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  • Politico: Michelle Obama is too ambitious.

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Politico moves the inane doing-too-much storyline forward with an article about whether Michelle Obama is "spreading herself too thin."

    Under the header "Ambitious agenda for first lady," Politico begins:

    For the past month alone, here's Michelle Obama's itinerary:

    Travel to North Carolina to rally military families. Stand next to Hillary Clinton to encourage women to get politically active. Show up at a home-building site on the National Mall. Visit a D.C. school to talk up good grades. Cap it off by shoveling dirt for a "kitchen garden" at the White House.

    Wow, all that in the past month alone? That's more than an event per week!

    More Politico:

    Ironically, some are raising the same "too much, too fast?" question about Michelle that they're raising about her husband, the president.

    That isn't "ironic" at all, particularly when the "some" people are the same people. The fact that the news media is obsessed with whether Barack Obama is doing too much and with whether Michelle Obama is doing too much isn't an example of irony, it's an example of the media's slavish commitment to its storylines -- even if those storylines are nonsense.

    And, buried at the end of the Politico article, there is some evidence that is exactly what this is - nonsense:

    But she clearly is breaking through and connecting on some level - polls show her favorability ratings in the mid-60s.

  • A suggestion for the WashPost

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    You might want to focus a bit more on what questioners asked Obama at the recent White House town hall forum, and a bit less on who asked the questions. As in, you might want to focus on the substance, and a bit less on the style.

    Online, the Post published a report about how five of the people at this week's forum, who were randomly selected to ask Obama policy queries, were "campaign backers." The Post couched this in the by-now clichéd we-thought-Obama-was-for-change-but-it-doesn't-look-like-he-is angle, which remains beloved inside the Beltway.

    For the piece, the Post pretty much did background checks on the five citizens who asked questions and determined...they all like Obama! Thank you, and noted. But the Post never suggested that the White House misled the public about who was allowed in the room for the forum. And the Post didn't claim the questions were somehow pre-screened, or that the people were planted by Obama's staff.

    And frankly, the Post research struck us as a bit creepy. i.e. One questioner "donated $2,750 to Virginia Democratic candidates for office, according to the Center for Responsive Politics." Another questioner, the Post detailed, once wrote a pro-Obama note to her union newsletter. (We're not making this up.)

    I'm just wondering what the point of the exercise was. But even more telling was the fact that the Post never even bothered to detail what questions the people asked. The substance of their participation was of zero interest.

    Not that the Post cared, but the questioners asked about health care, the auto industry, the fate of small businesses and public education.

    We know--boring.

  • The press doesn't do public policy. Period.

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    CJR's Katia Bachko has an interesting look back on Obama's press conference this week and how the press covered the aftermath; how the press routinely referred to Obama as "professorial," which was meant to be an insult because he went on and on too long with facts and figures and philosophies.

    Bachko laments how much time and attention the press spent on dissecting Obama's "tone" at the press conference, as if that were news. (We tagged the NYT for similar nonsense this week.) Bachko concludes:

    In the end, the focus on tone demonstrates all over again how the press transforms politics into a blood sport with quantifiable winners and losers, which is disconnected from the significance of actual policy—roads built, hospitals staffed, schools renovated. The impulse to cover the horse race at the cost of the seriousness of governance persists. In this case, if Obama's the professor, then the press is a bunch of unruly kids who won't calm down after recess. The election is long behind us, get back to work.

    Sadly though, I think that misses the larger truth about our Beltway press corps. What we're seeing now with the press obsession with style and "tone" and gotcha nonsense represents all that the Beltway media are capable of. There is no "back to work" option because the press doesn't do public policy. Period. That was made abundantly clear during the campaign season, especially the final three months, when process and polling pretty much edged out any attempt examine the candidates' agendas.

    And since Obama has been inaugurated the press, again and again, has shown it has very little interest in seriously addressing topics like economics or banking or anything substantive. It will gladly write process stories surrounding those topics (i.e. Who's winning the stimulus message war?). But very little about the issues themselves.

    So 'news' is reduced to chatter about teleprompters, and whether Obama was "punch drunk" on TV, or if he was too boring--too professorial--during a press conference while addressing the weighty issues of the day.

    Like CJR, I wish the press would get "back to work." It's just that I'm not sure the press knows how to. Or worse, even wants to.

  • Why would the White House possibly care what Rush Limbaugh's ratings are?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Conservatives are crowing that Limbaugh's ratings are up (big shock, we know), and pretending that it's all a huge rebuke for Obama and the new Democratic White House.

    See, according to the Noise Machine, the White House's occasional passing references to the talker this year, references which were part of the larger public debate about who really leads the GOP, were actually signs of a coordinated "attack" on Limbaugh--a "war"--and that the White House's true intent was to drive down Limbaugh's ratings.

    So by calling attention to his show, the White House was actually trying to wreck Limbaugh's ratings. Riiight. But nothing gets conservatives riled up like playing victim, so it's game on.

    "Given this blockbuster [ratings] data, will the White House think twice before targeting Rush again?" demands professional Limbaugh cheerleader Brian Maloney.

    "President Obama declared war on Rush Limbaugh and his ratings went through the roof. If that's not a magnificent backfire, I'm not sure what is," declared the MRC's Brent Bozell, who was so excited he issued an official statement about Limbaugh's ratings.

