Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, July 22, 2010

  Here’s why you shouldn’t trust right-wing media ‘scandals’

It’s really very simple, as anybody can attest who has ever seriously looked into a ‘scandal’ promoted by a right-wing news outfit: They do not scruple to lie, misrepresent, distort, deceive, selectively misquote, omit necessary context, and conceal critical information in order to score a partisan point. Nothing they say should ever be trusted without independent verification. Indeed my experience is that very rarely is it worth the bother even to try to verify their claims, so egregiously inaccurate and hyperbolic are their arguments. Such people view themselves as playing a role in the conservative propaganda machinery headed by Fox News and radio-ranting luminaries such as Rush Limbaugh. As such, they will fall over backwards to excuse even the most repulsively dishonest and manipulative behavior by their fellow partisans.

Almost incredibly, it appears that the Obama White House and much of the conventional media figured this obvious truth out only within the last day or so, after falling for yet another transparent fraud committed by the notorious huckster Andrew Breitbart. I would have thought that the last 19 years furnished ample evidence that right-wing media has little more than contempt for mamsy-pamsy standards of truthfulness and integrity – ever since it produced and flogged around a grossly misleading public opinion poll in order to boost the nomination of Clarence Thomas after he’d been accused of sexual harassment.

A case study

There shouldn’t be any doubt that right-wing media ‘scandals’ should be greeted with extreme skepticism, and yet the naïve continue to stumble along without ever taking a good hard look at how these frauds are perpetrated. So here is an example, chosen almost at random from the many daily ‘scandals’ flogged by right-wing blogs. Like so many other ‘scandals’ promoted by conservatives since 2008, this piece is transparently race-baiting. It has also been reproduced and quoted widely and uncritically. But above all, it’s marked by preposterously misleading assertions. The post is predicated entirely on the assumption that readers will not check the source material and discover its deceptions.

The author, William Tate, argues that the “Obama administration…faces a new [racial] bias claim” from the TARP Special Inspector General, Neil Barofsky. Tate would have us believe that Barofsky charges Obama with ensuring that GM and Chrysler dealerships were slated for closure based upon the race/gender of their owners.

Wonder of wonders, Tate is being deceptive. What follows are three obvious ways in which Tate has tried to mislead.

(i) Tate’s main evidence is a quotation that he rips out of context from the the TARP SIG report (PDF). Here is how the quotation is rendered by Tate:

[D]ealerships were retained because they were recently appointed, were key wholesale parts dealers, or were minority- or woman-owned dealerships. [Emphasis added.]


He reproduces this one sentence without providing anything like adequate context. Quite the contrary, by careful choice of his words, Tate implies (a) that this was the method by which all closure decisions were made for both GM and Chrysler, and (b) that the Obama administration “forced” this method on them. Neither thing is true.

In fact, the quotation relates only to GM, which devised its own method without much oversight from the Obama administration (Barofsky’s report suggests there should have been more governmental involvement, not less). Furthermore, the quotation relates to a secondary, not the primary (much less the sole) method for selecting GM dealerships for closure. The primary method was based purely on two objective criteria for how well dealerships were performing. Those that met both criteria were slated for closure. Then some 1252 marginal dealerships, those that met one but not both criteria for closure, were reviewed in more detail and 364 of them were given reprieves on several bases. The main basis for these reprieves, the report says explicitly, was to save rural dealerships. The quotation reproduced by Tate refers only to the remaining marginal reprieves, where a GM dealership was retained even though it wasn’t rural.

In other words, Tate selectively quotes a single sentence from a complex discussion in order to whip up racial resentments by falsely suggesting that racial preferences factored in all the decisions to close GM and Chrysler dealerships, putting thousands of workers out of jobs.

The truth is far less explosive: At most, a small number of marginal GM dealerships were given reprieves because of racial/gender preferences.

Here is the full paragraph that Tate carefully edited:

GM officials attributed these inconsistencies (in granting reprieves to some but not all of the marginal dealerships) primarily to a desire to maintain coverage in certain rural areas where they have a competitive advantage over import auto companies that are not typically located in rural areas, although ultimately close to half of all of the GM dealerships identified for termination were in rural areas. Other dealerships were retained because they were recently appointed, were key wholesale parts dealers, or were minority- or woman-owned dealerships.


For what it’s worth, later in the TARP SIG report there may be hints that those relatively few gender/racial preferences were based on corporate legal advice, perhaps due (?) to past accusations of GM-wide bias. In any event, it’s clear that Tate’s goal is to stoke racial animosities by misrepresenting what the Inspector General says. Here is Tate’s take-away from his selective quotation:

Thus, to meet numbers forced on them by the Obama administration, General Motors and Chrysler were forced to shutter other, potentially more viable, dealerships. The livelihood of potentially tens of thousands of families was thus eliminated simply because their dealerships were not minority- or woman-owned.


