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.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly open to negotiate with the Palestinians along the lines that President Obama laid out in May in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that called for a peace agreement based on 1967 borders with mutually agreed upon swaps. However, when Obama made the proposal, the conservative media decried it as "potential suicide" and "the destruction of Israel."
Before there was any evidence of who was responsible for the terrorist bombing and shooting in Norway, mainstream media outlets rushed to finger Muslims and Muslim groups as potential perpetrators and listed grievances that radical Muslims had against the country. Norwegian officials have since said that a non-Muslim was responsible for the terrorist acts.
When the Washington Post hired conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin in November 2010, editorial page editor Fred Hiatt promised she would "provide critical news coverage and commentary" with "fresh perspective and insightful reporting to our readers." That insight and perspective was sorely lacking when it came to Rubin's coverage of the recent horrific attacks in Norway.
In a post at 5:06pm ET on Friday, Rubin quoted from a Weekly Standard post by Thomas Joscelyn in which he wrote that the attack was "in all likelihood ... launched by part of the jihadist hydra." Rubin then wrote:
Moreover, there is a specific jihadist connection here: "Just nine days ago, Norwegian authorities filed charges against Mullah Krekar, an infamous al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist who, with help from Osama bin Laden, founded Ansar al Islam -- a branch of al Qaeda in northern Iraq -- in late 2001."
But Rubin wasn't done, as she went on to attack President Obama and "irresponsible lawmakers on both sides of the aisle" for allegedly being soft on Al Qaeda:
This is a sobering reminder for those who think it's too expensive to wage a war against jihadists. I spoke to Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute, who has been critical of proposed cuts in defense and of President Obama's Afghanistan withdrawal plan. "There has been a lot of talk over the past few months on how we've got al-Qaeda on the run and, compared with what it once was, it's become a rump organization. But as the attack in Oslo reminds us, there are plenty of al-Qaeda allies still operating. No doubt cutting the head off a snake is important; the problem is, we're dealing with global nest of snakes."
Some irresponsible lawmakers on both sides of the aisle -- I will point the finger at Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and yet backed the Gang of Six scheme to cut $800 billion from defense -- would have us believe that enormous defense cuts would not affect our national security. Obama would have us believe that al-Qaeda is almost caput and that we can wrap up things in Afghanistan. All of these are rationalizations for doing something very rash, namely curbing our ability to defend the United States and our allies in a very dangerous world.
At 7:17pm ET, Rubin tweeted a link to her post and wrote, "Norway bombing and why we shouldn't slash defense- IT IS A DANGEROUS WORLD."
But Rubin jumped the gun. The Washington Post -- like numerous others -- are now reporting that the "Norwegian man taken into custody, whom Norwegian media identified as Anders Behring Breivik, has admitted to firing the weapons, police chief Sveinung Sponheim told reporters Saturday. Police officials have described the man as a right-wing Christian fundamentalist, a member of a small, largely Internet-based community that has been quiet in recent years."
At The Atlantic, James Fallows correctly writes that the Post "owes the world an apology" for the Rubin item, adding that "this is a sobering reminder for those who think it's too tedious to reserve judgment about horrifying events rather than instantly turning them into talking points for pre-conceived views."
As of this posting, Rubin has yet to correct her post or acknowledge the new developments. Her last blog post was at 9:07pm last night about the debt negotiations.
UPDATE: Rubin wrote a new blog post about Norway on Saturday night here.
The right-wing media have reacted to President Obama's speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) by complaining either he "flip-flop[ped]" or "double[d] down" on his previous comments or both. However, in his speech to AIPAC, Obama simply reiterated his earlier call that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians should be "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps."