Last night, I noted that Politico's Ben Smith responded to Media Matters' criticism of his reporting on Barack Obama's recent churchgoing habits - but that Smith didn't address our substantive complaint (that in purporting to compare the frequency of Obama's churchgoing with Bush's, Smith neglected to tell readers that Bush has rarely attended church as president.) Instead, Smith simply complained that our criticism of him was too long.
That was an odd response, suggesting that Smith 1) is quite defensive about his reporting, and 2) lacks the confidence to substantively defend his work.
Then, today, Huffington Post's Jason Linkins addressed the controversy, writing "let's just agree that anyone who writes any future blog posts about Barack Obama's churchgoing habits is terrible and boring and probably deserves to be laid off."
That led to yet another response from Smith, which read -- in its entirety -- "Stories about Obama's church attendance are so boring that HuffPo's media writer was compelled to spill another 776 words on the subject."
So, Ben Smith is repeatedly responding to criticism of his one-sided reporting by simply counting the number of words used to criticize him. It's little different than sticking his fingers in his ears and repeating "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!"
In his post, Linkins suggests that this whole discussion is a waste of time. But there are actually two important points at play here.
The first is that Smith and his Politico colleagues are literally counting Barack Obama's church attendance -- and that, in doing so, they purport to contrast his lack of attendance with President Bush churchgoing habits, without noting that Bush has rarely attended church as president. That is self-evidently flawed journalism - and it perpetuates the false stereotype of godless liberals. Given that Barack Obama's faith has long been subject of scurrilous lies, it is particularly troubling to see Politico engage in this conduct.
Secondly, Smith's responses to substantive criticism - basically, sticking his fingers in his ears and whining about the length of the criticism while ignoring the substance - provides a depressing illustration of how hostile some journalists are to the very idea that they might be criticized.
Let's be clear: Smith isn't contesting the content of our criticism; he hasn't addressed that content in any way. He's simply complaining that we're criticizing him in the first place. He apparently believes that being a reporter for the Politico should grant him blanket immunity from anyone pointing out the flaws in his work - or that there are no such flaws. It's a stunningly arrogant attitude.
439 words, Ben. Deal with it.
With NBC's hugely important announcement that David Gregory will be the guy who asks questions on Meet The Press, the press has been in full, MTP worship mode. (It's not just a TV show people, it's an institution) Leading the charge, Howard Kurtz at the WaPo:
In what was dubbed the Russert Primary, a presidential candidate's stock would rise or fall depending on how he or she handled the interrogation.
This is beyond Beltway CW, it's official mythology. What Kurtz left out was the fact that the Russert Primary was often quite different depending on whether you were a Democratic or Republican candidate, as I quote from Lapdogs:
During the hour-long sit-down, [Howard] Dean faced off against a clearly combative host, Tim Russert, who prepared for the interview in part by asking the Bush Treasury Department to produce what the Washington Post later called a "highly selective" analysis of the Democratic candidate's proposed tax program. The GOP-friendly analysis prompted Russert to ask incredulously to Dean, "Can you honestly go across the country and say, "I'm going to raise your taxes 4,000 percent or 107 percent" and be elected?"
That was Russert's second substantive question of the interview. His first was about the then-recent arrest of Dean's son for helping steal beer from a country club. Russert though, famed for his pre-show prep, botched the facts and erroneously informed viewers that Dean's teenage son had been "indicted." Deep into the interview Russert asked how many men and women were currently serving in the U.S. military, a gotcha-style question designed solely to put Dean on the spot. When Dean said he didn't know the exact number, Russert lectured the candidate, "As commander in chief, you should know that." Dean answered the question by saying there were between 1 and 2 million men and women in active duty; according to the Pentagon, there were in fact 1.4 million.
But travel back in time to November, 1999 when Russert had a far more civil sit-down with then-candidate Bush. (Russert: "Can kids avoid sex?" Bush: "I hope so. I think so.") Russert, in a rare move, even agreed to leave his NBC studio and to travel to Bush's home turf in Texas to conduct the interview, thereby giving the Texas governor a sort of home-field advantage. In fact, Russert first flew down to Austin in April 1999 to "get to know the governor of Texas," as the moderator put it, and to begin lobbying Bush for a Meet the Press appearance. (There's no indication Russert ever traveled up to Vermont in 2003 to "get to know" Dean or to persuade him to appear on the Sunday talk show.)
