Howard Kurtz on CNN, yesterday:
Friday night, a new scandal story emerged involving Senator Max Baucus, leading -- one of the leading Democrats in the health care debate. It turns out that he recommended to the U.S. attorney, the top federal prosecutor in his home state of Montana, his girlfriend, a woman who had been on his Senate payroll and suddenly was being -- she did not get the job, but she was on this list.
I just think that news organizations that have played this down have left themselves open to charges after the John Ensign story and after the Mark Sanford story that they're a little less enthusiastic about Democratic scandal.
This is crazy-talk, pure and simple.
Remember: During the 1996 presidential campaign, Howard Kurtz's own newspaper spiked a story about Bob Dole having an affair, after having covered allegations that Bill Clinton had affairs. Was that an example of the media being "a little less enthusiastic" about Democratic affairs? How about when the Post assigned half its newsroom to cover the Lewinsky story?
Or when MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski (who, according to Kurtz, is a liberal host on a liberal cable channel) allowed Rudy Giuliani to invoke Bill Clinton's infidelity earlier this year, without calling Giuliani on his own high-profile affairs? When Howard Kurtz was asked about that, he didn't suggest the media is "a little less enthusiastic about Republican scandal." But, less than 48 hours after the Baucus story broke, he's ready to claim it demonstrates that the media is less enthusiastic about Democratic scandals. Nonsense.
PS: Maybe Kurtz has heard of Whitewater?
Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon argues that media focus on Tiger Woods and the Salahis does not distract from more important issues:
Perry Bacon Jr.: I would submit most Americans can follow Tiger, the Salahis, health care and Afghanistan in the same week. It's not that complicated. I think most people aren't following the date to date details of health care because it's fairly complicated and some of it (the abortion language in the bill) won't affect them. But my guess is everywhere in America people know about Tiger, the White House dinner controvery and that the president is increasing troops in Afghanistan.
Bacon more or less rebuts himself, but it's worth piling on for a moment.
Just this morning, Bacon's Post colleague Ezra Klein noted that two-thirds of Americans don't think they could explain what the public option is, which is probably lower than the number who could not explain it. (I do not find this surprising. Not one bit. And it is, in large part, a result of the media doing an abysmal job of explaining health care.)
As Klein added:
And so far as health-care reform goes, the public option is fairly simple, and undeniably prominent. Imagine how many could explain the exchanges, or the mandate, or the benefit package ...
But Bacon seems to be satisfied if people have a passing, superficial awareness of issues. Look at his last sentence: "people know ... that the president is increasing troops in Afghanistan." Ok, but what do people know about the fact that he is doing so? Do they know why? Do they know how? Do they have any understanding of the pros and cons of the decision? Probably not.
But, it's true that, if you think that all the public needs to know is "health care is being debated" or "the president is sending more troops to Afghanistan," the news media does a reasonably good job of keeping them informed.
From a December 7 column, headlined, "Eligibility issue goes 'mainstream,'" by WorldNetDaily CEO and founder Joseph Farah:
Sarah Palin, last year's vice presidential candidate and the best-selling author in the world right now, affirms that questions about Barack Obama's eligibility for office are legitimate.
This is no longer the "fringe" issue as most of the media would like to portray it.
One of the things people love about Sarah Palin is her shoot-from-the-hip frankness. They admire her courage. They like the fact that she doesn't just offer TelePrompTer answers in interviews. She demonstrated that candor once again in her interview with Rusty Humphreys.
And since she must be regarded as one of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, that puts this eligibility issue right where it belongs - at the forefront of the national debate.
Increasingly uncomfortable with her on-air association with Fox News, NPR news execs approached Mara Liasson in October and asked her to reconsider her long-running (paying) gig as FNC panelist, according to a report in Politico.
But after reportedly spending 30 days closely watching Fox News, Liasson told NPR execs she could not detect a a discernible change in Fox News' partisan programming this year. (No word if NPR paid for Liasson's subsequent eye exam.)
Apparently, according to Liasson's way of thinking, because she only appears on two news programs, "Special Report" and "Fox News Sunday," and because they're not "opinion" shows (oh, really?), than there's nothing wrong with her cashing Fox News checks and allowing the news channel to buy her NPR status each week.
I find it comical that Liasson reportedly thinks that because she's on two 'serious' Fox News shows that that means she's no way associated with the rest of channel's nutty and hateful programming. Apparently, Liasson is able to magically cocoon herself within the confines of two programs. And even though she cashes those Fox News checks she's not really, y'know, part of Fox News.
Gimme a break.
You can't be half pregnant in a situation like this, which means Liasson needs to forcefully defend Fox News in its entirety. But if she can't do that and she still cares about her reputation as a journalists, than she ought to walk away from Rupert Murdoch's money, because the glaring truth is that Fox News jumped the rails many, many months ago.
