The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza is pushing the myth of the National Rifle Association's electoral invulnerability as his latest rationale for why he believes stronger gun laws won't pass Congress.
Cillizza moved on to this myth after claiming that such laws were unlikely to pass because the American people didn't support them -- a claim now no longer plausible given new data from the same poll question he previously cited.
After a week of comically inept warfare between the gut vs. data camps regarding the state of the 2012 race, Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza takes stock of it all and declares a loser: polls.
Remember those golden days of this election season when a poll or two came out each week, and we political junkies pored over it with the glee of 5-year-olds at Christmas?
That joy has turned to ash in our mouths of late as each day is packed full of competing poll numbers that often seem to tell contradictory stories.
In the past week alone, at least nine polls have been released on where the presidential race stands in Ohio, and at least seven have come out in Virginia. A CBS News-Quinnipiac-New York Times poll in Virginia said that President Obama led by two points; in a Roanoke College survey, it was Mitt Romney by five. And the pollsters were in the field at the same time!
What all of that polling means is that partisans, who already live in a choose-your-own-political-reality world, can select the numbers that comply with their view of the race and pooh-pooh the data that suggest anything different.
Let's break this down. Cillizza's argument against the surfeit of polling data is that silly partisans can simply "select the numbers that comply with their view of the race and pooh-pooh the data that suggest anything different." True enough! But what is Chris Cilllizza's view of the race? Well, he thinks it's "tight as a tick," according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post national tracking poll showing a virtual tie. In keeping with that view, he looks this past week's glut of polling data from Virginia, selects two polls that suggest a tight-as-a-tick race, and blows off the rest of the data. Meanwhile, a look at the average of all the latest Virginia polling shows something different.
So in bemoaning the partisans who cherry-pick poll data that confirm their views of the race, pundit Chris Cillizza cherry-picked data that confirm his view of the race, and then awarded the data itself the winner of "the worst week in Washington."
Because it's the numbers that screwed up, not the people whose job it is to interpret them.
In the wake of last week's tragic mass shooting in Aurora, CO, some in the media are distorting public opinion and election results to predict that the events will not have an impact on the debate over gun violence prevention. In fact, polls indicate public support for a broad range of stronger gun restrictions, including the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, which may have prevented the legal purchase of one of the alleged shooter's guns.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza kicked off the debate with a piece published the morning after the shooting headlined "Why the Aurora shootings won't likely change the gun control debate":
If history is any guide, however, the Aurora shootings will do little to change public sentiment regarding gun control, which has been moving away from putting more laws on the books for some time.
In 1990, almost eight in ten Americans said that the "laws covering the sales of firearms" should be made "more strict" while just 10 percent said they should be made "less strict" or "kept as they are now". By 2010, those numbers had drastically shifted with 54 percent preferring less strict or no change in guns laws and 44 percent believing gun laws should be made more strict.
By Sunday the claim that Americans don't support tougher gun laws was a regular feature on the morning political talk shows. But if Congress is not moved by this tragedy to pass new gun violence prevention laws, it won't be because the American people oppose such measures.
In fact, other polls indicate that contrary to the result of the Gallup poll Cillizza cited, Americans support the passage of an array of new, stronger firearm sale laws.
Note that this appetite among the public for stronger gun laws includes the support of more than three in five for reinstating the nationwide ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004. One of the weapons used by the alleged shooter was an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, which reportedly may have been banned under that law. Members of the House and Senate have called for bringing back the ban in response to the shooting. They enjoy the support of 62 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Independents and 49 percent of Republicans, according to a June 2011 Time magazine poll.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza does his turn at distilling conventional wisdom this morning by asking of the Supreme Court's health care ruling yesterday: "Did Republicans lose the health care battle but win the health care war?" It's a loaded question, born of utterly predictable spin, that assumes a Republican victory regardless of the outcome. But it looks even more ridiculous when you think about the question that should be asked in its stead: We know now what Obama will run on, so what exactly is the Republican health care plan?
