From Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander's August 9 column, "Foot-in-Mouth theater"
The decision to pull the plug stemmed from a July 31 segment playing off President Obama's Rose Garden beer chat about race with black Harvard scholar Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley, the white officer who arrested him on disorderly conduct charges that were later dropped. In their skit, Milbank and Cillizza envisioned beer brands that politicians might be served. For "Mad Bitch" beer, an image of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared. A predictable uproar ensued.
There was so much wrong with "Mouthpiece Theater" and the way The Post handled the controversy that it's hard to know where to begin. But there was also something very right about it. More on that later.
The basic concept was flawed. Milbank might have pulled it off as a solo act. His Washington Sketch column can be biting and funny, and his occasional accompanying videos are creative and entertaining. It's his job to voice opinions. But Cillizza is different. He writes straight news on The Fix, his popular Post politics blog, and his stories appear on the news pages. Teaming with Milbank created a branding problem for him and The Post. It left readers confused about his true role -- reporter, commentator or comic? -- and about The Post's standards. Cillizza acknowledged this "somewhat discordant marriage" on The Fix after "Mouthpiece Theater" was killed.
Second, satirical humor is risky. Clinton aside, there was mention of Gates requesting a "Big Black Stout" and Crowley ordering a "White Rascal." Some critics charged misogyny and racial insensitivity. It's important to remember that this was meant as comedy. And Milbank and Cillizza poked fun at themselves by hoisting "two cans of Jackass Oatmeal Stout." But allusions to race and gender, however innocent or evenhanded, invite trouble. What's funny to some is hurtful to others. The Post's Stylebook is clear: "Avoid ethnic labels and stereotypes such as hard-drinking Irishman, tempestuous Latins or Chinese fire drill."
Third, the lack of quality control was disturbing. "There was no systematic approach for viewing the content before it went up," Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli told me last week. "Mouthpiece Theater" was intended to be edgy. Scripts were reviewed, but not all images. The absence of final vetting invited disaster. Late this week, a new system was put in place. According to an internal note, key managers have been assigned to review all videos for "fairness and taste." Questionable videos get sent to higher-level managers. "If in doubt, run it up the flagpole," the note says. "Remember the no-surprises rule."
Finally, the apology. If the video was deemed unsuitable, an unequivocal apology was in order. Instead, Post communications director Kris Coratti issued a statement saying only that "a satirical piece that lampooned people of all stripes" had been removed because part of the video "went too far." Cillizza apologized, but briefly, to his followers on Twitter. The Post has since carried apologies from Milbank and Cillizza.
This is just atrocious.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg does the GOP a big favor today by suggesting it's both conservatives and liberals who are responsible for unleashing "ugly" mobs on town hall forums and turning them into free-for-alls. Of course, Stolberg can't point to any actual proof to back up her claim. But it's just easier--and neater--to say both sides are at fault, right?
Actually, Stolberg does find evidence of how liberals and Democrats are helping make civil discourse this month impossible:
President Obama's political organization sent a mass e-mailing urging supporters to turn out for a[n]... event at a library, to "make sure your support for health insurance reform is seen and heard."
Got it? The White House sent out an email urging people to attend town hall forums, and that's just like conservatives hanging politicians in effigy, issuing death threats, hounding Congressman all the way to their cars, and making it impossible for actual town hall debates to take place.
It's exactly the same.
And watch here as Stolberg plays dumb about the mimi-mobs [emphasis added]:
In some respects, last week's town halls — fueled on the right by antitax groups backed partly by industry, and on the left by unions — are the logical outgrowth of decades of American political activism.
It makes perfect sense that mini-mobs would descend on public forums to shout down legislation that's still be written. Why would anyone at the Times think that was odd or unusual? It's logical.
And behold this:
But last week's "town brawls," as the news media dubbed them, do seem to represent a shift.
Gee, you think?
The conservative blogosphere is absolutely atwitter with news that an activist was attacked by union thugs at a town hall meeting this week in St. Louis. It's the best the right-wing can do to deflect blame for unleashing mini-mobs on town hall forums: They did it!
