2. Vicki Iseman Sues NY Times for $27 Million for Defamation
3. As U.S. Succeeds in Iraq, Network TV Pulls the Plug
4. ABC's GMA Hypes Obesity Tax: Pay More to Live Longer
5. 3rd Runners-Up Quotes in MRC's Annual Awards for Worst Reporting
6. List of the 44 Judges Who Selected the Winning Worst Quotes
On Tuesday morning's Today show, NBC substitute anchor Lester Holt and correspondent Savannah Guthrie regretted President-elect Barack Obama having to make an "adjustment" -- not being able to "just pick up and go anytime he wants" due to "not just Secret Service, but a traveling corps of journalists now follows his every move, even in Hawaii." Guthrie reported on the "signs Obama is growing a bit frustrated with all the attention." The on-screen graphic accompanying her report inflated this apparent frustration on the part of future chief executive: "Man in a Bubble: Obama Chafes at Constant Scrutiny."
Holt introduced Guthrie's report with a lament over Obama's seeming predicament: "He may not be President yet, but Barack Obama is getting an early taste of what life as leader of the free world is really like -- a lack of freedom, and an entourage documenting his every move." Guthrie then began her report along a similar line: "Obama came here to Hawaii to get away from it all -- get one last vacation in before becoming President. But even here, he can't just pick up and go anytime he wants, and that's been quite an adjustment for the President-elect."
[This item, by the MRC's Matthew Balan, was posted Tuesday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
After playing video of Obama accompanying his two daughters on an "afternoon outing," Guthrie ran a clip of the Washington Post's Philip Rucker, who reenforced the sense that Obama was now in a "bubble." She also played a clip from the Politico's Carol Lee, who gave an account of what it was like to be part of the Obama press corps.
Guthrie then devoted the rest of her report to the "signs Obama is growing a bit frustrated with all the attention," which mainly consisted of the President-elect ribbing the photographers following his golf game and the reporters who "dutifully recorded his lunch order the other day." She concluded with a clip of NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss relating how all this "scrutiny" is "not going to make him [Obama] very happy."
The full transcript of Savannah Guthrie's report, which began 12 minutes into the 7 am Eastern hour of Tuesday's Today show on NBC:
LESTER HOLT: He may not be President yet, but Barack Obama is getting an early taste of what life as leader of the free world is really like -- a lack of freedom, and an entourage documenting his every move. NBC's White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie is among the pack of journalists who followed the President-elect to Hawaii. Savannah, good morning.
(NBC NEWS GRAPHIC: "Man in a Bubble: Obama Chafes at Constant Scrutiny")
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Good morning to you, Lester. Well, of course, Obama came here to Hawaii to get away from it all -- get one last vacation in before becoming President. But even here, he can't just pick up and go anytime he wants, and that's been quite an adjustment for the President-elect.
Telecom lobbyist Vicki Iseman is suing the Times for defamation to the tune of $27 million, charging that the paper "falsely communicated" that she had a romantic relationship with Sen. John McCain in 1999. The Times' David Johnston filed a story Wednesday, "Lobbyist Sues Times, Citing Report of Ties to McCain."
[This item, by Clay Waters, was posted Wednesday on the MRC's TimesWatch site: www.timeswatch.org ]
A Washington lobbyist sued The New York Times and several of its reporters and editors Tuesday, charging that the newspaper had falsely created an impression that she had engaged in an improper romantic relationship with Senator McCain.
The suit, filed in the Federal District Court in Richmond, Va., said that a front-page article on Feb. 21 "falsely communicated" that the lobbyist, Vicki L. Iseman, and Mr. McCain "had an illicit 'romantic' and unethical relationship in breach of the public trust in 1999." At that time, Ms. Iseman was representing clients before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, then headed by Mr. McCain.
"Ms. Iseman did not engage in any behavior toward him that was anything other than professional and appropriate," said the suit, which seeks damages of $27 million.
The article, published at a time when Mr. McCain had clawed his way back from early setbacks to emerge as the all but certain Republican presidential nominee, examined his stated efforts to maintain high ethical standards even as he sometimes edged close to potential conflicts of interest. With its focus on the details of his Washington life behind the scenes, it provoked immediate debate and angry protest.
