The Washington Post reporter Dan Balz portrayed Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) as a key figure who can help GOP outreach to racial minorities, following Paul's criticism of Ferguson, Mo., law enforcement and their role in the Michael Brown killing. But Balz ignored Paul's previous opposition to the Civil Rights Act, despite having reported on it in 2010.
In his August 14 article, Balz highlighted Paul's opinion piece in Time decrying the response of Missouri police to protests in the wake of the police shooting of the 18-year-old Brown. Paul acknowledged in his piece that race skews "the application of criminal justice in this country" and criticized the "militarization of our law enforcement" -- which Balz characterized as "a shift away" from typical conservative rhetoric. According to Balz, Paul's acknowledgement of racial disparities in particular "sets him apart from others in his party," allowing him to help expand the GOP's base (emphasis added):
Paul is a prospective 2016 presidential candidate and the leading proponent of libertarian philosophy among elected officials. In Ferguson, he has found circumstances almost tailor-made to advance his worldview. In doing so, he continues to set himself apart from others in the Republican Party with the hope of expanding the party's coalition and advancing his own political future.
In this case, he blames the militarization of local police on big government and especially Washington's willingness to provide such materiel to local communities. His comments on race mark another moment in which he is trying to show an openness to the issues affecting African Americans that sets him apart from others in his party.
But in 2010 Balz himself reported that Paul had "embarrassed the GOP establishment" by "questioning parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act."
In an interview while running for his Kentucky Senate seat, Paul had said that while he supported portions of the Act, particularly in regards to ending discrimination by the government, he also believed "in freedom" and "private ownership." When asked if "it would be okay for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworth's," Paul responded that such action would be "abhorrent" but implied he would support the private owner's right to discriminate.
Racial discrimination by private actors is prohibited by both Title II and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The Washington Post hid almost a full year of job creation in Ohio, suggesting that it was only after Republicans won elections in 2010 that the economy began to recover.
The Post highlighted the heavy focus on Ohio during the waning days of the presidential election and reported:
Over the past two years, Ohio's economy has begun to rebound. Unemployment stands at 7 percent, below the national average and down from 9.4 percent in November 2010, when Republicans scored major victories in the midterm elections. Republican Gov. John Kasich claims his policies have helped turn around the economy, but the brightening picture gives a potential lift to Obama as Election Day nears.
But the unemployment rate in Ohio had been falling the entire year leading up to the 2010 election, after it had peaked at 10.6 percent in late 2009. The unemployment rate in the state declined throughout 2010 and by September 2012 had dropped to the lowest level since before President Obama was elected.
The campaign jabs and counterpunches most often cited in the "nasty" stories hardly seemed historic. And let's keep things in perspective: Coordinating a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to smear a candidate by lying about his war record the way the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth did to John Kerry? That's ugly, nasty and extraordinary stuff. Have the Obama and Romney campaigns blatantly crossed all lines of common decency and fair play? Not that I've seen.
Yet the press seemed committed to the "nasty" lament. This week, Washington Post's Dan Balz lamented "the most poisonous campaign" and the fact that "all restraints" have been removed from the contest. Note that Baltz's concern was that the nasty tone would make it difficult for the winner to govern:
This campaign will end in November. Then it will be either Obama's or Romney's responsibility to try to govern. Both side have turned the election into an all-or-nothing battle and hope to claim a mandate on the basis of the outcome. But it will take time and great effort for the winner to drain the poison from the system if the campaign continues on this course.
This campaign is so nasty Balz worries that whoever wins won't be able to bring the country together in order to govern. The winner won't have a mandate.
Here's why Balz's concern no longer applies to modern day politics: Barack Obama ran a "Hope and Change" campaign in 2008. He won in an electoral landslide. And by every conceivable measure he was given a mandate to lead by the American people. The Republican and conservative movement's response to Obama's sweeping, "Hope and Change" victory? The response alternated between blanket obstructionism, "I hope he fails" media taunts, a supposed news channel helping to launch angry Tea Party protests, and an ugly descent into birtherism.
That was President Obama's reward for running the type of campaign the D.C. press apparently wishes candidates were running in 2012.
Pundits like Dan Balz fret that Romney and Obama are running such nasty campaigns that come January it will be "impossible to govern." But most pundits have sat idly by during Obama's first term while sore-loser, obstructionist Republicans haved tried to make it impossible for Obama to govern. The press soft peddled the radical obstructionism and spent much of the last four years blaming Obama for the lack of bipartisanship in Washington. Why was the nasty gridlock Obama's fault? Because he failed to convince committed obstructionists to stop obstructing the White House's agenda.
