Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei have an article up this morning with a dog-bites-man headline and premise: "To GOP, blatant bias in vetting." Republicans? Alleging liberal media bias? Pardon me while I find some pearls to clutch.
The conceit behind this whole affair is that Haley Barbour and Ari Fleischer told Allen and VandeHei that "liberal bias" is real and it's devastating, and Allen and Vandehei believe them:
Republicans cry "bias" so often it feels like a campaign theme. It is, largely because it fires up conservatives and diminishes the punch of legitimate investigative or narrative journalism. But it also is because it often rings true, even to people who don't listen to Rush Limbaugh -- or Haley Barbour.
The best evidence Allen and VandeHei could muster regards the placement of stories about Mitt Romney's high-school bullying and Barack Obama's high-school drug use:
And the imbalance can do slow, low-grade but unmistakable damage to Romney: Swing voters are just getting to know him. And coverage suggesting he is mean or extravagant can soak in, even though voters who took the time to weigh the details might dismiss the storyline.
It's certainly hard to argue that the Romneys' horse-riding habits today are worse than the Maraniss revelations, which have gotten little mainstream coverage.
And the horse-riding story came a few weeks after a second story that made Republicans see red -- another front-pager, this time in the Washington Post, that hit Mitt Romney for bullying a kid who might have been gay, in high school nearly a half-century ago. The clear implication to readers: Romney was a mean, insensitive jerk.
Maraniss works for the Post and his pot-smoking scoop, which included details of Obama's college-era dope-smoking club and waste-no-weed rules for inhaling it, never made the front of his own paper.
Labor Department statistics say that government employment has decreased by 608,000 since February 2009. Nevertheless, Fox News and Politico both uncritically reported Mitt Romney's false claim that "[w]e have 145,000 more government workers under this president."
Several media outlets have distorted comments by an EPA official, falsely suggesting that he said "oil companies should be crucified." In fact, the official was using an analogy, which he has since apologized for, to describe a common approach to regulatory enforcement: making examples out of those who break the law.
Ahead of today's release of the annual Social Security trustees' report, Trudy Lieberman of the Columbia Journalism Review reviewed the failures of the mainstream media in its coverage of Social Security. As Lieberman wrote, "[M]uch of the press has reported only one side of this story using 'facts' that are misleading or flat-out wrong while ignoring others."
A great example of the media's unwillingness to accurately report on Social Security came when Texas Gov. Rick Perry described the program as a "Ponzi scheme." Most coverage of the incident focused either on its political fallout or presented the issue in a "he said-she said" style -- ignoring the false nature of the "Ponzi" attack.
Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme. People who call it a Ponzi scheme are not "wrong but partially right," they're not "called wrong by critics" -- they're just wrong.
A Ponzi scheme is a criminal endeavor that involves opaque financial dealings that promise investment returns when none or next to none actually exist. Social Security's finances are crystal clear, and the interest generated by its trust fund is quite real.
A Ponzi scheme eventually collapses. According to last year's report, Social Security can continue as it is, paying full benefits for nearly 25 years, and 77 percent of promised benefits thereafter.
During coverage of Perry's claims, the Los Angeles Times wrote that "[s]upporters of Social Security argue that the program is a general benefit," while "[o]pponents, like Perry, see the program as a robbing of one generation to pay for the older one, a type of cheat akin to a Ponzi scheme." At no point did the article acknowledge that the "Ponzi scheme" attack was incorrect.
Meanwhile, a Politico story focused entirely on reactions to Perry's comments from Republican officials and completely ignored whether or not his comments had any basis in reality. And a Christian Science Monitor article reported that Perry "says he is not backing down from what he said, but the point is to get people's attention and push for ways to reform Social Security so it will endure long enough to help today's youngsters."
(UPDATE 3/2 5:18PM An Editor's Note now appended to the Politico story says it "mischaracterized the testimony of Energy Secreatry Steven Chu." The headline, lede, and body of the story have been corrected.)
A Politico story fueling misguided attacks on Energy Secretary Steven Chu is not borne out by what actually occurred. The article titled, "Chu: DOE working to wean U.S. off oil, not lower prices," claimed:
The Energy Department isn't working to lower gasoline prices directly, Secretary Steven Chu said Tuesday after a Republican lawmaker scolded him for his now-infamous 2008 comment that gas prices in the U.S. should be as high as in Europe.
But this report is based on an assumption made by Politico reporter Alex Guillen about how Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-MS) was going to finish a question. If that wasn't bad enough, Politico doubled down with another article today about Newt Gingrich -- who cited Guillen's story -- calling for Chu to be fired for the remarks. (UPDATE 3/2 6:00PM Politico has also corrected this article.)
Here's what actually happened in the hearing (fuller video and transcript below):
REP. NUNNELEE: But is the overall goal to get our price--
CHU: No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil to -- to build and strengthen our economy and to decrease our dependency on oil.
But here's Politico's version of what happened:
"But is the overall goal to get our price" of gasoline down, asked Nunnelee.
"No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy," Chu replied.
Guillen built his story on what he assumed Nunnelee was asking and gave no indication that the question was, in fact, ambiguous. There is good reason to believe that Chu thought Nunnelee was actually asking, "Is the overall goal to get our price up to European levels," since this was Nunnelee's previous question:
NUNNELEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Secretary for being here. Before you were nominated, you were quoted as saying, quote, "Somehow, we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe." I can't look at motivations. I have to look at results. And under this administration, the price of gasoline is doubled. While bumping $4 a gallon in North Mississippi, today the price of gasoline in Europe is about $8 a gallon, and the people of North Mississippi can't be here.
So, I have to be here and be their voice for them. And I have to tell you that $8 a gallon gasoline makes them afraid. It's a cruel tax on the people of North Mississippi as they try to go back and forth to work. It's a cloud hanging over economic development and job creation, and it appears to me this administration continues to drag its feet on oil exploration on fossil fuel development and recovery. How do you respond to that?
UPDATE (2/10/12): National Journal accurately identified Michael McKenna as a "Republican energy lobbyist" in a January 26 article. Politico, on the other hand, has quoted McKenna without noting that he is a lobbyist in at least two articles since this post was published.
One of these is not like the others:
National Journal reporters have quoted Michael McKenna 21 times in the past year, more than any other news outlet in the Nexis database. In each case, McKenna provided comments on the politics surrounding energy and environment issues, including EPA regulations, climate change, clean energy, and gasoline prices. Not once did National Journal note that McKenna is a lobbyist who represents oil and utility companies. Instead, he was identified as a "Republican strategist who focuses on energy issues," or a "GOP energy strategist."
McKenna is the President of MWR Strategies, which aims "to help our clients advance their agendas in the public policy and media arenas." According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, MWR Strategies has worked for major fossil fuel interests including American Electric Power, Southern Co and Koch Industries, for several years.
National Journal is not alone in omitting this information about McKenna. Politico reporters quoted the "GOP energy strategist" in 14 energy and environment stories over the past year without mentioning his lobbying firm or its clients.
Tonight, Politico will host an awards ceremony honoring the political figures they consider the "Policymakers of the Year" in three different arenas: energy, healthcare, and technology.
And just who are these lucky Washington powerbrokers whom other Washington powerbrokers have deemed worthy of recognition? In the energy field, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. In healthcare, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). And in tech policy, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT).
The selection of Ryan as the healthcare "Policymaker of the Year" has raised some eyebrows, but even more interesting are the technology honorees, particularly when you look at the list of sponsors underwriting the Politico awards show.
According to Politico, Smith and Leahy are being honored for the passage of the America Invents Act, a patent reform bill, which was "the only major piece of tech legislation signed into law in 2011 -- a rare instance in which a bipartisan effort bore fruit."
Smith and Leahy are also the chief sponsors of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), respectively. Both bills, which purport to combat online piracy of copyrighted material, face opposition from big-name technology companies that fear they will stifle online innovation. Legal scholars have denounced the bills as unconstitutional and said that they are tantamount to Internet censorship. Perhaps most significantly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) both oppose SOPA in its current form.
Just about everyone hates these bills ... but the entertainment industry loves them. And among the sponsors of the Politico awards gala is the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the video game industry's chief lobbying group. According to disclosure records, the ESA has spent thousands of dollars this year lobbying in support of PIPA, designated S.968. (For the individual filings, click here, here, here, and here.) ESA has also donated $1,000 to Smith each election cycle going back to 2008. They donated $2,400 to Leahy in 2010.
That a chief proponent of these anti-piracy bills is also a sponsor of an awards ceremony honoring the chief authors of these same bills is unseemly, to say the least, and Politico should disclose this relationship.
In a Politico op-ed, Steve Forbes defended the taxpayer subsidies enjoyed by oil and gas companies with a series of false claims that echo industry talking points.
It's difficult, at times, having to constantly invent and manage new narratives around which to craft political stories. Yesterday, Politico was busily hyping the Bloomberg-Washington Post Republican primary debate as "now or never" for Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Today, they're saying Perry eschewed "a debate knock-out" and instead used it as "a pivot point" to move into the policy arena. New day, new narrative.
