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Unfair and unbalanced

I just added Fritz Wenzel to my list of “Birthers From A – Z,” based on an article at Media Matters for America. They wrote:

Wenzel is a birther who has called President Obama an “imposter,” and teamed up with conspiracy site WND to push dubious polling about the president’s birth certificate.

A couple of days ago, I finished reading Gabriel Sherman’s book, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country. The book documented what I empirically observed, Fox News is intentionally propaganda and entertainment, not news. Their trademarked “fair and balanced” means that they will go as far as they can to the right to balance what they perceive as a media bias to the left. I also learned from that book that Media Matters for America was created largely as a response to Fox News.

As a general rule I don’t watch Fox News or read Media Matters. While I find useful material at the MMA web site, I am also troubled by their readiness to label someone a birther, and in this case it’s Fritz Wenzel. It is not without some hesitation that I added Wenzel to the “Birthers from A to Z” list. I followed the MMA article to a source at RightWingWatch a site belonging to People for the American Way, and from there to two WorldNetDaily articles questioning President Obama’s eligibility (2009) and his legitimacy (2010). Those WND articles left me wondering whether Wenzel was a birther or simply a propagandist, and I am also wary of any claims that someone is a birther today based on what they said before April of 2011 when President Obama released his long form, and the number of birthers in polls tumbled. I’ll go with the preponderance of evidence in the case of Wenzel and leave him on my birther list, but proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not there in my mind. (I have a similar pause with the non-rigorous use of the “racist” label.)

The Ailes biography has certainly spawned much thought on my part about propaganda. I have a long-standing aversion to any attempt to mislead others with tricky words, and misrepresented facts. I personally believe that the best way to fight fire is not with fire, but with water; or un-metaphorically, the best way to fight bias is with non-bias, not more bias in the opposite direction. This is why when I want news, I go to NPR and PBS, not MSNBC.

Happy President’s Day (*)

I had a visceral dislike for George W. Bush, going back to when he was Governor of Texas. I think he was a bad president. I even think that if all the votes were fairly counted, he might have even lost to Al Gore. But Bush was certified by the Congress as elected, and he was the president. For good or ill, he will forever be listed as the 43rd president of the United States.

Opponents of Barack Obama, however, went one step further. They didn’t even want him to be a candidate for president, and filed lawsuits to prevent it. Once elected, they continued to litigate and to deny that he was eligible, and to this day work to erase his presidency, to place an asterisk next to his name in the history books as not actually being the president. Some refer to Obama as the “putative president” or “the pResident.”

A May 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal1 by James Taranto titled “President Asterisk” is not quite the birther denialist story, but I think it runs parallel. The subject was the IRS use of certain keywords like “tea party” to trigger special scrutiny of groups applying for 501(c)(4) social welfare organization tax exempt status. Taranto writes:

No one can deny that Lance Armstrong and Mark McGwire were highly skilled athletes. But their accomplishments are forever tainted by their use of banned performance-enhancing drugs. The use of the Internal Revenue Service’s coercive power to suppress dissent against Obama is the political equivalent of steroids. The history books should record Obama’s re-election with an asterisk to indicate that it was achieved with the help of illicit means.

At best this is a gross exaggeration. Hundreds of millions of dollars went into anti-Obama Super PACs in the 2012 election. Organizations that the IRS didn’t approve in a timely fashion were still free to raise and spend money – IRS pre-approval is not necessary. Nothing was “suppressed.” Obama won in an electoral landslide and I cannot imagine any legitimate argument that IRS actions made a wit of difference.

Personally, the whole targeting business didn’t bother me. A 501(c)(4) social welfare organization has to promise that their primary activity isn’t political, and an organization named “Tea Party” claiming not to be primarily political ought to raise a red flag!

Orly Taitz picked up some recent news on this theme in her latest troll for plaintiffs in the title,

BREAKING: 100% of the 501(c)(4) Groups Audited by IRS Were Conservative. If you are a conservative and your equal protection rights were violated by IRS and Obama regime and you want to be a part of a class action legal action to originate in CA, contact Attorney Orly Taitz, orly.taitz@hushmail.com and send a short paragraph with specifics of discrimination

I wondered if it was true. Taitz didn’t provide any source, as usual, but I found that the charge comes from Republican House Ways and Means Chairman David Camp  who said on February 11 of this year:

At Washington, DC’s direction, dozens of groups operating as 501(c)(4)s were flagged for IRS surveillance, including monitoring of the groups’ activities, websites and any other publicly available information. Of these groups, 83% were right-leaning. And of the groups the IRS selected for audit, 100% were right-leaning.

Source: Wall Street Journal blogs

Rather than blaming the IRS, perhaps there really was abuse of tax exempt status by conservatives. Progressives say that there is rampant abuse among conservative social welfare organizations, and that they provide the main channel for large anonymous donors to give towards political activity (source NPR).

These numbers have a context: there were far more right-leaning 501(c) (4) applications in the last election cycle. The IRS targeted the keywords “Conservative,” “Tea Party,” “Patriot” and “Progressive” in applications, but of the 111 applications that matched that list, only 7 were “Progressive” (source NPR)! What was also ignored is the conservative keyword list was just one of the keyword lists the IRS used.

A bill currently working its way through Congress earmarks $200,000 in the IRS budget for training on 501(C)(4). The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI says it is not likely to file any criminal charges, but the FBI says officially their investigation is still in ongoing. Congressional investigations continue. I’ll wait and see.


