Ezra Klein | Media Matters for America

Ezra Klein

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  • Vox Slams Media For Placing Style Over Substance In Aftermath Of Trump's Debate Meltdown

    Ezra Klein: Trade “Was Trump’s Best Portion Of The Debate … But He Didn’t Know What He Was Talking About”

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Even as they criticized the rest of his performance for its lies and a general incoherence on basic policy specifics, mainstream and conservative media personalities are largely in agreement that Republican nominee Donald Trump earned more style points than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the first half of their presidential debate on September 26, which focused on the economy and international trade.

    But as Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein argued in a September 27 blog, the belief among journalists and pundits that Trump “won” the opening economic portion -- or any portion -- of the debate only holds water if you grade the candidate’s braggadocious style as more important than his vacant substance (emphasis added):

    This is how it felt to me, too. Stylistically, this section was Trump’s best portion of the debate. He kept slamming Clinton on NAFTA — "the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere” — and spoke with the confidence of a man who knew what he was talking about.

    But he didn’t know what he was talking about.

    What was stylistically Trump’s best portion of the debate was substantively among his worst (I say among his worst because it is hard to beat the section where he said he both would and would not honor the NATO treaty, and then said he both would and would not adhere to the first-strike doctrine on nuclear weapons). Trump was arguing the central economic theory of his campaign — and he was just wrong. In a section that began with him demanding solutions for our economic woes, he showed himself completely confused as to the nature of not just our economic problems, but the underlying labor market.

    The tone of his voice and the confidence of his delivery shouldn’t distract us from the hollowness of his remarks.

    From his introductory remarks, Trump unleashed a torrent of falsehoods during the first presidential debate of the general election. Journalists and commentators from across the political spectrum slammed the GOP nominee for his seeming lack of preparation and inability to execute a clear debate strategy. Focus groups of undecided voters conducted by CNN and by conservative pollster Frank Luntz agreed that Clinton trounced Trump on the stage, and a national poll fielded by CNN showed that debate viewers came away thinking Trump had lost “overwhelmingly.” Trump was even needled by reporters for revealing “his famously thin skin” and for failing to control his impulses and “los[ing] the battle against himself.”

    And yet, somehow, numerous professional debate-watchers seemed to think Trump actually performed well during the opening portion of the debate, when he attacked Clinton and President Obama on the economy. Ignoring that the country Trump was describing doesn’t actually exist, journalists largely seemed to agree that Trump’s jeremiad was nonetheless effective.

    Professional economists who watched the debate, on the other hand, savaged Trump for his repeated lies about the American economy. Trump falsely claimed the American labor market is being hollowed out by trade even when job creation is steady, he reiterated a false right-wing media claim that American incomes are stagnant when they are rising, he repeated his own false claim that the Federal Reserve is acting “politically” to prop up the economic recovery while claiming at the same time that the economy isn’t really recovering, and he lied about his impossible plan to pay down the national debt. And Trump did all of these things during a segment of the debate that commentators currently argue he won.

    For months, media critics have lamented how Trump is often graded “on a curve” for his performances and public statements, noting that he is “held to a different standard than Clinton” and his other political counterparts. The widespread perception that Trump outdid himself during the opening minutes of the debate while spouting a laundry list of lies about the economy and trade, proves how persistent this problem remains.

  • Media Claim GOP Debate Was "Substantive," Ignore That "The Substance Was Wrong"

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Media are lauding CNN and the Republican presidential candidates for a "surprisingly substantive" March 10 debate that "focused on jobs, the economy, education, Cuba, Israel and even ... climate change." Despite this praise, fact-checkers are pointing to the candidates' "bruised realities" and "wrong" policy claims, saying the "debate was very substantive. Too bad that substance was all wrong."

  • How Morning Joe Is Helping To Turn Clinton's Legal Work Into A Political Liability

    Vox's Ezra Klein Joins Scarborough In Mainstreaming "Disturbing" Guilt-By-Association Smear

    Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

    Joe Scarborough and Ezra Klein

    Joe Scarborough and Ezra Klein are helping to normalize guilt-by-association smears targeting defense attorneys based on their clients, arguing that Hillary Clinton's work defending an alleged child rapist in 1975 is becoming a political liability.

    The American Bar Association has condemned this type of attack as "disturbing."

    Clinton's work on the case, known publicly and reported on for years, re-emerged after the Washington Free Beacon violated library policy and published an interview Clinton gave in the mid-1980s discussing her legal representation of the alleged rapist.

    Clinton defended her work on the case in an interview with Mumsnet that was published July 4, explaining once again that she was assigned to the case, that she asked to be relieved from the assignment, and that she "had a professional duty to represent my client to the best of my ability."

    Reporting on the warmed-over scrutiny of the case on Tuesday, Vox claimed that "a criminal defense case from Hillary Clinton's past as a lawyer is becoming a political liability." The headline ominously stated: "Hillary Clinton's legal career is coming back to haunt her."

    Klein, the co-founder of Vox, appeared on Morning Joe to expand on the idea that Clinton's legal work was a political liability. "I think it's hard for folks to understand why you would go to the mat for a client who had done something terrible who you knew is guilty," Klein said. "And what she's saying there is that that was her obligation as a lawyer and that the prosecution had done a horrible job."

