From the April 6 press conference at Columbia Journalism School:
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Two days after the widespread publication of Mitt Romney's controversial declaration that 47 percent of Americans are "dependent on government," the largest newspaper in Nevada, a swing state in the 2012 election the 2012, has thus far failed to cover the story. Additionally, on September 18, the "Swing States Project" at the Columbia Journalism Review noted that another important swing state publication -- New Hampshire's Union Leader -- had also failed to cover the Romney comments.
A story published yesterday by the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out that the New Hampshire Union Leader -- New Hampshire's largest newspaper by circulation according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations -- had failed to cover Mitt Romney's comments that 47 percent of Americans will support Obama "no matter what" and that they are "dependent upon government."
While the Union Leader still has not published a news story on the topic, it did publish an editorial defending Romney's comments explaining that it was obviously a "statement of campaign strategy, not policy." From the editorial:
Naturally, the media portray this as Romney not caring about half the country. Absurd. It was a statement of campaign strategy, not policy, and every single national political reporter knows that.
In contrast to the Union Leader's limited attention to the issue, the Review-Journal -- Nevada's largest newspaper by circulation -- has not published anything on the subject at all, according to a Media Matters search of Nexis records and the Review-Journal website. In fact, despite not mentioning the comments once in its news or opinion sections, the Review-Journal has published two unrelated stories on Mitt Romney since Monday -- including a story discussing a private fundraiser Romney was planning on having in Las Vegas this Friday.
While 41 swing state newspapers made the Romney comments a front page story, the Review-Journal has mentioned it only once in an online-only blog post by opinion columnist and former publisher, Sherman Frederick, who, unsurprisingly, defended Romney for his "admirable truth-telling." Unfortunately, it seems that similar to the Union Leader, over 200,000 print subscribers of the Review-Journal can't count on their hometown paper to report a story with national implications if it doesn't look good for its preferred candidate.
On Monday, I explained a few problems with the New York Times' attention-grabbing "Budget Puzzle," which encouraged readers to try to address short- and long- term budget shortfalls through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. One of those problems was what appeared to be a subtle bias against taxing the wealthy in the Times' description of estate tax options.
As it turns out, Felix Salmon of the Columbia Journalism Review had some similar problems with the Times' approach:
The too-hard part comes on the tax-hike side, where the options are far too limited. For instance, you have two choices when it comes to taxes on capital gains and dividends, both of which cap that tax at 20%. Can't I opt to raise that tax to the same level as the income tax? Even the deficit commission does that.
Similarly, for the payroll tax, the most you can do is raise the ceiling so that it covers the same 90% of all income that it covered at inception; you can't raise it any further than that, or abolish the ceiling entirely.
Most importantly, the options for new taxes are extremely constrained.
I'd also love to see the option of a wealth tax, which could raise a lot of money from those most able to afford it.
In my post, I noted that the Times did a poor job of explaining to readers the consequences of various options. According to Salmon, those consequences would generally be much worse for the poor and middle class than for the wealthy:
In general, the NYT options on both the spending-cut and the tax-hike side tend to hit the poor and the middle classes more drastically than the rich; what's missing here is the option to implement something much more progressive, in both senses of the word. It's a missed opportunity, and a shame.
As I noted on Monday, one of the biggest problems with the Times' approach was that it short-changed the importance of economic growth, both by focusing on the budget deficit rather than the struggling economy and by failing to give readers any indication of the impact their choices would have on growth. To his credit, David Leonhardt -- the Times reporter behind the "budget puzzle" -- devoted his column today to the importance of economic growth in reducing the deficit.
After posting back-to-back identical comments -- first as Clay Waters and then as Sam Tyler -- the MRC staffer fessed up:
oops, outed myself! at least now I'm free....
Posted by Clay Waters on Fri 14 May 2010 at 01:39 PM
It wasn't long until CJR's Ryan Chittum weighed in (emphasis added):
I think that there can be a need for pseudonymity (unfortunately) on the Internet. But my first instinct is that you had a duty to be above board with who you are here. You're paid to criticize the so-called liberal media by a right-wing advocacy group, Brent Bozell's Media Research Center.
