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  • Was Rasmussen trying to be disingenuous?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Rasmussen was out of the gate early in terms of national polling numbers regarding the unfolding Blago story and after reading Rasmussen's summary the only question we have is this: Was the polling firm trying to mislead people? Because the survey, and the Rasmussen write-up about the results, are pretty much a disaster.

    First the poll findings:

    Forty five percent (45%) of U.S. voters say it is likely President-elect Obama or one of his top campaign aides was involved in the unfolding Blagojevich scandal in Illinois, including 23% who say it is Very Likely.

    The problem here is glaringly obvious: The Blago question asked to voters was utterly pointless. Polls are supposed to help us understand where Americans stand on the issues of the day. But that's pretty hard to do when pollster like Rassmussen ask completely worthless questions.

    i.e. What does it mean to suggest Obama or one of his top campaign aides "was involved" in the Blago story? If a pollster called me at home over the weekend and asked me that question I could see possibly answering 'Yes' they were technically "involved" because obviously it's Obama's former U.S. senate seat that Blago was trying to auction off. And yes, Obama aides were in touch with Blago about filling the seat, as any campaign would. So I guess they were "involved," not unlike the way special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is "involved" in the story.

    But reporting the results, Rasmussen assumed the worst and suggested everyone who answered yes that Obama or his aides might be "involved" in the scandal meant they did something wrong. But that's not what Rasmussen asked. Rasmussen asked a pointless question about who might have been "involved."

    If Rassmussen wanted to find out if people thought Obama or his aides helped Blago try to sell a U.S. senate seat and/or broke the law, than why didn't Rassmussen just ask people that very simple, straight forward question? Instead, Rasmussen posed a completely vague and meaningless question about who was "involved," and that's why the results are utterly pointless.

    As for the Rasmussen write-up about the poll findings, it was just was useless [emphasis added]:

    Up until now, no one in a position of authority is saying that Obama or anyone on his staff is guilty of wrongdoing.

    Good grief that's bad. First, last time we checked it would a judge and jury to decide if "Obama or anyone on his staff is guilty of wrongdoing," not somebody in "a position of authority."

    And second, prosecutors have been quite clear that neither Obama nor his top aide are even being investigated for wrongdoing, so why on earth is Rasmussen daydreaming about finding them guilty?

  • Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Weisman writes:

    Robert Luskin, a Washington white-collar defense lawyer who knows Mr. Fitzgerald well, said he doesn't doubt the prosecutor would have asked that Obama officials keep quiet until his investigation is further along. That is to prevent witnesses from tailoring their stories to what they learn others are saying. But, he said, Mr. Obama and his aides don't have to comply. They are using the prosecutor as a "fig leaf" to avoid answering questions just now, Mr. Luskin said. They could just as easily have decided that assuring the public about their actions is more important than acceding to the prosecutor's request.

    So according to Jonathan Weisman and the Wall Street Journal, Obama's team could "just as easily" have ignored Fitzgerald's request not to reveal the contacts.

    Nonsense. If Obama ignored Fitzgerald's request and released the findings anyway, the Wall Street Journal - and the rest of the media - would be full of stories about Obama deliberately undermining Fitzgerald's investigation. They'd be speculating breathlessly about why Obama would undermine the investigation, and claiming that it proves he has something to hide.

    And that's the entire point of Weisman's article - that Obama could have blown off Fitzgerald's request. Yet nowhere does Weisman acknowledge the obvious reality that if Obama did so, the media - probably including Weisman himself - and the Republicans would freak out, accusing him of obstruction. That makes it disingenuous at best to suggest that Obama is to blame for the delay in releasing information about contacts between Obama staff and Blago.

  • Karl Rove, fan of disclosure

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Newsweek & Fox contributor Karl Rove criticizes Barack Obama for being insufficiently forthcoming:

    Karl Rove, who refused to answer questions for years on the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA official, criticized Barack Obama on Monday for not being more forthcoming in the Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.) scandal.

    Rove, a former top White House adviser to President Bush, said on Fox News, "[Obama] should have, right from the beginning, been more forthcoming."

    Raise your hand if you thought you'd ever see Karl Rove argue in favor of people being "forthcoming" about an investigation conducated by Patrick Fitzgerald. Anyone? Anyone at all?

    (And keep in mind, there is no allegation of wrongdoing by Obama or his staff about which they need to be "forthcoming.")

  • GOP trying to catch up to the media in hyping the Blago/Obama story

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Chris Cillizza makes some sense regarding the Blago/Obama story. In a post raising doubts that the GOP will be able to make the guilt-by-association-claims stick between the two Illinois pols (especially since prosecutors don't think Obama did anything wrong,) Cillizza suggests it might be a non-starter in the long term:

    Combine the relative paucity of proof that Obama or anyone in his political inner circle has any strong ties to Blagojevich with the fact that a series of national polls have shown widespread approval for Obama and it becomes clear that Republicans' strategy is not without risk.