    While Scarborough at one point agreed that attorneys "usually take that court appointment and do their best to defend their client," he subsequently tried to parse the distinction between a public defender and Clinton's role as a court-appointed attorney from a legal aid clinic:

    SCARBOROUGH: [I]sn't there a distinction, though, between when you are hired by a public defender's office, and the purpose of the public defender's office is actually to give people the representation that they are guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America? And then you have Hillary Clinton's case, where she was running a legal clinic. She may have been court-appointed, but obviously she had a lot more discretion on whether she was going to take a child rapist or not on as a client than if you are a public defender, where you are working as a public defender, you have no choice.

    Legal and child welfare experts told Newsday that Clinton's work in the case was appropriate in 2008, the last time her work in the case came under media scrutiny. Clinton wrote about the case in her 2003 autobiography, Living History. Jonathan Adler, a libertarian law professor, has urged Clinton's critics not to attack her representation in this case, specifically warning that it could be chilling to send a message to young attorneys that representing unpopular clients could become a "political liability."

    Adler is not alone. Republicans Ken Starr, Lindsey Graham, and Michael Mukasey have all cautioned against using an attorney's clients as a cudgel.  

  • Ezra Klein: "I Could've, And Should've, Handled This Hire A Lot Better."

    Vox.com Editor-In-Chief Explains Brandon Ambrosino Hire

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    Vox.com editor-in-chief Ezra Klein issued a statement explaining his decision to hire Brandon Ambrosino, a writer who has been criticized for peddling misinformation about LGBT people and acting as an apologist for anti-gay discrimination. Klein promised that Ambrosino's work would "receive a lot of editing and a lot of guidance," iterating Vox's commitment to properly covering LGBT issues.

    The forthcoming news and policy site came under criticism from journalists and LGBT activists after announcing on March 12 that it had hired Ambrosino, a gay writer notorious for his "click-bait contrarianism," including his claim that being gay is a choice and that gay activists are bigoted against opponents of LGBT equality.

    Klein defended his decision to hire Ambrosino in an interview with The American Prospect, claiming the hire would help bring ideological diversity to Vox.

    In a March 14 post on Facebook, Klein further explained Ambrosino's hiring, stating that Ambrosino's writing will be closely edited and monitored and pledging that Vox would not engage in "frontal assaults on causes we believe in and people we admire":

    Over the past 48 hours I've spoken to a lot folks in the LGBT community to better understand the strong, negative reaction to my hiring of Brandon Ambrosino. People felt Brandon had made his name writing sloppy pieces that were empathetic towards homophobes but relentlessly critical of the gay community. They believe we were sending a signal about Vox's approach to LGBT issues: Contrarian clickbait at the expense of the struggle and discrimination that LGBT men and women face every day.

    That was never our intention. Our approach to LGBT stories will be the same as our approach to all other issues: We want people to read us because we do the best job tracking and explaining the news, not because we do the best job shocking people. We want to inform our readers -- not annoy them. Our kind of clickbait tends towards beautiful data visualizations, not frontal assaults on causes we believe in and people we admire.

    Brandon isn't our LGBT correspondent. He's not even the only LGBT employee of Vox.com. He is a young writer who we think has talent who's going to receive a lot of editing and a lot of guidance.

    Brandon applied for the news-writing fellowship, a one-year position focused on helping inexperienced writers develop aggregation and reportorial skills. Contrary to some garbled reports, before hiring Brandon I read a lot of his previous work. Brandon's past writing was often quite pointed and personal, and not a fit for Vox -- and I told him so. The writing fellowship requires a very different approach.

    But something that often happens to young freelance writers on the Internet is that they end up writing reams of their most controversial opinions before they ever get a chance to do basic reporting or benefit from a routine relationship with an editor. So as part of Brandon's writing test, I asked him to do eight news articles and two explainers -- more than 5,000 words of original content, in all. He needed more editing, training and direction. But he showed himself a strong, fast writer who really wanted to learn. And that training is what the fellowship is there for. 

    I could've, and should've, handled this hire a lot better. But I would ask people to give Brandon a chance. He'll be held to the same high standards as all Vox.com employees, and I believe he'll meet them. [emphasis added]

  • Four Basic Things Vox's New Hire Doesn't Understand About LGBT Issues

    Blog ››› ››› LUKE BRINKER

    Ezra Klein's nascent news and policy site Vox.com promises readers that its journalists will "really know the topics they cover." But newly minted Vox writing fellow Brandon Ambrosino - a frequent commentator on LGBT issues - has repeatedly demonstrated that his understanding of LGBT topics is superficial at best, and frequently dangerously off-base.

    In Vox's Facebook post announcing the hire, Ambrosino noted his interest in LGBT topics. That interest has manifested itself in numerous pieces whitewashing the homophobia of figures like Jerry Falwell and Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, asserting that homosexuality is a choice, and condemning LGBT rights activists as bigoted.

