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.
From the December 17 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
The following on-screen text aired during a debate about Wisconsin legislation requiring public schools teach the history of organized labor. From the December 17 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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 16 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
As David Weigel notes, the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference is going to have something of a retro feel now that the John Birch Society has announced its co-sponsorship of the event. For those unfamiliar with the John Birch Society, the organization was founded in 1958 by businessman Robert Welch and quickly became the face of the conspiratorial and paranoid right-wing fringe. A rabid anti-communist, Welch accused just about everyone of being a secret Red, including Dwight Eisenhower, whom Birch called a "dedicated agent of the Communist conspiracy." In the intervening years, the Birchers have embraced various wild conspiracies in their ongoing "defense" of freedom -- they oppose the United Nations because of the group's secret goal of creating a world government; they believe that there are efforts underway to merge Canada, Mexico, and the United States into a single entity; and they believe that the Rockefellers and the Illuminati are conspiring to form a New World Order.
And, of course, there's the whole anti-Semitism thing to consider. According to the New York Times, their long-time president John McManus has been "heard to say that militant Jews have influenced the Freemasons, who are 'Satan's agents,' 'the enemies of Christ Church.' " McManus also "lectur[ed] to Catholic groups that Judaism became a dead and deadly religion after the establishment of the Catholic Church." The combined effect of all this nuttiness was that most respectable conservatives refused to have anything to do with the Birchers.
But after years of exile on the fringe of conservative politics, they suddenly find themselves welcome participants at the year's biggest event in conservative politics. What happened? Well, as Weigel noted, the Birchers have made a concerted effort to rebrand their image, even if their positions haven't changed. Also, the conservative movement in America continues its rightward lurch in response to two straight GOP electoral disasters.
The Birchers have also had a little help from a very influential media figure who has done his part to mainstream these kooks -- Glenn Beck. Back in 2007, Beck played host on CNN to a Bircher spokesman who railed against the Security and Prosperity Partnership, an economic and security initiative that the Birchers believe is a vehicle "to stealthily merge the three North American nations." Beck prefaced the discussion by telling his guest: "I have to tell you, when I was growing up, the John Birch Society, I thought they were a bunch of nuts, however, you guys are starting to make more and more sense to me." And earlier this year Beck introduced his Fox News viewers to his intellectual guru W. Cleon Skousen, a '60s-era anti-communist crank who was a great supporter of the John Birch Society and even authored a pamphlet defending the Birchers from "Communist attacks."
So the Birchers are back, and, according to their press release, they'll be at CPAC disseminating "educational and promotional materials." Something tells me we're all going to learn quite a bit from this year's conference.
As I've previously noted, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz often seems completely uninterested in answering the questions he takes during his weekly Q&A sessions -- either that or incapable of understanding them. Here's this week's example:
New York, N.Y.: The Post shouldn't have run Sarah Palin's op-ed piece on global warming. I know your going to knee-jerk and say it's only because I don't like Palin, but that has nothing to do with it. Global warming is a highly technical topic that Palin simply knows nothing about. For the same reason, the Post shouldn't publish an op-ed by Joe Biden on quantum mechanics. I have a radical suggestion: the Post should only publish pieces by people who understand the subject matter.
Howard Kurtz: If it were up to me, the paper (and others) wouldn't publish pieces by politicians that are ghostwritten by their staffs (on both sides of the aisle). It's not like these pols have no other way of getting their message out. But if you run such op-eds - including one by Barack Obama, as I recall - you can't impose a different standard on Sarah Palin.
See how Kurtz's entire response was a defense of the Post's decision to run Palin's op-ed despite the fact that a Palin staffer wrote it for her? Ok, now look back at the question: it didn't have anything to do with the fact that the op-ed was ghost-written. Nothing! Didn't even mention that a Palin staffer wrote the op-ed!
No, the questioner pointed out that Sarah Palin doesn't know anything about global warming, so her views on the subject were unworthy of space on the Post's op-ed page. But it's harder to defend the Post from that complaint, so Kurtz just went ahead and invented a different one to respond to.
Later in the chat, Kurtz actually wrote this:
lots of reporters, commentators and advocates -- including Al Gore, in an interview with Andrea Mitchell -- have ripped apart Palin's op-ed. So in that sense it contributed to the climate change debate.
Wow. Talk about transparently carrying water for your employer. Kurtz is really praising the op-ed for contributing to the debate because it contained a bunch of falsehoods other people had to respond to?
Speaking of which, when is the Post going to get around to running a response to Palin?