Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza thinks the media did an "ok job" at a "damn near impossible" task: explaining health care reform:
Wilmington, NC: You mentioned the public "souring" on health reform. I suspect that measure is simply a reflection of the tone of the coverage, rather than an informed opinion. Every conversation I have heard on health reform has been notably misinformed or, at best, uninformed. Seriously, the state of public understanding of the issue and its proposed legislation is a cosmic joke. Do you believe our news media has performed well in the aggregate in informing us on this matter? Do you know of any polling data that might contradict my sense of the utter cluelessness of pretty much everyone out here about this policy?
Chris Cillizza: I think the media has done an ok job is trying to explain what is an incredibly complex and wide-ranging bill to the public.
The simple fact is that explaining an overhaul of the health care system in our country in 30 column inches of a 20 minute television broadcast is damn near impossible.
I think the media has done a terrible job at a relatively simple task. See, Cillizza is right that explaining everything about health care reform is damn near impossible. On the other hand, explaining the basic facts of "an overhaul of the health care system in 30 column inches or a 20 minute television broadcast" is incredibly easy. The media just chose not to do it.
For example, one of the central disputes over the public option was whether or not it would increase the deficit. Opponents said it would, and were frequently quoted as such in the media. But the Congressional Budget Office said that, in fact, it would reduce the deficit. But those news reports indicating that critics claimed it would add to the deficit typically failed to make the point that, according to CBO, this was not true. Had the media wanted to "explain" the basics, it would have been incredibly easy to make sure that every news report that mentioned the public option indicated that it would reduce the deficit.
And the same applies to other basic facts about the reform package. 300 million Americans were never going to understand every aspect of health care reform. But 300 million Americans don't need to understand every aspect of health care reform. Had the media committed themselves to explaining -- over and over again -- the basic facts that everyone does need to know, they would have done a much better job.
Instead, the news media basically punted on actually explaining things and focused on politics and process and minutia, while passing along politicians' claims and talking points without indicating whether or not they were true.
As for the "ok job" part: I'll renew my recent challenge to the Washington Post:
The Post has a polling budget. If they're so convinced that they've covered health care "pretty well" -- well enough that they can devote extensive resources to figuring out who golfers sleep with -- let's see them prove it. I dare the Post to conduct a scientific poll of its readers, asking them a basic question about health care reform: According to the Congressional Budget Office, would health care reform that includes a government-run public insurance option increase the deficit or reduce it?
If the Post has done a good job of covering health care reform, a large majority of its readers should be able to answer that question correctly. It would cost just a few thousand dollars -- a drop in the bucket for a newspaper like the Post -- in exchange for which the Post would be able to brag about how great its reporting is, and how well informed its readers are. And the paper would get to throw the results in the face of the critics Farhi dismisses as "presumptuous and self-serving" people who "lecture" the Post about " 'serious' news" simply "to telegraph that they themselves are verrrrry serious people and that we should follow their sterling example." Won't that be satisfying!
What's the downside? There is none, unless, of course, the Post thinks that the results would embarrass the paper and undermine its claims to have done a good job of reporting on health care.
Massive, full-screen photo of Biden looking silly? Check.
Start-to-finish snark? Check.
Inane comparison of Biden to Dick Cheney? Check:
Following the phone call that could consume 25, maybe 30, of Biden's monthly minutes, "The vice president will spend the remainder of the day meeting with senior staff."
They've no doubt simply packed into Wilmington despite the federal government's snow day. Or maybe Biden has a home bunker for videoconferencing.
We won't really know because, like the rest of Biden's officially opaque workday, those meetings with unnamed people on unspecified subjects for unannounced durations are closed to any outsiders, too.
Remember how unacceptably secretive bordering on evil that was when Dick "The Most Dangerous Vice President in American History" Cheney used to do the very same thing?
Is it even possible that Andrew Malcolm is dumb enough to expect journalists to be invited to attend the Vice President's meetings with his senior staff? Is it even possible that he expects us to be dumb enough to think Biden meeting privately with his staff is the "opaque" equivalent to Dick Cheney meeting secretly with energy company executives?