END of Excerpt
For the article in full: www.nytimes.com
Indeed, as Times Watch documented back in February, the Times suffered a serious backlash from both left and right. Even the network newscasts questioned the paper's journalist standards, while McCain was able to do the previously impossible -- rally conservatives behind his candidacy. See: timeswatch.org
Given the strong First Amendment protections provided to journalists in the United States, the lawsuit's prospects are questionable. But the very fact Iseman is sufficiently confident to take the step is a strong argument that the Times' sleazy insinuations of an affair are without merit. The Times may also be compelled to reveal the anonymous sources that voiced concerns about the relationship between Iseman and McCain during the discovery process. And as the paper learned with its prying into the lives of Cindy McCain's children on Facebook, the more people see how the sausage is made, the less respect they have for the process.
The conclusion to Iseman's actual defamation complaint (obtained by the Smoking Gun) neatly sums up the Times' reputation -- and its public dilemma:
Liberals may live to love The New York Times, and conservatives may live to hate it, but all must admit that it has historically been among a handful of American media outlets that occupy a unique niche of authority and respect within American and world culture.
But for how much longer?
Smoking Gun's post: www.thesmokinggun.com
Nearly two years after reporters such as NBC's Tom Brokaw derided President Bush's troop surge as "a folly" and suggested the war itself was a "lost cause," American troop deaths are at their lowest level since the Iraq war began in March 2003, and the death toll among Iraqi civilians is also down sharply in 2008.
Brokaw's quotes and more in a January 11, 2007 MRC Media Reality Check, "TV's Pre-Emptive War Against Iraq 'Surge,'" online at: www.mrc.org
Troop casualty numbers: icasualties.org
Civilian casualty count: news.bbc.co.uk
So right on cue, Monday's New York Times reported that ABC, CBS and NBC have all pulled their full time reporters from Iraq. According to correspondent Brian Stelter, the lack of violence means the networks are less interested in the Iraq story: "Representatives for the networks emphasized that they would continue to cover the war and said the staff adjustments reflected the evolution of the conflict in Iraq from a story primarily about violence to one about reconstruction and politics."
[This item, by the MRC's Rich Noyes, was posted Monday on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
As the Media Research Center documented several months ago, the networks have been steadily curtailing their coverage of Iraq, with the drop in coverage closely tracking the drop in U.S. fatalities in the war zone. As Stelter points out in today's story, only stories "that are strongly visual '€" as when an Iraqi journalist tossed two shoes at President Bush this month '€" are still covered by the networks." February 28 MRC Media Reality Check: www.mrc.org
Former NBC reporter Mike Boettcher is still in Iraq, covering the war for his own Web site. "Like it or not, the country is at war and there is not a correspondent to cover it," Boettcher told the New York Times. "Sad."
An excerpt from the December 29 item, that appeared on the front page of the New York Times Business section:
Quietly, as the United States presidential election and its aftermath have dominated the news, America's three broadcast network news divisions have stopped sending full-time correspondents to Iraq....
ABC, CBS and NBC declined to speak on the record about their news coverage decisions. But representatives for the networks emphasized that they would continue to cover the war and said the staff adjustments reflected the evolution of the conflict in Iraq from a story primarily about violence to one about reconstruction and politics.
In Baghdad, ABC, CBS and NBC still maintain skeleton bureaus in heavily fortified compounds. Correspondents rotate in and out when stories warrant, and with producers and Iraqi employees remaining in Baghdad, the networks can still react to breaking news. But employees who are familiar with the staffing pressures of the networks say the bureaus are a shadow of what they used to be. Some of the offices have only one Western staff member.
The staff cuts appear to be the latest evidence of budget pressures at the networks. And those pressures are not unique to television: many newspapers and magazines have also curtailed their presence in Baghdad. As a consequence, the war is gradually fading from television screens, newspapers and, some worry, the consciousness of the American public.
One result is that, as the war claims fewer American lives, Iraq is fading from TV screens. The three network evening newscasts devoted 423 minutes to Iraq this year as of Dec. 19, compared with 1,888 minutes in 2007, said Andrew Tyndall, a television news consultant.
In the early months of the war, television images out of Iraq were abundant. "But clearly, viewers' appetite for stories from Iraq waned when it turned from all-out battle into something equally important but more difficult to describe and cover," [former CNN and NBC correspondent Jane] Arraf said. She recalled hearing one of her TV editors say, "I don't want to see the same old pictures of soldiers kicking down doors."...
Mike Boettcher, a Baghdad correspondent for NBC News from 2005 to 2007, said nightly news segments and embed assignments with military units occurred less frequently as the war continued.
