When Sen. Al Franken denied Sen. Joe Lieberman's request for unanimous consent to speak beyond his allotted 10 minutes during floor debate yesterday, there was something in it for everyone.
Conservatives echoed Sen. John McCain's claim that the denial was unprecedented and outrageous. Many liberals frustrated by Lieberman's opposition to health care reform (among a lengthy list of other grievances) enjoyed what they saw as Franken "shutting down" their nemesis. And much of the media went along with the framing, themselves lusting for some political bloodsport.
Problem was, it wasn't true. In fact, it was clear from the exchange itself that it wasn't true. But everyone reacted to an abbreviated version of the exchange.
As the exchange makes clear, when McCain responded to Franken's objection by angrily denouncing the supposedly-unprecedented action, Sen. Carl Levin immediately pointed out that, in fact, an identical denial had occured earlier in the day, and that the purpose was simply to keep debate moving.
Indeed, pretty much everybody involved has made clear it was really no big deal. (Except for McCain, but we'll come back to him.)
"I agreed with every word he said for the entire 10 minutes, and I think he probably only had maybe 30 seconds left," he said. "He didn't take it personally at all."
Franken says Majority leader Harry Reid ordered all senators who presided today to keep speeches to their ten minute limits and not grant any extensions.
"Usually you're allowed to do this and, just, today we were told not to let it happen because there's been some attempt to string out the debate," Franken said. "So, I really just had no choice."
And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office agreed. Minneapolis Star Tribune correspondent Eric Roper reported on December 17:
A spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid said that Franken was merely adhering to a request from Reid to strictly enforce the rules because the Senate is already in session practically 'round the clock.' "
Politico reported on December 18 that Reid spokesman Jim Manley stated of Reid's request, "We did that to maintain order and that no senator had an unfair advantage over another in terms of speaking. ... It was a simple request of the leader and Sen. Franken was adhering to the request of his leadership."
Lieberman laughed off the incident as much ado about nothing when he returned to the chamber a couple of hours later. He said that Franken apparently was following procedures for sticking to time limits that had been handed down by Senate leaders. Franken had made a good-natured gesture with his hands, Lieberman said, "as if to say 'There's nothing I can do'."
And indeed, earlier in the day, when Sen. John Cornyn asked for more time for his speech, the presiding officer, Sen. Mark Bevich said virtually the same thing:
"In my capacity as a Senator from Alaska, I object."
But the facts didn't get in the way of the media's -- and the right-wing's -- efforts to paint Franken as a vindictive partisan.
The right-wing reaction was predictable. Blogger Ann Althouse called it a "dick move" and suggested a boycott of Minnesota. Michelle Malkin accused "nutroots hero Al Franken" of "a little snit fit against Lieberman." Red State's James Richardson accused Franken of "breaking from the Senate's long-held standards of collegiality."
But the overwhelming certainty of the Beltway crowd was stunning.
On Hardball Thursday, Chris Matthews was shocked (accessed from Nexis):
I've never seen that...Working on the Hill, following the Hill, I've never seen a senator cut short on a -- you know, a casual request for an extra minute to continue speaking in a Senate that's allowed to speak forever. Let's face it, we understand you can speak forever in the Senate. Does that show how hot things are getting or what?
Remember, the same thing had happened earlier in the day. And that previous occurrence was mentioned by Levin during the Franken/Lieberman/McCain exchange. And yet Matthews kept insisting it was unique, coming back to it again and again. Later in the show, Matthews hosted Joan Walsh and Melinda Henneberger -- and all agreed it was a "direct shot" at Lieberman.
Henneberger insisted (from Nexis):
Franken looked a little rude, and it was no coincidence that he was the first one to have the clock called on him, given that I'm sure Franken wanted to come across the desk and kill him, maybe not so much.
But Lieberman wasn't the "first one to have the clock called on him." As Carl Levin made clear. Where on earth did Henneberger get the idea that he was? She obviously hadn't checked, so why on earth would she feel comfortable making such an assertion?
Over on CNN's Situation Room, senior political analyst David Gergen had an entirely erroneous analysis (from Nexis):
Yes, John McCain is scolding him, scolding Al Franken. I think that Al Franken went beyond the traditions of the Senate. There is normally -- it is a club after all in the eyes of the traditionalists, and this is very personal.
Joe Lieberman said I don't take it personally, but in fact, it was intended to be personal, and I think it reflects the frustration, the anger, the boiling resentments, and a sense among many in the Senate that maybe this thing is going to slip away from them.
Friday morning, the media continued to pile on Franken.
