The anatomy of a smear

In yesterday’s White House press briefing with Jay Carney, CBS’s Norah O’Donnell pressed the point that the left is deeply unsatisfied with the debt-ceiling deal struck with congressional Republicans. First she pressed Carney on the non-existent new revenues in the agreement, and followed up asking, “But you have Democrats saying, ‘You gave them everything they wanted and we got nothing.'”

That seems like a fair exchange. For those who watch White House press briefings with any regularity, reporters routinely ask spokespersons to respond to various charges from a variety of corners. It’s practically a daily occurrence, and ordinarily, O’Donnell’s question wouldn’t even have been noteworthy.

That is, except for the way in which the exchange was manipulated by the right.

At Commentary, Seth Mandel implausibly claimed O’Donnell had harangued White House spokesman Jay Carney during a briefing about the debt deal, complaining “we” got “nothing” out of the negotiations. In other words, Mandel pretended O’Donnell, speaking on behalf of the liberal media, was mad about the debt negotiations. (Not progressive enough!)

The report in Commentary coincided with a clip at Andrew Breitbart’s site which edited the video to make it say what the right wanted it to say. Viewers saw O’Donnell saying, “You gave them everything they wanted and we got nothing,” rather than the full quote: “But you have Democrats saying, ‘You gave them everything they wanted and we got nothing.'”

For its part, Commentary‘s headline read “CBS’s O’Donnell to Carney: We got nothing.” The piece told readers that O’Donnell’s question offered an example of a reporter “peeling back the veneer of impartiality to reveal the liberal advocacy sitting just beneath the surface of the mainstream networks.”

In other words, Commentary and Breitbart’s site lied. They took a fair question, removed the words that undermined their political message, and repackaged the question out of context to advance a dishonest agenda. Other conservative sites, including Michelle Malkin’s, ran with this, too.

Commentary‘s John Podhoretz later offered a defense — which still didn’t include the full context from the briefing — insisting that if one focuses on the tone of O’Donnell’s “delivery,” it seems as if she’s expressing her own personal opinion.

Seriously, that’s his defense. Commentary can imagine what the reporter is thinking.

It’s often difficult to understand why so many rank-and-file conservative voters seem so terribly confused about reality. Some of this confusion is clearly the result of relying on media outlets that lie to them.