Jay Rosen offers a "Simple Fix for the Messed Up Sunday Shows":
I propose this modest little fix, first floated on Twitter in a post I sent out to Betsy Fischer, Executive Producer of Meet the Press, who never replies to anything I say. "Sadly, you're a one-way medium," I said to Fischer, "but here's an idea for ya: Fact check what your guests say on Sunday and run it online Wednesday."
Now I don't contend this would solve the problem of the Sunday shows, which is structural. But it might change the dynamic a little bit. Whoever was bullshitting us more could expect to hear about it from Meet the Press staff on Wednesday. The midweek fact check (in the spirit of Politifact.com, which could even be hired for the job) might, over time, exert some influence on the speakers on Sunday. At the very least, it would guide the producers in their decisions about whom to invite back.
The midweek fact check would also give David Gregory a way out of his puppy game of gotcha. Instead of telling David Axelrod that his boss promised to change the tone in Washington so why aren't there any Republican votes for health care? ... which he thinks is getting "tough" with a Meet the Press guest, Gregory's job would simply be to ask the sort of questions, the answers to which could be fact checked later in the week. Easy, right?
I certainly don't disagree with Rosen that the Sunday Shows -- along with much of the media's coverage of politics and policy -- are badly broken and need fixes, simple or otherwise.
But Rosen's suggestion that the shows should fact-check what their guests say three full days later is an incredibly modest one -- which just shows how lousy the shows are now.
Three days is an eternity in modern news cycles. By then, false claims have often taken hold and driven the week's debate, seeping into the public consciousness.
Just as important as the fact that three days is too long to wait is the fact that it should be completely unnecessary to do so. Politicians rarely invent new false claims mid-interview; if the Sunday Show hosts (and everyone else who interviews political figures) just did their homework ahead of time, they would know what their guests are likely to say, and could do their fact-checks ahead of time. Then, when a guest lies, they'd be in position to say "that isn't true, and here's why."
It really isn't as difficult as it may sound. If, for example, you interviewed a conservative Senator like Joe Lieberman or John McCain at any point over the past few months and asked them about including the public option in health care reform, you could be pretty sure going in that they would say it would increase the deficit (or something similar.) And, if you've been doing your job at all, you would know that according to the Congressional Budget Office, that is false. This isn't rocket science; politicians aren't giving you formulas for cold fusion that you have to assess the validity of in a matter of seconds. The host chooses the topics, and the guest generally says things the guest (or other members of his or her political party) have said before.
So it isn't difficult. All it requires is for the media to care as much about their viewers not being misled as the politicians care about misleading them.
But that's the problem: the media simply doesn't care that much. And there's certainly no reason to think that if they did start fact-checking guests "it would guide the producers in their decisions about whom to invite back." When was the last time the media shunned a politician who regularly misinforms?
Anyway, none of this is really a disagreement with Rosen. He's right: the Sunday Shows area mess. And he's right: there some fixes that should be simple to implement. But they require convincing reporters that a key part of their job is to make sure their viewers (and readers) aren't mislead by dishonest politicians. That part isn't so simple.
Media failures mentioned in Howard Kurtz's look back at the Aughts:
Jon and Kate, Octomom and Balloon Boy
The failure to challenge the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq
the press fell way short on the housing and lending bubble that nearly sank our economy in 2008
the breathtaking fabrications of Jayson Blair at the New York Times and Jack Kelley at USA Today
Rather's reliance on suspect documents in challenging Bush's National Guard service
the media mainstream played a central role in fostering sky-high expectations for Obama, which, inevitably, crashed into the messy reality of governing.
old-line organizations more frequently chase tabloid melodramas
Cable television and morning shows breathlessly pursue narratives involving missing white women, a runaway bride, a mom with octuplets, a beauty queen who opposes gay marriage
the media mobs over Paris Hilton's brief jail term
a mind-set that breathes life into celebrity deaths -- such as the two-week frenzy over Michael Jackson's -- and gorges on misbehavior by the likes of David Letterman and Tiger Woods. (Imagine if all the reporters chasing Woods's many mistresses had been assigned to study whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.)
