RUSH: This is a panel discussion at the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism (it is an actual name) at Texas Christian University, and the elite media drive-by types gathered to bemoan the end of their monopoly. Washington Post editor Len Downie responds to a question from a member of the audience.
QUESTIONER: The topic that hasn’t come up tonight is Rush Limbaugh. They have assaulted the objectivity of newspapers, television, in the case of Limbaugh, I don’t know, 15 years. They label our industry as “drive-by media,” with a hidden agenda, and yet there’s really no response to that that I’m aware of, other than individuals like myself, who continue to argue with good friends that what they’re doing is like McCarthy did in the fifties. Will this pass? Are they doing incredible damage to our industry? What’s their future, and how will that impact journalism?
DOWNIE: I don’t think they impact journalism very much at all. They’re building their own audiences, and they’re entertainers. People who agree with them and like to hear those things reinforced on the right or the left will pay attention to them more. We can say ’til we’re blue in the face that the Washington Post is not liberal, and the Washington Post is accurate, and the Washington Post is not what Rush Limbaugh says it is, but readers are going to judge us by what we do. We have to do our jobs well.
RUSH: You know, this whole sound bite is just ripe, is it not? It’s just rich, from the question to the answer. These guys apparently have no sensitivity for the people they destroy. Did you see, by the way, this controversy involving this gossip writer at New York Post Page Six, Jared Paul Stern? He actually admits that their job is to “destroy people,” something I have always maintained about journalists, that that’s how they advance: Go out and destroy somebody. Do some sort of community-oriented profile or whatever.
RUSH: Let’s do a start-stop here on this sound bite. One thing that’s clear, ladies and gentlemen, is that my characterization of the legacy media, the mainstream media, as “the drive-by media,” that has pierced them. That’s pierced them as much as Bush criticizing them as offering propaganda opportunities for our Al-Qaeda enemies in Iraq. I don’t know who the audience member is. It sounds like he himself is a member of the drive-by media, and he’s very hurt by it. At the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism Texas Christian University, Len Downie, editor of the Washington Post, executive editor, answers the question again. Here’s the bite again.
QUESTIONER: The topic that hasn’t come up tonight is Rush Limbaugh. They have assaulted the objectivity of newspapers, television, in the case of Limbaugh, I don’t know, 15 years —
RUSH: Stop the tape. Okay. “the topic that hasn’t come up tonight is Rush Limbaugh. They’ve assaulted the objectivity of newspapers.” See, I’m a “they” now. The topic that hasn’t come up is Rush Limbaugh. “They” have assaulted… I am a “They.” I am talk radio. I am a multiple-headed beast, ladies and gentlemen. “They have assaulted the objectivity of newspapers, television, in the case…” No, we haven’t. We’ve simply pointed out the lack of it, and you guys have done the job for us. The only difference is that there is a group of people now that has the ability to analyze what you do. You guys used to have a monopoly where you got to set the agenda. You got to report what people didn’t dispute that you had said, thereby making it true.
You got to play all kinds of tricks on people. I mean, we could cite countless examples. You blew up trucks to make it look like it happened accidentally on NBC. You did the Dan Rather story. I mean, the litany of stories has been documented. The thing that you guys have gone wrong with is you pretend to be objective. Just admit who you are like we do, and you’d have far fewer problems. Your audiences are dwindling and your audiences are dwindling because you’re not trusted anymore. It is known that you now have an agenda, always have had. We can look at what you’re doing in Iraq, and with Bush, and see that you’re trying to relive the glory days of Vietnam and Watergate. You are all are going back to your past, to your glory days, trying to find reasons to convince yourselves that those days can be again, but they can’t. They are over with.
QUESTIONER: They label our industry as “drive-by media,” with a hidden agenda, and yet there’s really no response to that that I’m aware of, other than…
RUSH: Stop the tape. I don’t want to make this personal, but I’ve been behind this microphone for 17-and-a-half, almost 18 years, and for the vast majority of those years you people in the drive-by media have made it personal. I mean, I don’t want to go back and cite specific examples but you people in the audience know that when this program is reported on or when I’m reported on the last thing it is is objective or fair. You respond constantly. You people analyze yourselves more than we do. You people make everything about you in the drive-by media. You have these shows on television where you analyze yourselves and you analyze the big media and how it’s performing that week.
You respond to all this stuff constantly. You have done your best to destroy talk radio. You’ve done your best to destroy its credibility. You’ve done your best to characterize it as some loony fringe operation off on the wayside there, and it’s done just the opposite. We’re the ones who have the growing audience! We’re the ones with the growing businesses. You guys are laying people off; you’re cutting back. You’ve got fewer viewers. You’ve got fewer listeners. You got fewer readers. I mean, it’s obvious what it is. But to say that there hasn’t been a response to it? Talk to anybody in talk radio and you will find out that the response to talk radio’s increased prominence in the drive-by media has been profound, and it’s been one that I think set out to destroy it in terms of credibility.
QUESTIONER: …individuals like myself who continue to argue with good friends that what they’re doing is like McCarthy did in the fifties.
