With its decision this week to once again ignore the White House and refuse to air a primetime press conference, Murdoch's Fox TV has made it quite clear that it's no longer going to perform any public service function whatsoever.
Despite the fact that Fox uses the public airwaves for free and banks tens of millions of dollars in ad revenues each year off those public airwaves, Fox, with a Democrat now in the White House, is walking away from even making token gestures toward fulfilling the public service mandate that all broadcasters (supposedly) agree to.
Honestly, what public service does Fox provide? It has no nightly or weekly news programs. And it's now out of the business of airing White House news events. (Fox entertainment execs have decided the events are not important enough.) It airs a poorly-rated Sunday morning talk show, and rounds up the usual talking heads on Election Night. That's it. That's its contribution to the public conversation in America.
Rupert Murdoch no longer even tries to hide his contempt for responsible broadcasting.
From the Post's Michael Fletcher and his 'news' lede:
The Obama administration is delaying release of a congressionally mandated report on the nation's economic conditions, spawning speculation that it is trying to tamp down bad economic news to avoid further complicating the already fraught legislative debate over health care reform.
Seems quite odd to insert "speculation" into the first sentence of a news article. It's especially odd since Fletcher never quotes or points to anyone spawning the speculation. Apparently the Beltway speculation is just sort of out there in the ether, which these days at the WashPost qualifies as news.
Guess the Post has moved from its two-source Watergate reporting rule, to a more general no-source rule of today.
MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell just invited Republican Senator Judd Gregg to criticize the White House for not releasing a mid-year economic report:
MITCHELL: Senator I wanted to ask you about the delay in the mid-year review, the White House economic report. Usually it comes out in July, the White House now says it's going to be delayed. They say it's just that they haven't gotten it all together yet. You see a different scenario here; what are you suggesting?
And Gregg took the invitation to suggest some sort of conspiracy:
GREGG: The fact that those numbers aren't going to come out until congress goes on a break here in August is, I think a little interesting that that decision, that that's the situation.
But does the White House really say they just haven't gotten it done? No. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs actually pointed out yesterday that the mid-year review does not usually come out in July during presidential transition years:
GIBBS: Look, as happens in virtually every transition year in government, mid-year reviews tend to get pushed back because of the transition of moving people in and out of their former and current jobs. For instance, the mid-session review under the most previous administration took place on August 22. President Clinton's first year in office, the review was released on September the 1st.
So I think the notion that this is somehow motivated by anything other than a transition from one administration to the next is a little on the silly side.
So, let's recap: Mitchell brought up a phony controversy, explained it in a GOP-friendly way, ignored the White House's debunking of the controversy, and invited her Republican guest to allege some sort of conspiracy -- a conspiracy that has been debunked by the White House explanation Mitchell ignored.
I can't wait to see Howard Kurtz explain how this demonstrates MSNBC's leftward tilt.
Breaking news! Obama is more popular than his policies. So says Stephanopoulos. And if this were March or April when I first heard that media meme, the headline might be interesting.
But July-going-on-August? Honestly George, is that your best insight?
I touched on this CW trend recently, yet continue to be amazed by the robotic, and never-ending, embrace of the rather obvious and common observation that a sitting president is more popular than his actual policies. I'm amazed because hasn't that pretty much always been the case for sitting presidents? Or can Stephanopoulos, or any other Beltway talking head who repeats this nonsense incessantly, point to a recent president where the inverse was true: a president whose policies were widely disliked by the public yet maintained a high personal approval rating?
It literally makes no sense.
Presidents being more popular than their specific policies is the norm. During his first term, President Bush was routinely more popular than his policies. As I highlighted:
In May 2003, in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, ABC News found that Bush scored a hefty 71 percent approval rating. However, only 52 percent of Americans approved of the way he handled the economy, and only 43 approved of the way he ran the federal budget. But there was no widespread media buzz about how Americans approved of Bush but were deeply troubled about his policies and that political trouble loomed.
