Halperin, on CNN last night: "If you are president like Bill Clinton and like George Bush, who is polarizing, if the country remains polarized, this kind of stuff looks horrible and will alienate both sides."
But neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush is really all that "polarizing." Throughout Bill Clinton's second term, the American people approved of his job performance, by pretty healthy margins. Not everyone approved, of course, but his approval ratings were high. That the Beltway chattering class could never understand that people basically thought Bill Clinton was a good president doesn't make it any less true.
And George Bush? There has long been broad consensus that his presidency has been an unmitigated disaster. Again, Beltway journalists like Mark Halperin seem to struggle with this, but the American people have been quite clear for nearly four years: they don't like Bush, don't like the job he has done, and would like him to go away. The latest CNN poll found 72 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush. 72 percent! Bush isn't polarizing; indeed, he has made good on his promise to be a uniter: He has united Americans against him.
Now we know what Weekly Standard's in-house Bush superfan Fred Barnes was doing during his recent Oval Office interview with the outgoing president (since he definitely wasn't practicing journalism at the time.) Barnes was likely picking up a rough draft for this farewell column.
His presidency was far more successful than not. And there's an aspect of his decision-making that merits special recognition: his courage. Time and time again, Bush did what other presidents, even Ronald Reagan, would not have done and for which he was vilified and abused. That--defiantly doing the right thing--is what distinguished his presidency.
There will always be a warm meal in Dallas waiting for Barnes.
Something to keep in mind as Barack Obama takes office: Howard Kurtz on whether President Bush was right to refuse to answer a question from Helen Thomas yesterday: "He's the president(for another week, that is). He can call on whoever he wants."
Later during the same online Q&A, Kurtz defended his claim that MSNBC leans to the left:
Howard Kurtz: "Morning Joe" (a show I like) is the only MSNBC program hosted by a conservative, albeit one who spent plenty of time criticizing his Republican Party over the last two years. Tucker Carlson has been banished. The evening programming is handled by Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews, who just got finished exploring running for the Senate from Pennsylvania as a Democrat.
Forget, for a moment, the absurdity of using Chris Matthews as evidence of liberalism run amuck at MSNBC. What Kurtz doesn't tell you is that Olbermann, Maddow and Matthews each have one-hour programs. Scarborough's show is three hours long.
Notice also that Kurtz qualifies his description of JoeSco as a conservative ("one who spent plenty of time criticizing his Republican Party") but offers no such qualification for his contention that Matthews is a Democrat, despite Matthews' lengthy history of gushing over conservatives like George W. Bush and John McCain, and of attacking progressives and Democrats. Basically, Kurtz' entire answer was spin.
Later, when he was called on his failure to note that JoeSco's show is three hours, Kurtz kept spinning:
Kurtz: By the way, Scarborough has a co-host, Mika Brzezinski, who is certainly to his left. And the three hours are filled with guests from both parties and both sides of the media spectrum, from Peggy Noonan to Gene Robinson.
Well, ok. Chris Matthews' show is "filled with guests from both partes and both sides of the media spectrum," too, but Kurtz didn't mention that. He simply continued to pretend that the hours of MSNBC hosted by a conservative don't count for various reasons, while ignoring the fact that those same reasons apply to the MSNBC hosts he considers liberal.
During the same Q&A, Kurtz pointed to the fact that "Tucker Carlson has been banished" from MSNBC as evidence of the cable channel's liberal leanings. When a reader pointed out that Carlson wasn't "banished," his terrible show that nobody watched was cancelled, presumably because it was terrible and nobody watched it, Kurtz replied:
Kurtz: Why could Tucker, a smart guy, not have continued as a contributor and commentator? MSNBC just didn't have much appetite for his services.
Kurtz seems to think Carlson was entitled to a job; he wasn't. (And he doesn't seem all that "smart" lately.) Kurtz's insinuations aside, there is no reason to believe that MSNBC lacks "appetite" for Carlson's "services" because Carlson is a conservative. After all, MSNBC is plenty hungry for Pat Buchanan's services as a commentator. But Kurtz never mentions Buchanan, perhaps because MSNBC's continued relationship with such an unrepentant bigot undermines Kurtz's claims that the channel leans to the left.
Kurtz's comments about MSNBC are so one-sided, holding the conservatives and liberals there to such different standards, that it becomes harder and harder to avoid the conclusion that Kurtz' claims about MSNBC's ideological leanings reveal more about his own than about the cable channel's.
UPDATE: More Kurtz:
Boston, Mass.: Hi Howard, I notice more and more stories quoting from the Washington Times. I have never even seen that paper, but always thought of it as sort of a right wing rant rather than a legit newspaper. Opinion based on nothing, but just curious as to your opinion on it.
Howard Kurtz: The Washington Times has always been a legitimate newspaper, but it's gained in respectability since my former Post colleague John Solomon took over as executive editor. In past campaigns, I found the paper's coverage blatantly tilted toward the Republicans; in 2008, while I found things to criticize, I also saw an effort to be fair.
