From Chris Good's October 21 Atlantic post:
How Kevin Jennings Survived
A few weeks ago, Kevin Jennings was in trouble.
After social conservatives at the Family Research Council had opposed his nomination as director of the Education Department's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools earlier in the year, he came under a firestorm of criticism from conservative bloggers and Fox News pundits for counseling an underage student--a 15 year-old boy, it was reported--on a sexual relationship with an older man.
The student sought Jennings's advice in 1988, and, as a young teacher, and a gay man himself who had recently seen a friend die of AIDS, Jennings gave it: "I hope you knew to use a condom."
When this was discovered (from a speech Jennings gave in 2000), it set off an explosion of calls for his resignation. The Washington Times ran an editorial suggesting he was unfit for the job. He had failed to report statutory rape and, in doing so, condoned it, conservative pundits argued. It looked as if Jennings would follow in the footsteps of former green jobs czar Van Jones and former National Endowment for the Arts Communications Director Yosi Sergant--the latest administration appointee to resign amid controversy. In other words, the latest scalp for the administration's critics.
But Jennings appears to have survived. Here's why.
While the fire hasn't completely died down--53 House Republicans sent a letter calling for his job last week--it has certainly lost steam. Jennings is no longer a topic du jour, mostly due to one simple fact: the boy wasn't actually underage.
The liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America dug up a 2004 letter from Jennings' attorney stating that the boy was actually 16 at the time--the legal age of consent in Massachusetts, where this had taken place--although Jennings had said the boy was 15 in his speech.
According to Media Matters' timeline of events, Fox News then confirmed the boy's age (by contacting him via Facebook). The watchdog group then posted a copy of the boy's driver's license, showing that he had been over the age of consent when Jennings advised him.
Whether or not one agrees with how Jennings handled the situation--a completely separate, ethical question--the boy's age was an important fact. Had the boy been under 16, Jennings would have had different legal responsibilities.
Under state law, teachers are considered "mandated reporters" of statutory rape, required to report cases to the Department of Social Services, though not necessarily to police, according to multiple authorities on Massachusetts education law.
If the boy had been under 16, Jennings would have appeared to violate the law, and that would have placed him in a very different situation, politically. With affirmed legal high-ground, one can bet that conservative pundits, bloggers, and political groups wouldn't have backed off in the least--and that the noise surrounding Jennings wouldn't have faded as it has. And the White House would have had a much more difficult time ignoring the calls for resignation.
Time magazine has an incredibly slanted article on Joe Lieberman's upcoming czara hearings:
There has been a lot of talk - and some hyperbole - in recent weeks surrounding the Obama Administration's growing stable of imperial "czars."
"Imperial"? What, exactly, is "imperial" about it? There's nothing "imperial" about it -- but that word nicely reinforces the crazy rantings of people like Glenn Beck (who, by the way, is cited in the article and who was the topic of a recent deeply-flawed Time profile.)
"The use of so-called czars in the White House certainly didn't begin with President Obama," says Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent and the committee's chairman. "But it has grown over the years..."
Oh, really? So President Obama uses more "so-called czars" than previous presidents, according to Lieberman. Is that true? Time doesn't bother to say, but does (eventually) quote White House counsel Greg Craig saying the Bush administration had more czars. Is Lieberman right, or is Craig? Time won't tell you. So why does it bother running an article about the subject?
There is a danger that Congress's constitutional duty of oversight is being skirted, Lee Casey, a partner at the law firm Baker Hostetler and a former adviser to the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, is expected to tell the committee, according to his written testimony, a copy of which was obtained by TIME.
That would be former Reagan and Bush administration official Lee Casey. Time neglected to mention that little detail.
[Sen. Susan] Collins is asking that the Administration make all czars available to Congress to testify and that the President submit a semi-annual report on their activities. Lieberman, while sharing her concerns, does not support forcing the Administration to make the czars available or to report back to Congress - at least not yet. That, after all, is what the hearing is about: to find out how concerned Congress should be.
Well, no. That is presumably what Lieberman says the hearing is about. But for all Time knows, it's about political grandstanding. They shouldn't be taking Lieberman's characterization of the purpose of the hearing as gospel. Particularly given that -- if Craig is right -- Lieberman isn't telling the truth about the relative numbers of czars in the Obama and Bush administrations. And particularly given that Lieberman could have held such a hearing while Bush was president -- but didn't.
I presented both sides of the story. I'll leave it to columnists and readers to draw their own conclusions on who had the best case.