After the ruling was issued yesterday, Mitt Romney stood behind a podium and promised that, were he to be elected, he would repeal the law on his first day as president. The Republican National Committee blasted out talking points announcing their intention to repeat the word "tax" ad nauseam from here to November. And everyone seems very impressed that Romney claims to have raised $2 million yesterday off the ruling.
That's all well and good, but as the Post's Ezra Klein pointed out a couple of weeks ago, we're less than five months from Election Day and the presumptive Republican nominee still has not articulated a specific health care policy. That's a remarkable thing, particularly when you consider that at this point in the 2008 election cycle, then-candidate Barack Obama's detailed health care proposal had been a matter of public record for more than a year.
Last night's Republican presidential debate generated no shortage of headlines and much coverage of the record number of prisoner executions during the administration of Texas governor Rick Perry.
Asked by NBC's Brian Williams if he struggles with the idea that any one of those executed prisoners might have been innocent, Perry answered: "No, sir. I've never struggled with that at all. ... In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed."
Much of the coverage thus far has focused on the theatrics of Perry's staunch defense of Texas' system for capital punishment, rather than the substance. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote this morning that Perry was one of the "losers" last night, but "salvaged the second half of the debate with a very strong answer on the death penalty." For those wondering what was so "strong" about it, tough luck: Cillizza didn't explain. In today's Politico "Playbook," Mike Allen counseled Perry to "give the same answer on executions in every debate."
A few media outlets have noted Texas' controversial record on capital punishment, and some even spotlighted the case of Cameron Todd Willingham as a counterpoint to Perry's faith in the Texas criminal justice system. Willingham, convicted of murdering his three daughters by arson, was put to death in Texas in 2004. Perry denied a stay of execution to allow the state to review evidence that the fire science used to convict Willingham was spurious. In 2009 he abruptly replaced several members the state forensic science commission just before it was scheduled to hold hearings on the matter.
Willingham's case is an important one, but we should also be talking about the many wrongly convicted prisoners freed from death row in Texas in the last ten years. They, more than the unresolved Willingham case, demonstrate conclusively not just that the Texas criminal justice system is capable of making catastrophic errors when meting out capital punishment, but also that such errors happen with appalling frequency.
In a "Fast Fix" video about budget deficits, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza demonstrates the elite media's hostility to Social Security and Medicare:
Cutting spending is the obvious fix. But where to cut, and by how much? The simple solution is to make cuts to two large government entitlement programs: Social Security and Medicare. The problem? Members of Congress have been more concerned with counting votes than cutting costs. Social Security and Medicare are considered the "third rails" of American politics. Nobody wants to touch them.
It has apparently never occurred to Cillizza that another "problem" with making deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare is that doing so would take money out of the pockets of the elderly, and force people to postpone retirement. That may not seem like a big deal to Chris Cillizza, but people with jobs that require considerably more physical exertion than sitting at a desk may see things differently.
Later, Cillizza referred to President Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security as "reform" -- a loaded description, to be sure, but one that is consistent with his apparent belief that there are no legitimate policy reasons for opposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare; that all such opposition is purely political.
Note also that Cillizza fixates on spending cuts as the "obvious fix" to budget deficits. Budgets involve two key components: Revenue and expenditures. But only one of those -- reducing expenditures -- strikes Cillizza as an "obvious" solution. Raising taxes on the wealthy? Inconceivable! (According to the Washingtonian, the average Washington Post reporter makes $90,000 a year. And that's an average -- Cillizza is a star Post reporter, complete with online videos. And Cillizza commands speaking fees of $5,001-$10,000 per speech. Maybe that has something to do with his belief that cutting Social Security, rather than raising taxes on the rich, is the "obvious" solution to budget deficits?)
Was today's Washington Post ghostwritten by the RNC press shop? Based on all the unsupported -- and unsupportable -- suggestions of excessive Democratic partisanship, it sure looks like it.
