Earlier today Markos Moulitsas did us all the favor of providing a glimpse into Politico's next effort to win the mid-morning-after-breakfast-but-not-quite-brunch hour, relating an exchange he had with Politico's Daniel Libit as the reporter fished for a "buyer's remorse" storyline highlighting the similarities between President Obama's agenda now and then-candidate Hillary Clinton's platform during the Democratic primaries. Markos' response to Libit's inquiry is worth reprinting in its entirety:
My god, what a stupid premise.
Indeed. Kos rightly pointed out that reporting on "similarities" between the agendas of two mainstream Democrats is hardly big news. What's more, Libit is late to this particular party. This exact story was written seven months ago, appearing in the pages of -- you guessed it -- the Politico. The fact that this story is resurfacing at all is a testament to how much the political press love to flog the Obama-versus-Clinton meme, even though it hasn't shown any signs of life for some time now. The Democratic primaries ended over a year and a half ago, Obama won the election over a year ago, Clinton joined his Cabinet eleven months ago, and there's been nary of whiff of discord between the two since. And yet, here's the Politico taking another swing at it.
Were there any bad blood between Democrats, the "buyer's remorse" that Politico believes is out there, a good place to look for it would be in opinion polls. If Democrats really are souring on Obama, then you'd think the president's approval rating among Democrats would have taken a sizeable hit. That doesn't appear to be the case -- Obama's approval among Dems is holding strong in the 80s.
Of course, that's no reason why Politico still won't run with the article. Just look at the Drudge-baiting dreck they've served up in the past two weeks alone: an article on how Obama says "unprecedented" too much; John Harris' round-up of right-wing smears repackaged as the "seven storylines Obama needs to worry about;" and an article giving space to Senate Republicans complaining that Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is too partisan.
That's what they consider news. Their goal is to produce articles like these.
My god, what a stupid premise.
The punchline: it appears Politico's Editor Jim VandeHei was elected to the position because he represents the brave new world of online journalism. Yep, the Pulitzer Board arrives roughly six years late to that media revolution and ends up tapping the old school, CW-worshiping Politico as its agent of change.
Howard Kurtz in a Q&A today:
Look at the steroids scandal. Many sportswriters wondered how these baseball guys were bulking up, but only later did we learn that McGwire, Sosa, Giambi, Clemens, Bonds and A-Rod were using banned substances. The era of unvarnished hero worship has passed.
Wrong. The only so-called performance enhancing drug we have "learned" that Mark McGwire used is androstenedione, which was a legal, over-the-counter product that was not banned by Major League Baseball. (Andro was banned by the FDA and Major League Baseball years after McGwire retired.)
If Howard Kurtz has any evidence the rest of the world lacks that Mark McGwire used a "banned substance," he should produce it. Otherwise, an apology is in order.
I won't bother going through the other players Kurtz mentioned, but suffice to say that Kurtz's certainty that they "were using banned substances" is overstated. "Using banned substances" and "using substances that were later banned" are very different things, and Major League Baseball did not ban THG, for example, until 2004.
What's really hilarious about Kurtz's claim is that it came in response to a questioner who asked "Is it too much to hope to see honest coverage of sports figures?" Kurtz replied that "it's already happening" -- then wrote a dishonest paragraph about "banned substances."
This isn't directly about politics, of course, though the question of the standards and process we use to determine guilt certainly has implications broader than Major League Baseball. And Kurtz's reckless claims certainly say something about his approach to journalism.
Howard Kurtz on CNN, yesterday:
Friday night, a new scandal story emerged involving Senator Max Baucus, leading -- one of the leading Democrats in the health care debate. It turns out that he recommended to the U.S. attorney, the top federal prosecutor in his home state of Montana, his girlfriend, a woman who had been on his Senate payroll and suddenly was being -- she did not get the job, but she was on this list.
I just think that news organizations that have played this down have left themselves open to charges after the John Ensign story and after the Mark Sanford story that they're a little less enthusiastic about Democratic scandal.
This is crazy-talk, pure and simple.
Remember: During the 1996 presidential campaign, Howard Kurtz's own newspaper spiked a story about Bob Dole having an affair, after having covered allegations that Bill Clinton had affairs. Was that an example of the media being "a little less enthusiastic" about Democratic affairs? How about when the Post assigned half its newsroom to cover the Lewinsky story?
Or when MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski (who, according to Kurtz, is a liberal host on a liberal cable channel) allowed Rudy Giuliani to invoke Bill Clinton's infidelity earlier this year, without calling Giuliani on his own high-profile affairs? When Howard Kurtz was asked about that, he didn't suggest the media is "a little less enthusiastic about Republican scandal." But, less than 48 hours after the Baucus story broke, he's ready to claim it demonstrates that the media is less enthusiastic about Democratic scandals. Nonsense.
