Dick Cheney isn't Vice President any more, but the New York Times is still treating his comments as so newsworthy they must be presented without rebuttal. The Times devotes 558 words to Cheney's appearance on CNN yesterday - 501 of which are devoted to simply quoting or paraphrasing Cheney. The 57 words that weren't devoted to amplifying Cheney's arguments didn't include even a word of rebuttal:
Since taking office, Mr. Obama has reversed many of the policies championed by Mr. Cheney in his eight years of serving under President George W. Bush. Mr. Obama has announced plans to close the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within the year, suspended military trials for terrorism suspects and prohibited the interrogation practice known as waterboarding.
That's it -- those are the only words in the article that were spent on anything other than simply telling readers what Cheney said. There was no effort to present the other side, or give readers any indication of whether what Cheney said was true, or misleading, or incomplete.
For example, The Times quoted Cheney saying of fighting terrorism: "Up until 9/11, it was treated as a law enforcement problem ... You go find the bad guy, put him on trial, put him in jail. Once you go into a wartime situation and it's a strategic threat, then you use all of your assets to go after the enemy. You go after the state sponsors of terror, places where they've got sanctuary. ... When you go back to the law enforcement mode, which I sense is what they're doing, closing Guantánamo and so forth, that they are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that's required, and that concept of military threat that is essential if you're going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks."
Seems like that would have been a pretty good opportunity to point out that critics have said Cheney's administration didn't actually find the "bad buy" (Osama bin Laden) in part because they gave up "that center of attention and focus that's required" by going to war against Iraq.
Linked article: Frank assails bonuses paid to executives at AIG
Check out August J. Pollak's latest.
"Post-Rush: Obama's message war"
Why the hysterical "war" language for a rather staid article that details how Democrats are organizing an extended communication effort to push back against Republican accusations? (i.e. It's called Politics 101.)
How is that a "war"? And if it is, where were the Politico headlines about the unprecedented message "war" the GOP launched on the newly inaugurated president in January and February?
From March 2 to March 8, the fifth biggest story on cable news was a couple of missing football players. From February 23 to March 1, the fifth-biggest story was a chimp attack. (MSNBC, at least, played 9-1-1 recordings of the monkey's owner pleading with police to shoot her pet before it killed her friend. If anyone wants to explain the news value in this, I'd love to hear it.) The week before that, the third-biggest story was about a third baseman's exercise regimen, and the fifth-biggest was the chimp attack. The week before that, a missing child cracked the top five.
We haven't even gotten to the summer months, when cable news traditionally delights in obsessive coverage of statistically-insignificant shark attacks (or, for a change of pace: stingrays!) And, of course, there's always footage of a car chase or a guy stuck in a tree to keep the audience entertained - oops, I mean "informed."
It isn't exactly breaking news that the media, particularly cable news, obsess over tragic or bizarre, but statistically insignificant, topics that do next to nothing to educate the public. But this morning's Washington Post brings a reminder that there are countless more important things cable could do a better job of covering more regularly. Like the fact that at least three percent of residents of the nation's capital have HIV or AIDS, with transmission on the rise:
At least 3 percent of District residents have HIV or AIDS, a total that far surpasses the 1 percent threshold that constitutes a "generalized and severe" epidemic, according to a report scheduled to be released by health officials tomorrow.
"Our rates are higher than West Africa," said Shannon L. Hader, director of the District's HIV/AIDS Administration, who once led the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's work in Zimbabwe. "They're on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya."
"We have every mode of transmission" -- men having sex with men, heterosexual and injected drug use -- "going up, all on the rise, and we have to deal with them," Hader said.
So urgent is the concern that the HIV/AIDS Administration took the relatively rare step of couching the city's infections in a percentage, harkening to 1992, when San Francisco, around the height of its epidemic, announced that 4 percent of its population was HIV positive. But the report also cautions that "we know that the true number of residents currently infected and living with HIV is certainly higher."
The District's report found a 22 percent increase in HIV and AIDS cases from the 12,428 reported at the end of 2006, touching every race and sex across population and neighborhoods, with an epidemic level in all but one of the eight wards.
Ironic, indeed. The Times' Mark Leibovich notes how the D.C. press is increasingly treating government officials and bureaucrats likes celebrities, feverishly posting trivial updates about members of Obama's team. (Who drinks Diet Coke, who was spotted at an ATM, etc.) And yes, Leibovich is dead on, the Beltway press' standards for news have evaporated in recent years.
The ironic part is when Leibovich pretends it's bloggers who are driving the trend, even though virtually all the examples noted in his piece come from the mainstream press. If anything, bloggers have been openly mocking the media's celebrity-like coverage.
Nonetheless, Leibovich writes:
Are any of these items newsworthy? (It's not as if the country is facing two wars and an economic crisis or anything.). Well, yes, they are — a lot of Web sites, bloggers and Twitterers have deemed these developments so.
And in the print edition of the Times, the pull quote for the article reads:
A Rahm Emanuel sighting at the Safeway? Alert the bloggers.
Nice try, Times. Most bloggers couldn't care less about that kind of nonsense. It's the oh-so-serious elite press that's treating pols like movie stars.
Leave us out of it.
UPDATE: It wasn't bloggers this week who wrote about what kind of handkerchiefs pols are wearing.
In the wake of the stunning humiliation Jim Cramer suffered at the hands of Jon Stewart this week, is the Today show still going to have Cramer on the program, and is host Matt Lauer still going to pretend Cramer's some kind of respected financial expert?
This is just goofy. Pew Research published the results of a poll it conducted asking Americans how they'd feel if their local newspaper went under. Pew's finding caused some buzz online because it seemed not many readers would care if they lost their daily.
At least that's the spin Pew put on it [emphasis added]:
As many newspapers struggle to stay economically viable, fewer than half of Americans (43%) say that losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community "a lot." Even fewer (33%) say they would personally miss reading the local newspaper a lot if it were no longer available.
The key phrase is "a lot," because Pew also asked respondents if they'd miss their newspaper "some," as well as "not much" and "not at all." Clearly there were people who said they'd miss their newspaper, and people who said they would not. Then within each group there were two choices in terms of emphasis.
So why in its write-up did Pew only hype the number of people who said they'd miss their newspaper "a lot"? Pew suggested only 33 percent of Americans would miss their newspaper ("a lot") if it folded. But if you add in the people who said they'd miss it "some," that total number jumps up to 58 percent.
Same with the questions about civic life being hurt without a local newspaper. Add in the "some" category and that total balloons from 43 percent to 74 percent.
Seems to me the Pew conclusion could have just as easily, and just as accurately, read:
As many newspapers struggle to stay economically viable, a strong majority of Americans (74%) say that losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community. And a majority (55%) say they would personally miss reading the local newspaper if it were no longer available.
UPDATE: This was the headline to the Pew study:
Stop the Presses? Many Americans Wouldn't Care a Lot if Local Papers Folded
That just doesn't make any sense. According to Pew's own numbers, 74 percent of Americans would care if their local newspaper folded. So why emphasize the minority?
My column this week looks at the deliberate stupidity in the news media's coverege of earmarks. Here's an example in which MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell engages in juvenile mockery of pig odor research rather than actually assessing whether it is a good idea: