Howard Kurtz should have listened to me.
Last week, I twice noted that the Washington Post/CNN media critic was oddly silent about CNN's Lou Dobbs and his promotion of the birther nonsense. Kurtz's silence seemed like an obvious conflict of interest.
Well, by the time Kurtz got around to addressing the issue on today's Reliable Sources, CNN President Jonathan Klein had weighed in, calling Dobbs' birtherism "legitimate" and denouncing Dobbs' critics as "people with a partisan point of view from one extreme." (Klein had earlier indicated that the story was dead and the birthers' claims baseless; his flip-flop raises the question of who is in charge -- Klein or Dobbs.)
On today's Reliable Sources broadcast, Kurtz called Dobbs' birther coverage "ludicrous." That's great, though long overdue. But with CNN's president now taking Dobbs' side, there's a bigger story here than Lou Dobbs. And Howard Kurtz just couldn't bring himself to criticize his boss.
Had Kurtz addressed the Dobbs issue last week, when he should have, he might have been able to get away with not coming back to it. But by waiting until today, he put himself in a position where he had to either address Klein's comments, or shy away from criticizing the boss. He chose to keep quiet about Klein. And so we learned from Kurtz's unwillingness to criticize Klein that he likes having the job of media critic more than he likes doing the job of media critic.
From the July 25 edition of Fox News' Forbes on Fox:
From a July 25 Los Angeles Times article:
CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein told staffers of "Lou Dobbs Tonight" on Thursday that the controversy regarding the legitimacy of President Obama's birth certificate -- a topic Dobbs has avidly pursued on the air -- is a "dead" story.
But in an interview, the cable news chief left open the possibility that Dobbs may continue to raise questions about why the president has not produced a long-form birth certificate. The absence of such a record has spawned rumors that Obama was not born in the United States, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.
"He's got more than 30 years as a television journalist, and I trust him, as I trust all our reporters and anchors, to exercise their judgment as various stories evolve," Klein said of Dobbs, whose daily CNN program is a mix of news and opinion.
"Certainly if there are future news pegs, then we have to take that story as it comes," he added.
That appeared to be a step back from the stance Klein took in his e-mail Thursday, in which he wrote that CNN researchers had determined that Hawaiian officials discarded paper documents in 2001. Because of that, Obama's long-form birth certificate no longer exists and a shorter certificate of live birth that has been made public is the official record, they reported.
"It seems to definitively answer the question," Klein wrote in the e-mail, first reported by the website TVNewser. "Since the show's mission is for Lou to be the explainer and enlightener, he should be sure to cite this during your segment tonite. And then it seems this story is dead -- because anyone who still is not convinced doesn't really have a legitimate beef."
On Friday, Klein said he was not ordering the staff to drop the story.
"When I use the word 'seems,' that's an open invitation to disagree," he said. "Other people may have a different point of view about that, and they're welcome to offer it, because I don't think as management you ever want to be closed down to discussions about editorial issues."
"I have written directives in the past," he added, "and believe me, there would be no mistaking a directive from me."
Klein said he did not hear from Dobbs in response to the e-mail. The host, who raised many of the questions about Obama's birth on his radio program, was on the air Friday afternoon after press deadline and could not be reached for comment.
On Friday, the Southern Poverty Law Center called on CNN to fire Dobbs for trading in "racist conspiracy theories." And some of Dobbs' staff at CNN have told him and network executives that they are uncomfortable with his persistent focus on the story.
Klein defended Dobbs, saying that the host's treatment of the so-called "birther" movement has been "legitimate."
From a July 24 post on The New York Times' Media Decoder blog:
The conspiracy theorists who have claimed for more than a year that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen have found receptive ears among some mainstream media figures in recent weeks.
Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the country's most popular talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, told his listeners Tuesday that Mr. Obama "has yet to have to prove that he's a citizen." Lou Dobbs of CNN said that Mr. Obama should do more to dispel the claims. Larry King, also of CNN, asked guests about it, and other media types, including the MSNBC hosts Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, merrily mocked the controversy. NBC News even did a segment on the subject.
"This smear was thoroughly debunked during the election," said Eric Burns, the president of Media Matters for America, a liberal media monitoring organization.
Remarkably, there is even a reference to Mr. Obama's birth in the "Births, Marriages, Deaths" column of the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper on Aug. 13, 1961. Still, the claims about Mr. Obama's citizenship persist among a small but vocal group, essentially portraying Mr. Obama as a foreigner who has managed to conceal his origins for nearly five decades.
"It's racist," said Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC. "It's racist. Just call it for what it is."
