In deciding whether to make a radio, television or Internet appearances, a staff member should consider its probable tone and content to make sure they are consistent with Times standards. Staff members should avoid strident, theatrical forums that emphasize punditry and reckless opinion-mongering. Instead we should offer thoughtful and retrospective analysis. Generally a staff member should not say anything on radio, television or the Internet that could not appear under his or her byline in The Times.
Yet on Monday, Harwood, appearing on MSNBC, derided liberal critics of the proposed health care legislation as "insane," claimed they should have "their heads examined," and mocked their commentary posted online as being naive and "really idiotic."
Question: Were those comments that Harwood would likely make under his New York Times byline? No. Were Harwood's attacks "strident"? Yes? Did he engage in "reckless opinion-mongering" Yes.
Like I said, Harwood might want to re-read the newspaper's Ethical Journalism handbook before his next TV appearance.
UPDATED: It's interesting that Harwood became so angry at liberal bloggers over a policy difference. It's telling because I don't recall Harwood taking to the airwaves this year and denouncing right-wing bloggers as they peddled incessant Obama-is-a-racist-socialist-communist-Nazi attacks. That kind of commentary apparently did not anger Harwood. But when libs online took issue with legislative policy, Harwood could hardly see straight.
UPDATED: FYI, The Times' guidelines cover both staff writers and "nonstaff contributors."
From Howard Kurtz's December 21 Washington Post column:
To the untrained eye, Mike Huckabee appears to be running for president again.
Looking into the camera, he unloads on President Obama: "He's never done this kind of work before. He's never run a state or a private company, or as best we can tell even a Sno-Cone stand. So running the whole country, that's a big leap from community organizer."
But the former Arkansas governor is just doing his Fox News show -- and, what's more, insists he may pass up the 2012 race. Although if he were plotting another White House campaign, what better route than by pounding home a conservative message on television?
Huckabee hasn't exactly abandoned Republican politics, either. On Sunday, he headlined a Nebraska rally staged to oppose the Democrats' health care bill. His HuckPAC has been involved in local races, raising $305,000 in this campaign cycle. His Web site urges followers to "Vote No Against Senate Health Care Bill" and invites fans to join him and his wife, Janet (for just $3,999!), on a tour of Israel next month. Fox executives told Huckabee to stop plugging the Web site on the air after learning that it linked to his political action committee, which the network deemed a conflict of interest.
Eighty advertisers have reportedly dropped their ads from Glenn Beck's Fox News program since he called President Obama a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred of white people." Here are his December 21 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
The right-wing media have spent the year BEGGING for progressive leaders to call them Nazis.
Back in April, media conservatives freaked out over declassified Department of Homeland Security report detailing potential increases in right-wing extremism. Ignoring the possibility that the election of a black president could have an actual effect on the radicalism and recruitment of actual hate groups - like, for instance, the Klan - the Limbaughs and Hannitys of the world were convinced that the report was actually aimed at them.
Then in August, Nancy Pelosi commented that protestors are "carrying swastikas and symbols like that to a town meeting on health care." Sure enough, swastikas and other Nazi icons had appeared on signs carried by those protestors, who were suggesting that the Democrats' health care reform plans were reminiscent of Hitler's Germany. But the right-wing was sure that Pelosi was talking about them, and had been calling the protestors or opponents of health care reform "Nazis."
Now, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is getting the same treatment. In a floor speech yesterday, Whitehouse criticized Senate Republicans' rampant obstructionism of health care reform efforts, specifically their refusal to support cloture on a defense appropriations bill in hopes of slowing down attempts to move to a vote on health care. Whitehouse stated that Senate Republicans were "desperate to break this president," adding "They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama. The birthers, the fanatics, the people running around in right-wing militia and Aryan support groups, it is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist."
From Whitehouse's December 20 floor speech (about 115 minutes in):
The lowest of the low was the Republican vote against funding and supporting our troops in the field in a time of war. As a devise to stop health care, they tried to stop the appropriation of funds for our soldiers. There is no excuse for that. From that, there is no return. Every single Republican member was willing to vote against cloture for funding our troops, and they admitted it was a tactic to obstruct health care reform. The Secretary of Defense warned us all that a "no" vote would immediately create "a serious disruption in the worldwide activities of the Department of Defense," end quote, and yet every one of them was willing to vote "no."
Almost all of them did vote no. Some stayed away, but that's the same as "no" when you need 60 "yes" votes to proceed. Voting "no" and hiding from the vote are the same result. Those of us on the floor see it was clear. The three of them who did not cast their yes votes until all 60 Senate votes had been tallied and it was clear that the result was a foregone conclusion. And why? Why all this discord and discourtesy, all this unprecedented destructive action? All to break the momentum of our new young president.
