It's hard to imagine that a political reporter could have as much faith in politicians as the Washington Post's Perry Bacon seems to. I've previously noted Bacon's insistence on taking politicians at their word, even when their claims have been shown to be false. And his jaw-dropping refusal to consider the possibility that politicians may occasionally be influenced by campaign contributions.
Now, take a look at this exchange from Bacon's online Q&A this week:
Arlington, Va.: Nelson was a health insurance company executive before he ran for governor.
Lieberman gets a lot of campaign donations from Aetna, whose CEO said they are jacking up premiums to increase their profit margins even though it would mean up to 650,000 people losing their coverage.
Perry Bacon Jr.: Doesn't Chris Dodd get money from insurance companies? Isn't Blanch Lincoln, not a former insurance executive, also opposing the public opinion, as are lots of House members, many of whom also didn't work in the insurance industry?
Wow. Is Perry Bacon really suggesting that because some politicians vote against the interests of their donors, no politician is ever influenced by campaign contributions? That's really the only way to read his response; otherwise, what would Chris Dodd and Blanche Lincoln have to do with a question about Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman?
And Bacon's use of Blanche Lincoln as an example of a politician who opposes the public option despite a lack of ties to the insurance industry is absolutely hilarious, given the campaign contributions she's taken from the industry, and her ties to industry lobbyists. (To be clear: I have no idea what Lincoln's motivations are, but Bacon's suggestion that she lacks ties to the insurance industry is absurd. Just the reasoning he uses to dismiss suggestions that Nelson and Lieberman are motivated by campaign contributions is absurd, regardless of whether they are.)
Admittedly, it was a fleeting attempt, but hey at least ABC News tried [emphasis added]:
Fifty percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of the president's work overall, down 6 points in the last month; nearly as many, 46 percent, now disapprove. On the economy, 52 percent disapprove, a majority for the first time. On the deficit, his worst score, 56 percent disapprove.
Such numbers aren't unexpected; Ronald Reagan, in similar economic straits, dropped to 52 percent overall approval at this point in his presidency.
I've been making this point for weeks now and it's nice to see some journalists take note: despite the exaggerated rhetoric and non-stop hand-wringing about Obama's supposed poll collapse in recent months, his approval ratings remains almost identical to Ronald Reagan's 11 months into his first term.
Yes, that's the same Ronald Reagan who conservatives and most journalists considered to be one of the most successful presidents of the last half century. But boy, you read Obama's clips and he's not Ronald Reagan II, he's already Jimmy Cater II. Funny, how the 'liberal media' puts things in context.
And speaking of context, ABC News actually gets it a bit wrong with its Reagan reference. ABC News tries to suggest that at this point in his presidency, Reagan was already reeling in the polls due to an awful economy. That's not quite right. At this point in his presidency, Reagan was doing fine (he was viewed as a success) because prior to Obama's arrival in the White House, the D.C. press corps never considered a 50 percent job approval rating to be a failure. In previous administrations, a 50 percent approval ratings was considered a good thing. But not for Obama. The press has simply created a new standard for Obama. I mean c'mon, the press corps didn't actually get up the nerve to label George W. Bush's presidency a failure until his approval rating cratered deep into the 30's. But for some reason with Obama, 50 percent is the new demarcation line. (He's suddenly in "thin air" territory.)
And for the record, Reagan's 52 percent approval rating in December, 1981, did not reflect the difficulties he faced due to a poor economy. That came in 1982 and 1983, when Reagan's approval rating plunged to 35 percent. (Sort of like Bush did.)
But remember, according to today's press accounts, a 50 percent approval rating for Obama (for the Democrat!) is a disaster.
Apparently, Sen. Chuck Schumer referred to a flight attendant as a "bitch" (not to her face.) A House Republican aide overheard the remark and ran to the Politico, which promptly typed it up as though it was news.
That, believe it or not, isn't the ridiculous part.