PS: Maybe Kurtz has heard of Whitewater?
Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon argues that media focus on Tiger Woods and the Salahis does not distract from more important issues:
Perry Bacon Jr.: I would submit most Americans can follow Tiger, the Salahis, health care and Afghanistan in the same week. It's not that complicated. I think most people aren't following the date to date details of health care because it's fairly complicated and some of it (the abortion language in the bill) won't affect them. But my guess is everywhere in America people know about Tiger, the White House dinner controvery and that the president is increasing troops in Afghanistan.
Bacon more or less rebuts himself, but it's worth piling on for a moment.
Just this morning, Bacon's Post colleague Ezra Klein noted that two-thirds of Americans don't think they could explain what the public option is, which is probably lower than the number who could not explain it. (I do not find this surprising. Not one bit. And it is, in large part, a result of the media doing an abysmal job of explaining health care.)
As Klein added:
And so far as health-care reform goes, the public option is fairly simple, and undeniably prominent. Imagine how many could explain the exchanges, or the mandate, or the benefit package ...
But Bacon seems to be satisfied if people have a passing, superficial awareness of issues. Look at his last sentence: "people know ... that the president is increasing troops in Afghanistan." Ok, but what do people know about the fact that he is doing so? Do they know why? Do they know how? Do they have any understanding of the pros and cons of the decision? Probably not.
But, it's true that, if you think that all the public needs to know is "health care is being debated" or "the president is sending more troops to Afghanistan," the news media does a reasonably good job of keeping them informed.
From a December 7 column, headlined, "Eligibility issue goes 'mainstream,'" by WorldNetDaily CEO and founder Joseph Farah:
Sarah Palin, last year's vice presidential candidate and the best-selling author in the world right now, affirms that questions about Barack Obama's eligibility for office are legitimate.
This is no longer the "fringe" issue as most of the media would like to portray it.
One of the things people love about Sarah Palin is her shoot-from-the-hip frankness. They admire her courage. They like the fact that she doesn't just offer TelePrompTer answers in interviews. She demonstrated that candor once again in her interview with Rusty Humphreys.
And since she must be regarded as one of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, that puts this eligibility issue right where it belongs - at the forefront of the national debate.
Increasingly uncomfortable with her on-air association with Fox News, NPR news execs approached Mara Liasson in October and asked her to reconsider her long-running (paying) gig as FNC panelist, according to a report in Politico.
But after reportedly spending 30 days closely watching Fox News, Liasson told NPR execs she could not detect a a discernible change in Fox News' partisan programming this year. (No word if NPR paid for Liasson's subsequent eye exam.)
Apparently, according to Liasson's way of thinking, because she only appears on two news programs, "Special Report" and "Fox News Sunday," and because they're not "opinion" shows (oh, really?), than there's nothing wrong with her cashing Fox News checks and allowing the news channel to buy her NPR status each week.
I find it comical that Liasson reportedly thinks that because she's on two 'serious' Fox News shows that that means she's no way associated with the rest of channel's nutty and hateful programming. Apparently, Liasson is able to magically cocoon herself within the confines of two programs. And even though she cashes those Fox News checks she's not really, y'know, part of Fox News.
Gimme a break.
You can't be half pregnant in a situation like this, which means Liasson needs to forcefully defend Fox News in its entirety. But if she can't do that and she still cares about her reputation as a journalists, than she ought to walk away from Rupert Murdoch's money, because the glaring truth is that Fox News jumped the rails many, many months ago.
Of course, turning down money isn't easy, as former Fox News host Eric Burns wrote just last week. Burns pondered what life would be like if he were still employed by the completely unhinged and nakedly partisan version of Fox News, circa 2009. Specifically, how Burns would have felt, as a professional, being associated with that kind of outfit [emphasis added]:
I ask myself what I would have done if I worked at Fox now. Would I have quit, as the estimable Jane Hall did? Once a panelist on my program, Hall departed for other reasons as well, but Beck was a particular source of embarrassment to her, even though they never shared a studio, perhaps never even met.
I think . . . I think the answer to my question does not do me proud. I think, more concerned about income than principle, I would have continued to work at Fox, but spent my spare time searching avidly for other employment. I think I would not have been as admirable as Jane Hall. I think I would not have reacted to Beck with the probity I like to think I possess.
