Sunday, March 05, 2006

ChronWatch Watch

[First post here (and thanks to Scaramouche for giving me the keys); apologies in advance if I break anything.]

Having kvetched about the Chronicle1 on more than one occasion, I feel I really ought to acknowledge some of the other critics of the Chronicle. Hence, today's fish/barrel/gun exercise is devoted to a plucky little operation called ChronWatch.

ChronWatch is retired Kaiser executive Jim Sparkman's one-man crusade against Liberal Bias in the Chronicle. It's a cross between the MRC and, combining media 'criticism' (or, as Rich Bond calls it, 'working the refs') with a whole slew of World O'Crap-worthy columnists. This is the sort of site where if you took a drink every time you read 'Bush derangement syndrome'2 you'd be on your ass inside of 15 minutes.

Here's a current example of Sparkman's incisive analysis:
The S.F. Chronicle is so into Bush-bashing that what little journalistic standards it ever had were abandoned long ago. On Friday, Marc Sandalow again rates front-page placement of his op-ed articles, quaintly labeled “Analysis.” In the article, Marc joins in the knee-jerk liberal campaign to blame Bush for Hurricane Katrina. The editorial writers join in the chorus as well, and the editorial page has a Washington Post cartoon on the same subject.
Here's the headline for the offending Sandalow piece: KATRINA VIDEO: What you see depends on your view of Bush -- in charge or incompetent?

Here are the second and third graphs in Sandalow's article:
Critics see a president ignoring warning signs, displaying no inquisitiveness and expressing unfounded confidence in his administration's capabilities, with disastrous consequences.

Supporters see an engaged chief executive taking control of a situation and being unfairly blamed for circumstances beyond his control.
In other words, it's pretty standard on-the-other-hand reporting. What Sparkman objects to, apparently, is that criticism of Bush is reported at all--even where it is 'balanced' against positive opinion.

But the article is actually worse than that. Three graphs from the end, Sandalow notes that "Bush supporters remained largely quiet about the videotape..." Right. Just one question: if the supporters are keeping quiet, who says they see "an engaged chief executive" in the video? Or did Sandalow just, y'know, make that up in order to provide 'balance'? If even the diehard Bushistas won't go on the record defending him in this case, is it really the reporter's job to do it for them?

And this, a story in which the reporter appears to have invented a defense of Bush to make his story seem 'balanced', is what Sparkman considers 'Bush-bashing'. We are entering the gravitational field of Planet Wingnut, folks. Put on your seatbelts and prepare for landing.

Now, after Sparkman's introductory paragraph, you're probably expecting a graph or two in which he elaborates on, and provides evidence for, his perception of bias in the Sandalow story. That's what you would expect...but you would be wrong. That first paragraph is the entirety of his criticism on that point. Really. I read the damn thing over and over wondering if I had missed something, and I hadn't: he just doesn't even bother to argue the point. This is a guy whose worldview is so self-evident to him that he simply doesn't see the need to explain or support it.

Instead, we get some Class-A frothing:
Thus, the S.F. Chronicle exhibits the serious sickness that has spread across the liberal ranks. The symptoms are that you must bash-Bush every moment of the day in every way you can. These infected liberals have nothing positive to offer. Instead, they only bash, blame, and obstruct....The Chron editorial writers also show the same delusional tendencies. They never stop bashing long enough to consider how ridiculous it is for them to tell the President of the United States what he is doing wrong when they can’t manage their own declining newspaper.
Oooh, snap! Take that, all you non-President critics of the President!

But that's just half the fun; there's also the columnists. Here are a few recent column titles to give you the flavor of the thing: Yale University: Taliban Yes, US Military No; Europe or Eurabia 2050?; and The Marquis de Sade: The Left’s Man of Diverse ‘Sexual Orientations’ (in which Simone de Beauvoir is described as a 'sex-obsessed Lesbian').

