Marc Ambinder seems to think that liberals are ignoring "real health care anxiety," as expressed by people yelling at town hall events. And he seems to think he's being criticized for pointing out that such anxiety exists.
I think what's really happening is that some liberals think the media should not behave as though a few very loud, very angry protesters are representative of the public at large. And they shouldn't report the things those protesters are yelling -- or even the "real health care anxiety" many other Americans are feeling -- without making clear whether or not the concerns are factually correct.
Basically, by endlessly reporting that town hall events are being interrupted by yelling anti-health-care-reform protesters, the media is giving disproportionate attention to what polls show to be the minority of the public that opposes reform. And by failing to point out when those complaints are factually inaccurate, the media is further amplifying their power.
Video of a handful of shouting protesters may make for better television than factual explanations of health care reform, and refutations of false claims about it, or recitations of polling data showing those protesters to be in the minority -- but it makes for worse journalism.
Ambinder says "protesters are mix of artificial and real. Point is: they're THERE." Well, sure. But that's a pretty banal point. Nobody doubts that they're there. We see the video every time we turn on cable news. But what do they mean? How significant are their numbers? Are their facts right? Those are the things reporters should focus on, not simply assuming that because they are loud, they are powerful or right. There were plenty of angry yelling people at McCain-Palin rallies last year, too -- and they didn't turn out to matter at all, because they were representative of only a small portion of the country.
(This is where Ambinder says I don't understand how things are, and I reply that I do -- but Ambinder doesn't understand they don't have to be, and shouldn't be, how they are.)
UPDATE: Ezra Klein points out that at health care events over the past several years, "one thing is perfectly predictable: The Q&A session will be dominated by single-payer activists asking about HR 676." Now, maybe you've noticed the lack of media attention paid to these public demands for single-payer health care by real Americans over the years. So, no, the media doesn't have to breathlessly report every time some obscure member of congress gets a question from someone who has been lied to about what health care reform will involve.
UPDATE 2: Ambinder elaborates -- and basically says reporters can't say weather health care reform concerns are valid:
Take, for example, the question of whether people would have to change their policies or their doctors as the result of a robust public plan. Obama says no -- and he makes a credible argument for it. Many real people -- regardless of their motives -- have legitimate and credible reasons to believe that the answer is yes.
Nonsense. We know that none of the health care bills in question would require anyone to change health care plans or doctors. None of them.
Ambinder doesn't explain what the "legitimate and credible reasons" to believe that people would have to change policies and doctors are. But whatever they are, they certainly don't preclude reporters from saying "None of the proposed reforms would require anyone to change health care plans or doctors." If Ambinder can come up with a credible argument why people would be required to do so, fine: reporters can and should mention that argument, too. (Though they needn't and shouldn't give it equal weight if it isn't equally-likely.)
That's the responsible way to cover the "anxiety" Ambinder is obsessed with: to assess how valid it is. That may not mean being able to definitively say "true" or "false" -- but the answer isn't, as Ambinder seems to think, to throw your hands up in the air, decide you can't know for sure so you won't even try to assess it, and decide that your job is simply to report that concerns exist.
And, really, I can't believe anyone would seriously think that is the correct path to take. Why would you become a reporter if you think the job simply entails announcing that concerns exist without assessing the validity of those concerns?
Jane Hamsher at FDL spells out the news media's delinquency:
Organizations like CBS and the New York Times do not report the news when it is right in front of them. They pass off these transparent lobbyist funded thuggery as a grassroots effort. They do not say who is organizing these violent uprisings, or how they are being funded. These media outlets are playing a critical role by telling the country that its people believe something that they don't. It is blatant propaganda being passed off as news, and it is to "journalism" what David H. Koch is to "grassroots."
UPDATED: Irony alert. During the run-up to the Iraq War when tens, and often hundreds, of thousands of anti-war activists gathered to voice their opinion, the press often seemed to go out of its way to downplay the significance.
But today when a few dozen Tea Party protesters form town hall min-mobs, the press seems anxious to assign great meaning.
The anti-health care mobs that the right-wing is whipping up to disrupt town hall meetings hosted by Democrats are being cheered mightily by bloggers like Malkin, who are thrilled that angry conservatives are trying to shut down public dialog about health care reform in this country.
