You can watch the Beltway media's narrative shift before your eyes, as reporters get bored with the story they've been telling and move on to something counterintuitive and new. Journalists want to tell stories, not just report facts, and the stories they choose to tell based on cherry-picked examples are often bad for progressives.
Old conventional wisdom: Bill Clinton is the greatest politician of his generation, with a unique ability to inspire audiences in his speeches.
New conventional wisdom: Bill Clinton is old, tired, and should hang it up.
Patrick Healy kicked off the change with a 1,400-word January 28 New York Times trend piece that cited a Clinton speech Healy attended in Iowa the previous night, a speech his colleague attended in Las Vegas last week, and the opinions of a handful of observers as evidence that "the old magic seems to be missing." (Other journalists who saw those same speeches came away with dramatically different interpretations of Clinton's performance; Healy wrote a similar piece last March.)
Now Mark Halperin, a key bellwether for Beltway insider journalists, has picked up the narrative. During today's edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, he called Healy's story "pretty accurate." Halperin said that he had seen Clinton at an event yesterday and that while the former president's "best moments are great," he was "not his best," with "a little bit of a rambling quality to his presentation." "I thought he was better in New Hampshire when I saw him last week," Halperin added.
Indeed. After that January 20 speech in New Hampshire, Halperin said on Morning Joe that Clinton had been "as good as I've seen him in years in driving a message." He also issued a stream of tweets describing the event as a "#ClintonClassic."
Just before the speech he attended yesterday, Halperin was calling Clinton "The Master."
Somehow, one speech and one Times article later, the narrative has shifted dramatically.
From the January 27 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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From the January 4 edition of Bloomberg's With All Due Respect:
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From the December 17 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump lauded Bloomberg's Mark Halperin and John Heilemann on Twitter for their political analysis on his recent polling surge in New Hampshire. In their report, the co-hosts attribute much of Trump's success to the appeal of his "xenophobic" message to the far right constituency.
On the June 24 edition of Bloomberg's With All Due Respect, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann attribute Donald Trump's recent success, polling second among GOP presidential candidates in New Hampshire. During their analysis, the co-hosts agreed that there are some in New Hampshire that are "begging" for Trump's "somewhat xenophobic" message.
HALPERIN: Trump himself told me and others that when he got -- when people believed he'd run, his numbers would do better. That's why he wasn't doing well in polling. I'm not sure that's exactly right. Yes, it's name ID, but it's also the case, as we've discussed, he has a following and he's been to New Hampshire plenty. He's been more than some of the other so-called more serious candidates and I think people underestimate the extent to which as he drives a message, there are going to be people who support him. I'm not sure he'll get ten percent of the vote in the end. But, for now, I'm not the least bit surprised he's at ten percent.
HEILEMANN: He's got to stop wearing that blue blazer when he drives off the first tee, that's not a good look for golf. But, I gotta say, you and I are both old enough and crotchety enough to remember 1996 and Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire. There is a core in the New Hampshire electorate on the Republican side that is begging for this message, this somewhat xenophobic, populist --
HALPERIN: Kick the establishment in the face.
HALPERIN: or somewhere lower
HEILEMANN: And I say, somewhat xenophobic. All that stuff. That's Pat Buchanan with more interesting hair. That's all that is.
Donald Trump later praised Halperin and Heilemann's analysis of his polling surge, tweeting that they "truly get why 'Trump' poll numbers are high":
Bloomberg Politics co-managing editor Mark Halperin is scheduled to conduct a "Sunrise Pilates" session co-hosted by Ann Romney at a retreat for wealthy Republican donors.
His official biography says Halperin "leads Bloomberg's political and policy coverage, including news, analysis, commentary, narrative, data analytics and more across all platforms."
According to Time, Halperin is listed on the official schedule to lead the session with Ann Romney on Saturday, June 13, at the The Chateaux at Silver Lake at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. Time describes the event, put together by former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as "Club Med for the political mega-donors."
Time adds that "the event offers high-profile and high net-worth individuals the opportunity to gather in picturesque Deer Valley, Utah, and the chance to meet with at least six presidential candidates." The Time piece included a reproduced copy of the event itinerary, showing Halperin's scheduled session.
According to an AP report, Yahoo news anchor Katie Couric is also scheduled to be a guest at the event, but isn't listed as engaging in any activities with the candidates, donors, or their spouses.
