• Change

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    In light of reports that Clinton administration alums Eric Holder and Peter Orszag will be Attorney General and Budget Director, respectively, in the Obama administration, we're likely in for yet another round of media snark about the supposed conflict between campaiging on "change" and then hiring Clinton alums.

    This is absurd.

    First, the suggestion that hiring Clinton administration alums is inconsistent with "change" is dependent upon the belief that the Clinton and Bush administrations were identical. Nonsense.

    Second, the suggestion is predicated on the assumption that the Clinton administration was a monolith; that everyone who served in the administration has the same opinions and approach to policy and to politics. This, again, is nonsense: thousands of people served in the Clinton administration -- some of whom supported and worked for Barack Obama's campaign.

    If the media chatterers want to claim that Obama isn't making good on his promise of "change," they're going to have to do better than simply pointing to the hiring of Clinton administration alumni.

  • Rupert Murdoch clings to Memogate glory

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    In comments that have generated lots of buzz online, Murdoch recently blamed the press for its own woes and declared that newspapers faced a glorious future. We'll see how that pans out.

    But we were belatedly struck by Murdoch's comments about bloggers, and how the mainstream media has, he said, foolishly, and arrogantly, dismissed their work. On that, we're in heated agreement. But the shining example that Murdoch used to praise bloggers and shame the press was laughable, not to mention woefully out of date: 2004's Memogate.

    Here's CNET's account:

    To make his point, Murdoch criticized the media reaction after bloggers debunked a "60 Minutes" report by former CBS anchor, Dan Rather, that President Bush had evaded service during his days in the National Guard.

    "Far from celebrating this citizen journalism, the establishment media reacted defensively. During an appearance on Fox News, a CBS executive attacked the bloggers in a statement that will go down in the annals of arrogance. '60 Minutes,' he said, was a professional organization with 'multiple layers of checks and balances.' By contrast, he dismissed the blogger as 'a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.' But eventually it was the guys sitting in their pajamas who forced Mr. Rather and his producer to resign.

    First as a side note, CNET's reporting is a bit shaky. Bloggers did not "debunk" Dan Rather's report that Bush evaded National Guard service. Nobody has debunked that, because it happens to be true. (Bush was a no-show for almost two solid years.) What the bloggers did was raise questions about the documents in Rather's report.

    Secondly, Murdoch's claim that "the establishment media" did not toast the right-wing bloggers back in in 2004 is pure fantasy. The press, always anxious to prove its non-liberal ways to rightwing critics, nearly tripped over itself toasting the media-hating bloggers. (Time named one Memogate site its Blog of the Year.)

    Third, it's a curious time for Murdoch to be celebrating the bloggers' work attacking CBS when so many questions are being raised about the "independent" panel the network appointed to investigate the story.

    And fourth, wasn't it Fox News' favorite governor, Sarah Palin, who just last week also accused bloggers of being irresponsible and typing away in their pajamas?

  • Politico overreaches

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    We're not sure Ben Smith really came up with the goods to back up Politico's provocative headline, "Cabinet post for Clinton roils Obamaland."

    The entire piece only quotes one person on the record who raised doubts about Clinton as a possible Secretary of State, and that person's not even connected with the campaign. Even the anonymous quotes are pretty tame.

    We suspect If Obamaland (i.e his campaign and legions of supporters) was truly roiled, than Smith would have found more people who were willing to give better/more passionate quotes.

    It makes us wonder whether the article was just the latest example of Politico pushing the media's beloved Obama/Clinton "soap opera" narrative.

    UPDATE: As Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic notes today: "It's kind of amazing, if you think about it, that Obama, according to reports, is a step away from picking his chief political rival to be Secretary of State, and not one hint of serious anxiety about the choice has gotten out."

  • The media's Obama double standard, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    NPR has a piece online about the incoming Obama administration and how the press is nervous the new White House won't be open with the media.

    All White House beat reporters raise the same concerns each time a new team arrives in town, and it's a legitimate one. But the comments included in the story from the press left us wondering.

    For instance, Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times, comparing the current closed-off access to Obama, remembered when Obama was a state senator from Illinois and how he was a "one-man show" in terms of being open with the media and handling his own press. And that as a freshman U.S. senator he was, as NPR put it, "expansive with reporters in Washington - particularly during the short shuttle rides between the Capitol building and his office building."

    That's fine. But what's that have to do with being president of the United States? What reporter would expect the Commander in Chief to maintain the same relationship with the press as he did when he was a local politician? The comparison strikes us as a bit unrealistic.

    It also reminded us of another incoming president who was known for being open with the local press, and for even handing out nicknames to the local scribes: George W. Bush. And looked at what happened when he arrived in the White House. His communication team practically installed a hermetically sealed wing of the White House where Bush remained impenetrable from the press. (Regular press conferences with reporters? Think again.)