Yet now the political press is fretting over the fact the campaign's so nasty that no matter who wins in November, the atmosphere inside Washington will remain poisonous? In case members of the media haven't been paying attention, Republicans pumped the poison into the Beltway in the immediate aftermath of Obama's "Hope and Change" campaign.
Given that fact, what's the point of being positive?
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza does his turn at distilling conventional wisdom this morning by asking of the Supreme Court's health care ruling yesterday: "Did Republicans lose the health care battle but win the health care war?" It's a loaded question, born of utterly predictable spin, that assumes a Republican victory regardless of the outcome. But it looks even more ridiculous when you think about the question that should be asked in its stead: We know now what Obama will run on, so what exactly is the Republican health care plan?
After the ruling was issued yesterday, Mitt Romney stood behind a podium and promised that, were he to be elected, he would repeal the law on his first day as president. The Republican National Committee blasted out talking points announcing their intention to repeat the word "tax" ad nauseam from here to November. And everyone seems very impressed that Romney claims to have raised $2 million yesterday off the ruling.
That's all well and good, but as the Post's Ezra Klein pointed out a couple of weeks ago, we're less than five months from Election Day and the presumptive Republican nominee still has not articulated a specific health care policy. That's a remarkable thing, particularly when you consider that at this point in the 2008 election cycle, then-candidate Barack Obama's detailed health care proposal had been a matter of public record for more than a year.
Today's Washington Post article about the "offensive by Republican governors" against labor unions is a textbook case of nonsensical and slanted economic reporting, consistently putting a thumb on the scale in favor of the governors.
Most notably, the Post adopts the bizarre spin that not raising taxes is a way to reduce deficits:
The plain- spoken [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie has emerged as a leader of a growing group of governors that is attacking yawning budget deficits by facing down public employees and promising not to raise taxes.
I'm sorry: What? The Post credits governors like Christie with "attacking yawning budget deficits" by "promising not to raise taxes"? Bizarre. (And just try to imagine the Washington Post reporting that a "group of governors is attacking yawning budget deficits by promising not to cut spending.")
Worse, the Post does not make clear that the Republican governors who are supposedly "attacking yawning budget deficits," like Christie and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, are actually pushing tax cuts that increase the deficit.
Later, the Post reports:
Though studies show that state employees are generally paid less than comparably educated private workers, public employees often enjoy more generous pension and health-care benefits, and these are at the root of the long-term budget problems confronting many states.
In fact, "budget problems" do not stem from spending alone -- they stem from a gap between spending and revenue. In New Jersey, for example, the "root" of the problem is not "generous pension benefits" -- it's that a series of New Jersey governors have raided the state pension fund to pay for tax cuts. Essentially, Republican Governors have cut taxes, creating an unfunded liability in the form of the pension system, then pointed to the lack of funding as a reason to cut pensions. That's their prerogative -- if they prefer tax cuts to pension, they're free to pursue such policies. But the Washington Post shouldn't pretend the problem is simply "generous pensions" rather than Republicans taking money from the pension system in order to fund tax cuts.
Long after many reporters insisted that if only the White House revealed whether Joe Sestak was offered a job the story would go away, reporters are getting ever-more-creative in their attempts to justify covering what is quite clearly not a scandalous act. Two excuses dominate: The Obama camp's promise to be more ethical than predecessors, and its promises of transparency.
Marc Ambinder (who, I should note, has been good about making clear that there's no legal issue here) explains the first:
This is the reason why ethics lawyers can read the text of the statutes, which seem to be clear, and conclude that no prosecutor in his or her right mind would ever bring a case against a White House for doing what the Obama White House did. However, since the Obama White House holds itself as an avatar of ethical excellence, it might have to hold itself to a higher standard than other White Houses. That is an optical problem, not a legal one.
First of all, every incoming administration promises to be more ethical than its predecessors. Remember George W. Bush's pledge to "restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office"? Despite that pledge, reporters could barely pretend to care when Bush's administration outer a covert CIA operative, or when they tried to turn U.S. attorneys into opposition researchers with the power to issue indictments. Despite that pledge, reporters had to be dragged kicking and screaming to (briefly) cover evidence that the Bush administration had lied its way into war. And despite that pledge, reporters certainly didn't care when Karl Rove reportedly offered someone a job to get him to drop out of a campaign.