A series of bald assertions that simply are not true. Tate must know that they’re false, for why else would he omit the word “Other…” at the start of his quotation? He’s counting heavily on his readers’ gullibility.

(ii) Tate then proceeds to argue that “a reading of the IG's study makes plain that some dealership closings forced by the administration were based largely on politics”. He means that Obama wanted payback against Republican (rural) areas of the country he didn’t win in 2008.

Tate’s evidence? The fact that Barofsky states “ultimately close to half of all of the GM dealerships identified for termination were in rural areas.”

That is where raw, hard, sewage-filled Chicago politics came into play.


That’s it, Tate has nothing beyond a factoid about rural GM closures. Tate does not of course quote the full sentence nor supply the context, as I do above. Had he done so, it would have become immediately apparent to his readers that GM sought to lessen rural closures; that all closed dealerships were selected by an objective standard for poor performance; and that the standard was created by GM, not the White House.

The Barofsky report states explicitly that “SIGTARP found that [Obama’s] Auto Team was not involved in determining which dealerships to terminate.”

So not only is there not a shred of evidence that the Obama administration manipulated the closure process based on politics, the report indicates as clearly as possible that Tate’s central point is false.

(iii) Toward the end of his post, Tate puts in blockquotes three passages that he introduces as “details contained in the Barofsky report” and “essential underlying facts” in the report that the Treasury Dept. has not disputed. The first passage is the selective quotation discussed in part (i). Thus Tate implies that all these passages come from the Barofsky report. In the post as a whole, otherwise, Tate uses blockquotes only for quotations from the SIGTARP report.

But the second and third passages are in fact not quotations but Tate’s own hyperbole, each with only a short phrase snipped from the report. You’d have to be reading carefully, however, to figure out that these blockquotes are not marking actual quotations. Nor is Tate’s hyperbole here an accurate summary of the contents of the Barofsky report. The third passage in particular is egregiously misleading:

A disproportionate number of Obama-forced closings were of rural dealerships, in areas unfriendly to Obama, even though such closures could "jeopardize the return to profitability" for GM and Chrysler.


The latter part (about returning to profitability) is not an undisputed viewpoint, nor should Tate imply that it is one held by the Inspector General. It’s an opinion voiced by a representative from the Center for Automotive Research who was asked to critique the thinking of the Auto Team. Indeed that person describes any such jeopardy as “the worst case” scenario. Furthermore, there’s nothing in the SIGTARP report to prove that “a disproportionate number of…closings were of rural dealerships”. We aren’t given the proportions of rural and non-rural closings. And of course the report does not talk about political considerations in rural closures because it found no political involvement in the decisions.

From beginning to end, this flimsy piece is worse than a fiasco. It's not predicated on a misreading of the report, or mere sloppiness. It is deliberately and carefully disingenuous. It selects a few stray bits of authentic material and presents them in a package of analysis of such gross dishonesty as to transform these tatters into what appears, on first glance, to be a coherent tapestry of 'scandal'. The image collapses at the lightest touch, however, leaving behind only its filthy shreds.

The same is true of nearly all right-wing media 'scandals'.

Update: Here's a classic right-wing response to Tate's dishonest piece. Unlike nearly all conservative commentators, who simply swallowed Tate's lies whole, Ed Morrissey acknowledges the plain fact that the Obama administration had nothing to do with selecting the dealerships to close. None the less, Morrissey flails around trying to save Tate's false allegation (his title: "TARP audit on dealer shutdowns: Ethnic, gender issues trumped economics") by the most convoluted and bizarre argument imaginable. Among other things, it involves citing Tate for a "fact" that his own flimsy argument hinges on - the false assertion that "Barofsky actually found that closing dealerships wouldn’t save the automakers all that much money". (Barofsky said everybody agreed dealerships needed to be closed, but there were legitimate differences of opinion about the speed/timing of closures and the main benefits from them.)

In the end, Morrissey just flat out drops the question of "ethnic, gender issues". What's more, Morrissey then doesn't even come close to providing evidence to support his too clever reframing of Tate's racial argument - "why politics trumped business concerns" in the closure decisions. Instead, Morrissey just shifts the discussion to a different issue altogether by quoting another right-wing nut. Like Tate, Morrissey anticipates that the reader will swallow the hyperbolic allegations without noticing that they're unsupported. To judge by his commenters, that's exactly the reaction he gets. His post is a subtler version of Tate's manipulation, but no less deceptive.

crossposted from unbossed.com

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