The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder wants to know what people think is "the best (or worst) Republican political scandal of the decade?" Ambinder offers four choices:
Not mentioned? The Bush administration lying its way into a war of choice, listening in on the phone conversations of Americans, torture, Abu Ghraib, putting an unqualified crony in charge of FEMA, the US Attorneys firing, outing a CIA operative to get back at her husband, etc.
I don't think Ambinder is unique in his view of what constitutes a major political scandal, not by any stretch of the imagination. But when the political/media elite come to view the possibility that Larry Craig tried to pick up a guy in an airport as more scandalous than Abu Ghraib, warrantless wiretapping of Americans, or the dishonest march to war against a country that didn't attack us, we're in pretty bad shape.
Take a look at the results of Gallup's annual "most admired" poll. The top ten most-admired men include six U.S. political figures: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Glenn Beck, John McCain, and George H.W. Bush. 31 percent chose Obama or Clinton; the Bushes, Beck and McCain combined for 8 percent. Among women, 23 percent named Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama as their most-admired, while 17 percent named Sarah Palin or Condoleeza Rice.
That's a pretty convincing edge for the liberals across the two lists -- 54 to 25. (We're combining different questions here, so it isn't right to say "54 percent" or anything like that, but you get the point.)
Now look at the way USA Today reports these results:
President Obama is the man Americans admired most in 2009, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, while Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin are virtually tied as the most-admired woman.
The close finish by Clinton, named by 16% in the open-ended survey, and Palin, named by 15%, reflects the nation's partisan divide.
Liberals were named about twice as frequently as conservatives -- and so USA Today declares that the close finish by Clinton and Palin reflects the nation's partisan divide. Really? Why? Why doesn't the fact people were twice as likely to name a liberal their "most admired" person reflect the nation's dislike for conservative political figures?
I have no idea what Maureen Dowd is talking about:
America seemed to have lost her ingenuity, her quickness, her man-on-the-moon bravura, her Bugs Bunny panache.
Were we clever and inventive enough to protect ourselves from the new breed of Flintstones-hardy yet Facebook-savvy terrorists?
Even before a Nigerian with Al Qaeda links tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed to Detroit, travelers could see we had made no progress toward a technologically wondrous Philip K. Dick universe.
Before he left for vacation, Obama tried to shed his Spock mien and juice up the empathy quotient on jobs.
Given that every utterance of the president is usually televised, it was a throwback to radio days - just at the moment we sought reassurance that our security has finally caught up to "Total Recall."
In his detached way, Spock was letting us know that our besieged starship was not speeding into a safer new future, and that we still have to be scared.
Bugs Bunny? "Flinstones-hardy"? "Technologically wondrous Philip K. Dick universe"? "Total Recall"? Spock? What in the world is Dowd going on about? Does she really think "Total Recall" is something we aspire to?
I can only assume that this disjointed overdose of unexplained cartoon/book/film references is nothing more than an attempt to make clear that she's engaging in theater criticism rather than offering an actual assessment of any sort of policy. But there was never much danger that would have gone unnoticed -- not with passages like this:
But in a mystifying moment that was not technically or emotionally reassuring, there was no live video and it looked as though the Obama operation was flying by the seat of its pants.
Given that every utterance of the president is usually televised, it was a throwback to radio days...
Anyway, as far as I can tell, Dowd wants Obama to be more like Bugs Bunny. And Arnold Schwarzenegger. You know, so he can keep us safe from Barney Rubble.
Here's the beginning of today's front-page Washington Post article headlined "Republicans see political opportunity in Obama response to failed airplane bomb":
Republicans are jumping on President Obama's response to the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner as the latest evidence that Democrats do not aggressively fight terrorism to protect the country, returning to a campaign theme that the GOP has employed successfully over the past decade.
Well, OK, but it's also a campaign theme that the GOP has employed unsuccessfully over the past decade. Why does the lede pretend otherwise? A more accurate and honest lede would describe it as "a campaign theme that the GOP has employed with mixed success over the past decade." Or, even better, "a campaign theme that the GOP employed successfully in 2002 and 2004, but that has since been unsuccessful."
