During an online Q&A today, Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon gave a pretty good demonstration of how the media does a lousy job of holding politicians accountable.
Bacon was first asked why, after "The Republicans, media talking heads, and some conservative Democrats, have focused intensely on the cost of health care (to taxpayers and to the deficit)" CBO estimates that show a public health insurance option would "save the country money" have been all but ignored. The questioner also asked whether the dynamic in which politicians who oppose a public option claim to be concerned about costs shows that they're really just "bought and paid for by the insurance industry."
In response, Bacon essentially denied the politicians in question have talked about costs. Here's his whole answer:
Perry Bacon Jr.: I think people have reported on the public option saving money. I think conservative Democrats and Republicans have said they don't want such as an intervention of the government into the health care system, an argument more about philosophy than about cost saving.
Now, anybody who has paid the slightest bit of attention has heard countless "conservative Democrats and Republicans" invoking costs and deficits as reasons for being skeptical about a public health insurance option. In early July, for example, members of the self-described "fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition" sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer a letter about health care reform. Their very first demand? That reform contain "deficit neutrality."
Here's another example: "Lincoln: Public Option Too Expensive" -- that's the headline on an article about conservative Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln. The article quotes Lincoln declaring: "I would not support a solely government-funded public option. We can't afford that."
That's pretty explicit. And, with no real effort at all, you could easily find many more examples of conservative Democrats and Republicans -- not to mention media figures -- saying similar things.
But Perry Bacon pretends that never happened; that those politicians opposed a public option because of "philosophy" rather than making arguments about "cost saving." In doing so, he lets them off the hook for making giving factually incorrect reasons for opposing a public plan.
This is not exactly an arcane concept. It's been obvious for months. Paul Krugman spelled it out in July, and even then it was already understood by many who had been paying attention. Here's Krugman in July:
So what are the objections of the Blue Dogs?
Well, they talk a lot about fiscal responsibility, which basically boils down to worrying about the cost of those subsidies. ... even as they complain about the plan's cost, the Blue Dogs are making demands that would greatly increase that cost.
There has been a lot of publicity about Blue Dog opposition to the public option, and rightly so: a plan without a public option to hold down insurance premiums would cost taxpayers more than a plan with such an option.
Anyway, another reader called Bacon on this:
What's that "philosophy," Perry: They're fiscal conservatives only until it's a -government- plan that saves the most of their constituents' tax money over the long haul? They want things to be revenue neutral, until it means their insurance-industry backers have to make changes and act competitively in a free market with a private option? What kind of twisted "philosophy" is that?
Perry Bacon Jr.: Not sure what to say about to you public option advocates, who have frustated with the Blue Dogs and other Dem opponents of the public option for months. I feel like these arguments have been aired for months, and the conservative Democrats simply feel they can't back the public option for political reasons.
Again, Bacon refuses to acknowledge the obvious: that one of the primary reasons given for opposing a public option is simply false -- and he appears exasperated with readers who ask him about that obvious truth. Note, however, that he shifts his explanation for the conservatives' opposition to a public option -- it's no longer about "philosophy"; now it's "for political reasons."
That, too, lets them off the hook. Polling has shown that a public option is popular in the home states of people like Sen. Lincoln. So what are the "political reasons"? Maybe it has something to do with the campaign contributions from the insurance industry Bacon was asked about, and ignored?
Instead of doing his job -- holding politicians accountable for their statements and assessing whether those statements square with reality -- Bacon just keeps ignoring the obvious and inventing excuses for them.
The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly "reports" on the insurance industry's assault on health care reform:
After months of collaboration on President Obama's attempt to overhaul the nation's health-care system, the insurance industry plans to strike out against the effort on Monday with a report warning that the typical family premium in 2019 could cost $4,000 more than projected.
Industry officials said they intend to circulate the report prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers on Capitol Hill and promote it in new advertisements. That could complicate Democratic hopes for action on the legislation this week.
Though open to dispute, the analysis is certain to raise questions about whether Obama can deliver on his twin promises of extending coverage to millions of uninsured Americans while also curbing skyrocketing health-care costs.