That is simply absurd. This isn't a situation where one side says chocolate ice cream is best and the other says vanilla is superior. Lieberman says the Obama administration has more czars than previous administrations. Craig says it has fewer. One of those things must be true, and one must be false. it is -- or should be -- Newton-Small's job to tell us which is true, and which is false. Otherwise ... well, her article is kind of pointless, isn't it? "Maybe 2+2 = 4, and maybe 2+2 = 14. I dunno. You figure it out."
This, by the way, is exactly the kind of nonsense that marked Time's Beck profile. Some say 2 million people were at a rally; others say 70,000. We gave you both sides. You figure it out.
I'd love for Newton-Small or anyone else at Time to explain exactly what value they think they're providing to readers when they report two statements, one of which must be false, but refuse to say which.
UPDATE 2: This just keeps getting better. More from Newton-Small, defending her refusal to indicate which claim is true:
I believe quite firmly that the proliferation of Huffington Posts, Matt Drudges and other slanted news is what's killing our profession. If you are looking for news with an opinion, that's great. But I think news should be about representing both sides; striving for balance and fairness. Unfortunately, reliably unbiased news is harder and harder to come by these days because news agencies are trying to cater to people like you: people who prefer to view the world through one lens or another but rarely both.
The basic problem here seems to be that Jay Newton-Small has no idea what "opinion" means. Lieberman says use of czars has increased. Craig says they have decreased. One is right, the other is wrong. Opinion has nothing to do with it. It's a simple matter of counting.
But to Time magazine's Jay Newton-Small, "fairness" requires treating true statements and false statements as precisely equally likely to be true. She comes right out and says it! She actually thinks that's "fair," and reporting what the truth is would be unfair. Incredible.
Again: This is not a what's-the-best-ice-cream question. This is a simple matter of two competing factual claims. They aren't simply two different "lenses," one is true, the other is false.
That's the word Politico's Ben Smith used yesterday when describing the complete Beltway bewilderment at why the White House has suddenly decided to push back against Fox News. It made no sense, according to media elites. And why now, they pondered.
The rationale of the White House offensive against Fox News has been a topic of much puzzlement lately. Is this just the White House lashing out? Are they trying to rally the base?
The head scratching has been contagious. Beltway journalists just have no idea why the White House started a "war" with Fox News.
The truth, of course, is that Fox news is the one that started the conflict.
The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus responds to some criticism of her complaints about the Obama administration's "'dumb' war with Fox News":
My observations about the Obama administration's "dumb" war with Fox News seem to have touched a nerve -- 868 nerves, going by the latest tally of comments. They ran the gamut from "another idiotic column" to "Amen, Ruth." I confess, I didn't read them all, but I got the drift. Meanwhile, the 869th nerve belonged to my lefty friend Chuck, who emailed, complete with links to angry liberal bloggers, to bemoan my "false equivalency" between Fox News and MSNBC.
One of my sentences provoked particular derision from the left. "Imagine the outcry if the Bush administration had pulled a similar hissy fit with MSNBC," I wrote. I confess to having forgotten about the Bush administration's public tangle last year with MSNBC.
For the record, Chuck, I don't think that Fox and MSNBC are equivalent. Fox is more over the line, more often.
While Marcus brought up the criticism she received for drawing a "false equivalency" between Fox News and MSNBC, she didn't actually respond to it. She did acknowledge at the end that MSNBC isn't as bad as Fox News, but she still suggests MSNBC is a liberal cable channel. That follows her original post, in which Marcus wrote:
Certainly Fox tends to report its news with a conservative slant -- but has anyone at the White House clicked over to MSNBC recently? Or is the only problem opinion journalism that doesn't match its opinion?
Marcus didn't address that line in her second post, but it's as silly as her false suggestion that the Bush administration never pulled a "hissy fit with MSNBC."
MSNBC is the home of Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan and Chris Matthews. Their hosts and reporters regularly traffic in conservative misinformation and -- wittingly or not -- adopt conservative frames for their reports. The fact that they also employ a handful of journalists who lean to the left does not mean it is a liberal channel, any more than CNN's embrace of Lou Dobbs means it is a right-wing channel.
The fact-free insistence by journalists like Marcus that MSNBC is a left-wing news organization does as much to skew public discourse to the right as does Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.
As Washington Monthly's Steven Benen noted, Rudin seems to have no idea what Richard Nixon actually did when he declared war on his press enemies several decades ago. Rudin seems to have no idea that Nixon used the full power of the federal government, including the IRS and immigration services, to screw over journalists who Nixon felt had wronged him. Rudin seems to have no idea the country's recent history, because Rudin claims that Obama's doing the exact same thing because some of his aides have publicly criticized the work of Fox News.
