While hosting MSNBC on Friday afternoon, John Harwood took a viewer question -- and, in his answer, provided a glimpse of the shallowness the mainstream media's attitudes about their own biases:
Viewer Question: You grew up in Washington, DC, so some people would probably consider you an "insider." How do you maintain your objectivity when reporting on politics?
John Harwood: Guilty as charged of being an insider. I did grow up inside the Beltway. Let me just say this about press bias and objectivity: The notion of liberal bias in the media is not a fantasy. It is a fact, if we're talking about the orientation of people who go into journalism. However, it's also true that conservatives whine about it too much, and it's less consequential than it's been in the past because people are more mindful of it, pay more attention, and try to make sure that their own biases and their own inclinations don't come across too clearly in their news reporting.
Note, first of all, that the questioner didn't say anything about "liberal bias." She asked about Harwood's status as a Washington insider affecting his objectivity. Harwood didn't address that; not even glancingly. He just stipulated to "being an insider," then put the matter aside, betraying not so much as a hint of recognition that his insider status might affect how he views and reports on politics and policy.
And, after blowing off the question about whether his insider status affects his reporting, Harwood answered a question that wasn't asked, about "the notion of liberal bias." That's how knee-jerk defensive reporters are about "liberal bias" -- they respond to such allegations even when they haven't been asked. Harwood dismisses conservative complaints as "whining" -- but his own defensiveness makes clear that whining has worked.
And Harwood's response displayed a stunning lack of recognition of the difference between "the orientation of people who go into journalism" and the content of the news reports those people produce. John Harwood's own New York Times, for example, absolutely savaged Al Gore throughout the 2000 presidential campaign -- often inaccurately and typically unfairly -- while giving George W. Bush a free pass. Then there's Judith Miller and the Times' coverage of the run-up to the Iraq war. After those two failures -- each of historic proportions -- it is simply absurd for any Times reporter to reflexively assume that the key question about the media is whether it displays a liberal bias.
And yet, that's exactly what reporters assume. They have internalized the conservative whining, and they have clearly not come to terms with the media's conduct during the most important events of the past two decades, from their treatment of the Clintons to the 2000 campaign and the Iraq war debate.
For those who wonder why a few progressive media critics -- Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler, me -- insist on bringing up the 2000 campaign and other past examples of media failures over and over again: This is why. The fact that a New York Times reporter upon hearing a question about media objectivity immediately starts talking about liberal bias rather than apologizing for what his paper did to Al Gore shows that they really don't understand what has happened over the past two decades.
Remember back in May, when a Gallup poll found a majority of Americans call themselves "pro-life" -- a nine point margin over those calling themselves "pro-choice"? Remember how the media rushed to tout the findings, despite the fact that the poll had glaring flaws that rendered the findings dubious at best?
Well, last week, Gallup released the results of a new poll -- one finding that 47 percent of Americans call themselves "pro-life," just a hair more than the 46 percent who say they are "pro-choice," providing further evidence that the May poll was an outlier.
This would be a good time for Ramesh Ponnuru to acknowledge that I was right when I pointed out the obvious flaws in the May Gallup poll.
Gallup acknowledges that whatever shift towards the "pro-life" label there has been over the past year has occurred among Republicans, and states that it is a reaction to the election of Barack Obama rather than a shift in beliefs:
The source of the latest shift in abortion views -- between 2008 and 2009 -- is clear. The percentage of Republicans (including independents who lean Republican) who call themselves "pro-life" has risen by nearly 10 points over the past year, from 60% to 68% -- perhaps a reaction to the "pro-choice" presidency of Barack Obama -- while there has been essentially no change in the views of Democrats and Democratic leaners.
The new Gallup poll also found that only 18 percent of Americans think abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. But don't expect to hear the media say much about that poll result; they have a lengthy track record of privileging opposition to abortion.
(For the record, I continue to find questions asking people to label themselves "pro-life" or "pro-choice" less illuminating than questions that ask people whether they think abortion should be legal in specific circumstances, for reasons I explained last month.)
From Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander's August 9 column, "Foot-in-Mouth theater"
The decision to pull the plug stemmed from a July 31 segment playing off President Obama's Rose Garden beer chat about race with black Harvard scholar Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley, the white officer who arrested him on disorderly conduct charges that were later dropped. In their skit, Milbank and Cillizza envisioned beer brands that politicians might be served. For "Mad Bitch" beer, an image of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared. A predictable uproar ensued.
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 there was also something very right about it. More on that later.
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.
