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.
A Politico article cited exit polling data from Republican firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates, in asserting that opposition to health care reform "was the most important issue" in Republican Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts Senate election. Politico made no mention of the fact that some of Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates' clients have expressed opposition to aspects of health care reform legislation, including the U.S. Chamber of Congress, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, and the American Health Care Association.
Politico's Glenn Thrush:
Conservatives are right to trumpet the Brown-Coakley race as a referendum on health care reform -- but it turned out to be a referendum with no decisive victor on the defining issue, according to a postgame analysis by pollster Scott Rasmussen.
... versus Politico's David Catanese:
Scott Brown's opposition to congressional health care legislation was the most important issue that fueled his U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts, according to exit poll data collected following the Tuesday special election.
One possible reason for the disagreement? The exit poll Catanese relied on was conducted by Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, though Catanese doesn't tell readers who commissioned the poll.
The Village was cooing last night over "Game over: The Clintons stand alone," the speculative and gloating hit on the Clintons by Politico's Ben Smith.
Smith breathlessly recounts claims about the Clintons that first appeared in Mark Halperin's new book Game Change, then takes a sneering ha-ha-nobody-likes-the-Clintons tone in noting the purported lack of Clinton loyalists contesting the book's claims.
Now, there's another pretty obvious possible explanation for the lack of an aggressive high-profile response to the book by the Clintons and their former staff. As John Aravosis -- who, if memory serves, did not take a favorable view of Clinton during the presidential primaries -- explains:
I think, rather, that Hillary is being a good Secretary of State. ... I think the lack of response from Team Clinton on this book is because she doesn't want to be a distraction for the President. And if that's the case, she deserves credit.
Now, I don't know if Aravosis is right, or if Smith is. Don't really care, either. But it is striking that Smith never even considers the possibility that "Team Clinton" is laying low for the reason Aravosis suggests. It suggests a tunnel vision on Smith's part, and an eagerness to portray the Clintons as adrift and alone.
One passage in Smith's article was particularly striking to me (emphasis added):
Finally, the depiction of candidate Clinton in "Game Change" suggests that her competitiveness sometimes expressed itself as consuming suspicion.
"I am convinced they also imported people into those caucuses," she reportedly told Penn a month after her concession. In that conversation, which the authors appear to have obtained from a tape-recording or transcript, she reporteldly gave Penn a particularly self-serving assignment:
I want you to start thinking about how I avoid being blamed [for Obama's possible defeat]", Clinton said. "Because I shouldn't be blamed. But they are going to blame me. I somehow didn't do enough."
What's interesting about this passage isn't the substance of Clinton's purported comments. I mean, who really cares if Clinton asked Mark Penn to think about how she could avoid being blamed for an Obama general-election loss? What's remarkable about that?
No, what's interesting is Smith's description of the book's sourcing for the comment. Think about it for a minute: Ben Smith can't tell whether the authors got the quote from a tape-recording or a transcript. That speaks volumes about the authors' shiftiness in describing their sourcing. There's a huge difference between having recordings and having a transcript. If it was a transcript, that would raise all kinds of questions about who produced it and when and how accurate it was.
It says something about the authors that they were ambiguous about which it was, recording or transcript. Just as it says something about them that the source of the famous Clinton/coffee quote isn't described in any way whatsoever:
But Bill [Clinton] then went on, belittling Obama in a manner that deeply offended Kennedy. Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said, A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.
Quick: who's the source of that quote? The Kennedy friend, right? That's what a lot of people have assumed. But read it again: Halperin & Heilemann don't actually say the Kennedy friend was their source. Their source could have been a friend of the friend. Or the friend's gardener. Or the friend's cousin's roommate's high school girlfriend's uncle. We have no idea.
That's bad enough. What's worse is that Halperin and Heilemann's writing is either sloppy or disingenuous enough that it leads the reader to assumptions about the sourcing -- the Kennedy friend; the tape-recording -- that, for whatever reason, the authors don't come out and confirm. They imply sourcing that is stronger than they are willing to assert.