Let's start with Shailagh Murray's portrayal of Democrats of being newcomers to bipartisanship:
Never mind that Democrats didn't pass a health care reform package that created a single payer system, or even one that included a public option, but rather passed a package that reflected longtime Republican health care priorities, like an individual mandate. To the Washington Post, the fact that Republicans voted against a plan chock-full of ideas they had long advocated means the Democrats weren't behaving in a bipartisan manner. And never mind that the Democrats passed a stimulus that was significantly smaller, and more tax-cut laden, than many economists, from Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman to Christina Romer, thought was necessary -- and did so in an effort to win Republican support. To the Washington Post, the fact that Republicans almost unanimously opposed it despite those concessions means the Democrats weren't behaving in a bipartisan manner.
Murray's Post article asserts:
Many voters thought Democrats had overreached and were governing by fiat, and they responded in November by giving Republicans control of the House and narrowing the Democratic hold on the Senate.
Really? I've never seen polling demonstrating that widespread anger at Democrats for "governing by fiat" was key to the GOP's electoral gains last November, and I strongly suspect the Washington Post hasn't, either. Meanwhile, there are plenty of indications that a poor economy had far more to do with Democratic losses than a perception of "governing by fiats" -- but that doesn't fit into the Post's neat little storyline about Democratic overreach. Indeed, given that the 2009 stimulus package was smaller than many economists thought it should be, attributing last fall's election outcomes largely to the state of the economy would directly undermine the Post's storyline -- and might even suggest that Democrats suffered politically because they were too solicitous of Republicans. But instead of changing their narrative to fit reality, the Post makes up an alternate universe in which fiats weighed more heavily on the minds of voters than did jobs.
Next, let's take a look at Chris Cillizza's "Ten members to watch in the 112th Congress":
North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D): Conrad watched as Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) retired and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) were defeated in the last cycle -- and now must decide whether or not to run again in his own right in 2012. If Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, does decide to retire, it could actually help the chances of a bipartisan budget deal as he would be less concerned about the political fallout from any compromise.
Again, the idea that recent lack of agreement by the two parties on fiscal measures is a result of excessive partisanship by Kent Conrad is absurd. On the biggest legislative items of the last Congress -- things like health care and the stimulus, the very things Republicans and journalists invoke as evidence of Democratic partisanship -- Democrats again and again made concessions in an attempt to win Republican support, and Republicans refused that support anyway. It was the GOP's entire legislative and political strategy. Don't take my word for it: Mitch McConnell has explicitly said it was the Republicans' approach. He has bragged about it. Here's McConnell:
"We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals," McConnell says. "Because we thought—correctly, I think—that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the 'bipartisan' tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there's a broad agreement that that's the way forward."
In light of the fact that Republicans like Mitch McConnell have explicitly said that they pursued a strategy of opposing everything the Democrats did, specifically so nothing could be called "bipartisan," it's simply dishonest to blame Democrats for insufficient bipartisanship.
From the July 4 edition of CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley:
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The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza credulously passes along some GOP health care spin, never thinking to question whether maybe -- just maybe -- there's some artifice involved:
Republican lawyers warn Democrats of "deem and pass" consequences
Less than 24 hours after House Democratic leaders floated the idea of using a parliamentary procedure to avoid a recorded vote on the Senate health care bill, a group of Republican lawyers -- including the legal counsels for the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee as well as high profile campaign attorney like Ben Ginsberg of Patton Boggs and Cleta Mitchell of Foley & Lardner -- penned an open letter making clear that such a tactic would not make Democrats immune from attacks on the bill in the fall campaign.
Citing an assertion from Rules Committee ranking member David Dreier (Calif.) that "a vote for the rule is a vote for the Senate bill," the group wrote: "We believe it is accurate to state in public communications that the effect of a vote for any rule illustrated in [Dreier's memo] is a vote for the Senate bill and all of its provisions." Put simply: Republicans believe that House Democrats using the "deem and pass" maneuver in no way prohibits GOP candidates and party committees from attacking them for "voting" for the Senate legislation.
