Reporting on the contentious, drawn-out political battle surrounding President Obama's decision to pick Republican Chuck Hagel to be his next Secretary of Defense, Politico recently noted the extraordinary partisan acrimony the confirmation process has produced.
With Republicans adopting an unprecedented obstructionist strategy to block a premier cabinet post by lodging all kinds of threats to "hold" the confirmation or even to try to deny Hagel a senate vote, Politico concluded the controversy meant problems for party leaders, including Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI).
"Levin faces a conundrum," Politico reported. "He can force a party-line vote on Hagel, but that could damage the committee's longtime bipartisan spirit."
This makes no sense.
By launching a drawn out campaign against Hagel, Republicans have torn up decades worth of tradition on the Senate Armed Services Committee in terms of working across party lines to confirm secretaries of defense. But according to Politico it's the Democratic chairman who faces a "conundrum" over the lack of "bipartisan spirit" in the senate. It's the Democrat who has to deal with the "damage" done by Republican maneuvers.
Sometimes it seems the Beltway press will do anything to avoid blaming Republicans for their wildly obstructionist ways. It's a pattern of timidity that has marked Obama's time in Washington, D.C. Indeed, the press for years now has insisted on providing no framework with regards to the radical ways that now define the GOP.
By refusing to hold Obama's opponents accountable, and by actually making media stars out of the ones who actively obstruct, the press simply encourages the corrosive behavior. (By the way, this is the same Beltway press corps that has routinely blamed Obama for not successfully changing the tone in Washington.)
Both in terms of Republican obstructionist behavior and the press' unwillingness to call it what it is, the trend has reached its pinnacle with the current confirmation mess. And it's getting worse. Fox News this week reported Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was threatening to block a confirmation vote on Jack Lew, selected by the president to be the next Secretary of Treasury.
Discarding centuries worth of advise-and-consent tradition (i.e. the winning president picks his cabinet), Republicans have radically rewritten the cabinet confirmation rulebook while journalists have stood quietly by, not bothering to inform news consumers about the dramatic shift taking place. Instead, the press treats it all as being commonplace; as just more partisan bickering.
And when not downplaying the ramifications or erroneously suggesting Obama's "picking fights" with "controversial" cabinet picks like Hagel, journalists have bungled the story altogether, giving Republicans political cover in the process.
An analysis by the Checks & Balances Project finds that 60 major newspapers frequently quote fossil fuel-funded think tanks on energy and environmental issues without disclosing their industry ties. Further research by Media Matters finds that the Wall Street Journal's lack of disclosure has been especially glaring.
The Checks & Balances Project found that between 2007-2011, industry-funded organizations like the Heartland Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation were cited or quoted over 1000 times in 60 publications, often to attack environmental regulations or renewable energy technology. Their ties to fossil fuel interests were disclosed only 6 percent of the time, despite the fact that 17 percent of mentions promoted fossil fuels. The analysis concluded that "a transactional relationship of contributions in exchange for national media traction is playing out" between these groups and their corporate benefactors.
Expanding on these results, Media Matters found that the Wall Street Journal cited, quoted or featured these think tanks on energy issues more than 100 times between 2007-2011 -- more than any of the other other major papers evaluated by Checks & Balances. But the Journal -- which has a history of failing to disclose fossil fuel ties - mentioned the funding sources for these groups just under 4 percent of the time, slightly worse than the average disclosure rate for the other 60 publications.
The latest blow to the media myth that the National Rifle Association has the ability to determine election results is a Politico article reporting the result of a bipartisan poll that showed voters trusted Obama more than Romney on the issue of guns in North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado.
The NRA spent nearly $12 million dollars on an "All In" campaign to remove Obama from office, but was unable to deliver. Voters in Virginia trusted President Obama more than Mitt Romney on guns by a 9 point margin, and in Colorado and North Carolina by four and one point margins. Despite massive ad buys, less than 27 percent of voters in the three states polled recalled seeing the NRA's campaign material.
