Not once but twice in recent days Meet The Press host David Gregory announced that the troubled launch of President Obama's new health care law is roughly the equivalent to President Bush's badly bungled war with Iraq. The NBC anchor was quick to point out that he didn't mean the two events were the same with regards to a death toll. (Nobody has died from health care reform.) But Gregory was sure that in terms of how the former president and the current president are viewed, in terms of damage done to their credibility, the men will be forever linked to a costly, bloody war and a poorly functioning website, respectively.
"Everybody looked at Bush through the prism of Iraq," Gregory explained. "Here, I think people are going to look at Obama through the implementation of Obamacare." It's Obama's defining event of their two-term presidency. It's a catastrophic failure that's tarnished Obama's second term, and will perhaps "wreck" his entire presidency, according to the media's "doom-mongering bubble," as Kevin Drum at Mother Jones described it.
But like the painfully inappropriate comparisons to Hurricane Katrina that have populated the press, Gregory's attempt to draw a Bush/Obama parallel is equally senseless. Bush's war morass stretched over five years, so of course it defined his presidency. Obama's health care woes are in week number six and could be fixed within the next month.
There's something else in play here though, as the Beltway press corps strains to anoint Obama as the new Bush, as it tries to convince news consumers that Obama's failures simply show how presidents are so alike, as are the crises they face and sometimes create. An American city drowned in slow motion following Hurricane Katrina? The United States launched a senseless, pre-emptive war that will drain the U.S. Treasury for decades to come? Well, Obama's Healthcare.gov website doesn't work very well!
This is the mother lode of false equivalency.
But note that the casual attempt to connect the current health care setbacks with the war in Iraq represents a particularly disingenuous attempt to downgrade Bush's historical failures, and to cover the media's tracks of deception.
Fact: You can't talk about the Iraq War as a political event without addressing the central role the U.S. media played in the botched run-up to the war, and the fevered and futile hunt for weapons of mass destruction. By suggesting that Obama's six-week health care crisis puts him in the same position of Bush following the Iraq invasion softens not only the magnitude of Bush's failures, but the media's as well. It's an effort to downplay the massive missteps that led to the war and to trivialize the staggering costs still being paid by Americans. (The Bush and media failures surrounding Iraq are forever linked.)
"No pundit should be allowed to use Iraq as a measuring tool until they are willing to have an honest discussion about their role in selling the country on Iraq," wrote PoliticsUSA's Sarah Jones this week. And she's right.
Just days after the government shutdown came to an end, and with public opinion polls continuing to show that the Republican Party paid a grave price for its radical and shortsighted maneuver, Meet The Press host David Gregory wanted to discuss President Obama's failure to lead.
Pointing to a mocking National Journal piece by Ron Fournier, that was headlined "Obama Wins! Big Whoop. Can He Lead?" Gregory pressed his guests about when Obama would finally "demonstrate he can bring along converts to his side and actually get something meaningful accomplished." Gregory was convinced the president had to shoulder "a big part of the responsibility" for the shutdown crisis, due to the president's failed leadership. New York Times columnist David Brooks agreed Obama is at fault, stressing "The question he's never answered in all these years is, 'How do I build a governing majority in this circumstance?'"
Gregory, Brooks and Fournier were hardly alone in suggesting that Obama's a failed leader. Why a failure? Because a Democratic president beset by Republicans who just implemented a crazy shutdown strategy hasn't been able to win them to his side.
In her post-shutdown New York Times column, Maureen Down ridiculed Obama, claiming he "always manages to convey tedium at the idea that he actually has to persuade people to come along with him, given the fact that he feels he's doing what's right." (i.e. Obama's too arrogant to lead.)
And in a lengthy Boston Globe piece last week addressing Obama's failure to achieve unity inside the Beltway, Matt Viser wrote that Obama "bears considerable responsibility" for the Beltway's fractured, dysfunctional status today (it's "his biggest failure") because "his leadership style" has "angered countless conservatives, who have coalesced into a fiercely uncompromising opposition." That's right, it's Obama's fault his critics hate him so much.
