The lament has spread all across the media spectrum this week, as the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri unfolds and people search for answers to the police killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown.
"Obama Should Go To Ferguson, Pronto," urged a Businessweek headline, beseeching the president to fill a leadership vacuum on the ground in Missouri. "Obama, can't you see black anger in Ferguson?" asked Marc Lamont Hill in a CNN essay. Writing at Daily Beast, Stuart Stevens lamented that Obama had "lost faith in his voice in Ferguson"; that he was "increasingly uncomfortable with the role of healer-in-chief," while the Washington Post's Joel Achenbach urged Obama to give another "national address" on race because that's what the crisis demands.
Maureen Dowd's New York Times column today's mocks Obama as a "the most ordinary of men" with a "bored-bird-in-a-gilded-cage attitude" who is unwilling to engage with the issue of racial strife.
Most of the of the do-something commentary has adopted the same premise: Obama could help the Ferguson crisis by giving a speech about race or addressing the situation more forcefully, but he won't. He won't use his powers. (See: The Green Lantern theory that Obama could convince a recalcitrant GOP Congress to pass legislation if he only tried.)
That premise though, and most of the commentary, completely ignores the corrosive role of the right-wing media in America, how it has spent years trying to silence and intimidate Obama on the topic of race, and how it's used some of the most offensive, guttural rhetoric and personal attacks to do so.
Through Obama's two terms, most of the Beltway press has remained strangely silent about the astonishingly ugly race baiting that now passes for mainstream conservative media commentary. That same press corps is now turning a blind eye to the tangible damage that kind of rhetoric has done to public debate, or the chance of public debate, and how the right-wing media has tried to implement a heckler's veto on Obama; to effectively shout him down.
It's fine for pundits to yearn for open dialogue and rhetorical leadership from the White House. It's less helpful for them to ignore the unpleasant realities of nasty partisan politics in the age of Obama. It does no good to pretend race baiting hasn't become a badge of honor and a professional path to success for lots of right-wing pundits.
For Obama to aggressively insert himself into the Ferguson story now is to invite a right-wing media hurricane that would likely rage for weeks. How do we know? Because again and again we've seen President Obama's attempts to engage on similar issues act as a lightning rod for these angry voices, quickly making it impossible to focus on the pressing issue at hand.
The audible gasps and groans seemed to come from every direction of the Outnumbered studio on Fox News yesterday when the rotating cast of four female hosts heard Fox contributor Dr. Keith Ablow deride First Lady Michelle Obama's weight.
Covering the well-beaten, right-wing media path of denouncing Obama's efforts to improve nutritional habits of American children via improved government standard for school lunches ("She's kind of annoying that way"), Ablow suddenly took the conversation down a bizarre path, even by Fox News standards: He dropped a cavalier, contemptuous and deeply sexist stink bomb by suggesting the First Lady should "drop a few" if she wanted to be a credible spokeswoman on nutrition: "How well could she be eating? She needs to drop a few. I'm telling you, let's be honest. We're taking nutrition advice from who?"
With both arms sprayed over the middle of Outnumbered's curved couch, a lounging Ablow suggested that because Barack Obama is skinny, he'd be willing to take nutritional advice from him, but not from his (fat) wife who's supposedly sneaking midnight snacks in the White House kitchen.
And with that, the room erupted.
"You did not say that," responded a stunned co-host Harris Faulkner after hearing the "lose a few" put-down. "Oh my goodness." Ablow's comment was so crass and debasing Faulkner wondered out loud if the show was "on a seven-second delay" so the weight-loss denigration could be bleeped before it reached the ears of viewers. (It was not.)
And that was the just the beginning. Responding to Ablow, co-host Kennedy quickly launched into an impression of a chauvinist pig (she gave him a thick Brooklyn accent): "Hey Michelle Obama, she needs to lose the junk in her trunk."
Faulkner again to Ablow: "Oh my goodness gracious."
Meanwhile, Kimberly Guilfoyle, sitting at the far end of the couch, simply shook her head, and when Sandra Smith tried to continue the nutrition conversation she admitted she was at a "loss of words" following Ablow's abject insult. Yes, Ablow unfurled his sexist, weight-based attack on a program hosted by four professional women.