But things are different now: The Obama administration may have offered someone a job to get him to drop out of a campaign! Oh. Wait…
Second: It's one thing to say the White House promised a higher level of ethical excellence and should be held to that promise, and another to invent, after the fact, ethical transgressions that have never before in the history of the republic been considered ethical transgressions. Yes, the Obama team said they'd be ethically excellent (as does every incoming administration) and yes, they should be held to that promise (as should every administration.)
But that has nothing to do with offering Joe Sestak a job, because offering Joe Sestak a job is not ethically suspect. (It may be politically suspect, but that's a different kettle of fish.) Nobody considered it ethically suspect when previous presidents did it, and nobody has explained why it should be considered ethically suspect now. It's like criticizing Obama for failing to live up to his promises of ethical behavior because he wears a blue shirt. It doesn't make any sense, because you haven't established that there's anything wrong with wearing a blue shirt.
The fact that nobody considered such job offers when previous administrations made them brings us to Matthew Dowd on ABC's This Week:
I think this issue is - it is - it is a political issue. And it does hurt his brand because he came to Washington and said I'm going to change things. I'm going to do things differently. I'm not going to be like Bush and Cheney. We're going to do a whole new politics. We're going to bring people together. We're not going to do all - we're not going to politicize things. And then all of the sudden their excuse now in this thing, everybody does it, so we do it. That's a problem for his brand.
That would be a very good point, if the Obama White House was currently saying "It's cool that we outted a covert CIA agent and lied our way into war, because the Bush administration did it, too." But that isn't what the Obama White House, or anyone else, is saying. What they're saying is that nobody complained when previous administrations of both parties did the same thing, because there's nothing wrong with it. That's quite different. It's the difference between "one person previously did it, and there was widespread outrage" and "everyone does it and nobody complains, because there's nothing wrong with it." The difference between "Yeah, I have brown hair; so does half the country" and "Yeah, I killed him and put his head in the freezer; so did Jeffrey Dahmer." Not the same. Different. Curiously, the implication of Dowd's criticism is that any time the Obama White House does something the Bush White House did, that's inappropriate. Curious, that is, coming from one of Bush's chief strategists.
Finally, there's the "they promised transparency" excuse. Yes, the Obama campaign promised transparency. No, that was not a promise to reveal every word of every conversation everyone ever has in the White House. No, nobody thought that's what it meant at the time. The tendency of some reporters to invoke the transparency pledge, and to suggest that it has been broken, every time they want to know something is dishonest and in bad faith.*
These two justifications have something in common: they're all invoked to get around the sticky little problem created by the fact that there's nothing wrong with offering Joe Sestak a job. Rather than explain why it would be unethical to do so, reporters say "well, they said they'd be more ethical, so they should be." OK, fine: How haven't they been? What is unethical about offering Joe Sestak a job? Nothing. What's wrong with refusing to discuss details of a totally legal job offer? "Well … they said they'd be transparent!" OK, fine: Did anyone ever interpret that to mean they'd disclose all details of all job offers? Of course not.
These are not substantive criticisms of the White House. They are excuses to prolong the story. Those are the kinds of things you expect from the political opposition. Why are they coming from journalists?
* I'll happily retract that statement just as soon as anyone can point me to any comment made by Dan Balz or any other reporter in 2008 indicating that Barack Obama had pledged to make public every word of every conversation anyone acting on his behalf has with anyone about any job.
The Sestak "controversy" just keeps getting more absurd, courtesy of the Washington Post:
1) There's nothing wrong with offering Joe Sestak a job.
2) Political partisans and journalists have invented a scandal out of something that is not.
3) It is unbecoming of the White House to appear defensive in response to being accused of wrongdoing where there is none.
Balz goes on to pretend there are remaining questions:
The report said White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel enlisted former president Bill Clinton to raise the matter with Sestak. Sestak said he had one conversation with Clinton -- date uncertain. But the report said that "efforts were made in June and July of 2009," suggesting more than one conversation. Who else was involved and what else transpired?
Who cares who else was involved and what else transpired? There has been no credible suggestion of wrongdoing. None. You can play "who else was involved and what else transpired" forever, as long as you aren't limited to questions about wrongdoing. Who did Dan Balz have dinner with last night? What did they talk about? What else happened? Why won't he tell us? What is he hiding?
