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"?
Working at NewsBusters must be one of the cushier gigs out there. If a NewsBuster spies a bit of news that he or she doesn't like, all they have to do is write the equivalent of "OMG TEH BIAS" stretched out to a couple of hundred words. And they certainly don't need facts to form the basis of an argument, they just start from the premise that the media is liberally biased and let the conjecture flow from there. The entire enterprise is one big logical fallacy -- they start at the conclusion and work backwards.
Take, for instance, the new Washington Post/ABC News poll showing strong support for a health care reform bill that contains a public option. Clearly, a conservative outfit like NewsBusters wouldn't care for such a dataset, so they set out to discredit the poll with -- you guessed it -- accusations of liberal bias. NewsBuster Tim Graham noted that the poll sample was 33 percent Democrat compared to 20 percent Republican, and accused the Washington Post (but not ABC, for some reason) of "stuffing its poll sample with a few extra Democrats" to get the result they wanted. Mind you, he has no actual evidence that the Washington Post did this, he's just using the following logic, if it can be called that:
1) The Washington Post/ABC News poll sampled more liberal Democrats.
2) The Washington Post is part of the liberal media.
3) The liberal Washington Post rigged their liberal poll to get the liberal result they wanted. Liberal.
Accusing a polling outfit of cooking its data to achieve a predetermined outcome is a pretty serious charge. It's also fairly outlandish and can be easily dismissed with just a basic understanding of one of the fundamental aspects of opinion polling -- the random sample. Polling guru Nate Silver gave an excellent rundown of this very topic last fall when liberals complained about a Fox News poll that oversampled Republicans:
As for the FOX poll, I'm a little bit taken aback at the number of people who assume that, just because the poll is from FOX, it must somehow have been cooked. Sixteen times out of 20, an aberrant result (and I'm not sure you can really call this "aberrant", since a couple of other pollsters show the race at about 3 points right now) is the result of statistical noise. Perhaps 3 times out of 20, it might be the result of a poor sampling procedure. And then there might be that one case in 20 where the pollster feels compelled to put his finger on the scale in some way -- but these cases are extremely rare. And there's no particular reason to accuse FOX News of this behavior. Their polls haven't had much of a partisan lean this cycle, and for that matter, they were among the only pollsters to have John Kerry winning the popular vote in 2004. If there's a problem with FOX News polls, it's not that they're biased, but that they're simply not all that good.
It's true that FOX's sample included a materially higher percentage of Republicans this time around. FOX, however, does not choose its sample; its sample chooses itself. In this case, when they drew their ping-pong balls out of the jar, they came up with a slightly higher percentage of red ones. This kind of thing will happen all the time unless a pollster weights by party ID, which FOX News and many other pollsters do not. The Pew poll that came out the other day, for instance, had a big increase in the number of Democrats in its sample.
ABC News polling director Gary Langer responded yesterday to criticism from Newt Gingrich, who said that the poll was "deliberately rigged," and pointed out that not only was their sampling legit, but it was also completely in line with their past polls, contemporaneous polls from other outfits, and the general direction of party identification in the country:
Nor is this out of pattern with the long-term trend in political partisanship in this country. After nearly a generation of gradual advance, the Republican Party in 2003 attained parity with the Democrats; on average that year, for the first time in our polling since 1981, equal numbers of Americans identified themselves as Democrats and as Republicans, 31 percent apiece.
But that trend since has been disrupted. In response to the war in Iraq and the increasingly unpopular presidency of George W. Bush, Republican self-identification has been declining since 2003. (It's no coincidence that Republicans in 2008 made up their smallest share of the electorate since 1980.) The dire news for the GOP in party ID since 2004 is nothing new; we've been reporting it steadily the past five years.
In short, there's absolutely no reason to believe that the Washington Post or ABC News had their fingers on the scales. NewsBusters is just smearing the pollster as evilly liberal because they, quite literally, have absolutely nothing else to say.