Soon after, Fox News' senior meteorologist Janice Dean took to Twitter to brush Ablow back even further: "please keep your comments about women 'dropping a few' to yourself. Sincerely, all women."
Right-wing publicist and author Craig Shirley doesn't like a new book about Ronald Reagan written by award-winning (and liberal) historian Rick Perlstein. So the conservative publicist has threatened to sue for $25 million in damages and has asked for all copies of the book to be "destroyed," claiming that with Invisible Bridge: The Fall Of Richard Nixon And The Rise of Ronald Reagan, Perlstein's guilty of plagiarism for paraphrasing facts Shirley had previously reported in his own book about Reagan.
But of course, paraphrasing is not the basis for copyright infringement and that's certainly not what constitutes plagiarism.
Reviewing the supposed examples of infringement cited by Shirley's lawyers, Jesse Walker, books editor for the libertarian Reason magazine, concludes:
Facts are not copyrightable, and one pair of similar sentences does not an infringement make. I don't see a dollar's worth of damages here, let alone 25 million.
Instead, the attack on Perlstein seems to be more about partisan politics and the clash over who gets to write the history of Reagan and less to do with allegations of misappropriating work. (Perlstein references Shirley's work in the Invisible Bridge acknowledgements and cites Shirley more than 100 times in the book's online endnotes.) Conservatives have previously showered Perlstein's conservative-movement books in praise, but, "this time Perlstein is writing about Ronald Reagan. Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan--Perlstein has moved from covering a minor saint, to a martyr, to God," as Slate's Dave Weigel explains.
Nonetheless, with an unfortunate assist from the New York Times this week, which helped legitimize the dubious plagiarism allegation via a he-said/he-said accounting of the controversy, Shirley's attention-grabbing accusation has received a wider airing. Indeed, the Times article insists Shirley's dubious claim of plagiarism effectively "casts a shadow over the release" of Invisible Bridge, which is precisely the storyline movement conservatives want to create this week. (Separately, the Times, in a glowing review, recently labeled the book an "epic work.")
The Times' misguided new coverage seemed to draw a rebuke from the paper's own Paul Krugman. Denouncing the Perlstein smear campaign as a "grotesque" "sliming," and dismissing the plagiarism charges as "spurious," Krugman stressed that in cases where professional reputations are attacked via unsubstantiated claims, "this tactic should be punctured by the press, not given momentum with "opinions differ on shape of the planet" reporting."
And that's precisely what the Times dispatch failed to do in this instance.
Yes or no? Up or down?
It's been a confusing week for professional Obama critics. Suddenly confronted with the topic of impeachment and busy issuing not-quite-believable denials that trying to drive the Democratic president from office has ever been a serious pursuit of the Republican Party or its most aggressive boosters, many members of the far-right press seemed caught off guard by recent developments.
Angered by the fact the White House is highlighting the GOP's ongoing embrace of impeachment and suggesting Republicans might act on the idea if they win control of the U.S. Senate, conservatives have tried to quiet their own crowd, apparently concerned about optics.
But the fever swamp has never been about optics. It's about whipping as many people as possible into a state of narrow-minded outrage on a daily basis. And if that means dipping into the impeachment pool, then so be it.
Now press partisans are caught in no-man's land. Seeing the fundraising success Democrats have had off impeachment, conservative critics angrily deny that Republicans have any interest in impeachment. Yet at the same time they're part of a media movement that thinks Obama should be impeached. (He's a lawless tyrant, in case you hadn't heard.) The contradiction has led to a week of confusion and missteps as the conservative media struggle with how transparent they should be in their loathing of the president, especially if there are indications Democrats are using that rage to their advantage, both politically and financially.
So almost overnight there's been a movement to hush the most strident critics; to urge everyone to take it down a notch because it just doesn't look good.
On Fox News, The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld dismissed impeachment as a "stunt" that's "tossed out by people addicted to [the] splash those stunts make." What kind of people? "Bloggers" and "talking heads," he said. Co-host Andrea Tantaros agreed, bemoaning the fact "There's a movement in talk radio and on the right to profiteer from these wild ideas." (Note that Tantaros still thinks Obama might do something "worthy of impeachment" just to bait Republicans into it.") And colleague Eric Bolling insisted even talk radio hosts had "backed off" the topic because they realized it "sounded a little bit crazy."