Politico quoted Mayors Against Illegal Guns director Mark Glaze reacting to the poll, which his organization paid for, as evidence that "the NRA has built a mythology around their ability to swing elections that has little basis in fact."
Politico adopted the falsehood pushed by Mitt Romney that President Obama had said he would bring the unemployment rate down to near 5 percent during his first term.
Independent fact-checkers have rated the charge that Obama promised an unemployment rate of around 5 percent as false and misleading. While economists working with Obama projected in 2009 that one version of a stimulus bill would lower the unemployment to that level, the severity of the recession wasn't fully understood at that time, and Obama himself never promised that level of unemployment would be achieved.
Nevertheless Politico claimed that the Obama administration never achieved "its own projections to bring unemployment to 5.4 percent, " which echoes Romney's claim that Obama promised an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent. From Politico's article:
Four years ago, both Obama and Republican John McCain tried to reach voters with a certain type of appeal: The idea that leadership has an almost mystical quality, created by a rare combination of extraordinary character and biography.
This time, neither Obama nor Romney is making an appeal on such romantic notions of leadership and for good reason--there is no evidence the public would buy it.
In Obama's case, the obstacle is his own mixed record. The power of his rhetoric and biography did nothing to tame Washington's bitter partisan wars, as he had suggested in 2008. Nor did the administration achieve its own projections to bring unemployment down to 5.4 percent by now.
The 5.4 percent projection is a reference to a projection Obama's economic advisers made in 2008 that unemployment would be near 5 percent in 2012 if the stimulus was passed. But the report was produced before the release of data showing that the recession was much worse than was thought at the time.
In August 2011, the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated that real gross domestic product had declined by 8.9 percent during the fourth quarter of 2008 -- over twice as much as BEA's initial estimate of 3.8 percent. These revised estimates showed that the contraction included "the worst single-quarter decline" in gross domestic product (GDP) since 1958.
In focusing on the January 2009 unemployment prediction, Politico also hides the actual effect of Obama's economic policies on jobs. Since the end of the recession in June 2009, the economy has created about 4 million private sector jobs and the unemployment rate has dropped nearly 2 percent.
As the presidential campaign heads into the frantic final months, more and more Beltway reporters and pundits appear united in their complaint that the Obama vs. Romney contest has been a "joyless" affair. It's been so joyless -- so lacking in entertainment value -- that journalists can't wait for the campaign to be over. In the meantime, they hate their jobs.
Even for the political press corps, which tends to complain ever four years that covering campaigns is an awful, dreary task, the volume of woeful laments this year is noteworthy. ("How am I ever going to get through it?")
The complaints are also a bit baffling, though.
The idea that presidential referendums, which decide the political direction of the country every four years, are supposed to entertain journalists seems like a misguided take on the democratic process. And the fact that reporters and pundits openly complain that a White House race isn't interesting enough for them seems to highlight the outsized importance they place on their role in the electoral process. (What happened to just reporting the news?)
Note that a key complaint that runs through the media laments has been that the press, aside from being unable to detect any "joy" from the candidates, can't find any substance to cover; that they're forced to focus on the trivial pursuits of allegedly shallow, nasty campaigns. After Paul Ryan was selected as the Republican vice presidential pick, the press insisted it was desperate to cover substance and that Ryan was the vehicle to finally elevate the campaign. (He did not.)
Weeks later, pundits are still complaining about the lack of substance and insisting there's nothing they can do about it.
In fact, there is.
Have we ever seen two aligned camps within the conservative movement view the same event so differently? The far-right press is convinced the selection of Paul Ryan as VP is the boost Mitt Romney desperately needs, while GOP operatives, who try to win campaigns for a living, fret Ryan just doomed any chance Romney had of capturing the White House and will hurt Republican candidates nationwide.
