The rocky rollout of Obamacare has prompted commentators to attack the president and his team for having three years to plan for the launch and still not getting it right. That's a legitimate critique as problems persist. But the same can be said for an awful lot of reporters doing a very poor job covering Obamacare. They also had three years to prepare themselves to accurately report the story.
So what's their excuse?
The truth is, the Beltway press rarely bothers to explain, let alone cover, public policy any more. With a media model that almost uniformly revolves around the political process of Washington (who's winning, who's losing?), journalists have distanced themselves from the grungy facts of governance, especially in terms of how government programs work and how they effect the citizenry.
But explaining is the job of journalism. It's one of the crucial roles that newsrooms play in a democracy. And in the recent case of Obamacare, the press has failed badly in its role. Worse, it has actively misinformed about the new health law and routinely highlighted consumers unhappy with Obamacare, while ignoring those who praise it.
As Joshua Holland noted at Bill Moyers' website, "lazy stories of "sticker shock" and cancellations by reporters uninterested in the details of public policy only offer the sensational half of a complicated story, and that's providing a big assist to opponents of the law."
It's part of a troubling trend. Fresh off of blaming both sides for the GOP's wholly-owned, and thoroughly engineered, government shutdown, the press is now botching its Obamacare reporting by omitting key facts and context -- to the delight of Republicans. It's almost like there's a larger newsroom pattern in play.
And this week the pattern revolved around trying to scare the hell out of people with deceiving claims about how Obamacare had forced insurance companies to "drop" clients and how millions of Americans had "lost" their coverage.
Any plans that CNN may have had to hire Fox News associate producer Chris White have been scuttled following the firestorm over the controversial four-minute segment attacking President Obama that White reportedly created and which Fox aired twice yesterday.
Several news outlets had speculated and even reported that White's move to CNN was in the works at the time he produced the video, which many have compared to a political attack ad. But a CNN spokesperson confirmed to Media Matters Thursday that White will not be hired by CNN.
Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming for Fox News, told Mediaite yesterday that the four-minute segment "was created by an associate producer and was not authorized at the senior executive level of the network. This has been addressed with the show's producers."
With Fox failing to even acknowledge that airing the video was a mistake White appears to be the only one at the network who has suffered from their repeated airing of the video - with the apparent punishment coming from a different news outlet. This morning the hosts of Fox & Friends - who praised both White and the video at the time they aired it - did not address the controversy.
Since the piece aired, several news outlets have claimed White was heading to CNN, with some speculation this might have been his way of departing the network.
The same Mediaite item stated about White: "Mediaite hears that White may be heading to CNN in the near future."
Hollywood Reporter wrote: " ... the associate producer responsible for it, Chris White, likely has already decided to leave Fox for CNN."
CNN would not say if White had been under consideration prior to the latest incident, but The New York Times' Jeremy W. Peters reports that White had "his offer revoked."
On January 20, Mike Evans, a relatively unknown entertainment journalist, claimed on a Twin Cities classic rock station that he had talked to Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) and "Neil says that he searched everywhere using his powers as governor ... there is no Barack Obama birth certificate in Hawaii. Absolutely no proof at all that he was born in Hawaii."
Evans' story was a hoax. Six days later, Evans told FoxNews.com that "Neil never told me there was no birth certificate ... I never talked to him."*
The retraction wasn't surprising. There is no evidence President Obama was born outside of the United States, and Abercrombie told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on January 18 that Hawaii indeed has proof of Obama's birth.
In other words, responsible media outlets should have been hesitant to promote the Evans "no proof" story. Instead several, led by Mediaite, helped legitimize the story, and fuel the fantasies of birthers.
I find that when I'm engaging in media criticism, it's helpful to have a basic grasp of the facts. Mediaite founder Dan Abrams apparently disagrees, and his website seems to be happy to curry favor with the boss by covering up his ignorance.
Last night on CNN's Parker/Spitzer, Abrams -- publisher of a media reporting and analysis website -- posited that it's no big deal that five potential candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are currently working at Fox News. I disagree with Abrams -- as we've documented, Fox has donated at least $40 million in airtime to these potential candidates, while providing them with an extraordinarily friendly platform to promote themselves. But I'm willing to acknowledge that reasonable people can disagree on this.
