Buried in the middle of Robin Givhan's remarkably defensive screed against Michelle Obama's "jarring" and "common" decision to wear shorts on a recent outing at the Grand Canyon is this throwaway line:
Obama's thigh-skimming shorts speak to body confidence and athleticism rather than fashion, sex appeal or coquettishness.
It's a shame Givhan chose not to elaborate on that. If we stipulate to Givhan's contention that what the First Lady wears matters, we might well come to the conclusion that Michelle Obama's "body confidence" is something to be applauded, particularly in a society that has long done everything possible to undermine the confidence women have in their bodies. We might well conclude that a First Lady who demonstrates to millions of American women that you don't have to be a size zero to be comfortable and confident is doing something remarkably positive and important.
But instead of exploring that possibility, Givhan sniffs that Michelle Obama's outfit was insufficiently "polished" and "aesthetically respectful." And that's a shame. Givhan had an opportunity to say something important, if only she had seen it.
Earlier this month, I noted that Washington Post/CNN media critic Howard Kurtz has repeatedly failed to disclose his financial relationship with CNN when writing about the cable channel, even after assuring Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander that one such failure was an "oversight" that "won't be repeated."
Well, look what appears at the bottom of Kurtz' column today, in which he mentions CNN:
Howard Kurtz is a CNN contributor and hosts its media program "Reliable Sources" hour, which is part of "State of the Union."
Good to see Kurtz disclosing the tie again, but it's woefully inadequate. Kurtz has the biggest conflict-of-interest going, and it isn't a theoretical one: it has clearly affected his coverage of CNN and Lou Dobbs this summer. Someone at the Post owes it to readers to address this comment publicly.
Kurtz is doing an online discussion at this very moment if you'd like to ask him about it.
From the Fox Nation on August 24:
In an online discussion today, Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon equates current Republican claims that President Obama wants to cut Medicare with mid-1990s Democratic criticism of Republicans for trying to do so. But the situations are far different: Multiple independent observers have made clear that current health care reform efforts wouldn't cut Medicare benefits or increase out-of-pocket costs, while the GOP's mid-1990s cuts would have done so.
Las Cruces, NM: Much of the angst about the Health Care reform is voiced by seniors worried about changes to Medicare (Obama has repeatedly said that savings must come from Medicare). If you recall, in the '80's and '90's Republicans wanted to cut the rise in Medicare costs and were vilified (sometimes with very obvious lies, for instance - calling a reduction in increased funding "funding cuts") Is there any irony that Obama is now being vilified for the same reasons? I remember some pretty irresponsible t.v. ads, especially during the Reagan/Bush years.
Perry Bacon Jr.: Yes, the way this issue has flipped is interesting. I wrote a piece about the Republicans that ran Sunday and I quoted ex-Bush aide David Frum complaining about how his party is making the kinds of attacks on Medicare that Democrats once did. Michael Steele has an op-ed in our paper attacking Obama on this issue, much as President Clinton did of Dole in the 1996 campaign. I do think the president's team has a major problem with seniors and has to get them behind the reform effort.
Here's FactCheck.org: "The claim that Obama and Congress are cutting seniors' Medicare benefits to pay for the health care overhaul is outright false, though that doesn't keep it from being repeated ad infinitum."
And AARP: "Fact: None of the health care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services.:
By contrast, here's a New York Times description of the Republicans' 1995 efforts to cut hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare:
The Senate and House bills seek to save the same amount of money, cutting projected Medicare spending by $270 billion, or 14 percent, over seven years.
Senate Republicans would impose more of a burden on Medicare beneficiaries, increasing the annual deductible for doctors' fees as well as the monthly premium that beneficiaries pay for coverage of doctors' and outpatient services. House Republicans have said they will increase only the premium, not the deductible.
Under current law, Medicare beneficiaries must pay the first $100 of costs incurred each year for doctors' services. The Senate would increase the annual deductible to $150 in 1996 and would raise it by $10 in each of the following six years. The deductible, set originally at $50, has been increased only three times in the history of Medicare. The last increase, to $100 from $75, occurred in 1991.
Senate Republican aides said the $270 billion of savings would be achieved in these ways: Beneficiaries would contribute $70 billion, through higher premiums and deductibles. About $150 billion would be extracted from hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and other providers of health care.
