There's an odd assumption among many political reporters that Republican attacks on Nancy Pelosi are some sort of silver bullet in the GOP's campaign attack arsenal. Time's Jay Newton-Small, for example, writes today:
In 1994, the GOP had Gingrich, an outsize personality whose Contract with America manifesto gave congressional Republicans a simple and accessible platform around which to rally voter discontent. This time, there's no clear-cut, dynamic leader to spearhead the charge and challenge Obama the way Gingrich challenged Clinton. On the other hand, in 1994 no one knew who Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley and Democratic Senate majority leader George Mitchell were. These days, the faces of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are plastered all over GOP attack ads.
But Republicans have been attacking Nancy Pelosi for three election cycles now, with little evidence it has ever helped them win a single campaign. Yet again and again, the media assume it'll work this time, apparently forgetting the last time Republicans made a show of attacking Pelosi. And the time before that. And the time before that ...
Maybe it will work this time. But shouldn't reporters be a little more skeptical after all those failures?
(And just for the record: Despite Newton-Small's suggestion that the "Contract with America" was a key to the GOP's 1994 victory, it was rolled out just a few weeks before election day and had very little to do with the GOP's gains that year. Yes, 1994 -- not, as the Tea Party Patriots would have it, the 1980s. You'd think a group backed by Dick Armey's FreedomWorks would know that ...)
Yesterday, an RNC aide sent reporters an email listing a bunch of mundane DNC expenditures -- money spent on hotels and travel, mostly -- in an apparent attempt to draw some sort of equivalence between staying at the Hilton and visiting a sex club. As Time's Jay Newton-Small put it, the DC expenditures are "very milquetoast" and "none of them were particularly controversial."
Naturally, Politico's Jonathan Martin posted the list -- the entire list -- under the over-heated headline "RNC drops oppo on DNC high-falutin' expenditures." Because, as you may know by now, Politico really is just a GOP bulletin board. Martin breathlessly explained:
RNC spokesman Doug Heye just blasted out raw oppo detailing the fact that the other guys also drop some cash for fancy purposes (mostly to stroke donors).
Writes Heye above the research goodies: "I thought you might find the list below of DNC expenditures of interest."
Wow, "Blasted out raw oppo" really makes it sound impressive, doesn't it? But it was just a list of payments to hotels. Not many "research goodies" there. And Heye's I-thought-you-might-be-interested line? Was that really quote-worthy? Basically, Heye sent around a whole big pile of nothing, and Politico's Jonathan Martin tried desperately to hype it into something.
It gets worse.
Politico then followed up with an article about the email, in which reporter Andy Barr listed several of the "research goodies" the RNC provided, just in case anyone missed Martin's blog post. For example: "During the past year and half, the DNC has paid $4,464 to the limousine service Carey International." That should just about lock up a Pulitzer, don't you think?
Interestingly, Barr vouched for the accuracy of the RNC's email, writing "the data the RNC presents is accurate." Why is that interesting? Because Time's Newton-Small wrote that "the RNC couldn't provide the Federal Election Commission links to each of the searches and the DNC disputed at least one item: the catering charge at the Elysian which wasn't at the Bahamian beach resort but, rather, the Elysian Hotel in Chicago." Barr didn't address that discrepancy.
Gee, you don't think Politico's Andy Barr affirmatively vouched for the accuracy of the RNC email without first checking the information himself, do you? Because that would be dishonest and wrong.
Believe it or not, there was a time when reporters didn't simply re-print opposition research without checking into it first -- particularly when the research in question is as mundane as a list of car companies and hotels. And when affirmatively proclaiming the accuracy of partisan political attacks without actually looking into them would get a reporter in some hot water.
Time reporter Jay Newton-Small insists it isn't her job to tell you which of two contradictory factual claims is true and which is false, claiming "I presented both sides of the story. I'll leave it to columnists and readers to draw their own conclusions on who had the best case."
Time reporter Michael Scherer fact-checks a DNC fundraising email and tells readers it contains a falsehood: "Biden got one big fact wrong. It is not true that 'powerful insurance companies' have been 'spending seven million bucks a week on lobbyists.'"
Maybe someone could explain to me when it's ok to fact-check statements and when that would be "slanted."
(For the record: I prefer Scherer's approach...)
Time magazine has an incredibly slanted article on Joe Lieberman's upcoming czara hearings:
There has been a lot of talk - and some hyperbole - in recent weeks surrounding the Obama Administration's growing stable of imperial "czars."
"Imperial"? What, exactly, is "imperial" about it? There's nothing "imperial" about it -- but that word nicely reinforces the crazy rantings of people like Glenn Beck (who, by the way, is cited in the article and who was the topic of a recent deeply-flawed Time profile.)
"The use of so-called czars in the White House certainly didn't begin with President Obama," says Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent and the committee's chairman. "But it has grown over the years..."
Oh, really? So President Obama uses more "so-called czars" than previous presidents, according to Lieberman. Is that true? Time doesn't bother to say, but does (eventually) quote White House counsel Greg Craig saying the Bush administration had more czars. Is Lieberman right, or is Craig? Time won't tell you. So why does it bother running an article about the subject?
