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Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert

Posted: June 24, 2009 02:08 PM

The Weekly Standard Owes Me a Correction (I'll Wait)


One of the Achilles heels of conservative opinion journalism is that most participants don't actually practice journalism. It's more like propaganda under the guise of journalism. Sure, they adopt the trappings of journalism. Meaning, they write opinion pieces for the New York Post and articles for the Weekly Standard, and they appear on Fox News and it all looks like journalism. But very little of it is.

And that's one of the great ironies in the right's long-running crusade against journalism and how awful and inaccurate and liberal it is. Conservative critics attack journalism even though virtually none of them actually practice it. They don't follow any of its rules and don't hold themselves accountable in any honest or meaningful way.

Which brings me to this from the Weekly Standard:

Media Matters Panel: Guns Don't Kill People, Fox News Kills People

The Weekly Standard item, which detailed a panel Media Matters recently hosted, and which I moderated, was relatively brief so I'll just post it in full [emphasis added]:

Yesterday, Media Matters hosted a panel at the National Press Club where five liberal activists discussed the use of "extremist" language by the conservative media and its allegedly violent effects. "We all need to set a tone for civil national discourse," declared Nancy M. Zirkin of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. It was a noble sentiment, though a bit ironic at an event where liberals tarred conservatives as bigots who inspire other bigots to commit acts of violence.


"FOX News is really mainstreaming this sort of vigilante almost malicious rhetoric," Media Matters senior fellow Eric Boehlert said. He added that Lou Dobbs and pretty much everyone at FOX News were a "toxic group of people."

"Hateful words have hateful consequences and blood will be on their hands if they don't take actions to repudiate [them]," said Clarissa Martinez De Castro of the National Council of La Raza. The Southern Poverty Law Center's Heidi Beirich agreed. "It amazes me that these people can go on TV and say whatever they want," Beirich said. No word yet on whether Beirich has heard of the First Amendment.

Here's what's interesting: I never mentioned Lou Dobbs during the event. Not once. And I never said that pretty much everyone at Fox New were a "toxic group of people." In fact, I never used the phrase "toxic group of people." Not once. The Weekly Standard just made up those two facts and attributed them to me. (Go here to see YouTube videos of the panel discussion and judge for yourself.)

To repeat: I never mentioned Lou Dobbs and I never used the phrase "toxic group of people." But other than that, the Weekly Standard was dead-on in its dispatch.

Honestly, I'm not that bent out of shape in terms of the quote that the Weekly Standard concocted for me. It's in the ballpark of the general points I was making that day. But how difficult is it to send a Weekly Standard "reporter" to a National Press Club event and then assume that "reporter" can accurately quote what people said at the event? Or is even that mundane task beyond the editorial purveyance of the Weekly Standard crew?

And why do other journalists play dumb about the Weekly Standard's chronic dishonesty and continue to take it seriously? For instance, recently Jamison Foser detailed nicely how the Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb not only fabricated the claim that while attending Princeton, Sonia Sotomayor got to teach her own course and grade her own papers, but that when the fabrication was widely called out online, Goldfarb doubled down on the falsehood rather than acknowledge the obvious error.

There's nothing wrong with opinion journalism. And conservatives ought to publish and practice as much as they want. But more and more of it has nothing to do with journalism, and everything to do with intentional misinformation and propaganda. There are no standards or rules, which is why people at the Weekly Standard can't even accurately report what people say at the National Press Club.

But I'm not going to play dumb. Instead, I'm requesting a formal correction. Weekly Standard editors are free to view the complete videos of the Media Matters panel from last week. And after they fail to find any evidence of me talking about Lou Dobbs, or of me ever saying that people at Fox News are a "toxic group of people," I'll expect them to correct the plainly erroneous information they published.

Because that's what journalists would do.

Crossposted at County Fair, the Media Matters for America blog.