Of course, turning down money isn't easy, as former Fox News host Eric Burns wrote just last week. Burns pondered what life would be like if he were still employed by the completely unhinged and nakedly partisan version of Fox News, circa 2009. Specifically, how Burns would have felt, as a professional, being associated with that kind of outfit [emphasis added]:
I ask myself what I would have done if I worked at Fox now. Would I have quit, as the estimable Jane Hall did? Once a panelist on my program, Hall departed for other reasons as well, but Beck was a particular source of embarrassment to her, even though they never shared a studio, perhaps never even met.
I think . . . I think the answer to my question does not do me proud. I think, more concerned about income than principle, I would have continued to work at Fox, but spent my spare time searching avidly for other employment. I think I would not have been as admirable as Jane Hall. I think I would not have reacted to Beck with the probity I like to think I possess.
UPDATED: For the record, here's what NRP's code of ethics states about employees doing outside media work:
9. NPR journalists must get permission from the Senior Vice President for News, or their designee, to appear on TV or other media. Requests should be submitted in writing to the employee's immediate supervisor and copied to firstname.lastname@example.org . Approval will not be unreasonably denied if the proposed work will not discredit NPR, conflict with NPR's interests, create a conflict of interest for the employee or interfere with the employee's ability to perform NPR duties. The Senior Vice President or designee must respond within seven days of receiving a request. It is not necessary to get permission in each instance when the employee is a regular participant on an approved show. Permission for such appearances may be revoked if NPR determines such appearances are harmful to the reputation of NPR or the NPR participant.
10. In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.
Seems to me that NPR exes clearly have the right to tell Liasson to end her Fox News association if they believe it is "harmful to the reputation of NPR." Plus, isn't it obvious that the Fox News shows Liasson appears on do "encourage punditry and speculation"?
Just a couple additional thoughts to what Jamison Foser already noted about Maureen Dowd's most recent effort, in which she mocked Obama's social secretary Desiree Rogers, who became a bit player in the WH party crasher story. Dowd ridiculed Rogers for acting all "entitled" and "sashaying around."
Dowd's piece was just the latest in a line of get-Rogers pieces that the Beltway press produced last week, because now, at least according to The Village and the GOP, the president's social secretary is responsible for all security within the White House complex.
Who knew? (The Secret Service has taken complete responsibility for the party crasher gaffe, but the press prefers the angle that Rogers was a central player in the security breach.)
But note this Dowd passage, in light of the fact that the WH announced that Rogers would not testify before Congress, because WH aides to the president almost never do, thanks to the separation of powers [emphasis added]:
Desiree, queen of social networking, didn't properly R.S.V.P. to the House Homeland Security Committee investigating the gate-crasher incident.
Even if Desiree thought Congress was grandstanding, it was goofy of her to use the Constitution to get out of a Congressional summons. The Obama White House is morphing into the Bush White House with frightening speed. Its transparency is already fogged up....Instead, she let the Secret Service director, Mark Sullivan, go up alone and take the rap.
See, according to Dowd, it was Rogers' who decided she wouldn't testify before Congress. The WH has no legal staff apparently, and it was the social secretary who made the call inside the West Wing that she wouldn't honor Congress' request to testify.
Whatever you say Maureen.
In terms of the bigger picture, it certainly is interesting to watch (mostly female) journalists twist the knife into the back of Rogers. Her Beltway sin? It has nothing to do with the party crasher story, of course. It's the fact that Rogers is too full of herself. Too high-profile. And she's too interested in self-promotion. At least those are the charge leveled against her.
Right. But if Rogers were a man in Washington, D.C., and exhibited the same personality traits, would the same press corps even notice, let alone condemn, Rogers' behavior? Isn't self-promotion and vanity pretty much required for admittance into the Beltway's (mostly male) elite circles?
UPDATED: From the Daily Hower:
Dowd's style has always been drawn from the "women's pages" of the 1950s—from the days when women hadn't yet been allowed to discuss substantial fare. Here we see her green-eyed style again, as we've seen it so many times in the past. Angered by Rogers' designer clothes, Dowd responds in the broken-souled way which has increasingly come to define our journalism during the years of this columnist's influence on our D-minus elite.
From Bolling's Twitter feed:
Through both the campaign and his presidency, Obama has made little secret of his disdain for some of the horse-race, tabloid elements of the press corps--though his political and communications staff are not above sometimes exploiting those same tendencies for their own benefit.
I see journalists make this same basic point fairly regularly -- that Obama and his staff may say they don't like the media's focus on politics and process at the expense of policy, but they exploit those tendencies when convenient. (Here, for example.)
If anyone is under the impression that this undermines the criticism of contemporary political journalism, they're mistaken. It isn't inconsistent to think political reporters should focus more on policy and less on gossip and conjecture, and at the same time take advantage of their tendencies when you can. As a former Defense Secretary might say, you make your case to the public through the media you have, not with the media you wish you had.