So, Republican lawyers, citing a Republican member of congress, say Republicans can say in public communications (that's a reference to television advertising; each party frequently tries to get television stations to pull the other's ads over disputed claims) what the Republican member of congress says. How very nice and circular. And predictable. Oh, and ... meaningless. It probably won't surprise you to learn that the legal counsels for the RNC, NRSC and NRCC don't get to decide this question. That's up to television stations and their attorneys.
Unfortunately, Cillizza didn't include any indication of whether lawyers not in the employ of the GOP agree with the assessment. Or even any response from Democratic lawyers.
The letter along with House Republican leaders' vow to force a vote on the use of "deem and pass" is a reminder that GOPers believe the health care bill -- no matter the outcome of the vote later this week (or weekend) -- is something close to a silver bullet for them in the coming midterm elections.
Actually, it's a reminder that GOPers seem to want people to believe that they believe the health care bill is something close to a silver bullet for them. And, at least in this case, they got their wish.
How would Republicans behave if they believed health care was "something close to a silver bullet" for them? Pretty much they way they are behaving right now. (Or, perhaps, by laying low to encourage Democrats to walk in to their trap.)
But: How would Republicans behave if they believed health care could become a silver bullet for them, but would be much more likely to do so if there was a widespread belief that it would? Pretty much the way they are behaving right now. By thinking he can read the GOP's minds -- and concluding that their public statements are a sincere representation of their inner thoughts -- Cillizza plays right into their hands.
(Note that I'm not saying Republicans don't sincerely believe health care is their "silver bullet." I'm saying we don't know what they "believe," and that Cillizza's assumption that he does makes that outcome more likely. It's an assumption, by the way, that requires assuming that Republicans are offering Democrats sincere campaign advice, which seems more than a little unlikely.)
Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza calls tomorrow's Massachusetts Senate election for Republican Scott Brown:
Cambridge, MA: I still think Coakley wins this race by 8+ points and the story is marginalized post-election. The voter ID for Dems is just too large and this national attention has woken up MA residents. ...
Chris Cillizza: Great minds!
I am not sure I agree on Coakley -- solely because the race has been so unpredictable to this point -- but I think that no matter what happens on Tuesday you have a clear winner and a clear loser already.
Winner: Scott Brown. His candidacy has shocked the political world so even if he comes up short he will be touted for any and all open office in the state. One potential option: Coakley's attorney general post.
No word yet on how a Brown loss would be good news for Rudy Giuliani.
If you were a reporter, and you were typing up RNC chairman Michael Steele's call for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's resignation over a racially-insensitive remark, would you maybe find room to mention that just a few days ago, Steele used the phrase "honest injun"?
If so, that's another difference between you and the good folks at The Politico.
Politico quotes Steele blasting Reid for having an "old mindset" and "using language ... That harkens back to the 1950s." That might have been a good place to insert a line about Steele's use of "honest injun," don't you think?
Incredibly, Politico's write-up of Steele's call for Reid's resignation includes this passage:
"When Democrats get caught saying racist things, an apology is enough," Steele said on "Meet the Press."
"There has to be a consequence here if the standard is the one that was set in 2002 by Trent Lott."
Even while quoting Michael Steele claiming a pro-Democrat double-standard when it comes to racially-insensitive language, Politico doesn't mention Steele's own insensitive comment, which is less than a week old.
UPDATE: Rather than challenging Steele's assertion of a double-standard by pointing out his own comments, Politico echoes it on their front page:
UPDATE 2: Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza does the same thing:
Steele calls on Reid to resign
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should resign from office after acknowledging that he had described President Obama as "light skinned" and possessing no "Negro dialect" in a conversation with reporters.
"There is this standard where Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their own," said Steele in an interview with "Fox News Sunday. "But if it comes from anyone else, it is racism."
Like Politico, Cillizza doesn't bother to mention Steele's own controversial comment, made less than a week ago.
UPDATE 3: During Steele's appearance on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked him about the "honest injun" comment. That's right -- Politico and Cillizza offered less scrutiny of RNC chairman Michael Steele than did Fox News.
Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza thinks the media did an "ok job" at a "damn near impossible" task: explaining health care reform:
Wilmington, NC: You mentioned the public "souring" on health reform. I suspect that measure is simply a reflection of the tone of the coverage, rather than an informed opinion. Every conversation I have heard on health reform has been notably misinformed or, at best, uninformed. Seriously, the state of public understanding of the issue and its proposed legislation is a cosmic joke. Do you believe our news media has performed well in the aggregate in informing us on this matter? Do you know of any polling data that might contradict my sense of the utter cluelessness of pretty much everyone out here about this policy?
Chris Cillizza: I think the media has done an ok job is trying to explain what is an incredibly complex and wide-ranging bill to the public.
The simple fact is that explaining an overhaul of the health care system in our country in 30 column inches of a 20 minute television broadcast is damn near impossible.
I think the media has done a terrible job at a relatively simple task. See, Cillizza is right that explaining everything about health care reform is damn near impossible. On the other hand, explaining the basic facts of "an overhaul of the health care system in 30 column inches or a 20 minute television broadcast" is incredibly easy. The media just chose not to do it.
For example, one of the central disputes over the public option was whether or not it would increase the deficit. Opponents said it would, and were frequently quoted as such in the media. But the Congressional Budget Office said that, in fact, it would reduce the deficit. But those news reports indicating that critics claimed it would add to the deficit typically failed to make the point that, according to CBO, this was not true. Had the media wanted to "explain" the basics, it would have been incredibly easy to make sure that every news report that mentioned the public option indicated that it would reduce the deficit.
And the same applies to other basic facts about the reform package. 300 million Americans were never going to understand every aspect of health care reform. But 300 million Americans don't need to understand every aspect of health care reform. Had the media committed themselves to explaining -- over and over again -- the basic facts that everyone does need to know, they would have done a much better job.
Instead, the news media basically punted on actually explaining things and focused on politics and process and minutia, while passing along politicians' claims and talking points without indicating whether or not they were true.
As for the "ok job" part: I'll renew my recent challenge to the Washington Post:
The Post has a polling budget. If they're so convinced that they've covered health care "pretty well" -- well enough that they can devote extensive resources to figuring out who golfers sleep with -- let's see them prove it. I dare the Post to conduct a scientific poll of its readers, asking them a basic question about health care reform: According to the Congressional Budget Office, would health care reform that includes a government-run public insurance option increase the deficit or reduce it?
If the Post has done a good job of covering health care reform, a large majority of its readers should be able to answer that question correctly. It would cost just a few thousand dollars -- a drop in the bucket for a newspaper like the Post -- in exchange for which the Post would be able to brag about how great its reporting is, and how well informed its readers are. And the paper would get to throw the results in the face of the critics Farhi dismisses as "presumptuous and self-serving" people who "lecture" the Post about " 'serious' news" simply "to telegraph that they themselves are verrrrry serious people and that we should follow their sterling example." Won't that be satisfying!
What's the downside? There is none, unless, of course, the Post thinks that the results would embarrass the paper and undermine its claims to have done a good job of reporting on health care.
Everybody knows about the non-apology apology -- when a public figure says, for example, "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" rather than "I shouldn't have made that racist comment, and I apologize for doing so."
It turns out the non-apology apology has a sibling: the non-explanation explanation.
This week's issue of Newsweek features a cover photo of Sarah Palin wearing short running shorts -- a photo that was originally taken for a recent issue of Runner's World, and which has no obvious connection to Newsweek's coverage of Palin. Earlier today, Media Matters' Julie Millican has explained the problems with that cover:
Making matters worse is the equally offensive headline Newsweek editors chose to run alongside the photo -- "How Do You Solve a Problem like Sarah?" -- presumably a reference to the Sound of Music song, "Maria," in which nuns fret about "how" to "solve a problem like Maria," a "girl" who "climbs trees" and whose "dress has a tear."
