The problem with so much of the Beltway media's ongoing commentary regarding the sequestration showdown between Republicans and President Obama is that it reflects the central failing of the press throughout Obama's presidency: It blames the president for the GOP's ingrained, signature obstinacy.
Earlier this week, I noted that the bulk of the commentary class was berating Obama for failing to "lead" on the budget issue. They faulted him for not fashioning a deal despite the fact that Republicans made it plain they did not want to make a deal, which wasn't surprising since they've been emphatically saying no to Obama for nearly 50 months. Nonetheless, Obama's to blame because he failed to change the GOP's ways.
As an update, it's now worth noting that the media's blame-Obama approach is additionally misguided because we're learning more and more Republican members of Congress don't understand, or haven't bothered to find out, what the president is offering in terms of his deficit reduction plan. So not only does the press fault Obama for Republicans' (obstructionist) behavior, it also penalizes him for the fact that Republicans don't know what the White House proposed to avoid sequestration.
That doesn't seem fair.
Here's what NBC News' Chuck Todd reported on the president's dinner with Republican senators Wednesday night [emphasis added]:
In fact, one senator told us that he learned, for the first time, the actual cuts that the president has put on the table. Leadership hadn't shared that list with them before.
But the Republicans' astonishing lack of knowledge about Obama's detailed deficit reduction proposal, the same proposal they've rejected, appears to be widespread. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein reported that at an off-the-record session with Republican lawmakers, one Congressman didn't know about a key cost-cutting concession Obama had made regarding Social Security benefits.
From Paul Waldman, writing at The American Prospect:
The Republican position is that this negotiation is of vital importance to the future of the country, indeed, so important that they may be willing to shut the government down and let the full faith and credit of the United States be destroyed if they don't get what they want; but they also can't be bothered to understand what it is the other side wants.
But remember, Beltway pundits agree: The partisan impasse that led to sequestration was Obama's fault.
There has been strong criticism from Chrysler, GM, fact checkers, and local media in Ohio of the Mitt Romney campaign's false claims that Chrysler is shifting its Jeep production line from the United States to China. But in reporting on the story, MSNBC's Chuck Todd attempted to shield Romney from criticism by claiming that the campaign would not have run its Jeep ad in Ohio had it known there would be such strong pushback from Chrysler and GM.
In fact, the Romney campaign went ahead with its television ad in Ohio on October 27 even after Chrysler had already pushed back on erroneous claims that Jeep is sending U.S. jobs to China. In a statement on October 25, Chrysler wrote on its website that "Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China."
Yet, on October 26, Romney falsely claimed that "one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep -- now owned by the Italians -- is thinking of moving all production to China." The next day, the campaign debuted a TV ad in Ohio that echoed that false claim.
Another ad repeating the same debunked claim started airing on October 30.
But during a discussion of the Romney ad on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Todd stated: "I don't know whether they thought the ad would actually encourage GM and Chrysler to repudiate them. I think -- I wonder if they thought that was going to happen, whether -- if they knew that was gonna happen, whether they would have gone up with this ad."
On the same day that the Romney campaign released its false radio ad, both Chrysler and GM issued statements condemning the ads as untrue. GM spokesman Greg Martin stated: "No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country." Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne reaffirmed that "Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China," adding: "It is inaccurate to suggest anything different."
Similarly, the Wall Street Journal cast the repudiation of the Romney ads by Chrysler, GM, and the Obama campaign as mere controversy between dueling campaigns, writing that the "two campaigns sparred Tuesday" over the ads.
In response to Mitt Romney's debate claim that the Navy's fleet "is smaller now than any time since 1917," President Obama noted that military also has fewer bayonets and horses because it has modernized. Rather than discuss President Obama's accurate point about military strength, members of the media are trying to figure out how many bayonets the military actually uses.
From the July 22 edition of NBC's The Chris Matthews Show:
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It's hard to keep count of them all at this point. But every now and then a whopper gets rolled out that's so preposterous and jaw-dropppingly dumb that the sheer idiocy of it draws attention and a crowd of gawkers form to marvel.
That's what unfolded last week when the bright lights within the GOP Noise Machine latched onto an Indian news report that quoted an anonymous official who claimed President Obama's diplomatic trip to India was going to cost $8.3 million per-hour in security costs, and that nearly three dozen U.S. war ships were also making the trip to provide protection.
Of course, the $200 million-a-day price tag made no sense. No sane person would think for a moment that the U.S. government would send 34 war ships in support of an overseas presidential visit, or lay out $2 billion on a ten-day diplomatic excursion. No rational person would think that because it's utterly absurd. Or, as a Pentagon spokesman said last week of the war ship claim, it's "comical."
Marveling at how the story unfolded, NBC's Chuck Todd tweeted that he was surprised the absurd numbers gained any traction and that a simple "smell test" would have halted the story in its tracks. But that might have given right-wing partisans too much credit by assuming they were interested, or even cared about, getting the story right.
And that's a sentiment that remains common among media elite, this idea that far-right media players sometimes get things wrong and that for everyone's benefit they ought to apply a common sense "smell test" before they run with controversial stories, like the one about Obama's India trip.
But here's the thing, there is no right-wing smell test. It no longer exists. In fact, there appears to be no sense of smell at all, which is closely related to the right-wing media's lack of common sense and decency. (It's a package deal.)
