Last night, we learned you don't have to know much about politics to write for Politico -- or to be a guest on Hardball. Tonight, we're reminded that Hardball's host also doesn't know as much as you might think, as Matthews discussed Richard Nixon's press conference after his 1962 campaign for governor ended in defeat:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: As we all know, that was not Richard Nixon's last press conference. In fact, ten years later, actually it wasn't ten years later, it was six years later, he was elected president in a landslide.
In fact, Nixon won the 1968 popular vote by a mere 500,000 votes; he won the presidency with only 31 electoral votes more than he needed. Matthews' guest, Pat Buchanan, did point out that the victory was no landslide, which may be the first time Buchanan has ever actually added value to an MSNBC broadcast.
Obviously, it doesn't really matter all that much if Chris Matthews tells viewers that Richard Nixon won the '68 election by a landslide when in fact he won a relatively narrow victory. But it is another reminder of a point I've made several times in the past: the problem with media coverage isn't just the focus on politics rather than policy; it's that they're lousy at the politics part. No matter how much they pretend, they aren't experts, and they rarely have genuine insight -- they're just people who convince themselves and each other that they're experts because they all repeat the same conventional wisdom.
(Here's another recent reminder from Chris Matthews.)
Take a look at the way Politico describes a public health care option:
Reid today was vague on whether he supported the public option, the most controversial and expensive aspect of President Barack Obama's health care push. Opponents of the public option have suggested that a compromise take place that would remove the public plan from the package.
Politico never got around to indicating what supporters of the public option think, which is a pretty glaring lack of balance.
But that isn't the only problem with this paragraph. Politico describes a public option as "the most controversial and expensive aspect" of health care reform. Well, gee, that sounds awful. Why would anyone support it?
Think about how differently that paragraph would read if Politico focused on the effects of a strong public plan rather than the costs. On the positives, rather than the negatives. Or if Politico at least included both.
This is typical of the way the media covers health care (remember the presidential primary debates, when the Democrats kept getting grilled about how much health care reform would cost rather than about what it would do?) And that anti-reform framing is a big part of the reason for the situation we're in.
Newsbusters' Seton Motley couldn't have screwed this one up more badly if he had tried. The right-wing media critic picked a fight with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, but only succeeded in making himself look like a fool.
Here's Motley, trying to ridicule Krugman's column about Toyota deciding to open a new plant in Ontario, Canada:
Krugman's Nobel-prize winning economic mind then offers up:
So what's the impact on taxpayers? In Canada, there's no impact at all: since all Canadians get government-provided health insurance in any case, the additional auto jobs won't increase government spending.
Really? Adding workers brought in from outside Canada to the government rolls won't increase government spending? A little of Krugman's new math: X plus 5,000 still somehow equals X.
Who said anything about "Adding workers brought in from outside Canada"? Not Krugman. In fact, Krugman specifically wrote that Toyota chose Canada in part because of the quality of Ontario's work force.
Motley then purported to rebut a Krugman point about the quality of health care in Canada and the U.S. But while Krugman cited an actual study that used, you know, actual data and stuff to measure the effectiveness of various health care systems, Motley "rebutted" it by assertion:
The key words being "timely" and "effective" - two words never associated with government medicine.
OK, Motley didn't have data or studies to point do -- but he did have bold and italics to bolster his case. He must be right.
Then, at the end, Motley suggests Krugman do "a little due diligence and some rudimentary research."
After all, that's why it's called a conspiracy theory. Over the years all the great ones (9/11, Whitewater, JFK and the grassy knoll) have all shared a common bond, which was the realization that facts were irrelevant to the pursuits of conspiracy theorists.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs had it about right yesterday when he stressed that it didn't matter what he said, or if there were DNA evidence to put this who-dunnit to bed, the whole point of a robust conspiracy theory is to make sure that facts don't get in the way of anything. And speaking as someone who spent 30 minutes this morning taking calls from birthers on a Denver radio program, I know from experience.
That's why this kind of context, from ABC's the Note, sort of bugs me [emphasis added]:
Surely this will quiet the birthers: "I, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of the Hawaii State Department of Health, have seen the original vital records maintained on file by the Hawaii State Department of Health verifying Barrack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen," reads the new statement put out by state officials Monday.
I don't know, maybe The Note was being tongue-in-cheek and actually gets the joke that nothing will quiet the birthers. But I wish journalists would be more straightforward in making this point: the facts don't matter. Period.
Tucker Carlson, on Henry Louis Gates:
What happened to him likely had little to do with race, but it's still appalling. His crime? Failing to be polite to a policeman. Except that's not a crime, or shouldn't be, and the rest of us ought to do all we can to make sure it doesn't become one.