Now, this photograph may have been completely appropriate for the cover of the magazine for which the picture was apparently intended, Runners World. But Newsweek is supposed to be a serious newsmagazine, and the magazine is certainly not reporting on Palin's exercise habits.
As Julie noted, Newsweek's lousy judgement extended beyond the cover: The magazine also ran a gratuitous photo focusing on Palin's legs, and another photo of a "disgusting Sarah Palin-as-a-slutty-schoolgirl doll."
So what does Newsweek have to say for themselves? The magazine's editor responded to a question from Politico's Michael Calderone, but he couldn't even muster an "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" non-apology apology:
Editor Jon Meacham responds in an email to POLITICO: "We chose the most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the cover, which is what we always try to do. We apply the same test to photographs of any public figure, male or female: does the image convey what we are saying? That is a gender-neutral standard."
That's a textbook example of the non-explanation explanation. Read it again, and tell me: What does it mean? Meacham wants you to think he's explaining the cover choice, but he really isn't.
How, exactly, does putting Sarah Palin on the cover in short shorts "illustrate the theme of the cover"? (Let's assume Meacham meant the theme of the cover article; saying you choose a cover photo to illustrate the theme of the cover is more than a bit circular.) Meacham doesn't say. What is that theme? Meacham doesn't say.
How does the leg-centric image of Palin's legs "convey what we are saying"? Meacham doesn't explain. What is Newsweek "saying" with the article and the photo? Meacham doesn't explain.
It's a refusal to explain, dressed up as an explanation.
Another recent example: When Washington Post reporters Chris Cillizza and Dana Milbank produced an infantile and unfunny video calling Hillary Clinton a "bitch" and describing a wife suing for divorce from a cheating spouse as a "bitter woman from hell," they tried to explain the controversy away by saying the video was "satire."
But they didn't say what it was they were supposed to be satirizing. That's probably because what they were doing quite plainly was not satire; it was simply a couple of jerks sitting around making mean-spirited and sexist comments. There is a difference.
It's satire ... The photo illustrates the theme of the cover ... These things are designed to look like explanations; to win credit for addressing the issue and to cut off further questions and to justify bad behavior. But they aren't actually explanations at all. They are a refusal to deal with criticism in a forthright way, and should be recognized (and mocked) as such. Just as we all recognize the non-apology apology for what it is.
From the September 20 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Chris Cillizza: I think that McCain still holds serious power within the party despite the fact that he lost the 2008 presidential fight.
He is the best known Republican -- with the possible exception of his 2008 ticketmate -- in the country and when he speaks on an issue I think there is an audience for what he has to say.
As I wrote this morning, McCain has largely been shut out of the health care debate but I do think that how he positions himself has some influence over how some of his colleagues -- particularly the Senate moderates -- look at the bill when Congress comes back next month.
Um ... What?
Let's take these explanations in order. "McCain still holds serious power within the party"? Really? When did he ever hold "serious power" within the Republican Party? Even when they nominated him for President, he couldn't choose his own Vice-Presidential nominee.
There's an audience for what McCain has to say? Well, that's true: Washington, DC-based reporters. That has always been his audience.
McCain's health care positioning may have some influence over how "the Senate moderates" behave? Really? Given that the so-called "moderates" are already digging in their heels in opposition to a public plan, it doesn't seem like they're waiting around for McCain to weigh in.
Or perhaps Cillizza thinks McCain is going to come out in favor of a public plan, and bring some so-called "moderates" with him? That would be quite the surprise, given that McCain has been staunchly party-line in his Senate votes this year -- even voting with his Republican colleagues more reliably than Mitch McConnell. Yes, the same Mitch McConnell who is the Senate Minority Leader. And more reliably than Jon Kyl, the GOP whip. When you're a more reliable footsoldier for your party than the person who holds the job of keeping the party in line, you aren't much of a moderate or a maverick.
I'm sure Cillizza really believes all these reasons. But that doesn't mean they make the least bit of sense.