On Morning Joe, Lawrence O'Donnell declared "I've never seen [this] before. I spent a lot of years on the Senate floor. I did not know that the presiding officer could do that. I thought only a member up in the body could object. But it turns out you can." David Gregory went yammering on about Franken trying to "make a mark" and being a "liberal Senator" who dislikes Lieberman and "working the levers of power."
And then this exchange:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: If you ask the Franken folks, they say this wasn't a dis. They were trying to enforce the strict time rules because they are trying to jam so much in, trying to get the health care bill to the floor.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Savannah, if that were the case, why would he say 'As my capacity of Senator from Minnesota'?
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: I think he didn't want to do it as the presiding officer. ... It's shocking, it's never happened before.
Seriously, that wasn't even the first time it had happened yesterday. And the previous time, when Begich told Cornyn his time was up, he used the exact same wording. Because that's the wording they had been told to use.
Meanwhile, over at Fox & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade called Franken "an angry clown. He's a liberal who's mad at Joe Lieberman" and said Franken "needs to be chastised by Senator Reid. ... He needs somebody in his own party that has power over him to say, 'Al, you're embarrassing us.'" Keep in mind: Franken was acting on direction from Reid!
Kilmeade's co-host Steve Doocy weighed in by calling Franken "uncivil" and "not very polite" -- which, again, is news to Lieberman, who noted that Franken had been good-natured about it.
And Gretchen Carlson suggested Franken was part of a "trend" of "newbie politicians that don't know exactly the protocol," adding, "You have the senior senator John McCain saying I've never seen this happen before, and the freshman senator Al Franken maybe not knowing how the rules are played."
Remember: The "senior senator John McCain" was wrong; it had happened just a few hours earlier. And the "freshman senator Al Franken" was doing exactly what leadership had told all presiding officers to do.
Not only was McCain wrong about what happened yesterday, his comments were entirely hypocritical. As Think Progress' Faiz Shakir notes, McCain himself objected to Sen. Mark Dayton's request for an additional 30 seconds to finish remarks during the 2002 Iraq war debate.
And yet on Friday, McCain was still making the same false and hypocritical claim and the media were airing his comments without checking them out. (While Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity were still pushing the storyline on their afternoon radio shows.)
The "story" -- if there is one -- of yesterday's exchange should have been that McCain was wrong, and a hypocrite, in his angry denunciation of Franken's objection.
Lazy journalism is bad.
Lazy journalism practiced by D.C. political analysts who insist they know what they're talking about is even worse.
Throwing itself a year-end pity party, Breitbart's site Big Government lists all the hugely important right-wing 'news' stories that the press "ignored" this year. And sitting at No. 2 is "ACORN," which is curious because when you do a search of Nexis and look for news stories that had multiple mentions of ACORN since Big Government's hidden video camera story broke in September, you discover that there have been more than 5,000 news reports on ACORN this year
So in the world of Breitbart's Big Government, the media "ignored" the ACORN story by covering it more than 5,000 times.
As I explained in a column posted yesterday, The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb's claim that the White House has threatened to close a Nebraska Air Force base if Sen. Ben Nelson doesn't support health care reform is more than a little far-fetched. In fact, it's pretty ridiculous -- even before you consider Goldfarb's history of fabrication.
But now things may be getting really interesting. Goldfarb, remember, claimed only one source, described simply as "a Senate aide." But I've just been forwarded an email that appears to show that a GOP operative was pushing the allegation the night before Goldfarb -- or, apparently, anyone else -- wrote publicly about it.
The From field of the email reads "email@example.com" -- that's apparently David Merritt, Vice President and Director of National Health Policy for The Gingrich Group (yes, that Gingrich.) Merritt wrote at 10:16 pm on Monday, December 14 (about 14 hours before Goldfarb's post):
[Nelson] is the only obstacle to 60. Word is he's been threatened for the last 10 days with losing Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha on next round of BRAC review (he's on Armed Services, but wouldn't be involved with appointing review committee...something like that). Sure sounds like Rahm, doesn't it?
The McCain angle doesn't end there. As a result of Goldfarb's story, 20 Republican Senators sent a letter requesting a Senate Armed Services Committee investigation. That letter was sent to committee chair Carl Levin and ... ranking member John McCain. But McCain doesn't appear to want to have anything to do with an investigation, according to Greg Sargent:
John McCain is staying mum on right wing calls for his Senate committe to probe claims that the White House has been privately threatening to close an Air Force base in Nebraska to force Ben Nelson into line on health care.
