Greg Sargent notes that last week the inside baseball dispute between the White House and Fox News grabbed as much overall news coverage as the swine flu. You know, that thing that the president recently labeled a national emergency.
No doubt it's depressing to watch journalists spend so much time navel gazing. (BTW, it's our job and Media Matters to watch the press, what journalists' excuse?) But it actually gets worse when you break down the recent Pew Research data by media sector and see just how much time cable TV devoted to the Fox News story.
That's right, last week cable news channels devoted nearly three times more coverage to Fox News as they did the swine flu, which has killed more than 1,000 Americans this year.
From Frank's October 28 Wall Street Journal column:
But no journalistic operation is better prepared to sing the tragedy of its own martyrdom than Fox News. To all the usual journalistic instincts it adds its grand narrative of Middle America's disrespectful treatment by the liberal elite. Persecution fantasy is Fox News's lifeblood; give it the faintest whiff of the real thing and look out for a gale-force hissy fit.
As the Obama administration has discovered by now. A few weeks ago, after Fox had scored a number of points against administration figures and policies, administration spokesmen decided it was time to start fighting back. Communications Director Anita Dunn called the network "a wing of the Republican Party," while Obama himself reportedly dismissed it for following "a talk radio format."
The network's moaners swung instantly into self-pitying action likening the administration's combative attitude to Richard Nixon's famous "enemies list."
They should remember that it wasn't just the keeping of a list that made Nixon's hostility to the media remarkable. Nearly every president-and probably just about every politician-has criticized the press at some point or other. What made the Nixon administration stand out is that it also sued the New York Times to keep that paper from publishing the Pentagon Papers. It schemed to ruin the Washington Post financially by challenging the broadcast licenses for the TV stations it owned. It bugged the office of Joseph Kraft, a prominent newspaper columnist. One of its most notorious henchmen was G. Gordon Liddy, who tells us in his autobiography that under certain conditions he was "willing to obey an order to kill [columnist] Jack Anderson."
It is interesting to note that Mr. Liddy, that friend of the First Amendment, appeared frequently in 2006 on none other than the Fox News network. In fact, the network sometimes seems like a grand electronic homage to the Nixonian spirit: Its constant attacks on the "elite media," for example, might well have been inspired by the famous pronouncements on TV news's liberal bias made by Mr. Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew.
And, of course, the network's chairman, Roger Ailes, was an adviser to Mr. Nixon in the 1968 presidential campaign; his signature innovation back then was TV commercials in which Mr. Nixon answered questions from hand-picked citizens in a town-hall style setting.
FAIR's Peter Hart takes note of an extraordinary poll question asked by Zogby:
Here's one of the "questions" asked in the poll, tailor-made for Fox News Channel:
Federal Communications Commission Chief Diversity Czar Mark Lloyd wants the FCC to force good white people in positions of power in the broadcast industry to step down to make room for more African-Americans and gays to fill those positions. Do you agree or disagree that this presents a threat to free speech?
Wow. Just ... wow.
UPDATE: There's some understandable speculation in the comments that this is too awful to be true. Here's the poll, in PDF format.
In an October 27 blog post - headlined "Joementum 2008?" - former McCain campaign aide and Weekly Standard online editor Michael Goldfarb writes:
Is he the greatest senator ever? He fought for victory in Iraq, he's fighting for victory in Afghanistan, and he's fighting to save us all from Obamacare. Who needs Olympia Snowe when you've got Joementum?
A new poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal indicates that there has been an uptick in support for the public option in upcoming health care reform legislation. As Media Matters has shown, support for the public option has always been pretty high despite the media's ignorance. But what's great is how Noel Sheppard of Newsbusters has created a conspiracy theory that this poll result has been timed out between NBC/WSJ and Senator Reid. Here is Sheppard's evidence:
Isn't THAT convenient?!?
See? He used two question marks. And an exclamation point. No actual evidence of any sort, but why do you need that for a pretty incendiary accusation when you have two question marks? I'm convinced.
As we've noted, "government option" is a term right-wing pollster Frank Luntz suggested conservatives use because it doesn't poll as well as "public option." Following the Luntz playbook, yesterday's Live Desk -- one of Fox News' prestigious 'straight news' programs -- aired a caption referring to the "govt option." Today, Live Desk again used "govt option" -- to ask why Democrats are "rebrand[ing]" the public option to sway public opinion:
With the term "Govt Option" blaring across the screen, co-host Trace Gallagher asked guest Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL): "Is the hope here that if you, if you change the labeling, change the brand, that people will like it more? That it's more appetizing to them?"
