I'm in the wrong line of work.
Rather, I'm on the wrong side in my line of work, because it's becoming increasingly clear that one can be a fairly successful conservative media critic without having to bother with honesty, consistency, or respect for one's readership.
In spite of my better judgment I clicked over to NewsBusters this afternoon and read through Lachlan Markay's attack on a Pennsylvania cross country skier who was quoted in the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader blaming climate change for the poor skiing conditions in his state. After ticking off a variety of higher-latitude areas that have received huge amounts of snowfall this year, Markay observes:
The problem with scary climate models is that every aberration in weather patterns is taken as evidence that there is something seriously wrong with the climate, and humans are to blame.
The Times-Leader might have looked into whether this trend was widespread enough to proclaim it an indicator of global temperature trends. And the paper certainly should have thought twice before offering one man's experiences on his cross country skis as proof that "global warming is happening."
Markay has a point here -- it's irresponsible for newspapers to take isolated weather occurrences as proof, one way or the other, of climate change. In fact, I made this same exact point two days ago when Markay's fellow NewsBuster Noel Sheppard mocked the idea of climate change by observing that it's cold in Copenhagen, where the United Nations climate change conference is taking place. And my colleague Jamison Foser also made this same exact point eight days ago when Sheppard suggested that a December snowstorm in New England undermines the scientific consensus on climate change.
And this isn't the first time Markay's high-minded tut-tutting has put himself at odds with his colleagues. On December 8, Markay attacked the White House for denigrating the "reputable polling organization" Gallup and their daily presidential tracking poll, even though NewsBusters has a rich and storied history of denigrating "reputable polling organizations," frequently accusing them -- Gallup included -- of cooking their numbers to achieve pro-liberal results.
As I wrote at the time, it's improbable that the NewsBusters don't read their own blog, so the more likely explanation for this blatant hypocrisy is that they just don't care.
You'd think Politico would have something more important to splash across their front page than a write up of some new book nobody cares about. But no:
Now, first of all: by "Monica's back," you might assume Politico means Lewinsky has written a book, or launched a speaking tour or something. No. Politico means that several months ago, Lewinsky gave a written comment to the author of a book that is coming out soon. Uh ... a little less "newsy" when you put it that way, isn't it?
Next, you may wonder how something can be the "first definitive history." How can there be more than one definitive history?
But then, if you're silly enough to read the article -- as, unfortunately, I was -- you see junk like this:
Confirmation of a long-rumored romantic affair between Clinton and McDougal, an Arkansas woman who spent 18 months in jail for refusing to answer questions from Starr's prosecutors before a grand jury, and later received a presidential pardon from Clinton. Gormley writes he is now certain "some intimate involvement did occur," though he will not say precisely how he knows it to be true.
Uh, Politico? That's totally not what the word "confirmation" means.
It gets dumber from there, with Politico breathlessly revealing that Robert Ray wanted to indict Bill Clinton (we already knew that) and that Ken Starr's office prepared a draft indictment of Hillary Clinton (knew that, too) and ... Well, who cares, really?
If the article has any redeeming feature, it is this:
Clinton retorts: "They were disgraced and he [Hyde] knows it. They ran a partisan hit job run by a bitter right-winger, Henry Hyde, who turned out to be a hypocrite on the personal issues....Yeah I will always have a asterisk after my name but I hope I'll have two asterisks: one is 'They impeached him," and the other is 'He stood up to them and beat them and he beat them like a yard dog.'"
The "them" in question has, of course, has always included the media that fanned the flames of impeachment. And they're still not over it.
Headline [emphasis added]:
Tea Party Movement Now More Popular Than Dem or Republican Parties
And the intro:
The Obama-Pelosi-Reid socialist democrats now rank lower than the Republican Party and the Tea Party Movement.
Got it? According to Gateway Pundit, Democrats rank lower than the GOP and the Tea Party; it's less "popular." Except that, according to the poll Gateway Pundit linked to, Democrats do not rank lower than the GOP.