Turns out, though, that McCain, the relevant committee's ranking Republican, is laying very low on this story. McCain spokesperson Brooke Buchanan confirms to me that the Senator has no comment on the story or on whether he thinks the probe should move forward.
McCain's refusal to endorse the probe suggests that he doesn't place much stock in the charges and perhaps doesn't want to be publicly associated with them. But he may not want to say so publicly, in order to avoid alienating those on the right who have been pushing it with such fervor.
And Nelson? Nelson reportedly says an investigation would embarrass the Republicans:
Nelson told KLIN/Lincoln radio hosts Jack Mitchell and John Bishop that he knows who started the rumors and when it comes to light it will be "embarrassing for the other side of the aisle," presumably meaning a Republican senator or senators is behind it.
From the news channel that hosts the guy who says Obama a racist and a communist and a socialist and a thug, comes today's sudden concern that maybe some Democrats just aren't civil enough. (Hint: it's a phony story.)
Double irony alert! The Fox & Friends crew mocks Al Franken as an "angry comedian" and an "angry clown." Hmm, an angry comedian/clown. Does that sound like anyone the Fox friends might know on-staff?
Funny how liberal media critics are proven right, over and over again
Back in 2007 when Murdoch sealed perhaps the worst media deal in the history of media deal-making (i.e. when he bought the WSJ for top dollar just before the newspaper industry collapsed), progressives warned that when a open partisan like Murdoch got his hands on the Journal, the mighty newspaper would never be the same. That Murdoch would infect the news hole with politics and, just like he did with the once-mighty Times of London, he'd turn a great newspaper into a just an okay one.
Well, voilà! mission accomplished. Murdoch has dumbed down the Journal news team in the pursuit of partisan reporting. On Monday, the New York Times' David Carr noted how the Journal's news was now "tilting rightward." And today, Politico's Michael Calderone calls attention to the Journal's No. 2, Gerald Baker, an Obama-mocking British columnist (and Weekly Standard contributor) who Murdoch hired.
I've been noting all year how the Journal's D.C. reporting has, at times, been spectacularly bad. (See exhibits A, B, C, and D.) And bad because it seemed to be stretching so hard to make gotcha, partisan points. Now we're beginning to see that perhaps editors and reporters are being pressured by Murdoch's Obama-mocking team to make those misguided points.
But isn't it all very interesting that when liberal media critics raised these very warnings about a Murdoch-owned Journal at the time when he was making his pitch for the paper, they were often called naive and pollyannish. The smart, savvy media people insisted that Murdoch would never tamper with the Journal; that he'd be a fool to mess with the newspaper's winning news formula. (The WSJ's editorial page was already home to the `wingers, of course.)
As I pointed out back then, Rupert Murdoch does not buy news properties in order to keep his hands off them. He has very little history of that. So of course he was going to meddle with the Journal, and of course he was going to hire his men to turn the whole enterprise to the right. And of course he was going to dumb the newspaper down.
Fact: It's very hard to find news properties that Murdoch has acquired and improved, journalistically. It's rather easy though, to find examples of news outlets he has dumbed-down.
The Journal's days a sterling news gathering operation were numbered when Murdoch purchased the daily, and now the newspaper's decline is on full display. Can't can't say we're surprised.
On Monday evening, as a small group of residents of Fairfield, CT, were attempting to light a menorah at the town's gazebo, three masked men appeared, carrying Nazi flags. They screamed obscenities, trying to disrupt the celebration of the third night of Hanukkah and intimidate the participants, before fleeing upon the arrival of the police. Their identities are unknown; they remain at large.
You probably haven't heard this story. Unlike certain other tales of holiday celebrations, it hasn't received coverage from the national cable networks.
As Christmas approaches each year, Fox News' correspondents and hosts go looking for evidence that the holiday is under attack. Their subsequent reports typically claim that political correctness, godless liberals, or some combination of the two are responsible for the removal of a crèche from public property or the banning of Christmas-themed gifts from school gift shops or the tendency of retailers to say "Happy Holidays." The stories let Fox News demonstrate outrage, whip up their viewers, and pack their on-air hours with tales of the War on Christmas.
Memo to Fox: This is what an actual war on a holiday looks like:
That was Monday evening. According to the searches of the Nexis and TVEyes.com databases I've done (and believe me, searching the various permutations of "Hanukkah" is no small chore), Fox News hasn't mentioned the story. I don't mean to suggest that Fox News are hypocrites, or that they are insufficiently focused on Hanukkah, merely to say: this is a story.
So Fox News, how about it? Why not send a correspondent to Fairfield, create some graphics, host Fairfield First Selectman Flatto or Rabbi Landa on O'Reilly?
