Weekly Media Matters Update

Eric Massa et al:

Media Matters: In which Glenn Beck hosts talk of tickle fights

This may forever be remembered as the week when “tickle fight” entered the political lexicon.

The story stretches back to last week, when Eric Massa (D-NY) announced his resignation from the House of Representatives. It took many people by surprise, including conservative commentators, who initially reacted to the story by trumpeting ethics allegations against him to tarnish Democrats. Sean Hannity compared Massa to disgraced Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), and Rush Limbaugh sounded enthusiastic that Speaker Nancy Pelosi could lose a vote for health care reform.

But the story took an unexpected turn over the weekend when Massa charged that Democratic leaders had pressured him to resign because he was set to vote against the health care bill. On Monday, Hannity and Limbaugh changed their tune accordingly. Hannity sounded off: “[I]t looks like this is only the latest instance of intimidation to come from the Obama White House.” And Limbaugh bragged that he was doing his part “to make it a national story.”

Enter Glenn Beck. Massa’s allegations against the Democratic leadership appeared to confirm all of Beck’s theories about the Obama administration, and Beck soon booked Massa for a full hour on his Tuesday Fox News show. It was at this point that the story turned toxic for conservatives.

Earlier that day, conservative blogger Michelle Malkin had called into Beck’s radio show and given him prescient advice not to spend an hour with Massa. Their conversation became tense, as Beck seemed annoyed that Malkin would question his judgment. That afternoon, Limbaugh jumped ship on Massa. After earlier touting Massa’s side of the story, Limbaugh now said he wanted Massa to remain in Congress as a Democrat because he was a “loose cannon,” a “kook,” and a “freak.”

But Beck pressed ahead with his hour-long interview. Massa did look like a “loose cannon” during his interview with Beck, in a way that did not reflect well on the host. Massa also walked back his allegations against Rahm Emmanuel and admitted to having “tickle fights” with staffers in a house they shared. Beck couldn’t get Massa to name names and accuse other Democrats of corruption. Massa instead talked about the need for campaign finance reform, only further frustrating Beck. Media Matters Senior Fellow Eric Boehlert gave the following post-mortem:

Well, in one sense, Beck was right [about devoting an hour to Massa], because yesterday’s colossal flop might just make television history. It might go down as one of the most pointlessly absurd — and yes, truly unwatchable — hours in cable news. Last night, the snickering had already reached epic levels. And with the can’t-watch-TV performance, Beck most likely took the Massa issue off the table for Republicans, since the whole story now looks more like a comedy than an actual scandal.

“The result,” Boehlert concluded, was that Beck became a “national laughingstock.”

After the interview, Beck apologized to his viewers for wasting an hour of their time. Only an hour, Glenn?

One further note: Limbaugh apparently wanted to make sure Beck didn’t get all the Massa attention. On Tuesday, Limbaugh was chatting with a caller about New York Gov. David Paterson appointing Massa’s replacement. Limbaugh, never a man to back away from a race-baiting play on words, said: “So, David Paterson will become the massa who gets to appoint whoever gets to take Massa’s place. So, for the first time in his life, Paterson’s gonna be a massa.”

Other Major Stories

The consequences of Rove’s Courage

Karl Rove made some media ripples this week with the release of his memoir, Courage and Consequences. We at Media Matters obtained a copy in advance of its release date, which gave us the opportunity to expose its falsehoods before most people could even get their hands on it. What we found would not shock anyone familiar with Rove’s history of “play[ing] fast and loose with the facts“: Rove’s book was another exercise in rewriting the wrongs of the Bush administration.

For example, in Courage, Rove distorts a 2004 Senate Intelligence Committee report to claim that Bush didn’t “lie us into war.” Rove writes that Bush’s claims that Saddam Hussein had ties to terrorism were substantiated by the Senate report. The report actually said that only some of Bush’s statements on Iraq were substantiated. The report went on to contradict Bush’s claims about an Iraq-Al Qaeda partnership, and that Saddam was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

With every book comes a media tour, and Rove spent much of the week appearing on what seemed like every Fox News program in the lineup (plus an hour-long appearance on The Rush Limbaugh Show). Talking-head Rove used one of these opportunities to repeat discredited claims about the Valerie Plame leak. Rove also used his latest Wall Street Journal op-ed to repeat some of the same health care reform falsehoods that were in his book.

No rest for the weary: Fishing freak-out and Glenn Beck’s musical epiphanies

What happens when an ESPN column makes a far-fetched claim that President Obama would ban fishing? On ESPNOutdoors.com, Robert Montgomery claimed that a federal strategy “could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing the nation’s oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland waters.”

Conservatives took the bait, and it wasn’t long before Limbaugh, Gateway Pundit, Fox Nation, RedState, and Michelle Malkin all forwarded the claim.

Was there any truth to it? Would the White House start sending out Secret Service agents to confiscate our fishing poles and shut down our local bait shop?

To the surprise of absolutely no one with a brain, the story was wrong. ESPN acknowledged its mistake.

But apparently nobody told Glenn Beck, who didn’t back off the story. “No more fishing,” Beck said, adding: “Forget about the frickin’ fish. People are losing their rights. Who’s more important: the fish or you?” Eventually, even Fox News debunked the claim.

Beck also exposed us to more of his pop music revelations. A few months ago, Beck explored the meaning of The Beatles’ “Revolution” with the enthusiasm of a college freshman evangelizing Dark Side of the Moon. This week, he warned his viewers that Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” is “about a progressive utopia.”

The next day on his radio show, Beck and his crew called Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” “anti-American.” My Media Matters colleague Jeremy Holden took Beck and his co-hosts to task for their “simplistic version of patriotism” that “leaves little room for any criticism of America, its policy, or the behavior of its people.”

For the road

It was a busy week at Media Matters, and some other items deserve attention, too. Former Bush speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen continued his DOJ witch hunt with more attacks on the Obama Justice Department. Glenn Beck was called out by the antipoverty group Sojourners for his continued attacks on the concept of social justice. Beck’s busy week also had him selling “survival seeds” and stating without irony: “You cannot lie to the American people for very long unless you’re really good.” And some conservative media figures cast Democrats as “suicide bombers” in their push for health care reform.

Finally, Media Matters welcomed Joe Strupp as its new investigative reporter and senior editor. His blog “Strupp” also launched on the Media Matters website this week.

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