Second, satirical humor is risky. Clinton aside, there was mention of Gates requesting a "Big Black Stout" and Crowley ordering a "White Rascal." Some critics charged misogyny and racial insensitivity. It's important to remember that this was meant as comedy. And Milbank and Cillizza poked fun at themselves by hoisting "two cans of Jackass Oatmeal Stout." But allusions to race and gender, however innocent or evenhanded, invite trouble. What's funny to some is hurtful to others. The Post's Stylebook is clear: "Avoid ethnic labels and stereotypes such as hard-drinking Irishman, tempestuous Latins or Chinese fire drill."
Third, the lack of quality control was disturbing. "There was no systematic approach for viewing the content before it went up," Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli told me last week. "Mouthpiece Theater" was intended to be edgy. Scripts were reviewed, but not all images. The absence of final vetting invited disaster. Late this week, a new system was put in place. According to an internal note, key managers have been assigned to review all videos for "fairness and taste." Questionable videos get sent to higher-level managers. "If in doubt, run it up the flagpole," the note says. "Remember the no-surprises rule."
Finally, the apology. If the video was deemed unsuitable, an unequivocal apology was in order. Instead, Post communications director Kris Coratti issued a statement saying only that "a satirical piece that lampooned people of all stripes" had been removed because part of the video "went too far." Cillizza apologized, but briefly, to his followers on Twitter. The Post has since carried apologies from Milbank and Cillizza.
This is just atrocious.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg does the GOP a big favor today by suggesting it's both conservatives and liberals who are responsible for unleashing "ugly" mobs on town hall forums and turning them into free-for-alls. Of course, Stolberg can't point to any actual proof to back up her claim. But it's just easier--and neater--to say both sides are at fault, right?
Actually, Stolberg does find evidence of how liberals and Democrats are helping make civil discourse this month impossible:
President Obama's political organization sent a mass e-mailing urging supporters to turn out for a[n]... event at a library, to "make sure your support for health insurance reform is seen and heard."
Got it? The White House sent out an email urging people to attend town hall forums, and that's just like conservatives hanging politicians in effigy, issuing death threats, hounding Congressman all the way to their cars, and making it impossible for actual town hall debates to take place.
It's exactly the same.
And watch here as Stolberg plays dumb about the mimi-mobs [emphasis added]:
In some respects, last week's town halls — fueled on the right by antitax groups backed partly by industry, and on the left by unions — are the logical outgrowth of decades of American political activism.
It makes perfect sense that mini-mobs would descend on public forums to shout down legislation that's still be written. Why would anyone at the Times think that was odd or unusual? It's logical.
And behold this:
But last week's "town brawls," as the news media dubbed them, do seem to represent a shift.
Gee, you think?
The conservative blogosphere is absolutely atwitter with news that an activist was attacked by union thugs at a town hall meeting this week in St. Louis. It's the best the right-wing can do to deflect blame for unleashing mini-mobs on town hall forums: They did it!
The tale was first told in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Kenneth Gladney, 38, a conservative activist from St. Louis, said he was attacked by some of those arrested as he handed out yellow flags with "Don't tread on me" printed on them. He spoke to the Post-Dispatch from the emergency room at St. John's Mercy Medical Center, where he said he was awaiting treatment for injuries to his knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face. Gladney, who is black, said one of his attackers, also a black man, used a racial slur against him before the attack.
The newspaper had no witnesses, just Gladney's account. Then Gladney's attorney got involved and from conservatives' perspective, the tale got better and better:
He went to the ground. Subsequently, two other SEIU representatives or members, however you want to say it, jumped on top of him, yelled racial epithets at him...kicked him, punched him...He sustained some injuries to his back, some bruising.
And even better:
The SEIU member used a racial slur against Kenneth, then punched him in the face. Kenneth fell to the ground. Another SEIU member yelled racial epithets at Kenneth as he kicked him in the head and back. Kenneth was also brutally attacked by one other male SEIU member and an unidentified woman. The three men were clearly SEIU members, as they were wearing T-shirts with the SEIU logo.
Gladney was clearly beaten at length (it was "brutal"), and at least from this description, was lucky to survive with his life, right?
Mary Katharine Ham wrote up an especially excited write-up at The Weekly Standard about the vicious union thugs and how Gladney was severely beaten. The only mistake Ham made was including a YouTube clip of the incident; a clip that pretty much undercuts the entire tale of run-away union violence.
Go watch the YouTube video. (Or, the "shocking video," as Power Line hypes it.) The first thing you notice when the camera starts rolling is a union member already sprawled out on the ground with somebody standing over him. No explanation of how he got there (pushed, shoved, punched?) and Ham couldn't care less. Then yes, Gladney is pulled to the ground by somebody wearing a union shirt. (At the :06 mark.) But instead of Gladney being beaten and punched, as his attorney describes, and instead of union "thugs" standing over him and threatening him, Gladney bounces right back on his feet in approximately two seconds and the scuffle ends.