For nearly 60 minutes Bush and Russert talked about key issues, but Russert never tried to pin the Republican candidate down the way he did Dean. When the host did spring a specific policy question on Bush, asking how many missiles would still be in place if a new START II nuclear weapons treaty were signed, a stumped Bush simply answered: "I can't remember the exact number." But unlike his session with Dean, Russert dropped the topic without lecturing Bush that "as commander in chief, you should know that."
It's debatable. The Journal was a great paper when Murdoch bought it last year and it's still a great daily. (Minus, the often loopy editorial page, of course.) Has the Journal changed? Yes. The articles are often shorter. There's a lot more lifestyle and political coverage, although we're not sure the political coverage is any better.
Anyway, this week Newsweek makes a very big deal about how Murdoch is reviving the Journal (even though the paper is still a drag on Murdoch's bottom line.) The part that we couldn't quite believe though, was when Newsweek made this claim:
Whatever else one may think of the 77-year-old's splashy journalistic sensibilities-and there are plenty of traditionalists who don't love the new Journal-few in the media business aren't impressed that Murdoch is at least trying to revitalize and extend an old-media brand. "The New York Times has been regarded as the best newspaper in the world," says Dow Jones CEO Leslie Hinton, a veteran Murdoch executive. "That's a reputation we don't believe is deserved. We're now a real alternative."
Um, notice something odd about that paragraph? Newsweek claims pretty much everyone in the media business is impressed with Murdoch's turn at the Journal. So who does Newsweek quote to prove the point? Newsweek quotes a veteran Murdoch executive.
Seems that if Murdoch were really working miracles at the Journal, than Newsweek would be able to find somebody who doesn't cash a Murdoch paycheck to say so.
Yesterday, Media Matters noted that Politico's Ben Smith followed in the footsteps of his colleagues Jonathan Martin and Carol Lee in noting that Barack Obama has not attended church since being elected president without noting that President Bush rarely attends church.
Today, Smith responds ... sort of:
If nothing else, the tone of the responses reflect how defensive the left still is on faith. The Media Matters post was four times longer than my item, and I don't really think that a single story and a blog item constitute "such a big deal."
It is pretty much impossible to deny that you're being defensive without appearing defensive, so I'll leave it to readers to decide whether that adjective fits our post.
For the sake of argument, let's stipulate that "the left" is "defensive ... on faith." Here's what Ben Smith misses: In this case, at least, "the left" is "defensive" because journalists like Ben Smith are unfairly advancing the false caricature of progressives as lacking faith. Smith and his Politico colleagues are going out of their way to point out that Barack Obama, a Democrat and a person of faith, has not attended church in the past few weeks - while ignoring the fact that President Bush, a Republican and a person of faith, rarely attends church.
If "the left" is being "defensive," it is because Ben Smith and others at the Politico are giving them reason to defend themselves. For Smith to sneer that liberals are being defensive after he gives them reason to be literally adds insult to injury.
In defending his, and his colleagues', focus on Obama's church attendance, Smith wrote: "Obama doesn't seem to consider his faith private: He talked about it all the time on the campaign trail, wrote about it in searing detail, and campaigned on it before Rick Warren's megachurch in a forum broadcast live on CNN. ... So it doesn't seem particularly unreasonable to note his habits of observance."
But Media Matters didn't say it was unreasonable to note Obama's "habits of observance." We pointed out that Smith and his colleagues failed to note that Bush - who also cannot be said to have behaved as though he "considers his faith private" -- has rarely attended church over the past eight years.
It doesn't seem particularly unreasonable to expect a reporter who purports to compare the church attendance of Bush and Obama to note the infrequency of Bush's attendance over the past eight years.
Which is probably why Smith chose not to even try to defend himself on this point. He didn't even acknowledge that point - the entire point of Media Matters' item - even exists. He offered no explanation or defense of his decision to omit the information that Bush rarely attends church. Indeed, he neither quoted nor responded to a single word of Media Matters' critique. He simply sniffed that the Media Matters post "was four times longer" than his item.
If nothing else, the tone of Smith's response reflects how defensive some journalists are when their shoddy and one-sided reporting is demonstrated.
