Looks like the media's soft spot for sexism when covering women in politics was not a 2008-only deal. (We didn't really think it would be.)
Last week, the press brought back the unlikeable and overly ambitious Tracy Flick character, from the film Election, to describe Kirsten Gilibrand, the new senator from New York. Flick was also used last year to make fun of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.
Meanwhile, this week Chris Matthews revealed his latest bout of insight while discussing the debated stimulus package, and why any money set aside for family planning would be pointless. Wrote Melissa McEwan after watching the Hardball host:
It's like a crêpe of misogyny, double the deliciousness, with a flaky pancake of ignorance wrapped around a gooey inside of unapologetic enmity.
Responding to President Obama's recommendation to Republican congressional leaders last week that they not follow Limbaugh's lead, the conservative talkmeister said on his show that Obama is "obviously more frightened of me than he is Mitch McConnell. He's more frightened of me, than he is of, say, John Boehner, which doesn't say much about our party."
Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., did not take kindly to this assessment in an interview with Politico Tuesday.
"I think that our leadership, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, are taking the right approach," Gingrey said. "I mean, it's easy if you're Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don't have to try to do what's best for your people and your party. You know you're just on these talk shows and you're living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of that thing. But when it comes to true leadership, not that these people couldn't be or wouldn't be good leaders, they're not in that position of John Boehner or Mitch McConnell."
Asked to respond to Gingrey, Limbaugh, in an email to Politico, wrote: "I'm sure he is doing his best but it does not appear to be good enough. He may not have noticed that the number of Republican colleagues he has in the House has dwindled. And they will dwindle more if he and his friends don't show more leadership and effectiveness in battling the most left-wing agenda in modern history. And they won't continue to lose because of me, but because of their relationship with the grassroots, which is hurting. Conservatives want leadership from those who claim to represent them. And we'll know it when we see it."
In the course of an otherwise useful article about FDR's approach to the great depression, the New York Times offers a misleading assessment of the unemployment rate under Roosevelt:
During the 1930s, the unemployment rate fell somewhat under Roosevelt, but remained stubbornly high, averaging more than 17 percent for the decade.
There are a few problems with this.
First, the Times doesn't provide a starting point - what was the unemployment rate before Roosevelt took office? 17 percent sounds awfully high, but it could actually be an impressively low figure if the starting point was much higher. Which it was - 25 percent in 1933, Roosevelt's first year in office; 24 percent the year before. (The Times does note the 25 percent starting point later in the article, too late for it to provide effective context for the 17 percent figure.)
Second, in assessing the efficacy of a program begun in 1933, it is basically meaningless to use average unemployment rate for the entire decade. We can hardly credit or blame the New Deal for the unemployment situation in place before the New Deal began. What matters isn't the average unemployment for the entire decade, which includes several years before Roosevelt even took office - what matters is the trend line. Did unemployment go up or down? How much? That's what matters; raw numbers - particularly raw numbers averaged over the entire decade - are badly misleading.
For an example of how misleading it is to use average unemployment numbers to assess the effectiveness of a president in combating unemployment, we need only look to the conservative talking point that average unemployment under George W. Bush was lower than average unemployment under Bill Clinton.
Maybe true, but meaningless - that measure credits Bush for Clinton's success, and penalizes Clinton for the failures of Bush's father.
See, the average unemployment rate under Clinton is artificially high due to the high unemployment rate when he took office; Bush's is artificially low due to the low rate when he took office. If you look instead at trend lines, you see that unemployment went down under Clinton and up under Bush. That's far more useful in assessing the two presidents effectiveness in fighting unemployment than average numbers that paint a misleading picture.
Over at WowOwoW.com (The Women on the Web) Lesley Stahl has an entertaining interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that everyone should check out. Maddow discusses a variety of topics including the political leanings of Chris Matthews, who many on the right claim to be a liberal based almost solely on his work for former President Jimmy Carter and former House Speaker Tip O'Neill more than two decades ago.