You tell us, Trace.
Because the one described in this week's mag doesn't sound familiar to me.
Here's the subhead to the Anna Quindlen cover story [emphasis added]:
Assessing a young presidency. Barack Obama campaigned as a populist firebrand but governs like a cerebral consensus builder. The founding fathers wouldn't have it any other way.
In Quindlen's defense, she never claims in her piece that Obama "campaigned as a populist firebrand." In fact, the phrase "populist" never appears in the article. Newsweek editors appear to have simply made that up, since the notion that the centrist Obama campaigned as a "populist firebrand" last year is rather absurd. (In the last century, has a "populist firebrand" ever been elected President of the United States?)
Instead, Newsweek editors did their best to rewrite history in an effort to tag Obama as a flip-flopper; as a candidate who campaigned one way and governed another
Quindlen, however, is responsible for this passage, regarding Obama's slow-moving approach to repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays:
This is one where the president does not have to convince the posturing right wing of Congress, the one that invented the spurious notion of death panels in the health-care debate. Transformation is within his grasp, in a pen, a signature, an executive order.
The larger theme of Quindlen's piece is that Obama has not been assertively progressive enough while in office, and that's certainly a fair point to make. But in a classic case of playing down the GOP Noise Machine, does Quindlen really think that if Obama tomorrow repealed "don't ask, don't tell," the "right wing of Congress," and the right wing of the U.S. media would simply accept the action and move on? That repealing "don't ask, don't tell" wouldn't ignite a massive political firestorm, and that within minutes the mainstream Beltway press (including Quindlen's Newsweek colleagues) would be echoing the right-wing attacks on Obama from Fox News and talk radio?
I'm not suggesting just because the right wing would raise holy hell, that the Obama White House should not do x, y, or z. But it seems naive of Quindlen to pretend that all Obama has to do sign an executive order and poof! "don't ask, don't tell" would be gone and the "right wing" reaction would be muted and contained.
Beltway pundits are definitely not happy that Democrats seem to be leaning (slightly) left on health care reform. Reading and listening to the WashPost's Dana Milbank, ABC's The Note, and Time's Mark Halperin today, all three highlight the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday embraced the push for a public option of sorts (encouraged by liberal activists and politicians), and all three are deeply, deeply troubled by the development.
The faux hand-wringing goes back to the bipartisan trap the press set for the Democratic administration last winter. The ground rules were simple: In order to achieve all-mighty bipartisanship, which Village dwellers worship more than anything (unless there's a Republican in the White House), Obama had to secure Republican votes. Conversely, in order to achieve all-might bipartisanship, Republicans didn't have to do anything. In fact they could uniformly oppose White House initiatives and the press would still blame Obama for not building bipartisan consensus.
Now fast-forward to today's health care debate, and specifically the Democrats apparent decision to try to pass landmark legislation without the help of Republican senators. Voilà! The bi-partisan trap is back.
Matt Gertz already detailed the problems with Milbank's health care column in the Post. And on MSNBC this morning, Time's Mark Halperin spoke for many D.C. elites when he said Democrats, "made a mistake not making it bipartisan."
And from The Note [emphasis added]:
Nearly a year after the American people voted to kill it, partisanship not only still lives -- it thrives, and it may never have been healthier than at this moment.
The White House hesitancy to go this route on health care had everything to do with the desire to keep Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, on board. Now that she's gone, this becomes a purely partisan exercise: Every one of those 60 votes in the Senate will have to be Democratic votes, and you can pretty much forget about 61 or 62.
The Note makes it quite clear who is not to blame for the lack of bipartisan cooperation--Republicans, even though yes, it's possible every one of them might vote against health care reform. Only in the Bizarro World of Beltway media could the Republican's uniform refusal to cross party isles be seen as a Democratic failure in terms of achieving bipartisanship.
In fact, The Note announces the Republican's decision to remain purely partisan represents a strategic victory for them:
And, if GOP calculations are even close to correct, and Democrats will fully own something the public doesn't really want, this is a major win for the right as well.
To recap, the Beltway press corps claims bipartisanship is the key to life happiness. But when Republicans refuse to engage in any bipartisanship cooperation, it's not their fault. Instead, the onus on achieving bipartisanship (i.e. two parties working together) rests entirely with Democrats.