RUSH: Stop the tape. You know, we’re redefining terms here all of a sudden. Now we are McCarthy? What did McCarthy do? Well, it’s still debatable. Some people think McCarthy was telling the truth. I guess the most accurate thing to say about McCarthyism is that McCarthy called people things that they weren’t. He accused them of being communists. I would think a liberal would be proud to be a communist, but they didn’t like it back then, and so McCarthyism is to lie about people. It is to brandish them with labels that are untrue. That’s not what we do here. We simply analyze your work. We simply measure your work, and we put it out there for people to see in a different context. But it’s not McCarthyism. I’m not sitting here telling anybody about the mainstream media as in these sound bites. I’m simply letting you people tell your own story. We have some examples coming up here in just a moment. Let’s resume the tape.
QUESTIONER: Will this pass? Are they doing incredible damage to our industry? What’s their future? And how will that impact journalism?
RUSH: Stop the tape. “What’s their future? Are they doing incredible damage to our industry?” This is typical of liberals. The Democratic Party probably sits at private meetings and seminars asking the same questions. “Are these people, is this going to pass? Is this Limbaugh thing going to end? Are they going to be doing incredible damage to our party or industry?” The last people that they will examine are themselves. If you’re losing market share, losing dollars, losing business, whatever, you’re losing voters — I don’t care what it is — if you don’t first ask yourself, “Are we responsible? Are we doing something wrong?”…
For example, if I ever started losing audience on this program, the first thing I would do is say, “Okay, what’s changed about this show that people don’t like?” The last thing I would do is start blaming the critics of this program for driving the audience away. That’s the last thing. They have yet to do that. They have yet to analyze their own problem, and this guy is panicked. You can hear it in his voice. “Is it going to pass? What are they going to do? Is it going to affect journalism? Oh, my God, Mr. Downie, what are we going to do?” and here, from atop the mountain of the Washington Post, is the answer to these teeming questions.
DOWNIE: I don’t think they impact journalism very much at all. They’re building their own audiences, and they’re entertainers. People who agree with them —
RUSH: Stop the tape. The common refrain: “They’re just entertainers. They’re just establishing their own audiences.” I would suggest that they go back and look at the Pew survey that we pointed out that we didn’t even know existed. Our editor at the Limbaugh Letter found this, a 2004 survey. We’ll put it up on the website. It’s a pdf file, but it’s page 28 in the report, page 30 in the pdf file, but it clearly indicates that of consumers of hard news, this program is most often listened to by consumers of hard news. People that listen to this program. Yeah, it’s entertainment. It’s gotta be! It’s in the media. There’s a lot of noise out there; you’ve got to stand out above it — but it’s also substantive, and that they will not admit. So we’re just entertainers. They’re building their own audiences. “I don’t think they impact journalism very much at all.”
If they don’t think that we’ll just continue to sneak up on them.
DOWNIE: — agree with them and like to hear those things reinforced on the right or the left, we’ll pay attention to them more. We can say ’til we’re blue in the face that Washington Post is not liberal; the Washington Post is accurate; the Washington Post is not what Rush Limbaugh says it is, but readers are going to judge us by what we do. We have to do our jobs well.
RUSH: Okay, the Washington Post is not liberal. Give it up! Give it up. You’re beating your heads against the wall and you’re going to get bruised here pretty badly. Cranial swelling is not long down the road for you people. I mean, this is ridiculous. Didn’t the Washington Post just start…? Yes, they did. Within the past month, they started a conservative blog on the website, and their readers and the left wing fringe threw a hissy fit, and the liberal Washington Post buckled just as fast as a bunch of congressmen in front of an immigration protest, and they concocted some phony excuse that the guy that they had hired was a plagiarist and that they didn’t know it.
So he was gone inside of two weeks. He probably created more attention and hits to that blog at the Washington Post than any other liberal bloggers. But they couldn’t handle the heat from the left. They couldn’t offend their audience, and so they had to get rid of the conservative blogger, and at the same time they had to put out a bunch of garbage to impugn his character and reputation at the same time. Don’t tell us you’re not liberal. That’s where you’re going wrong. What is so wrong with being liberal? I thought being a progressive, being a liberal is something to be proud of?
I am proud to say I’m a conservative.
I flex my muscles and say, “Damn right I’m a conservative, and here’s why,” and I don’t want to have a meeting with myself to remind myself what conservatism is. I shouldn’t get so exercised because it’s actually good that they don’t get it. It’s actually good that they continue to be so obstinate and stubborn about their jobs, their mission, who they are. Here’s another bite here before we have to go to the break. This is last night on C-SPAN, by the way, at the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism, a panel discussion about changes in the news and communication. Bob Schieffer (of course, since it was at the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism) moderated, and he added this after Downie just said what he said.
SCHIEFFER: One of the reasons we have such partisanship in the country now is because we have so many different points of view.
RUSH: Stop the tape. What he really means is too many points of view, not “so many.”
SCHIEFFER: It used to be that television was the one common experience that most Americans shared. We all watched the same television.