Rudin seems to think having an opinion about Fox News is just like ordering federal agents to dig up dirt on private citizens.
Notes Benen, "As manufactured outrages go, this is truly ridiculous, even for a shallow Washington media establishment."
UPDATED: Maybe Rudin should be a guest on Fox News, where he and the hosts can botch history together and warn about the Obama "enemies list."
UPDATED: Credit to Rudin for stepping forward to acknowledge the error of his Obama/Nixon comparison:
I made a boneheaded mistake yesterday, during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation, one that I'd like to correct right away.
Yes, it took Andrew Breitbart and company more than a month to respond to claims that his video activists who visited the Philadelphia ACORN office had sparked a call to the police. No, Breitbart's presentation yesterday did nothing to undercut the ACORN claim that a police report was filled out. Yes, Breitbart released an undercover video that had the voices of ACORN workers muted out. And yes, Breitbart's pals refuse to release all the unedited ACORN videos.
But gee, other than that why should reporters covering the latest chapter in conservative "journalism" be skeptical?
From Washington Independent:
Breitbart, ACORN Foes Release Strange Video of Philadelphia Sting
From the Philadelphia Weekly:
Philly ACORN's claim that it detected the scam while it was in progress has been out there for weeks. The police report would seem to back it up. Why wait weeks to respond? And why do it with video that even Fox News observes had "audio portions of the video … missing or edited in some portions"? Something doesn't quite add up here. [Breitbart's] BigGovernment.com might be overplaying its hand.
From Washington Post's Carol Leoning, appearing on Fox News:
"I dont' think he's [O'Keefe] got the goods to say ACORN lied."
Fox News' Greta Van Susteren:
I think tactically, they would have been better not to hold this press conference today.
I think my favorite passage came from the Washington Independent:
The muting of the ACORN worker's voice led to a strange presentation; O'Keefe simply told reporters what Conway Russell was saying whenever the audio cut out. Blogger Mike Stark asked Breitbart if the whole, unedited video would be released.
"James O'Keefe is the producer of it," said Breitbart, "and since he's in a lawsuit, I can't have that discussion with him right now. But I would certainly be open to that possibility."
How's that for a convenient dodge about why the activists refuse to release all the unedited ACORN videos for everyone to see? (Even conservatives have raised a red flag over the fact that Breitbart continues to sit on the tapes.)
Answer: O'Keefe's being sued so Breitbart can't even talk to him about releasing the clips.
Whatever you say Andrew.
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 October 21 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
Here's Politico's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, on what they describe as a White House "campaign" to undermine ideological adversaries:
It's too early to tell if the campaign is working, but it's clearly exacerbating partisan tensions in Washington.
According to VandeHei & Allen, the campaign is the result of August planning meetings among White House staff. And what had been happening prior to the launch of this fall "campaign"? Conservatives had been accusing President Obama of secretly being Kenyan, of favoring government death panels, and assorted other atrocities.
But according to Politico, we're supposed to believe that the White House is to blame for "clearly exacerbating partisan tensions" because it began responding forcefully to the people behind those smears? Absurd.
Even if there were any evidence at all that there is greater "partisan tension" in Washington today than there was two months ago -- and there isn't -- it would be nothing short of perverse to blame people who have begun responding to overheated attacks for worsening the tensions.
I guess there are two distinct axes on which you can judge press organizations--actually, there are many more than two (see below), but two are important here: 1) Neutrality--Are they attempting to be "objective," trying to serve the "public interest" in some balanced way, or are they ideologically (or otherwise) driven in a way that inevitably colors their coverage--what topics they pick, what 'experts' they rely on, etc. 2) Independence--Whether they are biased or generally neutral, can somebody--a political party, a Mafia family, a government-- tell them what to do?
I think it's pretty clear MSNBC and the NYT and Breiibart.tv are not neutral. They all have an agenda and they pursue it. But they are independent. The Obama White House can't tell Bill Keller what to do. They can't tell Keith Olbermann what to do. (They can suck up to him, and it will probably work, but that's a different issue.) Breitbart is for sure independent--I can't see anyone telling him what to do.
Ok, Mickey. If it's "pretty clear" MSNBC and the New York Times have an "agenda" and "pursue it," it should be pretty easy for you to explain what that agenda is.
And, fair warning: You'll need to reconcile your claims about the Times' "agenda" with the paper's handling of the 2000 election and the Bush administration's Iraq claims, and your claims about MSNBC's "agenda" with ... Well, with lots of things.
So, let's have it, Mickey. What is the New York Times' agenda. What is MSNBC's? How do they "pursue it"?