Connolly then quoted from the report, and quoted an insurance industry spokeswoman. Eventually, near the end of the article, Connolly finally got around to including some disagreements with the study's conclusions. But she didn't make any attempt to answer for readers a rather basic question: Is the insurance industry study correct?
Nor did she spend any time at all putting PricewaterhouseCoopers' involvement in context. It seems like they're a neutral, credible source, right? But as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein explains elsewhere, the firm's track record isn't particularly good:
The report was farmed out to the consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has something of a history with this sort of thing: In the early-'90s, the tobacco industry commissioned PWC to estimate the economic devastation that would result from a tax on tobacco. The report was later analyzed by the Arthur Andersen Economic Consulting group, which concluded that "the cumulative effect of PW's methods ... is to produce patently unreliable results." It's perhaps no surprise that the patently unreliable results were all in the tobacco industry's favor.
That seems like some useful context that could have helped Connolly's readers, doesn't it? Klein goes on to point out glaring flaws in the insurance industry study -- flaws that are nowhere to be found in Connolly's article. Instead, Connolly leads with the alarming conclusion that the "typical family" could pay $4,000 more for health care -- and makes no attempt to assess the validity of that claim. She doesn't even explain what "typical family" means.
Could someone explain to me why Connolly's write-up is on the front page of the Washington Post, and Klein's is on a blog on the Post's web page?
UPDATE: TNR's Jonathan Cohn posted at 10:56 last night an assessment of the study that noted it makes a series of "strange assumptions" that calls its conclusions into question. Like this one, which Cohn quotes directly: "We have estimated the potential impact of the tax on premiums. Although we expect employers to respond to the tax by restructuring their benefits to avoid it, we demonstrate the impact assuming it is applied."
So the insurance industry study is based on assumptions it believes are false. That's a pretty damning piece of information, isn't it? Jonathan Cohn posted it online last night -- but Ceci Connolly couldn't be bothered to include it in her write-up of the insurance industry's attack for today's Washington Post.
Howard Kurtz today:
Yet while the Letterman saga has unleashed a tsunami of coverage, serious allegations involving Sen. John Ensign have barely produced a trickle.
Was Ensign, whose parents just happened to give $96,000 to Cynthia Hampton and her family, trying to buy the couple's silence? Despite such troubling questions, the Ensign controversy barely exists on television -- although CNN's Dana Bash did manage to stake him out for a quick interview in which the senator said he'd violated no ethical rules and has no plans to resign.
The Ensign story is complicated and not very visual. Letterman is far more famous. So the comic is turned into media fodder and the officeholder largely stays under the radar.
Left unmentioned in Howard Kurtz's half-hearted attempt to explain why David Lettermen has gotten so much more media attention than John Ensign: Howard Kurtz's own obsession with the Letterman story. Marcy Wheeler documented that obsession last Tuesday, and it has continued to this day.
So, Kurtz himself has been obsessed with Letterman -- and has fanned the flames of the Letterman story as much as anyone. And now he purports to analyze why the media -- as if he isn't part of it -- has paid so much attention to Letterman, without ever once mentioning his own role or motivations.
Instead, he offers up the absolutely inane explanation that the Ensign story hasn't gotten more attention because it's too complicated. Really? We're supposed to believe the media can't figure out how to report that a Senator had an affair with one of his staffers -- who happened to be married to another of his staffers -- then tried to buy the couples' silence by giving them $96,000 from his parents and getting the husband a new job?
Seems like something they could figure out how to cover if they put their minds to it.
Right-wingers are being encouraged to descend upon "liberal" media outlets in their hometowns on October 17, and protest all the unfair coverage. It's part of Operation: Can You Hear us Now, and it's a continuation of the Tea Party and heath care mini-mob madness, as activists follow the lead of their "American heroes" Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
Reading about the plans, this part made me chuckle [emphasis added]:
Be peaceful, respectful, but let them HEAR you and SEE you. Remember, they are hard of hearing and their eyesight isn't what it used to be the last 8 years prior. They accidentally missed 2 million people protesting in D.C. in one of the biggest protests in US History.
Maybe we cannot repeat an assembly of 2 million mad-as-hell taxpaying patriots in one place, but surely those who longed to go and couldn't would love to be a part of Operation "Can You Hear Us Now?"
