So, some reporters are proclaiming the end of the Drudge Era.
I'm not impressed.
See, Matt Drudge was never really as influential as the media insisted he was. He was their mascot, not their quarterback.
Drudge's thinly-sourced "scoops" and badly-skewed, sensationalist spin on mundane stories seemed to carry the day not because he enjoyed a svengali-like grip over the diligent reporters at MSNBC and the Washington Post who wanted nothing more than to produce solid, factual, balanced journalism but were led astray by Drudge's irresistible breaking-news beacon. No, Drudge seemed to carry the day because those journalists wanted to focus on the gossip, wanted to pursue irrelevant, salacious, and often false stories rather than write about policy, wanted to behave like cliquish thirteen-year-olds. They used Drudge as an excuse, not as a guide.
If they no longer feel it necessary to blame their shortcomings on Matt Drudge, that's only because they've embraced the fact that they are Matt Drudge.
An op-ed by serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey is, indefensibly, featured in today's New York Post:
When President Obama addresses Congress and the nation tonight, he should pledge to do three things.
First, he should announce that he will discard the 1,018-page health bill drafted in the House of Representatives and replace it with a 20-page bill in plain English. Twenty pages should be sufficient. The framers of the US Constitution established an entire federal government in 18 pages.
This is absolute nonsense.
First, as Betsy McCaughey surely knows -- though most of her readers do not -- the number of pages is wildly misleading. See, legislation is printed on pages with very wide margins. Text is double-spaced -- and lines are numbered. Here, for example, is what page 483 of the House bill looks like:
Page 483 -- a typical page -- contains only 151 words. That's about half as many words as appear on a page in a typical book. So it's more useful to think of the health care legislation as running about 500 pages. That's quite a bit shorter than a Harry Potter book. Surely it isn't unreasonable for legislation governing the nation's health care and insurance systems to run two-thirds as long as a children's book, is it?
Next: McCaughey says the bill should be written "in plain English." But legislation is written in highly precise and technical legal language for a reason: If it were written in "plain English," it would introduce more ambiguity, not less. Enforcement of laws would be more dependent upon judge's interpretation, and less dependent upon the intent of the elected representatives who wrote the law. (A prospect that would make a conservative like McCaughey twitch, if she were honest.)
Think about a "plain English" agreement between you and your daughter: If she cleans her room, she can have ice cream. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Now, think of all the complications that could arise: Who decides what qualifies as "clean"? What if she enlists the help of a friend? How soon does the room need to be cleaned? What kind of ice cream is she entitled to -- the stuff in your freezer, or the soft-serve chocolate-vanilla twist at her favorite ice cream stand, three towns over? How much ice cream? Et cetera. Those details need not be spelled out when you're dealing with your daughter -- at the end of the day, you can impose your will on the situation easily enough. It isn't so easy when you're trying to get your insurance company to cover your prostate exam.
Next: McCaughey says "20 pages should be sufficient" to revamp the nation's health insurance system. That's nothing short of crazy, as the ice cream comparison probably makes clear. Some things need to be elaborate and complicated. Next time you get on an airplane, think about whether you want the pilot's dashboard controls to be as complex as they are, or whether you'd prefer it to consist of an on/off switch, a steering wheel, and a break pedal. Think about whether you'd prefer the mechanics who service the plane to work off detailed step-by-step instructions making clear the 300 safety tests they must perform before each flight, or whether you'd be more comfortable if they were just told "Check it out."
Finally, as Betsy McCaughey surely knows, the Constitution did not establish an entire federal government in 18 pages. It laid out the basic framework for such a government. Betsy McCaughey understands the difference -- she just hopes her readers don't.
McCaughey's dishonesty and fundamentally-flawed thinking make the rest of her argument impossible to take seriously, but let's look briefly at her next demand:
Secondly, the president should announce that the purpose of his 20-page bill is to cover the truly uninsured. Period.
And do nothing for the already-insured, whose health care costs are skyrocketing? Nothing to stop health insurance companies from doing everything they can to avoid paying for necessary medical care so they can maximize profits? Nothing for people who are locked-in to their current jobs for fear that if they change jobs, they will be unable to get insurance due to "pre-existing conditions"? Nothing to force insurance companies to compete? Nothing to lower costs? Nothing to prevent insurance companies from placing caps on health care payments, which can -- and does -- result in people with top-of-the-line health insurance going bankrupt due to health costs?
Well, at least McCaughey made her perspective clear: She doesn't want to do anything to stop insurance companies from denying payment for necessary procedures. Good to know.
Why isn't the liberal mainstream media all over this story? And man, is that Obama sneaky, or what? Sure, he didn't mention politics in his "controversial" school speech yesterday. He didn't actually try to "indoctrinate" the kids. But hours beforehand, while taking questions from a handful of Virginia students, he directly answered their queries about health care reform!
Thankfully, the right-leaning CNSNews.com has the scoop.
I'm tellin' ya, you gotta watch that guy like a hawk!
Sort of embarrassing, considering the media site spends lots of time touting Beck's new-found influence:
Up until Jones' resignation Glenn Beck has been an incredibly popular and successful cable news version of the snake oil salesman — in the hands of anyone else Jones might have merely remained a blip on the talking points radar, in the mesmerizing, entertaining hands of Beck he has become a national villain, and now Obama's Achilles heel.
Yep, "mesmerizing" and "entertaining." Mediaite's got a Beck crush. But this passage really made me chuckle [emphasis added]:
Fox is a great punching bag, but no one wants to admit its anchors have the power to bring down a White House official. Keith Olbermann has issued a "Fox Twa" requesting viewers and Daily Kos readers alike dig up whatever dirt they can on Beck. No doubt there will be some dug up. Will it matter? Advertisers and ratings matter on TV, not "dirt."
See, it's "advertisers" that matter on TV, don'tcha know. But at Mediaite, the supposedly media savvy site, the fact that Beck has lost nearly 60 advertisers in the last month, and the fact that Beck has been abondoned by more blue chip advertisers, and more quickly, than perhaps any host in the history of cable television, doesn't matter. Mediaite never even mentions the fact Beck no longer has a single prominent, national advertiser that's willing to appear on his program.
In its Beck valentine, Mediaite claims "advertisers" matter on TV. But in its Beck valentine, Mediaite forgets to mention that all-powerful Beck has lost nearly 60 advertisers this summer.
UPDATED: Does Mediaite's Glynnis MacNicol even watch Glenn Beck? I have my doubts after reading this:
The genius of Beck in choosing Van Jones to focus on — as opposed to, say, President Obama directly — is that Jones didn't have a national reputation Beck had to contend with, he was a relative unknown, which allowed Beck to define him nationally, and destructively, almost from scratch.
Really? Mediaite's MacNicol thinks Beck hasn't directly focused on President Obama as a target this year?
It's from an online report about the Obama school "controversy," and it's written by Dan Harris. In his piece, Harris notes that conservatives pre-emptively blasted Obama's stay-in-school speech even though conservatives had no idea what was going to be in the speech. Harris notes that the speech itself "turned out to be little more than a pep talk on the importance of staying in school."
Later in the piece as he tries to put the "controversy" in context, Harris uncorks this era-defining gem [emphasis added]:
While the media loves a good fight -- even when the charges are unfounded -- there may be more to conservatives' complaints that play into larger concerns about the president on health care reform.
Behold the wonder. Pretty much sums up the state of affairs, right? "The media loves a good fight--even when the charges are unfounded."
And do I even have to mention that the media's new-found love of unfounded fights is an Obama era special. Or can somebody point me towards the manufactured, unfounded "controversies" hatched during the Bush years that the press treated as big news. (As I've noted, when conservatives--and overwhelming white--activists get mad, it's news. When liberals do it, it's annoying.)
If that weren't bad enough, there were other depressing nuggets from Harris' woeful report. First, he quoted three partisan Obama critics in the story, yet somehow managed to avoid a single Democrat or Obama supporter for his report.
And second, then there was this:
While Obama may have run a successful presidential campaign, critics say the White House has been unprepared for the ferocity of the Republican opposition.
