the “fracas” and whether Wagman intended it or not, further implies that the “fracas” could be linked to the firebombing and that the perpetrator could be a tea partier. Also not cool.
She also later made the following criticism :
Does reporter Jake Wagman know what a “firebomb” is? From what I’ve seen of the carefully controlled photos in circulation, this looks nothing like the damage caused by such incendiary devices.
Moreover, on Twitter she said the following about the Post-Dispatch:

And later, she called on Wagman to apologize:

In a blog post, she wrote the following:
Why didn’t the Russ Carnahan campaign correct the narrative of the local alternative weekly and Jake Wagman’s subtle suggestion that it was a tea partier?
Even worse, she sent her toady Jimi971 out to harrass Wagman, as well as myself:

Think that old Jimi's tweets don't have anything to do with Loesch? Think again. Anyone who's followed his feed knows that he's basically her lacky: when he first started on Twitter all he did was attack anyone who was critical of her. And, of course, she made sure to include him in her select "follow Friday" group the following Friday:

Anyway, regardless of whether you see Jimi's actions as an extension of Loesch's, it's very clear that she was repeatedly attacking the Post-Dispatch by claiming that they had "blamed the tea party" for the firebombing. But, of course, the Post-Dispatch did nothing of the sort. Wagman merely said that it was a tumultuous political environment without saying anything about the tea party. Now I pointed out (and still believe) that the tea party's absurd behavior of burning photos of Russ Carnahan while chanting "death to the dictator" and carrying a coffin to his house are actions that are likely to encourage people to violence, and Chad Garrison made a joke by saying that the original suspect (who has not been charged) was middle-aged, white, and "bat-shit crazy" and hence fit the demographic for the tea party. But Wagman didn't even mention the tea party in his post. Yet Loesch and her followers targeted Wagman and demanded that he apologize.

As Loesch continued attacking the Post-Dispatch for nothing, finally their Political Editor Chris Ave was a guest on her show. And after weeks of posturing and attacking the Post-Dispatch, do you know what Loesch said to Ave? Nothing. She said nothing. Because there really was nothing she could criticize about Wagman's article. Instead, she spent much of the time trying to get Ave to criticize Chad Garrison's story on the subject. You can listen to the audio here if you are so inclined:

So Loesch attacked the Post-Dispatch for nothing, and when push came to shove, she really had nothing to say to Ave. This should have been the end of the story. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

As part of her "welcome" post as the new editor of the right-wing smear rag, Big Journalism, Loesch announced the following:
This past Saturday I sat in a hotel ballroom facing a host of journalists from across the Midwest as part of a panel which discussed reporting on the Tea Party movement. I told them what I believed was wrong with corporate media’s approach, “teabagging” notwithstanding. I was invited by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Political Editor, Christopher Ave, whose attention I caught when I railed against a particular piece the paper published involving a fire at Rep. Russ Carnahan’s office (which the alternative media implied was perpetrated by the Tea Party). He guested on my show after the piece published and we had a healthy discourse on journalism and its objectives. I trust him to deliver fair pieces on the movement, on conservatism – not coddling, kittens-and-sunshine hand-holding and kid gloves, but actual objective pieces designed to inform, not persuade. Perhaps in my lifetime there will be more exceptions to the rule like this
"Not coddling" said Loesch. How incredibly ironic. Because how else would you describe a situation where Loesch baselessly attacked the Post-Dispatch, and then was invited to a journalism conference by him in order to coach the media in how to cover the tea party? As I wrote previously, I sure as hell don't remember the media inviting the anti-war movement to come coach them in how to cover their rallies. Yet this is the principle we see again and again. The tea party, even when they are completely wrong, screams as loud as they can, and the media caters to their demands rather than showing some resolve. And after it happens, the tea party continues to whine about how biased the media is against them anyway.

It's hard for me not to see this in light of the shameful editing by the Post-Dispatch reported on today by FiredUp Missouri. The following passages from Tony Messenger's article about Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder were cut online and then ultimately completely removed from the print edition:
The lieutenant governor's Twitter feed is filled with the most far-right Republican conspiracy theories of the day. Kinder has compared liberals to Hitler, politicized a hostage crisis and repeated false claims about "death panels" in the new federal health care law. He even speculated on the worst "tramp stamp" tattoos on women.

It's tough to take Kinder seriously when his daily communication with the public is either purely politically motivated or just plain unprofessional.
Was the removal of these passages a result of the "coaching" from Loesch about how to cover tea party tweets? As someone with no inside knowledge of what happened, I can't say, but I do think it looks bad.

I'll further note that no St. Louis reporters have yet gotten a quote from the tea party's John Burns, reported by CNN to be included in planning emails for James O'Keefe's plots to sexually humiliate a CNN reporter. Similarly, none have inquired, so far as I know, how the St. Louis tea party is paying for office space and billboards when they were only able to raise $900 in three months for their anti-transit campaign. Are they getting outside funding? If so, from whom? These are the types of questions reporters should be asking, especially in light of the fact that tea partiers were orchestrated by right-wing billionaires.

Anyway, the lesson for tea partiers is clear: scream as loud as you can and always claim that the media is biased against you, and they will bend over backwards to make sure to express whatever you want, regardless of whether it's true. The lesson for everyone else? Well, that's a little more difficult to ascertain.


  1. WAIT A MINUTE. I forgot about that - so Loesch freaked out about people she claimed were bused in and weren't from the 3rd district at the town hall meeting...

    ...and then the Jefferson County Tea Party brings people in from out of the area to protest at a city hall meeting in Arnold? But that's okay?

    Yeah. Hypocrisy, much?

    Also, re: Messenger, Loesch called what he said 'editorializing.' Well no, sweetcheeks, it's not editorializing when Kinder's idiot tweets are right there on the screen for everyone to read.

  2. I really liked how you compare the Tea Party to a spoiled child screaming until they get what they want from the media. Maybe the Media should try the "time out" method that has proven to be very effective in raising children to behave properly in public