Nor does it let reporters off the hook. These statements about the White House "exploiting" reporters' tendencies should not be taken to mean that were it not for the White House (or the DNC or the RNC or whoever) egging them on, the Mark Halperins of the world would be writing serious, detailed pieces examining complex public policy questions. They wouldn't be. They aren't being led astray by the people they cover; they are already astray.
(Note: Scherer may or may not be trying to imply any of those things; I can't really tell. Either way, I'm not really talking about him specifically, but about the frequency with which I see asides like that, which suggests that some people must think they mean something. They really don't.)
Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft has published blog posts this weekend targeting Department of Education official Kevin Jennings under the hair-on-fire headlines, "Breaking: Obama's Safe Schools Czar's Question to 14 Year Olds: 'Spit vs. Swallow?... Is it Rude?' (audio-video)" and "Fistgate: Barack Obama's Safe Schools Czar Promoted "Fisting" to 14 Year-Olds (audio-video)." Two problems: The audio isn't of Jennings, and these stories aren't even remotely new.
Back in 2000, Jennings' organization, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), held a conference at Tufts University. The conference featured numerous workshops for students and educators, including "How to decide whether to come out at work," and "Strategies and curriculum ideas for addressing gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender issues in a high school English curriculum." One of the workshops, titled "What They Didn't Tell You About Queer Sex and Sexuality in Health Class: Workshop for Youth Only, Ages 14-21," was run by two Massachusetts state Department of Education staffers and a state DoE consultant.
Basically, during the workshop, students asked a lot of very explicit questions about sex, and received explicit answers. As Hoft himself acknowledges in the body of his posts, it is the Department of Education staffers - not Jennings himself - who appear in the audio giving those answers. An activist for the anti-gay group Parents Rights Coalition (now MassResistance) snuck into the workshop and taped it, in a possible violation of state laws banning the taping of people without their permission (stop me if you've heard this one before).
Jennings subsequently criticized the workshop to the Boston Herald:
"Like the Parents Rights Coalition and the Department of Education, GLSEN is also troubled by some of the content that came up during this workshop," said Kevin Jennings, national executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
He said people who run workshops in the future will get clearer guidelines, though Jennings said the network's annual conference at Tufts University should not be judged on the 30-student seminar "What They Didn't Tell You About Queer Sex and Sexuality in Health Class."
"We need to make our expectations and guidelines to outside facilitators much more clear," said Jennings. "Because we are surprised and troubled by some of the accounts we've heard." [Boston Herald, 5/18/2000]
And to the Boston Globe:
Meanwhile, officials at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said they would also be looking further into the March workshops, because they would also be opposed to graphic sex talk that would be inappropriate for young adults.
"From what I've heard, I have concerns as well," said executive director Kevin Jennings. "GLSEN believes that children do have a right to accurate, safer sex education, but this needs to be delivered in an age appropriate and sensitive manner."
But, he was also critical of the coalition's agenda.
"What troubles me is the people who have the tape know what our mission is, they know that our work is about preventing harassment and they know that session was not the totality of what was offered at a conference with over 50 sessions," he said. "Our mission is being misrepresented." [Boston Globe, 5/18/2000]
You'll notice that that's two separate articles quoting Jennings responding to the workshop. That's because contrary to Hoft's claim that this story is "Breaking," it was a big deal when it happened more than nine years ago. In addition to the local Boston papers, which each devoted several articles to it, the story received coverage in the AP, National Review, The Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, The New York Post, UPI, and on Fox News.
The workshop's organizers (i.e., the people in the tape) were fired or resigned, though one later got her job back. Nice people that they are, the Parents Rights Coalition went on to use the incident to call for the elimination of state funding for Gay-Straight Alliance groups and the disbanding of the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. [Boston Globe, 5/18/2000] Oh, and they tried to sell copies of the tape of the workshop for $5 a pop.
Back in June, MassResistance posted the audio of the workshop online, as part of their ongoing effort to get Jennings fired. I assume Hoft has broken it out now because it goes well with his smear that Jennings promoted "Child Porn in the Classroom." Unfortunately, as with that smear, the facts just don't match Hoft's rhetoric.
On Thursday, Washington Post reporter Frank Ahrens held an online Q&A about president Obama's jobs summit. Ahrens has been widely mocked for his inane response to a reader who correctly pointed out that he was wrong to suggest that U.S. corporations pay unusually high taxes:
Frank Ahrens: But did you know our corporate tax rate is among the highest in the world? That makes a real difference if you're a business and you're thinking about locating in the U.S. or, say, India.
But did you know our corporate tax rate is among the highest in the world?: Dead wrong. Our nominal tax rate of 35% is among the highest, but because of loopholes our real tax rate of 18% is among the lowest real corporate tax rates.