I would never comment on your site--or anybody else's--under a false name.
I have previously outed an Obama administration flack for sockpuppeting on here. I don't think this rises to that level. But I don't think it's kosher, either. Do you think it'd be cool if somebody from Media Matters came on here and did that?
Anyone else have any thoughts?
Posted by Ryan Chittum on Fri 14 May 2010 at 06:02 PM
CJR's Megan Garber continues her excellent coverage of the "Mouthpiece Theater" debacle with an explanation of why the "it was just an experiment" defense falls flat. Garber:
Should Milbank and Cillizza-whose "experimental" journalism involved the duo dubbing themselves "two of the biggest maws in Washington" and treating politics as if it were alternately a sport/a game/a spectacle/an object of mockery-really be applauded for the reductive insult-to-all-involved that was "Mouthpiece Theater"? More to the point, was the series really embracing the kind of experimentation we want to see defining news's future?
No. And: no. Experimentation may well be what will guide us out of the desert journalism is currently wandering; still, Hey, we were just experimenting! cannot be a blanket defense for the blanket abandonment of journalistic ideals. Which, in the end, is what "Mouthpiece Theater" was. In journalism, as in everything else, there are principles that must transcend platform-messages, as it were, that must transcend medium. Among them are: intellectual honesty, a commitment to information, and a fundamental seriousness of purpose. And that's so even when it comes to satire.
There's much more; check it out.
As Garber notes, Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander, after criticizing the execution of Mouthpiece Theater, wrote "Milbank and Cillizza should be applauded for embracing the spirit of experimentation underlying [the series]."
Alexander was, at times, refreshingly blunt in his assessment of the videos. "Critics justly panned it as sophomoric," for example. And "There was so much wrong with 'Mouthpiece Theater' and the way The Post handled the controversy that it's hard to know where to begin."
But his assessment also left a lot to be desired. He continued the Post's description of the videos as satire that went too far. I don't buy it. What were Chris Cillizza and Dana Milbank "satirizing" when they called Hillary Clinton a bitch and described a wife suing for divorce from a cheating spouse as a "bitter woman from hell"?
Alexander -- like Milbank, Cillizza, and the Washington Post spokesperson who first commented on the controversy -- seems to think "satire" means simply "jokes." That isn't what "satire" means. This is:
1. the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.
2. a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule.
So, again: What human folly or vice were Cillizza and Milbank holding up to scorn, derision or ridicule? None. They skipped the "human folly or vice" part and went straight to scorn, derision and ridicule.
What Milbank and Cillizza did wasn't satire that went too far. It was mean-spirited insults. There is a difference. Saying that they simply went too far in their satire lets them off the hook. It isn't a legitimate defense; it's spin.
Speaking of letting them off the hook: Alexander suggests Cillizza's only flaw in this debacle was hanging out with the wrong crowd:
The basic concept was flawed. Milbank might have pulled it off as a solo act. His Washington Sketch column can be biting and funny, and his occasional accompanying videos are creative and entertaining. It's his job to voice opinions. But Cillizza is different. He writes straight news on The Fix, his popular Post politics blog, and his stories appear on the news pages. Teaming with Milbank created a branding problem for him and The Post. It left readers confused about his true role -- reporter, commentator or comic? -- and about The Post's standards. Cillizza acknowledged this "somewhat discordant marriage" on The Fix after "Mouthpiece Theater" was killed.
Alexander did not mention that Cillizza, not Milbank, was the one who attacked Chip Pickering's wife as a "bitter woman from hell." In fact, Alexander didn't mention that comment at all. Alexander is not alone in that -- I don't believe either Cillizza or the Post has ever acknowledged it. All parties seem content to let people believe Milbank's "bitch" comment was the only misogyny contained in the video. That is, perhaps, understandable coming from Cillizza and the Post -- they are, after all, concerned about the damage done to the branding of "The Fix." But readers might have expected better from the Post's Ombudsman.