The New York Times’ Pointless Pursuit of Right-Wing “Buzz” Stories

Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was "slow off the mark," and blamed "insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio." She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies.

— New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt, September 26 column [emphasis added]

Eric Boehlert

by Eric Boehlert

Talk about great timing!

Just after The New York Times announced it would appoint somebody to monitor the partisan opinion media more closely, and right after editors were chastened for reacting too slowly to buzzworthy news scoops launched by the conservative media, the right-wing press went into overdrive last week.

Like a proud peacock showing off its feathers, the right-wing media was in full bloom, showing the Times all the tricks that have made the movement’s trade so renowned. There was outright lying, lying by omission, attempted guilt-by-association, U.S.-bashing, hateful smear campaigns (lots of those), fearmongering, incompetence, and just batshit crazy stuff. (Did I mention the heavy dose of crazy?) All the key notes were hit — and in just one epic week.

I hope the Times is enjoying its new-found, front-row seat to the right-wing media’s slow-motion crack-up, where I doubt even the denizens can keep track of the avalanche of falsehoods, smears, and lies that now tumble out on a daily (hourly?) basis. The whole enterprise has come unglued by Obama’s presidency. And where serial mendacity was once the rule, a whole new level of crazy has been achieved in 2009. Even conservative blogger Rick Moran last week called out the "lunacy" that fuels so much of the Obama hate; a hate that’s stoked around the clock by conservative media.

And now the Times can chronicle it every day because editors there think they might uncover news leads.

Good luck with that. The truth is, the partisan right-wing press this year has morphed into a minefield of paranoia, distrust, and hate. But, hey, if The New York Times thinks it’s going to mine some news nuggets in the fever swamps, be my guest. Whoever is tasked with tracking the right-wing media, though, ought to get combat pay because, trust me, monitoring the endless layers of misinformation and sheer lunacy that now power the conservative movement’s media deadens the senses pretty quickly. It’s a permanent port hole into the dark recesses of American hate politics.

Nonetheless, in honor of the Times’ (highly questionable) decision to pay even more attention to the stories that are bubbling up on the far-right blogosphere, talk radio and Fox News — to get hip to all that right-wing "buzz" — let’s examine what just a seven-day span looked like.

The right-wing media last week offered up a smorgasbord of delicious news treats, with the Beck/Drudge/Malkin brigade producing some Grade-A news leads. Indeed, the scoops last week practically came gift-wrapped, courtesy of the conservative media, which was en fuego.

Check that. The right-wing media’s been en fuego for weeks now! Who can forget Michelle Malkin’s big scoop on the day of the September 12 anti-Obama rally in Washington, D.C.? Two million protesters had taken to the streets, according to Malkin’s "reporting." Buzz? That one was off the charts, with all the big-time bloggers and Fox News personalities helping to spread the blockbuster news. (Pajamas Media’s Roger Simon: "[T]wo million people on the Washington Mall. Wow!")

OK, it’s true that Malkin’s estimate was off by, oh, 1.93 million people. But, still, that was a perfect example of how right-wing bloggers don’t just sit around and wait for the news to happen. They get out there and make (up) their own. They create their own buzz, and the Times ought to respect that.

Let’s take a look at what other right-wing "buzz" stories the Times was treated to last week.

There was the big Drudge Report scoop about how a Fox TV affiliate in Chicago was "ordered" to not air a report it had done highlighting the fact that not all Chicagoans were behind the city’s push to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The New York Times wants "buzz"? Drudge’s breaking story got wall papered online, with,, Don Surber, Scared Monkeys, Gates of Vienna, Riehl World View, and Confederate Yankee all cheering it on. (i.e. "Silence! Do Not Speak Ill of Chicago!")

Were there some holes in that story? Sure. For instance, there was the screaming Drudge headline:

FOX-TV Chicago Ordered Not to Run Anti-Olympic Story

It turns out that according to Drudge’s own "reporting," the innocuous 60-second news report had already aired, which, of course, meant the headline about the station being "ordered not to run" was completely misleading.

And Malkin also did her best to improve the sketchy tale, in which a news director at the station reportedly decided not to re-air the segment. Yet Malkin hyped the story to readers this way [emphasis added]:

Drudge reports that WFLD-TV has been ordered not to broadcast an anti-Olympics segment again.