Buried deep in the article, we see this passage:
Obama's approval rating on national security has remained relatively steady since he took office. In a mid-November Washington Post-ABC News poll, 53 percent of Americans said they approved of the way Obama was handling the threat of terrorism, while 41 percent said they disapproved.
But pollsters warned that the president's standing is tenuous ...
The "pollsters" in question turn out to be one pollster, Republican strategist Neil Newhouse.
Now take a look at the very end of the article -- literally the last sentences, after more nearly 1,100 words:
The Republican strategy is further complicated by the fact that the nation's counterterrorism intelligence and security procedures were created after Sept. 11, 2001, by Bush and congressional Republicans. Current watch-list systems were put in place years ago and have not changed. In addition, the former Guantanamo Bay detainees who showed up in the al-Qaeda leadership in Yemen were released by Bush two years ago.
Two paragraphs earlier, the Post had finally gotten around to telling readers that Republican Senator Jim DeMint has blocked President Obama's nominee to lead the TSA.
So the Post hypes the efficacy of Republican attacks on Democrats over national security despite the fact that in the past two elections those attacks have been spectacularly unsuccessful, buries poll data that shows that President Obama's approval rating on national security has remained steady despite months of Republican attacks, and tacks on at the very end an acknowledgement that the Republican attacks are undermined by their own actions. They must think this is how you win a Pulitzer now that Politico has a spot on the prize committee's board.
Q: If a liberal Democrat did something like this, how would the media react?
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) sent a letter to President Obama today asking him to halt the transfer of six Guantanamo detainees to Yemen. The request, they say, is in light of the danger they've apparently just now realized Yemen poses, because Nigerian terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has said he was trained there.
The only problem: those six detainees have already been returned to Yemen.
A: An endless barrage of sarcastic comments about "rookie mistakes" and head-shaking about how Democrats don't "get" national security and warnings of political peril for the party as a result.
And yet conservative senators who were among the lead cheerleaders for the Iraq war can screw something like this up, and you won't hear a peep about Joe Lieberman and John McCain not having the foggiest idea what they're talking about.
If you were typing up Dick Cheney's attack on Barack Obama's response to the Christmas Day attack in which someone tried to blow up a plane bound for Detroit, and hyping the GOP "strategy for next year's midterm congressional elections" of "portray[ing] Democrats as weak on security," would you maybe include mention of the fact that two of the four people who allegedly plotted that attack were released from U.W. custody in 2007, while Dick Cheney was Vice President?
UPDATE: And just to be clear, Allen didn't get an interview with Cheney. No, he describes the source of Cheney's attacks as "Cheney said in a statement to POLITICO" -- which is a fancy way of saying "Cheney said in a press release." So to sum up: Dick Cheney sends Mike Allen a press release, which Mike Allen then copies-and-pastes it into a "news article" without mentioning key facts that would undermine Cheney's press release. Aren't you glad Politico got a spot on the Pulitzer committee?
If you had any doubt about WorldNetDaily's delusional obsession with fringe theories about President Obama's place of birth, just check out WND's front page:
With that in mind, you almost have to feel sorry for the Birther conspiracy theorists. See, even WND can't bring themselves to list their claims that Obama was not born in the U.S as their top news story of 2009. "Is Barack Obama constitutionally eligible to serve as president?" comes in all the way down at number three on WND's "Top 10 of 2009" list. The Birthers can, however, take some solace in the fact that WND also gave them the four spot for "Where's the birth certificate?"
The anti-gay bigots at WorldNetDaily are back with yet another recycled attack on Department of Education official Kevin Jennings. This time, WND "news editor" Bob Unruh is trumpeting a seven-year-old Concerned Women of America "report" that, in the words of WND's banner headline, "Jennings called Falwell 'terrorist.' " But like every other attack the right has leveled at Jennings, this one falls flat.
In the first sentence of his WND story, Unruh breathlessly writes: "Reports have been uncovered revealing President Obama's Safe Schools Czar Kevin Jennings once called renowned evangelist Jerry Falwell a 'terrorist' ..."
