It seems Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank isn't happy that I pointed out the absurdity of his claim that Democratic congressman Al Green made a "fascist salute" to Barack Obama during last night's speech. From Milbank's online discussion today:
Media Matters: Hey Dana, you did it! Media Matters isn't happy with your false moral equivalance. WaPo's Milbank: Dem. Rep. Green made "fascist salute" to Obama (MediaMatters, Sept. 10)
Dana Milbank: Excellent! After just 3 minutes as a hack for Barack I am back to being a right-wing stooge.
It's too bad about Media Matters. I'm sure Mr. Brock et al have some good points to make, but because they attack everybody for everything all the time, it winds up discrediting the good stuff they do and make it appear that they are just making noise.
It's too bad about the Washington Post. I'm sure* Mr. Milbank has some good points to make, but because he runs around calling Hillary Clinton a "bitch" and Nico Pitney a "dick" and accusing members of congress of making "fascist salutes" and dressing up in a smoking jacket to act out his sophomoric little skits (oh, wait: those were cancelled) and generally behaving like a not-particularly-bright thirteen-year-old, it winds up discrediting the good stuff the Post does.
Anyway, I'm glad Milbank responded, because it gives me an opportunity to address something I left out of my post last night: Milbank's column was a complaint about the decline in civility in public discourse:
As President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, the nation's rapidly deteriorating discourse hit yet another low.
The national debate, already raw for years, had coarsened over the summer
And so on.
Yeah, that's right: Dana Milbank, whose dress-up skit show was cancelled after he called the Secretary of State a "bitch," was handing out lessons in civility. And now he's offering lessons in being taken seriously. I'll pass.
* No, not really.
In fact, KNEW in San Francisco serves as Savage's flagship station for his syndicated radio show. Make that was. As Think Progress reported, the station yanked Savage off the air today. Permanently.
The station's statement:
We have decided to go in a different philosophical and ideological direction, featuring more contemporary content and more local information. The Savage Nation does not fit into that vision.
I'm sure The New Yorker is crushed.
Total viewers for Fox's 8 p.m. So You Think You Can Dance: 6.45 million
Total viewers for Obama's 8 p.m. speech on ABC, CBS, NBC: 21.1 million.
Broken down by network, Fox TV nearly managed to come in last place for the time slot last night. During the Obama speech, ABC grabbed 7.4 million total viewers, CBS attracted 5.6 million, and NBC won the night with 8.2 million. That, according to TV by the Numbers.
Yes, even though ABC, CBS, and NBC were all broadcasting the same thing, two of the three beat Fox's original programming.
Congratulations Rupert Murdoch. By taking the extraordinary step of refusing to carry a presidential address before a joint-session of Congress, he not only walked away from any sort of public interest obligation, but Fox TV managed to get clocked in the ratings as well.
ABC's John Stossel is headed for Fox News, perhaps the only "news" outlet in America that won't immediately take a hit to its credibility by bringing him on.
That Stossel would feel at home at Fox should come as no surprise based on his performance as an ABC employee. Who could forget, for example, Stossel's post-Katrina column "In defense of price-gouging"?
You're probably thinking that Stossel was making a theoretical argument that high prices can be helpful in discouraging frivilous consumption. Surely Stossel wasn't actually saying that in water-scarce post-Katrina Louisianna, those stores that were lucky enough to have bottled water should charge those who were in danger of dying of dehydration $20 for a bottle?
But that's exactly what Stossel was saying:
Consider this scenario: You are thirsty -- worried that your baby is going to become dehydrated. You find a store that's open, and the storeowner thinks it's immoral to take advantage of your distress, so he won't charge you a dime more than he charged last week. But you can't buy water from him. It's sold out.
You continue on your quest, and finally find that dreaded monster, the price gouger. He offers a bottle of water that cost $1 last week at an "outrageous" price -- say $20. You pay it to survive the disaster.
You resent the price gouger. But if he hadn't demanded $20, he'd have been out of water. It was the price gouger's "exploitation" that saved your child.
It saved her because people look out for their own interests. Before you got to the water seller, other people did. At $1 a bottle, they stocked up. At $20 a bottle, they bought more cautiously. By charging $20, the price gouger makes sure his water goes to those who really need it.
The people the softheaded politicians think are cruelest are doing the most to help. Assuming the demand for bottled water was going to go up, they bought a lot of it, planning to resell it at a steep profit. If they hadn't done that, that water would not have been available for the people who need it the most.
Ah, no. By charging $20, the price gouger makes sure his water goes to those who can pay $20. That isn't the same as "the people who need it the most" on a random Tuesday in Des Moines. When talking about post-Katrina New Orleans, where many people no longer possessed anything more than the shirt on their back, it is simply obscene to equate the people who could afford to pay $20 for a bottle of water with the people who most needed water.