Balz then pretends the White House could have avoided all of this:
For the White House, the latest revelations only create more questions. For starters, why did it take the White House months to issue any kind of report on its intervention in the Sestak-Specter race? And why, after so many months, was that report as thin as it was? Couldn't the White House have put the matter to rest months earlier?
No. See, Republicans still would have pretended to be outraged -- we know this from the fact that they continue to pretend to think there is a scandal here, even after it has been made clear that there isn't. We also know it from basic common sense, and from being alive and aware of how the Republican party deals with Democratic presidents. So all that remains is the question of whether the media would have ignored the GOP's criticisms had only the White House responded more quickly. That's such an absurd thing to believe that you'll notice that Dan Balz doesn't actually say it. The fact that Balz wrote that paragraph in questions rather than in statements suggests that he doesn't really believe the White House could have "put the matter to rest months earlier." If he does really believe it, here's a challenge for him: Say it directly. Come out and say, explicitly, that Darrell Issa would have dropped this months ago, had only the White House explained what happened -- and that if he didn't, the media would have ignored this whole big ball of nothing.
In comparison with the oil spill, the Sestak and Romanoff cases are minor irritants to the White House. Why shouldn't a White House seek to avoid costly and potentially divisive primaries in a year when holding every seat is crucial?
But, if that's the case, why can't White House officials say that more explicitly? Why can't it be more forthcoming about the nature of its efforts, particularly once they become public? If transparency was a key promise during Obama's presidential campaign, why have officials made it so difficult to get to the facts of these cases?
This is simply nonsense. And I would submit that it is in bad faith. Did anybody, ever, interpret the Obama campaign's comments about transparency as meaning that the Obama White House would release transcripts of every conversation anyone ever has with anyone? Of course not. There is not one reporter in America who thought during the 2008 campaign that Obama was promising to disclose every detail of every discussion everyone at the White House, or acting on the White House's behalf, has with potential employees. Nobody thought that for the very simple reason that the Obama campaign didn't make any promise even remotely resembling that.
But reporters are now willing to pretend such a promise was made so they can justify complaining about the White House's response to an utterly trivial non-issue. The Obama campaign's statements about "transparency" don't mean that they are required to answer every completely pointless question the GOP dreams up. Reporters shouldn't pretend they do.
Washington Post staff writer Dan Balz reports:
[H]ealth care will become a proxy, say strategists in both parties, for the continuing debate over whether the Obama era represents a return to bigger and more intrusive government.
A "return" to bigger and more intrusive government? From what? The small, un-intrusive government of the Bush years, when government spending skyrocketed, in part to pay for warrantless wiretapping of Americans?
It's little more than a throw-away in Balz' piece, but it's representative of how the media has internalized the Republican framing that only social programs -- and not, say, massive defense spending -- constitute "big government," and that the government is "intrusive" when it taxes you to pay for roads and health care, but not when it listens in on your phone calls and tells you who you can marry or when you can get an abortion.
For example, there are ten Washington Post articles available in the Nexis database that carry Dan Balz' byline and that refer to "intrusive" government -- none of which is a reference to abortion, gay rights, or Bush-era infringement on civil liberties. All but one is a reference to Democrats or progressive policies; the lone exception is a Republican pollster quoted saying that the Republicans' 1998 impeachment efforts undermined their image of opposing intrusive government.
Washington Post reporter Dan Balz, in an online Q&A yesterday:
Silver Spring, Md.: I wonder if you could state the evidence for your premise of a "Republican resurgence". ... With two unsurprising (from the vantage point of a year ago) gubernatorial results and one historical flip toward the Dems in NY, isn't it as valid to call last Tuesday a further shift leftward?
Dan Balz: I don't think I used the word "resurgence" in the piece that ran on Sunday. I do think it's fair to say they have taken some concrete steps toward the beginning of a revival. ...
The headline on the Q&A? "The Republican Resurgence":
Balz is right: He didn't use the word "resurgence" in his Sunday article, which acknowledges problems the GOP faces:
One year after hitting bottom in the aftermath of President Obama's election, Republicans have taken their first concrete steps toward recovery. But they remain an embattled and divided force, facing an electorate still skeptical about their capacity to govern and embroiled in a struggle between party regulars and populist conservative forces over how to return to power.
This year, the GOP has recorded historic lows in party identification, according to a string of national surveys. And despite concerns about Obama's agenda, the public still trusts him and the Democrats over the Republicans to deal with many national problems.