The Republican Party maintains its net-negative favorable/unfavorable rating in the poll, with 28 percent viewing it positively and 43 percent seeing it in a negative light.
For the first time in more than two years, the Democratic Party also now holds a net-negative fav/unfav, at 35-45 percent.
By comparison, the NBC/WSJ poll shows the Tea Party movement with a net-positive 41-23 percent score.
Isn't it clear that according to the NBC/WSJ poll, the Republican Party is less popular than the Democratic Party in the poll, because the GOP favorable rating is 28 percent, and the Democratic Party's favorable rating is 35?
But in the world of Gateway Pundit, the GOP's 28 percent means it's more popular than the Dems' 35 percent.
As Senate Democrats are apparently preparing to drop the public option, the next front line in the health care reform debate has emerged: abortion rights. It is a key issue in the Democrats' fight to win over Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), a moderate, anti-choice Democrat whose vote is necessary to reach the magic number of 60. Even now, Democrats are wooing him. According to TPM's Brian Beutler, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) gave Nelson "new legislative language to address how abortion services will be funded in Senate health care legislation," which the Associated Press reported today that Nelson apparently rejected because it "doesn't get to the fundamental issue of barring federal funding for abortions." That sounds like a prescription for more restrictive abortion language. And if past practice is any guide, it's certainly a prescription for terrible media coverage.
During the debate about the nearly identical anti-choice amendments -- the Stupak amendment in the House, which passed, and the Nelson amendment in the Senate, which didn't -- many in the media went along with the line fed to them by the amendments' supporters: it will not change the status quo established by the Hyde Amendment and, consequently, the bills as they are written will. The most egregious repeat offenders were multiple Fox News personalities, as well as MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who went along with the status quo line. In other words, move along ladies and gentleman, nothing to see here.
The only problem is that none of what they claimed was true. I think The New York Times explained the reality of the Stupak amendment (and consequently the virtually identical Nelson amendment) most clearly when writing in a November 9 editorial that the amendment "would prevent millions of Americans from buying insurance that covers abortions -- even if they use their own money." The Times pointed out that amendment supporters "reached far beyond Hyde and made it largely impossible to use a policyholder's own dollars to pay for abortion coverage." (The Hyde Amendment already bans direct federal payment for abortion services, with exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or when the mother's life is in danger.) The editorial continued:
If insurers want to attract subsidized customers, who will be the great majority on the exchange, they will have to offer them plans that don't cover abortions. It is theoretically possible that insurers could offer plans aimed only at nonsubsidized customers, but it is highly uncertain that they will find it worthwhile to do so.
In that case, some women who have coverage for abortion services through policies bought by small employers could actually lose that coverage if their employer decides to transfer its workers to the exchange. Ultimately, if larger employers are permitted to make use of the exchange, ever larger numbers of women might lose abortion coverage that they now have.
The restrictive language allows people to buy "riders" that would cover abortions. But nobody plans to have an unplanned pregnancy, so this concession is meaningless. It is not clear that insurers would even offer the riders since few people would buy them.
Similarly, a November 16 study by the George Washington University School of Public Health & Health Services assessing the impact of the Stupak amendment on "coverage of medically indicated abortions" concluded in part that:
In view of how the health benefit services industry operates and how insurance product design responds to broad regulatory intervention aimed at reshaping product content, we conclude that the treatment exclusions required under the Stupak/Pitts Amendment will have an industry-wide effect, eliminating coverage of medically indicated abortions over time for all women, not only those whose coverage is derived through a health insurance exchange. As a result, Stupak/Pitts can be expected to move the industry away from current norms of coverage for medically indicated abortions. In combination with the Hyde Amendment, Stupak/Pitts will impose a coverage exclusion for medically indicated abortions on such a widespread basis that the health benefit services industry can be expected to recalibrate product design downward across the board in order to accommodate the exclusion in selected markets.
But the problem with the media's coverage is not simply that they were wrong on the facts. Regurgitating talking points is lazy and often partisan, but when that talking point leads readers and viewers to believe that there is no debate -- that nothing is at stake -- it is sinister. Indeed, rolling back decades of women's rights gains under a Democratic-led health reform bill is something about which I'll venture to guess there is some debate, not to mention a significant media story.
So the media has a choice: If Casey's new legislative language -- or whatever is proposed to placate Nelson -- is anything like what Nelson was previously pushing, they can fulfill their journalistic obligation and report on the facts and implications of the amendment, or they could keep their viewers and readers in the dark.
It's an important choice, with serious implications for the choices women may -- or may not -- be able to make about their lives.
As we've been documenting, the conservative outrage du jour stems from Weekly Standard writer Michael Goldfarb's so-called scoop that the White House is threatening to close Nebraska's Offutt Air Force in an attempt to force Sen. Nelson to vote for the current version of the Senate health care bill. As usual, this latest blockbuster story doesn't pass the smell test.
On the one hand, we have the two parties involved in the story on the record vehemently denying it. On the other, we have Michael Goldfarb saying we should "believe" his story due to his purported "perfect track record." Rock-solid reporting by the conservative media, as usual.
Posting the most recent statement from the White House on the dubious rumor, Fox News contributing editor Mike Emanuel writes:
Some blogs have been posting rumors about Democratic Senator Ben Nelson from Nebraska and that his vote on the health care bill could threaten Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base.
Statement from WH Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer: "This rumor is absolutely false, as the people spreading it well know. This is nothing but a cynical, crass political game that is designed to maintain the status quo. Let's be clear: the people spreading these falsehoods think nothing is wrong with a system under which families and businesses continue to bear the brunt of skyrocketing costs, insurance companies are allowed to discriminate and drop at will, and thousands of Americans lose their coverage every single day."
While it is certainly true that "some blogs" ran with the story, Emanuel conveniently ignores his own network's role in promoting it. Here's Fox News' website Fox Nation:
Another outlet that picked it up was Glenn Beck's cutting edge video blog that airs every night on Fox News from 5-6:
"Some blogs" can be pretty irresponsible.
This piece of political history continues to bedevil Obama-haters who are desperate to declare that Obama's first year in office has been an historic failure. The trouble is that Obama's first year in office looks an awful lot like Ronald Reagan's, who conservatives hold up as the symbol of all that's right and true (and successful!) about a presidency.
From Rove's WSJ column today [emphasis added]:
Barack Obama has won a place in history with the worst ratings of any president at the end of his first year: 49% approve and 46% disapprove of his job performance in the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll.
From the AP, Dec. 20, 1981:
The public's confidence in the economy and opinion of President Reagan's performance remain near their lowest levels since he took office, according to the latest Associated Press-NBC News poll.
The nationwide poll, of 1,602 adults telephoned Dec. 14-15 in a scientific random sampling, said 48 percent think Reagan is doing a good or excellent job as president. Last month, the president's approval rating was 46 percent, his lowest since it peaked at 66 percent last spring.
UPDATED: Isn't there something wonderfully ironic about Karl Rove, who steered the Bush administration to polling depths not seen in this country in nearly a century, now chastising Obama about his 49 percent job approval rating; a mark that Bush couldn't achieve for the final 46 months of his presidency?
On December 10, Media Matters for America highlighted an unprovoked and xenophobic series of insults Glenn Beck lobbed at India, the Indian people, and Indian-Americans. After showing the testimony of an American woman who had received health care in India because it was cheaper than in the U.S., Beck implied that there are no quality medical schools in India; that medical care in India is a shoddy imitation of real health care; that the entire nation is an undeveloped backwater without indoor plumbing; and said that the Ganges River "sounds like a disease."
On December 15, the U.S. India Political Action Committee condemned the statements, saying in a press release that "recent remarks by popular TV Commentator Glenn Beck about India, its religious heritage, and Indian physicians" were "offensive and in poor taste."