There are more than 13,000 majors in the U.S. Army, and the Pentagon says more are needed. According to The Washington Post, "Majors plan and direct day-to-day military operations for Army battalions, the units primarily responsible for waging the counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout the Army, majors fill key roles as senior staff members, putting together war plans, managing personnel and coordinating logistics."
One major, however, has been plucked from the obscurity of serving in Afghanistan to do battle on a second front. Why? Because he wrote an academic paper that offends WorldNetDaily.
In May 2008, Army Maj. Brian L. Stuckert -- then a student at the Army Command's School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas -- wrote a 61-page monograph titled "Strategic Implications of American Millennialism." In it, Stuckert examines how millennialism, and specifically dispensational pre-millennialism -- the branch of Christian eschatology that Jesus will return to take up Christians into heaven by means of a rapture immediately before a seven-year tribulation, then return to Earth to reign for a millennia -- has influenced American military policy. Stuckert supports his claims with copious footnotes and an extensive bibliography. From the abstract of Stuckert's monograph:
Military leaders, planners and strategists require greater understanding of American millennial thought. Millennialism shapes both American culture and U.S. government policy. While most Americans are influenced to some degree by the ideas of pre-millennialism, many are unaware of the philosophical or theological underpinnings. Military leaders charged with interpreting policy into strategy and acting on behalf of the nation on the international stage cannot afford to remain ignorant of the effects of pre-millennialism. Due to a general lack of awareness of millennialism and an uneasy reticence to discuss religious factors, understanding and analysis of our own policies and motives is often deficient. Additionally, the cultural imprint that derives from millennialism impairs our understanding of the words, actions and motives of other actors on the world stage. These factors can be problematic for any military leader or planner attempting to achieve U.S. Government policy objectives through strategy, operations and programs.
As demonstrated by American history, millennialism has predisposed us toward stark absolutes, overly simplified dichotomies and a preference for revolutionary or cataclysmic change as opposed to gradual processes. In other words, American strategists tend to rely too much on broad generalizations, often incorrectly cast in terms of 'good' and 'evil,' and seek the fastest resolution to any conflict rather than the most thoughtful or patient one.
Not an especially controversial conclusion, is it? But it is if you're WorldNetDaily. Here's how a December 19 WND article by Bob Unruh spun this paper -- and thus declared war on an active-duty soldier:
A research paper written by a U.S. Army major for the School of Advanced Military Studies in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., calls for Americans to lose the evangelical Christian belief of pre-millennialism because of the damage it does to the nation's foreign interests.
At no point does Unruh offer any evidence that Stuckert, whom Unruh notes is "reportedly assigned in Afghanistan," demand that "Americans ... lose" belief in pre-millennialism -- he can't, given that Stuckert's monograph is directed at military strategists and not the American public at large. Nothing Unruh quotes out of the paper supports such a claim; indeed, the closest he comes is Stuckert's statement that "We must come to more fully understand the background of our thinking about the U.N., the E.U., the World Trade Organization, Russia, China and Israel. We must ask similar questions about natural events such as earthquakes or disease." A call for understanding is clearly not the same thing as a demand that Americans abandon pre-millennialism, as Unruh claims. Unruh also fails to offer evidence for his suggestion that Stuckert is claiming mere belief in pre-millennialism "damage[s] ... the nation's foreign interests."
Unruh waits until the eighth paragraph to quote the head of the Fort Leavenworth program pointing out that Stuckert's monograph "was simply an 'academic paper' like works at any college across the nation, 'which is to say it reflects the author's own opinions.' "
Then, strangely, Unruh appears to give credence to Stuckert's conclusions by quoting a blogger's baseless and paranoid reaction to it:
Others were more blunt in their assessments of Stuckert's work. Blogger John McTernan, for example, called it "the most dangerous document to believers that I have ever read in my entire life."
"After reading this document, it is easy to see the next step would be to eliminate our Constitutional rights and herd us into concentration camps," he said.
