As Republican objections to President Obama's Cabinet picks continue to pile up in the new year, we're watching a strange collision of two favorite media trends inside the Beltway, both of which bolster Republicans.
The first is that Obama hasn't done enough to change the tone in Washington, D.C.; that he hasn't torn down the capitol's stark partisan divide. The second is that, the radical obstructionism Obama faces while trying to change the tone is no big deal. That the monumental obstacles Republicans construct, like opposing Obama's Cabinet picks, represents politics as usual and everybody does it.
It's not and they don't.
In fact, the Hagel story, in which Obama made an effort to change the tone in Washington, D.C. by including a Republican in his Cabinet, only to have the goodwill gesture trampled by Republicans, perfectly captures the skewed way the news media depict modern day politics. And the way journalists who beseech Obama to change the tone give him no credit when he tries.
Instead, we're told Obama is courting controversy, he's picking a fight, because he's doing what newly elected presidents have done for centuries in this country, he's selecting respected, well-qualified individuals whom he trusts to serve in his Cabinet. Writing for Bloomberg, Francis Wilkinson suggested that by nominating a Republican, Obama had intensified the Beltway's "polarization."
If this seems unusual, that's because it is. What's also unusual is that the Beltway press mostly refuses to acknowledge the strange obstructionist ways being adopted by the GOP as these dogged cabinet fights continue to roll out.
As New York's Jonathan Chait noted this week:
The basic assumption is no longer that the president needs only to appoint people who are broadly qualified and not wildly more radical than himself. It's that the cabinet represents a kind of middle ground between the president and the opposing party.
Chait's right. Republicans and their extended right-media attack machine led by Bill Kristol have successfully changed the rules for Cabinet nominees. And the Beltway press has let it happen without an ounce of pushback and, more importantly, without informing news consumers that a radical shift has taken place.
The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib has a piece about Sen. Joe Lieberman's opposition to the public option that serves as a clear reminder of why politicians lie: they know they won't get called on it.
Mr. Lieberman also notes that the public option wasn't a big feature of past health-overhaul plans or the campaign debate of 2008.
Well, no. Mr. Lieberman doesn't "note" that. Mr. Lieberman lies about that.
Lieberman claims that "if you look at the campaign last year, presidential, you can't find a mention of public option...It was added after the election." In fact, the Obama-Biden campaign health care plan included a public option, and the New York Times reported as far back as May 2007 that "Mr. Obama would create a public plan for individuals who cannot obtain group coverage through their employers or the existing government programs." And when it is pointed out to Lieberman that his claims are incorrect, he reiterates them.
Seib, continuing directly:
So he says he finds it odd that it now has become a central demand -- which it has, he suspects, because some Democrats wanted a full-bore, single-payer, government-run health plan, and were offered a public option as a consolation.
But it isn't "odd" at all -- because Lieberman is lying when he says the public option wasn't part of the discussion until post-election. Seib completely gives him a free pass on those lies. Worse, he presents Lieberman's lies as the truth.
What happens when reporters present politicians' lies as truth? They encourage politicians to lie. That's pretty obvious, isn't it? Gerald Seib and the Wall Street Journal are encouraging Joe Lieberman to lie about health care.
Seib also quotes Lieberman's claims that he opposes a public option for fear of increasing the debt -- and, no, Seib does not bother pointing out that CBO says health care reform containing a public option will reduce the deficit.
It's important to keep in mind that Seib's entire piece is about Lieberman's opposition to health care reform. This isn't a case in which a reporter inserts a quick paragraph about Lieberman into a larger health care article without fact-checking his statements. That would be bad enough. But this is so much worse: an entire piece dedicated to Lieberman's opposition that presents Lieberman's false claims as truth, and neglects to mention that the CBO contradicts his claims.