This morning, Politico published a story, the premise of which appears to be that Republican senators are mad at Al Franken for having proposed an amendment - which passed two months ago - banning federal contracts from being awarded to companies who require their employees to use their firms arbitration process - rather than the courts - for workplace discrimination claims. Why was this article published? I have no idea.
A Franken press release sent out after the amendment passed stated that Franken had been "inspired" to offer the amendment by the story of Jamie Leigh Jones, "a 19-yr-old employee of defense contractor KBR (formerly a Halliburton subsidiary) stationed in Iraq who was gang raped by her co-workers and imprisoned in a shipping container when she tried to report the crime" who subsequently "learned a fine-print clause in her KBR contract banned her from taking her case to court, instead forcing her into an "arbitration" process that would be run by KBR itself."
According to the Politico article, the amendment has - horror of horrors! - "spawned attacks like the satirical website RepublicansforRape.org." And so, the Republican senators in the article are complaining that Franken has been excessively partisan, demanding that he come out and say that opponents of his amendment are not effectively pro-rape, and claiming that until that happens, Franken's ability to work with Republicans in the future will be undermined.
Why has the Politico decided to let Republicans like John Cornyn - the head of the Republican National Senate Committee, i.e., the chief Republican partisan in the Senate - decide what constitutes excessive partisanship? No idea.
Does the Politico think it's somewhat unusual for Senators to be criticized for the votes they cast, and respond by complaining? Sure looks like it.
Why is the article running now, two months after Franken's amendment passed? Dunno.
But I'm sure it has nothing to do with this blog post, in which a different Politico reporter complains that Franken won't talk to him in the halls.
Rep. Ed Markey, the chief sponsor of the House cap-and-trade bill and a leading environmental advocate, is a full participant in the open, on-the-record discussion with no control by API over the questions or flow. Dem Sen Byron Dorgan is also participating and will reflect various views in Dem caucus. Rep Fred Upton, who opposed the House bill, will also participate. I see nothing wrong with an open, on-the-record balanced discussion like this. Newsweek has a long tradition of enviro reporting, including our annual green issue.
Seriously? The "discussion" featured the president of the American Petroleum Institute -- which just happens to fund Newsweek -- but no representatives of environmental organizations ... and Howard Fineman calls that a "balanced discussion"?
Apparently to Newsweek, "balance" means "Industry representatives who fund us and--Hey! Look over there!"
On Monday I highlighted how Harris, quite anxious to push the GOP's favorite anti-Obama talking points in Politico, ignored the age-old newsroom rule that it takes three to make a trend. Instead, he cut corners and announced that because he found two example of insider pundits referring to President Obama as "Star Trek's" Mr. Spock, that the negative narrative was "gaining momentum."
Well what do you know, the AP, perhaps seeing the jam Harris was in, has jumped in and added its voice (Obama is just like Mr. Spock!) to officially confirm the blessed trend.
Here's the AP story. Warning: It's beyond awful. A sample:
Barack Obama is Washington's Mr. Spock, the chief science officer for the ship of state.
Told you so.
It's nothing short of surreal to watch Glenn Beck wax philosophical on the origins and dangers of conspiracy theories. The man who believes in one-world governments, the 100-year progressive campaign for socialist utopias, and the Fannie Mae land-for-dollars switcharoo spent a large portion of his Fox News show yesterday afternoon explaining "how a conspiracy theory grows" and what can be done to stop them.
In Beck's eyes, the default setting for the average Americans is to veer towards conspiracy theories, and it's the obligation of the media to "demand answers" to prevent that from happening. According to Beck, conspiracy theories arise when "we don't have honesty, we don't have facts." He elaborated: "How do we stop conspiracy theories? We do not bury our heads in the sand, and the media demands answers. It's called the Internet. People will come up with these if you in the media don't do your job. I mean, it can all go away if you're honest, you give us answers and facts and it makes common sense."
It's amusing that someone so practiced in conspiracy theorism could demonstrate such ignorance of how conspiracy theories work. It's true that conspiracy theories thrive in an absence of information, but by their very nature they defy facts and "common sense." Pick any popular conspiracy theory -- 9/11 was an inside job, President Obama was born outside the U.S., JFK was assassinated by the CIA/mafia/Cubans, the moon landing was staged, whatever. You could fill several warehouses several times over with the reams and reams of documentation and evidence demonstrating each one of these ridiculous theories to be completely false, but that still doesn't satisfy the true believers, who continue to insist that the real facts are being covered up and "common sense" proves them right.
People tend to believe conspiracy theories not because there isn't enough information to convince them otherwise, but because they want to believe them. That belief can arise from a sense of powerlessness or a desire to ascribe a sort of order to the daunting randomness of everyday life or an inherent distrust of the available facts. It doesn't help that there are popular cable news personalities out there who devote their programs to strengthening those delusions while hiding behind the "I'm just asking questions" fig leaf.
