Through both the campaign and his presidency, Obama has made little secret of his disdain for some of the horse-race, tabloid elements of the press corps--though his political and communications staff are not above sometimes exploiting those same tendencies for their own benefit.
I see journalists make this same basic point fairly regularly -- that Obama and his staff may say they don't like the media's focus on politics and process at the expense of policy, but they exploit those tendencies when convenient. (Here, for example.)
If anyone is under the impression that this undermines the criticism of contemporary political journalism, they're mistaken. It isn't inconsistent to think political reporters should focus more on policy and less on gossip and conjecture, and at the same time take advantage of their tendencies when you can. As a former Defense Secretary might say, you make your case to the public through the media you have, not with the media you wish you had.
Nor does it let reporters off the hook. These statements about the White House "exploiting" reporters' tendencies should not be taken to mean that were it not for the White House (or the DNC or the RNC or whoever) egging them on, the Mark Halperins of the world would be writing serious, detailed pieces examining complex public policy questions. They wouldn't be. They aren't being led astray by the people they cover; they are already astray.
(Note: Scherer may or may not be trying to imply any of those things; I can't really tell. Either way, I'm not really talking about him specifically, but about the frequency with which I see asides like that, which suggests that some people must think they mean something. They really don't.)
Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft has published blog posts this weekend targeting Department of Education official Kevin Jennings under the hair-on-fire headlines, "Breaking: Obama's Safe Schools Czar's Question to 14 Year Olds: 'Spit vs. Swallow?... Is it Rude?' (audio-video)" and "Fistgate: Barack Obama's Safe Schools Czar Promoted "Fisting" to 14 Year-Olds (audio-video)." Two problems: The audio isn't of Jennings, and these stories aren't even remotely new.
Back in 2000, Jennings' organization, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), held a conference at Tufts University. The conference featured numerous workshops for students and educators, including "How to decide whether to come out at work," and "Strategies and curriculum ideas for addressing gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender issues in a high school English curriculum." One of the workshops, titled "What They Didn't Tell You About Queer Sex and Sexuality in Health Class: Workshop for Youth Only, Ages 14-21," was run by two Massachusetts state Department of Education staffers and a state DoE consultant.
Basically, during the workshop, students asked a lot of very explicit questions about sex, and received explicit answers. As Hoft himself acknowledges in the body of his posts, it is the Department of Education staffers - not Jennings himself - who appear in the audio giving those answers. An activist for the anti-gay group Parents Rights Coalition (now MassResistance) snuck into the workshop and taped it, in a possible violation of state laws banning the taping of people without their permission (stop me if you've heard this one before).
Jennings subsequently criticized the workshop to the Boston Herald:
"Like the Parents Rights Coalition and the Department of Education, GLSEN is also troubled by some of the content that came up during this workshop," said Kevin Jennings, national executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
He said people who run workshops in the future will get clearer guidelines, though Jennings said the network's annual conference at Tufts University should not be judged on the 30-student seminar "What They Didn't Tell You About Queer Sex and Sexuality in Health Class."
"We need to make our expectations and guidelines to outside facilitators much more clear," said Jennings. "Because we are surprised and troubled by some of the accounts we've heard." [Boston Herald, 5/18/2000]
And to the Boston Globe:
Meanwhile, officials at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said they would also be looking further into the March workshops, because they would also be opposed to graphic sex talk that would be inappropriate for young adults.
"From what I've heard, I have concerns as well," said executive director Kevin Jennings. "GLSEN believes that children do have a right to accurate, safer sex education, but this needs to be delivered in an age appropriate and sensitive manner."
But, he was also critical of the coalition's agenda.
"What troubles me is the people who have the tape know what our mission is, they know that our work is about preventing harassment and they know that session was not the totality of what was offered at a conference with over 50 sessions," he said. "Our mission is being misrepresented." [Boston Globe, 5/18/2000]
You'll notice that that's two separate articles quoting Jennings responding to the workshop. That's because contrary to Hoft's claim that this story is "Breaking," it was a big deal when it happened more than nine years ago. In addition to the local Boston papers, which each devoted several articles to it, the story received coverage in the AP, National Review, The Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, The New York Post, UPI, and on Fox News.
The workshop's organizers (i.e., the people in the tape) were fired or resigned, though one later got her job back. Nice people that they are, the Parents Rights Coalition went on to use the incident to call for the elimination of state funding for Gay-Straight Alliance groups and the disbanding of the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. [Boston Globe, 5/18/2000] Oh, and they tried to sell copies of the tape of the workshop for $5 a pop.
Back in June, MassResistance posted the audio of the workshop online, as part of their ongoing effort to get Jennings fired. I assume Hoft has broken it out now because it goes well with his smear that Jennings promoted "Child Porn in the Classroom." Unfortunately, as with that smear, the facts just don't match Hoft's rhetoric.
