A study released this week finds,"Passive news reporting that doesn't attempt to resolve factual disputes in politics may have detrimental effects on readers." Ohio State University researchers concluded that these he-said/she-said news reports can lead audiences to believe that they are unable to determine the truth in political issues. Raymond Pingree, the author of the study, said this "may make it easier for people to just quit following politics at all, or to accept the dishonesty in politicians."
The press release on the study also stated: "While some disputes in politics involve subjective issues where there is no right or wrong answers, some involve factual issues that could be checked by reporters if they had the time and the desire, Pingree said."
Case in point: A Politico article today titled, "John Boehner blames Barack Obama for gas prices." The article reports:
House Speaker John Boehner is playing the gas-price-blame-game, pointing to President Barack Obama's policies for the sudden rise in gas prices.
With the price of gas surpassing $4 per gallon in parts of the country, Boehner said that Obama's moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf, as well as his decision to cancel leases on drilling in national parks, has contributed to the rising prices.
The White House has previously said the turmoil in Libya has caused the rise in prices.
So who's right? Do any energy economists agree with Boehner that Obama's drilling policies caused the high gas prices we're seeing? The Politico article doesn't say. Nor does it mention that U.S. production of oil increased in 2009 and 2010, making restrictions on drilling an unlikely candidate for blame. But that's ultimately beside the point.
Michael Canes, who previously served as Chief Economist of the American Petroleum Institute and who calls for expanded domestic oil and gas drilling, told Media Matters via email that "it's not credible to blame the Obama Administration's drilling policies for today's high prices because of the relative scales involved." Canes added: "World oil prices are determined in a market of around 85 million barrels per day of production and consumption, while the consequences of domestic drilling, particularly in the Gulf, likely would be more in the range of several hundred thousand to one million barrels per day, and most of that production would not occur for a number of years."
Politico reports that when running for U.S. Senate in 1992, Fox News host Mike Huckabee called homosexuality "aberrant, unnatural and sinful." Huckabee does not appear to have changed his anti-gay rhetoric since becoming a Fox News host, comparing homosexuality to drug use and incest, claiming that same-sex marriage is a threat to a "stable society," and promoting virulently anti-gay guests.
Fox News promoted Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's claim that the federal government has failed to "do its job" on border security without mentioning that border security efforts have increased measurably under President Obama: Deportations, drug seizures, and the number of Border Patrol agents have all increased.
The stupidest "story" you'll encounter all day is the Drudge-hyped "gaffe" allegedly committed when an email announcement that next year's Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte mentioned "great barbecue." Politico, for example, says of the email that went out under Michelle Obama's name, "The gaffe was enough to make you wonder whether the White House had simply cut and pasted Southern clichés to create the first lady's announcement."
What's the problem? Well, according to Politico, a Charlotte Observer noted that the "best" barbecue is not in Charlotte, but in Lexington -- which is about an hour from Charlotte. Politico considered that justification for its snide comments about gaffes and cliches. The Associated Press chimed in, too, with an article noting that the "barbecue center" of Shelby is "about an hour west of Charlotte."
So, in describing Charlotte, a city with two separate renowned barbecue destinations within an hour's drive, the Obama email mentioned "great barbecue." And this is supposed to be a "gaffe" and an indication that someone "simply cut and pasted Southern cliches." Yes, that's stupid because it's utterly trivial. But it's also stupid because it's … well, it's stupid. Even if you concede that it's impossible to find good barbecue in Charlotte, that doesn't matter. People who visit a new part of the country do not necessarily confine themselves to city limits. It's like mocking someone for saying that while visiting Los Angeles, they plan to visit Disneyland. Ha! Disneyland is in Anaheim, not L.A.! Or that a visit to New York City might involve catching a Jets game. Ha! They play in New Jersey!
But don't take my word for it. Let's see who else touts "great barbecue" as something to experience while visiting Charlotte:
"My favorite Charlotte event has to be Time Warner Cable BBQ & Blues! [Sept. 9-10] It's the best of a Carolina tradition with great BBQ, music and fun for everyone to enjoy right in the middle of Uptown Charlotte."
That's a quote from Robert Krumbine, chief creative officer of Charlotte Center City Partners, and it can be found in the 2011 Charlotte Official Visitor's Guide produced by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. (The visitor's guide contains listings for businesses in both Lexington and Shelby, another reminder that they're really close to Charlotte.)
