I ask because the ironclad Beltway CW this week has been that the White House's decision to fact-check Fox News has been a huge tactical mistake, partly because it will simply spike Fox News' ratings.
"Beck and O'Reilly were nearly orgiastic. Every presidential harrumph sends their ratings through the roof," announced columnist Michael Wolff. (He mocked the the anti-Fox News as being "ass-backward.") And trust me, everyone has been hitting that note this week about the sure-fire ratings boon for Fox News. It's an automatic.
But if that's true, shouldn't the White House attacks on Fox News be driving up Glenn Beck, the channel's hottest hitter, ratings-wise? Shouldn't Beck's Nielsen overnights be shooting into the stratosphere, climbing maybe 20, 30, even 40 percent, thanks to the PR bonanza that the White House gift wrapped the channel?
Well, guess what? Glenn Beck ratings are not up this week. In fact, they're down as compared to last week even though the topic of the White House/Fox News fueled has exploded this week across the media landscape. All the pundits who announced the White House completely screwed up by fact-checking Fox News, were sure Fox News' ratings were going to soar. Except they haven't. Instead, they've gone down this week.
Last week, Beck's show averaged 2.9 million viewers, which is consistent with the viewership Beck has been drawing for several weeks now. So far this week, the show is drawing 2.6 million viewers. It's a small dip, to be sure. But again, the pundits have been in heated agreement that the Fox News ratings were going to skyrocket thanks to the administration's obvious blunder. But Beck's ratings certainly have not. And overall, Fox News' total day audience has also dipped slightly, from 1.4 million last week, to 1.3 million so far this week.
So I'll ask again, why are Glenn Beck ratings down this week?
UPDATED: For additional context, two week's ago, prior to the public White House/Fox News dispute, Glenn Beck averaged 2.6 million viewers, which is what he's averaging so far this week. In other words, since the controversy erupted, and since pundits announced it would produce a huge ratings gain, Glenn Beck's numbers haven't changed much.
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 October 22 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
In case you hadn't noticed, I'm on something of a Cleon Skousen kick. Skousen, for those who aren't aware, was an ultra-conservative whackadoodle who spent his glory days in the '60s and '70s traversing the fringes of the radical right loudly denouncing the communist conspiracy to take over America, warning of the much larger capitalist-communist conspiracy to take over the world, and approvingly quoting historians who thought that white slave owners got the raw end of the slavery deal. Accordingly, his theories and writings have been tossed into history's Dumpster.
So why all the scrutiny?
Because Glenn Beck dove deep into that Dumpster and fished Skousen out. Beck loves the guy.
"Divinely inspired" is how Beck refers to Skousen's writings, which he hawks as part of his 9-12 Project. Beck also talks Skousen with the guests on his TV and radio programs, asking them if they're on board with the man's sermonizing. In that spirit, it's worth taking a look at who, exactly, Glenn Beck is recommending to his followers.
I've been reading Skousen's The Naked Capitalist, which details the existence of an all-powerful "Establishment" of super-wealthy capitalists-cum-communists who are enacting their centuries-old secret plan to dominate the planet. It's scintillating stuff, it gets crazier by the page, and some pages are so loony as to merit reproduction, as is the case with pages 98-99, in which Cleon Skousen addresses the assassination of John F. Kennedy:
In 1963 the Left-wing forces induced President Kennedy to recommend the passage of a whole series of hard-core socialist proposals and these were soon dumped into the hoppers of Congress. However, there were sufficient Americans awake at the grass-roots level to protest against these measures and demand that Congress reject them. That is what happened. Even under Presidential pressure the Democratic-dominated Congress refused to pass these bills. The frustrated Establishment press turned the heat on Congress but to no avail. By September the prestige of President Kennedy had taken a serious drop in Establishment circles and there was some question as to what might happen if JFK decided to seek a second term. Then suddenly, on November 22, President Kennedy was assassinated by a Marxist revolutionary, Lee Harvey Oswald, who was connected with Castro's main Communist front-organization here in the United States.
