Lately, I've been subscribed to a site called Media Matters. What they do is ask volunteers to watch media outlets for a short period and fact-check what is presented. The results have been far worse than anything I could have imagined, and I'm Mr. Cynical.
Some examples from the last two days only:
* Media (ABC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, FOX) refers to the Democrat reaction (booing) to Bush's State of the Union "unprecedented" when, in fact, Republicans booed Clinton during his. Some of the people commenting were actually at the Clinton State of the Union address in question.
* Kathleen Hays with CNN -- making this mistake twice in three days -- reported that Bush's Social Security plan, "would give workers a way to pass their Social Security retirement benefits on to their heirs. Under the current system, those benefits stay with the government." This is 100% incorrect and the Social Security Administration's own website clearly states this.
* John McCain's (R-AZ) stated that the Social Security trust fund will have "no money at all left" in 15 years in an interview following President Bush's February 2 State of the Union address. NBC Nightly News' Brian Williams did not correct him. The Socal Security board of trustees (non-partisan) estimates that the fund will not be exhausted until 2042 and that 68% of benefits would still be delivered until 2078.
* On FOX News' pre-State of the Union coverage, general assignment correspondent Brian Wilson expressed bewilderment at how involved parties -- presumably Democrats -- were able to formulate and distribute responses to the speech since "they don't really know what the president is going to say."
In fact, several FOX News correspondents and commentators had already made clear that they had obtained embargoed copies of the speech, and it was available to the public on the Internet, so it was hardly mysterious how Democrats were able to review the speech and react to it before President Bush delivered it. The implication you're left with is that Democrats don't actually listen to Bush, they just say his ideas suck sight-unseen.
* In the February 2 edition of The Washington Post, staff writer Michael A. Fletcher incorrectly reported that the 2004 federal budget deficit was $521 billion. In fact, the actual figure is $412 billion. The $521 billion figure is the amount that the president's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) projected in February 2004. Around the same time, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected the amount would be $477 billion.
This actually helps Bush because everyone knows that the budget is a mess, so why not inflate how bad it is to make a recovery seem more impressive than it is? Bush is now saying he'll cut the deficit in half. What he's saying is that he will halve the overhyped number, so in a way it's already been cut without any action whatsoever.
Look, it doesn't matter if you don't care about these issues. What matters is that the media, in case after case, either doesn't do it's own fact-checking or even exercise some critical thinking.
The news you watch tells you a very one-sided view of what is happening. It is created by people with interests similar to yours, edited by people with the same general vested interest as you. Why do you think that the terrorists are all painted as American-hating lunatics? Well, because they don't share our priorities so their mindset is completely alien to any culture that doesn't attempt to see the other side of things. They're not crazy, they're pissed off.
I'm not saying they're right, just that we don't bother to determine if they are in any meaningful way. Have you ever seen a news column present -- not necessarily sympathetic, just present -- the Iraqi insurgent view of what is going on?
Anyway, that's my rant. If you want to see hundreds of examples, dozens daily if you sign up for their email, then just head to mediamatters.com. Stop thinking that the news educates you. All it does it cement what you believe to be true already.