The problem is that Abrams' explanation for his opinion exposed that he doesn't actually know what he's talking about:
WILL CAIN: Dan, I got the first question for you. It's complicated. So what? What's the big deal that the Republican primaries are going to take place on FOX News?
ABRAMS: Look, I don't know that they're going to take place at FOX News because remember, these people are commentators. These are not hosts of shows. If these people were hosting primetime shows, then I might say, you know what? This is going to be a real vehicle for them to get their positions out there, to advocate.
But as commentators, they are answering questions. And sure, that means they get publicity but they're also not the only ones in the country -- these five -- who have considered political -- or political aspirations and they are commentators on TV.
OK. So Abrams thinks it would be a problem if one of these Fox candidates had their own show, but since none of them do, it's no big deal. The idea that these potential candidates can't "advocate" because they're just commentators seems deeply flawed - anyone who's ever watched Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum on Fox knows that they are not asked challenging questions, and have wide latitude to "get their positions out there." But more importantly, Abrams' premise - that none of the Fox candidates has their own show - is just flatly inaccurate.
Dan Abrams, meet Mike Huckabee.
Mediaite's Tommy Christopher weighs in on Andrew Breitbart's "evidence" that several Congressmen are lying about tea partiers hurling racial epithets at them at the U.S. Capitol Building in March:
Earlier this week, conservative media figure Andrew Breitbart seized upon a New York Times story correction as proof that Civil Rights hero John Lewis (D-Ga) and others were "lying" when they claimed that a crowd of protesters had hurled the "n-word" at them as they walked to the Capitol to vote on health care reform.
Breitbart supports his claim by submitting "conclusive" video "evidence" that nothing "racially charged" occurred on March 20, 2010. I took a closer look at the NY Times correction, and Breitbart's video, and it doesn't take much to poke some pretty big holes in Breitbart's basic claim, which somehow presupposes that the failure to meet a burden of proof is, in and of itself, "conclusive evidence."
Instead, Breitbart offered the thinnest refutation possible: there was no video of the incident. He was presumably able to do this perhaps due to the expectation that the mainstream media, cowed by their embarrassment at his hands over the ACORN controversy, to go along with it, or at least accept the premise that a lack of video evidence was somehow an equal counterbalance to the testimony of three members of Congress. Or that such evidence is somehow a prerequisite to reporting a story. By the way, that's going to make a lot of print reporters very unhappy.
Sadly, this premise echoes the voice of every stereotypically racist sheriff in the 60's who ever uttered "Nobody's gonna believe you, boy!" Ironically, it also echoes the white grand jury who refused to indict the murderer of Shirley Sherrod's father.
Breitbart now presents several crudely-shot, 5 to 7 second video clips of poor audio quality as proof positive that nothing happened that day. Although that idea is, at best thin on its face, even those cherry-picked snippets contain proof that Breitbart's "proof" is in fact, false.
Included in his post is a video you won't want to miss with some tough questions for Breitbart.
As Media Matters' noted yesterday, Fox News' Dana Perino apologized for falsely claiming last week that President Obama supported the release of the Lockerbie bomber. Perino said she was "glad there's a website out there that can track my every move and keep me honest."
Mediaite's Tommy Christopher says others can learn from Perino, even if the apology was a bit "sarcastic":
Perino may have been a tad sarcastic in her veiled praise for Media Matters, but hers is exactly the right attitude to take. All too often, when a media figure gets called out, the tendency is to point the finger elsewhere. It was refreshing to hear Perino own her mistake, and thank those who pointed it out.
There will be some who will note that her apology comes a week late, but I think it works out better that way. She's speaking to the same audience who heard her initial report, and the distance from last week's story gives the apology some air of its own to breathe.
Mediaite's Glynnis MacNicol wins the "credulous nonsense of the day" award with this gem:
Presumably Breitbart is in possession of the entire tape, how else could he release a mere clip and and state so assuredly that Sherrod was making a racist remark if he didn't know the full context.