On Thursday, Washington Post reporter Frank Ahrens held an online Q&A about president Obama's jobs summit. Ahrens has been widely mocked for his inane response to a reader who correctly pointed out that he was wrong to suggest that U.S. corporations pay unusually high taxes:
Frank Ahrens: But did you know our corporate tax rate is among the highest in the world? That makes a real difference if you're a business and you're thinking about locating in the U.S. or, say, India.
But did you know our corporate tax rate is among the highest in the world?: Dead wrong. Our nominal tax rate of 35% is among the highest, but because of loopholes our real tax rate of 18% is among the lowest real corporate tax rates.
Frank Ahrens: Back atcha.
That was Ahrens entire response: "Back atcha." What was that even supposed to mean? As Matthew Yglesias put it, it was an "embarrassing exchange between The Washington Post's readers and a badly overmatched Washington Post financial reporter, who doesn't seem to know anything about tax policy, or how to admit you're wrong, or how to just confess ignorance of an issue."
But what hasn't gotten much attention is that the rest of the Q&A was a train-wreck, too.
In response to the second question he was asked, Ahrens implied that president Obama's response to the recession should be to stop spending and slash the federal budget deficit, which would be news to the legions of economists who think that's the last thing the government should do during tough economic times.
A little later, Ahrens wrote that the jobs summit was "A nice photo opp, with the president standing side-by-side with America's business leaders" and added "Today, big CEOs have the president's ear for several hours, and they can give real rubber-meets-the-road examples of what tax cuts and other business stimuli can provide."
Let's set aside Ahrens odd faith in "big CEOs" having ideas that will help the economy rather than, well, big CEOs. And his suggestion that tax cuts are the answer.
Instead, let's skip to a question a little later, in which a reader from Brunswick, Maine asserted that the jobs summit consisted only of "Unions, Liberal Think Tanks, SEIU, Teacher's Union, EPA, Democrats" and excluded "Independent Businesses." Ahrens' reply? "This is a good point and one which was addressed in our story today on the summit. The White House's response: We've already talked to these other groups and will continue to do so."
Wait, what? Just a few minutes earlier, Ahrens had said Obama would stand "side-by-side with America's business leaders" at the summit, during which "big CEOs" would "have the president's ear for several hours." Now Ahrens says a claim that the summit excludes business interests is a "good point"? Well, which is it?
(That questioner from Brunswick also denounced "this dictatorship from our government body" and said Obama "has taken the most divisive path of any president in history" -- and Ahrens only response was to praise the questioner for making a "good point.")
Then there's Ahrens' claims about the drawbacks of government stimulus spending:
The drawback here is that there is not enough government money to sustain an economy the size of the U.S.'s. It's like trying to run a big furnace with one coal. And, it ends up being a zero-sum game -- nothing is created, just recycled.
Some have advocated creating a new FDR-like WPA, or Works Progress Administration, creating millions of new make-work jobs. If your goal is only lowering unemployment, that'll work. But if your goal is restoring a vibrant, growing economy, it won't for the reasons listed above.
The "trying to run a big furnace with one coal" analogy doesn't really work. A better one might be "using kindling to start a bonfire." And Ahrens didn't actually explain how putting people to work won't help to restore a "vibrant, growing economy." Unless he thinks his furnace analogy is the explanation.
A little later:
During President George W. Bush's two terms, unemployment started in January 2001 at 4.2 percent. In his last month in office, January 2009, it was up to 7.6 percent.
Prior to last year's recession surge, however, unemployment during the eight years of Bush's terms never got higher than 6.3 percent. ... for the bulk of his two terms, unemployment was not a problem.
Granted, "not a problem" is somewhat subjective, but many people probably thought a 50 percent increase in the unemployment rate in a little more than two years was at least a little bit of a problem.
Then, in a response to a question citing Amity Shlaes' book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression to claim that the New Deal didn't work, Ahrens replied:
[Y]es, there's some excellent recent scholarship on the efficacy -- or not -- of of FDR's alphabet-soup agencies. The chief villain appears to have been the NIRA -- the National Industrial Recovery Act -- which (shockingly) actually allowed businesses to create cartels and monopolies to fix prices. (An example, by the way, of demand-side economics.)
Shlaes' anti-New Deal argument has been widely criticized, and economists like Paul Krugman have noted that the New Deal was working until FDR was persuaded to cut government spending in order to balance the budget. Which, remember, is what Ahrens thinks should happen now.
Like I said: train-wreck.
Ah, Maureen Dowd:
They were both elegant and entitled swans, insulated in guarded enclaves, obsessed with protecting and promoting the Brand.
