This year has given us simply too many worthy contenders for FAIR's annual P.U.-litzers--recognizing the stinkiest journalism of the year. A big part of the problem was that so many outlets were striving to distinguish themselves with especially awful coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. So to note those lowlights, we bring you a special installment of P.U.-litzers: The OWS edition.
--Early Warning System Award: CNN's Wolf Blitzer
On September 19: "Protests here in New York on Wall Street entering a third day. Should New Yorkers be worried at all about what's going on?"
--We Could Do It Better Award: New York Times' Ginia Bellafante
Under the headline "Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim" (9/23/11), Bellafante turned in the quintessential corporate media dismissal of progressive protests. The reporter discovered "a default ambassador in a half-naked woman...with a marked likeness to Joni Mitchell and a seemingly even stronger wish to burrow through the space-time continuum and hunker down in 1968."
The movement's cause "was virtually impossible to decipher," Bellafante complained, slamming [it] for "lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgeably." And who has more knowledge about grassroots progressive activism than the New York Times.
--What's News Award: NPR's Dick Meyer; Washington Post
Asked to explain NPR's non-coverage of OWS, executive editor Meyer said (NPR.org, 9/26/11): "The recent protests on Wall Street did not involve large numbers of people, prominent people, a great disruption or an especially clear objective."
And the massive demonstrations around the world October 15th made it onto the front page of the next day's Washington Post--in the form of a lower right-hand corner blurb approximately one column inch long, directing people to page A20 to find news about protests in "more than 900 cities in Europe, Africa and Asia."
--Channeling Glenn Beck Award: Reuters
Under the headline (10/13/11) "Who's Behind the Wall Street Protests," the news agency provided an answer straight from one of Glenn Beck's conspiratorial chalk boards:
One name that keeps coming up is investor George Soros, who in September debuted in the top 10 list of wealthiest Americans. Conservative critics contend the movement is a Trojan horse for a secret Soros agenda.
Who exactly is bringing up Soros' name? Reuters names one slightly less than credible source: right-wing talker Rush Limbaugh. But Reuters did its own digging, going on to suggest "indirect financial links" between Soros and the group Adbusters, which issued the original call for the Occupy protest. The links were mostly figments of the right-wing imagination, as even some Reuters reporters pointed out. Reuters eventually changed the headline to "Soros: Not a Funder of Wall Street Protests."
--The Suites to the Streets Award: New York Times' Andrew Ross Sorkin
The Times star business writer (10/4/11) did little to dispel critics who say he's too close to his Wall Street sources by admitting that he checked out the protests--after a banker told him to:
I had gone down to Zuccotti Park to see the activist movement firsthand after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank last week, before nearly 700 people were arrested over the weekend during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.
"Is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal?" the CEO asked me. I didn't have an answer. "We're trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this," he continued, clearly concerned. "Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?"
As I wandered around the park, it was clear to me that most bankers probably don't have to worry about being in imminent personal danger. This didn’t seem like a brutal group--at least not yet.
--Those Facts Are Biased Award: WNYC's Takeaway
Web producer Caitlin Curran was photographed at an OWS protest holding a sign that said this:
It's wrong to create a mortgage-backed security filled with loans you know are going to fail so that you can sell it to a client who isn't aware that you sabotaged it by intentionally picking the misleadingly rated loans most likely to be defaulted upon.
Curran was promptly fired by the New York public radio station for her flagrant violation of journalistic objectivity. Who could trust a journalist who took a far-out radical position like that?
--Timeless Cliches Award: Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer
"Starbucks-sipping, Levi's-clad, iPhone-clutching protesters denounce corporate America even as they weep for Steve Jobs," wrote Post columnist Krauthammer (10/14/11), maligning the protesters as "indigant indolents saddled with their $50,000 student loans and English degrees" whose policy proposal boils down to "eat the rich."
--We Smell a Rat Award: Washington Post
November 16: "Is this an occupation or an infestation?"
--Fact Check Failure Award: CNN's Erin Burnett
New CNN host Burnett decided on her debut program (10/3/11) to fact check the Occupy Wall Street protests. Declaring that that the protesters "did not know" why they were there, adding that "it seems like people want a messiah leader, just like they did when they anointed Barack Obama." Burnett quizzed one protester: "So do you know that taxpayers actually made money on the Wall Street bailout?" Burnett assured viewers this was true--"right now to the tune of $10 billion.... This was the big issue, so we solved it."
A few problems: The TARP bailout is not "the big issue" for OWS, and it's odd to think that people should feel good that big banks were about to turn low-interest government loans into profits. And the total cost of the various bank rescue policies run into the trillions of dollars (Bloomberg News, 8/22/11). But, yes, those protesters sure don't know what they're talking about.
--Tabloid-Style Dignity Award: New York Post
The front page of Rupert Murdoch's New York Post (11/4/11), urging a crackdown on Occupy Wall Street, proclaimed: "Enough! Mr. Mayor, It Is Time to Reclaim Zuccotti Park--and New York's Dignity." This on the same front page that recently declared (8/10/11), "Crazy Stox Like a Hooker’s Drawers--Up, Down, Up." Another cover (10/27/09) photoshopped a skirt onto a Phillies baseball player with a line about the "Frillies" coming to town. And who could forget the Iraq War classic (2/14/03), "UN Meets: Weasels to Hear New Iraq Evidence," with animal heads superimposed onto the representatives from France and Germany? That's the New York Post for you: Always dignified.
--Clueless and Repugnant Award: Washington Post's Richard Cohen
After the Post columnist visited the New York protests, he wrote a column (10/24/11) defending the group against bogus charges of anti-Semitism. But he had plenty of other things to say about OWS. To Cohen, "their slogans suggest a tired socialism that is as repugnant to me as the felonious capitalism that produced the mortgage bubble and the impoverishment of millions of Americans." Cohen was just getting warmed up. The protests are "a destination for the aimless...a tourist attraction with the usual vendors, the usual zaftig young women doing the usual arrhythmic dance, somehow missing the beat of many drums."
Occupy Wall Street is "an incoherent articulation of anger...above all, a conspiracy to have left-leaning writers make jackasses of themselves by imparting grave and grand meaning to what is little more than a vast sleepover." But no anti-Semitism.