This one's gonna make your head hurt, trust us. It's what happens when trivial pursuits collide with incompetence.
First up, NBC apparently does not know how to transcribe its presidential interviews, even when the president speaks clearly and slowly. NBC managed to botch the transcripts to its Obama interview. Specifically, at the end of the Q&A, Matt Lauer, for whatever reason, decided to ask Obama about his wife and daughters being on the cover of US magazine.
Lauer held up the magazine, which also featured cover photo and headline in the upper-right hand corner about singer Jessica Simpson's' apparent weight gain. ("Inside Jess' weight battle.") In fact, the unflattering photo of Simpson actually cropped out Obama himself on the US cover.
From the NBC transcripts which were released to the press:
LAUER: You got replaced by Jessica Simpson.
OBAMA: Yeah, who's losing a weight battle apparently. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. Oh, well.
Well, that ticked some people off, including Karen Tumulty at Time. "He laid a big one in yesterday's interview with Matt Lauer," she wrote as she reproduced the NBC transcript online. And yes, right-wing blogosphere also denounced Obama, printing up the same transcript.
Thing is, Obama never said Simpson was "losing a weight battle." As Politico notes, NBC mangled the transcripts. Here's what Obama actually said:
LAUER: You got replaced by Jessica Simpson.
OBAMA: Yeah, who's in a weight battle apparently. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. Oh, well.
It's obvious from watching the clip that Obama was not making fun of Simpson's weight. If anything he was very gently mocking the fanzine culture in which Simpson's weight is considered to be newsworthy.
But back to Tumulty and then the blogs. How did they respond to the fact that Obama never said what they criticized him for saying? From Tumulty [emphasis added]:
*Alert Swampland commenter travellingatlanta notes that the transcript that NBC put out was wrong. "Who's losing a weight battle" is actually "who's in a weight battle." I went back and listened to the video, and it sounds that way to me, too. Which makes it slightly better. I guess. But in the future, Mr. President, just don't go there.
I'm chuckling over Tumulty's detective work; about how she went back and listened to the video again and confirmed that, yes, Obama said "Yeah, who's in a weight battle apparently." I'm chuckling because the audio/video is clear as day and there is no dispute, which only highlights how supremely NBC mucked up by concocted parts of the transcripts in the first place.
Second, Obama shouldn't go there? Give us a break. The only reason Obama mentioned any of this was because a network news anchor brought up the frivolous topic of US magazine. The president was simply, and politely, humoring the interviewer by reading back to him the inane mag cover line.
As for the right-wing blog, well it's just priceless. This is what Gateway Pundit wrote:
UPDATE: The Politico is defending the president for joking about Jessica Simpson's weight problem. Figures.
Classic, right? Gateway pundit first mocked Obama for something he never said. When Politico pointed out Obama never said what NBC (and Gateway Pundit) claimed the president said, Gateway Pundit simply informed readers that Politico was "defending" Obama. What did Gateway Pundit fail to do? It failed inform readers that Obama never said what Gateway Pundit claimed Obama said.
Just keep moving along folks, nothing to see here. Corrections? Retractions for flogging phony story? Pleeease.
We told you this was gonna make your head hurt.
Jonathan Chait has an interesting read in the upcoming edition of The New Republic that looks at, at least in part, the disparity in media coverage of the scandals involving the now-impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and the FBI-investigated-soon-to-be-former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman. For those of you not following the Coleman scandal, Chait's article offers a decent summary:
What, you say--Norm Coleman? Yes, Norm Coleman! Let me explain. The soon-to-be-former senator's scandal is pretty simple. Nasser Kazeminy, a wealthy businessman and close Coleman friend, allegedly paid him $75,000 under the table.
And by "allegedly," I mean "almost certainly." Here's how the almost certainly true alleged scheme worked. The payments to Coleman came in the form of what Tony Soprano would call a "no-show job." One of Kazeminy's companies is called Deep Marine Technology. Kazeminy allegedly ordered Deep Marine's CEO, Paul McKim, to make a series of $25,000 payments that would go to Coleman's wife. According to McKim, Kazeminy was utterly blatant. He said the reason for the payments was that Coleman needed the money and McKim should disguise them as a legitimate business transaction.