There is a danger that Congress's constitutional duty of oversight is being skirted, Lee Casey, a partner at the law firm Baker Hostetler and a former adviser to the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, is expected to tell the committee, according to his written testimony, a copy of which was obtained by TIME.
That would be former Reagan and Bush administration official Lee Casey. Time neglected to mention that little detail.
[Sen. Susan] Collins is asking that the Administration make all czars available to Congress to testify and that the President submit a semi-annual report on their activities. Lieberman, while sharing her concerns, does not support forcing the Administration to make the czars available or to report back to Congress - at least not yet. That, after all, is what the hearing is about: to find out how concerned Congress should be.
Well, no. That is presumably what Lieberman says the hearing is about. But for all Time knows, it's about political grandstanding. They shouldn't be taking Lieberman's characterization of the purpose of the hearing as gospel. Particularly given that -- if Craig is right -- Lieberman isn't telling the truth about the relative numbers of czars in the Obama and Bush administrations. And particularly given that Lieberman could have held such a hearing while Bush was president -- but didn't.
I presented both sides of the story. I'll leave it to columnists and readers to draw their own conclusions on who had the best case.
That is simply absurd. This isn't a situation where one side says chocolate ice cream is best and the other says vanilla is superior. Lieberman says the Obama administration has more czars than previous administrations. Craig says it has fewer. One of those things must be true, and one must be false. it is -- or should be -- Newton-Small's job to tell us which is true, and which is false. Otherwise ... well, her article is kind of pointless, isn't it? "Maybe 2+2 = 4, and maybe 2+2 = 14. I dunno. You figure it out."
This, by the way, is exactly the kind of nonsense that marked Time's Beck profile. Some say 2 million people were at a rally; others say 70,000. We gave you both sides. You figure it out.
I'd love for Newton-Small or anyone else at Time to explain exactly what value they think they're providing to readers when they report two statements, one of which must be false, but refuse to say which.
UPDATE 2: This just keeps getting better. More from Newton-Small, defending her refusal to indicate which claim is true:
I believe quite firmly that the proliferation of Huffington Posts, Matt Drudges and other slanted news is what's killing our profession. If you are looking for news with an opinion, that's great. But I think news should be about representing both sides; striving for balance and fairness. Unfortunately, reliably unbiased news is harder and harder to come by these days because news agencies are trying to cater to people like you: people who prefer to view the world through one lens or another but rarely both.
The basic problem here seems to be that Jay Newton-Small has no idea what "opinion" means. Lieberman says use of czars has increased. Craig says they have decreased. One is right, the other is wrong. Opinion has nothing to do with it. It's a simple matter of counting.
But to Time magazine's Jay Newton-Small, "fairness" requires treating true statements and false statements as precisely equally likely to be true. She comes right out and says it! She actually thinks that's "fair," and reporting what the truth is would be unfair. Incredible.
Again: This is not a what's-the-best-ice-cream question. This is a simple matter of two competing factual claims. They aren't simply two different "lenses," one is true, the other is false.
The Washington Independent's David Weigel catches Politico's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen calling Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray "a centrist Republican." Weigel explains:
Bilbray was a member of the class of 1994 who lost his old House seat in 2000, then stayed in Washington as a lobbyist for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates "a temporary moratorium on all immigration except spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and a limited number of refugees." Bilbray returned to Congress in a 2006 special election, which he won in part by accusing his Democratic opponent of soliciting votes from illegal aliens. Since then, Bilbray has maintained a 92% rating from the American Conservative Union, which makes him an "ACU Conservative" in their ranking system. He voted against increasing the minimum wage, voted to repeal the Washington, D.C. gun ban, voted against a ban on anti-gay job discrimination, and voted against expanding SCHIP.
Voting against a minimum wage increase, expanding health insurance for kids, and against banning workplace discrimination puts Bilbray far out of the mainstream of the American people. And in the last Congress, Bilbray's voting record put him far to the right of most of his colleagues, too -- he was the 79th most conservative member of the House of Representatives, out of a total of 435. That means Bilbray's voting record was more conservative than more than 80 percent of all members of Congress.
To Politico, that makes him a "centrist." Just like MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell thinks Diane Feinstein is one of the "most liberal" Senators. And Time's Jay Newton-Small thinks Lindsey Graham is a "moderate."
It's almost as though the media has no idea where the "center" really is.
In the days leading up to Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, which began July 13, several media figures and outlets have repeated or uncritically reported Republican distortions of Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comments without providing the context for her remarks.
Time omitted critical facts in reporting on the lines of attack Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have prepared against Sonia Sotomayor.
Time's Jay Newton-Small asserted that Sen. Chris Dodd's proposal for a 100 percent tax on AIG bonuses, "may have been overcompensation, so to speak, on Dodd's part," adding, "The National Republican Senatorial Committee was quick to point out that Dodd had amended the stimulus plan to make a specific 'exception for contractually obligated bonuses agreed on before Feb. 11, 2009.' " But Newton-Small did not point out in response to the NRSC's attack on Dodd that several Republican senators reportedly said in February they oppose any government restrictions on executive compensation.