Fox News got the vice presidential pick it wanted; the one Rupert Murdoch all but demanded Romney make. But the cheers of exultation that were heard within the right-wing media in the wake of the Ryan pick, as pundits toasted him as a true movement believer, have been met with equally emotional groans from Republican operatives who see Ryan as an unnecessary electoral anchor around the neck of GOP candidates who must now talk about Ryan's unpopular budget blue print, including his plans to radically alter Medicare.
The internal strife over Ryan is telling not only because it highlights a conservative movement that, three months before Election Day, still hasn't coalesced. But it also spotlights the fact that Romney's presidential campaign is the first one on record being run by the media, instead of political pros. No longer content to cheer on Republicans, the right-wing media complex now sees itself first and foremost as the power behind the party and has decided it's running the GOP's crusade to oust Obama, complete with opposition research and on-air fundraising.
And now VP picks.
In other words, Republican strategists are watching Fox News steer its first-ever national campaign, complete with its Paul Ryan cheering section, and the strategists aren't sure it's working.
Not once in the past twelve months has President Obama logged a seven-day stretch where his positive press coverage outweighed the negative, according to Pew Research analysis. And based on recent media trends, that streak is in no danger of being broken as the Beltway press continues to pile on the Democratic president with routinely negative and increasingly misleading coverage, while at the same time giving his Republican rival a pass.
Whether it's in response to the right wing's incessant whining about unfair campaign coverage, or the product of the media's innate desire to create a close, competitive (and marketable) presidential contest to market, the resulting storyline is clear: Obama's faltering!
From a late-May Politico campaign analysis piece ("Obama Stumbles Out of the Gate") that read like it had been cribbed from a Karl Rove column the previous week ("Obama's Campaign Is Off to a Rocky Start"), to the recent congestion of sound-alike refrains, the "liberal media's" narrative has become set in stone and conservatives must be pleased since it echoes their own anti-Obama message.
There's nothing wrong with chronicling the ups and downs of campaigns. And nobody's suggesting the Obama re-election run hasn't had stumbles. All of them do. (Although note, Obama's Gallup approval rating has remained constant in the high-40s for a few months now, and even climbed to 50 percent last week.) But the feverish, one-sided coverage in recent weeks signals that a clear, GOP-leaning script has been adopted by the Beltway media. And yes, it makes a mockery out of the tired chant of a left-wing newsroom bias.
No surprisingly, the current wave of coverage is cresting on some shoddy journalism. (See fabricated oral sex jokes and botched Bill Clinton reporting.) Just look at the remarkably lazy and dishonest handling of Obama's comment about private sector job growth being "fine." The coverage represents a sterling example of how the press has had its thumb on the scale this spring.
For the past few years, much of the conservative echo chamber has thrived on exploring what they see as Barack Obama's mysterious, ominous past. The most prominent examples of this fixation have been the durable birth-certificate conspiracy and the increasingly exotic allegations that Barack Obama Sr. is not Obama's father (suggested "real" fathers have included Malcolm X and, as recently as last week, Frank Marshall Davis).
In a newly-released Vanity Fair piece adapted from his upcoming Obama biography, journalist David Maraniss details two of Obama's romantic relationships during his early 20s, complete with interviews of his ex-girlfriends. The article seemingly puts to rest conspiracies promoted by conservative big wigs about why none of Obama's exes have ever come forward. Rush Limbaugh asked this very question last year, citing "one of these email things" he had been sent.
In Dreams From My Father, Obama wrote about a romantic relationship he had with a woman in New York. The lack of a name (and the fact that no one had come forward to claim the mantle) led some creative conspiracy theorists to doubt her existence. Her presence in the book was one of the main pieces of "evidence" in WND columnist Jack Cashill's much-mocked theory that Bill Ayers is the true author of Dreams.
Yesterday, ABC News released excerpts from Barbara Walters' interview with President Obama and the First Lady, scheduled to air on tonight's 20/20. Several news outlets have focused on President Obama's comments about the "laziness in me," featuring headlines that lack needed context.
Politico headlined their story "Obama: I have some Hawaii laziness," while the Daily Caller went with "Obama: "There's a laziness in me," and National Journal selected "Obama Blames Hawaii For His 'Deep Down' Laziness."
