Analyzing the presidential campaign in the wake of the first debate, Time's Mark Halperin wrote on October 10 that Mitt Romney's sudden "rush to the center" politically had emerged as the key topic - "the central tactical issue"-- for the Barack Obama's team to address. Halperin stressed it would be a challenge for Democrats because the Romney's campaign's "brazen chutzpah knows no bounds."
How odd. At the first debate Romney had so brashly reinvented himself by shifting his position on taxation, immigration and health care away from the Republican Party, that the onus was on Obama to counter Romney's slick maneuver. In other words, Romney's flip-flops, according to Halperin, were a major problem for the Obama campaign, not for the Republican who late in the game unveiled a new political persona. (Farewell "severely conservative.")
It's also telling that on October 10, Halperin considered Romney's makeover into a moderate to be the campaign's dominant issue. Yet one week earlier on the night of the first debate when Halperin graded both participants, the pundit made no reference to Romney's "rush to the center." In real time, Halperin heaped praise on Romney's style "(Started strong, level, and unrattled -- and strengthened as he went along") as well as his substance ("He clearly studied hard.")
Final grade, Romney: A-
Between the first debate and October 10, Romney's brazen flip-flops were not subject to any serious critique from Time's political team. What coverage Romney received for altering his campaign positions (aka his "tack toward the political center") mostly revolved around how conservative activists reacted to Romney's sudden embrace of moderate rhetoric. (They're totally fine with it.) Time was much less interested in what the about-faces said about Romney's candidacy, his character or what his presidency might look like.
The fact that the Republican candidate had radically altered his positions on core domestic issues just one month before Election Day was not treated as a campaign evolution that reflected poorly on Romney. To the contrary, it was largely portrayed as a savvy move by the Republican.
Time's soft peddling of Romney's broad reinvention was typical of how the Beltway press has politely covered the candidate's latest chameleon turn.
Suggesting that the failed solar company Solyndra is representative of a larger trend, Time magazine claimed that clean energy jobs grew slower than the economy as a whole between 2003-2010. In fact, the opposite is true. Time's purported source, the Brookings Institution, actually found that clean energy jobs grew "more than twice as fast as the rest of the economy."
This is not unimportant. Kristol lies very close to the throbbing heart of the Fox News sensibility. And I've heard, from more than a couple of conservative sources, that prominent Republicans have approached Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes about the potential embarrassment that the paranoid-messianic rodeo clown may bring upon their brand. The speculation is that Beck is on thin ice. His ratings are dropping, too--which, in the end, is a good part of what this is all about. But I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a mirror-Olbermann situation soon.
TIME Magazine released its candidates for 2010 Person of the Year, and included in the list of 25 nominees is Fox News' Glenn Beck.
This week Beck launched a falsehood-ridden smear campaign against George Soros and made comments about Soros's experience during the Holocaust that the leader of the Anti-Defamation League called "totally off limits and over the top."
From TIME's 2010 Person of the Year candidate page:
Pundit, proselytizer and paranoid, Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck isn't just the king of cable's 5 p.m. hour anymore. The year 2010 saw Beck pen a politically tinged airport thriller, launch his own online university (featuring such courses as "Presidents You Should Hate"), draw tens of thousands of Tea Party faithful to D.C. for his "Rally to Restore Honor" and help motivate a devoted cadre of Obama haters to return control of the House to the Republicans. At a time when the political echo chamber is more cacophonous than ever, the weeping wild man is cutting through the din and amassing a media empire that takes in tens of millions of dollars each year.
Announcing that the president "is being politically crushed in a vise," Mark Halperin delivers an extraordinarily condescending scolding in Time this week. The interesting part is that Halperin's obituary for Obama, penned on behalf of Washington, D.C. "elites" who all know the president is cooked, comes in the wake of Obama's polling rebound last week. (See here and here.)
But Halperin makes no mention of that fact. He's too busy telling us what all the really, really smart people know: Obama is in over his head. Worse, he's "clueless" as to "how to get along with or persuade members" of the media! So Halperin rolls over every conceivable RNC, anti-Obama talking point.
