You might think it's impossible to out-do Politico when it comes to granting political operatives anonymity so those operatives can lob partisan attacks at the other team that they'd be unwilling to put their name behind. (Here's a recent example.)
But it turns out Politico is a bunch of amateurs compared to Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller, which has decided to cut out the middle man entirely. Rather than typing up some GOP operative's (anonymous) attack on the Democrats, then dashing off a few paragraphs as filler, Daily Caller took a much more efficient approach: It ran a column equating Eric Massa And Mark Foley -- a column written by someone identified only as "Mr. GOP, a former House leadership staffer, [who] is writing under an assumed name to protect his identity."
Aside from the obvious absurdity of granting a political operative an anonymous column to hype a scandal in the other party, you have to love the circularity of the Daily Caller's explanation for why "Mr. GOP" wanted that anonymity. He's "writing under an assumed name to protect his identity"? Gee, you don't say? Why else would someone write under an assumed name? The real question isn't why "Mr. GOP" wanted to "protect his identity" -- it's why The Daily Caller wanted to.
Politico rushes to hype the Weekly Standard's baseless speculation that the White House tried to win Rep. Jim Matheson's support for health care reform by nominating his brother to a judgeship, under the header "Some Republicans criticize judge pick."
But Politico could only come up with one such Republican, Rep. Michele Bachmann. By contrast, Politico had two Republicans who praised the nomination, including one who directly debunked the conspiracy theory.
And, of course, Politico didn't mention that The Weekly Standard, where this baseless allegation originated, has a history of making dubious claims about White House efforts to win health care votes.
Instead, Politico concluded: "As pressure mounts on Democrats to pass reform, look for Republicans to pounce on anything that looks like a backroom deal because those previous deals were key to helping sour the public on reform."
Yeah -- and look for Politico to help them do so, no matter how shaky the ground from which the Republicans are pouncing.
If you were writing an article headlined "Republicans cast doubts on Senate parliamentarian," would you wait 16 paragraphs before mentioning that the Senate Parliamentarian was elevated to the job when Republicans fired his predecessor for ruling against them? Would you omit any mention of the fact that, having done so, Republicans then threatened to fire him?
If not, you just aren't cut out for Politico, which reports:
Senate Republicans are waging a pre-emptive strike against the Senate's parliamentarian - a hitherto little-known official who could determine the fate of the Democrats' health care reform efforts.
In interviews with POLITICO, several Republican senators and aides cast Parliamentarian Alan Frumin - a 33-year veteran of the Senate - as someone who is predisposed to side with the Democrats if they attempt to use the reconciliation process to pass parts of their bill.
The Senate GOP's previous behavior towards Senate parliamentarians, including Frumin, would certainly seem to undermine their "pre-emptive strike." Maybe that's why Politico glossed over it?
Politico comes through with an extraordinary example of mind-reading:
Health care: Pelosi and other top House Democrats say publicly that they have the votes to push through a comprehensive package, but privately, they know they don't.
Not only is Politico -- for reasons unexplained -- certain that Democrats don't have the votes to pass health care, Politico is certain that Democrats "know" this.
Don't ask how Politico knows this. They just do.
Reporting on the Democrats' possible use of the reconciliation budget process to pass health care reform, media outlets have advanced the Republican criticism that reconciliation is "an end-run around the normal legislative process." However, the procedure has been used repeatedly by Republicans, and, as NPR has pointed out, reconciliation has been used to pass major changes to health care laws.
Yesterday, Politico published a navel-gazing piece by editor John Harris, explaining the decision to allow reporter Jonathan Allen to return after a brief stint working for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- roughly a month. Harris wrote that one of his concerns in taking Allen back was that "it seemed likely that Allen's brief tenure with a Democrat might open us to shots at our fairness by Republicans."
As I pointed out yesterday, it's a little odd that Harris would write such a line about someone with twenty years of work as a reporter and one month working for a member of Congress without noting that another Politico reporter, Jonathan Martin, worked on a Republican gubernatorial campaign, two congressional campaigns, and spent more than three years working for a Republican member of Congress. Martin left his job as press secretary to Rep. Rob Simmons in October 2005 and joined Politico upon its January 2007 launch.
