My latest column is now online. The piece, titled Down for the Count: The Real Fight for 2012, which has already been picked up by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, looks at media coverage of the emerging battle over the 2010 U.S. Census which will have a profound impact in 2012 potentially deciding the control of Congress for years to come. Check it out and be sure to post a comment and let me know what you think.
By Karl Frisch
The fight for 2012 is here. Beltway media insiders rejoice!
Who's it going to be? Spunky Sarah? Moneyed Mitt? Holy Huckabee? Some dark-horse candidate flying under the radar? One thing is for sure: While the media clamors for every tiny detail in the looming battle for the Republican presidential nomination, the real fight for 2012 is taking place right before their very eyes.
Here's how Politico begins an article about the ban on gays serving openly in the military:
It is precisely the sort of knife fight no president wants to get into, especially in his first 100 days. But it seems that President Barack Obama is about to get dragged down the same dark alley as Bill Clinton when he was forced to confront the highly charged issue of gays in the military early in his term.
Politico didn't bother including any polling data on public attitudes towards gays serving openly in the military. Maybe that's because the polling undermines the entire premise of the Politico article.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted last July found that 75 percent of Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military - up from just 44 percent in 1993. The poll even found 64 percent of Republicans in favor. 64 percent of conservatives, too - and 59 percent of conservative Republicans.
And yet, here's Politico insisting - without data - that the issue is dangerous for Obama:
The issue is risky for Obama, too, political analysts said, threatening to galvanize social conservatives and other political opponents, strain the new president's relations with the military, and force him to squander valuable political capital that is needed on more pressing matters, particularly his economic agenda.
Another problem: Politico says the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" regulation "allows gays to serve in the military, as long as they don't flout their homosexuality." First, I'm pretty sure they meant "flaunt," not "flout." Second, members of the military need not "flaunt" their homosexuality in order to be discharged under DADT. They need only acknowledge it.
Politico is developing something of a habit of portraying wildly popular policy positions as out of the mainstream. A few weeks ago, Politico's Glenn Thrush portrayed public funding for contraceptives as part of a "far left agenda," despite the fact that polls show around 80 percent support for such funding.
If they're going to call themselves Politico and focus on politics rather than policy, is it really asking too much for them to have at least a general sense of where public opinion is on issues before publishing this nonsense?
UPDATE: Some have questioned whether Thrush personally suggested that funding for contraceptives is a "far left" position, or whether he merely indicated that conservatives would portray it as such. Here's his exact wording; decide for yourself: "Third -- and most dangerous to Pelosi personally -- it undercuts her carefully crafted image as a measured centrist, playing into the right wing caricature of Pelosi as a Bay Area liberal who will abuse her power to push her far left agenda."
David Frum writes:
Rush knows what he is doing. The worse conservatives do, the more important Rush becomes as leader of the ardent remnant. The better conservatives succeed, the more we become a broad national governing coalition, the more Rush will be sidelined.
But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership? Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s. He plays an important role in our coalition, and of course he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise - and we have to find ways of assuring the public that he is just one Republican voice among many, and very far from the most important.
Whenever CNN manages to find two Democrats who disagree about where to go for lunch, it breaks out the "DEMS IN DISARRAY" chyron and goes wall-to-wall with the idea of the Democratic Party in turmoil.
During his CPAC speech, Rush Limbaugh said conservatives "believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, Liberty, Freedom. And the pursuit of happiness."
Conservatives may believe that, but it just isn't so. The language Limbaugh was referring to actually appears (more or less; he made some changes) in the Declaration of Independence.
I don't mean that in a partisan sense. But rather I ask the question in terms of journalism and newsworthiness.
Reading the New York Times Magazine's star treatment of Newt Gingrich this weekend, I kept waiting for the massive 8,000-word article to answer the very simple question, who cares what Newt Gingrich thinks? He hasn't been in office for more than a decade. I can't think of a single Bush era initiative that had Gingrich's fingerprints on it. He didn't run for president. And even the Times article details how House Republicans completely ignored Newt's advice on how to deal with the new president Obama in terms of his stimulus package. And yet....
And yet there Newt is on the cover of the Times magazine with the headline, "The Anti-Obama," which clearly tried to elevate the failed Speaker of the House to the level of the new president. We're supposed to believe that Newt's now calling the shots inside Washington, D.C. among Republicans. But again, where's the proof? Newt obviously has no control whatsoever over the legislative process and he's not running for office.
