Armstrong Williams' column in today's Washington Times features this passage:
For two consecutive election cycles, Republicans suffered humiliating losses because they couldn't grasp the weight of their corruptive ways and the bitterness it left with voters. Obama's team helped to blur that line last week, and today, the administration has lost the moral high ground.
"Moral high ground"? Armstrong Williams, you might recall, is most famous for taking secret payments from the government in exchange for using his platform as a "journalist" to promote government policies. The only thing Armstrong Williams knows about the "moral high ground" is that it's an awfully long way up.
I ask because it struck me as odd that Friday night, during his hour-long program that looked at the new president and his first weeks in office, Rose invited a partisan Republican-friendly columnist, David Brooks of the New York Times, to pontificate for the first 24 minutes of the show; to basically list all the mistakes Obama had made.
I can't find archives for the Charlie Rose shows that go back to 2001, but I'd sure be interested if three weeks into George W. Bush's first term, Rose handed over nearly 30 minutes to a liberal columnist and allowed him/her to details all the mistakes Bush had made during his first 20 days in office. My hunch is Rose did not because that would have been seen as an unfair way to treat a new Republican president. But with a Democrat in the White House, it seems perfectly natural for the Beltway media to hand over all kinds of air time to Republican to critique the White House, and do so without interruption.
Brook's message to viewers nationwide on Charlie Rose? The first weeks for Obama had been "not so great." The stimulus bill was "troubling." The bill was "so far to the left" that it "offended Republicans." Brooks was concerned "Barack Obama does not have a mantle of leadership" and blamed Obama for being "a lot more partisan in recent days." The columnist also claimed there was too much White House in-fighting among Obama's senior advisers.
The theme that Brooks hit over and over during his 24-minute interview was that Democrats, and Democrats alone, was responsible for the lack of bipartisan support for the stimulus bill because Democrats had crafted such an awful piece of legislation. And that of course Republicans would have supported Obama, if only Democrats had simply written a better bill.
Brooks lamented the fact that Obama hadn't used the stimulus bill to build bipartisan support for future legislative efforts. And that the White House blew it and Republicans were completely blameless for the lack of cooperation. (It's called the "bipartisan" trap.)
And note Charlie Rose did not interview anybody else during the program to provide any sort of counter balance to Brooks' skewed, GOP-friendly analysis. (The second segment featured D.C. journalists who said pretty much exactly what you'd expect them to about Obama and the stimulus bill.) My hunch is that Beltway elites see critiques like the one Brooks' offered (i.e. it's all the Dems' fault) as the unvarnished truth and so there's really no reason to include any other voices in the discussion.
Had a fascinating discussion about the Beltway press on Moyers' most recent PBS program. To watch it click here.
Well, what cannot be considered is that there could be anything radically wrong with Washington. That the entire institution could be broken. That there are new rules necessary. That idea, that the institutions of Washington have failed and need to be changed, doesn't really occur to the press, because they're one of those institutions.
Question: What's the easiest CW column to write this week?
Answer: How Obama 'lost control' of the stimulus bill message.
Question: What's the No. 1 rule when writing that CW column?
And, of course, if there's an easy, CW column to write, than MoDo's on the case. Right on cue, she typed up all the agreed upon Beltway memes about how the Obama White House had been "overwhelmed and slow to understand" it was losing the P.R. offensive.
And wouldn't you know it, she also completely ignored the role the press played in how the stimulus 'debate' unfolded over the last two weeks. For MoDo, the press played no role in the debate. None. The fact that during one week twice as many Republicans vs. Dems were invited onto cable TV to 'debate' the bill? That had nothing to do with the White House falling behind in its messaging. The fact that the media effortlessly regurgitated GOP talking points about the bill? Again, according to MoDo and Beltway elites, that had no impact on how the bill was perceived. It was all irrelevant.
Did the White House make missteps in publicly framing the stimulus bill. Some insiders there might concede they did. At the same time, the press has spent the last two weeks dramatically effecting the stimulus 'debate.' Why won't journalists acknowledge that? How can the media have no impact on a public policy debate?
UPDATE: Howard Kurtz, who hosts a news program about the media, adds to chorus of Beltway journalists who claim Republicans "did manage to take control of the [stimulus] debate," yet remains blissfully unaware of--or uninterested in--how the media may have created that GOP advantage.
Notice the interesting shift that took place in the Beltway reporting after word broke that a tentative deal was reached to pass his stimulus package. Now that the bill will likely pass the press has changed gears.
While acknowledging that yes, Obama's centerpiece initiative will become law, some in the press now stress it wont' pass the right way. Lots of Republicans aren't going to vote for it, therefore Obama has failed. It's a completely new standard the press is using to judge a new president. Nonetheless, the yes/but meme is everywhere. Like in this weekend's NYT [emphasis added] .
With the Senate on track to pass its version of the economic stimulus legislation, President Obama is widely expected to win final Congressional approval of the plan soon, and thus make good on an assortment of his campaign promises. But in the process, he is confronting the impediments to his most ambitious pledge: to end the capital's partisan warfare.