The pertinent portion of the interview picks up with Stahl and Maddow discussing the White House's history of awarding network news interviews on a rotating basis that ended under President Bush and whether or not President Obama would revert back to the practice (emphasis added):
RACHEL: I think it's the right way to do it. I do think that Fox is different than other networks. I mean, I think that it is a bit of a political experiment.
LESLEY: But everybody thinks MSNBC is moving in that direction. That that's exactly what the shift is -- where you are -- that people there are trying to make you into the un-Fox network, the liberal place to go.
RACHEL: Well, if you think about the way that Fox was founded, though – Fox was founded by Roger Ailes. It was created from his perspective as a political operative. His background was as a Republican activist of the highest order. There's no equivalent on MSNBC. I think MSNBC is trying to find hit shows.
LESLEY: Everybody they hire to anchor their shows is distinctly liberal and encouraged to express themselves that way, wouldn't you say?
RACHEL: At MSNBC?
RACHEL: Well, I wouldn't call David Shuster a liberal. I would barely call Chris Matthews a liberal. He voted for Bush. And I certainly wouldn't call Joe Scarborough a liberal.
LESLEY: Chris Matthews is a liberal.
RACHEL: Well, Chris Matthews is a Democrat.
LESLEY: He's a liberal.
RACHEL: Chris Matthews – well, you could interview him about it and find out. If Chris Matthews had an Air America radio show, he'd get torn apart by our listeners.
LESLEY: So he doesn't go that far. I see. OK.
RACHEL: No. I wouldn't put Chris and my politics in the same canoe. I think that MSNBC is trying to find hit shows and is trying to be smart and it just seems like a different project than the reason that Fox was built.
And geography lost.
Earlier today, I wrote that it's important for journalists to actually apply some critical thought to their work rather than simply regurgitating Republican talking points.
Right on cue, here's Marc Ambinder (emphasis added):
Here's a peek at the major planks in the economic recovery plan being introduced by House Republicans tomorrow.
It starts with a permanent five percentage point reduction for those who qualify for the 10% and 15% tax brackets, averaging about $500 per year for the poorest of the bunch and $1,200 for the slightly more wealthy.
The talking point here is that poorer Americans would see more money from the GOP plan than from Obama's -- and it would be permanent.
Well, of course that's the "talking point." Who the hell cares? Is it true? Marc Ambinder doesn't say. He doesn't even acknowledge that it might be an interesting question. The concept of which plan actually gives "poorer Americans" "more money" is literally nowhere to be found in his post.
There are people for whom "distributing Republican talking points" is part of their job description. They are called "deputy press secretaries," and they work at the RNC and in Republican congressional offices. Reporters for The Atlantic ought to behave a bit differently.
(Is it true? I don't know -- but it seems unlikely. The GOP plan, as Ambinder describes it, would do nothing for the many Americans who work hard and pay state, local, sales, and FICA taxes -- but who do not make enough money to pay federal income taxes.)
As noted by Sam Stein over at the Huffington Post, Bob Woodward appeared this past Sunday on the Chris Matthews Show where he waxed cryptically about scandals the Obama Administration will undoubtedly face in the future:
"This may be tantalizing but vague," said the Washington Post scribe. "I don't think the nanny or household tax problems and so forth are over for the Obama administration..."
Matthews pressed ever so slightly for more information, but Woodward did not oblige: "I say it's not over."
It was the type of gossip ginning, insider reporting that makes D.C. journalism what it is. But it wasn't without a glimmer of irony. Earlier in the week, Matthews had shut down similar banter on Hardball when the New York Daily News' Liz Benjamin noted that the unconfirmed rumor mill was saying that Caroline Kennedy had an "affair issue."
"Well, how about let's stick to journalism," Matthews said, over her. "I don't do that here, Liz. Liz, if it's just blogging, let's drop it, OK?"
