• Fred Barnes really, really, really likes George Bush

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Now we know what Weekly Standard's in-house Bush superfan Fred Barnes was doing during his recent Oval Office interview with the outgoing president (since he definitely wasn't practicing journalism at the time.) Barnes was likely picking up a rough draft for this farewell column.

    His presidency was far more successful than not. And there's an aspect of his decision-making that merits special recognition: his courage. Time and time again, Bush did what other presidents, even Ronald Reagan, would not have done and for which he was vilified and abused. That--defiantly doing the right thing--is what distinguished his presidency.

    There will always be a warm meal in Dallas waiting for Barnes.

  • Howard Kurtz, media critic

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Something to keep in mind as Barack Obama takes office: Howard Kurtz on whether President Bush was right to refuse to answer a question from Helen Thomas yesterday: "He's the president(for another week, that is). He can call on whoever he wants."

    Later during the same online Q&A, Kurtz defended his claim that MSNBC leans to the left:

    Howard Kurtz: "Morning Joe" (a show I like) is the only MSNBC program hosted by a conservative, albeit one who spent plenty of time criticizing his Republican Party over the last two years. Tucker Carlson has been banished. The evening programming is handled by Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews, who just got finished exploring running for the Senate from Pennsylvania as a Democrat.

    Forget, for a moment, the absurdity of using Chris Matthews as evidence of liberalism run amuck at MSNBC. What Kurtz doesn't tell you is that Olbermann, Maddow and Matthews each have one-hour programs. Scarborough's show is three hours long.

    Notice also that Kurtz qualifies his description of JoeSco as a conservative ("one who spent plenty of time criticizing his Republican Party") but offers no such qualification for his contention that Matthews is a Democrat, despite Matthews' lengthy history of gushing over conservatives like George W. Bush and John McCain, and of attacking progressives and Democrats. Basically, Kurtz' entire answer was spin.

    Later, when he was called on his failure to note that JoeSco's show is three hours, Kurtz kept spinning:

    Kurtz: By the way, Scarborough has a co-host, Mika Brzezinski, who is certainly to his left. And the three hours are filled with guests from both parties and both sides of the media spectrum, from Peggy Noonan to Gene Robinson.

    Well, ok. Chris Matthews' show is "filled with guests from both partes and both sides of the media spectrum," too, but Kurtz didn't mention that. He simply continued to pretend that the hours of MSNBC hosted by a conservative don't count for various reasons, while ignoring the fact that those same reasons apply to the MSNBC hosts he considers liberal.

    During the same Q&A, Kurtz pointed to the fact that "Tucker Carlson has been banished" from MSNBC as evidence of the cable channel's liberal leanings. When a reader pointed out that Carlson wasn't "banished," his terrible show that nobody watched was cancelled, presumably because it was terrible and nobody watched it, Kurtz replied:

    Kurtz: Why could Tucker, a smart guy, not have continued as a contributor and commentator? MSNBC just didn't have much appetite for his services.

    Kurtz seems to think Carlson was entitled to a job; he wasn't. (And he doesn't seem all that "smart" lately.) Kurtz's insinuations aside, there is no reason to believe that MSNBC lacks "appetite" for Carlson's "services" because Carlson is a conservative. After all, MSNBC is plenty hungry for Pat Buchanan's services as a commentator. But Kurtz never mentions Buchanan, perhaps because MSNBC's continued relationship with such an unrepentant bigot undermines Kurtz's claims that the channel leans to the left.

    Kurtz's comments about MSNBC are so one-sided, holding the conservatives and liberals there to such different standards, that it becomes harder and harder to avoid the conclusion that Kurtz' claims about MSNBC's ideological leanings reveal more about his own than about the cable channel's.

    UPDATE: More Kurtz:

    Boston, Mass.: Hi Howard, I notice more and more stories quoting from the Washington Times. I have never even seen that paper, but always thought of it as sort of a right wing rant rather than a legit newspaper. Opinion based on nothing, but just curious as to your opinion on it.

    Howard Kurtz: The Washington Times has always been a legitimate newspaper, but it's gained in respectability since my former Post colleague John Solomon took over as executive editor. In past campaigns, I found the paper's coverage blatantly tilted toward the Republicans; in 2008, while I found things to criticize, I also saw an effort to be fair.

    Got that? In previous years, Kurtz has found the Washington Times "blatently tilted toward the Republicans" and only last year saw an "effort to be fair" -- but he says the Times has "always been a legitimate newspaper." If being "blatently tilted" towards the GOP and failing to make an "effort to be fair" doesn't disqualify a newspaper from being considered "legitimate," what does?

    As for John Solomon, it is likely true that his move from the Washington Post to the Washington Times improved the quality of both publications.

