How long will the press remain allergic to Hillary Clinton polling data?
It's weird, right? For decades, pundits and reporters have worshiped at the altar of public polling, using results as tangible proof that certain political trends are underway, as well as to keep track of campaign season fluctuations. And that's even truer in recent years with the rise of data journalism. Crunching the political numbers has been elevated to a new and respected art form.
But that newsroom trend seems to be losing out to another, more powerful force as the 2016 cycle gears up. No longer viewing their job as reporting the lay of the campaign land, more and more journalists seem to have embraced the idea that their role is to help tell a compelling story, even if that means making the narrative more interesting, or competitive, than it really is.
The press "desperately wants to cover some Democratic story other than the Clinton Coronation," Bloomberg's David Weigel reported last year. NBC's Chuck Todd conceded it's the Beltway "press corps" that's suffers from so-called Clinton fatigue. The Atlantic's Molly Ball was among those suggesting that Clinton's candidacy is boring and that the American people are already "tired" of the former Secretary of State.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll this week provided little in terms of narrative excitement, but it was newsworthy nonetheless. It showed Clinton with a commanding 15-point lead over former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and a 13-point lead over former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, two of the best-known Republicans considering White House runs.
Nobody should think that polling results 20-plus months before an election signals certainty. But in terms of context, when the Washington Post and ABC began hypothetical polling in 2011 for Obama's re-election run, its survey showed the president enjoyed a four point lead of Romney at the time. (Obama went on to win by four points.) Today at a similar juncture, Clinton's lead over Romney stands at an astounding 15 points.
And so what kind of media response did the Clinton poll produce this week? Mostly shrugs; the press didn't seem to care. The morning the poll was published, NBC's daily political tip sheet, First Read's Morning Clips, omitted any reference to Clinton's enormous advantage in their laundry list of must-read articles for the day. On cable news, the coverage was minimal. Or put it this way, CNN mentioned the Clinton poll once yesterday, while CNN mentioned "Tom Brady" nearly 100 times, according to TVeyes.com.
"Clinton Enjoys Enormous Lead" is just not a headline the press wants to dwell on. So polling data is often tossed in the dustbin, clearing the way for pundits and reporters to form whatever storyline they want about Clinton and her possible 2016 run. (Hint: She's in trouble! Her book tour was a "disaster"!)
Many news outlets are uncritically touting the State Department's conclusion that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly worsen climate change without noting that this determination was based on an expectation of high oil prices. Some media outlets, however, have reported the significance of the recent plunge in oil prices, such as the Associated Press, which noted that "[l]ow oil prices could make the pipeline more important to the development of new oil sands projects in Canada than anticipated by the State Department ... and therefore is more likely to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming."
Audrey Cooper does not believe it should have taken a century and a half for the San Francisco Chronicle to name its first female editor-in-chief.
And she should know. She's that editor.
Cooper, who was named to the top post at the Chronicle on Wednesday, said a glass ceiling still exists at news organizations and she's personally had experiences where she felt she wasn't treated equally because of her gender.
"Obviously there is (a glass ceiling)," Cooper said. "I think all of the coverage of [New York Times editor Jill Abramson's 2014] departure laid bare a lot of things that other female editors felt but hadn't really articulated. They're much more subtle than people might think. Sexism in general is a lot more subtle than it used to be 20 years ago. Yes, I've had the experiences that I think that I was not treated the same as men based on my gender."
But Cooper praised her supervisors at the Chronicle and parent company Hearst for giving her initial promotions during her career there, noting, "I was eight months pregnant when I had my interview to become (Chronicle) managing editor."
Cooper also pointed to problems news organizations have retaining working mothers.
"I think the news business in particular has a really difficult time retaining young women or 30-something women because so far we are the only ones who can have babies," said Cooper, 37, who has been at the paper in different roles since 2006. "And it is difficult to be in a job that you do 24 hours a day and can be called at any time and also have a child. I think that's just a reality, it is difficult to keep people in a job like that."
A married mother of a two-year-old boy, Cooper added that, "I don't plan to have a second one because I love my job and it would be too difficult."
