Last night, Sean Hannity contemptuously declared that "it's obvious that the White House has done some focus groups and they've done some polling" because President Obama is now referring to "health insurance reform" and using "Republican words" like "choice" and "competition." Turning up his nose at this "clearly market-tested" language, Hannity implies that conservatives don't need to use such a "Madison Avenue media campaign" because their proposals are popular with the American people.
This is, of course, the same Sean Hannity who has hosted Frank Luntz -- who has built his career on using focus groups and polling to find the words that turn public opinion -- nine times in the last nine weeks. Luntz hasn't been on Hannity's show to share his vast knowledge of the intricacies of the health care system; he's been there to impart wisdom like this:
LUNTZ: There's something that came up. The language that's used before, you're calling it a public option, which is what the White House calls it. Are you sure it isn't a government option. It's sponsored by the government and paid for by the government. It's one of the most important points in this entire debate.
If you call it a public option, the American people are split. If you call it the government option, the public is overwhelmingly against it.
HANNITY: You know what? It's a great point. And from now on, I'm going to call it the government option, because that's what it is. I mean, it's not -- it's the public option, but it's known in the vernacular that's been used pretty much in the press, it's been that option. So that's a great point.
That happened on August 18, two nights before Hannity discovered his hatred for "market-tested" language. On the other hand, Luntz's office is in Alexandria, Virginia, not on Madison Avenue, so I guess that's totally different.
Here's how MNSBC's Andrea Mitchell just described Tom Ridge's statement that the Bush administration played around with terror alerts and threat levels for political purposes:
"Former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge is accusing former Bush officials of trying to use the politics of fear to get President Bush re-elected in 2004."
This is a grotesque understatement. Ridge's claims, if true, don't merely mean that Bush aides tried "to use the politics of fear" to win re-election. They mean the Bush administration put American lives at risk in order to win votes.
Baselessly screwing around with the terror alerts make people take them less seriously. If there is any merit at all to those alerts, their efficacy is lessened by the actions the Bush folks allegedly took.
Describing that as simply "using the politics of fear" is absurd. Saying "If you vote for the other guys, they won't keep America safe" is "using the politics of fear." Changing the terror threat levels for political purposes is reckless and dangerous; an abdication of their responsibility to govern according to the public interest rather than their political interest.
But to media elites, it's just a question of whether maybe the Bushies got a little rough in the way they practiced politics. Nonsense.
UPDATE: This attitude, by the way, helps explain the major media's reluctance to "look back" at what the Bush administration did. They seem to think it's no big deal; the Bush folks were just a little too aggressive politically. Well, no, that isn't really the problem at all.
We already noted how the WashPost wrote around the good news approval ratings it found for Obama. So of course polling partner ABC News signed off on the same strategy. (They don't call it The Village for nothing.) And so that's why ABC doesn't even mention Obama's 57 percent approval ratings until the tenth paragraph of its dispatch.
The ABC article was written by ABC's polling chief, Gary Langer and this was the bad-news lede:
Public doubt about health care reform has grown as the debate's raged this summer, with a rise in views it would do more harm than good, increasing opposition to a public option - and President Obama's rating on the issue at a new low in ABC News/Washington Post polls.
Please contrast that to this ABC report which Langer himself contributed in August of 2001, when the news outlet had fresh polling data regarding President Bush. This was Langer's first line:
After wobbling a bit earlier this year, President Bush's job approval rating looks to have stabilized at 59 percent.
Got it? When Bush landed a 59 percent approval rating in August of his first term, that was the lede; that was the news. And it was good news. His ratings had "stabilized."
Fast-forward to the August of Obama's first term. When he landed a 57 percent job approval rating, that was definitely not the lede for ABC News. And Obama's 57 percent was certainly not portrayed as good news.
Behold your liberal media at work.
Steve Benen makes a good point about the ubiquity of Sen. John McCain on the Sunday morning talk shows this year. And the point is this: The guy lost in November, and since when does the Beltway press dote on losers?
Apparently there are new rules for McCain because the Arizona Republican's scheduled to appear on ABC's This Week. It will be his 11th Sunday morning talk show appearance in eight months, but Chris Cillizza at the WasPost still thinks the sit-down is a very big deal. He thinks it's "Must Watch TV."
But why? Set aside the fact that McCain recently lost in a electoral landslide last November. The hot issue on the table right now, of course, is health care. And as Benen points out, McCain is pretty much the definition of a non-player in the health care debate right now:
He's not a member of the Republican leadership, and he's not on the Senate Finance Committee. McCain hasn't unveiled any relevant or important pieces of legislation, and he's not being targeted as a possible swing vote on any major bills.
McCain is a spectator in the health care debate, plain and simple. But ABC News is eager to have him on to pontificate about legislation over which he has virtually no say, let alone control.
But back to the loser angle real quick. Again, after Sunday, McCain will have made eleven Sunday morning talk show appearances this year. Asks Benen, "Refresh my memory: was there this much interest in John Kerry's take on current events in 2005?
Answer: There was not. In 2005, between Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This week, Fox News Sunday and CNN's Late Edition (which has basically morphed into today's State of the Union), John Kerry made a total of three appearances on those program during the first eight months of 2005, according to a search of Nexis.
Or, to put it another way, after Kerry lost in November, the press walked away from him. After McCain lost in November, the press still crowds around him.
This recent Politifact item claimed it was "false" that there was overwhelming support for a public option in proposed health care reform.
Actually, Politifact found an NBC/WSJ poll which clearly supported that claim. Politifact found the NBC/WSJ poll which indicated 76 percent of Americans support a public option.
But there was a catch. The NBC poll was from June ("a long time ago") and therefore it didn't really count:
Since that poll was published, rowdy town hall meetings and a barrage of criticism have made Americans more skeptical of health care reform. The public option has become less popular as well; several surveys done since that first NBC/Wall Street Journal poll indicate declining support for a public plan.
Here's the wrinkle for Politifact. A new poll out this week by SurveyUSA, using the exact same question NBC/WSJ asked in June, found that 77 percent of Americans support a public option. Or, pretty much exactly what NBC found in June.
Time for a Politifact update?
From The Wall Street Journal's August 21 article, "AARP Takes Heat Over Health Stand":
WASHINGTON -- AARP thinks U.S. health care needs a sweeping overhaul. Problem is, a lot of its members don't agree.
That is putting the 40-million-strong organization of older Americans in a tight spot. It is fielding a flood of calls from worried seniors and battling rumors about President Barack Obama's health push, which it supports.
"They try not to enrage one group, while still being a player and pushing for progressive reforms," said Rick Mayes, a public-policy professor at the University of Richmond who once worked for AARP. "They're constantly trying to walk this tightrope."
Mr. Obama cites AARP's backing as an irrefutable seal of approval, saying the group is "on board because they know this is a good deal for our seniors." But in a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 46% of people over 65 were against the Obama health plan, with 28% favoring it.
AARP concedes that 60,000 members have resigned since July 1 over the health-care push. "This effort hasn't been easy," Chief Operating Officer Tom Nelson wrote in a memo to staff last week. "In fact, it's often rough emotionally when some people have been hostile."
We noticed this charade earlier this summer; a major news org released poll results that didn't match the Beltway press' preferred storyline about Obama's plunging approval ratings. We noticed how journalists then did their best to camouflage the results. Because c'mon, everybody knows today the White House has completely lost control of the health care debate this month. Everybody knows the public is turning on Obama as he approval rating flirts with 50 percent. That's the script.
But uh-oh, the new ABC/WP poll came up with a different results. What were staffers going to do if their poll didn't mirror what all the cool kids were writing? (Awkward!) How were they going to hold their head high and write a straight news lede about how Obama's strong poll numbers were holding steady this summer?!!
Easy. They simply spun the result and buried the lede.
Behold the wizardry of Dan Balz and Jon Cohen. They knew what to do with the embarrassing poll results:
Public confidence in President Obama's leadership has declined sharply over the summer, amid intensifying opposition to health-care reform that threatens to undercut his attempt to enact major changes to the system, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Smooth. The Post suddenly doesn't care about Obama's approval ratings. (So passé.) Nope. Instead, it's all about "leadership" and "faith," which meant Balz/Cohen could emphasize how Obama had slipped in that category.
Well, sorta [emphasis added]:
Among all Americans, 49 percent now express confidence that Obama will make the right decisions for the country, down from 60 percent at the 100-day mark in his presidency.
Extra smooth! Rather than inform readers whether people have lost confidence in Obama's leadership since July or June, Balz/Cohen reach all the way back to May to make his comparison. The duo used figures from Obama's traditional honeymoon period when new presidents enjoy artificially high ratings, to compare with how he's doing today.
As for Obama's strong 57 approval rating? The Post got to that in the seventh paragraph. But the fact that Obama's approval rating remains statistically unchanged since July? Amazingly, Balz/Cohen somehow forgot to report that fact.
Shocking, we know.
Hmm, maybe if Kenneth Gladney's attorney weren't so busy appearing on sympathetic media outlets telling tales about union "thugs" attacked Gladney outside a recent town hall forum, embarrassing mishaps like this wouldn't be producing so many chuckles .
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
A conservative African-American social networking group set out Monday morning to criticize the city's NAACP chapter for not supporting a black man who said he was beaten outside a forum on aging earlier this month.
But the effort was cut short when the head of the civil rights group showed up at the news conference and said that no one had asked the NAACP to investigate the claims.
"The St. Louis branch of the NAACP will and does accept and investigate all written complaints filed with us, regardless of the complainant's ideology," said Claude Brown Sr., president of the St. Louis City NAACP. "We regret that a group has decided to protest outside our office before contacting us or filing such a complaint."
The other day, we pointed out that a Western Journalism Center video claiming that Rachel Maddow's statement on "Meet the Press" that MoveOn.org never ran an ad comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler was a lie because the ad in question was not commissioned by MoveOn but, rather, a submission to a 2004 MoveOn contest that was taken down after controversy arose about it and never ran anywhere as a paid ad.
The WJC has now responded by calling us liars, accusing us of "splitting hairs" and asserting that it "never claimed the ad was run on commercial T.V. We consider posting the ad on its website to constitute 'running the ad.' "
So a submission to a contest that was (briefly) posted on a website is the exact same thing as buying airtime for it on commercial TV? Interesting redefinition of "running the ad."
That's not "splitting hairs" -- that's comparing apples and oranges.
Further, the WJC video remains a work of lying by omission: It presents the Bush-Hitler video but at no point does it explain that the ad was a contest submission, never ran as a paid ad, and that MoveOn itself said that "[w]e do not support the sentiment" in it. The WJC post accusing us of being liars doesn't mention that either.
The WJC should try telling the full truth instead of redefining words to fit previous lies.