Couple of things.
One, this screen grab from Google News. It was taken a few days ago, right after the New York Times published an investigative report on the September 11, 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi.
In short, the NYT’s David Kirkpatrick finally confirmed what anyone with a brain knew all along: the attack was mostly disorganized and primarily motivated by anger over an American-produced anti-Muslim video, just as National Security Adviser Susan Rice and others in the Obama administration claimed in the days after the attack. It was not an organized Al Qaeda attack, according to Benghazi militia leaders who participated in the attack.
Now notice the headline link in the middle, the one that directly contradicts the others, the one that says “In Depth: House Intelligence chair: ‘Benghazi Attack Al Qaeda-Led Event.'”
Yep, Fox “News,” the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Please do not confuse us with the facts; we’re sticking with the narrative we’ve been pushing for the past year.
Say what you will about the American right, it’s consistent and predictable, and we should know by now it’s not going to change its collective mind about anything. Polarization is not just parochial any more, it’s tribal. We say white, they say black. I can’t even work up much anger about it any more.
What makes me mad is that for the past 13 or 14 months, the media as a whole has been reporting the Republicans’ wholly made-up version of the Benghazi attack as if it’s the only possible interpretation of events. True, in the immediate aftermath of the attack the media reported what Susan Rice and other administration figures said, but as soon as the right began insisting Benghazi was an organized, long-planned Al Qaeda attack, that became the narrative of record, and all talk of disorganized rage over the anti-Muslim video vanished. And stayed vanished, right up until last week when the NYT finally published its investigative report.
Unless you read blogs and non-mainstream news sites, that is. Which is what you should be reading, because all those MSM types? They’re lying liars. Google “NYT Benghazi story” today and you’ll see the media is already 50/50 on the issue: half of them quote the NYT and half of them say the NYT is full of shit.
Our national media cannot take a stand on objective fact or truth. It can only pass on what others are saying, and then only what’s said the loudest and most persistently. At this point I don’t seen any possibility that the media can or will or even wants to correct itself. It’s too far gone, too corrupt.
Or course there’s corrupt, and then there’s corrupt. No national news outlet is more corrupt than Fox News. Speaking of which:
Just before Christmas a conservative friend posted an outrageous Fox News story on Facebook: VA Hospital refuses to accept “Merry Christmas” cards.
Outrageous if true, that is, and I knew instinctively it wasn’t. But Snopes had nothing on it, and when I Googled “VA hospital refuses Christmas cards” all I got were links to right-wing news sites and blogs riffing on the Fox story. I went so far as to post a question on Twitter: “Story about VA hospital refusing Christmas cards has to be false. Why can’t I find refutation anywhere?” No one answered. Well, I don’t have many followers on Twitter, so that was no surprise.
I took a closer look at the Fox story itself. It was mostly opinion, but in the middle of the story was this seemingly-factual passage:
“I told him my students made cards, we’d like to bring them down for the veterans,” Chapman told the television station. “And he said, ‘That’s great. We’re thrilled to have them, except the only thing is, we can’t accept anything that says ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘God bless you’ or any scriptural references because of all the red tape.'”
A VA official quoted the policy which is in the Veterans Health Administration handbook:
“In order to be respectful of our veterans’ religious beliefs, all donated holiday cards are reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team of staff led by chaplaincy services and determined if they are appropriate (non-religious) to freely distribute to patients. We regret this process was not fully explained to this group and apologize for any misunderstanding.”
Pretty damning, but once again, only if true, and the quotes seemed dishonest. I didn’t buy the part about not being able to accept cards that said Merry Christmas or God bless you because of “red tape,” and I didn’t buy the quote from the Veterans Health Administration handbook. Seriously, does any of that ring true?
I looked to see if the Fox News article contained links to sources. Near the top of the article was a link to the Fox affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth, where the story originated. That link took me to the original story. It was still Fox, and it still pushed the false War on Christmas narrative, but the original story contained a fuller quotation from the Veterans Health Administration handbook, as well as a quote from the hospital’s director. I’ve highlighted the parts that were left out of the national Fox News story:
“I told him my students made cards, we’d like to bring them down for the veterans,” said Chapman. “And he said, ‘That’s great. We’re thrilled to have them, except the only thing is, we can’t accept anything that says ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘God bless you’ or any scriptural references because of all the red tape.'”
An spokesperson for the VA clarified the policy Monday, which is in the Veterans Health Administration handbook, by stating the following:
“In order to be respectful of our Veterans religious beliefs, all donated holiday cards are reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team of staff led by Chaplaincy services and determined if they are appropriate (non-religious) to freely distribute to patients. After the review is complete, the holiday cards that reference religious and/or secular tones are then distributed by Chaplaincy Service on a one-on-one basis if the patient agrees to the religious reference in the holiday card donation. The holiday cards that do not contain religious and/or secular tones are distributed freely to patients across the Health Care System. We regret this process was not fully explained to this group and apologize for any misunderstanding.”
