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  • One person's anecdote is Matt Bai's data

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Matt Bai's article in Democracy has drawn a bit of attention today, particularly this paragraph:

    Generally speaking, political writers don't think so much of political scientists, either, mostly because anyone who has ever actually worked in or covered politics can tell you that, whatever else it may be, a science isn't one of them. Politics is, after all, the business of humans attempting to triumph over their own disorder, insecurity, competitiveness, arrogance, and infidelity; make all the equations you want, but a lot of politics is simply tactile and visual, rather than empirical. My dinnertime conversation with three Iowans may not add up to a reliable portrait of the national consensus, but it's often more illuminating than the dissertations of academics whose idea of seeing America is a trip to the local Bed, Bath & Beyond.

    This is odd, to say the least. Bai is essentially arguing on behalf of the very approach he mocks.

    In terms of a reporter's ability to paint a "portrait of the national consensus," a dinnertime conversation with three Iowans is pretty much the same thing as thinking you can see America via a trip to the local Bed, Bath & Beyond.

    The problem with extrapolating what you see on a trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond into an assertion about broader public opinion is that it mistakes anecdote for data. A dinnertime conversation with three Iowans has the same problem. And Matt Bai knows this; just a few paragraphs earlier, he wrote:

    Academics who study politics often consider those of us who write about the field to be superficial, simple-minded and-the greatest indictment of all- unscientific . We interview three people in an Iowa diner and act as if we have penetrated the very soul of America. (Such allegations are, sadly, true enough.)

    More Bai:

    The founder of Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, is a law school graduate who lives in Berkeley; the lead blogger on FireDogLake, Jane Hamsher, used to be the Hollywood producer of such family films as "Natural Born Killers"; Chris Bowers, the signature voice of Open Left, is (or at least was when I first met him) a graduate student in sociology. To suggest that the voices of 100 or so prominent bloggers of similar pedigree represent some new, more inclusive voice of the American everyman-which is what the bloggers themselves like to profess-is just fantasy.

    Well, ok. But Bai just gone done arguing that his dinnertime conversations with three Iowans are illuminating. The views of "three Iowans" are illuminating, but those of three bloggers are not? (By the way, note the loaded descriptions of those three: Bai could just as easily have described Markos as a veteran of the U.S. Army or as a small business owner who grew up in El Salvador. But that would have undermined his point pretty badly.)

    So Matt Bai seems to be arguing that looking at a narrow and small slice of the populace in order to draw broader conclusions is invalid - unless Matt Bai is the person doing the looking.

  • New York Daily News concocts Michelle Obama/Hillary Clinton feud

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Note the subtle headline [emphasis added]

    First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bury hatchet with hugs, air kisses

    According to the Daily News, Obama and Clinton have ended their political sniping and made up. i.e The cat fight among the high-profile Democratic women is over. (Gee, nothing sexist there, right?) But what evidence does the daily present to substantiate the claim and Obama and Clinton despised each other? Here's what the News' Richard Sisk wrote:

    It wasn't that long ago that party insiders were telling the political world that Michelle Obama and Clinton simply couldn't abide one another. Both sides openly accused the other of arrogantly parading about as the "inevitable" White House winner during the campaign. But the recent unpleasantness dissolved in a hearty round of hugs and air kisses Wednesday, as Clinton praised Obama's "grace and her wisdom," and Obama called Clinton "such a committed person, friend, supporter to me."

    Typically in journalism if party insiders are "telling the political world" something, and if both sides in a feud are "openly" accusing the other of something, journalists quote those people to substantiate the claims. But not the Daily News. It loved the cat fight angle, even if it provided no evidence whatsoever to back it up.

  • Politico continues to reshape Beltway journalism

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    With its feature today on pols who wear handkerchiefs with their suits. Yes, the Politico article's more than 1,000 words, and yes, it comes complete with a slide show to document the pols who wear a handkerchief with their suit.

    Why do I have the feeling there are editorial meetings at Politico where the possibility of a boxer/briefs story actually gets tossed around?

  • Andrew Malcolm strikes again

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Is there any major-newspaper reporter who is more consistently wrong than Andrew Malcolm?