"Americans like their wars movie length and with a happy ending," Mr. Boettcher said. "If the war drags on and there is no happy ending, Americans start to squirm in their seats. In the case of television news, they began changing the channel when a story from Iraq appeared."
"Like it or not, the country is at war and there is not a correspondent to cover it," he said. "Sad."
END of Excerpt
For the entire article: www.nytimes.com
On Wednesday's Good Morning America, fill-in host Bill Weir and reporter Dan Harris touted the benefits of New York's proposed 18 percent obesity tax on soft drinks. Weir teased the segment by enthusing: "One official says making you pay more could actually save your life later." Harris repeatedly played clips from New York's state health commissioner, Dr. Richard Daines, who created a YouTube video to promote the tax. See: www.youtube.com
After one such snippet, the reporter parroted: "No one likes taxes, he says. But this one, he argues, is actually good for you." At another point, Harris touted how this tax would "save" New Yorkers money and noted the nanny state advantages such extra cash would create: "But Dr. Daines insists this new tax will save people money. Not only on overall obesity-related health care costs, but he also says if everyone in a family of four drank one can less of soda a week, they would save $100 a year."
[This item, by the MRC's Scott Whitlock, was posted Wednesday afternoon on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
And despite guest host Weir promising in the tease for the segment, "We'll hear from both sides," very little of that actually occurred. Harris did play a snippet of one anonymous New Yorker complaining about taxes. He then featured a single clip of Susan Neely, the president and CEO of the American Beverages Association. She complained, "The last thing we should be doing in these economic times is to put a sales tax or an aggressive tax on hard-working families."
In contrast, GMA highlighted five excerpts of Daines' YouTube video, where he argued that although the obesity tax is 18 percent, health care costs will go down as a result. (At one point, Daines suggested in a paternal tone, "With the money we save, we can buy some new jogging shoes.") Since ABC seems so taken with the idea of a tax on soda, one wonders if the network will continue to feature all those ads from Pepsi and Coke?
A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:15am on December 31:
The third runners-up quotes in the MRC's "Best Notable Quotables of 2008: The Twenty-First Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting." Monday's CyberAlert featured the winners, Tuesday's had the first runners-up, Wednesday the second runners-up; today the fourth place quotes. For all the winners and runners-up, many posted with video and audio: www.mrc.org
The Media Research Center's annual awards issue provides a compilation of the most outrageous and/or humorous news media quotes from 2008 (December 2007 through November 2008). To determine this year's winners, a panel of 44 radio talk show hosts, magazine editors, columnists, editorial writers, and expert media observers each selected their choices for the first, second and third best quote from a slate of five to eight quotes in each category. First place selections were awarded three points, second place choices two points, with one point for the third place selections. Point totals are listed in the brackets at the end of the attribution for each quote.
A list of the judges, who were generous with their time, appears in item #6 below. Or, you can see them online here: www.mrc.org
The MRC's Michelle Humphrey, Kristine Lawrence and Melissa Lopez distributed and counted the ballots, then produced the numerous audio and video clips that accompany the Web-posted version. Rich Noyes assembled this issue and Stu James posted the entire package, with dozens of Flash videos, on the MRC's Web site.
The direct address for the issue online where it's posted with audio/video (click-and-play Flash video, as well as downloadable Windows Media video and MP3 audio clips), a PDF and downloadable text (Word, WordPerfect and OpenOffice): www.mrc.org
Direct address for the Adobe Acrobat PDF that matches the eight-page hard copy version: www.mrc.org
Now, the third runner-up quotes in 16 award categories:
The Obamagasm Award [third runner-up]
"You've seen those videotapes of Walter Cronkite the night that man landed on the moon for the first time, when Neil Armstrong stepped out and he could just barely get out monosyllables. Politically, that's what this is. This is man on the moon."
-- MSNBC's Keith Olbermann during live election night coverage, November 4. 
"Is this [vice presidential debate] about her brain power?... Do you think cute will beat brains?...Do you think she'd do better on the questions on Jeopardy, or the interview they do during a half-time?...My suspicion is that she has the same lack of intellectual curiosity that the President of the United States has right now, and that is scary!"
-- MSNBC's Chris Matthews during the 7pm EDT Hardball on October 2, a couple of hours before the vice presidential debate. 
"Have you stopped to think what the Obama version of Swift Boating might be in this campaign cycle if you get to the general election? What they did to John Kerry, what's that version going to be with Barack Obama?"
