Fort Smith Times-Record under fire for Whirlpool coverage

Last week, Fort Smith was hit hard by the news that Whirlpool was closing its refrigerator factory, putting 1,000 employees out of work. An analysis in Columbia Journalism Review‘s Audit on the Business Press criticizes the local newspaper’s coverage of the news (via Arkansas Times):

So how does the local paper, the Southwest Times Record, cover the exit of one of its largest employers? With stories that read like they were written by Whirlpool’s PR department. (…)
The Times Record gives Whirlpool’s top flack the second, third, fourth, and fifth paragraphs, and then gives seven of the remaining eight paragraphs to rewriting the press release. Not one worker is quoted in the story.

“Flack-driven” coverage, as CJR’s Ryan Chittum puts it, is a common occurrence in business reporting. The analysis is well worth reading.

ADG’s Mike Masterson likens protesters to flea infestation

Today’s Mike Masterson column deserves its own post rather than just a passing mention. It deserves to be recognized as the essence of Masterson’s journalistic craft, uniting paranoid lunacy, incendiary language, and shameless lying within a few inches of column space. Referring to the Occupy Wallstreet movement that has recently mobilized tens of thousands of protesters, Masterson calls people whose opinions he disagrees with an “unwashed, whining, smelly mob occupying and infesting Wall Street”. The term “mob” appears three times in the rant, as well as the epithet “Flea Party”. Here’s the first paragraph in unabridged beauty:

LITTLE ROCK — I’m sold on one man’s proposed name for that unwashed, whining, smelly mob occupying and infesting Wall Street because they either:
1. Are being paid by big-bucks special interests to be there and create violent confrontations or…
2. Have no jobs, are bored and have nothing better to do but hang out together and screech “Pervert!,” “Boycott!” and “The world is watching!” as they intentionally pick fights with police to create headlines (and Internet videos for the 2012 election) or…
3. Are harboring free-floating anger about life as free Americans and are in search of scapegoats for their rage. Or, all of the above.
Yep, the calculated hatching of America’s newly named “Flea Party” seems to fit this mob. And shazam! It rhymes with Tea Party.

The unwashed, smelly mob (as seen in Little Rock)
The unwashed, smelly mob

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ADG’s Paul Greenberg: no more libruls!

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette opinion page will henceforth drop any pretense at political balance: after the recent firing of sometime progressive columnist Pat Lynch, editorial page editor Paul Greenberg has canceled the column of liberal Gene Lyons. Lyons is (was) the only of ADG’s own columnists that has some national exposure. His columns can be read for free at Salon. In many of his columns, Lyons forcefully takes on the very right-wing propaganda lies and distortions that are the staple of ADG’s opinion page.

Loyal Arkansas Democrat-Gazette readers will now have to endure the raging right-wing extremism of the ADG opinion page tempered only by the centrism of John Brummett, who recently rejoined the newspaper. Whether the supply of sufficiently masochistic readers is sufficient to ensure the survival of the paper remains to be seen. Greenberg apparently hopes that enough Arkansans cherish the economic illiteracy of columnist Bradley Gitz and the undisguised pro-corporate agenda of opinion editor Mike Masterson.

Arkansas Democrat Gazette – objective reporting or politics?

Lindsey Millar examines The Dem-Gaz’s failed quest for objectivity in a recent column at Arkansas Times. Millar notes that a recent ADG story about the Occupy Wall Street movement was slanted by certain editorial decisions:

It also ran a subhead, “Too loose to last? wonder some,” that doesn’t reflect the views of anyone quoted in the story. In fact, the fifth paragraph of the story notes that the “growing cohesiveness and profile” of the protest has “caught the attention of public intellectuals and veterans of past social movements.” Finally, where other subscribers of the AP elected to accompany the story with a picture of protesters holding signs or a photo of veteran activists, the Democrat-Gazette ran a picture of a man demonstrating how to break free from plastic hand restraints during the protests.

This is a stark example of the flaw in Fellone’s position. The decisions an editor made in the Occupy Wall Street story might not be a reflection the Democrat-Gazette’s conservative editorial posture, but at the very least, they’re the product of an editor bringing his subjective views to a story.

Even less subtle examples of politically slanted ADG front page news reporting are not hard to find. Arkansas Media Watch pointed out ADG headlines during the debt ceiling impasse wrongly claiming that both parties in Washington refused to compromise when the newspaper’s own reporting clearly indicated the opposite.

Here’s another one. Yesterday, the ADG front page had the following headline concerning new trade agreements:

“3 trade pacts win approval of Congress – Panama, S. Korea, Colombia deals touted as job creators”

The problem with that headline is that there is no evidence that these trade agreements are “job creators”. The article itself reports:

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NWA Times shooting the messenger – Updated

This is rich. NWA Times attacks “liberal bloggers” for quoting their own report. Last week, Arkansas Media Watch pointed out a Northwest Arkansas Times report (copy of cutout below the fold) according to which Senator Mark Pryor had made the wrong and insulting statement:

Pryor said various tax breaks have created a system in which 45 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes. “It’s hard to have a fair tax system where only about half the people are paying,” he said.