  • Nuts indeed

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Matthew Yglesias on the media obsessing over the purported awkwardness of John Kerry, who reportedly wanted to be Secretary of State, chairing Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearings for that job:

    Kerry and Clinton have both been in big-time politics for decades, I'm pretty certain they can muster the wherewithal to cooperate. The underlying supposition of this coverage seems to be that there's some kind of shortfall of noteworthy substantive issues related to the conduct of US foreign policy that we could speculate about. And that's nuts.

  • Bush, the press and Osama bin Laden

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    A final thought on Bush's "wistful and introspective" (LA Times) press conference.

    The day-after headlines certainly focused on the laundry list of mistakes Bush admitted to making during his eight years in office. The AP summed up the greatest misses Bush mentioned this way:

    _Putting a "Mission Accomplished" banner on an aircraft carrier shortly after Saddam Hussein was toppled from power.

    _"Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake."

    _Going immediately for an overhaul of the Social Security program, rather than seeking immigration reform, in the wake of his re-election to a second term in 2004.

    _The revelations of abuses at the Abu Ghraib detention camp in Iraq, which he described as a "huge disappointment."

    _Never turning up weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which he called a "significant disappointment."

    _Not getting congressional approval for three, bilateral free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

    Noticing anything missing from that list? Like the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden, which for years, we were told, was the administration's top priority since bin Laden was behind the terrorist attack that killed more than 3,000 Americans.

    Since the press conference though, I haven't seen or heard any press reports mention that glaringly obvious gap in Bush's list. Instead, reading off the White House play sheet, the press no longer thinks bin Laden matters.

    Lapdogs to the end.

    UPDATE: A check of the transcript shows that Osama bin Laden, the man who defined Bush's presidency, was never mentioned by either Bush or anyone in the press corps during the president's expansive, 45-minute farewell press conference.

  • Associated Press, please define "strictly"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Speaking of Bush's farewell presser, credit the AP for producing a fact-check report on the misstatements the president made. Fault the AP however, for being too timid with the task at hand.

    Here's how the AP addressed Bush's claim (it's a White House evergreen) that he "inherited" a recession in 2001 [emphasis added]:

    BUSH: "In terms of the economy — look, I inherited a recession, I'm ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth."

    THE FACTS: There have been two recessions during Bush's time in office. The first was a relatively mild downturn that began in March 2001 and lasted eight months, ending in November 2001. Since the first one did not begin until after he took office in January 2001, it is not strictly accurate to say he "inherited" it.

    Why the "strictly," when the sentence would have been more factual without it? Bush did not inherit a recession. Period. His claim is inaccurate and the AP ought to say so without muddying the language with phrases like "strictly."

  • Was Bush "candid" about Katrina at his press conference?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Bush is getting all kinds of credit from reporters for his farewell press conference yesterday. (CBS's Bob Schieffer, an old Bush family friend, called the president's performance "gracious.") The press seems very impressed that Bush addressed some of the controversial topics of his administration; some of the mistakes that created what pollster say is historic ill-will among American voters.

    ABC News, for instance, claimed, "the president candidly addressed serious issues ranging from the economy, to Hurricane Katrina, to the Iraq war." Yet here's what ABC New reported regarding Bush's comments about the federal government's Katrina relief effort, which may go down in history as one of the most incompetent of its kind:

    "Could things have been done better? Absolutely," Bush said. "But when I hear people say the federal response was slow, then what are they going to say to those chopper drivers or the 30,000 that got pulled off the roofs?"

    That's Bush being "candid"? Doesn't sound like it to me.

  • The death of The New York Times? cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Times columnist David Carr looks at the recent Atlantic essay by Michael Hirschorn and comes to the same conclusion I did last week; if the Times went out of business it would be a big deal because, despite what some online optimists think, websites and bloggers and tweeters would not be able to replace what the huge news organization does.

    Elsewhere, Carr pines for a Steve Jobs-type figure to come in and rescue newspapers the way Apple did the music industry. Writes Carr:

    Remember that when iTunes began, the music industry was being decimated by file sharing. By coming up with an easy user interface and obtaining the cooperation of a broad swath of music companies, Mr. Jobs helped pull the business off the brink. He has been accused of running roughshod over the music labels, which are a fraction of their former size. But they are still in business.

    Still in business, yes. But just barely. The idea that 99 cent downloads from iTunes pulled the music industry from the brink is pretty misleading. Music industry sales have absolutely cratered since the music-should-be-free mantra was unleashed by the Internet. The steep declines show no signs of abating and the revenue that iTunes is generating in no way offsets the losses for the music labels.

    So while yes, it's nice that Apple convinced people songs are worth paying for, the idea that iTunes saved the music industry, and that an iTunes-like creation could save the newspaper industry, seems misplaced.

