What is it about reporters that makes them so obsessed with politicians' iPods, and whether they're telling the truth about liking more than one musician? First, Slate's Jacob Weisberg made the improbable suggestion that Hillary Clinton was insincere in saying she liked the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin. Then, Politico's Glenn Thrush followed up on this line of reporting a few years later by purporting to fact-check Clinton's professed fondness for the Beatles and the Stones.
Now comes the Los Angeles Times' Mark Milian:
So if Obama doesn't know how to use Apple's portable music player -- a product hailed for its ease-of-use, even for a Harvard Law graduate -- was the preelection Rolling Stone magazine article about what's on his iPod a farce?
Come to think of it, his picks did seem a little too varied, uncontroversial and universally respectable to be the real deal. Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Sheryl Crow and Ludacris? Give me a break.
What, exactly, is so hard to believe about having Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Sheryl Crow and Ludacris on an iPod? Songs by all four artists can be found on my iPod.
The assumption by Weisberg, Thrush and Milian that everyone has narrow musical tastes is obnoxious -- and suggests that the three of them don't really like music. In my experience, people who do really like music tend to have diverse tastes -- and don't tend to see an iPod containing Dylan, Davis & Crow as a particularly eclectic collection. It also reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of one of the key the benefits of MP3 players like iPods -- they make it easy to own and access a "varied" music library.
But most of all it's a nasty little effort to portray Obama, like Clinton before him, as a phony, no matter how thin the evidence.
Politico's Jeanne Cummings on MSNBC about half an hour ago, discussing Michelle Obama's popularity:
She's doing much better than what people thought. There was a time during the campaign in 2008 when lots of Republicans thought that Michelle Obama could become some sort of liability.
Hmmmm. I don't remember that sentiment being limited to Republicans; I remember a lot of reporters expressing it as well. Reporters like ... Jeanne Cummings Politico colleagues. Let's fire up The Nexis, shall we?
Jim VandeHei & John Harris, Politico, 3/17/08:
The GOP has proven skilled at questioning the patriotism of Democratic candidates. Just ask John F. Kerry, defeated presidential candidate, and Max Cleland, defeated senator, if such attacks work in the post-Sept. 11 political environment.
They will blend together Wright's fulminations with quotes of Michelle Obama saying her husband's candidacy has made her finally proud of America with pictures of Obama himself sans the American flag on his lapel (the latter a point that has thrived in conservative precincts of the Web and talk radio).
In isolation, any of these might be innocuous. But in the totality of a campaign ad or brochure, the attacks could be brutal, replete with an unmistakable racial subtext.
Glenn Thrush, Politico, 8/25/08:
Plastic bags stuffed with big M-I-C-H-E-L-L-E signs are being loaded into the Pepsi Center for a prime-time speech by would-be first lady Michelle Obama. Her tasks are twofold: to introduce herself to the convention as a strong-willed, nonthreatening surrogate who has always been proud of her country - while portraying her Barack as a messy, absent-minded, regular dad who likes playing with his daughters when he's not out inspiring the millions. How she is received could determine how much she is used on the road this fall.
Mike Allen, Politico, 8/25/08:
Michelle Obama set out to reassure voters Monday that she would leave the governing to her husband and would not be a domineering White House presence.
Nia-Malika Henderson, Politico, 3/28/09:
Traditional? Hardly. In fact, Obama's approach so far is decidedly different from the usual model of the modern first lady - pick a platform of two or three issues and stick to it, by and large, for four years.
Yet in the midst of all those themes, it isn't yet clear whether her self-described core messages - about military families, volunteerism, and helping working women balance work and family life - are truly breaking through. Some wonder if she's spreading herself too thin to emerge in the public mind as a leading voice on those topics.
[F]or some, Obama's multi-tasking approach to the job raises the specter of Rosalynn Carter, who was dogged early on by questions of whether she was taking on too much and trying to be all things to all people. Ironically, some are raising the same "too much, too fast?" question about Michelle that they're raising about her husband, the president.
As for her more official three-issue platform, branding expert Hodgkinson said that for Obama, "the broader mission is to install herself in the psyche of the country and then after that take a look at what does she then wants to advance and can reasonably advance. "
Military family issues might not be the right fit, she said.
