Under the misleading homepage headline posted earlier today, "Poll: Obama's future uncertain," Politico reported this finding from its recent voter survey [emphasis added]:
In the general public's view, the president is in big trouble, with 50 percent predicting that Obama will not be reelected and just 26 percent believing he will win a second term. D.C. elites saw things very differently: 49 percent believe the president will win a second term in 2012 while just 23 percent think he won't be reelected.
But here's what Politico left out of the article: When asked about hypothetical match-ups for a 2012 White House race including several prominent Republicans, general population voters uniformly picked Obama, and usually by large margins. In fact, Obama bested Palin by 13 points, with the Alaska Republican garnering just 33 percent of the vote in that hypothetical race.
In other words, here's the alternate headline Politico could have used:
Poll: Obama easily defeats Palin
Oh, no ... not this again:
During unguarded and even some staged -- but inadvertently revealing -- moments, Obama has allowed unintended glimpses into his thinking. At various times, his offhand comments have led critics, and many voters, to view him as an ardent leftist or an elitist or -- most recently -- a partisan Democrat.
That's right, one more turn on the "Obama's an elitist" dead-horse merry-go-round. In an op-ed for Politico, blogger Keith Koffler brings his own twist to this hoary old chestnut with some inane armchair psychoanalyzing:
These Freudian slips, uncovering the man beneath the spin and the speeches, are embedded in Americans' subconscious, if you will, because they seem to come directly from the president's inner self. Obama can change his policies, but he cannot easily erase these perceptions. And because of his cool opaqueness -- noted even by his own staff -- and his relatively brief track record on the national stage, voters have little else to go on.
It must be trying to leap from subconscious to subconscious like that to arrive at the conclusion that Americans ineluctably view the president as an "elitist." If we're to believe Koffler, the country is still obsessing over campaign 2008 talking points and sideshow acts:
First, there was his condescension toward blue-collar Midwestern voters. At a San Francisco fundraiser, he said, "They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
The remark suggested he is an elitist, so far removed from the concerns of average Americans that he presented a harsh stereotype of what they are like. This perception of Obama's being removed from mainstream voters was not helped by Michelle Obama's own Freudian slip. "For the first time in my adult life," she said early during the 2008 campaign, "I am proud of my country."
There was also the case of Joe the Plumber. "I think when you spread the wealth around," Obama told him, "it's good for everybody."
The statement raised eyebrows -- not because of the principle, which many agree with, but because of the terminology. "Spread the wealth" sounded scarily like a socialist tract people are forced to read in college.
While we're talking about 2008, let's discuss a key bit of information from that year that Koffler opted to leave out of his Politico piece -- the exit polls. In the 2008 election, voters making less than $50,000 voted for Obama over McCain 60-38 percent. When asked if they thought Obama was "in touch with people like you," 57 percent said yes. Those aren't poll numbers an out-of-touch "elitist" typically enjoys.
But why dwell on actual evidence of voter attitudes when you can pretend to be attuned to the national "subconscious"?
We've noted that an October 31 Politico article reported that Fox News contributor Karl Rove seems to be among GOP leaders who are on a "mission" to "halt" Fox News contributor Sarah Palin's "momentum and credibility," viewing her potential 2012 presidential nomination as a "disaster in waiting." Indeed, Rove and Palin have recently traded attacks, including over failed Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, who had Palin's strong backing.
Politico noted yesterday that the sparring between Rove and Palin continued on Election Day with Rove saying:
"It gave me no pleasure to say that she was unlikely to win," he said. "But this again provides a lesson. This is a candidate who was right on the issues, but who had mishandled a series of questions brought up by the press."
From the November 1 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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Politico's Ben Smith makes a good point about Fox -- and, indeed, all media:
The challenge to reporters is to cover Fox -- and, at times, MSNBC, and a range of print and online publications, and to a lesser degree every media outlet -- as the political actors they often are. …
And as the POLITICO article suggests, it's a story that will only get bigger as the 2012 Republican primary campaign ramps up. That's a campaign in which Fox News is just undoubtedly the single most important player -- it pays the candidates, and reaches the electorate. Its executives' and hosts' specific decisions will be crucial to deciding the nominee. Coverage that treats Fox as an observer, not a player, will miss much of the point.