All of these headlines would likely give readers the impression that Obama was saying that he tends to avoid doing work, which would fit neatly into a common conservative attack on Obama. But the full context of the interview shows that Obama was actually saying just the opposite. Obama told Walters: "It's interesting, there is a -- deep down, underneath all the work I do, I think there's a laziness in me." [Emphasis added.] He later added: "when I'm mad at myself, it's because I'm saying to myself, you know what, you could be doing better; push harder. And when I -- nothing frustrates me more than when people aren't doing their jobs."
While some reports on the Walters interview have included parts of this key context, the headlines generally have not.
From the full transcript of the interview, obtained from the White House [emphasis added]:
Q Okay. What's the trait you most deplore in yourself and the trait you most deplore in others?
THE PRESIDENT: Laziness.
Q You've lazy?
THE PRESIDENT: It's interesting, there is a -- deep down, underneath all the work I do, I think there's a laziness in me. I mean, probably --
MRS. OBAMA: If you had your choice --
THE PRESIDENT: It's probably from growing up in Hawaii, and it's sunny outside, and sitting on the beach --
Q Sounds good to me.
PRESIDENT: Right. But when I'm mad at myself, it's because I'm saying to myself, you know what, you could be doing better; push harder. And when I -- nothing frustrates me more than when people aren't doing their jobs. Although -- sorry, I shouldn't provide two answers. The thing actually that I most dislike is cruelty. I can't stand cruel people. And if I see people doing something mean to somebody else just to make themselves feel important, it really gets me mad. But in myself, since I tend not to be a mean person, if I get lazy, then I get mad at myself.
The portion of the interview released by ABC News does not include this part of Obama's statement: "But when I'm mad at myself, it's because I'm saying to myself, you know what, you could be doing better; push harder. And when I -- nothing frustrates me more than when people aren't doing their jobs."
Politico's Ben Smith is calling this the "next anti-Obama talking point," while Mediaite's Jon Bershad says, "If you're a fan of right wing media ... you're probably going to be seeing that clip about 5,000,000 times in the next week." Which is all the more reason why responsible journalists should be emphasizing what Obama actually said rather than writing sensationalist, misleading headlines.
Politico reported Friday that more than a week prior, the wife of conservative Washington Post columnist George Will took a messaging position with the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. Politico noted that Will had since discussed the GOP primary and disparaged Perry's primary opponents in two Post columns and on ABC's This Week, all without disclosing his wife's position. The article also indicated that while Will had told his Post editors that his wife's role was unpaid, it is in fact a paid position.
This morning, Will finally disclosed his wife's position during ABC's This Week. When given the opportunity by host Christiane Amanpour to do some "personal housekeeping," Will did not apologize for his failure to reveal this information, nor did he pledge to continue to make such disclosures in the future. In fact, Will's only "housekeeping" was mentioning that "some of the more excitable and perhaps less mature members of the Romney campaign have tried to make this personal."
Fox News contributor James Pinkerton confirmed that he was paid to "partner" with Michele Bachmann on her new book, but said he did not disclose his role in the project at the request of Bachmann and her publisher.
Pinkerton also revealed that Fox News knew of his arrangement from the start and approved of his keeping it from viewers.
"I was bound by a confidentiality agreement. They said, 'Don't tell anybody,' I said, 'Okay.' I told my superiors at Fox and they knew," Pinkerton said Monday. "I helped on the book from June, July and August, I helped, in a collaborator sense. ... I helped as a collaborator to her. She was busy on the road, so she would have thoughts and tell me things and I would try and help put them together."
Pinkerton is a regular panelist on Fox News' media criticism show and has frequently discussed Bachmann and the other presidential candidates.
Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Michele Bachmann hired former speechwriter and domestic policy adviser to the first President Bush and to President Reagan, Jim Pinkerton, to help write her forthcoming memoir, "Core of Conviction," POLITICO has learned.
