Oh, boy. Now Newsbusters' Brent Baker is upset that former CNN reporter Bob Franken describes disruptive protesters who hang a congressman in effigy as "a crazed group of people" and a "mob."
The one from late last week in which Pearlstein penned a surprisingly frank column about the health care 'debate,' and called the town hall mini-mob members "political terrorists," and detailed the blatant lies Republicans were spread about Obama's health care push.
The column ("Republicans Propagating Falsehoods in Attacks on Health-Care Reform") raised lots of eyebrows and was widely cheered by liberals as being a rare example of a Beltway pundit who hit back hard and didn't hide behind a phony both-sides-do-it framework. Pearlstein clearly and unequivocally called out the right-wing misinformation and intimidation. And for that, he deserves credit.
But I thought there was a gaping hole in Pearlstein's otherwise excellent column, especially when reading passages like this [emphasis added]:
The recent attacks by Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers on the effort to reform the health-care system have been so misleading, so disingenuous, that they could only spring from a cynical effort to gain partisan political advantage. By poisoning the political well, they've given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They've become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems.
Who does Pearlstein have in mind when he refers to the "fellow-travelers"? I suspect it's members of the GOP Noise Machine, which has been amplifying the the health care attacks launched by Republican leaders. I suspect he's referring to Fox News, which in recent weeks has transformed itself into a misinformation clearing house on health care. My guess is that Pearlstein has people like Rush Limbaugh in mind, who's being doing his best to make sure listeners have no idea what today's health care reform is actually about, and instead simply unleash their hatred for the federal government.
I'm guessing that's who Pearlstein's referring to, but I don't know for sure because Pearlstein never spells it out. Because in his otherwise excellent and insightful column, Pearlstein never explains who the "fellow travelers" are and never once makes reference to any members of the right-wing media who have fueled today's "political terrorists."
I'm sorry, but if "Republican leaders" waged "attacks" on health care reform and there wasn't an irresponsible GOP Noise Machine to propagate the attacks, nobody would care what the GOP thought, simply because most Republicans today, by being such a small minority in Congress, are essentially powerless to impact the legislative process. The Republicans' only true source of power is the hate and rampant misinformation spread by right-wing media.
In other words, the right-wing media are the story here. At least a big portion of it in terms of the health care 'debate.' Yet the Beltway press continues to look away and play nice and refuse to single out offenders for deserved ridicule. And people like Pearlstein write columns that seem to dance around the obvious; columns that refuse to call out the real villains in the misinformation movement.
From Kurtz' online discussion today:
Washington, D.C.: Howard,
A few years ago, a random Internet user posted a video linking Bush to Hitler in an ad contest on MoveOn.org. The ad was quickly removed when it was located.
This was followed by a week's worth of coverage and calls for apologies by almost the entire conservative movement and the media.
You even wrote an entire article about it that was in the dead tree version.
Last week, Rush Limbaugh made an even more direct comparison of our president to Nazis.
Why do you think the media, including The Washington Post has not had the same level of outrage, call for apologies, and asking politicians to distance themselves?
Howard Kurtz: I don't know. Rush did it twice, comparing Obama's governing style to that of Hitler and saying the health care reform logo resembled a Nazi swastika (I asked White House spokeswoman Linda Douglass about the latter comment on my CNN program yesterday.) Maybe Limbaugh has said so many controversial things in the past six months that the left no longer feels the need to challenge each one.
The left isn't challenging Limbaugh's comments? Oh, really? The White House criticized the comments. How can Howard Kurtz, whose job is jobs are to cover the media, not know that the White House press secretary has criticized the nation's most-listened-to radio host for making comparisons to Nazis? Isn't that stunning ignorance of what's going on in his beat something that should concern Kurtz's Post bosses?
Kurtz, by the way, never mentioned Limbaugh's comments in the Post. Maybe he's still embarrassed about calling Limbaugh "mainstream" a few years ago.
NRO's Kathryn Jean Lopez predicts, "I suspect this will be the most linked-to YouTube of the day on the Right." The link is to a video clip of Hillary Clinton saying in 2003, "I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration somehow you're not patriotic, and we should stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration."
Presumably, Lopez is suggesting that Clinton's comments are somehow at odds with what Pelosi and Hoyer wrote in their USA Today op-ed today, but they're not.
As we pointed out this morning, Pelosi and Hoyer wrote that "it is now evident that an ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue," and that "[d]rowning out opposing views is simply un-American."
Pelosi and Hoyer did not declare opponents of health care reform - or anybody who disagrees with the Obama administration -- "un-American." They were speaking in favor of "civil dialogue" and against actions that disrupt it and "drown out opposing views."
On the off chance that Lopez was merely pointing out a great 6-year-old quote on the freedom of speech from our now-Secretary of State, fantastic. We concur.
