This is a couple days old, but Paul Kane's Washington Post online discussion last week is a near-perfect example of the tendency of many reporters to behave as though the Left and the Right are equally wrong and dishonest - and in the same ways - and only they, the noble reporters, standing squarely in the middle, tell The Truth. And of how that approach is itself an ideology, and one that often gets things very wrong.
And, in the process, Kane proved the point of my most recent column: the media's approach to budgets is incredibly stupid.
In Kane's very first answer, he addresses the growing national debt, and it doesn't take Madame Marie to predict his "solution":
Kane: The real fiscal answer is entitlement reform -- that's code word, everyone, for slashing Medicare benefits and raising the retirement age/payout time for Social Security recipients. Those steps would save trillions of dollars over the years, but both parties are scared to death of infuriating seniors.
Given the way the Establishment media covers the deficit, I'd be shocked if there was anyone reading who didn't see that one coming. The media believes in few things more strongly than the "need" to slash entitlement benefits in order to balance the budget. Of course, entitlement costs have skyrocketed because health care costs have skyrocketed, and we spend considerably more per person on health care than other nations, without providing better care. But somehow it never seems to occur to these reporters that rather than slashing entitlement benefits, we could reduce health care costs. Perhaps because recognizing that possibility would be agreeing with the liberals, which would eliminate the reporters' ability to portray themselves as the only sensible, non-ideological, fearless truth-tellers.
Then there's this:
Portland, Oregon: I'm a liberal Dem, and think I may be missing something. It seems to me that during the W years, we had massive increases in spending, and in the deficit, but that the message was diluted b/c of the way the war spending was handled (separate from the rest of the budget). The Republican hand-wringing over the Obama budget therefore strikes me as insincere. Isn't this really about spending money on infrastructure vs. spending on the military, not on spending vs. not spending?
Paul Kane: No, sorry, Portland. You're wrong. I'm not putting blame on anyone, but everything's different now. Earlier this decade, the budget deficits were $300b-$400b, at its worst. Now, we're talking $1.8 trillion.
Everything's different, everything.
Well, Portland wasn't "wrong." Portland wasn't talking about the relative sizes of the current deficit and the deficit three years ago; Portland was making the point that the Republicans' complaints about deficits seem insincere given that they ran up deficits of their own. And those Republicans were attacking Obama last year, saying his policies would involve deficits - long before we were talking about $1.8 trillion deficits - so Portland would seem to have a pretty unassailable point.
The Deficit: One of the great tragedies of the $1.8 trillion deficit is that there is nothing to show for it. (Except Iraq, but no one wants to look at that). On the other hand what Obama seems to want do is invest. There is great value in borrowing for investment purposes. Check my (and imagine your) college educations. Obama is saying we are going to increase the deficit, but afterwards we will have a functional health-care system; a grid that can handle 21st century energy needs, an educational system that will help our kids compete on a level playing ground with the Chinese and Indians. Those types of things pay a return on investment!
Paul Kane: The thing about liberals these days that is very striking about their fiscal thinking, is how similar it sounds to Reagan. Liberals believe in supply-side economics like Reagan did. Or something akin to it.
Reagan argued that cutting taxes, thereby reducing revenue, would lead to -- presto -- more revenue, because things would get good again financially, leading to more people making more money and then -- presto -- more taxes flowing in.
Liberals are currently arguing that increasing spending would lead to -- presto -- more revenue because the things they want to invest in would make things sound financially, leading to people making more money and then -- presto -- more tax revenue flowing in to pay for all these programs.
Here, Kane is debating a strawman. His questioner plainly did not claim that "increasing spending would lead to - presto - more revenue." His questioner made the - again, seemingly unassailable - point that not all deficits are created alike; that you can have deficits for which you get nothing in return other than an unnecessary war, and you can have deficits for which you get universal health care in return. For example. The question was really not at all "similar" to Reagan, or to supply-side economics. It was simply a recognition of the fact that borrowing money to pay for college is quite different than borrowing money to buy lottery tickets.
But, again, if Paul Kane agreed with that rather unassailable point, he would be agreeing with the liberals, and wouldn't be able to present himself as the only adult standing between two childish ideologies.
Later, Kane speculates about recent presidents' success in keeping their promises:
Kane: I wonder which one of the last 5 (Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter) was best at keeping promises. I tend to think Reagan, but have no real data point to support that. Again, not placing judgment on his promises and their value, I'll leave it up to the Doris Kearns/McCullough/historian crowd to evaluate whether it was a good or bad thing that Reagan kept his promises. But he's my guess for best promise keeper.