    Our point isn't that since Bush was inaccessible to the press so that means Obama should be. It's that news consumers ought to be reminded of what the recent context has been with Bush. NPR did make mention of Bush's lack of press conferences. But the Bush team's effort to pretty much neuter the White House press corps went far beyond that. So if reporters are going to ponder how the Obama White House will operate in terms of the press, we ought be reminded of how the Bush one did.

  • Still waiting for the Rightroots movement, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Boy, the press sure seems interested in right-wing blogosphere, even though it just got done embarrassing itself in the general election and still finds itself badly out manned by their liberal online counterparts. But as we noted yesterday, the press always thinks conservative bloggers are more interesting (and influential) than liberal ones.

    Joining Newsweek this week in toasting the ineffectual bloggers is The Hill. "Right-wing bloggers see their chance," reads the headline. The mag quotes lots of GOP Internet players who suggest it's all a question of tactics and approach and that once conservatives make the right tweaks, the Rightroots movement will take off.

    We're not so sure. We're more inclined to believe that the biggest stumbling block for conservative bloggers to date has been their tendency to make stuff up. Like, all the time. Or as Glenn Greenwald once wrote:

    They are wrong over and over and over -- and not just in error, but embarrassingly so, because so frequently their claims are transparently, laughably absurd, and they spew the most righteous accusations without any sort of evidence at all...They are exposed as frauds and gossip-mongerers on an almost weekly basis. The only thing that can compete with the consistency of their errors is the viciousness of their accusations and their pompous self-regard as "citizen journalists.

    Once that's fixed, they might stand a chance.

  • MSNBC (finally) makes nice with Arianna Huffington

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The HuffPo founded guest-hosted Rachel Maddow's program Monday night. It's of note because for months MSNBC, whose primetime programs had been embracing progressive topics, refused to have Huffington on the air because, apparently, of a long-running feud that began when the late Tim Russert oversaw NBC News.

    We wrote about this in detail back in May:

    Progressive author and Internet powerhouse Arianna Huffington has appeared on MSNBC more than 30 times over the last 12 months, offering up her combative opinions on current events. The tally probably would have been double that if the stretched-too-thin writer and editor had accepted all the channel's requests that flood her office.

    So when Huffington set out late last month to promote her new book, MSNBC seemed like an obvious first stop. In fact, producers had already been in touch, asking about Huffington's availability during her book push. And I hear an informal memo circulated within MSNBC detailing the order in which Huffington would appear on the various MSNBC news programs in coming weeks.

    But then suddenly, the doors were slammed shut and Huffington's camp was told thanks, but no thanks; it was an across-the-board shutout from both MSNBC and its big brother, NBC.

    Why the cold shoulder? In her latest book, which came out last spring, Huffington took aim at Russert, portraying him as a hapless, "conventional wisdom zombie."

  • Media play telephone with Clinton's Chicago trip

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Following up on Nate Silver's assertion that in his experience, the fact-checking process at Sports Illustrated is more rigorous than in the political media ...

    One way in which news organizations frequently drop the fact-checking ball is by repeating as fact something that they do not independently know to be true, but that has been reported elsewhere. Making matters worse, they often subtly change the initial report, and a game of telephone ensues.

    A correction published in today's New York Times hints at one such occurrence. On Saturday, the Times reported:

    [O]n Thursday, Mrs. Clinton was spied boarding a plane to Chicago -- on ''personal business,'' a spokesman insisted -- and by early evening a small motorcade of black sport utility vehicles emerged from the garage of the downtown Chicago building where Mr. Obama has his transition office, just minutes before Mr. Obama's own motorcade left it. Mrs. Clinton, as a former first lady, has Secret Service protection and travels in a government S.U.V. By Friday morning, amid escalating speculation that she was a serious candidate for secretary of state, associates of both of them confirmed they had met.

    Today, the Times issued a correction:

    A Political Memo article on Saturday about a trip by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to Chicago ... misattributed the statement that Mrs. Clinton went there on "personal business." The comment was from media reports, which turned out to be wrong; it was not made by Mrs. Clinton's spokesman. (Mrs. Clinton's office said only that she had no public schedule on Thursday.)

    The "personal business" line appears to have originated with a report by NBC's Andrea Mitchell on the November 13 Nightly News broadcast: "Hillary Clinton was seen taking a flight to Chicago today, but an adviser says that was on personal business."

    Not only did the Times initially adopt Mitchell's reporting as verified fact, it embellished a bit, turning her report that a Clinton advisor said Clinton was in Chicago on personal business into a spokesman insisting that was the case.

    The Times does not seem to have been the only news organization that adopted Mitchell's reporting as fact, or the only outlet that embellished the report. Some went so far as to suggest that a specific Senate staffer had been dishonest with reporters.