One thing this means is that, contrary to the media's tendency to beat itself up for being too slow to chase after stories Fox (or Breitbart or The Weekly Standard, etc) is promoting, they should be extremely wary of such stories.
But the nakedly partisan and flagrantly dishonest tactics employed by the likes of Fox News aren't the only ways in which the line between observer and participant is blurred. There are far more subtle (and less nefarious) ways in which this happens.
News reports that speculate that a scandal "threatens" to dog a politician contribute to it doing so, whether or not it should do so on the merits. Speculation about how voters will react to a speech plays a role in shaping that reaction. The constant insistence that national security issues will benefit Republicans makes it more likely that they do so. Media who don't ask politicians about the views of executive power and the Constitution help ensure that the public doesn't think much about those issues. And so on.
Smith's point that reporters should treat Fox as a political player rather than merely an observer is spot-on. But they should also keep in mind that they aren't merely observers, either. The decisions they make about what to cover help determine what politicians and voters talk and think about. Their speculation about how an event "plays" politically helps shape how it plays. There's no way for them to avoid that -- but it's important that they be aware of it.
I understand when firms are polling weeks before Election Day that asking campaign questions to "likely voters" will likely produce a much better read on possible ballot box results. But does the preferred "likely voter" pool of respondents work when asking more generic, non-campaign questions? Or won't those results be skewed by only asking "likely voters"?
For instance, with a new Battleground Poll out today from George Washington University, Politico stresses the results from the survey which deal with prominent media figures, such as Bill O'Reilly (very popular), Jon Stewart, and Rachel Maddow (not so much.)
The poll also asks respondents what their main sources of news are [emphasis added]:
The poll found that 81 percent of those polled get their news about the midterm elections from cable channels, like Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, or their websites, compared with 71 percent from national network news channels, such as ABC, NBC or CBS, and their websites.
Among cable news channels, Fox was the clear winner, with 42 percent of respondents saying it is their main source, compared with 30 percent who cited CNN and 12 percent who rely on MSNBC.
I don't think you have to be a polling guru to see the problem with asking only "likely voters" media-related questions, when all indications are today that the "likely voters" pool leans solidly to the conservative side. (It also skews very old.) I think the GWU poll would have been more useful if, when asking the non-horse race questions, it had expanded beyond the world of "likely voters."
But for some reason that's not the headline for Politico. Instead, it goes with this:
Poll: Rocky road seen ahead for Obama
And let's face it, that headline is much more narrative-friendly inside the Beltway today.
The fact that Politico stresses its new polls indicates "a significant majority of voters are considering voting against" Obama when pitted a against a nameless opponent, whereas the same poll shows he'd waltz to a double-digit victory over Palin, pretty much tells you all you need to know about how the press likes to play with Obama polling stories.
And FYI, Politico did not poll a single Republican candidate who would defeat Obama in 2012. And no, there's not a single Republican candidate who matches Obama's favorable rating. But yes, this is all very bad news for Obama in 2012.
Once again, a news organization seems to think the only people of faith who matter are white, conservative people of faith. This time it's Politico:
But it turns out (big surprise) that by "Christian voters," Politico meant "conservative Christian voters."
Though several moderate to conservative evangelical pastors support the president, polls show that a significant percentage of conservative Christians remain skeptical about Obama's sincerity when it comes to the values that he says they share, and many say they doubt his faith. [Emphasis added]
Oh, and it also turns out that Politico meant white Christian voters:
During the 2008 presidential election, voting patterns show Obama won modest but significant swaths of religious voters, winning a higher percentage of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish voters than John Kerry did in 2004.
But according to a recent Pew Research poll, more white evangelicals erroneously believe that Obama is Muslim than those who believe he is Christian, and 42 percent say they don't know what religion he practices at all. [Emphasis added]
That's the only polling data Politico offers in support of its claim that "Christian voters" are abandoning Obama: poll data about white evangelicals. The entire article is about conservative, evangelical voters. (The word "conservative" appears eight times in the article.)
It's like Politico has forgotten that non-whites and non-conservatives can be Christians, too. Which is odd since the photo accompanying the article shows President Obama speaking to what appears to be a largely African-American congregation:
I can only assume Politico's headline writers understood that "Conservative white evangelicals don't like Obama" isn't exactly news, and that understanding led to the conflation of conservative white evangelicals with all Christians.
Meanwhile, here's a recent Pew finding Politico didn't mention:
Most Republicans (57%) see the GOP as friendly to religion, which is little changed from last year (59%). However, the proportion of white evangelicals saying the Republican Party is friendly to religion has slipped, from 53% last year to 46% today.
So, white evangelicals, a core GOP constituency, are "losing faith" in the Republican Party -- but Politico ignores that and runs an article conflating the skepticism of President Obama among white evangelicals with the views of all Christian voters.
I've previously addressed the conflation of "observant Catholics" with "white, non-Hispanic Catholics" by the Washington Post and Ramesh Ponnuru. Also related: Byron York's weird suggestion that President Obama's approval among African Americans doesn't really count.
Keith Koffler, author of a spectacularly inane Politico column earlier this month, is inexplicably granted additional op-ed space by Politico, with which he peddles the absurd it's-Obama's-fault-people-falsely-believe-he's-Muslim meme.
Most of Koffler's reasons for blaming Obama are tired and lame. It is unclear why Politico would deem observations such as these worthy of publication: "Other actions confuse, like the deep and natural-looking bow he took before the Saudi ruler" and "When Obama fails to provide some type of public Christian narrative, he can expect it to be filled for him by others."
Others are worse, such as this blatant falsehood:
[I]t is understandable if some are unsure about his Christianity or just don't know. The president almost never does what the overwhelming majority of the faithful do: attend church. He's more likely to be in a sand trap than a pew on Sunday mornings.
Nope. Not true. According to Pew, 89 percent of Americans are people of faith, and according to Gallup, only 43 percent of Americans are frequent churchgoers. As you may have noticed, 43 is not an "overwhelming majority" of 89. In fact, it is not a majority at all. Most Americans of faith do not attend church frequently.
Let's go ahead and say that again: Like Barack Obama, most Americans of faith do not attend church frequently.
Or, put another way: There is nothing noteworthy about Barack Obama's infrequent church attendance, particularly in light of the fact that frequent church attendance is not the norm among Americans in general or American presidents in particular. (Not to mention the fact that the President, like all other Americans, is under no obligation to attend church.) So, maybe the media could stop making note of it?
Politico's Jonathan Martin writes up the Right's fear-mongering about a potential lame-duck session of Congress this fall, and does a good enough job of noting that it is unlikely that Democrats would "come up with a 60-vote majority in the Senate on the sort of hot-button bills now being used to galvanize conservative constituencies" during such a session.
But Martin didn't so much as hint at the fact that many of the conservatives currently insisting that it is wildly inappropriate to take up controversial measures during a lame-duck session are more than a little hypocritical. For example, Martin prominently quotes a spokesperson for House Minority Leader John Boehner insisting Democrats should rule out a "a 'sour grapes' lame-duck session." But Martin didn't mention that John Boehner voted to impeach a sitting Democratic president during a lame-duck session following an election in which the Republicans lost seats in part because of public disgust over GOP efforts to impeach the president. (Nor did Martin note that Boehner's spokesperson apparently doesn't know what "sour grapes" means.)
