Remember how during the stimulus debate, the media kept insisting that Republicans had "taken control of the debate," were "driving the message" and all those other phrases journalists love to use in order to pretend that something is happening other than the media deciding to pay more attention to the GOP's arguments? How we kept hearing that congressional Republicans got their groove back by effectively painting the Democrats as big-spending coastal liberals?
Well, earlier today, Politico's Glenn Thrush noted a new Gallup poll that he thought showed that approval of congressional Democrats had spiked, while approval of Republicans had dropped. Turns out, Thrush misread the poll; it didn't measure approval of the two parties.
But it led me to wonder what the public does think of the two parties' congressional leaders. Is all that noise we've been hearing about Republicans having The Big Mo legitimate, or is it another case of the media being badly out of touch with the American people?
If you guessed "out of touch" -- and, really, why wouldn't you? -- you nailed it.
CNN conducted a poll just a little more than a week ago that found 60 percent approval for Democratic leaders in congress, and 39 percent disapproval, for a net of +21 points. Republican leaders in congress, however, had won the approval of 44 percent of the public, while 55 percent disapproved, for a net of -11 points.
That's a 32 point gap between the net approval for the Dems & the GOP. That's huge.
But the Republicans have produced a web video featuring a 32-year-old Aerosmith song, so get ready for several days of cable news pretending the GOP is, indeed, "back in the saddle again."
Aaron Keyak of the National Jewish Democratic Council assails the Washington Times for invoking Nazism in an editorial critical of health care provisions in President Obama's economic recovery plan.
At Huffington Post, Keyak writes in part:
Last week, The Washington Times ridiculously wrote of the "Nazi version of efficiency" when criticizing health care provisions in the stimulus plan. The use of this example is not only inaccurate, but it is insensitive and clearly beyond the pale of even the most partisan critiques of the stimulus bill. The Times is free to voice its thoughts on its Editorial page, but attacking the stimulus plan by printing a photo of Adolf Hitler and invoking comparisons to Nazi policies is offensive and not befitting of any newspaper with at least a modicum of respectability.
UPDATE: The JTA is up with a post: Can we stop with the Nazi analogies?
OpenLeft's Paul Rosenberg takes a look at the evolving battle lines between old and new media using HuffPo's Sam Stein and his White House presser question as a jumping off point to discuss the unfounded assumption that old media reporting is somehow inherently superior:
It's routinely argued that old media--particularly newspapers--are superior, because they do "original reporting" while bloggers are merely parasitical on what newspapers reporters do. Of course, this is very often the case, just as most opinion columns are parasitical on newspaper reporters, too.
But it's not necessarily the case, and it's likely to be less and less the case as time goes by. With the vast online publication of information from primary sources, government, scientific and professional reports and the like, the value of traditional journalists largely revolves around their ability to see the same things that anyone online can see, and then to ask the right questions to penetrate beyond what was originally presented. And this is precisely where they routinely fail, not just falling short, but often amplifying the very lies and distortions they should be stripping away.
Rosenberg goes on to make his point by noting Media Matters' recent research item on the AP comparing President Obama's hiring of progressives at the DOJ to the Bush administration's alleged illegal hiring practices:
Indeed, the Bush politicization of the DOJ goes far beyond simply politicizing the process of hiring career staff using political criteria. The whole point of hiring conservative Republicans was not simply to give them cushy jobs they weren't qualified for (although some possible were qualified, but those didn't need their help). No, their purpose was to use the DOJ as a political weapon to attack, and attempt to destroy, the Democratic Party. This is how a whole range of improper and illegal practices all tied together. So MMFA is merely focusing on the most minimal aspects of what's required for accurate reporting here.
In it's critique of the AP story, MMFA relied entirely on the July 28, 2008 DOJ report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG), titled "An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring by Monica Goodling and Other Staff in the Office of the Attorney General." (PDF) In the natural course of standard journalistic practice, this is the sort of crucial document that a beat reporter would have read. That's precisely the sort of intimate understanding that reporters are supposed to bring to their jobs, which the rest of us are supposed to lack. MMFA did not "engage in reporting" according to the standard narrative. They were "just blogging."
And yet, MMFA managed to unearth and highlight the most fundamental distinction between political appointees and career attorneys (something every beat reporter ought to know like the back of their hand), and present it using compelling quotes from an unimpeachable authoritative source.
In short, although MMFA was "just blogging" while AP was doing "real reporting", it was MMFA that produced a sound journalistic product while AP did not.
The conservative columnist's stab at becoming a global warming denier has attracted lots of attention and ridicule this week. But perhaps more important than the guffaws is the question, where's the WashPost correction regarding the sizable factual error at the center of its writer's column?
As blogger Dan Kennedy noted:
Syndicated columnist George Will presents only one piece of evidence in his Sunday piece denying global warming — and he gets it wrong...What does it take for Will and/or the Washington Post to append a correction? As of 6:30 p.m., there was still nothing. Is it because his entire commentary looks ridiculous if he retracts the sole relevant factual nugget he included in his diatribe?
Good question. Is anybody at the Post listening?
From Huffington Post:
In an interview with U.S. News & World Report, conservative Christian leader Pat Robertson denounced talk show host Rush Limbaugh for saying he wants President Obama to fail.
"So you don't subscribe to Rush Limbaugh's "I hope he fails" school of thought?" asked interviewer Dan Gilgoff.
"That was a terrible thing to say," Robertson responded. "I mean, he's the president of all the country. If he succeeds, the country succeeds. And if he doesn't, it hurts us all. Anybody who would pull against our president is not exactly thinking rationally."
How long before Robertson joins Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) in groveling at Rush's feet for forgiveness?
In today's idiocy watch over at Washington Monthly's Political Animal, Steve Benen notes that on a local Minnesota conservative radio show Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachman made the provably false allegation that President Obama's economic recovery plan gives the community action group ACORN "$5 billion."
A friend passed along an item from the weekend, with an audio clip of Michele Bachmann chatting with a conservative talk-show host in Minnesota. In the ongoing debate as to which member of Congress is the single most ridiculous, this interview is very compelling evidence that Bachmann is, at a minimum, near the front of the pack.
Bachmann "explained" to the host and Minnesota audience:
* ACORN is "under federal indictment for voter fraud," but the stimulus bill nevertheless gives ACORN "$5 billion." (In reality, ACORN is not under federal indictment and isn't mentioned in the stimulus bill at all.)
Benen is spot on. This is a lie that Media Matters has debunked time and again. Attacks like these on ACORN have become standard operating procedure for conservatives of late. Think of it this way... you know how Lou Dobbs can twist any report or purported scandal into an indictment of undocumented immigrants (illegals, as many on the right refer to them)? Well, ACORN is the right's new boogeyman.
Perhaps they don't like that an organization actually exists with the sole purpose of assisting low and moderate income people through voter registration, community organizing, issue campaigns, ballot initiatives, and direct services to communities in need.
And before the righties leap to the comments thread with allegations of ACORN voter fraud, they should get their facts straight.
Last week we noted it might--just might--be helpful for news consumers if the press, while covering the stimulus 'debate,' reminded people how Republicans treated then-new president Bill Clinton's centerpiece economic initiative in 1993. (Hint: Republicans uniformly dumped all over it and claimed it would ruin the U.S. economy. Sound familiar?)
Over at Crook and Liars, Jon Perr adds more context to the 1993 vote:
As it turns out, Obama wasn't the first Democrat to learn the hard way that bipartisanship is a one-way street for the GOP when it comes to the economy. In 1993, Bill Clinton's $496 billion stimulus and deficit-cutting program passed without a single Republican vote.
Perr also provided the helpful table below. But don't look for it to be reproduced anywhere in the mainstream press. Journalists are too busy playing dumb about 1993, which, c'mon people, has no relevance to current events.
Matt Yglesias catches Politico's David Rogers privileging the lie in an article about high-speed rail funding in the stimulus bill. Rogers quotes GOP Rep. Candice Miller "explaining" that she voted against the bill because "the Senate majority leader has earmarked $8 billion for a rail system from Las Vegas to Los Angeles." The problem is, that isn't true - and Rogers doesn't tell his readers that.
Rogers ... knows what the truth is, knows what conservatives have been saying, and knows that the two are different things, but he can't quite seem to describe what's happening with regular English words. ... Rep Miller wasn't "explaining" anything, she was lying to her constituents. Nor were conservatives running a "campaign to find pork barrel projects int he stimulus bill" they were inventing fictional projects. Nor were obscure House backbenchers like Miller running a rogue operation here. House Minority Leader John Boehner led the charge on peddling this lie, and Senator Jim Demint was on the case as well.
This doesn't seem very complicated to me, but many reporters still don't seem to understand that when you quote a false claim without making clear that it is false, you are spreading a falsehood. You are granting an advantage to dishonest claims at the expense of truth.
And -- this part really should go without saying -- that's bad.
Eric Boehlert and I have both written a lot lately about the media's fetishization of bipartisanship -- and the fact that they insist on attempts at bipartisanship from Democrats much more than from Republicans. I devoted my latest column to that fact on Friday.
Today, Digby provides a striking example: Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen -- ostensibly a liberal columnist -- praising Republicans for their principled opposition to President Obama after having blasted liberals for "The demonization of Bush" during the 2004 campaign.
Anyway: Go read Digby.
A new statement from the Center for Economic and Policy Research blasts the media's coverage of the stimulus:
The media badly failed in its responsibility to inform the public about one of the most important economic policy proposals to come before Congress in the last decade. Most of the public still does not even know what stimulus means, in large part because reporters apparently did not want to call attention to the fact that spending is, almost by definition, stimulus.
The media also failed to put the proposal in any perspective, routinely using adjectives like "enormous" or "massive" without any reference to the size of the demand gap the stimulus was designed to fill. They also failed to put the various components of the stimulus in perspective by, for example, informing the public that the $50 million in funding for the NEA, that was so despised by the Republicans, was equal to less than 0.007 percent of the total package.
The media have the time to familiarize themselves with the concept of stimulus and to look up the numbers that would allow them to put spending and tax proposals in a meaningful perspective. Their audience does not have the time to do this work. The media once again badly failed the public in its reporting on a major economic issue."
Quite right. I have argued several times that the news media's obsessive focus on politics rather than policy serves their readers and viewers poorly. Here's one example:
Consumers of news lack the time, expertise, and, in many cases, ability to determine which of two contradictory statements by competing political figures is true. ... That's where news organizations should -- but, with depressing frequency, have not -- come in. They have -- or should have -- the expertise and the time to assess those claims, and to report the facts. That's what readers, viewers, and listeners need. That's what journalism should be all about.
On the other hand, as consumers of news, we don't need journalists telling us what the "political impact" of something is going to be; how it will "play at the polls." It's our job to decide that. It's our job to decide who we'll vote for and why; how we'll assess the parties' competing agendas and approaches to the problems we face.
Instead of telling us how they think we'll react, we need journalists to give us the information upon which we can make an informed decision. To tell us the facts, and the truth, and the relevant context. Then we'll tell them the political impact.