"You have to be aware of the opposition that is going to arise and have a plan to deal with it," [former Gov. Mitt Romney spokesman Kevin] Madden said.
Did you get that? According to a partisan Republican, the Obama WH was to blame for the school "controversy," because it should have seen the firestorm coming. It should have known that by having the President of the United States address school children and urge them to excel and stay in school, that Republicans and wingnuts would accuse him of trying to "indoctrinate" kids with a "socialist" agenda.
I mean really, how did the WH not see that one coming, right?
So to summarize: ABC News confirms that it will chase any right-wing "fight" even if it's baseless; even if it's "unfounded." In reporting those fights, ABC News will purposefully exclude Democrat voices from the story. And ABC News, while acknowledging a fight is "unfounded," will allow partisan Republicans to blame the White House for the "controversy."
Here are Glenn Beck's September 8 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
In a press release issued over the weekend, serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey responded to New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg's article on her often fact-free commentary about health care reform. She did so, of course, with a falsehood about the House health bill:
The bill's partisans say the consultation sessions are voluntary. But if there is a penalty for noncompliance, then it is not voluntary, regardless of whether the word mandatory used. The penalty is on page 432. Doctors' quality ratings will be determined in part by the percentage of the doctor's patients who create a living will and the percentage who adhere to it. (And quality ratings affect a doctor's Medicare reimbursement)
Jon Stewart disputed this claim during his interview with McCaughey, saying that "It would be really wrong if that was in any way what this said." As we noted at the time, the bill's language does not impose a "penalty" on doctors, but rather provides incentive payments for doctors who provide the Department of Health and Human Services with "data on quality measures" for end-of-life care – regardless of the results they report. Media outlets who consider offering McCaughey a platform to discuss health care reform should be aware that she is just going to spout falsehoods.
This one was just dopey.
Searching for an angle to Van Jones resignation, the Politico adopted its trademark breathless style and announced [emphasis added]:
When President Barack Obama's green jobs adviser, Van Jones, submitted his resignation this weekend, he became the first casualty of the Obama administration not to go quietly.
Where other departing officials have given explanations about process or used predictable lines about spending more time with their families, Jones released a statement accusing his critics of using "lies and distortions" about him to divert attention from the White House's agenda.
"On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me," Jones said.
Unlike previous administration officials who were let go or walked away, Van Jones was fighting mad! (His exit was "fiery.") And to prove it, Politico then detailed four previous White House staffers who had gone quietly: Louis Caldera, Ellen Moran, Gen. David McKiernan, Steve Rattner.
Why is the Politico premise dopey? Why is Politico guilty of comparing obvious apples to oranges? Because unlike Van Jones, none of the others highlighted in the article had been the subject of a vicious right-wing smear campaign. Because Van Jones was the only one in the article whose reputation was savaged on Fox News for weeks on end.
I'm pretty sure that's why Van Jones didn't go quietly. I'm pretty sure that's why he was exit was "fiery." But I guess that glaringly obvious point escaped the pro's at Politico.
UPDATED: if you take a step back, the Politico's general premise that Van Jones refused to go quietly doesn't even make sense. Refusing to go quietly, in classic Beltway terms, suggests that Van Jones balked at resigning; that he'd battled with the White House, or that he'd been aggressively public in the days since his resignation denouncing his former employer. None of that is true though.
At Politico, the entire he-refused-to-go-quietly premise was based on the fact that Van Jones issued a brief statement attack his critics (not the White House).
In his August 30 column, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander declared policy the "Missing Ingredient" in the paper's health care coverage, and pointed out that the vast majority of the paper's coverage had focused on "political maneuvering or protests." Today, the news section makes a welcome response to this criticism, with several policy-focused offerings highlighting the flaws in the current health care system and the solutions proposed by Democrats.
In a front-page story, the Post reports on rescission, the practice by insurance companies of investigating the medical histories of people who become ill and submit claims for expensive treatments, on the grounds that those individuals had pre-existing conditions. The Post tells the story of Sally Marrari, whose coverage was rescinded following a 2006 diagnosis of a thyroid disorder, fluid in the heart and lupus on the grounds that she had not listed on a health questionnaire a "back problem" that she says she didn't know she had. As the Post notes, all health reform bills currently under discussion would ban this practice.
