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When Criticism Becomes Campaigning

In two new projects, Accuracy in Media confuses shilling for John McCain with exposing "liberal media bias."

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/23/2008

Organizations registered under the 501(c)(3) tax status aren't supposed to be stumping for political candidates. But that's essentially what Accuracy in Media is doing under two recent initiatives: Under the guise of exposing "liberal media bias," they're really serving up talking points for John McCain.

The first project was introduced in a Sept. 19 column by Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas. Claiming that "I hear from constituents all the time about how frustrated they are over slanted coverage" and that "They want the facts to make informed decisions on the issues and they feel that they are being told what to think by the traditional media," Smith proposed a solution of sorts:

Over the next six weeks, I will initiate a weekly call to action highlighting the most egregious example of media bias for that week and will provide the contact information for the news outlet. I’ll ask that all concerned citizens who are tired of slanted coverage take a little time out of their day to contact the outlet and demand objective journalism. By focusing our attention, I believe we can have a far greater impact.

Thus far, all of Smith's "worst of the week" examples (a concept apparently lifted from the rival Media Research Center), as printed on AIM's "On Target" blog, have all been complaints of allegedly negative coverage of McCain.

For instance, in a Sept. 30 post claiming that the New York Times fired a "partisan shot aimed at hurting the McCain campaign," Smith wrote:

In an article from September 24, the Times alleged that embattled mortgage company Freddie Mac paid McCain campaign manager Rick Davis for consulting services through last month. Citing unnamed sources, the article clearly suggested wrongdoing on the part of Davis and, by extension, Sen. McCain.

First, the Times’ insinuations are false. Davis separated from his consulting firm in 2006 and has not received a salary there since that time.

Second, the Times omitted key facts from their reporting. Davis was never a lobbyist for Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae and, in fact, has not served as a registered lobbyist in several years.

In fact, the Times never claimed Davis himself was paid by Freddie Mac; rather, the article stated that Davis' firm was contracted to receive the money, adding that "took a leave from Davis & Manafort for the presidential campaign, but as a partner and equity-holder continues to benefit from its income." In claiming that "Davis was never a lobbyist for Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae," Smith ignores the fact that Davis was, as the Times article noted, the head of an advocacy group funded by Fannie and Freddie with the purpose of opposing regulation of the entities, which Smith seems to think is not "lobbying."

Smith is merely regurgitating the McCain campaign's denials of the Times article, not to mention uncritically mouthing the campaign's claims that the Times is a "partisan" publication. Further, by focusing only on this single article, Smith ignores the evidence revealed since then that suggest Davis continues to have ties to his firm -- namely that Davis is still listed as an officer of the company and has maintained other financial connections to it.

In his Oct. 14 post attacking what he calls Time magazine's "latest example of biased campaign coverage" ("accusing Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin of using race against Sen. Barack Obama in the presidential campaign"), Smith wrote: "Time magazine’s bias existed well before this presidential campaign; a 2005 UCLA study found that Time’s coverage ranked well to the left of the average American voter."

Smith is apparently referring to a study by UCLA's Timothy Groseclose and the University of Missouri's Jeffrey Milyo. But as Media Matters detailed, the Groseclose-Milyo study's measure of "bias" -- the frequency with which various think tanks and advocacy organizations were cited approvingly by the media -- is so problematic that its findings are next to useless. Further, both Groseclose and Milyo have previously received grants from right-wing think tanks -- which is reflected in the study's bibliography, which cites the usual right-wing suspects such as the Media Research Center and AIM but no scholarly research on the subject of media bias.

Smith again shilled for the McCain campaign, enthusiastically defending its "Country First" slogan as "clearly meant to emphasize his decades of military and civil service, including five-and-a-half years spent suffering in a Vietnamese prison camp."

Meanwhile, AIM launched a "Boycott the New York Times" website, aimed at, according to an Oct. 8 press release, "encouraging news consumers to boycott the most powerful media voice in America to protest its persistent leftist bias." The press release further quotes the editor of the site, Don Feder, as saying, "The Times has, over the course of decades, blatantly distorted the news to advance an ideological agenda."

How ironic -- Feder has done the same exact thing.

Don Feder

As ConWebWatch has detailed, Feder has a long record of making dishonest and hypocritical claims. He's also an anti-immigration activist who is a member of the advisory board of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, headed by John Tanton, who -- despite Feder's attempts to obfuscate the issue -- has likened immigrants to bacteria.

So it's no surprise that Feder brings his shoddy, biased writing to AIM's Times-bashing site as well. And, like Smith's project, it's devoted almost exclusively to defending McCain and Palin.

A Sept. 28 article by Feder is little more than a regurgitation of McCain campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt's anti-Times talking points, even writing at one point, "Of course, Schmidt is right."

