The conservative media seem to be having some difficulty figuring out what to make of Sen. Ben Nelson's support for health care reform.
Here's Fox's take:
Nelson Accused of Selling Vote on Health Bill for Nebraska Pay-Off
What started as Sen. Ben Nelson's personal stand against covering abortion with taxpayer money translated, somehow, into millions of dollars in federal aid for his home state.
Critics were calling it the "cornhusker kickback" and the "Nebraska windfall," lobbing accusations of political deal-making at Nelson.
And the Weekly Standard:
Ben Nelson, Cheap Date (Cont.)
According to the CBO, Nelson got $100 million for Nebraska in Medicaid funding--20 percent of what Massachusetts got
Maybe they should huddle up and decide whether they want to attack Nelson for selling his vote for a massive windfall, or for being a "cheap date" who got far less than Massachusetts. We'll wait.
As I explained in a column posted yesterday, The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb's claim that the White House has threatened to close a Nebraska Air Force base if Sen. Ben Nelson doesn't support health care reform is more than a little far-fetched. In fact, it's pretty ridiculous -- even before you consider Goldfarb's history of fabrication.
But now things may be getting really interesting. Goldfarb, remember, claimed only one source, described simply as "a Senate aide." But I've just been forwarded an email that appears to show that a GOP operative was pushing the allegation the night before Goldfarb -- or, apparently, anyone else -- wrote publicly about it.
The From field of the email reads "email@example.com" -- that's apparently David Merritt, Vice President and Director of National Health Policy for The Gingrich Group (yes, that Gingrich.) Merritt wrote at 10:16 pm on Monday, December 14 (about 14 hours before Goldfarb's post):
[Nelson] is the only obstacle to 60. Word is he's been threatened for the last 10 days with losing Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha on next round of BRAC review (he's on Armed Services, but wouldn't be involved with appointing review committee...something like that). Sure sounds like Rahm, doesn't it?
The McCain angle doesn't end there. As a result of Goldfarb's story, 20 Republican Senators sent a letter requesting a Senate Armed Services Committee investigation. That letter was sent to committee chair Carl Levin and ... ranking member John McCain. But McCain doesn't appear to want to have anything to do with an investigation, according to Greg Sargent:
John McCain is staying mum on right wing calls for his Senate committe to probe claims that the White House has been privately threatening to close an Air Force base in Nebraska to force Ben Nelson into line on health care.
Turns out, though, that McCain, the relevant committee's ranking Republican, is laying very low on this story. McCain spokesperson Brooke Buchanan confirms to me that the Senator has no comment on the story or on whether he thinks the probe should move forward.
McCain's refusal to endorse the probe suggests that he doesn't place much stock in the charges and perhaps doesn't want to be publicly associated with them. But he may not want to say so publicly, in order to avoid alienating those on the right who have been pushing it with such fervor.
And Nelson? Nelson reportedly says an investigation would embarrass the Republicans:
Nelson told KLIN/Lincoln radio hosts Jack Mitchell and John Bishop that he knows who started the rumors and when it comes to light it will be "embarrassing for the other side of the aisle," presumably meaning a Republican senator or senators is behind it.
In a December 16 post, Weekly Standard blogger Michael Goldfarb defended the accuracy of his report that the White House is "threatening to close" Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base "to extort" Sen. Ben Nelson's vote on health care reform -- denied by both the White House and Nelson's office -- by pointing to a request by 20 Republican senators for a congressional investigation of his report. But a Nebraska newspaper reported on December 17 that Nelson's fellow Nebraska senator, Mike Johanns, said he signed on to the request even though he doesn't believe Goldfarb's story is true and Goldfarb's blog post follows his retraction of his prior claim that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had personally issued such a "threat."
In a December 15 post, Weekly Standard blogger Michael Goldfarb reported the claims of an unnamed "Senate aide" who allegedly said that the White House is "threatening to close" Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base "to extort" Sen. Ben Nelson's vote on health care reform. The rumor has since been denied by both Nelson's office and the White House, but Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh have nonetheless seized on Goldfarb's blog post and advanced the dubious allegation.
Former McCain staffer Michael Goldfarb claims on the Weekly Standard's blog that a source tells him the Obama administration is pressuring Sen. Ben Nelson to support health care reform:
According to a Senate aide, the White House is now threatening to put Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base on the BRAC list if Nelson doesn't fall into line.
First, note that Goldfarb describes his source as "a Senate aide" -- not "a Democratic Senate aide." Given that his source would be much more credible if described that way, we can probably assume that Goldfarb's (only) source is a Republican Senate aide. And the source's quotes certainly sound rather Republican:
As our source put it, this is a "naked effort by Rahm Emanuel and the White House to extort Nelson's vote." They are "threatening to close a base vital to national security for what?" asked the Senate staffer.
So how would this presumably Republican aide be in a position to know what the White House is "threatening" to do to Democratic Senator? Goldfarb doesn't say. (Even if the "source" is a Democrat, there's no indication s/he is in a position to know anything.) So, there's a pretty good reason to be skeptical right there.
Now, moving on to the supposed substance of the alleged threat. The BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process is specifically designed to minimize political considerations in base closing decisions. The Defense Department applies legally-mandated criteria to assess bases; an independent commission (chosen in consultation between the President and Congress) makes closure recommendations; Congress has the ability to reject those recommendations; the whole thing is a lengthy and high-profile process.
