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The Politics of 'Corrections'

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Reprinted from Consortium News

Perhaps nothing measures the imbalance of media and political power in the United States better than the decision-making by major news organizations about when to issue "corrections."

The bottom line is this: When the American Right is offended, the "corrections" come fast and are sweeping, even in highly dubious situations. Sometimes heads roll.

But when the American Left feels aggrieved, the "corrections" are slow and grudging, often very narrow in scope and still misleading. Nobody is likely to get punished.

That reality was demonstrated again Tuesday when the New York Times "corrected" the context of a quote by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich that had been cited in a Monday column by Paul Krugman. The liberal economist had referenced the Washington Post quoting Gingrich as saying President "Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years."

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The Post and then Krugman paraphrased the context as a reference to Johnson pushing through the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which, in turn, gave rise to Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy, the Republican scheme to exploit white animosities over the end of racial segregation to break the Democratic grip on the South and bring those states into the Republican column.

Without doubt, that is what happened. Southern white voters and many working-class northern whites turned their backs on the Democrats and helped usher in four decades of Republican dominance in national elections. Ronald Reagan famously launched his general election campaign in 1980 with a speech advocating states' rights in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the murders of three civil rights workers.

There also can be little doubt that Gingrich was referring to Johnson's civil rights legislation. But Gingrich didn't appreciate the spotlight on his frank admission about the politics of race, so he began spinning a new context, insisting that his reference was to Johnson's Great Society programs.

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However, that claim made little sense. After all, the biggest accomplishment of the Great Society was Medicare, the popular health-care program for the elderly, which even the Republicans these days defend, most notably during the recent congressional health-care debate.

So, why would Gingrich claim that Johnson's passage of Medicare and other social programs "shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years"?

The obvious answer is that Gingrich is obfuscating. He simply realized how offensive his comment sounded and wanted to revise his meaning and the Times quickly went along with this cover-up by issuing a "correction."

(Gingrich's maneuver was similar to the preposterous explanation by Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, who shouted out "baby killer" when Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, was speaking on the House floor Sunday night. Challenged about his outburst, Neugebauer insisted that he had said, "it's a baby killer" in reference to the health-reform bill, not Stupak personally.)

Overly Sensitive

The New York Times, sensitive to accusations about "liberal bias," seems always ready to accommodate "correction" demands from the Right, no matter how incorrect they may be.

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In another example, the right-wing Washington Times demanded and got a "correction" for describing it as a newspaper "decidedly opposed to Mr. Obama," in the context of a New York Times article about Washington Times' editorials that compared President Barack Obama's health care plans to Nazi euthanasia policies.

The Washington Times insisted that its news columns were objective and independent from the editorial opinions and thus wrested from the New York Times a "correction" stating "the article was referring to [the WT's] opinion pages, not to its news pages."

The truth, however, is that the Washington Times founded and funded by right-wing Korean theocrat Sun Myung Moon has had a long history of mixing political propaganda into its news columns, an approach that hasn't stopped. Yet, the New York Times felt compelled to bend over backwards with a "correction." [See Consortiumnews.com's "WTimes, Bushes Hail Rev. Moon."]

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http://www.consortiumnews.com

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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