-- NBC's Matt Lauer to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Today, February 19. 
"[F]rom John McCain and Sarah Palin....attacks that stoked the anger at Republican rallies, where there have been reports of attendees yelling things like '€˜terrorist' and '€˜kill him.' [to Biden] Are you at all concerned in this home stretch for Senator Obama's safety?"
-- Co-anchor Terry Moran profiling Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden on ABC's Nightline, October 13. 
"I don't even know how these candidates can talk about policy, because it seems like every day someone's asking them to apologize for the comments of their supporters. Rush Limbaugh went nuts today on his program about this [Jeremiah Wright] story. John McCain is talking about this particular story. How do we get away from this?"
-- MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell to The New Republic's Michael Crowley during live coverage, March 14. 
"Today they gathered by the thousands at American University, sensing a moment of history. John F. Kennedy gave the commencement address here five months before he was shot. And today, the audacity of hope had its rendezvous with destiny. The Kennedy clan anointed Barack Obama a son of Camelot."
-- ABC's David Wright on the January 28 World News, reporting on Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Obama. 
"This has been one of the most active, deadly tornado seasons in a long time....I talked to three people, casual conversation today, all of them smart, saying, 'I don't know, we must be doing something to our Earth.' So once and for all, what's going on?"
-- NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams to NBC WeatherPlus meteorologist Bill Karins, May 12. Karins discounted global warming as a cause. 
"Agree with him or not, he [John Edwards] deserves credit for pushing tough issues off the back burner. He encouraged his fellow Democrats to speak out for the disenfranchised and under-served. He was the first to raise issues like poverty, universal health care and climate change, proposing big ideas -- sometimes controversial ideas -- to meet big challenges. He bucked the conventional wisdom and took political risks, speaking honestly about why he wanted to raise taxes, for example. That took courage."
-- CBS anchor Katie Couric in a January 30 "Katie Couric's Notebook" video posted to CBSNews.com a few hours after Edwards quit the presidential race. 
"People have called you 'The Savior,' 'The Messiah,' 'The Messenger of Change.' The expectations have been raised to such a level....If you are, as you just say, lucky enough to be elected the next president, are you going to have to consciously manage expectations during the first several months of your administration?"
-- NBC's Matt Lauer to Barack Obama on Today, October 20. [30 points]
"There's a phrase I wonder about, 'community organizers.'...Is this the new 'welfare queen?' Is this a new symbol, that we're talking about here?...I think what they're getting is urban, downtown, trouble, tough neighborhoods. 'Community organizer' is not a winning phrase for a place like Scranton....It seems to me that the use of the word, 'community organizer,' is almost like a bullwhip.... Are they saying that, that Barack Obama is Al Sharpton? Is that what they're saying?"
-- MSNBC's Chris Matthews to various guests on Hardball, September 8. 
"The most important reason [Al] Gore should be Vice President is that he's suffered and learned. He has the temperament some of us reach on our death beds....If there's anything we need to rescue us from the last eight years, it's brains, good judgment and experience. Obama has the first two. Gore has all three."
-- Former Time correspondent Margaret Carlson in a column posted June 19 on Bloomberg.com. 
"A speech worthy of Abraham Lincoln....What I personally view as the best speech ever given on race in this country....I think this is the kind of speech I think first graders should see, people in the last year of college should see before they go out in the world. This should be, to me, an American tract. Something that you just check in with, now and then, like reading Great Gatsby and Huckleberry Finn....One of the great speeches in American history."
-- MSNBC's Chris Matthews talking about Obama's speech on race relations, March 18 Hardball. 
"He [Rush Limbaugh] was upset that I said he was perverting the process by encouraging Republicans to vote for Hillary Clinton in open primaries in an effort to quote, 'bloody up' Obama....When you encourage someone to vote for a candidate that they don't want as President, I believe it is actually un-American....It is shameful."
-- MSNBC's Dan Abrams reacting to Limbaugh pointing out that many Democrats had voted in GOP primaries, Live with Dan Abrams, March 5. 
"We've been redefined for seven years now as a war-mongering, far-right, intolerant nation who's raping our own atmosphere and demonizing the poor and letting the banks rob us blind. I think if -- any incremental move away from that would be a godsend. And I think Obama will, at the very least, put the brakes on this madness and in some ways heal it....I think the rest of the world, if they see that America elects a man of color, I think they'll breathe a big sigh of relief and not think that we're this war-mongering, rich white guy country."
