There is a scandal brewing on the right-wing media, and sides are being chosen.
Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform claims that the word "shall" appears in the health care reform bill 3,424 times. But the Weekly Standard and Rep. Mike Pence insist that "shall" appears 3,425 times.
Why, the national shame of having a health care reform bill that contains a whole bunch of pages has nothing on this. If conservatives can't agree on how many times the word "shall" appears in the bill, what can they agree on?
Which side will you be on? Who in the right-wing media will get to the bottom of this burgeoning scandal? Let loose the blogs of war!
(Or, you know, maybe somebody just missed something when they copied-and-pasted the bill into Microsoft Word in order to run the "word count" function on "shall.")
Discussing health care reform today on Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough and NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd agreed that "[t]his week has been a mess for the Democrats." Todd added that "it does seem like they decided to take two steps back after they took one step forward because now they got a trillion dollar bill in the House, which is about $150 billion more than they said, than the President said that he wanted, and now they've got to have this back and forth and figure out how to get six to 10 moderate Democrats and Olympia Snowe on board."
I'm going to have to respectfully disagree that the past week was "a mess for the Democrats." Speaker Pelosi reported out a full House bill, the American Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3962), that achieves a number of key fiscal goals that only this summer many in the media were insisting were out of reach. The Congressional Budget Office found that the bill reduces the deficit by $104 billion over the next decade, and continues to chip away at it in the subsequent decade. Plus it comes in under the magic $900 billion number for the net cost of coverage expansion over 10 years -- a cost that is, in CBO's words, "more than offset." And these achievements are doubly important because they satisfy President Obama's must-have requirement that reform "[w]on't add a dime to the deficit."
If anything, all of this adds up to a big step forward -- arguably a bigger one than has ever taken to achieve comprehensive health care reform in this country.
Today, Fox News' Live Desk continued the House Republican caucus and Politico's silly obsession with the length and size of the House health care reform bill. During a span of less than 45 minutes, co-host Trace Gallagher repeatedly told viewers the health care reform bill is so long, it makes the Russian novel War and Peace "look like a short story."
Live Desk at 1:33pm E.T.:
TRACE GALLAGHER: Well, now to the health care bill that makes War and Peace look like a short story.
Live Desk at 2:10pm:
GALLAGHER: Well, you thought War and Peace was long? Try reading the House health care bill, nearly 2,000 pages. And you're asking what we're asking: How much is this going to cost you?
Live Desk at 2:14:
GALLAGER: Well, are there any speed readers in Congress? It's a skill that could come in handy as the House takes up the 1,990 pages of the newly unveiled health care bill. You want context? Here goes. There are 400,000 words in the bill that weighs 19 pounds. It's almost 9 inches tall, it's got more pages than War and Peace. And oh, by the way, the U.S. Constitution was only six pages.
We've already noted the silliness of the bill size fixation. But here's another note of supposed "context" for Gallagher: According to Amazon.com, English translations of War and Peace clock between 561,093 and 590,234 words - more than the health care bill's reported "400,000 words." (One report pegs the original text at approximately 460,000 words.)
Or, just Journalism 101 at the WashTimes, which swears it's mainstream news org. (And please, pay no attention to the launch of the Times' new, right-wing online hub TheConservatives.com.)
Not only can't the WashTimes find any Democrats to cite in an article that's critical of pending Democratic legislation, but look at how painfully dumb the 'reporting' is [emphasis added]:
The word "report" appears 364 times and "tax" is used 214 times -- and while some of those refer to bookkeeping such as tax years, the bill does raise several key levies, such as a "surcharge" of 5.4 percent on individual taxpayers who earn $500,000 or couples with incomes of $1 million.
Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, said the bill uses the word "shall" 3,425 times, which he said was an indication that a lot of new mandates are being imposed.
Among them is a requirement that chain restaurants print directly on their menus how many calories each item contains.