Got that? In previous years, Kurtz has found the Washington Times "blatently tilted toward the Republicans" and only last year saw an "effort to be fair" -- but he says the Times has "always been a legitimate newspaper." If being "blatently tilted" towards the GOP and failing to make an "effort to be fair" doesn't disqualify a newspaper from being considered "legitimate," what does?
As for John Solomon, it is likely true that his move from the Washington Post to the Washington Times improved the quality of both publications.
Matthew Yglesias on the media obsessing over the purported awkwardness of John Kerry, who reportedly wanted to be Secretary of State, chairing Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearings for that job:
Kerry and Clinton have both been in big-time politics for decades, I'm pretty certain they can muster the wherewithal to cooperate. The underlying supposition of this coverage seems to be that there's some kind of shortfall of noteworthy substantive issues related to the conduct of US foreign policy that we could speculate about. And that's nuts.
A final thought on Bush's "wistful and introspective" (LA Times) press conference.
The day-after headlines certainly focused on the laundry list of mistakes Bush admitted to making during his eight years in office. The AP summed up the greatest misses Bush mentioned this way:
_Putting a "Mission Accomplished" banner on an aircraft carrier shortly after Saddam Hussein was toppled from power.
_"Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake."
_Going immediately for an overhaul of the Social Security program, rather than seeking immigration reform, in the wake of his re-election to a second term in 2004.
_The revelations of abuses at the Abu Ghraib detention camp in Iraq, which he described as a "huge disappointment."
_Never turning up weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which he called a "significant disappointment."
_Not getting congressional approval for three, bilateral free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
Noticing anything missing from that list? Like the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden, which for years, we were told, was the administration's top priority since bin Laden was behind the terrorist attack that killed more than 3,000 Americans.
Since the press conference though, I haven't seen or heard any press reports mention that glaringly obvious gap in Bush's list. Instead, reading off the White House play sheet, the press no longer thinks bin Laden matters.
Lapdogs to the end.
UPDATE: A check of the transcript shows that Osama bin Laden, the man who defined Bush's presidency, was never mentioned by either Bush or anyone in the press corps during the president's expansive, 45-minute farewell press conference.
Here's how the AP addressed Bush's claim (it's a White House evergreen) that he "inherited" a recession in 2001 [emphasis added]:
BUSH: "In terms of the economy — look, I inherited a recession, I'm ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth."
THE FACTS: There have been two recessions during Bush's time in office. The first was a relatively mild downturn that began in March 2001 and lasted eight months, ending in November 2001. Since the first one did not begin until after he took office in January 2001, it is not strictly accurate to say he "inherited" it.
Why the "strictly," when the sentence would have been more factual without it? Bush did not inherit a recession. Period. His claim is inaccurate and the AP ought to say so without muddying the language with phrases like "strictly."
Bush is getting all kinds of credit from reporters for his farewell press conference yesterday. (CBS's Bob Schieffer, an old Bush family friend, called the president's performance "gracious.") The press seems very impressed that Bush addressed some of the controversial topics of his administration; some of the mistakes that created what pollster say is historic ill-will among American voters.
ABC News, for instance, claimed, "the president candidly addressed serious issues ranging from the economy, to Hurricane Katrina, to the Iraq war." Yet here's what ABC New reported regarding Bush's comments about the federal government's Katrina relief effort, which may go down in history as one of the most incompetent of its kind:
"Could things have been done better? Absolutely," Bush said. "But when I hear people say the federal response was slow, then what are they going to say to those chopper drivers or the 30,000 that got pulled off the roofs?"
That's Bush being "candid"? Doesn't sound like it to me.
Times columnist David Carr looks at the recent Atlantic essay by Michael Hirschorn and comes to the same conclusion I did last week; if the Times went out of business it would be a big deal because, despite what some online optimists think, websites and bloggers and tweeters would not be able to replace what the huge news organization does.
Elsewhere, Carr pines for a Steve Jobs-type figure to come in and rescue newspapers the way Apple did the music industry. Writes Carr:
Remember that when iTunes began, the music industry was being decimated by file sharing. By coming up with an easy user interface and obtaining the cooperation of a broad swath of music companies, Mr. Jobs helped pull the business off the brink. He has been accused of running roughshod over the music labels, which are a fraction of their former size. But they are still in business.
Still in business, yes. But just barely. The idea that 99 cent downloads from iTunes pulled the music industry from the brink is pretty misleading. Music industry sales have absolutely cratered since the music-should-be-free mantra was unleashed by the Internet. The steep declines show no signs of abating and the revenue that iTunes is generating in no way offsets the losses for the music labels.
So while yes, it's nice that Apple convinced people songs are worth paying for, the idea that iTunes saved the music industry, and that an iTunes-like creation could save the newspaper industry, seems misplaced.
P.S. Am I the only one who notes the irony in that back during the Napster craze an awful lot of print journalists spent an awful lot of time lecturing the music industry about how it should stop fighting technology and should start embracing the Internet, even if that meant giving its product away. Today, lots of those print outlets are going out of business, or in danger of going under, thanks to the Internet.