Just days after I chuckled at the idea that conservative ideologues are finally going to build their own Huffington Post or Talking Points Memo (i.e. a serious and respected online hub for reporting and commentary), the Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb proves why the dream remains a joke: conservatives don't do journalism. Period.
Sure, yesterday Goldfarb tried, but the results were rather gruesome. Goldfarb's scoop was that the White House, and specifically chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, had threatened to close Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base if Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) did not "fall into line" regarding health care reform." (The claim was categorically denied by the White House and by Nelson's office. Ouch.)
As Jamison Foser noted, Goldfarb's claim was illogical, his sourcing was a joke, and Goldfarb, a former McCain flak, has a history of making stuff up. So it wasn't surprising when Goldfarb showed up on Glenn Beck's show yesterday and was forced to retract a key part of his claim. (See below.)
Why wasn't that surprising? Because the right-wing blogosphere has no real history of practicing journalism. That's not part of its repertoire. It prefers to just make stuff up.
UPDATED: Even Nebraska's Republican senator doesn't believe Goldfarb's 'reporting.'
This just seems dumb, but I'm sure we're going to see more of it in coming weeks and months: news orgs spending money to poll on the viability of Tea Party candidates and comparing the favorable ratings of the Tea Party vs. Democrats and Republicans.
The problem with that? The Tea Party does not exist, per se, which means there is no defined Tea Party platform, and there are no candidates. But hey, other than that it makes perfect sense to poll people, right?
Never underestimating the (theoretical) interest in a third party movement, I'm not surprised by the results of the NBC/WSJ poll, although I think everyone is supposed to be shocked that according to the NBC/WSJ data the Tea Party is more popular than Dems or GOP. (MSNBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro take the results very seriously and offer up no qualifications about the poll.) I'm not surprised because the Tea Party is a faceless movement that has doesn't actually stand for anything specific, so people can pretend it's whatever they want it to be. It's an utterly pointless polling exercise because people have an ingrained idea of who the Democrats are and what they stand for politically. Same with Republicans. But the non-existent Tea Party, for now, can be whatever voters want it to be.
But put a specific face on it (i.e. Sarah Palin or Dick Armey) and start pressing poll respondents to choose, and the results will change. Start spelling out what the supposed Tea Party is for and against, and the results with change. Because isn't it a fact of polling that when you give people the choice between an undefined blank slate (i.e. a Tea Party that doesn't actually exist) and ask them to pick between that and well-known entities with lots of political baggage, that people are likely to pick the blank slate? But once that blank slate becomes more defined, more and more people will peel away.
If there's truly a third party movement afoot and Democrats and Republicans are about to get steamrolled by it, so be it. It just seems odd for news ogs to poll people about a political party that doesn't actually exist.
UPDATED: This apples-to-oranges exercise is similar to the silly one Public Policy Polling engaged in last week when it asked people if they supported "the impeachment of President Obama," even though, y'know, there are no impeachment proceedings against President Obama. i.e. Why are firms suddenly polling about fictitious political scenarios?
UPDATED: Peter Hart at FAIR notes that according to the NBC/WSJ polling data, a large percentage of survey respondents had no idea what the Tea Party movement was, which raises doubts about how popular it really is. Plus, the description NBC/WSJ gave as part of its polling question portrayed the Tea party in a "remarkably upbeat" manner, says Hart.
From the December 17 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
The following on-screen text aired during a debate about Wisconsin legislation requiring public schools teach the history of organized labor. From the December 17 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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 December 16 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
As David Weigel notes, the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference is going to have something of a retro feel now that the John Birch Society has announced its co-sponsorship of the event. For those unfamiliar with the John Birch Society, the organization was founded in 1958 by businessman Robert Welch and quickly became the face of the conspiratorial and paranoid right-wing fringe. A rabid anti-communist, Welch accused just about everyone of being a secret Red, including Dwight Eisenhower, whom Birch called a "dedicated agent of the Communist conspiracy." In the intervening years, the Birchers have embraced various wild conspiracies in their ongoing "defense" of freedom -- they oppose the United Nations because of the group's secret goal of creating a world government; they believe that there are efforts underway to merge Canada, Mexico, and the United States into a single entity; and they believe that the Rockefellers and the Illuminati are conspiring to form a New World Order.
And, of course, there's the whole anti-Semitism thing to consider. According to the New York Times, their long-time president John McManus has been "heard to say that militant Jews have influenced the Freemasons, who are 'Satan's agents,' 'the enemies of Christ Church.' " McManus also "lectur[ed] to Catholic groups that Judaism became a dead and deadly religion after the establishment of the Catholic Church." The combined effect of all this nuttiness was that most respectable conservatives refused to have anything to do with the Birchers.