It's funny, because not that long ago it was a badge of honor among Beltway journalists, and especially those who covered Congress, to be able to understand the often arcane ways of the legislative process. It was considered an accomplishment for Congressional journalists to under all the details and not be phased by the at-times bewildering ways of Congress.
But suddenly more and more journalists seem to be reveling in the GOP's oh-my-gosh-the-health-care-bill-is-so-many-pages talking point. Suddenly Beltway scribes seems to relish the idea of playing dumb on a national stage and pretending they have no idea what the pending health care legislation means with all those mentions of "shall," and "report" and "tax." It's so confusing.
As Julie Millican previously asked today regarding an equally lame Politico report about the health care bill (i.e. too many pages!), have journalists who are taking their cues from the GOP and suddenly acting utterly befuddled about the bill, never actually tried to read a piece of legislation before?
The Daily Beast's Benjamin Sarlin reports on Media Matters' work exposing Fox:
The White House's war on Fox News may be a new chapter in the administration's relationship with the media. But bashing the conservative press has been an Olympic sport among liberals for years. And no one has done it better than Media Matters.
In an effort to undermine Fox's claims that its editorial and news reporting are separate, Brock's site has launched a video series of Fox clips Media Matters sees as anti-Obama-using the tagline, "Fox is not news. It's a 24/7 political operation." That's a problem he thinks has grown much more pronounced since the 2008 election. But perhaps most importantly, his group has played a major role in defending administration officials from Fox attacks-sometimes more effectively than the White House itself has.
Earlier this month, White House Communications Director Anita Dunn, who has spearheaded the anti-Fox effort, came under fire from Glenn Beck for a recent speech in which she referred to Mao Zedong and Mother Theresa as her two "favorite political philosophers." Anticipating the story could have legs, Media Matters staffers raced into action, frantically scouring the Internet for examples of conservatives citing Mao themselves, and published their first quotes within a half hour of the show ending. By the time Beck tried to extend the attack later that week to another Obama official who had cited Mao, "manufacturing czar" Ron Bloom, the list of similar Republican quotes included John McCain, Newt Gingrich, and Ralph Reed. Beck's story bounced around the right-wing press for several days but failed to migrate to the mainstream media.
Brock believes that effort helped contain the story's spread. "Speed was of the essence here," he said. "We're the first line of defense for the progressive movement."
Earlier this month, Media Matters rallied around another one of Fox News' top White House targets, education official Kevin Jennings. Sean Hannity called for him to be fired for reportedly failing to report a statutory rape case to the authorities when a 15-year old gay student asked for Jennings' advice on a relationship with an older man. But Media Matters quickly confirmed with the student in question himself that he was 16 at the time, the legal age of consent in the state, and that he denied any sexual contact with the person in question. The group then posted a Facebook exchange between the student and a Fox News reporter in which the network inquired about his age. Fox issued a correction and without a criminal angle the story failed to gain traction outside of the conservative press. The Atlantic's Chris Good reported that Media Matters' reporting was the key to deflating the attack-especially given the White House's reluctance to rebut the Fox accounts directly.
Two days ago, my esteemed colleague, Jamison Foser, wrote on these pages on the startling possibility that Politico could have become too dumb for even Drudge. Turns out they hadn't, a point which was proven again today. This morning, Drudge is trumpeting Politico's latest piece of explosive journalism--that the House health care bill released yesterday clocks in at $2.2 million a word. Take a look:
It runs more pages than War and Peace, has nearly five times as many words as the Torah, and its tables of contents alone run far longer than this story.
The House health care bill unveiled Thursday clocks in at 1,990 pages and about 400,000 words. With an estimated 10-year cost of $894 billion, that comes out to about $2.24 million per word.
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that this treat comes to us from Jonathan Allen, who, as Foser noted earlier this week, was one of the two winners who informed us that an anonymous contestant in the Organizing for America health care video contest was upset that one of the videos featured "defacing the flag." The right has been having a field day with that ever since.