The next day, Beck offered an extremely curt apology:
But earlier in the same program, Beck again chose to dismiss an entire country, Jamaica, as well as Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who is currently the world's fastest sprinter and an Olympic record holder several times over. "Not only do I not know who this guy is," Beck said while looking at a picture of Bolt holding the Jamaican flag, "I don't even know what flag that is. It's like a vacation country. Is that Jamaica? Does anybody know? Jamaica. Apparently he runs fast." Here's the video:
After his comments last week, we asked a simple question: why does Beck feel that ignorant statements like these are funny? Does he simply have such little respect for his viewers that, along with peddling disturbing, racially-charged statements about American society and politics, he believes he must resort to blatant dismissals of other countries and peoples in order to maintain his ratings?
If any doubt remained, yesterday provided us with an answer.
Just days after I chuckled at the idea that conservative ideologues are finally going to build their own Huffington Post or Talking Points Memo (i.e. a serious and respected online hub for reporting and commentary), the Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb proves why the dream remains a joke: conservatives don't do journalism. Period.
Sure, yesterday Goldfarb tried, but the results were rather gruesome. Goldfarb's scoop was that the White House, and specifically chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, had threatened to close Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base if Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) did not "fall into line" regarding health care reform." (The claim was categorically denied by the White House and by Nelson's office. Ouch.)
As Jamison Foser noted, Goldfarb's claim was illogical, his sourcing was a joke, and Goldfarb, a former McCain flak, has a history of making stuff up. So it wasn't surprising when Goldfarb showed up on Glenn Beck's show yesterday and was forced to retract a key part of his claim. (See below.)
Why wasn't that surprising? Because the right-wing blogosphere has no real history of practicing journalism. That's not part of its repertoire. It prefers to just make stuff up.
UPDATED: Even Nebraska's Republican senator doesn't believe Goldfarb's 'reporting.'
This just seems dumb, but I'm sure we're going to see more of it in coming weeks and months: news orgs spending money to poll on the viability of Tea Party candidates and comparing the favorable ratings of the Tea Party vs. Democrats and Republicans.
The problem with that? The Tea Party does not exist, per se, which means there is no defined Tea Party platform, and there are no candidates. But hey, other than that it makes perfect sense to poll people, right?
Never underestimating the (theoretical) interest in a third party movement, I'm not surprised by the results of the NBC/WSJ poll, although I think everyone is supposed to be shocked that according to the NBC/WSJ data the Tea Party is more popular than Dems or GOP. (MSNBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro take the results very seriously and offer up no qualifications about the poll.) I'm not surprised because the Tea Party is a faceless movement that has doesn't actually stand for anything specific, so people can pretend it's whatever they want it to be. It's an utterly pointless polling exercise because people have an ingrained idea of who the Democrats are and what they stand for politically. Same with Republicans. But the non-existent Tea Party, for now, can be whatever voters want it to be.
But put a specific face on it (i.e. Sarah Palin or Dick Armey) and start pressing poll respondents to choose, and the results will change. Start spelling out what the supposed Tea Party is for and against, and the results with change. Because isn't it a fact of polling that when you give people the choice between an undefined blank slate (i.e. a Tea Party that doesn't actually exist) and ask them to pick between that and well-known entities with lots of political baggage, that people are likely to pick the blank slate? But once that blank slate becomes more defined, more and more people will peel away.
If there's truly a third party movement afoot and Democrats and Republicans are about to get steamrolled by it, so be it. It just seems odd for news ogs to poll people about a political party that doesn't actually exist.
UPDATED: This apples-to-oranges exercise is similar to the silly one Public Policy Polling engaged in last week when it asked people if they supported "the impeachment of President Obama," even though, y'know, there are no impeachment proceedings against President Obama. i.e. Why are firms suddenly polling about fictitious political scenarios?
UPDATED: Peter Hart at FAIR notes that according to the NBC/WSJ polling data, a large percentage of survey respondents had no idea what the Tea Party movement was, which raises doubts about how popular it really is. Plus, the description NBC/WSJ gave as part of its polling question portrayed the Tea party in a "remarkably upbeat" manner, says Hart.