That breathless phrasing, of course, made it sound like some nefarious outside source (the Obama White House?) dictated a nasty bout of censorship, when in fact the decision was (reportedly) made internally.

Meanwhile, if the Times was looking for buzz last week, did any story ring louder than the far right’s campaign against Chicago’s Olympic bid? The conservative media’s Who’s Who signed up to condemn Chicago as a hellhole and berated the Obama White House for even thinking about elevating the Second City to the international stage and to showcase the American city. Perhaps the only cries louder than the rhetorical brickbats hurled at Chicago were the subsequent shouts of joy when Chicago — and America — was denied the honor of hosting the Summer Games. Thank God!

And then there was the stellar work produced by Andrew Breitbart, the self-styled leader of today’s conservative "journalism." His site last week claimed to have uncovered a video of community organizers praying to Obama. Talk about "buzz"! Obedient right-wing bloggers such as Malkin, Atlas Shrugs, RedState, Stop the ACLU, HotAirPundit, Sundries Shack, along with cable TV talkers Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs, immediately piled on, openly mocking a group of mostly African-Americans activists as they gathered in prayer. (If second-graders aren’t off-limits from being called "Obama-worshiping drones" by members of the right-wing media, why would people amidst prayer not be ridiculed, right?) One right-wing site accused the organizers of "blasphemy," and lots more shrieked as loud as they could about how the devastating video confirmed that loony liberals were falling for the Cult of Obama. RedState: "Speechless." Hot Air Pundit: "Difficult to watch." Stop the ACLU: "It’s a cult." HotAirPundit: "Shocking Video."

Slight problem: When some sane people outside of Breitbart’s (hate) circle actually watched the video, they realized that the community organizers who gathered weren’t saying "Obama." They were saying "Oh God," which is typical when people are in prayer. So, yeah, that was a hiccup. Meaning, the only reason Breitbart posted the video was in order to smear liberal activists in prayer because he thought they were saying "Obama." That was the whole point of the video. But Breitbart bungled the audio, which meant the smear collapsed, even some right-wing bloggers, such as … well, pretty much all them, never bothered to correct their original posts in which they called the organizers out as creepy cult members.

But Times editors please take note — huge buzz!

And boy, did the conservative press think it hit the jackpot last week with its latest ACORN installment: Obama’s right-hand political man inside the White House, Patrick Gaspard, used to be a big shot for ACORN. Connect the dots, people! Fox News, American Spectator, RedState, Jawa Report, and National Review Online all did.

Slight problem. The Gaspard claim wasn’t true.

Meanwhile, led by Fox News, the right-wing media did their best to get fired an openly gay member of the Obama administration, Kevin Jennings, the director of the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Fox News’ Bill Hemmer reported that 21 years ago when Jennings was a school counselor and giving advice to a gay student, Jennings had known of a "statutory rape" case between the student and a grown man, but had "never reported it." Others at Fox accused Jennings of "covering up statutory rape." Also, Rush Limbaugh accused Jennings of encouraging a sexual relationship between the student and an adult. So did the Washington Times editorial page: Jennings "encourag[ed]" a relationship that amounted to "statutory rape." Fox News reported the boy in question was "15 years old." And The Washington Examiner even claimed there was a link between Jennings and the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).

But yes, upon reflection the very buzz-y story had some holes in it. And yes, the over-heated exercise felt much more like a primal witch hunt that it did any sane attempt to gather facts. (RedState: Jennings is a "radical homosexual druggie.") The problems with the story? Not all the allegations lobbed against Jennings in regard to the incident 21 years held up. In fact, none of them did.


In light of last week’s conservative media performance, where basically no buzzworthy story — or even individual facts — could be trusted, here’s an idea for the Times and its self-proclaimed interest in right-wing opinion media: Maybe the newspaper ought to report truthfully about the nonstop cascade of lies and misinformation that emanates from the conservative media. Maybe instead of waiting around for the proverbial clock to be right twice a day, the Times shouldn’t cherry pick the tiny number of "buzz" stories that stand up to outside scrutiny and create legitimate news. Instead, the Times ought to regularly highlight how so much of what passes for "news" within the right-wing echo chamber is just hateful — and purposeful — misinformation.

In other words, maybe the Times ought to practice some journalism.