January 9, 2010

Lawrence O'Donnell filling in for Keith Olbermann talks to Media Matters' Eric Burns about George Stephanopoulos' bit of stenography for Rudy Giuliani on Good Morning America. As Burns points out sadly what happened with Giuliani is more of a rule than the exception and thankfully we have organizations like Media Matters and the blogs holding the media accountable when they do these sort of things.

O`DONNELL: Let’s turn now to Eric Burns, president of Media Matters for America, which as you can imagine, has been all over this one today. Good evening, Eric.

ERIC BURNS: Good evening, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Now, we know that George Stephanopoulos knows that four teams of hijackers commandeered U.S. airliners on September 11th. He knows what happened. What is it that happened to a smart guy like George in a middle of an interview like that where Giuliani can just slip that by? Does it mean that Republicans like Giuliani are so accustomed to getting away with that move in these interviews like this that the media, in a sense, has internalized this notion that there were no domestic attacks during President Bush’s presidency?

BURNS: I think there’s no question that conservatives are used to getting away with this because we don’t have a culture of accountability in our media. And, you know, what happened today is a great example of accountability working the way it should. Our job at Media Matters is to hold journalists accountable.

When we documented this morning, other folks picked it up, PolitiFact picked it up. And by this afternoon, Mr. Stephanopoulos, to his credit, had accepted responsibility for not calling out Mr. Giuliani on his factually erroneous statement. And something we need to see more of in the media.

But, unfortunately, Lawrence, the media is lazy, you know? And it’s something we just see every day, but it’s bad for the county, it’s bad for America, it’s bad for our political discourse. Media’s got to do a better job. They can’t be carrying right-wing talking points, especially when they’re wrong.

O`DONNELL: And there’s a certain liturgy to these kinds of television interviews, which means that, you know, I get to ask the question and you get to give your answer for a certain amount of time, no matter how ridiculous that answer is. Now, that’s something that I don’t abide on television. When someone tries a lie like that in interviews, I just jump right on it and I’m prepared to let the interview stop right there and fight over that lie.

But in these kinds of interviews, the media is, you must let the subject of the interview get through the four or five minutes, covering all the points that you plan to cover before going into the interview. Isn’t that conceptually what’s wrong with that kind of television?

BURNS: Well, I think -- I think most journalists -- and, you know, I congratulate on being the exception, most journalists today.

O`DONNELL: Well, I don’t want to say -- I don’t want to say I’m the exception or the only exception.

BURNS: Of course.

O`DONNELL: Let me just say, plenty of people hate it when I do that. When I get in there and interrupt and stay on something with a particular guest, a lot of viewers hate it. So, there’s a certain amount of audience expectation that’s being served here, isn’t there?

BURNS: Well, absolutely. I mean, look, news is more than ever about ratings. But journalists don’t have a responsibility to be nice to their guests. They got a responsibility to get to the truth and to sort out the facts from the lies so that the American people can know what’s going on in their country.

And that’s what we’re seeing is not happening, you know, every day in the media. It’s not happening with print. It’s not happening not on cable, especially on cable -- certainly not happening on FOX News.

You know, you had the clip of Dana Perino up earlier saying the same thing that Rudy Giuliani did on November on Sean Hannity’s show. There was no correction. In fact, this is the kind of stuff we see on FOX every day.

Just in the last two weeks alone, eight different contributors on FOX News have accused the president of the United States of being weak on these issues. And that’s in 14 days.

So, this is -- this is a kind of issue that conservatives are going to use for their political advantage and this is largely -- this is about politics for them. It’s not about national security. And it’s disgraceful.

But the journalists in this country and the media have a responsibility to dig down and really get to the truth to Americans can really understand what’s true and what’s not. And that’s the only way we’re going to have any sort of reasonable political discussion in this country.

O`DONNELL: Now, why can’t the media act according to its own precedent? For example, the precedent the media set for its own coverage of the shoe bomber getting on a plane during the Bush presidency, failing to have his shoe blow up the plane. Virtually identical to failing to have your underpants blow up the plane. The media treated this without outrage against the Bush presidency, without asking for who should be fired for allowing this to happen. Democrats did not all rush to the microphone to condemn the system for allowing this to have gotten -- allowing this guy to have gotten on a plane. It was generally accepted as an example of the system working.

What happened to the media’s memory of its own coverage?

BURNS: Well, I think the -- yes, the media’s obviously interested in a good story and they’re interested in controversy and feeding into this kind of misinformation that we’re seeing coming from the right-wing. You know, it creates a good story on television. Let’s be honest, you know? But it’s irresponsible and it’s dangerous for America, because you’re exactly right.

Karl -- you know, Karl Rove got up this weekend and was criticizing Obama for not making a statement three days after this latest attempt on Christmas. As you noted, Bush waited six days after the shoe bomber and the world didn’t end and nobody suggested that he was being irresponsible.

This is exactly the kind of thing that conservatives get away with it and until journalists stand up and say, "We’re not going to take this anymore," and until progressives and Democrats in Congress stand up and say, "We’re not going to take this anymore," and call for accountability, you know, it’s going to continue. And it’s unfortunate.

O`DONNELL: Eric Burns of Media Matters -- thanks for your perspective tonight.

BURNS: Thank you, Lawrence.

Transcript via Nexis Lexis.

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