• This is what happens when radio guys try to run newspapers

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    They drive the Tribune Co. into the ground. Writes Dan Kennedy:

    More than anything, though, it serves as a report card on the truly odd duo running Tribune these days: Sam Zell, a foul-mouthed Chicago real-estate tycoon who, in 2007, bought the already-debt-burdened chain with borrowed money; and Lee Abrams, the loopy radio guru Zell brought in to reinvent a business that Zell himself apparently holds in contempt.

    For the record, Zell was also a player in the radio biz; he once owned Jacor where he gave Randy Michaels his big break. Michaels has also helped to steer Tribune right onto the rocks.

  • The Politico's awkward attemp to hype the Blago/Obama drama

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Ugh, this is painful to read. And we're just talking bout the first couple sentences:

    The breathtaking scope of Tuesday's Illinois Senate scandal presents President-elect Barack Obama with a direct and immediate test of leadership.

    Between the criminal charges lodged against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the questions raised by the conduct of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Obama must decide how bluntly - and how personally - to raise his voice against real-life allegations that epitomize what he has called "decades of broken politics in Washington."

    It's hard to imagine a timelier moment, or a more compelling convergence of circumstances, for Obama to signal the seriousness of his promise to reform the way Washington goes about its business.

    What's Obama gonna do?! Politico wonders ominously. It's just a hunch, but our guess is that when it comes to the Blagojevich story, Obama won't do anything. It's a criminal case and Obama, as the prosecutor make perfectly clear on Tuesday, is not an active player.

    What exactly, does Politico expect Obama to do? He should make a speech and denounce corruption. Well sure, that would be nice. But we're pretty sure most Americans assume that Obama is not in favor of U.S. senate seats being sold off to the highest bidder. (Obama made that quite clear with his comments on Tuesday.) And would denouncing the obvious really reflect "a direct and immediate test of leadership" as Politico breathless claims? A rather eccentric politician in Illinois was tape-recorded cooking up a local money-making scheme. What's that have to do with Obama's transition to the White House and his leadership of the country?

    Meanwhile, did you notice how Politico slipped in a vague, confusing reference to Charles Rangel in its Blagojevich lead? Rangel's inclusion makes no sense--Rangel hasn't been charged with any crime, let alone selling off U.S. senate seats--but by including Rangel, Politico can prop up the phony claim that the Blagojevich story in Illinois has something to do with reform in Washington.

    FYI, Rangel's vague, confusing reference at the top of the story is never explained in the article. (i.e. Details are never given.) Meaning, Politico never justifies why it named-dropped the senior Democratic Congressman in an article about naked corruption.

    Does Politico owe Charles Rangel an apology?

  • Our favorite letter to the editor

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    This week goes to "sixstringsam," at Salon, in response to Camille Paglia latest gossip-mongers screed:

    Dumber Days

    I think I'm dumber after reading this. This is one of the most rambling, petty, and unsubstantial pieces I've read in a while. I'm still trying to figure out what the F her point was. If I understand correctly, she hates the Clintons, is pissed at some professor from god knows when, and doesn't understand why homosexuals are being so damned impatient. My question: why the F do we care what you have to say? I literally cannot express my confusion with this piece.

  • AP's Sidoti smears Obama

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    AP reporter Liz Sidoti, fresh off a stint delivering donuts to John McCain, pens an "analysis" of the Blagojevich indictment that begins: "President-elect Barack Obama hasn't even stepped into office and already a scandal is threatening to dog him."

    Then, in the very next sentence, Sidoti admits "Obama isn't accused of anything." And that pretty much sets the tone for the "analysis" -- ominous warnings that Obama could be implicated in the scandal, followed by concessions that he, you know ... isn't.

    Sidoti writes: "But the fact that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a fellow Democrat, has been charged with trying to sell Obama's now-vacant Senate post gives political opponents an opening to try to link him to the scandal."

    Well, sure. Republicans can try to link him to the scandal. Have they succeeded? Are there actual substantive connections between Obama and the wrongdoing? Because if there aren't, that's the story: Republicans smearing Obama by falsely suggesting he is tied to the wrongdoing. Indeed, Sidoti later acknowledges "U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said prosecutors were making no allegations that Obama was aware of any scheming. And Blagojevich himself, in taped conversations cited by prosecutors, suggested that Obama wouldn't be helpful to him."

    So there's a great big ball of nothing here, yet Sidoti continues to pretend that Obama is caught up in the scandal, writing "There were signs the continuing investigation could still involve Obama."

    Well, no. The "signs" Sidoti pointed to were the fact that someone who works for Obama once worked for Blagojevich (ah-ha!) and that court papers appear to refer to "Obama friend Valerie Jarrett, an incoming senior White House adviser," who removed herself from consideration for the Senate seat Obama is vacating. Blagojevich is charged with trying to sell an appointment to that seat. Jarrett removed herself from consideration for it. How that constitutes a sign that the investigation "could still involve Obama" is clear only in Sidoti's imagination.

    Still, Sidoti is technically correct: the investigation could still involve Obama. But it is grossly unfair to suggest that possibility absent any evidence. That's something Liz Sidoti apparently doesn't understand -- though one suspects she would understand the unfairness of suggesting, absent any evidence, that she could be taking payments from the GOP to write garbage like this.

    Sidoti concludes: "More details on the case could be forthcoming." Hard to argue with that.

    So what do we have? According to Liz Sidoti:

    1) "Obama isn't accused of anything"
    2) "prosecutors were making no allegations that Obama was aware of any scheming"
    3) "Blagojevich himself, in taped conversations cited by prosecutors, suggested that Obama wouldn't be helpful to him"
    4) There is no evidence, indication, or hint that Obama was aware of scheming, or did help Blagojevich.
    5) Nevertheless, "more details on the case could be forthcoming"
    6) Therefore, a "scandal" is "threatening to dog" Obama.

    This is nothing short of sleazy. With no evidence whatsoever, Sidoti is suggesting ties between Obama and the scandal that simply do not exist. Whatever this is, it isn't "analysis" and it isn't "journalism."

  • AP attempts to create Clinton controversy; offers no evidence

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    From the Associated Press:

    The first sign of cracks in President-elect Barack Obama's foreign policy team of rivals emerged on Monday as his choices for secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations visited the State Department.

    Wow, that sounds ominous. What is the AP talking about?

    As Secretary of State-pick Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. envoy-choice Susan Rice separately visited the diplomatic agency's headquarters in Washington's Foggy Bottom neighborhood, persons familiar with the transition said that Rice wants to install her own transition team inside the department.

    Such a move by an incoming U.N. ambassador is rare, if not unprecedented, because the job is based at the United Nations in New York, where Rice already has a small transition staff, the sources familiar with the incoming administration.

    Well, that's pretty underwhelming. The AP can't even say that a transition team for Rice at State would be unprecedented. This is supposed to constitute "cracks" in Obama's "team"? Weak, weak stuff.

    There must be more, right? No, not really:

    Officials with Clinton's transition team declined to comment on the matter, and aides to Rice could not immediately be reached. State Department officials declined to comment on issues related to the transition.

    It was not clear if Clinton and Rice _ who had strained relations during the Democratic primaries because of Rice's steadfast backing of Obama _ saw each other at the State Department as Clinton left the building shortly after Rice arrived.

    So there's no indication Clinton and Rice saw each other. There's no indication that it would have been a problem if they did. Or if they didn't. Neither Clinton's team nor Rice's aides nor State department officials would comment. So, basically: still no "sign of cracks."

    The AP continues:

    During the presidential campaign, some Clinton aides saw Rice's early decision to back Obama as a betrayal because of her previous role as a high State Department official during President Bill Clinton's administration. Rice's desire to place her own team in Washington could fuel speculation that those tensions will carry into the new administration.

    So, more than six months ago, some Clinton aides were upset about Rice's support of Obama. And the AP thinks that means there are now "signs of cracks" in Obama's team?

    Note also that the AP says Rice's desire for a team in Washington "could fuel speculation" that those tensions would continue. That's circular nonsense at best. The entire AP article is nothing more than speculation those tensions would occur. But the article contains no evidence that anyone other than the AP is doing any such speculation.

    AP, continuing directly:

    The officials could not say if Clinton's team had formally objected to Rice's plan, or even if Rice would be able to install a separate transition team inside the State Department. But they noted that dueling transition teams could complicate the handover by blurring lines of authority.

    Uh ... which "officials"? The only "officials" previously referred to are "Officials with Clinton's transition team," who declined to comment, and "State Department officials" - who also declined to comment.

    In any case, whoever the AP means by "The officials," they don't give any indication that Clinton's team objects to Rice's plan. They merely "noted" that the teams "could" complicate things. That's a "sign of cracks"? "Officials" - of or with what or who, the AP does not even hint - note that the transition "could" be complicated?

    There is, in short, absolutely nothing here.

  • Ben Smith regresses

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Last night, I noted that Politico's Ben Smith responded to Media Matters' criticism of his reporting on Barack Obama's recent churchgoing habits - but that Smith didn't address our substantive complaint (that in purporting to compare the frequency of Obama's churchgoing with Bush's, Smith neglected to tell readers that Bush has rarely attended church as president.) Instead, Smith simply complained that our criticism of him was too long.