Talk about blaming the political victim.
As an example of Obama's allegedly vexing "leadership style," Viser pointed to the fact Democrats passed a health care reform bill without the support of a single Republican. That "helped spur the creation of the Tea Party and a "de-fund Obamacare" movement," according to the Globe. But that's false. The ferocious anti-Obama Tea Party movement exploded into plain view on Fox News 12 months before the party-line health care vote took place in early 2010. Obama's "leadership style" had nothing to do with the fevered right-wing eruption that greeted his inauguration.
The GOP just suffered a humiliating shutdown loss that has its own members pointing fingers of blame at each other. So of course pundits have turned their attention to Obama and pretended the shutdown was a loss for him, too. Why? Because the Beltway media rules stipulate if both sides were to blame for the shutdown that means both sides suffered losses. So pundits pretend the crisis highlighted Obama's glaring lack of leadership.
But did it? Does that premise even make sense? Isn't there a strong argument to be made that by staring down the radicals inside the Republican Party who closed the government down in search of political ransom that Obama unequivocally led? And that he led on behalf of the majority of Americans who disapproved of the shutdown, who deeply disapprove of the Republican Party, and who likely did not want Obama to give in to the party's outlandish demands?
Doesn't leadership count as standing up for what you believe in and not getting run over; not getting trucked by hard-charging foes?
David Gregory is set to host National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre on this Sunday's Meet the Press. It's LaPierre's first Sunday show interview since March and a rare opportunity to put the NRA chief under the microscope.
In his past coverage of the gun violence debate, Gregory has demonstrated the ability to push back on LaPierre's spin and force him to account for his group's intransigence. But he's also shown a willingness to adopt false media tropes about the supposed electoral weakness of lawmakers who back stronger gun laws.
In recent days, following the recalls of two Colorado state senators who supported stronger gun laws and the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard shooting, some in the media have suggested that no progress on the issue is possible, a lazy claim that could shut down any effort to renew a dialogue on public safety legislation that has gone quiet in the halls of Congress despite overwhelming public support for stronger gun laws. Here are a few things Gregory should remember to avoid falling into that conventional wisdom trap.
Legislation to expand background checks to cover private sales, which failed to receive a supermajority in the Senate earlier this year, is favored by an overwhelming majority of the American people. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say that bill should have passed. A majority of Americans also support a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The evidence does not back up the claims from some pundits that the Colorado recall elections show that Democrats should avoid the issue of stronger gun laws if they want electoral success. The gun laws passed in Colorado earlier this year, which remain on the books, are popular statewide, with more than 80 percent of Coloradans supporting the expanded background check law and a plurality supporting the limit on high-capacity magazines. The recall elections featured shockingly low turnouts of 21 and 36 percent; turnout was likely reduced by efforts from recall supporters to prevent the use of mail-in ballots that the state usually uses. While opponents of stronger gun laws did succeed in their efforts to remove two state senators, they originally had targeted two more but failed to qualify for the ballot. And President Obama and the state's governor and senator all won recent elections despite fervent opposition from the NRA.
On the night of September 10, hours before President Obama addressed the nation about developments surrounding the crisis in Syria, NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams huddled with Meet The Press host David Gregory to analyze the day's top story.
Events were moving quickly. After weeks of Obama threatening to use military strikes against Syria in the wake of President Bashar Al-Assad being accused of gassing his own people with chemical weapons as part of a "massive attack," a sudden diplomatic opening had appeared. Rather than bombing Syria, the United States might be able to work with Russia and get Syria to voluntarily hand over its chemical weapons.
Good news? Not necessarily according to Williams and Gregory. "What has the president gotten himself into here," Williams wondered, suggesting the prospect of a diplomatic resolution represented a setback for Obama. Gregory agreed. What the president had gotten himself into was, "A real mess: bad sequencing, disorganization, a sense of, a lack of real focus and strategy for what the U.S. wants to do in the world."
