LA Times reporter (and former Laura Bush press secretary) Andrew Malcolm, last seen helping the GOP smear Sen. Al Franken with a doctored photo, has a new blog post about Franken's first legislative initiative. The post nicely illustrates how Malcolm's work tends to be pointless at best, and malicious at worst.
Malcolm doesn't bother with any actual "facts" about Franken's proposal, to provide service dogs for wounded military veterans. Instead, Malcolm assigns a frighteningly large (and quite false) price tag to the proposal:
Franken wants to establish a three-year federal pilot program to study ways the animals can help the humans and measure those benefits. The estimated cost of the freshman Democrat's pilot dog program: $15 billion.
Ha! Hilarious. So what's the real price tag? Back to Malcolm:
It's only $7.4 billion.
No, not really.
Oh, wow. Another joke -- and just as hilarious as the first! Look out, Carrot Top, Andrew Malcolm is going to put you out of business.
So what's the real price tag? Malcolm never says. He just leaves the reader assuming it's something unacceptably large. And that, basically, is Malcolm's entire post: a couple of stupid jokes perpetuating the stereotype of Democrats as big-spenders, accompanied by no actual facts. Because, you know, it's hilarious that someone would want to provide assistance and companionship for wounded military veterans. Hilarious.
From a July 22 article by Los Angeles Times media writer James Rainey, who quotes FactCheck.org director and former CNN employee Brooks Jackson stating that "CNN should be ashamed of itself for putting some of that stuff on the air":
When the issue first surfaced in the presidential campaign last summer, numerous credible news organizations and even the Hawaii Department of Health presented clear evidence that Obama was born Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu.
But those reports have done little to snuff out elaborate and ever-mutating conspiracy theories.
I often hear from disgruntled readers that they don't pay attention to the dread "Mainstream Media" because they can find "the truth" on the Internet. Translation: Some blogger will please them by propping up just about any cockeyed theory that they hold.
The Internet agitators, in turn, get support and sustenance from mainstream provocateurs like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, who last month chortled, "God does not have a birth certificate, and neither does Obama -- not that we've seen."
To believe the wild theories, one must also accept that Obama's mother -- rather than apply for citizenship for her son as one would expect if he had been born overseas -- launched an elaborate hoax. It would have begun in 1961 with her placing false birth notices in Honolulu's two daily newspapers. Diabolical.
Brooks Jackson, director of Annenberg Political Fact Check (FactCheck.Org) and a reporter with 34 years in the business, has seen one howler after another knocked down, only for another to sprout in its place.
"CNN should be ashamed of itself for putting some of that stuff on the air," said Jackson, who worked at the cable outlet for more than 20 years.
Besides Pilgrim's skin-back report last week, one CNN employee reminded me several times that Dobbs' most pointed assertions were made on his radio program, which is unconnected to CNN.
Dobbs did not return my call Tuesday. But he did go on the radio and rant about the L.A. Times and the other liberal media that are "subservient and servile to this presidency."
He insisted he believed Obama is a citizen, while continuing to tell listeners "there is no actual birth certificate." He did it because he is a Man of the People. And, as he explained, "the American people want an answer."
Here's how MSNBC's David Shuster just described a new Politico poll:
Here's the latest Politico poll, and it shows that public support is slipping for the public option. On the idea of whether it would make it worse, 42 percent now say a public option would make health care worse, 33 percent say it would make it better, 25 percent say it has no effect.
That description is wrong.
First, the Politico poll did not measure a shift in public opinion -- this was the first time the poll asked the question Shuster cited. You can't look at a single data point and declare a trend, as Shuster did when he asserted that the poll showed "support is slipping."
Second, the question Shuster referred to is an awfully blunt tool for assessing public support for a public option. The question asked whether "adding a government-managed health care coverage option would result in better, the same, or worse quality health care in the U.S.?" It is not at all difficult to imagine respondents who think the quality of health care available in the US would remain the same with a public plan, but who support such a plan, either because they think such care would be available to more people, or for other reasons.
It simply isn't responsible to look at a poll question assessing expectations about a specific outcome of a public plan and use it to assert overall support for such a plan. But that's what Shuster did.
A better way to assess overall support for a public plan is to refer to poll questions that ask whether people support a public plan, or think it would have an overall positive effect, or think it is necessary. Like this one, from McClatchy:
One of the points being debated is whether or not the government should create a public health insurance plan as an alternative to private insurance plans. Which of the following is closest to your opinion? It is necessary to create a public health insurance plan to make sure that all Americans have access to quality health care. Access to quality health care for all Americans can be achieved without having to create a public health insurance plan."
