It's become commonplace for the right-wing fringe to respond to breaking news by invoking Benghazi. The Ebola outbreak, the NFL's domestic violence problems, and the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 are just three recent examples in the panoply of events that remind conservatives of the terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound, which they've spent the last two years trying to turn into a political scandal.
It's more unusual for a journalist from a mainstream outlet to engage in this sort of behavior. But here's how Josh Kraushaar, the political editor for National Journal, responded to the October 8 Washington Post report that suggested senior White House aides had hidden their knowledge of the fact that "a prostitute was an overnight guest in the hotel room" of one of the volunteers on the advance team for President Obama's 2012 trip to Colombia:
In isolation, the WH cover-up of staff misconduct is a blip. But it fits pattern of the WH hiding damaging info from the public b4 election.-- Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) October 9, 2014
... makes you wonder if the partisan criticisms have more merit than many first thought. http://t.co/5i7VKu1bXH-- Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) October 9, 2014
First instinct is to trust what the WH is saying, but they've squandered a lot of that trust lately.-- Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) October 9, 2014
Kraushaar's National Journal colleague Ron Fournier also recently invoked the administration's response to Benghazi as a reason for the public to doubt the federal government's response to Ebola.
Others referencing Benghazi in their discussions of the prostitution story include Ronald Kessler, the investigative journalist described as "a bit of a kook" who recently drew fire for suggesting that President Obama would be to blame if he were assassinated, and Steve Doocy, the Fox News host who previously complained that the deadly Hurricane Sandy "knocked [Benghazi] off the front page."
After President Obama repeated the assessment of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, of the intelligence community's initial view on the threat posed by the Islamic State, media are accusing Obama of "throwing the intelligence community under the bus."
National Journal columnist Ron Fournier distorted President Obama's comments on his strategy toward the Islamic State in order to accuse the president of failed leadership.
During a joint press conference Wednesday with the president of Estonia, Obama defined his objective regarding the Islamic State: "to degrade and destroy ISIL so that it's no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States."
Responding to a follow up question, Obama reiterated that goal: "Our objective is to make sure that ISIL is not an ongoing threat to the region." Asked a third time to lay out his strategy, Obama stressed the need to degrade the terrorist group to what he called "a manageable problem." This was based on the observation that even after the core of a terrorist organization has been decimated, "a few individuals" might still be able to commit acts of terror.
Calling the president "maddeningly indecisive, unclear, and defensive," Fournier said he found himself "puzzled" after Obama's comments.
The observation at the center of Obama's much parsed statement is so noncontroversial, even Ron Fournier thinks it probably represents the best possible outcome in the actual world: "While containing ISIS may be the best realistic outcome, 'Let's Manage the Situation!' is hardly a national rallying cry."
Who needs realistic outcomes guiding strategy when we haven't even come up with a good slogan yet!
But note the subtle way in which Fournier distorted what Obama actually said:
National Journal correspondent-at-large Major Garrett used Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices book tour to whitewash Clinton's long career championing women's rights and leadership, baselessly accusing Clinton of focusing on women's issues for purely selfish reasons.
In a June 10 column Garrett attacked Hillary Clinton as selfishly obsessed with the notion "that the presidential glass ceiling" is exclusively hers "to break," and accused Clinton of sitting on a "self-built pedestal of inevitability." Garrett challenged Clinton to "do something interesting" and advised her to seize her "sexism opportunity," as "the glass ceiling halts the progress of all women -- not just yours":
Start by ending the constricting and unpalatable obsession that the presidential glass ceiling is yours and yours alone to break. It isn't. The longer you pretend otherwise, the longer your road to the White House will become. The glass ceiling halts the progress of all women -- not just yours.
But Garrett's critique ignores Clinton's longstanding history as a champion of women's rights worldwide as well as her advocacy for all women to break the glass ceiling.
Most recently, Clinton cheered the opportunity of a female president in a June 4 interview with People, saying, "I'm certainly in the camp that says we need to break down that highest, hardest glass ceiling in American politics." Clinton stressed that despite her desire to see a female president, she hasn't yet made her "own decision about what I think is right for me," underscoring her belief that she does not necessarily have to be the first woman president.
In April, Hillary Clinton launched "No Ceilings," a series of conversations that focus on professional discrimination and encourage women to break the glass ceiling.
Clinton also highlighted the importance of having a female president of the United States in a December interview with Barbara Walters. Admitting that although she did not know who the first female president may be, Clinton promoted a number of capable female senators "on both sides of the aisle" and asserted:
CLINTON: It matters because we have half the population that has given so much to building this country, to making it work, and of course I want to see a woman in the White House. Because, if I look at my friends and former colleagues who are now in the Senate, it was the women senators on both sides of the aisle who finally broke the fever over the government shutdown and debt limit debate. They have been working across party lines, and we need more of that.
The Environmental Protection Agency's forthcoming regulations on greenhouse gas emissions will provide legally required protection for the health and welfare of Americans at a cheap cost, while allowing states flexibility -- contrary to media fearmongering about the landmark standards.
National Journal's Ron Fournier illustrated in his latest column why it's a bad idea to rely on excerpts from a book for one's commentary rather than actually reading it.
In 2011, a "grand bargain" to lower the long-term debt by $4 trillion by cutting entitlement spending and raising taxes fizzled when Republicans pulled out of negotiations. Some pundits, including Fournier, counterintuitively blamed Obama for Republican refusal to support any bill that increased taxes.
Fournier suggested in a May 12 column that former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's new memoir, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, supports that conclusion.
While the book was released today, Fournier clearly has not read it -- he describes it as "forthcoming" and cites excerpts from Politico's Playbook. Unfortunately for Fournier that is a crucial error, as the full text of that section of the memoir makes clear that Geithner blames Republicans, not Obama, for the failure of the debt talks.
Fournier wrote that Geithner's memoir "captures a moment at which President Obama faced a choice between forging ahead with a promise to seek GOP compromise on the nation's debt crisis or bow to pressure from his liberal base. Obama chose surrender." Fournier cites the following paragraphs from Geithner's book, excerpted by Politico, as evidence of that claim:
Dan Pfeiffer, the president's communications director [now senior adviser] and another 2008 campaign veteran, often took the other side of the debate, saying we couldn't afford to alienate our base and split a weakened Democratic Party in pursuit of an imaginary compromise with Republicans who didn't want to compromise.
At another meeting in the Roosevelt Room, I told the president I thought there was a chance that he could break at least some Republicans away from their no-new-taxes mantra and forge a deal to stabilize our long-term debt. It wouldn't be a deal that his base would like, but if he wanted to get anything through the House, he couldn't be bound by the demands of Democrats. "You have a chance to split the Republicans," I said. "But only if you're willing to split the Democrats...."
I remember during one Roosevelt Room prep session before I appeared on the Sunday shows, I objected when Dan Pfeiffer wanted me to say Social Security didn't contribute to the deficit. It wasn't a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute. Pfeiffer said the line was a "dog whistle" to the Left, a phrase I had never heard before. He had to explain that the phrase was code to the Democratic base, signaling that we intended to protect Social Security.
Based on the Politico excerpts, Fournier concluded:
Obama decided not to split the Democrats--or to seriously seek compromise. Yes, he did propose a modest adjustment of entitlement spending in exchange for tax cuts on a "grand bargain," but that now appears to have been a mere signal (or dog whistle) to debt-fretting independent voters. It was a game. Liberals played their part and objected to the reforms. Republicans played their part and said they would never raise taxes. Despite advice from Geithner, fellow Democrats, and top Republicans who recognized the GOP negotiating ploy, Obama seized on it as an excuse to surrender to his base.
In fact, Geithner made clear that Obama had sought to "seriously seek compromise," only to be abandoned at the negotiating table. Here is the very next paragraph in Geithner's book following the exchange about Social Security (Kindle location 7177):
On July 21, Boehner, remarkably, stopped returning the President's calls. He soon announced he was abandoning the grand bargain. This time, his rationale was that the President had moved the goalposts by asking for an extra $ 400 billion in revenues. But that was just a pretext; the negotiations were fluid. We had raised the revenue target, and their drafts still were calling for unacceptable political scalps, but the President hadn't drawn a line in the sand. The problem was that most of Boehner's caucus was unwilling to accept any new revenues, and many had pledged never to vote to raise the debt ceiling; he once told us that he was more interested in doing big things than being Speaker, but ultimately he was unwilling to split his caucus and risk his job. The President, by contrast, was willing to alienate some of his Democratic allies to pass an agreement he believed would be good for the country.
National Journal's coverage of an upcoming Senate hearing on the Keystone XL pipeline failed to disclose that Gen. Jim Jones is currently working for the fossil fuel industry.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to discuss whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline is in the country's national interest. In covering the hearing, National Journal referred to Jones by his former role as a national security adviser to President Barack Obama and called him "one of several former Obama administration officials who favor the project," but did not mention his current employer.
Buzzfeed, by contrast, explained that Jones is now a paid adviser to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and to the American Petroleum Institute (API), the top lobbying group for the oil and gas industry:
Jim Jones, a retired Marine Corps commandant, served as Obama's first national security adviser. He left the administration shortly before the 2010 midterm elections. Now he's a top lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with a focus on Keystone.