Here's the ridiculous part: The National Republican Senatorial Committee, recognizing that they aren't going to defeat Chuck Schumer anytime soon, decided to try to spin this into a scandal for Sen. Kristen Gillibrand. No, Gillibrand didn't call anyone a name -- but she was sitting next to Schumer at the time! Don't you see? She's doomed!
Well, Politico's Ben Smith fell for it:
Word that Chuck Schumer called a flight attendant a "bitch" in comment to Kristen Gillibrand may be more damaging to Gillibrand than to the senior senator.
Nobody in New York, or Washington, thought Schumer was the politest soul or nicest person in Congress, or voted for him for his politesse. He's rock solid politically at home -- a place where rudeness is considered a virtue -- and his political trajectory is toward the sort of office held by notable nice guys Lyndon Johnson and Tom DeLay.
Gillibrand, by contrast, has been unable to make much of an impression in her year as an appointed senator, according to recent polling. She's dogged by the perception that she's merely a second vote for Chuck, and personally not as forceful a character as a New York Senator ought to be. Her conduct here -- silence toward Schumer's jibe, followed by her staff's telling my colleague Anne Schroeder that Schumer was "polite" to the flight attendant -- feeds both those impressions.
"We also hope his fellow Senator and passenger Kirsten Gillibrand will rightly condemn these actions by her colleague," NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said in a statement this morning, but Gillibrand spokesman Matt Canter declined, in an email, to rebuke Schumer in any way.
Now, keep in mind that nobody -- not even the House Republican aide who gave Politico the story in the first place -- contradicts Kirsten Gillibrand's staffer's statement that Schumer was "polite" to the flight attendant.
Actually, don't bother keeping that in mind. Smith's write-up is silly enough even without keeping the facts in mind. Kirsten Gillibrand is in trouble because she was sitting next to Chuck Schumer when he said something rude to her, and because her spokesperson said Schumer had been polite to a flight attendant? Please.
Former McCain staffer Michael Goldfarb claims on the Weekly Standard's blog that a source tells him the Obama administration is pressuring Sen. Ben Nelson to support health care reform:
According to a Senate aide, the White House is now threatening to put Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base on the BRAC list if Nelson doesn't fall into line.
First, note that Goldfarb describes his source as "a Senate aide" -- not "a Democratic Senate aide." Given that his source would be much more credible if described that way, we can probably assume that Goldfarb's (only) source is a Republican Senate aide. And the source's quotes certainly sound rather Republican:
As our source put it, this is a "naked effort by Rahm Emanuel and the White House to extort Nelson's vote." They are "threatening to close a base vital to national security for what?" asked the Senate staffer.
So how would this presumably Republican aide be in a position to know what the White House is "threatening" to do to Democratic Senator? Goldfarb doesn't say. (Even if the "source" is a Democrat, there's no indication s/he is in a position to know anything.) So, there's a pretty good reason to be skeptical right there.
Now, moving on to the supposed substance of the alleged threat. The BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process is specifically designed to minimize political considerations in base closing decisions. The Defense Department applies legally-mandated criteria to assess bases; an independent commission (chosen in consultation between the President and Congress) makes closure recommendations; Congress has the ability to reject those recommendations; the whole thing is a lengthy and high-profile process.
In short: if "Rahm Emanuel and the White House" want to "extort Nelson's vote," it isn't likely they would do so by trying to meddle in the BRAC process. And it's even less likely considering the risk they'd be taking -- getting caught meddling with BRAC would look significantly worse than getting caught cutting off highway funding, for example.
Basically, Goldfarb's post doesn't pass the laugh test.
And that's even before you consider the fact that Michael Goldfarb is a liar.
From the December 15 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Prescott Financial Sells Gold, Women & Sheep|
From The Fox Nation:
Toasting Lieberman's latest star turn at the center of the health care debate and the senator's announcement over the weekend that he'd oppose health care reform legislation that included a Medicare buy-in, which would allow people under the age of 65 to buy into Medicare and receive its coverage, here's how Klein reported the conflict:
Although Lieberman supported a Medicare "buy-in" expansion as part of the Gore-Lieberman platform in 2000, that was before the current fiscal crisis exacerbated concerns over deficits, and before a workable bill emerged that would accomplish many of his other health care priorities, he said.
