With Glenn Beck and various other lunatics complaining about President Obama's speech to schoolchildren about the importance of education, despite the fact that previous Republican presidents also spoke to schoolchildren, some reporters knew just what to do.
That's right: it's time for a round of news reports suggesting that the complaints from conservatives like Beck are just like complaints from Democrats when George H. W. Bush spoke to school children.
Here's Byron York in the Washington Examiner:
The controversy over President Obama's speech to the nation's schoolchildren will likely be over shortly after Obama speaks today at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. But when President George H.W. Bush delivered a similar speech on October 1, 1991, from Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington DC, the controversy was just beginning. Democrats, then the majority party in Congress, not only denounced Bush's speech -- they also ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate its production and later summoned top Bush administration officials to Capitol Hill for an extensive hearing on the issue.
The more things change...
Posted: Thursday, September 03, 2009 10:42 AM by Mark Murray
From NBC's Mark Murray
... the more they stay the same, we guess.
As it turns out, a controversy over a president giving an education speech to students isn't new.
One, George H.W. Bush gave a speech to students back in 1991. And two, Democrats criticized him for it.
I'm not really in the mood to mince words today, so I'll just say that this is absolutely idiotic. Anyone who thinks that criticizing the president for spending taxpayer money on a speech to schoolchildren is equivalent to criticizing the president for "indoctrinating" schoolchildren and comparing him to Mao and Hitler should give serious thought to resigning so someone who is competent can have their job.
Oh brother [emphasis added]:
The controversy, stoked by conservative talk-radio hosts and some politicians, took White House officials by surprise, and marked a new low in the deteriorating relationship between Mr. Obama and a right wing he had pledged to work with in a postpartisan presidency.
Talk about rewriting history. Usually the media's bipartisan talking point is that Obama promised he'd end bickering between the parties; that Obama promised he'd rewire the Beltway entrenched partisan culture in a matter of days. Of course, that's a joke. What Obama did as a candidate was pledge to try to end the partisan fighting. But the press likes it better when Obama somehow guaranteed that he'd end the fighting, so they type that up instead.
But now comes along the WSJ and goes one further. Suddenly the Journal claims that Obama "pledged" to work with the "right wing." Obama pledged to work with the same fringe radical who concocted the school speech "controversy," and oh my, that means his relationship with the right wing is tarnished. That means his relationship with Beck and Limbaugh and Malkin has suddenly turned cold.
To paraphrase Barney Frank, on what planet do Journal reporters Jonathan Weisman and Ben Casselman live? On what planet did candidate Obama ever "pledge" to work with the right wing; with "conservative talk show hosts"? On what planet did Obama make plain his desire to have any relationship with the nut jobs on the radical right who consider him to be a communist and a Manchurian Candidate sent to destroy America?
Obama never, ever "pledged" to work with the "right wing" or with "conservative talk show hosts." The Journal's just inventing history.
From the September 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
Making sure not to note the idiocy of the right-wing attack on Obama's school speech, the WashPost, like most Beltway news outlets, carefully avoids telling the truth about this brain-dead controversy. (See that journalism trend detailed here.)
Today's Post headline:
President Seeks to Avoid Politics in Speech to Schools
The headline is flat-out inaccurate. There's no proof Obama today "seeks to avoid politics in the speech," because there's no proof Obama ever contemplated including politics in the speech in the first place. That allegation was manufactured by the right-wing and has always been based on nothing but run-away paranoia. Period.
Think of it this way. Imagine right-wingers had launched an hysterical crusade about how Obama was going to scare school children with a speech about invading aliens. But then the White House released the text of the speech and--voilà!--no mention of invading aliens, would the Post then print up a headline, "President Seeks to Avoid Aliens in Speech to Schools"?
The sad part is, considering how the press now willingly allows itself to be led around by the GOP Noise Machine, I'm afraid the answer would be yes, the Post would publish that headline.
UPDATED: The Post also plays nice with the right-wing nuts in this passage:
Republicans have called Obama's back-to-school address an inappropriate political intrusion into the classroom.
Again, flat-out inaccurate. Republicans didn't merely complain the speech was inappropriately political, they claimed Obama was going to "indoctrinate" kids with his "socialist" agenda. They compared him history's tyrants and mass murderers.
But at the Post, reporter Scott Wilson knows to clean up the craziness and to present Obama's "critics" as concerned and thoughtful, rather than hateful and unhinged.
Am I the only one feeling a strong sense of deja vu, now that the text of Obama's school address has been released and everyone can confirm the obvious, that not one of the idiotic claims made by the right-wing about how the President of the United States was doing to "indoctrinate" school children was even remotely based on fact? The whole "controversy" was simply concocted by the radical right, and naturally the Beltway press dutifully chronicled the insanity, under the heading of "news."
Why was it "news"? Because "conservative critics" had made a charge (that had no basis in reality). Because "conservative critics," who had no idea what Obama would say to students, had prematurely dreamt up some loony tunes claim about how Obama shouldn't be allowed to urge children to excel in school. And now with the text having been made public (and the damage already done to Obama), critics are shifting into never-mind mode.
The strong sense of been-here/done-this comes from the premature idiocy that surrounded ABC's primetime health care special in June. Prior to the telecast right-wingers, led by the factually allergic Matt Drudge, claimed ABC wouldn't allow critics to ask Obama any questions; that the town hall forum was fixed. Proof of the allegation? There was none. Indeed, critics had no idea what the special would look like. But because "conservative critics" had manufactured out of whole cloth some crazy allegation, the press covered it as news.
