Poll data about whether people "approve of President Obama's handling of health care" tells us approximately nothing.
Some may disapprove because they think the government should have no involvement in health care whatsoever, and wish Obama would push a repeal of Medicare. Some may disapprove because they favor true government-run health care wherein the government employs doctors and runs hospitals. Some may disapprove because they want exactly what Obama is proposing, but think he is pursuing a flawed political approach to passing the legislation.
In short, poll questions about whether people approve of Obama's handling of health care, without getting at why they feel that way, are pretty much useless at this stage of the game. Please stop reporting them as though they are meaningful.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Howard Kurtz, in today's column:
Why does his [President Obama's] pitch for health-care reform seem to be falling flat while special interests and Republican critics are picking apart every sub-section they don't like?
Obama's pitch for health care reform is "falling flat"? Really? That's a strange thing to conclude from polling that shows that most people want health care reform, and want it to include a public plan. Unfortunately, Kurtz didn't include any data to back up his assertion, so there's no telling what he meant.
As Media Matters has shown, the news media is giving significantly more attention to perceived setbacks in the health care reform effort than to progress. That's the kind of thing you might expect a media critic like Howard Kurtz to address in a "Media Notes" column. But no. Instead, as he often does, Kurtz attempts to assess President Obama rather than the media. And in doing so, he makes assertions that are not supported by the facts.
On July 22, Fox Nation's main page featured the headline "CNN Holds Up Copy of Obama Birth Certificate," which links to a web page containing an embedded video of CNN's Rick Sanchez debunking claims about President Obama's birth certificate. The embedded video is titled, "Rick Sanchez Puts End to Obama Birth Certificate..," as shown below:
The Fox Nation page links to this YouTube page:
In reading and watching much of the coverage this week about the ongoing debate and negotiations over Obama's proposed health care reform, I keep coming back to an essay Cenk Uygur posted over at Huffington Post earlier this week, which highlighted the glaring lack of context in the media's health coverage. And specifically, its coverage of the role conservative 'Blue Dog' Democrats are playing as they resist the White House's health care reform.
The point Uygur made was the press almost never includes any context about the Blue Dogs or hints at possible political motivation in their decision to oppose the White House. From the media's perspective, Blue Dogs are acting solely out of their deep concern for fiscal spending, and nothing more. It's a world where lobbyists, special interest and ulterior motives do not exist, and where reporters simply type up whatever politicians say without ever (ever!) providing fuller political context.
Uygur has his doubts though, about the Blue Dogs:
Did it not occur to these reporters that some of these so-called conservative or centrist Democrats might be against this reform effort because their primary financial benefactors are the same healthcare companies that are desperate to kill this bill? Would it not have given the reader a better and more informed perspective to at least mention this possibility? Or do you want to just take these politicians at their word?
A perfect example of the media's context-free reporting appears in this WSJ news article about Rep. Mike Ross ("A 'Blue Dog' Has His Day"), which is blissfully (obediently) context-free:
The health standoff is the most dramatic show of force so far by Democratic moderates. On the climate bill, Democratic leaders picked off opponents by making individual promises. The Blue Dogs, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats, are determined to stick together this time.
There are 51 Blue Dogs in the full House, Mr. Ross pointed out, more than enough to kill the health bill if they join the Republicans.
The Journal article stresses that Ross really, really wants to vote for health care reform, and hints the other Blue Dogs do, too. It's just that they're consciences won't be clean if they support such costly legislation. That may well be true. But there's very likely another side to the story, and it'd be nice if the press started covering it, too.
From CNN contributor Roland S. Martin's July 22 column published on CNN.com, headlined, "Obama birth issue is nutty":
The nut jobs that continue to promote this story are wacky, right-wing radio and TV talk shows hosts and no-credibility bloggers. They have latched onto this story like bloodsucking leeches, and actually want us to believe this story has legs.
Last week, in a suit filed by perennial presidential loser, Alan Keyes, they even tried to claim a court victory after a federal district judge in California asked to listen to the merits of their case. I'm sure he simply wanted to see for himself how delusional they are.
From the moment President Obama entered the race, he has had to endure the so-called flag-waving American patriots who think they are the arbiters of what's right for the country. What cracks me up is that in order to justify their loony beliefs, they say, "The president could just end this once and for all by producing the birth certificate."
