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Pros and Cons applies subjective labels to advocacy groups. Plus: CNS covers once more for the Swift Boat Vets and beats up on Ted Kennedy.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/25/2005 has gotten away from much of the blatant, extreme bias that ConWeb confederates NewsMax and WorldNetDaily are known for. But it's still a division of the conservative Media Research Center, so it still has an agenda -- it just goes about it in a more subtle way.

One of those ways is how it describes those who follow a conservative agenda, as well as those who don't. Conservatives tend to be described in positive ways, while non-conservatives tend to get non-flattering terms.

An example is labeling of groups on either side of the abortion debate. Anti-abortion groups and individuals are unfailingly referred to by CNS as "pro-life," as in a Jan. 20 story by Nathan Burchfiel on a new Republican National Committee co-chair.

But the story is about how, according to a "pro-family" group, the co-chair isn't conservative enough -- and she is described as "pro-abortion and pro-homosexual rights." Interestingly, the story quoted new RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, who is the subject of widespread rumors that he's gay.

A Jan. 12 story by Kathleen Rhodes on the race for Democratic National Committee chairman describes former NARAL Pro-Choice America President Kate Michelman as "one of the most pro-abortion candidates in the DNC's history," mentions the "pro-abortion critics" of Tim Roemer, another candidate for the post, and described Planned Parenthood as "a leading pro-abortion group."

Even though "pro-abortion" isn't an entirely accurate description of those who favor the right to abortion -- "pro-abortion rights" would be closer -- it is a favored term of CNS. A search for the term in its article database returns 508 documents. By contrast, "pro-life" appears in 1,555 documents, while "anti-abortion" appears only 152 documents. The term "pro-choice" appears in 342 documents.

Abortion is not the only place CNS plays games with semantics. A Jan. 10 story by Jeff Johnson on complaints of indecency on TV referred the germ "pro-decency" to describe advocacy groups who favor tougher enforcement of indecency law, thereby implying that anyone who doesn't back that view is somehow "anti-decency." A Jan. 12 story by Johnson describes such groups as "pro-family," again implying a negative connotation for those who don't share those views.

CNS also has a labeling problem (a longtime problem, actually) in that it's much more eager to label liberal groups as "liberal" than label conservative groups as "conservative." This shows up in a Jan. 20 story in which the Media Research Center is not described as conservative but Media Matters for America and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) are described as "liberal media monitoring organizations."

CNS stories, however, do consistently note whenever an MRC source is used that it is a division of MRC (this would also be a good time to note that I am an employee of Media Matters.) So it is familiar with at least some of the ethical rules of journalism. It just chooses to ignore the one about being fair to the people you write about.

* * *

Just because isn't blatantly biased doesn't mean they never do that. It let more falsehoods by the Kerry-bashing Swift Boat Veterans slide by unchallenged.

A Jan. 21 story by Marc Morano about a "un-augural" reception held in honor of Vietnam veterans who ganged up on John Kerry. But Morano, as in previous CNS stories, fail to prove that Kerry said anything wrong or the Swift Boat Vets disproved it. Focusing on Carlton Sherwood and his Kerry-bashing documentary "Stolen Honor," Morano writes:

Kerry, in testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the Detroit "Winter Soldier" investigations, claimed that more than 150 Vietnam veterans "testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia -- not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command...."

According to Kerry's testimony, some of the 150 veterans admitted they "had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam..."

But Sherwood refuted Kerry's claims about the soldiers who fought in Vietnam.

No, he didn't. As Morano describes it, Kerry's claim was absolutely truthful. Those veterans did admit to those things that Kerry later relayed during his Senate testimony. Neither Sherwood nor anyone else disproved anything said during the Winter Soldier investigation; in fact, as ConWebWatch has noted, nobody has offered any documented debunking of Winter Soldier despite the ConWeb's oft-repeated claims that it has been "discredited." Morano overlooks the simple truth that "Stolen Honor" is factually flawed because of that very thing -- it deceptively conflates Kerry's testimony repeating the Winter Soldier statements as applying to all veterans. However much the Swifties pretend to believe that, it simply isn't true.

Morano also repeats the CNS pattern of refusing to investigate the Swift Boat Vets' claims. Instead, he keeps up the deception by unskeptically passing along a quote from anti-Kerry author B.G. Burkett that " Nobody has ever discredited anything the Swift Boat Veterans presented. You will see that type of phrase in column after column and articled after article and it's just totally bunk." (Um, no, it's not.) As ConWebWatch has noted, CNS, WorldNetDaily and other enthusiastic ConWeb relayers of the Swift Boat Vets' claims accepted them at face value, never even bothering to independently verify them even when they contain obvious errors.

But the Swift Boat Vets served the agenda of CNS and the rest of the ConWeb of attacking and contributing to the defeat of John Kerry. Why should anyone expect a CBS News-like mea culpa from them now?

* * *

Another overt example of CNS' bias: It couldn't resist beating up on Ted Kennedy.

A Jan. 12 story by managing editor David Thibault on a speech by Sen. Edward Kennedy attacks him for not talking about "values" issues until late in his speech.

"Kennedy waited until page 9 of his 10-page speech to discuss the issues of abortion and "gay rights," even though more voters (22 percent) in the Nov. 2 presidential election said moral values represented the single most important issue to them -- more important than the war in Iraq, terrorism, the economy and education, according to exit polling," Thibault wrote.

Thibault's assertion that the exit polls cited "moral values" as the single most important issue to voters -- remember, the exit polls also said that John Kerry would win -- are contradicted by a Gallup poll a month later that found very broadly defined "values" came in fourth place in what respondents consider "the most important problem facing this country today," behind the war in Iraq, terrorism and the economy.

This was followed on Jan. 17 by a commentary by executive editor Scott Hogenson -- back at CNS after spending most of the 2004 election cycle working for the Republican National Committee -- which, in addition to calling Kennedy's speech "resplendent with soaring pifflery," takes Kennedy to task for using the word "progressive instead of "liberal," adding that "in reality, progressive policies are the stated bedrock of socialism and communism."

Just in case you thinking that CNS didn't have an agenda because it wasn't regularly embarrassing itself on the level of, say, WorldNetDaily.

* * *

CNS, on the other hand, gets partial credit for updating a story. But only partial.

ConWebWatch noted that in the controversy that erupted between the Staples office-supply store chain and Media Matters of America over whether the chain actually pulled its ads off local newscasts on Sinclair Broadcast Group TV stations, a Jan. 6 CNS story on Staples' backtracking from an announcement it had pulled the ads failed to note Media Matters' claim that Staples approved the press release it issued on the subject.

Executive editor Hogenson wrote a Jan. 21 commentary in which he does belatedly note Media Matters' claim -- but then blames Media Matters for the whole kerfuffle. Or, more accurately, every liberal advocacy group.

A situation like this, Hogenson wrote, underscores "a common fault among so many liberal organizations - to take rhetorical liberties at the expense of others and create unnecessary problems in the process" because liberal groups "rarely, if ever, have corporate interests at heart."

It begs the question (and not merely because I'm an employee of Media Matters): How is it Media Matters' fault for allegedly taking "rhetorical liberties" when, as Hogenson himself notes earlier in his article, Staples is the only party whose story has changed?

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