Really? I'll leave the details to Will Bunch, if he wants to weigh in, but it seems to me that Reagan's central promises involved things like smaller government and fiscal responsibility - and that he did a spectacularly poor job of following through on either.
The Times' liberal columnist is on the cover this week, with a provocative story headlined: "OBAMA IS WRONG: The Loyal Opposition of Paul Krugman." It's about Krugman's criticism of Obama's economic policies made from the left.
Writes Newsweek chief Jon Meacham:
Every once a while, … a critic emerges who is more than a chatterer—a critic with credibility whose views seem more than a little plausible and who manages to rankle those in power in more than passing ways.
Here's what we think is telling about the whole thing: During the Bush years, Krugman, from his same perch on the pages of Times' opinion pages, waged about as vocal a campaign as humanly possible to warn readers and the country about what he considered to be the perilous policy decisions the Bush administration was embracing, and what the disastrous results for America would be.
Looking back on the Bush years, Krugman's track record was rather impeccable. But you'll note he didn't appear on the cover of Newsweek back then. (No "Bush is Wrong" cover lines.) And for years Krugman only occasionally appeared on the pundit talk shows. He wasn't referenced much inside The Village, either. Meaning, the Beltway press pros didn't seem to care what Krugman wrote about Bush and didn't think his writing--his opposition--needed to be examined closer. He was just a liberal critic, so who cared what he wrote about Bush. (That's my take on how much of the press viewed Krugman.)
But now a Democrat is in the Oval Office, Krugman is still hitting the president from the left, and suddenly the Beltway press thinks Krugman's work is fascinating and newsworthy. Trust us, it is. (For years he's been our pick as the country's premier columnist.) We just think everyone would have been better off if the press had paid this much attention to Krugman's work between, say, 2002 and 2006.
Politico moves the inane doing-too-much storyline forward with an article about whether Michelle Obama is "spreading herself too thin."
Under the header "Ambitious agenda for first lady," Politico begins:
For the past month alone, here's Michelle Obama's itinerary:
Travel to North Carolina to rally military families. Stand next to Hillary Clinton to encourage women to get politically active. Show up at a home-building site on the National Mall. Visit a D.C. school to talk up good grades. Cap it off by shoveling dirt for a "kitchen garden" at the White House.
Wow, all that in the past month alone? That's more than an event per week!
Ironically, some are raising the same "too much, too fast?" question about Michelle that they're raising about her husband, the president.
That isn't "ironic" at all, particularly when the "some" people are the same people. The fact that the news media is obsessed with whether Barack Obama is doing too much and with whether Michelle Obama is doing too much isn't an example of irony, it's an example of the media's slavish commitment to its storylines -- even if those storylines are nonsense.
And, buried at the end of the Politico article, there is some evidence that is exactly what this is - nonsense:
But she clearly is breaking through and connecting on some level - polls show her favorability ratings in the mid-60s.
David Brock, founder and CEO of Media Matters for America, will be appearing on CSPAN-2's BookTV this Sunday, March, 29, 2009 at 2:00pm ET. He will be moderating a discussion with Will Bunch, author of the new book, Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future.
Visit CSPAN for more information.
You might want to focus a bit more on what questioners asked Obama at the recent White House town hall forum, and a bit less on who asked the questions. As in, you might want to focus on the substance, and a bit less on the style.
Online, the Post published a report about how five of the people at this week's forum, who were randomly selected to ask Obama policy queries, were "campaign backers." The Post couched this in the by-now clichéd we-thought-Obama-was-for-change-but-it-doesn't-look-like-he-is angle, which remains beloved inside the Beltway.
For the piece, the Post pretty much did background checks on the five citizens who asked questions and determined...they all like Obama! Thank you, and noted. But the Post never suggested that the White House misled the public about who was allowed in the room for the forum. And the Post didn't claim the questions were somehow pre-screened, or that the people were planted by Obama's staff.
And frankly, the Post research struck us as a bit creepy. i.e. One questioner "donated $2,750 to Virginia Democratic candidates for office, according to the Center for Responsive Politics." Another questioner, the Post detailed, once wrote a pro-Obama note to her union newsletter. (We're not making this up.)
I'm just wondering what the point of the exercise was. But even more telling was the fact that the Post never even bothered to detail what questions the people asked. The substance of their participation was of zero interest.
Not that the Post cared, but the questioners asked about health care, the auto industry, the fate of small businesses and public education.
