Today, President Obama took on cable news pundits during a commencement address at University of Michigan in front of an audience estimated at 92,000. Said Obama (emphasis added):
But it was the last question from the last student in the letter that gave me pause. The student asked, "Are people being nice?" Are people being nice?
Well, if you turn on the news today, or yesterday, or a week ago, or a month ago -- particularly one of the cable channels -- you can see why even a kindergartener would ask this question. We've got politicians calling each other all sorts of unflattering names. Pundits and talking heads shout at each other. The media tends to play up every hint of conflict, because it makes for a sexier story -- which means anyone interested in getting coverage feels compelled to make their arguments as outrageous and as incendiary as possible.
Today's 24/7 echo-chamber amplifies the most inflammatory sound bites louder and faster than ever before. And it's also, however, given us unprecedented choice. Whereas most Americans used to get their news from the same three networks over dinner, or a few influential papers on Sunday morning, we now have the option to get our information from any number of blogs or websites or cable news shows. And this can have both a good and bad development for democracy. For if we choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own, studies suggest that we become more polarized, more set in our ways. That will only reinforce and even deepen the political divides in this country.
Still, if you're somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you're a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. It is essential for our democracy.
Given how Fox News and right-wing radio hosts have responded to the President's criticism in the past, I'm sure they'll be chomping at the bit to ponder these remarks next week.
Video of the President's commencement address can be viewed here.
As Media Matters' Joe Strupp noted, Politico's Patrick Gavin brings us a preview of the fancy new high-definition set for NBC's Meet the Press with a behind the scenes video featuring host David Gregory.
For those of you wondering, Gregory did not announce a change of heart when it comes to fact-checking Meet the Press.
I'm guessing he could have paid for at least a year's worth of independent fact-checking with just a fraction of the new set's budget.
Today's Politico opus about the White House press corps' frustration with the Obama administration is, as these things tend to be, quite revealing about the media. And, as tends to be the case, what's missing from the sprawling assessment is as revealing as what's included.
Of note: in a 3,786 word article about "why reporters are down on Obama," there is no mention of the Obama administration giving reporters misleading or inaccurate information. Instead, the complaints are about whether press secretary Robert Gibbs shows up for social events and which reporters get to be in the press pool and in which circumstances the President takes their questions.
Not that those complaints are completely irrelevant. But after an administration that misled the media about things like war, it's a little quaint that reporters are so upset when a press secretary doesn't show up for what even Politico acknowledges was a "trivial social engagement."
Perhaps you think it unfair of me to invoke the Bush administration lying to the media in discussing the relationship between reporters and the Obama administration. But it isn't me -- It's the White House press corps that says its relationship with the Obama administration is as bad as it ever was with the Bush administration:
President Obama and the media actually have a surprisingly hostile relationship - as contentious on a day-to-day basis as any between press and president in the last decade, reporters who cover the White House say.
So ... yeah. To the White House press corps, not getting your calls returned -- or seeing a competitor get a scoop -- is as bad as this, for example.
At every step, the quality of the journalism produced by the White House press corps is treated as irrelevant. For example, Politico reports:
Last year, Times reporter Helene Cooper was the target of a fusillade of complaints from Obama staffers and was for a time essentially frozen out by the administration, several colleagues said. Recently, a story by Sanger and Thom Shanker about an Iran policy memo from Defense Secretary Robert Gates received a public drubbing from Gibbs.
Gibbs said he recalled complaints about a story Cooper wrote from Japan that "had a bent nobody else's story had. The bent was also wrong."
Well, what did Cooper report? Was it accurate and fair? Those questions are key to determining whether the White House treated Cooper shabbily -- or whether it had a justified reaction to deeply flawed reporting. And yet Politico makes absolutely no attempt to answer those questions; gives no indication that it even recognizes that the questions might matter. It takes two sides to maintain an amicable relationship, but Politico behaves as though responsibility for doing so lies solely with the White House.
Likewise, Politico gives us three paragraphs about complaints that the Obama administration has "back-benched" the Wall Street Journal -- without ever noting that since Rupert Murdoch bought the paper, it has lurched to the Right. That should be worth noting, shouldn't it? Nobody expects the President to treat the American Spectator the way he treats CNN, right? So the Journal's move towards the Spectator should probably be included in any discussion of the White House's treatment of the paper.
Then there's this:
"These are people who came in with every reporter giving them the benefit of the doubt," said another reporter who regularly covers the White House. "They've lost all that goodwill."
I have no doubt that many reporters believe this is true, but it simply is not.
This is just strange.
Matt Drudge protégé Andrew Breitbart now travels with a camera crew because... well, I'll let him explain -- Politico's Patrick Gavin offers a partial transcript of a video shot by Wonkette's Liz Glover:
"It's helpful when you're a controversial person, who, wherever he goes, finds himself in a brouhaha and being accused of things," said Breitbart. "It's lovely to have documentation because they accused me of being the one throwing the eggs, they're the ones who called the police on me for throwing the eggs and thankfuly I had video proof to prove otherwise. Some people have bodyguards, I like having a camera crew."
I guess he's concerned that someone might give him the ole' O'Keefe/Giles treatment - an undercover video so heavily edited it hardly resembles reality.
Just about every time I include David Frum's views on anything related to Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, or Rush Limbaugh, I hear about it from fellow his fellow conservatives in comments and emails. Frum, they'll say, doesn't speak for them.
Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, has strong views on the future of the Republican Party, and is respected by some leading figures on the right, as Daniel Libit wrote last September in POLITICO. But he's got a lot of right-wing foes, too, especially in the talk radio world.
And it seems he also has a critic in Tunku Varadarajan, a former Wall Street Journal editorial board member and now a writer at the Daily Beast. For Varadarajan, Frum is representative of a certain speecies of conservative that one may find in cities connected by the Acela.
David is a man I've known professionally for almost a decade, and with whom my social interaction has always been very genial. He is a good and energetic man, and has, in the years since he left service at the White House, dedicated himself to being what I call a "polite-company conservative" (or PCC), much like David Brooks and Sam Tanenhaus at the New York Times (where the precocious Ross Douthat is shaping up to be a baby version of the species). A PCC is a conservative who yearns for the goodwill of the liberal elite in the media and in the Beltway-who wishes, always, to have their ear, to be at their dinner parties, to be comforted by a sense that their liberal interlocutors believe that they are not like other conservatives, with their intolerance and boorishness, their shrillness and their talk radio. The PCC, in fact, distinguishes himself from other conservatives not so much ideologically-though there is an element of that-as aesthetically.
So, Varadarajan thinks Frum, Brooks and Tanenhaus are "polite-company conservatives." Read his description of that term one more time: "[A] conservative who yearns for the goodwill of the liberal elite in the media and in the Beltway-who wishes, always, to have their ear, to be at their dinner parties, to be comforted by a sense that their liberal interlocutors believe that they are not like other conservatives, with their intolerance and boorishness, their shrillness and their talk radio."
Implied in the very term "polite-company conservative" is the notion that because of their behavior and ability to mince words or hold back, such people are welcome with open arms by the media elite, i.e. they are acceptable in polite company. They get column space, marquee television time, and invitations to fancy parties etc. In other words, they are accepted... a form of validation bestowed by our media.
This is, of course, ridiculous. The idea that the Frums of this world have done anything to become "polite-company conservatives" is a load of crap. If anything, they represent the rare exception of thoughtful media conservatives who largely refrain from nastiness and bomb-throwing.
It would be far more accurate - if speaking from the mentality of our media - to term people like Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and other similar conservative media stars as "polite-company conservatives." After all, they can say anything -- no matter how offensive or wrong -- and it doesn't seem to keep them off of tony programs like the Today Show, The View, Good Morning America or the major broadcast and cable news networks. In other words, they can do or say anything and still be accepted in "polite-company."
