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On Thatcher, What’s the Difference Between PBS & Fox News?

By Peter Hart | FAIR | April 9, 2013

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s death yesterday brought waves of mostly flattering coverage of the divisive right-wing leader.  It was striking to see the parallels between the way Thatcher was covered on the PBS NewsHour and Fox News Channel‘s most popular show, the O’Reilly Factor. Though some people like to think that PBS and Fox couldn’t be further apart, they were basically singing the same tune.


The main Thatcher segment on the PBS newscast was a discussion with two former Republican secretaries of State, George Shultz and James Baker. Of course, both were big fans of Thatcher’s foreign policy (which was closely aligned with their own priorities during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush years). It was more than that, too; as Baker put it, Thatcher “emphasized the private sector and got rid of the oppressive influence of the trade unions.” And Shultz explained that Thatcher “was a very attractive woman. So you were certainly aware of that.”

PBS had one other guest: former Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, who cheered both Thatcher’s defeat of unions but also her humanity: “It’s kind of touching to be reminded of what a lovely woman she was.”

On the O’Reilly show, the host paid tribute to Thatcher’s leadership, contrasting it with Barack Obama’s tenure. As O’Reilly declared:

Her accomplishments are many, but she was always a very controversial figure in her own country and here in America, because the British press and the American media are liberal and always have been.


Later in the show, he was joined by conservatives Brit Hume and Bernard Goldberg; ironically, the latter segment focused on the alleged hostility to Thatcher in the mainstream media. So the guest line-ups were more alike than different. But so was some of the reporting. On Fox, Thatcher rescued Britain from the clutches of an oppressive union movement, and the record speaks for itself. As O’Reilly put it:

In Britain, 13 percent unemployment…. That’s a catastrophe, 13 percent, all right. When she leaves office eight years later, 5.8 percent unemployment. But if the unemployment rate drops 7 percent, which means all those millions of people are working under this woman, give her some credit.

And he put it a different way:

In 1982, about two and a half years into her term, unemployment in Great Britain was 13 percent. It’s chaos, absolute chaos there. When she left office in 1990, she was the longest serving prime minister in British history. It was at 5.8 percent.

On PBS, meanwhile, reporter Margaret Warner declared that Thatcher “brought a free market revolution to Britain, lowering taxes and privatizing state industries…. Britain’s economy rebounded from her tough medicine.”

Neither report gives viewers a good sense of Thatcher’s economic policy. (The wording in the PBS segment about rebounding from medicine is difficult to comprehend.) The Guardian compiled a list of economic indicators during Thatcher’s tenure; the short story is that inequality increased, and so did poverty–from 13.4 percent in 1979 to 22.2 percent in 1990.

O’Reilly is correct that unemployment dropped during part of Thatcher’s time in office; it also skyrocketed the first two years. When she left office in 1990, it was, according to the Guardian‘s figures, higher than when she took office.  If that’s the record, then one would imagine it would be reflected somewhere–perhaps not at Fox News, for ideological reasons. But PBS is supposed to be about giving us the views that we’re not getting from the commercial media.

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking Back at Iraq With… Michael Gordon?

By Peter Hart | FAIR | March 20, 2013


The performance of the corporate media is one of the principal failures of the Iraq War. There are almost too many examples to name; but most critics agree that one of the most instrumental single pieces that made the false case for war was the front-page New York Times story (9/8/02) hyping the idea that Iraq was trying to procure special aluminum tubes for its nuclear weapons program.

Last night in its 10-years-later segment,  the PBS NewsHour (3/19/13) made a rather stunning judgment: One of the two expert journalists was the guy who co-authored that piece.

New York Times reporter Michael Gordon was the lead author on that infamous tubes article, but his record goes deeper than that. A few days into the U.S. bombing (3/25/13), Gordon appeared on CNN to endorse the bombing of Iraqi TV’s offices, calling it “an appropriate target,” since “we’re trying to send the exact opposite message.”