Why? Because it wasn't news or noteworthy. That trend -- that gap -- had been detectable for decades among presidents with robust job approval ratings. Indeed, it's illogical to think that the opposite would be true -- that voters would approve of a president's specific policies more than they'd approve of the way the president was doing the job. With Obama, though, that polling gap suddenly dominates the coverage of his approval numbers.
UPDATED: Don't tell Jamison, but in the Stephanopoulos segment last night, ABC's Charles Gibson also confused Obama's "personal popularity" with his job approval rating.
I've criticized Howard Kurtz a lot in this space, and in my columns, but he sometimes does good work. For example, Kurtz occasionally makes the valuable point that the increasing affluence of high-profile reporters sometimes affects their coverage of political issues. Here he is during yesterday's online discussion:
As journalists have become more affluent -- a trend to which I don't necessarily object -- they are more likely to hobnob with the big shots, send their kids to the same private schools, and hang out at the same parties. This undoubtedly affects their view of the world and the people they cover.
We need only remember Charlie Gibson's embarrassing performance during the Democratic presidential primary debates last year to conclude that Kurtz is on to something here.
Now, with that in mind, let's look again at today's edition of Kurtz's "Media Notes" column, shall we? Kurtz:
And even though the administration has done a good job in, at the very least, neutralizing opposition from doctors and hospitals, it's still asking members of Congress to impose substantial pain, which politicians hate to do.
The trillion or so dollars to cover a major chunk of the uninsured has to come from somewhere. Some would be squeezed through lower Medicare and Medicaid payments from docs, hospitals and drugmakers, and they have political clout. The rest would either be drained by a surtax on the wealthy or taxing the most generous employer-provided benefits -- both of which are making many Democrats nervous.
[TNR's Jonathan] Cohn may underestimate the difficulty of raising taxes on the affluent, especially since the added sting of losing their Bush tax cuts could push the top rate to an onerous 47 percent.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Kurtz's use of the word "onerous" certainly seems to tip his hand.
Now, given that Howard Kurtz says that journalists' affluence "undoubtedly affects their view of the world," and given that Howard Kurtz opines that potential tax increases on the wealthy would be "onerous," and given that Kurtz is one of the Washington Post's star reporters and hosts a CNN television show, it's impossible not to wonder just how affluent Kurtz is, isn't it? Perhaps Kurtz should disclose that information the next time he decides to criticize tax policy -- or at least keep his own statements about journalists' financial situations influencing their reporting in mind before he so opines.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz devoted the bulk of his "media notes" column today not to assessing the news media, but to amplifying GOP-friendly health care storylines. Kurtz:
Add to that the controversy over Obama's preferred "public option," which can easily be caricatured as government-run health care, and a general unease about rising federal spending, and you've got a prescription for gridlock.
If a public option like the one Obama and other politicians are talking about "can easily be caricatured as government-run health care," it's only because reporters don't make clear that such a caricature is very, very false, and that the people pushing such a caricature of being very, very dishonest. Kind of like Howard Kurtz just failed to make that clear.
The sense that Obama is on the defensive was deepened by the WP/ABC poll finding that "since April, approval of Obama's handling of health care has dropped from 57 percent to 49 percent, with disapproval rising from 29 percent to 44 percent. Obama still maintains a large advantage over congressional Republicans in terms of public trust on the issue, even as the GOP has closed the gap." His overall approval rating, though, is still a healthy 59 percent.
Shouldn't that have deepened the sense that the Republicans are "on the defensive"? Or does the "large advantage" Obama maintains over them somehow give the GOP an edge? If so, it would be super if Kurtz would explain how. Is this something like judo, where the Republicans are able to use Obama's strength against him? Or is it just that reporters like Howard Kurtz interpret polls in extraordinary illogical ways? My money is on that last one.
Cohn may underestimate the difficulty of raising taxes on the affluent, especially since the added sting of losing their Bush tax cuts could push the top rate to an onerous 47 percent.
"Onerous"? Well, I guess we know where Kurtz stands on tax policy. Maybe some day the Post will offer readers a media critic who doesn't share and echo the Republicans' view on key public policy issues, just for some balance. Maybe one who even critiques the media.