The tale was first told in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Kenneth Gladney, 38, a conservative activist from St. Louis, said he was attacked by some of those arrested as he handed out yellow flags with "Don't tread on me" printed on them. He spoke to the Post-Dispatch from the emergency room at St. John's Mercy Medical Center, where he said he was awaiting treatment for injuries to his knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face. Gladney, who is black, said one of his attackers, also a black man, used a racial slur against him before the attack.
The newspaper had no witnesses, just Gladney's account. Then Gladney's attorney got involved and from conservatives' perspective, the tale got better and better:
He went to the ground. Subsequently, two other SEIU representatives or members, however you want to say it, jumped on top of him, yelled racial epithets at him...kicked him, punched him...He sustained some injuries to his back, some bruising.
And even better:
The SEIU member used a racial slur against Kenneth, then punched him in the face. Kenneth fell to the ground. Another SEIU member yelled racial epithets at Kenneth as he kicked him in the head and back. Kenneth was also brutally attacked by one other male SEIU member and an unidentified woman. The three men were clearly SEIU members, as they were wearing T-shirts with the SEIU logo.
Gladney was clearly beaten at length (it was "brutal"), and at least from this description, was lucky to survive with his life, right?
Mary Katharine Ham wrote up an especially excited write-up at The Weekly Standard about the vicious union thugs and how Gladney was severely beaten. The only mistake Ham made was including a YouTube clip of the incident; a clip that pretty much undercuts the entire tale of run-away union violence.
Go watch the YouTube video. (Or, the "shocking video," as Power Line hypes it.) The first thing you notice when the camera starts rolling is a union member already sprawled out on the ground with somebody standing over him. No explanation of how he got there (pushed, shoved, punched?) and Ham couldn't care less. Then yes, Gladney is pulled to the ground by somebody wearing a union shirt. (At the :06 mark.) But instead of Gladney being beaten and punched, as his attorney describes, and instead of union "thugs" standing over him and threatening him, Gladney bounces right back on his feet in approximately two seconds and the scuffle ends.
That was the savage "beating" the conservative blogosphere can't stop talking about?
The only real mystery from the incident is why Tea Party member Gladney, who's seen up-close after the brief encounter walking around and talking to people and who appears to be injury-free, then decided to go to the hospital to treat injuries to his "knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face." All that from a two-second fall to the pavement?
Also unclear is why he contacted a newspaper reporter, or why his attorney wrote up lavish accounts and sent them to conservative bloggers, or why Gladney and his attorney appeared on Fox News.
FYI, according to his attorney, Gladney plans on filing a civil lawsuit against the union.
UPDATED: The Hill erroneously reported that Gladney had been "hospitalized" after being "attacked." As you can see from the video, Gladney was not "hospitalized." (i.e. Rushed away by ambulance.) Instead, as the Post-Dispatch correctly reported, Gladney "said he sought hospital treatment."
It's interesting because during the Bush years, York was out front at the tsk-tsking National Review writing repeatedly about (somewhat obscure) liberals calling Bush a Nazi and likening him to Hitler. At the deeply offended National Review, the mere mention of Nazi references was appalling and beyond the pale and simply confirmed how nuts and irresponsible and unhinged and hateful liberals were.
And yet today it's pretty much crickets at National Review, and from York who's now at the right-wing Washington Examiner, despite the fact that both Beck and Limbaugh, perhaps the two highest-profile conservatives in America, jumped into the Nazi cesspool this week.
Two questions. Do double standards come any more pronounced? And is there any intellectual atrocity that Limbaugh and Beck commit that conservatives like York won't turn away from?
Oops, three questions: Does the conservative movement now cede the high and low ground to AM talk shows hosts?
I thought so.
This struck me as odd, from today's A1 piece headlined: "As Economy Turns, Washington Looks Better:"
What if in the end they got it right?
What if, amid all their missteps and all the harsh criticism, the people in charge of battling the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression — Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson and the rest — basically succeeded?
Hmm, in an article about how "Washington" might have known what it was doing all along in terms of stemming the deep recessionary tide, the Times leaves Obama out of the lede?
And note that online, Obama's photo is prominently featured above the article and implies he's getting credit. But in the newspaper, Obama's photo doesn't appear until A3,
Beck's recently claim that the president is a "racist" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people," was enough to cause three major advertisers to flee. Will his comment about poisoning Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi push more out the door?
