While I rarely watch cable news, I’m fully aware that—in the era of Glenn Beck—the medium is more “entertainment” than “news.”
Nonetheless, FOX, CNN, and MSNBC all claim to have some “news” in their broadcasts. And so it would seem to me that each network would have minimal standards in a guest—perhaps to the extent that a guest who made repeated and verifiably false statements would not continue to be invited.
That standard, alas, seems to be too high for FOX, at least with regard to the decision to give air time to Wendy Murphy. Yes, that Wendy Murphy. Given that Murphy made error after error after error of fact during her on-air commentary about the lacrosse case, I would have thought that she would have disappeared from TV screens in the case’s aftermath. After all, Murphy is either a serial fabricator or a willful ignorant, and I would think that neither qualification would be much desired by a “news” network.
And yet here was Murphy, spouting her usual, factually-challenged nonsense in an appearance with Radley Balko. Balko, astonished at his first-hand taste of Murphy’s ramblings, did some fact-checking on her recent appearances. The result wasn’t pretty.
So what does Murphy’s continued appearances say about the state of cable “news”? I agree with Balko: “Cable news is about lining people up on either side and letting them go at it. There's no room for subtlety. There's certainly no time for fact-checking a guest's claims, even after the segment airs. Murphy is pretty, provocative, and confrontational. She's great TV. That she's inaccurate, slanderous, and hysterical is beside the point . . . At some point you have to wonder, is it even possible to be too shameless for cable news?”
Alex Pareene, of left-leaning Salon, piggy-backed on Balko’s post to (correctly) brand Murphy as Exhibit A of the proposition that “there are, in the mass media, absolutely no consequences for blatant, constant lying.”
Pareene, alas, then fatally undermines his case by comparing Murphy to Peter Beinart and Jeff Goldberg, both of whom supported the war in Iraq, and both of whom (until, in Beinart’s case, recently) have publicly and repeatedly defended Israeli national security policy.
It doesn’t take a genius to see the flaws in this comparison: Murphy repeatedly, shamelessly makes “facts” up to advance her argument. Goldberg, Beinart, and other supporters of the invasion of Iraq made (what I consider) a flawed public policy judgment. But nothing either man has ever written (including Beinart’s recent poorly-argued NYRB essay on Israeli matters) even approaches in journalistic misconduct anything Murphy said about the lacrosse case—or, from Balko’s essay, anything she’s said about sex crimes or immigration policy.
That Pareene considers Murphy’s serial fabrications comparable to the performance of Goldberg or Beinart suggests that he, unlike Balko, doesn’t see just how outrageous Murphy’s behavior has been.