That poll found that a majority of Americans think a public plan is "necessary."
Or this one, from CBS News:
Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan -- something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get -- that would compete with private health insurance plans?
That one found 64 percent support for a public plan, and only 29 percent opposition.
Or this one, from Quinnipiac:
Do you support or oppose giving people the option of being covered by a government health insurance plan that would compete with private plans?
That one found 69 percent support for a public option, and only 26 percent opposition.
All three of those polls were conducted within the last month. All three of them actually assess the level of support for a public plan.
The Politico poll Shuster used does not. The data may be useful in other ways. It may well indicate opportunities for opponents of reform, and challenges for advocates. But it simply does not assess, as Shuster claimed, public support for a public plan. And it certainly does not say anything about the change in such support, given that it is merely a single data point.
With its decision this week to once again ignore the White House and refuse to air a primetime press conference, Murdoch's Fox TV has made it quite clear that it's no longer going to perform any public service function whatsoever.
Despite the fact that Fox uses the public airwaves for free and banks tens of millions of dollars in ad revenues each year off those public airwaves, Fox, with a Democrat now in the White House, is walking away from even making token gestures toward fulfilling the public service mandate that all broadcasters (supposedly) agree to.
Honestly, what public service does Fox provide? It has no nightly or weekly news programs. And it's now out of the business of airing White House news events. (Fox entertainment execs have decided the events are not important enough.) It airs a poorly-rated Sunday morning talk show, and rounds up the usual talking heads on Election Night. That's it. That's its contribution to the public conversation in America.
Rupert Murdoch no longer even tries to hide his contempt for responsible broadcasting.
From the Post's Michael Fletcher and his 'news' lede:
The Obama administration is delaying release of a congressionally mandated report on the nation's economic conditions, spawning speculation that it is trying to tamp down bad economic news to avoid further complicating the already fraught legislative debate over health care reform.
Seems quite odd to insert "speculation" into the first sentence of a news article. It's especially odd since Fletcher never quotes or points to anyone spawning the speculation. Apparently the Beltway speculation is just sort of out there in the ether, which these days at the WashPost qualifies as news.
Guess the Post has moved from its two-source Watergate reporting rule, to a more general no-source rule of today.
MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell just invited Republican Senator Judd Gregg to criticize the White House for not releasing a mid-year economic report:
MITCHELL: Senator I wanted to ask you about the delay in the mid-year review, the White House economic report. Usually it comes out in July, the White House now says it's going to be delayed. They say it's just that they haven't gotten it all together yet. You see a different scenario here; what are you suggesting?
And Gregg took the invitation to suggest some sort of conspiracy:
GREGG: The fact that those numbers aren't going to come out until congress goes on a break here in August is, I think a little interesting that that decision, that that's the situation.
But does the White House really say they just haven't gotten it done? No. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs actually pointed out yesterday that the mid-year review does not usually come out in July during presidential transition years:
GIBBS: Look, as happens in virtually every transition year in government, mid-year reviews tend to get pushed back because of the transition of moving people in and out of their former and current jobs. For instance, the mid-session review under the most previous administration took place on August 22. President Clinton's first year in office, the review was released on September the 1st.
So I think the notion that this is somehow motivated by anything other than a transition from one administration to the next is a little on the silly side.
So, let's recap: Mitchell brought up a phony controversy, explained it in a GOP-friendly way, ignored the White House's debunking of the controversy, and invited her Republican guest to allege some sort of conspiracy -- a conspiracy that has been debunked by the White House explanation Mitchell ignored.
I can't wait to see Howard Kurtz explain how this demonstrates MSNBC's leftward tilt.
Breaking news! Obama is more popular than his policies. So says Stephanopoulos. And if this were March or April when I first heard that media meme, the headline might be interesting.
But July-going-on-August? Honestly George, is that your best insight?
I touched on this CW trend recently, yet continue to be amazed by the robotic, and never-ending, embrace of the rather obvious and common observation that a sitting president is more popular than his actual policies. I'm amazed because hasn't that pretty much always been the case for sitting presidents? Or can Stephanopoulos, or any other Beltway talking head who repeats this nonsense incessantly, point to a recent president where the inverse was true: a president whose policies were widely disliked by the public yet maintained a high personal approval rating?
It literally makes no sense.