    That's the good news. The bad news is that Cillizza, in his lengthy analysis, pretends the press has played no role in the unfolding story or in spreading the guilt-by-association meme. Cillizza pretends it's been Republicans, and Republicans exclusively, who have been trying to taint Obama with the Blago story. Of course, as we've been documenting for the last week, the press has been waaaaay out in front of Republicans in hyping Obama's potential Blago woes.

    That the GOP is playing-the-guilt-by-association card is a given and the press will acknowledge that. But trust us, the GOP has merely been playing catch-up with reporters and pundits who set up shop long before the GOP arrived on the Blago/Obama scene.

    In fact, here's a little exercise we did to illustrate the point about how the press has basically done the GOP's bidding re: Blago. Below are highlighted portions from Cillizza's post, and each time he suggested the RNC or Republicans were pressing the Blago story, we took out "Republicans" and inserted "the press" or "reporters" And guess what, it reads just as true.

    Take a look [emphasis added to the phrases we substituted]:

    -"[Reporters] moved aggressively over the weekend to link scandal-tarred Gov. Rod Blagojevich to President-elect Barack Obama."

    -"That video followed hard on a series of statements from the [press] over the last week that sought to raise questions about the nature and depth of Obama's ties to Blagojevich and that demanded more information concerning the number and substance of contacts between Obama's aides and the governor and his staff about the possible Senate appointment."

    -"The goal here is clear: Blagojevich is the prototypical example of political power run amok, and if he can be used in any way to slow Obama's momentum throughout the transition, then [the media] regard that as a worthwhile endeavor."

    -"At issue for [journalists] (and herein lies the risk) is whether, in fact, there is any there there as it relates to Obama's relationship with Blagojevich."

    -"How hard will [reporters] continue to push on Obama-Blagojevich? And will it work in their favor or blow up in their faces?"

    Uncanny, no?

  • When the press plays dumb

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    It can tell whatever story it wants to tell. (It helps if everyone agrees to play dumb.) And that's what we're witnessing in Washington now regarding the Blago/Obama story. The press has made it perfectly clear that a collective decision has been made to make all kinds of dark inferences regarding Obama's involvement even though reporters and pundits know, and will occasionally state publicly, that nothing suggests Obama or his aides did anything wrong. It's really quite amazing, and gruesome, to watch.

    Matt Yglesias captures the phenomena:

    But this morning on MSNBC there was a lengthy discussion of Obama's involvement in Blagojevich's corruption. Of course, there was no evidence of any involvement on Obama's part. Nor, despite this being a news channel, was there any original reporting of any kind whatsoever. There was, however, a ton of time spent criticizing the Obama campaign's PR strategy with regard to this issue - the suggestion being that had Obama adopted a better PR strategy, then people wouldn't be on television making evidence-free guilt-by-association accusations against him.

    This strong me as odd. The people making the accusations kept acknowledging that they had no evidence. One might think that communicating to television personalities the fact that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on Obama's part would constitute a good PR strategy. Given that they knew there was no evidence of wrongdoing, they should have ceased implying that there was wrongdoing. But they didn't do that at all. Not, I would submit, because of any failings on Obama's part, but because Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, John Heileman, Mark Halperin, and Pat Buchanan don't care at all about the accuracy of the impression their coverage gives.

    We do disagree with Yglesias in one regard, though. The headline to his post reads, "The New Rules." We don't think the media rules being applied to the Blago story are new. They're just the Clinton Rules, as defined by Atrios (i.e. anything goes), updated for a new Democratic era.

  • NYT takes credit for debunking the $73 an hour autoworker myth

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    From Nicholas Kristof's column:

    As my Times colleague David Leonhardt has noted, the reported $73-an-hour wage in Detroit is a fiction.

    On the one hand, it's good to see Kristof, and Leonhardt last week, trying to dismantle the $73-an-hour misinformation. The thick irony, of course, is that it was the New York Times that gave the phony meme life nearly a month ago. Neither Kristof or Leonhardt mentioned that embarrassing fact. (Or that MMFA called the paper out on the matter.)

    Meanwhile, lots of readers praised Leonhardt's effort last week to set the record straight about autoworkers. But the Daily Howler thought Leonhardt did a dreadful job sorting out the facts.

  • Murdoch's Times of London shreds journalism while hyping the Blago/Obama story

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    We don't normally comment on foreign press coverage of the Beltway, but this news report from Murdoch's Times of London regarding the Blago saga is so egregious, so dishonest and so bad, we thought it deserved attention. Especially in light of the fact how we noted last week that Murdoch's WSJ seemed to be straining the facts in order to hype the Blago story with an anti-Obama spin. Question: Has Murdoch issued marching orders to all his news orgs about this "scandal"?

    Times of London headline: "Senate scandal snares Obama's chief aide."

    The aide in question is Rahm Emanuel and as we pointed out last week Emanuel is not the target of any Blago-related investigation because he did nothing wrong. But the fact that Emanuel was referenced on the Blago wiretaps doing nothing wrong means to the Times that he's been "ensnared."

    It gets worse. Here's the lead as written by Sarah Baxter [emphasis added]:

    The bullish, foul-mouthed but effective Chicago arm-twister Rahm Emanuel has come under pressure to resign as Barack Obama's chief of staff after it was revealed that he had been captured on court-approved wire-taps discussing the names of candidates for Obama's Senate seat.