When U.S. politicians began to seriously consider a withdrawal of U.S. troops, Gordon criticized that policy, especially in one article  (11/15/06) headlined, “Get Out of Iraq Now? Not So Fast, Experts Say” (FAIR Media Advisory, 12/4/06). He went on the Charlie Rose show (1/18/07) to endorse a troop surge. (Even the Washington Post admits that the idea that the surge succeeded is a “myth”–3/15/13.) And in early 2007, Gordon wrote articles, relying heavily on anonymous U.S. sources, alleging that the Iranian government was sending weapons into Iraq (Action Alert, 2/16/07).

So why would Gordon be someone you’d want to listen to about the Iraq War? That’s hard to say, really. But Gordon had plenty to tell PBS viewers. He complained that the Obama White House wasn’t interested enough in Iraq–leading to “the decline of American influence.” As he put it:

I think they view Iraq as just another country. They don’t have the same emotional or psychological or even foreign policy stake in it that the previous administration had.

Gordon added that the U.S. military “see a lot of early mistakes in the first years” of the war, but that “I do think the surge, as a military operation and military strategy, was effective and was essential.”

When one of the hosts, Judy Woodruff, asked about the war’s legacy, he replied: “Well, I think the military learned how to do counterinsurgency. The public opinion may no longer support that, but forever is a long time. And I think you can’t say we won’t have to do that again at some point in the future.”

And if there is ever another moment that requires reporters to faithfully record the views of anonymous U.S. officials as they make their case for war, it’s a safe bet that Michael Gordon will be there to do that job.

March 21, 2013 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iran’s ‘Nuclear Weapons Program,’ Again

By Peter Hart | FAIR | January 31, 2013

FireShot Screen Capture #328 - 'Israeli Warplanes Make Strike on Weapons Convoy in Syria I PBS NewsHour I Jan_ 30, 2013 I PBS' - www_pbs_org_newshour_bb_middle_east_jan-june13_israel_01-30_ht

On Monday’s edition of the NewsHour (1/28/13),  host Gwen Ifill referred to concerns about  the “threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program,” and told viewers at the end of a Margaret Warner report that “Margaret’s next story looks at the debate in Israel over how to deal with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.”

And on last night’s broadcast (1/30/13), Warner explained that countries like the U.S., Israel and Turkey “are concerned about Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

To reiterate an obvious point: There is no proof of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. There are allegations that Iranian’s enrichment of uranium for its nuclear power program is hiding a military component, but weapons inspectors have not uncovered any such diversion.

The NewsHour has made this mistake before, as FAIR noted in a recent action alert:

In an October 22 discussion of the foreign policy presidential debate, the PBS NewsHour‘s Jeffrey Brown stated that “Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been a particular flash point.”

A few weeks earlier (10/5/12) on the NewsHour, Ray Suarez said that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez had

continued to thwart American efforts on a range of international issues, such as Washington’s attempt to convince Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to halt his country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

How hard is it for NewsHour to understand that allegations are not facts? Write to them at

February 1, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hugo Chavez: Why Does He Hate Us?

By Peter Hart | FAIR | January 11, 2013

If there’s one thing media want you to know about Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, it’s that he doesn’t like the United States.  On the PBS NewsHour (1/10/13), Ray Suarez told viewers that Chavez

antagonized Washington, it seemed, whenever he could, forging friendships with Iran’s Mahmoud Abbas (sic), Syria’s embattled Bashar al-Assad, and he formed an especially close bond with Cuban Presidents Fidel and Raul Castro.

washpost-forero-chavezOn the CBS Evening News (1/8/13), Scott Pelley said:

“Chavez has made a career out of bashing the United States and allied himself with Iran and Syria.”

While it’s hard to say Chavez has made a “career” out of U.S.-bashing–he does have, after all, a full-time job as president of Venezuela–you, too, might be excused for harboring some hard feelings towards a government that helped to try to overthrow your own. Which may be why U.S. reports rarely bring up the 2002 coup attempt–and when they do, treat Washington’s involvement in it as another nutty Chavez conspiracy theory.

