Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Further Deterioration of Responsible Journalism

Think of all the movies that you’ve seen about newspaper or magazine reporters where the surly editor-in-chief pushes the reporter to be sure that the “big story” has been carefully fact-checked before the story is printed. I’ve always imagined (or at least hoped) that there was some kernel of truth to those portrayals of journalism. Unfortunately, television news (in particular Fox News) doesn’t seem to subscribe to this vision of journalism; then again, at least with regard to Fox News, it may simply be that the network recognizes that they’re not practicing journalism, so doesn’t see any reason to keep up the pretense. More unfortunately, the deterioration of responsible journalism continues in the print media.

In the current issue of Forbes conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza has written an article on the subject of “How Obama Thinks”. In summary, D’Souza’s argument is that President Obama looks at the world from a Kenyan anti-colonialist viewpoint because, of course, the father that abandoned Obama and his mother when Obama was a child – and who Obama subsequently had virtually no contact with – was from Kenya.The article has been roundly criticized (at least on the left) for its racist overtones and ridiculous conclusions; however, right-wing “luminaries” like Newt Gingrich and Glenn Beck have praised the article and echoed D’Souza’s conclusions.

So what does D’Souza’s article have to do with the deterioration of responsible journalism? Well, beyond the obvious question of how a serious magazine could publish drivel like this (oh, wait, I forgot that Steve Forbes is involved with Forbes…), one need only read through the second paragraph of the article to realize how devoid of facts D’Souza’s conclusions are:

The President's actions are so bizarre that they mystify his critics and supporters alike. Consider this headline from the Aug. 18, 2009 issue of the Wall Street Journal: "Obama Underwrites Offshore Drilling." Did you read that correctly? You did. The Administration supports offshore drilling--but drilling off the shores of Brazil. With Obama's backing, the U.S. Export-Import Bank offered $2 billion in loans and guarantees to Brazil's state-owned oil company Petrobras to finance exploration in the Santos Basin near Rio de Janeiro--not so the oil ends up in the U.S. He is funding Brazilian exploration so that the oil can stay in Brazil.

Does any of that sound familiar?

Allow me to reprint a portion of my blog entry of June 24, 2010 (“Dan Burton Parrots a Glenn Beck Lie to Smear President Obama”):

I called to complain about a charge that Rep. Burton made on the floor of the House of Representatives earlier this week that was designed to smear President Obama. The allegation came a day after Glenn Beck made the same allegation (with pretty drawings on his chalk board, no less) on Fox News. The problem? The allegation is totally false. Moreover, it was proven to be false at least nine months ago. Yet both Beck and Rep. Burton were willing to place that allegation front and square before the American public and to hell with truth and accuracy. That is what is wrong with politics in America today.

The allegation in question has, in one form or another, been around for over a year. It has made its way into one of those ever-present chain emails … [the chain email message can be viewed in my original post]

But here is what (a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center) said about the allegation back in September 2009:

This claim stems from a "preliminary committment" made back on April 14 by the board of directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. The bank intends to loan up to $2 billion to finance exports to the Brazilian oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A., known as Petrobras, over the next several years.

The e-mail is false on two counts.

  • The message falsely says the decision was due to an "executive order" by the president. No presidential order was required. Furthermore, none of President Obama’s appointees had joined the Ex-Im board at the time of the vote, which was unanimous, and bipartisan. The Ex-Im Bank states: "In fact, at the time the Bank’s Board consisted of three Republicans and two Democrats, all of whom were appointed by George W. Bush."
  • The message falsely claims that "we have absolutely no gain" from the loan. In fact, the loan is being made specifically to finance purchase by Petrobras of U.S.-made oilfield equipment and services. The mission of the Ex-Im Bank is to encourage exports by making such loans.

The bank’s chairman and president, Fred P. Hochberg, underscored the purpose of the loan during a trip to Brazil at the end of July:

Ex-Im Bank President Hochberg, July 29: I chose Brazil as my first international destination for good reason: Brazil is a powerhouse among South American economies and offers tremendous opportunities for U.S. exporters in many sectors. I want Brazilians to know that Ex-Im Bank has the will and the capacity to finance their purchases of U.S. equipment, products and services

Obama appointed Hochberg to the Ex-Im Bank on April 20, nearly a week after the board voted to approve the loan. He was confirmed May 14 and sworn in May 21.

The Ex-Im Bank also would like it known that no loan has yet been made, and that the "preliminary commitment" could eventually result in either a direct loan or a loan guarantee. Either way, the Ex-Im Bank states, "no taxpayer dollars are involved." The bank is self-sustaining.