That was the savage "beating" the conservative blogosphere can't stop talking about?
The only real mystery from the incident is why Tea Party member Gladney, who's seen up-close after the brief encounter walking around and talking to people and who appears to be injury-free, then decided to go to the hospital to treat injuries to his "knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face." All that from a two-second fall to the pavement?
Also unclear is why he contacted a newspaper reporter, or why his attorney wrote up lavish accounts and sent them to conservative bloggers, or why Gladney and his attorney appeared on Fox News.
FYI, according to his attorney, Gladney plans on filing a civil lawsuit against the union.
UPDATED: The Hill erroneously reported that Gladney had been "hospitalized" after being "attacked." As you can see from the video, Gladney was not "hospitalized." (i.e. Rushed away by ambulance.) Instead, as the Post-Dispatch correctly reported, Gladney "said he sought hospital treatment."
It's interesting because during the Bush years, York was out front at the tsk-tsking National Review writing repeatedly about (somewhat obscure) liberals calling Bush a Nazi and likening him to Hitler. At the deeply offended National Review, the mere mention of Nazi references was appalling and beyond the pale and simply confirmed how nuts and irresponsible and unhinged and hateful liberals were.
And yet today it's pretty much crickets at National Review, and from York who's now at the right-wing Washington Examiner, despite the fact that both Beck and Limbaugh, perhaps the two highest-profile conservatives in America, jumped into the Nazi cesspool this week.
Two questions. Do double standards come any more pronounced? And is there any intellectual atrocity that Limbaugh and Beck commit that conservatives like York won't turn away from?
Oops, three questions: Does the conservative movement now cede the high and low ground to AM talk shows hosts?
I thought so.
This struck me as odd, from today's A1 piece headlined: "As Economy Turns, Washington Looks Better:"
What if in the end they got it right?
What if, amid all their missteps and all the harsh criticism, the people in charge of battling the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression — Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson and the rest — basically succeeded?
Hmm, in an article about how "Washington" might have known what it was doing all along in terms of stemming the deep recessionary tide, the Times leaves Obama out of the lede?
And note that online, Obama's photo is prominently featured above the article and implies he's getting credit. But in the newspaper, Obama's photo doesn't appear until A3,
Beck's recently claim that the president is a "racist" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people," was enough to cause three major advertisers to flee. Will his comment about poisoning Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi push more out the door?
Urged on by ColorofChange.org and many of its 600,000 members, who highlighted Beck's "racist" attack, this week NexisLexis-owned Lawyers.com, Proctor & Gamble and Progressive Insurance announced they would no longer advertise on Beck's program.
Still, Beck still enjoys the support of scores of blue-chip advertisers, and we can't help wondering why brand managers would want to be associated with Beck's hateful and unhinged rants about Nazis and racists. Why would companies like Bowlfex, Nutrisystem, Gerber, UPS, Orbitz, Geico, Vontage, Ameritrade, and Verizon wireless want their products associated with a Beck's race-baiting?
Question: Will more of them be hearing from ColorofChange.org and their activist viewers?
Over the past day, Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly compared the Nazi logo to President Obama's health care logo and has discussed the "similarities" between the Nazis and the Democratic Party.
Limbaugh's website currently features the following images, which alternately fade into each other:
And here are his recent comments:
For the past several hours, the journalists -- anchors and guests -- on MSNBC have been talking about health care town halls, and protests, and angry people, without ever once, as far as I've noticed, actually discussing a single fact about health care, or proposed reforms.
At one point, anchor Savannah Guthrie said criticism of the staged protests ignores the fact that people have legitimate concerns about health care reforms. What are those concerns? Guthrie didn't say. Why are they legitimate? Guthrie didn't say.
At another, an MSNBC anchor interviewed New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny; the entire conversation was about the White House's preferred messaging about the town halls -- not a word of substance about health care.
Another segment featured two guests: former Democratic Congressman David Bonior, and a Republican strategist -- I think it was Todd Harris. The entire conversation was about town hall meetings, and who is yelling louder, and what can be done to keep people from yelling, and who has yelled at what events in the past -- literally not a word about, you know, health care. (The guests didn't cover themselves in glory, either, playing along with the inside-baseball lets-focus-on-process-rather-than-policy nonsense.)
This is madness. Madness.
There is absolutely no value in spending hour after hour saying "So, people are angry, aren't they?" "Yep, they sure are." "But the protests are being organized by interest groups." "But they have valid concerns! And they're angry!"
Nothing good comes of this. Tell us what the concerns are. Tells us if they are based in fact. Tell us the truth about health care, and about proposed reforms.
UPDATE: Another segment, this with the chyron/theme: "Town Halls Turn Ugly"
And we're five minutes into the segment, and there hasn't yet been a word of discussion of a single fact about health care.