Here’s Juan Forero in the Washington Post (1/10/13):

A central ideological pillar of Chavez’s rule over 14 years has been to oppose Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington, which he accuses of trying to destabilize his government.

“I think they really believe it, that we are out there at some level to do them ill,” said Charles Shapiro, president of the Institute of the Americas, a think tank in San Diego.

As ambassador to Venezuela from 2002 to 2004, Shapiro met with Chavez and other high- ranking officials, including [Vice President Nicolas] Maduro. But the relationship began to fall apart, with Chavez accusing the United States of supporting a coup that briefly ousted him from power. U.S. officials have long denied the charge.

Shapiro recalled how Maduro made what he called unsubstantiated accusations about CIA activity in Venezuela, without ever approaching the embassy with a complaint. He said that as time went by, the United States became a useful foil for Chavez and most Venezuelan officials withdrew contact.

“A sure way to ruin your career, to become a backbencher, was to become too friendly with the U.S. Embassy,” Shapiro said.

So Venezuela has a strange political culture where being friendly with the U.S. government gets you in trouble.

The Post airs Chavez’s charge–and then the U.S. denial. But the United States had all sorts of contact with the coup plotters before they made their move against Chavez in 2002. According to the State Department (7/02):

It is clear that NED [National Endowment for Democracy], Department of Defense (DOD) and other U.S. assistance programs provided training, institution building and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chavez government.

And the CIA, as was reported by Forero himself (New York Times, 12/3/04), knew of the coup plotting.

The Central Intelligence Agency was aware that dissident military officers and opposition figures in Venezuela were planning a coup against President Hugo Chávez in 2002, newly declassified intelligence documents show. But immediately after the overthrow, the Bush administration blamed Mr. Chávez, a left-leaning populist, for his own downfall and denied knowing about the threats.

Scott Wilson, who was the Washington Post foreign editor at the time, told Oliver Stone for his film South of the Border:

Yes, the United States was hosting people involved in the coup before it happened. There was involvement of U.S.-sponsored NGOs in training some of the people that were involved in the coup. And in the immediate aftermath of the coup, the United States government said that it was a resignation, not a coup, effectively recognizing the government that took office very briefly until President Chavez returned.

And we know that the United States made quick efforts to have the coup government recognized as legitimate. The Bush government, immediately after the coup, blamed it on Chavez. And some of the coup plotters met with officials at the U.S. embassy in Caracas before they acted.

But the important thing for readers to know, according to Wilson’s successors at the Washington Post, is that U.S. officials deny they supported anything.

January 13, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

PBS and Iran’s ‘Nuclear Weapons’

NewsHour botches basic fact about Iran

FAIR – 10/24/12

In an October 22 discussion of the foreign policy presidential debate, the PBS NewsHour‘s Jeffrey Brown stated that “Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been a particular flash point.”

A few weeks earlier (10/5/12) on the NewsHour, Ray Suarez said that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez had

continued to thwart American efforts on a range of international issues, such as Washington’s attempt to convince Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to halt his country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

As most people following this story should know, there is no intelligence that shows Iran has a nuclear weapons program. The country has long denied the accusation, and regular inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency have failed to turn up evidence that Iran’s enriched uranium is being diverted for use in a weapon (Extra!, 1/12).

Some governments claim otherwise, but journalists are supposed to convey the evidence that is available–not to make claims that are unsupported by the facts. If there was one clear lesson from the Iraq War, it was that reporters need to carefully distinguish between what is known for certain and what some government leaders claim.

There have been questions about the NewsHour‘s Iran reporting before (FAIR Blog, 1/10/12). On January 9 the broadcast reported that Iran’s denial that it is pursuing a nuclear weapon was “disputed by the U.S. and its allies.” The show turned to a clip from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to bolster that point — but edited out the part of his statement in which he said: “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.” A NewsHour editor (FAIR Blog, 1/17/12) agreed that “it would have been better had we not lopped off the first part of the Panetta quote.”