But this one to me seemed just bizarre:
Throughout the year, we have been treated to Obama-led attacks on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Congressman Joe Barton (for his odd apology to BP), John Boehner (for seeking the speakership -- or was it something about an ant?) and Fox News (for everything). Suitable Democratic targets in some cases, perhaps, but not worth the time of a busy Commander in Chief.
That's right, Obama, in the eyes of media elites like Halperin, is not allowed to fight back against his political opponents. Why? Because it's unseemly. Apparently it's not that unseemly when his opponents accuse him of being a racist and a Nazi and tyrant and a liar and a terrorist-sympathizer and foreign-born. It's unseemly when Obama answers his critics. It's unseemly when he defends himself.
This is really just astonishing. Media elites like Halperin have been witness to the most unhinged and hateful and sustained attack on a sitting president in modern American history. Their take-away after nearly two years of this hate-fest? It's Obama's fault. And worse, it's his fault when he defends himself.
As I've previously explained, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz has a rather spotty track record when it comes to disclosing the conflicts of interest that arise as a result of his dual employment by the Post and by CNN. Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander has scolded Kurtz for failing to disclose his financial relationship with CNN when writing about the cable channel.
But Kurtz's column today serves as a reminder that even if Kurtz were to disclose his CNN employment every time he writes about CNN, that would not be adequate. He should disclose it every time he writes about a CNN competitor as well -- and every time he writes about a member of CNN's corporate family.
Today, for example, Kurtz devotes the bulk of his column to praising Time magazine. Well, Time is owned Time Warner, which also owns CNN. But Kurtz didn't reveal for readers the fact that the magazine he gushed over is a corporate sibling to the company that pays him to host Reliable Sources.
Time's Mark Halperin, explaining an obvious truth:
The Sherrod story is a reminder — much like the 2004 assault on John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — that the old media are often swayed by controversies pushed by the conservative new media. In many quarters of the old media, there is concern about not appearing liberally biased, so stories emanating from the right are given more weight and less scrutiny. Additionally, the conservative new media, particularly Fox News Channel and talk radio, are commercially successful, so the implicit logic followed by old-media decisionmakers is that if something is gaining currency in those precincts, it is a phenomenon that must be given attention. Most dangerously, conservative new media will often produce content that is so provocative and incendiary that the old media find it irresistible.
There's nothing about that statement that should be even remotely controversial. Yet many people -- like, say, the Washington Post's ombudsman -- don't understand it. Conclusion: Those who do understand it need to say it more frequently and more forcefully.
Stein's piece focuses on the cultural changes immigration has brought to his hometown of Edison, N.J. since he grew up there in the 1970's and 80's:
"I am very much in favor of immigration everywhere in the U.S. except Edison, N.J. The mostly white suburban town I left when I graduated from high school in 1989 — the town that was called Menlo Park when Thomas Alva Edison set up shop there and was later renamed in his honor — has become home to one of the biggest Indian communities in the U.S., as familiar to people in India as how to instruct stupid Americans to reboot their Internet routers."
Several organizations have responded with outrage, criticizing TIME's decision to publish the article. For example, the advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) issued a statement and online petition in response to Stein's piece.
"Most offensive is his remarkably blasé tone about the discrimination and hate crimes that targeted the New Jersey South Asian Community during the 1980s," the SAALT statement reads.
As Gellman notes, both TIME and Stein have since apologized for the piece:
TIME responds: We sincerely regret that any of our readers were upset by Joel Stein's recent humor column "My Own Private India." It was in no way intended to cause offense.
Joel Stein responds: I truly feel stomach-sick that I hurt so many people. I was trying to explain how, as someone who believes that immigration has enriched American life and my hometown in particular, I was shocked that I could feel a tiny bit uncomfortable with my changing town when I went to visit it. If we could understand that reaction, we'd be better equipped to debate people on the other side of the immigration issue.
Today, Time.com presents a slideshow titled "The Dirty Dozen: Who to Blame for the Oil Spill." Time.com claims that "There's no shortage of folks to blame for the spill." Unfortunately for them, there is a "shortage" of logic employed in their rationale for ranking President Obama eighth on the list. Their explanation -- in its entirety -- is:
His Administration has now begun strengthening federal oversight of offshore drilling, but the President also proposed opening vast new tracts for such production shortly before Deepwater Horizon exploded.
