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Motley, Fool

Former Media Research Center employee Seton Motley returns as a NewsBusters blogger -- and so do his cheap shots and factual inaccuracies.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/11/2012

Seton Motley got his start in the ConWeb as the director of communications for the Media Research Center, a post he held from 2007 to 2010. That gave him an entree to post at NewsBusters, where he wrote numerous misleading and dubious screeds and cheap shots against journalists.

And now, Motley is back at NewsBusters, cranking out more dubious screeds and cheap shots.

This has been Motley's modus operandi for quite some time. A November 2008 post by Motley noted a poll finding that nearly 90 percent of U.S. journalists in Iraq say much of Baghdad is still too dangerous to visit, despite a recent drop in violence attributed to the build-up of U.S. forces, then added: "One wonders if this is the same 90% of correspondents who admitted to voting for President Bill Clinton twice; certainly a great deal of overlap exists between the two polling samples."

Seton Motley

Motley apparently decided to let the opportunity for a cheap shot trump the facts. As ConWebWatch explained way back in 2000, the 1996 poll that fount 89 percent of reporters who cover the federal government voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 (the poll didn't ask about the 1996 vote) was a rather small sample -- only 139 journalists responded. Only 20 percent of the questionnaires sent out went to national news organizations, while the bulk were sent to regional daily papers or even smaller papers with next to no influence in Washington or national journalism.

In ranting about the Iraq survey, Motley sneeringly referred to "these professional seekers of truth and accuracy" who "believe that things are worsening," adding, "The story does not mention if Pew inquired as to their belief in Santa Claus." Motley also attacked the reporters for "resting comfortably in Baghdad's Green Zone, and dispatching the locals to do the heavy lifting," smearing them as "cocoon-conditioned journalists."

Motley overlooks one crucial point: The reporters saying this -- unlike Motley -- were or had been in Iraq. It seems that Motley was the one operating in a cocoon.

A December 2007 post by Motley attacked a political science professor as a "Hillary plant" because he was not sufficiently effusive about a speech Mitt Romney, hiding the full story in the process. Motley wrote that Costas Panagopoulos was "rightly (if only partially) identified as 'a political science professor at Fordham University,'" snarkily adding:

There is only one little problem with going to this guy for his thoughts on all things either Romney, Republican or Rodham: he is an ex-Hillary Clinton staffer.

How do we know this? How did we ferret out this subterranean knowledge? We checked his website's biography. Second paragraph, first sentence.

We are positively exhausted after the extensive, laborious effort to track down this tidbit.

But Motley was apparently too tuckered out from his effort to properly cite and put into context Panagopoulos' link to Hillary. From the bio:

Dr. Panagopoulos was selected by the American Political Science Association as a Congressional Fellow during 2004-2005, and he served in the office of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY).

What is the APSA congressional fellows program? It describes itself as "the nation's oldest and most prestigious congressional fellowship. ... For nine months, select political scientists, journalists, doctors, federal executives and international scholars gain 'hands on' understanding of the legislative process by serving on congressional staffs." The program as it applies to political scientists like Panagopoulos "give[s] early- to mid-career political scientists an opportunity to learn more about Congress and the legislative process through direct participation."

In other words, Clinton didn't hire Panagopoulos; he was on a research fellowship that placed him in her office, and it likely didn't matter to him which member of Congress he worked for. In fact, one could argue that it was in recognition of Panagopoulos' skills as a political scientist that he was placed with such a high-profile congressperson as Clinton. For Motley to dismiss Panagopoulos as a "Hillary plant" is disingenuous and even false, since he offered no evidence that Clinton was sending Panagopoulos out to speak for her.

In a January 2008 post, Motley noted that the church Barack Obama attended claims that it is "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian" and remains "true to our native land." Motley has decided that this means Obama isn't a real American -- and, thus, wasn't American enough to run for president:

A commitment to Unashamed Blackness, remain true to (his) native land (that would be Africa, as per Trinity United parlance) and the embrace of the Black Value System certainly seems to stand in diametric opposition to Obama's potential upcoming oath to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and his doing his very best to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Our prohibition on the Presidency for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has chosen fidelity to the United States but whose loyalties are called into question merely by the matter of his place of birth, could reasonably be extended to Obama, who had the good fortune to be born in America, but who chooses to pledge allegiance elsewhere as an article of faith.

All of these are questions worth asking. So why are the media not?

Perhaps because Motley is so hopelessly biased against Obama that he was trying to throw a racial bogeyman into the presidential race.

