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  • WSJ Op-Ed page plays dumb like it's nobody's business

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Does any opinion outlet create, and then successfully demolish, more flimsy straw men than the diligent writers at the WSJ? It's hard to imagine because it's almost if WSJ Op-ed editors require their conservatives opinionists construct lazy, intellectually dishonest arguments.

    The latest to comply was Bradley Schiller, an econ prof at the University of Nevada, Reno, who dutifully echoed the GOP talking points from last week that Obama was fear mongering the stimulus bill and trying to scare Americans about the state of the economy. We quickly dispatched with that nonsense here. (Hint: Americans were scared out of the bejesus before Obama ever starting lobbying for his stimulus plan.)

    But what was so comical about Schiller's effort was his embarrassing use of the straw man in the process. Basically, Schiller wrote an entire column berating Obama for comparing the state of our current economy to the Great Depression. Slight problem: Obama never did that.

    Here's Schiller [emphasis added]:

    As [Obama] tells it, today's economy is the worst since the Great Depression. Without his Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he says, the economy will fall back into that abyss and may never recover.

    Rule No. 1 of a lazy writer: He tells you what so-and-so said, but doesn't' show you. So here, readers had to take Schiller's word for it that Obama claimed "today's economy" is the worst since the Great Depression. Normally, if a writer builds an entire column around what somebody said, the writer, y'know, actually quotes that somebody. But not Schiller.

    Has Obama ever claimed that today's economy is the worst since the Great Depression? Readers have no idea, because Schiller can't be bothered with quoting the president.

    Schiller then continued and propped up the straw man:

    This fear mongering may be good politics, but it is bad history and bad economics. It is bad history because our current economic woes don't come close to those of the 1930s.

    Ugh. Schiller then went on for multiple paragraphs, quoting all kinds of statistics, to prove that there's no way "our current economic woes" are as bad as the Great Depression. Thanks for the lesson professor. Thanks to Schiller's deep research we all now know today's unemployment numbers are not as bad as the Great Depression, even though Obama never claimed the numbers were analogous. In fact, no sane person would make that comparison because nobody thinks we're currently--as of this moment--suffering through the second Great Depression. But Schiller pretended that's what Obama suggested.

    Hey, no wonder straw men are so easy to knock down!

    For the record, here's what Obama said (and what Schiller wouldn't tell readers):

    "We are going through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."

    Note a couple things. Obama did not suggest, as Schiller falsely claimed at the outset of his column, that "today's economy" is just as bad as the Great Depression. Obama said we were experiencing the "worst economic crisis" since the Great Depression. Words have meaning, and an econ prof ought to be able to differentiate between the "today's economy" and an "economic crisis." Either that, or Schiller played dumb really hard.

    Second, note the "since" that Obama used. He claimed today's economic crisis represents the worst since the Great Depression. But in his column, Schiller quoted all kinds of stats to prove today's woes don't compare to the Great Depression. But Obama never compared it to the Great Depression. He said it's the worst since.

    Does Schiller honestly not realize that by claiming today's economy crisis is the worst since the Great Depression, that Obama was not claiming today's economy is just as bad as the Great Depression. Or was Schiller aggressively playing dumb. Again?

    We've got a hunch.

  • What if the press did context?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Imagine how much more illuminating the 'debate' over the stimulus package would be if the press ever bothered to put the partisan sniping in context. Here's one example.

    The press today continues to focus on the GOP doomsday scenarios about what Obama's economic initiative will mean to America and how it's going to gut the economy. How it will put America on the road to "financial disaster," as Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) declared last weekend. And of course, his dire rhetoric generated headlines. ("We're taking an enormous risk -- an enormous risk -- with other people's money," added Sen. Mitch McConnell this week.)

    The press takes these swipes very seriously, in part because the press always treats GOP rhetoric about the economy and finances seriously. Why? Because Republicans know economics. Everybody inside the Beltway understands that CW.

    Just like the GOP knew economics back in 1993 when the new Democratic president Bill Clinton struggled to get his centerpiece economic legislation passed. Back then the GOP was sure the bill was a recipe for disaster. At the time Newt Gingrich announced "The tax increase will kill jobs and lead to a recession, and the recession will force people off of work and onto unemployment and will actually increase the deficit." He was positive a recession would ruin America's economy within the "next year," or even "over the next 60 days."