The CRVA also produces a "Taste of Charlotte" sample itinerary to help people "discover all the fun things to see & do in Charlotte." And, what do you know, it emphasizes barbecue, too:
Barbecue is a non-negotiable must-have in North Carolina, so stop by Mac's Speed Shop for a taste of some Southern favorites including pulled pork, ribs, chili, Brunswick stew, and Mac's own delectable mac n' cheese. Half biker bar and half restaurant, this spot has earned a tasty reputation. Connoisseurs like renowned chef Mario Batali and Rick Browne of TV's "Barbecue America" are big fans.
It's entirely reasonable to refer to barbecue when talking about visiting Charlotte. And it's entirely trivial and utterly stupid to mock someone who does so for "cut[ting]and past[ing] Southern cliches." If Politico doesn't agree, they should take it up with the Charlotte Regional Visitor's Authority.
Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy has engaged in a one-man campaign to attack the political news website Politico, repeatedly dismissing it as a "lefty blog" and criticizing it for "load[ing] up on lefties." Doocy has even stooped to reading critical anonymous comments from a Politico post on the air in order to attack the post's author, Ben Smith, a move criticized as "one of the most revealing stunts I have seen a news-entertainer perform on cable television."
From the February 2 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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For years, political reporters have twisted and stretched the definition of the word hypocrisy to make it fit whatever story they wanted to write, until the word became all but meaningless. "Hypocrisy" was such a tempting peg for a story, reporters stopped caring whether it actually fit the situation in question. (See in particular the bizarre tendency of the media to portray a rich man who cares about the poor as a hypocrite.) There's a danger of the same thing happening to the word civility.
For example, under the headline "So much for civility …," Politico's Jonathan Allen writes of last night's State of the Union: "The civility show didn't last long in Congress. Actually, it never really started." Allen then proceeds to list several statements by members of Congress, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with "civility."
This, for example, is not an example of incivility, though Politico portrays it as such:
Within minutes of Obama's conclusion that the state of the union is "strong," Republican lawmakers blasted out press releases taking him to task for wanting to spend more on what he termed "investments."
Nor is this:
"House Republicans' answer to our nation's fiscal challenges is Draconian budget cuts on the backs of middle class families," New York Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said. "It is increasingly clear that the Republican way to reduce spending is to eliminate support for middle class families and seniors while protecting spending on special interests."
But those are the kinds of things Politico points to as evidence of a lack of civility: Broad expressions of disagreement over policy.
It is not uncivil for Republicans to say they think the President wants to spend too much. it is not uncivil for Democrats to say they think Republicans want to cut too much. And when you pretend that these things constitute a breech of civility, you devalue that criticism. You let people who really are uncivil -- say, those who talk of beating elected officials to a "bloody pulp" -- off the hook. Like the boy who cried wolf, you undermine legitimate concerns. And, at the same time, you stigmatize simple expressions of policy disagreement.
Politico previews the State of the Union:
When President Barack Obama steps into the House chamber Tuesday to deliver his second State of the Union address, ambience will trump substance.
In his speech, the president will talk about jobs, the deficit and the future of the nation's troubled economy, but most of the attention is going to be on the theatrics in the room.
What does "the attention" even mean? Whose attention? As measured how? Politico doesn't say. I suspect most of the country -- if not most of the reporters at Politico -- will pay more attention to the president's comments about jobs and the economy than to who John Thune is sitting with.
A new CBS News/New York Times poll on national priorities finds that 43 percent of Americans think Congress's top priority should be job creation -- more than twice as many as named any other issue, and more than three times the 14 percent who named the deficit the top issue. That's consistent with other polling conducted over the past year, and a reminder that the public cares about jobs, even if the Beltway media seems to prefer to focus on anything else.
Last week, Media Matters asked if the media would respond to Sarah Palin's interview with Sean Hannity on Monday by acting as stenographers for Palin.
True to form, they did. Several media outlets merely jotted down Palin's comments with no regard for the fact Palin's Hannity interview was nothing more than a friendly chat with a fellow Fox News employee (see: "Hannitize") with the sole goal of making Palin look good. Nor did these outlets offer much in the way of context and facts surrounding Palin's comments. It was, essentially, stenography.