Under the emotional shock of this tragic event, the Establishment realized the nation might react politically and demand that the whole Soviet-Communist apparatus be outlawed. Establishment spokesmen such as Earl Warren immediately blamed the President's murder on the "Radical Right," but when the arrest of Oswald revealed that it had been done by the Radical Left, the Left-wing machinery went into high gear to assure the American people that Oswald could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be part of an international Communist plot. He must be accepted as merely an isolated psychopathic individual who acted on his own initiative. To prevent any independent investigation by anti-Communist Democrats and Republicans, the Communist Daily Worker suggested that President Johnson appoint a special commission to do the investigating with Earl Warren as chairman. Four days later that was precisely what President Johnson did. The real story of the Kennedy assassination was soon buried beneath an Establishment-supervised white-wash designed to pacify the American people.
To recap: JFK was assassinated as part of a Communist conspiracy that may have been tied to the "Establishment," which subsequently covered up this conspiracy by having the Daily Worker instruct Lyndon Johnson to have Earl Warren "white-wash" the "real story" of the assassination.
And remember, the "Establishment" did this in order to preserve the "Soviet-Communist apparatus."
And don't forget, this is Glenn Beck's favorite scholar.
From an October 22 FoxNews.com article headlined, "House Republicans Defend Conservative Commentators, Decry White House Feud":
House Republican leaders on Thursday rushed to the defense of conservative commentators after President Obama dismissed Fox News as "talk radio" -- part of the White House campaign to marginalize opposing viewpoints.
Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said conservative commentators speak more for Americans than the national media outlets that have targeted them for criticism.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, derided White House criticism of Fox News as "Chicago-style politics."
"The White House and congressional Democrats know that their liberal special interest agenda is unpopular," he said at a news conference. "And now they are following a familiar pattern: when you can't win an argument based on facts, launch vicious political attacks.
"This is Chicago-style politics' shutting out the American people and demonizing their opponents," Boehner said. "Democrats are writing the health care bill in secret, despite the president's promise to do it on C-Span. Instead, Democrats are targeting those who don't fall in line immediately -- like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, doctors and Fox News. This administration promised to usher in an era of 'post-partisanship' in Washington, but what they are doing is flat-out despicable."
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor called the White House criticism "nothing more than a distraction."
"Under fire for its management of a wave of problems, the Obama administration has reached into its bag of tricks and pulled out a new bogeyman: Fox News," he said.
"This episode is about much more than just Fox News," he added. "Today the administration's target is Fox; tomorrow it could be someone else. The administration apparently feels entitled to receive friendly (or what it subjectively deems 'balanced') news coverage at a time when it is making monumental decisions that will have sweeping consequences for years to come.
"Its heavy-handed treatment of Fox is unseemly in a democracy that depends on the free flow of information," he said.
It's a two-fer, as the staff at Politico continues its noble tradition of typing up as news whatever conservatives are talking about.
First up Mike Allen who didn't simply report on how Sen. Lamar Alexander had given a speech on Wednesday and claimed the Obama White House now resembled the dirty trickster from the Nixon years and that Obama was busy compiling an "enemies list." Nope, Allen's article went one better--he reproduced Alexander's entire senate speech; all 37 paragraphs.
Then came Eamon Javers who wrote an article about the fact that the Drudge Report has been linking to lots of articles about the weakness of the U.S. dollar. That's is. That was the news; Drudge had linked to 18 articles this month about the dollar.
From Ken Rudin's October 22 post on NPR's Political Junkie blog:
I made a boneheaded mistake yesterday, during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation, that I'd like to correct right away.
It was part of a conversation regarding the White House's war with Fox News.