1The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp, the same Rupert Murdoch company that owns Fox News. They are being hypocritical when they complain of anti-conservative bias at the IRS, when they practice blatant anti-Democrat bias under Murdoch’s ownership. According to the Wikipedia:

The [Wall Street Journal] op-ed section routinely publishes articles by scientists skeptical of the theory of global warming, including several essays by Richard Lindzen of MIT. Similarly, the Journal has refused to publish opinions of prominent scientists with opposing conclusions.[43]

The Obama Presidential Library

The George W. Bush Presidential Library has been in the news of late, and I understand that George Washington’s library is coming soon. Leave it to the Obama’s critics to take this occasion to say something nasty about Barack Obama, and Ed Lasky used the topic as a jumping off point for a a bit of fantasy published at The American Thinker. Of interest to us is the section dedicated to what Lasky imagines will not be in the library:

There will be vast areas of empty space that normally would be allocated to showcase accomplishments that led to the presidency. There will be no shelves taken up with such things as college transcripts…

To Lasky’s credit, Obama’s birth certificate is not among the imagined missing documents—that topic was raised by someone else today.

On this afternoon’s NPR News Quiz, Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the closing political predictions question asked the panelists was what would be “the big exhibit the Obama Presidential Library”, and Maz Jobrani answered:

Obviously, a copy of his Kenyan birth certificate, with the caption: “Ha Ha.” (Big laugh from the audience.)

That led me to wonder whether Obama’s long-form birth certificate would be part of the exhibit at the real future Obama Presidential Library. While the birther nonsense is unimportant to the big picture of the Obama presidency, it is hardly something that can be ignored. I can hardly think of a better thumb of the nose to the birthers than to include one of the certified copies from Hawaii at the library. ;)

Update:

Apparently Obama read this article because a few hours after its publication, the President, addressing the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, mentioned how people had suggested that his presidential library should be in his birth place but he said he preferred it to be in the United States.

NPR: Barely mentions birthers

NPR gave a shout out to the birthers this morning on its Morning Edition program, quoting Texas Republican precinct chairwoman Ann Teague as saying: “We never saw a birth certificate” (listen at 1:21).

One wonders how anybody could not have seen a birth certificate, but just in case somebody missed it, here it is (photo courtesy of FactCheck.org, click to expand):

Bennett satisfied; Birthers cry foul

National Public Radio reports that Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett is “satisfied” with the birth documentation proved by the state of Hawaii. Bennett said that he only asked because 4,000 constituents, the so-called birthers, contacted him with concerns. In a statement released this afternoon, Bennett said:

Late yesterday, our office received the “verification in-lieu of certified copy” from officials within the Hawaii Department of Health that we requested in March.They have officially confirmed that the information in the copy of the Certificate of Live Birth for the President matches the original record in their files.

Here is a copy of the actual verification, courtesy of AZCentral.com:

Obama-Verification_Page_1_Image_0001

Reactions from the birthers are predictable. Here are some samples from the Obama Release Your Records blog:

  • “A fake proven birth certificate with information to match words only and not a copy of original paper in Hawaii records, does not make the usurper a natural born citizen. What it is wrong with America? An elected Marxist can do what ever he wants and the people obey due to fear like in Castor’s Cuba.”
  • “the copy matches our files ???
    in other words, HI puts out a fake document
    the AZ SOS sends back the fake document
    and
    now HI verifies that it has the same
    information on the fake document that HI originally released
    interesting BS”
  • “ONAKA WON’T SAY OBAMA WAS BORN IN HAWAII
    NOR WILL ABERCROMBIE
    FEAR! they should fear the noose for lying which is TREASON
    so they won’t just come out and make a statement”
  • “Thanks for the good work. Alvin Onaka is best advised to get his affairs in order, as he is now looking at several long years in the penitentiary”
  • “It’s actually now a nightmare for Kapiolani Hospital. They are now confirmed as the birthplace of the 44th President of the USA, yet not a single record of Stanley Ann Dunham, or baby Barry ever having been patients there! Bennet (sic) has managed to do what Taitz, Abercrombie, Lingle, et al, have been trying to do now for the last 4 years: get Hawaii to once and for all, make an official claim that his long-form birth certificate-the same one that has been proven to be a ‘computer generated forgery’ as an official vital record on file at the HDOH.
    Oops!”

New ethics policy at National Public Radio

NPRLogoI recently wrote about a problem I see with media reporting, in my article: The Wikipediazation of the mainstream media. I bemoaned the tendency of news organizations to repeat whatever newsmakers say, without regard to whether it’s true or not. They cover “both sides of an issue” by finding two people with opposing opinions, giving equal time to facts and spin.

I did not know when I wrote my article that a news source that I have listened to for decades and for which I have the highest regard1, National Public Radio, introduced a new “Ethics Handbook” last month that addresses my concern specifically. It says, in part:

At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.

The check is in the mail.

As I have had the opportunity to read the handbook in detail, I have found many principles that I can apply in my own writing and blogging. I very much appreciate the section on accuracy, for example. A lot of it I knew, but having it codified is good and I don’t feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants.

Learn More:


1NPR is not perfect and they have made some mistakes. Some people have had to resign. One of the purposes of the new Handbook is to insure those lapses don’t happen again.