It's funny, because during the Bush years, Malkin had a caustic put-down she used for anybody on the left who protested government policy, without, of course, trying to shut down public debate: Moonbats!
But today's Tea Party fanatics who scream and yell and plan massive disruptions? They're just regular ole Americans.
Marc Ambinder seems to think the tea-bagger effort to shut down Democratic town hall meetings is just working from the Dems 2005 anti-Social Security privatization playbook.
I watched those events unfold pretty closely. And what the Dems did in 2005 consisted almost entirely of protest outside town halls and anti-privatization activists trying to get into the meetings to ask questions to pin members of Congress down on their position. What made it so uncomfortable for Republican and some Democratic members of Congress is that they got questions they didn't want to answer.
Did some meetings get heated? Sure. But these weren't organized attempts to shut down the meetings themselves.
Does Marc remember what happened four years ago?
We're going to see more and more of this in the press. The idea that Obama' push for health care reform is just like Bush's push to privatize Social Security (see the AP for a perfect example), and that the opposition to Obama is just like the opposition to Bush.
Neither is accurate.
The New Yorker publishes an embarrassing puff piece about hate merchant Michael Savage (i.e. he's "engrossing" and "fun" didn't you know), while ABC News invites factually challenged blogger Michelle Malkin on its Sunday round table show. Because of course Malkin fit right in sitting across from Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Cynthia Tucker, right? I mean they're practically equals, those two.
This on-going media spectacle is among the most sad to witness. Because if you took a private Beltway poll of media elites, 97% would concede both Savage and Malkin are nothing more than low level carnival barkers who cannot be trusted for any accurate information (i.e. they just make shit up) and who continue to pollute the public dialog with relentlessly vile and personal attacks on their political opponents.
So why are outlets like The New Yorker and ABC News validating them? It's just pathetic. Either in love with the allure of shallow contrarianism (i.e. The New Yorker), or spooked by the right-wing, which unleashed a phony jihad against ABC News regarding its Obama health care special this summer (Malkin slammed ABC as "The All Barack Channel"), media outlets continue to kowtow to the radical right.
Think about it. How many glowing profiles of liberal radio hosts or commentators has The New York published recently? And has ABC News ever invited a far-left blogger onto its Sunday round table discussion? Members of the GOP Noise Machine make handsome livings attacking and undermining the so-called liberal media, condemning it as amoral and traitorous. So what does The New Yorker and ABC News do in return? They celebrate the attackers.
Why on earth would right-wing press haters ever stop when they get rewarded--when they get celebrated--for their outlandish behavior?
UPDATED: Savage this week wallows in birther mania. The New Yorker must be so proud.
From Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson's August 4 column on WorldNetDaily, headlined "Obama hates the white man":
Barack Obama hates white people -- especially white men. Sorry folks, but the truth will set you free!
Why else would Obama falsely accuse Sgt. James Crowley and other Cambridge Police officers of "racial profiling" and claim they "acted stupidly" -- creating a national racial controversy?
For months, I have said that Barack Obama was elected as a result of white fear (guilt) and black racism. Whites voted for him because of guilt and the fear of being called "racist." And the 96 percent of blacks who voted for the "Messiah" did so because of his race and his "spread the wealth" notions.
Barack Obama is Jeremiah Wright Jr. He is the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus! He embodies the aspirations of every left-wing black group that wants to tear down this country and take power away from the "oppressive" white man. He's not an obvious race hustler like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson; but Obama is a smooth pathological liar -- with a wicked heart.
Both Obama and his friend Henry Louis Gates are racist. Keep in mind also that Gates' attorney, Charles Ogletree, was Barack Obama's law professor at Harvard. We're dealing with liberal-elite, cunning black intellectuals.
Sgt. James Crowley said after the "beer summit" that there were no apologies, but that he will meet with and listen to more about Gates' views. Listen to what? How to hamstring cops from doing their jobs? Are you kidding me?
I realize that Crowley was under a great deal of pressure to get along, but he should have had the courage to demand an apology and tell the president and Gates: 1) They were wrong, and 2) Their phony photo op and "beer summit" at the White House won't cleanse their racist hearts.