I have no idea how much, if at all, race played a role in Gates' arrest, so I won't endorse Carlson's assessment of its likelihood. But the rest of Carlson's statement seems spot-on, and illustrates the way the media mishandled this story.
See, Barack Obama said all along that he didn't know if race played a role in the arrest. And he said the arrest was stupid anyway. That's almost self-evident -- Gates was arrested in his own home, and charges against him were dropped.
But the media pretended that Obama had said something hugely controversial -- and they did so by ignoring the fact that he had gone out of his way to make clear that he was not saying race played a role in this specific arrest. They just disappeared that part of his comments, and often suggested the opposite.
Had the rest of the media approached this the way Tucker Carlson did -- understanding that it's completely obvious that Gates shouldn't have been arrested -- their coverage would have been much better.
On the other hand, Carlson describes Gates as a "self-righteous whiner who probably cries racism every time he gets the wrong order at Starbucks." I tend to assume that if any 58-year-old African American had spent his life "crying racism" every time he encountered it (let alone every time he got the wrong cup of coffee) there would be enough examples to fill a book. As that isn't the case with Gates, Carlson's assessment of the professor seems ... odd.
Questioned by a reader about that description of Gates, Carlson pointed to a statement in Gates' Yale application. I'm reasonably sure that by 1970, Henry Louis Gates had experienced racism more significant than getting the wrong order at Starbucks, and almost as sure that Tucker Carlson knows this. When a reader pointed that out, Carlson took issue with Gates' use of the word "Whitey" in that application. Seems a little silly for a wealthy white man in 2009 to get so upset about a black man who grew up in a segregated town using the word "Whitey" 40 years ago, but that's Tucker Carlson for you.
From The Fox Nation, accessed on July 28:
Writing in the New York Times, Albert Hunt really lays it on thick with this idea that the GOP will achieve political nirvana if they manage to block meaningful reform this year:
A defeat would be a killer for Democrats. The trademark of Mr. Obama's first year in office would be failure; the reputations of the president and his celebrated White House staff would be decimated.
Less evident, though equally true, it would almost certainly cost congressional Democrats seats in elections next year, striking especially hard at some of the same centrist Blue Dogs who are resisting a health care bill.
A defeat of health care reform legislation would literally decimate the Democratic Party as we know it, Hunt stresses.
Left unsaid? The fact that a strong majority of Americans want health care reform. Doesn't matter. Inside the Beltway, the GOP is sitting on a political gold mine if they can just defeat legislation that most Americans want to see passed into law.
I mean honestly, is his (professional) obituary going to read, "Fact-checked by Ann Coulter"?
To follow up on Eric's follow-up to my point about the media's response to Sarah Palin's media criticism: the media's ridicule of Al Gore's 2002 media criticism, and their acquiescence to Palin's, is all the more striking given the media's treatment of Gore from 1997 through 2000 (not that it ended then.)
The media really did "make things up" about Gore -- they made up the claim that Gore had taken credit for discovering Love Canal, they made up a never-ending series of Gore exaggerations that all -- every one of them -- were actual media exaggerations; they made up fantasies about why he wore brown clothes (actual reason: everybody wears brown) and three-button suits (actual reason: everybody in 1999 wore three-button suits.) They made up lies Gore didn't tell, then used those made-up lies to call Gore a liar. They dutifully passed on every RNC attack on Gore, no matter how stupid and false, as fact.
And when Gore called them on it, they ridiculed him.
But when Sarah Palin -- who the media never held as accountable for her actual lies as they held Gore for the lies he didn't tell -- accuses the media of making things up, they can't be bothered to demand an example, and they certainly don't point out that Palin herself raised making things up to an art form during her campaign last year.
Is it any wonder the myth of the liberal media persists, given the way reporters dismiss valid progressive media criticism and obligingly pass along every inane conservative attack on their work?
Talk about insult to injury. Yesterday I highlighted the gaping holes in Glenn Thrush's Nancy Pelosi hit piece which claimed she's "despised" by Americans, despite the fact Politico couldn't point to any polling data--any facts--to support that incendiary claim. The article simply highlighted the dreadful brand of journalism Politico practices on a regular basis.
The insult? I go out to the curb this morning to pick up my suburban NJ newspaper and there, re-printed right on the front page, is Thrush's error-filled Pelosi's piece.
Politico is infecting everything!
P.S. Is Thrush ever going to correct the glaring factual error in his piece in which he claimed Newt Gingrich only became unpopular as Speaker of the House after he led the charge to shut down the federal government? Yesterday I pointed to Gallup polling data that proved unequivocally that Thrush's claim was erroneous. Gingrich was pretty much always unpopular.
You might even say, despised.