Media failings not mentioned in Howard Kurtz's look back at the Aughts: Coverage of the 2000 election, in which news organizations like Kurtz's own Washington Post lied about Al Gore in order to portray him as a liar, ignored new evidence that George W. Bush may have made his fortune by engaging in illegal insider trading, and generally did everything they could to hand the presidency to someone who is now generally regarded as having been a horrible president.
Not to defend the things Kurtz did list -- I've written about the tabloidization of the news media many times, and it's safe to say I'm generally less fond of it than Kurtz, who is a frequent participant in it -- but most of them pale in comparison to what happened in 2000.
Howard Kurtz thinks Jack Kelley's fabrications damaged the media's credibility? How many people have the foggiest idea who Jack Kelley is, or ever heard of his fabrications? He thinks Jack Kelley's fabrications are important enough to merit inclusion in a look back at the decade? Nonsense. Ceci Connolly's fabrications, on the other hand, helped decide a presidential election in favor of a disastrously incapable liar. But Connolly -- Kurtz's Washington Post colleague -- escapes mention, as does the dishonest media-wide assault on Gore that she helped lead.
It was complicated and dull, yes -- much like the year-long effort at health-care reform that finally passed the Senate on Christmas Eve. I would credit the media with a valiant attempt to explain and examine this legislative morass, even to the point of declaring that the high-decibel charges about death panels were bogus.
Ohmygod! The media "even" went so far as to tell readers that right-wing claims about "death panels" that they were hyping weren't true? Well, then, let's give them a medal!
This is the state of modern political journalism: The nation's most prominent media critic thinks that when reporters note the falsity of "high-decibel charges" they report, they deserve praise for their extraordinary work.
Howard Kurtz wraps up the Aughts:
[L]et's examine what Time, in one of a spate of similar pieces, calls the "Decade from Hell." The media scorecard wasn't all bad. ... Newspapers exposed George W. Bush's domestic surveillance program ...
Kurtz's inclusion of coverage of the domestic spying program among the highlights of the media's performance over the past decade is a pretty good sign of just how awful coverage of the Bush administration was.
And when the Times finally did run the story, newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post didn't exactly go all-out to follow up on the scandal, giving it far less attention than they had given comparatively unimportant things like Whitewater and President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
And that's one of Kurtz's examples of the media doing a good job.
In case you missed it because of the holiday, you really should read the Christmas Eve take-down that the Los Angeles Times' Christopher Knight delivered, as he thoroughly dismantled Breitbart's recent inanity about a White House tree ornament.
From Knight: [emphasis added]:
On Tuesday, Andrew Breitbart's Big Government blog got its knickers in a twist over one of the Obama White House's myriad Christmas trees...The blaring "EXCLUSIVE" led with a blurry photo of a decoupage Christmas ornament adorned with the face of Chinese Communist dictator, Mao Zedong.
"Of course, Mao has his place in the White House," Big Government wailed about the [Great Christmas Ornament Scandal], taking the Obama-as-socialist meme out for a yuletide spin.
Except, it wasn't exactly Mao. It was Andy Warhol's "Mao."
The image is one of a very large series of silkscreen paintings and prints the late Pop artist made of Mao. Warhol's parody transformed the leader of the world's most populous nation into a vapid superstar -- the most famous of the famous. The portrait photo from Mao's Little Red Book is tarted up with lipstick, eye-shadow and other Marilyn Monroe-style flourishes.
The precise source of the Warhol ornament is not known. But Warhol's Maos are in art museum collections from coast to coast, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago (whose painting most resembles the ornament image) and both the County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum has several.
Oh, and at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, the National Gallery of Art has 21 different versions of Warhol's "Mao." Twenty-one. Wait until Big Government bloggers find out about the Communist takeover of the National Gallery.
A random White House Christmas tree ornament, of unknown origin, featured a world famous image of Mao as interpreted by Andy Warhol. But because Breitbart and his bloggers are so clueless about pop culture and art (they seem to have no idea what Warhol's "Mao" is), they wrote up a blog post in which they proudly advertised their ignorance. Again.
Behold "conservative journalism."
UPDATED: Read Breitbart's incoherent response to Knight, here.
UPDATED: More Breitbart incoherency, also in response to Knight. Gee, think the LA Times hit a nerve when it pointed out that Breitbart and his crew seem to have no understanding of pop culture?
