My latest column is about the bizarre tendency of much of the news media to be shocked by extraordinarily predictable political developments. Here's an example I left out: Melinda Henneberger on MSNBC's Hardball last week:
"It's pretty amazing how quickly things have changed when only recently we thought this was going to be another really great year for the Democrats. But I am just so astonished most of all that this health care debate has gotten away from Obama the way it has. I mean, this should be his greatest moment. This should be a no-brainer."
Really? Henneberger is seriously surprised that fundamentally reforming the health care system turned out to be a struggle -- just as it has proven to be every previous time it was attempted, which is why it still needs reform?
Which part of the process caught her off guard? That Republicans are kicking and screaming and lying and doing everything they can to stop reform -- just like they did last time? Or that, just like they often are, many Democrats have been slow to realize that Republicans are not negotiating in good faith? Or that insurance companies with deep pockets are fairly influential on Capitol Hill -- just like they always are?
Henneberger is "astonished" that the "no-brainer" that is health insurance reform didn't just magically happen while Washington held hands and bought Cokes for one another.
The thing that's actually astonishing is that any reporter could be astonished by any of this.
So, Chris Matthews is concerned that bloggers (supposedly) don't fact-check their work. That's odd, since Chris Matthews is the poster child for the punditocracy's habit of endlessly repeating falsehoods that happen to mesh with their worldview.
There is a virtually endless supply of examples we could include, but let's stop on that last one. Is a television reporter who is wrong so often he has to admit "I keep saying it, and I keep being wrong on this" really in any position to complain about anyone else's fact-checking?
From George Will's August 23 Washington Post column, headlined "Obama's State Capitalism":
Even more than the New Deal and the Great Society, Obama's agenda expresses the mentality of a class that was nascent in the 1930s but burgeoned in the 1960s and 1970s. The spirit of that class is described in Saul Bellow's 1975 novel "Humboldt's Gift." In it Bellow wrote that the modern age began when a particular class of people decided, excitedly, that life had "lost the ability to arrange itself":
"It had to be arranged. Intellectuals took this as their job. . . . This arranging has been the one great gorgeous tantalizing misleading disastrous project. A man like Humboldt, inspired, shrewd, nutty, was brimming over with the discovery that the human enterprise, so grand and infinitely varied, had now to be managed by exceptional persons. He was an exceptional person, therefore he was an eligible candidate for power." So, shrewd and nutty people such as Rep. Barney Frank are brimful of excitement about arranging American life.
The prize goes to Politico (surprise!) and three in question were penned by Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei. The article's premise was utterly predictable: The White House is bumbling, while the GOP is super savvy! (Politico's been writing that same piece for six months straight now.) But behold what happens when news is literally filtered through the RNC:
By doing so much, so fast, Obama gave Republicans the chance to define large swaths of the debate. Conservatives successfully portrayed the stimulus bill as being full of pork for Democrats. Then Obama lost control of the health care debate by letting Republicans get away with their bogus claims about "death panels."
How does Politico know the GOP was successful in portraying the stimulus bill as full of pork? Allen and VandeHei don't say. Everyone understands that's the claim that the GOP made during the stimulus 'debate.' But how does Politico come to the conclusion it was successful? The duo don't bother pointing to any polling data. They don't provide any evidence that that GOP claim stuck among everyday voters. Politico simply announces the claim as fact.
What I think they really meant to suggest was that the GOP was successful in convincing journalists that the stimulus bill was full of pork. The Beltway press club concluded that conservatives had successfully tagged the bill as being wasteful, so therefore it's now considered fact.
Think about it: The bill itself was easily passed and was signed into law. And the "Cash for Clunkers" stimulus program, for instance, has sent automobile sales soarings this summer. But at Politico, conservatives won the battle over the stimulus bill.
Nifty trick, eh?
Second, note how it was the White House's fault that conservatives launched the phony "death panel" smear campaign. It was the White House's fault that the other side rolled out a wild, unhinged, sci-fi lie about health care reform. It was the White House's fault that Republicans got "away with their" bogus claim. But how did they get away with the smear? By the media, including Politico, often repeating the hollow claim, of course.
From today's Washington Post editorial, "Scare Tactics Evade Debate on Real Health Care Issues":
EZEKIEL EMANUEL, one of President Obama's top health advisers, is a respected bioethicist who opposes euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. When the Supreme Court was considering the constitutionality of state laws that prohibit physician-assisted suicide, Dr. Emanuel was an outspoken opponent of the practice. He warned it could be abused "to justify using euthanasia for children, the incompetent, the mentally ill, and others who are suffering or who we imagine are suffering in some fashion." So it is grotesque that Dr. Emanuel has become the latest bogeyman -- the "Dr. Death" behind the "death panels" -- for opponents of the Obama administration's push for health-care reform.
Dr. Emanuel's writings reveal him to be a thoughtful person grappling with difficult ethical issues. The same cannot be said of his critics, who seem less intent on discussing what is in the health reform proposal than in deploying scare tactics to defeat it.
From Washington Post columnist Bill Kristol's August 31 Weekly Standard column:
Conservative policy wonks helped to explode the false budgetary and health-improvement claims made on behalf of Obamacare. Conservative polemicists pointed out how Obamacare--conceived in the spirit of budget chief Peter we-spend-too-much-as-a-nation-on-health-care Orszag and adviser Ezekiel we-need-to-stop-wasting-money-on-extending-low-quality-lives Emanuel--means, in effect, death panels.
So good for them.
Good hire, guys. Clearly a welcome and valuable addition to the Post family.
And yes, Kristol "deploying scare tactics to defeat" the health reform proposal rather than "discussing what is in" it was entirely predictable.
That's the sub-head that runs below today's "Prescriptions" column in the Times. (Online, "Prescriptions" is a Times blog devoted to the health care debate.) But one of today's "Prescriptions" items does absolutely nothing in terms of "making sense" of the debate. In fact, the Times item simply helps keep alive the phony "death panel" claim.
The item recounted the Daily Show appearance this week by Betsy McCaughey, who was a prime architect of the "death panel" lie; that the federal government, under the Democrats' proposed reform, would be in the business of selectively killing old people. On the show, host Jon Stewart called her out on the bogus claim, and McCaughey held her ground, insisting her sci-fi fairy tale was true:
But Mr. Stewart, at times reading from the same pages, argued otherwise. "It seems like this bill is allowing people more control over their lives, and that your reading of it is hyperbolic and in some cases dangerous," he told her.
Ms. McCaughey remained politely unfazed.
Period. End of report (Online, the item continued a bit longer.) In a column that claims to be "making sense of the health care debate," the Times left open the question whether the "death panel" claim was true. The Times simply reported on how Stewart and McCaughey disagreed over the matter.
The Washington Independent highlights Betsy McCaughey's resignation from the board of directors of Cantel Medical Corp., a medical products company, to "avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest." McCaughey's resignation coincides with her attempt to revive her false end-of-life counseling smears on The Daily Show.
According to Cantel's press release:
LITTLE FALLS, N.J., Aug 21, 2009 /PRNewswire-FirstCall via COMTEX News Network/ -- CANTEL MEDICAL CORP. (NYSE: CMN) announced that on August 20, 2009 it received a letter of resignation from Ms. Elizabeth McCaughey as a director of the Company. Ms. McCaughey, who had served as a director since 2005, stated that she was resigning to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest during the national debate over healthcare reform.
Big surprise, right? Former Department of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge admits in his upcoming book that he was pressured by very senior Bush White House officials to raise the nation's terror level warning and to do it for purely for political reasons.
The story's a big deal and it's been widely reported and commented upon in the last 24 hours. Except at GOP-friendly Fox News, of course, which continues to play dumb about the news story.
According to TVeyes.com, since the terror level story broke yesterday, CNN has mentioned "Tom Ridge" on the air at least 41 times, MSNBC has done it 62 times, and CNN's Headline News, which covers fewer stories each day, mentioned "Tom Ridge" 18 times so far.
Any guesses for Fox News? Did I mention FNC was playing dumb on an epic level?
If you guessed t-w-o, you are correct. According to TVeyes, Fox News has been able to almost completely ignore the Ridge story. It basically does not exist. Four sentences. To date, that's been the sum total of Fox News' reporting on the Ridge controversy. The four sentences were aired on Thursday's Special Report, which was then re-broadcast during the overnight.
BTW, the other cable channels continue to cover the Ridge story today and by midnight I'm guessing MSNBC's total mentions of Ridge will approach 80-90, while CNN's will likely top out around 60. But if I had to place my money, I'd bet that Fox News' two reference will stand firm throughout the day.
Tom Ridge? Never heard of the guy?
Chris Cillizza: I think that McCain still holds serious power within the party despite the fact that he lost the 2008 presidential fight.
He is the best known Republican -- with the possible exception of his 2008 ticketmate -- in the country and when he speaks on an issue I think there is an audience for what he has to say.
As I wrote this morning, McCain has largely been shut out of the health care debate but I do think that how he positions himself has some influence over how some of his colleagues -- particularly the Senate moderates -- look at the bill when Congress comes back next month.
Um ... What?
Let's take these explanations in order. "McCain still holds serious power within the party"? Really? When did he ever hold "serious power" within the Republican Party? Even when they nominated him for President, he couldn't choose his own Vice-Presidential nominee.
There's an audience for what McCain has to say? Well, that's true: Washington, DC-based reporters. That has always been his audience.
McCain's health care positioning may have some influence over how "the Senate moderates" behave? Really? Given that the so-called "moderates" are already digging in their heels in opposition to a public plan, it doesn't seem like they're waiting around for McCain to weigh in.
Or perhaps Cillizza thinks McCain is going to come out in favor of a public plan, and bring some so-called "moderates" with him? That would be quite the surprise, given that McCain has been staunchly party-line in his Senate votes this year -- even voting with his Republican colleagues more reliably than Mitch McConnell. Yes, the same Mitch McConnell who is the Senate Minority Leader. And more reliably than Jon Kyl, the GOP whip. When you're a more reliable footsoldier for your party than the person who holds the job of keeping the party in line, you aren't much of a moderate or a maverick.
I'm sure Cillizza really believes all these reasons. But that doesn't mean they make the least bit of sense.