Tiger Woods and Desiree Rogers are perfectionist high-achievers brought low. They both ran into that ubiquitous modern buzz saw of glossy celebrity wannabes - Vegas parasites and Washington parvenus.
She mistook herself for the principal, sashaying around and posing in magazines as though she were the first lady, rather than a staffer whose job is to stay behind the scenes and make her bosses look good.
"Entitled"? "Sashaying around"?
A White House staffer "posing in magazines" isn't particularly unusual, as Maureen Dowd surely knows. So what is it about Desiree Rogers that prompted Dowd to describe her as "sashaying around" and thinking "she were the first lady, rather than a staffer"? She doesn't explain. Instead, she struggles to find similarity between Rogers and Tiger Woods. You know, because they're both entitled swans.
The Washington Post reports on the stolen global warming emails:
[I]t has mushroomed into what is being called "Climate-gate," a scandal that has done what many slide shows and public-service ads could not: focus public attention on the science of a warming planet.
"What is being called 'Climate-gate'"? Why the passive voice? Who is calling it that? Right-wing global-warming deniers and their enablers in the media?
And that mention of "slide shows" is presumably a snide reference to Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth -- a movie that won an Oscar and helped Gore win the Nobel Peace Prize. But according to the Washington Post, it didn't do nearly as much to "focus public attention" on global warming science than some right-wing web sites yammering on about stolen emails. Right.
The Post continues:
The e-mails don't say that: They don't provide proof that human-caused climate change is a lie or a swindle.
But they do raise hard questions. In an effort to control what the public hears, did prominent scientists who link climate change to human behavior try to squelch a back-and-forth that is central to the scientific method? Is the science of global warming messier than they have admitted?
The stolen electronic files include more than 1,000 e-mails and 3,000 documents, all taken from servers at the Climatic Research Unit, a world-famous center at the University of East Anglia in Britain.
But there are some pretty obvious "hard questions" that somehow haven't occurred to the Post: Who stole the files? Does "Climate-gate" show that climate change deniers are nothing more than common criminals -- or simply that they eagerly make use of the criminal efforts of others? What does it say about the honesty of the global warming deniers that they portray emails that "don't provide proof that human-caused climate change is a lie" as doing exactly that?
I have a feeling that if a former governor and longtime celebrity claimed that MSNBC cancelled his television show because he opposed Barack Obama, we'd never hear the end of it from the likes of Howard Kurtz.
Yet former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura recently said his 2003 MSNBC show, "Jesse Ventura's America," was cancelled because he opposed the Iraq war -- and Kurtz couldn't care less.
Here's Ventura, in an interview with the LA Times a week ago:
This is not your first venture into TV hosting since leaving the governorship. What happened to "Jesse Ventura's America," which ran briefly on MSNBC in 2003?
It was awful. I was basically silenced. When I came out of office, I was the hottest commodity out there. There was a bidding war between CNN, Fox and MSNBC to get my services. MSNBC ultimately won. I was being groomed for a five day-a-week TV show by them. Then, all of a sudden, weird phone calls started happening: "Is it true Jesse doesn't support the war in Iraq?"
My contract said I couldn't do any other cable TV or any news shows, and they honored and paid it for the duration of it. So in essence I had my silence purchased. Why do you think you didn't hear from me for three years? I was under contract. They wouldn't even use me as a consultant!
And here's what Howard Kurtz, who regularly insists that MSNBC is a liberal cable channel, had to say about that: Nothing. Not a word. He has, however, found time to devote several sections of his daily "Media Notes" column -- totaling more than 3,200 words -- to Tiger Woods.
This is not, by the way, the first time there has been a suggestion that MSNBC cancelled a show because its host opposed the Iraq war. Phil Donahue's show, among the most highly-rated on MSNBC at the time, is widely believed to have been cancelled because of his criticism of the war.
Its insistence on treating every little story with the same breathless voice has gone beyond annoying and has entered the realm of the comical. And of course, it makes a mockery out of Politico itself.
From yet another Politico party crasher story, this one with an emphasis on Obama's social secretary Desiree Rogers [emphasis added]:
In a White House not known for its tolerance of staffing errors, Rogers has been the beneficiary of an unprecedented show of support from senior administration officials.
While Rogers isn't the first White House aide to take hits from the Hill, she may be the first to do so with such ferocious support from her superiors.
This is just dumb. Because what's Politico's evidence to back up the rather hysterical rhetoric? It's the fact that WH aide Valerie Jarrett answered a question about Rogers during an ABC interview, and WH spokesman Robert Gibbs answered some questions about Roger during briefings this week. Both Jarrett and Rogers expressed complete confidence in Rogers. That's it. That's the extent of the "unprecedented" and "ferocious" support that Politico manufactured.