"The last third is an interpretation of Bible belief on world events. This report blames all the world evils on believers! World peace would break out if it were not for Bible believers in America," he said.
McTernan said he had contacted Col. Stefan Banack, listed on the monograph as the director of the School of Advanced Military Studies, who defended the writing.
"The conversation was extremely heated between us, and he hid behind the freedom of speech to produce it. He refused to let me write an article to refute this attack on Bible believers. He refused to tell me what this study was used for and who within the military was sent copies. I believe that it represents an official military view of Bible believers as Col. Banack said there was no study or article refuting this one," McTernan said.
Unruh also writes of McTernan, possibly explaining how this came to WND's attention in the first place:
"While God is in control, I believe it's also naive to deny the ... stage-setting events happening right before our eyes," he continued. "Read the many articles from WorldNetDaily (www.wnd.com) covering the EXTREME thinking of [President Obama's] core group of advisers."
Unmentioned, of course, is the fact that many of those articles on Obama's "core group of advisers" are false and misleading.
Other than quoting a ranting blogger and distorting what Stuckert wrote, Unruh offers no challenge to Stuckert's views.
With this attack on Stuckert, WND is potentially distracting a military officer from his duties in a theater of war by smearing him and taking his words out of context. WND has, in essence, declared war on a soldier, and for no reason other than a purported violation of conservative correctness.
Which raises the question: Why does WorldNetDaily hate our troops in Afghanistan? And why is it so afraid of a mere academic paper?
The conservative media seem to be having some difficulty figuring out what to make of Sen. Ben Nelson's support for health care reform.
Here's Fox's take:
Nelson Accused of Selling Vote on Health Bill for Nebraska Pay-Off
What started as Sen. Ben Nelson's personal stand against covering abortion with taxpayer money translated, somehow, into millions of dollars in federal aid for his home state.
Critics were calling it the "cornhusker kickback" and the "Nebraska windfall," lobbing accusations of political deal-making at Nelson.
And the Weekly Standard:
Ben Nelson, Cheap Date (Cont.)
According to the CBO, Nelson got $100 million for Nebraska in Medicaid funding--20 percent of what Massachusetts got
Maybe they should huddle up and decide whether they want to attack Nelson for selling his vote for a massive windfall, or for being a "cheap date" who got far less than Massachusetts. We'll wait.
Just add this to the laundry list of purposeful lies Breitbart's site publishes under the name of "conservative journalism," which is quickly becoming my favorite oxymoron.
From Big Government:
Obama's approval rating is at the lowest ever for a President in office for one year.
False. As previously noted, Obama's approval ratings is virtually identical to Ronald Reagan at the end of his first year in office. That's right, Obama's performance mirrors that of GOP idol, Reagan. But the folks at Big Government are either too ignorant or too dishonest to note the facts, so they spin their own fiction, as usual.
And these are the same people who are going to launch a site next year to criticize the press; to fact-check the media? Oh, that's going to fun to watch. Breitbart, whose site has absolutely not correction policy and makes zero attempt to be factually accurate, is going to lecture professional reporters about all their supposed mistakes. (Hmmm, Newsbusters Lite?) Yeah, I'm sure journalists will take that effort very, very seriously.
UPDATED: Aside from the part where Big Government simply invented facts about "Barack Hussein Obama's" polling data, this was the other favorite part of the post [emphasis added]:
Now, that we have had him as President for one year, nothing has changed and the hope is dimming by the minute. His first year in office has been notable for basically one thing: he has accomplished nothing.
This kind of right-wing media logic brings a smile to my face every time I read it. I love it when deep-thinking writers, like the amateurs collected at Big Government, announce that the problem with Obama is that he hasn't done anything. I love it because that line of thinking begs the obvious question: if Obama hasn't accomplished anything than why has the right-wing movement been in meltdown mode since Inauguration Day? If Obama hasn't done anything, why do hysterical sites like Big Government, devoted to cataloging Obama's supposed crimes against humanity, even exist? If Obama hasn't done anything, than why don't conservatives just calm down and start acting like sane people again?