Seriously? MacNicol can't imagine how Breitbart could make such a claim without knowing the full context? Two obvious explanations should come immediately to mind. If you want to give Breitbart the benefit of the doubt, maybe he just didn't realize it was possible that further context could clear Sherrod? Seems far-fetched, but it's possible. More likely is the possibility that Breitbart is willing to make all kinds of wild, unsubstantiated (and, indeed, false) claims because he knows many people will assume he has good reason for doing so.
If it's the second one, MacNicol just validated his strategy.
To the extent that Breitbart and those like him have power, it is in large part because people who should know better assume that there must be some validity to their claims.
Mediaite's Michael Triplett writes of my criticism of Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander's New Black Panther Party column:
Paul Waldman at the American Prospect's TAPPED said Alexander didn't know what he was doing as ombudsman while Jamison Foser at Media Matters for America accused Alexander of "promoting" another right-wing attack while ignoring "race-baiting."
Apparently, allegations that the Justice Department dropped the ball or didn't pursue a case should be examined among ideological opponents but not by the Washington Post. If the story is a hit-job on the Obama administration, who better to ferret that out than the Washington Post as opposed to the ideological bomb throwers.
Who better to ferret that out than the Post? Anybody could do it better! The Post did a lousy job! That has been my central point all along, in blog posts that Tripplet linked to and criticized (and that I would therefore hope he read.) My posts have spelled out the fact that the Post and Alexander omitted a ton of factual information that completely undermines the NBPP story. That's how the Post and Alexander failed: They repeated the right-wing attacks, and failed to include essential information that demonstrates the emptiness of those attacks. That's what I criticized Alexander and the Post for doing.
And yet Mediaite's Michael Triplett thinks I shouldn't have done so because if the attacks are bogus, "who better to ferret that than the Washington Post"? Is he kidding?
My former colleague Paul Waldman is quite capable of defending himself, so I'll just note that Triplett completely missed his point, too. Waldman didn't say Alexander shouldn't have written about the story; he offered a number of questions Alexander should have addressed but didn't.
This is beyond maddening.
Mediaite's John Bershad has a piece up this morning attacking Keith Olbermann for, as he puts it, blaming the New Black Panther case on President Bush. Bershad's complaint is that Olbermann, in pointing out that the Bush Justice Department determined the voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panthers did not "constitute a prosecutable violation," was incorrectly implying that "they were the ones who dropped all the charges." He then launches into a pox-on-both-houses routine, claiming that both Fox News and MSNBC are "exaggerating" the story to fit their own ideological agenda.
Here's the thing: Keith Olbermann was not "blaming" the Bush administration for failing to prosecute the New Black Panthers. He was debunking the central accusation driving the New Black Panther story on Fox News -- namely, that the Obama administration dropped the case for, in the words of Fox News' Megyn Kelly, "political and racial reasons." When matched against the undisputed fact that the Bush administration declined to pursue the case and the undisputed fact that the Obama administration obtained judgment against one of the New Black Panthers, that accusation crumbles.
This isn't a case of two groups of partisans blaming the other party's administration for a controversial legal decision. This is all about the conservative media completely disregarding the facts as they stand to accuse the first black president and attorney general of being racially biased.
Funnily enough, Bershad acknowledged that the facts Olbermann brought to bear against Fox News should "take some wind out of their sails" and that Olbermann had a "good point" about the "uncomfortable racial tinge" to the network's coverage, but nonetheless hyped his colleague Steve Krakauer's crusade to force the media to follow Fox News' lead in covering the New Black Panther story.
Mediaite's Steve Krakauer has a post up asking: "Will DOJ Black Panther Case Whistleblower Story Break Mainstream?" He's referring to the allegation, popular among talk radio hosts and right-wing bloggers, that the Obama Justice Department dropped voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party because the black president and the black attorney general are unfairly biased towards black people. Fox News' Megyn Kelly has made the story her own this week, conducting an "exclusive interview" with former Justice Department attorney J. Christian Adams, who claims that politics motivated the DOJ to drop the charges.