For example, here's how The Washington Post treated Palin's comment on "lies":
Palin said she will continue to speak out to prevent what she called lies from damaging her politically. "Because if a lie does live, then, of course, your career is over, your reputation is thrashed and you will be ineffective in what it is that you are trying to do," she said.
Keep in mind, this is the same person who invented "death panels" -- PolitiFact's 2009 "Lie of the Year." Forget the fact that Palin has used lies to damage her own political opponents. In the Post's world, Palin is "speak[ing] out to prevent what she called lies from damaging her politically."
Is any Palin critic quoted by the Post? Nope. The Post's readers get Palin's unfiltered self-defense, which she delivered to a fellow Fox News employee during a friendly interview.
Politico doesn't fare much better in its write-up, which also ignores that this is simply a friendly Fox News forum for the Fox News employee to launch a self-defense with absolutely no pushback. Politico also thought it was necessary to allow Palin to "echo conservative criticisms" and take a jab at the memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shootings:
In addition to defending her actions and those of her political committee, Palin also went on offense for part of the interview -- accusing her liberal critics of trying to silence her, and echoing conservative criticisms that the atmosphere during President Barack Obama's speech at the University of Arizona last week was too much like a "pep rally."
Of course, this all follows the media's stenography approach when reporting on any Palin tweet, Facebook post, or friendly Fox News interview. Just write down whatever she said, offer little to no context for what she said, and allow what she said to stand without challenge.
UPDATE: In a later January 18 blog post, Politico's Keach Hagey did mention the fact that Hannity and Palin are colleagues and that Hannity "pitched [Palin] mostly a series of softballs":
Sarah Palin spent much of her first interview since the Tucson shooting casting herself not so much as a candidate as a member of a club of conservative media figures who have been unfairly maligned by the press in the wake of the shooting.
At times, she and Hannity, who has received his own share of criticism in the wake of the attacks, seemed less like a politician being interviewed by a journalist than like two colleagues commiserating -- which they also are.
He pitched her mostly a series of softballs (Sample question: "You said when the war terms are used this is not a call for violence. All that was ignored by the media. Does that frustrate you more?") and gave her a chance to respond to the criticism she got from both sides of the aisle for the language choice and timing of her video response on Wednesday.
In a January 18 Politico column, Joe Scarborough criticized right-wing media figures, including Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, for their "heated rhetoric," stating: "Despite what we eventually learned about the shooter in Tucson, should the right have really been so shocked that many feared a political connection between the heated rhetoric of 2010 and the shooting of [Rep. Gabrielle] Giffords?"
From Scarborough's column:
We get it, Sarah Palin. You're not morally culpable for the tragic shooting in Tucson, Ariz. All of us around the "Morning Joe" table agree, even if we were stunned that you would whine about yourself on Facebook as a shattered family prepared to bury their 9-year-old girl.
The same goes for you, Glenn Beck. You've attacked your political opponents with words designed to inspire hatred and mind-bending conspiracy theories from fans. Calling the president a racist, Marxist and fascist may be reprehensible, but it did not lead a mentally disturbed man to take a Glock to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's "Congress on Your Corner" event.
Good on ya, buddy. You weren't personally responsible for the slaughter at the Safeway. Maybe you can put it on a poster at the next "Talkers" convention.
But before you and the pack of right-wing polemicists who make big bucks spewing rage on a daily basis congratulate yourselves for not being responsible for Jared Lee Loughner's rampage, I recommend taking a deep breath. Just because the dots between violent rhetoric and violent actions don't connect in this case doesn't mean you can afford to ignore the possibility -- or, as many fear, the inevitability -- that someone else will soon draw the line between them.
Actually, someone already has. When you get a minute, Google "Byron Williams" and "Tides Foundation" to see just how thin a layer of ice Beck skates on every day.
That sore-loser phrase doesn't seem to get much use these days. Yet watching Senate Republicans in the minority essentially close down the chamber, not allowing any votes to proceed until their demands are met regarding tax cuts for the very wealthy, I'm pretty sure that fits the working definition of "obstructionist":
One who systematically blocks or interrupts a process, especially one who attempts to impede passage of legislation by the use of delaying tactics, such as a filibuster.
And you know why that is? It's because in the past when in the party out of power tried to systematically obstruct the will of the majority, they'd catch holy hell for it in the press and from commentators. Meaning, there was a downside to trying to hold Congress hostage.
