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.
After spending much of the last two weeks criticizing Hillary Clinton for supposed "gaffes" about her wealth and claiming she's increasingly out of touch with voters thanks to the combined earnings of herself and her husband, Beltway pundits are confronted with a new poll that shows that despite days worth of media attacks on Clinton's money comments, a clear majority think the former secretary of state relates to "average Americans" and the problems they face.
The findings from an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey forcefully debunk the punditry's conventional wisdom that by being "rusty" while discussing her wealth during her recent book tour, Clinton inflicted potentially deep damage to her possible presidential run by being so "out of touch."
The recent wealth coverage continued the Beltway press' long tradition of parsing portions of Clinton comments taken from hours worth of long-form interviews and spinning then in the most unappealing way, and by claiming Clinton's word choice and "tone" is all wrong. (CNN even altered a Hillary quote about money last week to make it more incriminating and newsworthy.)
To date though, voters don't seem to mind when Hillary Clinton talks about money.
Nonetheless as the Washington Post's Dan Balz noted, Clinton's "comments about being "dead broke" upon leaving the White House and not being among the "truly well off" today have triggered an avalanche of coverage raising questions about whether she has lost touch with the lives of ordinary Americans."
Just yesterday, Balz's colleague Ruth Marcus detailed what she called "Hillary Clinton's money woes," and warned the former first lady that the problem might get "worse" because she risks being viewed by voters as "greedy," "defensive," "whiny," and "out of touch."
How was Marcus so sure that voters would deeply resent the Clintons' wealth if Hillary ran for president? Or specifically, that they'd resent how she talked about her wealth. Did Marcus cite polling? Did she interview voters? No, she just knew. Or she thought she knew.
According to the new NBC/WSJ poll, none of Marcus' characterizations are accurate.
And that's why the red flag of the wealth coverage was always the question of whether voters were as deeply offended by Clinton's wealth as the Beltway press is. (MSNBC's Chuck Todd recently dismissed the Clintons' earnings from giving speeches by insisting, "It's not like they have acquired their wealth from hard work.")
We may have finally uncovered the answer to the lingering question of what it would take for Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace to not host a discussion about Benghazi. The solution: Have U.S. Special Operations forces capture the lead suspect in the 2012 terror attack.
The news of Ahmed Abu Khattala's capture broke on June 17, and was immediately tagged by the Washington Post as "a significant breakthrough" for the Obama administration, which has been subjected to constant carping and endless harangues from Fox News talkers demanding that Benghazi terrorists be brought to justice. But when the administration made advances in doing just that, Fox attacked them over the timing of the capture for much of the week, and then Wallace turned away on Sunday.
Ordinarily, you'd think any key development in the on-going investigation would be of interest to Fox News Sunday, which, according to an archives search at Nexis, has hosted nearly 100 discussions over the last 20 months where "Benghazi" was mentioned at least three times, and more than two dozen segments just this year. But news of a suspect's apprehension and the possibility he'll soon be facing justice in a U.S. courtroom and held accountable for the deaths of four Americans? That apparently wasn't worth covering on Sunday.
Because, as is so often the case for President Obama, good news is no news.
And it wasn't just Fox News this time. Across the dial on Sunday, every broadcast network political show -- which are credited with setting the public agenda debate inside the Beltway -- failed to address the news about the Benghazi suspect. It was news that 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.
CNN anchor Miguel Marquez misquoted Hillary Clinton this morning, claiming she told the Guardian newspaper that she and her husband are "not truly well off." That's inaccurate. What Clinton told the Guardian was that unlike "a lot of people who are truly well off," she and her husband "pay ordinary income tax."
Here's the full context from The Guardian interview [emphasis added]:
America's glaring income inequality is certain to be a central bone of contention in the 2016 presidential election. But with her huge personal wealth, how could Clinton possibly hope to be credible on this issue when people see her as part of the problem, not its solution?
"But they don't see me as part of the problem," she protests, "because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we've done it through dint of hard work," she says, letting off another burst of laughter. If past form is any guide, she must be finding my question painful.
CNN's false quote fits with the interpretation that many in the media have made, which is that Clinton was contrasting herself with the "truly well off."
A headline from The Week:
Hillary Clinton Explains How She and Bill Aren't 'Truly Well Off'
Hillary Clinton: We're Not 'Truly Well Off'
But at least as good an interpretation of the quote is that Clinton included herself and her husband among the "truly well off," but was saying that unlike many of them, they pay ordinary income tax.
During the 2012 campaign, Mitt and Ann Romney came under scrutiny for taking most of their income as capital gains and dividends, therefore paying a much lower tax rate of 14 percent.
The bad bout of 2003 déjà vu continued on Sunday when former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on ABC's This Week to lecture President Obama about how his policies had allegedly made a mess out of Iraq, as violence there continues to grip the country and threatens to completely destabilize the nation.
Cheney's appearance continues a maddening, week-long stroll down Baghdad memory lane as media outlets rush to get commentary from the people who, eleven years ago, got everything wrong about the Iraq War: The stunning cost, the causalities, the war planning, the intelligence, the sectarian violence.