It is notable that she is the first woman to lead the paper as it approaches its 150-year anniversary on Friday.
"Yes, I think 150 years is a really long time not to have a woman in this position," she said. "I think it is an interesting historical fact that I am the first at the Chronicle and I look forward to the day when women across industries, particularly ours, can rise to the top of them and not have it noted so frequently that they're the first."
But such change may be difficult given that the number of female editors at top papers has dwindled. Media Matters noted last year that just two top editors among the top 25 circulation daily newspapers were women: Deborah Henley at Newsday and Nancy Barnes at the Houston Chronicle.
"When I got into this industry, there was a lot more discussion about diversity in the newsroom than you have now on a national basis," she said. "I think that's because shortly thereafter we really, really hit the skids and everybody was having serious problems and laying people off and it wasn't the top concern anymore. Now that I think a lot of publications are stabilizing you start to see this emerge again."
The New York Times broke its own glass ceiling in 2011 when it hired Abramson as executive editor, but fired her last spring.
Along with the Times, the New York Daily News, New York Post, Chicago Tribune, and USA Today are top 10 papers that were led by women during the past 15 years. Among the remaining top 25 daily papers, at least eight had women as the top newsroom bosses during the same time span.
From the January 14 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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2014 was a year of eye-popping media numbers, from millions of dollars' worth of coverage devoted to a trumped-up scandal to mere seconds devoted to historic news. Here are some of the most important -- and most surprising -- figures from the year.
The New York Times omitted key facts it had previously reported to dishonestly accuse Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration of selling political favors to an Ecuadorean family in exchange for campaign donations. Excised from the Times reporting is the fact that prominent Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, have the exact same relationship with the donors that the Times is now portraying as a problem for Democrats.
"Ecuador family wins favors after donations to Democrats," the Times headline claimed. The article detailed the decision to grant a travel visa to a "politically connected Ecuadorean woman," and argued that the decision to do so was connected to "tens of thousands of dollars" the family of the woman, Estefania Isaias, has given to Democratic campaigns.
According to the Times, "the case involving Estefania could prove awkward for Mrs. Clinton," based on the fact that she was Secretary of State when members of Congress were advocating for travel visa for the relative of two Florida residents seen as fugitives by the Ecuadorean government.
The Times fixated on political donations given by the Isaias family to Democrats as if it were news, but the Times already reported on the money the Isaias family has given to elected officials in a March 11, 2014, article. Moreover, that prior article noted that potential Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio and Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had also aided the Isaias' at the same time their political campaigns received donations linked to that family -- facts absent from the more recent piece.
In March, the Times made clear that the family gave significant campaign contributions to Florida Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who "acknowledged trying to help the family with immigration troubles." The Republicans sent letters -- in one case directly to Clinton herself -- inquiring into the immigration issues surrounding members of the family or advocating on their behalf.
"The family gave about $40,000 to Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, whose district members live in," the Times reported then. "Last month, she acknowledged to The Daily Beast that while she was chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee she sent four letters to top American officials, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of state, advocating on behalf of three members of the Isaias family who had problems with their residencies. She called it 'standard practice' for constituents."
That detail is absent from this week's Times article.
Here's the Times in March: "Mr. Rubio, whose political action committee received $2,000 from Luis Isaias, also made 'routine constituent inquiries' into immigration matters for two family members, his office said." In December, Rubio's advocacy vanished from the Times.
Additionally, while the article suggests in its opening paragraph that Estefania Isaias was given permission to enter the country in 2012 in direct response to the donations from her family, she reportedly received the same access on six prior occasions dating back to the first restrictions on her movement in 2007 under the Bush Administration. Indeed, the Times reported in the 23rd paragraph of its article that a spokesperson for Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said the senator's office had gotten involved with the Isaias case because "because Ms. Isaías had previously been allowed to travel to the United States six times despite the ban, and the decision to suddenly enforce it seemed arbitrary and wrong."
Conservative media are exploiting the Times' shoddy reporting -- reporting that doesn't stand up to basic scrutiny in light of what the Times itself has previously reported.