I guess you could call it the media's golden rule when it comes to punditry: Conservatives are mainstream no matter how right-wing, bigoted or otherwise untruthful their views, while progressives can't stray too far from the center or else they risk being considered illegitimate and not part of polite company.
Need more evidence?
I'm sure Ann Coulter has a new book on the horizon (doesn't she always?) and we all know her history. If you think that history will keep her from making the rounds on the cable and broadcast news chat shows, think again. It never has before.
When was the last time that someone as liberal and mean-spirited as Ann Coulter is conservative and mean-spirited got even a minute of time in front of the camera?
Then again, I struggle to even think of a liberal example that fits the Coulter-mold.
Politico's Michael Calderone reports:
Megan Whittemore, who was recently the research producer for "Fox News Sunday," has been named deputy press secretary to Republican whip Eric Cantor.
She had previously covered Capitol Hill for Fox News and FoxNews.com, according to the release, and worked on the network's 2008 election coverage.
Fox News is the "scene of the crime" on health care "falsehoods and myths" an unnamed White House official told Politico's Mike Allen in the lead up to President Obama's sit-down interview with the conservative network last night:
A White House official: "Many of the falsehoods and myths about health reform gained traction with Glenn Beck and others on FOX, so the President is returning to the scene of the crime to make the final sale. As we have said, we will work with Fox where it serves our communications interests, and this does."
Over the weekend, Politico published a profile of Media Matters by Michael Calderone.
From a glitzy new office in downtown Washington, the ideological war over the media is fully engaged.
Six years after its founding to counter what it said was "conservative misinformation," Media Matters for America employs a staff of 70 that spends 19 hours a day monitoring newspapers, magazines, broadcast and cable television, talk radio, and the Internet to counter reporting or commentary it deems to be inaccurate or biased.
One of the bloodiest battles in that war occurred last fall, when Kevin Jennings, an openly-gay educator hired by the Department of Education to run an anti-bullying campaign, became a conservative cause.
Jennings was under fire from critics because he once described how as, a 24-year-old teacher, he counseled a student having a sexual relationship with an "older man." Several conservative outlets and commentators said that by law Jennings had to report the incident, claiming the student was only 15 years old at the time, and the relationship thus constituted statutory rape.
Media Matters obtained the student's driver's license and proved he was 16 at the time, the age of consent in Massachusetts. While some may still question Jennings' judgment, he didn't break any law.
"This should put to rest claims made by Fox News and other conservatives that Jennings covered up 'statutory rape' or 'molestation,'" wrote Media Matters senior fellow Karl Frisch. "To continue reporting such reckless speculation is at best willful disregard for the facts and at worst journalistic malpractice."
The battle over Jennings convinced Media Matters that it needed to not only monitor other media but to do its own original reporting. On Monday, Joe Strupp, who covered the press for 11 years with Editor & Publisher magazine, will launch a new media blog after signing on as the group's first investigative reporter.
Joining a partisan organization is a change for Strupp, given that his press coverage with E&P, or in appearances on "Fox News Watch," was solidly non-partisan. However, Media Matters, he says, didn't ask about his political beliefs when it hired him, and his goal remains to do "straight-ahead reporting." Still, Strupp acknowledges that he represents a "new sort of wing for their organization."
So while Media Matters may increasingly hire journalists with more traditional news backgrounds, the reporting and writing still fits in with the organization's goals. Unlike a newspaper, Media Matters is not in the business of selling advertising, subscriptions or competing on a variety of beats. It also has a clear political agenda.
For instance, Media Matters hired Will Bunch, a veteran Philadelphia Daily News reporter and blogger, as a senior fellow last month. Bunch plans on remaining at the Daily News while also working on a book that seems well-suited for the Media Matters audience: "The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, Hi-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama."
While Media Matters president Eric Burns and senior fellow Eric Boehlert are more visible presences on cable news and talk radio, founder David Brock remains chief executive and a major presence in the organization.
He plays a key role in strategy and fundraising, which supports the entire non-profit apparatus, and is typically at the office each day. "He guides us, gives vision," Rabin-Havt said.
That Brock has anything to do with the organization at all is more than a little ironic given his own role as part of the right-wing conspiracy. Two of Brock's notable contributions were his book "The Real Anita Hill," and a 1994 American Spectator article that spawned "Troopergate," leading to allegations that Bill Clinton, while Governor of Arkansas, used state troopers to arrange liaisons with women.
Brock later confessed that much of the Anita Hill book was false, apologized to the Clintons for the Troopergate article, broke with the right officially in a 1997 Esquire piece, and four years later explained his conversion in greater detail with his memoir, "Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative."
At the time Brock started Media Matters, the main counter to conservative media groups such as MRC and the even more established Accuracy in Media, founded in 1969, was Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a liberal watchdog group that launched in 1986 to target media bias and censorship. While FAIR offers some analysis online each day, it doesn't do so as comprehensively as the better-funded Media Matters, which has researchers posting clips of video and audio throughout the day along with frequently updated online content.
Rabin-Havt, who like other Media Matters executives, arrived at the organization after working for a number of groups affiliated with liberal advocacy and the Democratic Party, said he thinks Media Matters has been somewhat misunderstood by mainstream reporters.
"The culture here, in this office, and I think reporters would be surprised by this, isn't one of sniping or disrespect towards the media," Rabin Havt said, adding that "being a reporter is such an incredibly honored profession, and plays such a role in our society and our debate, and we want people to do the best job they can."
Be sure to check out the profile in its entirety.
Other Profiles of Media Matters:
Every winter, there are two things you can count on, two things that are absolutely assured of happening. The first is that at some point somewhere in the northern hemisphere, it will snow. The second is that some thick-as-a-brick conservative will guffaw loudly that the presence of snow on the ground means that Al Gore is a moron and climate change is a fraud.
It happens all the time, and as funny as those jokes weren't the first time they were made, they're downright tiresome now.
But for Politico writers seeking to nab their latest link from Matt Drudge (a connoisseur of lame Al Gore/winter snowfall jokes), conservative mockery of the former vice president stemming from the record snowfall in Washington, DC is big news:
Conservatives mock Al Gore on snowstorms
By Andy Barr
With the nation's capital buried in several feet of snow and the federal government brought to a halt by Mother Nature, conservatives are mocking former Vice President Al Gore and his crusade to curb global climate change.
The vocal doubters of global warming frequently use any unseasonal snowfall or cold spell to mock Gore and the scientists who believe human actions are unnaturally warming the planet.
But the historic snowfall in Washington -- coinciding with a push from Democrats to enact legislation capping emissions -- has given conservatives more fodder than usual to bash the former vice president.
What follows are quotes from Sen. Jim DeMint, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin all making THE SAME EXACT JOKE about Gore -- a joke they've probably all made dozens of times in the past.
Absent from the article was any indication that these conservatives, in addition to demonstrating a marked aversion to fresh comedic material, are also flat-out wrong to suggest that isolated weather phenomena, like the DC snowstorms, are at all relevant to the climate change debate. They certainly don't disprove climate change theory, much in the same way that unseasonably warm temperatures in Vancouver do nothing to confirm it.
But why let facts get in the way when there's a tired joke to flog and a Drudge link to be had?
UPDATE: Politico has since updated their article, citing Media Matters' item from yesterday documenting the plethora of conservatives using the snowstorms to make foolish and ignorant attacks on Al Gore and climate change theory. The Politico article now contains the following language:
Most climate scientists would disagree with the two senators -- both of whom are frequent critics of cap-and-trade legislation -- pointing to numerous studies indicating that carbon emissions have contributed to rising global temperatures.
The left-leaning group Media Matters wrote in its blog Tuesday that "conservative media figures have used the recent snowstorms in the Washington, D.C., area to level more science-free attacks on global warming."
