There are only a few reliable political maxims, but one of the most reliable is this: Any organization devoted to the cause of identity politics will, over time, become more about politics than identity.
The Scrapbook was reminded of this last week when the National Organization for Women (NOW) reluctantly broke down and condemned HBO comedian—we use that term loosely—Bill Maher, who took it upon himself to call Sarah Palin a “dumb [vulgar euphemism for female anatomy mercifully redacted].”
After initially refusing to comment on the matter to Palin’s employer Fox News, NOW communications director Lisa Bennett later issued a statement: “Listen, supposedly progressive men (ok, and women, too): Cut the crap! Stop degrading women with whom you disagree and/or don’t like by using female body terms or other gender-associated slurs.” But Bennett didn’t stop there. “We are on to you, right-wingers,” she said. “You’re trying to take up our time getting us to defend your friend Sarah Palin.”
(Actually, if we really cared what NOW thought, we’d demand they apologize to Palin. On NOW’s website, they have an entire page devoted to “Fighting the Right Wing.” On that web page, you’ll find the January press release “Rep. Giffords Shooting is an Attack on All of Us: NOW Calls on Right Wing to Disavow Violence and Hate Speech,” which accuses Palin of making a “not-so-well veiled threat” on Giffords, with the clear implication that the former governor was somehow complicit in the attack.)
This is not the first time NOW has been dragged kicking and screaming into defending a conservative woman from an obviously degrading assault on her character. In one of the more repellent examples of checkbook journalism, this past October the website Gawker paid an anonymous man to reveal the salacious details of a date he’d had with former Delaware Republican senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell. Her candidacy was already well on its way to self-immolating, and Gawker’s pointless exposé was condemned by nearly everyone across the political spectrum.
The notable exception was NOW. When the Washington Examiner’s J.P. Freire called NOW for comment on the O’Donnell smear, he was twice told by NOW press secretary Mai Shiozaki, “We’re passing on this.” When Freire reported the organization had no comment, the outrage was such that NOW folded faster than Superman on laundry day. They quickly issued a perfunctory statement condemning the attack on O’Donnell, while again taking time to attack O’Donnell’s politics.
But NOW really sank lower than a snake’s ankles when they rushed to the defense of California governor Jerry Brown last year after he was caught on tape agreeing with a campaign staffer that his Republican opponent Meg Whitman was a “whore.” California NOW president Parry Bellasalma responded by saying, “Meg Whitman could be described as ‘a political whore.’ Yes, that’s an accurate statement.” Once again, NOW backed off its defense of the word “whore”—but still endorsed Brown’s candidacy the day after, in order to help the Democrat save face. Let the irony of that sequence of events sink in for a minute.
The reality is that NOW is about combating sexism the way that men who subscribe to Playboy are supporting quality journalism. Lisa Bennett and the rest of NOW would happily fetch a cup of coffee for Bill Maher and let him slap them on the derrière and exclaim “Atta girl!” if they thought it would help them advance their abortion-on-demand, left-wing agenda. ♦
The Governor Told the Truth
The headline was bracing: “Emails Catch Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Lying.” It came on a tweet from @ pwire, the Twitter account for something called Political Wire, an online news digest. The publisher, Taegan Goddard, takes the reports of others, adds links to their articles, and sends them out under his own name, usually with a sensational sentence or two intended to draw people in.
But on Twitter—where news nuggets come fast and furious—the headline is all many people will see. So most people who saw the tease from Political Wire probably believe that Scott Walker was, in fact, caught “lying” about emails. Specifically, that he had not received the level of support from citizens’ emails that he had claimed.
The opposite is true.
On February 17, in the middle of the heated budget dispute between Walker and Wisconsin’s Democratic state senators who had fled the state, Walker held a press conference in which he declared: “The more than 8,000 emails we got today, the majority are telling us to stay firm, to stay strong, to stand with the taxpayers.”
News organizations, including the Associated Press, filed open records requests to see those emails and others Walker received throughout the spat. At the time Walker spoke, according to a later analysis by the AP, the tally of emails he had received that day broke down as follows: 5,900 supporting the governor and 1,400 opposed.
