Sadly, there were far more media lowlights than highlights during the campaign, as too many reporters and pundits focused on flag pins, bowling, and fairly trivial faux pas.
During the last news cycle, former Bush chief of staff Andy Card criticized Obama for allowing men to go jacket-less while conducting business inside the Oval Office. Card thought this was a very big deal because during the Bush years men were never allowed inside the Oval Office without a suit and tie. (A claim that's flatly false.)
Meanwhile, during the last news cycle, Republican Congressman Pete Sessions invoked the Taliban and used it as a "model" in suggesting how the Republican Party needed to become an insurgency force within the nation's capital.
Now, which one of those statements seems more newsworthy? An out-of-office Republican talking about dress codes, or a sitting GOP Congressman comparing Republicans to the Taliban?
If you guessed the dress code, you are correct. According to TV Eyes, Pete Sessions has only been mentioned five times on TV in the last 24 hours, but Card has garnered nearly 25 on-air references.
From Paul Krugman's column today [emphasis]:
A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to economic recovery. Over the last two weeks, what should have been a deadly serious debate about how to save an economy in desperate straits turned, instead, into hackneyed political theater, with Republicans spouting all the old clichés about wasteful government spending and the wonders of tax cuts.
He's right. It should have been, if we had a professional press corps operating inside the Beltway and whose members saw their job as accurately informing news consumers, especially in times of national crisis. Instead, what he have is a permanently unserious and decidedly un-professional press corps which treats the unfolding economic calamity as a game. And it's a press corps that in some ways has become active members of the opposition party.
When the war in Iraq unfolded as a calamity, lots of people looked back and realized the press had abdicated its responsibility during the run-up to the war. That it had willingly walked away from its watchdog role. I have a hunch we're watching history repeat itself. And if, as Nobel Prize-winner Krugman suggests, the country does plunge into an extended economic meltdown, people will once again look back in amazement and wonder how the so-called professional press corps in Washington could have failed the country. Again.
As Digby says, the media are going to be the death of this country.
MSNBC's Chris Matthews just quoted former Bush chief of staff Andy Card attacking Barack Obama. Card is upset that Obama allows people to go without jackets in the Oval Office. Matthews rightly mocked Cards' nonsense, as did Time's Joe Klein a few minutes ago.
But Matthews and Klein, like other media that have covered this idiotic controversy, are stipulating to Cards' claims that jackets were required in the Bush Oval Office.
That is not true. And Andy Card knows it isn't true. Take a look at this picture:
That's quite clearly the Oval Office, and that's quite clearly George Bush. Now: the guy standing up, in the pink tie? That's George Tenet, and he quite clearly isn't wearing a jacket.
Finally, see the guy on the far right? The one looking right at the jacketless George Tenet? That's Andy Card.
Yes, that's the same Andy Card who now sanctimoniously attacks Barack Obama for allowing people in the Oval Office without jackets -- something that was never allowed in the Bush White House, according to Andy Card.
And yet the media repeat Card's claims about the Bush White House without bothering to factcheck them.
It's not like this photo is a big secret; John Aravosis posted this photo at Americablog back on January 22. Yet MSNBC has now devoted multiple segments to Card's comments, without once noting that he's lying.
Now, granted, many of the reporters who have mentioned Card's comments have poked fun at his stuffiness. That's all well and good. But Andy Card isn't just being pompous -- he's lying. That's the important part. That's the part that completely undermines his criticism of Obama. That's the part that reminds us once again that it's probably a pretty bad idea for any reporter to ever take anything said by a former Bush official at face value. That's the part they should mention. And, unfortunately, it's the part they consistently omit.
Just when I started to think that the problem with the folks at the Media Research Center might be stupidity rather than dishonesty (see below), they remind me the two possiblities aren't mutually exclusive.
Yesterday, MRC founder Brent Bozell blasted "ABC's failure to speak to and about" MRC's attacks on ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos for having telephone conversations with friends and sources. Here's Bozell:
ABC News may decide that silence is the best policy. I assure them that will be a mistake. We will not stop this discussion.