This blog pointed out that most Americans do pay taxes (payroll taxes, gas and sales taxes etc.), even those too poor to pay federal income taxes. The issue of wrong or misleading statements about tax fairness has been in the air lately. Pryor’s Senate colleague John Boozman is on record with a similar wrong statement: “51 percent of the public don’t pay any federal taxes”. A recent, well researched New York Times editorial pointed out the fallacy in these claims.

Arkansas Media Watch has not only criticized the two Senators for making inaccurate statements, but also the local media for letting them get away with inaccurate statements. Pryor’s office has now maintained that Pryor was misquoted. Arkansas Media Watch has contacted NWA Times (editors Greg Harton and Lisa Thompson and publisher Rusty Turner) twice (on August 24 and 29) and requested clarification. No response.

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Pryor on taxes

UPDATE, April 17, 2012: While Senator Pryor’s office in the below statement claims that Pryor is concerned about millionaires not paying their fair share in taxes (“It is maddening that hundreds of millionaires pay virtually no federal income taxes, and this should change”), Pryor recently joined Senate Republicans in voting down President Obama’s proposal for a minimum tax on income millionaires (the “Buffett rule”). What does Pryor really stand for? A fairer tax system, or tax privileges for the super rich? His actions unambiguously point to the second.

Michael Teague from the office of Senator Pryor emailed Arkansas Media Watch a clarification regarding Pryor’s remarks about tax fairness. Full text below the fold. It is essentially the same account as recently given by John Brummett: Pryor allegedly was misquoted.

AMW has asked NWA Times editor Greg Harton and journalist Larry Henry for confirmation what Pryor actually said and they have not responded. This is not reassuring. The newspaper pretends to have a policy of correcting any factual mistakes. So far this hasn’t happened. Let’s hope that the newspaper takes the incident seriously and is more careful in its future reporting.

On the other hand, Pryor’s clarification still raises some issues. Pryor expresses concern “that 1,470 taxpayers who earned $1 million or more paid no federal income taxes in 2009″. But a statement like “It’s hard to have a fair tax system where only about half the people are paying”, assuming it is meant to only refer to the federal income tax, seems to imply that more of the working poor and the elderly should be paying income taxes. Or does Pryor think half the people are millionaires? When you care about tax fairness, why would you single out just one component of the tax system? Why discuss only “the inequities in the federal income tax system, [as opposed to] city, state or even sales or excise taxes” – not to mention federal payroll taxes?

The full statement from Mark Pryor’s office below the fold:

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NWA Times doing its homework – sort of

Only nine (9) days after Max Brantley on August 18 published a court transcript embarrassing former drug court judge Mary Ann Gunn, the Northwest Arkansas Times has published the transcript and followed up with an article of its own and then a critical column by local columnist Brenda Blagg. Here is Brantley’s response.

What NWA Times doesn’t mention at all, however, is that they recently uncritically supported Gunn in an editorial in which they claimed that no harm was ever done by broadcasting drug court proceedings on television. The transcript showing that Gunn at least in one case tried to coerce a defendant into agreeing to be on television against her will embarrassed these editors as much as Gunn – and one hopes they’ll be more careful in future to do their journalistic homework before going public embracing this or that local celebrity.

UPDATE: NWA Times on August 31 followed up with a strong editorial rebuke of Judge Gunn, concluding: “Gunn’s actions were an abuse of both power and public trust.”. (Brantley’s response)

UPDATE 2: John Brummett interviews Gunn.

Brummett to Pryor’s defense

Arkansas Media Watch has attracted some attention for pointing out, and refuting, false claims by both Arkansas Senators about half the population allegedly not paying taxes. At least Senator Pryor has been forced to backtrack, claiming through his aide Michael Teague to have been misquoted. The somewhat clumsy attempt at damage control was executed by Democratic-leaning columnist John Brummett in the Northwest Arkansas Times. As a result, there are now two versions of Pryor’s remarks both reported in the same newspaper. If Pryor was indeed misquoted, NWA Times, which claims to abide by a factual accuracy policy, needs to publish a correction. If not, it needs to publish a correction.

UPDATE: NWA Times editors now deny that the newspaper said what it said.

We’ll have more to say on this issue. For the moment, let’s take a breath and note that blogs can indeed have an impact. The local media are paying attention and are sometimes – too rarely – forced to correct themselves or report some under-reported issue. Politicians are sometimes forced to react. This blog’s posts about Pryor‘s and Boozman‘s wrong and insulting remarks have been noted and expanded on by Arkansas Blog, Blue Arkansas, Fayetteville Free Thinkers, and even quoted (if selectively) by an avowed right-wing blog. And when you google “Senator Boozman” or “Senator Pryor”, Arkansas Media Watch ranks third in both cases. Fortunately, our Senators can still count on the corporate media to cover their behinds.