That's kind of a big one, don't you think? The Republican leader currently running around denouncing Democrats for (theoretically) using a lame-duck session to pursue controversial goals himself cast a deeply controversial vote to impeach President Clinton during a GOP-controlled lame duck session. You don't get much more hypocritical than that -- but Martin didn't mention it. Nor did he mention that Charles Krauthammer, who Martin noted has "sounded the alarm" about a lame duck session, urged the lame-duck House to impeach Clinton in 1998.
UPDATE: Here's a USA Today article from November 13, 2006, just days after Democrats won control of both houses of Congress:
A lame-duck Congress, including the so-called "living dead" who were defeated for re-election, opened today with an ambitious agenda that includes a showdown over President Bush's nomination of John Bolton to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Although the Democrats take charge of both houses of the new Congress starting in January, the Republicans maintain control of the Senate and the House of Representatives until the lame-duck session expires in December.
This year's session could run well into December as Congress takes up a long list of unfinished business: nine spending bills; extending already-expired tax breaks; approving trade pacts with Vietnam and Peru; bioterrorism legislation; and a measure giving doctors a reprieve from a scheduled cut in Medicare payments.
But a critical test of wills between the Democrats' rising power and the White House will come over the Bolton nomination.
Bush last week also called on the lame-duck Congress to pass a controversial warrantless domestic wiretapping bill known as the Terrorists Surveillance Act. But that appears dead because of strong opposition by Democrats.
And a December 6, 2006 Associated Press article:
House Republicans abruptly pulled from floor action Tuesday a bill to open a large area of the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling after it became clear the legislation lacked the two-thirds vote needed for passage.
"The House will revisit the offshore drilling legislation again at some point before the end of this week, though details on the mechanics of how the measure will be considered have yet to be decided," Kevin Madden, spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner, said in a statement.
The drilling bill is one of a string of measures House GOP leaders have readied for this week's "lame-duck" session under an expedited procedure that bars amendments, but also requires a two-thirds vote for approval.
Why would any journalist report conservatives' anti-lame-duck-session stance without checking to see what they did in 2006?
Politico's Jonathan Martin made an interesting observation yesterday while filling in on Ben Smith's Politico blog. In commenting on an article about Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, Martin highlighted Paul's reluctance to speak to reporters and detail his, at times controversial, policy positions. He noted that both Paul and Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle have had a shaky relationship with the media because of a heightened focus on their far-right views. From the post:
Each has demonstrated that they're a risk to themselves when it comes to doing media. Yet when they run from the press - in Angle's case, literally -- the storyline that they're incapable of answering questions than dominates the race, causing them to eventually give in and face reporters. Yet when they do, the cycle repeats itself as they can barely suppress their far-right views.
What Martin notes here is true. We've certainly seen examples of both Angle and Paul shunning reporters for fear of the criticism that their views will generate. In fact, we've even learned that Rand Paul cancelled an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press at the suggestion of Fox News contributor Karl Rove. However, there is one outlet that Republican candidates like Angle and Paul readily embrace: Fox News.
Fox has become a safe haven for conservative candidates looking for softball questions and opportunities to make nationwide fundraising appeals. Sharron Angle has even explained that her affinity for Fox News appearances results in part from the network's permission of fundraising appeals. From a July 14 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (emphasis added):
David Brody: Not to harp on the point but when you're on Fox News or talking to more conservative outlets but maybe not going on "Meet the Press" or a "This Week", those type of news shows, then the perception and the narrative starts to be like you are avoiding those mainstream media outlets.
Sharron Angle: Well, in that audience will they let me say I need $25 dollars from a million people go to Sharron Angle.com send money? Will they let me say that? Will I get a bump on my website and you can watch whenever I go on to a show like that we get an immediate bump. You can see the little spinners. People say 'Oh, I heard that. I am going and I'm going to help Sharron out because they realize this is a national effort and that I need people from all around the nation. They may not be able to vote for me but they can certainly help."
Additionally, after a particularly rough interview on an NBC affiliate in Las Vegas, Angle sought out the familiar comfort of an appearance on Fox News where host Stuart Varney lobbed softball questions and excluded any substantive follow-ups.