Today, in a letter posted online by Politico's Michael Calderone, ABC Vice President Kerry Smith responds by pointing out that, in fact, ABC has not "fail[ed] to speak" about this topic. Here's Smith:
In your letter and public utterances you falsely assert that ABC News has been silent on this matter. That is simply untrue. Upon reading your press release last week, we reached out to the MRC to make it abundantly clear that you had totally mischaracterized the Politico story written by John Harris last Tuesday. Indeed, Politico posted a story last Friday by Ben Smith pointing out exactly how badly you had mangled the facts. ... To give further lie to your claim that ABC News has not responded to your distortions, our senior vice president was quoted in the Politico story saying, "George speaks to Emanuel, but he speaks to plenty of conservatives and Republicans every single day -- that's part of his job. The idea that there is some kind of daily conference call that George hops on is just nonsense and not true."
Ok, so, Bozell was wrong; ABC has addressed his bogus allegations. Indeed, they even "reached out to the MRC" on the topic. Now, here's where things get really hilarious, as MRC's bungled attacks on the media always seem to:
Furthermore, last Friday, a reporter from CNS News, which was founded by you and continues to be directly affiliated with the MRC, contacted our media relations staff for a piece he'd been assigned to write on this very topic. We cooperated immediately and provided him an on the record response. We have since learned from your reporter that his story was killed.
Wow. I guess at this point, the only question is whether the story was killed so that Bozell could claim ABC refused to talk without being contradicted by an article produced by his own "news" entity - or whether that was just a convenient coincidence.
Jeanne Cummings at Politico pretty much writes the exact same piece as Hirsh and Dionne. (Ah, CW....) The White House is losing the media war surrounding the stimulous package, and (surprise!) the media have played no role in that development.
Before Hirsh or Dionne or Cummings or the rest of the media elites write again about the White House losing the media war, they ought to go read John Amato [emphasis added]:
Obama was elected to bring change to the economy, not to debate the merits of tax cuts all over again. We had that discussion for 18 months and Obama won. Tax cuts lost. Why is the media ignoring that fact? John McCain ran on tax cuts to save us and he lost. Now he's telling his supporters that he's going to vote NO on the stimulus plan and wants them to sign a petition. You lost the election badly. Democrats have solid majorities everywhere you look, but not when it comes to the media that is supposed to inform us and not play "spin wars' with the country.
You don't have to spend much time reading the nonsensical ramblings of the Media Research Center/Newsbusters crew before you start wondering how on earth anyone could ever take them seriously.
Take a look at some of their recent complaints.
Let's start with Newsbusters' Tom Blumer, who just flat-out made a fool of himself yesterday. Blumer was all up in arms about an Associated Press analysis by Charles Babington. According to Blumer, Babington failed to describe Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's tax problems. Blumer points to Babington's "fifth and worst paragraph, which is all you'll need to know how bad it is," which read:
An old story, with new actors, played out Tuesday: A new president's team imperfectly vetted top nominees. The nominees, it turns out, had not paid taxes for household help or other services when they were private citizens. The news media and political adversaries bored in. And rather than spend more valuable time and political capital defending the appointees, the administration dropped them and moved on. [emphasis Blumer's]
Of that paragraph, Blumer wrote: "This is beyond risible. Babington knows full well that Tim Geithner's and Tom Daschle's tax problems went way, way beyond "household help or other services. Geithner's nanny tax problems were relatively small, and had long since been addressed. The real biggie was his failure to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on his 2001-2004 income earned when he was at the International Monetary Fund."
But - and this is kind of important - the paragraph in question didn't have anything to do with Tim Geithner. It was about Daschle and Nancy Killefer. There are a couple of things that give that fact away: The reference at the beginning of the paragraph to a story that "played out Tuesday" and the bit at the end about the administration dropping the nominees. Geithner's tax trouble played out long ago and, of course, he was not "dropped." Blumer apparently didn't read either the beginning or the end of the paragraph - either that, or he just has no idea what he's talking about.
To Blumer's broader "point" that Babington supposedly downplayed Daschle & Geithner's tax problems: Babington noted that Geithner "had been required to pay $34,000 in overdue income taxes" and Daschle "belatedly paid $128,203 in taxes and $11,964 in interest."
Wow, Babington really covered up for them, didn't he?
Finally, Blumer portrayed Babington's piece as part of the "Beltway victimization theme" the media is supposedly pushing to absolve the Obama administration of responsibility for the tax stories. But Babington - in that "fifth and worst" paragraph Blumer so badly misread - wrote that Obama's "team imperfectly vetted top nominees." Later, he wrote that Obama "may be more ordinary than some admirers would like to admit."
Needless to say, Blumer didn't say a word about the actual problem with Babington's "analysis" - his unsubstantiated claim that Obama is "seen by some as arrogant."