Urged on by ColorofChange.org and many of its 600,000 members, who highlighted Beck's "racist" attack, this week NexisLexis-owned Lawyers.com, Proctor & Gamble and Progressive Insurance announced they would no longer advertise on Beck's program.
Still, Beck still enjoys the support of scores of blue-chip advertisers, and we can't help wondering why brand managers would want to be associated with Beck's hateful and unhinged rants about Nazis and racists. Why would companies like Bowlfex, Nutrisystem, Gerber, UPS, Orbitz, Geico, Vontage, Ameritrade, and Verizon wireless want their products associated with a Beck's race-baiting?
Question: Will more of them be hearing from ColorofChange.org and their activist viewers?
Over the past day, Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly compared the Nazi logo to President Obama's health care logo and has discussed the "similarities" between the Nazis and the Democratic Party.
Limbaugh's website currently features the following images, which alternately fade into each other:
And here are his recent comments:
For the past several hours, the journalists -- anchors and guests -- on MSNBC have been talking about health care town halls, and protests, and angry people, without ever once, as far as I've noticed, actually discussing a single fact about health care, or proposed reforms.
At one point, anchor Savannah Guthrie said criticism of the staged protests ignores the fact that people have legitimate concerns about health care reforms. What are those concerns? Guthrie didn't say. Why are they legitimate? Guthrie didn't say.
At another, an MSNBC anchor interviewed New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny; the entire conversation was about the White House's preferred messaging about the town halls -- not a word of substance about health care.
Another segment featured two guests: former Democratic Congressman David Bonior, and a Republican strategist -- I think it was Todd Harris. The entire conversation was about town hall meetings, and who is yelling louder, and what can be done to keep people from yelling, and who has yelled at what events in the past -- literally not a word about, you know, health care. (The guests didn't cover themselves in glory, either, playing along with the inside-baseball lets-focus-on-process-rather-than-policy nonsense.)
This is madness. Madness.
There is absolutely no value in spending hour after hour saying "So, people are angry, aren't they?" "Yep, they sure are." "But the protests are being organized by interest groups." "But they have valid concerns! And they're angry!"
Nothing good comes of this. Tell us what the concerns are. Tells us if they are based in fact. Tell us the truth about health care, and about proposed reforms.
UPDATE: Another segment, this with the chyron/theme: "Town Halls Turn Ugly"
And we're five minutes into the segment, and there hasn't yet been a word of discussion of a single fact about health care.
From an August 7 press release issued by the Simon Wiesenthal Center:
Injecting Nazi Comparisons is Bad for the Health of America's Democracy
The Simon Wiesenthal Center criticized those who have injected Adolf Hitler into the discussion of President Obama's health care plan.
"It is prepostrous to try and make a connection between the President's health care logo and the Nazi Party symbol, the Reichsadler" said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Americans have every right to be critical of the President's health care plan but we demean ourselves and everything that America stands for when we compare either Democrats or Republicans to the Nazi Third Reich.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament.
Aside from the fact that his Media Research Center anti-Pelosi press release from Thursday was borderline incoherent (did she ever make reference to radio talk show hosts?), the proclamation from Bozell that the media needed to doggedly call out hate speech did represent a monumental bout of hypocrisy.
Bozell was all bent out of shape because Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made reference to the fact that some members of the GOP mini-mobs unleashed on town hall forums were carrying "swastikas." For Bozell, the mere mention of anything Nazi--the mere insinuation that anyone involved in our political debate was a Nazis or Nazi-like--was just too much.
"The media have a responsibility to report on this hate speech, who is behind it and how vicious it has become," shrieked Bozell.
Again, for Bozell the game breaker was the mention of Nazi's. To Bozell's ears, that was just completely out of bounds. Period. No exceptions.
Whatever you say Brent.
Please note that this is what Bozell's beloved right-wing talkers said on the same day that Bozell condemned any use of Nazi references in our political discourse:
To quote the great Brent Bozell, "The media have a responsibility to report on this hate speech, who is behind it and how vicious it has become."