If someone has a plausible argument for why Obama proposing an expansion of offshore drilling on March 31 makes him at fault for an oil spill that began on April 20, I'd really like to hear it. The Deepwater Horizon rig was "placed into service" in 2001 and finished drilling the well in question in September 2009. Unless Obama's announcement triggered weeks of drunken partying on the rig which caused its destruction (somewhat unlikely), Time's commentary doesn't really hold water.
Time's Joe Klein does a commendable job pointing out some of the flaws in Fred Barnes' Wall Street Journal column yesterday. Alas, Barnes' foolishness proved too much for one person to catalogue, so some loose ends remain.
Barnes central premise is that President Obama wants, or should want, Republicans to gain control of Congress, because that will make it easier to cut spending and thus waltz to re-election.
That's silly because, as Klein notes, "The Republicans have shown no--I mean, zero--interest in cutting the budget in the past. They didn't do it under Reagan; they didn't do it under Bush Junior. Quite the opposite, they exploded the budget deficit with wars and tax cuts." Klein also points out that Barnes' focus on domestic discretionary spending is "chump change" in the context of what Barnes describes as a "debt crisis."
But there's another fundamental flaw with Barnes' argument: His repeated suggestion that trimming domestic spending would pave the way for Obama's reelection:
If Mr. Obama wants to avert a fiscal crisis and win re-election in 2012, he needs House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be removed from her powerful post. A GOP takeover may be the only way.
Over the past 50 years, it should be no surprise which president has the best record for holding down discretionary spending. It was President Reagan. But who was second best? President Clinton, a Democrat. His record of frugality was better than Presidents Nixon, Ford and both Bushes. Mr. Clinton couldn't have done it if Republicans hadn't won the House and Senate in the 1994 election. They insisted on substantial cuts, he went along and then whistled his way to an easy re-election in 1996.
Mr. Obama's re-election to a second term is heavily dependent on his ability to deal effectively with the fiscal mess.
Incredibly, Barnes never once makes any mention of the economy's effect on Obama's reelection prospects, or the effect it had on Clinton's in 1996. Didn't mention unemployment, either. In Barnes' telling, the nation's fiscal condition is key to a president's re-election and cutting spending is the way to win. But in actual electoral history, voters' finances are more important than the government's finances. Clinton's 1996 victory, for example, came after the unemployment rate, which ranged from 6.5 to 7.3 percent for his first year in office, had fallen to the mid-5s for two full years.
Having ignored the fact that voters tend to vote based on their financial condition, not the government's, Barnes apparently felt free to ignore the effect his proposed spending cuts would have on the economy. Just completely ignored it. (Number of mentions of the words "jobs," "employment," "unemployment" in Barnes column: 0.) Given the tendency of economists to argue that cutting government spending is not exactly the best way to kick-start the economy, Barnes' advice would seem to make for bad policy as well as bad politics.
(One last problem with Barnes' contention that a GOP takeover of Congress would be good for Obama: Republicans are already clamoring for investigations of complete non-scandals, and the last time we had a Republican Congress and a Democrat in the White House, the GOP handed out subpoenas like they were lollipops, even going so far as to investigate the White House cat. Arguing that a GOP congress would be good for Obama without noting the likelihood of frivolous, partisan investigations is like arguing that BP has been good for the Gulf of Mexico without noting all that oil in the water.)
UPDATE: Brendan Nyhan drops some science on Barnes.
During the 2008 presidential election we noted that Time's Mark Halperin had offered up his list of "Things McCain Can Do to Try to Beat Obama" which happened to include attacks on the future president's race and name:
In a February 25 entry to his website, The Page, Time magazine political analyst Mark Halperin posted a list titled "Things McCain Can Do to Try to Beat Obama That Clinton Cannot," in which he suggested that McCain "can ... [a]llow some supporters to risk being accused of using the race card when criticizing Obama" and "can ...[e]mphasize Barack Hussein Obama's unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism."
In addition, Halperin suggested that McCain can "[l]ink biography (experience/courage) and leadership (straight talk) to a vision animated by detail -- accentuating Obama's relative lack of specificity." In doing so, Halperin not only failed to offer any examples of McCain's "specificity" "relative" to Obama, he repeated the media myth that McCain is a straight talker, despite his growing list of falsehoods.