    (Given the vague attribution, it is impossible to be certain that the following examples were based on Mitchell's report -- or other repetitions of her report. But it appears likely that they are.)

    Just a few hours after Mitchell's initial report, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann appeared to be referencing it when he told Countdown viewers "It is insisted by a Clinton advisor that this was personal business..."

    So now the "Clinton advisor" isn't merely saying Clinton's trip to Chicago was "personal business"; he or she is insisting that was the purpose.

    The next day, November 14, Reuters seems to have modified Mitchell's report a bit more: "Clinton was described by her office as having flown to Chicago yesterday on personal business."

    Keep in mind that Mitchell's original report was that a Clinton "advisor" said she was in Chicago on personal business. The Clintons have many "advisors"; Mitchell's source could have been any number of people. Indeed, on the morning of the 14th, Mitchell clarified her report via MSNBC's First Read that her source was not Clinton's "office":

    NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports that Clinton's Senate office never confirmed to NBC that Clinton was in Chicago; it was another Clinton adviser who did so. Clinton's Senate office referred Mitchell to the Obama transition office.

    Nevertheless, Reuters shifted the sourcing to Clinton's Senate office, as though it were an official statement rather than what may have been nothing more than an offhand, background comment by an advisor who didn't have complete information. That same day, November 14, the New York Post similarly reported that "aides insisted she was on personal business."

    That construction quickly made it halfway around the world - literally. An Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter told viewers on November 14, "We're told that she is actually in Chicago for what her office describes purely as personal business but of course that's simply added to the speculation."

    On November 15, the Times of London got even more specific, attributing the "personal business" statement to Clinton's "spokesman" - and, in the process, suggested he was lying: "Although Mrs Clinton's spokesman would say only that she was travelling on 'personal business', sources yesterday acknowledged they [Obama and Clinton] had held private talks."

    Also on the 15th, Australia's Daily Telegraph reported that aides to both Obama and Clinton claimed she was in Chicago on "personal business": "Adding to the intrigue, Senator Clinton was seen aboard a flight to Senator Obama's hometown of Chicago yesterday, but aides from both camps insisted she was on personal business."

    All of which led to CNN Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz suggesting on air yesterday that somebody was lying - based on nothing more than what "sources" supposedly said:

    KURTZ: [S]ources told journalists that Hillary Clinton was in Chicago on personal business. Well, it turns out that she met with Obama and they did discuss either this job or possible jobs. So isn't that -- the technical term, I guess, would be lying?

  • So much for 'stealing' the Minnesota recount

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Conservatives have been relentlessly pushing the notion that Democrats in Minnesota are trying to "steal" the recount underway between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. And we mean relentless.

    There's been zero real evidence to prop up the "stealing" meme, but sadly that hasn't stopped the mainstream press for doing the GOP handiwork by advertising the conservatives' claim. For instance, last week the New York Times, in a recount news article, wasted everyone's time by quoting Sean Hannity who claimed (surprise!) Dems were trying to steal the election.

    The press really needs to walk away from the shiny GOP object that is, they're-stealing-the-election claim. And at the very least, if the press is going to air those hollow allegations, reporters absolutely must include mention of the fact that Minnesota's Republican governor confirmed, yet again, on Fox News Sunday that there's no proof to back up the "stealing" claim.

    And specifically, he shot down the baseless, albeit wildly popular, tale about how 32 disputed ballots were found in a car trunk.

  • How to fire Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Of course, Clinton has not been tapped for the position, but a number of pundits, in what may be a Beltway first, have wondered out loud about how Clinton would be/could be fired as Secretary of State.

    Does that strike anybody else as odd?

    I honestly don't know the answer to this question (and yes, i spent the prerequisite 60 seconds Googling it), but who was the last Secretary of State who was even fired? I mean, it doesn't strike me as something that's even come up very often in the last 50 years. Yet for some reason, the chattering class thinks it must be pondered in terms of Clinton.

  • Still waiting for the MSM blogger profiles, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    We actually laughed out loud when we saw this in the latest issue of Newsweek. It's a very gee-whiz profile of Erick Erickson who runs the right-wing blog RedState. Y'know, the one that just backed the losing candidate and is part of the Rightroots movement, which has been completely lapped in terms of growth, participation and influence by the liberal blogosphere.

    But see, for the mainstream media it's always the right-wing bloggers who are of more interest. It's always the right-wing bloggers who get the ink at the expense of their liberal counterparts. And that's why, to this day for instance, Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz has never written up a feature profile of a prominent A-list liberal blogger.

    The Beltway press doesn't care about liberal bloggers who have helped change the face of American politics over the last four years. But a right-winger like Erickson who runs a GOP bulletin board and is part of the floundering Rightroots movement? Now that's a story worth telling. (And yes, Newsweek's Suzanne Smalley air-brushed the hate out of RedState, like when Erickson attacked war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, for being "a left wing media whore.")