"Clinton State Dept Pulled Strings for Menendez in Pay-to-Play Deal with Dem Donor," the Washington Free Beacon headline claimed. "Controversial Ecuadorian Family Donated About $100,000 to Obama ... and the State Department Returned the Favor," is the take over at The Blaze. The Daily Caller: "Sen Menendez Pushed Hillary Clinton To Grant Visa For Daughter Of Ecuadoran Bank Fugitive."
Taking The New York Times' lead, Rubio's and Ros-Lehtinen's advocacy on behalf of their donors is nowhere to be seen.
The New York Times overlooked the millions of dollars in campaign contributions spent by lobbyists and special interest groups that benefitted from the provisions added to the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last week.
Media coverage of an omnibus spending bill that rolled back key financial services regulations ignored the amount of money the financial services industry spent helping elect members of Congress in 2014. In fact, the industry lobbying to eliminate the regulation spent $436 million on federal candidates during the midterm elections.
Buzzfeed reported that the emails, released after a hacker group broke in to Sony's computer systems, detailed a series of exchanges between Dowd, Pascal, and Pascal's husband Bernard Weinraub, a former Times reporter, for a March 2014 column Dowd was writing about the declining percentage of women in the film industry.
The emails show Dowd promising Pascal she "would make sure you look great" and Weinraub warning Pascal not to tell anyone that he was "seeing the column before its printed." From Buzzfeed:
But the leaked documents show that when Dowd emailed Pascal on March 3 for the column -- which would run online the next night and in print on March 5 -- Dowd told Pascal "i would make sure you look great and we'd check it all and do it properly."
Before Pascal actually interviewed with Dowd for the column, she talked to Weinraub.
"I said the rap that you jus like to make womens films is unfair amnd sexist," Weinraub said in an email to Pascal on March 4. "You made all these "women's movies ===league of their own, 28 days,,,the nora Ephron films...zero dark.... but you also do spifderman... denzel....Jonah hill.....bad teacher etc etc."
Pascal responded, "IM NOT TALKING TO HER IF SHE IS GONNA SLAM ME. PLEASE FIND OUT."
Weinraub assured her, "you cant tell single person that I'm seeing the column before its printed...its not done...no p.r. people or Lynton or anyone should know."
After the column was published later that night, Pascal emailed Dowd, saying "I THOUGHT THE STORY WAS GREAT I HOPE YOUR HAPPY "
Dowd responded: "I hope you're happy! Thanks for helping. Let's do another." Pascal replied, "Your my favorite person so yes" and Dowd finished the conversation with "you're mine! you're amazing"
Dowd denied that she had given anyone an advance look at her column in a statement released to several reporters, as Politico reported:
In an email though, Dowd says she "never showed Bernie the column in advance or promised to show it."
"Bernie is an old friend and the Times' former Hollywood reporter, and he sometimes gives me ideas for entertainment columns. In January, he suggested a column, inspired by a study cited in the L.A. Times, about the state of women in Hollywood. Amy is a friend and I reassured her before our interview that it wasn't an antagonistic piece. She wasn't the focus of the story, nor was Sony," Dowd said. "I emailed with Bernie and talked to him before I wrote the column in March, getting his perspective on the Hollywood old boys' club and the progress of women. But I didn't send him the column beforehand."
The New York Times downplayed the impact of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and dismissed the influence of money in politics by ignoring record-breaking spending of outside groups, the role of large donor political contributions, and dark money in the 2014 midterm election.