There are many reasons not to trust Adams on this one. He's a longtime GOP activist who was hired to the Bush-era DOJ by Bradley Schlozman, a political appointee who was ultimately found to have improperly politicized DOJ hiring. Also, Adams' interview with Kelly consisted mainly of unsubstantiated hearsay and conjecture. What's more, the Bush-era DOJ that Adams worked for declined to pursue charges against the Minutemen in a 2006 voter intimidation case based on nearly identical circumstances.
But Krakauer wants this story to be covered more widely: "So far, the story has not been discussed on FNC's cable news competitors or any of the broadcast networks. When we return from the July 4 holiday weekend, that very likely will change - and it should." Why does he think it should be covered? Because Fox News is making a big deal of it.
We're seeing the reemergence of a very familiar pattern.
Last weekend we noted that while appearing as a guest on Fox News' Cashin In, Jonathan Hoenig of CapitalistPig.com repeated the discredited claim that "Social Security is, by definition, a Ponzi scheme."
One thing I missed during the segment -- which Mediaite.com picked up on -- is the disclaimer Fox News aired while Hoenig was making his point (emphasis added):
And as [Hoenig] says this, a disclaimer scrolls on the bottom of the page stating: "The following program contains the strong opinions of its participants, which are not a reflection of the opinions of Fox News and should not be relied upon as investment advice when making personal investment decisions."– a standard on business programming. But the topic at hand wasn't exactly the stock market although it is a business program– it was quite a political conversation– and a quick look at Hoenig's previous appearances on The Cost of Freedom's "Cashin' In" segment, which he is regularly a guest on, doesn't seem to show any disclaimer. Maybe it usually plays earlier on in the show and someone tossed it up a bit late, or they just wanted to play it safe after a guest says something particularly shocking.
The disclaimer is no doubt confusing to regular Fox News viewers – it also raised other questions. For instance, why doesn't the network just run the same disclaimer during Glenn Beck's broadcasts whenever he brings up gold or other topics?
Heck, why stop there? How about running a disclaimer at the bottom of the screen on Fox News all day long. It could read, "The following program contains the strong, though misinformed and misleading opinions of its participants (hosts included), which are not a reflection of the opinions of Fox News and should not be relied upon as an accurate source when coming to political or any other conclusions."
Wait a minute... perhaps Fox News doesn't run disclaimers during the bulk of its airtime because the opinions expressed are "a reflection of the opinions of Fox News" as a media outlet. After all, Fox News employees can say anything they want, no matter how vile, and it isn't likely that the network will do anything about it -- ever.
As if the up-for-sale newspaper's coverage of the Tea party movement wasn't enough of a love letter, the Washington Times is offering up web space for a new blog devoted entirely to the movement under the title "Tea Party Report."
Tellingly, the new endeavor is described thusly:
Real news, opinion and true-life tales from everyday Americans on the frontlines of the Tea Party Movement. This is your story.
That should give you all that you need to know about the blog's objectivity. So, what should readers of the "Tea Party Report"expect?
Mediaite.com's Tommy Christopher reports on one of the new blog's contributors:
According to a press release, self-described "Tea Party Founder" Dale Robertson has joined the Washington Times' "Tea Party Report" blog. Robertson, you may recall, was thrust back into the limelight in March, when he was quoted by the paper as never having seen any racial slurs at Tea Parties, despite having been photographed holding a sign that featured the N-word. He told us the photo was a fake, which our expert then disputed, before a sea of journalists came forward to point out that Robertson had already admitted to holding the sign. Update: The Times has pulled the column, but Robertson has also popped up on The Hill.
Christopher then posted an updates to his initial piece:
Earlier today, we reported that Dale Robertson, the self-styled "Tea Party Founder" who's infamous for being photographed holding a sign featuring the n-word, is touting himself as a columnist for The Washington Times' Tea Party Report blog. Now, following publicity from this blog and several others, it appears the Times has pulled Robertson's column.
DISCLAIMER: The Tea Party Reports is edited by Bill Kelly and Laura Grock and features numerous independent voices in today's Tea Party movement. Tea Party guest submitters are in no way affiliated with The Washington Times and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person other than the contributor (- 5/21/2010).
