During an online Q&A last week, Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon was asked about the inconsistency between "The Republicans, media talking heads, and some conservative Democrats" who say they oppose a public option as part of health care reform because they are concerned about costs, and studies finding such a public option would save money. The questioner suggested the real reason for opposition might be that the politicians are "bought and paid for by the insurance industry."
In response, Bacon essentially denied that "conservative Democrats and Republicans" have made a cost argument against the public option. That's flatly, unambiguously false, as anyone who has followed the health care debate should know.
Bacon was then asked a follow-up question pointing out the inconsistency in the claims of reform opponents. At that point, Bacon said "the conservative Democrats simply feel they can't back the public option for political reasons." That didn't make much sense, either, since polls show the public option is popular among those conservative Democrats' constituents, as I pointed out at the time.
That brings us to today's online Q&A with Perry Bacon:
Tuckerton, NJ: Considering the majority of Americans want some type of public healthcare option and that 52-percent of Nevada residents feel the same way (as per latest Research 2000 poll), what on earth would prevent Harry Reid from including it in Senate compromise bill? Is he that politically tone deaf?
Perry Bacon Jr.: For whatever reason, some of the conservative Democrats in the Senate aren't wild about a public opinion. (I would suggest the politics of their states, where they have to get Republican-leaning voters, but I know you will cite more polls saying people in Louisiana want the public option. I assume politicians have a keen sense of their own electoral position and the moderate Democrats are weary of this for a reason, but I digress) I'm not sure getting the public opinion in the bill will really hurt Reid in Nevada.
Extraordinary. Bacon "would suggest" the "politics of their states" is the issue, except that he knows he'd get called on it by someone who would point out the public option's popularity in those states. But instead of internalizing that poll data and looking for alternate explanation, Bacon prefers to "assume" the politicians know something the data doesn't show.
At no point does it cross Bacon's mind that the real reason might have something to do with campaign contributions. Instead, he just keeps offering up a series of nonsensical claims, spanning two weeks, only to abandon each one as it is disproved. But he never waivers from one thing: Defending the opponents of reform any way he can.
Bacon claimed public option opponents have not made a cost argument. False.
Then Bacon suggested the constituents of the reform opponents don't want a public option. Polls show that to be false.
So Bacon then said we shouldn't pay attention to the polls; we should just trust that the politicians know their constituents better than poll data does.
At what point might it occur to Bacon that maybe those who oppose reform have been making incorrect arguments and oppose policies their constituents want -- and that maybe he should start looking for reasons why?
UPDATE: Bacon, later in today's Q&A: "I wish the public option advocates would stop acting if the media is at fault here." Gee, I wonder why Bacon encounters people who think that?
UPDATE 2: More Bacon:
Boston: "I assume politicians have a keen sense of their own electoral position and the moderate Democrats are weary of this for a reason, but I digress"
I realize we don't want to be crass. But these small, poor state Senators are also being lavished with cash by interests who benefit from preserving the status quo or not competing with a Public Health Insurance plan. Add to those gifts and incentives a great deal of media coverage and one could be led to think their opposition is not so motivated by their keen understanding of their state--most Senators know they have a 95% chance of getting re-elected no matter what.
Perry Bacon, Jr.: I don't have a list of the top members of Congress getting money from the insurance industry, but there are plenty of members who get money from health care companies who also support the public option. Some of the Blue Dogs live in districts McCain won by 15 points. They live in places where voters are more conservative, and the Republicans have branded the public option, rightly or wrongly, as a major liberal initiative.
Bacon is all over the map at this point. First he suggests that in the states/districts in question, the public option is not popular. Then he says he would suggest it again, but he knows people would produce polls contradicting that claim. Then he goes back to making unsupported claims about public opinion in unspecified districts.
He's consistent about one thing, though: Have you ever seen a reporter this adamant that campaign contributions do not influence politicians positions? Ever?
Lots of people, including those at "Good Morning America," have been asking me what I think of the media's role in the balloon hoax.
I don't blame television for carrying the two-hour balloon extravaganza that turned out to be an utter sham. ... In 24-hour cable, you put the live pictures on the air first and seek explanations later.
Left unanswered -- unaddressed, even -- by Kurtz: Why? Also unaddressed: Is this a good thing? Kurtz is supposed to be a media critic, but he omits any criticism. He just offers the circular statement that he doesn't blame "television" for what it did because it did what it does. Huh?
Any producer who cut away from the balloon, saying his news team wanted to gather more information first, would have been fired on the spot.
I do not believe this for a second, and I don't think Howard Kurtz does, either. He's spinning on behalf of cable news, not offering a serious, rational assessment of what happened.
Speaking of Kurtz just making things up, here he is last week:
In retrospect, you could say the cable channels went wild covering the flight of an empty balloon. And technically, that is true. But cable doesn't have the ability to say, You know what, folks? We're not sure what's going on here, so we'll check it out and get back to you. I mean, there are times when you can do that. A runaway bride says she was accosted by assailants, you check it out first. But not a runaway balloon. Who among us wouldn't have switched channels if the one you were watching dropped the subject? The ratings, forgive me, must have soared.
First, of course cable has the ability to do that. They choose not to.
But that part about the ratings at the end is what really stands out. Howard Kurtz is Howard Kurtz. Surely he can find out if the ratings did, in fact, soar, and give us a sense of what that meant for the cable channels' revenue. But he didn't last week, and he still hasn't. I suspect that's because two hours of live balloon coverage didn't make the cables much if any money.
Again: Kurtz is spinning for the cable news channels -- one of which pays him.
Is Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli laying the groundwork to duck questions about whether he was honest about his role in the Post's access-for-cash scandal?
Brauchli is set to do an online Q&A at Noon today. Here's how the Post promoted that Q&A over the weekend:
And here's how the Post has now changed that advertisement:
Note that the formerly broad wording (Brauchli was going to take "questions about the newspaper and washingtonpost.com") has now been narrowed (Brauchli will take "questions about The Post redesign.")
Is that an effort to discourage questions about Brauchli's honesty and other sticky subjects? We already know Brauchli ducked questions from Politico's Michael Calderone over the weekend, in favor of talking to a reporter who is on his payroll -- and who omitted key information calling Brauchli's honesty into question.
From a post by BigGovernment.com editor-in-chief Mike Flynn titled, "The Mau-Mauing of Rush":
Rush took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to address the mau-mauing that scuttled his NFL dreams. Personally, I'm a little mystified why Rush would want to own part of a football team. Oversized, preening and pampered athletes set in strictly defined roles and running elaborately orchestrated "plays" designed by a full bureaucracy of coaches seems, frankly, I dunno...unAmerican. Quite unlike the other football, where there are no plays, few coaches and wide latitude for individual initiative and improvisation. (How did we get stuck with the collectivist top-down heavy sport?) But, to each his own.
Of course the NFL is a private institution which can invite -- or deny -- whomever they'd like to join their owners' club. But the manner in which Rush was sidelined is, at best, distasteful and definitely more than a little troubling.
From a BigGovernment.com post by Dr. David Janda titled: "ObamaCare Debate: Freedom vs. Oppression":
On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation:
"That on the 1st day of January, in the year of our Lord 1863, all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom. . . And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God."
With these words President Lincoln ended slavery -- a flagrant violation of the institutions of the United States of America, "a government of, by and for all the people."
The institution of slavery denied essential freedoms to fellow Americans. Today, in 2009, another freedom is being denied to every man, woman and child -- freedom of health care. Some in the HMO industry, many in the insurance industry, and many federal "Big Government" bureaucrats are denying Americans their freedom of health care. The Obama Health Care Plan is the instruction manual and play book for this mandate.
These "Masters" of Health Care are trying to deny individuals the freedom to choose what doctor you can see, what medicine you can take, what hospital you can go to, and how you spend your health care dollars. They even take it a step further in the Obama Health Care Plan, determining -- IF -- yes, IF you can be treated. These "Masters" of Health Care are driving us to unnecessary pain, suffering, and, in some cases, death.
Irony alert: While defending his employer from White House charges that Fox News isn't a real news outlet, Fox News commentator and Special Report regular, Hayes made stuff up in a futile attempt to knock down the claim.
White House strategist Anita Dunn told CNN's Howard Kurtz that Fox News isn't a real news outlet, and here's one example she gave [emphasis added]:
For instance, Howie, "The New York Times" had a front page story about Nevada Senator John Ensign and the fact that he had gotten his former chief of staff a job as a lobbyist and his former chief of staff's wife was someone Ensign had had an affair with.
The Times broke that specific story about Ensign's former chief of staff on October 2.
Here's what Hayes said on Fox News last week:
And the example she used was the John Ensign affair story. And she said basically if you watch Fox, you didn't know about that story.
So I went back and looked at the month after the John Ensign story broke, and on this show, we discussed this 11 times, sometimes in extended reports, sometimes in a discussion like this. That's 11 times in 20 days. That's every other day.
Hayes did some actual research! He went back and checked the transepts. But oops, Hayes botched his research because Hayes ended up disproving a claim Dunn never made. Dunn never told CNN that Fox News ignored the Ensign affair story, which broke in July. She specifically said that Fox News ignored the follow-up scoop about how Republican Ensign had gotten a job for his former chief of staff; the same chief of staff whose wife Ensign had an affair with.
Hayes claimed Fox News reported on the July story of the Ensign affair. But that clearly was not the point Dunn made. (Hayes doesn't listen so good.) She claimed Fox News ignored a key, subsequent revelation. And was she right? Well, I went back and looked at the transcript for Fox News' Special Report and guess what? Dunn was absolutely correct. The program virtually ignored the October 2, story, which was only mentioned on-air one time and by a Washington Post reporter who was invited onto the show, not by a single Fox News contributor. The rest of Fox News remained equally mum.
Anita Dunn: 1
Stephen Hayes: 0.