But, if you thought that Allen taking the time to calculate that the House's health care bill cost $2.2 million a word was the worst of that article (never mind the fact that, using Allen's calculation, the bill actually saves $260,000 per word), you'd be wrong. Take this:
And for those who cry "read the bill," beware. There are plenty of paragraphs like this one:
"(a) Outpatient Hospitals - (1) In General - Section 1833(t)(3)(C)(iv) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395(t)(3)(C)(iv)) is amended - (A) in the first sentence - (i) by inserting "(which is subject to the productivity adjustment described in subclause (II) of such section)" after "1886(b)(3)(B)(iii); and (ii) by inserting "(but not below 0)" after "reduced"; and (B) in the second sentence, by inserting "and which is subject, beginning with 2010 to the productivity adjustment described in section 1886(b)(3)(B)(iii)(II)".
The section deals with "incorporating productivity improvements into market basket updates that do not already incorporate such improvements," if that helps.
After reading this, I have to ask, is this the first time Allen has attempted to read a piece of legislation? He seems surprised that they are more or less unreadable. He goes on:
Asked why the House will vote on the roughly 400,000-word bill in a week when it takes a congregation a year to read the 80,000-word Torah at a synagogue, Rothman, who is Jewish, exhibited the wisdom of a Talmudic scholar.
"It only takes a year because you read one section a week," he said.
Is this really what journalism at the Politico has come to?
That's clearly what's being pitched by more hysterical Fox News defenders in the press corps who are trying to mainstream this completely unique notion that if politicians, and specifically if White House administration members, publicly criticize the press, that means they're trying to police and control it.
It's sort of ironic. Fox News defenders, in the name of free speech, now apparently want to ban the Obama White House from having an opinion about journalism. They want to take away the White House's free speech right to step forward and correct the press.
Over at Mediaite.com, Glynnis MacNicol offers up some of the more ridiculous the-White-House-is-trying-to-trample-journalism rhetoric [emphasis added].
From the beginning, the ultimate danger of allowing the-White House to take on a news organization the way it has with Fox, is that it has now set a precedent. One that they apparently have no qualms about extending. Does the public really want its president determining what news is fit to consume?
"Allowing" the White House to take on a news organization? What does that even mean? Is MacNicol suggesting the White House is suddenly not allowed to criticize the press? It's not allowed to exercise its freedom of speech. It's not allowed to call out falsehoods? And is MacNicol really so naive to suggest the White House, by having an opinion about Fox News, is somehow "determining" what news is consumed?
More painful prose:
Earlier this week Valerie Jarret told CNN that the White House's was not just taking on Fox, but anyone who spreads false news. This week that apparently includes both the AP and the "highly-respected and influential car site Edmunds.com" for an analysis piece they did on 'cash for clunkers.' You can read the White House blog rebuttal "Busy Covering Car Sales on Mars, Edmunds.com Gets It Wrong (Again) on Cash for Clunkers" here. Starting to sound like a bit of a disturbing trend, no?
Got this? The AP and Edmunds posted news items for news consumption, and then the White House offered up detailed public rebuttals, claiming the AP and Edmunds got the facts wrong. Yet MacNicol presents this as a deeply "disturbing trend." Why? Has the White House voice suddenly been banned from public debate?
The ugly conclusion:
The White House is on a slippery slope, here. What's next? A re-edit of the NYT? Perhaps a vetting of the Nightly News? The Internet has certainly made it possible for anyone to become a media watchdog, but it is not the White House's responsibility to be approving our news for us. Ever. There are a lot of things the White House should be policing, our media is not one of them. Ten Glenn Beck's will always be preferable to a media comprised of all the news the White House sees fit to print.
Again, almost too dumb for words. The White House has expressed its opinion about Fox News, so MacNicol hysterically claims the White House is "policing our media," and it's "approving" the news.