To give you a sense of the astonishing incoherence of these people, here's an excerpt from a column by Vincent Gioia called Iraq is a Mess--Good:
In Iraq, unlike the United States, the ''bomb throwers,'' figuratively speaking, are not the politicians. Those attempting to abolish freedom are the ones doing the damage; the politicians are the ones trying to preserve what freedom they can. Although they labor under an unfortunate evil incarnate philosophy in the guise of a ''religion,'' nonetheless an attempt is being made to construct a form of a free society. If they can overcome the obstacle of Islam, they will succeed notwithstanding the murdering thugs trying to halt there efforts.
So you see, the people of Iraq are noble and determined, hungering for freedom...except for all that believing in, y'know, evil incarnate.

But wait! There's also a history lesson:
Interestingly, the attempt by Iraqis to preserve freedom is far more difficult than that faced by the founders of our country. Early Americans did indeed have a more difficult time than the Iraqis to get to the starting point; after all Iraqis had the help of the United States to get to the starting line. No one helped the Americans topple King George in the ''new world''; they had to do it by grit and determination. But, once begun, the march to freedom was easier here because ''everyone was on the same page''; our country’s founders all had essentially the same goals and they all shared a thirst for a free society.
Yup, that's right: nobody helped us out (except the French), all we had was grit and determination (and an opponent with a 5,000-mile supply line), and everybody was on the same page (except on trivial little issues like slavery).

The rest are similarly ridiculous. I could almost feel bad for making fun of people this pathetic--really, it's sort of like yelling 'you suck!' at athletes in the Special Olympics--if it weren't for the seething hatred (of Muslims, of gays, of feminists, of liberals--you name it) in every column. Sparkman pulls these columns from all over the place, which is something of a relief; if I thought all of these people were from the Bay Area I would really be depressed.

Pathetic as they are, though, they really are worth our notice because they generate a ton of e-mails to the Chronicle. Is Jim Sparkman personally responsible when Carolyn Lochhead distorts the facts to achieve faux 'balance'? Probably not. Is the flood of e-mails she'll get if she writes anything critical of Bush somewhere in the back of her mind when she writes an article? I would imagine so. That's the power of the right's below-the-radar media campaign, which we've only recently begun to counter effectively (but we've still got a long way to go).

1Full disclosure: my brother writes for the Chronicle.
2In fact, I don't know why they don't abbreviate it as BDS. They could save a lot of column inches if every critique of the news media just consisted of the line "BDS in the MSM". Then lots of wingnuts could write 'ditto!' and 'great post!' in the forum.

[Cross-posted at If I Ran the Zoo]


Blogger Rory Shock said...

And what are the "positive things" yet accurate things that they claim are not being said about Bush? Purely objective reporting has to appear to be a trashing of the man ... get it morons? Good post. Thanks.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Tom Hilton said...

Thanks! Yeah, as Rob Corddry says, reality is biased against Bush.

5:53 AM  
Blogger Scaramouche said...

BDS could also mean Barbarian Drinking Syndrome...which one could get after taking a shot for each time they use the whole derangement syndrome whine.

5:52 PM  
Blogger steve said...

Back in 1992, I helped put out an old fashioned print zine called the Chronicle Examiner.

The debut issue was passed out at a conference on election coverage sponsored by Media Alliance, SF State and a few other places, so we focused on a progressive critique of their political coverage.

I think we may have done one or two more issues. If there had been a web, it would have been much easier to do.

2:48 PM  
Blogger Tom Hilton said...

I have a feeling there's going to be a whole lot of BDS this Wednesday, Scaramouche...either way you define it.

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chronwatch has become more racist, introverted, and paranoid since you have reviewed it. Many of its members are involved in an obsessive campaign to shut down their critics, and in fact have done so in one case by shutting down the Rapid City Journal. Supporters of RCJ started their own site, and have challenged Chronwatch regulars (with a few exceptions) to get involved and put in their own opinions. But the Chronwatch folks have, so far, shown their cowardace by not joining in.

If anyone is interested in joining us go to:

9:47 PM  

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