In short: if "Rahm Emanuel and the White House" want to "extort Nelson's vote," it isn't likely they would do so by trying to meddle in the BRAC process. And it's even less likely considering the risk they'd be taking -- getting caught meddling with BRAC would look significantly worse than getting caught cutting off highway funding, for example.
Basically, Goldfarb's post doesn't pass the laugh test.
And that's even before you consider the fact that Michael Goldfarb is a liar.
Right-wing media are claiming Speaker Nancy Pelosi broke a pledge to post the "final" House health care bill online 72 hours before it comes to a vote, echoing a Weekly Standard blog post that claimed amendments allowed by the House Rules Committee the day prior to the vote will change the bill. However, Pelosi's office posted both the text of the bill and the "manager's amendment" -- which The Sunlight Foundation called an "extra final version of legislation" -- 72 hours in advance; those actions meet guidelines set by a House transparency measure that Pelosi told the Weekly Standard she "absolutely" supported.
In an October 27 blog post - headlined "Joementum 2008?" - former McCain campaign aide and Weekly Standard online editor Michael Goldfarb writes:
Is he the greatest senator ever? He fought for victory in Iraq, he's fighting for victory in Afghanistan, and he's fighting to save us all from Obamacare. Who needs Olympia Snowe when you've got Joementum?
Some conservative media figures are spoiling the celebration for others who have taken joy in the International Olympic Committee's decision to award the 2016 Olympic Games to Rio de Janeiro rather than Chicago, whose bid for the games was supported by President Obama. While Glenn Beck crowed that the IOC's decision was "so sweet," and Rush Limbaugh stated, "I don't deny it. I'm happy," Joe Scarborough argued that "middle Americans that swing elections" will see conservatives celebrating Chicago's defeat and say, "My God, the Republicans have gone off the deep end."
Media figures have continued to advance the claim that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has failed. In fact, many economists believe that it is too early for the stimulus package to have fully taken effect.
The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb notes that Alaska, unlike the federal government, does have a "Department of Law" and asks: "Is it really that crazy that Governor Palin would suggest that the White House equivalent of her Department of Law would handle the kind of frivolous ethics complaints she's been forced to deal with on her own?"
Well, let's see: Sarah Palin was the Republican Party's nominee for Vice President just last year. She has presidential ambitions. So, yes, it seems pretty reasonable to expect her to know that there is no "department of law there in the White House."
But that's a judgment call. Goldfarb apparently doesn't require that level of knowledge from would-be presidents; that's his prerogative. But Goldfarb's defense of Palin collapses under the weight of its own illogic. Here's Goldfarb again:
"Is it really that crazy that Governor Palin would suggest that the White House equivalent of her Department of Law would handle the kind of frivolous ethics complaints she's been forced to deal with on her own?"
So, according to Goldfarb (and Palin), Alaska's Department of Law has left Palin to handle ethics complaints "on her own."
And according to Goldfarb, it makes sense for Palin to assume that the White House equivalent of Alaska's Department of law -- which has left her to handle ethics complaints on her own -- would not leave her to handle ethics complaints on her own.
Does Goldfarb know what "equivalent" means?
(By the way: Goldfarb worked for the McCain-Palin campaign.)
The Weekly Standard's John McCormack takes issue with the idea that the Palin family -- with assets in excess of $1 million -- are wealthy. McCormack writes under the header "The Palins are Middle Class":
In 2006, the Palins reported taxable income of $127,869 -- 3.8 times the poverty line for a family of six in Alaska. For single person living in the lower 48 states, 3.8 times the poverty line was $37,400 that year. Does DeBoer really believe that someone who makes $38,000 is rich?
Click on the word "reported," and you'll go to a Minneapolis Star-Tribune article that indicates that in 2007, the Palins reported taxable income of $166,080 -- and that they failed to report another $17,000 in per diem payments Sarah Palin received, for a total of $183,080 in income. Now, why would John McCormack use the 2006 income data rather than the 2007 data, when both are available in the source he cites? Could it be because the 2006 amount is so much lower -- nearly $60,000 less -- and he wanted to mislead readers? What other possible explanation is there?
Then McCormack jumps through a bunch of hoops to try to make $127,869 look like much less than it is, comparing it to the Alaska poverty threshold, then comparing that to the (lower) threshold for the 48 contiguous states, then translating that into an income level for a single person rather than a household, which is a neat trick, but it ignores the economies of scale that exist in multi-earner households.
The most recent data available in the very source McCormack used shows that the Palins brought in $183,000 in 2007. The contortions he goes through to try to make that look like $38,000 say more about McCormack than about anything else.
In a June 18 blog post, Stephen Hayes claimed that President Obama "has gone to great lengths to avoid saying anything casting doubt on the legitimacy of the Ahmadinejad government" and said that during a CNBC interview, Obama repeatedly referred to the "Iranian government." In fact, Obama noted challenges to Ahmadinejad's legitimacy and did not refer to the "Iranian government" in that interview.
When considering what kind of platform to offer conservative commentators' criticism of President Obama's reaction to events in Iran, the media should remember these commentators' previous discredited claims, predictions, and analysis about other foreign policy issues, particularly the Iraq war.
Many media figures have dubbed President Obama's health care reform proposal "ObamaCare," reinventing the terms "HillaryCare" and "ClintonCare" that were used by opponents of the Clintons' reform proposal. In doing so, these media are often seeking to frame the debate in negative terms.