Reading Klein, readers would think that Lieberman had a change of heart regarding the Medicare buy-in some time between 2000 and last weekend. Specifically, some time between "the current fiscal crisis" (i.e. 14 months ago) and last weekend.
False. The truth is Lieberman, who has been trumpeting the Medicare buy-in idea for years, suddenly had a change of heart between September and December, which of course is much more newsworthy, and puzzling. But for some reason Klein left that out of his reporting.
As Greg Sargent highlighted earlier this week, here's Lieberman in September touting the buy-in approach:
I'm sure the Journal's editor Robert Thomson, who was recently brought in by Rupert Murdoch to run the newspaper, has no idea the history in play here, but it was supremely ironic that in a statement on Monday he whined about how New York Times editor Bill Keller last year " personally and at length to a prize committee casting aspersions on Journal journalists and journalism."
In Thomson's eyes, Keller's actions were just beyond the pale. What kind of journalists would bad mouth fellow journalists who were up for big awards? (In this case it was for a George Polk Awards in Journalism.) What kind of journalists would try to debunk articles that were being considered for a top journalism prize?
Journalists who work for the Wall Street Journal, that's who.
The headline from a Salon article I wrote in 2002 [emphasis added]:
The Wall Street Journal's smear campaign: The paper's Op-Ed pages have long been a platform for political assassination. But their latest target is a rival paper that is competing for a Pulitzer Prize.
Behold the hypocrisy of the Journal's top editor now whining about Keller's supposed meddling:
At 3 o'clock on Monday afternoon the sounds of champagne bottles popping open will be heard in a select number of newsrooms across the country as the winners of the newspaper industry's most prestigious award, the Pulitzer Prize, are officially announced. While the list of finalists is supposed to remain secret until the winners are declared, word always leaks out in advance. This year is no exception; among the reported Pulitzer finalists in the investigative reporting category is "Uninformed Consent," a six-part series that ran in the Seattle Times during March 2001.
The report, written by Duff Wilson and David Heath, alleged that during the 1980s a number of patients at Seattle's prestigious Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle (aka the Hutch) died while undergoing experimental bone-marrow transplantation, and that patients were not informed of the clinical trials' risks or of the center's financial interest in those treatments. The series was years in the making and was based on an exhaustive review of 10,000 pages of documents as well as 100 interviews, and was overseen by an independent expert in bone-marrow medicine who reviewed it for accuracy. "Uninformed Consent" has already picked up scores of elite journalism prizes in the past few months, including a George Polk Award, a Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting presented by Harvard's Shorenstein Center, and the Newspaper Guild's Heywood Broun Award.
Up until three weeks ago the series seemed to be a Pulitzer front-runner as well. But that changed on March 19, when Laura Landro, an assistant managing editor for the Wall Street Journal, penned a blunt critique of "Uninformed Consent" for the Journal's Op-Ed page. Titled "Good Medicine, Bad Journalism," the piece complained that the Seattle Times series was guilty of "gotcha" journalism and that the series' central allegation was "fundamentally false."
And yes, BTW. Landro managed to derail the Seattle Times' Pulitzer. And yes, Landro's critique was largely bogus.
UPDATED: Note this fact as well:
Even more startling was the fact that the broadside came an entire year after the Seattle Times series ran, but just weeks before the Pulitzer's 16 judges would make their final decisions. The Journal column appeared to be an unprecedented attempt to step in and derail a Pulitzer finalist.
Does WSJ editor Thomson want to rethink his attack on Bill Keller?
UPDATED: As the NYObserver reports, it turns out Keller wrote a letter to the Polk committee after the Journal had won its award. Back in 2002 though, the Journal torpedoed a competitor's Pulitzer before the judges made their pick.