Wednesday, March 14, 2007

US Media Distorts Yet Another Bush Scandal

Ever wonder how Americans could have possibly reelected George W. Bush? Take a look at a front page story in today's Washington Post: "White House Cites Lax Voter-Fraud Investigations in U.S. Attorneys' Firings." This story is a beautiful illustration of how the mainstream US media plays along with the White House spin machine.

First, note that the headline is classic example of what I call the Propaganda Headline Syndrome (introduced here). The so-called "lax voter-fraud investigations" mentioned in the headline were something that appears to have been dreamed up by Karl Rove at the White House and disseminated by right-wing talk radio hosts. This so-called issue wasn't prosecuted by the fired US attorneys because there was nothing to prosecute! It's a bogus issue (see The Myth of Voter Fraud).
But in the hands of the Washington Post this non-issue became a Propaganda Headline. As I wrote back in the fall:
Media corporations like CNN will repeat any strongly worded White House statement as a headline news item. So if the White House spin is fiction, the headline will be fiction. Because it's the headline that the public will remember, in this way a lie becomes an accepted "truthiness." Call this the "Propaganda Headline Syndrome."
The headline gives publicity to the widely discredited notion of "lax voter-fraud investigations." Nevertheless, one might expect that the article itself would have laid that myth to rest. After all the Washington Post is one of the most respected names in American journalism. Sadly, it does not. Rather the story gives some credence to the "lax voter-fraud investigations" concept. Indeed, the article is a classic specimen of the "he said, she said" phenomenon in US journalism: when both sides of the bogus allegation are given equal weight, the least reputable viewpoint is enhanced. Take a look at the main part of the article (my emphasis):

White House officials, in providing new explanations of how and why several U.S. attorneys were fired in December, have said that President Bush mentioned to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in October that he had heard complaints from Congress that some federal prosecutors were lax in pursuing voter fraud.

In attributing the firings at least partly to an inattentiveness to voter fraud, the White House is invoking a contention that has gained prominence in Republican circles starting with the 2000 presidential election, as both political parties have become aggressive in trying to leverage election law into Election Day victories.

The GOP allegation, repeated in several swing states where voting margins have been narrow, is that Democrats have illegally ratcheted up their tallies by permitting ballots to be cast by felons, by residents without proper identification, or by people who forged signatures on absentee ballots.

Democratic-leaning groups reject that allegation and counter by accusing Republicans of blocking fair elections by suppressing the votes of some eligible citizens.

Many readers of this article will say, "well, this latest scandal -- it's just politics." And that's what the White House wants readers to say. The Washington Post serves as a vehicle for the White House disinformation campaign.

Political news in the US is often reported like this: he said, she said. The journalist or her editor declines to help the reader to determine where the truth actually lies in such cases. So when the opposition party points to the most egregious crimes of the Bush administration, they are made to appear as just "one side" of a political spat. The US news media consistently gives the White House equal time and space to respond; it presents such propaganda as news; and it displays such disinformation under a media-crafted banner that promotes US administration spin -- the Propaganda Headline.

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