More top-shelf journalism from MSNBC

Now that we’ve gotten a couple of apologies and some on-air crying from Melissa Harris-Perry, followed by a characteristically gracious statement from Mitt Romney, the saga of MSNBC’s mockery of Romney’s adopted grandson appears to be winding down.  I’ve read some commentary to the effect that Romney isn’t doing conservatives any favors by being so understanding; our guys are always expected to exercise the most exquisite discretion and courtesy, while liberals slam knees into their groins.  But aside from my sense that the courtesy extended by the Romney family is sincere, we all know that if he did anything other than accept MHP’s weepy apology without reservation, the story would instantly become about him.

From the beginning of this little brouhaha, I’ve thought the apologies were disingenuous, offered as if this was an unfortunate slip of the tongue under the hot lights of live television.  Nonsense.  It was a planned segment that went off exactly the way Harris-Perry intended it to.  Her latest claim that she brought up the Romney family Christmas photo because she really wanted to celebrate their inter-racial adoption is risible, weaselly, and an insult to the intelligence of everyone who hears it.  I don’t hold out much hope for liberals, at least those employed by MSNBC, to have the soul-searing conversation they need to have about their reflexive and lazy assumptions of Republican racism.

It’s increasingly annoying, and desperate on their part, for liberals to claim MSNBC is just their version of Fox News.  It’s more like a twisted reflection of their dishonest caricature of Fox.  MSNBC has nothing approaching Fox’s editorial standards.  That’s true even when the endless hunt for coded racism at the lefty network is set aside for some good old-fashioned non-racist yellow journalism.

John Hinderaker at Powerline has an amazing takedown of a Rachel Maddow report on the nefarious influence of the Koch Brothers in Florida, where she breathlessly tried to pin the ostensibly inhuman drive to institute drug testing for welfare recipients on the Kochtopus – an evil that looms almost as large in liberal fever dreams as racism.  Unfortunately for MSNBC, the Koch Brothers had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the initiative in question.  Maddow based her entire garbage “report” on the extremely small donations made by the Koch organization to a network that also happens to include a group that did advocate for welfare drug testing.  As Hinderaker explains, the connection Maddow laboriously spun out of this was entirely phantasmal.

The State Policy Network-let alone the Koch brothers!-had nothing to do with the Florida legislation. Ms. Maddow perhaps was trying to suggest that the State Policy Network is a funding source for [the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability], so that the Koch brothers have indirectly supported FFGA, albeit to a ridiculously small level (nowhere near $1,000 on a pro rata basis). 

But that isn’t true either. I happen to know a little bit about this, since I was formerly the Chairman of the Board of a think tank that is a member of the State Policy Network. The SPN is like a trade association of conservative think tanks, with members in every state. The SPN doesn’t support the local groups, like FFGA; on the contrary, the local think tanks pay dues to support SPN. So there is no connection-not even a minute, indirect one-between Koch and FFGA. I repeat: as far as we know, no one at Koch had ever heard of FFGA before Rachel Maddow’s show on Thursday of last week, and Koch did nothing-zero, nada-to support the Florida legislation in question.

So Rachel Maddow’s entire segment was one big lie. Her central premise, that the Florida welfare statute was an initiative of the Koch brothers, was false, and she knew it. She made the whole thing up to fool the low-IQ viewers who form MSNBC’s base.

This wasn’t just a pack of left-wing comedians making fun of a photo; it was paranoid propaganda disguised as a respectable news story.  But it gets better, because as Hinderaker chronicles, MSNBC actually pretended to check the story with the Koch organization… by sending them an email forty-five minutes before Maddow’s show went on the air.  And even at that, the P.R. guys at Koch Companies impressively managed to get a response back to them while the show was airing, explaining that they had no idea what Maddow was talking about.  She simply ignored them.  When they later asked her to retract the story, she made a big production out of refusing to do so, as though she were a brave journalist standing up to power, rather than the liar she is.  

(The extra-funny punch line is that MSNBC’s parent company made donations to the same State Policy Network that Koch Industries gave a few thousand bucks to… meaning Maddow’s own network has precisely the same “sinister link” to the welfare drug testing initiative that she alleged from the Kochtopus.)

I’ll say it again, for the benefit of any liberals still in denial: MSNBC has nowhere near the editorial standards of Fox News.  That’s not to say Fox has been without error, of course.  But MSNBC has a long, painful climb ahead of it before it can claim to be playing in Fox’s league when it comes to journalistic integrity.  If there’s going to be talk of anyone losing their job due to on-air lapses in judgment, Maddow’s offense is far more worthy of termination that Melissa Harris-Perry’s ugly little segment on the Romney family.  Maddow wasn’t just repeating something sensational she heard from somebody else, without checking the facts; she whipped up her story out of nothing, pointedly avoiding the minimal high-school-newspaper diligence that would have revealed the whole thing was bogus.

And from the standpoint of opinion journalism, Maddow’s deception was wholly unnecessary.  She could have prepared a segment expressing whatever bitter disagreement she has with proposals to test welfare recipients for drug use, without turning it into a Koch Brothers conspiracy melodrama.  That fact that she chose the latter route does not speak well for the strength of her liberal convictions.


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