And guess what? When the ABC special aired, it was obvious that the allegation of a "fix" was totally bogus. (Duh!) So what did the critics do? They shifted into never-mind mode. In fact, after the ABC forum aired, the same right-wing blogger who claimed critics would be banned by ABC, highlighted all the skeptical questions that had been put to Obama.
As I wrote in June [emphasis added]:
This is the latest example of a unique brand of media criticism that conservatives have perfected -- the pre-emptive critique. Drudge and company have no idea what the substance of ABC's special will look or sound like, but they've already decided it's a crime against journalism.
With the current school "controversy," the right-wing simply adopted its time-honored pre-emptive critique of the press and adopted it for the real world. i.e. They had no idea what Obama would say to school children, but they decided it would be evil. Just like they decided, based on nothing, that ABC's special would be evil. In both cases the press played along, and in both cases the right-wing allegations turned out to be completely bogus.
Question No. 1: How many more times is the press going to get duped?
Question No. 2: How many elite media pundits will step up and denounce the transparent insanity of the school "controversy" now that even its ring leaders concede it was bogus?
From a September 6 column by Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander:
I agree that the story fell short, but not because Hesse was naïve or lacked journalistic diligence. In retracing her reporting, it's clear the research was extensive. And some details about her personal life seem to belie claims she has a conservative agenda (more on that later).
Rather, this is a case where three things -- a storytelling concept, a writing technique and a bad headline -- combined to ignite reader reaction as vitriolic as any I've experienced in my seven months as ombudsman.
Hesse said she decided to let Brown tell his story, as opposed to extensively quoting what others say about him. Her editors didn't object to the concept. Having Brown's story told in his "voice," Hesse reasoned, would allow readers to best assess his arguments.
Fine in theory. But it deprived readers of hearing from others who have battled Brown and find him uncivil and bigoted. To them, he represents injustice. They should have been heard, at length.
"In a profile piece, for a controversial figure like that . . . there should certainly be the other side of it," said Fred Karger, head of a group called Californians Against Hate.
In retrospect, Style editor Lynn Medford agrees. "The lesson is to always, in some way, represent the other side," she said.
Karger, who has fought with Brown over same-sex marriage in California, said, "He is just as shrill, just as anti-gay as any of the leading gay-bashers" have been over the years.
Compounding the story's problems were passages like: "He takes nothing personally. He means nothing personal. He is never accusatory or belittling."
These types of unattributed characterizations are not uncommon in feature writing. But many readers thought Hesse was offering her opinion of who Brown is, as opposed to portraying how he comes across.
Finally, the headline: "Opposing Gay Unions With Sanity & a Smile." To many readers, The Post was saying Brown's views are sane. The headline, written by editors, not Hesse, should have been neutral.
Hesse is a gifted writer, as can be seen in a piece about her marriage in today's Post Magazine. At 28, she's one of Style's rising stars. But she was rocked by the angry reaction to the Brown story and spent most of last week responding to unhappy readers. Especially sensitive to accusations of a "homophobic agenda," her e-mails offered a glimpse into her personal life.
"My current partner is a man," she wrote them. "Before him, my partner of two years was a woman, with whom I discussed health insurance, kids, houses and marriage. You can bet that I found the fact that our marriage wouldn't have been legal to be wrong as hell.
"That doesn't mean that what NOM is trying to do and how they are trying to do it are not important to hear about," she wrote.
Tim Rutten has a good piece in the Los Angeles Times about "the bizarre controversy" surrounding Obama's planned speech to U.S. school children and the unhinged right-wing response about how the President of the United States was going to "indoctrinate" students by urging them to achieve excellence.
Rutten is dead-on when he notes the inherent danger behind the ugliness. Unfortunately, Rutten lets the serious, mainstream press off the hook. (Fox News clearly doesn't fall into that category.) The fact is you can't really bemoan how the this 'controversy' has become a big deal without noting it's the press that's turned it into one.
This loony tunes conspiracy theory has only gained traction because the corporate press won't stop writing and talking about it. Because reporters and pundits have legitimized it. They've rewarded the nuts who concocted the phony story in the first place.
And yes, I'm talking about corporate press outlets like the Los Angeles Times, which propped up the school nonsense as big news in its Friday edition with this headline:
Got that? A conservative Republican (i.e. "one critic") makes a crackpot claim about Obama, which the GOP Noise Machine then mindless echoes, and at the LA Times that's news.
As Matt Gertz wrote last week about the right-wing nuts who are keeping their kids home from school because they don't want them exposed to the POTUS [emphasis added]:
There is something wrong with these people. As long as Beltway reporters like [Mark] Halperin keep treating their complaints as valid, they will maintain a hold on our discourse that prevents serious discussion of actual issues. And no, reporting that "critics" say that Obama is planning to indoctrinate students but the Obama administration denies it does not suffice. Resorting to "he said/she said" journalism when one side's claims are blatantly ridiculous is just pathetic.
Fox TV makes it official: It's refusing to air president Obama's address to a joint-session of Congress next week. Since Murdoch's media outlet has effectively transformed itself into the Opposition Party of the Obama White House, this move fits into their political attack machine.
Of course, placed in proper context, the idea that a media company has decided to so blatantly play a hardball brand of partisan politics is nothing less than shocking. But don't look for reporters to make much of Murdoch's snub. Look for it to reported as an "expected" move. Like it's normal for the fourth largest television outlet in the country to uniformly refuse to air any presidential appearances scheduled in primetime. (If NBC, for instance, had ever snubbed Bush when he addressed Congress would the news have been reported with a shoulder shrug? Riiiight.)
Two questions. Did Fox TV ever refuse to air one of president Bush's joint-session speeches? Indeed, has any U.S. TV network ever refused to air presidential speech before Congress?