Once again undermining the supposed sharp distinction between Fox's opinion and news shows, Bret Baier took time during his nightly "Political Grapevine" segment to inform his viewers that "some interesting ornaments" had been "spotted on the White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room." Now according to New York Magazine, the Christmas tree in question holds as many as 800 ornaments. So presumably there are plenty of "interesting ornaments" in the bunch. Baier took his audience on a virtual tour of the Blue Room tree:
BAIER: They include the communist leader Mao; drag queen -- celebrity queen -- Hedda Lettuce, who boasts on her Web site about her ornament being featured in the White House; and Mt. Rushmore with a familiar face [President Obama] added.
So out of 800 ornaments, Baier decided to tell his viewers about three of them. And it just so happens that these three ornaments fit nicely into three of Fox News' favorite activities: red-baiting, gay-baiting, and suggesting that Obama is arrogant.
Unfortunately for Baier, his gotcha story seems to be missing the gotcha. Here were the very next words out of his mouth:
BAIER: The First Lady's office says local community groups were asked to decorate hundreds of ornaments but that they are unaware of these specific decorations.
Baier offered no evidence contradicting this. So why, exactly, does he think the story still qualifies as news?
It should also be noted that both Benjamin Carlson of The Atlantic and Allahpundit of HotAir (a conservative blog run by Michelle Malkin) think that the picture of Mao is actually an image of an Andy Warhol print of Mao.
As Allahpundit further observes, "[I]sn't the most likely explanation here that they [the White House] really didn't know what was on the ornaments? Why court PR trouble with a deliberate provocation via something this trivial?"
Incidentally, as Baier noted, these three ornaments were first reported by none other than the crackerjack staff at Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com.
Earlier that day, Breitbart's crew posted its big scoop:
Why let a holiday season come between the White House and making some political statements? The White House pegged controversial designer Simon Doonan to oversee the Christmas decorations for the White House. Mr. Doonan, who is creative director of Barney's New York has often caused a stir with his design choices. Like his naughty yuletide window display of Margaret Thatcher as a dowdy dominatrix and Dan Quayle as a ventriloquist's dummy. For this year's White House, he didn't disappoint.
To paraphrase the old adage, from their keyboards to Fox News' lips.
Previously, Fox News' Glenn Beck called Breitbart -- who has a long history of smearing progressives -- one of the "great journalists of our time" for helping two right-wing activists selectively release highly edited, secretly recorded video of ACORN employees. Breitbart also served as one of Beck's major sources for his witch hunt against former White House adviser Van Jones.
But that's just an opinion show. It's not like Andrew Breitbart is setting Fox's news agenda.
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 December 22 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
The war is over. Christmas lost.
Minutes ago, Fox News wished its viewers "Happy Holidays," thus joining the secularist politically-correct card-carrying ACLU members who have for years waged a "War on Christmas."
With the might of News Corp. onboard, surely a nationwide crackdown on crèches is already underway, and no doubt Santa and his elves will be rounded up before Christmas.
Oh, how the tides have turned.
It was only two years ago that Bill O'Reilly was declaring victory, claiming to have "won this war" against the "very effective movement underway to wipe out, in the public square, all vestiges of Christmas." He decried how "Stores were ordering employees not to say 'Merry Christmas,'" and said that "If I had not done the campaign, then the forces of darkness would have won. There's no question about that."
O'Reilly proclaimed at the time: "We were able to convince the major retailers to not order their employees to not say 'Merry Christmas,' to stop that nonsense. We won that." But now, O'Reilly is unable to convince even his own employer not to use the vicious, hateful "Happy Holidays."
Oh, there have been chinks in the armor before. Even back in 2005, no doubt due to the machinations of some infiltrator, Fox News' online store was selling "Holiday" ornaments, and even exhorting O'Reilly's audience to "Put your holiday tree in 'The No Spin Zone' with this silver glass 'O'Reilly Factor' ornament." The day after this perfidy was noted, the references to "holiday" were changed to "Christmas."