Also Wednesday, MRC's Scott Whitlock claimed that ABC's George Stephanopoulos was guilty of "Democratic Spin." The "spin" Whitlock was complaining about consisted of Stephanopoulos saying that the Daschle nomination had threatened to hurt Obama's "reformist image." Somehow I doubt that came from White House talking points. Moments later, Stephanopoulos said Obama is "going to have to agree to some changes" to the stimulus package to accommodate Republicans. Again: probably not what most people would consider "Democratic spin."
One more from Wednesday: MRC Director of Media Analysis Tim Graham quoted from a column by the Washington Post's Kathleen Parker: "Almost half of us (42 percent) have tried marijuana at least once." In response, Graham thundered: "Can't Parker do math? If 58 percent of Americans haven't gotten "sweetly baked in hay," why do pot proponents always pretend that practically everyone has used, and practically every cop or judge is a hypocrite?"
Well ... can't Graham read? Parker wrote "almost half" - and gave the percentage. Graham even quoted that line. Nowhere in her column did Parker claim or imply that a "practically everyone" has used marijuana. Indeed, she supplied the statistic Graham used.
I mean, this is just crazy. Parker said fewer than half of Americans have used marijuana - and Graham is apoplectic that she failed to point out that a majority haven't used the drug. What?
On Tuesday, MRC News Analyst Kyle Drennen complained "CBS Pundit Defends Daschle But Slammed Tom Delay." The "CBS Pundit" in question was actually a guest, but we'll give Drennen a pass on that one. The real problem is that the guest, Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, didn't defend Daschle. Here's what Drennen thinks is a "defense" of Daschle:
"What Tom Daschle does is the more sophisticated kind of lobbying we have in Washington, where he's a consultant. And he talks to people about the strategy for getting a piece of legislation passed...Maybe the truth of the matter is, you need some of those Washington insiders in order to make your new government work. But then let's say that." [emphasis Drennen's]
That isn't a defense. If anything, it's a criticism. The first part of the quote followed CBS reporter Bill Plante noting that Daschle isn't technically a lobbyist. So, Sloan was arguing that though Daschle isn't technically a lobbyist, he still does "the more sophisticated kind of lobbying." That quote plainly isn't a defense of Daschle.
Had Drennen read that morning's New York Times (or glanced at CREW's web page), he would have seen Sloan quoted as saying some pretty critical things about the Obama administration's follow-through on his campaign statements about reform.
Finally, Drennen doubled down on his inane and false complaint that Sloan was defending Daschle by attempting to contrast it with comments she made about Tom DeLay in 2005. But Daschle and DeLay aren't quite the same situation: Tom DeLay was under criminal indictment at the time. Of course Sloan's comments about DeLay were more harsh.
Also on Tuesday, Newsbusters associate editor Noel Sheppard quoted Obama saying of his relationship with Fox News "I think it's fair to say that I don't always get my most favorable coverage on Fox, but I think that's part of how democracy is supposed to work. You know, we're not supposed to all be in lock step here" - and somehow concluded from that that "everybody other than Fox IS in lock step as far as Obama is concerned." Ah, ok, Noel. But that isn't what Obama said - and it doesn't follow logically from what he said.
I used to think the defining quality of the folks at the Media Research Center is their dishonesty. After all, this is an organization whose founder, Brent Bozell, complained in 1998 that the media wasn't covering the Lewinsky story enough - on a day when there were 500 news reports about Bill Clinton and Lewinsky. But I'm beginning to think their dishonesty may be a close second to the fact that they just aren't very bright.
Read this, if you must. It's by Scott Mayerowitz and it's painfully, painfully stupid.
Here's a flavor:
America's CEOs are coming under fire these days not just for their hefty salaries but also for their use of private jets, limos with drivers and free trips to posh resorts. But they aren't alone in living this lavish lifestyle -- the president of United States gets all these perks and more.
And unlike some of his Cabinet appointments, he doesn't have to pay taxes on these benefits. It might be a bit of a stretch to compare today's corporate titans with the commander in chief, but some Wall Street bloggers clearly upset with President Obama's attempts to rein in executive pay are doing just that.
"Some accountability needs to be put in place. We won't have them kicking sand in the face of taxpayers any longer," said one private equity worker on Dealbreaker.com, a Wall Street gossip site and blog.
