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  • Almost too dumb for words

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    This one's gonna make your head hurt, trust us. It's what happens when trivial pursuits collide with incompetence.

    First up, NBC apparently does not know how to transcribe its presidential interviews, even when the president speaks clearly and slowly. NBC managed to botch the transcripts to its Obama interview. Specifically, at the end of the Q&A, Matt Lauer, for whatever reason, decided to ask Obama about his wife and daughters being on the cover of US magazine.

    Lauer held up the magazine, which also featured cover photo and headline in the upper-right hand corner about singer Jessica Simpson's' apparent weight gain. ("Inside Jess' weight battle.") In fact, the unflattering photo of Simpson actually cropped out Obama himself on the US cover.

    From the NBC transcripts which were released to the press:

    LAUER: You got replaced by Jessica Simpson.

    OBAMA: Yeah, who's losing a weight battle apparently. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. Oh, well.

    Well, that ticked some people off, including Karen Tumulty at Time. "He laid a big one in yesterday's interview with Matt Lauer," she wrote as she reproduced the NBC transcript online. And yes, right-wing blogosphere also denounced Obama, printing up the same transcript.

    Thing is, Obama never said Simpson was "losing a weight battle." As Politico notes, NBC mangled the transcripts. Here's what Obama actually said:

    LAUER: You got replaced by Jessica Simpson.

    OBAMA: Yeah, who's in a weight battle apparently. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. Oh, well.

    It's obvious from watching the clip that Obama was not making fun of Simpson's weight. If anything he was very gently mocking the fanzine culture in which Simpson's weight is considered to be newsworthy.

    But back to Tumulty and then the blogs. How did they respond to the fact that Obama never said what they criticized him for saying? From Tumulty [emphasis added]:

    *Alert Swampland commenter travellingatlanta notes that the transcript that NBC put out was wrong. "Who's losing a weight battle" is actually "who's in a weight battle." I went back and listened to the video, and it sounds that way to me, too. Which makes it slightly better. I guess. But in the future, Mr. President, just don't go there.

    I'm chuckling over Tumulty's detective work; about how she went back and listened to the video again and confirmed that, yes, Obama said "Yeah, who's in a weight battle apparently." I'm chuckling because the audio/video is clear as day and there is no dispute, which only highlights how supremely NBC mucked up by concocted parts of the transcripts in the first place.

    Second, Obama shouldn't go there? Give us a break. The only reason Obama mentioned any of this was because a network news anchor brought up the frivolous topic of US magazine. The president was simply, and politely, humoring the interviewer by reading back to him the inane mag cover line.

    As for the right-wing blog, well it's just priceless. This is what Gateway Pundit wrote:

    UPDATE: The Politico is defending the president for joking about Jessica Simpson's weight problem. Figures.

    Classic, right? Gateway pundit first mocked Obama for something he never said. When Politico pointed out Obama never said what NBC (and Gateway Pundit) claimed the president said, Gateway Pundit simply informed readers that Politico was "defending" Obama. What did Gateway Pundit fail to do? It failed inform readers that Obama never said what Gateway Pundit claimed Obama said.

    Just keep moving along folks, nothing to see here. Corrections? Retractions for flogging phony story? Pleeease.

    We told you this was gonna make your head hurt.

  • Still waiting for the Rightroots movement, cont' d

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Pajamas Media, which was supposed to help build up the right-wing section of the blogosphere, announced that it's pulling the plug on its advertising network. It couldn't make enough money selling ads on GOP-friendly sites. That means some right-wing outposts may soon go dark.

    Question: Is this Rightroots thing ever going to get off the ground?

    UPDATE: A Pajamas Media salute here, courtesy of Jesus' General. And the Village Voice has a detailed write-up about PM's demise, here.

  • Blagojevich v. Coleman: National media asleep at the wheel in MN scandal

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Jonathan Chait has an interesting read in the upcoming edition of The New Republic that looks at, at least in part, the disparity in media coverage of the scandals involving the now-impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and the FBI-investigated-soon-to-be-former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman. For those of you not following the Coleman scandal, Chait's article offers a decent summary:

    What, you say--Norm Coleman? Yes, Norm Coleman! Let me explain. The soon-to-be-former senator's scandal is pretty simple. Nasser Kazeminy, a wealthy businessman and close Coleman friend, allegedly paid him $75,000 under the table.