Like I said, Politico needs to calm down. It also needs to stop making stuff up.
UPDATED: And oh yeah, the truly awful Politico lede:
If White House social secretary Desiree Rogers survives this week's withering attacks over her role in last week's state dinner security breach, she'll have gotten by with a lot of help from her friends in the West Wing.
Improving the story (i.e. just making stuff up), Politico suggests Rogers might no survive in her job, even though, as the Politico article itself stresses, she has the full support of the White House.
Question: Does anyone edit Politico? Or are the chronic deceptions purposeful?
From Politico's December 5 article, "Right-wing talkers go for the gold":
For years a certain strain of conservative thought has held that there was one sure hedge against economic depression, civil disorder and liberal rule - gold. Now that belief has led to a kind of harmonic convergence between ideology and commerce.
Anyone tuning in to conservative talk radio or Fox News's Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck shows is bombarded by commercials for gold, mainly in the form of collectible coins, with announcers intoning that inflation and deficits caused by big government spending are devaluing the dollar and making gold the best investment money can buy.
The dire tone sounded in the ads often echo the occasionally apocalyptic economic forecasts of the shows' hosts, many of whom have endorsement contracts with the gold retailers, appear in their ads, or have had their executives as guests to trash the economic course set by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, and to preach the attractions of gold.
And it's become an increasingly profitable synergy for everyone involved - the retailers, the networks and an array of hosts including O'Reilly and Beck, as well as radio talkers Mark Levin, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham, Dennis Miller, Fred Thompson and G. Gordon Liddy.
This year, Goldline boasted it had become "the exclusive gold and precious metals company" of both Levin's show and the one hosted by Thompson. Other Goldline endorsers include Beck, Ingraham, Miller and Lars Larson.
Beck, who has taken to comparing the state of the U.S. economy to that of modern day Zimbabwe or pre-Hitler Germany, has been urging his viewers to invest in gold, and bragging about his own gold investments since at least last year.
"I know that you've been listening and watching my shows," he said in a promo incorporated into a "Beck talks" video on his website.
"If you've been watching for any length of time, and you still haven't looked into buying gold, what's wrong with you? I was going to say 'are you just a reporter for the New York Times?' but I don't think they actually watch. They just write about it.
"I think you're nuts. When the system eventually collapses, and the government comes with guns and confiscates, you know, everything in your home and all your possessions, and then you fight off the raving mad cannibalistic crowds that Ted Turner talked about, don't come crying to me. I told you: get gold."
But Beck has recently come under fire from liberals alleging a conflict of interest. The criticism spiked after he used one of his trademark blackboard illustrations to provide tips for weathering "the three scenarios that we could be facing: recession, depression or collapse." In the case of a total collapse of the economic system, he recommended that his viewers construct "fruit cellars" and rely on what he called "the three G system. It's God, gold and guns."
The Democrat-aligned watchdog group Media Matters asserted the segment was a "reward" to his gold advertisers, while liberal MSNBC host Keith Olbermann charged that Beck is "in it for the money. He keeps trying to sell people gold, largely because a disproportionate number of his advertisers sell people gold."
Peter Epstein, president of Merit Financial Services, which advertises on Beck's show, says gold retailers expect favorable coverage from commentators on whose shows they pay to advertise. "You pay anybody on any network and they say what you pay them to say," said Epstein. "They're bought and sold."
Beck, who through a publicist declined to comment for this story, addressed the Media Matters allegation on his Thursday show, saying "So, I shouldn't make money?" And he made the point that he touted gold before he became a Goldline endorser, and urges viewers to study and pray before investing in it.
I don't necessarily mean that as a slight directed at George Stephanopoulos who may end up replacing Diane Sawyer who exits to become ABC's new evening news anchor. I'm sure within the television industry these kind of celebrity anchor changes are a big deal, and if Stephanopoulos gets the lucrative assignment, good for him.
What I do think was absurd though, was the the kind of breaking-news approach that the WashPost's Howard Kurtz took in reporting that ABC's This Week host had reportedly been offered the a.m. job, but no actual deal had been signed. In other words, negotiations were continuing. (And....?)
Check out this passage:
As the discussions have dragged on for weeks, Stephanopoulos has pushed for a role reshaped to spotlight his interest in politics and hard news rather than feature segments. The sources, who declined to be identified discussing internal personnel matters, cautioned that the negotiations are complicated and the two sides might fail to reach agreement.
Will you be able to sleep tonight knowing the multi-million dollar GMA deal might not become a reality? Honestly, this kind of reverential coverage for a wake-up co-host job on a feather-light program is rather absurd, and more than a little unsightly. And Kurtz especially is guilty of often filling his media beat with lots of worshipful coverage of network news readers, treating them like movie stars. It's creepy.