I happen to think that the administration made a mistake in deciding to take on Fox. Yes, you can make the case that Fox "started it," as the White House is saying, though that sounds a bit juvenile to me. Fox News has been baiting President Obama from Day One -- and before. Yes, there are commentators on Fox (Glenn Beck comes to mind, but there are others) who trash the president on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Yes, there are some days where the work of good, legitimate Fox journalists -- such as Major Garrett, for example -- get overlooked because of all the attention directed at the rancor coming from its commentators.
Yesterday, in expressing my belief that the White House should have known better, I actually said this on the air:
Well, it's not only aggressive, it's almost Nixonesque. I mean, you think of what Nixon and Agnew did with their enemies list and their attacks on the media; certainly Vice President Agnew's constant denunciation of the media. Of course, then it was a conservative president denouncing a liberal media, and of course, a lot of good liberals said, 'Oh, that's ridiculous. That's an infringement on the freedom of press.' And now you see a lot of liberals almost kind of applauding what the White House is doing to Fox News, which I think is distressing.
Where do I begin. I will tell you, that the Nixon "enemies list" is the first thing I thought of when the topic came up. And obviously, that's what was going through my mind during yesterday's conversation.
But comparing the tactics of the Nixon administration -- which bugged and intimidated and harrassed journalists -- to that of the Obama administration was foolish, facile, ridiculous and, ultimately, embarrassing to me. I should have known better and, in fact, I do know better. I was around during the Nixon years. I am fully cognizant of what they did and attempted to do.
I still think the Obama administration showed a childish, thin skin in its dealings with and reaction to Fox.
But childishness is a far cry from illegal and unconstitutional activities. And for that I apologize for a dumb comparison.
From Chris Good's October 21 Atlantic post:
How Kevin Jennings Survived
A few weeks ago, Kevin Jennings was in trouble.
After social conservatives at the Family Research Council had opposed his nomination as director of the Education Department's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools earlier in the year, he came under a firestorm of criticism from conservative bloggers and Fox News pundits for counseling an underage student--a 15 year-old boy, it was reported--on a sexual relationship with an older man.
The student sought Jennings's advice in 1988, and, as a young teacher, and a gay man himself who had recently seen a friend die of AIDS, Jennings gave it: "I hope you knew to use a condom."
When this was discovered (from a speech Jennings gave in 2000), it set off an explosion of calls for his resignation. The Washington Times ran an editorial suggesting he was unfit for the job. He had failed to report statutory rape and, in doing so, condoned it, conservative pundits argued. It looked as if Jennings would follow in the footsteps of former green jobs czar Van Jones and former National Endowment for the Arts Communications Director Yosi Sergant--the latest administration appointee to resign amid controversy. In other words, the latest scalp for the administration's critics.
But Jennings appears to have survived. Here's why.
While the fire hasn't completely died down--53 House Republicans sent a letter calling for his job last week--it has certainly lost steam. Jennings is no longer a topic du jour, mostly due to one simple fact: the boy wasn't actually underage.
The liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America dug up a 2004 letter from Jennings' attorney stating that the boy was actually 16 at the time--the legal age of consent in Massachusetts, where this had taken place--although Jennings had said the boy was 15 in his speech.
According to Media Matters' timeline of events, Fox News then confirmed the boy's age (by contacting him via Facebook). The watchdog group then posted a copy of the boy's driver's license, showing that he had been over the age of consent when Jennings advised him.
Whether or not one agrees with how Jennings handled the situation--a completely separate, ethical question--the boy's age was an important fact. Had the boy been under 16, Jennings would have had different legal responsibilities.
Under state law, teachers are considered "mandated reporters" of statutory rape, required to report cases to the Department of Social Services, though not necessarily to police, according to multiple authorities on Massachusetts education law.
If the boy had been under 16, Jennings would have appeared to violate the law, and that would have placed him in a very different situation, politically. With affirmed legal high-ground, one can bet that conservative pundits, bloggers, and political groups wouldn't have backed off in the least--and that the noise surrounding Jennings wouldn't have faded as it has. And the White House would have had a much more difficult time ignoring the calls for resignation.