    And Newt wasn't alone. The whole GOP crew was in Chicken Little mode and the press back then, just like today, made sure to record and amplify every dire warning: "A recipe for economic disaster," warned Phil Crane of Illinois. "It is going to lead to a Clintastrophy, an economic Clintastrophy," added Indiana's Dan Burton.

    That rhetoric, which clearly failed to foresee the 1990's decade worth of prosperity under Clinton, is eerily similar to the GOP rhetoric today. But the press can't, or doesn't want to, note the connection. Instead, the media opt for context-free coverage of the stimulus 'debate.'

  • Following WashPost's lead, Politico only quotes Republicans in Judd Gregg article

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    You know the drill: When covering partisan dust-ups inside the Beltway, reporters today scurry around to get comments from as many Republicans as possible, but couldn't care less what Democrats think. It's astonishing how open journalists have become in producing such blatantly one-sided political reporting.

    Here's the Politico's latest entry in the Republican-only genre.

  • Who writes George Stephanopoulos' headlines?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The headline from his ABC News blog [emphasis added]: "Gregg Withdrawal Embarrasses White House."

    From the Stephanopoulos item:

    Yet, it is an amicable split. Both men have said they admire each other. Gregg said during his news conference today that he still thinks Obama will be a good president, and that he likes his bank plan. Obama, too, said that he admires Gregg's independence and thought it would be a plus in the cabinet. Now, however, it's an embarrassment to both men.

  • Isn't Juan Williams violating NPR's code of ethics?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    As CF highlighted yesterday, NPR management has finally taken steps to stem the damage that NPR's Juan Williams routinely does with his appearances on Fox News. NPR's ombudsman Alicia Shepard wrote:

    [I]n the end, NPR must decide -- as it apparently already has -- whether giving its listeners the benefit of Williams' voice is worth the cost of annoying some listeners for his work on Fox. As a result of this latest flap, NPR's Vice President of News, Ellen Weiss, has asked Williams to ask that Fox remove his NPR identification whenever he is on O'Reilly.

    Frankly, that's not enough and here's why. As I noted back in 2007, when Williams again embarrassed NPR via his conduct on Fox News, and specifically, on an appearance he made on The O'Reilly Factor:

    Real damage is being done to NPR by having its name, via Williams, associated with Fox News' most opinionated talker. In fact, Williams' recent appearance on The O'Reilly Factor almost certainly violated NPR's employee standards, which prohibit staffers from appearing on programs that "encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis" and are "harmful to the reputation of NPR."

    To add fuller context, the NPR code of ethics clearly states:

    9. NPR journalists must get permission from the Vice President for their Division or their designee to appear on TV or other media. It is not necessary to get permission in each instance when the employee is a regular participant on an approved show. Permission for such appearances may be revoked if NPR determines such appearances are harmful to the reputation of NPR or the NPR participant.

    10. In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than rather than fact-based analysis.

    Yet here it is in 2009 and NPR finds itself answering angry listener emails because Williams said something stupid on The O'Reilly Factor; something I cannot imagine Williams would ever say on an NPR program. Isn't Williams clearly violating NPR's own standards by appearing on that program; a program that quite obviously encourages "punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis" and more importantly is "harmful to the reputation of NPR"? (If the show is not harmful to NPR's reputation than why don't more NPR staffers appear on it?)

    Or put another way, how is Williams not violating the code of ethics by appearing on The O'Reilly Factor? And yes, I read the part where Shepard noted Williams is no longer on-staff and that he's paid by NPR to be an independent contractor:

    Last spring, NPR's management put him on contract with the title "news analyst" largely to give him more latitude about what he says.

    She later added:

    [NPR managers] are in a bind because Williams is no longer a staff employee but an independent contractor. As a contract news analyst, NPR doesn't exercise control over what Williams says outside of NPR.

    But here's how NPR's code of ethics defines who is covered by its rules:

    This code covers all NPR journalists - which for the purposes of this code includes all persons functioning in the News, Programming and Online Divisions as reporters, hosts, newscasters, writers, editors, directors, photographers and producers of news, music or other NPR programming. It also covers all senior News, Programming and Online content managers. It does not cover administrative or technical staff from News, Programming or Online. The code also applies to material provided to NPR by independent producers, member station contributors and/or reporters and freelance reporters, writers, news contributors or photographers.