    Here's filmmaker Michael Moore, on criticism of Rush Limbaugh:

    President Obama and the Democratic Party have wasted no time in pointing out to the American people this marriage from hell, tying Rush like a rock around the collective Republican neck and hoping for its quick descent to the netherworld of irrelevance.

    But some commentators (Richard Wolffe of Newsweek, Chuck Todd of NBC News, etc.) have likened this to "what Republicans tried to do to the Democrats with Michael Moore." Perhaps. But there is one central difference: What I have believed in, and what I have stood for in these past eight years -- an end to the war, establishing universal health care, closing Guantanamo and banning torture, making the rich pay more taxes and aggressively going after the corporate chiefs on Wall Street -- these are all things which the majority of Americans believe in too. That's why in November the majority voted for the guy I voted for. The majority of Americans rejected the ideology of Rush and embraced the same issues I have raised consistently in my movies and books.

    And here's LA Times reporter (and former Laura Bush press secretary) Andrew Malcolm, describing Moore's comments:

    Moore lists numerous ways that Republican strategists went after him in past years -- books, ads, funny photos, and how he was booed off the Oscar stage even in liberal Hollywood for his early opposition to the Iraq war, Guantanamo, torture and other things.

    Did that help Democratic Sen. Kerry not get elected in 2004? "Perhaps," Moore admits.

    Now, if you read what Moore wrote, you'll notice that Malcolm is simply not telling the truth. Moore's "perhaps" was not an admission that Republican attacks on him helped to defeat John Kerry; not even close. Moore said "perhaps" there is some similarity between what Democrats are currently doing and what Republicans tried to do to him; he is not saying Republicans were successful. Malcolm simply made that up, and ripped Moore's comment out of context in order to hide the fabrication.

    In fact, Moore said the GOP's attacks on him backfired (that is, Moore said the opposite of what Malcolm says he said):

    The result of this was one colossal backfire. The more they attacked me, the more the public decided to check out who this "devil" was and what he was saying. And -- oops! -- more than a few people liked what they saw.

    ...

    Yes, the more the Right went after me, the more people got to hear what I was saying -- and eventually the majority, for some strange reason, ended up agreeing with me -- not Rush Limbaugh -- and elected Barack Obama as president of the United States, a man who promised to end the war, bring about universal health care, close Guantanamo, stop torture, tax the rich, and rein in the abusive masters of Wall Street.

    ...

    In the end it all proved to be a big strategic mistake on their part. Thanks to the Republican attacks on me, average Joes and Janes started to listen to what I had to say.

    ...

    Obama and the Democrats going after Rush is a good thing and will not do for him what the Republican attack plan did for me -- namely, the majority of Americans will never be sympathetic to him because they simply don't agree with him.

    The days of using my name as a pejorative are now over. The right wing turned me into an accidental spokesperson for the liberal, majority agenda. Thank you, Republican Party. You helped us elect one of the most liberal senators to the presidency of the United States. We couldn't have done it without you.

    Now, maybe you disagree with Michael Moore; maybe you think the Republicans attacks on him did help George W. Bush win in 2004. That doesn't change the fact that Michael Moore simply did not say what Andrew Malcolm says he said.

    Malcolm made it up.

  • The Pelosi plane smear, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Credit ABC's Jonathan Karl and Luis Martinez for taking the time to actually look into the details surrounding Judicial Watch's comical claims this week about Nancy Pelosi's air travel; claims the Noise Machine mindlessly repeated.

    The ABC duo concludes [emphasis added]:

    The treasure trove of documents obtained by Judicial Watch from the Department of Defense regarding Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's use of military aircraft doesn't seem to prove the organization's allegation that Pelosi has made "unprecedented demands" for the flights. In fact, it appears that Pelosi uses military aircraft less often than her predecessor, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

    ABC found that virtually none of the Judicial Watch claims stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny. Oh, don't act surprised.

    UPDATE: Newsbusters plays dumb, ignoring the fact that the Bush White House and Pentagon demanded, after 9/11, that the Speaker of the House fly on military planes. The only way the pointless Judicial Watch story works is if you pretend it was all Pelosi's idea, which Newsbusters eagerly does:

    The mainstream media has completely ignored Pelosi's diva-like demand for a $38 million (in 1998 dollars) luxury aircraft in which to fly home.

