American Politics Journal

The Mighty Wurlitzer Redux
Humiliated Corporate-Whore Press Seeks To Trash Watchdog Web Site
by Tamara Baker

June 4, 2002 -- SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA (APJP) -- I invite you to read the entire article (link below) from which this passage is taken before continuing on to the rest of my piece:

With all that ideological money, institutional heft,
coordination, and credentialing, the right has perfected
what the CIA used to call a "mighty Wurlitzer" - a
propaganda machine that can hone a fact or a lie, broadcast
it, and have it echoed and recycled in Fox News commentary,
in Washington Times news stories, in Wall Street Journal
editorials, by myriad right-wing pundits, by Heritage
seminars and briefing papers, and in congressional hearings
and speeches. Privatization of Social Security, vouchers
for school, Vince Foster's supposed murder, Hillary's
secret sex life, you name it -- the right's mighty
Wurlitzer can ensure that a message is broadcast across the
county, echoed in national and local news, and reverberated
in the speeches of respectable academics as well as rabid
politicians.

With no factual basis, Brock trashes Hill -- " a little
slutty and a little nutty" was the quote chosen for effect
in The American Spectator, with a circulation of 30,000.
Rush Limbaugh then reads from the article on his radio show,
broadcast to two million people. Conservative pundits
recycle the charges in columns and radio shows across the
country. Brock turns the article into a book at the Free
Press, which gets George Will to hype the book in a column.
The Wall Street Journal devotes virtually an entire
editorial page to excerpts. That ensures that the book is
treated seriously in The New York Times Book Review and
kindred publications. And so it goes. A biased,
politically inspired hatchet job becomes a bestseller,
clothed in the praise of conservative pundits."

-- from Robert Borosage's "The Mighty Wurlitzer," The American Prospect, Volume 13, Issue 8

Ah, yes. The conservatives' Mighty Wurlitzer. It plays the tune, and the rest of the media follows suit. It says to "Jump!", and the rest of the press says "How high?" As several people have said to me recently, "Nobody ever lost their job by catering to the right-wing, while plenty of people -- Mike Malloy among them -- have lost their jobs for daring to contradict the right wing." Left-wing media sites like Salon feel they must cater to the conservatives by allowing David Horowitz and Norah Vincent to pollute the same web page once graced by Murray Waas and Mollie Dickenson, while right-wing sites don't feel any sort of need to cater to lefties.

This is probably why, of the eight anti-MWO stories that are alleged to be in the works, the very first one of them appeared, not in Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard (as Eric Alterman thought it might), but as the lead story for the June 3, 2002 issue of Salon.com.

This is how the Mighty Wurlitzer operates: agree on a theme -- to judge from the hit-piece by Jennifer Liberto in Salon, the theme is "you can't trust anonymous opinions, even if they're extremely well-sourced, and all Clinton/Democrat defenders are evil" -- and then spring it in several places at once -- with the first story seeing print just a little ahead of the others, as a sort of trial balloon in case the spin doesn't take for some reason.

Here's how Liberto phrases it, straight out of Howie "Mistah" Kurtz' Insinuation Playbook:

Of course, it's hard to take MWO seriously as a media
watchdog, when it remains completely free of any
accountability.

(It doesn't matter that MWO has a much better accuracy rating than any of the conservative websites, such as Andrew Sullivan or Lucianne.com or FreeRepublic, or that when newspapers run their daily ex cathedra opinions, they never tell you who wrote them, or that while I've yet to see Jennifer Liberto publish her e-mail address, MWO is easily reachable at mwo@mediawhoresonline.com -- nope, logic only gets in the way of the Mighty Wurlitzer.)

Other themes from the mighty Wurlitzer this week are: "Robert Mueller is the reason the FBI is messed up" (WSJ, Safire in the NYT, later copied by countless others) and "The FBI's problem isn't ignoring its field agents, it's not having enough authori-TAH to crap on the Constitution at will" (David Horowitz, virtually every other conservative commentator).

But the one that should be of most concern to you, dear reader, is the effort being planned to trash MWO.

"MWO" -- Media Whores Online, the site that set out to bring the media to their knees, but found they were already there.

The site that uses deeply-sourced cites to buttress its claims of media whoredom and pro-conservative media bias.

The site that has yet to be discredited on the issues, ever.

When Eric Alterman wants to find out what's happening with a certain Texas bankruptcy, he checks out MWO's "Annals of Enron." When James Carville or Paul Begala really want to make Tucker and Bob squirm, they bring up an article cited in Media Whores Online. When Washington Post reporter Susan Schmidt opens her e-mail every morning, she curses MWO for alerting their readership to her continuing journalistic malfeasance.

No wonder why the folks who run the Mighty Wurlitzer hate MWO so much.

Interestingly, though Ms. Liberto has nothing but scorn for the "near-professional Clinton defenders" that she implies are associated with MWO, she seemingly has no problem at all with Susan Schmidt's much-condemned efforts to get two MWO readers fired from their jobs, all because they dared criticize the great Susan.

Ms. Liberto is trying to make it sound as if the two critics in question were sending Schmidt illogical and obscenity-filled e-mails. As anyone who has actually read the e-mails in question on the MWO site knows, these letters, while heated, don't hold a candle to the sort of rabidly unthinking lockstep swillage that regularly gets directed at Gene Lyons, Molly Ivins and Paul Krugman from residents of right-wing sites such as FreeRepublic or Lucianne.com.

You wanna see "rabid", Ms. Liberto? No MWO fan would ever stoop so low as to, say, post Sue Schmidt's private phone number or credit-card information. But fans of FreeRepublic regularly track down and post the phone and credit card numbers of people they don't like, such as the owner and manager of Chuy's restaurant, after the manager turned in the Bush twins for underage drinking. And Julie Hiatt Steele, possibly the one person Ken Starr hurt more than any other, had to stop taking credit-card donations from her website when Freepers flooded the site with fake donations using phony card numbers.

Maia Cowan, who Jennifer Liberto interviewed for the Salon anti-MWO hit piece -- and most of whose comments never made print -- had this to say upon reading the finished work:

One of the most important moments of my life occurred many
years ago when I realized that how defensive I felt when
somebody criticized me was directly proportional to the
validity of the criticism.

Pity the mediawhores never had that Moment of Truth. They'd
be better reporters for it.

You got it, Maia.

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ISSN No. 1523-1690