• Politico, please define "foreign policy observers"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    In an article that portrays Vice President-elect Joe Biden as a goof (gee, where have we seen that unflattering meme before?) the Politico plays dumb and pretends it's very weird and bizarre that Biden is going on an overseas trip as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and before he's sworn in as vice president. Politico suggests the world leaders Biden meets with will be wildly confused by his presence.

    Pretty thin gruel for a news story, which was highlighted by Politico's lame attempt to back up the non-story by claiming "foreign policy observers" are equally confused about Biden's trip.

    Question: Who were the only two "foreign policy observers" Politco quoted for the anti-Biden article?

    Answer: Two right-wing, partisan think tank employees.

    One from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and another from the even more conservative Heritage Foundation. That's who Politico dialed up to get insightful, independent quotes about the Democratic VP.

  • Minnesota judge schools WSJ editorial page

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    It came in response to the Journal's rather hysterical, Franken's-stealing-the-election editorial.

    Wrote Judge Edward J. Cleary:

    One can only assume, based on the tone of the editorial, the numerous inaccuracies, and the over-the-top slam at Al Franken ("tainted and undeserving?") that had [Republican] Norm Coleman come out on top in this recount, the members of the Board would have been praised as "strong-willed, intelligent, and perceptive."

    We won't hold our breath waiting for that editorial to appear.

    (h/t Steven Benen.)

  • Oh. Never mind...

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Newsbusters' Kerry Picket tries to suggest that Leon Panetta is a poor choice to head the CIA due to his alleged involvement in "Filegate," one of many 1990s non-scandals relentlessly hyped by the news media (eagerly cheered on by conservative activists like those at the Media Research Center.) But her case contains a slight flaw: Leon Panetta didn't have anything to do with "Filegate."

    Picket blasts Panetta's "pathetic excuses in 1996 over why several hundred FBI background reports on American citizens were obtained by Craig Livingston." Panetta apologized for the mistake, calling it "inexcusable" and "a completely honest bureaucratic snafu." Picket angrily denounces that as a "pathetic" and "lame" excuse.

    Unfortunately for Picket's case against Panetta, his comments were true. Republican congressional committees and independent counsels (remember Ken Starr?) joined the media in investigating "Filegate," finding that, sure enough, it was an honest mistake.

    Picket indignantly concludes:

    [WaPo columnist David] Igantius may think a political heavyweight like Panetta will benefit the CIA and the Obama administration, but he fails to mention how Americans can count on Panetta to keep the nation safe.

    Bureaucratic blunder or not confidential information was compromised, nonetheless. We are living in a post 9/11 world now. Is this the kind of leadership America really wants in a CIA chief?

    Picket apparently doesn't realize that Panetta wasn't White House chief of staff when Craig Livingstone was hired, or when the files were obtained. He was chief of staff in 1996, when the investigations began, which is why he commented on them.

    So, to sum up: Leon Panetta wasn't responsible for "Filegate," in which no laws were broken. As a result, Newsbusters' Kerry Picket thinks we can't count on Panetta to keep the nation safe. Got it?

  • Tucker Carlson, wrong again

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    There's a reason why nobody ever mistook Tucker Carlson for a "policy wonk," even when he was still wearing the bow tie. Here he is making a fool of himself during a online discussion:

    Harrisburg, Pa.: I wish to please ask a question to Mr. Carlson (and Ms. Cox is free to also respond.). I saw you on MSNBC and I agree that a national health care system will increase government spending. Yet, how much would it increase costs to consumers? Are there national health insurance plans that could reduce costs to consumers, especially if, to be candid, government inefficiency can be found to be less costly that current health care administrative costs?

    Tucker Carlson: With all respect, you've answered your own question: Increased government spending amouunts to an increased cost to consumers, since in the end consumers are the only source of government revenue.

    Carlson doesn't seem to understand that "increased government spending" does not amount to "increased cost to consumers" if it replaces a larger amount of money that the consumers were already spending.

    This really isn't all that complicated. Maybe the Post should consider replacing Carlson with someone who has some idea what he is talking about?

  • The death of The New York Times?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Michael Hirschorn has an interesting piece in The Atlantic about the media's economic depression, where he focuses on the dim business prospects of the Times' print edition. Hirschorn asks:

    But what if the old media dies much more quickly? What if a hurricane comes along and obliterates the dunes entirely? Specifically, what if The New York Times goes out of business—like, this May?

    He notes the possibilities are slim, but not quite out of the question as the company's debt and credit woes mount while advertisers flee. And that it's really just a matter of time before the print edition, "and with it The Times as we know it," no longer exists.

    I fear Hirschorn's right. I also fear that my local New Jersey paper might not make it through to 2010. This is a daily, the Newark Star-Ledger, that I've been telling friends in recent years was certainly among the best mid-size metro dailies in the country; smart, aggressive, and intensely local. But I wonder if it will make it through the decade simply because it's virtually ad-free right now. The idea of New Jersey not having its major newspaper, to me, is frightening in terms of what it would mean to day-to-day life. And I'm not even talking about the state's famous corruption, which would be allowed to flourish even more openly if the Star-Ledger were to fold.