That, to me, is a clear sign of a book -- of authors -- that cannot be trusted. Yet it apparently didn't raise any red flags for Smith, or Cillizza, or the other journalists who have been raving about Smith's piece. And that speaks volumes about the state of political journalism.
UPDATE: Greg Sargent weighs in:
what's mystifying is that virtually none of the media figures lavishing attention on this book have broached the sourcing issue, something you'd think would merit a bit of discussion among professional journalists. Discussion of this has been left almost entirely to bloggers.
On January 1st, Politico ran an article by Ben Smith and Carl Lee headlined "Democrats' worst nightmare: Terrorism on their watch." The "nightmare" in question was not, as you might assume, hundreds or even thousands of dead Americans. No, the "nightmare" was the political fallout of such an event -- and Politico thought that nightmare came true with a Christmas Day attempt to down an airplane:
[T]he White House's response to last week's attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit could rank as one of the low points of the new president's first year. Over the course of five days, Obama's Obama' reaction ranged from low-keyed to reassuring to, finally, a vow to find out what went wrong. The episode was a baffling, unforced error in presidential symbolism, hardly a small part of the presidency, and the moment at which yet another of the old political maxims that Obama had sought to transcend - the Democrats' vulnerability on national security - reasserted itself.
It was the perfect Politico article: It focused on style over substance, it reflected the attacks Republicans like Dick Cheney were making on President Obama, and it forecast political struggles for Democrats based not on any actual data, but on outdated assumptions and stereotypes.
Smith and Lee asserted:
[Obama's] response failed to reckon with the intense public interest in a story of repeated government failures and a near-fatal attack.
the listlessness of an initial response remains a puzzle
Explanations of Obama's low-key reaction in the face of a terror attack include the characteristic caution of a president who resists jumping to conclusions and being pushed to action. They also include the White House's belief - disproven repeatedly in 2009 - that it can evade the clichéd rules of politics, which include a suspicion of Democratic leadership on national security. Only Sunday night, when criticism of the system "worked" comment was not going away, did White House aides realize their approach was not working and that they needed to shift course.
Again: the article included not a single poll result or other actual fact indicating the slightest public concern with Obama's handling of terrorism or national security. Not one. It was simply a regurgitation of GOP spin and conventional wisdom: President Obama's handling of national security must be a political weakness, because he is a Democrat.
And, if a new CNN poll is any indication, Politico's basic premise was wrong. Here's Greg Sargent:
Okay, some new polling from CNN just landed in the old in-box, and it appears to suggest that the public isn't buying claims that Obama's handling of the Christmas Day plot was too detached, cool, or weak:
As you know, a man has been charged with attempting to use an explosive device on Christmas Day to blow up a plane that was flying to Detroit. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama has responded to that incident?
No opinion 4%
I'm sure Politico will now run a piece acknowledging that they got it all wrong and apologizing for running such a piece without any actual facts or data to back it up. Yep, I'm sure that's coming any minute now.
Politico and National Review Online both stated that Republicans forced former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott to resign as Senate majority leader following his praise for Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist campaign for president. In fact, although Lott did resign as majority leader, the Senate Republican caucus later welcomed him back to the Senate leadership, electing him minority whip in 2006.
If you were a reporter, and you were typing up RNC chairman Michael Steele's call for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's resignation over a racially-insensitive remark, would you maybe find room to mention that just a few days ago, Steele used the phrase "honest injun"?
If so, that's another difference between you and the good folks at The Politico.
Politico quotes Steele blasting Reid for having an "old mindset" and "using language ... That harkens back to the 1950s." That might have been a good place to insert a line about Steele's use of "honest injun," don't you think?
Incredibly, Politico's write-up of Steele's call for Reid's resignation includes this passage:
"When Democrats get caught saying racist things, an apology is enough," Steele said on "Meet the Press."
"There has to be a consequence here if the standard is the one that was set in 2002 by Trent Lott."
Even while quoting Michael Steele claiming a pro-Democrat double-standard when it comes to racially-insensitive language, Politico doesn't mention Steele's own insensitive comment, which is less than a week old.