Just four days later, a plan crafted by the United States and Russia's Vladimir Putin to rid Syria of its chemical weapons by next year was announced. So much for the "real mess" the White House had created.
So far, no American bombs have been dropped on Syria, not one American soldier has died in fighting there, and no Syrian civilians have been killed by U.S. forces. But that hasn't stopped the chattering class from eviscerating Obama, often with a mocking and condescending tone. Deeply invested in the Obama's-stumbling storyline that was attached to the president's initial call for bombing strikes, pundits and reporters failed (or refused) to adjust as the facts shifted and the crisis steered toward a diplomatic resolution.
The Syria coverage represents a clear case of the press adopting style over substance, as well as channeling Republican spin. Of treating foreign policy as if it were a domestic political campaign and insisting that a story unfolding half-a-world away was really all about Obama and how it affected (and/or damaged) his political fortunes. It was also coverage that often lacked nuance and context, and that refused to allow diplomatic events unfold without minute-by-minute surveys of the domestic winners and losers.
Six months ago, who would've thought that given the chance to get Assad to give up his weapons, that achievement would be portrayed in the press as a foreign policy "fiasco" for the White House? (A sampling of pundit-class descriptions of Obama's Syria performance: "head-spinning reversal," "flaccid," "stuck in a box," "confused, erratic," "debacle," "embarrassing spectacle.")
Meanwhile, two weeks ago with the prospects dim of Obama winning a Congressional vote to authorize military strikes, it seemed the only option that would save him from political doom at home, and head off the rush among commentators to announce the demise of his second term, was some sort of last-minute diplomatic push to force Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to postpone a Congressional war vote, thereby letting the White House avoid a potentially embarrassing defeat.
What happened? Basically that exact scenario unfolded. Yet the Beltway press claimed Obama had really blown it. He'd been "played by Putin"! Why the failing marks on Syria? Because Obama went about it all the wrong way. (Americans didn't seem to mind.) The process was botched. It looked clumsy, according to a legion of Beltway theater critics.
Media are misleadingly hyping Republican anti-choice rhetoric to promote the idea that legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy is "reasonable." In fact, many severe health complications for the mother and fetus are only discovered during or after the 20th week of pregnancy, and research has found that financial hardship forces many women to delay the procedure.
From the July 14 edition of NBC's Meet The Press:
Loading the player reg...
Meet The Press host David Gregory misrepresented the Affordable Care Act's "medicare surtax" to suggest that it will be felt by "anybody who gets a paycheck in this country," though the provisions will only affect individuals with an annual income above $200,000.
Beginning with 2013 tax returns, new tax provisions included in the Affordable Care Act will begin to take effect. Though most Americans will only see a tax increase if they decide to forgo health coverage, some changes designed to increase fairness in Medicare funding will begin to affect the wealthiest Americans.
Gregory misled about this change during a discussion about the Affordable Care Act implementation process on the July 7 edition of NBC's Meet the Press. He noted that while he didn't understand all the "ins and outs" of the healthcare law, its Medicare tax increases were one thing that would be apparent to all working Americans on their paychecks.
Gregory's claim failed to recognize that both of the healthcare law's Medicare tax increases affect only the wealthiest of Americans. A 0.9 percent Medicare payroll tax increase will apply to individual earners whose annual income exceeds $200,000 or households earning more than $250,000 - a group representing only 4.2 percent of taxpayers. An additional 3.8 percent tax will apply to the investment income of some Americans. As Forbes noted, "for individuals who have little or no net investment income, their 3.8% Medicare Surtax will be minimal if not zero."
According to the White House, the changes are designed to increase fairness in a system that is highly regressive. Currently, Americans with substantial unearned income do not pay into the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund as workers do, and payroll tax caps decrease the percentage that high-earners contribute.
