Update: What Osama Really Wants
The ConWeb (and a lot of other conservatives) jump on an interpretation of bin Laden's pre-election tape peddled by a right-wing group. Plus: CNSNews.com can't find examples of political vandalism against Democrats, the ConWeb Slant Count, and more.
By Terry Krepel
When the ConWeb immediately buys into an idea en masse, beware.
The talk of the ConWeb on Monday -- at least, the talk that was not directly related to attacking John Kerry or boosting the Bush campaign -- was a new interpretation of the Osama bin Laden speech released on Oct. 29. The spin offered by this interpretation was that bin Laden was promising not to attack U.S. states that voted for Kerry for president (as opposed to sovereign states, the original interpretation).
WorldNetDaily jumped on this with its own story; CNSNews.com linked to a version of the story by the New York Post; NewsMax featured a piece on it by regular NewsMax contributor Fr. Michael Reilly (the academic dean at St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School in New York, where NewsMax had an internship program for a while). William Kristol of the Weekly Standard has also plugged into this analysis, as has the conservative New York Sun, National Review and Rush Limbaugh.
Notice a pattern? Yes, there is a reason conservatives have embraced this particular translation. It was done by an organization called the Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI. While MEMRI has been called "prestigious" (by WorldNetDaily) and "respected" (by the New York Post), it's really something else -- conservative.
Founded in 1998, MEMRI claims that it "bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East" and aims "to inform the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East." But the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC) has copious documentation of MEMRI's right-wing roots, describing its founders, Meyrav Wurmser and Yigal Carmon, as "right-wing Zionists." The IRC claims that MEMRI "has gained a reputation for cherry-picking the most virulent, anti-Israel and anti-U.S. reports and commentary from the Arab media." MEMRI has received at least $200,000 from conservative foundations between 1999 and 2001.
As blogger Abu Aardvark sums up this whole thing: "What is happening is that MEMRI is cherry-picking a couple of statements on fringe websites to support its own, highly partisan, interpretation." That conservatives have so eagerly promoted it is another sign to distrust it.
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It's time for the Slant Count -- the number of anti-Kerry or -Democrat, or pro-Bush or -Republican, stories promoted on NewsMax (front page) and WorldNetDaily ("news" page and "commentary" page) on the evening of Nov. 1, the final chance the ConWeb has to slant things before the election:
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The good news: a Nov. 1 CNSNews.com article promoted a group of citizens "taking action to promote civility."
The bad news: While the article, by Kathleen Rhodes, noted an increase in politically related vandalism and other crimes and that "Bush and Kerry supporters alike have been victimized with increasing frequency," Rhodes listed seven examples of vandalism and other crimes -- all of which featured Republicans as victims.
It's not as though political violence against Democrats doesn't exist; in fact, there are plenty of examples. Why didn't Brooks include any in her article?
(Update: A Nov. 2 CNS article carries on in the same spirit, by faithfully passing on Republican charges that Democrats "will systematically file litigation to change the rules in battleground states across the nation" to "create a sense of chaos" without any response from the Democrats being maligned.)
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Another CNSNews.com story, another refusal to call a conservative group exactly what it is.
An Oct. 14 story by Randy Hall on alleged media bias attributes the research to something called the Free Market Project, which Hall describes as "a group dedicated to challenging misconceptions in the media about free enterprise."
In the third paragraph, though, comes a further description of the Free Market Project -- it's "a division of the Media Research Center, the parent company of CNSNews.com." In other words, a conservative group, though the word "conservative" appears nowhere in the story.
Hall, by the way, is no low-paid flunkie who might not be expected or encouraged to know about truth in labeling, which CNS is much more vigilant about applying to liberal groups; Hall is CNSNews.com's editor.
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This election season has generated many potential nominees for ConWebWatch's Slantie Award for unhinged political commentary. The latest entrant comes from an Oct. 28 WorldNetDaily commentary by Sally St. John (who, on her web site, redundantly displays her name with a "Dr." in front and a "Ph.D." at the end), described as "an author, wellness expert and success strategist who specializes in identifying obstacles to personal and business success." After describing John Kerry as a "professional liar" with "sociopathic-transferable skills," detailed her thoughts at watching one presidential debate:
I was shouting at the TV from the 18th story of the Roosevelt Hotel [to President Bush], same way you'd yell out to protect the woman about to get bludgeoned in a murder movie. You know, the endangered girl gets the bright idea to check out the strange noise in the basement at night all by herself, unarmed, with a serial killer on the loose. You scream to her: "Call the police!" "Turn on the light!" "At least pick up a tweezer!" "Whatever you do, don't open the door ... (to John Kerry)!"
Yes, St. John liked John Kerry to a sociopathic killer. How charming.
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Here's a quick pre-election edition of Then and Now -- well, if you count one day as "then":
-- Media Research Center, CyberAlert, Oct. 31
-- Media Research Center, "The Ten Worst Media Distortions