    And by "allegedly," I mean "almost certainly." Here's how the almost certainly true alleged scheme worked. The payments to Coleman came in the form of what Tony Soprano would call a "no-show job." One of Kazeminy's companies is called Deep Marine Technology. Kazeminy allegedly ordered Deep Marine's CEO, Paul McKim, to make a series of $25,000 payments that would go to Coleman's wife. According to McKim, Kazeminy was utterly blatant. He said the reason for the payments was that Coleman needed the money and McKim should disguise them as a legitimate business transaction.

    I wouldn't be surprised if this is the first many have heard of Coleman's predicament – as Chait notes, it has hardly registered in the national media:

    Some differences in the scale of relative guilt do present themselves. In Coleman's defense, he's currently just a subject of an FBI investigation, while Blagojevich has been voted out of office. And, of course, Coleman hasn't been caught boasting about his scheme. On the other hand, Coleman is accused by a Houston businessman of having actually accepted illicit funds, while Blagojevich is merely being accused of harboring an intention to sell his Senate seat.

    Now consider how the two stories have fared in the national press. Blagojevich has turned into the biggest crime story since O.J. Simpson. Can you guess how many articles about the Coleman scandal have appeared in the national media? One short wire story. When I bring up Coleman's scandals with my colleagues, many of whom follow politics for a living, invariably they have little or no idea what I'm talking about.

    The national media have almost completely ignored the Coleman scandal but they've found plenty of time to misreport key aspects of the Minnesota recount and ensuing ballot disputes. Al Franken may be a former comedian but the real joke has been the national media's coverage of this Senate race.

  • Barack Obama likes Sting, so Tim Graham questions his patriotism

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Newsbusters' Tim Graham thinks Barack Obama is insufficiently patriotic and pro-Marine. Why? Because the president likes Cole Porter.

    Responding to a CBS report that Obama's appearances have featured a pianist performing Porter's "Night and Day" and Sting's "Desert Rose" rather than sticking to "Hail to the Chief," Graham writes:

    To many Americans, this excessive informality suggests a real distaste for "official" or "patriotic" music, not to mention the Marine band that plays it.

    Graham didn't provide any quotes or citations to support his contention that "many Americans" think this, so we can only assume he was projecting. In any case, it's an ugly smear to say that Obama has "a real distaste" for the Marine band simply because he enjoys piano renditions of Cole Porter tunes.

  • The absurdity of the Right's hyperventilation over Stephanopoulos-Emanuel-Begala-Carville phone calls

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Some conservatives are upset about the fact that longtime friends and former colleagues George Stephanopoulos, Rahm Emanuel, Paul Begala, and James Carville regularly talk to each other.

    Emanuel is the White House chief of staff, which supposedly means that Stephanopoulos, who works at ABC, and Begala and Carville, who are affiliated with CNN, cannot be objective in talking about the Obama administration. Or something. Greg Sargent and Steve Benen explain.

    Honestly, this is all a bunch of nonsense. Two quick points:

    First - for better or worse - friendships between journalists and the politicos they cover are nothing new. Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer is friends with George W. Bush. Conservatives didn't say he should be fired over that friendship - nor were they bothered when Schieffer moderated a presidential debate between Bush and John Kerry. Basically, for nearly any major political figure you can name - Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal - there will be some journalists with whom they have friendships.

    Second, the idea that Stephanopoulos will be in the tank for Obama or other Democrats because he talks to Rahm Emanuel ignores history. The four men talked regularly in 1998, too, when Emanuel and Begala worked in Bill Clinton's White House - but that didn't stop Stephanopoulos from being among the first people to speculate that Clinton might be impeached over the Monica Lewinsky matter. Stephanopoulos brought up the possibility on television early in the morning on the day the story broke.