Obama has been president less than 21 days, but the Times is anxious to note that he's failed to end two decades worth of partisan sniping. In less than three weeks Obama has not completely transformed the Beltway culture. That's a fair standard to judge him by, right?
Also, did Obama really campaign on the promise that he alone would "end" partisan warfare. If the Times' Jackie Calmes can point to the campaign quotes Obama made, than I'll believe it. (And if he said he'd end partisan warfare in 21 days, I'll donate money to Calmes' favorite charity.) But I'm pretty sure Obama said the country needed to end partisan warfare, that it must be done, and that he'd do everything he could to end it. But that he, singled-handedly, would accomplish the goal? I must have missed those claims.
Also, note that the emphasis of the Times article was what the lack of bipartisan success said about Obama. How he would react, did it highlight deficiencies in his leadership, etc. As for Republicans and what the lack of bipartisanship meant, the Times, and the rest of the press, couldn't care less. The onus for cooperation is on Obama. Period.
It's called the bipartisan trap.
Newsweek's Howard Fineman thinks Obama should stay off TV and stop communicating directly with the nation during this time of economic crisis:
Three weeks into his presidency, Obama already seems overexposed in the capital —and that was before a prime-time press conference scheduled for this week.
Got it? Less than one month into the new presidency Fineman's already tired of seeing Obama on TV and thinks he should go away.
BTW, Good luck trying to find that kind of casual contempt for the new president Bush from Newsweek writers back in February of 2001. You won't find it, because it didn't exist. But the press has already shown it holds Obama, the new POTUS, in no special regard.
The casual contempt for Obama--an unheard of phenomenon for the press eight years ago when Bush arrived in the Beltway--has already become impossible for many within the media industry to hide. Specifically the WaPo Lisa de Moraes and her unnamed television industry "suits" quoted her news article, "Obama's Preemptive Strike."
The premise is pretty simple: Obama may address the nation three times in primetime during the month of February. The Post's television writer treats this as a really big deal and inserts a how-dare-he attitude, as she wrings her hands wondering how many millions of dollars the networks might "lose" by, you know, handing over the public airwaves for relatively small blocks of time to the POTUS so he can address a national crisis.
"President Obama's desire to talk -- and talk, and talk -- to the American public could cost broadcast networks millions, and millions, and millions of prime-time TV dollars," wrote de Moraes. And yeah, good luck uncovering that kind of contempt when Bush addressed the nation in 2001 on network TV, even before the 9/11 attacks. The idea that it's newsworthy or unusual or a crisis for the TV networks when a president uses the public airwaves to address the nation is just absurd.
So is the Post's claim that the networks might "lose" money because of Obama. The Post writer makes the claim again and again and again. Does de Moraes really think every time the POTUS asks for primetime that networks just start writing checks to advertisers to cover the cost of missed ads? Has she never heard of make-goods? Combined, the networks control more than one hundred hours of primetime programming each week. Obviously, they can make-up a handful of lost ad slots because of Obama's primetime address, just as networks have done for decades.
And then there are the bitter, nameless TV execs quoted in the article. (Ungrateful suits whose networks have made billions using the public airwaves free of charge.) The unvarnished disdain for Obama and the contempt for public discourse expressed is just astounding:
"Do people really want to come home after looking for a job, or after being at a job they hate, sit down to veg out in front of their favorite show -- and he's on again?" said one TV suit, who suspects/hopes the Average Joe's reaction to too much Obamavision might be "nothing he's going to say is going to help me get a job, or put food on the table."
Trying to make strained comparison between Congressional retreats and Wall Street pay. This is the same territory ABC News embarrassed itself yesterday. Idiotic premise: Wall Street execs who accepted billions in taxpayer bailouts were chastised for raking in seven and even eight-figure salaries, but it's hypocritical when politicians complain because they're living in the lap of luxury. Or something like that.
From the AP:
Members of Congress were quick to shame corporate executives for over-the-top extravagance during the economic crisis, flying private jets and taking luxury junkets. But some lawmakers are strolling fancy resorts spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars and mingling with lobbyists.
Details about the "luxury junkets"? [emphasis added]
Democrats spend taxpayer money on their retreat but do not permit lobbyists to accompany them. The public pays for a charter train from Washington to Williamsburg for many of the 200 members who attend, as well as conference rooms, security and catering. The round-trip fare on Amtrak is $90 or more. Catered dinners at Kingsmill cost at least $60 per person. Kingsmill's rooms at this time of year start at $119 a night.
See, that's just like CEOs pocketing tens of millions of dollars, right?
Has the press ever seemed more out of touch than when covering the unfolding stimulus debate? Even the new, historic and catastrophic unemployment numbers haven't been enough to budge some media elites from their ho-hum complacency.
What's the rush, an annoyed Mika Brzezinski asked about the stimulus bill, echoing the online chorus of right-wing bloggers. (Who yes, are sure the economy will improve in coming months even if the government does nothing.)
(h/t Big Tent Democrat)