Since taking the lobbying job, Jones has said that the pipeline project is good for national security.
Both API and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been lobbying hard for the Keystone XL pipeline, alongside TransCanada, pushing statewide resolutions in support of the project, according to PR Watch. The American Petroleum Institute, which openly supports the Keystone pipeline, previously created a front group called "Oil Sands Fact Check" in support of the pipeline and other tar sands developments.
National Journal previously quoted Michael McKenna often while failing to disclose that he is a Republican energy lobbyist, before reversing its mistake in 2012.
As Republicans gear up to filibuster yet another of President Obama's highly-qualified judicial nominees, Democrats are mulling Senate rule changes to allow a straight up-or-down vote on these picks. After unprecedented obstructionism on the part of the GOP, media should note that the so-called "nuclear option" may be the only way for these nominees to get a vote.
The problems facing the Affordable Care Act's implementation have given the law's critics no shortage of ammunition to take potshots at President Obama's signature legislative accomplishment. But to hear those critics tell it, the ACA's problems are an unfolding political catastrophe in which Democrats are poised to abandon ship and the law is just a hair's breadth from repeal. Repeal of the law is and always has been a fantasy, but right now it's being enabled by members of the mainstream press for whom the ACA's problems aren't serious enough and somehow merit embellishment.
Tea Party congressmen and conservative pundits have been keeping the repeal fantasy alive ever since the law was signed back in 2010. The backlash from the government shutdown, which was inspired by Tea Party efforts to gut the ACA, did nothing to dull enthusiasm for the "repeal Obamacare" crowd. "Obamacare will be repealed well in advance of the 2014 elections," conservative wag Steven Hayward wrote in Forbes on November 11. "There is a chance Obamacare could be repealed in a bipartisan vote," wrote Ed Rogers in the Washington Post. Congress "could try to vote now, under new conditions and with the American people behind them, to repeal the whole thing," Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "And who knows, they just might." No, they won't. And even if Congress did somehow manage to pass a bill repealing the ACA, it would in all certainty be vetoed by President Obama.
But this is what pundits and activists do: shape and spin stories to conform to their preferred outcome. The National Journal's Josh Kraushaar, rather than tamping down this irrational enthusiasm among the law's opponents, is giving it a leg up. "There's a growing likelihood that over time, enough Democrats may join Republicans to decide to start over and scrap the whole complex health care enterprise," Kraushaar writes in his November 18 column. Now, this is caveated to the point that it's essentially meaningless -- he's saying there's an increased chance of something possibly happening over an indeterminate time period -- -- but Kraushaar nonetheless wants us to think that repeal is a real threat.
The government is still shut down owing to Republican intransigence over the Affordable Care Act, and reporters are still groping about for reasons to redistribute blame for the paralyzing gridlock away from the GOP and onto President Obama. National Journal political correspondent Beth Reinhard gets in on the fun, writing that the shutdown shows that "Obama's biggest failing has been his inability to build relationships and make deals on Capitol Hill." To build her case, she quotes four Republicans -- Romney campaign flack Kevin Madden, lobbyist Charlie Black, pollster Vin Weber, and former Sen. Norm Coleman -- all of whom argue, in obvious good faith, that the president just hasn't done enough to accommodate Republicans.
That's a tough argument to sell, given that immediately after Obama's first inauguration congressional Republicans devised a strategy to reflexively oppose all of Obama's economic policies, and immediately after his second inauguration they agreed to boycott direct negotiations with Obama. But let's focus on one of the Republicans the National Journal cites, Charlie Black, and his complaint that Obama refused to negotiate during the 2012 "fiscal cliff" stand-off, as it highlights just how weak the "Obama can't make deals" argument is.
Here's what Black told the National Journal:
Longtime lobbyist Charlie Black noted that it was Vice President Joe Biden who reached a last-minute agreement with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff at the start of this year.
"The president wasted 17 months, and in one weekend the old pros made a deal," Black said. "All the president knows how to do is campaign and attack."
It's true that McConnell and Biden ended up hammering out the final fiscal cliff compromise. Left unsaid is why the final deal was left to McConnell and Biden -- because John Boehner rebuffed Barack Obama's attempts to negotiate on taxes and threw the entire process into chaos.
As the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opens today, some in the press have been caught up in a swoon over the former president.
Pundits from the center and the avowed left called on critics to re-examine the former president as a "good man with a good heart," while those on the right declare that "Bush is Back." Political analysts are compiling lists of "The 7 best moments of George W. Bush's presidency" and highlighting polls indicating that Bush is more popular now than he was in office. And Fox News has pulled out all the stops, lining up their Bush-administration-officials-turned-Fox-employees to sing the former president's praises.