And their story this morning on Michele Bachmann's debate performance stands out as a fine example of narrative generation at the expense of factual considerations:
The Michele Bachmann conservatives fell in love with during the campaign's early debates returned Tuesday night.
Bachmann, whose campaign has suffered a series of unforced errors and clunky debate performances since she won the Ames straw poll in August, delivered a solid performance at the Washington Post/Bloomberg forum, striking her campaign themes while discussing complex economic issues without a stumble.
She gave serious answers -- with the exception of a lighthearted joke comparing Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan to a sign of the devil -- and didn't whiff when Mitt Romney lobbed her a gift softball question.
Politico saw a "solid performance," flawless discussion of "complex economic issues," and "serious answers" with no "stumbles" from the Minnesota Republican. Let's take a specific look at what they found so impressive, and contrast it with what others in the fact-checking community thought.
In the rush to cover the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received a loan guarantee from the federal government, many news media outlets have misrepresented or omitted key facts.
I've always been amused watching conservatives attack progressives for their "worship" of Obama (alternately and pejoratively dubbed "The Obamessiah" or simply "The One") and then raise their own voices in unalloyed praise of Ronald Reagan, who they insist saved America by relentlessly cutting taxes and shrinking government. The beatification of Reagan by the right, however, is a classic example of mythology overtaking the man. Ronald Reagan -- the small-government champion of trickle-down economics -- raised taxes.
He raised taxes quite a bit, actually. And he did so both to reduce the deficit and stabilize Social Security. The media have been lax in pointing this out whenever Republican presidential candidates proudly declare their tax-cutting, deficit-exploding economic plans to be a continuation of the policies laid out by the 40th president. So it was refreshing to see Politico publish a good examination of Reagan's tax-hiking policies and how they would fare in today's political climate:
With the nation at risk of default next month, the Republicans' fierce anti-tax orthodoxy is running square into the Ghost of the Gipper -- the GOP's great modern, pre-tea party hero, Ronald Reagan.
Indeed, a POLITICO review of Reagan's own budget documents shows that the Republican president repeatedly signed deficit-reduction legislation in the 1980's that melded annual tax increases with spending cuts just as President Barack Obama is now asking Congress to consider.
The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA) is the most famous, because of its historic size and timing, a dramatic course correction that quickly followed Reagan's signature income tax cuts in 1981. But in the six years after were four more deficit-reduction acts, which combined to almost double TEFRA's revenue impact on an annual basis.
In Reagan's case, he also signed major tax reform and his signature 1981 tax cuts forever changed the landscape.
A decade after his 1981 Economic Recovery Act, for example, Reagan budgets predicted those tax cuts would reduce annual receipts for the Treasury by as much as $350.2 billion. But the same tables also show that the combination of TEFRA and the four other deficit-reduction bills effectively took back a third of this in the name of deficit reduction.
The rich diversity of Reagan-era tax changes is most striking, impacting even such conservative priorities now as the estate tax. At the same time, Reagan also signed laws to double the federal gasoline tax to build more roads and increase payroll taxes to stabilize Social Security.
This part of the Reagan legacy is often overlooked, owing in large part to the determined right-wing effort to push the Reagan myth at the expense of historical accuracy.
Several media outlets have reported on a letter sent by House Speaker John Boehner to President Obama signed by "150 economists" who support Boehner's spending cut proposal. But these media outlets have ignored that many of the economists who signed the letter have made baseless predictions in the past, some have endorsed dubious theories, and others have used extreme rhetoric to attack Obama and other Democrats.
On May 26, Politico published an op-ed by Henry M. Rivera, a former FCC commissioner and partner at the law firm Wiley Rein, promoting the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile. Specifically, Rivera writes that the merger is a "market-based solution" to increased demand for wireless internet access that will benefit minorities in particular: "Given that minority communities rely on wireless services as their primary means for Internet access, the merger should offer these communities greater accessibility to reliable services."
Politico identified Rivera as a partner at Wiley Rein, but they failed to note that Wiley Rein is representing Deutsche Telekom -- T-Mobile's parent company -- in their push to have the Justice Department approve the merger with AT&T.
The Washington Post reported on March 27:
The details of the corporate deal were hammered out by teams of lawyers at the New York firms Sullivan & Cromwell and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, which represented AT&T and Deutsche Telekom respectively. Now, the focus of the two companies will shift to Washington. Antitrust specialists at four firms are already working diligently to pave the way for approval from both the Justice Department, which will consider whether the merger will create a duopoly, and the Federal Communications Commission, which will have to approve the transfer of T-Mobile's spectrum license.
