Blog

  • Rewriting the media's role, again, in the run-up to the Iraq War

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Sadly that's what unfolded on NPR over the weekend, as "On the Media" looked at the press' coverage of the supposed Cheney/Obama showdown over national security last week. Host Bob Garfield seemed to think that the press had manufactured the battle royal by elevating the unpopular Cheney to an equal to the POTUS.

    Guest Mark Jurkowitz from the Project in Excellence in Journalism had a different take and blissfully rewrote media history [emphasis added]:

    One of the things the media claims is that in the run-up to the Iraq War was that their failure to more closely scrutinize the rationale for going to war--the weapons of mass destruction--part of that could be attributable to the fact that there weren't very many Democrats articulating an opposition that they could report about to Bush's war plan.

    Now, you could argue that in those days the Democrats didn't have much more power than the Republicans have now. But clearly the media would have glommed onto some major Democratic spokespeople had they arisen to challenge the [war] policy.

    See, the press had its hands tied. It couldn't scrutinize Bush's war policy because the Dems remained mum. Oh brother. So suddenly Beltway pundits and reporters don't make a move until the DNC tells them to? That's a pretty loopy/naive way to look at how news and commentary is made inside the nation's capitol.

    But more importantly it's just dead wrong to claim that no famous Democrats stepped forward th challenge Bush on the war. Or are Al Gore and Ted Kennedy not famous enough to garner media attention? In late 2002 both men made very public speeches that raised all kinds of doubts about Bush's war plan; doubts that were proven to be quite accurate.

    The media's reaction? The press sure as hell didn't 'glom' onto Gore or Kennedy. In fact the press pretty much did the opposite--they ignored the buzz kill Democrats. Take a look at the ABC World News Tonight report on Gore's September 23, 2002 speech. The report was buried mid-broadcast. And yes, this was the news dispatch in its entirety:

    In San Francisco today there was pretty strong criticism of the Bush administration from the former Vice President Al Gore. Mr. Gore told an audience that the administration's campaign against Saddam Hussein would damage the U.S.'s ability to win the war against terrorism.

    45 words total for Gore.

    But hey, that's more coverage than what Ted Kennedy received from the Washington Post when the Democratic lion roared against Bush's war plan, or at least set out an entire phalanx of concerns. As I noted in Lapdogs:

    In September 2002 [Kennedy] made a passionate, provocative, and newsworthy speech raising all sorts of doubts about the war. It garnered exactly one sentence--thirty-six words total-of coverage from the Post, which in 2002 printed more than a thousand and columns, totaling perhaps 1 millions words about Iraq, but only set aside third-six for Kennedy's antiwar cry.

  • CNN gives anti-Sotomayor whisper campaign an assist

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Even before President Obama has officially announced his selection of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, CNN is giving a boost to the smear campaign that has been waged against her:

    CNN's web article:

    President Obama has chosen federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, two sources told CNN on Tuesday.

    ...

    But she has suffered through recent stinging criticism in the media and blogs from both the left and right over perceived -- some defenders say invented -- concerns about her temperament and intellect.

    CNN offers no evidence that Sotomayor's intellect or temperament are concerns.

    In fact, that "stinging criticism" comes from a widely-debunked article by Jeffrey Rosen (an article that contains a blatently false description of a misleadingly-cropped quote -- an error Rosen refuses to correct.) Rosen relied on anonymous sources to trash Sotomayor, admitted he had neither read enough of her opinions nor spoken to enough of her supporters to form a fair assessment of her, and cropped and twisted a quote from a colleague who praised Sotomayor's intellect in order to make it appear that he had criticized it.

    Rosen's assessment, in short, has no crediblity. But CNN adopted his critique and passed it on, without any indications of its flaws.

    (And on television, CNN's John King offers: "Some are saying that she is not an intellectual firebrand, someone who could compete with Antonin Scalia or Justice Alito, the conservative brains, if you will, on the Supreme Court." Oh yeah? Who are these "some"? King doesn't say, though he pretends this is the view on the "left.")

  • Conservatives making an issue of Sotomayor's religion?

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    When President Bush nominated Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, conservatives baselessly claimed liberals opposed Alito because he is Catholic -- a baselss claim that ABC News was quick to adopt.

    Now the Christian Broadcast Network's "Brody File" hints that it may make an issue of Sonia Sotomayor's Catholicism:

    Watch conservative groups try and tie Sotomayor's "liberalism" to President Obama and make him pay a political price for nominating her. He may get her through because he has the numbers in the Senate but his poll numbers showing him as a centrist may take a hit. Keep an eye on Gallup.