Well, today, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz praises Harris' piece. After quoting both Allen's own explanation for his decision to return to journalism and Harris's concerns about bringing him back, Kurtz writes:
While television has practically obliterated the line between party insiders and pundits, I do think Republicans--and Politico readers--might be wary of someone who was so recently in the employ of a Democrat. But I give Allen and Politico major points for transparency.
Kurtz, like Harris, is concerned about a reporter who was "so recently in the employ of a Democrat." And Kurtz, like Harris, doesn't say a word about Martin. Keep in mind: Allen has twenty years of experience as a journalist, and a month of working for a member of Congress. Martin, on the other hand, came to Politico barely a year after spending more than three years with a Republican member of congress and working on at least three GOP political campaigns. And not only does Kurtz fail to mention Martin while expressing wariness about Allen's one-twelfth of a year working for a Democrat, he actually praises Harris for "transparency" after Harris omitted any mention of Martin. Incredible.
(Speaking of transparency: Harris and Kurtz were colleagues at the Washington Post before Harris left to start Politico.)
Politico's John Harris has a weird navel-gazing article about Jonathan Allen's return to journalism -- and Politico -- after a brief stint working for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Actually, it's about Politico struggling to decide whether it should take Allen back -- not because of doubts about his skills as a journalist, but because they feared a month working for a politician would irrevocably taint him:
It was a couple of weeks ago that we heard from Allen again. After a month on the job, he decided he had made a mistake. He concluded that his talents and temperament were those of a journalist, not an operative. He wanted to come back to POLITICO, if we would have him.
Ugh, again. Two thoughts were immediately at war: "Damn right, we want him," and "I'm not sure we can take him." Some critics would say he was too compromised by his brief sojourn in politics - in which he publicly aligned himself with Democrats and made a modest contribution to Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln - to return to straight reporting. I wasn't sure the critics were wrong.
I have no doubt about Jonathan Allen's ability, or my own ability, to separate personal or ideological views from reporting.
But I am enough of a traditionalist to be wary of the revolving door between politics and journalism. And it seemed likely that Allen's brief tenure with a Democrat might open us to shots at our fairness by Republicans. I viewed this as a matter of perception, not of reality.
So, Harris didn't have any doubt about Allen's ability to separate his personal views from his journalism, but worried that hiring a reporter who had a month of experience working for a Democratic politician might "open us to shots at our fairness by Republicans."
Huh. Seems like a good time for Harris to mention that Politico reporter Jonathan Martin previously worked for a Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate, two Republican congressional campaigns, and a Republican congressman, for whom he worked for more than three years.
But Harris never mentioned Martin. Weird.
Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown comes through with an absolute classic of the "both sides are equally guilty" genre.
Under the header "Both sides push health debate myths," Brown writes: "Ahead of next week's White House summit on health care, both parties are pressing story lines on how the reform debate has played out that aren't as tidy or truthful as Democrats and Republicans would like voters to believe."
"Myth No. 1," according to Brown, is the claim that "Republicans were sidelined in Congress." As Brown notes:
Until September, two of the Senate's most conservative members and moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) helped pull the bill further and further away from the liberal Democratic ideal. Snowe and Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Enzi of Wyoming spent 63 hours negotiating with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and two other moderate Democrats, Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.
Hatch himself participated in the talks until July.
That's "Hatch" as in Orrin Hatch, who Brown quotes complaining that Republicans "weren't even involved in this process." And Brown writes "If anyone was sidelined at this stage of the health care reform debate, it was progressives."
Brown's "Myth No. 3" is the claim that "The bills include minimal GOP-backed ideas." She explains:
the pillars of the Senate bill resemble proposals that have been embraced by the GOP, most notably in a proposal offered last year by former Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) and by Republicans during the 1993-94 health care reform debate. Major elements are also remarkably similar to a plan put forward by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).
the Senate bill allows families and businesses to purchase insurance across state lines, a favorite policy proposal of the right. ... Republicans say states should decide how they want to do reform. But the Senate bill already goes a step in that direction.
So, according to Brown, Republicans are wrong when they say they were ignored, because Republican Senators Grasley and Snowe and Enzi and Hatch were involved in Senate negotiations, while progressives were "sidelined." And Republicans are wrong to say their ideas were ignored, because "the pillars" of the Senate bill resemble GOP proposals.