I wouldn't be surprised if this is the first many have heard of Coleman's predicament – as Chait notes, it has hardly registered in the national media:
Some differences in the scale of relative guilt do present themselves. In Coleman's defense, he's currently just a subject of an FBI investigation, while Blagojevich has been voted out of office. And, of course, Coleman hasn't been caught boasting about his scheme. On the other hand, Coleman is accused by a Houston businessman of having actually accepted illicit funds, while Blagojevich is merely being accused of harboring an intention to sell his Senate seat.
Now consider how the two stories have fared in the national press. Blagojevich has turned into the biggest crime story since O.J. Simpson. Can you guess how many articles about the Coleman scandal have appeared in the national media? One short wire story. When I bring up Coleman's scandals with my colleagues, many of whom follow politics for a living, invariably they have little or no idea what I'm talking about.
The national media have almost completely ignored the Coleman scandal but they've found plenty of time to misreport key aspects of the Minnesota recount and ensuing ballot disputes. Al Franken may be a former comedian but the real joke has been the national media's coverage of this Senate race.
Newsbusters' Tim Graham thinks Barack Obama is insufficiently patriotic and pro-Marine. Why? Because the president likes Cole Porter.
Responding to a CBS report that Obama's appearances have featured a pianist performing Porter's "Night and Day" and Sting's "Desert Rose" rather than sticking to "Hail to the Chief," Graham writes:
To many Americans, this excessive informality suggests a real distaste for "official" or "patriotic" music, not to mention the Marine band that plays it.
Graham didn't provide any quotes or citations to support his contention that "many Americans" think this, so we can only assume he was projecting. In any case, it's an ugly smear to say that Obama has "a real distaste" for the Marine band simply because he enjoys piano renditions of Cole Porter tunes.
Some conservatives are upset about the fact that longtime friends and former colleagues George Stephanopoulos, Rahm Emanuel, Paul Begala, and James Carville regularly talk to each other.
Emanuel is the White House chief of staff, which supposedly means that Stephanopoulos, who works at ABC, and Begala and Carville, who are affiliated with CNN, cannot be objective in talking about the Obama administration. Or something. Greg Sargent and Steve Benen explain.
Honestly, this is all a bunch of nonsense. Two quick points:
First - for better or worse - friendships between journalists and the politicos they cover are nothing new. Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer is friends with George W. Bush. Conservatives didn't say he should be fired over that friendship - nor were they bothered when Schieffer moderated a presidential debate between Bush and John Kerry. Basically, for nearly any major political figure you can name - Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal - there will be some journalists with whom they have friendships.
Second, the idea that Stephanopoulos will be in the tank for Obama or other Democrats because he talks to Rahm Emanuel ignores history. The four men talked regularly in 1998, too, when Emanuel and Begala worked in Bill Clinton's White House - but that didn't stop Stephanopoulos from being among the first people to speculate that Clinton might be impeached over the Monica Lewinsky matter. Stephanopoulos brought up the possibility on television early in the morning on the day the story broke.
This was the Vietnam-driven, Time doomsday cover for the issue published just weeks after the new Democratic president was sworn into office in 1993:
Now here's the latest Vietnam-driven, Newsweek doomsday cover for the current issue, published just days after the new Democratic president was sworn into office:
Aside for the bogus way the news weeklies jumped at the chance to hang a foreign policy "Vietnam" around the neck of brand new Democratic presidents, behold the especially surreal logic connected to the Newsweek cover and its attempt to connect Obama, in office for less than 14 days, to the battle for Afghanistan, which the Bush administration oversaw for nearly seven years.
