Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Drudge Distorts

When it comes to providing quick and reliable scoops on major news events, few Internet outlets can match The Drudge Report. Launched by conservative blogger Matthew Drudge in 1997, it remains a venue that I check out on a regular basis...

At this moment you're probably backing up and re-reading the previous sentence. Yes, you understood it correctly; I, Matthew Laszlo, proud liberal, make daily treks to a conservative websites. And no, I did not also recently purchase a poster of Benedict Arnold to frame and place on my non-existent mantle. My frequent visits to The Drudge Report are due to the simple fact that, historically speaking, the man is very good at getting scoops on breaking stories. I like to be on top of the current events game, and The Drudge Report is one way I can achieve that objective. Often the distinctly right-wing slant of the featured stories and editorial commentary provides me with an opportunity for me to familiarize myself with points-of-view to which I am not normally exposed; at worst, they are an ignorable nuisance.

That said, The Drudge Report recently committed a transgression so shockingly dishonest that I couldn't abide just turning the other way. It came from this blurb, one that connected the reader to a link about Amy Bishop, an Alabama college professor who recently opened fire on six of her colleagues during a faculty meeting, killing three.

REPORT: Alabama shooter is 'far-left political extremist who was 'obsessed' with President Obama'...

There are two rather significant problems with the way this story is advertised:

1) Amy Bishop's were motivated not by politics, but by professional grudges (in short, office politics played a larger role than the national kind).

2) The article itself only makes one mention of Bishop's politics or Barack Obama - and that comes at the very end, in an offhand reference which occupies a mere 34 words in the 619-word piece.

There is only one reason for Matthew Drudge to draw attention to Bishop's politics in a manner so grossly out-of-proportion to its actual relevance in the story - because he wants to place, within the minds of his readers, a psychological connection between Bishop's heinous crime and the fact that she is a liberal Obama supporter.

How unethical is this? Let me illustrate this by drawing up some hypothetical "headlines" similar to those used by Drudge:

REPORT: Serial killer Ted Bundy is former Republican political worker, delegate for Nelson Rockefeller to 1968 GOP National Convention, close aide to Washington Governor Donald Evans...

REPORT: Serial killer John Wayne Gacy is former Democratic party volunteer, has picture taken with First Lady Rosalynn Carter...

Incidentally, both of those headlines speak the literal truth - Ted Bundy DID spend many years as a paid employee of the Republican Party, including stints as a convention delegate for New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller during the 1968 presidential campaign and work as an advisor to the Governor of Washington, and John Wayne Gacy WAS an active Democrat who volunteered at his local party headquarters and had his picture taken with the First Lady of the United States.

What does all of this mean?

Not a damn thing. The only germane fact about Ted Bundy is that he raped and murdered between 26 and 100 women between 1973 and 1978, while the only important piece of information about John Wayne Gacy is that he raped and murdered at least 33 little boys and young men between 1972 and 1978. The fact that Bundy was a Republican and Gacy was a Democrat has nothing to do with their crimes, and to suggest otherwise - either directly or through innuendo - would be appalling.

This isn't to say that discussing a criminal's politics is always out-of-line. When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, his involvement with radical right-wing groups that insisted on perceiving the Clinton Administration's bungling of the Waco hostage crisis as a harbinger of impending tyranny was clearly important; likewise, when President William McKinley was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, the latter's frequent association with violent anarchists was a relevant detail in understanding what motivated his murderous act. That said, considering how common radical left-wing political views are among college professors, Amy Bishop's adherence to such opinions are hardly noteworthy, while her unhealthy obsession with President Obama is, at best, a trivial point that only warrants attention as a fragment within the larger mosaic of her psychosis (which is exactly how the article cited by Drudge treats it). This makes The Drudge Report's disgustingly misleading blurb an affront not only to honest journalism, but simple good taste.

No comments: