Newspaper editorial board meetings have always been a sort of midterm exam for candidates. Shopping for endorsements, it's where they are asked to discuss, in detail, their policy positions and to do so in a setting that isn't conducive to sound bites.
In Iowa last week, Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst announced she wouldn't answer any questions from the Des Moines Register editorial board. After "much negotiating," according to a Register columnist, the Ernst camp pulled the plug on her scheduled Q&A with the daily, and also avoided meeting with a number of other Iowa newspapers.
Ernst wouldn't talk about the economy, healthcare, "personhood," national security, guns and the government, foreign affairs, or impeaching President Obama. Ernst wouldn't talk about anything. This was a classic dodge on Ernst's part; an aggressive stiff-arm to the mainstream press. It was an obvious refusal by a Republican candidate to sit and answer questions from local journalists on the eve of an election.
And so what was the Beltway media's reaction to Ernst's cancellation? Always on the lookout for campaign "gaffes" and relentlessly focused on the "optics" of elections, how did commentators react to Ernst's brazen evasion?
The press response was subdued and not very critical.
That low-key response stood in sharp contrast to the campaign fury that erupted in early October when when Kentucky Democratic senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes declined to answer whether she had voted for Barack Obama. That question came amidst her hour-long, October 10, interview with the Louisville Journal-Courier's editorial board, during which time the Democrat discussed the environment, gay marriage, campaign finance reform, the government sequester, abortion rights, and coal mining. (Her opponent, Republican Mitch McConnell, refused to be interviewed by the paper's editors.)
Grimes' substantive discussion was virtually ignored by the Beltway press, which turned her clumsy Obama question response into a days-long controversy. For instance, Washington Post blogs have referenced the Grimes story (i.e the "fiasco") more than 25 times; including 11 times in the first four days. (Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote an entire column about Grimes' non-answer.) By contrast, the same Post blogs have mentioned the Ernst story only five times so far, according to Nexis, with writer Chris Cillizza actually complimenting the Ernst campaign for canceling its Register interview, suggesting the move was a "smart" one politically.
Overall, I found more than two-dozen television discussions or references to the Grimes story during a four-day span, from October 10-13, via Nexis. During a similar four-day span following news of Ernst's snub on October 23, I found no television discussions or references to that story. (Note that not every news program is archived by Nexis.)
So yes, the Democratic candidate who was accused of botching a question during an editorial board interview was pilloried in the press. But the Republican candidate who refused to sit for editorial board meetings was mostly given a pass. (Here's an exception.) Do double standards come any more tightly focused than that?
It's obviously too early to know for certain, but on the final day of the 2012 presidential campaign there seems to be a general consensus forming that President Obama is well-positioned to beat Mitt Romney at the polls tomorrow. And in the face of that prospect, some in the media are already beginning to challenge the legitimacy of Obama's reelection.
On November 4, Politico published an article enumerating the "lessons learned" from the 2012 campaign. Among them was the surprising assertion that the coalition Obama put together to win reelection -- "Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites" -- is insufficient to provide the incumbent the political capital he might otherwise enjoy were he to have the support of independents and white voters. "A broad mandate this is not," declared authors Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen.
Politico didn't explain why broad mandates rest on the shoulders of whites and independents, simply asserting instead that Obama, should he win, will win in a way that lacks legitimacy. Part of their analysis, however, rested on the myth that the United States is "a center-right country," which certainly helps to explain why they'd view an electoral coalition that excludes the center-right's top constituency -- white men -- as a political nonstarter.
While Politico went the route of demography, conservative pundits are instead opting for catastrophe. Specifically, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, suggesting that Romney was poised to run away with the election until Sandy halted his "momentum" and gave Obama a boost in public opinion going into the campaign's final week.
Analyzing the presidential campaign in the wake of the first debate, Time's Mark Halperin wrote on October 10 that Mitt Romney's sudden "rush to the center" politically had emerged as the key topic - "the central tactical issue"-- for the Barack Obama's team to address. Halperin stressed it would be a challenge for Democrats because the Romney's campaign's "brazen chutzpah knows no bounds."
