Many journalists qualified for the sixteenth annual P.U.-litzer Prizes, but only a few were able to win recognition for turning in one of the truly stinkiest media performances of the year. As the judges for this un-coveted award, we have done our best to confer this honor on the most deserving.
And now, the winners of the P.U.-litzers for 2007:
SPINNING FOR ANOTHER WAR AWARD — Michael Gordon of The New York Times
Continuing where he left off before the Iraq invasion, when he used unnamed official sources to produce wildly inaccurate page-one articles on Iraq’s alleged weapons threat, Gordon in February wrote a front-page story with the stunning claim that Iran’s Supreme Leader had approved sending lethal explosives into Iraq to attack U.S. soldiers. (Even President Bush soon backed away from the claim.) Readers might have had trouble assessing Gordon’s charges — which were, as usual, almost entirely based on anonymous sources: “United States intelligence asserts … Administration officials said … Some American intelligence experts believe …” After analyzing the article, blogger Jonathan Schwarz speculated that “Gordon is not an actual person, but rather a voice-activated tape recorder.”
“SOMETHING ABOUT A RETRO MACHO MAN” AWARD — Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball”
With a worshipful media wind pushing actor and former senator Fred Thompson toward the presidential race in June, Matthews lauded Thompson’s “sex appeal” and “star quality.” The hardballer was nearly rapturous as he said: “Can you smell the English Leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva, the sort of mature man`s shaving cream, or whatever, you know, after he shaved? Do you smell that sort of — a little bit of cigar smoke? You know, whatever.”
Four years earlier, when George Bush flew onto an aircraft carrier to celebrate “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, Matthews had gushed at length about the president’s looks and how Americans love “a guy who has a little swagger. We like having a hero as president. We’re not like the Brits.”
“AMERICANS DON’T WANT UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE” AWARD — Jeff Greenfield of CBS, et al.
Reflecting what became mainstream media’s conventional wisdom in the wake of Michael Moore’s “SiCKO” documentary, CBS correspondent Greenfield explained that the U.S. lacks a universal healthcare system not because of the powerful insurance lobby — but because “Americans are just different.” He quoted an academic who said Americans, unlike Canadians and Europeans, don’t want government involvement in healthcare: “It’s a cultural difference.”
Actually, CBS’s own poll of Americans had found 64 percent supporting the view that the federal government should “guarantee health insurance for all” — with 60 percent approving of higher taxes to pay for it. A CNN poll found 64 percent American support for the idea that “government should provide a national health insurance program for all Americans, even if this would require higher taxes.”
“3-H CLUB” PRIZE — Too Many to Name
At the same time they’re imposing their own fixations on candidates, elite political reporters like to pretend that they have absolutely no idea why the candidates are struggling to overcome those fixations. A Dec. 11 Washington Post article deadpanned: “[John] Edwards has faced challenges of his own, namely ‘the three H’s’ — his expensive haircut, his hedge fund work after the 2004 election, and his sprawling homestead.”
Dozens of news reports in major outlets have deployed the “three H’s” shorthand, many implying that Edwards — unlike the wealthy candidates who never mention the poor — is a hypocrite when he discusses poverty. In July, the Post’s John Solomon devoted an entire investigative article to Edwards’ pricey haircuts: “It is some kind of commentary on the state of American politics that as Edwards has campaigned,” mused the reporter, “his hair seems to have attracted as much attention, as say, his position on healthcare.” Gee, how did that happen?
RISKY DEMOCRATS AWARD — L.A. Times, Washington Post
If you believe certain political pundits and reporters, Democrats are continuously pushing “risky” proposals that are off-putting to the American public. In November, a Los Angeles Times report — headlined “Democrats Calculate Risk on Tax Hikes” — called proposed Democratic tax hikes on wealthier Americans “a major political gamble.” (Unmentioned was the fact that Bill Clinton raised taxes on the rich and was re-elected, or that a Gallup poll shows 66 percent of Americans think “upper income people” don’t currently pay enough taxes.) Days later, a Washington Post report was headlined “Climate is a Risky Issue for Democrats; Candidates Back Costly Proposals.” (Unmentioned was the Post’s own poll showing that 70 percent of Americans think the federal government “should do more” on global warming; only 7 percent said “it should do less.”) Listening to press corps cautions may heighten Democratic timidity — but it hasn’t won many national elections.
SPINNING HAWKS INTO DOVES AWARD — ABC, CNN, Fox, CBS and others
There’d be little news value in Iraq war boosters returning from a brief trip to Iraq and endorsing troop escalation. But by presenting two self-acknowledged Iraq war supporters — Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon — as doves, national outlets created a fictitious story line and major media push this summer in support of the war.
Few media “experts” had argued more relentlessly for war in 2002 than Pollack, author of “The Case for Invading Iraq.” Yet here was ABC anchor Charles Gibson this July: “A bit of a surprise today on Iraq. Two long and persistent critics of the Bush administration’s handling of the war today wrote a column in The New York Times saying that after a recent eight-day visit to Iraq, they find significant changes taking place.” CNN called them “two fierce critics.” A Fox reporter claimed the duo had “changed their views after seeing some of the military successes first-hand.” CBS spoke of how O’Hanlon “now believes [the troop surge] should be continued” — even though he’d written a national column seven months earlier: “A Skeptic’s Case for the Surge.”
PUTTING CLOTHES ON THE EMPEROR PRIZE — New York Times
After numerous inside accounts of the Iraq invasion and other policies had exposed Vice President Cheney as a true believer who often put ideology ahead of data and facts, readers may have thought The New York Times was joking when it reported in February on the impact that the perjury trial of Cheney’s chief of staff would have on the vice president. According to the newspaper of record: “The trial has chipped away at the public image of Mr. Cheney as a sober-minded policy architect.”
“IT’S TRUE BECAUSE WE SAID IT” AWARD — CNN’s Lou Dobbs
To prove his claim that illegal immigrants were bringing “once eradicated diseases” into our country, Dobbs featured a CNN reporter in 2005 who claimed that the U.S. had seen only 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years — but that “there have been 7,000 in the past three years.” This year, in May, Dobbs was challenged on the shocking statistic by Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes,” who cited a federal report saying there were 7,000 leprosy cases over the last 30 years.
Dobbs response: “If we reported it, it’s a fact.”
Stahl: “How can you guarantee that to me?”
Dobbs: “Because I’m the managing editor, and that’s the way we do business. We don’t make up numbers, Lesley. Do we?”
You do, Lou. The Centers for Disease Control report that new leprosy cases in the U.S. have been on the decline for close to 20 years (with 166 cases in 2005).
THE LOU DOBBS US-vs.-THEM AWARD — Bill O’Reilly of Fox News
Talking to Sen. John McCain in May, O’Reilly said: “But do you understand what The New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you’re a part of, and so am I. And they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right.”
“WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLFOWITZ” AWARD — Newsweek
As he was being forced out of his job as World Bank president in May, Paul Wolfowitz was described by Newsweek as “a man whose managerial talents do not appear to rise to the level of his analytical prowess. By most accounts, Wolfowitz is a genteel, brilliant figure …” The Newsweek piece — headlined “With the Best of Intentions” — didn’t mention how the brilliant and analytical former Deputy Defense Secretary had insisted just before invading Iraq that the country had no history of ethnic strife, that the U.S. would not need to deploy more than 100,000 troops, or that the war might cost as little as $10 billion. (So far it has cost about $500 billion.)
Jeff Cohen is the author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.”
Norman Solomon is the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.