"The neoconservative program cost the United States several trillion dollars and thousands dead and wounded American soldiers, and it sowed carnage and chaos in Iraq and elsewhere," writes Harvard University professor Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy.
The head-scratching question continues to be, why? Why are the discredited "experts" who botched Iraq last time now being a given a platform to comment on the military crisis they helped create? And why are these rejected mouthpieces being given a chance to bash President Obama, someone who opposed the failed war in the first place? (ABC's Jonathan Karl to Cheney: "What would you do in Iraq?" Left unsaid: Cheney left office with a 13 percent approval rating, in large part for leading the charge for the Bush administration's failed invasion.)
Why the strange rehabilitation? Here's a hint: People might be forgetting the deep bond that ran between the compliant Beltway media in 2003 and the very same failed Iraq War architects and partisan boosters the press is now turning to for advice. In other words, the Beltway press was part of the Iraq problem then. (They sold us a disastrous war.) So it's not that surprising the press is part of the problem now.
Fact: You can't talk about the Iraq War without addressing the central role the U.S. news media played during the run-up to the invasion, and the fevered and futile hunt for weapons of mass destruction. And that's why the current move to treat failed war sponsors as knowledgeable experts might also be seen as an effort by some journalists to put behind them the massive media missteps that led to the war.
Meaning, the reason the press doesn't think it's strange having the people who got everything wrong about the war on TV today is because so much of the Beltway press got the same things wrong eleven years ago.
As the years pass by and memories fade, it's important to never forget just how much government stenography went on prior to the war in D.C. newsrooms, and just how little daylight existed between the Bush administration and media elites in their ironclad agreement about the need to invade Iraq. Only then does the continued symmetry now on display begin to make sense. (Fact: The "liberal" Washington Post editorialized more than two dozen times in favor of war, between September 2002 and February 2003.)
"Good news there, I guess." Fox News anchor Jon Scott, June 17.
Word that U.S. Special Operations forces had captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspected leader of the terror attack on the United States diplomatic facilities in Benghazi two years ago, provided good news for those seeking justice for the four Americans killed in the 2012 raid. The reports however, provided very bad news for people who have been playing politics with the terror attack for the last 21 months.
Indeed, the Benghazi revelation and the instantly negative and mocking reaction it received on Fox News and across the right-wing media landscape, provided a telling glimpse into the propaganda campaign conducted by professional conservative talkers who long ago stopped pursuing the facts of the investigation. Instead, they've tried to turn "Benghazi" into a brand; a self-sustaining scandal machine reminiscent of the one they built to distract Bill Clinton in the 1990s. The goal of these types of blind pursuits doesn't revolve around the truth or facts, but around the ability to attack, attack, attack, regardless of good-news revelations.
So instead of toasting Khattala's capture in Libya as a key breakthrough, the news quickly became reason to add more layers to the impenetrable Benghazi conspiracy. (Either that or to feign indifference.) The claim this time? The timing of the arrest looked fake and phony. Specifically, the Benghazi capture was timed to help Hillary Clinton's book tour 5,000 miles away in America.
"What a great thing to announce on an interview tonight at Fox News, that the perpetrators have been bought to justice," said Fox contributor Pete Hegseth. "It's all too neat and it's too cute." Added Fox host Kennedy: "You have a former secretary of state, who is in the middle of a really high profile book tour, I think this is convenient for her to shift the talking points from some of the things she has been discussing."
Rush Limbaugh mocked the timing as "a beautiful thing."
This kind of contemptuous, dismissive tone is exactly the opposite of what Obama's fevered critics had been demanding since September, 2012.
"May 2014, and you still haven't brought anyone to justice!" Judge Jeanine Pirro complained on her Fox News program just last month. Fox's Eric Bolling, denouncing the lack of detained Benghazi suspects on The Five, July 31, 2013: "Nice job, President O, no suspects, no interviews, no leads, and no answers." And Fox contributor Allen West signed on to a letter bemoaning the fact that "not a single terrorist in this well-planned and executed military attack by radical Islamists has been apprehended."
So it was Fox News, then: Bring suspects to justice!
And Fox News, today: Why now?
The gaffe police were on vigilant patrol last week, keenly monitoring Hillary Clinton's book release media tour and pronouncing much of it to be a failure.
The former first lady, senator, and secretary of state sat for a series of lengthy interviews that covered an array of topics, from the Iraq War to transgender rights, and spoke for hours to some the country's leading journalists during long-form Q&A's. (So much for the claim that Clinton shields herself away from the news media.)
By setting aside the substance and parsing Clinton's words in search of stumbles, the press announced Clinton suffered a "rough week" because of two alleged miscues: She spoke accurately about the state of her personal finances in early 2001 when she and her husband Bill Clinton were "broke." And she pushed back against National Public Radio's Terry Gross when she repeatedly tried to pigeonhole Clinton on the sensitive and personal issue of gay marriage. (i.e. Hillary got "testy" according to the GOP operatives who circulated the audio and much of the media who reported on it).