Now take a look at what Brown calls "Myth No. 2": the claim that President "Obama was fully committed to bipartisanship all along." This, Brown writes, is false because "the White House decided not to get hung up on winning Republican votes. ... Obama shifted the rhetoric slightly. He would seek out Republican ideas - and if votes followed, great. If not, no sweat."
Remember, Brown just told us a few paragraphs earlier that "two of the Senate's most conservative members and moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)" spent 63 hours negotiating with Democrats, and that "invited the Gang of Six into the Oval Office for updates and defended the bipartisan talks at a particularly critical juncture. During an August visit to Montana, Obama embraced Baucus's strategy - at a time when most congressional Democrats were furious about it." So it's a little odd to see Brown now claim the White House didn't care about Republican votes.
But the bigger problem is that she argues that Obama sought out Republican ideas -- indeed, those ideas, according to Brown, are reflected in the "pillars of the Senate bill" -- but he wasn't committed to being bipartisan because he wasn't hung up on "winning Republican votes." What? What does she think Obama should have done beyond incorporating Republican ideas into the bill and encouraging the "Gang of Six"?
Taken as a whole, Brown's article suggests Democrats and Republicans have been equally misleading about the level of bipartisanship: Republicans because, despite their claims, they were involved in the negotiations and their ideas were incorporated into the Senate bill; Democrats because, although they invited Republicans to negotiations and incorporated their ideas into the Senate bill, they didn't get "hung up on winning Republican votes."
Brown blames the Democrats for the Republicans' refusal to support legislation they helped craft and that included their ideas. It's a complete perversion of what bipartisanship means, and the most glaring false equivalence you'll see in a long, long time.
Sometimes, it's like Howard Kurtz doesn't even try to do his job. Check out this passage from the Washington Post media critic's profile of Rachel Maddow:
[S]he rejects the notion that she's explicitly pushing for change: "I think of it more in the tradition of muckraking. A lot of the best reporting since time immemorial has been driven by outrage about things not being the way they should be, by the shock at shameless, lying hypocrisy."
She adds: "For me it's a question of whether you're doing advocacy journalism or not. It's not activism -- you see a lot of that at Fox, using news coverage to inspire political participation."
Asked for comment, a Fox spokesperson says, "These feelings that she experienced about Fox News didn't stop her from applying for a job here."
Wait, what? A Fox spokesperson says Rachel Maddow applied for a job at Fox News? What does that mean? How long ago? What were the circumstances? Howard Kurtz doesn't explain; he just leaves it there. That's more than a little odd, particularly since the claim is meant to impugn Maddow's credibility.
Fortunately, Politico's Michael Calderone finished Kurtz's job for him:
So did Maddow, former Air America host and now a star of MSNBC's liberal prime-time line-up, really apply to work at Fox News?
"I never personally applied for a job at Fox," Maddow tells POLITICO in an email. "I have an agent who I assume talks to everyone on my behalf, so I have no reason to believe that Fox's claim that they were approached on my behalf is false, even if I never knew anything about it at the time."
So ... Yeah. It doesn't exactly sound like Maddow was stopping by Fox HQ twice a week to fill out applications and ask for an interview, does it? Actually, Maddow's version doesn't sound like anything that is typically meant by "applying for a job," which suggests that the Fox flak's statement to Kurt was quite misleading. Good thing -- for Fox, that is -- Kurtz didn't ask for an explanation.
... and we're going to continue to be part of the problem.
Politico's Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Martin write that the media cover Sarah Palin too much, and take her too seriously as an important political figure:
A new poll out Thursday should make those of us in the media take a look in the mirror and ask: Should we really be giving so much attention to somebody who faces so many hurdles to becoming president or even the GOP nominee in 2012?
According to the Washington Post/ABC survey, she is viewed favorably by 37 percent of Americans while 55 percent view her unfavorably. That's what pollsters call being "upside down" and, if she were an incumbent, would usually spell defeat.
Beyond polls, consider this: if Palin were to announce a bid for the White House, how many party officials would support her? Would a single governor or senator get behind her candidacy? More than 10 House members? And how about donors - how many of the bundlers that seeded President Bush's two campaigns would do the same for her?
VandeHei and Martin contend that the saturation coverage of someone so unpopular is simply a result of the fact that stories about her attract eyeballs. They do concede that they're part of the problem -- but they have no plans to stop:
We know we're part of the problem - and we'll surely continue to run stories about Palin. But, we're looking at your top newspaper editors and network executives, listen to your grumbling political reporters when they try to tell you why going over board on the Hockey Mom beat isn't wise. Palin is no doubt a phenomenon - she's going to draw monster crowds and be an in-demand fundraiser for GOP candidates this fall. And she may overcome her weaknesses to make a run for the White House. But to cover her as the chief alternative to Obama and the presumptive frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2012 borders on dishonest.
Yes, she's good copy and yes she's good for business. But that doesn't mean she should be treated like a president-in-waiting.
Now, when Jim VandeHei begs "top newspaper editors" to "listen to our grumbling political reporters" when they say Palin doesn't merit such attention, it's important to keep in mind that Jim VandeHei is no mere beat reporter: He is Politico's executive editor. Who is forcing Politico reporters to cover Palin, if not Jim VandeHei himself?
And VandeHei and Martin downplay a screamingly obvious point: The problem isn't just that media outlets like Politico give Palin too much attention, it's that the coverage they give her too rarely notes her massive shortcomings, including the poor poll numbers VandeHei and Martin lay out. It's one thing to constantly cover someone who doesn't merit the attention; it's something else altogether to dishonestly constantly cover someone who doesn't merit the attention, portraying her as a popular phenomenon when she is wildly unpopular, and glossing over her stunning lack of honesty.
VandeHei and Martin seem to have some glimmer of recognition of this; they do note that it "borders on dishonest" to cover Palin as "the chief alternative to Obama." But they suggest that's about the quantity of Palin coverage. it is, in part. But it is about the quality of that coverage, too.
UPDATE: In case you were wondering how I can be so sure that Politico won't change, here's a November 18, 2009 article by Politico's Michael Calderone:
The Palin-media co-dependency
By: Michael Calderone
November 18, 2009 04:51 PM EST
Sarah Palin talked on the campaign trail about trying to get around the elite media filter, but this week she's pushed her way straight through it.
And the media - liberal and conservative, bloggers and network anchors - have responded by dedicating magazine covers, air time and online real estate to everything related to the book-promoting, media-bashing former governor of Alaska. No matter where Palin goes, the media follow - Andrea Mitchell even hosted her MSNBC show Wednesday from the Barnes & Noble in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Palin's scheduled to sign books.
For Palin's book sales, all press is good press. And for the press, Palin is all good for the bottom line.
Since then, Politico has continued to obsess over Palin. And now Politico's executive editor writes, as though it's news, that the media and Palin have "a tangled, symbiotic affair - built on mutual dependency and mutual enabling." That isn't news -- that's basically the headline of a piece Politico itself ran three months ago!
The Politico quoted former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) stating that the Obama administration was "foolish to take all those big votes on cap and trade" because doing so endangered moderate Democrats. While Politico identified Lott as a lobbyist, it did not note that his firm lobbies for oil companies on issues including the cap and trade bill, and thus has a financial interest in its defeat.
Politico's John Harris mocks President Obama's State of the Union health care comments:
His tepid rallying cry: "As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed."
That just isn't honest. That line -- quite obviously -- was not intended to be a "rallying cry." This is a "rallying cry":
I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber. (Applause.)
And this is a "rallying cry":
Here's what I ask Congress, though: Don't walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people. (Applause.) Let's get it done. Let's get it done. (Applause.)
You can tell those lines are the rallying cries from the words, but you can also tell from the fact that the rallying cries were met with applause.
But Harris wanted to call Obama's comments "tepid," so he picked a relatively mundane line and falsely claimed it was intended to be the speech's "rallying cry."
That's obviously inane; you can make any speech look tepid if you select its most mundane line and pretend it was mean to be a soaring call to action. Here, let's apply the John Harris technique to another famous speech: Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech was tepid -- just look at its rallying cry: "In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check." Wow, that's a bland rallying cry!
You can use such tactics to belittle a speech, but you shouldn't -- because it's completely dishonest.
Politico's Ben Smith writes:
As the left makes the counterintuitive argument - which it lost in 1994 - that Democrats' real problem is caution, not overreach, John Judis makes the more straightforward case: It's all about the independents.
