Fair and Balanced

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

It’s a little on the old side, but Scott McClellan’s accusation that the White House has been feeding talking points to Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity is interesting, if not surprising:

Rachel Maddow’s take here strikes me as completely backwards. She says she’s not made at Fox News because “they pledge allegiance to nobody other than the bank at which they cash their paychecks every week.” But she says she’s mad at the government because “it’s supposed to be illegal in America to propagandize the American people. It is supposed to be illegal for our government to covertly choose some sort of press organ that is represented to the American people as if it is a press organ and is feeding us stuff that is actually propaganda from our government.”

I have no idea what she’s talking about here. Certainly it would be objectionable if the government secretly owned and operated Fox News, but I don’t see how sending talking points to Sean Hannity or anyone else is illegal or even unethical. The Bush administration wants to get its perspective out there, and it of course does everything it can to feed sympathetic reporters with information that will help them make the White House’s case. Sending Sean Hannity talking points is awfully low on the list of unethical Bush White House activities.

Rather, the blame here lies with the “journalists” who betray the trust their viewers place in them by parroting the government’s talking points without disclosing that that’s where they came from. As far as I know, that’s not illegal, but it certainly ought to be embarrassing, and anyone who actually cares about getting “fair and balanced” news should avoid watching the programs of journalists who behave that way.

Tim Lee

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19 Responses to “Fair and Balanced”

  1. #1 |  Bill | 

    I’d be more upset if the WH was feeding information to the news department of a network. O’Rielly and Hannity are commentors and make no pretense of reporting news in an unbiased fashion. It’s when a supposed newman presents forged documents as news that we should be concerned.

  2. #2 |  Tim Mayhugh | 

    If I am supposed to be upset with “News” organizations that take talking points from politicians without disclosing it, i am left with no credible news reporting. NBC is obviously in the tank for Obama, same thing for the “newspaper of record” the New York Times. Additionally, O’Reilly got McClellan on his show and admitted that O’Reilly does NOT get talking point from the White House. At least not from McClellan. How about getting your facts straight if you want us to take YOU seriously.

  3. #3 |  maxxdogg | 

    If the government was simply providing news outlets with factual information or talking points, I agree that would not be illegal or unethical. However, if the government provides news outlets with false information intended to deceive the American public would that not be propaganda, unethical and illegal?

    Take the case of Dick Cheney on Meet The Press during the run up to the Iraq war. He leaked false information regarding Iraqi WMD to Judith Miller at the NY Times so that it would be published the morning of the show. He then referenced that false information in the NY Times article to claim how dangerous Iraq was and to justify the war. In fact, the administration had organized a media blitz on that day and all involved referenced the false information that they themselves had planted.

    Surely you must consider this propaganda? Where do you draw the line between talking points and outright organized propaganda?

    I am still shocked to this day that Cheney was not impeached just for that alone.

  4. #4 |  Tim Mayhugh | 

    Oh jeez, i didn’t realize the video was from Olberman on MSNBC, you expect me to even entertain the suggestion that that Jackass is anywhere near “Fair and Balanced?” Get a clue you douche. When is Radley coming back? Go back to whatever it is you do when Radley is here.

  5. #5 |  Kevin B. O'Reilly | 

    You’re absolutely right, Tim. I remember watching this and thinking, “She’s got it exactly backwards.” Operating a covert propaganda operation is illegal, but sending talking points — the equivalent of a press release, really — does not even come close.

  6. #6 |  Paul L. | 

    Small problem for Olbermann and Maddow.
    Bill O’Reilly got Scott McClellan to admit that he never received talking points from the White House.


  7. #7 |  skootercat | 


  8. #8 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Shouldn’t that be the other way around? It’s not whether McClelland got talking points from the White House (that was his JOB after all) but whether O’Reilly did. Or did you mean McClelland admitted that O’Reilly didn’t get talking points? Unclear syntax.

    I just think it’s irrelevant. Most Fox News commentators have their heads so far up the Bush Admin bunghole that they can read the talking points in its feces.

  9. #9 |  Pete Guither | 

    “I don’t see how sending talking points to Sean Hannity or anyone else is illegal or even unethical. The Bush administration wants to get its perspective out there, and it of course does everything it can to feed sympathetic reporters with information that will help them make the White House’s case.”

    That’s assuming that the talking points are merely “its perspective” and not outright lies.

  10. #10 |  Jaybird | 

    There oughta be a law!

  11. #11 |  Mike T | 

    The criticism is also off base in that most of what we get out of the “news” is just mindless repetition of whatever the authorities tell the media. One need only follow this blog to see how little the media actually questions the police and judiciary when things look sketchy in the beginning, or there is some connection at city hall or a government agency that they want to not piss off.

  12. #12 |  Andrew | 

    You’re assuming that Sean Hannity actually has the ability to read.

  13. #13 |  Legate Damar | 

    Wait, Olbermann and Maddow find this problematic? What do they plan on doing during the Obama years? Talking about how he’s not smarmy and shrill enough, respectively? Or will it be okay then, because “the right people are in charge”?

    Not that this in any way indemnifies Bush & Co or Fox News. But this just strikes me as an argument best made by… someone else.

  14. #14 |  Mojotron3000 | 

    what are these “talking points” we’re talking about? Disagreements about policy are one thing, but lying about not having involvement in the DoJ attorney purge as well as lying about why they were fired are outright falsehoods made to cover crimes and should not be considered a “talking point”.

  15. #15 |  nemo | 

    That the Executive Branch has used news outlets and media entertainment corporations to further its’ agendas should be nothing new; they were doing it in order to influence people’s behavior vis-a-vis illegal drugs some time back. Propaganda deliberately injected into entertainment. Now, extrapolate that further, and you have today’s ‘infotainment’ geared to providing a message rather than content. Marshal McLuhan warned us all about that many decades ago, and this Administration has been very illustrative of his worst fears.

  16. #16 |  James D | 

    Hmm, I call ‘non-story’ since for decades the major media has been nothing but Democrat talking points ….

  17. #17 |  freedomfan | 

    No defender of the Bush administration here, but I agree with the non-story assessment, since it came out a week or more ago that McClellan misspoke when he made the statement Olberman is so happy to report.

    Obviously, it would be unethical if the reporter or commentator pretended that some trial balloon from an administration contact was his own view or the result of independent research, but that isn’t what happened here. Meanwhile, I don’t know what’s so wrong with an administration calling up a reporter and saying, essentially, this is what our read/take/spin of the situation is. If they are lying, then it should be on record that they lied. One way or the other, anyone who thinks this adminstration is the first to do that is very mistaken.

    To me, the real problem is that people treat these press releases (or “talking points” or whatever the jargon of the day is) as if they were news by themselves, without doing any independent verification. To me, the “professional news organizations” should be looking for original sources and corroborating evidence. Politicians aren’t omniscient beings who unveil the truth at their whim. If a politician (or any government figure) says “X”, then the journalists job isn’t just to report that “Politician Says ‘X'”; it’s to find out what’s actually known about the topic and report that. Frankly, it would be no disservice to the news if the politician were scuttled to paragraph eight or ignored altogether, unless he actually discovered X. We would be a good deal better off if reporting was more about the facts in context and less about the public personalities presenting them.

    Anyway, this case does make one wonder: If the situation is politically reversed in the future, will Olberman will be refusing the calls of people in a Democratic administration?

  18. #18 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Where’s Dave Krueger when you need him?

    Dave’s not here, man. ; )

  19. #19 |  techimnot | 

    Say freedomfan, your statement “To me, the “professional news organizations” should be looking for original sources and corroborating evidence” would define a journalist, a rare breed nowadays!