But nobody puts Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin in the corner, so the angry talkers haven't backed down from the impeachment charge. (Levin: "Here's the dead truth -- Obama should be impeached.") And that leaves damage control agents like Tantaros looking a bit foolish: How can impeachment deniers claim the topic's not being treated seriously when two of the most popular radio hosts in right-wing America are doing just that, and demanding their millions of listeners do the same? (For a cheat sheet of Republican politicians who also have also pushed impeachment, see here.)
And that's been the confusing part: The claim nobody on the right's been promoting impeachment (it's all a liberal conspiracy), vs. the acknowledgement that okay, some people have but they're really misguided and irresponsible.
Hitting on what has become one of the Beltway media's favorite narratives of 2014, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza this week bemoaned the fact that increased polarization within the electorate, fueled by spiraling partisanship, means "we are increasingly moving toward two entirely separate Americas, a liberal one and a conservative one." According to the writer, we're two separate, stubborn nations unwilling to communicate or compromise.
This type of analysis has been repeated often in recent weeks, in part because of an influential Pew Research study that fueled a larger media discussion about polarization. But this focus on polarization misses the larger point and lets the GOP off the hook. Especially when you look at the polling on crucial issues facing the nation; issues President Obama has tried to get Congress to act on for years.
The Democratic president's been met with an unprecedented brand of Republican obstructionism, which the press has often been too timid to name. Rather than call the malady what it is, media now embrace claims of cultural "polarization" to explain away the radical GOP streak.
The press throws up its hands and announces the whole situation is hopeless: Americans are so divided there's no way anything can get done in Washington because gridlocked politicians simply mirror the voters' disdain for compromise. But by throwing up their hands, journalists basically absolve Republicans for adopting their radical say-no strategy, while ignoring the fact that there exists agreement among voters on a wide range of pressing issues.
Immigration reform, climate change, war, extended unemployment benefits, minimum wage, and tighter gun laws are all part of a laundry list of issues where a working majority of Americans agree. Meaning, Obama enjoys widespread support for many of the tenets of his legislative agenda, but Republicans block everything in Congress. ("Legislative constipation," is how Vanity Fair's James Wolcott describes it.) The press, decrying gridlock without adequately assigning blame, insists that as a country we're deeply, deeply divided, and that's why nothing gets done in Washington.
But we're not.
Australia last week became "the world's first developed nation to repeal carbon laws that put a price on greenhouse-gas emissions." The country's carbon tax, which has been a passionate political topic there for more almost a decade, was finally instituted in 2012. But after a new conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott, was elected in September 2013, the carbon tax was aggressively targeted and then successfully repealed by Australia's Senate on July 17.
The retreat represents a win for climate deniers in Australia who dismiss the looming dangers of climate change and the science behind it. (It's "absolute crap," claimed Abbott, echoing Tea Party-type rhetoric in the United States.) It's a win for energy and mining interests who claimed the Australian tax was too burdensome
The retreat also signals a victory for Rupert Murdoch, the Australian native whose media empire, News Corp., did everything in its power to elect Abbott last fall and to attack the tax. Days before the repeal vote, Murdoch spoke out again against climate change science, telling an Australian interviewer it should be treated with great skepticism. Murdoch's dismissal stands in stark contrast to his 2007 proclamation that "climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats."
Murdoch's anti-climate change crusade in Australia certainly mirrors his company's commitment to misinformation in America, and highlights the dangers of having news media moguls who are dedicated to propaganda efforts regarding pressing public policy issues. (Murdoch is currently eyeing a bid to buy media giant Time Warner.) Indeed, Murdoch's media properties in Australia have been shown repeatedly to be wildly unfair and unbalanced when it comes to the topic of climate change.
Australia's carbon emissions repeal represents a dramatic U-turn for a country that just a few years ago was seen as a leader on the global issue under the guidance of previous Labor Party prime minsters, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. "The Brookings Institution has previously described Australia as an "important laboratory and learning opportunity" for U.S. thinking about climate change and energy policy, as it was one of the first major countries outside Europe to adopt a carbon price," The Wall Street Journal recently noted.