Do you actually believe these wackos will stop there? They will then accuse the president of doctoring the document and ordering up the state of Hawaii and federal officials to create the birth certificate.
The next thing you know, one of those nut job right-wingers in Congress -- and yes, there are left-wing nut jobs as well -- will demand a federal investigation into the production of the birth certificate.
Jamison originally asked the question, after Newsbusters' Sheppard wrote this:
In another example of Barack Obama's appeal diminishing with the public, the White House was forced to reschedule Wednesday's press conference to 8PM from 9PM as NBC didn't want its summer hit "America's Got Talent" to be pre-empted.
Hee-hee, wrote Sheppard, Obama's tanking because look, a TV network wanted to air some goofy entertainment show instead of a WH primetime press conference, so Obama blinked and had to change the time of the presser.
If that's the unique way he now judges sitting presidents, I'm assuming Sheppard is not familiar with this New York Times dispatch, from April 29, 2005 [emphasis added]:
In a showdown that featured inside-the-Beltway lobbying and bare-knuckle boardroom negotiating, Donald J. Trump and President Bush effectively squared off yesterday in pursuit of the same parcel of real estate - a piece of the NBC-TV prime-time lineup. And it was the president who blinked first.
LA Times reporter (and former Laura Bush press secretary) Andrew Malcolm, last seen helping the GOP smear Sen. Al Franken with a doctored photo, has a new blog post about Franken's first legislative initiative. The post nicely illustrates how Malcolm's work tends to be pointless at best, and malicious at worst.
Malcolm doesn't bother with any actual "facts" about Franken's proposal, to provide service dogs for wounded military veterans. Instead, Malcolm assigns a frighteningly large (and quite false) price tag to the proposal:
Franken wants to establish a three-year federal pilot program to study ways the animals can help the humans and measure those benefits. The estimated cost of the freshman Democrat's pilot dog program: $15 billion.
Ha! Hilarious. So what's the real price tag? Back to Malcolm:
It's only $7.4 billion.
No, not really.
Oh, wow. Another joke -- and just as hilarious as the first! Look out, Carrot Top, Andrew Malcolm is going to put you out of business.
So what's the real price tag? Malcolm never says. He just leaves the reader assuming it's something unacceptably large. And that, basically, is Malcolm's entire post: a couple of stupid jokes perpetuating the stereotype of Democrats as big-spenders, accompanied by no actual facts. Because, you know, it's hilarious that someone would want to provide assistance and companionship for wounded military veterans. Hilarious.
From a July 22 article by Los Angeles Times media writer James Rainey, who quotes FactCheck.org director and former CNN employee Brooks Jackson stating that "CNN should be ashamed of itself for putting some of that stuff on the air":
When the issue first surfaced in the presidential campaign last summer, numerous credible news organizations and even the Hawaii Department of Health presented clear evidence that Obama was born Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu.
But those reports have done little to snuff out elaborate and ever-mutating conspiracy theories.
I often hear from disgruntled readers that they don't pay attention to the dread "Mainstream Media" because they can find "the truth" on the Internet. Translation: Some blogger will please them by propping up just about any cockeyed theory that they hold.
The Internet agitators, in turn, get support and sustenance from mainstream provocateurs like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, who last month chortled, "God does not have a birth certificate, and neither does Obama -- not that we've seen."
To believe the wild theories, one must also accept that Obama's mother -- rather than apply for citizenship for her son as one would expect if he had been born overseas -- launched an elaborate hoax. It would have begun in 1961 with her placing false birth notices in Honolulu's two daily newspapers. Diabolical.
Brooks Jackson, director of Annenberg Political Fact Check (FactCheck.Org) and a reporter with 34 years in the business, has seen one howler after another knocked down, only for another to sprout in its place.
"CNN should be ashamed of itself for putting some of that stuff on the air," said Jackson, who worked at the cable outlet for more than 20 years.
Besides Pilgrim's skin-back report last week, one CNN employee reminded me several times that Dobbs' most pointed assertions were made on his radio program, which is unconnected to CNN.
Dobbs did not return my call Tuesday. But he did go on the radio and rant about the L.A. Times and the other liberal media that are "subservient and servile to this presidency."
He insisted he believed Obama is a citizen, while continuing to tell listeners "there is no actual birth certificate." He did it because he is a Man of the People. And, as he explained, "the American people want an answer."