Earlier this year, it became clear that this treason against Christmas was spreading through the Fox family. First, White House correspondent Major Garrett wished President Obama - on behalf of Fox news! - "a very happy and joyous 2009 holiday season." Garrett could have been written off as a mere Benedict Arnold in the War on Christmas... but Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy also appeared to slip the next month, referring to his program's "holiday party" before properly correcting himself.
And even O'Reilly himself told Dick Morris that Morris' new book "makes a great Christmas/holiday/Chanukah book, gift, whatever."
Once Christmas' commander-in-chief defected, it was only a matter of time.
Jon Stewart and the rest of the self-described "liberal secular fags" at Comedy Central and across the country have won.
From Sarah Palin's Twitter feed:
Lots of hysterical, right-wing hand-wringing this week regarding the pending passage of health care reform, and specifically lots of wild GOP media charges that Democrats bought off members of Congress. Not literally paid them money, of course, but offered politicians legislative sweeteners to secure their votes.
For anybody who's spent more than three weeks inside the Beltway, the allegations of legislative arm-twisting certainly sound naive, since that's how the D.C. game has been played for going on two centuries now. But nonetheless, conservatives insist Democrats have stooped to some kind of historic low.
But I can't help wondering what Nick Smith thinks about those claims. Because back in late 2003, when was serving as a Republican member of Congress from Michigan, Smith opposed the Bush White House's attempt to revamp Medicare when the issue came up for a vote in November. Republican leaders quickly realized that night that they didn't have the votes and started leaning on their own members [emphasis added]:
The Medicare-related bribe allegation is all the more startling -- and credible -- because it was raised by an angry Republican member who claimed his own leadership team dangled a $100,000 campaign contribution in front of him in return for his Medicare vote. When that didn't work, according to Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich., a fiscal conservative and former dairy farmer, party leaders then threatened to derail Smith's son's upcoming campaign to succeed him in Congress.
Appearing on a Kalamazoo radio station Dec. 1, Smith explained, "The prestige of leadership is partially at stake if the vote doesn't succeed for the majority. And that's what happened in this case. They didn't have the votes ... They started out by offering the carrot, and they know what's important to every member, and what's important to me is my family and my kids."
Smith held firm and voted no on Medicare.
The GOP reaction at the time?
And Republicans were mounting a defense, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich telling C-SPAN on Friday that Smith was "a disgruntled retiring member" who was the victim of nothing more than the usual treatment in a close vote.
"I just think this is one of those occasional Washington mountains that's being built out of less than a molehill," Gingrich said.
Yesterday, Matthew Yglesias offered up a list of the ten "Worst Washington Post Columnists of the Zeroes." It's a testament to the atrociousness of the Post's roster of columnists that Howard Kurtz didn't make the cut, though he continues to demonstrate his worthiness.
Today, Kurtz writes more than 1,000 words about the filibuster, leading off with typical both-sides-are-equally-guilty nonsense:
Both parties have dirty hands. So do most liberal and conservative commentators.
When Democrats are in power, they complain that Republicans are abusing the filibuster and ruining democracy. When Republicans are in power, they complain that Democrats are abusing the filibuster and ruining democracy.
Nowhere in his 1,000-plus words about the filibuster does Kurtz make clear that the GOP's use of the filibuster in recent years is unprecedented. The closest Kurtz comes is a grudging acknowledgement that "some are more abusive than others":
I'm not saying every instance is the same. Some are more abusive than others. The Republicans this year seem determined not to provide President Obama any votes on anything -- with the possible exception of more war funding, and they even tried to filibuster that to slow down health care.
But it is a tool that both sides have used, and that neither side, foreseeing a future in the minority, wants to relinquish. I'd be happy to see it go, but the chances seem extremely dim -- not least because the Senate can filibuster an attempt to change the rules. It's a wonder the Senate once reduced the number of votes required for cloture from 67 to 60.