"When you think about military families it's not a connection you first make with the first lady," she said. "Without that natural pull, it's going to be a harder campaign especially if people's ears are turned elsewhere."
But now that Mrs. Obama has proven to be quite popular, Politico's Jeanne Cummings wants you to think it was just the Republicans who thought she'd be a liability -- just forget all about what Politico wrote about her.
Politico's Glenn Thrush:
Conservatives are right to trumpet the Brown-Coakley race as a referendum on health care reform -- but it turned out to be a referendum with no decisive victor on the defining issue, according to a postgame analysis by pollster Scott Rasmussen.
... versus Politico's David Catanese:
Scott Brown's opposition to congressional health care legislation was the most important issue that fueled his U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts, according to exit poll data collected following the Tuesday special election.
One possible reason for the disagreement? The exit poll Catanese relied on was conducted by Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, though Catanese doesn't tell readers who commissioned the poll.
I've been arguing for months that the media should pin down members of congress on how they'll vote on health care reform. More specifically, how Senators will vote on cloture. That, after all, is what the media has said all along is the key vote. As I've explained, the media has failed in not making clear which members are and are not willing to filibuster reform -- and in doing so, they essentially enable Senators to anonymously kill reform in the equivalent of a smoke-filled back room.
Today, Politico does its job exactly wrong:
Several Democratic moderates told POLITICO that they most likely will be with their party on most procedural votes but could hold out on the last one - to end debate and cut off a filibuster - if they wanted to demand changes to the final product.
"Not vote for cloture? I wouldn't rule that possibility out - not at all," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who caucuses with the Democrats.
Other than Lieberman, none of the "Democratic moderates" were named. So the effect of the Politico report is to help those "moderates" anonymously kill reform. The report advances the perception that a strong reform bill can't get cloture, which makes it less likely that such a bill ever comes to a vote, which means those "moderates" never have to reveal themselves.
This is the exact opposite of what journalism should be. Politico is working on behalf of elected officials rather than the public. They're helping politicians operate in secret, free from accountability. They're providing the smoke, and the back room.
From Glenn Thrush's July 31 Politico post:
A whopping 58 percent of Republicans either think Barack Obama wasn't born in the US (28 percent) or aren't sure (30 percent). A mere 42 percent think he was.
That means a majority of Republicans polled either don't know about -- or don't believe the seemingly incontrovertible evidence Obama's camp has presented over and over and over that he was born in Hawaii in '61.
It also explains why Republicans, including Roy Blunt, are playing footsie with the Birther fringe.
Surprise, surprise: Birther sentiment was strongest in the South and among the 60-plus crowd - presumably because seniors can't log on to the Internet and rely on rumor, word of mouth and right-wing talk radio.
When do we start a serious dialog about the Birther movement being a proxy for racism that is unacceptable to articulate in more direct terms?
Politico's Glenn Thrush touts a Center for Responsive Politics report that "the main Democratic sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act ... both collected over $1.7 million in union contributions over the last two decades."
But Thrush left this out, from the same CRP report:
Business PACs not only gave nearly five times more in campaign contributions than labor PACs did in the last election cycle ($365.1 million versus $77.9 million, including contributions to leadership PACs) they are backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent $144.4 million on lobbying efforts in the 2007-2008 election cycle, or more than $400,000 for every day Congress was in session. By contrast, the entire labor sector spent less than $84 million on lobbying efforts during those two years.
Which raises an obvious question: How much money have those members of Congress who oppose the Employee Free Choice Act taken from big business? Any news report that focuses only on campaign contributions from labor to EFCA supporters while ignoring contributions from business to EFCA opponents is fundamentally flawed.
It is worth noting that Thrush did provide one important piece of context too often missing from news reports on campaign contributions: Thrush noted the percentage of the sponsors' total fundraising that the union contributions represented. That should be a standard part of any news report about political fundraising. The reason should be obvious - a candidate who raises a total of $1 million, $90,000 of it from tobacco companies is in a far different situation from one who raises the same amount from tobacco companies, but a total of $20 million.
In an article stating that the "thinnest chapter" of a book about Nancy Pelosi's term as speaker of the House might be "Bipartisanship and the 111th Congress," the Politico cropped Pelosi's statement on the passage of the House recovery bill, omitting comments supporting her statement that "we have reached out to the Republicans all along the way."