But he emails colleagues lots of ideas! Okay.....
From the Times profile:
There's not really any unified, easily distillable argument in these and other proposals, no ideology that might be charted on a continuum and labeled accordingly...Gingrich told me he has identified about 100 ideas and positions that command anywhere from 62 percent to 93 percent support among such a cross-section of voters: giving out tax credits for installing alternative heating sources in your home (90 percent); awarding cash prizes to anyone who invents a car that gets 100 miles to the gallon (77 percent); keeping God in the Pledge of Allegiance (88 percent).
Gingrich has been doing the deep thinker/ideas shtick for nearly 15 years, and the press loves it. Gingrich's ideas don't ever really go anywhere. But for the Beltway press corps, he's a big deal. He's serious and he's important and of course the out-of-power wannabe pol should be the subject of a massive Times profile, right?
Plus, the state of the the GOP is just a hugely important topic, and how could readers survive without fresh quotes from Frank Luntz about how stupendous Gingrich is, and quotes from Grover Norquist about what a liar Obama a liar, right?
BTW: If you'd like a little context, which was missing from the Times piece, when Republican voters were polled in September 2007 and asked who they'd support to be the party's nominee, Grinch, in this WSJ poll, came in last place.
But of course in 2009, Gingrich is a very important person. Or put another way, when should we expect to see the Times' 8,000-word feature on Democratic idea man Dennis Kucinich?
Back at the time of the inauguration, Breitbart, the conservative, Hollywood-based writer, declared [emphasis added]:
The conservatives, Republicans and sundry non-lefties I know in show business have had nothing to say but positive and helpful things about the coming Obama presidency.
"We wish him well." "He is our president now and he needs our help."
These are the types of things I keep hearing. And this is exactly the right attitude and exactly the right message.God bless, President Obama. You have my best wishes and all of my best efforts. Even though I didn't vote for you, and disagree with much of your agenda.
But that was before Rush Limbaugh announced that he wanted Obama to fail. So what does Breitbart do? He flip-flops and sides with Limbaugh of course, and now claims that the AM talker speaks the unvarnished truth.
It was an address that could have altered the election had it been delivered early last fall by any Republican presidential candidate.
About midway through Mr. Limbaugh's clear-headed, timely and sometimes rambunctious call to ideological arms, my BlackBerry began buzzing with elated text messages from across the Omni and across the nation.
A friend in Los Angeles e-mailed a one-liner: "Best speech I have ever seen."
My urbane father-in-law, the first person I knew who copped to listening to Mr. Limbaugh and who has been witness to most of the big events of the modern age, called it the "most thrilling thing [he's] seen on TV."
Hugh Hewitt simply titled his post-speech blog post "The Speech, 2009" and wrote: "Rush gave a speech ... that will be talked about for years and even decades."
Spokespeople for CPAC said it was the best-received speech in the conference's 36 years. And that included Ronald Reagan, who, by the way, was no rhetorical slouch.
By any measure, Mr. Limbaugh hit the ball out of the park. He may have done so for the team that, these days, many people are rooting against. But the ball did land over the fence.
On the other hand, the "drive-by media" - as Mr. Limbaugh aptly refers to his business competition and ideological foes - portrayed a completely different event.
Clearly taking their cues from Mr. Obama - as well as Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid - the Fourth Estate, without the benefit of a Frank Luntz focus group or an instant poll, immediately labeled the speech as "angry" and alienating to "moderate voters."
The netroots, the mainstream media's devious protector from its left flank (e.g., the Huffington Post, Media Matters and the Daily Kos) also opined as if they had witnessed a hate crime.
Anonymous liberal commentators, the rabid pests of the new media, sought out the most popular conservative blogs to flood the zone with familiar Rush Limbaugh slanders. Their goal: To demoralize the right with layer upon layer of media domination. Only talk radio with its emphasis on Socratic debate over raw emotionalism and with Mr. Limbaugh in the driver's seat has escaped the left's clutches of pure media dominance.
The biz blog The Big Picture highlights this new report from Playboy [emphasis added]:
What we discovered is that [Rick] Santelli's "rant" was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a "Chicago Tea Party" was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, on in which Santelli served a Chicago frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibilllionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society."
The Big Picture concludes correctly, "This is now a very serious charge...if any of it is true, well then, Santelli may have to fall on his sword, and CNBC may owe the public an apology."
UPDATE: John Amato has more at Crooks and Liars.