May 5, 2009

Bill O'Reilly's been on a jag the past couple of months claiming that the mainstream media are dying on the vine because of their "far left" bias, which he think is killing them economically. Last night on his Talking Points Memo segment, he continued this thesis by pointing to a couple of cases.

The first is the swine flu story, which he says so confused him and his staff they just didn't report on it. So up front, we get an admission these may not be the sharpest journalistic tools in the shed.

Then he continues:

O'Reilly: Second example: In early March, reports out of Sacramento, California, said a very important story was a homeless camp featuring hundreds of people damaged by the recession, was a very important situation.

[video clip]

O'Reilly: Wow! Can you believe it?

Guess what? Story's bogus!

The Economist magazine, a British publication, writes, quote: "the tent city had actually been around for close to a decade. There may have been a foreclosed homeowner or two among its denizens, but ... almost all of the people there have problems with mental health, drug abuse or both."

Again, it took a British magazine to tell the truth about a false story generated by the U.S. media.

But if you actually read read the Economist piece, you can see clearly that its intent is not to "debunk" the "tent city" story but to argue that it's not important.

It attempts this with a shoddy and shallow piece of reporting; if the writer was only able to find "one or two" foreclosed homeowners among the tent city residents, he wasn't trying very hard. Indeed, he likely wasn't looking at all; MSNBC's Chris Jansing (in the piece O'Reilly clips) was able to interview three of them for her piece. Indeed, a more honest journalistic effort -- such as that from the Los Angeles Times a couple of weeks ago -- makes clear that it's a complex story, but there's no question that the recession is a major driver in the very real expansion of California's homeless population.

As for the camp having existed in some form or another in that locale for some time, that in fact had already been widely reported -- including by, among others, O'Reilly's arch-nemesis, the New York Times -- over a month ago:

Mr. Johnson, a former NBA basketball player elected to office last year, had taken to giving tours of the camp, which sits on a rugged chunk of land beneath a crisscross of electric wires. On one recent walkthrough, he said a smaller version of the tent city had been “swept under the rug” for years, but had grown in recent months as a building bust pushed normally blue-collar people to the brink.

It had also been widely reported a couple of weeks ago by the Associated Press -- as the city was closing the encampment down (a fact which didn't make it into O'Reilly's reportage):

Media reports often portrayed it as holding hundreds of people and many victims of the recession, but city homeless advocates said people have congregated there for years because of its proximity to a food bank.

Moreover, the larger thrust of the story -- that these kinds of encampments are growing nationally -- remains unchanged and unchallenged, because it's factually incontestable.

The best part of O'Reilly's rant, though, was at its end:

So you can see the propaganda on the wall, ladies and gentlemen. These days we can't believe what we hear, or what we read.

So true, so true. Especially not when it's reported under the auspices of Fox News.

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