I'll save Smith the trouble of counting words: This particular post is more than twice as long as his post. I'll be happy to make my next post on this topic shorter -- if Smith makes his next post better.
From just released tapes, April 4, 1972 [emphasis added]:
NIXON: "Return the calls to those poor dumb bastards ... who I know are our friends. Now do it ... We made the same mistake [Dwight] Eisenhower made, but not as bad as Eisenhower made, because he sucked the Times too much ... G-d damn it, don't talk to them for a while. Will you enforce that now?'
Note how Nixon wanted to freeze out the Times. Sort of like Bush has frozen out the Times. The more things change...
UPDATE: Listen to Nixon repeat like a mantra, "The press is the enemy."
The Great Recession really has been, among other things, a rather large embarrassment for large parts of the professional business press, which has spent so many years simply cheerleading Wall Street while missing the economic Story of the Decade.
Oh well, seems CNBC is still bullish. Or, to be more precise, CNBC's favorite economists and analysts remain bullish. Note the online headline: "Huge Job Losses Could Be Signal That Worst Is Over." The article itself is pretty much non-stop, happy-days-will-be-here-again:
"This is history," says veteran Wall Street economist Ram Bhagavatula. "December payrolls will be weak as well. The leading indicators will come from a slow re-activation of the credit markets and increases in consumer spending. You should begin to see that in the next couple of months."
Bhagavatula is among a growing number of economists who say the seeds of recovery are already in place, even if they are revising their forecasts for GDP contraction in the fourth quarter to show an even greater decline.
"Every recession has its worst day, and this is probably the worst day," says Chris Rupkey of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi.
Economists say there's a lot of tailwind to drive an economic recovery and already emerging signs of one. "There's now starting to be some visibility about how this might end." Says David Resler, chief economist at Nomura International.
We noted last week that the media's favorite analysts, when polled about predictions for what November's job loss numbers would be, were only off by 200,000 jobs. The same type of analysts who reporters liked to quote in the spring about the chance of a "mild recession."
We think AmericaBlog got it right: "Everything is fine and as long as you close your eyes, don't listen and talk loudly over everyone else you'll be fine. Just ask CNBC."
Rice made the rounds on Sunday for likely the last time as SoS and she reiterated the WH's final talking point about Iraq and how everyone just wished they had had better intel before launching America's unprecedented pre-emptive invasion.
As we noted last week, Bush, Rove and Kristol have each echoed that point recently. The media's reaction to the blatant falsehood what somehow it was unknowable in 2003 that Iraq didn't have WMD's? The press has done almost nothing. We suggested the press might be sleep-walking this story because it just brings back bad memories about how it so eagerly signed off on the bogus rationale for war.
Meanwhile, Rice's series of Sunday interviews simply confirmed that the unspoken rule among Beltway elites is that nobody, and we mean nobody, is supposed to ask Rice truly uncomfortable questions about a war she helped engineer.
It literally is a game. The TV hosts ask innocuous questions about Iraq. Rice responds with misleading information knowing full well that her host is never going to call her on it. And then the two dance onto another topic. And by the way, Rice also appeared on CNN's Late Edition, but host Wolf Blitzer didn't even bother to ask the out-going SoS about Iraq. Talk about a gracious host.
For the Sunday low point, we'd have to point to this answer Rice gave to Wallace on Fox News about the intel [emphasis added]:
The fact is, at the time, we believed that they were - that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted this biological and chemical weapons program and was likely making progress on his nuclear program. And that was the assessment of the intelligence community. Now, we have reformed the way that information gets to principals. And if I had it to do over again, yes, I'd have the system in place that we have now, not the system that we had then. But this system of alternative views that are put forward in a more - a crisper and clearer way is important to understanding intelligence...And so while it's fine to go back and say what might we have done differently, the truth of the matter is we don't have that luxury. And we didn't at the time.
See, it was the system's fault. Principals in the WH weren't getting the right intel about Iraq. But fear not, the system has been fixed. Slight problem with Rice's fictionalization of history, and slight problem with Chris Wallace's playing dumb about Rice's answer: The intel system in place for the run-up to Iraq was specifically created by Donald Rumsfeld, and supported by VP Dick Cheney, in order to cherry pick information to make sure principals inside the WH were mislead. Or at least could later claim to have been misled.
A topic worthy of debate, right? But that's not a question Rice is going to have answer on TV.