Contacted by Media Matters Monday evening, Pinkerton confirmed he had collaborated on the book, saying he is mentioned in acknowledgements as "research and writing partner."
Pinkerton said he had "zero regrets" about keeping his part in the book secret from Fox viewers, saying he always disclosed that his wife, a former Bachmann campaign chief of staff, was working for Bachmann.
"I chose not to [disclose his part in the book] because I wanted to protect the confidentiality of the book, although I told my [Fox] superiors," he said. "Every time Bachmann came up, I said that my wife was working for the campaign, and I was making it clear that I had an interest, as it were, in the Bachmann campaign, through my wife's work."
Asked why he did not disclose his book connection, Pinkerton said: "I felt that, I felt the need to keep the book confidential at the request of all parties involved."
Politico reports this morning that according to a newly-released Gallup poll, "support for gun control is at its lowest level in 50 years." Likewise, CNN's Jack Cafferty is using the poll to claim that "more Americans are against gun control than ever before." In fact, the Gallup poll points to robust public support for either maintaining or strengthening current gun violence prevention laws.
Cafferty and Politico are focusing on the results Gallup received by asking respondents whether they support a ban on civilian possession of handguns. While a national ban on handguns may have been a topic of political debate when Gallup first asked the question in 1959, there has been no large-scale push in favor of such a ban in recent decades. Indeed, the Supreme Court has found that local bans on handgun ownership are unconstitutional.
Indeed, another question included in Gallup's poll demonstrates robust support for gun violence prevention legislation. 77 percent of respondents feel that the laws covering the sales of firearms should either be stricter or kept as they are now, with only 11 percent calling for them to be weakened.
In other words, the vast majority of Americans support reasonable gun control measures; only a small fraction is actually opposed to gun control.
This finding is confirmed by other recent polling that shows that Americans support measures to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals. According to one poll, 89 percent of respondents support requiring all gun buyers to pass a background check at gun shows, 94 percent support requiring gun owners to alert police if their guns are lost or stolen, and 69 percent support requiring those buying ammunition to pass a criminal background check. Another poll showed 86 percent of respondents supported background checks for every gun buyer
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.
Last night's Republican presidential debate generated no shortage of headlines and much coverage of the record number of prisoner executions during the administration of Texas governor Rick Perry.
Asked by NBC's Brian Williams if he struggles with the idea that any one of those executed prisoners might have been innocent, Perry answered: "No, sir. I've never struggled with that at all. ... In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed."
Much of the coverage thus far has focused on the theatrics of Perry's staunch defense of Texas' system for capital punishment, rather than the substance. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote this morning that Perry was one of the "losers" last night, but "salvaged the second half of the debate with a very strong answer on the death penalty." For those wondering what was so "strong" about it, tough luck: Cillizza didn't explain. In today's Politico "Playbook," Mike Allen counseled Perry to "give the same answer on executions in every debate."
A few media outlets have noted Texas' controversial record on capital punishment, and some even spotlighted the case of Cameron Todd Willingham as a counterpoint to Perry's faith in the Texas criminal justice system. Willingham, convicted of murdering his three daughters by arson, was put to death in Texas in 2004. Perry denied a stay of execution to allow the state to review evidence that the fire science used to convict Willingham was spurious. In 2009 he abruptly replaced several members the state forensic science commission just before it was scheduled to hold hearings on the matter.
Willingham's case is an important one, but we should also be talking about the many wrongly convicted prisoners freed from death row in Texas in the last ten years. They, more than the unresolved Willingham case, demonstrate conclusively not just that the Texas criminal justice system is capable of making catastrophic errors when meting out capital punishment, but also that such errors happen with appalling frequency.
Following reports that President Obama and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) had a "blow up" while negotiating solutions to the default crisis, in which Cantor accused Obama of "abruptly walking out" of the talks, right-wing media have attacked Obama as a "petulant child" for allegedly doing so. However, in June, right-wing media praised Cantor and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) for walking out of default crisis negotiations led by Vice President Joe Biden.