UPDATED: For the record, here's what NRP's code of ethics states about employees doing outside media work:
9. NPR journalists must get permission from the Senior Vice President for News, or their designee, to appear on TV or other media. Requests should be submitted in writing to the employee's immediate supervisor and copied to email@example.com . Approval will not be unreasonably denied if the proposed work will not discredit NPR, conflict with NPR's interests, create a conflict of interest for the employee or interfere with the employee's ability to perform NPR duties. The Senior Vice President or designee must respond within seven days of receiving a request. It is not necessary to get permission in each instance when the employee is a regular participant on an approved show. Permission for such appearances may be revoked if NPR determines such appearances are harmful to the reputation of NPR or the NPR participant.
10. In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.
Seems to me that NPR exes clearly have the right to tell Liasson to end her Fox News association if they believe it is "harmful to the reputation of NPR." Plus, isn't it obvious that the Fox News shows Liasson appears on do "encourage punditry and speculation"?
Just a couple additional thoughts to what Jamison Foser already noted about Maureen Dowd's most recent effort, in which she mocked Obama's social secretary Desiree Rogers, who became a bit player in the WH party crasher story. Dowd ridiculed Rogers for acting all "entitled" and "sashaying around."
Dowd's piece was just the latest in a line of get-Rogers pieces that the Beltway press produced last week, because now, at least according to The Village and the GOP, the president's social secretary is responsible for all security within the White House complex.
Who knew? (The Secret Service has taken complete responsibility for the party crasher gaffe, but the press prefers the angle that Rogers was a central player in the security breach.)
But note this Dowd passage, in light of the fact that the WH announced that Rogers would not testify before Congress, because WH aides to the president almost never do, thanks to the separation of powers [emphasis added]:
Desiree, queen of social networking, didn't properly R.S.V.P. to the House Homeland Security Committee investigating the gate-crasher incident.
Even if Desiree thought Congress was grandstanding, it was goofy of her to use the Constitution to get out of a Congressional summons. The Obama White House is morphing into the Bush White House with frightening speed. Its transparency is already fogged up....Instead, she let the Secret Service director, Mark Sullivan, go up alone and take the rap.
See, according to Dowd, it was Rogers' who decided she wouldn't testify before Congress. The WH has no legal staff apparently, and it was the social secretary who made the call inside the West Wing that she wouldn't honor Congress' request to testify.
Whatever you say Maureen.
In terms of the bigger picture, it certainly is interesting to watch (mostly female) journalists twist the knife into the back of Rogers. Her Beltway sin? It has nothing to do with the party crasher story, of course. It's the fact that Rogers is too full of herself. Too high-profile. And she's too interested in self-promotion. At least those are the charge leveled against her.
Right. But if Rogers were a man in Washington, D.C., and exhibited the same personality traits, would the same press corps even notice, let alone condemn, Rogers' behavior? Isn't self-promotion and vanity pretty much required for admittance into the Beltway's (mostly male) elite circles?
UPDATED: From the Daily Hower:
Dowd's style has always been drawn from the "women's pages" of the 1950s—from the days when women hadn't yet been allowed to discuss substantial fare. Here we see her green-eyed style again, as we've seen it so many times in the past. Angered by Rogers' designer clothes, Dowd responds in the broken-souled way which has increasingly come to define our journalism during the years of this columnist's influence on our D-minus elite.
From Bolling's Twitter feed:
Through both the campaign and his presidency, Obama has made little secret of his disdain for some of the horse-race, tabloid elements of the press corps--though his political and communications staff are not above sometimes exploiting those same tendencies for their own benefit.
I see journalists make this same basic point fairly regularly -- that Obama and his staff may say they don't like the media's focus on politics and process at the expense of policy, but they exploit those tendencies when convenient. (Here, for example.)
If anyone is under the impression that this undermines the criticism of contemporary political journalism, they're mistaken. It isn't inconsistent to think political reporters should focus more on policy and less on gossip and conjecture, and at the same time take advantage of their tendencies when you can. As a former Defense Secretary might say, you make your case to the public through the media you have, not with the media you wish you had.
Nor does it let reporters off the hook. These statements about the White House "exploiting" reporters' tendencies should not be taken to mean that were it not for the White House (or the DNC or the RNC or whoever) egging them on, the Mark Halperins of the world would be writing serious, detailed pieces examining complex public policy questions. They wouldn't be. They aren't being led astray by the people they cover; they are already astray.
(Note: Scherer may or may not be trying to imply any of those things; I can't really tell. Either way, I'm not really talking about him specifically, but about the frequency with which I see asides like that, which suggests that some people must think they mean something. They really don't.)