Well, Halperin is back with another list designed to rescue Republicans. This one though focuses on the 2010 mid-term elections and encourages the GOP to, "focus the broad message relentlessly on Obama's spending policies" and to come up with a "2010 version of the Contract with America."
Tellingly, Halperin writes at length in the post about what he perceives the Democratic Party's plan for the 2010 mid-terms to be -- it's the Republican Party however, that Halperin saves his political consulting for... as if the GOP didn't have a plan of its own already.
From Halperin's posting at Time's The Page blog (emphasis added):
As the primaries proved, it is hard to get organized without a clear leader, and therein lies the greatest asymmetry between the two parties right now: Democrats are led clearly, in public and in private, by Barack Obama and his political team; Republicans remain essentially leaderless. (Among the GOP's ever-revolving options: RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Newt Gingrich, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour.) Sure, there are Democratic intraparty disagreements, but in terms of fundraising, allocation of resources, political and policy strategy, coordination with allied interest groups, and message, the Democrats have a smooth, efficient system already in place. The Republicans do not. At the top of their to-do list should be tuning out the underlying bedlam and pulling together a workable party plan.
On the rest of the list: stay away from the kinds of fights — such as the one Dr. Paul started in Kentucky with his comments about Civil rights — that can cast the party as extreme. Take care in devising and promoting a 2010 version of the Contract with America. Play down expectations for success in public, while being wildly enthusiastic behind the scenes. Most of all, focus the broad message relentlessly on Obama's spending policies — not on Democratic ethics, competence, Supreme Court nominees or anything else the voting public considers mere luxury items when economic woes are front and center.
Last Tuesday's results gave Democrats reason to be more optimistic about their chances in the midterms, and Republicans reason to worry. In recent years, the words "organized" and "disciplined" have not been too often associated with the Democratic Party, but in the Age of Obama, they represent the biggest difference between the two sides. With just five months left, closing the gap with the Democrats' sizeable organizational advantage has got to be the GOP's main to-do target.
One of the most predictable elements of any political controversy is the delayed rush by reporters and pundits to disparage the strategic and tactical response by the politician at the center of the controversy. I say "delayed rush" because these assessments so often come well after the fact -- when it is too late to be proven wrong, in other words -- but then come in a flurry.
Generally, the assessments come in one of two basic flavors: Either the politician made a mistake in failing to address the controversy, or the politician shouldn't have addressed it, which only gave the story "oxygen." Each comes in various permutations: Addressing the controversy can mean, among other things, a forceful denial accompanied by aggressive counter-attacks or a prompt and abject apology.
One great thing about waiting a week to say John Doe bungled this controversy by failing to immediately apologize or John Doe bungled this controversy by responding to the allegations, which only made them more newsworthy is that you can no longer be proven wrong, as you could if you made a prescriptive assessment on Day One. Another great thing about making such an assessment is that everyone has heard variations of each criticism often enough that it will ring true. Yet another is that there really are plenty of situations that would be best handled with an aggressive counterattack or a clear apology, and there really are plenty of situations that would best be handled by ignoring them until they go away due to lack of oxygen.
But that last part is what makes so many of the after-the-fact assessments so … well, empty and frustrating. See, sometimes "admit wrongdoing quickly and cleanly" is the right strategy, and sometimes "admit nothing, deny everything, make counter-allegations" is better. The trick is knowing which is best for a given situation.
Anyway, here's Time's Michael Scherer today, writing under the header "Blumenthal's Damage Control Bungle":
Earlier, Eric Boehlert (and Time's Michael Scherer) noted Politico's efforts to hype campaign contributions Barack Obama's campaigns received from employees of BP. I'm going to spell out two pieces of context the Politico article was missing, because I think it's an excellent example of how not to report on campaign contributions:
Obama biggest recipient of BP cash
While the BP oil geyser pumps millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama and members of Congress may have to answer for the millions in campaign contributions they've taken from the oil and gas giant over the years.
During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records.
So, Politico puts Obama in the headline and the lede because he has received more money from people who work for BP than any other elected official. But if you're trying to assess how much influence a company may have over a politician, looking at raw contribution amounts can be badly misleading. You need to consider how much of the politician's war chest the company provided. And that's where it becomes clear that the focus on Obama is absurd.