It comes courtesy of the conservative Hoover Instituter's Peter Berkowitz, last seen in these parts publishing the insightful, "The Case for the War in Iraq." Anyway, Berkowitz's latest piece, "Bush Hatred and Obama Euphoria Are Two Sides of the Same Coin," really represents the gold standard in mendacity and intellectual dishonesty. Even for the casually accurate WSJ page, Berkowitz's effort manages to stand out.
His premise is that the same crazy people who hated Bush are the same crazy people who love Obama. Berkowitz claims he's talking about liberals; those mindless liberals who belittled Bush, but who back Obama. (And oh yeah, the media and professors were in on it too.) Of course, as any honest adult could attest, Berkowitz is actually talking about Americans. Because it's Americans who by huge margins disapproved of Bush's performance, and Americans who by huge margins currently approve of Obama's performance.
Nonetheless, Berkowitz thinks he's onto something very deep and revealing and insightful here. (He even gets biblical!) It's all about zealotry and the "dangerous political passions" that haunt politics.
You don't say, Peter. You mean the kind of mindless right-wing zealotry that defined the 1990's when Republicans unleashed wave after wave of hysterical anti-Clinton crusades. (It's generally referred to as Clinton Derangement Syndrome, you might want to check it out Peter.) You mean the kind of right-wing zealotry that the WSJ editorial page practically copyrighted during the Clinton years as it hyped every half-assed conspiracy theory born in the fever swamps? And you mean the kind of mindless right-wing attacks that have already been unleashed on Obama less than two weeks after being inaugurated. (America is now less safe!)
Where does all that fit into Berkowitz's deep-thinking Journal Op-ed? Naturally, rather than confronting the uncomfortable facts, he just plays dumb about the naked hate that has defined the Republican Noise Machine for nearly two decades.
The Hoover Institute must be proud. Again.
In their column for the Center for American Progress, Eric Alterman and George Zornick note that the media has paid shockingly little attention to new revelations that the Bush administration spied on journalists:
[A] former analyst at the National Security Agency revealed on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" that Bush's National Security Agency "monitored all communications" of Americans and that U.S. news organizations and individual journalists were specifically targeted.
Former analyst Russell Tice told Olbermann that, "The National Security Agency had access to all Americans' communications—faxes, phone calls, and their computer communications. And it didn't matter whether you were in Kansas, in the middle of the country, and you never made any foreign communications at all."
So, how did The New York Times cover Tice's revelations that ordinary American citizens, journalists in general, and possibly one of their own reporters in particular, had their communications monitored without a warrant? As far as we can tell, not at all.
Neither Tice nor his charges were discussed in the Times, either in print or online. This was standard across much of the mainstream media—The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Associated Press have all remained completely silent about Tice's allegations.
In January 2006, when the New York Times first broke the story of the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program, I compared the resources devoted to the emerging story by the Times and the Washington Post to the resources they devoted to the story of Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
For both stories, I looked at the number of articles the two papers ran the day after the stories broke, the number of words devoted to the stories, and the number of reporters credited with working on the stories. And I looked at the same things for the 35th day after the story broke:
All told, on January 22, 1998, the Times and the Post ran 19 articles (five on the front page) dealing with the Clinton investigation, totaling more than 20,000 words and reflecting the words of at least 28 reporters -- plus the editorial boards of both newspapers.
In contrast, on December 17, the Times and the Post combined to run five articles about the NSA spying operation, involving 12 reporters and consisting of 6,303 words.
On February 25, 1998, 35 days after the story first broke, the Post ran four articles and an editorial about the Clinton investigation, totaling 5,046 words, involving 11 reporters, and the paper's editorial board. The Times ran four articles, two opinion columns, and an editorial -- seven pieces in all, totaling 5,852 words and involving at least six reporters and columnists, in addition to its editorial board. The papers combined for 12 articles, columns, and editorials, involving 17 reporters and columnists, as well as both editorial boards.
On January 20, 35 days after the NSA story first broke, the Times ran one 1,324-word article about the NSA operation written by two reporters. The Post ran one 945-word article written by one reporter. Combined: two articles, three reporters, 2,269 words.