Presidents being more popular than their specific policies is the norm. During his first term, President Bush was routinely more popular than his policies. As I highlighted:
In May 2003, in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, ABC News found that Bush scored a hefty 71 percent approval rating. However, only 52 percent of Americans approved of the way he handled the economy, and only 43 approved of the way he ran the federal budget. But there was no widespread media buzz about how Americans approved of Bush but were deeply troubled about his policies and that political trouble loomed.
Why? Because it wasn't news or noteworthy. That trend -- that gap -- had been detectable for decades among presidents with robust job approval ratings. Indeed, it's illogical to think that the opposite would be true -- that voters would approve of a president's specific policies more than they'd approve of the way the president was doing the job. With Obama, though, that polling gap suddenly dominates the coverage of his approval numbers.
UPDATED: Don't tell Jamison, but in the Stephanopoulos segment last night, ABC's Charles Gibson also confused Obama's "personal popularity" with his job approval rating.
I've criticized Howard Kurtz a lot in this space, and in my columns, but he sometimes does good work. For example, Kurtz occasionally makes the valuable point that the increasing affluence of high-profile reporters sometimes affects their coverage of political issues. Here he is during yesterday's online discussion:
As journalists have become more affluent -- a trend to which I don't necessarily object -- they are more likely to hobnob with the big shots, send their kids to the same private schools, and hang out at the same parties. This undoubtedly affects their view of the world and the people they cover.
We need only remember Charlie Gibson's embarrassing performance during the Democratic presidential primary debates last year to conclude that Kurtz is on to something here.
Now, with that in mind, let's look again at today's edition of Kurtz's "Media Notes" column, shall we? Kurtz:
And even though the administration has done a good job in, at the very least, neutralizing opposition from doctors and hospitals, it's still asking members of Congress to impose substantial pain, which politicians hate to do.
The trillion or so dollars to cover a major chunk of the uninsured has to come from somewhere. Some would be squeezed through lower Medicare and Medicaid payments from docs, hospitals and drugmakers, and they have political clout. The rest would either be drained by a surtax on the wealthy or taxing the most generous employer-provided benefits -- both of which are making many Democrats nervous.
[TNR's Jonathan] Cohn may underestimate the difficulty of raising taxes on the affluent, especially since the added sting of losing their Bush tax cuts could push the top rate to an onerous 47 percent.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Kurtz's use of the word "onerous" certainly seems to tip his hand.
Now, given that Howard Kurtz says that journalists' affluence "undoubtedly affects their view of the world," and given that Howard Kurtz opines that potential tax increases on the wealthy would be "onerous," and given that Kurtz is one of the Washington Post's star reporters and hosts a CNN television show, it's impossible not to wonder just how affluent Kurtz is, isn't it? Perhaps Kurtz should disclose that information the next time he decides to criticize tax policy -- or at least keep his own statements about journalists' financial situations influencing their reporting in mind before he so opines.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz devoted the bulk of his "media notes" column today not to assessing the news media, but to amplifying GOP-friendly health care storylines. Kurtz:
Add to that the controversy over Obama's preferred "public option," which can easily be caricatured as government-run health care, and a general unease about rising federal spending, and you've got a prescription for gridlock.
If a public option like the one Obama and other politicians are talking about "can easily be caricatured as government-run health care," it's only because reporters don't make clear that such a caricature is very, very false, and that the people pushing such a caricature of being very, very dishonest. Kind of like Howard Kurtz just failed to make that clear.
The sense that Obama is on the defensive was deepened by the WP/ABC poll finding that "since April, approval of Obama's handling of health care has dropped from 57 percent to 49 percent, with disapproval rising from 29 percent to 44 percent. Obama still maintains a large advantage over congressional Republicans in terms of public trust on the issue, even as the GOP has closed the gap." His overall approval rating, though, is still a healthy 59 percent.
Shouldn't that have deepened the sense that the Republicans are "on the defensive"? Or does the "large advantage" Obama maintains over them somehow give the GOP an edge? If so, it would be super if Kurtz would explain how. Is this something like judo, where the Republicans are able to use Obama's strength against him? Or is it just that reporters like Howard Kurtz interpret polls in extraordinary illogical ways? My money is on that last one.
Cohn may underestimate the difficulty of raising taxes on the affluent, especially since the added sting of losing their Bush tax cuts could push the top rate to an onerous 47 percent.
"Onerous"? Well, I guess we know where Kurtz stands on tax policy. Maybe some day the Post will offer readers a media critic who doesn't share and echo the Republicans' view on key public policy issues, just for some balance. Maybe one who even critiques the media.