But it isn't just Kurtz's unwillingness to clearly and unambiguously state the basic fact that Republican use of the filibuster in recent years is completely different from the way both parties used the tactic in the past that illustrates his failings as a columnist. He gets basic facts wrong, too. Check out this portion of Kurtz's reminiscences of filibusters past:
Remember when the Dems were going to use the tool - -the so-called nuclear option -- to block some of President Bush's judicial nominees, and the GOP went, well, nuclear?
That isn't what the "so-called nuclear option" was. The nuclear option was the Republicans' threat to eliminate the filibuster in response to the Democrats' threat to use the filibuster. But that was only one of the fiercest political battles of the past five years; there's no reason to expect a Washington Post columnist to know the most basic facts about it, is there?
Then there's Kurtz's statement that "I'd be happy to see it [the filibuster] go, but the chances seem extremely dim -- not least because the Senate can filibuster an attempt to change the rules."
Well, if that were true, the Republicans would never have been able to threaten the "nuclear option" in 2005. But since Kurtz doesn't know what the nuclear option was, I guess we can't expect him to recognize that his mention of it undermines his claim that the Senate can filibuster an attempt to get rid of the filibuster.
You know the drill. Inside the Beltway, only polling trends that show Obama's popularity declining are considered newsy and important and worthy of trend stories. Polls that show Obama gaining support? Not so much.
In other words, good news is no news.
And that's why you haven't heard much about the latest CNN poll that has Obama's approval rating spiking six points in just the last two weeks. Heck, even CNN didn't think that was the news hook for the polling data, which is why in its online write-up, CNN didn't mention Obama's approval bump until two-thirds through the article.
Question: If CNN's poll, on the eve of controversial health care reform passing, showed that Obama's approval rating had dropped six points since early December, do you think that would qualify as 'news'?
Yeah, me too.
How's this for a loaded "question"?
Do we need more Joe Liebermans?
Last week, one senator avoided partisanship and ideological rigidity and successfully leveraged his vote to win what he believed were necessary changes in key piece of legislation. So why was Sen. Joe Lieberman so bitterly criticized rather than praised for his leadership on health care?
That's today's "On Leadership" question from the Washington Post -- and Lieberman couldn't have asked for a more friendly description of his role in health care reform.
"Avoided partisanship"? Even Lieberman defenders concede he was motivated by anger at the Democrats.
And saying Lieberman avoided "ideological rigidity" is an awfully polite way of saying he opposed things he had recently supported, once he saw that Antony Weiner liked them.
Finally, "what he believed were necessary changes" is a kind way of saying "Lieberman's stated concerns with the public option were false."
In deciding whether to make a radio, television or Internet appearances, a staff member should consider its probable tone and content to make sure they are consistent with Times standards. Staff members should avoid strident, theatrical forums that emphasize punditry and reckless opinion-mongering. Instead we should offer thoughtful and retrospective analysis. Generally a staff member should not say anything on radio, television or the Internet that could not appear under his or her byline in The Times.
Yet on Monday, Harwood, appearing on MSNBC, derided liberal critics of the proposed health care legislation as "insane," claimed they should have "their heads examined," and mocked their commentary posted online as being naive and "really idiotic."
Question: Were those comments that Harwood would likely make under his New York Times byline? No. Were Harwood's attacks "strident"? Yes? Did he engage in "reckless opinion-mongering" Yes.
Like I said, Harwood might want to re-read the newspaper's Ethical Journalism handbook before his next TV appearance.
UPDATED: It's interesting that Harwood became so angry at liberal bloggers over a policy difference. It's telling because I don't recall Harwood taking to the airwaves this year and denouncing right-wing bloggers as they peddled incessant Obama-is-a-racist-socialist-communist-Nazi attacks. That kind of commentary apparently did not anger Harwood. But when libs online took issue with legislative policy, Harwood could hardly see straight.
UPDATED: FYI, The Times' guidelines cover both staff writers and "nonstaff contributors."