How odd. At the first debate Romney had so brashly reinvented himself by shifting his position on taxation, immigration and health care away from the Republican Party, that the onus was on Obama to counter Romney's slick maneuver. In other words, Romney's flip-flops, according to Halperin, were a major problem for the Obama campaign, not for the Republican who late in the game unveiled a new political persona. (Farewell "severely conservative.")
It's also telling that on October 10, Halperin considered Romney's makeover into a moderate to be the campaign's dominant issue. Yet one week earlier on the night of the first debate when Halperin graded both participants, the pundit made no reference to Romney's "rush to the center." In real time, Halperin heaped praise on Romney's style "(Started strong, level, and unrattled -- and strengthened as he went along") as well as his substance ("He clearly studied hard.")
Final grade, Romney: A-
Between the first debate and October 10, Romney's brazen flip-flops were not subject to any serious critique from Time's political team. What coverage Romney received for altering his campaign positions (aka his "tack toward the political center") mostly revolved around how conservative activists reacted to Romney's sudden embrace of moderate rhetoric. (They're totally fine with it.) Time was much less interested in what the about-faces said about Romney's candidacy, his character or what his presidency might look like.
The fact that the Republican candidate had radically altered his positions on core domestic issues just one month before Election Day was not treated as a campaign evolution that reflected poorly on Romney. To the contrary, it was largely portrayed as a savvy move by the Republican.
Time's soft peddling of Romney's broad reinvention was typical of how the Beltway press has politely covered the candidate's latest chameleon turn.
Time magazine's Mark Halperin dismissed the very real policy differences between President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on whether to rehire police, firefighters, and teachers and other public sector workers. In an appearance on MSNBC, Halperin claimed Romney's position against hiring more public-sector workers had no "real policy implications" and that Romney does not actually "oppose the hiring of police officers," just the spending of federal money to accomplish such hiring.
Halperin was discussing comments made by Obama and Romney on Friday about jobs and the economy. After President Obama called for federal funding to stem the tide of public-sector job losses, Romney mocked the president, claiming "he wants to add more to government." Romney continued: He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message in Wisconsin? The American people did. It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."
States and local governments have been shedding public sector workers, which has created a drag on the economy, and Republicans are blocking the federal government from providing aid to states to rehire workers. But in an appearance on MSNBC, Mark Halperin provided cover for Gov. Romney, claiming that the Obama campaign should never have highlighted Romney's words because there are no "real policy implications" to what Romney said.
From the December 6 broadcast of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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From the November 4 broadcast of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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MSNBC rightly placed its senior political analyst Mark Halperin on indefinite suspension Thursday after the Time editor-at-large inexcusably called President Obama a "dick." This is how responsible news organizations behave.
While Halperin has apologized for his comments, it is simply unacceptable to call the president of the United States -- or any president -- a dick.
In recent months, MSNBC has rightfully sanctioned its contributors for unacceptable comments.
When Ed Schultz called conservative commentator Laura Ingraham a "slut" on his radio show, MSNBC made clear that those comments were unacceptable and placed the popular host on leave for a week.
When it was disclosed that Keith Olbermann made political contributions that MSNBC deemed inappropriate, Olbermann was suspended indefinitely.
MSNBC's response to unacceptable rhetoric is how responsible news organizations behave. Responsible news organizations hold people accountable.
Several readers have pointed out to us that Joe Scarborough was also suspended for political contributions.
This post was not intended to compare political contributions to hateful rhetoric. It was to show that actual news networks have systems of accountability when they determine their employees have crossed the network's line.
You'll recall that's the grand pronouncement Time's Mark Halperin recently made. And yes, he made it without pointing to any actual evidence to back up his claim.
The latest findings from Gallup regarding Obama's approval rating among Democrats and blacks though, undercut Halperin's GOP-friendly analysis:
One of them is wrong.
From Halperin today [emphasis added]:
The coalition that got Barack Obama elected President just two years ago has been shattered. Gaming out the trajectory of the next two years can be done any number of ways, but Obama's efforts to rebuild a politically robust alliance will be the most telling.
From NBC's First Read today:
Obama 'core' coalition hardly 'shattered'
Which one is right? Hint: The First Read bases its conclusion of recent, and specific, polling data. Halperin does not.