Just a note about Sunday's "Reliable Sources," and how Kurtz wondered again and again how somebody like Beck could go on Fox News and call the president a racist and not suffer any kind of negative consequences.
"So, my question is, how does he get away with this?" Kurtz asked his guests. "He doesn't seem to be paying any price." He also noted incredulously that, "There doesn't seem to be any great uproar about it."
Fact: In the pages of the Washington Post, media critic Kurtz himself spent the previous week remaining completely silent about Beck's "racist" attack. In fact, the entire WashPost staff played dumb--Beck's smear was never reported in the newspaper, let alone condemned.
But on Sunday, Kurtz went on CNN and acted confused about why Beck was able to call Obama a racist on national television and nobody (in the press) really did much of anything about it.
The following is a statement obtained by Media Matters for America from NAACP president and chief executive Benjamin Jealous:
"It is outrageous that while Americans of all races, genders and ethnicities throughout our country are focused on addressing the challenges our nation is besieged with, such as unemployment, healthcare reform, the home ownership crisis, education, and war
Mr.. Dobbs cannot get past his extremist fixation with President Obama's citizenship. We have all seen President Obama's birth certificate on the internet. He was born in Hawaii to his U.S. mother, a U.S. citizen born in Kansas. This makes him a citizen that, along with being over 35 years of age, makes him legally eligible to be elected the President of the United States. Any ethical journalist would not spread unfounded and clearly mendacious rumors that fan the flames of racial hatred and division. We urge Mr. Dobbs to adhere to journalistic standards and assure that the stories he perpetuates are based in fact. We ask Mr. Dobbs to focus on the crucial social and economic issues that affect so many Americans and are truly worthy of CNN's air time, rather than the tabloid journalism he seems to have embraced."
Last week, Washington Post reporters Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza filmed a "Mouthpiece Theater" video in which Milbank called Hillary Clinton a "mad bitch" and Cillizza called Rep. Chip Pickering's wife a "bitter woman from hell" (Her crime? She says her husband cheated on her. So, clearly, she is from hell.)
The Post pulled the video after hours of outrage, and Cillizza Tweeted about the controversy: "Folks, know a lot of you were upset about Mouthpiece,. We've apologized and the video has been pulled. Thanks for the feedback."
In fact, they hadn't apologized. A Post spokesperson said the video was "satire" that "went too far." But that isn't an apology -- not to Hillary Clinton, not to Chip Pickering's wife, and not to Washington Post readers. It's a "OK, we give, please stop hitting us."
And it hides behind the absurd notion that Milbank and Cillizza were simply engaging in satire that went a bit too far. Oh yeah? What were they satirizing when they called Clinton a "bitch" and Pickering a "bitter woman from hell"? That wasn't satire, that was simply two smug men calling women bitches and bitter women.
Yesterday, the Post's Howard Kurtz wrote in an online discussion "Chris apologized on his Twitter feed." No. Cillizza did not apologize in his Twitter feed. Saying "We've apologized" is not apologizing.
And today, Cillizza and Milbank made clear that they are not at all sorry. They posted a new "Mouthpiece Theater" in which they suggest they were "censored," pretend that Milbank's comment about Clinton was the only problem -- ignoring Cillizza's cruel attack on Chip Pickering's wife -- and generally treat the whole thing as a big joke.
Except, as usual, there's nothing funny about "Mouthpiece Theater."
This, by the way, is satire:
(Hat-tip to Americablog for the video, by Andy Cobb.)
UPDATE: CJR's Megan Garber on the new "Mouthpiece Theater":
[T]here's really very little to say about the video, because, as usual, there's really very little substance within it. Except that it's remarkable how, like one of those movie aliens that feeds off the life force of humans, the series's inflated sense of its own jocularity seems only to have expanded since Friday's debacle. As if "Mouthpiece Theater" feasts on widespread indignation itself.
From Burt Prelutsky's August 3 Townhall.com column:
When it comes to our national security, keeping the likes of Barbara Boxer, Barney Frank and John Kerry in the loop would be the height of insanity. The only loop appropriate for most of the ninnies in Congress is one hanging from the branch of a very tall tree.
So far as I can tell, the only real difference between members of Congress and cockroaches is that one of the two species has a few more legs than the other.