Rescission was the subject of a heart-wrenching hearing earlier this summer, in which former policyholders who had been subject to the practice told their stories. As we noted at the time, the evening news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS all ignored the hearing – the Post is far from the only news outlet that has a problem relating information about policy rather than politics.
The rescission article isn't the Post's only offering for the day – in a two-page spread teased with an A1 above-the-fold graphic, the paper presents what can only be called a tour-de-force of health care reporting -- dare I say it, the most substantive piece of writing to emerge from the pen of Ceci Connolly (best-known for inventing the Al Gore Love Canal "scandal" entirely out of whole cloth) in ages.
In an easily accessible yet detailed piece accompanied by useful graphics, Connolloy and Alec MacGillis address "8 Questions on Health Care Reform," laying out detailed explanations of how the Democratic reform proposals will affect you if you have health insurance, lack it, or are on Medicare – you know, the sorts of questions you might have if you have been reading the Post this year. The Post also includes a sidebar glossary providing useful definitions for terms like "Exchange" and "Comparative Effectiveness." It really is very well done, though it would have been nice if the Post had decided not to wait until September to give their readers this kind of detail.
As Ezra Klein suggests, this is the sort of piece that the paper should do everything it can to promote:
It's the sort of article that people sometimes say the media don't publish, but the actual problem is that it doesn't get republished. If you miss it in today's Post, you've simply missed it. Which is a shame, because this article is probably the most useful thing we'll publish for the people who doesn't read every newspaper every day.
But even if newspapers don't do reruns, the internet does archives. This article could be expanded as new questions arise, and it could be prominently included in the link box accompanying future health-care articles The Washington Post publishes. It need not disappear into the ether.
On a similar note, Los Angeles Times' Kristina Sherry wrote an excellent glossary of key terms in the health care debate that anyone doing any reporting at all on the subject simply needs to read. It's not perfect (opponents of health care reform call EVERYTHING "socialized medicine," not just a single-payer system), but would certainly be useful to, say, Chris Wallace and Lou Dobbs, in case they missed my own primer last month.
Of course, it's not all good news on the substance front – today, Politico debuts its new section, CLICK, which "covers the latest news and gossip from Washington's social scene." If you're wondering how that differs from the rest of Politico's reporting, or if you aren't interested in reading "Washington party animal" Luke Russert explainhow he's "worn khakis my entire life," you will probably want to stay away.
David Carr is, I think, more than a little off-base in his suggestion that Glenn Beck is off-limits for the same kind of research and criticism that Beck is advocating be deployed against those he disagrees with.
Here's the background: After Glenn Beck used his Twitter feed to urge people to "FIND EVERYTHING YOU CAN ON CASS SUNSTEIN, MARK LLOYD AND CAROL BROWNER," Keith Olbermann used the same language to urge people to research Beck and his allies "I don't know why I've got this phrasing in my head, but: Find everything you can about Glenn Beck, Stu Burguiere, and Roger Ailes."
Olbermann's response made Carr uneasy:
Decoder is all for fearless reporting, but making commentators and media executives the target of investigations reminds us of the ambush interviews that "The O'Reilly Factor" was doing earlier this year ... It all makes some of us at Decoder a bit uncomfortable. While Mr. Beck may be serving as a proxy for the party of opposition, his targets are members of the administration, a rugged game to be sure, but not one that attempts to investigate journalists and commentators for having contrary opinions. ... Once the game of oppo research on the press begins, it's hard to tell where it might stop, no?
Carr's concern seems to reflect a sense of entitlement many journalists possess -- they think nothing of scrutinizing and criticizing others, but when such scrutiny is aimed at them, they cry foul. But freedom of the press does not carry with it freedom from scrutiny, nor should it. If Glenn Beck is engaging in rampant hypocrisy, or lying, or using his television show to shill for companies in which he has a financial stake, there's no reason to think he should be immune from criticism for those activities simply because he is nominally a journalist.
And yes, that applies to legitimate journalists like David Carr, too.