UPDATE: Rather than challenging Steele's assertion of a double-standard by pointing out his own comments, Politico echoes it on their front page:
UPDATE 2: Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza does the same thing:
Steele calls on Reid to resign
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should resign from office after acknowledging that he had described President Obama as "light skinned" and possessing no "Negro dialect" in a conversation with reporters.
"There is this standard where Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their own," said Steele in an interview with "Fox News Sunday. "But if it comes from anyone else, it is racism."
Like Politico, Cillizza doesn't bother to mention Steele's own controversial comment, made less than a week ago.
UPDATE 3: During Steele's appearance on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked him about the "honest injun" comment. That's right -- Politico and Cillizza offered less scrutiny of RNC chairman Michael Steele than did Fox News.
In a January 8 Politico article, Kenneth Vogel writes:
No one has been less forgiving than Glenn Beck when it comes to Democrats with tax problems. Not just the well-known ones like Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, but less serious ones such as Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, whose husband only recently paid off $6,400 in tax liens on his auto repair business, and Nancy Killefer, who withdrew her nomination to be White House chief performance officer, citing a $946.69 tax lien on her Washington home.
Their tax issues are just one indicator of "a culture of corruption among some of the left," Beck declared just last month in a segment on his hugely popular Fox News television show, in which he branded Geithner, Killefer, Solis and a handful of other Obama nominees "tax cheats," whom he wouldn't trust "with my children, let alone my children's future."
Mocking the excuses offered by the nominees, Beck sarcastically intoned "Oh, the tax thing, it was an accident. It was my husband's fault. I didn't do it, he did it. I didn't mean to do it. I was just working hard for the people."
So what to make, then, of the fact that Beck has had his own minor tax problems over the past few years?
Vogel goes on to write that Beck's production company, Mercury Radio Arts, "has at times struggled to keep up with the heightened tax and filing demands accompanying his success."
In October 2007, New York City issued a tax warrant against Mercury Radio Arts, indicating that the company had been penalized $10,927.49 for overdue 2006 general corporation taxes, and still owed $7,111.03, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.
The source with knowledge of the situation explained the issue "arose during the process of the company's transition from Philadelphia to New York" in 2006 - after Beck began hosting a daily news and commentary television show on CNN's Headline News - and was "immediately addressed." Two weeks after the warrant was issued, New York City released it, indicating in a filing obtained by POLITICO that the debt was satisfied.
The source said Mercury's relocation also resulted in confusion over the company's unemployment insurance, culminating in the New York State Workers Compensation Board in July 2007 issuing a judgment obtained by POLITICO assessing an $8,250 fine against Mercury for failure to carry workers' compensation insurance from March 31, 2006 through February 25, 2007.
But, less than three months later, the board issued a notice indicating that the "judgment has been fully satisfied." And board spokesman Brian Keegan explained that the board rescinded the penalty after determining that Mercury had carried the appropriate insurance since it began doing business in New York in 2005 and that Mercury's insurance carrier had merely failed to submit proof of coverage to the board.
Politico's front page:
UPDATE: The Politico article describes how both Democrats and Republicans are approaching potential Congressional hearings about the Christmas day attempt to bring down a plane. But Politico described only the Democrats as "plot[ting]"; no such loaded phrasing was attached to the GOP.
The Plum Line's Greg Sargent gets Politico editor John Harris to defend Politico's uncritical copying-and-pasting of Dick Cheney's attacks on the Obama administration. But Harris's defense doesn't hold water.
Harris writes "[I]t seemed to me that the people who found Cheney's comments most objectionable were the ones who found them most newsworthy." What does that even mean? That the people who found Cheney's comments objectionable objected to them, which means they were noteworthy? That's incredibly circular. Further, Harris is ducking: He ignores a key aspect of the criticism of Politico, which was not merely that Cheney's comments didn't deserve attention, but that Politico failed to place them in appropriate factual context.