  • Carville gives Rush Limbaugh a history lesson

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    James Carville, former Clinton advisor and current CNN Contributor, is up today with an op-ed that eviscerates the laughable economic recovery plan offered up by radio host Rush Limbaugh in last week's Wall Street Journal. In particular, Carville notes:

    Limbaugh proposes that because the Democrats got roughly 54 percent of the votes to the Republicans' 46 percent, the stimulus package should be allocated along his definition of ideological lines, i.e. 54 percent towards infrastructure improvement and 46 percent toward tax breaks for Limbaugh and his friends.

    Get that? Now that Democrats are in power, they should only get to enact the same percentage of their agenda as they won in the popular vote. Isn't Rush generous? As Carville points out, Limbaugh wasn't nearly as generous when Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000.

    Limbaugh must have called for the incoming Bush administration to allocate ideas based on the proportion of election returns. I'm sure President Bush and the Republicans in Congress graciously accepted their 49.5 percent share of everything. (Note: We would be much better off right now had this actually happened.)

    With 50 percent of the federal government during President Bush's term, Democrats might have reduced the deficit (a truly Clintonista idea). Wall Street might have been more heavily regulated and K Street's lobbyists might not have been running the Capitol. Democrats might have invested money into infrastructure improvements so that bridges didn't collapse or entire cities flood.

    Does it surprise anyone that Limbaugh would offer up something so breathtakingly disingenuous?

  • Reading Nancy Pelosi's supposedly racist mind

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Conservative columnist Ruben Navarrette pulls a neat trick over at CNN.com. Dishing out the latest, warmed-over GOP talking points about Obama's proposed stimulus package, the RNC-friendly writer claims to be able to read minds. Specifically, he can read the mind of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who last week was at the center of a mini-controversy regarding the proposed expansion of Medicaid funding for family planning services.

    Navarrette though, was able to spot very nasty, vile and racist undertones to Pelosi's comments:

    When you make the argument that contraception is a cost-saving measure for state and federal government, some might think what you're implying is that the babies who would otherwise have been born were destined to become dependent on welfare and other public services. And for those who think wrongly that welfare dependents only come in two colors -- black and brown -- it's easy to see which births need to be controlled. That's how you connect the dots. Now, maybe that isn't where Pelosi was headed with her comments. It doesn't matter.

    Did you follow? According to Navarrette, "some might think" that Pelosi was implying that "black and brown" babies are a bad thing. And that if you "connect the dots," that's where Pelosi's comments were "headed."

    But did Pelosi ever say or even imply such a ugly thing? According to Navarrette, "It doesn't matter." He's going to smear her nonetheless.

  • Fox News goes after Google's "bias" – seriously

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Technology must have it in for conservatives. Not too long ago those on the right launched their own video sharing service because they claimed YouTube had a liberal bias.

    Well, conservatives are back with the crazy. As News Hounds notes:

    Those "fair and balanced" folks at FOX News are ever on the lookout for bias - everywhere but in their own backyard, of course. Their latest candidate for an it's-just-so-unfair-for-conservatives whine? Google, because the search engine fixed a President Obama "Google bomb" faster than it fixed one about President Bush. Never mind that FOXNews.com's own article reported that Google developed the fix in 2007, four years after the Bush Google bomb cited for comparison. Maybe waiting on the fix was part of the liberal plot, too.

    The "Google bomb" in question is "miserable failure." According to FOXNews.com, in 2003, anti-Bush web activists had numerous websites link the phrase "miserable failure" to the White House biography of then-President George W. Bush. Afterward, Googling the phrase "miserable failure" brought Bush's biography to the top of the results list until Google fixed the problem in 2007. Now that Barack Obama is in office, the same Google bomb has been lobbed at him. But Google has already fixed it.

    […]

    The FOXNews.com article, titled Unlike Bush's 'Google Bomb,' Google Quickly Defuses Obama's begins:

    It took four years for Google to address the "Google bomb" that was lobbed at former President Bush.

    But it took the Internet behemoth only a few days to defuse the same attack on President Obama.

    Four years versus a few days ... Some Googlers are asking why.

    As News Hounds points out, Fox News' own report notes that Google had not yet developed an algorithm that kills Google bombs until 2007 – so obviously, now that Google has a remedy at their disposal they use it. Wow, that's some liberal bias!

  • The LA Times takes a cheap shot at Dr. Jill Biden.