How lazy is Halperin's He's-Doomed analysis? This lazy:
A survey of the political landscape shows that many groups who were part of the 2008-09 Obama coalition have turned on him.
- Blacks: 90% approve/6% disapprove- Democrats: 82/12- Liberals: 79/16- Latinos: 56/33- Post grads: 56/41- Women: 52/43- 18-34: 49/43
Announcing that the president "is being politically crushed in a vise," Mark Halperin delivers an extraordinarily condescending scolding in Time this week. The interesting part is that Halperin's obituary for Obama, penned on behalf of Washington, D.C. "elites" who all know the president is cooked, comes in the wake of Obama's polling rebound last week. (See here and here.)
But Halperin makes no mention of that fact. He's too busy telling us what all the really, really smart people know: Obama is in over his head. Worse, he's "clueless" as to "how to get along with or persuade members" of the media! So Halperin rolls over every conceivable RNC, anti-Obama talking point.
But this one to me seemed just bizarre:
Throughout the year, we have been treated to Obama-led attacks on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Congressman Joe Barton (for his odd apology to BP), John Boehner (for seeking the speakership -- or was it something about an ant?) and Fox News (for everything). Suitable Democratic targets in some cases, perhaps, but not worth the time of a busy Commander in Chief.
That's right, Obama, in the eyes of media elites like Halperin, is not allowed to fight back against his political opponents. Why? Because it's unseemly. Apparently it's not that unseemly when his opponents accuse him of being a racist and a Nazi and tyrant and a liar and a terrorist-sympathizer and foreign-born. It's unseemly when Obama answers his critics. It's unseemly when he defends himself.
This is really just astonishing. Media elites like Halperin have been witness to the most unhinged and hateful and sustained attack on a sitting president in modern American history. Their take-away after nearly two years of this hate-fest? It's Obama's fault. And worse, it's his fault when he defends himself.
There's something deeply ironic about Mark Halperin chastising "Coastal Elites, the Media and Establishment Politicians of Both Parties" for falling prey to conventional wisdom, since Halperin himself is the elite political media's foremost manufacturer of conventional wisdom. But that's exactly what Halperin did this morning in a "memo" to the aforementioned elites about Sarah Palin, warning them not to underestimate the former half-term governor or to make the mistake of assuming "that Palin needs or wants to play by the standard rules of American politics."
Basically, it's the same sort of overwrought Palin analysis we've been hearing from insiders like Halperin, who are already predisposed to right-wing narratives, since the day Palin hit the national stage -- you can't count her out because you can't count her out. Also she winked at me!
But the mistake you are making is to assume that Palin needs or wants to play by the standard rules of American politics. Or that it even occurs to her to do so. Trash her all you want (even you Republicans who are doing it all the time behind her back) for being uninformed, demagogic and incoherent, and brandish the poll numbers that show fewer and fewer Americans think she is qualified to be President. Strain to apply political and practical norms to Alaska's former governor. You are missing the point.
Surely you've come to accept the reality that as a businessperson, Palin is a genius. The gusher of revenue from her speeches, books and television deals sweeps away any doubt that she can brilliantly harness her energy, charisma and popularity into a moneymaking bonanza.
But what you need to appreciate is that the same dynamics of supply and demand that Palin has cleverly exploited for financial gain also make her inimitably formidable as a political force.
All of you are certain she can't win the presidency -- and as of today you are right. But the nomination is another kettle of salmon, and she bears more in common with the past three presidential winners than with the passel of hopefuls clamoring for donations, press attention and straw votes. She is like Obama: the camera loves her and both sides of the political spectrum hang on her every word. She is like Bush: able to communicate with religious conservatives and Middle Americans. Most of all, she is like Bill Clinton: what doesn't kill Sarah Palin makes her stronger. So as the world gets ready for the midterm elections and for the start of the epic contest in which Republicans will pick their champion to go into battle against Barack Obama, be advised: Palin is very much alive and, despite what you think, extraordinarily strong.
Halperin's case is essentially: "Sure, she has weaknesses. But what you fail to realize is that those weaknesses aren't weaknesses at all... They're strengths! Twist!"