That John Stossel doesn't understand a basic thing like the difference between needing something and being able to pay grossly inflated rates for it tells you pretty much everything you need to know about him. Come to think of it, he just might actually drag Fox down a bit.
Here's a bit more:
Glenn Beck has revived one of the most shameful chapters in American political history. Sen. Joseph McCarthy spent years ruining the lives of patriotic Americans serving in the United States government and beyond. He did it through fearmongering and baseless, unproven accusations. He combed the past statements and associations of loyal U.S. citizens and then shamefully accused them of being traitors bent on the destruction of the American way of life.
At a time when conservatives are unable to find new leadership or present new ideas to address the challenges facing our nation, it is perhaps fitting that their media leaders and spokespeople -- individuals like Glenn Beck -- have fallen back on a 60-year-old slander: communist. Beck's forum consists of his radio program, his nightly show on Fox News, and his books. The witnesses he calls at his hearings form the endless parade of political demagogues he hosts as guests. And one by one, he is targeting the president's advisers -- not based on their current actions or statements, not because of any actual policy initiatives they have proposed since President Obama took office, but rather through the use of guilt-by-association reasoning or because of cherry-picked comments from their past, often provided in a highly misleading context. It's just the kind of vitriolic irresponsibility that McCarthy specialized in, too.
Beck's fixation on a sinister communist threat undermining America's capitalist democracy would be entirely laughable were it not revealing of something more fundamental. Beck and the Right have consistently portrayed Obama as a Manchurian candidate bearing Trojan Horse policies. Thus, the president isn't a uniter but a secret divider. He doesn't love the America we have, hoping to improve it. Rather, he seeks to destroy it. He doesn't represent a triumph on America's path toward genuine racial equality. Rather, he seeks little more than obtaining reparations and the radical redistribution of wealth and power on a racial basis. Such a philosophy plays to the most distrustful -- and often, dangerous -- elements of our society.
Beck will not stop with Van Jones. Yesterday he dedicated much of his show to Cass Sunstein, Obama's regulatory czar, whom he portrayed as a crazed animal rights activist who believes that rats matter more than people. As was the case with McCarthy, his distortions will continue unabated until the public recognizes his campaign for what it is: a witch hunt. As journalist Edward R. Murrow said of McCarthy in 1954, "We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men."
Such words could, and should, be spoken, too, of Beck.
Andrea Mitchell, interviewing Sen. Tom Harkin:
Are you willing to give up the public option, are you willing to trigger it or delay it or make it less of a, more of an option and less important in a final package, in order to get a deal.
I'm still waiting for Mitchell to ask a Joe Lieberman or a Ben Nelson if they will insist on getting everything they want, or whether they are willing to accept a public option "in order to get a deal" ...
In his response, Harkin indirectly illustrated Mitchell's double-standard:
Now, you know, a lot of bills that pass around here, we don't like everything that's in them. There may be one or two things we don't like. But we do like the majority of things that are in the bill. And I think that's what we're looking at with health reform. Some of my colleagues may not like a public option, but they like all the other things. And I don't think they'll vote against a bill simply because it has a public option in it.
To follow up on Eric's point about the media's failure to clearly state that Joe Wilson's claim last night that Barack Obama was lying was itself a lie (and my own post about MSNBC's obsessive coverage of Wilson) take a look at this New York Times article.
The entire article is about Wilson's outburst. Nearly 700 words devoted to Wilson's two-word claim that Obama was lying. But the article never gets around to telling readers who was right. The only hint it offered that maybe Wilson wasn't correct was this paragraph:
Other Democrats said they did not want to dwell on the outburst or allow it to overshadow what they saw as an effective address by the president. But they also said it bolstered their contention that some Republicans were not interested in constructive dialogue, and they noted that Democratic plans specifically barred coverage for illegal immigrants.
If you weren't reading closely, you may well miss that last bit. But even if you noticed it; even if you understood it to be a direct rebuttal to Wilson's comments -- not made clear in the article -- what are you left with? Wilson says Obama is lying; Democrats say Obama isn't lying. Who's right? The New York Times article doesn't say.
Again: The entire article was about Wilson's comment. And the Times couldn't shoe-horn in an assessment of its truthfulness.
Here's a prediction: in a week or two, some poll is going to show widespread belief that the Democratic health care plans cover illegal immigrants. And Howard Kurtz is going to write a column in which he expresses amazement that people believe this despite the thorough debunking that claim received from major media outlets. MSNBC will devote a segment -- or seven -- to the same topic.
UPDATE: Andrea Mitchell just led her MSNBC show with a lengthy segment on Wilson's comments. Not mentioned: The fact that Wilson was wrong.