UPDATED: Fox News' Neil Cavuto also played dumb about Ensign. Cavuto thundered that Dunn got it all wrong because Fox News did cover the Ensign affair. Except, of course, that's not the claim Dunn made. And do I even have to mention that Cavuto's show completely ignored the Oct. 2 story about Ensign getting a job for his chief of staff? (He did.)
Anita Dunn: 1
Neil Cavuto: 0.
UPDATED: My favorite example this year of Fox News clearly ignoring a breaking story that reflected poorly on the GOP was when Tom Ridge, on the eve of his book release, claimed that senior Bush administration officials had pressured him to tinker with the terror alert warning for purely political reasons back when he ran the Dept. of Homeland Security.
In the two-day span surrounding the story Fox News mentioned "Tom Ridge" exactly one time, vs. its cable news competitors which mentioned Ridge nearly 90 times.
I'm sure the RNC appreciated the Fox "news" judgment.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz spent much of the summer demonstrating that he can't be trusted to report impartially for the Post about CNN, which also employs him.
Now he seems intent on establishing that he can't be trusted to report impartially about his bosses at the Post, either.
Kurtz wrote for today's Post about yesterday's revelations that the paper's executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, seems to have misled the New York Times about his involvement in and knowledge of the Post's attempt to sell access to its reporters to corporate interests. Over the summer, Brauchli told the Times that he had been "explicit" with the Post's marketing team that the events would not be off the record. Yesterday, the Times, Politico, and The New Republic reported the existence of a letter in which Brauchli had in fact known that the events were being marketed as off the record.
Brauchli claimed in the letter that the Times had simply misinterpreted his comments. But Politico's Michael Calderone then wrote that Brauchli had also told him that he did not know the events were being promoted as off the record. Calderone sought comment from Brauchli for his story yesterday, but a Post spokesperson told him "The letter speaks for itself."
But it turns out Brauchli wasn't refusing all requests for an interview. He gave a comment to Howard Kurtz, who just happens to work for him:
Brauchli said Saturday: "I have consistently said that my intention was that Post journalists only participate in events if the content could be used to inform our journalism. . . . I was aware, as I have said since July 2, that some materials described the proposed salon dinner as an off-the-record event. As I have also said before, I should have insisted that the language be changed before it surfaced in any marketing material."
Kurtz also quoted Brauchli's claim that the Times reporter misunderstood him. But he include any indication that he pressed Brauchli on that claim -- and he didn't mention Calderone's statement that he got the same impression from Brauchli as the Times reporter, which seriously undermines the notion that Brauchli told the truth but was misinterpreted.
Kurtz' article, in other words, omits crucial information that makes his boss look less than honest. No wonder Brauchli talked to him but not to Calderone.
We previously highlighted how Glenn Beck's October 16 Fox News program on health care reform included in its audience of doctors Richard Amerling, a director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a conservative-leaning group that holds several controversial views, including promoting the right-wing conspiracy theory that Vince Foster didn't commit suicide.
Now, Talking Points Memo has identified another AAPS-affiliated doctor in Beck's audience: David McKalip, the doctor who notoriously emailed a racist image depicting President Obama as a witch doctor to his fellow "tea party" activists.
AAPS' "Take Back Medicine" website features an "open letter to America's physicians" by McKalip asserting that health care reform will "turn doctors into servants of the state, insurance companies, hospitals, and everyone except who matters most: the patient."
And Afghanistan, too!
The Times' David Carr belatedly joins a very long line of tsk-tsking pundits who in the last week have all said the exact the same thing (that's why it's called The Village), and announced that the White House was way off base when it criticized--when it fact-checked--Fox News. Fox News is just doing its job, Carr suggests. It's the White House that has to change its behavior. It's the White House that's out of line here.
I'm guessing that Kevin Jennings, the Dept. of Education official relentlessly targeted by Fox News as a statutory rape-loving "pervert" would disagree. But the elite pundits (the same pundits who have ignored the homophobic witch hunt of Jennings) have spoken: it's unseemly for the White House to call out the press by name.
Still, I couldn't help notice a rather warped sense of media self-importance in Carr's lede:
The Obama administration, which would seem to have its hands full with a two-front war in Iraq and Afghanistan, opened up a third front last week, this time with Fox News.
Really, criticizing the media is like sending U.S. men and women in combat? I realize the comparison isn't necessarily meant to be taken literally, but still. Seems like a painful, and inappropriate, stretch to me.
And speaking of The Village, where have I seen this Iraq/Afghanistan comparison before? Oh yeah, in the Times' direct competitor, the WashPost:
The White House is now fighting a three-front war: Iraq, Afghanistan and Fox News.
Good to know.
From Weisberg's October 17 column, "The O'Garbage Factor":
Whether the White House engages with Fox is a tactical political question. Whether we journalists continue to do so is an ethical one. By appearing on Fox, reporters validate its propaganda values and help to undermine the role of legitimate news organizations. Respectable journalists-I'm talking to you, Mara Liasson-should stop appearing on its programs. A boycott would make Ailes too happy, so let's try just ignoring Fox, shall we? And no, I don't want to come on The O'Reilly Factor to discuss it.