It is also worth noting that if you go to the website for the Export-Import Bank of the United States and type “Petrobras” in the search box, you’ll find several articles describing and discussing the proposed loan transaction, including the an article entitled “Facts About the Proposed Ex-Im Bank Loans for Petrobras' Brazilian Offshore Oil Exploration and Development”:

Background on Ex-Im Bank:

Charges and facts:

Charge: The U.S. government is giving away more than $2 billion in taxpayer dollars to Brazil’s largest oil and gas company to drill for oil in Brazil.

Fact: The Bank has approved a preliminary commitment to lend up to $2 billion to Petrobras for the purchase of American-made goods and services. The funds will go to American exporters as payment for their sales to the company. Of note, the Bank is self-sustaining and no taxpayer dollars are involved.

Charge: The loans to Petrobras represent a giveaway of U.S. tax dollars.

Fact: The Bank’s activities do not cost the American taxpayer a dime. In fact, since 1992 the American people netted more than $4.9 billion and the jobs those exports created.

Charge: America is exporting jobs to Brazil as a result of the loans.

Fact: Only American made goods and services qualify for Ex-Im Bank loans or guarantees. This is the government doing what it's supposed to do - helping to create U.S. jobs, making sure that Americans get a fair shot at selling goods and services, and helping American workers compete on a level playing field against foreign competition.

Charge: The loan to Petrobras represents a reversal of the Obama Administration’s policies on off-shore drilling.

Fact: The Bank’s bipartisan Board unanimously approved the preliminary commitment to Petrobras on April 14, 2009, before any Obama appointees joined the Bank. In fact, at the time the Bank’s Board consisted of three Republicans and two Democrats, all of whom were appointed by George W. Bush.

Read Chairman Hochberg's Letter to the Editor that appeared in the August 21, 2009 editions of the Wall Street Journal.

So if D’Souza is so far off on the facts in the second paragraph of his article why should we trust anything else that he says? I’ve skimmed the article (why bother reading it?) and the fallacies and half-truths come fast and furious; it’s almost as if he scoured the Internet for every anti-Obama allegation that he could lay his hands on and then reprinted them as truth without so much as a simple analysis to see if any of those allegations was even partially accurate. D’Souza almost … almost … makes Fox News and Glenn Beck look like responsible journalists. You don’t suppose that the article has anything to do with D’Souza’s desire to sell new his new book, quaintly entitled The Roots of Obama's Rage?

And what of the responsibility of Forbes to fact-check information before it is presented in the magazine? D’Souza’s article is the Forbes cover story. So why should we trust anything that is printed in Forbes either?

As I’ve been saying for years now, to the Right, facts simply aren’t important, especially when it comes to smearing President Obama. The effort to unburden the electorate of facts and to present lies as truth (1984, anyone?) is a dangerous path down which the Right it taking America. In November we have a chance to show that these tactics don’t work. But I’m afraid that too many people have already been influenced by the lies (what percent of people think President Obama is a Muslim or not born in the US?) and that we may soon be subject to “government (lie to) the people, of the (lying) people, and for the (rich) people”. That may be just what people like Dinesh D’Souza, Steve Forbes, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, and Dan Burton want.


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At Saturday, April 30, 2011 8:56:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, what part of this is inaccurate ?

"With Obama's backing, the U.S. Export-Import Bank offered $2 billion in loans and guarantees to Brazil's state-owned oil company Petrobras to finance exploration in the Santos Basin near Rio de Janeiro"

That is 100% accurate. Under Obama there is a de facto ban on oil exploration off the US coast, but the Ex-Im bank, an agency of the federal government, did loan that money to Petrobras for offshore drilling there.

At Saturday, April 30, 2011 11:27:00 AM , Blogger MSWallack said...

Just curious why the need to hide behind the veil of anonymity?

Anyway, here's what's factually wrong with your statement:

1) It wasn't "with Obama's backing". the bank commissioners who made the determination were Bush appointees.

2) I'm not sure if the loan was ever made or if it was simply a commitment. I'd have to check on that, though.

3) The purpose of the loans was to allow Petrobas to purchase American-made equipment for use in offshore drilling. Thus, that money is put into the US economy.

4) There is no de facto ban on offshore drilling. There was a "time out" following the BP spill. Since then, the ban has been lifted (but new regulations have been put in place to try to be sure that another spill doesn't happen). Also, the ban was for drilling new wells; it didn't stop existing wells from continuing to pump.

Please go back and read some of the facts that I've included above.


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