From the July 30 edition of NBC's Today:
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From the July 23 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:
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Yesterday on Morning Joe, NBC's Chuck Todd offered some measured criticism of Sarah Palin and the media, essentially saying that it's ridiculous for Palin to allege "media bias" when the press trip over themselves to report her PAC's modest fundraising and publicize her every Twitter and Facebook update. Greg Sargent wrote that Todd's comments hit the mark with regard to Palin, but kind of let the media off the hook:
[M]edia outlets aren't passive participants, compelled to lavish nonstop attention on Palin against their will. Rather, they actively make editorial choices on a regular basis to hype everything Palin says and does. So why wouldn't Palin continue to bash the lamestream media, when the media-bashing does absolutely nothing to dissuade them from playing along as she completely dictates the terms of her engagement with them?
Regardless, Todd seemed to make clear that he understood and disapproved of the fawning media coverage Sarah Palin earns for doing essentially nothing. Which was why it was so disappointing when I flipped on Today this morning and saw Chuck Todd reporting that Palin's substance-free, nothing-burger "Mama Grizzlies" video shows that she is "rebranding" herself for a 2012 presidential run:
From the July 12 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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From the February 9 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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I think I'm starting to understand why the media criticism produced by the Newsbusters crew is so frequently off-base. It's because they have no idea what they're talking about. Ever.
Here, take a look at Media Research Center Vice President Brent Baker's most recent complaint:
Cautioning the Obama administration's "deficit projections...are just that, projections," NBC's Chuck Todd on Monday evening bought into the White House's claim that Democratic health care reform bills that would add millions to the system are actually spending reduction measures, as he warned: "If health care doesn't pass, because this budget assumes health care will pass, that's yet another $150 billion that would be tacked on to the deficit." (Emphasis added)
See the problem? Baker is conflating spending reduction with deficit reduction.
The other problem is that Baker apparently hasn't been paying attention to the health care debate for the past year, as he derides as "ludicrous" the forecast that health care reform would reduce the deficit. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office consistently projected that the various versions of reform would reduce the deficit. White House budget director Peter Orszag says the $150 billion figure is simply an average of the CBO scores for the versions passed by the House and the Senate.
Finally, Baker's headline demonstrates that his lack of understanding of health care and the difference between "spending" and "deficit" is matched by his inability to understand the difference between assuming something and reporting someone else's assumptions. Baker's headline:
Not Passing ObamaCare Will Boost Deficit by $150 Billion, NBC and ABC Presume
Here's the Jake Tapper comment that headline refers to: "perhaps the most surprising, the budget assumes a savings of $150 billion over the next ten years from health care reform." So, that -- quite obviously -- is not an instance of ABC presuming anything; Tapper is telling viewers what the White House presumes. Similarly, NBC's Chuck Todd is clearly telling viewers what the White House is assuming about health care, not what he assumes.
This really isn't very complicated. It's the equivalent of me reading Baker's statement that ABC presumed that health care reform would save $150 billion and said "Brent Baker presumes that health care reform would save $150 billion."
From the November 4 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
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Discussing health care reform today on Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough and NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd agreed that "[t]his week has been a mess for the Democrats." Todd added that "it does seem like they decided to take two steps back after they took one step forward because now they got a trillion dollar bill in the House, which is about $150 billion more than they said, than the President said that he wanted, and now they've got to have this back and forth and figure out how to get six to 10 moderate Democrats and Olympia Snowe on board."
I'm going to have to respectfully disagree that the past week was "a mess for the Democrats." Speaker Pelosi reported out a full House bill, the American Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3962), that achieves a number of key fiscal goals that only this summer many in the media were insisting were out of reach. The Congressional Budget Office found that the bill reduces the deficit by $104 billion over the next decade, and continues to chip away at it in the subsequent decade. Plus it comes in under the magic $900 billion number for the net cost of coverage expansion over 10 years -- a cost that is, in CBO's words, "more than offset." And these achievements are doubly important because they satisfy President Obama's must-have requirement that reform "[w]on't add a dime to the deficit."
If anything, all of this adds up to a big step forward -- arguably a bigger one than has ever taken to achieve comprehensive health care reform in this country.
From the October 30 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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NBC's Chuck Todd in an online Q&A today:
[Comment From Sabrina] Chuck, why is this administration treated with such kindness by the media and the previous administration was not? Isn't the media suppose to report the news and not give their opinions of the news?
Chuck Todd: Sabrina -- This criticism comes across to me as incredibly empty... apparently folks forget how the first three years of the Bush administration were covered... I think too many folks mistake opinion-driven commentators for journalists and it skews things. But the level of scrutiny given to Obama in this first year is the same as for Bush 43, same as Clinton 42, same as Bush 41... I've witnessed and been involved with all of it back to Clinton... We tend to have MUCH shorter memories on the issue of so-called media bias especially if it doesn't fit the sterotype point we are trying to make... It's frustrating to watch and, with all do respect, I don't accept the criticism as legitimate. [Ellipses in original]
It would have been great for Todd to explicitly point out that claims of "liberal media bias" ring hollow in light of the media's handling of Iraq, the 2000 election, and their relentless hyping of Clinton-era non-scandals.
But, at this point -- with journalists tripping all over themselves to agree with every media criticism from the Right, no matter how inane -- we'll take it. Good for Todd for clearly rejecting the attack.