    According to Hirschorn's piece, newspaper like the Star-Ledger wouldn't be alone:

    In December, the Fitch Ratings service, which monitors the health of media companies, predicted a widespread newspaper die-off: "Fitch believes more newspapers and news­paper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010."

    As another quick example, I have doubts that the New Haven Register will be publishing twelve months from now.

    Still, it would be one thing for Connecticut to lose the Register. It would be quite another for everyone to lose the Times, the most important news gathering outlet in the world.

    As Hirschorn notes, the current plight is mostly because of the Internet and because Times' readers online don't pay for the newspaper and advertisers won't pay that much to reach those readers at Hirschorn estimates that if the Times had to rely solely on web advertising, the newspaper would have to lay off 80 percent of its newsroom staff, thereby decimating the operation.

    Where Hirschorn loses me though (and he's not alone on this; lots of online commentators seem to subscribe), is his hope that maybe a smaller, more nimble web-based Times could find its niche. Or that it could "resemble a bigger, better, and less partisan version of the Huffington Post."

    Look, I love the blogosphere (and the Huffington Post), and journalism potential the Internet holds. I love the blogosphere so much I'm writing a book about it, which I need to finish so it will be out in the spring. I think blogs have changed both the politics and the press in hugely important ways in the last four years.

    But I don't buy the notion that maybe blogs or upstart online news sites could replace gigantic news operations like the New York Times and the extraordinarily important work it does each day. (Even though, as a critic, if I wish it did a better job with its final product.) I just think people are being naive if they think blogs or some Internet collective could do what the Times does and that, in the end it wouldn't be that big of a deal if the Times ceased to exist in the form it has for the last century.

    Hirschorn concludes:

    Ultimately, the death of The New York Times—or at least its print edition—would be a sentimental moment, and a severe blow to American journalism. But a disaster? In the long run, maybe not.

    I disagree. The death of the Times as we know it would be a disaster. And it would be a man-made disaster caused by the Internet.

    P.S. I also have trouble with Hirschorn's suggestion that, in this current, dismal media/economic environment, some star Times reporters and pundits could actually make a better living striking out on their own on the Internet.

    Their current jobs, featuring beefy six-figure salaries, paid vacations, travel, health benefits and the prestige of working for the Times, could be easily replicated as "brands of one" online?

    I just don't see it.

  • Will the media derail health care reform?

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    The Century Foundation's Niko Karvounis has a must-read piece warning that the news media could "derail health care reform":

    Policy can get pretty complicated; so the public will rely on the media to help it navigate the ins and outs of the issue.


    Unfortunately, reporters aren't health care policy experts. In fact, they rarely ever talk about the issue. In a December report, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that, out of 3,513 health news stories in newspapers, on TV and radio, and online between January 2007 and June 2008, health care policy made up less than 1 percent of news stories and just 27.4 percent of health-focused stories.


    history shows that when health care reform efforts are actually under way, the media ignore policy in favor of more sensational stories.

    During President Bill Clinton's efforts at health care reform in the 1990s, for example, media reports disproportionately focused on politics rather than policy. In their 1998 book Politics, Power, and Policymaking: The Case of Health Care Reform in the 1990s, Missouri State University professors Mark Rushefsky and Kant Patel found that that in 1993 and 1994 -- the height of public debate over Clinton's plan -- the New York Times reported just 257 stories about policy considerations (proposed reforms and solutions, analyses of options) and a whopping 549 on politics (personalities, disagreement, partisanship). When the nation's health care system was at stake, spats received more coverage than substance.

    There's more.

  • NYT can't find any journalists to quote in an article about journalism

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Ethan Bronner in the Times reports on how the Israeli government has banned journalists from entering Gaza to report on Israel's invasion or the previous bombing missions. The issue has been a hotly debated one in recent days and seems central to the question of covering international conflicts.

    Yet amazingly, the Times does not include a single quote from anyone at the Times itself--an editor or correspondent--regarding the Gaza ban and how it impacts their efforts to try to cover the conflict. In fact, the Times article doesn't quote any journalists in the region about the ban. The article simply references a statement issued by the foreign press association.

    Last night, CNN's Anderson Cooper also reported on the Gaza ban and, quite logically, he interviewed journalists in the region (including those who work for CNN) to get their opinion. For some reason the Times had no interest in interviewing journalists for an article about journalism.

    The Times did however, quote four separate Israeli government officials.

    BTW, if Howard Kurtz thinks the ban on journalists in Gaza is such a big deal, as he claims today it is in his online column with a passing reference, than why doesn't he write about it for the Washington Post newspaper? To date, the Post has not published a single news article about the ban.