Newsbusters' Rich Noyes is irritated that ABC, CBS, and NBC all decided not to devote their news broadcasts to coverage of the 40th anniversary of Sen. Edward Kennedy's car accident at Chappaquiddick.
I know, I know -- you think I'm making this up. The conservative media critique can't possibly boil down to whining that news broadcasts fail to "report" on the anniversary of Chappaquiddick. But it does:
While the big liberal media usually find it hard to skip any news related to the Kennedy family, ABC, CBS and NBC breathed not a word about Saturday's 40th anniversary of Chappaquiddick.
The Saturday and Sunday New York Times and Washington Post also had nothing about Chappaquiddick.
Wow, conservative-style media criticism is easy! Let's give it a try: Other "anniversaries" the "big liberal media" doesn't report on: the "anniversary" of the time Newt Gingrich dumped his wife in her hospital room so he could marry his mistress and the "anniversary" of Pat Buchanan's memo in support of segregation. Bias!
Newsbusters' Noel Sheppard:
In another example of Barack Obama's appeal diminishing with the public, the White House was forced to reschedule Wednesday's press conference to 8PM from 9PM as NBC didn't want its summer hit "America's Got Talent" to be pre-empted.
Do you think Sheppard really doesn't understand that NBC sells ads during "America's Got Talent," but not during presidential press conferences? Do you think he really doesn't understand that this isn't an "example of Barack Obama's appeal diminishing with the public," but rather an example of NBC preferring to make a bunch of money rather than not make any money?
Dethroned Miss California USA Carrie Prejean has landed herself a book deal with Regnery Publishing, the notorious right-wing publishing house.
I'm sure Prejean, the darling de jour among Christian conservatives and the right-wing press, will feel right at home with Regnery. After all, Regnery is a major hub in the right-wing noise machine that's been whitewashing her stance on "opposite marriage" for months.
Not familiar with Regnery? Here's some history from The American Prospect:
Welcome to the world of Regnery Publishing--lifestyle press for conservatives, preferred printer of presidential hopefuls, and venerable publisher of books for the culture wars. Call it--gracelessly but more accurately--a medium-sized, loosely linked network of conservative types, with few degrees of separation and similar political aims. Just don't call it a conspiracy.
Regnery Publishing's right-leaning corporate philosophy actually goes back to 1947, when the late Henry Regnery, Sr., set out to publish "good books," as he wrote in the company's first catalogue, "wherever we find them." Works by Regnery's friends among the nascent conservative intelligentsia soon followed, including Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind, William F. Buckley, Jr.'s God and Man at Yale, Whittaker Chambers's Witness, and Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative. Henry Regnery's son, Alfred Regnery, who took over in 1986 and moved the company to Washington, D.C., has likewise been both a friend to and publisher of conservative authors. After stints in law school (where he roomed with American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene) and as college director of Young Americans for Freedom, Alfred Regnery was appointed head of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention by Ronald Reagan in 1983. While there, as reported by Murray Waas in The New Republic, he helped run Edwin Meese's ill-fated President's Commission on Pornography; disbursed generous grants to Jerry Falwell's Liberty College, Meese pal George Nicholson, and professional antifeminist Phyllis Schlafly; authored, with then-Assistant Secretary of Education Gary Bauer, a much-ridiculed report called "Chaos in the Public Schools"; and in general cultivated an updated version of his father's network of friends.
Since 1996, Regnery has published no less than eight presidential exposés: Roger Morris's Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America, Bill Gertz's Betrayal: How the Clinton Administration Undermined American Security, Edward Timperlake and William C. Triplett's Year of the Rat: How Bill Clinton Compromised U.S. Security for Chinese Cash, Ann Coulter's High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's The Secret Life of Bill Clinton: The Unreported Stories, Gary Aldrich's Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House, and R. Emmett Tyrrell's The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton: A Political Docu-Drama and Boy Clinton: The Political Biography. To date, five of these books have made various best-seller lists.