Likewise, Rand Paul has taken full advantage of Fox's glowing coverage (including on-air endorsements by contributors Dick Morris and Sarah Palin), by making at least 21 appearances on Fox News, Fox Business and FoxNews.com between May of 2009 and May of 2010. During these appearances, Paul faced hard-hitting questions such as "Can that Tea Party rage or populist sentiment last until November?" and "We have been getting into this raging debate as to whether Republicans veer more to the right ... or be pragmatic. Where do you stand?"
Although Angle and Paul struggle with articulating their policy positions while not, as Martin says, "hand[ing] the opposition yet more oppo," they can, have, and will continue to seek refuge in the substance-free interviews provided by Fox News.
Here's Politico on Sarah Palin's fundraising:
A new financial report filed Sunday evening showed Sarah Palin's political action committee has taken its fundraising to a higher level – and suggests that she has begun building a more sophisticated political operation in place of a bare-bones organization powered mostly by her rock star status and scrappy on-line presence.
In short, for the first time since the 2008 campaign when she was the vice-presidential running mate to GOP presidential candidate John McCain, Palin is supported by a political operation befitting someone considering a presidential run.
Politico found that all so very important that it sent out a "Breaking News" email alert at 9:37 PM last night.
But another news organization's write-up of the same financial report suggests there may be a bit of hype in Politico's version of the story. Here's CNN:
Sarah Palin's political action committee raised more than $865,000 over the last three months, according to a newly filed report with the Federal Election Commission – the former Alaska governor's biggest quarterly take since SarahPAC was launched in early 2009.
But the PAC's fundraising so far this year has been roughly on pace with its 2009 efforts. Palin raised more than $1.2 million since the beginning of this year, about $200,000 less than she raised in the second half of 2009.
The PAC continued to pay a small clutch of consultants, including several who worked closely with Palin during her vice presidential campaign, for domestic and foreign policy advice, political consulting, logistics and speechwriting.
UPDATE: Peter Hamby, who wrote CNN's version of the Palin story, adds via Twitter: "Palin gets another round of breathless 2012 buzz for doing things she is supposed to do: campaign for candidates, raise money, send out mail"
Politico tried to Win the Morning today with an article frantically hyping the purported danger that the trial of Rod Blagojevich poses to the Obama administration. According to the piece, the trial "could singe" the White House, and the "threat of political damage remains serious" for President Obama and his aides, Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett, even though they "haven't been too badly bruised so far, by Chicago standards at least" (whatever that means).
Why is the Obama administration in such danger? According to Politico, it's because of "apparent contradictions between trial testimony and some of the president's own statements about his contact with Blagojevich over the Senate seat." Unfortunately for Politico, they don't seem to be able to actually find any such contradictions.
Politico is claiming that SEIU Local 1 chapter head Tom Balanoff's testimony at the Blagojevich trial contradicted Obama's December 1, 2008, statement, "I have never spoken to the governor on this subject. I'm confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat."
That's simply not true.
"Part of any deals related to this seat" has a very specific meaning here. Blagojevich is alleged to have attempted to sell the Senate seat for campaign donations or a job. For Obama's statement to be contradicted, one of his "representatives" would have had to, well, attempt to make a deal with Blagojevich in which the former governor agreed to name someone to the seat in exchange for something of value.
As we noted a week ago when Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin were pushing this falsehood, Balanoff's testimony in no way suggests that such deal-making was taking place. Balanoff testified that he had a conversation with Obama after the election, in which Obama said that Jarrett would fit his criteria for a good successor in the Senate. Balanoff testified that he then spoke to Blagojevich, who said that he would appoint Jarrett if a new advocacy group were set up for him to head. Blagojevich also raised the idea of being named Secretary of Health and Human Services, according to the testimony. Balanoff testified that he told Blagojevich that he would never be named HHS Secretary, and reportedly said in court that he "never intended to pass on the message" about Blagojevich's advocacy group demand to Obama.