    That's a new claim and the newspaper makes it in the article's very first sentence: Emanuel is under pressure to resign?! By whom, is the obvious question. Behold the Times' answer: "Grover Norquist, an influential conservative tax reform lobbyist." We kid you not. A professional GOP partisan throws out a pointless silly claim that Emanuel should be fired and Murdoch's newspaper treats it as breaking news.

    Amazingly, the article gets even worse as Baxter, in a supposed news article, just becomes unhinged with the rhetoric in terms of Blago's impact on the president-elect:

    -"the spiralling controversy has been an alarming distraction"

    -"the scandal is lapping at Obama's own ankles."

    -"Obama is himself embroiled in a sub-plot of the scandal with uncomfortable connections to Blagojevich"

    Baxter also fantasizes in print about what might have occurred:

    -"[Emanuel] may have been fully aware of what Blagojevich was attempting."

    And about what might happen in the future:

    -"If he were to throw him out of the inner circle now with his reputation under siege, it would be a singular act of disloyalty before the transition team has even had a chance to take office."

    And it gets even worse when Baxter claimed matter-of-factly that "[Emanuel] is being investigated by Patrick Fitzgerald." Of course, Fitzgerald's team has made it perfectly clear Emanuel is not being investigated. But for Murdoch's Times, it makes for a better read if Emanuel is under the prosecutor's gun.

    Sarah Baxter's news dispatch from Washington, from top to bottom, represents sham journalism, complete with invented facts and key omissions. And fair warning to Journal employees: Before Murdoch bought the Times of London it was considered to be a great newspaper.

    Today? Not so much.

  • Karl Rove's pundit problem, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    We noted earlier this year the problem with Rove's transformation from White House player to pundit if his new Murdoch paid outlets, such as the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, refuse to acknowledge that Rove remains active in GOP politics. That he's not just commenting on current events, he's trying to shape them. Like being an adviser to McCain's campaign in 2008.

    The latest wrinkle revolves around the fact that news orgs are suggesting that Rove is taking the behind-the-scenes lead for the GOP in trying to torpedo Eric Holder's nomination to be the next AG.

    If the Journal and FNC (as well as Newsweek, which also pays Rove to pontificate) are even going to pretend to hold Rove to any kind of journalism standards (that is, after all, what they're paying him to produce), they ought to come clean immediately about his role in the unfolding Holder story.

  • The RNC literally writes the lead for Chicago Tribune Blago/Obama story

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    From the Trib's blog [emphasis added]:

    The "unanswered questions'' -- as the Republican National Committee and others are calling them -- will continue to haunt President-elect Obama and staff in the sordid case of the Illinois governor accused of attempting to sell Obama's Senate seat. Until Obama, and his staff, answer them.

    Take a knee Trib, because the breathlessness (Obama's haunted!) must leave everyone there exhausted.

    Did Rahm Emanuel speak to Blago's team about filling Obama's senate seat? Yes. Is that in any way, shape, or form unusual? No. Is it illegal? Of course not. Are prosecutors targeting Emanuel in any way? No. Is the RNC hyping a non-story? Yes. Is the Trib doing the RNC's bidding? Gladly.

    FYI, John McCain is not impressed by the RNC's attempt to hype the Blago story to the press.

  • Slate concocts new standards for "scandal" coverage

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Chris Beam unfurled a beloved Beltway CW as way to prop up the breathless Blago story in terms of it being an "Obama scandal." (And yes, in the last paragraph of his piece, Beam noted "The Blagojevich complaint leaves him pretty much untainted." Of course, if that had been in Beam's first paragraph the whole piece would have been pointless. Nifty trick, eh?)

    According to Beam, this is what everyone within elite media circles agrees about scandals, and plus it's been true forever:

    The first rule of political crisis management: Tell everything. Every megascandal, from Watergate to Monica, was exacerbated by the slow trickle of embarrassing information. Better to put it all out there at once, take the heat, and move on.

    Personally, I admired how Beam immediately raised the specter of previous presidential impeachments when analyzing the Blago story. But the key point was that presidents always have to release all embarrassing information. Immediately. It's the only way to make a story go away. It's the only way to get the press to back off. And if presidents (or president-elects) don't immediately disclose every morsel of information, the tenacious Beltway press is never going to be satisfied.

    To that I have a two word response: Harken Energy.

    Think back to when that embarrassing presidential scandal broke in 2002. Did Bush instantly reveal every Harken-related fact, figure, time and date? Did the White House do everything it could to make sure journalists had as much relevant information as possible and do it in a timely fashion? Please.

    But if Bush stonewalled, that meant the press hounded him mercilessly about his fishy Harken entanglements, right? Again, don't make us laugh.

    Slate claims the press rules for presidents have been carved in stone for ages. Actually, the rules being applied to the Democrat today are exactly like the ones that applied to Clinton the Democrat in the 1990's. Yet for some miraculous reason the same rules did not apply to Bush the Republican, and people like Beam play dumb about it.