CJR's Katia Bachko has an interesting look back on Obama's press conference this week and how the press covered the aftermath; how the press routinely referred to Obama as "professorial," which was meant to be an insult because he went on and on too long with facts and figures and philosophies.
Bachko laments how much time and attention the press spent on dissecting Obama's "tone" at the press conference, as if that were news. (We tagged the NYT for similar nonsense this week.) Bachko concludes:
In the end, the focus on tone demonstrates all over again how the press transforms politics into a blood sport with quantifiable winners and losers, which is disconnected from the significance of actual policy—roads built, hospitals staffed, schools renovated. The impulse to cover the horse race at the cost of the seriousness of governance persists. In this case, if Obama's the professor, then the press is a bunch of unruly kids who won't calm down after recess. The election is long behind us, get back to work.
Sadly though, I think that misses the larger truth about our Beltway press corps. What we're seeing now with the press obsession with style and "tone" and gotcha nonsense represents all that the Beltway media are capable of. There is no "back to work" option because the press doesn't do public policy. Period. That was made abundantly clear during the campaign season, especially the final three months, when process and polling pretty much edged out any attempt examine the candidates' agendas.
And since Obama has been inaugurated the press, again and again, has shown it has very little interest in seriously addressing topics like economics or banking or anything substantive. It will gladly write process stories surrounding those topics (i.e. Who's winning the stimulus message war?). But very little about the issues themselves.
So 'news' is reduced to chatter about teleprompters, and whether Obama was "punch drunk" on TV, or if he was too boring--too professorial--during a press conference while addressing the weighty issues of the day.
Like CJR, I wish the press would get "back to work." It's just that I'm not sure the press knows how to. Or worse, even wants to.
Conservatives are crowing that Limbaugh's ratings are up (big shock, we know), and pretending that it's all a huge rebuke for Obama and the new Democratic White House.
See, according to the Noise Machine, the White House's occasional passing references to the talker this year, references which were part of the larger public debate about who really leads the GOP, were actually signs of a coordinated "attack" on Limbaugh--a "war"--and that the White House's true intent was to drive down Limbaugh's ratings.
So by calling attention to his show, the White House was actually trying to wreck Limbaugh's ratings. Riiight. But nothing gets conservatives riled up like playing victim, so it's game on.
"Given this blockbuster [ratings] data, will the White House think twice before targeting Rush again?" demands professional Limbaugh cheerleader Brian Maloney.
"President Obama declared war on Rush Limbaugh and his ratings went through the roof. If that's not a magnificent backfire, I'm not sure what is," declared the MRC's Brent Bozell, who was so excited he issued an official statement about Limbaugh's ratings.
And no, BTW, there's no indication that Limbaugh's ratings have doubled nationwide this year. Although, there are indications that a new ratings method employed by Arbitron is a key reason Limbaugh's actual rating numbers (and talk radio ratings in general) are up so much in 2009.
Comes courtesy of the Washington Times' Suzanne Fields [emphasis added]:
Even laughter can be suspect. Steve Croft [sic], the president's interviewer on "60 Minutes," suggested Mr. Obama might be "punch drunk" when he chuckled aloud in discussing the crash of the economy.
This really is just Misinformation 101--plainly misstating the facts in order to make the president look bad. As we noted earlier this week, when Kroft (inappropriately) asked Obama if he was "punch drunk," the president was absolutely not laughing while "discussing the crash of the economy," which so many lazy journalists have claimed.
Fact: Obama laughed at how the only thing less popular today than the government bailing out the banks, is the government bailing out America's car manufacturers. That was the "gallows humor" Obama referenced. He also chuckled when Kroft presented him an a clearly preposterous scenario about how angry bankers might to go work for hedge funds.
The circumstances surrounding the brief laughs were specific, but many in the press presented them in the most general, and damning, way imaginable [emphasis added]:
--Politico claimed Obama laughed "several times while discussing the perilous state of the world's economy."
--The Los Angles Times announced, "President Barack Obama was laughing when being asked about the nation's failing economy on '60 Minutes' Sunday night."
--US News & World Report's Bonnie Erbe wrote that Obama was, " joking about the depressed economy."
--NBC's Today reported that Obama got called out by Kroft "for laughing about the economy."
--Fox News highlighted the 60 Minutes interview "in which President Obama laughed about the economy."
It's embarrassing enough that the press spends so much time on trivial topics such as Obama's laugh. That so many journalists can't, or won't, accurately state the facts surrounding the 'story' is even more lame.