UPDATED: Breitbart earns bonus points for hypocrisy while swinging wildly in his Knight rebuttal. Breitbart claims the LA Times is losing so many subscribers because it's so darn liberal:
And that in its grand transparency multiplied across a newsroom is why you and yours are in perilous financial straits. Every lost subscriber has a poignant straw that broke the camel's back story on how their local paper went too far to the left too shamelessly.
The punchline? Breitbart's a columnist for the Washington Times, the right-wing daily that has so few readers that it's basically in the process of going out of business. Breitbart writes for a money-losing, and thoroughly failed daily newspaper that has hemorrhaged more money (in its blind partisan pursuit) than perhaps any other daily in the history of American publishing.
Yet he lectures an LA Times journalist about "lost subscribers"? Thanks for the laugh.
UPDATED: Wrote Andrew Sullivan re: the latest right-wing car wreck:
Andrew Breitbart's Big Government site does an expose on commie, homo, trannie themes buried in three White House Christmas tree ornaments. It's like McCarthyism revisited as farce.
UPDATED: In response to this critique, Breitbart posted even more senseless ramblings. Maybe he's still smarting from the collapse of the ACORN story. (Or the Gladney story. Or the they're-praying-to-Obama story....)
UPDATED: Or maybe Breitbart just hates the Christmas season.
As in [emphasis added]:
Congress may be gone for several weeks enjoying a winter holiday, but Republicans have vowed to keep up the pressure on Democrats who succeeded in getting their Senate health insurance overhaul bill passed before Christmas -- if just barely.
Final U.S. Senate vote for passage of health care reform: 60-39.
UPDATED: Some readers have suggested that the "just barely" above refers to Democrats getting health care legislation passed before Christmas, and not to the margin of the vote. And I think that's a fair point. But I continue to be struck by how so many journalists describe the final health care vote as being so suspenseful, "bitter" and "bruising".
But was it? Every GOP member of the senate opposed the bill and in the end 39 voted against it. i.e. Health care passed with what was approaching a 2/3 majority vote. That doesn't seem so "bruising" to me. Although I assume the GOP is happy the press describes it that way.
Due to the holidays, posting will be light for the next week and a half. Thank you for a great 2009 -- we'll see you next year. Happy Holidays.
The Post's Broder writes today that he's in awe of the health care reform legislation now being passed in Congress--and then spends most of his column condemning how the legislation is being passed. Indeed, Broder devotes just a few sentences to kinda/sorta explain to readers what's actually in the bill, and the rest of his (latest) Harry Reid-hating column explaining why the process was all wrong.
Broder concedes that with its historic passage, "the shame of this affluent society tolerating the denial of health care to its citizens will be largely lifted." But that's not what Broder's really passionate about. What he's really passionate about is the process. And according to Broder, and lots of other pundits, the Democratically-controlled process was all wrong.
Earlier this year when the Beltway chattering class attacked the process by which the Obama White House got its stimulus package passed, I noted this:
Traditionally, the standard the press used for judging a new president was: Could he get his initiatives passed? With Obama though, that's morphed into, can he get his initiatives passed in a certain way?
Broder's in "awe" that health care reform legislation is heading to the White House. So, of course, Broder writes an entire column hating on the process by which it was achieved.
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 23 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
Fox News spent a good portion of today running wild with the GOP talking point that the Congressional Budget Office undermined its December 19 and 20 estimates that the Senate's health care reform bill would reduce deficits by $132 billion during the first 10 years, with continued deficit reductions in the ensuing decades.
For example, FoxNews.com advanced the Republican spin under the headline, "Senators cite new budget letter to argue health care bill will hike deficit."
Problem for Fox News: The Congressional Budget Office actually reaffirmed its support for its estimate. Sen. Max Baucus noted on the Senate floor that day that he had received an email from CBO standing behind the earlier figure and explicitly stating that the memo pushed by Republicans and Fox News did not alter the earlier estimate:
BAUCUS: CBO says, CBO and the staff at the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that the legislation would reduce the federal budget deficit by $132 billion during the ensuing period. Next, CBO expects the legislation will reduce federal budget deficits during the decade beyond 2019 relative to those projected under current law with a total effect during that decade in a broad range of one-quarter percent and one-half percent of GDP. Of course, we know that's about $650 billion to $1.3 trillion. That's CBO. Today.