Presidential historians and veteran reporters who covered the Bush White House are speaking out, saying that reporting on the Bush library and legacy should put his failures in their proper context.
The academics point out that while some of Bush's defenders in the press have said that the Bush legacy is a question for history, historians largely pan his tenure. And the veteran reporters who covered Bush's presidency urge that coverage of the presidential library provide a complete accounting of his tenure in office, including its many missteps.
"The press needs to take a really cold-eyed look at the circumstances ... look at the state of the country and world on Jan. 20, 2001 and eight years later," said Ed Chen, former Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg correspondent who covered the White House from 1999 to 2010. "Were mistakes made? Sure, the whole WMD fiasco ... it sure has a long way to go for anything close to a full rehabilitation."
Chen later added, "Of the three [presidents] that I covered, we have to put Bush at the bottom."
Several top presidential historians echoed Chen's low-ranking view, noting a week of positive coverage cannot erase that.
"Right now he's ranked as one of the lower presidents because of the War in Iraq and the economy tanking so he's got a long way to go to get rehabilitated," said Douglas Brinkley, a top presidential historian and author. "It is a long revisionist road up from the bottom for George W. Bush. He is ranked toward the bottom rung of presidents."
Indeed, surveys of historians regularly find Bush ranked among the worst of U.S. presidents.
Having toured the new library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Brinkley described it as having a "compassionate conservative motif" for Bush, adding, "I was surprised how much wall space was given to AIDS in Africa, marine conservation, No Child Left Behind. I got the feeling that the Bush crowd was trying to paint their president as more of a centrist than many people feel."
But Brinkley stressed that whatever positive image is being attempted this week cannot rewrite his presidency.
"I don't think it matters two weeks from now, it is a building opening and people tend to be jubilant," he said. "It's the beginning of revisionism of a presidency."
Media coverage of the debt ceiling frequently claims that raising the limit without simultaneous spending cuts would give President Obama a "blank check," repeating a pattern of promoting this false narrative -- or failing to correct it -- that occurred during the unprecedented brinkmanship of 2011. The phrase implies that the debt ceiling governs additional spending desired by the White House, when in fact it is a restriction on the executive branch's ability to borrow money to pay for spending measures already enacted by Congress.
With more than 20 minutes still to go in the October 16 presidential debate, the National Journal declared the town hall meeting between President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney a "tie."
From the Journal article, which bore the headline, "Who Won the Debate? Obama, Romney Tie in Presidential Showdown":
Who won? The cheap answer is Obama because his goal following a catastrophically sluggish first debate was so clear: Show some life. And, indeed, the president aggressively criticized Romney, labeling him a hypocrite and a liar who favors the rich at the expense of the middle class and poor.
But Romney got his licks in, too, wrapping a miserable economy around the incumbent's neck. "The middle class is getting crushed by the policies of a president who does not understand what it takes to get the economy working again," Romney said.
Bottom line: Call it a tie. Obama and Romney scored points while turning off independent voters with their point-scoring.
Affirmative action policies that will come before the Supreme Court in the upcoming Fisher v. University of Texas case have long been the target of right-wing misinformation that distort the benefits of diversity in higher education. Contrary to the conservative narrative in the media, these admissions processes serve important national interests by promoting equal opportunity and are based on long-standing law.
Yesterday, after the Treasury Department announced that total public debt has surpassed $16 trillion, a number of media outlets quoted vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan attacking President Obama for not reducing said debt. "Of all the broken promises from President Obama, this is probably the worst one because this debt is threatening jobs today, it is threating prosperity today," said Ryan in Iowa, stumping for Mitt Romney. That debt, however, didn't create itself. It's primarily the product of Bush-era policies that Paul Ryan voted to enact -- a fact that was lost in the coverage of Ryan attacking the debt he helped create.
Uncritical quotation of Ryan's debt attack abounds -- NBC, ABC, the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and so on. But as Ezra Klein pointed out during last week's Republican National Convention, which featured a prominently displayed debt clock in the convention hall, the majority of current debt can be laid at the feet of George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress of the early 2000s.
The specific Bush-era policies driving debt, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, are the tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the bailouts of Wall Street and Fannie and Freddie. Economic recovery measures put in place under Obama, i.e. the stimulus, play a comparatively miniscule part in the total debt picture.
Paul Ryan voted for the tax cuts. He voted for the wars. He voted for TARP. Every Bush-era policy that ballooned the debt to its current level got the Paul Ryan stamp of approval. And if press outlets are going to quote him saying "this debt is threatening jobs today, it is threating prosperity today," they should note that this "threat" is partially of his own creation.