No one questions the media's obligation to debunk conspiratorial and inaccurate accusations, but they are certainly not the sole determining factor in whether a conspiracy theory lives or dies. What's more, their failure to live up to that obligation certainly does not excuse rank conspiracy-mongering of the sort that Beck engages in on a daily basis. I'm all for holding the media accountable, but a better way to end conspiracy theorism would be to stop listening to Glenn Beck.
It seems like whenever Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen writes about war, he ends up making himself look like a fool, either by writing something foolish in its own right, or by reminding us of his previous foolishness.
Cohen, "A novel way to argue for war," last night:
I hope Obama succeeds. But if he does nothing else, he showed that it is possible to urge a nation to war by using reason and logic, facts and figures -- and not by waving the bloody shirt of patriotic fibs. George Bush had faith in his war but not in the American people. Obama seems to have faith in both. [Emphasis added]
Funny, I seem to remember Cohen endorsing George Bush's case for "his war" not because of logic, facts and figures, but because Bush had Colin Powell on his side.
Cohen, "A Winning Hand For Powell," February 6, 2003:
The evidence [Colin Powell] presented to the United Nations-some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail-had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool-or, possibly, a Frenchman-could conclude otherwise.
The clincher, as it had to be, was not a single satellite photo or the intercept of one Iraqi official talking to another. And it was not, as it never could be, the assertion that some spy or Iraqi deserter had made this or that charge -- because, of course, who can prove any of that? It was the totality of the material and the fact that Powell himself had presented it. In this case, the messenger may have been more important than the message. [Emphasis added]
And Cohen didn't always think it was George Bush who failed to use "reason and logic" in the Iraq war debate.
Cohen, "Antiwar And Illogical," February 25, 2003:
[S]omething truly awful has happened. The looming war has already become deeply and biliously ideological. By that I mean that the extremes on both sides -- but particularly the war's opponents -- no longer feel compelled to prove a case or stick to the facts. As with Vietnam, this is becoming an emotional battle between ideologues who, as usual, don't give a damn about the truth. [Emphasis added]
Covering the all-important White House crasher story, Politico and the AP come to drastically different conclusions even though both are working off the same set of facts. It seems Politico just wanted to improve its version of the story.
From the AP, headline:
WH gate-crashers went without confirmed invitation
Copies of e-mails between the White House party crashers and a Pentagon official undermine their claims that they were invited to President Barack Obama's .
Seems pretty straight forward, right? The party crashers, contrary to their public claims, had no invitation and nobody associated with the WH told them they did. In fact, the AP confirmed that the WH liaison called the party crashers hours before the state dinner and confirmed that they did not have invites:
Now look at how Politico spins that very same AP report. Headline:
W.H. Liaison Implicated in the E-mails?
Note the use of the question mark. Politico, basing its report solely on the AP article, cannot even remotely suggest the WH emails implicated the liaison--the facts simply don't support the claim--so Politico does the next best Drudgy thing and poses it as a question.
Yesterday, Media Matters pointed out that MSNBC has repeatedly hosted NBC News military analyst and retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey in recent days. McCaffrey has used his appearances to criticize possible "deadlines" to the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan and highlight the importance of training the Afghan security forces. But at no point have McCaffrey or the MSNBC anchors hosting him disclosed a substantial conflict of interest McCaffrey has with regard to the U.S. government's presence in Afghanistan and focus on troop training: McCaffrey serves on the board of directors of DynCorp International -- a company under contract to provide support to U.S. bases in Afghanistan for up to five years, as well as to train a portion of those security forces McCaffrey is calling "the center of gravity of the entire war."
But DynCorp isn't the only company linked to McCaffrey that has received government contracts in Afghanistan. McCaffrey also serves on the board of directors of McNeil Technologies, a company whose "core competencies include language, intelligence, information technology, records management, and aviation services." According to the company's website, 'The Directors of McNeil Technologies bring a wealth of unparalleled experience and expertise. They are internationally recognized experts on military and business issues. Their experience, wisdom, and counsel are made available to McNeil clients." And, luckily, MSNBC viewers as well.
McNeil lists the following among the "Recent Contract Awards" posted on its website:
August 26, 2009: U.S. Army (USA) -- Army Material Command (AMC)
Subcontract to provide aviation support to LOGCAP program in Afghanistan
August 7, 2009: U. S. Central Command (CENTCOM)
Classified contract supporting CENTCOM mission in Afghanistan
May 18, 2009: U. S. Central Command (CENTCOM)
Classified IDIQ contract to support CENTCOM mission in Afghanistan
MSNBC lists McCaffrey's position with McNeil on his bio on their website, but does not note that they contract with the federal government in Afghanistan (they do note that DynCorp "provides support to the U.S. Government in countries including Afghanistan and Iraq"). In any case, very few people watching McCaffrey on MSNBC are likely to immediately rush to the MSNBC website to determine whether he has conflicts of interest. Those conflicts should be disclosed on-air every single time they host him.
Via Politico's Ben Smith, I see that the the five fastest-falling Google queries of the year include three politicians: John McCain (#1), Barack Obama (#4), and Sarah Palin (#5).