Decent news article in the Journal today that tackles a topic most of the press seems to have ignored so far, which is what the political downside is for Republicans if they successfully kill Obama's health care reform. To date, the press has mostly presented this as a win-win situation for the GOP, despite the fact that polling consistently show that a majority of American want health care reform and support Obama's approach.
Typically, if a political party stakes out a position that runs counter to what most voters want, then there's a political penalty to be paid. But not for Republicans, at least not when it comes to health care coverage. Rather than stressing, or even mentioning, how the party finds itself out of touch with the mainstream, the Republicans are seen--via the press--as being on the verge of a monumental win if they're able to defeat health care.
Reminds me of the skewed coverage back during the stimulus bill 'debate,' when the press rolled out a win-win for Republicans, who simply had to oppose Obama on the centerpiece legislation and the press would crown Obama the loser. Why? Because he couldn't land any bipartisan support.
Today, the Journal at least raises the question about a Republican backlash if they kill health care reform:
Republicans, seeking to regain political ground in the health-care debate, have launched a series of attacks on Democrats' overhaul plan. But some GOP strategists worry an aggressive approach could backfire, if voters decide the party is obstructing efforts to address an issue they care about.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that as Palin leaves office in Alaska, 53 percent of U.S. voters view her negatively, and 57 percent don't think she understands the complex issues of the day.
Still, given how some news outlets have recently been bending over backward to claim she remained "popular," despite previous polling data that showed just the opposite, we'll have to see if the press is able to report the ABC/WP poll results a bit more accurately. Because I'm pretty sure it's no longer accurate to describe Palin as "popular."
I'd love to see Fox News' Greta Van Susteren have Byron York back on her program so they could once again discuss how "popular" Sarah Palin is.
From a July 24 open letter Southern Poverty Law Center president J. Richard Cohen addressed to CNN president Jonathan Klein:
On the July 15 edition of "Lou Dobbs Tonight," Mr. Dobbs questioned the official certificate provided by the president and the State of Hawaii and complained that President Obama has not made public the "original document." On his radio program, Mr. Dobbs has repeatedly questioned the president's fitness for office, demanding he "show the documents" and, at one point, jokingly suggesting President Obama may be "undocumented."
The truth about the president's birth is not in dispute. It has been verified by Factcheck.org, among many other serious news organizations, and his official birth documents have been made public. CNN itself has repeatedly reported on the falsity of the claims of the "birthers," and the network's esteemed legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, recently called those claims "a joke." As you know, even Mr. Dobbs' frequent fill-in anchor, Kitty Pilgrim, debunked the birthers on the July 17 edition of Mr. Dobbs' own CNN show. The fact that Mr. Dobbs suggests otherwise on CNN - while real CNN reporters tell the truth - is both deplorable and an embarrassment to all serious journalists.
This is not the first time Mr. Dobbs has pushed racist conspiracy theories or defamatory falsehoods about immigrants. We wrote you in 2007 to bring to your attention his utterly false claim that 7,000 new cases of leprosy had appeared in the United States in a recent three-year period, due at least in part to immigrants. (The real number, according to official statistics, was about 400. Mr. Dobbs took his spurious information from the late right-wing extremist, Madeleine Cosman.) In addition, Mr. Dobbs has reported as fact the so-called Aztlan conspiracy, which claims that undocumented Mexican immigrants are part of a plot to "reconquer" the American Southwest. He has suggested there is something to a related conspiracy theory that claims the governments of Mexico, the United States and Canada are secretly planning to merge into the "North American Union." He has falsely claimed that "illegal aliens" fill one third of American prison and jail cells. And Mr. Dobbs has routinely disparaged, on CNN's air, those who have had the integrity to point out the falsity of these and similar claims.
Respectable news organizations should not employ reporters willing to peddle racist conspiracy theories and false propaganda. It's time for CNN to remove Mr. Dobbs from the airwaves.
From an article about the Obama/Gates kerfuffle [emphasis added]:
Police organizations attacked the president's willingness to criticize a police officer without knowing all the facts, Republicans dusted off law-and-order attacks largely absent from the presidential campaign and everyone from comedian Bill Cosby to the Irish-American media piled on.
First, Politico didn't bother to point to any proof that the media "piled on." I know conservatives and right-wing bloggers teed off on Obama. And reporters have covered the story (too) extensively with a mostly straight news approach. But I haven't seen any kind of wide-scale "pile-on." Not in comparison to say, the Lou Dobbs pile-on that unfolded this week.
But more importantly, the media in this country is now "Irish-American"? What is this, 1942 at the New York Daily Mirror? I mean gimme a break with these sweeping, and shallow, generalizations.
When I read passages like that from Politico I just always wonder, does anybody edit this stuff?