Thus constructed, Regnery's Clinton books run from the racy to the absurd. Tyrrell's Boy Clinton follows the future president from alleged cocaine benders with Little Rock entrepreneur Dan Lasater to his sojourn with communists in Prague during the late 1960s. ("Inquiries I had made about his trip to Moscow turned up little that was new," Tyrrell writes breathlessly. "People were still wondering where he had gotten sufficient funding for such a trip. Some still suspected a KGB front. Others suggested the CIA.") Coulter, although her tone is even more vicious than Evans-Pritchard's ("We have a national debate about whether he 'did it,' even though all sentient people know he did," she writes. "[O]therwise there would only be debates about whether to impeach or assassinate."), relies mostly on the standard litany: Whitewater, Foster's "mysterious" death, Filegate, and Clinton's Paula Jones deposition. It is Evans-Pritchard who proposes what is easily the most tangled web of Clintonian malfeasance, touching not only on the usual stuff--booze, women, land deals--but also on the Oklahoma City bombing, which he argues was actually an FBI sting gone wrong and one of many Justice Department operations by which Bill Clinton has sought to turn America into a police state.
The most infamous of the Regnery titles is undoubtedly Gary Aldrich's Unlimited Access, which included such "revelations" as lesbian encounters in the White House's basement showers, Hillary Clinton ordering miniature crack pipes to hang on the White House Christmas tree, and the claim--backed by anonymous sources--that Clinton made frequent trips to the nearby Marriott to shack up with a mistress "who may be a celebrity." That last bit helped catapult Unlimited Access to the top of The New York Times's best-seller list, though Aldrich soon revealed to The New Yorker's Jane Mayer that the Marriott story was "not quite solid" and, indeed, was "hypothetical." But according to Aldrich, it was Regnery editor Richard Vigilante who had moved the Marriott bit out of the epilogue (where it had been presented as a "mock investigation") and into the middle of the book (where it was presented as an actual occurrence). Vigilante, Aldrich told Mayer, threatened not to publish the book if Aldrich didn't agree to the changes.
In fact, the defects of Unlimited Access--a reliance on loose or anonymous sourcing; the blending of fact, fiction, and fantasy; the influence of Regnery's anti-Clinton esprit de corps--can be found, to varying degrees, in nearly all of Regnery's Clinton books. The drug-smuggling charges in Tyrrell's and Evans-Pritchard's books, for instance, were first aired in the pages of the Scaife-funded American Spectator, the hysterically conservative magazine of which Tyrrell is editor, founder, and chief polemicist. "The Arkansas Drug Shuttle," published in the Spectator in 1995, was a fanciful tale of cocaine smuggling, the CIA, and black cargo jets told to Tyrrell by former Arkansas state trooper L.D. Brown--who happened to be on the Spectator's payroll at the time. Indeed, Tyrrell's dispatches stirred considerable controversy among the magazine's own staff. "Even within the Spectator, people had problems with the [drug-smuggling] stories," says David Brock, the Spectator's star investigative reporter at the time. "People didn't feel that they met the standards of the Spectator." Senior editor Christopher Caldwell jumped ship for The Weekly Standard, and when longtime Spectator publisher Ronald Burr tried to order an independent audit, Tyrrell fired him. "I can't really comment on the Spectator," says Alfred Regnery, who stands by all his company's Clinton books. "But a book publisher doesn't have the same obligations as a magazine. We cross-examine the authors to some extent, but publishers do not have the wherewithal to check every single fact."
Yet Regnery Publishing seems not just to encourage conspiracy theorizing from its authors, but to demand it. In 1997 Alfred Regnery approached veteran crime reporter Dan Moldea about writing a book on the Vince Foster case. Regnery, says Moldea, hoped that his contacts within the law-enforcement community would shed new light on the case. But Moldea came to the same conclusions as all the official inquiries did. "There were some mistakes, some omissions," says Moldea. "But this was a dead-bang, bona fide suicide." When Moldea turned in A Washington Tragedy: How the Death of Vincent Foster Ignited a Political Firestorm, the editors at Regnery "were less than thrilled. There were some real battles that went on between us, between me and the staff," he says. "Things were being cut out of the book that I was really upset about, like this section on Scaife. It got so bad that I was almost hoping that they would reject the book, because I knew that they were just going to seal it and it would never see the light of day."
