A two-year investigation by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee that debunked several prominent right-wing myths about the Benghazi attacks was largely ignored by the four major broadcast networks' Sunday shows.
Two recent snapshots nicely capture the commentary class and their bulwark on behalf of Republicans this campaign season.
Lamenting the "pitiful" state of the 2014 election season, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni this week denounced what he saw as the vacuous condition of political debate. Claiming America's raging problems were akin to a burning house, Bruni claimed "None of the candidates have spoken with the necessary urgency or requisite sweep."
Oh, what the columnist wouldn't have given to hear some "real substance" on the campaign trail. The beseeching seemed odd because Bruni later announced the "defining moment" of the election season came when Kentucky Democratic senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes declined to answer a question, during a newspaper editorial interview, about whether she had voted previously for Barack Obama, who is very unpopular in the Bluegrass State. The question had nothing to do with the burning issues facing America, as Bruni described them. Instead, it was an exercise in optics: How would a red-state Democrat deal with a sticky question about her White House allegiance?
Nonetheless, joining an army of pundits who expressed horror at Grimes' clumsy response, Bruni announced the Democrat had "tossed character, honesty and any kind of mature conversation with voters to the side." Left unmentioned by Bruni? Grimes' Republican opponent simply refused to answer any public policy questions posed by the same newspaper editorial board that hosted Grimes; the same board that heard the Democrat answer queries for an hour about the environment, gay marriage, campaign finance reform, the government sequester, abortion rights, and coal mining.
So much for the absence of campaign substance.
Still, Bruni's column illustrated a certain Beltway media symmetry this year: Pundits lament a lack of campaign seriousness, and then treat a trivial gotcha question as being deeply serious. Count that as a win for Republicans.
Meanwhile on CNN, during her interview with Vice President Joe Biden that aired Monday, and while discussing the midterm elections, Gloria Borger insisted Americans are "frustrated" and "fearful" and "angry" about key events, including the administration's handling of the Ebola virus' scare. Borger's point has been a favorite among Beltway pundits in recent weeks as they parrot Republicans: Ebola's just the latest Big Government failure.
But it's not true.
CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger used right-wing scandal mongering to push the discredited allegation that talking points about the attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, were edited for political purposes. Borger's analysis ignored that the intelligence community signed off on these talking points and that General David Petreaus testified in November that references to Al Qaeda were removed to protect the integrity of the investigation and to avoid tipping off terrorists.
Borger claimed on the May 10 edition of CNN Newsroom that the Benghazi talking points "were edited to the point of inaccuracy" and went on to ask, "is that a cover-up? Is it a whitewash? We don't know the answer to that."
The answer to Borger's question, however, has already been answered in testimony by former Director of the CIA General David Petraeus. In November 2012, Petraeus told lawmakers that the decision not to publicize the suspected involvement of Al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers in the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was made so as not to tip off the terrorist groups. As The New York Times reported:
Mr. Petraeus, who resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital affair, said the names of groups suspected in the attack -- including Al Qaeda's franchise in North Africa and a local Libyan group, Ansar al-Shariah -- were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, lawmakers said.
The controversy over these talking points has been revived ever since ABC News released what it called an "exclusive" report on May 10. In fact, the report revealed nothing new and is just a revival of previously hashed-out myths and misinformation.
Media outlets largely focused on criticizing Vice President Joe Biden's demeanor during the October 11 vice presidential debate, ignoring the substantive arguments being addressed in the discussion. Meanwhile, fact-checkers were busy pointing out the inaccuracies in Congressman Paul Ryan's claims.
Rushing to claim Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick of Rep. Paul Ryan had immediately "altered" the White House race by making it seem "more consequential," as the New York Times framed it, reporters and pundits quickly coalesced around the claim that Ryan's presence would usher in a more "substantive" phase of the campaign.
Pointing to Ryan's work as the chairman of the House Budget Committee and his authorship of the Republicans' budget blueprint, which has become a rallying point for movement conservatives, the press generously insisted that not only is Ryan a serious player and important public policy wonk, but that his inclusion in the campaign would quickly elevate the level of the debate, as well as how the press covers the campaign.
The new narrative, which must have pleased Romney aides, was born nearly the moment word of the VP announcement was leaked Saturday morning. CNN's Wolf Blitzer quickly reported the race was about to get "much more substantive," while colleague Gloria Borger agreed, suggesting, "the debate is going to shift onto a very substantive ground."
Over at Fox News, Carl Cameron assured viewers the arrival of Ryan meant the debate "will be a more substantive one than a lot of back-biting and name calling that we've seen in the last few weeks."
And Fox's Ed Henry echoed the same point, stressing that the press would soon be able to shift gears in terms of its coverage:
HENRY: We've spent a lot over the last few days talking about some of these attack ads and who's been going after who on personal, negative attacks. This Ryan addition to the ticket might focus it in a bit more on some of those substantive policy issues that Mitt Romney's been saying he wants to focus on.
See, thanks to Ryan the press will finally be able to cover substance! This, from the same process-obsessed press corps that spent weeks treating as news the trumped-up claim that Obama had dissed business owners on the campaign trail?
Excuse me, but was anyone stopping the press from covering substantive issues prior to the Ryan pick? The whole premise that up until Saturday the 2012 presidential campaign had been void of substance and it's only the arrival of Ryan n that will rescue the race from triviality is absurd.
CNN's Gloria Borger lavishes praise on the Simpson/Bowles draft proposals to reduce the deficit, repeatedly declaring it a "serious" plan. I won't dwell on the unseemliness of a well-paid political pundit praising the seriousness of a proposal that would, among other things, raise the retirement age on people who do back-breaking manual labor so we don't have to ask the wealthy to pay a slightly higher tax bill. Seriousness, after all, is in the eye of the beholder, and Gloria Borger is entitled to her opinion.
I will, however, note that if you're going to set yourself up as a high-minded, serious policy analyst, it's a good idea to first make sure you know what you're talking about. Borger, it seems, does not. Here's her praise for the draft proposal for changes to the Social Security sytstem:
This was an honest document in which all sides were gored. Democrats can wail about the Social Security fixes, but they can't complain about this: The plan does not count the savings in Social Security as a way to reduce the overall deficit. Instead, the money saved goes right back into the Social Security trust fund -- so the liberals who have complained about balancing the budget on the backs of senior citizens can stop. And, yes, there are reductions in benefits -- reducing cost-of-living adjustments and some benefits, raising the retirement age gradually as well as subjecting those earning at the high end to more payroll tax. But if you actually want to save Social Security, what else can you do?
Seriously? Gloria Borger doesn't think there's anything that can be done to extend Social Security's solvency other than reducing benefits and raising the retirement age?
According to the Congressional Budget Office (pdf), the program would be fine for the next 75 years if we simply removed the cap on income subjected to payroll taxes. That's it: That's all that's necessary. A tiny portion of Americans would -- like the rest of the country -- pay Social Security taxes on all their income rather than just some of it. No benefit cuts. No postponement of retirement. Problem solved.
Now, Borger doesn't have to support that solution. Like I said: She's entitled to her opinion. She may have reasons why she'd rather cut benefits and raise the retirement age for people who don't have cushy desk jobs like she does. But if she isn't even aware of the existence of this option, there's no reason why anyone should take seriously her views on what is "serious."
On CNN yesterday, Gloria Borger appeared to endorse Republican efforts to hold Elena Kagan to the so-called "Kagan standard":
And it's really interesting. They're also going to hold her to her own words during the confirmation fight, because in some of her writings, she has called the confirmation process, I'm quoting here, "a rapid and hollow charade," in which she says the people who want to become justices don't answer questions. And so, I think this gives Republicans, in particular, an opportunity to hold her to what they're going to call the Kagan standard, which is that they want to get some direct answers to questions from her. So, that should provide for very interesting and hopefully illuminating hearing.
I find this baffling. The Republicans have an opportunity to apply the "Kagan standard" only if they don't mind being completely hypocritical, and only if media -- like Gloria Borger -- chose not to point out their hypocrisy. See, as Media Matters has noted, recent nominees have refused to answer questions about issues that may come before the Supreme Court -- and Republicans have said it would be inappropriate for nominees to answer those questions. For the GOP to now argue that Kagan should answer such questions is a glaring double-standard.
It's possible to construct a reasonable argument that Kagan can be held to her previous arguments (though Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, among others, doesn't seem to buy that.) But it isn't at all reasonable to suggest, as Borger does, that the Republicans are not bound by their own previous arguments. In saying Republicans had an "opportunity" to apply the "Kagan standard" without noting that doing so would conflict with their own previous behavior, Borger essentially endorsed the GOP's double-standard. That's particularly bizarre in light of the fact that Senators, not nominees, set the standards for confirmation hearings -- after all, they get to vote on the nominee. The standards Republican Senators set during the Bush administration are thus more relevant than something Kagan wrote 15 years ago.
From CNN's February 25 live coverage of the health care summit:
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From the January 3 edition of CNN's State of the Union:
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From the January 3 edition of CNN's State of the Union:
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In the days leading up to Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, which began July 13, several media figures and outlets have repeated or uncritically reported Republican distortions of Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comments without providing the context for her remarks.
Gloria Borger and Bill Schneider advanced the conservative myth that judicial activism is solely a "liberal" practice, when at least two studies have found that the most "conservative" Supreme Court justices have been the biggest judicial activists.
A Media Matters analysis found that since the day after President Obama's inauguration, broadcast and cable news figures have been stating that Obama's "honeymoon" is "over" or questioning whether it is, rendering the cliché all but meaningless. During this period, media figures have suggested Obama's "honeymoon" is "over" with respect to "some ... die-hard Republicans," the media, African-Americans, Cuban President Fidel Castro, "Republican critics of his economic recovery plan," and economists.
On CNN's Late Edition, Gloria Borger claimed that "the bar is ... on the floor for Sarah Palin" in her upcoming debate with Sen. Joe Biden. Jeffrey Toobin replied, in part: "[W]ho are we to say where the bar is?" He later said that "we sort of create these expectations" that "it's not our job to do."
On The Situation Room, Gloria Borger asserted that Sen. Barack Obama's decision to forgo public financing for the general election "is going to become a character issue for Barack Obama, because ... [i]t gives [Sen.] John McCain an opening to say, 'This is not the man you think you know.' " But Borger did not note that McCain has also given Obama an "opening" on the issue of public financing: a loan agreement McCain signed during the primary season that could have forced him to remain in the race -- even if he had no chance of winning -- in order to be eligible for public matching funds to repay the loan.