Last week, in the tightly contested Senate race in Kentucky, both Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes gave newsworthy interviews in which they seemed to stumble over basic questions. But only one of the awkward missteps was treated as big news--treated even as a campaign-ending debacle--by some in the Beltway press: the Grimes interview.
Pundits pounced after Grimes refused, during an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal editorial board, to say whether she voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. (McConnell has spent most of his campaign trying to tie Grimes to Obama, who is unpopular in Kentucky.)
After a Republican opposition group posted the clip of Grimes' answer, the Washington Post immediately linked to it and mocked the candidate's performance as "painful." On MSNBC, morning host Joe Scarborough bellowed, "What a rookie mistake!" CNN commentators criticized Grimes for being "too scripted" and "evasive."
Keep in mind; the issue itself is of no practical consequence to Kentucky voters -- it doesn't affect their day-to-day lives. But the story revolved around campaign "optics," which Beltway commentators now thrive on, especially when it's bad Democratic optics.
"Is she ever going to answer a tough question on anything? You want to be a U.S. senator?" demanded Meet The Press moderator, Chuck Todd. "I think she disqualified herself. I really do. I think she disqualified herself."
Recall that query ("Is she ever going to answer a tough question on anything?"), and the way Todd described it as a disqualifying trait for a Senate candidate. Because the day before the Grimes interview, McConnell called into Kentucky Sports Radio to talk with host Matt Jones. Days earlier, the popular host had interviewed Grimes with the understanding the McConnell campaign had also agreed to an interview. But after Jones grilled Grimes on the air, McConnell's campaign refused to answer Jones' emails and phone calls with regards to finalizing an appearance.
After days of on-air pleas, McConnell, without advance notice, finally called into the show last Wednesday and spoke with Jones for 14 minutes. Among the actual topics covered (in the place of optics analysis) were climate change and gay marriage. McConnell basically refused to answer questions about either:
JONES: That's a yes or no question. Do you believe in global warming?
McCONNELL: No it isn't. It is not a yes or no question. I am not a scientist.
And here's how McConnell danced around the issue of gay marriage:
When asked if he supports gay marriage, McConnell answered, "I believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman." Asked why he believes that, McConnell again repeated he thinks marriage is "between one man and one woman." Again asked "why?" McConnell repeated the same line. Jones tried one more time. Again, "It is my belief that marriage is between one man and one woman."
To recap: If you're a Kentucky Democrat and you don't answer a straight-forward question, you may as well take your name off the ballot, according to Beltway journalists. But if you're a Kentucky Republican and you do the same thing, it's mostly crickets from the same pundits.
Conservative media have rallied around calls to enforce travel bans from countries in West Africa affected by the Ebola epidemic, despite the fact that medical and military experts have repeatedly noted that travel bans would hamper relief efforts and impede workers' ability to properly address the outbreak.
The Beltway media's theater critics posted their latest Hillary Clinton notices after she appeared at a political event in the important swing state of Iowa over the weekend. Bypassing substance as they now routinely do, scribes focused on style and many found it lacking: Too scripted! Clinton, the commentators complained, didn't come across natural enough. She lacked the charm of her husband, her body language was off, and so were her fashion choices.
"She cautiously enunciates each word from her prepared text, even the jokes," wrote Roger Simon at Politico. "She is careful, modulated, meticulous. She is Hillary." (Simon suggested Hillary's outfit was too formal for the Iowa event, as well.)
MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough denounced Clinton as a "robot" with "no creativity, no spontaneity, nothing from the heart." Daily Beast editor John Avlon said on CNN that while Clinton was "urgent, important, and well-scripted," she nonetheless has to worry about "the connection question" and paled in comparison to her husband: "It's the natural versus the professional."
There's something deeply ironic about Hillary's drama coaches in the press doling out direction for her public appearances. It's ironic because some of the people and outlets hounding Hillary to be less scripted today -- to be more candid - were among those who spent the summer bemoaning Hillary's unscripted and candid comments. They're the same ones who dissected her every utterance and announced them to be both lacking and deeply troubling.
Recall the dominant theme of the media's gaffe-obsessed coverage from Hillary's book tour was, quite often, 'Oh my God, I can't believe she just said that.' And now they're deducting points for Clinton not being open enough?
The summer coverage continued the Beltway press' long tradition of parsing portions of Clinton comments often taken from hours worth of long-form interviews, spinning one phrase in the most unappealing way, and then announcing Clinton's word choice and "tone" was all wrong. (CNN even altered a Hillary quote this summer to make it more incriminating and newsworthy.)
It's sort of the Goldilocks approach to campaign journalism: 'Hillary's too hot. No, she's too cold. Why can't she just get it just right?'
Following the arrest of two journalists covering the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, some conservative media figures are attacking the reporters for being insufficiently deferential to police, doing "the opposite of journalism," and trying to make the story about themselves.
Protests in Ferguson are ongoing following an August 9 incident that resulted in a police officer shooting and killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown. On August 13, Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery were both detained by police in a Ferguson McDonald's.
Initially, both Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post and I were asked for identification. I was wearing my lanyard, but Ryan asked why he had to show his ID. They didn't press the point, but one added that if we called 911, no one would answer.
Then they walked away. Moments later, the police reemerged, telling us that we had to leave. I pulled my phone out and began recording video.
An officer with a large weapon came up to me and said, "Stop recording."
I said, "Officer, do I not have the right to record you?"
He backed off but told me to hurry up. So I gathered my notebook and pens with one hand while recording him with the other hand.
As I exited, I saw Ryan to my left, having a similar argument with two officers. I recorded him, too, and that angered the officer. As I made my way toward the door, the officers gave me conflicting information.
One instructed me to exit to my left. As I turned left, another officer emerged, blocking my path.
"Go another way," he said.
As I turned, my backpack, which was slung over one shoulder, began to slip. I said, "Officers, let me just gather my bag." As I did, one of them said, "Okay, let's take him."
Multiple officers grabbed me. I tried to turn my back to them to assist them in arresting me. I dropped the things from my hands.
"My hands are behind my back," I said. "I'm not resisting. I'm not resisting." At which point one officer said: "You're resisting. Stop resisting."
While some conservative media figures have been critical of the arrests, others are responding to the incident by lashing out at the reporters and media coverage of the incident.
Joe Scarborough and Ezra Klein are helping to normalize guilt-by-association smears targeting defense attorneys based on their clients, arguing that Hillary Clinton's work defending an alleged child rapist in 1975 is becoming a political liability.
The American Bar Association has condemned this type of attack as "disturbing."
Clinton's work on the case, known publicly and reported on for years, re-emerged after the Washington Free Beacon violated library policy and published an interview Clinton gave in the mid-1980s discussing her legal representation of the alleged rapist.
Clinton defended her work on the case in an interview with Mumsnet that was published July 4, explaining once again that she was assigned to the case, that she asked to be relieved from the assignment, and that she "had a professional duty to represent my client to the best of my ability."
Reporting on the warmed-over scrutiny of the case on Tuesday, Vox claimed that "a criminal defense case from Hillary Clinton's past as a lawyer is becoming a political liability." The headline ominously stated: "Hillary Clinton's legal career is coming back to haunt her."
Klein, the co-founder of Vox, appeared on Morning Joe to expand on the idea that Clinton's legal work was a political liability. "I think it's hard for folks to understand why you would go to the mat for a client who had done something terrible who you knew is guilty," Klein said. "And what she's saying there is that that was her obligation as a lawyer and that the prosecution had done a horrible job."
While Scarborough at one point agreed that attorneys "usually take that court appointment and do their best to defend their client," he subsequently tried to parse the distinction between a public defender and Clinton's role as a court-appointed attorney from a legal aid clinic:
SCARBOROUGH: [I]sn't there a distinction, though, between when you are hired by a public defender's office, and the purpose of the public defender's office is actually to give people the representation that they are guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America? And then you have Hillary Clinton's case, where she was running a legal clinic. She may have been court-appointed, but obviously she had a lot more discretion on whether she was going to take a child rapist or not on as a client than if you are a public defender, where you are working as a public defender, you have no choice.
Legal and child welfare experts told Newsday that Clinton's work in the case was appropriate in 2008, the last time her work in the case came under media scrutiny. Clinton wrote about the case in her 2003 autobiography, Living History. Jonathan Adler, a libertarian law professor, has urged Clinton's critics not to attack her representation in this case, specifically warning that it could be chilling to send a message to young attorneys that representing unpopular clients could become a "political liability."
Adler is not alone. Republicans Ken Starr, Lindsey Graham, and Michael Mukasey have all cautioned against using an attorney's clients as a cudgel.
MSNBC's Morning Joe helped to legitimize House Republicans' witch-hunt into the Benghazi attacks by pushing some of Fox News' favorite myths about the tragedy.
House Republicans voted on Friday to establish a select committee on the 2012 Benghazi attacks, a move which follows months -- and years -- of Fox News pushing misinformation and consistently calling for Congress to further investigate Benghazi.
In the wake of the establishment of the select committee, right-wing media led by Fox have revived a litany of already-asked-and-answered questions on Benghazi, jumping off the White House's release of a September 14, 2012 email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes used to prepare Susan Rice for the Sunday talk shows after the attacks (despite the fact that the Rhodes' email was consistent with intelligence reports at the time and relied on CIA talking points).
Unfortunately, Fox was not alone -- MSNBC's Morning Joe has also legitimized the investigation by pushing debunked Benghazi myths.
Mainstream media outlets attempted to cast doubt on White House press secretary Jay Carney's explanation that a memo advising Susan Rice on her TV appearances referred to global protests as opposed to the September 11 attack specifically. However Sunday news coverage from Rice's press tour demonstrates that discussions of Benghazi did include broader context of anti-American protests in the region, as Carney had asserted.
Right-wing media accused President Obama of unprecedented overreach resembling that of a "dictator" for the ordinary administrative agency rule-making process surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) employer mandate.
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.
Several media figures have reacted to the mass shooting in Washington, D.C.'s Navy Yard by downplaying the role access to firearms had in the killings, instead blaming video games and their purported effect on mental health. But studies have either debunked or failed to find a plausible link between playing violent video games and real world gun violence.
Much of the connection between shooter Aaron Alexis and video games appears to come from Mike Ritrovato, who says he knew Alexis. Ritrovato told The Los Angeles Times that "if [Alexis] had anything bad about him, it was that he was a 35-year-old man playing video games." Ritrovato also told ABC News that Alexis was often late to work "because he was staying up all night playing video games."
From the April 18 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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The research consistently cited by media figures to support cutting government spending has recently been invalidated, raising questions about how mainstream coverage of economic policy promoted incorrect data.
In January 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff released a study that suggested when countries reach debt levels of 90 percent relative to GDP, economic growth would be compromised. Conservatives in politics and media alike repeatedly cited the figure in discussions about the economy.
A study released on April 16, however, found that the conclusions reached by Reinhart and Rogoff were based on data that was riddled with errors. Reinhart and Rogoff's response to the critique -- in which they maintain they never implied that rising debt caused lower growth, just that the two were associated -- shows that media's handling of the figure was wrong all along.
These new developments show that media consistently used an apparently incorrect figure for the past few years to call for austerity measures. Here's a look back at how major cable networks cited the figure in its coverage of the budget and economic policy:
Video by Alan Pyke.
MSNBC's Morning Joe selectively edited comments Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gave in 2002 to assert that she was "beating the drums of war" in the run up to the Iraq war, but the highlighted comments come from a speech in which Pelosi urged Congress to vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq.
During Morning Joe's coverage of the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq war, co-host Mika Brzezinski introduced a prepared video montage on how "it was a lot easier for some members of Congress to support the conflict before they were against it." Co-host Joe Scarborough provided the voice-over in the video, and claimed it showed how "the very same people who spent years beating up George Bush were the very ones beating the drum for Iraq's regime change and Saddam Hussein's ouster."
The video juxtaposes comments made by members of Congress purportedly "beating the drum for Iraq's regime change," against later comments by the same members of Congress criticizing President Bush over the war. One of the voices Scarborough highlights is Pelosi, shown in the video saying:
I applaud the President on focusing on this issue and on taking the lead to disarm Saddam Hussein.
But contrary to what Morning Joe implied, these comments come from a floor speech Pelosi gave in 2002 opposing the Iraq war, arguing that it would weaken the country by diverting resources from the war on terror (portion MSNBC aired in bold):
I come to this debate, Mr. Speaker, at the end of 10 years of service on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was one of my top priorities. I applaud the President's focusing on this issue, and on taking the lead to disarm Saddam Hussein.
It is from the perspective of 10 years on the Intelligence Committee that I rise in opposition to this resolution on national security grounds. The clear and present danger that our country faces is terrorism. I say flat out that unilateral use of force without first exhausting every diplomatic remedy and other remedies and making a case to the American people will be harmful to our war on terrorism.
Pelosi concluded her speech by urging her House colleagues to vote "No" on the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, as she did.
UPDATE: On the March 20th edition of Morning Joe, the hosts issued a correction and apologized for the mistake, showing the clip of Rep. Pelosi in full context and acknowledging her opposition to authorizing the use of force in Iraq in 2002.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman will appear on PBS' Charlie Rose on March 4, following weeks of their high-profile dispute over the proper policy response to two competing problems: historically high unemployment and historically high public debt.
After Scarborough hosted Krugman on the January 28 edition of Morning Joe, he wrote an op-ed for Politico that characterized Krugman as a solitary dovish voice on near-term debt. Over the ensuing weeks, the two sniped at one another, with Scarborough continuing his effort to marginalize Krugman, misrepresenting Krugman's colleagues in the process.
Both economic data and the consensus among economists support Krugman's side of the debate. Still, Scarborough has labeled the economist a 'debt denier,' and deflected fact-based criticism with jokes about "bloggers eating Cheetos" and "skewed graphs liberals make up on their mom's PowerPoint." Given that their debate has at times produced more heat than light, here are five things that host Charlie Rose must take care to include in his show tonight:
1. Debt Levels Are Stable For The Coming Decade.
The Congressional Budget Office says that the ratio of public debt to GDP will hold steady through the coming ten years, even without changes to current law:
The stable near-term debt outlook undermines the common claim of a "debt crisis" that requires immediate austerity.
2. Austerity Is Already Placing An Enormous Drag On Economic Growth.
Government consumption and investment has decreased nearly 5 percent over the past two years. Cuts have shrunk the public sector by a net 712,000 jobs not since the recession began, but since it ended in mid-2009. And the macroeconomic data are clear: the government's declining consumption is a drag on GDP growth.
3. A Wide Range Of Economists Agree With Krugman That Short-Term Deficits Are Not A Priority With Economic Output Lagging.
Scarborough's January op-ed in Politico claimed that "almost all mainstream economists" disagree with Krugman; this is not true, and an accurate representation of expert opinion would improve the conversation.
As Media Matters has shown, it is not just center and center-left economists like Richard Koo, Mark Thoma, Brad DeLong, Jared Bernstein, Dean Baker, Henry Aaron, Alan Blinder and Larry Summers who agree with Krugman that short-term deficit reduction is a bad idea with economic output so far behind its potential. It's also John Makin of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, The Wall Street Journal's Rex Nutting, former Reagan budget adviser Bruce Bartlett, and others who Scarborough might count as natural allies. Makin's prescription for how we ought to run large deficits is anathema to progressives, of course, but economists across the spectrum agree that we can and should float just a few more years of large deficits, in order to grow the economy.
4. Economists Say The Best Way To Solve Long-Term Debt Issues Is To Invest In Growth Now, While Borrowing Is Cheap.
Economic growth is the key to managing the debt. It is unusually cheap for the government to borrow money right now to finance such growth -- in some cases interest rates are negative, meaning the markets are basically paying us to borrow from them. The CBO finds economic output is $1 trillion behind what it should be, which is why so many economists take Krugman's side in calling for fiscal stimulus. The first CBO report to account for the "fiscal cliff" tax deal reinforced this position, as Nutting wrote in The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch: "the CBO gently hinted that the government should run higher deficits for the next four years to boost economic growth and job creation, and then start reducing the deficit in earnest in 2017 when the economy is fully healed." Any conversation about fiscal policy that fails to note these facts is inherently misrepresentative.
5. President Obama And Congress Have Already Enacted $2.4 Trillion In Deficit Reduction Since The Start Of FY2011.
Although Scarborough blamed "a Keynesian spending spree" for a slowdown in economic growth late last year, the reality is that the President and Congress have passed laws that reduce deficits by approximately $2,400,000,000,000 over the 10-year budget window.
The media frequently fail to acknowledge existing deficit reduction, but it is real and it is important to the ongoing conversation about fiscal policy.
From the March 2 edition of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
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