-- Actor/comedian Richard Belzer on FNC's Geraldo At Large, March 2. 
"If you were going to events during the primaries, what you saw was that the executive editors and the top people at the networks were all rushing to Obama events, bringing their children, celebrating it, saying they were, there's this part of history....The American people are smart, they can see this. That's why Obama's on every magazine cover....There's no question in my mind the media has been more supportive of Senator Obama."
-- National Public Radio's Juan Williams on Fox News Sunday, October 26. 
"Could global warming one day force us into space to live?"
-- ABC's Sam Champion teasing an upcoming segment on Good Morning America, February 8.
In recognition of their time and effort, a listing of the names and affiliations of the judges for the "Best Notable Quotables of 2008: The Twenty-First Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting."
As explained in item #5 above, the panel of 44 radio talk show hosts, magazine editors, columnists, editorial writers and expert media observers received a ballot and each selected their choices for the first, second and third best quote from a slate of five to eight quotes in each category.
- Lee Anderson, Associate Publisher and Editor, Chattanooga Times Free Press
- Chuck Asay, editorial cartoonist via the Creators Syndicate
- Brent H. Baker, MRC's Vice President for Research and Publications; Editor of CyberAlert and Editor the NewsBusters blog
- Mark Belling, radio talk show host, WISN-AM in Milwaukee
- Robert Bluey, Director of the Center for Media an dPiblic Policy at the Heritage Foundation
- Neal Boortz, nationally syndicated radio talk show host
- L. Brent Bozell III, President of the Media Research Center
- Priscilla Buckley, retired Senior Editor for National Review
- Bill Cunningham, nationally syndicated radio talk show host from WLW in Cincinnati; nationally-syndicated by Premiere on Sunday nights
- Mark Davis, talk show host, WBAP Radio in Dallas; columnist for the Dallas Morning News
- Midge Decter, author, member of the Heritage Foundation's Board of Trustees
- Bob Dutko, radio talk show host, WMUZ-FM in Detroit
- Jim Eason, retired radio talk show host
- Barry Farber, radio talk show host
- Don Feder, consultant at Don Feder & Associates, writer of Don Feder's Coldsteel Caucus Report
- Tim Graham, Director of Media Analysis, Media Research Center; Senior Editor of the NewsBusters blog
- Steven Greenhut, columnist, Orange County Register
- Kirk Healy, radio talk show host, WDBO Radio in Orlando
- Quin Hillyer, Associate Editor, The Examiner (of Washington, DC)
- Cliff Kincaid, Editor, Accuracy in Media
- Mark Larson, Program Director and talk show host on San Diego 1700 AM
- Jason Lewis, talk show host, 100.3 KTLK-FM in Minneapolis
- Kathryn Jean Lopez, Editor of National Review Online
- Brian Maloney, radio analyst, creator of The RadioEqualizer blog
- Patrick McGuigan, Managing Editor of The City Sentinel in Oklahoma City; contributing editor for Tulsa Today
- Jan Mickelson, radio talk show host on WHO in Des Moines
- Rich Noyes, Director of Research, Media Research Center; Senior Editor of the NewsBusters blog
- Kate O'Beirne, President, the National Review Institute
- Marvin Olasky, Editor-in-Chief of World magazine; Senior Fellow at the Acton Institute
- Janet Parshall, nationally syndicated radio talk show host
- Henry Payne, editorial cartoonist, The Detroit News
- Wladyslaw Pleszczynski, Editorial Director, The American Spectator
- Dan Rea, host of Nightside on WBZ Radio in Boston
- Chris Reed, editorial writer, San Diego Union-Tribune
- Mike Rosen, radio talk show host, KOA in Denver; columnist for the Rocky Mountain News
- William A. Rusher, Distinguished Fellow, Claremont Institute; syndicated columnist
- Matthew Sheffield, Executive Editor of NewsBusters, the MRC's blog
- James Taranto, Editor of OpinionJournal.com
- Cal Thomas, syndicated columnist; panelist on FNC's Fox News Watch
- R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., Editor-in-Chief of The American Spectator
- Clay Waters, Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch.org
- Walter E. Williams, economics professor, George Mason University
- Thomas S. Winter, Editor-in-Chief of Human Events
- Martha Zoller, radio talk show host for WDUN in Gainseville, GA
For links to Web pages for the judges: www.mrc.org
-- Brent Baker