Obama has proposed capping annual compensation at $500,000 for executive at financial firms that receive huge government bailouts. Therefore, ABC News, responding to "Wall Street bloggers," writes up a 'news' story noting that gee, the president gets paid a lot of money, too.
If your head isn't starting to hurt, then by all means click on the article and read the whole thing and read how Mayerowitz completely ignores the fact that some of the CEO's in question were making tens of millions of dollars, while the POTUS makes just $400,000. But yeah, their pay is still analogous.
I realize layoffs in the news biz are rampant, but did ABC News fire all of its editors? Not only is the premise and execution of this article a complete embarrassment (can somebody please explain the article's Steve Ford reference), but it doesn't even make sense. Quite literally. Re-read these two graphs:
It might be a bit of a stretch to compare today's corporate titans with the commander in chief, but some Wall Street bloggers clearly upset with President Obama's attempts to rein in executive pay are doing just that.
"Some accountability needs to be put in place. We won't have them kicking sand in the face of taxpayers any longer," said one private equity worker on Dealbreaker.com, a Wall Street gossip site and blog.
Do you notice how the provided quote--the quote that's supposed to set up the entire premise of the article--makes no sense. How does that quote convey the idea that "some Wall Street bloggers" are comparing POTUS pay to CEO pay? The way I read the mangled quote, the exact opposite was being inferred. (i.e. The CEO's need to be held accountable.) Either way, it literally makes no sense.
Elsewhere Mayerowitz claims "Corporate America quickly pointed out that while the president also only makes $400,000 a year, he gets all sorts of extra perks and doesn't have to pay taxes on them." But the reporter never quotes anybody from corporate America making that claim.
Combine that with the mysterious, incoherent "blogger" quote provided, and it's obvious there's no proof anybody in corporate America or on Wall Street is comparing POTUS pay to CEO pay. Why? Because CEO pocket tens of millions of dollars annual, and the POTUS $400,000.
As we said, just painfully stupid.
In 1993, I did a pretty shabby job of covering Bill Clinton's economic plan. It was, in sum, a very good plan--it worked wonders for the economy--but I focused on the mishaps. (Clinton, for example, pulled the rug out from under House Democrats by offering a carbon tax, which they voted for...and then the President removed it from the bill.) Clinton couldn't get any Republican votes for the package. A disaster! He had trouble getting Democratic votes for it; he had to beg Bob Kerrey for his vote to get it through the Senate. His presidency was in ruins! He had lost all credibility! (Actually, those of us who had focused on some big ugly trees rather than the blooming forest were the ones who had lost credibility.) It pains me to watch normally reasonable colleagues overreacting to Obama's situation now--which is far less dire than Clinton's was. Some form of stimulus will pass. If it doesn't revive the economy, then more stimulus will be passed. Obama's maintaining the proper balance of reaching out to Republicans, making some compromises, but staying firm on the need for a bill that includes public works as well as tax cuts. A Republican Senator, a vocal opponent of the bill, told me the other day: "The guy has really impressed us. We may not vote for the bill, and he may have to learn that you have to give us more than he wants to give us to make us happy, but he's made a really strong start that will work to his benefit down the road."
We mentioned earlier how Newsweek's Michael Hirsh wrote a piece explaining all about how the White House is losing the P.R. war over the stimulus bill. But how amazingly, at least according to Hirsh, the media has played no role in that setback for Obama.
Right on cue, Dionne chimes in today in the WaPo with pretty much the same argument. "Obama Losing the Media War," read the headline to Dionne's column in my local newspaper. (That's the beauty of a CW; everybody inside the Beltway agrees on what to write.)
Just like Hirsh, Dionne laments how "Republicans have succeeded in defining" the stimulus 'debate.' Just like Hirsh, Dionne offers up some remedies. And just like Hirsh, Dionne doesn't think the press has played any role in tilting the stimulus 'debate' in the GOP's favor.
At the risk of repeating ourselves, we'd note Dionne completely ignores the statistics released last which which showed there were twice as many Republicans invited onto cable TV to 'debate' the bill, as compared to Democrats. He completely ignores the fact that journalists reporting on the stimulus bill continue to tirelessly misinform the public about its content. And how journalists have all but ingested GOP talking points about the bill and practically spit them out as easily as taking a breathe.
Dionne says the White House is losing the P.R. war on the stimulus bill. And Dionne may be right. But according to Dionne, the press has played no role in the White House setback. None.