Basically, the media didn't care nearly as much about the possiblity that a president was illegally listening in on the telephone conversations of innocent Americans as they did about the possiblity that a president had an affair. As Alterman and Zornick point out, that hasn't changed even now that we know that journalists were among those spied upon.
Fox News' Bret Baier asserted that Rep. David Obey is "under fire" because the economic stimulus bill provides more than $2 billion for the National Park Service, "the industry for which his son lobbies," and cited a Washington Times article reporting that, in Baier's words, "a spokeswoman for Congressman Obey's office says nepotism was not a factor." But Baier did not mention that the Times article also reported the spokeswoman saying the funding for parks "was included at the request of [Rep.] Norm Dicks." Nor did Baier note that Dicks has repeatedly made similar appropriations requests for national parks in previous appropriations bills.
Lou Dobbs falsely claimed on his radio show that "the Congressional Budget Office did a study on the president's so-called economic stimulus package. It says output would be increased somewhere between one and a half, three and a half percent." In fact, the CBO estimated that output would increase "between 1.5 percent and 3.6 percent" in fiscal year 2009 alone and estimated that output would increase as a result of the stimulus package in subsequent years as well.
Fox News' Glenn Beck falsely claimed that "[o]nly 3 percent" of the Democratic economic stimulus plan would be "spent in the next 12 months." Beck's figures were based on a partial Congressional Budget Office cost estimate that excluded faster-moving provisions in the bill. According to the CBO's full cost estimate of the bill, 11.2 percent of the $816 billion bill would be spent in the first seven-and-a-half months after the bill is enacted, and, when including the bill's tax cut provisions, $169 billion -- or 20.7 percent of the bill's total cost -- would take effect in the first seven-and-a-half months.
It just never ends, does it? At first, the whole soggy story revolved around the fact that foreign governments or leaders had donated money to Clinton's Foundation and that was an awful, terrible thing because with Hillary Clinton becoming SOS she might hand over America's foreign policy to the highest bidder. (Plus, how dare foreign dignitaries give money to a foundation that, among other things, helps poor people around the world.)
Well, despite Christopher Hitchen's Clinton-hating heavy breathing, that Hillary's-going--to-be-sold-to-the-highest-bidder storyline (nothing sexist there, right?) hasn't really gone anywhere. But fear not, the AP has a new Clinton $ angle.
Headline: "Bill Clinton made millions from foreign sources"
Former President Bill Clinton earned nearly $6 million in speaking fees last year, almost all of it from foreign companies, according to financial documents filed by his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
More foreign funny business, right? At this point, after reading these never-ending stories I actually wish somebody would uncover some actual news, even if it was hugely embarrassing to the Clintons. But that somebody aint the AP. The entire story's about how Bill Clinton was paid speaking fees by business located outside the U.S. That's the "foreign sources." A Canadian publisher. A German entertainment company. etc.
Bill Clinton is one of the most famous people in the world and businesses headquartered outside of the U.S. have paid him a lot to hear him speak.
Thanks for the news flash, AP.
UPDATE: From Politico, which, of course, is very excited about the latest Clinton $ news [emphasis added]:
Former President Clinton's globetrotting speaking tours and charitable activities were considered the major impediment to his wife's confirmation
Clinton, of course, was easily confirmed.
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?
The Washington Post asserted that "a report from the Congressional Budget Office ... said the majority of money in the Democratic [stimulus] plan would not get spent within the first year and a half." In fact, a document described by The Huffington Post as being the "whole" CBO " 'report' " accounts for only approximately $358 billion out of the "more than $850 billion" that the Post reported is included in the Democratic proposal, meaning that the CBO analysis could not possibly reach any conclusions about "the majority of money in the Democratic plan."
The Washington Post reported, "Ed Yardeni, president and chief investment strategist at Yardeni Research, said he was skeptical of the stimulus package because much of the spending in it may come well after the crisis is over, as a report from the Congressional Budget Office has suggested." But the Post did not include a response from the Obama administration or the Democratic leadership anywhere in the same edition of the newspaper.