Update 2: A spokesperson for the Tea Party Report tells me that they have no official relationship with Dale Robertson, and have asked his PR flack to stop "misrepresenting" this. The Tea Party Report staff, she informs me, are also not employees of the Washington Times. The paper simply provides them space to publish their blog.
In summary: A right-wing newspaper owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon who likes to think of himself as the returned son of god is offering up space on its website for what amounts to be little more than a Tea party fanzine where people like Dale Robertson are considered appropriate contributors.
Ladies and gentlemen, behold "conservative journalism."
As yesterday's speculation about whether Elena Kagan is gay reached a fever pitch, it was striking how little interest those who were most enthusiastically pushing the story seemed to have in the fact that the White House has already answered the question.
Last month, conservative blogger/plagiarist Ben Domenech wrote in a column that appeared on CBSNews.com that Kagan is gay. In response, the White House indicated that she is not. As the Huffington Post's Sam Stein reported "The White House reacted strongly to the assertion, relaying that Kagan is, in fact, straight." The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz added:
An administration official, who asked not to be identified discussing personal matters, said Kagan is not a lesbian....A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said he complained to CBS because the column "made false charges."
So, that's pretty unambiguous. As Solicitor General, Elena Kagan was then, as now, a senior Obama administration official, so the White House aides who explicitly said Kagan is not gay were presumably speaking with her sanction. Absent any convincing evidence to the contrary -- and no, rumors and rumors about rumors don't count as convincing evidence -- the unambiguous statements of White House officials should put the speculation to rest.
But some people really enjoy speculating.
The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, for example, headlined a post yesterday "So Is She Gay?" and complained "no one will ask directly if this is true and no one in the administration will tell us definitively." Sullivan must have forgotten that the White House actually did tell "us" definitively just last month. Oddly, Slate's Jack Shafer endorsed Sullivan's post, writing that it gets to "the heart of the matter" -- the unwillingness of the White House to "speak definitively about Kagan's orientation."
Mediaite managing editor Colby Hall wrote several hundred words about Kagan, touching on her relationship with Goldman Sachs, her service in the Clinton administration, and her past statements about reproductive rights, judicial activism, the death penalty, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But Hall's real interest was clearly Kagan's personal life:
Earlier this week, Mediaite.com's Frances Martel asked why Michael Brown -- Bush's former FEMA director -- has been all over the television. Well, as Tommy Christopher points out, Politico appears to have the answer.
Politico's Andy Barr and Patrick Gavin report:
Former FEMA Director Michael Brown has been all over cable television recently bashing the federal response to the oil spill off the Gulf Coast.
But he doesn't see it as an attempt to rehabilitate his image or set the record straight. Nothing that dramatic.
Rather, he just wants the publicity. He wants to sell his new book, he says, and he wants to get some clients for his company.
"There's that phrase, 'Any publicity is good publicity'" Brown told POLITICO. "I kind of buy into that."
It looks like the media is doing a "heckuva job" giving Brownie just the platform he's been looking for.
It is said that an infinite number of monkeys banging on an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite amount of time will eventually produce a precise replica of Shakespeare's Hamlet. A couple dozen monkeys fighting over three typewriters for an hour and a half, on the other hand, will yield something a lot closer to Frances Martel's inane write-up of a National Enquirer article for Mediaite. (Slate's John Dickerson aptly describes the underlying story about a supposed Obama sex scandal as an "investigation about an alleged rumor." Marc Ambinder adds that he and other reporters looked into the non-story years ago, and found that ... there's nothing to find.)
By now you probably know that Martel's Mediaite article was guilty of treating "old, evidence free rumors as breaking news" in part because Matt Drudge was hyping it and that there are some indications Martel was more interested in creating a scandal than reporting on one.
But what struck me about Martel's article was just how poorly-written it was, and how little she seemed to understand the article she was summarizing. And in reading several other recent Mediaite articles by Martel and managing editor Colby Hall, it seems this is a common problem.