However, on Tuesday, the director of the VA North Texas Health Care System released the following statement:
“First, we would like to state that the VA greatly appreciates donations made by students and organizations on behalf of our Veterans and we will always accept cards for our patients who celebrate Christmas. We would like to clarify the process though in which VA North Texas Health Care System (VANTHCS) handles religious/spiritual donations. All forms of holiday donations are received every year and recorded through Voluntary Services. A multi-disciplinary team led by Chaplaincy services reviews holiday cards and determines if the cards contain religious/secular material within them and in the event they do – our Chaplains distribute them by asking patients on a one-on-one basis if they will accept a holiday card with religious references.
Our Veterans enlisted in the military with the understanding they may be called to fight for our freedoms. One of those freedoms is our freedom to practice a religion of our choice free of persecution. As a federal agency that provides health care to our Nation’s Veterans, it is our duty to uphold and respect the fact that our Veterans are from all faiths and backgrounds and we must honor their sacrifices by making sure we approach religious donations through highly trained VA Chaplains and seek patient approval before distribution.
Huh. It turns out the DFW Fox affiliate undermined its own story by quoting the VA handbook, and the hospital director, accurately. Even without the director’s correction, it’s clear that the VA hospital 1) didn’t refuse to accept the kids’ Christmas cards; 2) was perfectly happy to distribute them all, even the religious ones, so long as the veterans in the hospital agreed to take them.
When the DFW Fox affiliate’s story percolated up to its parent organization, Fox News, all that was left out, without so much as an ellipsis to show that what they were quoting was edited and incomplete. And, naturally, the parts they left out were the parts that would have shot a hole right through the heart of the War on Christmas story they wanted to rile up their readers with.
That’s pretty much the definition of dishonest, isn’t it? Par for the course with Fox, though, and no one says a thing about it. Because why bother? It’s not like Fox is going to change, and there’s apparently no law against lying.
Again, the parts of the story Fox News deliberately left out change everything. Clearly, the VA hospital in question was happy to take the cards and distribute them; what they didn’t want was grade-school kids wandering through the wards handing out cards that may contain specifically Christian messages to bedridden patients who may not be Christian and who don’t want religious cards. Per VA policy, they would take the cards, review them in house, then have their own chaplain distribute them: religious cards to those who wanted them, not otherwise. That sounds like the sort of standard policy with regard to religion you’d find anywhere — at the VA, in the military, down at your local public school.
Imagine if a VA hospital were to allow Jehova’s Witnesses, Mormon missionaries, or Hari Krishnas in yellow robes wander around the wards, forcing religious tracts on bedridden patients. Not imaginable, am I right? Same thing here, even if it’s a majority and not a minority religion. Even if it’s grade-school kids.
Here’s another sneaky thing Fox News tried to pull: notice what the teacher relates in the first paragraph? She says: “And he said, ‘That’s great. We’re thrilled to have them, except the only thing is, we can’t accept anything that says “Merry Christmas” or “God bless you” or any scriptural references because of all the red tape.'” This is not a quote from the VA spokesperson. It’s a quote of a quote, with no way to verify it. It’s what the grade-school teacher, and Fox, wants us to think the VA person said.
You know, I’m willing to lay odds this was a setup from square one: a socially conservative grade-school teacher who wanted to help Fox push its War on Christmas narrative, a teacher who knew damn well her kids wouldn’t be allowed to wander around the wards of a VA hospital handing out religious cards, a teacher who was willing to force the issue. A teacher who, when the VA rep told her he’d accept the cards but wanted the hospital’s own chaplain to distribute them, made a beeline to her local Fox station, which reported only her interpretation of events, including the central lie that the VA hospital refused to accept the cards.
That lie — that the VA hospital refused to accept Christmas cards for bedridden veterans — is central to both versions of the story, the original from the DFW affiliate and the national Fox site. The national Fox site lied even harder by leaving out most of what the hospital director said, which would have given away the game.
I don’t write a lot of posts like this any more. I’m not going to change anything, least of all anyone’s mind. High-visibility celebrity commentators like John Stewart and Rachel Maddow, along with prominent reporters like Dennis Kirkpatrick and Matt Taibbi, and widely-read bloggers like Atrios and Digby, do their best to combat the lies fed to us by the media. But there are at least as many high-visibility celebrity commentators, prominent reporters, and widely-read bloggers who want the media to lie to us. Hell, at least half the senators and representatives in Congress, many on the Supreme Court, and I don’t doubt several in the Obama administration, want the same thing.
There’s no point in arguing with your opponents these days. Their tribe isn’t going to listen to any argument coming from our tribe. Our best hope is that intelligent, well-informed members of our tribe will continue to seek out the truth behind what’s being told to us, and, most important of all, will continue to vote.
© 2013, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.