PBS NewsHour

October 24, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | 1 Comment

Pentagon Budgets and Fuzzy Math

By Peter Hart - FAIR – 01/27/2012

By the tone of  some of the media coverage, you might have thought Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a plan to slash military spending yesterday.  On the front page of USA Today (1/27/12), under the headline “Panetta Backs Far Leaner Military,” readers learn in the first paragraph:

The Pentagon’s new plan to cut Defense spending means a reduction of 100,000 troops, the retiring of ships and planes and closing of bases–moves that the Defense secretary said would not compromise security.

The piece quotes critics of the cuts like Sen. Joe Lieberman and an analyst at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. And the article talks about the most commonly cited figure of $487 billion in cuts over 10 years. As economist Dean Baker writes about such coverage–“Military Budget Cuts: Denominator Please”–there is no way people can assess the significance of what sounds like a lot of money if they don’t know how much the Pentagon is planning to spend over the same 1o-year period–roughly $8 trillion.

The PBS NewsHour did little to clarify the issue. The broadcast began with Jeffrey Brown announcing, “The Pentagon today outlined almost half a trillion dollars in budget cuts that would shrink the size of the U.S. military by trimming ground forces, retiring ships and planes, and delaying some new weapons.” PBS aired clips from Republicans Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich denouncing the budget cuts, and then interviewed a Pentagon official.

Even coverage of the Pentagon’s new “austerity” that managed to include some helpful context didn’t make things very clear. “The Pentagon took the first major step toward shrinking its budget after a decade of war” was how a New York Times story by Elisabeth Bumiller (1/27/12) begins. In the fourth paragraph, readers found this:

Even though the Defense Department has been called on to find $259 billion in cuts in the next five years–and $487 billion over the decade–its base budget (not counting the costs of Afghanistan or other wars) will rise to $567 billion by 2017. But when adjusted for inflation, the increases are small enough that they will amount to a slight cut of 1.6 percent of the Pentagon’s base budget over the next five years.

So the “first major step” in cutting the military budget… isn’t really a cut?

A Washington Post piece by Craig Whitlock (1/27/12) had a more accurate lead–“The Pentagon budget will shrink slightly next year”– but later tries to make a 1 percent cut sound more significant: “While the difference may sound small, it represents a new era of austerity for the Defense Department.”

To make matters even more confusing, the Post points out later that

Although the defense budget will decline next year, to $525 billion from this year’s $531 billion, under Obama’s current projections it will inch upward in constant dollars between 1 percent and 2 percent annually thereafter.

Kudos to Nancy Yousef of McClatchy for writing a piece (1/26/12) that took a different tack. Under the headline “Defense Budget Plan Doesn’t Cut as Deeply as Pentagon Says,” Yousef led with this:

Pentagon officials on Thursday announced the outlines of what they called a pared-down defense budget, but their request would increase baseline spending beyond the projected end of the war in Afghanistan, even as they plan to reduce ground forces.

To Yousef, the Pentagon was ” employing a definition of the term ‘reduction’ that may be popular in Washington but is unconventional anywhere else.”

And activist/writer David Swanson pointed out that the first question at Panetta’s briefing got right at this question of whether the cuts are really cut. From the transcript:

Mr. Secretary, you talked a little bit on this, but over the next 10 years, do you see any other year than this year where the actual spending will go down from year to year? And just to the American public more broadly, how do you sort of explain what appears to be contradictory, as you talk about, repeatedly, this $500 billion in cuts in a Defense Department budget that is actually going to be increasing over time?

Panetta’s answer:

Yeah, I think the simplest way to say this is that under the budget that was submitted in the past, we had a projected growth level for the Defense budget. And that growth would’ve provided for almost $500 billion in growth. And we had obviously dedicated that to a number of plans and projects that we would have. That’s gotta be cut, and that’s a real cut in terms of what our projected growth would be.

See the new release from the Institute for Public Accuracy for more of the context largely missing from the Pentagon budget coverage.

January 27, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Militarism | , , | 1 Comment



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