Halperin's past work includes a column suggesting that a racially based attack on Barack Obama was a viable strategy for Republicans in 2008, while another advised Republicans on how to win the 2010 midterm election. In 2011, Halperin was suspended by MSNBC for calling President Obama a "dick."
Newspaper editorial board meetings have always been a sort of midterm exam for candidates. Shopping for endorsements, it's where they are asked to discuss, in detail, their policy positions and to do so in a setting that isn't conducive to sound bites.
In Iowa last week, Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst announced she wouldn't answer any questions from the Des Moines Register editorial board. After "much negotiating," according to a Register columnist, the Ernst camp pulled the plug on her scheduled Q&A with the daily, and also avoided meeting with a number of other Iowa newspapers.
Ernst wouldn't talk about the economy, healthcare, "personhood," national security, guns and the government, foreign affairs, or impeaching President Obama. Ernst wouldn't talk about anything. This was a classic dodge on Ernst's part; an aggressive stiff-arm to the mainstream press. It was an obvious refusal by a Republican candidate to sit and answer questions from local journalists on the eve of an election.
And so what was the Beltway media's reaction to Ernst's cancellation? Always on the lookout for campaign "gaffes" and relentlessly focused on the "optics" of elections, how did commentators react to Ernst's brazen evasion?
The press response was subdued and not very critical.
That low-key response stood in sharp contrast to the campaign fury that erupted in early October when when Kentucky Democratic senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes declined to answer whether she had voted for Barack Obama. That question came amidst her hour-long, October 10, interview with the Louisville Journal-Courier's editorial board, during which time the Democrat discussed the environment, gay marriage, campaign finance reform, the government sequester, abortion rights, and coal mining. (Her opponent, Republican Mitch McConnell, refused to be interviewed by the paper's editors.)
Grimes' substantive discussion was virtually ignored by the Beltway press, which turned her clumsy Obama question response into a days-long controversy. For instance, Washington Post blogs have referenced the Grimes story (i.e the "fiasco") more than 25 times; including 11 times in the first four days. (Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote an entire column about Grimes' non-answer.) By contrast, the same Post blogs have mentioned the Ernst story only five times so far, according to Nexis, with writer Chris Cillizza actually complimenting the Ernst campaign for canceling its Register interview, suggesting the move was a "smart" one politically.
Overall, I found more than two-dozen television discussions or references to the Grimes story during a four-day span, from October 10-13, via Nexis. During a similar four-day span following news of Ernst's snub on October 23, I found no television discussions or references to that story. (Note that not every news program is archived by Nexis.)
So yes, the Democratic candidate who was accused of botching a question during an editorial board interview was pilloried in the press. But the Republican candidate who refused to sit for editorial board meetings was mostly given a pass. (Here's an exception.) Do double standards come any more tightly focused than that?
It's obviously too early to know for certain, but on the final day of the 2012 presidential campaign there seems to be a general consensus forming that President Obama is well-positioned to beat Mitt Romney at the polls tomorrow. And in the face of that prospect, some in the media are already beginning to challenge the legitimacy of Obama's reelection.
On November 4, Politico published an article enumerating the "lessons learned" from the 2012 campaign. Among them was the surprising assertion that the coalition Obama put together to win reelection -- "Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites" -- is insufficient to provide the incumbent the political capital he might otherwise enjoy were he to have the support of independents and white voters. "A broad mandate this is not," declared authors Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen.
Politico didn't explain why broad mandates rest on the shoulders of whites and independents, simply asserting instead that Obama, should he win, will win in a way that lacks legitimacy. Part of their analysis, however, rested on the myth that the United States is "a center-right country," which certainly helps to explain why they'd view an electoral coalition that excludes the center-right's top constituency -- white men -- as a political nonstarter.
While Politico went the route of demography, conservative pundits are instead opting for catastrophe. Specifically, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, suggesting that Romney was poised to run away with the election until Sandy halted his "momentum" and gave Obama a boost in public opinion going into the campaign's final week.
Analyzing the presidential campaign in the wake of the first debate, Time's Mark Halperin wrote on October 10 that Mitt Romney's sudden "rush to the center" politically had emerged as the key topic - "the central tactical issue"-- for the Barack Obama's team to address. Halperin stressed it would be a challenge for Democrats because the Romney's campaign's "brazen chutzpah knows no bounds."
How odd. At the first debate Romney had so brashly reinvented himself by shifting his position on taxation, immigration and health care away from the Republican Party, that the onus was on Obama to counter Romney's slick maneuver. In other words, Romney's flip-flops, according to Halperin, were a major problem for the Obama campaign, not for the Republican who late in the game unveiled a new political persona. (Farewell "severely conservative.")
It's also telling that on October 10, Halperin considered Romney's makeover into a moderate to be the campaign's dominant issue. Yet one week earlier on the night of the first debate when Halperin graded both participants, the pundit made no reference to Romney's "rush to the center." In real time, Halperin heaped praise on Romney's style "(Started strong, level, and unrattled -- and strengthened as he went along") as well as his substance ("He clearly studied hard.")
Final grade, Romney: A-
Between the first debate and October 10, Romney's brazen flip-flops were not subject to any serious critique from Time's political team. What coverage Romney received for altering his campaign positions (aka his "tack toward the political center") mostly revolved around how conservative activists reacted to Romney's sudden embrace of moderate rhetoric. (They're totally fine with it.) Time was much less interested in what the about-faces said about Romney's candidacy, his character or what his presidency might look like.
The fact that the Republican candidate had radically altered his positions on core domestic issues just one month before Election Day was not treated as a campaign evolution that reflected poorly on Romney. To the contrary, it was largely portrayed as a savvy move by the Republican.
Time's soft peddling of Romney's broad reinvention was typical of how the Beltway press has politely covered the candidate's latest chameleon turn.
Time magazine's Mark Halperin dismissed the very real policy differences between President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on whether to rehire police, firefighters, and teachers and other public sector workers. In an appearance on MSNBC, Halperin claimed Romney's position against hiring more public-sector workers had no "real policy implications" and that Romney does not actually "oppose the hiring of police officers," just the spending of federal money to accomplish such hiring.
Halperin was discussing comments made by Obama and Romney on Friday about jobs and the economy. After President Obama called for federal funding to stem the tide of public-sector job losses, Romney mocked the president, claiming "he wants to add more to government." Romney continued: He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message in Wisconsin? The American people did. It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."
States and local governments have been shedding public sector workers, which has created a drag on the economy, and Republicans are blocking the federal government from providing aid to states to rehire workers. But in an appearance on MSNBC, Mark Halperin provided cover for Gov. Romney, claiming that the Obama campaign should never have highlighted Romney's words because there are no "real policy implications" to what Romney said.
From the December 6 broadcast of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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From the November 4 broadcast of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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MSNBC rightly placed its senior political analyst Mark Halperin on indefinite suspension Thursday after the Time editor-at-large inexcusably called President Obama a "dick." This is how responsible news organizations behave.
While Halperin has apologized for his comments, it is simply unacceptable to call the president of the United States -- or any president -- a dick.
In recent months, MSNBC has rightfully sanctioned its contributors for unacceptable comments.
When Ed Schultz called conservative commentator Laura Ingraham a "slut" on his radio show, MSNBC made clear that those comments were unacceptable and placed the popular host on leave for a week.
When it was disclosed that Keith Olbermann made political contributions that MSNBC deemed inappropriate, Olbermann was suspended indefinitely.
MSNBC's response to unacceptable rhetoric is how responsible news organizations behave. Responsible news organizations hold people accountable.
Several readers have pointed out to us that Joe Scarborough was also suspended for political contributions.
This post was not intended to compare political contributions to hateful rhetoric. It was to show that actual news networks have systems of accountability when they determine their employees have crossed the network's line.
You'll recall that's the grand pronouncement Time's Mark Halperin recently made. And yes, he made it without pointing to any actual evidence to back up his claim.
The latest findings from Gallup regarding Obama's approval rating among Democrats and blacks though, undercut Halperin's GOP-friendly analysis:
One of them is wrong.
From Halperin today [emphasis added]:
The coalition that got Barack Obama elected President just two years ago has been shattered. Gaming out the trajectory of the next two years can be done any number of ways, but Obama's efforts to rebuild a politically robust alliance will be the most telling.
From NBC's First Read today:
Obama 'core' coalition hardly 'shattered'
Which one is right? Hint: The First Read bases its conclusion of recent, and specific, polling data. Halperin does not.
How lazy is Halperin's He's-Doomed analysis? This lazy:
A survey of the political landscape shows that many groups who were part of the 2008-09 Obama coalition have turned on him.
- Blacks: 90% approve/6% disapprove- Democrats: 82/12- Liberals: 79/16- Latinos: 56/33- Post grads: 56/41- Women: 52/43- 18-34: 49/43