Deutsche Telekom turned to local attorneys at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Wiley Rein for regulatory help. At Cleary, the team is being led by Mark W. Nelson and George S. Cary. Nelson previously worked on T-Mobile's $2.4 billion acquisition of SunCom Wireless in 2007. Cary is a former deputy director in the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Competition, which is responsible for the enforcement of mergers. At Wiley, Richard E. Wiley, head of the firm's 80-strong communications practice and former FCC chairman, is spearheading the effort with partners R. Michael Senkowski, Nancy J. Victory and Eric W. DeSilva.
In an article titled, "Bobby Jindal hammers President Obama on drilling," Politico reports that the Louisiana governor attacked Obama's response to the BP oil spill in an NBC interview today. From the article:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal used a TV appearance Wednesday morning marking the first anniversary of the BP oil spill not only to tout the progress his state has made but also to attack President Barack Obama's response to the spill and his policies more broadly.
As he touted his state's progress, he once again criticized the Obama administration for its moratorium last summer on deepwater drilling. "One of the side effects, one of the things we need to recover from is the administration imposed a one-size-fits-all moratorium after the spill," he said. "We want drilling to be done safely but we don't want to lose thousands of jobs down here."
But the Politico article didn't mention that the signature piece of Jindal's own response to the oil spill is widely seen as a failure and a waste of time and money.
During the spill, Jindal repeatedly attacked the Obama administration for not immediately approving his plan to build sand berms to block the oil, stating in June that "The time for studies and discussion is over." In July, the New York Times reported that "almost two dozen coastal scientists from Louisiana and around the country have urged the federal government to halt the construction of sand berms in the gulf, calling the project ineffective in the fight against the oil and a waste of resources that could have heavy environmental consequences."
In October, Greenwire reported that Louisiana continued to build the berms despite ongoing concerns among scientists (via Nexis):
Yesterday, I noted that Politico, in an article prescribing the "7 things Obama needs to do" in his big budget speech, said that Obama had to attack Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal, show his willingness to "compromise" with Republicans, and ignore the GOP completely, all at the same time. Here's what I wrote:
I can't imagine how Obama pulls off this absurd trifecta, but if he does, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see tomorrow morning a Politico article on Obama's muddled message to Republicans.
I think you know where this is going.
This morning, Politico's Glenn Thrush -- who shared a byline on yesterday's article -- and Manu Raju take the president to task for, as they put it, "beat[ing] up" the Republicans with "a fiscal olive branch."
Here's what they write today (emphasis added):
Obama's long-anticipated speech on the deficit at George Washington University was one of the oddest rhetorical hybrids of his presidency - a serious stab at reforming entitlements cloaked in a 2012 campaign speech that was one of the most overtly partisan broadsides he's ever delivered from a podium with a presidential seal.
The centerpiece was a battle cry to his base, a call for $1 trillion in new taxes on the rich - on top of billions saved by allowing Bush-era tax cuts to lapse -- in lieu of the deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and now identified with the GOP.
Liberals, for the most part, were assuaged. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman said Obama's call for $4 trillion in cuts over 12 years was "much better than many of us feared." His conclusion:"I can live with this."
But the combative tenor of Obama's remarks, which included a swipe at his potential GOP challengers in 2012, may have scuttled the stated purpose of the entire enterprise - starting negotiations with Republicans on a workable bipartisan approach to attacking the deficit.
But this odd "rhetorical hybrid" that they say poisoned the compromise well is pretty much exactly what Thrush and Politico said Obama "need[ed] to do" in the speech -- they even specifically counseled Obama "beat up" the Republican plan. From their article yesterday:
When President Barack Obama finally steps into the deficit debate Wednesday, he faces a seemingly contradictory task:
He needs to reassure his liberal base but signal to Republicans that he's open to compromise. He needs to show he can get serious about cutting the budget but sustain the economic recovery. He needs to set out a sharply different vision than House Republicans but keep them at the table.
Beat up on Rep. Paul Ryan
Or his budget plan, at least.
To Democrats, this is a no-brainer. Republicans want to privatize Medicare, the most popular government program around. It's already been incorporated into the campaign strategy books of Democrats around the country, including the president's.
So the president, who has said very little about the Ryan budget, needs to make the moral case for Medicare, Democrats said.
Yesterday's article also acknowledged that "no matter what Obama says Wednesday, he won't go far enough to satisfy most Republicans," which leaves open the question of why Obama would need to show his willingness to compromise in the first place. But that also gets to a key point: Republicans were going to attack this speech as overly partisan regardless of its content. That's what they do, even when extraordinarily important legislation is on the line. So their criticism of Obama's speech is less an indication of Obama's failure to be conciliatory than it is a sign that the GOP are following the playbook.
But Politico used that utterly predictable framing to fault the president for doing what they said he needed to do.