Notably, the case for Palin's strength is premised on the complete abjuration of all political norms. Basically, if you deny reality, then Palin is the most popular person on the planet. In that sense, it's a fitting analysis of the Palin brand of politics.
But in a more literal sense, it's exactly the sort of inane commentary that makes elite political journalism so maddening.
From the August 19 edition of MSNBC' Hardball with Chris Matthews:
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Time's Mark Halperin, explaining an obvious truth:
The Sherrod story is a reminder — much like the 2004 assault on John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — that the old media are often swayed by controversies pushed by the conservative new media. In many quarters of the old media, there is concern about not appearing liberally biased, so stories emanating from the right are given more weight and less scrutiny. Additionally, the conservative new media, particularly Fox News Channel and talk radio, are commercially successful, so the implicit logic followed by old-media decisionmakers is that if something is gaining currency in those precincts, it is a phenomenon that must be given attention. Most dangerously, conservative new media will often produce content that is so provocative and incendiary that the old media find it irresistible.
There's nothing about that statement that should be even remotely controversial. Yet many people -- like, say, the Washington Post's ombudsman -- don't understand it. Conclusion: Those who do understand it need to say it more frequently and more forcefully.
During the 2008 presidential election we noted that Time's Mark Halperin had offered up his list of "Things McCain Can Do to Try to Beat Obama" which happened to include attacks on the future president's race and name:
In a February 25 entry to his website, The Page, Time magazine political analyst Mark Halperin posted a list titled "Things McCain Can Do to Try to Beat Obama That Clinton Cannot," in which he suggested that McCain "can ... [a]llow some supporters to risk being accused of using the race card when criticizing Obama" and "can ...[e]mphasize Barack Hussein Obama's unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism."
In addition, Halperin suggested that McCain can "[l]ink biography (experience/courage) and leadership (straight talk) to a vision animated by detail -- accentuating Obama's relative lack of specificity." In doing so, Halperin not only failed to offer any examples of McCain's "specificity" "relative" to Obama, he repeated the media myth that McCain is a straight talker, despite his growing list of falsehoods.
Well, Halperin is back with another list designed to rescue Republicans. This one though focuses on the 2010 mid-term elections and encourages the GOP to, "focus the broad message relentlessly on Obama's spending policies" and to come up with a "2010 version of the Contract with America."
Tellingly, Halperin writes at length in the post about what he perceives the Democratic Party's plan for the 2010 mid-terms to be -- it's the Republican Party however, that Halperin saves his political consulting for... as if the GOP didn't have a plan of its own already.
From Halperin's posting at Time's The Page blog (emphasis added):
As the primaries proved, it is hard to get organized without a clear leader, and therein lies the greatest asymmetry between the two parties right now: Democrats are led clearly, in public and in private, by Barack Obama and his political team; Republicans remain essentially leaderless. (Among the GOP's ever-revolving options: RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Newt Gingrich, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour.) Sure, there are Democratic intraparty disagreements, but in terms of fundraising, allocation of resources, political and policy strategy, coordination with allied interest groups, and message, the Democrats have a smooth, efficient system already in place. The Republicans do not. At the top of their to-do list should be tuning out the underlying bedlam and pulling together a workable party plan.
On the rest of the list: stay away from the kinds of fights — such as the one Dr. Paul started in Kentucky with his comments about Civil rights — that can cast the party as extreme. Take care in devising and promoting a 2010 version of the Contract with America. Play down expectations for success in public, while being wildly enthusiastic behind the scenes. Most of all, focus the broad message relentlessly on Obama's spending policies — not on Democratic ethics, competence, Supreme Court nominees or anything else the voting public considers mere luxury items when economic woes are front and center.
Last Tuesday's results gave Democrats reason to be more optimistic about their chances in the midterms, and Republicans reason to worry. In recent years, the words "organized" and "disciplined" have not been too often associated with the Democratic Party, but in the Age of Obama, they represent the biggest difference between the two sides. With just five months left, closing the gap with the Democrats' sizeable organizational advantage has got to be the GOP's main to-do target.
From the May 17 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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