    The Brody File has also been alerted to the fact that she is a practicing Catholic. More details on that to come. Keep it here.

    That comes just hours after the Washington Post ran a piece suggesting that the way to "diversify" the Court might be to nominate a "white Anglo-Saxon Protestant" to the court, noting that with David Souter's departure, "the demographic will be seriously underrepresented on a court that features five Catholics and two Jews."

  • Andrew Malcolm, still spinning for the Bush administration

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Andrew Malcolm, still spinning for the Bush administration

    Before he was a Los Angeles Times reporter, Andrew Malcolm was Laura Bush's press secretary. Yesterday, he used his LA Times blog to spin on behalf of Dick Cheney:

    The more former Vice President Dick Cheney criticizes the Obama administration for drastically changing the national security policies of the Bush administration, the more popular Cheney seems to become among some Americans.

    ...

    And this May poll of 1,010 adults was taken before his widely viewed speech to the American Enterprise Institute that further assaulted President Obama's policies for threatening U.S. national security.

    ...

    In fact, the speech of the has-been vice president and former representative from Wyoming was discussed on a par with the presidential address of Obama defending his own policies with the Constitution and Bill of Rights encased right near the TelePrompter.

    ...

    Other Cheney-Obama speech items are available here and over here.

    Almost as if the two cousins, Obama and Cheney, were debating as equals.

    Obama and Cheney aren't equals, of course. One is the current president, the other is the former Vice President. If it is "almost as though they are debating as equals," that's because the media is absurdly treating them as such.

    But Malcolm's treatment of Cheney's poll numbers is the greater flaw:

    The political twosome of Bush-Cheney were in a genuine poll hole on leaving office, although from former President Bush's silence since then and Cheney's frequent, escalating and aggressive defense remarks, few would think the two care much about current poll numbers.

    Bush's favorable ratings have risen too since Obama took office, up 6 percentage points to now stand at 41%. Cheney's favorables remain slightly behind his ex-boss but increased by more (8 percentage points) to 37% now.

    CNN's polling director says he doubts Cheney's growing popularity is due to his speeches critical of the Obama administration's security policy changes. But he can't prove they aren't. And what other explanation is there? The public's fond memories of cuddly Cheney story times at daycare centers?

    First, CNN's polling director doesn't say he "doubts" Cheney's poll improvement is due to his speeches. He says the speeches are "almost certainly not" the cause. Second, Malcolm's suggestion that there is not other possible explanation is silly, given that he had just acknowledged that Bush has largely remained silent, and his retrospective approval rating has improved, too. Finally, there's a very simple possible explanation: at some point after they leave office, presidents tend to see their approval ratings improve.

    Here's an ABC News article from 2004:

    It's a common phenomenon for Americans to look back on past presidents with less critical eyes. Four years after George H.W. Bush left office, his retrospective approval rating was 63 percent, up considerably from the end of his term. Jimmy Carter, who had the lowest average job approval of all postwar presidents, did 20 points better in a 1999 poll, 18 years after he left office. And Reagan received a retrospective approval rating of 73 percent in 2002.

    And last winter, Gallup noted that presidents leaving office normally see an increase in public support:

    Presidents about to leave office generally receive a boost in public support in the final weeks of their presidencies. This may reflect sympathy for presidents who leave in defeat (like the elder Bush or Ford) or perhaps feelings of nostalgia for a favorable era for the country about to end (as for Reagan or Clinton).

    It may also reflect the soon-to-be-former president's being viewed in slightly less political terms. Between Election Day and Inauguration Day, the president's successor is the primary focus of political coverage, and the sitting president is likely not pursuing many controversial policies during this time, instead focusing his attention on handing things over to the next president.

  • The NYT's Helene Cooper ought to try Google and Lexis

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    So says blogger publius at Osidian Wings, proving once again why the traditional press has a disdain for liberal bloggers--they make reporters look bad.

    The premise of Cooper's weekend article was that Obama loves to build up strawmen arguments about his critics ("some say....") and then knock them down. Cooper claims that Obama makes up stuff all the time about his critics, assigning them accusations they would never really make.

    Enter Osidian Wings:

    So let's say I'm Helene Cooper of the NYT. And let's say I have a great idea for an article -- the premise is that Obama knocks down pretend strawmen in his speeches just like Bush used to do (e.g., "Some have said...").

    It would be a good idea for an article -- if it were true. But it's not, as about 15 minutes of Google and Lexis would show. But Cooper went ahead and wrote it anyway.

    Bottom line: the Times never should have run the piece simply because it completely failed to prove the article's central point; that Obama manufactures strawmen arguments just for show.

  • UPDATED: Can Maureen Dowd produce her friend's email?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    It took nearly an entire week, but we now have a clear answer to the question of where NYT columnist Dowd picked up the paragraph from her column that was essentially verbatim to a paragraph printed at Talking Points Memo.

    At first, via email correspondences with the press, Dowd suggested she spoke to a friend and that from that conversation she lifted her friend's comments. But the idea that Dowd would copy what her friend said and that would be word-for-word match of what appeared on TPM simply was not believable.

    Then Dowd seemed to indicate that perhaps the friend had emailed the passage without telling the columnist that it came from TPM.

    Now, thanks to the work of Times public editor Clark Hoyt, we discover that passage in question did in fact come in the form of an email that Dowd received from a friend and then simply cut and pasted it into her column without attribution. Will Times readers be surprised that that's how its supposedly prestigious columnists craft their columns? I would certainly think so.

    But more importantly, I think, is whether the Times will ask Dowd to produce the email that the friend sent her. That's the only way to confirm her account and make sure that Dowd didn't simply plagiarize TPM. The media's Village is quite content that Dowd did nothing wrong. That it was just one innocent mistake. To date, the Times editors agree and are giving Dowd a complete pass.

    But if the Times were serious about its opinion standards and was serious about getting to the bottom of the humiliating mishap, they would demand to see the email and also talk with Dowd's mysterious friend.

  • Conservative shock jock undergoes brief waterboarding, concludes it is "absolutely torture"

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Via Huffington Post:

    Erich "Mancow" Muller, a Chicago-based conservative radio host, recently decided to silence critics of waterboarding once and for all. He would undergo the procedure himself, and then he would be able to confidently convince others that it is not, in fact, torture.

    Or so he thought. Instead, Muller came out convinced.

    "It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke," Mancow said. "It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back... It was instantaneous... and I don't want to say this: absolutely torture."

    "I wanted to prove it wasn't torture," Mancow said. "They cut off our heads, we put water on their face... I got voted to do this but I really thought 'I'm going to laugh this off.' "

    Mancow Being Waterboarded:

    Mancow's Post-Waterboarding Thoughts:

    As the Huffington Post notes, "Christopher Hitchens underwent nearly the same experiment last year. He, too, concluded that waterboarding is torture."

  • Los Angeles Times, please define "could be portrayed"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    This is from the paper's A1 news article about the Obama/Cheney speeches yesterday [emphasis added]:

    Obama enjoys broad popularity, even on the national security issues that have long vexed his party. But his lengthy address, in which he conceded that his policies were still evolving, laid out a mixed approach that could be portrayed as squishy.

    Portrayed that way by whom? By reporters for the LA Times, of course.

  • Even more Pelosi polling nonsense

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is the latest media outlet to go with the completely fictitious claim that CNN polling data revealed that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's approval ratings are down, and that the CIA briefing story is the cause for the decline.

    Keep in mind, neither point is accurate. But hey, it's the Pelosi story so for the press, any claim will do.

    From PI.com:

    A new national survey by CNN shows President ABM sailing along with a 62 percent approval rating, while Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi struggles far behind with a thumbs-up figure of only 39 percent. Obama's popularity has lifted Congress' normally-dismal approval numbers over the last two months, and produced a sharp rise in the percentage of Americans who feel their country is on the "right track."

    The latest poll shows, however, that Pelosi is feeling the what-did-she-know, when-did-she-know-it controversy over CIA intelligence briefings she received while Democrats were still a minority in the House of Representative. Pelosi has accused the CIA of deception in its briefings. She has been rebuked by CIA chief Leon Panetta, a former House colleague from California.

    The CNN poll of 1,010 adults was conducted May 14-15. It found Obama's disapproval rating at 35 percent, while 48 percent disapproved of Pelosi's performance in Congress' highest post.

    As we noted earlier this week, according to the CNN poll quoted above, Pelosi's approval rating has not budged an inch since January. Period. Those are the facts. Any suggestion made by the PI to the contrary is simply a fabrication.

    But the PI isn't alone. The Boston Globe and Politico both mangled the facts and claimed CNN's latest polling revealed bad news for Pelosi.

    Isn't the news so much more interesting when you can just invent your own facts?