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Media Mangle

Anatomy of a Newspaper Hit Piece

Five simple steps The Charlotte Observer used to flim-flam its readers

Jan. 16th, 2012
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I spent yesterday afternoon breaking down the way The Charlotte Observer misled its readers in the political hit piece it ran on Sunday, not to prove to you that the paper is incredibly biased to the left, which we already know, but to expose the simple methods reporters are using this political season to flim-flam their readers.

The reporter’s mission was clearly not objectivity, but to find data — any data — he could use to paint Mitt Romney as Wall Street’s candidate, a wholly owned subsidiary of those who caused our current financial calamity. It’s easy to do when you leave out half the facts and most of the context, then quote left wing organizations with no opportunity for those on the other side to respond.

The paper is joining the rest of the media in reporting off the very public Democrat Party template for destroying Romney that the Obama folks have very openly sworn to use.

Phase 1, eerily described here back in August at Politico.com, is being implemented now at the Observer and across the country:

The second aspect of the campaign to define Romney is his record as CEO of Bain Capital, a venture capital firm that was responsible for both creating and eliminating jobs. Obama officials intend to frame Romney as the very picture of greed in the great recession — a sort of political Gordon Gekko.

This Washington Post chart documents actual Wall Street giving. It shows clearly that, so far, Romney and the GOP are way behind.

Here are five simple tactics the Observer used to mislead its readers in today’s piece:

1. The Observer made it look to the casual reader like — and essentially concluded that – Romney is the candidate of the banks, and ultimately Wall Street, by only analyzing contributions from employees and bank PACs of top banks.

When you look at total giving from Wall Street and the banking industry, which the Washington Post has exhaustively done, you get a totally different tale than what the Observer presented today:

Despite frosty relations with the titans of Wall Street, President Obama has still managed to raise far more money this year from the financial and banking sector than Mitt Romney or any other Republican presidential candidate, according to new fundraising data.

Obama’s key advantage over the GOP field is the ability to collect bigger checks because he raises money for both his own campaign committee and for the Democratic National Committee, which will aid in his reelection effort.

As a result, Obama has brought in more money from employees of banks, hedge funds and other financial service companies than all of the GOP candidates combined, according to a Washington Post analysis of contribution data. The numbers show that Obama retains a persistent reservoir of support among Democratic financiers who have backed him since he was an underdog presidential candidate four years ago.

When combined totals of what Obama raised for the DNC, which will spend heavily on his campaign, and his actual campaign are analyzed, Obama pulverizes the whole GOP field combined.


To see who is really raking it in, you’ve got to look at the whole enchilada, not a million or so dollars, or even $10 million dollars, as the Observer has. Contributions by individual bank employees and bank employee PACS are a poor indicator of who the industry supports because they raise such a tiny amount of money and most of those giving aren’t power players or fundraisers, just regular bank employees.

It’s who bank executives fund raise and bundle for that counts, especially at the party level. The Observer conveniently ignores that to avoid having to conclude that while Romney is holding his own, it is Obama who is currently owned by Wall Street donors (see helpful Washington Post chart).

2. Hide the truth by leaving out or ignoring crucial details, like that right now, most financial sector money from the banks and Wall Street is coming in via the DNC, not the little employee PACs and donations the Observer analyzed, as the Washington Post explains:

Unlike the Republican candidates, Obama can raise money for both his own campaign account, which can take donations up to $5,000 for the 2012 cycle, and for his party’s national committee, which can accept $30,800 per individual each calendar year. The same donors will be able to give another $30,800 to the DNC next year.

The result is more money from fewer donors in the finance business.


Romney has raised less than half of what Obama has, the Post’s analysis shows.

3. In today’s hit piece, the Observer quotes a liberal talking head from Public Campaign who assures readers that ”Romney really is the candidate of Wall Street.” The paper identifies Public Campaign as “an organization that pushes for campaign reform,” and doesn’t tell you that it is a left-leaning group dedicated almost solely to attacking the finances of GOP candidates. The writer also neglects to mention that it is funded by a host of liberal donors, including the liberal Streisand Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers fund, or that its board is full of union and liberal activists.

The paper also quotes Consumer Watchdog without informing you that even Wikipedia describes it as a “progressive” organization that grew out of Ralph Naders movement.

“We’ve seen a massive shift from Obama to the Republican candidates on the part of the financial industry,” said Carmen Balber of Consumer Watchdog, a California nonprofit that advocates for taxpayers and consumers. “Obviously, part of that has to do with a competitive primary. But we’ve definitely seen the financial services industry publicly chastise the president for going after financial reform.”

Uh, no. Again, as the Washington Post chart above makes clear, Obama doubled what Romney and the rest of the GOP combined raised from Wall Street and bank donors this year.

No chance for rebuttal is given in the article to Romney’s camp or another group who might disagree, or to a nonprofit group that leans right as radically as Public Campaign leans left, probably because the premise of the article would quickly fall apart if that were allowed.

4. The paper splashed a story about the evils of Bain Capital, the private equity firm co-founded by GOP primary candidate Mitt Romney, all over the front page Saturday. In today’s piece, the paper reports this about Romney and Bain:

It’s not just his policy on regulation that draws bankers to (Romney), observers say. As the former head of Bain Capital, another top financial industry political donor, he comes from their world. Romney says his business acumen is one reason he’s best suited to lead the country.

Missing from both stories was the fact that Barack Obama raised more from Bain this year than Romney did.

5. The Observer headline reads, “Observer analysis: Banks overwhelmingly support Romney.” You’ve got to read on to find out that they actually only looked at the top five banks by assets, not the financial sector, or Wall Street generally, as quotes within the article imply. It’s a flim-flam the paper’s repoters probably learned from the New York Times, which did it first. Here’s how you can scam your readers into believing that Mitt Romney has actually outraised Obama on Wall Street.

Start with a headline like the one the NYT ran on Oct. 15, “Romney Beating Obama in a Fight for Wall St. Cash.”

Then you only analyze, in the reporters own words, “the firms that have been among Wall Street’s top sources of donations for the two candidates.”

But at least the NYT had the class to bury the truth about Wall Street giving deep down in the article for astute readers:

Those figures do not account for all Wall Street giving, nor for the full force of each candidate’s robust network of Wall Street “bundlers,” wealthy individuals who raise money from friends, family members and business associates. And Mr. Obama continues to dominate Mr. Romney — and the rest of the Republican field — in overall fund-raising. He has raised close to $100 million so far this year for his campaign, three times more than Mr. Romney, as well as $65 million for the Democratic National Committee.

Look for more attempts by the media using these methods to confuse readers into believing that Romney is the one raking in the dough from Wall Street.

Personally, I really hope that whoever gets the GOP nomination is eventually able to surpass Obama in Wall Street and financial sector fundraising. They’ll need it. But for now, that’s just not happening.

Tara Servatius blogs at the John Locke Foundation's Charlotte blog, The Meck Deck.