    And no, BTW, there's no indication that Limbaugh's ratings have doubled nationwide this year. Although, there are indications that a new ratings method employed by Arbitron is a key reason Limbaugh's actual rating numbers (and talk radio ratings in general) are up so much in 2009.

  • Final thoughts on the media's "punch drunk" nonsense

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Comes courtesy of the Washington Times' Suzanne Fields [emphasis added]:

    Even laughter can be suspect. Steve Croft [sic], the president's interviewer on "60 Minutes," suggested Mr. Obama might be "punch drunk" when he chuckled aloud in discussing the crash of the economy.

    This really is just Misinformation 101--plainly misstating the facts in order to make the president look bad. As we noted earlier this week, when Kroft (inappropriately) asked Obama if he was "punch drunk," the president was absolutely not laughing while "discussing the crash of the economy," which so many lazy journalists have claimed.

    Fact: Obama laughed at how the only thing less popular today than the government bailing out the banks, is the government bailing out America's car manufacturers. That was the "gallows humor" Obama referenced. He also chuckled when Kroft presented him an a clearly preposterous scenario about how angry bankers might to go work for hedge funds.

    The circumstances surrounding the brief laughs were specific, but many in the press presented them in the most general, and damning, way imaginable [emphasis added]:

    --Politico claimed Obama laughed "several times while discussing the perilous state of the world's economy."

    --The Los Angles Times announced, "President Barack Obama was laughing when being asked about the nation's failing economy on '60 Minutes' Sunday night."

    --US News & World Report's Bonnie Erbe wrote that Obama was, " joking about the depressed economy."

    --NBC's Today reported that Obama got called out by Kroft "for laughing about the economy."

    --Fox News highlighted the 60 Minutes interview "in which President Obama laughed about the economy."

    It's embarrassing enough that the press spends so much time on trivial topics such as Obama's laugh. That so many journalists can't, or won't, accurately state the facts surrounding the 'story' is even more lame.

  • Gibbs ridicules media's teleprompter obsession

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Washington Post reporter Lois Romano interviews White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

    MS. ROMANO: The teleprompter changed last night.

    MR. GIBBS: Mm-hmm.

    MS. ROMANO: What was that about that? It's a big jumbotron now.

    MR. GIBBS: You know can I tell you this?

    MS. ROMANO: Yes.

    MR. GIBBS: I am absolutely amazed that anybody in America cares about who the President picks at a news conference or the mechanism by which he reads his prepared remarks. You know, I guess America is a wonderful country.

    MS. ROMANO: You're saying this is all Washington Beltway stuff?

    MR. GIBBS: I don't even know if it's that. I don't think I should implicate the many people that live in Washington.

    MR. GIBBS: No, I you know, I don't think the President let me just say this: My historical research has demonstrated that the President is not the first to use prepared remarks nor the first to use a teleprompter.

  • Ever more journalists bored while covering Obama

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Or more specifically, bored while listening to Obama discuss the policy issues of the day. Wake them when it's over, already.

    Dan Froomkin at Nieman Watchdog's blog flagged this one. It's from the Los Angeles Times' Frank James while live-blogging Obama's online town forum [emphasis added]:

    This was just plain boring and too predictable. The same colleague says the problem is less the format than the president. He's a policy wonk who doesn't turn to humor very often. He also doesn't present the opportunity for entertaining malaprops that Bush did. So there wasn't that potential for entertainment either.

  • Newsbusters plays the Jeff Gannon card; flops spectacularly

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    You'd think that of all the Bush-era White House misadventures that conservatives would want to never mention again, the strange saga of Jeff Gannon would be at the top of the list. (Real name: James Guckert.) He's the former male escort who, thanks to the good graces of the White House communications staff, was waved into the White House briefing room as a 'correspondent' for a phony, right-wing news organization (Talon News). He was allowed in even though Gannon had failed to go through the proper channels for acquiring a daily White House press pass.

    Actually, the Bush team waved Gannon into the White House--without ever submitting him to a standard security background check--even before he teamed up with the amateurish Talon News. Gannon wasn't affiliated with any news org in 2003, but was granted complete access nonetheless. The Bush White House, not known for its close relations with the press corps, just liked the guy and granted him extraordinary clearance for nearly two years.

    Those are the Gannon facts.

    This week, Newsbusters' Matthew Vadum comically tries to compare the Gannon oddity wtih the fact that for a single Obama press conference, a representative from liberal org Think Progress was granted press credentials. According to Newsbusters, that constitutes "hypocrisy" because liberals protested Gannon's White House presence.

    Not surprisingly, Vadum valiantly plays dumb throughout the report, pretending that Gannon's only sins were that he was gay (apparently libs, who uncovered the Gannon scam, don't like gays), and that Gannon asked Bush-friendly questions at White House briefings. The fact that the Bush White House ignored the established media protocol for securing daily White House press passes is politely ignored by Vadum. (His soggy effort was also posted at American Spectator.)

    Worse, Vadum makes no attempt to prove that the press pass handed out to Think Progress for a single White House press event is any way comparable to the way the Bush team set aside established rules for securing a daily White House press pass, and did it for nearly two years for Gannon's benefit. Meaning, giving the okay to attend a single, specific White House media event is not the same as being given the green light to stroll into the White House press room whenever you like for two years, as Gannon did, under an alias.

    But hey Newsbusters, don't stop talking about Jeff Gannon on our account. Please continue...