`Wingers can't have it both ways. They can't spend all of 2009 warning about how Obama's destroying our American way of life (on purpose!), and then announce that the real problem with Obama is that, y'know, he hasn't done anything.
Visitors to Fox News' web page today encountered this fair and balanced headline:
What? CBO says the Senate health care bill will reduce deficits. Why does Fox News headline the opposite?
Because the CBO now says the Senate health care bill will reduce deficits by slightly less than it had previously estimated. That, once Fox News runs it through their patented Lie-O-Mator 3000, turns into "CBO: Senate Health Bill Won't Reduce Deficits."
UPDATE: Or, um ... this.
You might think that asking Sen. John McCain, who has long cultivated his reputation for bipartisanship, when he'll actually work with President Obama would be one of the less controversial things a reporter could do. But to the Right's premiere media-criticism outfit, it's a sign of bias:
Here's the question from Stephanopoulos' that upset Shepherd so much:
Let's talk about bipartisanship a little, because, just about a year ago that you and President Obama, then-President-elect Obama met in Chicago and made this pledge to work together in this first year of his presidency. Yet on issue after issue after issue, you have all been at odds. I know that you think that President Obama bears the majority of the blame for that, but is there anything more you could have done? And can you name an issue next year where you're going to be joined at the hip with President Obama?"
If anything, Stephanopoulos was overly kind to McCain, stipulating to McCain's claim that Obama "bears the majority of the blame" for the lack of bipartisanship. In any case, this is what the Right means when they complain about "liberal bias": asking a Republican who has spent years portraying himself as the paragon of bipartisanship to name an issue on which he'll work with the Democratic president.
The most recent results from a WorldNetDaily reader poll asking, "What would you like to give Obama for Christmas?"
In his weekend defense of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Post's Dana Milbank seemed to go out of his way to not explain why so many Democrats were angry, or "felt betrayed" by the Connecticut senator for his last-minute announcement last week that he would not vote for the proposed health care reform legislation unless key changes were made. (They eventually were.)
Milbank cheered the fact that the "iconoclastic" Lieberman had again angered his former Democratic colleagues as well as their supporters, and Milbank claimed it was Lieberman's critics who were in the wrong. i.e. Joe was just being Joe. It was the liberals who'd changed. It was liberals who were trying to enforce a litmus test on Lieberman.
But note the only passage where Milbank even tries to explain, or put into context, why emotions ran so high last week when Lieberman so publicly, and suddenly, balked at the health care bill [emphasis added]:
And his explanations of why he is undermining the Democrats' health-care legislation aren't exactly cogent.
How were Lieberman's explanations not cogent? Milbank never says. What did Lieberman do to undermine the Democrats' legislation last week? Milbank remains mum, but spends lots of time blaming liberals for over-reacting to Lieberman's maneuvers.
The truth is that Lieberman last week suddenly balked at the inclusion of a Medicare expansion program known as Medicate buy-in, which would allow people under the age of 65 to purchase Medicare coverage. Lieberman promoted the idea when he was VP candidate in 2000. He promoted the idea as a 2006 candidate for senator. And he promoted the idea three months ago. (See below.)
Then last week Lieberman announced he wouldn't vote for health care reform unless the Medicare buy-in was removed. That's why Democrats and liberals were livid. But Milbank, like so many in the press, made sure to leave all that information out.
UPDATED: This Milbank passage is also wildly misleading:
Lieberman probably is still angry about being beaten by Connecticut businessman Ned Lamont and forced to run as an independent while his Democratic colleagues -- including Barack Obama -- campaigned for his opponent.
The truth is Obama supported Lieberman in his primary battle against liberal candidate Lamont, and Obama caught holy hell from liberal bloggers for doing so in 2006. The only time Obama "campaigned" for Lieberman's opponent was after Lieberman lost in the primary and then faced Lamont in the Connecticut general election, and after Lieberman quit the Democratic Party to run as an Independent.
Why any of Lieberman's former Democratic colleagues would have supported him in 2006 after he quit the Democratic Party, Milbank never really explains.