Washington Post media critic again gave his other employer, CNN, a pass for its promotion of Birther conspiracy theories during his online discussion today:
Newark, N.J.: While I think the Birthers story will die down, I feel it's always going to under the surfaces. This won't die and were just one more YouTube.com clip of a similar event to that town hall in Georgetown, Del., with a cousin of "Crazy Eileen" (yes, that is actually her real nickname; look it up) and a crowd yelling about our Kenyan-Indonesian-anything but American president to bring this back into the spotlight on a slow news week.
Howard Kurtz: The media can only control their own behavior, not whispering campaigns and YouTube clips. I am baffled why this fringe of a fringe, arguing something that has factually been disproven, has gotten as much attention as it has. Lately, liberal programs have spent more time on the birthers than conservative ones, in an effort to spotlight what they view as craziness on the right.
The most prominent promoter of the notion that Barack Obama still needs to produce a birth certificate is Lou Dobbs. Lou Dobbs hosts a decidedly-not-liberal program on CNN. CNN's president Jonathan Klein has defended Dobbs' Birther comments as "legitimate." Howard Kurtz also works for CNN on the side. And Kurtz has never mentioned, in any of his many forums, Klein's comments.
And now Kurtz claims to be "baffled" why this fringe of a fringe has gotten media attention. The answer is clear: CNN president Jonathan Klein says obsessively insisting that Obama produce a birth certificate is "legitimate" journalism. The fact that Howard Kurtz refuses to say that is really something the Washington Post's Ombudsman needs to address.
It's also another reminder that the conflict of interest inherent in Kurtz's dual employment by both CNN and the Washington Post comes into play even when he never mentions CNN -- in this case, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that it's the reason why he didn't mention CNN.
Are we approaching a critical mass of reporters understanding that the media has done a terrible job of covering the substance of the health care debate?
Earlier, I noted that MSNBC's coverage today is far better than Friday's, that the New York Times has produced a "primer" on health care, and that even Mark Halperin thinks the media is dropping the ball in focusing on yelling at town halls rather than on the actual issue.
In a just-completed Washington Post online discussion, Post reporter Alex MacGillis directly and forcefully debunked the "death panel" nonsense, wrote "I agree wholeheartedly that reporters too often rely on the 'he said/she said' model and shy from stating what they know to be the truth on an issue," and agreed that the media is partially responsible for people holding false beliefs about health care reform.
Even Howard Kurtz wrote of Sarah Palin's "death panels" lie: "there is a point where the media should say a politician is wrong, and this is the point."
And Friday night, Time's Michael Scherer denounced that day's cable news coverage of health care:
the word "violence" was thrown around like candy for the masses, who are apparently torn between wanting more blood and wanting more outrage over the blood. Meanwhile, the substance of any policy discussion--like President Obama's quiet decision to deal away Medicare bargaining power for prescription drugs--is lost.
What else is out there? Feel free to post other examples of reporters explaining or criticizing the flaws in health care coverage in the comments.
Here's the not-very-subtle headline which, frankly, is almost indistinguishable from current GOP talking points:
Time to Ram It Through? -- Schumer Sets Sept. 15 Deadline for Health Care Deal
When you read the dispatch it becomes clear that by "Ram It Through," ABC News is referring to what's typically called "voting on," or "passing" a billing. i.e. The legislative process. But for some reason, ABC News thinks it works better as "Ram It Through." Interesting.
Meanwhile, this passage also seemed quite GOP friendly:
In a bit of verbiage which is likely to be seized on by the president's critics, Mitch Stewart, the head of the president's political organization, paints protestors as "partisan mobs with lies about health reform."
ABC's Teddy Davis thinks it's a big deal that an Obama supporter called out the "partisan mobs with lies about health reform." Why? What part of that phrase at this point is even remotely controversial, let alone inaccurate?
CJR's Megan Garber continues her excellent coverage of the "Mouthpiece Theater" debacle with an explanation of why the "it was just an experiment" defense falls flat. Garber:
Should Milbank and Cillizza-whose "experimental" journalism involved the duo dubbing themselves "two of the biggest maws in Washington" and treating politics as if it were alternately a sport/a game/a spectacle/an object of mockery-really be applauded for the reductive insult-to-all-involved that was "Mouthpiece Theater"? More to the point, was the series really embracing the kind of experimentation we want to see defining news's future?
No. And: no. Experimentation may well be what will guide us out of the desert journalism is currently wandering; still, Hey, we were just experimenting! cannot be a blanket defense for the blanket abandonment of journalistic ideals. Which, in the end, is what "Mouthpiece Theater" was. In journalism, as in everything else, there are principles that must transcend platform-messages, as it were, that must transcend medium. Among them are: intellectual honesty, a commitment to information, and a fundamental seriousness of purpose. And that's so even when it comes to satire.
There's much more; check it out.
As Garber notes, Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander, after criticizing the execution of Mouthpiece Theater, wrote "Milbank and Cillizza should be applauded for embracing the spirit of experimentation underlying [the series]."