If MacNicol wants to play dumb and pretend Fox is a legit news organization, that's her right. But this kind of completely uniformed argument is just embarrassing.
Also, I'm assuming that MacNicol slept through the Bush years when the GOP White House routinely pushed back and publicly criticized mainstream news organization, while partisan White House fans attacked targeted news outlets as being traitorous. I make that assumption because MacNicol never mentions the often hateful press-bashing from the Bush days, and instead pretends the Obama's critique of Fox News is the first time a White House has ever taken issue with the press.
And it's disturbing.
As conservatives have rent their garments over President Obama's decision to honor fallen soldiers by going to Dover Air Force Base to be there when they were returned to U.S. soil yesterday morning, they've invented a new talking point: President Bush was more respectful to the troops, because Obama "used the troops coming home in coffins as a photo op," while Bush would do so without getting the press involved. The talking point is half-right; Bush never brought the press to Dover to take pictures of him receiving the coffins, because Bush never went to Dover to receive to coffins.
Liz Cheney got the ball rolling yesterday on John Gibson's radio show by saying:
I think that what President Bush used to do is do it without the cameras. And I don't understand sort of showing up with the White House Press Pool with photographers and asking family members if you can take pictures. That's really hard for me to get my head around...It was a surprising way for the president to choose to do this.
Rush Limbaugh jumped on board this afternoon, airing Cheney's comments and saying:
President Bush used to do it, did you know that? We didn't know it, she just told us something we didn't know. Bush used to do it, but there were no cameras. He did it privately with the family.
Unfortunately, the reason we "didn't know it" is that it didn't happen. CBS News reported yesterday:
Mr. Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush, visited the families of hundreds of fallen soldiers but did not attend any military funerals or go to Dover to receive the coffins. In a 2006 interview with the military newspaper "Stars and Stripes," Bush said he felt the appropriate way to show his respect was to meet with family members in private.
So there you have it. Bush never took the press to Dover because he never went there in the first place.
And in a sense, why should editors continue the charade? Nonetheless, when John Solomon took over as the Times' editor he claimed, much like Fox News does today, that sure, it's opinion leaned right, but its news whole was legit.
I don't think anybody actually buys it, considering on the complete lack of standards that guide the partisan newspaper on a daily basis.
Now here in a new Washington Independent article about the roll out of the daily's right-wing hub, TheConservatives.com, the editor of the WashTimes goes on and on about how wants to plug the newspaper into the right-wing conservative political movement. Note I didn't say the WashTimes opinion page editor, I said the editor, like the guy who oversees the newspaper news coverage [emphasis added]:
Solomon sold the new site as a way to bring the energy and distributed reporting of conservative activists into the Washington mainstream. "We're not trying to supplant or replace RedState or Townhall," he said. "We love those sites–they play valuable, valuable roles every day. We want to create a new medium where things from Townhall and RedState and Twitter and Facebook are all aggregating up, and the most interesting ideas from grassroots, from the meritocracy of ideas, bubble up, using technology. And then we use our relationship with The Washington Times to marry the grassroots to the leadership every day."
In his pitch at the Heritage Foundation, Solomon made all of this explicit. The Times, he explained, played an important role in pushing stories that the White House didn't like. "Before Andrew Breitbart did the ACORN series," he said, "we did 47 stories about ACORN." He explained how TheConservatives.com could run the news cycle by arguing that its "Right People" aggregator, which collects tweets and news from a small group of influential conservatives, changed the debate over Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Again, this naked cheerleading by the WashTimes news editor surprises nobody. I'm just glad Solomon is no longer even pretending the Moonie newspaper aspires to anything more than being another player in the conservative echo chamber.
And oh yeah, the punchline: WashTimes claims its working on a similar site called TheProgressives.com. I'm sure Solomon, at this very minute, is taking meetings with MoveOn.org and Daily Kos, explaining how the right-wing daily desperately wants to marry far-left grassroots to the "leadership of every day."