They are desperate to break this president. They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama. The birthers, the fanatics, the people running around in right-wing militia and Aryan support groups, it is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist. That is one powerful reason. It is not the only one.
Rather then assess the validity of Whitehouse's claims - do such people exist, and do they support Republcian senators? - the right-wing started screaming about how Whitehouse was accusing them all of membership in hate groups.
Washington Times blogger Kerry Picket got the ball rolling, providing Whitehouse's full comment but doing so under the headline, "Sen. Whitehouse: foes of health care bill are birthers, right-wing militias, aryan groups." RedState's Erick Erickson took over from there, claiming that Whitehouse said that "If you oppose health care deform, you are a racist, hate-spouting, Aryan who roots for the assassination of Barack Obama" and "labeled everyone opposed to the legislation as racist hatemongers rooting for bullets against the President." The claim spread through the right-wing blogosphere from there, and just made the jump to Lou Dobbs' radio show.
What seems oddest about the right-wing media's obsessive claims that progressives are calling them Nazis is the implication that comparing your political opponents to Hitler and company is out of bounds. If the right really believes that such comparisons are beyond the pale, maybe its time for them to stop informing us how much Obama and his politics remind them of Hitler.
This is quite telling, courtesy of the WashPost's Chris Cillizza as he toast the ultimate political "winners" of the health care reform showdown [emphasis added]:
-- John McCain: The Mac was back during the health-care debate, a feisty presence on the Senate floor and in front of the television cameras, leading the GOP opposition to the bill. McCain's performance over the past several weeks proved that he is and will continue to be a major force in the chamber. His stalwart opposition to the plan is also good politics, making it harder for former representative J.D. Hayworth to challenge him from the ideological right in a primary next year.
What exactly did McCain do in recent weeks in terms of the health care debate to emerge as a clear "winner"? (As a "major force"?) He maintained a "presence" on the Senate floor. He also showed up on TV on a lot and opposed Obama's initiative. Wow, I mean what more could a political leader do during an historic legislative showdown?
The truth is if you strip away the Beltway media's obsessive, McCain's-our-man-coverage, the Arizona senator, like virtually every Republican member of Congress, was a spectator during the health care legislative process. Without the votes to stop anything, and having adopted a strategy to uniformly oppose everything Democrats offered up, Republicans assigned themselves to permanent bystander status.
Meanwhile, McCain himself is not considered to be a health care expert and his opposition to the White House plan was telegraphed months ago. Meaning, McCain brought nothing of substance to the debate. Yet lo and behold, looking back on the legislative process which Republicans lost, the WashPost tips its cap to McCain for emerging as a health debate "winner."
From Bob Owens' December 21 Confederate Yankee blog post, headlined "All I Want Is A Byrd Dropping For Christmas":
Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) has seen far better days, and is often little more than a warm body when he is helped into the Senate. Granted, lucidity and coherence is not a priority among Senate Democrats, but Byrd is an embarrassment even for a party that regular drafts the imaginary or dead to vote.
Robert Byrd has been around a very long time, and his many decades of service have made West Virginia a wonderful state in which to manufacture methamphetamine or frame the locals for murder. But it's time for Senator to do the right thing, and expire.
It isn't too much to ask for Byrd to step off for that great klavern in the sky before the Senate vote that may force this nation to accept government-rationed health care. Even a nice coma would do.
Without his frail, Gollum-like body being wheeled into the Senate's chambers to cast the deciding vote, the Senate cannot curse our children and grandchildren with crushing debt and rationed, substandard healthcare.
I suppose some will be shocked and appalled that I'd wish for the former kleagle to die on command. I'd remind them that the party wheeling in a near invalid to vote in favor of this unread monstrosity of a bill is the one that should feel shame.
From Pamela Geller's December 21 Atlas Shrugs blog post (emphasis in original):
The moochers and the looters, the crooks and degenerates voted at 1 am this morning to rip the constitution to shreds, to rape the American people and to nationalize medicine. Straight on party lines. All 40 Republicans voted against cloture. It was the Republicans' desire to continue the debate and hold up the legislation. All 58 Democrats and two independents voted to end debate -- the minimum number needed. They will pay for destroying this country.
In what can only be considered an act of treason and blasphemy, Senate Democrats are on track to pass the bill on Christmas Eve.
Because the org clearly misfired when it came to Karl Rove's defense and essentially backed his claim that Obama currently had "the worst ratings of any president at the end of his first year." Rove wrote that in his recent WSJ column and I immediately flagged it as being false and highlighted how Ronald Reagan's approval ratings at the end of his first year were identical to Obama's.
Rove's definitive claim (i.e. "the worst ratings") is not true. Yet PolitiFact took up the issue and announced Rove's suggestion was "mostly true," even though PolitiFact confirmed my point about Regan's approval ratings.
