2/02/2005

Beware, evil lefties! ABC News has its eye on you.

From Paul Waldman at Gadflyer:
ABC News seems to have turned up the dial on their pro-administration spin lately. The other night Charlie Gibson, substituting for Peter Jennings, described a federal judge's ruling that detainees have some due process rights as "a setback for the Bush administration's war on terror" - as opposed to, say, "a victory for American values." In full Fox News mode, a few nights ago substitute anchor Terry Moran responded to a report on the effect of the deaths of the soldiers stationed in Hawaii by intoning, "The price of freedom." He could have said, "What a waste," or "All those young men dead, for the Bush administration's lies." But no, "The price of freedom."
But last night's latest "culture war" story has to take the cake. Reporter Dan Harris seems to have taken up permanent residence in the O'Reilly-esque conservatives-are-so-oppressed beat. Let's go to the transcript:
DAN HARRIS: When Christian students at Indian River Community College asked to host a screening of "The Passion of the Christ," administrators said no, because the film's R-rated. At the campus theater weeks later, however, another student performed a monologue in which she described engaging in sexual acts before the image of Jesus.
STUDENT, FEMALE: That hurt. That shocked, and I did take that kind of offensive.
DAN HARRIS: Do you think this is a case of discrimination against Christians?
STUDENT, MALE: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.
DAN HARRIS: Administrators say there was no discrimination. They simply didn't know about the monologue. David French, whose nonpartisan group monitors free speech on campuses, says conservatives are systematically suppressed and censored.
DAVID FRENCH, FOUNDATION FOR INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS IN EDUCATION: You're going to get more political and intellectual diversity at your average suburban mega-church than you are at an elite university.
DAN HARRIS: From Columbia University, where Jewish students complain about harassment from pro-Palestinian professors...
STUDENT: He said you have no voice in this debate.
DAN HARRIS: ... to Foothills College, where this freshman says he was told to get psychotherapy after refusing to write an essay criticizing the US constitution.
AHMAD AL QLOUSHI, FOOTHILLS COLLEGE STUDENT: I was attacked and intimidated because I love America.
DAN HARRIS: Conservatives have responded with websites where students can name and shame professors, and an effort to pass an academic bill of rights outlawing what they call in-class indoctrination.
Many academics say conservatives are blowing a few isolated incidents way out of proportion in order to launch a McCarthyesque witch hunt, which is designed to intimidate professors, limit academic freedom, and promote a sort of affirmative action for conservative professors.
Robert O'Neil, a former university president, says conservative students may be trying to protect themselves from ideas they don't like. But he says schools could do more to include conservative views.
PROFESSOR ROBERT O'NEIL, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA LAW SCHOOL: I think there's a sense that, well, Liberals have had their way and they've advanced their views for quite some time. There should be balance.
DAN HARRIS: The historical irony is rich. In the 1960s, Liberal students started the free speech movement to protest against the government. Today, conservatives are invoking the same argument for very different purposes. Dan Harris, ABC News, Ft. Pierce, Florida.

Waldman's deconstruction is great:
First, let's count the sources. We have five different people making the case in one way or another that conservatives are oppressed on campus. These five are "balanced" with one former university president, who...describes how conservatives are feeling. And what are we to make of these horrific stories of oppression? Students wanted to show "The Passion of the Christ," but the school had a policy against R-rated films? Obvious anti-Christian bigotry! The supposedly neutral expert from the "non-partisan group" asked to comment? Well, FIRE is hardly a neutral observer - they're a group whose main purpose is to defend conservatives with hurt feelings on campus (yes, they do defend a liberal now and again, but that seems like mostly window dressing).
But the real smoking gun is the use of the story about Kuwaiti student Ahmad Al-Qloushi, who has become a conservative celebrity since he was so terribly insulted - or so he claims - over his pro-American essay. A few things the conservatives don't want you to know about Al-Qloushi: he's not just some random kid, he's the president of the Foothills College Republicans. He's also a liar, having written about his "one-week-old baby cousin who died while the Iraqi invaders were stealing incubators from hospitals to sell them for profit." But the mythical incubator story never happened - it was made up by a Washington PR firm to sell the first Gulf War. Finally, the principle crime committed against him was that he was failed on his essay, he claims, because it was pro-America. But his essay, which you can read here, is so ridiculously poor in both form and substance it would have earned a failing grade in a seventh-grade history class. You can read more about Al-Qloushi here.
Did Dan Harris do research to figure out whether Al-Qloushi's story held water - or, for that matter, whether any of the incidents he mentions constitute a trend, or a part of a conservative propaganda campaign? And what was Harris' technique of gathering these crimes? Did he just listen to Limbaugh for a couple of days? I don't know about the other networks, but ABC News has obviously responded to the results of the election, and the "moral values" myth, by Foxing up their broadcasts. Besides being a disservice to their viewers, it's a sad turn of events for a news organzation that had begun to show some signs of life in the last year or so.

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