Next, Harris suggests that it's ok that Politico uncritically passed along Cheney's attacks because other Politico articles filled in some of the gaps:
If you look at the other stories we ran at the same time as the Cheney quote there was a Josh Gerstein piece leading the site comparing Obama's response to Bush's after the 2001 shoe bomber and debunking the notion that Obama's response was more sluggish. We also had a piece looking at GOP politicization of national security.
If anyone should be aware of the need for individual articles to stand on their own, it should be a Politico editor. How many people sit down and read Politico cover-to-cover? Somewhere in the neighborhood of "none," I'm guessing. If it was ever adequate for a news organization to pass along unfiltered partisan attacks in one report, then add the necessary context in other reports, that time is long gone. It simply doesn't reflect the way people consume news.
Finally, Harris offers this:
Trying to get newsworthy people to say interesting things is part of what we do. Also in December we had a long Q and A with the other prominent former vice president Al Gore. That story might also have looked to some like providing an uncritical platform if you viewed it only isolation.
Another misleading dodge. The Cheney article that drew criticism wasn't the result of a "long Q and A." It was based on what Politico described as a Cheney "statement to Politico." A press release, in other words. Which Politico reporter Mike Allen dutifully copied-and-pasted in its entirety. It isn't a "Q and A" if the person providing the A doesn't face any Q.
Here's the beginning of today's front-page Washington Post article headlined "Republicans see political opportunity in Obama response to failed airplane bomb":
Republicans are jumping on President Obama's response to the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner as the latest evidence that Democrats do not aggressively fight terrorism to protect the country, returning to a campaign theme that the GOP has employed successfully over the past decade.
Well, OK, but it's also a campaign theme that the GOP has employed unsuccessfully over the past decade. Why does the lede pretend otherwise? A more accurate and honest lede would describe it as "a campaign theme that the GOP has employed with mixed success over the past decade." Or, even better, "a campaign theme that the GOP employed successfully in 2002 and 2004, but that has since been unsuccessful."
Buried deep in the article, we see this passage:
Obama's approval rating on national security has remained relatively steady since he took office. In a mid-November Washington Post-ABC News poll, 53 percent of Americans said they approved of the way Obama was handling the threat of terrorism, while 41 percent said they disapproved.
But pollsters warned that the president's standing is tenuous ...
The "pollsters" in question turn out to be one pollster, Republican strategist Neil Newhouse.
Now take a look at the very end of the article -- literally the last sentences, after more nearly 1,100 words:
The Republican strategy is further complicated by the fact that the nation's counterterrorism intelligence and security procedures were created after Sept. 11, 2001, by Bush and congressional Republicans. Current watch-list systems were put in place years ago and have not changed. In addition, the former Guantanamo Bay detainees who showed up in the al-Qaeda leadership in Yemen were released by Bush two years ago.
Two paragraphs earlier, the Post had finally gotten around to telling readers that Republican Senator Jim DeMint has blocked President Obama's nominee to lead the TSA.
So the Post hypes the efficacy of Republican attacks on Democrats over national security despite the fact that in the past two elections those attacks have been spectacularly unsuccessful, buries poll data that shows that President Obama's approval rating on national security has remained steady despite months of Republican attacks, and tacks on at the very end an acknowledgement that the Republican attacks are undermined by their own actions. They must think this is how you win a Pulitzer now that Politico has a spot on the prize committee's board.
If you were typing up Dick Cheney's attack on Barack Obama's response to the Christmas Day attack in which someone tried to blow up a plane bound for Detroit, and hyping the GOP "strategy for next year's midterm congressional elections" of "portray[ing] Democrats as weak on security," would you maybe include mention of the fact that two of the four people who allegedly plotted that attack were released from U.W. custody in 2007, while Dick Cheney was Vice President?
UPDATE: And just to be clear, Allen didn't get an interview with Cheney. No, he describes the source of Cheney's attacks as "Cheney said in a statement to POLITICO" -- which is a fancy way of saying "Cheney said in a press release." So to sum up: Dick Cheney sends Mike Allen a press release, which Mike Allen then copies-and-pastes it into a "news article" without mentioning key facts that would undermine Cheney's press release. Aren't you glad Politico got a spot on the Pulitzer committee?