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    In an article portraying Jill Biden - who is teaching at a community college in Virginia, though she could doubtless land a gig at Georgetown or GW if she chose - as pompous, the Los Angeles Times falsely suggests her use of the title "Doctor" is fraudulent.

    Under the sub-head "The vice president's wife holds a doctorate in English -- but she likes to use the prefix that most people reserve for medical doctors," the Times explains:

    In 2007, at 55, Jill Biden did earn a doctorate -- in education, from the University of Delaware. Since then, in campaign news releases and now in White House announcements, she is "Dr. Jill Biden." This strikes some people as perfectly appropriate and others as slightly pompous, a quality often ascribed to her voluble husband.

    Who are these "others" who find Jill Biden "slightly pompous"? The Los Angeles Times won't say.

    The paper described St. Louis University professor Joel Goldstein as seeming "mildly amused" when told Biden likes to be called "Dr" - but it quoted him saying "Occasionally someone will call me 'doctor,' and when that happens my wife makes fun of me a little bit. But nobody thought it was pretentious to call Henry Kissinger 'Dr. Kissinger.'"

    Hmmm... that seems to undermine the idea that Biden is being "pompous." Indeed, it suggests that the LA Times is mocking an accomplished woman for using a title that is frequently used, without controversy, by accomplished men.

    Next, the Times turns to "Amy Sullivan, a religion writer for Time magazine" for comment. But Sullivan doesn't really support the Times' claim that Biden is "slightly pompous," either - she is quoted saying "Ordinarily when someone goes by doctor and they are a PhD, not an MD, I find it a little bit obnoxious. But it makes me smile because it's a reminder that she's her own person. She wasn't there as an appendage; she was there as a professional in her own right."

    Then the Times quoted the head of the Washington Post's copy desk saying his newspaper only refers to medical doctors as "doctor." But he doesn't criticize Biden or call her pompous, either. Finally, the Times quoted a USC professor who made the point that women academics are often addressed by their first name while male colleagues are called doctor. Again, this is not a quote that supports the Times' suggestion that Biden is "pompous" - instead, it is another reminder that we probably wouldn't see such an article about Dr. Henry Kissinger.

    It gets worse.

    In the middle of an article suggesting that Jill Biden is wrong to refer to herself as "doctor," the Times offers this passage:

    Joe Biden, who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is expected to travel widely in his new job. But he may need to tone down the Dr. Jill Biden stories, should he find himself in Germany with his wife.

    Last year, according to the Post, at least seven Americans (with degrees from places like Cornell and Caltech) were investigated for the crime of "title fraud" for calling themselves doctor on business cards, resumes and websites. Only people who have earned advanced degrees in Germany or other European Union countries may legally call themselves that.

    German investigations of "title fraud" don't have anything to do with Jill Biden. Nobody - nobody except the LA Times, that is - is suggesting that Jill Biden is guilty of "fraud." And Germany doesn't prohibit non-medical doctors from using the title doctor; it prohibits people who didn't earn their doctorate in Germany or the EU to call themselves doctor. Again: this has absolutely nothing to do with Jill Biden. It's just a cheap shot; a clumsy effort to suggest there is something fraudulent about her use of the title "doctor," even though there is nothing wrong with her doing so - by American standards or German.

    The Los Angeles Times' sports pages routinely contain references to the owner of the LA Lakers as "Dr. Jerry Buss." The next time the Times wants to call someone pompous for going by "doctor" despite lacking a medical degree, maybe the paper should take aim at their hometown -- male -- sports executive rather than taking cheap shots at a community college professor.

  • The more things change....

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    This was the Vietnam-driven, Time doomsday cover for the issue published just weeks after the new Democratic president was sworn into office in 1993:

    Now here's the latest Vietnam-driven, Newsweek doomsday cover for the current issue, published just days after the new Democratic president was sworn into office:

    Aside for the bogus way the news weeklies jumped at the chance to hang a foreign policy "Vietnam" around the neck of brand new Democratic presidents, behold the especially surreal logic connected to the Newsweek cover and its attempt to connect Obama, in office for less than 14 days, to the battle for Afghanistan, which the Bush administration oversaw for nearly seven years.