In early February, Washington Examiner editor Stephen G. Smith gushed over his new chief political correspondent, Byron York, calling him "a prototype of the modern journalist, equally at home in print, on television and on the Web."
One word not uttered by Smith, however, was "conservative" -- as in the political orientation of York's former employer, the National Review. Indeed, York has regularly peddled conservative misinformation from his National Review perch.
York is one of the latest manifestations of the rightward skew of the Examiner, a free tabloid daily created four years ago when conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz took over a chain of suburban papers and refashioned them after the publication he owns in San Francisco -- an interesting move since Anschutz himself hasn't talked to the media in decades.
The Examiner has had a conservative skew from its inception, as exemplified by its early hiring of Bill Sammon, a former Washington Times staffer who penned several books laudatory of George W. Bush and his presidency even while serving as a White House correspondent. Sammon moved last year to Fox News, but he left no ideological vacuum behind.
Ostensible "news" positions at the Examiner have become increasingly stocked with opinion-minded right-wingers -- for instance, Matthew Sheffield, executive editor of the conservative blog NewsBusters, is managing editor of the Examiner's website, and Chris Stirewalt, who has been lauded for his "outspoken conservative perspective," is political editor.
Other recent acquisitions include Timothy Carney, the former editor of Robert Novak's newsletter, and Michael Barone, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
The Examiner's editorial and opinion pages are under the guidance of Heritage Foundation senior fellow Mark Tapscott, and all of the paper's regular political columnists -- among them Michael Reagan (who has smeared President Obama as a Nazi) and right-wing think-tanker Jay Ambrose -- are on the right side of the spectrum. Liberal opinions, when they are allowed to appear at all, are mostly confined to letters to the editor.
With such an ideologically stacked crew, it's not surprising that the Examiner has become a transmitter of conservative misinformation:
-- An editorial claimed that "Obama has demanded that the Pentagon trim its budget request by an astonishing 10 percent," failing to note that Obama's budget target is still $14 billion above the Pentagon's current budget.
-- One edition of its weekly "10 worst ideas of the week" -- populated almost exclusively by liberals and liberal ideas -- featured in first place the bogus claim that a provision in the stimulus bill funding construction on college campuses bars religious expression; the fifth-place item echoed the distorted claim that the Employee Free Choice Act will "end secret ballots on union representation elections."
-- A "special report" attacking ACORN was centered around the false claim by local opinion editor Barbara Hollingsworth that the stimulus bill "gives ACORN access to a $4.19 billion pot of money." In fact, the stimulus bill doesn't even mention ACORN by name, let alone allocate money to the group, and ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis has stated: "ACORN isn't getting any of this money ... we aren't eligible for it in the first place." Hollingsworth repeated the false claim a couple weeks later.
-- Numerous columns and editorials touted a study claiming that "every three percentage point gain in union membership would be accompanied by a one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate the following year" without mentioning that the study was funded by anti-union groups.
The Examiner recently increased the number of pages devoted to opinion from two to five -- including prominently placing editorials on page 2 -- so expect more misinformation to come.
York, meanwhile, is fitting right into his new home. His first Examiner commentary detailed how happy Republicans are to attack President Obama. His second demanded that the Obama administration be investigated over a "decision to transfer control of the Census Bureau from professionals at the Commerce Department to political aides in the White House" -- even though administration officials have never claimed they want to "control" the census.
The Examiner's politics have even seeped onto its sports page. Columnist Rick Snider bashed Obama's preference for a college football playoff system by stating, "Listen to your wife's chuckle. She's the smart one in the family," adding: "Uh oh, the Clintons must be back."
History shows that conservative newspapers are simply not profitable ventures -- just check the financial records of Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post and Richard Mellon Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. All of those publications are money pits kept alive through the grace (and ready cash) of their mega-rich owners.
The Examiner's sister publication in Baltimore was shut down earlier this year, suggesting that Anschutz's pockets aren't bottomless. Still, he seems determined to do what it takes to join that conservative publishing pantheon.
Why? It certainly isn't to make money or to provide Washington newspaper readers with a point of view not already available -- Moon has that market covered. It could be because, as a former Examiner staffer put it, the paper gives Anschutz "a voice in Washington."
That "voice," however, is increasingly being used to put conservative politics -- and misinformation -- ahead of the facts.
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