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The Rise of Rectal Journalism

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A lot has alreay been written about Joe Klein's latest column - a true foray into fantasy. The man is the eitomy of a journalist who is so self-absorbed, so obsessed with himself, or so lazy that he quite literally thinks he can just make things up. But sadly, Klein epitomzes a new brand of journalism sweeping the nation. It's what I call Rectal Journalism because its based on reporters and pundits simply pulling stuff right out of their asses and peddling it as fact, when in fact it is anything but.

Here's what I'm talking about. Klein writes:

"A strong majority would favor the NSA program [Bush ordered]...Democrats are about as far from the American mainstream on these issues as Republicans were when they invaded the privacy of Terri Schiavo's family in the right-to-die case last year."

Klein published his piece one day after the Associated Press published its poll showing "a majority of Americans want the Bush administration to get court approval before eavesdropping on people inside the United States, even if those calls might involve suspected terrorists." In criticizing the administration for not getting warrants as required by law, Democrats were standing with 56 percent of the public. By contrast, ABC News reported that just 27 percent of the public supported the Republicans' intervention in the Schiavo affair. In other words, Klein made this assertion even though the hard data was there for him to check. He just chose not to look at it.

This penchant by pundits to pull things straight out of their rectum is really becoming a widespread problem - and it has been on full display over the last few weeks. For example, MSNBC's Chris Matthews recently painted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) as living a middle-class lifestyle - days after the Associated Press published an expose actually analyzing hundreds of documents showing that as DeLay "became a king of campaign fund-raising, he lived like one, too." Specifically, "over the past six years, the former House majority leader and his associates have visited places of luxury most Americans have never seen, often getting there aboard corporate jets arranged by lobbyists and other special interests."

Then Newsweek's Eleanor Clift called Newt Gingrich a "bipartisan reformer" in the wake of the revelations about the GOP corruption. There is, of course, no mention about how Gingrich was the architect of the K Street Project at the center of the scandals.

Then we saw Time Magazine's Matt Cooper and Mike Allen pull out of their asses the fairy tale that President Bush is fully distanced from the GOP corruption scandals because he supposedly "does not like to have contributors or local officials in his cars, planes or holding rooms unless they are there for a good reason, and he sometimes questions his underlings sharply if someone he considers extraneous is admitted." No, that wasn't the recollection of some acid trip Cooper and Allen had - they repoted that as fact, and simply decided not to mention that "GOP fundraiser Jack Abramoff and his lobbying team logged nearly 200 contacts with the new administration" in just its first 10 months, according to a May 2005 story by the Associated Press.

And there was CNN's Wolf Blitzer claiming that Democrats took cash directly from Jack Abramoff and are thus equally implicated into the corruption scandals - again, a line wholly fabricated.

Obviously, this is disturbing on a number of levels. First and foremost, rectal journalism grossly misinforms the public to the point where it's actually unfair to blame ordinary citizens for not knowing what's actually going on in the political system that is supposed to represent them. How could they know? More and more of what they see, read and hear is made up fiction by the media "experts."

Additionally, it is quite troubling to look at how Rectal Journalism is substituting for coverage of truly important stories. For instance, as the media ramrodded the President's illegal wiretapping into a "he said, she said" story, fawned all over Newt Gingrich, and portrayed Democrats as deeply involved in the Abramoff scandal, they wholly ignored the Bush administration's declaration that the U.S.'s official foreign policy would be officially taking a radical turn. Also, in their entire coverage of the New York transit strike, they never once mentioned that workers were asking for 1 percent of what New York city and state governments had just handed over to Goldman Sachs, the wealthiest investment bank in the world. And the list of uncovered stories goes on...

To be honest, I'm not sure what can be done to combat the rise of Rectal Journalism. Because this is not just something that has happened accidentally. I'm not a conspiracy theorist - I just think reporters aren't that dumb as to accidentally peddle horseshit as fact. I think it's a reflex of today's media - whether conscious or subconscious - to worship power and celebrity, to fear making enemies on the D.C. cocktail party circuit, and to ignore the stories that are actually important because they are too hard, or too complex, or too frightening to cover in a serious way.

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David Sirota is a full-time political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He blogs for Working Assets and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. He is a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. His 2006 book, Hostile Takeover, was a New York Times bestseller, and is now out in paperback. He has been a guest on, among others, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and NPR. His writing, which draws on his (more...)

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