What is clear, however, is that Regnery's conspiracy theorizing has benefited greatly from Eagle Publishing's web of media enterprises. Sometimes the synergies are transparent, as when Human Events published a list of the "10 Best Conservative Books of 1998," five of which were Regnery titles. Sometimes they're more subtle--not to say conspiratorial. Human Events editor Terrence Jeffrey had ample time, for instance, to convince Buchanan to switch to Regnery during the 1996 presidential race, when he served as Buchanan's campaign manager. (Jeffrey also failed to disclose his relationship with Buchanan when he penned a lengthy, front-page defense of A Republic, Not An Empire in the September 17 issue of Human Events). When Human Events excerpted the "Cox Report" in its June 4 issue, the weekly's lead feature was none other than Caspar Weinberger's introduction to Regnery's edition of the "Cox Report." Regnery's "Cox Report", in turn, was published the same month that Bill Gertz's Betrayal hit the stands (and just a few months before Regnery put out a second Timperlake and Triplett book, Red Dragon Rising: Communist China's Military Threat to America). Similarly, after Aldrich's Unlimited Access was published in June 1996, Human Events ran a five-page excerpt of the book in its July 5 issue--followed, in subsequent issues, by eight more articles defending or discussing the book. Tyrrell's Boy Clinton was also excerpted that year, while the Schweizers' Disney: The Mouse Betrayed was excerpted last spring. Like all Regnery titles, each was heavily hyped by the Conservative Book Club.
Certainly such coordination would not have required many phone calls; Human Events, Regnery, and the Conservative Book Club all share the same Washington, D.C., address. "There's no contract that exists that says we have to carry 'x' number of Regnery titles each year," says Brin Lewis, who doubles as vice president of Eagle Publishing and president of Eagle's book club division, which owns the Conservative Book Club. "But we carry a lot of them."
Normally, implausible exposés are relegated to remainder bins and the back pages of The National Enquirer. But partly thanks to Eagle's pipeline to the conservative elite, and partly thanks to a powerful direct mail operation that doubles as a de facto Eagle publicity machine, the likes of Aldrich's miniature crack pipes make it into broader forums like The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal--and from there out into the political ether. Allegations of Clinton-related drug smuggling at Arkansas' Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport, for instance, filtered up from the Spectator and Regnery's Clinton books to The Washington Times and The Wall Street Journal--the latter running favorable reviews of the books as well as numerous editorials about the Mena "scandal"--which led to further recycling by The Washington Post and dozens of other newspapers in 1996 and 1997. Indeed, as recently as last March, a Wall Street Journal editorial writer used the Juanita Broadrick controversy as occasion to flog, yet again, the Mena connection. Such ludicrous charges might easily be dismissed as rant. Yet in the past three years, Republicans in Congress have opened not one, but two official inquiries into the matter--one under the auspices of the House Banking committee and one by the CIA Inspector General's office.
Appearing on CNN last night, Gergen announced that support for Obama's health care reform was beginning to "crumble" among voters.
This perfectly fits the CW of the Beltway press corps, which is in full Chicken Little mode regarding health care legislation--the sky is falling and Obama's entire agenda is in trouble!
CNN's Candy Crowley yesterday:
Presidents don't work this hard with things are going well, they work this hard when something is in jeopardy, especially when that something is one of the crown jewels of your campaign.
At least Crowley's hand-wringing had to do with the legislative process. (Read Nate Silver to understand why even that media meme seems overblown.) But it's telling that Gergen, among others, moved on to claim that the public no longer backs health care reform; that support is beginning to "crumble."
It's telling because it's not true. According to all the recent polling data I've seen, a clear majority of Americans support the type of health care reform Obama and Democrats are pushing for. Public support is not crumbling, it's actually holding strong. But that's not a story the David Gergens of the world want to tell. And that's precisely why they ignore all those polling results when they're released.
The Beltway is only interested in the process story behind the push for health care reform, not the substance.
UPDATED: Writes Wonkette:
Nobody Wants Health Care Reform Except Voters, And Who Cares About Them?