Frank Ahrens: Back atcha.
That was Ahrens entire response: "Back atcha." What was that even supposed to mean? As Matthew Yglesias put it, it was an "embarrassing exchange between The Washington Post's readers and a badly overmatched Washington Post financial reporter, who doesn't seem to know anything about tax policy, or how to admit you're wrong, or how to just confess ignorance of an issue."
But what hasn't gotten much attention is that the rest of the Q&A was a train-wreck, too.
In response to the second question he was asked, Ahrens implied that president Obama's response to the recession should be to stop spending and slash the federal budget deficit, which would be news to the legions of economists who think that's the last thing the government should do during tough economic times.
A little later, Ahrens wrote that the jobs summit was "A nice photo opp, with the president standing side-by-side with America's business leaders" and added "Today, big CEOs have the president's ear for several hours, and they can give real rubber-meets-the-road examples of what tax cuts and other business stimuli can provide."
Let's set aside Ahrens odd faith in "big CEOs" having ideas that will help the economy rather than, well, big CEOs. And his suggestion that tax cuts are the answer.
Instead, let's skip to a question a little later, in which a reader from Brunswick, Maine asserted that the jobs summit consisted only of "Unions, Liberal Think Tanks, SEIU, Teacher's Union, EPA, Democrats" and excluded "Independent Businesses." Ahrens' reply? "This is a good point and one which was addressed in our story today on the summit. The White House's response: We've already talked to these other groups and will continue to do so."
Wait, what? Just a few minutes earlier, Ahrens had said Obama would stand "side-by-side with America's business leaders" at the summit, during which "big CEOs" would "have the president's ear for several hours." Now Ahrens says a claim that the summit excludes business interests is a "good point"? Well, which is it?
(That questioner from Brunswick also denounced "this dictatorship from our government body" and said Obama "has taken the most divisive path of any president in history" -- and Ahrens only response was to praise the questioner for making a "good point.")
Then there's Ahrens' claims about the drawbacks of government stimulus spending:
The drawback here is that there is not enough government money to sustain an economy the size of the U.S.'s. It's like trying to run a big furnace with one coal. And, it ends up being a zero-sum game -- nothing is created, just recycled.
Some have advocated creating a new FDR-like WPA, or Works Progress Administration, creating millions of new make-work jobs. If your goal is only lowering unemployment, that'll work. But if your goal is restoring a vibrant, growing economy, it won't for the reasons listed above.
The "trying to run a big furnace with one coal" analogy doesn't really work. A better one might be "using kindling to start a bonfire." And Ahrens didn't actually explain how putting people to work won't help to restore a "vibrant, growing economy." Unless he thinks his furnace analogy is the explanation.
A little later:
During President George W. Bush's two terms, unemployment started in January 2001 at 4.2 percent. In his last month in office, January 2009, it was up to 7.6 percent.
Prior to last year's recession surge, however, unemployment during the eight years of Bush's terms never got higher than 6.3 percent. ... for the bulk of his two terms, unemployment was not a problem.
Granted, "not a problem" is somewhat subjective, but many people probably thought a 50 percent increase in the unemployment rate in a little more than two years was at least a little bit of a problem.
Then, in a response to a question citing Amity Shlaes' book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression to claim that the New Deal didn't work, Ahrens replied:
[Y]es, there's some excellent recent scholarship on the efficacy -- or not -- of of FDR's alphabet-soup agencies. The chief villain appears to have been the NIRA -- the National Industrial Recovery Act -- which (shockingly) actually allowed businesses to create cartels and monopolies to fix prices. (An example, by the way, of demand-side economics.)
Shlaes' anti-New Deal argument has been widely criticized, and economists like Paul Krugman have noted that the New Deal was working until FDR was persuaded to cut government spending in order to balance the budget. Which, remember, is what Ahrens thinks should happen now.
Like I said: train-wreck.
Ah, Maureen Dowd:
They were both elegant and entitled swans, insulated in guarded enclaves, obsessed with protecting and promoting the Brand.
Tiger Woods and Desiree Rogers are perfectionist high-achievers brought low. They both ran into that ubiquitous modern buzz saw of glossy celebrity wannabes - Vegas parasites and Washington parvenus.
She mistook herself for the principal, sashaying around and posing in magazines as though she were the first lady, rather than a staffer whose job is to stay behind the scenes and make her bosses look good.
"Entitled"? "Sashaying around"?
A White House staffer "posing in magazines" isn't particularly unusual, as Maureen Dowd surely knows. So what is it about Desiree Rogers that prompted Dowd to describe her as "sashaying around" and thinking "she were the first lady, rather than a staffer"? She doesn't explain. Instead, she struggles to find similarity between Rogers and Tiger Woods. You know, because they're both entitled swans.