In the thirteen months directly prior to kicking off his Republican presidential campaign in February 2007, Rudy Giuliani earned more than $11 million dollars giving paid speeches. The former New York City Mayor, who was thrust into the national and international spotlight after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, typically charged between $100,000 and $300,000 for his speeches and spoke more than 120 times.
According to one speaking contract published at the time, Giuliani required clients pay for meals and lodging for himself and four travel companions. Giuliani required a two-bedroom suite (with a king-sized bed) for his overnight stays; a suite preferably located on an upper floor with a balcony. Clients also had to pay for four additional rooms to house Giuliani's entourage.
As for travel, the contract stipulated that clients "should provide Mr. Giuliani with first class travel expenses for up to 5 people to include a private plane." What kind of private plane? "Please note that the private aircraft MUST BE a Gulfstream IV or bigger."
Note that along with the $11 million in speaking fees Giuliani pocketed in 2006, he also earned $8 million on the speech circuit in 2002. If Giuliani was able to average between $8 and $11 million in speaking fees from 2002 until he announced his candidacy in early 2007, he would have earned more than $40 million giving speeches in the five years prior to his White House campaign. (Speaking fees represented only part of his income.)
What's newsworthy about that today? Simply the fact that back in 2007 when a wealthy Republican became a presidential hopeful the Beltway press didn't care that he'd earned an eight-figure income giving 45-minute speeches. (With an additional 15 minutes allotted for Q & A.) Indeed, Giuliani's financial revelations barely registered with pundits and reporters who gave the information little time and attention. The Washington Post, for example, published just three mentions of Giuliani's multi-million dollar "speaking fees."
The press certainly never elevated the issue to a defining narrative for the Republican's campaign. Perhaps they realized there was nothing intrinsically wrong with a speaker being paid what organizations are willing to offer them.
Compare that collective shoulder shrug with the nearly month-long media fascination still churning over Hillary Clinton's speaking fees; a fascination that's part of a larger, misguided media obsession over the issue of Clinton wealth. ("Speaking fee" articles and columns published by Post so far this year regarding Clinton? 28.)
Thirty months after flaming out on the Republican primary campaign trail, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose aborted 2012 run logged a fifth-place finish in Iowa and a sixth-place showing in New Hampshire before being suspended, is suddenly enjoying a Beltway media resurgence. With the issue of America's border security and the influx of unaccompanied children generating headlines, Perry has been out front criticizing President Obama, and the governor's performance is earning raves.
"People love his ass" is what "one Republican operative close to Perry" told Buzzfeed (anonymously). On The McLaughlin Group this weekend, so many panelists sang Perry's praise ("shrewd," "winning," "absolutely terrific") that host John McLaughlin announced, "a star is born."
Time has been in full swoon mode lately, touting Perry as "swaggering," "handsome and folksy," and insisting he's "refreshed his message, retooled his workout routine and retrained his sights toward the national stage." Meanwhile CNN's Peter Hamby claimed Perry is "completely underrated" as a 2016 contender. Why? Because "other than Chris Christie, it's hard to think of another Republican candidate with the kind of charm and personal affability, and frankly just good political skills, that Rick Perry has."
Keep in mind, Perry recently compared gays to alcoholics (and then acknowledged he "stepped right in it"), and suggested that the Obama White House might somehow be "in on" the wave of immigrant refugees crossing the U.S. border. He also became something an punch line last week when this sourpuss photo of his meeting with Obama lit up Twitter:
As for the issue of border security, Fox News' own Brit Hume noted on Sunday, Perry's demand that the National Guard be sent to patrol the border doesn't make much sense since, by law, Guardsmen aren't allowed to apprehend any of the refugee children coming into the country. (Children who are turning themselves over to Border Patrol agents.)
Apparently none of that matters when the press coalesces around a preferred narrative: Perry is hot and perfectly positioned for 2016. (He won the week!)
Perry's soft press shouldn't surprise close observers of the Beltway press corps. It's part of a larger media double standard where Republican campaign trail losers now routinely get treated like winners. (Think: John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Mitt Romney). The trend also extends to Republican policy failures, like the discredited architects of the U.S.'s invasion of Iraq, who have been welcomed back onto the airwaves to pontificate about Iraq, despite the fact they got almost everything wrong about the invasion eleven years ago.
And no, the same courtesy is not extended to Democrats. John Kerry did not camp out on the Sunday talk shows after losing to President Bush in 2004 and become a sort of permanent, television White House critic, the way McCain did after getting trounced by Obama in 2008.
When is the U.S. economy not a topic worth addressing on the Sunday morning talk shows? Apparently when there's lots of good news to discuss.
At least it seemed that way this past Sunday when all four of the network Sunday morning talk shows ignored last week's surprisingly strong jobs report, which indicated nearly 300,000 news jobs were created in the month of June. Consequently, the unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent, the lowest level since September 2008.
The jobs surge meant America had logged its highest January-through-June job-growth rate since 1999. (The U.S. has added 1.4 million jobs since December, making it the best half-year since the recession ended.) And over the past 52 months of jobs growth, businesses have created nearly 10 million jobs.
Also ignored by all the Sunday hosts and guests was the fact that the Dow Jones stock exchange on Thursday for the first time surpassed the 17,000 mark, "another in a string of records for the index that has lifted portfolios in a five-year bull market for stocks," according to the Associated Press. Indeed, "The Dow has climbed more than 10,500 points since its Great Recession low of 6,547.05 on March 9, 2009."
More from the AP:
The jobs report is the latest piece of data to show the economy continues to improve steadily. On Wednesday, payroll processor ADP said private businesses added 281,000 jobs in June, up from 179,000 in May. Also this week, the Institute for Supply Management said the U.S. manufacturing expanded for the 13th consecutive month.
Keep in mind, none of this was discussed on Face The Nation, Fox News Sunday, Meet The Press, or This Week; shows which, in theory, debate and analyze the weeks' most important news developments. But do they?
Two weeks ago I noted the same Sunday shows completely ignored news of the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, an alleged ringleader of the Benghazi terror attack of 2012. For nearly two years, the topic of Benghazi had been endlessly debated and discussed on the Sunday shows via hundreds of segments, very often casting the Obama administration in a negative light. But when good news emerged about apprehending a possible key suspect, the Sunday shows all turned away.
The Benghazi capture reflected positively on the Obama administration. It was news that the Republican Party did not seem happy about. And it was news that the Sunday shows deemed to be un-newsworthy. Coincidence?
Increasingly, the Sunday shows seem to revolve around inviting Republican guests onto the shows and letting them vent about whatever they think the Obama administration is doing wrong. Period. But when the U.S. economy shows signs of robust growth? When the stock market continues to hit new historic highs? Republicans aren't very interested in talking about Obama successes so, it turns out, neither are the Sunday shows.
Here are some of the topics that were discussed this week on the Sunday programs, instead of strong employment gains and an historic stock market performance:
*Summer reading lists
*"The story of trailblazing chef Leah Chase [who] took a stand against Jim Crow"
*Conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza new documentary, America
*A poll suggesting Obama is "worst president" since World War II
*The World Cup soccer tournament
*Martha-Ann Alito's volunteer activities
*"An author who has made an unusual career at finding American history in everyday places."
If you weren't aware of the widespread problems with the New York Times reporting during the run-up to the Iraq War more than a decade ago, this lede from today's page-one Times story about political developments inside that besieged country might not seem unusual:
He took millions of dollars from the C.I.A., founded and was accused of defrauding the second-biggest bank in Jordan and sold the Bush administration a bill of goods on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
At first championed by the Bush administration's neoconservatives as a potential leader of Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi ended up persona non grata, effectively barred from the wartime American Embassy here. Now, in an improbable twist of fate, Mr. Chalabi is being talked about as a serious candidate for prime minister. He has also been back to the embassy.
If you are aware, the gaping holes in the above description are profound.
Here's what the Times left out of its Chalabi story today and here's what the newspaper continues to grapple with eleven years after President Bush ordered the costly invasion of Iraq: Chalabi was reportedly the main source of bogus information that former Times reporter Judith Miller used in her thoroughly discredited work about Iraq's supposedly brimming stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. It was Chalabi who wove Saddam Hussein fiction and it was Miller, then a widely respected Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who gave it the Times stamp approval as the paper did its part to lead the nation to war. (Miller is now a Fox News contributor.)
That history is one that the paper continues to wrestle with, especially as the effects of the war return to international focus and the country struggles with internal violence that threatens its very stability.