    P.S. Am I the only one who notes the irony in that back during the Napster craze an awful lot of print journalists spent an awful lot of time lecturing the music industry about how it should stop fighting technology and should start embracing the Internet, even if that meant giving its product away. Today, lots of those print outlets are going out of business, or in danger of going under, thanks to the Internet.

  • Terri Schiavo and the press

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Digby recently made a compelling argument when, trying to pinpoint moment when the Bush administration, and the larger conservative movement, lost touch with America, she pointed to the showdown surrounding Terri Schiavo in early 2005.

    I would just add to her insight that the episode also represented a telling, and I'd suggest historic, tipping point for the press, as well. Having convinced themselves that Bush had won a "mandate," in 2004, despite earning the slimmest margin of re-election for a sitting president since Woodrow Wilson, reporters and pundits immediately declared the GOP's all-in on the Schiavo right-to-die story to be a brilliant strategic move.

    As I noted in Lapdogs:

    The Schiavo coverage began with a strikingly deferential tone with the MSM clearly awed by the Republican's culture-of-life strategy. Indeed, radical was a word the MSM all but refused to use when reporting any part of the Schiavo story, despite the fact it was being fueled by rampant far-right extremism. The controversy highlighted not only how far to the right the GOP had lunged -- a 2003 Fox News poll found just 2 percent of Americans thought the government should decide the right-to-die issue -- but it also illustrated how paralyzed the MSM had become in pointing out the obvious: that the GOP leadership often operated well outside the mainstream of American politics. Reporters, fearful of being tagged as liberal or anti-religion, politely ignored the salient fact.

    The press, and especially ABC News, also seemed to do everything in its power to ignore early polling data that showed that Republicans were in the very steep minority when it came to the Schiavo controversy.

    Perhaps the larger point here is that the fortunes of Bush and the Beltway press in 2005 were intertwined. So it was inevitable that when, as Digby argues, Bush began his descent with the Schiavo story, so did the media.

  • Newsbusters applauds as Hume & Bush mislead

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Newsbusters' Noel Sheppard gushes over the Presidents Bush:

    "Fox News Sunday" featured a fabulous interview with Presidents George H. W. and George W. Bush today demonstrating that regardless of their political leaning, these are two fine gentlemen who deeply love their country and have the utmost respect for the office they held.

    What was particularly fascinating was how they both had nothing but positive things to say about president-elect Barack Obama, as well as his cabinet picks, and that they refused to say anything negative about him.

    In fact, if you forward to minute 3:00 of the video embedded below the fold, you'll witness an absolutely marvelous discussion about why they believe former presidents should keep their opposing views of the current executive to themselves

    Here's that "absolutely marvelous discussion" in which the Bushes demonstrate that they "are two fine gentlemen who deeply love their country and have the utmost respect for the office they held":

    HUME: Well, what - look, you - this is very like you, and like you, as well, to refrain from comment on the other political figures, the incumbent President and so on. Why?

    FORMER PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, why be out there looking like you're carping and criticizing and know everything? I mean, I've heard what the President said about President Obama, President-Elect Obama. I feel the same way; support him where you can, and don't go out there criticizing and carping. You look small yourself for one thing, but that's not the main reason; the main reason is he needs support. And if it's something you disagree with violently, sit on the sidelines and shut up.

    THE PRESIDENT: There will be plenty of opportunities for people to carp, trust me. I mean, this is a job that -

    FORMER PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh, yes, I know there will.

    Such noble gentlemen!

    But it isn't true. Former President Bush now says that he doesn't criticize his successors because he would "look small" if he did so, and that instead he should "sit on the sidelines and shut up." But, as Media Matters has documented, Bush repeatedly criticized Bill Clinton during Clinton's presidency.

    Media Matters pointed that out after Fox's Brit Hume claimed that former President Bush did not criticize his successor. That resulted in the following correction from Hume:

    Two nights ago on this program, we said that, in attacking President Bush on Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and the budget, former president Clinton did something that Bush's father did not do, and that is to criticize his successor. That was incorrect. While the first President Bush did so rarely, he did criticize President Clinton and his administration several times, including on his Haiti and Somalia policies. We stand corrected and regret the error.

    And yet there was Brit Hume on Fox yesterday, claiming it is "very like" President Bush to refrain from criticizing Barack Obama. And how does Newsbusters' Noel Sheppard react to Brit Hume repeating a falsehood for which he has previously apologized, and to former President Bush denouncing conduct he himself has engaged in.

    Sheppard praises it as an "absolutely marvelous" discussion.

    And that reveals a great deal about Newsbusters and the Media Research Center: their idea of quality journalism is when a conservative reporter joins a conservative guest in misleading their audience. And "bias" is when a comic book depicts a superhero preventing a criminal from disrupting a presidential inauguration.