UPDATE 2: Twenty-eight minutes into Mitchell's show, during what was at least the third segment that touched on Wilson's claim, Mitchell finally got around to more or less acknowledging that Obama was right.
MSNBC has been paying much more attention to Rep. Joe Wilson -- the Republican congressman who yelled "You lie" during last night's presidential address to congress -- this morning, at the expense of actually covering health care policy. No surprise, really, but it doesn't serve their viewers well.
Even worse, MSNBC just aired comments from Wilson earlier this morning in which he reiterated his claim that President Obama isn't telling the truth about whether proposed health insurance reforms would cover those who are in the country illegally.
Wilson is wrong; Obama is right. But that wasn't made clear to MSNBC viewers. MSNBC aired Wilson speaking, without interruption, for more than two minutes. During those two minutes, Wilson claimed again and again that illegal immigrants would be covered, referring to amendments and what he claims are third-party validators of his position. MSNBC's debunking of Wilson consisted entirely of Tamron Hall saying -- a full minute after the clip of Wilson ended -- "there's also been a number of fact-checkers who said that Congressman Wilson is wrong, that there was nothing to indicate."
That's it. MSNBC played Wilson going on for two minutes about amendments and the Congressional Research Service validating his position, then "debunked" him by saying "there's also been a number of fact-checkers who said that Congressman Wilson is wrong, that there was nothing to indicate." (That's the full sentence, by the way: Hall just stopped mid-thought, not making clear what Wilson was wrong about.)
How does that segment look to a typical viewer? I suspect many viewers -- particularly those who lean to the right -- come away from the segment believing Wilson. He seemed to be offering specifics, he claimed to have the support of the Congressional Research Service, and the "rebuttal" of him was laughably vague; it wasn't even a full sentence. And it came well after viewers saw Wilson's claims.
It's bad enough that MSNBC is allowing Wilson's outburst last night to drive the day's discussion of health care; it's indefensible that in doing so they are doing such a poor job of debunking his underlying claims.
UPDATE: Just 15 minutes after the segment about Wilson, MSNBC is right back at it, playing a clip of him and devoting a large chunk of their health care coverage to this sideshow. And how long do you think it'll be before MSNBC anchors express shock that the American people don't understand health care? This. Is. Why.
UPDATE 2: ... And 8 minutes later, more focus on Wilson.
UPDATE 3: At least two more segments have mentioned Wilson, bringing the total to at least four -- in the past hour alone.
According to the wire service, the health care 'debate' has been a boon for the GOP:
Despite being badly outnumbered in Congress, Republicans have been riding a political wave as voters increasingly have turned against Democrats' efforts to provide more coverage to the uninsured and to pay for it through a tax surcharge on the wealthy.
It's true that poll numbers, at least prior to Obama's popular speech last night, had softened in terms of how Americans felt about health care reform. But did that also mean, as the AP implied, the GOP's fortunes were improving? That the party was "riding a political wave"?
Not that I can tell. But the press loves to tell that tale anyway, so look for it to continue.
According to the most recent party polling data (Pew Research Center), 50 percent of Americans have either a "mostly unfavorable" or "very unfavorable" opinion of the Republican Party. Back in April, that percent was almost exactly the same: 51 percent. And in January it was a very similar 54 percent.
So for the entire year, the public's (low) opinion of Republicans has remained essentially unchanged. But at the the AP, that translates into the GOP "riding a political wave."
In a blog entry discussing Fox News' skewed coverage of President Obama's speech Wednesday night, the NY Times made this odd characterization of Special Report host Bret Baier:
Fox News did call upon Bret Baier, its decidedly un-opinionated Washington news anchor, and a pair of veteran Washington correspondents to handle coverage of Mr. Obama's speech and the Republican response.
Wow, "un-opinionated"? I'm wondering which Baier the Times is referencing?
Fox News hosts have recently fixated on the House's decision to terminate a pilot program to -- in the words of Bret Baier -- "kill the patriotic tunes callers hear when they're put on hold."
Stoddard, Baier agree that reconciliation "used to be called the nuclear option"
Fox News' Bret Baier repeated Sarah Palin's false assertion that the end-of-life counseling provided for under the House health care reform bill would, in Baier's words, "not be voluntary as the president says."
During the "All Star Panel" on the July 24 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Bret Baier asked: "Is the president overexposed? Is he out there too much? He had 11 health care events in many as many days pushing the health care reform legislation."
Baier, Bream selectively cited Obama interview to claim he "may have contributed to the atmosphere of fear"
Wait, wait, just wait. Here is Bret Baier being "decidedly un-opinionated" as the New York Times describes him:
Fox's Baier describes Gore as a "global warming alarmist"
That's it. There you go. Parroting conservative misinformation and characterizations are the height of "un-opinionated". Definitely.