A December 9 New York Times Magazine article entitled "Who Wants to Buy a Politician?" argued that the "forecast that a flood of money would follow" the 2010 Citizens United ruling has largely not come to fruition. Author Binyamin Appelbaum noted that "spending has declined in each of the last two congressional elections" and argued that spending on campaign elections is "economically inefficient" because campaign spending has little impact on election outcomes:
[T]he 2012 presidential election, which recorded $2.6 billion in campaign spending, underperformed many forecasts. And spending has declined in each of the last two congressional elections. Candidates and other interested parties spent $3.7 billion on this year's midterms, down from an inflation-adjusted total of $3.8 billion in 2012, which was less than the $4 billion spent in2010, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
[B]uying elections is economically inefficient. Most voters, like most consumers, have defined preferences that are difficult for advertisers to shift. Chevron spent roughly $3 million during a recent campaign backing, certain City Council candidates in Richmond, Calif., where it operates a major refinery. Voters instead chose a slate of candidates who want to raise taxes. "Campaign spending has an extremely small impact on election outcomes, regardless of who does the spending," the University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt concluded in a 1994 paper. He found that spending an extra $100,000 in a House race might be expected to increase a candidate's vote total by about 0.33 percentage points. Investors appear to agree that companies can't make money by investing in political campaigns. A 2004 study found that changes in campaign-finance laws had no discernible impact on the share prices of companies that made donations.
Appelbaum points to small donor contributions to argue that the majority of donations are not meant as an influencing factor:
Most campaign money, after all, comes in smaller chunks from individual donors. People who gave $3 to Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008 could not have reasonably expected that their small contributions would influence the future president. Even those who give larger sums rarely contribute the maximum allowed by law, as might be expected of someone trying to buy influence. Instead, individual contributions have increased over time merely in proportion to personal income.
But this argument obscures the especially outsized role large donors have in elections and downplays the proportion of large donations to overall campaign spending. The Sunlight Foundation found that in 2012, the median contribution from this group of elite donors was $26,584. Demos, a progressive public policy think tank, analyzed campaign finance data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics and found that most campaigns in 2014 were actually fueled by big donors:
Just 50 individuals and their spouses accounted for more than a third of the total money raised by Super PACs this cycle. Many candidates, including some whose individual contribution totals reach into the millions, report receiving few or even no dollars in contributions from small donors. For example, House Budget--and future Ways and Means--Committee Chairman Paul Ryan reported that all of his more than $5 million in individual contributions came from large donors.
Appelbaum also glossed over the record spending made by outside groups in the 2014 midterms. According to The New York Times, "political groups independent of candidates spent more than $814 million to influence congressional elections last month, a record for the midterms and nearly twice the spending in 2010, Federal Election Commission records show." And as the Center for Responsive Politics noted, this year's figure show an increase in the overall share of campaign financing came from outside groups. Such groups represented 8.5 percent of the total spent in 2010 and are projected to represent 13 percent in 2014 while there were "fewer people donating to political organizations."
Most egregiously, Appelbaum failed to note the role of dark money in elections. According to ABC News, "this year, dark money groups have spent $200 million in 11 of the most competitive Senate races, nearly double the amount they forked out in 2012." As the Huffington Post noted, the 2014 Senate races in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky and North Carolina accounted for nearly half of all dark money spent to target 2014 candidates. Appelbaum cited two of these races, but suggested they were "the exception."
All of this matters, because as Ian Vandewalker of New York University's Brennan Center for Justice demonstrated, the fusion of campaigns and big money can subvert the ability of qualified individuals to pursue public office if they don't have access to wealthy donors:
Although marginal differences in spending won't swing election outcomes, a candidate who doesn't raise a sufficient amount of money is virtually guaranteed to lose. As a result, candidates who don't have connections to wealthy donors may never bother to run, no matter how qualified they are. And the "arms race" mentality tells candidates not to let the other guy get too far ahead in spending. That's why candidates, including incumbent officials, are falling all over each other to raise money.
While it's true that the amount spent on all the congressional elections together hasn't changed much in recent years, that fact obscures the reality that spending is highly concentrated in the competitive races that will decide control of a chamber of Congress. Donors don't just want to buy the gratitude of a candidate, they want the gratitude of the party in power.
In the days after the midterm elections, the New York Times has been a cornucopia of campaign commentary. Lots of attention is being paid to the issue of gridlock, which has defined Washington, D.C. since President Obama was first inaugurated.