    There's nothing in that sentence that's factual.

  • WashPost's David Ignatius makes stuff up

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The whole column today is a bit nutty. i.e. There aren't enough businessmen in Obama's cabinet! (Including SOS.) Of course, columnists are allowed to wander down incoherent roads, but they're not allowed to make stuff up.

    Like here [emphasis added.]

    The Democrats were egregious in packing the stimulus bill with pet projects that won't stimulate much except campaign contributions and in sticking with earmarks -- a symbolic outrage that Obama promised during the campaign he would eliminate.

    As Media Matters has noted, the media's beloved meme that Obama promised to eliminate earmarks is pure fantasy. Not that that has stopped the press from peddling its favorite falsehood.

    Second, the stimulus bill had no earmarks in it. Period. Even Fox News conceded that point:

    President Obama did make sure that bulky earmarks were not in the stimulus bill.

  • "The Real Problem with CNBC"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    According to Cenk Uygur at HuffPost [emphasis added]:

    The real problem is their reporting - or lack thereof. The CNBC reporters and anchors make the Bush press corps look like draconian inquisitors. They are obsessed with access. This is a problem with all of the media, and something Jon Stewart points out all the time. But it is particularly acute at CNBC (and all other business news channels)...They were part of the broken system. There was no journalism going on at CNBC. That is what our underlying complaint is.

    UPDATE: HuffPost's Dan Solin also unloads on CNBC:

    Investors want to know if the market has bottomed out. The answer is: no one knows. CNBC has not yet bottomed out, and that is contributing to the problem.

  • Clueless New York Post invents news

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Even for the lowly and permanently substandard Post, this is quite atrocious. It's from the daily's "article" about the Nancy Pelosi plane nonsense, a topic we dismantled earlier today.

    In it, the Post claimed Pelosi "clashed" with the military in order to get "nonstop service" when she flies home to California.

    In fact, it was the Republican White House, following 9-11, that urged the Speaker of the House to fly on military planes, and it was the House of Representatives' Republican-appointed Sergeant at Arms, Bill Livingood, who requested from the military a plane that could fly Pelosi non-stop to California.

    So yes, the Post falsified the key fact in its "news" article. Geoff Earle, you must be proud.

    UPDATE: In the Post, Michelle Malkin also plays dumb (it's a calling) with an "Air Nancy" column, in which she forgets to inform readers that it was the Republican White House that insisted the Speaker fly on military planes.

  • Politico reporters agree: EFCA is "divisive"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The first sentence of Patrick O'Connor's March 10 Politico article on the Employee Free Choice Act:

    Republicans on both sides of the Capitol are using a divisive labor union bill to raise cash and launch new attacks on Democratic supporters of the measure, which would ease unionizing requirements.

    The first sentence of Lisa Lerer's March 10 Politico article on the Employee Free Choice Act:

    Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller, (D-Calif.) are pushing back on the idea that a divisive labor union measure is in trouble, insisting there has been "no erosion" of Democratic support for the Employee Free Choice Act.

    The first sentence of Alex Isenstadt's March 10 Politico article on the Employee Free Choice Act:

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighed in on a divisive labor union bill introduced in both chambers of Congress today, saying he's confident he can round up votes to pass the measure in the Senate.

  • MSNBC's Mitchell accuses Clintons of tax improprieties

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell: "I daresay that if there had been three or four IRS audits of the Clintons' tax returns or all of the Bill Clinton money raising, maybe she still wouldn't be secretary of state."

    It's tempting to see this is nothing more than an obnoxious and baseless suggestion that the Clintons are crooked. But it's more than that: it's a stunningly clueless statement, because we would surely know already if the Clintons had failed to pay their taxes.

    See, the Clintons have released their tax returns to the public. It was kind of a big deal, with the media -- Andrea Mitchell included -- endlessly clamoring for the returns (and showing no comparable interest in John McCain's.) A big enough deal that it's incomprehensible that a national political reporter like Andrea Mitchell wouldn't know that the Clintons released the returns.

    (Thanks to S.P. for the tip.)