Forbes and D’Souza’s Basement Journalism

The Newt Gingrich comments about President Obama to National Review online, about which I’ve been blogging the past week, and based on the Forbes article by Dinesh D’Souza,  have drawn renewed attention to the empty intellectual shell of contemporary American conservatism. Beyond the obvious media hacks and charlatans like Limbaugh and Beck, and their political variant in the likes of Gingrich, journalistic “idea” people such as Jonah Goldberg and D’Souza, stars of a media-journalism age, churn out shoddy smear work like Liberal Fascism and The Roots of Obama’s Rage, the basis of the Forbes article. Dressed up as works of intellectual analysis, they are easily revealed, as D’Souza’s work now, as merely a cheap extension of low politicking.

Forbes’s Obama Critique Spurs Fact Checking and Media Soul Searching

When Forbes published a cover story this month by Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative author, asserting that President Obama is opposed to free markets and traditional American values because he inherited his father’s anticolonial beliefs, all the media tripwires were set off: enthusiastic support by conservative commentators like Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, and an uproar among liberal bloggers and columnists.

But after a meeting last week with the White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, the magazine, which initially defended the article, agreed to a post-publication fact-checking process to see if an apology or a correction was warranted, according to Bill Burton, a White House spokesman.

What kind of effort is now dignified by publication in major American magazines or political and economic reputation?

In discrediting Mr. Obama’s American-ness, the essay by Mr. D’Souza, a former policy adviser in the Reagan White House and best-selling author, seemingly stitched some intellectual heft to what has long been a fringe idea of the far right — that Mr. Obama’s Kenyan roots and Hawaiian boyhood make him a lesser American….

Mr. Gingrich described Mr. D’Souza’s theory as “stunningly insightful,” while an editor at The Columbia Journalism Review called it, “the worst kind of smear journalism.”

One of the most contentious points in Mr. D’Souza’s article was his citation of a transaction by the Export-Import Bank of the United States to finance offshore drilling in Brazil, a deal Mr. D’Souza believes indicates Mr. Obama is more concerned with helping countries that formerly were the domains of colonial powers, rather than Americans.

A Forbes fact checker recently contacted the bank to check on the assertion that Mr. Obama supported the 2009 transaction with Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil company. Mr. D’Souza asserted that Mr. Obama supported the deal, “not so oil ends up in the U.S. He is funding Brazilian exploration so that the oil can stay in Brazil.”

A note written by Kevin Varney, the senior vice president and chief of staff of the bank, and posted in the comments section of Mr. D’Souza’s blog — and verified by a spokesman for the bank — criticized Mr. D’Souza for not contacting the bank before publication.

“I received a call yesterday from Nathan Verdi, a fact checker at Forbes, who was calling to fact check your article after it was published. (Is this how journalism works now?)”

In an interview, Mr. Varney explained that the transaction “was begun in 2008 with career staffers and approved in 2009 by five Bush-appointed board members.” Furthermore, he said a transaction like the Brazilian one — which provided loan guarantees for Petrobras to purchase drilling and safety equipment from United States manufacturers — did not even rise to the level of presidential awareness.

Mr. Varney said that to cite the deal as evidence of “an anticolonial, Kenyan ideology” on the part of Mr. Obama is “preposterous, it’s false and it’s wrong.”

The only way to recover from these depths is for the journalistic and publishing worlds to recover their professional standards. Irresponsible, shoddy, and malicious journalism needs to become a career killer. Serious publishers, magazines, and newspapers – those that are not Fox-news style political advocates – need to shun the work of such writers as the inferior, unprofessional product it is, or to what depth will they not sink to generate buzz and sales and please a crowd?


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