And specifically today, the Village claims it's liberals who are to blame for flaming partisan wars on health care. Apparently liberals should have dropped their push for a public option because it ran counter to Republican beliefs.
Good to know.
BTW, public support for public option is now hitting a new high. But don't tell Milbank, Halperin or The Note.
David Waters, who writes the "Under God" blog for the Washington Post's "On Faith" site, attacks Rep. Patrick Kennedy for having the audacity to argue that church leaders should support health care reform.
The backstory, in a nutshell: some Catholic bishops support universal health care, but say they'll oppose health insurance reform legislation that doesn't bar any government funds from being used to pay for abortions. Kennedy has criticized that as "an absolute red herring and I don't think that it does anything but to fan the flames of dissent and discord and I don't think it's productive at all" and said "If the church is pro-life, then they ought to be for health care reform because it's going to provide health care that are going to keep people alive."
In response, Waters writes:
Kennedy's comments do seem to ignore some crucial facts: Most importantly -- as Georgetown/On Faith blogger Thomas J. Reese points out -- U.S. Catholic bishops for decades have been at the forefront of the campaign for health-care reform. "The bishops are appalled that more than 46 million people do not have health insurance," Reese wrote.
Well, no. Kennedy's comments don't "ignore" the "crucial fact" that the bishops say they are appalled at the number of people without health insurance. Kennedy's comments are in response to the bishops prioritization of abortion over health care. People may agree with the bishops on that prioritization, but Waters is wrong to claim that Kennedy is "ignor[ing] some crucial facts." In fact, Waters is missing the nature of the disagreement between Kennedy and the bishops, which is not about whether it is appalling that people lack health insurance, but about whether the bishops should oppose legislation that would insure them because it doesn't ban federal funds from indirectly paying for abortions.
Now, keep in mind, the question at hand isn't whether abortion should be legal -- that has literally nothing to do with the current debate. Nothing in the health care bill would have any effect on that.
The question, then, is whether to sacrifice what Waters describes as "a basic human right" that "Catholic bishops have spoken out consistently and courageously for" -- universal health care -- so as to avoid the possibility that public funds indirectly pay for abortions that are, regardless, quite legal.
Waters is so intent on siding with the Catholic Bishops and against Kennedy -- and on defending the Bishops for being "consistent" -- that he misses the real question. It isn't whether the Bishops have long held the same position -- that's a standard that could be used to defend any number of unfortunate policy positions. It's whether it is wise to sacrifice what you believe is a "basic human right" for the sake of what is essentially an accounting issue. It's a question about the choices the bishops make when two long-stated priorities are in apparent tension.
At one point, Waters does acknowledge the question of priorities, but he treats it as a side issue:
You can argue about whether Catholic bishops are putting too much emphasis on abortion in this case -- especially given the Administration's assurances that laws prohibiting federal funding of abortions will remain in place. No doubt some bishops have politicized the issue of abortion to the point of becoming partisan shills. But as a group, Catholic bishops have spoken out consistently and courageously for universal health care -- especially on behalf of the poor -- as a basic human right.
The question of whether the bishops are putting too much emphasis on abortion in this case isn't, as Waters portrays it, a side question. It's the whole issue. Waters is essentially arguing that we should ignore the question of what the bishops actually do to bring about universal health care and how they prioritize health care, because they've spoken "courageously" in favor of the concept of universal health care. He has it exactly backwards. (Waters, of course, does not explain what is "courageous" about speaking in favor of health care. The answer, particularly when you aren't willing to make any difficult choices in order to make universal health care more likely, is "nothing.")
And, by the way, that's true no matter where you come down on the question of priorities. Let's say you think it's more important for the church to take the symbolic stand against abortion than to help insure the "basic human right" of universal health care. Now: if the bishops supported health care reform legislation that explicitly expanded abortion rights, would your position be "oh, well, the bishops have spoken out consistently and courageously against abortion, and that's what's important"? Of course not.
The whole question is about prioritization. That much is clear, no matter what you think the priority should be. And it's clear that's what Kennedy is talking about. Waters, however, seems to think how you prioritize goals and values isn't important, as long as you pay lip service to both of them. In Waters' approach a politician who says he supports universal health care but votes against it because he doesn't like government should be given credit for supporting universal health care. It just doesn't make any sense.