Those were the "gaffes" that earned her a mostly thumbs down review from the theater critics who pass as Beltway political pundits and who declared her performance was "rusty"; that Clinton had become "rattled" and emotional, according to Maureen Dowd. (Texas Governor Rick Perry last week likening homosexuality to alcoholism? That wasn't really treated as a major political gaffe for a possible 2016 candidate.)
Bloomberg's Albert Hunt summed up the agreed-upon conventional wisdom nicely when he wrote that Clinton suffered a "rough rollout for her new book" because the week contained "gaffes" and "awkward answers."
Well, at least she didn't cackle.
Note that the "broke" "gaffe" consisted of Clinton repeating commonly known facts about her at-times precarious finances more than a decade ago; facts that have been reported many times in the press. The Clintons, the New York Times noted on September 19, 1999, "are the least prosperous couple to live in the White House in many years." The Times noted "the Clintons have slightly more than $1 million in assets, but are still saddled by a $5 million legal debt." (In 2001, The New Yorker pegged the Clinton's legal bills at "eleven or twelve million dollars.")
The press seemed especially judgmental following the NPR interview with Gross who created the false impression that Clinton had stonewalled and dodged over the issue of marriage equality, despite the fact Clinton repeatedly answered Gross' question. What's a politician supposed to do when an interviewer repeatedly tries to assign cynical motivations for a policy shift if the politician insists that motivation isn't accurate? Should the politician simply go along with the allegation or should she push back and clarify, even as the interviewer again and again clings to the same position?
Clinton response was to push back a bit on NPR: "I think you're reading it very wrong." And "That's just flat wrong."
But apparently she was supposed to roll over. Because by standing up for herself (while never raising her voice), Clinton was breathlessly tagged as combative and unnerved in the wake of a mildly contentious back-and-forth:
Instapundit called her "testy," as did MSNBC, and New York Magazine does, too, also writing that "Hillary won't say she evolved on gay marriage." The Wall Street Journal also picks up the "testy" line, while the New York Daily News prefers "lashes out" in a "tense" interview. Mediaite says she "snaps" at NPR's interviewer. Oh, and Politico prefers "testy."
The media message to Clinton was clear last week: You can't lose your cool when dealing with the press. You can't try to intimidate reporters. And you certainly can't try to bluster them off tough questions. Those are the guidelines established for Clinton if she plans to run to become the country's first woman president.
Who is allowed to do all those things? Chris Christie, for one.
One of the biggest upsets in American politics was powered by right-wing media, according to analysis of last night's defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Minority Leader, who fell to an obscure Tea Party-backed candidate. Cantor's campaign spent nearly as much on drinks and dinners at steak houses as David Brat did on his entire primary push. Yet Brat easily defeated the seven-term Republican leader.
"The seeds for Brat's upset were sown on right-wing radio talk shows, particularly Laura Ingraham's," CNN's Brian Stelter reported. On Fox News last night, radio host and Brat booster Mark Levin celebrated the Virginia "ass-kicking." (During the same appearance, Levin urged Republicans to "stop chasing genitalia" in order to win elections.)
"There are parts of this country where if Laura Ingraham, and Ann Coulter, and Mark Levin are on the radio supporting you, that's worth a lot," Fox's Brit Hume noted. "In the right place, with the right constituency, those people hold real power."
Real power, indeed.
For years, that power was mostly directed at Democrats, and specifically at President Obama as talk radio and the larger right-wing media Noise Machine has worked tirelessly to demonize its opponents via nasty and often dishonest, illogical attacks.
After John McCain's dispiriting loss to Barack Obama in 2008, damaged leaders of the Republican establishment slowly shuffled off the national stage. And into that vacuum rushed Roger Ailes, Glenn Beck, Rush-I-Hope-He-Fails-Limbaugh, and other players from the right-wing media lineup. They took over the messaging for the Republican Party, the attacks on the new president, and helped power the surging Tea Party movement in America.
Teaming up with the GOP and its unprecedented plan to obstruct a president who won an electoral landslide victories, the Noise Machine provided the mass media muscle and set out to portray Obama as nothing more than a suspicious, foreign, anti-capitalist socialist who distrusted America and wanted to take away citizens' guns. He was also condemned as a "racist" who displayed a "deep-seated hatred for white people."
The Republican Party, by and large, was happy to watch as the right-wing media took control of the GOP's communications apparatus, which allowed the right-wing media to take control of the GOP's public messaging. And when they were demonizing Obama and the Democratic Party, Republicans likely marveled at their good fortune of having millions of dollars in free media at their disposal each week to launch misinformation campaigns against the White House.
And for Cantor personally, the Noise Machine was a godsend. With no apparent interest in governing, legislating, or in public policy, Cantor's professional goal appeared to be to obstruct the White House at all costs, and to make Obama look bad at every turn. And for that, he had perfect media partners.
But then Cantor became the target.