But after years of exile on the fringe of conservative politics, they suddenly find themselves welcome participants at the year's biggest event in conservative politics. What happened? Well, as Weigel noted, the Birchers have made a concerted effort to rebrand their image, even if their positions haven't changed. Also, the conservative movement in America continues its rightward lurch in response to two straight GOP electoral disasters.
The Birchers have also had a little help from a very influential media figure who has done his part to mainstream these kooks -- Glenn Beck. Back in 2007, Beck played host on CNN to a Bircher spokesman who railed against the Security and Prosperity Partnership, an economic and security initiative that the Birchers believe is a vehicle "to stealthily merge the three North American nations." Beck prefaced the discussion by telling his guest: "I have to tell you, when I was growing up, the John Birch Society, I thought they were a bunch of nuts, however, you guys are starting to make more and more sense to me." And earlier this year Beck introduced his Fox News viewers to his intellectual guru W. Cleon Skousen, a '60s-era anti-communist crank who was a great supporter of the John Birch Society and even authored a pamphlet defending the Birchers from "Communist attacks."
So the Birchers are back, and, according to their press release, they'll be at CPAC disseminating "educational and promotional materials." Something tells me we're all going to learn quite a bit from this year's conference.
As I've previously noted, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz often seems completely uninterested in answering the questions he takes during his weekly Q&A sessions -- either that or incapable of understanding them. Here's this week's example:
New York, N.Y.: The Post shouldn't have run Sarah Palin's op-ed piece on global warming. I know your going to knee-jerk and say it's only because I don't like Palin, but that has nothing to do with it. Global warming is a highly technical topic that Palin simply knows nothing about. For the same reason, the Post shouldn't publish an op-ed by Joe Biden on quantum mechanics. I have a radical suggestion: the Post should only publish pieces by people who understand the subject matter.
Howard Kurtz: If it were up to me, the paper (and others) wouldn't publish pieces by politicians that are ghostwritten by their staffs (on both sides of the aisle). It's not like these pols have no other way of getting their message out. But if you run such op-eds - including one by Barack Obama, as I recall - you can't impose a different standard on Sarah Palin.
See how Kurtz's entire response was a defense of the Post's decision to run Palin's op-ed despite the fact that a Palin staffer wrote it for her? Ok, now look back at the question: it didn't have anything to do with the fact that the op-ed was ghost-written. Nothing! Didn't even mention that a Palin staffer wrote the op-ed!
No, the questioner pointed out that Sarah Palin doesn't know anything about global warming, so her views on the subject were unworthy of space on the Post's op-ed page. But it's harder to defend the Post from that complaint, so Kurtz just went ahead and invented a different one to respond to.
Later in the chat, Kurtz actually wrote this:
lots of reporters, commentators and advocates -- including Al Gore, in an interview with Andrea Mitchell -- have ripped apart Palin's op-ed. So in that sense it contributed to the climate change debate.
Wow. Talk about transparently carrying water for your employer. Kurtz is really praising the op-ed for contributing to the debate because it contained a bunch of falsehoods other people had to respond to?
Speaking of which, when is the Post going to get around to running a response to Palin?
It's hard to imagine that a political reporter could have as much faith in politicians as the Washington Post's Perry Bacon seems to. I've previously noted Bacon's insistence on taking politicians at their word, even when their claims have been shown to be false. And his jaw-dropping refusal to consider the possibility that politicians may occasionally be influenced by campaign contributions.
Now, take a look at this exchange from Bacon's online Q&A this week:
Arlington, Va.: Nelson was a health insurance company executive before he ran for governor.
Lieberman gets a lot of campaign donations from Aetna, whose CEO said they are jacking up premiums to increase their profit margins even though it would mean up to 650,000 people losing their coverage.
Perry Bacon Jr.: Doesn't Chris Dodd get money from insurance companies? Isn't Blanch Lincoln, not a former insurance executive, also opposing the public opinion, as are lots of House members, many of whom also didn't work in the insurance industry?
Wow. Is Perry Bacon really suggesting that because some politicians vote against the interests of their donors, no politician is ever influenced by campaign contributions? That's really the only way to read his response; otherwise, what would Chris Dodd and Blanche Lincoln have to do with a question about Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman?