Time magazine has an incredibly slanted article on Joe Lieberman's upcoming czara hearings:
There has been a lot of talk - and some hyperbole - in recent weeks surrounding the Obama Administration's growing stable of imperial "czars."
"Imperial"? What, exactly, is "imperial" about it? There's nothing "imperial" about it -- but that word nicely reinforces the crazy rantings of people like Glenn Beck (who, by the way, is cited in the article and who was the topic of a recent deeply-flawed Time profile.)
"The use of so-called czars in the White House certainly didn't begin with President Obama," says Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent and the committee's chairman. "But it has grown over the years..."
Oh, really? So President Obama uses more "so-called czars" than previous presidents, according to Lieberman. Is that true? Time doesn't bother to say, but does (eventually) quote White House counsel Greg Craig saying the Bush administration had more czars. Is Lieberman right, or is Craig? Time won't tell you. So why does it bother running an article about the subject?
There is a danger that Congress's constitutional duty of oversight is being skirted, Lee Casey, a partner at the law firm Baker Hostetler and a former adviser to the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, is expected to tell the committee, according to his written testimony, a copy of which was obtained by TIME.
That would be former Reagan and Bush administration official Lee Casey. Time neglected to mention that little detail.
[Sen. Susan] Collins is asking that the Administration make all czars available to Congress to testify and that the President submit a semi-annual report on their activities. Lieberman, while sharing her concerns, does not support forcing the Administration to make the czars available or to report back to Congress - at least not yet. That, after all, is what the hearing is about: to find out how concerned Congress should be.
Well, no. That is presumably what Lieberman says the hearing is about. But for all Time knows, it's about political grandstanding. They shouldn't be taking Lieberman's characterization of the purpose of the hearing as gospel. Particularly given that -- if Craig is right -- Lieberman isn't telling the truth about the relative numbers of czars in the Obama and Bush administrations. And particularly given that Lieberman could have held such a hearing while Bush was president -- but didn't.
I presented both sides of the story. I'll leave it to columnists and readers to draw their own conclusions on who had the best case.
That is simply absurd. This isn't a situation where one side says chocolate ice cream is best and the other says vanilla is superior. Lieberman says the Obama administration has more czars than previous administrations. Craig says it has fewer. One of those things must be true, and one must be false. it is -- or should be -- Newton-Small's job to tell us which is true, and which is false. Otherwise ... well, her article is kind of pointless, isn't it? "Maybe 2+2 = 4, and maybe 2+2 = 14. I dunno. You figure it out."
This, by the way, is exactly the kind of nonsense that marked Time's Beck profile. Some say 2 million people were at a rally; others say 70,000. We gave you both sides. You figure it out.
I'd love for Newton-Small or anyone else at Time to explain exactly what value they think they're providing to readers when they report two statements, one of which must be false, but refuse to say which.
UPDATE 2: This just keeps getting better. More from Newton-Small, defending her refusal to indicate which claim is true:
I believe quite firmly that the proliferation of Huffington Posts, Matt Drudges and other slanted news is what's killing our profession. If you are looking for news with an opinion, that's great. But I think news should be about representing both sides; striving for balance and fairness. Unfortunately, reliably unbiased news is harder and harder to come by these days because news agencies are trying to cater to people like you: people who prefer to view the world through one lens or another but rarely both.
The basic problem here seems to be that Jay Newton-Small has no idea what "opinion" means. Lieberman says use of czars has increased. Craig says they have decreased. One is right, the other is wrong. Opinion has nothing to do with it. It's a simple matter of counting.
But to Time magazine's Jay Newton-Small, "fairness" requires treating true statements and false statements as precisely equally likely to be true. She comes right out and says it! She actually thinks that's "fair," and reporting what the truth is would be unfair. Incredible.
Again: This is not a what's-the-best-ice-cream question. This is a simple matter of two competing factual claims. They aren't simply two different "lenses," one is true, the other is false.