But criticism of the position has not deterred global warming deniers from using an unusually snowy winter in Washington to bash Gore.
In an article headlined "Republicans revive 'soft on terror' charge," Politico uncritically repeated several GOP attacks on the Obama administration's response to the attempted Christmas Day bombing which are undermined by the similarity of that reaction to the Bush administration's response to Richard Reid's 2001 attempted shoe bombing. The attacks included that President Obama was "slow to speak to the public" after the attempted Christmas Day bombing, and that the Justice Department was wrong to read the bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights and decide to try him in a civilian court; moreover, Politico pushed the misleading GOP attack that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano "said 'the system worked' because passengers on the plane jumped on" Abdulmutallab.
Politico's Ben Smith posted the FBI agent's affidavit in the alleged plot to interfere with the phones* at Sen. Landrieu's office by O'Keefe and three others to his Twitter account this afternoon. You can read it here (pdf).
In a Politico article headlined "History according to Glenn Beck," reporter Michael Calderone asked history professors what they thought of Beck's documentary on "the atrocities of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Ernesto 'Che' Guevara - 'the true unseen history of Marxism, progressivism and communism; as Beck described it."
In the article, Clemson professor Steven Marks called Beck's assertions "a complete lie":
Clemson University professor Steven Marks, author of "How Russia Shaped the Modern World," said that while Beck doesn't explicitly tie the left-wing totalitarian regimes of the past to contemporary liberals, that's what "he's hinting at here."
"No one in their right mind is going to defend Stalin or Mao or Che Guevara," Marks said. "The implication is that this is what's going to happen if Democrats get their way. This is just a complete lie."
Boston College professor Alan Wolfe said Beck "lives in a complete alternative universe":
Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Life at Boston College, said that the film not only isn't accurate, but that Beck "lives in a complete alternative universe."
As an example, he said, Beck mentions how the Nazis supported programs like universal health care as evidence that their ideology may have more to do with the left than the totalitarian right.
Nazi Germany was "not evil because of their economic program," said Wolfe, which he noted included a few programs designed to promote public health.
"It was evil," he said, " because it aimed at the extermination of European Jewry."
Politico's Michael Calderone reports this morning that, Alexander Zaitchik who "wrote a multi-part series for Salon looking at the life of Glenn Beck, probably the most comprehensive take in terms of back story that I've seen on the conservative talk star" will be releasing a new biography on the right-wing conspiracy-theorist this spring titled, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance (Wiley & Sons, 2010).
If you've not yet read Zaitchik's amazing series on Beck for Salon, you can do so here.
Politico has been in the hot seat in recent months for, as MSNBC's Chris Matthews put it earlier this week, serving as a "hot line" for Dick Cheney, saying, "[h]e uses you like you'd use Drudge or somebody."
The pressure has been so intense that Politico editor John Harris was forced to offer up a lame defense of his publication's stenography services for the former Vice President.
All is not lost however. One Politico employee wants us to know that he hasn't been pulling any punches when it comes to Bush's former number two. In fact, so seemingly upset by the spat of negative attention hovering around the beltway rag, this enterprising soul sent an email to Romenesko to straighten things out once and for all. Did I mention he's the cartoonist?
I kid you not.
The email from Matt Wuerker to Romenesko follows:
I couldn't help but have my fragile cartoonist ego hurt by the building beef out there about the Cheney coverage by Politico.
As part of the slowly shrinking tribe of editorial cartoonists, it's hard not to be a little thin skinned these days, so it pains me to have to point out myself that at least in my little corner of Politico (which runs off our home page) I don't think Cheney's getting a free ride. The bloggers that are all howling about how we're so clearly in the tank for Cheney seem to not read down toward the bottom of our homepage.
To bolster my case I'm attaching three examples from just this past year. I have many more going further back. I know that my little cartoon corner doesn't have nearly the reach that Mike Allen does, but still, even ink-stained wretches hate to be completely overlooked.