Another key difference? Bob Dole, who helped lead the GOP's effort to cut $270 billion from Medicare, had voted against creating Medicare in 1965, and had bragged about that vote in 1995: "I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare -- one of twelve -- because we knew it wouldn't work in 1965."
Howard Kurtz is bewildered that people believe falsehoods about health care reform, despite the fact that news organizations like the Washington Post have debunked them:
In the 10 days after Palin warned on Facebook of an America "in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel,' " The Washington Post mentioned the phrase 18 times, the New York Times 16 times, and network and cable news at least 154 times (many daytime news shows are not transcribed).
While there is legitimate debate about the legislation's funding for voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions, the former Alaska governor's claim that government panels would make euthanasia decisions was clearly debunked. Yet an NBC poll last week found that 45 percent of those surveyed believe the measure would allow the government to make decisions about cutting off care to the elderly -- a figure that rose to 75 percent among Fox News viewers.
On Aug. 9, Post reporter Ceci Connolly said flatly in an A-section story: "There are no such 'death panels' mentioned in any of the House bills."
Ok, let's take a look at that Connolly article:
Conservative talk-radio shows have raised the prospect of euthanasia based on a provision to reimburse doctors through Medicare for counseling sessions about end-of-life directives.
And comments posted on former Alaska Republican governor Sarah Palin's Facebook page Friday said that people would have to "stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care."
There are no such "death panels" mentioned in any of the House bills.
That is not a particularly effective debunking, for several reasons, including:
1) Connolly repeats the false claims for two paragraphs before indicating their falsity.
2) Connolly doesn't explain their falsity in any way -- doesn't explain that the counseling sessions are optional, or that they would not impose outcomes on patients, doesn't indicate that the falsehood comes from people who have a pattern of lying about health care. Connolly's debunking comes down to "Trust me, not Sarah Palin or talk show hosts." Obviously, many of Connolly's conservative readers are unlikely to do so.
3) Connolly's debunking sentence appears narrowly crafted: It can be read to apply only to the phrase "death panels," not to the euthanasia in the first paragraph, and it refers specifically to the "House bills," rather than making clear that nobody is proposing anything like Death Panels.
4) Connolly's article privileges the lie.
If this is what Kurtz holds up as a shining example of the media debunking the false claims, it isn't at all difficult to see why so many people believe them.
Meanwhile, Kurtz has finally discovered the fact that television has done a lousy job of covering the substance of health care reform:
The eruption of anger at town-hall meetings on health care, while real and palpable, became an endless loop on television. The louder the voices, the fiercer the confrontation, the more it became video wallpaper, obscuring the substantive arguments in favor of what producers love most: conflict.
Here's the loopy lede [emphasis added]:
The Obama administration has declared the wildly popular 'Cash for Clunkers' program a success, saying it has revived the country's ailing auto industry and taken polluting vehicles off the road.
But the data shows that the program, which ends Monday, has apparently benefited foreign automakers more than their U.S. counterparts.
This is dumb on so many levels. Foxnews.com is clearly trying to suggest that Obama's "Cash for Clunkers" program was supposed to boost American car companies. (Hint: it was not.) But uh-oh! Toyota and Honda and others enjoyed a "Cash for Clunkers" sales boost. "Foreign automakers" are making out like bandits! "Cash for Clunkers" was lining the pockets of foreign automakers.
Thwack! (Sound of palm hitting forehead.)
In case Foxnews.com isn't aware, "foreign automakers" such as Toyota, and Honda, and Acura, and Nissan, and Hyundai all make cars in America. (Y'know, by employing American workers.) So the whole buy-American angle implied throughout the article is lamely out of date.
The Associated Press is just the latest news org to make that claim. Detailing how nearly three dozen advertisers have fled Beck's program in response to the "racist" charge Beck made on the air, the AP over the weekend reported [emphasis]:
[Beck] was actually on another Fox show July 28 when he referred to Obama as a racist with "a deep-seated hatred for white people." The network immediately distanced itself from Beck's statement, but Beck didn't. He used his radio show the next day to explain why he believed that.
That language has been used over and over again by reporters to describe FNC's reaction. But is is accurate? This was the cabler's official response:
During Fox & Friends this morning, Glenn Beck expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel. And as with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions.