Why not expose hate, instead of targetting supposed political correctness?
Like Jamison Foser earlier this week, I was struck by this passage from David Carr's recent New York Times column. The topic was how the WSJ news team is skewing its Obama news coverage to the right [emphasis added]:
Reporters say the coverage of the Obama administration is reflexively critical, the health care debate is generally framed in terms of costs rather than benefits.
But the Journal is hardly alone in this regard. It's a disturbing fact that when covering the health care debate, Beltway reporters and pundits are very interested in writing and talking about the costs involved, how it might impact the federal deficit, and the general downsides involved in instituting a fundamental change in American health care. In other words, for many journalists the issue of health care is a financial and numbers-crunching one.
But it's federal number-crunching only. Meaning, most of the media emphasis is on the important dollars involved. The numbers that are not being crunched are the numbers that millions of American families without health insurance crunch as they try to hold off bankruptcy when medical emergencies strike.
The very real and personal impact of America's ongoing health care crisis has been of little interest to members of the Beltway press corps (most of whom enjoy full health care benefits), who prefer to spend their time pouring over CBO analysis and repeating Republican talking points about how health care reform would be a budget buster. Why health care reform has been sought in this country for going on five decades seems to be of very little interest to elite Beltway journalists.
And that's why this recent report from the Newark Star-Ledger sort of jumped off the pages; because the press has shown so little interest in telling stories like this:
The pain in Dan Abrams' leg throbbed so much he could barely stand.
Still, the 60-year-old Somerville resident, who friends say had just canceled his health insurance because of the tough economy, debated from a hospital emergency room whether he should stay and run up thousands of dollars in debt, or take antibiotics from home and hope they arrested the mysterious infection in his leg.
Fearing he could lose his home and flooring business, Abrams chose to leave Somerset Medical Center after a hospital physician said staying would "run him a lot of money," said Connie Dodd, a close friend who drove him to the hospital and heard the conversation. "I begged him to stay. But Dan's a proud man. Talk of all the bills got him scared."
When Connie and her partner, Cindy Weiss, brought Abrams dinner the next night, July 29, they found his lifeless body in bed. Weiss performed CPR but it was too late. "It was a nightmare," Dodd said.
This hopeless campaign really is shaping up to be one the truly epic fails in the history of political blogging. I'm hard-pressed to think an instance in which such a large portion of the supposed A-list blogosphere went so bat-shit crazy for a story for so long, posting so many name-calling rants, and yet had so little to show for it. To say that it's crickets out there in the real world re: the Jennings story would be an exaggeration.
But the most amusing part is that the leaders of this misguided pack (Cough! Cough! Andrew Breitbart, Gateway Pundit) show no signs of letting up on the gas. They're oblivious to the sad spectacle they've created and don't realize that people are literally laughing at them. Instead, they think they're rounding third and heading for home. And they've convinced themselves that if they post just one more nasty, impossible-to-follow, guilt-by-association diatribe, than all the pieces of their gay-baiting hate campaign will magically come together and Kevin Jennings will finally be driven from Washington, D.C., preferably by a pitchfork-waving mob.
If you say so guys. Although honestly, I'm not ruling out a Gateway Pundit post next March or April ("Fistgate LXXVII"?), where he assures readers he's just about to bust this story wide open.
But for the record, it's now been two weeks of obsessive updates and relentless "fisting" headlines (read Tbogg's side-splitting take on Gateway Pundit's gay sex obsession), and nobody outside the right-wing world cares. (As for Media Matters, as long as the right-wing keeps posting the misleading Jennings attacks, we'll keep debunking them.)
One week ago I reported that at the time not one serious news organization had picked up the Jennings story. Which means not one reporter, editor or producer looked at the hysteria that was posted online about Jennings and thought, hey, that's a news story. Instead, everyone ignored it. (Frankly, I think most journalists sprinted away from it.) Why? Because the stuff was patently bogus, not to mention relentlessly creepy. Well, here we are after week two and let's go to totem board, courtesy of Nexis.
Number of serious news orgs that have reported on the Jennings 'scandal': 0.
Number of right-wing posts about the Jennings 'scandal': Dude, I've completely lost count.
As I noted last week:
The endless stream of hollow allegations the right-wing traffics in has now largely become background noise, albeit unpleasant and unwanted noise. They represent a cacophony of endless allegations that virtually never pan out. So can you blame journalists for simply tuning it out?
And therein lies the silver lining. The more right-wing bloggers discredit themselves with Jennings-like witch hunts, the less likely it is journalists will take them seriously.
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 17 sponsors, in the order they appeared: