In an attempt to shield Mitt Romney's campaign from criticism that many of its claims against the Obama administration are based on falsehoods, conservative media have resorted to attacking fact-checkers, accusing them of liberal bias or of "shilling" for the Obama campaign. This is in keeping with the position of the Romney campaign, which has said, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post thinks the Romney-Ryan campaign has been exquisitely detailed in their explanations of their economic policies. And this puts her in rare company, since even the Romney-Ryan campaign says they're purposefully avoiding detailed discussions of the ideas they have in store for the country.
Writing on her Post blog this morning, Rubin gave the Republican ticket a high-five for their ability to "explain their plans" for Medicare and the economy:
Romney has his whiteboard to explain Medicare. Ryan has his charts and PowerPoint slides. They really can explain their plans and do the math. In this reality-based company, the president (who thinks ATMs cause unemployment) is out of his element. Hence, the resort to increasingly nasty language. If he had good answers for these questions, he might not be descending into the political sewer. Unfortunately for him, there isn't a chart that can explain how higher taxes are going to make our economic outlook rosier. The math just doesn't work.
"Do the math." Interesting choice of words, given that earlier this week, Paul Ryan told Brit Hume point-blank that they haven't been doing any math:
HUME: But what about [budget] balance?
RYAN: Well I don't know exactly when it balances because -- I don't want to get wonky on you but we haven't run the numbers on that specific plan yet.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin has had it with busybody journalists pressing Mitt Romney to provide details for the policies he would implement as president:
The latest media obsession (or is it an Obama campaign talking point?) is to demand Mitt Romney explain how his budget and entitlement ideas differ from those Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). When he declines, the media screams, "Evasion!"
Why on earth would Romney answer that, and, more important, does anyone care? If the media is really interested in a compare and contrast exercise they can do their own analysis or ask some staffers. Romney, of course, is running at the top of the ticket, and both Romney and Ryan are running on Romney's agenda. All Romney need do is explain what HE is for and how that differs from the president's plans. Is there any voter who will decide to vote for or against Romney because of deviations from the plan his VP has proposed? That would be a first.
The details separating Romney's and Ryan's budget plans are moot, she argues, since the two agree on the "basic framework:"
The media might have a point if Ryan had criticized Romney's plans or if his own plans were vastly different from Romney's. But in basic framework there is no difference between the two. They both want to lower tax rates and expand the base. Both Ryan and Romney want to block grant and reform Medicaid. Both favor a premium-support plan for Medicare. In short, they are in sync on every significant fiscal issue, and Ryan has agreed to be Romney's VP.
It was to be expected that Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post's resident champion of all things Mitt Romney, would be enthused at Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, but her blog post this morning on the relationship between Ryan and Romney is an embarrassment for the paper. It's stuffed with so much pixie-dust-and-rainbows nonsense about the new VP nominee that it reads less like the analysis of a Washington Post political blogger and more like terrible fan fiction.
To wit, Rubin offers this observation on Ryan's attitude towards debt and deficits:
Early on (before George W. Bush left office) Ryan saw the looming debt crisis and the consequences of fiscal irresponsibility if new policies weren't adopted. In 2011, many conservatives, primarily at conservative think tanks and publications, hoped Ryan would be the standard bearer of those ideas as a presidential contender.
"Early on" in this context deliberately excludes 2001-2008, when the Bush administration was busily enacting the policies that not only erased the Clinton-era surpluses but also exploded the debt and the deficit. According to Rubin's own newspaper, Bush's policy initiatives -- the tax cuts (which weren't paid for), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which weren't paid for), the Medicare prescription drug benefit (which wasn't paid for), etc. -- were the major factors driving the increase in debt.
Paul Ryan voted for the tax cuts. He voted for the wars. He voted for the prescription drug benefit. So what Rubin is saying is that Ryan was "early" to recognize the consequences of the Bush administration's "fiscal irresponsibility" after voting for the fiscally irresponsible policies.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, last seen warning everyone not to take at face value unproven reports on Mitt Romney's tax policies, takes at face value an unproven report from the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz saying that a new National Intelligence Estimate shows Iran "has made surprising, significant progress toward military nuclear capability."
Rubin allows that this is unverified and that there might not actually be a new NIE, but even if there isn't, she argues, Obama's Iran policy has nonetheless failed:
Whether there is a new NIE report or not, no responsible policymaker thinks the 2007 NIE is accurate. If not a new NIE, then the leaking of a purported new NIE will have the effect of increasing pressure on the Obama administration, which has yet to concede that sanctions haven't done what they were designed to do, namely force Iran to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Foreign policy experts can debate whether a sanctions strategy was flawed from its inception, incorrectly assessing the motivations of the Iranian regime, or they can debate whether the execution of sanctions policy (too slow, too porous) was to blame. But we are more than 3 1/2 years into the Obama administration, and Iran is much closer to its goal than at the start. By any reasonable measure, the Obama approach has been a failure, whatever the NIE report might say.
So Obama's Iran policy is a failure, regardless of what the intelligence says, or if the intelligence even exists.
Right-wing media are accusing the Tax Policy Center of bias following its analysis that Mitt Romney's tax plan would cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans while raising them for lower- and middle-income Americans. But conservative media previously touted TPC as nonpartisan and experts agree that TPC's work is unassailable.
Yesterday morning, Washington Post blogger and de facto Mitt Romney surrogate Jennifer Rubin published a lengthy critique of the Tax Policy Center's recent report on Romney's tax plan. The TPC described Romney's goal of a revenue-neutral plan that does not raise taxes on lower income workers as "not mathematically possible." Rubin rejected the Tax Policy Center's analysis, calling the group both "left-leaning" and "very partisan." That's a far cry, however, from last October when the TPC released a report critiquing the tax plan of Romney's then-opponent Herman Cain, and Rubin touted the "independent" group's analysis as proof that "Herman Cain's math is wrong."
Here's Rubin on October 13, 2011, showing the TPC some love:
Herman Cain certainly has an issue. He's put all his chips on 9-9-9 and brazenly dismissed critics as know-nothings or misrepresenters of his plan. It's become obvious, however, that it is he who is trying to pull a fast on. First Read discovers what many of us have: The plan is highly regressive. Yet another independent set of eyes has looked at Cain's plan now:
The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center is readying a report on Cain's plan, though it is waiting for more details from the campaign. But it has come to some conclusions already.
Cain's plan "cuts taxes for the rich and raises taxes on the poor," Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the center, tells First Read. He added that it would create a "much more regressive tax system."
The plan would represent a "major tax cut" for the rich and raise taxes "substantially" on the poor and middle class, Williams said. "Given that a big chunk doesn't pay any income tax, this would be a big tax increase on people at bottom end. At the top end, the opposite happens."
Fast forward to yesterday, as Rubin once again took on a TPC report on a detail-light tax plan from a Republican presidential candidate:
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote this morning that the media's coverage of the 2012 race is terrible because they're just not engaging with the substance of Mitt Romney's campaign. Citing Post columnist Ruth Marcus, she pegged "intellectual laziness" among the press as her chief concern: "I think 'intellectual laziness' in the media corps ('how much easier to critique a candidate's gaffe than to dissect his tax plan') is the most pervasive and serious issue."
Rubin's complaint was fortuitously timed for a couple of reasons.
First, it coincided with Alex Pareene's knife-edged examination of Rubin's own intellectual rigor. In short, Rubin's views on any given subject mirror those of Mitt Romney, which is to say that they're extremely malleable. Pareene wrote of Rubin's reaction to Romney's indecision on moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem:
"As for Jerusalem, it really is time to stop promising something that the U.S. can't and shouldn't deliver unilaterally," she wrote, in direct opposition to everything she'd ever written on the subject before. Romney has now, of course, come around again: He has made the pledge to move the embassy, and Rubin, predictably, has returned to her initial position.
Second, Rubin herself gave us a taste of that intellectual rigor this morning with her own "dissection" of Romney's economic proposals. Reading an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from former Bush and current Romney economic adviser Glenn Hubbard, Rubin was impressed with the "four substantial policy initiatives" Hubbard laid out. Those allegedly substance-heavy policies are rote GOP boilerplate: Reduce federal spending, lower taxes, entitlement reform, and deregulation:
"Out of context" also does not mean "You misconstrued this sentence." Dems claim "You didn't build that" meant "You didn't build [those] bridges and roads." But the comment, however you interpret it, is perfectly in context with Obama's rag on entrepreneurs, who he claims steal too much credit, thinking they're so smart and work so hard. In fact, as I've pointed out, it was a favor to Obama to pick out the "build that" phrase since the rest of the speech was worse.
The self-defeating logic of this paragraph is ridiculous enough (why would the Romney campaign do Obama a favor?) but let's focus on her broader argument -- that attacking Obama over "you didn't build that" is just using his beliefs against him:
But from here on out, let's stop using "out of context" to mean "using my own statements against me." The latter is a tried and true political tactic, and both sides, not to mention the press, should stop bellyaching about it. It also might help, by the way, if pundits and the campaigns didn't use these rhetorical arguments to avoid the substantive arguments.
The left now seems to want to argue "out of context" instead of defending liberal nostrums. Liberals playing the "out of context" game apparently don't want to defend their belief that government should play a central role in the economy or that culture matters to the prosperity of a country. Go figure.
Here's the thing: no one is denying the idea that government plays a central role in the economy. What's getting all us excitable lefties agitated is when people like Jennifer Rubin use "you didn't build that" to argue that president exhibits "pernicious... antagonism toward wealth creation" and believes "wealth creation is threat to prosperity." Or that Obama has "an abusive relationship" to small business. Such sentiments bear exactly zero similarity to what the president actually said, and can only be arrived at by presenting "you didn't build that" in isolation and then building around it a crude caricature of an anti-capitalist radical.
That's why the context matters; it reveals a standard-issue liberal argument that isn't particularly controversial unless you have an interest in making it so. And the easiest way to do that is to take his words out of context. The Romney campaign and the conservative blogosphere aren't hammering away at "you didn't build that" because they want to do Obama a solid.
Fevered corners of the Republican Noise Machine produced two distinct reactions this week to the turbulent news cycles that Mitt Romney has faced following revelations about his time at Bain Capital.
One response came in the form of stripped-down anger and disturbing hostility aimed squarely at President Obama, and the prospect of four more years of the Democratic administration. With Fox's Sean Hannity insisting that a second Obama term "will end America" as we know it, while Rush Limbaugh spent the week explaining how Obama "hates" America, the right-wing's freaked-out factor rose, yet again, in response to campaign developments.
The other puzzling reaction to Romney's troubles came in the form of blanket denial, which was championed by the likes of Washington Post's GOP blogger Jennifer Rubin. She announced that contrary to conventional wisdom regarding the state of Romney's campaign, it was really the Obama team operating in full "panic" mode this month and that Romney's campaign had the Democratic incumbent right where it wanted him; outsmarted and outraised.
Neither conservative response was grounded in reality, yet both nicely captured the parallel universe mentality that anchors so much of the far-right press. The GOP-media bubble, especially portions of the Internet and AM talk radio, is mostly a place where followers go to hear pleasing tales about how monstrously un-American Obama is and how his campaign has careened off course and remains stuck in a ditch.
The one-part-panic, one-part-denial message may soothe obsessive Obama-haters, but it does little to prepare conservatives for the reality of the current campaign season.
Following North Korea's failed launch of a long-range missile, conservative media attacked the Obama administration over a deal between the United States and North Korea on nuclear testing, arguing that it was a mistake. But experts have rejected that criticism, saying that the administration's pursuit of the deal was "the smart thing to do" and that not taking "this initiative would have missed an opportunity" to test the intentions of North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong-un.
Last Thursday, North Korea launched a long-range missile, defying international pressure and violating a deal with the United States in which North Korea had agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, nuclear tests, and long-range missile tests in exchange for food aid. The rocket ultimately failed, disintegrating shortly after the launch, but conservatives seized on it to attack the Obama administration for pursuing a deal with North Korea.
Conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote:
Once again, engagement with despots and diffidence in the face of provocation have emboldened a brutal dictatorship and lessened U.S. credibility. Watching all of this unfold, no doubt, are the mullahs. The North Korean example is instructive to them, especially given that Obama's approach so closely mirrors his stance toward them: Try fruitless negotiations; defer to international bodies; finger wag and condemn (but not too vigorously); remain relatively mute on human rights; downplay any military option; and have no plan "B" when sanctions fail. Come to think of it, this is also his approach to China, Russia and the other tyrannies on the planet. That's Obama for you: Speak softly and carry a very tiny stick.
On Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Fox News host Mike Huckabee said that "the only thing that fizzled worse than the missiles of North Korea the other day was probably the Obama policy." He continued:
HUCKABEE: Charles Pritchard, who has advised both the Bush administration and the Clinton administration, admitted that Barack Obama's policies toward North Korea have been a miserable failure. Because if you say you're going to hold food, you better do it. Then you look horrible to withhold food from people who are over there eating grass, and even the cows are eating better than the people in North Korea. It's a horrible situation, and it's not going to be made worse, and the U.S. will get the blame, and they're going to keep looking for ways to build those missiles anyway.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel blasted the administration for having a "schizophrenic foreign policy," and wrote: "The only prudent policy is for the White House to junk its speak softly, carry a little stick approach, but don't count on that happening in an election year."
However, national security experts have rejected that criticism.
Experts on Korea and U.S. national security have commended a recent deal between the United States and North Korea on nuclear testing as "a positive development" and an indication that the U.S. has "turned a new page with the North Koreans." Nevertheless, conservative media are attacking the deal as a "sham" and a "fool's deal."
With signs that the Republican nominating process may take much longer, and become much more contentious, than once thought, fault lines are beginning to appear within the conservative media, which has traditionally been very disciplined in their messaging.
What's confusing though, is watching conservative bloggers, who traditionally bash the press for being unfair to Republicans, suddenly claiming the press is being too nice (too fair?) to certain GOP hopefuls.
Last week, Andrew Breitbart's editorial panel at Big Journalism, claiming to have spotted a long-term press conspiracy, lashed out at the mainstream media for giving Mitt Romney a free ride prior to his possible nomination:
John McCain's Romney oppo file makes its way to the Internet. Will the media now begin to talk about some of the troubling things in Romney's record, or will they "Obama him" and allow a candidate to skate through the primary with little vetting -- except what the candidates can push through before they're jumped on and called "mean?" The media doesn't want to vet Romney now; they're holding their fire in the event he becomes the nominee, after which they will unload.
This week, conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, who has been forceful in her support of Romney, lashed out at the mainstream media for giving Newt Gingrich a free ride while supposedly "grilling" Romney with "enthusiasm":
The key question for tonight's debate is whether the NBC moderators will serve up more hanging curveballs over the plate for Newt Gingrich to bash out of the park or whether they will actually scrutinize him with the same enthusiasm they have shown in grilling Mitt Romney.
There's something surreal in watching conservatives complain the press is being too nice to a Republican candidate during primary season.
Following the Obama administration's announcement of an overhauled defense strategy that will guide cuts in defense spending, the right-wing media have claimed President Obama is "weakening national security" and marking a "new milestone" in "America's strategic retreat." But experts have said that the proposed plan is fiscally responsible while remaining "the world's most dominant military."
How did so-called conservative journalism become so bad; so completely unaccountable? Of course, the partisan parishioners themselves are to blame for the shoddy and unreliable content they produce. But the mainstream media must also shoulder some of the responsibility for allowing the right-wing press to lie without consequence.
And the way the Washington Post and its ombudsman recently dealt with an obvious error made by a conservative blogger, Jennifer Rubin, highlights that troubling trend.
First, this week we spotlighted a couple of glaring examples of right-wing smear campaigns that were dressed up as bouts of (misguided) media criticism. We easily detailed how the attacks were bogus and unsustainable, and just as importantly, how none of the players involved, including Daily Caller, Michelle Malkin, Los Angeles Times, and Commentary, did the honorable thing and admitted their mistakes or apologized.
Instead, the conservative media players did the exact opposite and obfuscated and played dumb. Why? Because being part of the conservative media movement means never, ever having to say you're sorry.
But what gives them such collective confidence to defiantly (proudly?) traffic in obvious misinformation? Answer: The comfort in knowing the mainstream media won't hold them accountable. In fact, the press might even help explain away the miscues.
Writing for the Center for American Progress yesterday, Eric Alterman provides a recent case study in this sad phenomena. He focuses on conservative, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin and how she irresponsibly rushed to judgment in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Norway and quickly informed readers that the carnage was likely from jihadists.
It was not. Instead, the confessed killer is a right-wing extremist, which is why The Atlantic's James Fallows wrote that the Post "Owes the world an apology" for Rubin's sloppy work.
Specifically, Alterman focuses on the response from the Post's ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, who dedicated a column to the Rubin affair. Pexton did call her out for getting the Norway story wrong, but also spent much of his column chastising Rubin's critics and finding ways to seemingly gloss over Rubin's transgression. In doing so, Pexton came awfully close to acknowledging conservatives are allowed to play by different rules, even at the Washington Post.