In an Oct. 2 article, Feder peddled more baseless and even false talking points blaming Democrats for the financial crisis, even taking some of his talking points directly from a McCain ad. For instance, he claimed that "It was Jimmy Carter who first pushed Fannie and Freddie to lend to high-risk borrowers, to increase minority home ownership, pandering to one of the Democrats’ favorite constituencies." Feder is referring to the Community Reinvestment Act, a law passed during the Carter administration; in fact, less than one-fifth of subprime loans were made by financial institutions subject to the CRA.

Feder also asserted, "Some of Barack Obama’s closest allies were key figures in pressuring Fannie Mae to make high-risk loans — they include Franklin Raines and Obama campaign advisor Jim Johnson." But Raines is not among Obama's "closest allies"; both he and Obama's campaign deny he has any sort of advisory role.

Feder further claimed, "Obama himself is #2 on the list of campaign contributions from Fannie Mae executives. He’s received $126,349, second only to Banking Committee Chairman Dodd." In fact, the Times itself has compiled a list -- which Feder has yet to refute -- showing McCain receiving more than $169,000 in donations from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives and lobbyists.

In an Oct. 10 article, Feder accused the Times of trying to "rationalize the multiple ties between Barack Obama and ‘60s radical William Ayers, a leader of the Weatherman [sic] Underground." But the Oct. 9 Times article to which Feder is apparently referring -- Feder did not offer links to the actual article -- is not about those alleged ties; it's about McCain repeating the attacks. Feder does not mention the Oct. 4 Times article that covers the Obama-Ayers relationship more fully.

Feder also claimed that Ayers "chose Obama" as a chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which Ayers helped create, and that the group "in turn made grants to leftist groups like ACORN." In fact, the Oct. 4 Times article stated that "according to several people involved, Mr. Ayers played no role in Mr. Obama’s appointment"; further, contrary to Feder's suggestion that the Chicago Annenberg Challenge gave money exclusively to "leftist groups like ACORN," educational reviewers found that the project "reflected ... mainstream thinking among education reformers."

Feder and Smith joined forces to operate in stereo with a dual attack on an Oct. 18 Times article on Cindy McCain.

Smith: "The New York Times last week sunk to a new low in its biased coverage of the presidential campaign, personally attacking Sen. John McCain's wife, Cindy, in an October 17 article with the headline, 'Behind McCain, Outsider in Capital Wanting Back In.'"

Feder: "It’s not enough for America’s “newspaper of wretched” to smear John McCain and Sarah Palin. In an October 18 “news” story, it went after the candidate’s wife, Cindy McCain."

Smith: "The Times also questioned Mrs. McCain's honesty and integrity, asserting that her statements in interviews seem "questionable," and recounting her role in the decades-old Keating Five affair."

Feder: "In the guise of a profile piece, The Times rehashed Mrs. McCain’s past addiction to pain-killers -- a story that was old news 20 years ago."

Smith: "Mrs. Obama and Sen. Obama's other family members have been spared from this type of 'reporting.'"

Feder: "We will wait in vain for The Times to unleash its investigative pit bulls on the personal lives of Barack and Michelle Obama, including: 1. Who supplied Obama with drugs when he was an addict? 2. What substances did he use besides cocaine? 3. When did his addiction end? Was he still doing drugs as an Illinois state senator? 4. Why has 'Mr. Compassion' done nothing to help his poor relatives in Kenya? 5. How close is Michelle to former terrorist Bernardine Dohrn? And 6. How did the “black power” ideology Michelle embraced as an undergraduate at Princeton -- combined with 19 years of Jeremiah Wright’s sermons -- shape her attitudes toward America and white people?"

To answer Feder's misleading questions: Obama never claimed he was a drug "addict," only that he had used marijuana and cocaine as a youth; he wrote in his autobiography, "Dreams from My Father," that he "stopped getting high" shortly after moving to New York City to attend Columbia University as an undergraduate. Feder offers no evidence that Obama has "done nothing to help his poor relatives in Kenya"; he's apparently alluding to claims embraced by right-wingers like himself that Obama's half-brother, George Obama, lives on $12 a year in a shack in Kenya, which has been debunked by none other than George Obama himself.

Feder falsely suggests that Michelle Obama embraced a" 'black power' ideology," based on yet another right-wing canard. In fact, Michelle Obama's senior thesis, to which Feder seems to be alluding, makes clear that she was purporting to document attitudes among black Princeton alumni who attended the school in the 1970s, not asserting her own views.

Feder and AIM claim to be building a case to "progressively limit [the Times'] influence," and Smith claims he's trying to solve "the problem of media bias. But all they've done so far is serve as unpaid (as far as we know) public relations agents for the McCain campaign.

Isn't that illegal under AIM's 501(c)(3) tax status? AIM might want to explain to its readers and donors where that line of legality is.

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