But, contrary to Smith's suggestion, the two positions -- that the "Democrats' real problem is caution, not overreach" and that "It's all about the independents" are not mutually exclusive. And contrary to his suggestion, "independents" are not some static universe of voters in the "center" who can only be unhappy with Democrats if Democrats "overreach."
Indeed, Judis does not seem to subscribe to the views Smith ascribes to him. Judis writes "Obama's declining approval can be attributed to the rising rate of unemployment and that the only way he could have prevented, or eased, the fall in his popularity would have been to get Congress to adopt a much larger stimulus program last winter."
That sure doesn't sound like a contradiction of the view that the "Democrats' real problem is caution, not overreach."
Smith's construct adopts the tired assumption that in order to appeal to "independents," Democrats must jettison progressive ideals. But it's rarely anything more than that: an assumption. Much of the time, Democrats can better appeal to "independents" through clear articulation of a progressive agenda, and -- this part is important -- successful implementation of the same. Just consider last year's stimulus: Had it been larger, as many economists said it should have been, the economy might now be in much better shape. Surely we can all agree that if that were the case, Democrats might well enjoy more support from independents?
Politico's Jeanne Cummings on MSNBC about half an hour ago, discussing Michelle Obama's popularity:
She's doing much better than what people thought. There was a time during the campaign in 2008 when lots of Republicans thought that Michelle Obama could become some sort of liability.
Hmmmm. I don't remember that sentiment being limited to Republicans; I remember a lot of reporters expressing it as well. Reporters like ... Jeanne Cummings Politico colleagues. Let's fire up The Nexis, shall we?
Jim VandeHei & John Harris, Politico, 3/17/08:
The GOP has proven skilled at questioning the patriotism of Democratic candidates. Just ask John F. Kerry, defeated presidential candidate, and Max Cleland, defeated senator, if such attacks work in the post-Sept. 11 political environment.
They will blend together Wright's fulminations with quotes of Michelle Obama saying her husband's candidacy has made her finally proud of America with pictures of Obama himself sans the American flag on his lapel (the latter a point that has thrived in conservative precincts of the Web and talk radio).
In isolation, any of these might be innocuous. But in the totality of a campaign ad or brochure, the attacks could be brutal, replete with an unmistakable racial subtext.
Glenn Thrush, Politico, 8/25/08:
Plastic bags stuffed with big M-I-C-H-E-L-L-E signs are being loaded into the Pepsi Center for a prime-time speech by would-be first lady Michelle Obama. Her tasks are twofold: to introduce herself to the convention as a strong-willed, nonthreatening surrogate who has always been proud of her country - while portraying her Barack as a messy, absent-minded, regular dad who likes playing with his daughters when he's not out inspiring the millions. How she is received could determine how much she is used on the road this fall.
Mike Allen, Politico, 8/25/08:
Michelle Obama set out to reassure voters Monday that she would leave the governing to her husband and would not be a domineering White House presence.
Nia-Malika Henderson, Politico, 3/28/09:
Traditional? Hardly. In fact, Obama's approach so far is decidedly different from the usual model of the modern first lady - pick a platform of two or three issues and stick to it, by and large, for four years.
Yet in the midst of all those themes, it isn't yet clear whether her self-described core messages - about military families, volunteerism, and helping working women balance work and family life - are truly breaking through. Some wonder if she's spreading herself too thin to emerge in the public mind as a leading voice on those topics.
[F]or some, Obama's multi-tasking approach to the job raises the specter of Rosalynn Carter, who was dogged early on by questions of whether she was taking on too much and trying to be all things to all people. Ironically, some are raising the same "too much, too fast?" question about Michelle that they're raising about her husband, the president.
As for her more official three-issue platform, branding expert Hodgkinson said that for Obama, "the broader mission is to install herself in the psyche of the country and then after that take a look at what does she then wants to advance and can reasonably advance. "
Military family issues might not be the right fit, she said.
"When you think about military families it's not a connection you first make with the first lady," she said. "Without that natural pull, it's going to be a harder campaign especially if people's ears are turned elsewhere."
But now that Mrs. Obama has proven to be quite popular, Politico's Jeanne Cummings wants you to think it was just the Republicans who thought she'd be a liability -- just forget all about what Politico wrote about her.