Lamenting America's "broken politics," Times columnist Nicholas Kristof opted for the both-sides-are-to-blame model, suggesting that, "Critics are right that [Obama] should try harder to schmooze with legislators." Across from Kristof on the Times opinion page, Republican pollster Frank Luntz urged Obama to find a way to create "common-sense solutions" with his Republican counterparts. (This, despite the fact that Luntz in 2009 helped Republicans craft their trademark strategy of obstructing Obama at every turn.)
And the same day, while reviewing Chuck Todd's new book on Obama, which stressed that the president "wanted to soar above partisanship" though his two terms will likely "be remembered as a nadir of partisan relations," the Times book critic stressed Obama's "reluctance to reach out to Congress and members of both parties to engage in the sort of forceful horse trading (like Lyndon B. Johnson's) and dogged retail politics (like Bill Clinton's) that might have helped forge more legislative deals and build public consensus."
So after six years of radical, blanketed reticence from the GOP, we're still repeatedly reading in the New York Times that while Republicans have put up road blocks, if Obama would just try harder, Republicans might cooperate with him. You can almost hear the frustration seeping through the pages of the Times: 'What is wrong with this guy? Bipartisanship is so simple. Republicans say they want to work with the White House, so why doesn't Obama just do it?'
Indeed, cooperation is simple if you purposefully ignore reality--if you downplay the fact the Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. If you adopt that fantasy version of Beltway politics today (i.e. the GOP is filled with honest brokers just waiting to work with the White House), then it's easy to dissect the problems, and it's easy to file both-sides-are-to-blame columns that urge bipartisan cooperation.
What's trickier, apparently, is speaking truth to power and accurately portraying what has happened to American politics and noting without equivocation that the sabotage that has occurred is designed to ensure the federal government doesn't function as designed, and that it cannot efficiently address the problems of the nation.
And this week, it all paid off for Republicans. "Obstruction has just been rewarded, in a huge way," wrote Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast.
Led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Republicans vowed in 2009 to oppose every political move Obama made, not matter how sweeping or how minor. "To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked," wrote Matthew Yglesias at Vox, in the wake of the midterm election results. New York's Jonathan Chait made a similar observation about McConnell: "His single strategic insight is that voters do not blame Congress for gridlock, they blame the president, and therefore reward the opposition."
But why? Why don't voters blame Congress for gridlock?
Why would the president, who's had virtually his entire agenda categorically obstructed, be blamed and not the politicians who purposefully plot the gridlock? Because the press has given Republicans a pass. For more than five years, too many Beltway pundits and reporters have treated the spectacular stalemate as if it were everyday politics; just more "partisan combat." It's not. It's extraordinary. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat apologized for appearing at a fundraising event for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an extreme anti-gay legal group working to criminalize homosexuality.
On October 16, Douthat spoke at "The Price of Citizenship: Losing Religious Freedom in America," an event held by ADF and aimed at drawing attention to a number of popular right-wing horror stories about the threat LGBT equality poses to religious liberty. Douthat spoke alongside radio host Hugh Hewitt and the Benham brothers, who are notorious for their history of extreme anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-Muslim rhetoric. The event ended with explicit solicitations for donations to support ADF's legal work.
As Media Matters noted, ADF is one of the most extreme anti-gay legal groups in the country, fighting against even basic legal protections for LGBT people and working internationally to repress LGBT human rights, including supporting Belize's draconian law criminalizing gay sex.
On Wednesday, Douthat explained that he did not know ADF's event was a fundraiser and said he plans to decline the honorarium he received from the event.
"I was not aware in advance that this event was a fundraiser and had I known, I would not have agreed to participate," he said in a statement issued to Media Matters through the Times Wednesday. "I was invited by an events organizing group, not by ADF directly. I understood this to be a public conversation about religious liberty. This is my fault for not doing my due diligence, and I will be declining the honorarium."
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat spoke at a fundraising event for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a right-wing legal group that works to defend anti-LGBT discrimination and supported the criminalization of homosexuality.