I think Crooks & Liars nailed it back when the story first broke:
Make no mistake, the powers that be at Fox News couldn't care less about Beck's statement. If they did, Beck would have been suspended, or at the very least, reprimanded. This kind of outrageous propaganda permeates their network and they use it daily to hold on to their racist viewers.
The press ought to stop giving Fox News credit for something it never did; "distance" itself from Beck's "racist" smear.
Take a look at this New York Times article about health care reform; you may never find a clearer illustration of the media's tendency to simply type up what a variety of people say -- omitting any effort to determine which statements are true and which are false -- and call it reporting.
Here's a condensed version of the article that demonstrates how it's just one long he-said/she-said, on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other-hand litany of things people have said, with no effort made to assess the validity of the claims:
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut on Sunday urged the Obama administration to consider postponing overhauling the health care system and instead work on smaller chunks of the issue until the economy improves.
Also Sunday, Senator John McCain said that one way for Democrats and Republicans to reach a compromise would be for Mr. Obama to abandon a government-run insurance program for the nation's 49 million uninsured.
Last week, Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, said that a government-run plan was not essential to an overhaul, a concession to United States senators who say such a plan could not win the backing of a majority of the crucial Senate Finance Committee.
But on the same show, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican and a member of the same finance panel, predicted that "tens of millions of people will go into the government plan" against their will.
But on CBS's "Face the Nation," Howard B. Dean, former governor of Vermont and former chair of the Democratic National Committee, said a government program would be far cheaper than any private alternatives.
Senator McCain said President Obama is as much to blame as Republicans for the paralysis on health care legislation because "the president has not come forward with a plan of his own."
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, explained on "Face the Nation" why language about paying for end-of-life counseling had to be taken out of a health care bill the committee was reviewing in March.
On Fox News Sunday, Jim Towey, director of faith-based initiatives during the administration of George W. Bush, said end-of-life counseling is already taking place for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Responding on the same show, Tammy Duckworth, an assistant secretary of veteran affairs, insisted the booklet was indeed pulled off the shelves in 2007 and that the Obama administration has been revising it and telling medical practitioners not to use it.
And guess what? It took two people to write that article.
From an August 23 Associated Press article:
Glenn Beck returns to Fox News Channel after a vacation on Monday with fewer companies willing to advertise on his show than when he left, part of the fallout from calling President Barack Obama a racist.
A total of 33 Fox advertisers, including Walmart, CVS Caremark, Clorox and Sprint, directed that their commercials not air on Beck's show, according to the companies and ColorofChange.org, a group that promotes political action among blacks and launched a campaign to get advertisers to abandon him. That's more than a dozen more than were identified a week ago.
While it's unclear what effect, if any, this will ultimately have on Fox and Beck, it is already making advertisers skittish about hawking their wares within the most opinionated cable TV shows.
The Clorox Co., a former Beck advertiser, now says that "we do not want to be associated with inflammatory speech used by either liberal or conservative talk show hosts." The maker of bleach and household cleaners said in a statement that is has decided not to advertise on political talk shows.
My latest column is about the bizarre tendency of much of the news media to be shocked by extraordinarily predictable political developments. Here's an example I left out: Melinda Henneberger on MSNBC's Hardball last week:
"It's pretty amazing how quickly things have changed when only recently we thought this was going to be another really great year for the Democrats. But I am just so astonished most of all that this health care debate has gotten away from Obama the way it has. I mean, this should be his greatest moment. This should be a no-brainer."
Really? Henneberger is seriously surprised that fundamentally reforming the health care system turned out to be a struggle -- just as it has proven to be every previous time it was attempted, which is why it still needs reform?
Which part of the process caught her off guard? That Republicans are kicking and screaming and lying and doing everything they can to stop reform -- just like they did last time? Or that, just like they often are, many Democrats have been slow to realize that Republicans are not negotiating in good faith? Or that insurance companies with deep pockets are fairly influential on Capitol Hill -- just like they always are?
Henneberger is "astonished" that the "no-brainer" that is health insurance reform didn't just magically happen while Washington held hands and bought Cokes for one another.
The thing that's actually astonishing is that any reporter could be astonished by any of this.