    That was an odd response, suggesting that Smith 1) is quite defensive about his reporting, and 2) lacks the confidence to substantively defend his work.

    Then, today, Huffington Post's Jason Linkins addressed the controversy, writing "let's just agree that anyone who writes any future blog posts about Barack Obama's churchgoing habits is terrible and boring and probably deserves to be laid off."

    That led to yet another response from Smith, which read -- in its entirety -- "Stories about Obama's church attendance are so boring that HuffPo's media writer was compelled to spill another 776 words on the subject."

    So, Ben Smith is repeatedly responding to criticism of his one-sided reporting by simply counting the number of words used to criticize him. It's little different than sticking his fingers in his ears and repeating "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!"

    In his post, Linkins suggests that this whole discussion is a waste of time. But there are actually two important points at play here.

    The first is that Smith and his Politico colleagues are literally counting Barack Obama's church attendance -- and that, in doing so, they purport to contrast his lack of attendance with President Bush churchgoing habits, without noting that Bush has rarely attended church as president. That is self-evidently flawed journalism - and it perpetuates the false stereotype of godless liberals. Given that Barack Obama's faith has long been subject of scurrilous lies, it is particularly troubling to see Politico engage in this conduct.

    Secondly, Smith's responses to substantive criticism - basically, sticking his fingers in his ears and whining about the length of the criticism while ignoring the substance - provides a depressing illustration of how hostile some journalists are to the very idea that they might be criticized.

    Let's be clear: Smith isn't contesting the content of our criticism; he hasn't addressed that content in any way. He's simply complaining that we're criticizing him in the first place. He apparently believes that being a reporter for the Politico should grant him blanket immunity from anyone pointing out the flaws in his work - or that there are no such flaws. It's a stunningly arrogant attitude.

    439 words, Ben. Deal with it.

  • The myth of the "Russert Primary"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    With NBC's hugely important announcement that David Gregory will be the guy who asks questions on Meet The Press, the press has been in full, MTP worship mode. (It's not just a TV show people, it's an institution) Leading the charge, Howard Kurtz at the WaPo:

    In what was dubbed the Russert Primary, a presidential candidate's stock would rise or fall depending on how he or she handled the interrogation.

    This is beyond Beltway CW, it's official mythology. What Kurtz left out was the fact that the Russert Primary was often quite different depending on whether you were a Democratic or Republican candidate, as I quote from Lapdogs:

    During the hour-long sit-down, [Howard] Dean faced off against a clearly combative host, Tim Russert, who prepared for the interview in part by asking the Bush Treasury Department to produce what the Washington Post later called a "highly selective" analysis of the Democratic candidate's proposed tax program. The GOP-friendly analysis prompted Russert to ask incredulously to Dean, "Can you honestly go across the country and say, "I'm going to raise your taxes 4,000 percent or 107 percent" and be elected?"

    That was Russert's second substantive question of the interview. His first was about the then-recent arrest of Dean's son for helping steal beer from a country club. Russert though, famed for his pre-show prep, botched the facts and erroneously informed viewers that Dean's teenage son had been "indicted." Deep into the interview Russert asked how many men and women were currently serving in the U.S. military, a gotcha-style question designed solely to put Dean on the spot. When Dean said he didn't know the exact number, Russert lectured the candidate, "As commander in chief, you should know that." Dean answered the question by saying there were between 1 and 2 million men and women in active duty; according to the Pentagon, there were in fact 1.4 million.

    But travel back in time to November, 1999 when Russert had a far more civil sit-down with then-candidate Bush. (Russert: "Can kids avoid sex?" Bush: "I hope so. I think so.") Russert, in a rare move, even agreed to leave his NBC studio and to travel to Bush's home turf in Texas to conduct the interview, thereby giving the Texas governor a sort of home-field advantage. In fact, Russert first flew down to Austin in April 1999 to "get to know the governor of Texas," as the moderator put it, and to begin lobbying Bush for a Meet the Press appearance. (There's no indication Russert ever traveled up to Vermont in 2003 to "get to know" Dean or to persuade him to appear on the Sunday talk show.)

    For nearly 60 minutes Bush and Russert talked about key issues, but Russert never tried to pin the Republican candidate down the way he did Dean. When the host did spring a specific policy question on Bush, asking how many missiles would still be in place if a new START II nuclear weapons treaty were signed, a stumped Bush simply answered: "I can't remember the exact number." But unlike his session with Dean, Russert dropped the topic without lecturing Bush that "as commander in chief, you should know that."