Update: Out, Damn Context!
Conservatives are lining up to deliberately misinterpret Paul Begala. Plus: A NewsMax columnist whines about media bias, and Brent Bozell responds to the WWF.
By Terry Krepel
Getting caught in the act of taking someone's words out of context ought to dissuade others from doing the same thing, one would think. Well, one would be wrong.
On Nov. 13, MSNBC commentator Paul Begala wrote a column that, in part, responded to statements made previously by columnist Mike Barnicle on that network regarding the map of states won by each presidential candidate, with George W. Bush's -- the middle and south of the country -- shown in red and Al Gore's -- the east and west coasts -- shown in blue. Barnicle suggested that the map illustrated a cultural divide in the United States: “Wal-Mart versus Martha Stewart ... Family values versus a sense of entitlement.” Begala began by noting that "There is no doubt that Mike’s observations have merit -- that there are different cultural mores on the coasts than there are in the middle of the country. But I don’t think that’s the only thing going on here."
Then he launched into the words that launched a thousand misquotes: "But if you look closely at that map you see a more complex picture. You see the state where James Byrd was lynched -- dragged behind a pickup truck until his body came apart -- it's red. You see the state where Matthew Shepard was crucified on a split-rail fence for the crime of being gay -- it's red. You see the state where right-wing extremists blew up a federal office building and murdered scores of federal employees -- it's red. ..."
He concluded by reasserting that "My point is that Middle America is a far more complicated place than even a gifted commentator like Mike Barnicle gives us credit for. It’s not all just red and blue -- or black and white."
In November, The Daily Howler caught conservative columnist Michael Kelly using the red-meat Begala (not to mention Begala himself) without noting the context of those original statements and Begala's own statement that the issue is more complicated than that (which ConWebWatch noted previously).
That happened Nov. 29. That ought to have been enough to stop the issue. It wasn't.
Two other conservative columnists committed the exact same crime of taking Begala's words out of context, writes Dan Kennedy in the Boston Phoenix -- Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 17, and Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe on Dec. 28.
Kennedy caught up with Jacoby, who refuses to apologize: "'He's basically full of shit,' Jacoby says of Begala's protests. 'He makes it absolutely clear to anyone who reads his piece that he considers conservative voters to be the lowest of slime.'" Funny, Jacoby's bosses thought much the same of him for turning an inaccurate e-mail into a column, suspending him for four months. And conservatives think the very same way about Gore and anyone who voted for him.
Kennedy notes that "Begala handed his enemies a sword by writing such an over-the-top paragraph, but that Noonan, Kelly, and Jacoby took advantage by making his words look even worse than they actually were." Add Marianne Jennings to that lock-step list, where the complete truth isn't important if you can make someone you don't like look bad.
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One of the more amusing spectacles the ConWeb has to offer is whining about media bias on their own biased "news" sites. John L. Perry adds to the amusement in his Jan. 5 NewsMax column.
After noting the changes the TV networks have pledged to make on election-night coverage, he writes: "... The nets have failed to pay one iota of attention to the fox that's eating their guts out beneath their cloak of pretense journalism. That fox is a bias to the left so slanted that only a drunken pirate with a short peg leg could walk a straight line on it."
And speaking of foxes, Perry warns that unless "those biased blokes" at the networks ease up on that "poison," "more and more viewers will be hanging around the Fox cable-news channel watching a better-balanced bus take off with a genuine journalist like Brit Hume at the wheel." That, of course, would be the same Fox News Channel that hired John "I am loyal to my cousin, Governor George Bush of Texas. I put that loyalty ahead of my loyalty to anyone else outside my immediate family" Ellis to help with its election-night coverage.
If Perry is so bothered by media bias, why is he working for a biased organization like NewsMax?
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That complaint, filed Nov. 9, accuses the defendants of several charges, including libel and slander, product disparagement, conspiracy, "tortious interference with contractual relations" and copyright infringement. It asks for unspecified damages.
Unsurprisingly, Bozell denies everything. On the most blockbuster charge of financial improprieties and comingling of funds with the Media Research Center parent organization, Bozell responds that detailed records were kept and all funds are accounted for with their respective organizations. But he adds, in an interesting aside that illustrates the type of money being generated by both MRC and PTC: "Between 1995-1998, the MRC put in from its general coffers over $1 million to fund start-up activities for the PTC. As the PTC's programs began to take hold and its donor membership grew, the PTC began systematically to repay that debt to the MRC. By 1999, that debt was fully paid and thereafter all net monies raised by the PTC have gone into designated PTC accounts for use only by the PTC. Not one dime of PTC funds has gone to fund the Media Research Center, which has its own reserve fund in case of an emergency."
Bozell notes the "avalanche of personal ad hominem attacks on me" in the WWF suit, then calls the suit "one of the most malicious and dishonest pleadings ever placed before a court" and "the most vicious document I've ever seen." He also responds affirmatively to WWF charges that referred to the PTC-targeted program, "Smackdown!" as "pornography" and "real child molestation": "It is real child molestation to be inflicting youngsters with such sewage; it is pornography; pornography is advanced in this program; it is the blatant marketing of pornography to kids." (Italics his.)
Bozell notes at the conclusion of his response, "This is going to be, I tell you now, a bloody, ugly battle." We agree. And we're still rooting for the two sides to settle this in a steel cage match at WrestleMania with Mick Foley as referee.