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Media Beat

The P.U.-litzer prizes for 2007



Many journalists qualify for the annual P.U.-litzer Prizes, but only a few are able to win recognition for turning in one of the truly stinkiest media performances of the year.

This is the 16th year that I have served as a P.U.-litzer judge with Jeff Cohen – author of the recent book “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media” and founder of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, which assisted with the nominations. As the judges for this uncoveted award, we present the winners of the P.U.-litzers for 2007:

1. “Spinning for Another War” Prize – Winner, 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.”

2. “Something About a Retro Macho Man” Prize – Winner, 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.”

3. “3-H Club” Prize – Winner, 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?

4. “Americans Don’t Want Universal Healthcare” Prize – Winner, 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.”

5. “Lou Dobbs Us vs. Them” Prize – Winner, 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.”

©2007 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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