Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Republican Media- No. 20

PolitiFact has applied its Truth-O-Meter to the (in)famous Republican claim of up to $30 million in the recently enacted stimulus bill to protect the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.

Among others, House Minority Leader John Boehner, Representatives Steve King of Iowa and Mike Pence of Indiana, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, the Washington Times, and the Drudge Report have maintained or implied that Speaker Nancy Pelosi engineered an earmark in the bill to support a project they have delighted in ridiculing.

Though of little concern to the critics, there is no such appropriation. PolitiFact explains that when relevant parties were asked to specify projects for the stimulus proposal, engineer Steve Ritchie of the California State Coastal Conservancy

.....prepared a list of the agency's shovel-ready projects and submitted it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, both of which received money in the final version of the stimulus bill.

Three projects would turn abandoned industrial salt operations back into natural wetlands, about 26,000 acres in all. It turns out the mouse is an endangered species that likes tidal salt marshes, and it's mentioned by name as one of several species that will benefit.

But the projects themselves — the South Bay Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project , the Napa Plant Site , and the Napa Salt Marsh restoration — are intended to do more than just benefit wildlife. It's major construction work to create recreation areas and to restore marshland that will resist flooding and storm surge.

There is no money in the stimulus act for mice and Politifact graded the Repubs' charge as completely false.

But why would the mere recitation of a major Republican talking point constitute evidence of a pro-Republican bias in the media?

Because the legend of the salt marsh mice is not only a Republican talking point but also a New York Times talking point- that New York Times, the liberal bogeyman of Republican imagination. In an article of February 21, Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes:

Besides, there are political gains to be made by standing tough. Mr. Gingrich sees the stimulus bill as his party’s ticket to a revival in 2010, as Republicans decry what they see as pork-barrel spending for projects like marsh-mouse preservation. “You can imagine the fun people will have with that,” he said.

Neglecting to mention that the bill included no such funds was no mistake of a mere reporter but of the editor. Greg Sargent explains that a reader of his e-mailed Ms. Stolberg and received a response which read in part

I did write in the story I submitted that the assertion was misleading, but I’m sorry to report that language was removed by editors and that I didn’t notice the deletion. My initial text read like this:

“….as Republicans decry, often misleadingly, what they see as pork-barrel spending for projects like marsh mouse preservation....”

“Still, I think the wording as published was not inaccurate.”

Not strictly inaccurate- the article did not indicate the funds were in the bill, only clearly implying they were there- but grossly misleading. (And the original wording itself might have left the impression not that the project was absent but merely that it might not be considered "pork-barrel spending.")

Blithely repeating a Republican talking point as gospel, the New York Times demonstrated the tilt toward the GOP of the establishment media, cowed by farcical charges it typically exhibits a liberal bias.

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