What's striking about that list is that, despite the public's rapidly decreasing interest in those political figures, they continue to enjoy massive media attention.
Now, the media pretty much have to cover Barack Obama. He's the most powerful person in the world.
But John McCain is not president, he chairs no Senate committees, he represents two percent of the U.S. population, he lacks a strong constituency even among his own party -- a party that is pretty widely disliked and has taken a thumpin' in two straight elections. He is not playing a central, or even peripheral role in the health care debate. And yet he's on television all the time. As Steve Benen notes, McCain is about to make his 16th Sunday show appearance of the year. Sixteen.
I'm not a fan of letting public interest drive news decisions, but that's the only real justification for covering McCain and Palin this much -- one is a minority-party Senator kicking around the periphery of most of the year's key public policy debates, and the other is a former half-term governor of one of the nation's least-populous states. So the only real reason to cover them is that people are interested. But these new Google stats suggest the public is rapidly losing interest in McCain and Palin -- yet the media still keeps treating them like political superstars.
Remember how the media flipped out when Rep. Alan Grayson said the GOP's health care plan was: "Don't get sick, and if you do get you do get sick, die quickly"? NBC Nightly News covered it, with anchor Brian Williams calling the comment "incendiary" and noting that Republicans wanted him to apologize. Politico's Roger Simon said Grayson is "like a guy on crack who is always searching for a bigger high."
CNN's Howard Kurtz claimed Grayson benefitted from a "media double standard" -- that Grayson's comment drew less criticism than GOP Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst during President Obama's address to congress.
Well, if Kurtz is right about media double standards, there should be a huge media firestorm over Republican Sen. Tom Coburn's statement yesterday that under the Democratic health care plan, seniors will "die sooner." Seems pretty unlikely to me, but we'll see.
I'm a little late to the party, but the attempt by Politico's John Harris to throw a bunch of anti-Obama themes agains the wall in hopes of something gaining traction probably can't be scrutinized too much. And while there are individual absurdities contained in the article, the real problem is much broader than the bogus examples Harris uses.
Sure, there are questionable and overly-simplistic assertions; this is, after all, Politico.
Like Harris' claim about "The flight of independents away from Democrats last summer," which ignores the question of the extent to which this is a result of existent independents shifting away from Democrats, as opposed to the pool of Democrats becoming more conservative as a result of the ever-decreasing number of people willing to call themselves Republicans.
Or his linkage of "fiscal discipline" with "spending reductions that would cramp his own agenda and that of congressional Democrats," despite the fact that a significant part of that agenda -- health care reform, which Harris portrays as inconsistent with fiscal discipline -- would actually reduce the deficit.
Then there's the hilarious disclaimer on the entry about the Obama White House being "dominated by brass-knuckled pols": "This is a storyline that's likely taken root more firmly in Washington than around the country." Hilarious because that could aptly describe much of Harris' piece. Are we really supposed to believe, for example, that all across America people are lamenting Barack Obama's failure to be an "American exceptionalist"? Please.
And the utter inanity of describing the White House's "delight in public battles with Rush Limbaugh" as "Chicago-style politics." For decades, "Chicago-style politics" has referred (fairly or not) to things like voter fraud and corruption. Now John Harris waters it down to criticizing a loud-mouth hate-radio host? Was George H. W. Bush engaging in "Chicago-style politics" when he denounced "sleazy" questions from CNN? Was his son doing so when he told people not to believe what they saw on CBS news? Of course not; such a description would have been nothing short of stupid. But now Politico applies it to similarly mundane actions by the Obama White House. Why? Because he's from Chicago, I guess. So anything he does is "Chicago-style politics," if you're desperate to make him look bad.
And there's this: "If you are going to be known as a fighter, you might as well reap the benefits. But some of the same insider circles that are starting to view Obama as a bully are also starting to whisper that he's a patsy. It seems a bit contradictory, to be sure." Yeah, to be sure. Thank you, Politico, for explaining to us that Barack Obama is both damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Really insightful stuff. Harris acknowledges "In truth, most of these episodes do not amount to much," so I won't bother responding to them.
But none of that is the real problem with Harris' piece. The real problem is simple: Why? You could write an article about storylines that could be damaging to any politician at any time -- particularly if you get to include, as Harris did, potential storylines. (And you could probably find less inane explanations than these for most politicians.) Why Barack Obama, why now?
Absent a reason -- and none is given -- the Politico article isn't analysis and it isn't information; it's a hit piece. It's an attempt to crystalize negative sentiment among Washington insiders, if not Americans.
There are people whose job it is to wake up in the morning and list things bad things about Barack Obama, for no reason other than making Obama look bad. Their paychecks say "REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE" on them, and they do not pretend to be journalists. Then there are Politico reporters -- though it is at times awfully difficult to tell the difference.
UPDATE: I see that Politico's Ben Smith reflexively calls Harris' piece "smart" (probably a smart move, given that Harris is editor-in-chief.) But then Smith subtly undermines his boss's work: "It probably doesn't hurt the White House that many of these narratives contradict one another." Yeah, probably not.