The Worst Performances of the Mainstream Media
ANNOUNCING THE P.U.-LITZER PRIZES FOR 2002
by Norman SolomonFor more than a decade now, the P.U.-litzer Prizes have gone to some of America's stinkiest media performances each year. The competition was fierce as ever in 2002. Many journalistic pieces of work deserved recognition. Only a few could be chosen.
While making the selections, I have relied heavily on research by the staff of the media watch group FAIR (where I'm an associate). However, the responsibility for bestowing the latest P.U.-litzers is entirely mine.
Here are the eleventh annual P.U.-litzer Prizes, for the foulest media achievements of 2002:
"KICKING OUT HISTORY" AWARD -- Multiple winners
Dozens of esteemed journalists and major media outlets qualified for this prize by reporting that the Iraqi government had ejected U.N. weapons inspectors four years ago. Actually, the inspectors left Iraq in December 1998 under orders from UNSCOM head Richard Butler just before the blitz of U.S. bombing dubbed "Operation Desert Fox."
With notable disregard for historical facts, many reporters at leading news organizations flatly asserted that Saddam Hussein had "expelled" or "kicked out" the U.N. inspectors. Among the purveyors of that misinformation were Daniel Schorr of National Public Radio (Aug. 3), John Diamond of USA Today (Aug. 8), John McWethy of "ABC World News Tonight" (Aug. 12), John King of CNN (Aug. 18), John L. Lumpkin of the Associated Press (Sept. 7), Randall Pinkston of "CBS Evening News" (Nov. 9), Betsy Pisik of the Washington Times (Nov. 14) and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post (Nov. 17).
Some outlets were repeat winners, as when USA Today claimed in a Sept. 4 editorial that "Saddam expelled U.N. weapons inspectors in 1998." Other prominent newspapers also made the false information a centerpiece of the positions that they espoused. The New York Times declared in an Aug. 3 editorial: "America's goal should be to ensure that Iraq is disarmed of all unconventional weapons. ... To thwart this goal, Baghdad expelled United Nations arms inspectors four years ago." On the very next day, the Washington Post editorialized: "Since 1998, when U.N. inspectors were expelled, Iraq has almost certainly been working to build more chemical and biological weapons."
FABRICATION-OF-EXONERATION AWARD -- Cokie Roberts
Commenting on George W. Bush's dubious role as a member of the board at Harken Energy, reporter-turned-pundit Cokie Roberts dismissed the idea that Bush might have been involved in corporate malfeasance during his corporate endeavors. "The president was exonerated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, saying he didn't do anything illegal or improper on insider trading charges," she said on July 8. "But the Democrats won't let it go." Roberts did not mention that although Bush's lawyers asked the Securities and Exchange Commission for a statement that he had been cleared, the SEC responded that its initial letter "must in no way be construed as indicating that [Bush] has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result from the staff's investigation."
SELF-SLANDER PRIZE -- Ann Coulter
Coulter is a best-selling author who likes to attack the news media for supposed left-wing bias and irresponsibility. During an August interview with the New York Observer, she said: "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building." Her only regret? No regrets about the killings?
SELF-SATISFACTION PRIZE -- CNN anchor Jack Cafferty
On CNN's "American Morning" program Aug. 5, Cafferty mixed candor with exemplary media arrogance: "This is a commercial enterprise. This is not PBS. We're not here as a public service. We're here to make money."
Norman Solomon's new book "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You," coauthored with foreign correspondent Reese Erlich, will be published in February by Context Books.
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