If MSNBC is a profiteer in the George W. Bush hatred industry, it has plenty of company. Scott McClellan's What Happened is merely the latest among dozens of literary exposes about the administration. Michael Moore is but one of a dozen film documentarians who have savaged the President.
And then there is the blogosphere, where The Daily Kos, The Talking Points Memo and, perhaps most famously, The Huffington Post, have made the White House and the Republican Party anvils for their e-hammering.
Now blog founder Arianna Huffington has taken her thorough-going disgust old school with a book of her own. It's titled Right is Wrong. And along the way to savaging the Republicans for crimes against democracy, she finds accessories, before and after the fact, in the media. ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: We are obsessed with presenting every issue as having two sides and assuming that the difference between the two sides is where the truth lies. Well, in fact, as we know very well, very often the truth is on one side or the other. Yet the way the media present issues, whether it's global warming or Iraq or, indeed, evolution and creationism, is becoming amoral. It's as though there is no truth. It's a little bit like Pontius Pilate washing his hands of responsibility.
And that's supposed to be balance. That's supposed to be objectivity. In fact, it's really making it much harder for the American public to recognize where the truth lies. BOB GARFIELD: You talk about zombie lies [LAUGHS], which is a clever coinage, not yours, I guess, but that concerns the media's inability to impeach lies that are so big that no matter how many times they're addressed, the public still clings to them, such as the connection between Saddam and 9/11.
But in defense of the media, I have read the refutation of that zombie lie hundreds, maybe thousands of times. Is the media to blame that people believe what they want to believe? ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: No, of course not. The point I'm making here is if you go back and look at all the thousands of times that the media allowed someone to make that connection and let them go unchallenged that is what made it more likely that people in America would believe that. BOB GARFIELD: This idea of accepting spin as legitimate balance is so institutionalized you point out, [LAUGHS] that people like Tim Russert of NBC's Meet the Press actually anticipate it in their interviews and wind up serving as proxies for some disingenuous politico. He uses a phrase, "critics will say." Tell me about "critics will say." ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: [LAUGHS] Yes, "critics will say" is the way that many in the media, including Tim Russert, try to bring that fake balance. Very often "critics will say" is the spin of the administration in the last seven and a half years.
And it's not surprising that Cathie Martin, who is the communications director in Cheney's office, called Meet the Press our, quote, unquote, "best format," because we can, quote, unquote, "control the message." BOB GARFIELD: Well now, one of the reasons the White House and most other political figures prefer the Sunday talk show format is because it's unedited, and if a question is asked they can not answer it. So, in that sense, they control the message, not because they're pulling the strings of the Tim Russert puppet. ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I think they control the message because of the lack of critical follow-up questions. I mean, you know as an interviewer that anybody you're likely to want to interview would be able to answer your first question. The question is how do they answer your second and third probing questions? And that's what is often missing. BOB GARFIELD: I want to talk to you for a moment about The Huffington Post. And there has been this endless search for a new model, for a way to build a newspaper on the Internet that not only attracts an audience but which is profitable. You have attracted quite an audience to The Huffington Post. Is it true that you're on the verge of actually making money? ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes, we are, through advertising. Advertising, as you know, is increasingly migrating online. I, incidentally, have never argued that newspapers are going to die. I don't see it as an either/or proposition. I see it more as a three-way, you know, as – remember the old bar room argument – is it going to be Ginger or is it going to be Mary Ann? I say why not both? Why not both print that also has an online component, as every news operation must, and new media that increasingly, like The Huffington Post, are moving into more reporting and, therefore, more of a convergence, the creation of hybrids rather than either/or propositions? BOB GARFIELD: Now, in your book you take a few shots at Fox News Channel and – duh – they are clearly the house organ of the right wing, and behave accordingly. The Huffington Post, for its part, often seems like the house organ for the Democratic Party, or at least some broad cross-section thereof.
I actually just asked this same question of MSNBC, but how do you avoid becoming the Fox News of the left? ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I actually think that we have completely avoided that, very simply by putting a high premium on accuracy, fact checking, fairness, posting things that are newsworthy, even though they may hurt someone that we clearly prefer – at least I do - in the case of Barack Obama, for example. BOB GARFIELD: In writing this book, Right is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, and so forth, what are you accomplishing? I mean, I don't think Dick Cheney's going to read the book and undergo a conversion experience. [LAUGHS] And you're not covering a whole lot of ground that isn't covered day to day in The Huffington Post or by Keith Olbermann or Pacifica Radio or Maureen Dowd or a whole lot of the blogosphere. Apart from catharsis and rage, why write this book? ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I really wrote the book not really to catalog what has happened but to understand why, because I think if we're going to put an end to this dark chapter in American history, we need to understand why.
And you're absolutely right. The 28 percent of Americans who still approve of George Bush are not going to be in any way influenced by my book. But there is another 20 percent that I do want to appeal to, and that's the 20 percent of additional Americans who make the 48 percent that are considering voting for John McCain. If that 20 percent reads my book and at the end of it they are still thinking of voting for John McCain, they can have their money back. BOB GARFIELD: So the answer to my question is that you wrote this book to make sure that John McCain is defeated? ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes. BOB GARFIELD: All right, just one more question. Are you Ginger or Mary Ann? ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: [LAUGHS] Can I be both? BOB GARFIELD: Well, that's not for me to judge. Arianna, thank you so much. ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: [LAUGHS] Thank you. BOB GARFIELD: Arianna Huffington is author of Right is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution and Made Us All Less Safe, and What You Need to Know to End the Madness. And it would probably have had a longer title, but they ran out of cover. Thanks again, Arianna. ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Thank you.