Not until the 12th paragraph of the story (the 13th, if you count the paragraph hocking The Marketing of Evil audio book, on sale in the WND superstore) does Unruh get around to providing the context of what Jennings is actually alleged to have said -- context that makes Jennings' quote (assuming he actually said it) a lot less inflammatory:
The documentation on Jennings' opinion of Falwell comes from a report posted on the CWFA website about a 2002 conference.
Report author Allyson Smith noted going undercover to the GLSEN "Teaching Respect for All" conference in Los Angeles that year.
The subject of Falwell, who founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church, Liberty Christian Academy, Liberty University and the Moral Majority, and died in 2007, came up.
Jennings said: "I have to stop and give my little homage to the Southern Baptist Church because one of its leaders, Jerry Falwell, two days ago just announced that the founder of one of the world's greatest religions, Mohammed, was a terrorist. Usually the religious right tapes everything I say, so let me make sure they get this [quote] down: Jerry Falwell, if you need to know what a terrorist looks like, go look in the mirror," according to the CWFA report.
Falwell had told CBS News earlier that the founder of Islam was "a violent man, a man of war."
For the record, here's the relevant portion of the 2002 60 Minutes report by Bob Simon that Jennings was allegedly referencing:
SIMON: (Voiceover) Falwell believes most Muslims want to live in peace but, he says, the lines have been drawn: Christians and Jews on one side, Muslims on the other. And, he says, those lines were drawn more than 1,000 years ago.
SIMON: So the same way that Moses provided the ultimate example for the Jews and the same way that Jesus provided the ultimate example for Christians, Mohammed provided the ultimate example for Muslims, and he was a terrorist?
Of course, this wasn't the first outrageous comment Falwell had made about terrorism. A year earlier, in the aftermath of 9-11, Falwell suggested that the United States deserved the terrorist attacks, famously telling Pat Robertson that "what we saw on [9-11], as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact--if, in fact--God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve."
Falwell went on to "point the finger in" the "face" of several groups he claimed "helped this happen," including "the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle":
FALWELL: The ACLU's got to take a lot of blame for this.
ROBERTSON: Well, yes.
FALWELL: And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."
Yesterday, Eric Boehlert explained how a completely made-up claim that Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) gave a floor speech on health care reform while drunk had bubbled up through the right-wing noise machine and was amplified by The Politico -- despite the fact that there was absolutely no evidence supporting the story.
Nothing in the video of Baucus suggested that he was drunk. As The Washington Independent's David Weigel wrote, "Baucus talks like this all the time. ... Baucus mumbles occasionally. OK, a lot. Accusing him of being drunk on the job, without evidence, is shameful, and I'm flabbergasted at the number of journalists who are doing it."
UPDATE: A spokesman for Baucus released the following statement: "When his friend of 30 years Ted Kennedy, with whom he had fought so hard to provide health care to children, was being used as a cheap foil to oppose health care reform, Senator Baucus gave a passionate defense. Unfortunately, those who want to kill any meaningful reform, turned it into an unfounded, untrue personal smear internet rumor. This is beyond the pale and this type of gutter politics has no place in the public sphere. It is this type of slander that makes Montanans, and Americans, disgusted with the politics as usual in Washington. And what is even more sad is that such a personal attack would be given any validity at all, let alone being elevated to the status of 'news'."
That should have put an end to the story. But not if you are Matt Drudge. Hours after Baucus' denial -- and days after it was clear the story was entirely baseless -- Drudge was still linking to the YouTube video of Baucus' speech and still featuring the following headline: "DRUNK WITH POWER? TOP DEM BAUCUS SLURS ON SENATE FLOOR..."
As MSNBC's David Shuster wrote on Twitter, Baucus "always speaks in a halting fashion. The wingnut claims are lies and disgusting smears. ... Baucus speech was at 430pm in the afternoon. He was incensed at [Sen. Roger] Wicker [R-MS]. He was emotional. To smear him, as drudge does, is repulsive."