If Obama's representatives were trying to put together a deal with Blagojevich, Blagojevich himself seemed unaware of it. On November 11, 2008 -- days after his conversation with Balanoff - Blagojevich said of Obama and his advisors, "they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. Fuck them."
As Huffington Post's Danny Shea noted, it all started with a column by Politico's Patrick Gavin taking Washington Post/CNN's Howard Kurtz to task for booking a familiar cast of characters on Reliable Sources:
"Washington can be a clubby town and CNN's 'Reliable Sources' may very well be television's best representation of that clubbiness," Gavin wrote. "It's a Sunday show by reporters, for reporters, about reporters and is hosted by Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz, who himself can be seen making all the right appearances on Washington's clubby cocktail circuit with all of us other reporters."
Gavin added that he has "always found it disappointing" that "Washington gossip columnists" and "Washington media writers" -- both categories he admits falling into -- do not often appear on Kurtz's show.
Kurtz responded on this weekend's Reliable Sources, as Shea notes, making things personal:
"If this is some kind of club, it's one that Patrick Gavin has been trying to join for quite some time," he adds. "He has repeatedly asked and cajoled me to book him on this program. Here's an email Gavin sent me just a few weeks ago: 'Why yes, I'd love to come on Reliable Sources if you're doing any White House Correspondents Dinner curtain raisers this month.'
"Sure, Patrick, we'd be happy to have you on. Sometime in the next decade."
Gavin ultimately replied at length in a statement to Shea:
Kurtz has gotten very defensive about the 'clubby' angle in my piece but he's also assuming that that was meant as a criticism. It may be to some people, but for others, Reliable Sources' clubbiness is part of it's appeal...it's like a Washington BBQ: People you know talking about things you know. Of course there have been guests outside of the Beltway and the gang of 500. No one said otherwise. I think for Kurtz to think that a list of his Top 20 guests over ten years is a completely foolhardy compilation is silly. It's a legitimate gauge and an interesting discussion topic and his sensitivity to our piece makes it seem like his show is above examination. In other words, if you write about Kurtz, he goes on the attack.
Besides: If there was any better indication of the show's inside-baseball nature, it's Kurtz using up airtime and digging through his email archive to do a segment on my piece about his show. It's a slow news week on July 4th weekend, but still...
What Kurtz still isn't discussing, however, are two questions I addressed in my piece and which I emailed him about beforehand: Why have no other Washington media reporters (Michael Calderone, Harry Jaffe, Erik Wemple, etc.) been ever asked to appear on the program and why does he almost always turns to his paper's gossip columnists as guests instead of from other area papers? He chose to not directly answer those questions. I'm curious why he's unwilling to talk about that, especially as a media reporter who demands transparency from others.
Gavin is correct in much of his Kurtz criticism -- and by the way, it happens to be constructive criticism. The Washington Post/CNN media writer doesn't just skew his bookings to the advantage of his Post colleagues, there are often ethical issues at play in the way he covers media issues involving the Post and CNN.
It's no wonder Kurtz appears to have such thin skin.
Josh Marshall rightly observes this morning that Politico's feature story on the New Jersey tea party's legal efforts to recall Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) gives pretty short shrift to a key flaw in the cunning plan -- "the fact that recalling a federal senator is clearly unconstitutional." Indeed, the article is a masterpiece of non-committal, "not everyone agrees"-type hedgery, and the closest they come to acknowledging this substantial hurdle is observing that "it's not entirely clear whether their approach will meet constitutional muster."
The Politico also missed a fine opportunity to explore the tea party's schizophrenic attitude toward the Constitution. They will talk your ear off about how the country has supposedly deviated from the principles enumerated in the founding document and how the only way to save ourselves from socialism or fascism or Democrats or whatever is to strictly adhere to its precepts. But it's also clear, at least in the case of the New Jersey recall efforts, that they're willing to ignore the parts of it they find inconvenient to their short-term political goals.