"The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself."--The RNC's post-2012 election report.
Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) fumes about "gotcha" questions from "clueless" political reporters and vows not to be distracted by them on the campaign trail. Fox News host Bill O'Reilly blames the media for the swirling controversies surrounding his "combat" reporting, and even levels an on-the-record "threat" against a New York Times reporter for daring to cover the story. And now the Republican Party announces it's teaming up with partisan, conservative media partners to help host primary debates in an effort to make the forums more appealing for candidates.
The first three Republican debates will air on CNN and will be co-presented by the Salem Media Group, a major player in right-wing talk radio. (Its CEO is also politically active in conservative causes.) Salem talker Hugh Hewitt has been invited to be among those asking candidates questions at the first debate. Afterwards, Republican participants will "be invited to join Hewitt to talk candidly about the event," according to a press release. A Salem talk radio host will be included in each of the three debates.
In shifting some of the debate control away from independent journalists, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is following through on his promise last year to make the debates more GOP-friendly and to tap media participants "who are actually interested in the Republican Party."
It's true that there's nothing inherently wrong with having a talk radio partisan like Hewitt in the mix on the night of a debate. Different perspectives should always be welcome. But the inclusion of unabashed Republican cheerleaders for this year's forums appears to be driven out of fear and distrust of the news media, not out of a GOP desire for inclusion. Indeed, the move has an undeniable whiff of paranoia about it.
Right-wing media's outrage over President Obama's upcoming speech outlining plans to improve enforcement of the immigration system included accusations that Obama is engaging in "home-grown tyranny," calls for his impeachment, and even a Hitler comparison.
Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer declared on The Hugh Hewitt Show that President Obama is "clearly a narcissist," pointing to the president's use of the words "I" and "my." However, one example he provided is inaccurate while another was also used by Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush.
In December 2012, BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins reported that in the wake of their devastating electoral defeat, Republicans were looking to "break their Fox addiction" by working with mainstream outlets, not just conservatives ones. "As operatives are increasingly realizing," Coppins wrote, "many of these outlets have limited reach beyond the fervent Republican base, and the talking points politicians declaim often resonate only in the conservative echo chamber."
A year and a half later, the reaction to Coppins' latest piece shows one roadblock to GOP efforts to reach out to mainstream media and the voters who don't get their news from ideological sources: a jealous right-wing media that wants increased access to Republican leaders.
Coppins' April 28 BuzzFeed profile chronicled how Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is "doing something rather unprecedented for a Republican: He is spending unchoreographed time with poor people," purportedly in order to inform his policy-making in that arena. The BuzzFeed writer was given exclusive access to Ryan during one such trip to visit the impoverished. His article drew swift criticism from progressives who said that Coppins credulously accepted Ryan's rhetoric on the issue while downplaying the impact that the massive cuts to poverty-fighting programs in Ryan's budget would have on the poor if it were implemented.
But right-wing outlets have a very different critique of the article: They think it made Ryan look bad, proving that he never should have cooperated with Coppins in the first place.
Breitbart's Matthew Boyle writes that Ryan "comes across as a deeply awkward millionaire paralyzed by political correctness as he struggles to identify with a black church congregation," citing two anecdotes from the piece. He concludes that Ryan's aides should not have granted Coppins access in the first place. The idea that the Republican congressman from Wisconsin might actually have been awkward in that situation goes unmentioned, with the implication that if Boyle had been the one traveling with Ryan, he'd have reported a more flattering piece.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt likewise writes that the Coppins profile did not "do much or even any good" for Ryan, and bemoans how Republican press aides "resist having their bosses sit down with their natural allies in the center-right press" instead of giving access to mainstream reporters. He provides a list of reporters at The Daily Caller, TownHall.com, the Weekly Standard, and The Washington Free Beacon, concluding, "Don't ask me why they were not invited along with Ryan but McKay was. Part of the ongoing epic fail of Beltway GOP communications strategy. Hopefully it will change before 2016 arrives."
Boyle and Hewitt are criticizing Ryan for following a strategy that Republican operatives had identified as necessary to improve the party's national standing and win presidential elections.
The Republican National Committee's analysis of the 2012 election found that if the GOP wanted to win national elections, it had to change the minds of voters who believe the party "does not care about people," particularly those living in poverty. Ryan's effort to speak out on poverty seems consistent with that report's advice.
But as the operatives Coppins spoke with in 2012 pointed out, it's difficult to shift the poverty narrative if Republicans only talk about the issue with conservative reporters, as Hewitt and Boyle suggest.
Of course conservative journalists will always want more access and scoops. But demanding them at the expense of mainstream outlets traps the GOP between their conservative media supporters and their desire to win elections.
From the October 7 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Conservative media are selectively and deceptively quoting from an exchange between CNN's Dana Bash Senate and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to make it appear as if he dismissed the plight of cancer-stricken children being denied access to clinical trials due to the shutdown of the federal government. In fact, Reid said that legislators should fully fund the government, rather than force different groups to fight over funding.
Specifically, conservatives are claiming that Reid replied to a reporter's question, "If you can help one child with cancer, why wouldn't you?" by saying "why would we want to do that?" In fact, Reid was responding to Sen. Chuck Schumer, who had interjected, saying "why pit one against the other?"
On October 1, the federal government was shut down after conservative Republicans refused to pass legislation funding operations unless that funding was tied to the defunding or delay of Obamacare. As part of an effort to avoid political damage from that unpopular decision, House Republicans have called for piecemeal bills that would fund some parts of the federal government, including the National Institutes of Health and national parks.
There is an odd excitement in the right-wing media over an exchange between MSNBC host Karen Finney and conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt. The right-wing talker invited Finney on his program after she linked the rhetoric of Ted Cruz to that of Joe McCarthy, an unsurprising comparison considering the Texas senator's previous hunts for communists on the Harvard Law School faculty.
Instead of discussing Cruz's behavior, however, Hewitt decided to discuss the history of McCarthyism, ostensibly defending the Wisconsin senator.
"Was Alger Hiss a communist?" Hewitt asked. Finney responded, "I think that's distracting from the point I was trying to make."
Finney continued, "And the point I was trying to make was, you had Joe McCarthy was on a mission to root out communism in the government, and he did it in such a way that created a hysteria that was very unhealthy for this country. Do you really disagree with me on that?"
Hewitt refused to engage with Finney's question and refused to discuss the damage McCarthy had done, just like he refused to acknowledge the damage to our discourse caused by Ted Cruz's behavior. This is after Finney explicitly stated, "Obviously, spying on this country and betraying this country is absolutely wrong. Of course it is."
Hewitt somehow views Finney's hang-up as a victory. However, what this interview demonstrated was Hewitt's inability to defend the rhetoric Cruz and others use within Hewitt's own party. Instead he chose to engage in a 50-year-old conversation involving Alger Hiss that has no relevance to today's discussions.
Finney later tweeted that she hung up because Hewitt "was interested in a shout fest not an honest conversation." And she was absolutely right.
Conservative media figures are taking a partial quote from President Obama out of context in order to attack him as reacting callously to the deaths of U.S. diplomatic personnel.
In an appearance taped today for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama was asked if communication between government personnel had failed to provide "the optimal response" to the Benghazi attacks. Obama replied in part: "If four Americans get killed, it's not optimal. We're going to fix it. All of it. And what happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up. And you make sure that you find out what's broken and you fix it."
Conservative media figures like Matt Drudge, Monica Crowley, Hugh Hewitt, Mary Katherine Ham,John Podhoretz, Jonah Goldberg, Erick Erickson and outlets like Fox Nation all used early reports of Obama's comments to attack him, with several falsely suggesting that Obama had said the deaths of American personnel in Benghazi, and not the communications effort, was "not optimal."
When you live inside a bubble, denial comes easy. And for conservatives in the media searching for an explanation for why President Obama seems increasingly well positioned to win re-election, denial comes way too easy.
After four years of relentlessly condemning Obama as an historic failure and all around bad person, conservatives are desperately trying to explain the disconnect between their dire Obama denunciations and the on-the-ground political reality about Obama's polling surge. They need a scapegoat, and pollsters have been cast in the role.
Just as left-leaning community organizers at ACORN were selected as unlikely scapegoats for John McCain's loss in 2008, pollsters today have been tapped by the far right as conniving conspirators in cahoots with Democrats to seal another election for Obama.
Recall that four years ago little-known ACORN was allegedly trying to flood ballot boxes with fraudulent votes. The rhetoric was so persistent that a 2009 poll found a majority of Republicans believed ACORN "stole" the election for Obama, who defeated McCain by more than nine million votes.
This year, instead of producing too many votes, pollsters are allegedly doing the opposite - making sure fewer people cast a ballot on Election Day. Teaming up with the media, pollsters are suppressing the vote by concocting phony results; by skewing the data. That drumbeat of results is supposedly designed to "depress Republican enthusiasm," which in turn hands victories to the Democrats.
"The intended effect is to suppress Republican turnout through media polling bias," said Romney's pollster John McLaughlin this week. And who was way ahead of McLaughlin and the Romney campaign in pushing the polling conspiracy claim? Rush Limbaugh, of course.
From September 10 [emphasis added]:
The polls are just being used as another tool of voter suppression. The polls are an attempt to not reflect public opinion, but to shape it. Yours. They want to depress the heck out of you, and they want to suppress your vote.
It's hard to imagine a campaign conspiracy more unbelievable than 2008's ACORN fantasy, where underfunded activists somehow "stole" the election from the mighty Republican campaign machine. But today's Alice-in-Wonderland polling plot seems to surpass it in terms of being nonsensical. (i.e. Why would professional pollsters cook the books for Obama and then run the risk of ruining their reputation for accuracy?)
Right-wing media figures have been hyping the economic plan that GOP presidential contender Tim Pawlenty presented in a June 7 speech. But economic experts, including prominent conservative economists, have called Pawlenty's plan unrealistic, "a joke," and "patently ridiculous."
As we noted this morning, conservative blogger and radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt is bemoaning the fact that Republican candidates for president are participating in debates hosted by "traditional media" outlets, such as CNN because the questions, Hewitt is certain, are bound to be unfair. (Hewitt seems to know beforehand which questions will, and will not, be asked.)
The critique is a curious one because in 2007 when progressives launched a successful campaign to stop Democratic candidates from legitimizing Fox News by allowing Rupert Murdoch's channel to sponsor Democrats debates, the right-wing media went bonkers condemning the move as cowardice.
Cue Roger Ailes:
The candidates that can't face Fox, can't face Al Qaeda. And that's what's coming.
Of course, Democrats had ample reason to shun Fox News. Namely, it's not a legitimate news organization. Today however, neither Hewitt nor anyone else can make a coherent argument that that's the case for CNN. And it's not just CNN. Hewitt complains about all "mainstream media" debate questioners during the campaign season. (Instead, he prefers "GOP-organized debates with GOP-selected questioners.")
Oh, and did I mention the right-media went bonkers when Fox News was snubbed during the last White House campaign cycle? The snub represented "a kind of breakdown in the democratic process." It was akin to Stalinist intimidation. And poor Bill O'Reilly could barely see straight, as he wildly denounced Democrats as Nazi's for refusing Fox News' debate invitations.
Conservative media figures have claimed that the National Labor Relations Board is seeking to ban companies from moving to states with lax labor laws by filing a complaint against Boeing's decision to move the production facility for its new 787 Dreamliner to South Carolina. In fact, the NLRB's general counsel has alleged that Boeing moved its 787 production line in retaliation for strikes by Boeing workers at its Seattle-area plant, which, if proven true, constitutes a clear violation of federal labor laws.
From the February 2 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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The Daily Caller's Amanda Carey details the "Rise of conservative displeasure over Politico/NBC debate," quoting several conservative activists who worry (or pretend to worry) that Republican presidential candidates won't be treated fairly in a debate hosted by Politico and NBC.
Carey quotes conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt: "Can we be honest? They are all liberals. All of them. Not one of the questioners that could or would be proposed by Politico or NBC would be remotely in touch with the cares, concerns, and passions of the GOP's primary electorate." And Grover Norquist: "All the debates should be open to the media, but they should be held for the purpose of letting Republicans explain to Republicans why they should vote for them in the primary. … Instead, we'll get nitpicking from left-of-center journalists asking questions that will impress their fellow journalists." And Mark Levin: "There's no question that Politico and NBC are leftist and I'm not excited about their participation."
As usual, Media Research Center Brent Bozell out-shrilled them all: "When, oh when will Republicans learn? Every four years the presidential debate season takes place. Republicans dutifully line up for debates moderated by liberal 'moderators' except there's nothing moderate about these moderators who mercilessly attack them."
If this really takes place "every four years," there should be plenty of examples. And yet neither Carey nor anyone she quoted offered a single example of inappropriate questioning during debates moderated by Politico or NBC journalists. Certainly no "merciless attacks."
In fact, Carey never got around to mentioning that both Politico and NBC participated in GOP presidential debates during the 2008 campaign. This being the Daily Caller, it is of course possible that neither Carey nor her editors are aware of this basic fact, and that neither thought to check. And this being the Daily Caller, it's also possible Carey never mentioned those debates because they completely undermine the inane premise that Politico and NBC would attack Republican candidates during a debate.
Consider the May 3, 2007 Republican presidential debate moderated by Chris Matthews and Politico's John Harris and Jim VandeHei. Matthews kicked things off by asking Rudy Giuliani "Mayor Giuliani, how do we get back to Ronald Reagan's morning in America?" Then he moved on to John McCain: "Let me go to Senator McCain. We're in the house of Ronald Reagan. Every cab driver in America knew what Ronald Reagan stood for: defeat communism abroad; reduce big government at home. Can you, Senator McCain, restore that kind of unity of purpose?" That, apparently, is what Brent Bozell considers a merciless attack: Asking Republicans if they'll be like Reagan.
Later in the debate, Matthews invited the Republican candidates to "mention a tax you'd like to cut, in addition to the Bush tax cuts, keeping them in effect." He never asked how they'd pay for those tax cuts -- though during a Democratic debate a week earlier, NBC's Brian Williams demanded to know how the Democratic candidates would pay for their health care proposals (while never actually asking them to explain the proposals.)
That wasn't the only double-standard apparent in those two debates. During the Democratic debate, Brian Williams asked Barack Obama a loaded question about his personal finances -- a question that managed to smear the other Democrats on stage as well. A week later, Matthews, VandeHei and Harris failed to ask the Republicans a single question about their business dealings, personal finances, or ties to controversial figures. Those types of questions were reserved for Democrats only -- and this in spite of the fact that Giuliani's close relationship with the breathtakingly crooked Bernie Kerik was very much in the news.
The last time NBC and Politico participated in presidential debates, they lobbed softballs to the Republicans and held Democrats to a higher standard of fiscal responsibility. That's just a fact. It's what happened. And so, in whining about NBC and Politico participating in a 2011 Republican debate, the Daily Caller, Brent Bozell, and several other conservative media critics don't mention a single thing about those 2007 debates. Because conservative media criticism isn't about reality, it's about blind hatred of the media -- and about working the refs.
From the November 5 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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