And Bacon's use of Blanche Lincoln as an example of a politician who opposes the public option despite a lack of ties to the insurance industry is absolutely hilarious, given the campaign contributions she's taken from the industry, and her ties to industry lobbyists. (To be clear: I have no idea what Lincoln's motivations are, but Bacon's suggestion that she lacks ties to the insurance industry is absurd. Just the reasoning he uses to dismiss suggestions that Nelson and Lieberman are motivated by campaign contributions is absurd, regardless of whether they are.)
Admittedly, it was a fleeting attempt, but hey at least ABC News tried [emphasis added]:
Fifty percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of the president's work overall, down 6 points in the last month; nearly as many, 46 percent, now disapprove. On the economy, 52 percent disapprove, a majority for the first time. On the deficit, his worst score, 56 percent disapprove.
Such numbers aren't unexpected; Ronald Reagan, in similar economic straits, dropped to 52 percent overall approval at this point in his presidency.
I've been making this point for weeks now and it's nice to see some journalists take note: despite the exaggerated rhetoric and non-stop hand-wringing about Obama's supposed poll collapse in recent months, his approval ratings remains almost identical to Ronald Reagan's 11 months into his first term.
Yes, that's the same Ronald Reagan who conservatives and most journalists considered to be one of the most successful presidents of the last half century. But boy, you read Obama's clips and he's not Ronald Reagan II, he's already Jimmy Cater II. Funny, how the 'liberal media' puts things in context.
And speaking of context, ABC News actually gets it a bit wrong with its Reagan reference. ABC News tries to suggest that at this point in his presidency, Reagan was already reeling in the polls due to an awful economy. That's not quite right. At this point in his presidency, Reagan was doing fine (he was viewed as a success) because prior to Obama's arrival in the White House, the D.C. press corps never considered a 50 percent job approval rating to be a failure. In previous administrations, a 50 percent approval ratings was considered a good thing. But not for Obama. The press has simply created a new standard for Obama. I mean c'mon, the press corps didn't actually get up the nerve to label George W. Bush's presidency a failure until his approval rating cratered deep into the 30's. But for some reason with Obama, 50 percent is the new demarcation line. (He's suddenly in "thin air" territory.)
And for the record, Reagan's 52 percent approval rating in December, 1981, did not reflect the difficulties he faced due to a poor economy. That came in 1982 and 1983, when Reagan's approval rating plunged to 35 percent. (Sort of like Bush did.)
But remember, according to today's press accounts, a 50 percent approval rating for Obama (for the Democrat!) is a disaster.
Apparently, Sen. Chuck Schumer referred to a flight attendant as a "bitch" (not to her face.) A House Republican aide overheard the remark and ran to the Politico, which promptly typed it up as though it was news.
That, believe it or not, isn't the ridiculous part.
Here's the ridiculous part: The National Republican Senatorial Committee, recognizing that they aren't going to defeat Chuck Schumer anytime soon, decided to try to spin this into a scandal for Sen. Kristen Gillibrand. No, Gillibrand didn't call anyone a name -- but she was sitting next to Schumer at the time! Don't you see? She's doomed!
Well, Politico's Ben Smith fell for it:
Word that Chuck Schumer called a flight attendant a "bitch" in comment to Kristen Gillibrand may be more damaging to Gillibrand than to the senior senator.
Nobody in New York, or Washington, thought Schumer was the politest soul or nicest person in Congress, or voted for him for his politesse. He's rock solid politically at home -- a place where rudeness is considered a virtue -- and his political trajectory is toward the sort of office held by notable nice guys Lyndon Johnson and Tom DeLay.
Gillibrand, by contrast, has been unable to make much of an impression in her year as an appointed senator, according to recent polling. She's dogged by the perception that she's merely a second vote for Chuck, and personally not as forceful a character as a New York Senator ought to be. Her conduct here -- silence toward Schumer's jibe, followed by her staff's telling my colleague Anne Schroeder that Schumer was "polite" to the flight attendant -- feeds both those impressions.
"We also hope his fellow Senator and passenger Kirsten Gillibrand will rightly condemn these actions by her colleague," NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said in a statement this morning, but Gillibrand spokesman Matt Canter declined, in an email, to rebuke Schumer in any way.
Now, keep in mind that nobody -- not even the House Republican aide who gave Politico the story in the first place -- contradicts Kirsten Gillibrand's staffer's statement that Schumer was "polite" to the flight attendant.
Actually, don't bother keeping that in mind. Smith's write-up is silly enough even without keeping the facts in mind. Kirsten Gillibrand is in trouble because she was sitting next to Chuck Schumer when he said something rude to her, and because her spokesperson said Schumer had been polite to a flight attendant? Please.