This analysis is just embarrassing, especially coming from a fact-checking site that's supposed to offer clarity [emphasis added]:
Still, if you're making the comparison -- and political observers have been doing precisely these sorts of comparisons for years -- Rove's statement holds up fairly well. Yes, Rove spoke too loosely when he said that Obama's numbers were the worst of any president's, and he failed to mention equally bad ratings for Reagan, a conservative icon whose politics were more in tune with Rove's than Obama. But with the exception of Reagan, every other elected president had clearly higher approval ratings at this point in his tenure than Obama has. So we rate Rove's statement Mostly True.
You follow? Rove stated unequivocally that Obama's approval ratings were the worst for any president at the end of his first term. But that's false. Period. So what conclusion did PolitiFact come to? It determined that Rove's assertion was "mostly true" and "holds up fairly well."
Except, y'know, for the fact that it's not accurate.
The larger point is that Rove could have used more ambiguous language and suggested Obama's year-end ratings were "among" the lowest for president. That would have been accurate. But Rove clearly wanted to make a splash; he wanted to make a definitive OMG-type of statement about Obama's ratings. (Indeed, the WSJ used the "worst ratings" ever line as the column's pull quote.) Rove wanted to start an anti-Obama meme with his worst-ever claim. And among his obedient followers, Rove has.
Rove chose to use definitive, attention-grabbing language with his worst-ever claim. And the language was false. So why did PolitiFact give Rove a pass?
UPDATED: Rove's swipe only worked if he played dumb about Reagan's polling numbers. There's just no way Rove would have ever written, "Along with Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama has won a place in history with the worst ratings of any president at the end of his first year."
In order to slam Obama, Rove had to lie about previous polling numbers. And PolitiFact thinks that's fine.
Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza thinks the media did an "ok job" at a "damn near impossible" task: explaining health care reform:
Wilmington, NC: You mentioned the public "souring" on health reform. I suspect that measure is simply a reflection of the tone of the coverage, rather than an informed opinion. Every conversation I have heard on health reform has been notably misinformed or, at best, uninformed. Seriously, the state of public understanding of the issue and its proposed legislation is a cosmic joke. Do you believe our news media has performed well in the aggregate in informing us on this matter? Do you know of any polling data that might contradict my sense of the utter cluelessness of pretty much everyone out here about this policy?
Chris Cillizza: I think the media has done an ok job is trying to explain what is an incredibly complex and wide-ranging bill to the public.
The simple fact is that explaining an overhaul of the health care system in our country in 30 column inches of a 20 minute television broadcast is damn near impossible.
I think the media has done a terrible job at a relatively simple task. See, Cillizza is right that explaining everything about health care reform is damn near impossible. On the other hand, explaining the basic facts of "an overhaul of the health care system in 30 column inches or a 20 minute television broadcast" is incredibly easy. The media just chose not to do it.
For example, one of the central disputes over the public option was whether or not it would increase the deficit. Opponents said it would, and were frequently quoted as such in the media. But the Congressional Budget Office said that, in fact, it would reduce the deficit. But those news reports indicating that critics claimed it would add to the deficit typically failed to make the point that, according to CBO, this was not true. Had the media wanted to "explain" the basics, it would have been incredibly easy to make sure that every news report that mentioned the public option indicated that it would reduce the deficit.
And the same applies to other basic facts about the reform package. 300 million Americans were never going to understand every aspect of health care reform. But 300 million Americans don't need to understand every aspect of health care reform. Had the media committed themselves to explaining -- over and over again -- the basic facts that everyone does need to know, they would have done a much better job.
Instead, the news media basically punted on actually explaining things and focused on politics and process and minutia, while passing along politicians' claims and talking points without indicating whether or not they were true.
As for the "ok job" part: I'll renew my recent challenge to the Washington Post:
The Post has a polling budget. If they're so convinced that they've covered health care "pretty well" -- well enough that they can devote extensive resources to figuring out who golfers sleep with -- let's see them prove it. I dare the Post to conduct a scientific poll of its readers, asking them a basic question about health care reform: According to the Congressional Budget Office, would health care reform that includes a government-run public insurance option increase the deficit or reduce it?
If the Post has done a good job of covering health care reform, a large majority of its readers should be able to answer that question correctly. It would cost just a few thousand dollars -- a drop in the bucket for a newspaper like the Post -- in exchange for which the Post would be able to brag about how great its reporting is, and how well informed its readers are. And the paper would get to throw the results in the face of the critics Farhi dismisses as "presumptuous and self-serving" people who "lecture" the Post about " 'serious' news" simply "to telegraph that they themselves are verrrrry serious people and that we should follow their sterling example." Won't that be satisfying!
What's the downside? There is none, unless, of course, the Post thinks that the results would embarrass the paper and undermine its claims to have done a good job of reporting on health care.