Motley used a June 2008 post to insist that Nancy Pelosi engaged in "a clear and willful defamation of our soldiers in Iraq, and a diminution of the great and growing success we have seen there, paid for with their blood, toil and tremendous sacrifice" by noting that Iran had helped to negotiate "cessation of hostilities" in one Iraq War skirmish. But what Pelosi said was true: Major media outlets like CNN, the Washington Post and USA Today reported a couple months earlier that Iran did, in fact, help broker a cease-fire agreement Sunday between Iraq's government and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Motley vs. Huffington Post

In October 2008, Motley got into a snit with the Huffington Post over his refusing to back his attacks on Obama. HuffPo's Seth Colter Walls reported that during a Fox News appearance, Motley claimed there were "three stages of connection" between Obama and ACORN, of which Walls disputed two. When Wall contacted Motley for a response to the Obama campaign's criticism of his claims, Walls wrote that Motley "abruptly refused to engage in depth with the Obama camp's response to his Fox & Friends segment." Walls quoted Motley as saying, "The name of our group is Media Research Center" and that the only purpose of his effort on Fox was to draw attention to a lack of stories on the matter, adding, "I'm not going to be able to respond to challenges from the Obama campaign."

Motley defended his refusal to engage with Walls in , where else, a NewsBusters post whining about how he was portrayed:

As Walls wrote, I said that "(t)he name of our group is Media Research Center," and that we analyze the media. He omitted what I said next, which was that examining the media is our sole mission because we, as a 501(c)3 organization (on the phone, I said something like "by our charter"), are prohibited from doing anything like "respond(ing) to challenges from the Obama campaign."

Leaving out the additional information I provided allowed Walls to paint me as unreasonably unresponsive and uncooperative. I was in fact quite accommodating.

While it's true that 501(c)3 groups are not permitted to engage in explicit partisan political activity, where exactly in the 501(c)3 code does it say that a 501(c)(3) can't even respond to questions raised by a political organization about said group's accuracy? Yet somehow this law, which purportedly forbade Motley from answering questions from a political campaign, also permitted one of its employees -- in this case, Noel Sheppard -- to use an MRC website to cheer on one political candidate's negative attacks on another at the same time Motley was feuding with HuffPo.

Walls didn't understand that either, writing: "Non-profit groups like Motley's are forbidden from conducting specific electioneering activities; Motley is free to respond to inquiries from reporters about the factual accuracy of his statements."

Near as we can tell, Motley never responded to that.

Misleading about net neutrality

Motley left the MRC in early 2010 to create the activist group Less Government, which appears to be these days to be a compilation of Motley's blog posts written for other outlets. He's also the editor of the Stop Net Regulation blog for the Center for Individual Freedom, where at this writing the website hasn't been updated in about a year (again, largely comprised of blog posts written for other outlets).

Motley has used that latter title to mislead about the idea of net neutrality. In a December 2010 Fox News appearance, Motley claimed that net neutrality means "discrimination of content" and "socialism for the Internet" that would prohibit Internet service providers (ISPs) from "manag[ing] the network." In fact, net neutrality does not discriminate against lawful content, and the Obama administration's net neutrality proposal called for giving ISPs "meaningful flexibility to manage their networks."

Motley also misled in a July 2012 piece at, declaring that "leftists" who advocate net neutrality want to "make it as difficult as possible for continued private Internet investment" and "leave government as the nation's sole Internet provider." But as Media Matters pointed out, that description bears no resemblance whatsoever to the regulatory structure put in place by the FCC's Open Internet order, which established net neutrality policies for internet service providers.

Back to NewsBusters, bashing GM

Given that there doesn't seem to be much going on these days at his two most high-profile gigs -- he also claims to be a political consultant -- it's probably no surprise that he wandered back to NewsBusters, where his stock in trade has become making false and misleading claims about General Motors.

Motley screeched in a July 10 post that "The Jurassic Press was in full-throated ObamaChorus mode in reporting on General Motors (GM)’s allegedly strong June sales," while supposedly overlooking the fact that the increase was driven by "government purchases."

Motley cited a claim from the right-wing National Legal and Policy Center that "government purchases of GM vehicles rose a whopping 79% in June," but that claim is presented without context -- it's never explained where the number came from, or what the actual numbers they're based on are. It's an empty, undocumented number, but it suits Motley's purposes, so he continued to screech:

Meaning Barack Obama is now campaigning on the “success” of - the government buying cars from...the government’s car company. With our money.

That’s like you setting up a lemonade stand for your kids. You buy them the lemons, sugar, cups and pitchers - and then buy most of the lemonade yourself.

Except you are President Obama. Your kids are the United Autoworkers Union. And the lemonade cost $50 billion.

At least you get to tax your neighbors for the $50 billion.

Again - in what Bizarro-world is this auto bailout the “success” the Jurassic Press incessantly reports it is?

