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Yesterday, Dean Baker and I argued that journalists should remember that they don't know what politicians think or believe, they only know what politicians say -- and their reporting should reflect that.
Now here's MSNBC's Kelly O'Donnell explaining Joe Lieberman's opposition to the Medicare buy-in a few minutes ago:
Some moderates, most notably Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, were against this idea, feeling it would put too great a burden on a federal program that's already stretched very thin.
No. Kelly O'Donnell does not know that Joe Lieberman feels any such thing. She knows he says it -- but, if she's been paying attention at all, she has good reason to suspect he isn't telling the truth.
See, O'Donnell didn't mention this, but Lieberman has supported the Medicare buy-in. He supported it as long ago as 2000, and he supported it as recently as three months ago. Between that and the fact that so many of his comments about health care this year have been false or inconsistent, there's no reason to assume his stated reasons for opposing the Medicare buy-in are true.
And, indeed, there is a growing universe of journalists who recognize this.
The NBC News political unit notes there is "growing evidence that Lieberman's objection to the Medicare 'buy-in' compromise isn't necessarily based on principle. ... This is why the charge of playing politics with the left is looking so believable to some." The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports that "there have apparently been a number of private assurances given -- and broken -- by the Connecticut senator in recent weeks." And even Lieberman defender Charles Lane says Lieberman is motivated by a desire for political "pay back."
So why do Kelly O'Donnell and the New York Times continue to take Lieberman's claims at face value? Do they understand that when they do so, they're covering up -- rather than revealing -- what's really happening? That they're helping a politician mislead the public?
During their September 10 editions, the three evening network news programs cumulatively devoted more coverage to Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst during President Obama's September 9 joint address to Congress on health reform -- in which Wilson claimed President Obama lied when he said "our reform efforts" would not "insure illegal immigrants" -- than they allotted to the speech itself. Moreover, while ABC's Jake Tapper explicitly stated that "the president's reforms" would not "apply to illegal immigrants" and NBC's Kelly O'Donnell said that "the bill, as it's written now, is explicit saying that illegal immigrants will not get any health care benefits in reform," the CBS Evening News did not attempt to fact-check Wilson's interjection.
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On Today, Matt Lauer agreed with Sen. Kit Bond's false claim that Nancy Pelosi could have "call[ed] for a closed hearing" when she learned of the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques. In fact, as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled Congress, Pelosi had no authority to hold hearings. Nor did she have the power, as Bond claimed, to pass a bill to cut funding to prevent the administration from carrying out those methods.
Reporting that Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke appeared before a House committee hearing "with a request for more authority that some critics are already calling a power grab," NBC's Kelly O'Donnell did not note White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee's response that had "we had resolution authority now, we could have dealt with the issue of bonuses."
Discussing the House vote to levy a 90-percent tax on executive bonuses, NBC, ABC, and Fox News all advanced the false Republican allegation that by passing the recovery bill, Democrats created the right for AIG to pay bonuses. In fact, the bill did not create the right for AIG -- or any company -- to pay bonuses; rather, it restricted the ability of companies receiving TARP money to award bonuses in the future.
NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, Lester Holt and the AP uncritically repeated the McCain campaign's claims that Sen. Barack Obama is already writing or has already written an inaugural address. The claims are reportedly based on a New York Times article, which asserted that Obama transition chief John D. Podesta "has already written a draft Inaugural Address for Mr. Obama, which he published this summer in a book called 'The Power of Progress.' " But neither O'Donnell nor the AP gave any indication that they had attempted to verify the accusation or obtain a response from Podesta, who issued a statement calling the charge "a complete fabrication."
The evening newscasts on ABC and NBC each aired a portion of a McCain campaign ad featuring Clinton supporter Debra Bartoshevich. But neither noted that at a Republican press conference, Bartoshevich reportedly falsely suggested that Sen. John McCain does not support overturning Roe v. Wade. In fact, McCain's campaign website says that he "believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned."
NBC's Kelly O'Donnell asserted that Sen. John McCain "believes he's stronger" than Sen. Barack Obama "among Hispanic-Americans, especially because of his immigration stance, which nearly killed him in the Republican Party." But O'Donnell did not note that McCain reversed himself on the issue of immigration; he now says that "we've got to secure the borders first" and that he "would not" support his own comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
In a report on Sen. John McCain's economic speech, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell aired a clip of McCain saying of Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama: "They're going to raise your taxes by thousands of dollars a year." However, O'Donnell did not note that Clinton and Obama have proposed tax cuts for middle- and low-income Americans.
In a report on Sen. John McCain, NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell referred to McCain's "statesman-in-waiting trip overseas last month to pump up his international image," but did not note that, during the trip, McCain made the admittedly false claim, more than once, that "Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq." O'Donnell also did not mention that the trip included a fundraiser in London.
NBC's Kelly O'Donnell and CNN's John King asserted that Sen. John McCain was surprised by conservative radio talk-show host Bill Cunningham's controversial remarks about Sen. Barack Obama at a February 26 McCain rally, failing to note that Cunningham has previously referred to Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama" and "Barack Mohammed Hussein Obama." Fox News' Molly Henneberg suggested McCain could not have expected Cunningham to refer to Obama's middle name, even though Cunningham did just that on Fox News a month ago.
Both the CBS Evening News and NBC's Nightly News repeated accusations by Sen. John McCain regarding Sen. Barack Obama's statements on Pakistan and his commitment to use public financing in the general election, without offering a response from Obama or assessing the accuracy of McCain's allegations.
On MSNBC Live, Amy Robach and Alex Witt separately aired a campaign ad from Republican presidential candidate John McCain attacking Sen. Hillary Clinton's support for a $1 million earmark for a museum at the site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival in New York. But Robach, Witt, NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell and Congressional Quarterly's Jonathan Allen all failed to note that McCain had skipped the vote on removing the earmark. Robach and Witt also falsely referred to the advertisement as "new."