    And what if a non-staff contributor violates the code of ethics? NPR has the option of simply stop using that person in the future:

    Because contributors in this category are not NPR employees, the remedy for dealing with a conflict of interest or other violation of the principles of this code is rejection of the offered material.

    According to the NPR standards, written to "to protect the credibility of NPR's programming by ensuring high standards of honesty, integrity, impartiality and staff conduct," there are three relevant guidelines that, in this situation, seem to apply to Williams:

    1. Don't appear on programs that promote punditry.

    2. Don't appear on programs that are harmful to NPR's reputation.

    3. Don't say things on non-NPR programs that the journalist would not say on NPR.

    It seems that NPR either needs to rewrite its standards, or it needs to take more forceful action regarding Williams' appearances on The O'Reilly Factor.

  • In an article about bipartisanship, the WashPost only quotes Republicans

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Headline: "Gregg's Withdrawal Becomes a Partisan Issue."

    What do Democrats thinks of Judd Gregg's peculiar decision to belatedly walk away from an Obama cabinet post and what it means for Obama's bipartisan outreach? Readers don't know because the Post doesn't care what Democrats think. The newspaper only quotes Republicans about Gregg and the issue of partisanship.

    Classic, right? And doesn't that pretty much sum up the one-sided reporting and punditry on the topic of partisanship in recent weeks?

  • Politico, please define "major accomplishment"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Continuing with the media's beloved yes/but angle regarding the pending passage of the Obama stimulus bill, and how yes it represents a victory, but there are oh so many troubling things to report, Politico focuses on negatives with article, "Early setbacks test Obama's cool."

    Writes David Rodgers:

    The $789 billion recovery package is a major accomplishment less than a month after his Inauguration. But it's smaller than Obama had hoped it would be just days ago...

    Note the language. Obama just passed his centerpiece economic legislation less than one month after being inaugurated. A "major accomplishment"? Technically, that's true. But a more accurate description would have been "unprecedented" or "historic" or "unheard of" accomplish. When you consider it took then-new president Ronald Reagan until July to pass his economic legislation and Bill Clinton until August and George W. Bush until May, the fact that Obama was able to shepherd his through in a matter of weeks is an unprecedented, historic and unheard of accomplishment for any modern day president.

    But you're not going to hear that kind of language, because the Beltway press is more interested in the "but" part of the yes/but angle.

  • And the press obsessed over whether autoworkers make $70 an hour?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    WSJ headline today: "Merrill Gave $1 Million Each to 700 of Its Staff"

    According to the newspaper:

    Merrill Lynch & Co. "secretly" moved up the date it awarded bonuses for 2008 and richly rewarded its executives despite billions of dollars in losses, giving bonuses of $1 million or more apiece to nearly 700 employees, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said.

    Sorta makes you wonder about that media microscope that was used late last year to scrutinize the pay of middle class autoworkers, doesn't it?

  • Is NPR embarrassed to be seen with Juan Williams?

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    In the wake of Juan Williams' latest outburst on Fox News, NPR has asked him to stop identifying himself as an NPR contributor when he appears on Fox. NPR's Ombudsman concludes her assessment of the situation:

    [I]n the end, NPR must decide -- as it apparently already has -- whether giving its listeners the benefit of Williams' voice is worth the cost of annoying some listeners for his work on Fox.

    As a result of this latest flap, NPR's Vice President of News, Ellen Weiss, has asked Williams to ask that Fox remove his NPR identification whenever he is on O'Reilly.

  • WSJ editorial pages advertises its ignorance, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Glenn Greenwald amplifies a point we noted yesterday about the almost comically hypocritical Journal attack on Obama for using a list of pre-selected reporters to call on during his Monday press conference, and suggesting Bush never would have pulled a stunt like that. (Hint: He did.)

    Write Greenwald:

    Deliberate deceit or complete editorial recklessness from The Wall St. Journal Editorial Page? And which is worse? Are there any limits at all to the factually false claims newspapers can spew without correction? We'll see. And of all the canards filling the overflowing canon of self-pitying right-wing grievances, the complaint that the Beltway media was unfairly and excessively critical of the Bush presidency has to be the single most laughable (as even Bush's own Press Secretary will tell you).

    It also highlight a point we made when we detailed the chronically un-serious work of Jonah Goldberg, a god-awful media critique. And the point was this: Conservative media criticism is, almost without exception, a complete joke because the writers have no use for facts or truth or common sense. It's just partisan clowning around, as the Journal editorial proved.