So as of about 5 p.m. that day, an overwhelming majority of the emails—some 74 percent—favored Walker. His claim was not only true, it was understated. After Walker mentioned the emails at his press conference that afternoon, his office was flooded with even more supportive notes. As the AP reports: “At the end of the day, he had received more than 9,400 emails cheering him on—three times the number of messages of opposition.”
Over the week that the AP studied, messages to Walker’s office ran in his favor 55 percent to 44 percent. A second study, by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, put the support for Walker even higher: 62 percent in favor, 32 percent opposed.
So what accounts for the confusion? Early in the week, after Walker proposed the legislation but before the Democrats had run away to Illinois, more emails had opposed Walker than had supported him. But the messages his office received changed dramatically once his opponents fled the state.
But the findings were not ambiguous. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, a newspaper not terribly friendly to Walker, covered the same studies under a decidedly different headline than the one Political Wire ran on Twitter: “Walker Right on Emails, Analysis Finds.”
Political Wire has not published a correction.
Despite this misreporting—some might call it “lying”—Walker is very popular with Republicans across the country. A poll taken by a Democratic-leaning firm, Public Policy Polling, found that 55 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of him and just 11 percent view him unfavorably.
Walker 2012? ♦
Reuters Is Up to Its Old Tricks
The Scrapbook has noted before the astonishing politicization of Reuters, the British news agency, when it comes to reporting on the Middle East. After the 9/11 attacks, for instance, Reuters identified Osama bin Laden with weasel phrases like “Afghanistan-based Saudi-born dissident” or “chief suspect in the plane attacks on New York and Washington” to avoid calling him a terrorist. “We do not characterize the subjects of news stories but instead report their actions,” the news service harrumphed at the time.
In early 2002, as if to make sure that no reader would be unaware of the Reuters ideology, this gratuitous independent clause came across the wires in a Reuters dispatch: “The United States, which gives Israel about $2 billion a year in weaponry used to kill Palestinians, objected to the $100 million [Iranian arms] shipment to the Palestinians [emphasis added].”
Frankly, but for the fact that it would soon become tiresome, we could feature such examples on a regular basis. Indeed, there was an especially noxious one last week, spied by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg:
Dear Reuters, You Must Be Kidding
This is from a Reuters story on the Jerusalem bombing earlier today:
“Police said it was a ‘terrorist attack’—Israel’s term for a Palestinian strike. It was the first time Jerusalem had been hit by such a bomb since 2004.”
Those Israelis and their crazy terms! I mean, referring to a fatal bombing of civilians as a “terrorist attack”? Who are they kidding? Everyone knows that a fatal bombing of Israeli civilians should be referred to as a “teachable moment.” Or as a “venting of certain frustrations.” Or as “an understandable reaction to Jewish perfidy.” Or perhaps as “a very special episode of ‘Cheers.’ ” Anything but “a terrorist attack.” I suppose Reuters will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 by referring to the attacks as “an exercise in urban renewal.”
Goldberg kids. Alas, as connoisseurs of the Brit news agency are well aware, Reuters is never kidding. ♦
Crazy for ‘Crazy U,' cont,
Be sure not to miss George F. Will’s March 27 column, devoted to our colleague Andrew Ferguson’s “laugh-until-your-ribs-squeak” new book, Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College. Writes Will:
Ferguson goes on campus tours conducted by backward-walking students armed with Harry Potter references—the dining hall looks like Hogwarts, there are Quidditch matches, a sociology seminar explores “Voldemort and Differentiation in Imperialist Identities.” [A college admissions counselor] says that in his son’s interview at a college he must “talk about his innermost thoughts,” Ferguson shudders at this “compulsive self-exposure”:
“He’s a seventeen-year-old boy! I wanted to tell her: Seventeen-year-old boys do not have innermost thoughts—and if they did, neither you nor I would want to know what they are.”
“Ferguson’s whimsy is finite,” says Will. The book is also “serious—and seriously informative.” The Scrapbook wholeheartedly concurs. ♦