See, Barack Obama has raised $799 million for his campaigns. The $77,051 he got from BP employees is a drop in the bucket -- just one one-hundredth of one percent of his total campaign cash.
Meanwhile, Rep. Don Young -- mentioned only in passing by Politico -- has taken $73,300 from BP during his time in Congress, out of a total of $14.9 million raised. So BP contributions account for about one half of one percent of Young's fundraising -- still not a staggering amount, but enough to make BP contributions to Young far, far more significant than BP contributions to Obama.
The way Politico reported the BP contributions -- focusing on raw numbers, without putting them in context of the recipients' total fundraising -- is typical of the media's approach to campaign finance stories, but it isn't particularly useful.
Time's annual list of the 100 "people who most affect our world" is out, and includes a few oddities in the "Leaders" category. Like Sarah Palin. Who, exactly, is Sarah Palin "leading"? Even a plurality of tea partiers doesn't think she'd be a good president.
Weirder still: Scott Brown.
What, exactly, makes Scott Brown influential? Quick, name something -- anything -- he's done since becoming a Senator. Or before, for that matter (No, a Cosmo spread decades ago doesn't count.) Brown is a freshman Senator who joined the Senate in the middle of a term, has less than six months of Senate experience under his belt, and is a member of one of the smallest Senate minorities in modern American history. It isn't a shot at Brown personally to recognize that he simply isn't -- can't be, really -- particularly influential.
So, apparently, we're supposed to believe Brown is influential simply because of the fact that he became a Senator, rather than because of anything he has done as Senator. And, indeed, that's what everybody said at the time, after all -- the media quickly announced that Brown's election marked the death of health care reform.
Then health care reform became the law of the land.
Still, Time pretends that Scott Brown is more influential than every elected Democratic politician other than Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. More influential than Mitch McConnell.
Each year, Time magazine announces its Time 100 -- a list of what it purports to be the world's most influential "leaders, artists, innovators and icons." These influentials are then profiled in the magazine by other influentials.
Media Matters has already looked at Sarah Palin's send up of fellow Fox Newser Glenn Beck (she couldn't go four words without lying) but it isn't Palin's only foray on the Time 100 this year. Center for American Progress' Eric Alterman looks at Ted Nugent's profile of the former half-term Governor and absolutely destroys the right-wing rocker:
"We know that bureaucrats and, even more, Fedzilla, are not the solution; they are the problem. I'd be proud to share a moose-barbecue campfire with the Palin family anytime, so long as I can shoot the moose." That's Ted Nugent on Sarah Palin from the current "100 Most Influential People in the World" cover package of Time.
I ask you, dear reader, has any other allegedly reputable magazine ever published a stupider article about a putatively serious subject? Nugent also provides a stirring character reference for the quitter of the Alaska governorship: "The tsunami of support proves that Sarah, 46, represents what many Americans know to be common and sensible. Her rugged individualism, self-reliance and a Herculean work ethic resonate now more than ever in a country spinning away from these basics that made the U.S.A. the last best place. We who are driven to be assets to our families, communities and our beloved country connect with the principles that Sarah Palin embodies."
This coming from a man who terms Hillary Clinton "a worthless bitch," believes "Barack Hussein Obama should be put in jail," and whose credentials in the family values department include once attempting to become the legal guardian of a minor in order to have a romantic relationship with her. He also has been ordered by the courts to pay child support to the mother of his illegitimate son whom he has never met.
I wonder if Time's fact-checkers, aware of Nugent's penchant for threatening innocent people with guns, were afraid to do even rudimentary fact-checking on this brilliant essay. In fact, the "tsunami of support" for Palin Nugent cites is barely a puddle. As David Cay Johnston reports in his Tax Notes column, based on the latest national polls done by reputable survey organizations and taken shortly before the dreaded tax day, fewer than one in four Americans view Palin favorably. Her approval rating of 24 percent does not even reach half the level of the Internal Revenue Service, which earned a 49 percent rating. (The so-called "Tea Party" movement came in somewhere in the middle at 36 percent, while the IRS was statistically tied with President Obama.)
You can find more on Nugent here.