Meanwhile, more credible and non-hysterical sources had a more realistic take on GM's numbers. The Detroit Free Press detailed that fleet sales, under which government sales fall, typically peak this time of year. Contrary to Motley's unsourced assertion, the Free Press reported that GM’s sales to fleet customers increased 36% in June while retail sales increased 7.9%.

Further, Bloomberg reported that the percentage of fleet sales at GM is actually smaller than that of a certain other auto manufacturer that didn't take a bailout: 32 percent of the company’s sales, compared with 35 percent at Ford.

In a July 16 post, Motley peddled even more false claims about GM, declaring that "The Press is at every turn covering up - rather than covering - the serial failures of President Obama's signature vehicle," the Chevy Volt. As Media Matters pointed out, the Volt was in development well before Obama became president.

Media Matters also debunked several other false and misleading claims Motley makes -- for instance, his assertion that the "Volt fire problem remains unsolved." In fact, regulators concluded an inquiry into the Volt after finding it was just as safe as conventional cars, that the three fires associated with Volts had occurred after extreme crash tests, and GM voluntarily offered to make the cars even safer by reinforcing the battery pack.

Motley was at it again in a Sept. 25 NewsBusters post, screwing the pooch right in the headline, in which he calls the Chevy Volt a "$89,000 Car." In fact, as he glancingly concedes, the MSRP for the Volt is $41,000. The $89,000 figure is one news service's claim of how much it costs, which ignores the fact that, as GM reminded us, development costs are spread over the vehicle's lifespan -- meaning that amount per vehicle drops with every Volt sold -- as well as use of the vehicle's technology in other GM products, which spreads those costs out even further.

Motley then ranted that GM is offering cheap leases on the Volt. But isn't lowering the price exactly what a business does to move a slow-selling product, even if you lose some money in the process? Motley seems to be unaware of that basic economic concept.

Motley followed this up with whining that "We the Taxpayers" are on the hook for depreciation costs when Volts come off lease, bizarrely calculating it against the misleading $89,000 figure and not the MSRP. Motley honed in on one case in which someone got a lease deal of $159 a month, assumes that all the leases are like that but conveniently ignoring the extenuating circumstances under which that lease was obtained, as detailed in the Forbes article he links to but apparently didn't actually read. According to Forbes, the lease deal actually starts at $279 a month, and very few people have the right combination of dealer incentives, creditworthiness and trade-in value to get the super discount that the person in the article got.

In an Oct. 18 NewsBusters post, Motley ironically attacks former auto czar Steven Rattner for allegedly having "a bit of a problem telling the truth," ignoring his own history of fabulism. He again attacked GM for selling the Chevy Volt at discount prices. He bashed Rattner for wanting to eliminate previous practice of maintaining "over-bloated inventories on dealers’ lots," then links to newspaper articles citing high inventories of GM pickup trucks.

But Motley failed to explain why pickup inventories are elevated: As these industry websites noted, the GM plants that make trucks were being shut down for several weeks in order to retool the assembly lines for a redesigned model, and production was increased prior to the shutdown in order to make sure dealers didn't run out of trucks while the plants were shut down.

Motley served up even more huffy disingenuousness in an Oct. 23 post, in which he ranted: "Good thing President Obama separated us from our $85 billion - allegedly to “create or save” jobs. Mostly foreign jobs, but.... And as we’ve seen with Ford, no government bailout money was necessary to preserve a gi-normous member of the American auto industry."

Actually, that $85 billion wasn't given to GM alone -- it was also given to Chrysler and other auto parts suppliers. Much of that money has been paid back, and how much the bailout ultimately costs -- probably less than $25 billion -- depends on how much the government can get for its remaining stake in GM.

And while Ford did not take any bailout money, the company benefited from it. Ford CEO Alan Mulally told Fox News in September that without the bailout, a failed GM and Chrysler "could have taken down the industry and the U.S. economy from a recession to a depression," and that the entire auto industry "would have been in real trouble."

Motley took a turn into the bizarre with his Dec. 4 post, this time centered around the picayune complaint that the Chevrolet Volt tops customer-satisfaction surveys. It doesn't take long for Motley to whine about "government money" being spent to develop the Volt, which he insists is "a lot like the Obama Phone."

Actually, the current federal program of subsidized phone service was created in 1996 and expanded to cover cell phones in 2008, all before Obama took office. It's funded by surcharges on phone bills, not the federal government. In other words, there is no "Obama Phone."

To further show how little Motley cares about facts, he repeated his earlier false claim that "The Volt costs GM $89,000 to manufacture."

But then, disregard for facts and making mean-spirited cheap shots is how Motley rolls.

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