Of course Matthews would never traffic in unsubstantiated gossip. Change may have come to Washington but it still hasn't hit the press core when it comes to issues like this – unless of course you consider the White House press core awakening from its Bush slumber.
In his most recent column, Media Research Center's Brent Bozell made an egregious factual error while (cough, cough) chastising the press for not doing its job properly.
Specifically, Bozell was hyping the incorrect story that Obama's inauguration cost much, much more than Bush's bash in 2005:
For the record, the 'lavish' Bush inaugural cost $43 million. Final tallies are not complete, but according to some sources, like the Guardian newspaper, the Obama inaugural will cost more than $150 million.
That's not accurate. The final tally of Bush's inauguration, including all the money the federal government spent on security and logistics, was $157 million. Bush supporters raised $43 million, and then taxpayers spent $115 million more. From the New York Times, January 6, 2008:
In 2005, Mr. Bush raised $42.3 million from about 15,000 donors for festivities; the federal government and the District of Columbia spent a combined $115.5 million, most of it for security, the swearing-in ceremony, cleanup and for a holiday for federal workers.
While highlighting how much (supposedly) less expensive Bush's inauguration was in 2005 as compared to the estimates for Obama's, Bozell wrote that Bush's inauguration cost $43 million. It did not. It cost $157 million.
So the question now becomes, will Bozell correct his error? Will a man who makes a living criticizing the press admit to his own obvious factual error?
We're waiting Brent....
P.S. Does Brent really think that the government spent $0 on security for Bush's 2005 inauguration? Because the $43 million he cited didn't cover security. Does Brent think that the 6,000 law enforcement and 7,000 troops that were deployed throughout Washington, D.C. for the 2005 swearing-in, the armed Coast Guard boats that patrolled the Potomac River, didn't cost taxpayers a single penny? That they were there voluntarily? Either Brent doesn't understand how the government works (i.e. its money goes toward paying military and law enforcement costs), or Brent made a rather enormous factual error in his column.
Which one is it Brent?
Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post about Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen's long history of arguing against accountability for wrongdoing by Republicans. Greenwald:
Reflecting the vast diversity of our national media, Richard Cohen now joins fellow Washington Post columnists Ruth Marcus, David Ignatius, David Broder and Fred Hiatt -- as well as virtually every other Beltway journalist -- in demanding that Bush officials not be prosecuted even if they committed felonies. The only political leaders any of them ever want to see pay a price for wrongdoing are those who get caught in titillating sex scandals (Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer) or other fun and tawdry episodes that are easy and entertaining to report (Rod Blagojevich, Duke Cunningham). Actual abuse of power and the commission of true felonies should be ignored and forgotten when committed by the Serious and powerful leaders of the royal court they serve. As usual, the most striking aspect of all of it is how unapologetically eager "journalists" -- of all people -- are to argue on behalf of the powerful political leaders over whom they actually still claim to serve as "watchdogs."
I do have to offer a bit of disagreement, however. The national news media was obsessive in pursuing all manner of (bogus) allegations against Bill Clinton, not only those involving sex. The media's obsequiousness towards power has, in recent years, been quite a bit more thorough when the power in question is held by Republicans.
In any case, Greenwald's entire post is well worth a read.
Remember last week we made fun of Forbes for putting a whole bunch of obviously non-liberal pundits on its list of most influential liberals in the media today?
Well, this pretty much proves our point about Forbes including WaPo's head war cheerleader Fred Hiatt on that list:
Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt called [Bill] Kristol "very smart and very plugged in," saying Kristol would be an influential voice in the coming debate over redefining the Republican Party. "It seems to me there were a lot of Times readers who felt the Times shouldn't hire someone who supported the Iraq war," said Hiatt, adding that he wants "a diverse range of opinions" on his page.
Guess one man's diverse range of opinion is another man's dumbing down.
UPDATE: Diverse? Like the WaPo didn't have enough people on its Op-ed page who mindlessly rooted for war in Iraq?