The question for Republicans now is whether Tuesday's victories will prove to be aberrations or be seen as the first real signs of a party revival.
But the contrast between Balz' caution and the certainty of the title of his online Q&A is a reminder that there are plenty of people at the Post reading too much into last week's elections.
Washington Post reporter Dan Balz on last night's elections:
The most significant change came among independent voters, who solidly backed Democrats in 2006 and 2008 but moved decisively to the Republicans on Tuesday, according to exit polls. In Virginia, independents strongly supported Republican Robert F. McDonnell in his victory over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, while in New Jersey, they supported Republican Chris Christie in his win over Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine.
For months, polls have shown that independents were increasingly disaffected with some of Obama's domestic policies. They have expressed reservations about the president's health-care efforts and have shown concerns about the growth in government spending and the federal deficit under his leadership.
Tuesday's elections provided the first tangible evidence that Republicans can win their support with the right kind of candidates and the right messages. That is an ominous development for Democrats if it continues unabated into next year.
Ten paragraphs later:
[David] Axelrod warned against extrapolating into the future the shift among independents. He said he believed that many people who called themselves Republicans in the past now call themselves independents but are still voting for Republican candidates. "I don't think they portend long-term trends," he said.
Gee, wouldn't it have been nice if Balz gave readers some indication of whether Axelrod is right that "many people who called themselves Republicans in the past now call themselves independents"?
I mean, that would certainly have some impact on the significance of Balz assertions about independents becoming "increasingly disaffected with some of Obama's domestic policies," wouldn't it? It could even mean that "independents" aren't "increasingly disaffected," but rather that people who are disaffected are increasingly calling themselves independents rather than Republicans. Those two things are very, very different.
And, indeed, various polls this year have shown the percentage of the public that self-identifies as Republican is at or near an all-time low, which lends some support to Axelrod's claim.
This is exactly the kind of question Dan Balz is supposed to resolve, isn't it? His article is billed as "analysis," after all. Wouldn't it be great if he provided some?
The Washington Post's Dan Balz offers an assessment of the Sotomayor hearings:
Sessions framed the conservative case against Sotomayor and his GOP colleagues filled out the bill of particulars they will pursue this week. They object not only to some things Sotomayor has said, but to Obama's assertion that one of the attributes he wants in a Supreme Court justice is empathy. Does that, they asked, inevitably lead to a biased rendering of the law that unfairly favors one group over another?
Republican Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.) raised that issue yesterday morning. How can a justice make sure he or she sets aside personal experiences and sympathies when interpreting the Constitution? Kyl wondered what will happen when Sotomayor ascends to the high court and is free from the restraints on any appeals court judge. He was blunt in questioning whether she would be an evenhanded interpreter of the law.
All of these are legitimate areas of inquiry for the Republicans.
Not mentioned: Previous praise by Republicans for judicial "empathy." Also not mentioned: Sam Alito's statement that his ethnic background influences his approach to discrimination cases. Also not mentioned: Sam Alito just sided with someone who shares his ethnic background in a discrimination case that Republicans use to claim Sotomayor is unable to make unbiased decisions.
In other words, these are "legitimate areas of inquiry for the Republicans" unless you happen to consider overt hypocrisy illegitimate.
In two separate items, The Washington Post reported John McCain's accusation in the October 15 presidential debate that Sen. Barack Obama failed to repudiate comments by Rep. John Lewis without noting that Obama responded by pointing out that his campaign did, in fact, issue a statement saying that Lewis' invocation of George Wallace in criticizing the McCain-Palin ticket was not appropriate.
In his Washington Post analysis, Dan Balz wrote that, during the vice presidential debate, Gov. Sarah Palin "did not stumble over names of foreign leaders." But Balz did not note that Palin misstated the name of Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, twice referring to him as "McClellan."
The Washington Post reported as fact that Sen. John McCain "suspend[ed] most campaign activities last week" without noting evidence to the contrary, including reports in the Post that McCain's campaigning continued "despite" his "pledge." Further, the Post uncritically reported Steve Schmidt's assertion that Sen. Barack Obama "will raise taxes." In fact, Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income families.
Several print media outlets reported that during a July 21 campaign event, Sen. John McCain, in the words of the Associated Press, "disparaged [Sen. Barack] Obama as 'someone who has no military experience whatsoever.' " But none of the articles noted that McCain has previously said he does not "accept the notion" that military experience is necessary to be an effective commander in chief.