But not for today's GOP. And Republican leaders know it. The Beltway press has mostly turned a blind, non-judgmental eye while the GOP has re-written the rules for governing from the minority. Yes, the press covers many of the votes that Republicans stymie. But there's little or no media debate about what the Republican Party is actually doing, which is practicing obstructionism on a massive and previously unseen scale.
That's not normal and it's about time the lapdog Beltway press corps awoke form its current coma and started calling the radicalism by its proper name.
Instead, we get crickets. ("Obstructionist" has become the media's Noun That Cannot Be Mentioned.) There's not even a hint that today's organized, across-the-board filibuster strategy is unique or odd. Pundits and reporters cover the spectacle as if it's everyday hardball and just more "partisan combat." It's not. It's extraordinary.
Under the misleading homepage headline posted earlier today, "Poll: Obama's future uncertain," Politico reported this finding from its recent voter survey [emphasis added]:
In the general public's view, the president is in big trouble, with 50 percent predicting that Obama will not be reelected and just 26 percent believing he will win a second term. D.C. elites saw things very differently: 49 percent believe the president will win a second term in 2012 while just 23 percent think he won't be reelected.
But here's what Politico left out of the article: When asked about hypothetical match-ups for a 2012 White House race including several prominent Republicans, general population voters uniformly picked Obama, and usually by large margins. In fact, Obama bested Palin by 13 points, with the Alaska Republican garnering just 33 percent of the vote in that hypothetical race.
In other words, here's the alternate headline Politico could have used:
Poll: Obama easily defeats Palin
Oh, no ... not this again:
During unguarded and even some staged -- but inadvertently revealing -- moments, Obama has allowed unintended glimpses into his thinking. At various times, his offhand comments have led critics, and many voters, to view him as an ardent leftist or an elitist or -- most recently -- a partisan Democrat.
That's right, one more turn on the "Obama's an elitist" dead-horse merry-go-round. In an op-ed for Politico, blogger Keith Koffler brings his own twist to this hoary old chestnut with some inane armchair psychoanalyzing:
These Freudian slips, uncovering the man beneath the spin and the speeches, are embedded in Americans' subconscious, if you will, because they seem to come directly from the president's inner self. Obama can change his policies, but he cannot easily erase these perceptions. And because of his cool opaqueness -- noted even by his own staff -- and his relatively brief track record on the national stage, voters have little else to go on.
It must be trying to leap from subconscious to subconscious like that to arrive at the conclusion that Americans ineluctably view the president as an "elitist." If we're to believe Koffler, the country is still obsessing over campaign 2008 talking points and sideshow acts:
First, there was his condescension toward blue-collar Midwestern voters. At a San Francisco fundraiser, he said, "They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
The remark suggested he is an elitist, so far removed from the concerns of average Americans that he presented a harsh stereotype of what they are like. This perception of Obama's being removed from mainstream voters was not helped by Michelle Obama's own Freudian slip. "For the first time in my adult life," she said early during the 2008 campaign, "I am proud of my country."
There was also the case of Joe the Plumber. "I think when you spread the wealth around," Obama told him, "it's good for everybody."
The statement raised eyebrows -- not because of the principle, which many agree with, but because of the terminology. "Spread the wealth" sounded scarily like a socialist tract people are forced to read in college.
While we're talking about 2008, let's discuss a key bit of information from that year that Koffler opted to leave out of his Politico piece -- the exit polls. In the 2008 election, voters making less than $50,000 voted for Obama over McCain 60-38 percent. When asked if they thought Obama was "in touch with people like you," 57 percent said yes. Those aren't poll numbers an out-of-touch "elitist" typically enjoys.
But why dwell on actual evidence of voter attitudes when you can pretend to be attuned to the national "subconscious"?
We've noted that an October 31 Politico article reported that Fox News contributor Karl Rove seems to be among GOP leaders who are on a "mission" to "halt" Fox News contributor Sarah Palin's "momentum and credibility," viewing her potential 2012 presidential nomination as a "disaster in waiting." Indeed, Rove and Palin have recently traded attacks, including over failed Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, who had Palin's strong backing.
Politico noted yesterday that the sparring between Rove and Palin continued on Election Day with Rove saying:
"It gave me no pleasure to say that she was unlikely to win," he said. "But this again provides a lesson. This is a candidate who was right on the issues, but who had mishandled a series of questions brought up by the press."
From the November 1 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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