From the May 19 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
Loading the player reg...
Media coverage of the debt ceiling frequently claims that raising the limit without simultaneous spending cuts would give President Obama a "blank check," repeating a pattern of promoting this false narrative -- or failing to correct it -- that occurred during the unprecedented brinkmanship of 2011. The phrase implies that the debt ceiling governs additional spending desired by the White House, when in fact it is a restriction on the executive branch's ability to borrow money to pay for spending measures already enacted by Congress.
The National Rifle Association refused to answer questions at what it had claimed was a "press conference" today in response to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Instead, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre gave a speech calling for armed police officers at all schools and blaming violent video games for mass shootings, rather than the ability of those shooters to obtain a firearm.
Notably, an armed police officer was present at Columbine High School at the time of the mass shooting there. After attempting to fire on one of the shooters with his pistol, he was quickly pinned down by the greater firepower of the shooter's assault weapon.
This puts special pressure on the hosts of NBC's Meet The Press and CBS' Face The Nation, who will host LaPierre and NRA president David Keene on Sunday, to ask the questions that the rest of the press corps was unable to.
Any such interview should address the conspiratorial language that LaPierre typically uses in speaking to his base, notably his claim that President Obama plans to use his second term to "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights."
National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre will be the "exclusive" guest on NBC's Meet the Press on December 23, nine days after the horrific shooting in Newtown, CT, and five days after the NRA mustered the courage to finally comment on the tragedy. Meet the Press moderator David Gregory is soliciting questions for LaPierre via Twitter, and we're happy to propose a few that touch on LaPierre's and the NRA's credibility on gun rights, drawing from LaPierre's long record of conspiratorial rhetoric in the name of aiding the firearms lobby.
LaPierre: Obama will "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution."
At the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, LaPierre delivered a speech sketching out what he saw coming should President Obama win reelection:
LAPIERRE: We see the president's strategy crystal clear: Get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms' freedom, erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution.
The only way to "erase" a constitutional amendment is with another constitutional amendment. Given that the passage of an amendment requires two-thirds supermajorities in both houses of Congress (one of which is controlled by Republicans) and ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures (more than half of which are controlled by Republicans), the chances of the Second Amendment being "erased" any time soon are infinitesimally small - even if Democrats supported such a thing. And in fact, Obama himself has repeatedly stated that he supports both the Second Amendment and passing reasonable restrictions on guns - as do most NRA members.
QUESTION: "There is no plausible scenario in which President Obama or the Democrats could possibly remove the Second Amendment from the Constitution, so how can you justify your claim that the president will do so in his second term?"
The hosts of Fox News Sunday and Meet The Press pushed the myth that Democratic support for gun violence prevention measures was a significant factor in their 1994 and 2000 electoral defeats.
These claims echo a false media narrative that the National Rifle Association is able to influence electoral outcomes and punish politicians who refuse to line up with the pro-gun organization. This narrative is faltering following the 2012 elections where the NRA spent tens of millions of dollars in a largely unsuccessful attempt to defeat candidates in favor of gun violence prevention policies. Furthermore, there is strong public support for specific gun violence prevention measures and claims that Democrats paid a price for supporting gun violence prevention in 1994 and 2000 are overblown.
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace claimed during an interview with Al Gore's 2000 running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who advocated for universal background checks on gun sales and renewal of the assault weapons ban on the show, that support for such policies contributed to his 2000 defeat:
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Back in the 90's you supported the Brady law which called for a five day waiting period.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN: Right.
WALLACE: You supported the assault weapons ban. Then in 2000 you and Al Gore campaigned around the country and you lost, and a lot of people took as a lesson, part of it was in states like Tennessee and West Virginia, the fact that you were pro-gun control. And quite frankly ever since Democrats have been scared of touching that issue.
NBC's David Gregory showed Mitt Romney claiming that President Obama said he would lower unemployment to 5.2 percent and presented this statement as representative of Obama's economic record. But independent fact-checkers have rated the charge that Obama promised an unemployment rate of around 5 percent as false and misleading.
While economists working with Obama projected in 2009 that one version of a stimulus bill would lower the unemployment to that level, the severity of the recession wasn't fully understood at that time, and Obama never promised that level of unemployment would be achieved.
While interviewing White House senior adviser David Plouffe on Sunday's Meet The Press, Gregory aired a clip of Romney saying during a stump speech that President Obama said he would "bring the unemployment rate down to 5.2 percent by now" and that "unemployment today is higher than when Barack Obama took office." Gregory said Romney's argument was that "the unemployment rate [is] higher than when the president took office."
Gregory then paraphrased Romney's message as, "if you've got anxiety about the economy, this is the president's record -- you have to be disappointed."
Romney's statement is a reference to a report produced by Obama's economic advisers in January 2009, before Obama took office, predicting that unemployment would be near 5 percent in 2012 and that it would not exceed 8 percent if the stimulus was passed. But the report was produced before the release of data showing the recession was much worse than was thought at the time.
Indeed, in August 2011, the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated that real gross domestic product had declined by 8.9 percent during the fourth quarter of 2008 -- over twice as much as BEA's initial estimate of 3.8 percent. These revisions made the economic contraction in 2008 the worst single-quarter decline in GDP since 1958.
Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and independent economists show that Obama's stimulus plan significantly raised employment and increased GDP, and lowered the unemployment rate from the recession's peak. There are also more Americans employed now than when Obama took office in January 2009.
Meet the Press host David Gregory helped Republican Governors Scott Walker (WI) and John Kasich (OH) take undeserved credit for the job recoveries in their states. In separate Meet the Press interviews, both governors took credit for an increase in jobs during their term, but Gregory did not point out that jobs were already on the upswing before either of them came into office.
NBC host David Gregory covered up a distortion of the Obama administration's tax plan by Bob McDonnell, letting the Republican Virginia governor claim that Vice President Joe Biden said the administration plans to "raise your taxes about $2 trillion" when in fact the administration has only proposed raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
McDonnell appeared on Meet the Press today to discuss, among other things, the October 11 vice-presidential debate. Commenting on Biden's performance, McDonnell claimed that Biden's remarks affirmed that "absolutely, Obama and Biden are going to raise your taxes about $2 trillion over the next couple months -- over the next four years."
Gregory made no effort to point out that McDonnell misstated the administration's tax plan. Biden did not say the administration will raise everyone's taxes, but very clearly restated the Obama administration's stance that tax cuts should expire for the wealthiest Americans, while tax cuts for middle-class Americans should be extended.
Indeed, during the vice-presidential debate, moderator Martha Raddatz, a reporter for ABC, asked Biden, "If your ticket is elected, who will pay more in taxes? Who will pay less?" The vice president replied that the Obama administration wants to "extend permanently the middle-class [Bush] tax cut" and allow "the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy" to expire:
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: The middle class will pay less, and people making a million dollars or more will begin to contribute slightly more. Let me give you one concrete example: the continuation of the Bush tax cuts. We're arguing that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy should be allowed to expire. Of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, 800 million -- billion dollars of that goes to people making a minimum of a million dollars. We see no justification in these economic times for those -- and they're patriotic Americans. They're -- they're not asking for this continued tax cut; they're not suggesting it; but my friends are insisting on it. A hundred and twenty thousand families, by continuing that tax cut, will get an additional $500 billion in tax relief in the next 10 years, and their income is an average of $8 million.
We want to extend permanently the middle-class tax cut for -- permanently from the Bush middle-class tax cut.
Gregory also made no mention of the fact that analysts have said it's the Romney-Ryan plan that could actually raise taxes on the middle class. Studies from the Tax Policy Center concluded that Romney's tax plan would almost certainly have to "increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers" in order to remain revenue neutral.