Alexander was, at times, refreshingly blunt in his assessment of the videos. "Critics justly panned it as sophomoric," for example. And "There was so much wrong with 'Mouthpiece Theater' and the way The Post handled the controversy that it's hard to know where to begin."
But his assessment also left a lot to be desired. He continued the Post's description of the videos as satire that went too far. I don't buy it. What were Chris Cillizza and Dana Milbank "satirizing" when they called Hillary Clinton a bitch and described a wife suing for divorce from a cheating spouse as a "bitter woman from hell"?
Alexander -- like Milbank, Cillizza, and the Washington Post spokesperson who first commented on the controversy -- seems to think "satire" means simply "jokes." That isn't what "satire" means. This is:
1. the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.
2. a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule.
So, again: What human folly or vice were Cillizza and Milbank holding up to scorn, derision or ridicule? None. They skipped the "human folly or vice" part and went straight to scorn, derision and ridicule.
What Milbank and Cillizza did wasn't satire that went too far. It was mean-spirited insults. There is a difference. Saying that they simply went too far in their satire lets them off the hook. It isn't a legitimate defense; it's spin.
Speaking of letting them off the hook: Alexander suggests Cillizza's only flaw in this debacle was hanging out with the wrong crowd:
The basic concept was flawed. Milbank might have pulled it off as a solo act. His Washington Sketch column can be biting and funny, and his occasional accompanying videos are creative and entertaining. It's his job to voice opinions. But Cillizza is different. He writes straight news on The Fix, his popular Post politics blog, and his stories appear on the news pages. Teaming with Milbank created a branding problem for him and The Post. It left readers confused about his true role -- reporter, commentator or comic? -- and about The Post's standards. Cillizza acknowledged this "somewhat discordant marriage" on The Fix after "Mouthpiece Theater" was killed.
Alexander did not mention that Cillizza, not Milbank, was the one who attacked Chip Pickering's wife as a "bitter woman from hell." In fact, Alexander didn't mention that comment at all. Alexander is not alone in that -- I don't believe either Cillizza or the Post has ever acknowledged it. All parties seem content to let people believe Milbank's "bitch" comment was the only misogyny contained in the video. That is, perhaps, understandable coming from Cillizza and the Post -- they are, after all, concerned about the damage done to the branding of "The Fix." But readers might have expected better from the Post's Ombudsman.
... Brent Baker fires up his computer:
CBS and NBC targeted Rush Limbaugh -- NBC's Kelly O'Donnell charged "some anger...gets stoked by the provocative megaphone of Rush Limbaugh, who went so far as accusing Democrats of wanting the socialized medicine of Nazi Germany" -- without bothering to acknowledge Limbaugh was reacting to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who first put Nazi comparisons into play by accusing the opponents of "carrying swastikas and symbols like that to a town meeting on health care." [Bold and ellipses in original]
Got that? Rush Limbaugh accuses Democrats of wanting to duplicate the policies of Nazi Germany -- but according to Brent Baker, it was "Nancy Pelosi who first put Nazi comparisons into play." How did she do that? She pointed out that health care opponents have brought swastikas and other similar symbols to health care meetings.
Seems to me that Nancy Pelosi cannot be said to have "first put Nazi comparisons into play" if she was talking about the fact that conservatives had already used Nazi imagery. Newsbusters, apparently, uses an activist interpretation of the word "first."
Not to mention the fact that Baker can't see the qualitative difference between comparing something to the Nazis and denouncing Nazi comparisons.
You can see where the coverage--where the media narrative--is heading this week. First the New York Times, and now ABC.
Rachel Martin's lede [emphasis added]:
The debate over health care reform is getting louder on both sides.
It's obvious journalists are more comfortable blaming both sides; pretending that liberals and Democrats are also to blame for town hall free-for-alls where the police are now routinely summoned and Congressmen and women receive death threats.
By adopting that phony (GOP) storyline, and avoiding the truth about how the mini-mobs are a creation of the radical right, journalists know they won't be attacked by the right-wing for displaying "liberal bias." So by ignoring the facts and diluting what's really going on, the press plays it safe. Of course, playing it safe has nothing to do with accurately informing the public. But I'm not sure at this point most journalists even care.
Here, BTW, in its entirety, is ABC's proof that "both sides" are doing it:
The AFL-CIO and other labor unions are urging their members to show up in force at congressional town halls around the country and voice their support of health care reform, as a counterpoint to the conservative protesters. And the liberal group MoveOn.org is using the conservative protests as a rallying cry to their membership in an effort to raise money to fight back.
Union members are being urged to attend town hall forums and MoveOn.org is raising money. At ABC News, that's just like joining a mob, screaming at politicians, hanging them in effigy, and swarming their cars.
Honestly, I'm not sure false equivalencies come more pronounced than that.