Boy, irony doesn't get much thicker than this, does it? Right-wingers are going to protest "liberal" media outlets for being unfair and unprofessional. For being blind to the truth! And how do `wingers know the news orgs aren't fair? Because they "missed" the anti-Obama rally where "2 million" people were protesting in D.C.
Laugh along as I highlight the press didn't miss that story...because 2 million people never showed up in D.C. According to best official counts, there were actually 1.9 million fewer people than that; about 70,000. But choosing to inhabit their own parallel universe, tea bag protesters continue to cling to the fabricated 2 million number to show how the other guys aren't playing fair.
Honestly, I don't think `wingers hate the press just because it's supposedly so "liberal." They hate the press because journalists won't accept the concocted version of reality that conservatives are constructing for themselves under Obama.
UPDATED: You know trouble is brewing when protest organizers have to urge activists not to show up with posters that feature a "racial epithet."
From an October 11 ESPN.com article:
NFL Players Executive Director DeMaurice Smith on Saturday made a move to solidify the union against a bid by conservative talk show radio host Rush Limbaugh as part of a group that aims to purchase the St. Louis Rams.
In an e-mail to the union's executive committee on Saturday specifically addressing Limbaugh's bid, Smith said, "I've spoken to the Commissioner [Roger Goodell] and I understand that this ownership consideration is in the early stages. But sport in America is at its best when it unifies, gives all of us reason to cheer, and when it transcends. Our sport does exactly that when it overcomes division and rejects discrimination and hatred."
Limbaugh and St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts are among six potential ownership groups that have discussed buying the Rams. League sources say the current sale price has ranged from $700-to-$750 million but that there did not appear to be an imminent transaction.
On Sunday, Smith briefly elaborated, "This communication is more about what we stand for than the reality of our role in any franchise sale. While it's true the subject matter was related [to Limbaugh's bid], I do understand that the NFL does not present ownership bids to me or the NFLPA. I encourage our players to express their views."
At least seven NFL players have publicly opposed Limbaugh's interest in purchasing the Rams with Checketts. In Smith's communication Saturday with his executive committee, the union leader encouraged players to speak their mind on all matters, including Limbaugh's bid.
80 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 9 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
From Dick Morris and Eileen McGann's October 9 column:
Whether it was rewarding Jimmy Carter for criticizing the Iraq war or supporting Al Gore in his crusade against global warming, the Norwegian parliament, which chooses the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, has sought to use the award as a political tool to influence American politics.
Its prestige and moral power make the prize a potent weapon with which to help steer the direction of the colossus beyond the seas that controls a quarter of the world's economy and most of its military power.
Now, the Norwegians have weighed in to support Barack Obama in his bid to reshape America so it looks more like, well, Norway, or at least like Europe.
European socialism cannot succeed without conquering the United States.
The Nobel Prize is really Obama's payback for disciplining the unruly United States and taming it to be a member of the European family of nations. Europe wants to reverse the American Revolution and re-colonize us, and it sees in Obama a kindred spirit willing to do its bidding.
All this heavy lifting, this conversion of America into a European state, deserves a reward. And what is a more fitting one than to give Obama than the Nobel Peace Prize?
He obviously doesn't deserve the award for economics or, given his healthcare ideas, for medicine. But the Peace Prize expresses Europe's longing: to take back the nation its overly ambitious and uppity children founded.
Given the gleeful mocking of President Obama over Chicago's failed effort to host the 2016 Olympics, and shameless smears of his unexpected Nobel Peace Prize, let's pause and ask: Is there anything conservatives won't turn into a cudgel to bludgeon the president? Take, for example, the art hanging on the White House walls.
As AFP reported earlier this week, the president and first lady have borrowed 47 works of art from five galleries to decorate the White House. AFP went on to describe the art:
They include pieces by seven black artists, including one by Glenn Ligon, a conceptual artist who explores issues of politics and race in works made of text, photos and neon.
A vertical piece selected by the Obamas was "Black like me No. 2," a riff on a 1961 book by white journalist John Howard Griffin who darkened his skin and then wrote about his experience as a "black" man in the racially segregated US south.