RUSH: Stop the tape. He’s reminding us that he knows they had a monopoly. There was one television, meaning there was three networks, and that was it — and there probably was just one television in the house, as Bob’s thinking about the glory days here, and the whole family sat around and watched what these people put out as news, and he’s admitting, lamenting those days are sayonara.
SCHIEFFER: Now you can get the news any way you want it. People tend to go to the places where they get it the way they like it, but in the end we’re not all getting the same stuff…
RUSH: Stop the tape. Why should we? Why should we! You still do the same stuff as ABC does or NBC does or as the Washington Post and New York Times does. Why should it be the same? There’s half a world, if not more, that you totally ignore. There’s over half a country that you ignore, if not more. Why should it all be the same?
SCHIEFFER: …and so that makes it more difficult for the person that hears the news that comes from one point of view over here to understand what the other side of it is, because he’s simply not getting it.
RUSH: Yes, he is now. We’re all getting all sides of it now, Bob, and that’s what he’s just admitted here, whether he knows it or not, that they had their monopoly, and that it is ended, and he is also… I don’t know if he unwittingly admits this, but he clearly thinks the audience are idiots. There’s so much news out there, you don’t have the brains to figure it out! Back in the old days when the drive-by media was it, why, they could tell you not only what the news was, they could ignore the news they didn’t want you to know, and they could tell you what to think about what they showed you. They don’t have that power anymore, and all this is because a bunch of entertainers who have come along and are destroying them. McCarthyites on the talk radio side are destroying the credibility of once-great journalists and their business! So we don’t have a monopoly anymore. There’s too many sources out there, and the audience is too stupid to sort through it all — and it all adds up to the fact that they still will not examine their own role in their continuing demise.
RUSH: I’m thinking this guy questioning Len Downie at the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism forum last night on C-SPAN: “When is Rush Limbaugh going to be responded to?” What about the TIME Magazine cover in 1995 which was doctored, a photo of me doctored to show smoke coming out of my mouth in a churlish, devilish fashion, and the headline was: “Is Rush Limbaugh good for America?” And the following week they did a glowing cover story on Fidel Castro and his efforts to revitalize his lavish Paradise Island. Fidel Castro, to save a country he destroyed!
“Is Rush Limbaugh good for America?”
Don’t tell me you people in the drive-by media haven’t responded.
Speaking of Castro? Do you know what he’s doing? I actually love this. Castro is going to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico 45 miles from the United States. He doesn’t want to depend on Hugo Chavez alone for oil, because the guy is unstable. I mean Castro, one unstable guy will recognize one unstable guy faster than anybody else will. He’s actually going to drill. You’ve got the Mexicans drilling for oil and you’ve got Castro drilling 45 miles from US soil. You’ve got American liberals that won’t let us drill anywhere — and Castro just going to drill it right up our you-know-what. Fine and dandy. Here’s Judy Woodruff now talking about the frustration of the drive-by media that their monopoly has vanished.
WOODRUFF: There is frustration on the part of the mainstream media that we haven’t been able to come back so often and defend ourselves in a way. As Bob said, their agenda is really an opinion agenda, and the agenda of the mainstream media is, “We hope, and we believe, to report the news,” and yet they have set upon…
RUSH: Stop the tape! It’s BS. Your agenda is to make news. Your agenda is to create news. You don’t report the news. That’s what’s wrong with what you people do. What’s the biggest news story on a given day? The latest poll! And who does the poll? You! There’s no “reporting” in a poll. It’s become lazy substitute. This is such… It’s so arrogant. They don’t get it.
WOODRUFF: — on the mainstream media in many instances and made it seem as if we do have an agenda like theirs except on the other end of the spectrum, and we are more disbursed. There isn’t like one division of, you know, of all the newspapers and the New York Times and the Washington Post and all the networks who come together and say, “This is what we believe.” (It) doesn’t work that way. We compete with each other, and so I agree, there is some frustration.
RUSH: Really? Really? “There is not one division of all the newspapers, the New York Times, Washington Post, the networks comes together and…” Oh, yeah? Let’s go back just to last month, Judy.
SHUSTER: The president does excel at fraternity-style teasing, like when he towel-snapped a reporter.
CARLSON: His attitude during the press conference was oddly upbeat I thought and, you know, the towel snapping.
CARVILLE: He was in this jocular, frat boy, towel-snappin’ mood.
MATTHEWS: Did his P.R. people warn the president, “When you go out and towel-snap…”
RUSH: Now, that was from March. It’s last month in the presidential press conference. Now, the president didn’t “towel snap a reporter,” so how in the world did everybody in the drive-by media end up using the phrase? Well, we know how it happens. You hang out together. You go to lunch. You go to dinner, breakfast, whatever, and you all sit around and talk, whoever comes up with the cutest catch phrase, everybody else just uses it — either that or there’s some Oz behind a curtain that’s assigning all these words and phrases, like “gravitas.” This is absurd. You are all identically the same. It doesn’t matter what network people watch when they’re watching the drive-by media. They’re going to get exactly the same thing. We have documented this. We’re not telling people this. We illustrate it with your own words. This is too easy. I’m towel snapping reporters myself here.
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