On October 16, ADF held an event titled "The Price of Citizenship: Losing Religious Freedom in America" in Denton, Texas. The event, which focused primarily on highlighting the alleged tension between LGBT equality and religious liberty, featured a conversation between radio show host Hugh Hewitt and Douthat.
The event also featured an appearance from the Benham brothers, the right-wing activists who lost their HGTV reality show because of their history of extreme anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-Muslim rhetoric:
The event touched on a number of popular right-wing horror stories about LGBT equality, from the plight of anti-gay bakers and florists, to the outrage over the recent subpoenaing of several Houston pastors. David Benham, who has previously warned that the gay "agenda" is "attacking the nation," urged the audience to take "dominion" of the media and legal system back from the "sexual anarchy agenda":
DAVID BENHAM: Unfortunately, the church, now that we have the keys to authority that Christ gives the Christian church, we give that dominion back through our silence. And so what we see now is the struggle for dominion. And one of the ways that we've lost dominion is because Christians, unfortunately, don't believe in the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign over all things. The Bible says in Psalm 24 "the Earth is the Lord's and everything in it," including government, entertainment, media, education, the legal system, everything. My finances, my sexuality, everything is under God. ... Does this agenda, this sexual anarchy agenda, does it want dominion? Take a look. Has it got dominion in government? Has it got dominion in entertainment? Has it got dominion, I mean, you name it, in the marketplace? Yes. Absolutely it does. How does God get dominion back? ... The government exists for the punishment of evildoers and for the reward of those who do good. The problem is, is when we switch good and evil and evil and good. There's only one institution that can fight that dominion battle, and that's the church. [emphasis added]
From the October 16 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report:
A New York Times report finds that conservative members of Congress appear more often on Sunday news shows than liberal members, reaffirming Media Matters' data finding overall that guest appearances on Sunday news shows lean right.
A Times analysis of research collected by American University finds that the distribution of guest appearances by members of Congress on Sunday news shows favors conservatives by a margin of 57 percent to 42 percent. The report finds that the ideological tilt also applies to former Congressional members by nearly the same margin.
The parade of politicians on the Sunday morning talk shows veers to the right, not the left.
Conservative members of the current Congress have appeared more often on the network talk shows than their liberal counterparts. Senators and representatives from the conservative end of the ideological spectrum have made 57 percent of the appearances, compared with 42 percent for liberals, according to an Upshot analysis of data collected by American University.
When the Sunday shows have turned to former members of Congress, the same ideological pattern emerges: Conservatives have made 56 percent of the appearances, compared with 41 percent for liberals. As a group, the former conservative lawmakers were slightly more liberal than their current counterparts.
These findings reinforce an analysis from Media Matters that found guest appearances by elected and administration officials on Sunday broadcast news shows in 2013 favored Republicans on at least half of the shows, especially in solo interviews.
Ideology Of Guests On Sunday News Broadcast Shows: More Conservatives Than Progressives. Media Matters found that conservative guests outnumbered progressive guests on three of the four Sunday shows in 2013.
[Media Matters, 1/31/14]
Conservatives Received Majority Of Solo Interviews On Three Of The Four Broadcast News Shows. Three of four Sunday shows also devoted a majority of their solo interviews to conservative guests.
[Media Matters, 1/31/14]
Sunday Broadcast News Shows Invited More Conservative Journalist Guests Than Liberals. A Media Matters analysis found that all Sunday broadcast news shows in 2013 hosted more conservative journalists and pundits than liberals. Fox News Sunday had the largest imbalance with a 49 percent plurality of journalist guests being conservative and only 16 percent being progressive. On the other three broadcast news shows neutral journalists and pundits were the most common, followed by conservatives, and then progressives.
[Media Matters, 1/31/14]
Sunday Broadcast News Shows Dramatically Leaned Conservative During George W. Bush's First Term. A Media Matters study found that during President Bush's first term, Republican/conservative guests outnumbered Democratic/progressive guests, 58 percent to 42 percent. Guest appearances by elected officials and administration representatives also favored Republicans during this period, 61 percent to 39 percent. [Media Matters, 2/14/06]
Footnote: All original analysis conducted by Rob Savillo.