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Fraudulent Words and Images: The Accountability Double Standard [Updated]

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Accountability -- it's all the rage. At least you'd think so if you've been following the story of the Reuters photographer Adnan Hajj, who doctored photos from the war in Lebanon. Once a fraudulent image of Beirut was first exposed by Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, Reuters canned the photographer.

Hooray for accountability.

But before we start popping champagne corks, let's take a look at the gigantic double standard when it comes to journalistic deceit.

I brought up the latest instance -- a particularly odious one -- this morning on CNN's Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz and Charles Johnson:

KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, you're obviously on a different side of the political fence than Charles Johnson, but do you think this is another example of bloggers, you know, holding the mainstream media accountable?

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. In fact, I want to congratulate Charles. That is exactly what bloggers should be doing. It was outrageous what Reuters allowed to appear. And the fact that they fired the photographer, it was the only legitimate response.

And I want to take this a step further and say that we should hold all journalists accountable, whether they are photojournalists or not, for deceptive statements, whether they're images or words.

I mean, you had your own headline anchorman, Chuck Roberts, describe Lamont as the al Qaeda candidate. This is an equally deceitful, fraudulent, fabricated statement. There should be zero tolerance for all those deceits, whether in images or words.

KURTZ: Well, what Chuck Roberts said, according to the transcript, was that some are calling Ned Lamont the al Qaeda candidate. But it's certainly not a formulation I would have used.

HUFFINGTON: You cannot find a single person who called Lamont the al Qaeda candidate, except Chuck Roberts. And what have been the consequences when it comes to Chuck Roberts? Has he been demoted to be covering Paris Hilton or entertainment news? ... It's about time that there is that same kind of accountability that Charles is demanding from photojournalists from journalists, as well.

Indeed, an exhaustive Lexis Nexis search confirms that no one has called Lamont "the Al Qaeda candidate." Except for Chuck Roberts. In fact, you know what you find if you Google "Al Qaeda candidate"? A lot of references to John Kerry being smeared by the RNC and its cronies during the 2004 election. Clearly, Lamont as "tha Al Qaeda candidate" is the latest rendition of an old G.O.P. tune.

The question is: why do the media play along?

Sure, it's great that Reuters will no longer be using Hajj, but it's not just fraudulent images that are damaging but fraudulent statements as well, fabrications claiming to reflect reality.

A subtler example is the headline on the August 11th New York Times story by Adam Nagourney:

"Arrests Bolster G.O.P. Bid To Claim Security as Issue"

Really? Do they? How do we know they do?

When you read the story you find out that the reason we know they do is because, yes, the G.O.P. told us so. Nagourney writes: "The developments played neatly into the White House-led effort, after Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, lost on Tuesday to an antiwar primary challenger, to remind voters of the threats facing the nation and to cast Democrats as timid on national defense."

No, it's not "the developments" that played neatly into "the White House-led effort," it's Adam Nagourney who did.

The White House fabricated a connection and a neat fit between the "developments" and the "Democrats." But isn't it up to the mainstream media to expose fraudulent connections instead of endorsing them as fact?

The truth, which, sadly, you won't find in the New York Times story, is that in no way do the arrests in Britain bolster the GOP's claims to be the party to best defend America. And the only way they will is if the media swallow Ken Mehlman's talking points and turn them into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In fact, given that we know for a fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, and that we currently have over 130,000 troops in Iraq, and have spent over three hundred billion dollars there, the Occam's Razor interpretation of these "developments" would be that they demonstrate how badly the White House has squandered our resources and how much the War on Terror is, as even George Will admitted today on This Week, "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation."

When will the mainstream media finally start holding elected officials and fellow journalists accountable for fraudulent words the way they rightly held Hajj, Reuters, and others accountable for fraudulent images?

And how about starting by holding Chuck Roberts accountable?



UPDATE: John Amato has the video and more.



UPDATE II: On Tuesday, August 15, Chuck Roberts apologized to Ned Lamont for his remark. Thanks to everyone who helped hold his feet to the fire (Think Progress, John Amato, Media Matters, AMERICABlog, The Carpetbagger Report, Gawker).