"Harlem Renaissance" painter William Johnson is favoured with four pieces, while Alma Thomas, a top African-American woman artist, is represented on the abstract painting front.
In addition, many earthenware pieces and other works by Native Americans were chosen.
On the more classical side, there is a melancholic "Sunset" by Winslow Homer, and two bronze dancers by Degas. Abstract artists like Mark Rothko, and Josef Albers, and conceptual stars like Edward Corbett and Jasper Johns also made the White House grade.
From across the Atlantic, in addition to the Degas, there are a still life by Italian painter Giorgio Morandi and a depiction of Nice by Nicolas de Stael.
William Allman, the White House curator, told The Washington Post that the Obamas' picks express "probably more interest in truly modern art."
So Winslow Homer, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko, William Johnson -- seems pretty eclectic. In fact, it seems pretty benign.
Alas, nothing is benign with the contemporary conservative smear machine, as right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin amply illustrates with her attack on Alma Thomas, and -- by extension -- Obama. Taking her cue from Free Republic, Malkin complains:
Alma Thomas's "Watusi" (1963) looks to be an almost exact reproduction of a 1953 piece by Henri Matisse titled "L'Escargot:"
Malkin even provides a helpful illustration -- "side by side, with 'Watusi' rotated and on the left" -- to make clear the similarities in the two works to drive home her point -- that Obama picked art created by a fraud to hang on the White House walls. But the real fun gets underway over at Ann Althouse's blog:
Anyway, it's really sad to see this sentimental stretching to identify African-American artists. There are plenty of real ones, and mistakes like this make it seem as though there are not and that patronizing -- which really ought to be called racism -- is necessary.
So the Obamas chose a fraudulent African-American artist to display at the White House -- "sentimental stretching to identify African-American artists," a "mistake" and "patronizing," since all Alma Thomas did was knock off Matisse. This does sound bad -- and, of course, it's wildly off the mark.
Art historian Ann Gibson discusses the political message inherent in Thomas' "mimicry and revision of Matisse" in her contribution to Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of the Paintings:
The close resemblance between Watusi and L'Escargot (especially evident when Thomas's painting is turned ninety degrees to the right) suggests an overlap between Thomas's determination to comprehend the lessons of modernism and her identification -- and perhaps her sense of rivalry -- with one of its principle figures. However, the title Watusi, which refers both to an African people and to a hit tune of the early 1960s (Chubby Checker's record "The Watusi" was released in 1961), suggests that she used elements of Matisse's art not only as models of abstraction but also to refer to African people and their representation in popular culture, just as elements of art made by Africans could reflect, in Western modernism, European desires and European high culture. Thomas's radical revisions of Matisse's colors (but not the values of his collaged shapes) to their near opposite on the color wheel, as well as her opening of the "frame" -- blues in her painting, oranges in his - are also noteworthy. By permitting the white shapes to penetrate the frame, Thomas animates and frees both the white areas and the colored forms: The frame no longer contains the central organization, and the framing shapes join in the "dance" of the shapes inside. When Thomas's mimicry and revision of Matisse is read in the context of her entitling her painting Watusi, one sees more than an implicit defiance of modernism's creed of originality. What does it mean for an ambitious but comparatively unknown artist to appropriate in paint an important recent work by an internationally recognized master? Especially when she changes the title from a word that suggests not only a sluggish mollusk whose movements are drastically curtailed by its shell but also an epicurean dish whose very name connotes elite privilege? And when the title she selects is the name of a people legendary for their height and strength and after whom, during the civil rights struggle, a popular song has been named? With the title Watusi, Thomas sets her critique (and homage) in the context of early-twentieth century borrowing from Africa by such revered modernists as Matisse, visually loosening his frame and conceptually replacing his upper-class European reference with one that connotes both African and popular American culture. The similarity of forms in Thomas's painting and Matisse's collage suggests the interchangeability, and thus the equality, of social, national, and economic values.
Wait. It's almost as if Alma Thomas intended to create a work of art that looked kind of like a Matisse. She even might have had a message in mind. Whoa. But, see, understanding Thomas' civil rights era message is not the point. The point is that Barack Obama did it, therefore it must be bad. You know, like the Olympics and the Nobel Peace Prize.