    Vox's home page promises that it's "hiring journalists who really know the topics they cover" because "[t]here's no way we'll be able to help readers understand issues if we haven't done the work to understand them ourselves":

    But a look at Ambrosino's body of work demonstrates that he doesn't understand several basic facts about one of his purported specialties:

    1. Being Gay Isn't A Choice

    In two pieces in The New Republic, Ambrosino asserted that he had made a "choice" to be gay, failing to explain when, why, and how he made that choice. His pieces were criticized for their misuse of academic texts. His assertion also contradicts mainstream medical expertise, which overwhelmingly concludes that a person's sexual orientation isn't chosen.

    Of course, Ambrosino has previously spoken of when he started experiencing "gay feelings" and realized he "was attracted to men" - strongly suggesting that his sexual orientation was something he realized, not selected. It's certainly a choice whether or not to embrace one's sexual orientation, but as Ambrosino's own words attest, it isn't a switch you can flip on and off.

    2. Being Transgender Isn't A "Sexual Choice"

    In the same New Republic pieces, Ambrosino urged gays and lesbians to learn from the transgender community. Transgender activism, he wrote, is "fueled by the belief that the government has the responsibility to protect all of us regardless of our sexual choices."

    But being transgender isn't a choice, much less a sexual choice. A person's gender identity is a deeply ingrained, intrinsic characteristic. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a person's gender identity is usually established by the age of four. Being transgender, as one expert put it, is "part of the human condition." It also has nothing to do with a person's sexuality or sexual orientation.

    In addition to not understanding the most basic realities of what it means to be transgender, Ambrosino has also used the term "tranny" - a transphobic slur - to describe transgender people. Assuming that Ambrosino didn't have malicious intent, his use of the slur still reflected a remarkable ignorance of transgender issues for a frequent commentator on LGBT issues.

    3. The United States Isn't A Post-Equality Country

  • Ezra Klein Defends Hiring Anti-Gay Apologist He Didn't Vet

    Vox.com Editor-In-Chief Touts "Ideological Diversity" In Hiring

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    Vox.com editor-in-chief Ezra Klein defended his decision to hire anti-gay apologist Brandon Ambrosino as a writing fellow but admitted he had not reviewed Ambrosino's body of problematic LGBT commentary before hiring him.

    On March 12, the forthcoming news and policy site Vox.com announced that it had hired Brandon Ambrosino -- a gay man who has earned a reputation for defending homophobes and peddling misinformation about LGBT people -- as a writing fellow. The announcement was met with widespread condemnation from LGBT activists and writers who called his hiring an "embarrassment" and a "major mistake."

    Klein responded to the criticism in an interview with The American Prospect's Gabriel Arana published March 13. Klein said that he had only read the pieces in question after criticism against Abrosino's hiring mounted, and that while he lacks "the context and the background to perfectly or authoritatively judge this debate," he believes his new hire lacks "an iota of homophobia":

    In an interview on Wednesday evening, Klein told me he hadn't read the pieces that had kicked up so much dust before bringing Ambrosino on, but did so once he began facing criticism for the hire. "I don't want to pretend that I have the context and the background to perfectly or authoritatively judge this debate," Klein said. "But when I read his pieces, I didn't come away with the impression that he holds an iota of homophobia." "Homophobia"--which activists too often use as shorthand to describe anti-gay views that don't necessarily stem from fear--may be the wrong word for it. But even a cursory read through Ambrosino's writings should raise red flags. Klein, though, seems mystified by the blowback. He acknowledges that's he is new to the process of staffing an enterprise like Vox. "I gotta be honest," he said. "With a lot of this stuff, I'm trying to figure out what success means." [emphasis added]

  • Meet Brandon Ambrosino, Homophobes' Favorite Gay Writer And Vox's Newest Hire

    Blog ››› ››› LUKE BRINKER

    Ezra Klein's much-hyped news and policy site, Vox.com, has hired Brandon Ambrosino - a gay man who has made a name for himself by suggesting that being gay is a choice and whitewashing anti-gay bigotry and discrimination. 

    Vox, the news and policy site headed by Ezra Klein, announced on March 12 that Ambrosino had been hired as a writing fellow:

    Klein's new venture - announced to considerable fanfare in January - will provide Ambrosino a formidable platform as the go-to gay writer for anti-gay conservatives seeking to legitimize their homophobia.

    Ambrosino - whose professional background is as a jazz and tap dancer - first garnered considerable attention with an April 2013 essay for The Atlantic. Titled "Being Gay at Jerry Falwell's University," Ambrosino's piece recounted his experience as a student at Liberty University, founded by the inflammatory fundamentalist preacher in 1971. Describing himself as "the world's most hypersexual fag," Ambrosino admitted he was an unlikely candidate to attend Liberty, but in his experience, it was "very different from what you might think of it." He lamented that the school "gets a bad rap because of a few of Falwell's soundbytes."

    Those sound bites included Falwell's notorious reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, for which he pinned some of the blame on gays and lesbians. Speaking with Pat Robertson on The 700 Club, Falwell said:

    [T]he pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

    Ambrosino's take on Falwell? He argues that the guy with the "big fat smile" has been unfairly maligned by progressives like Bill Maher. While Ambrosino never got the chance to tell Falwell that he's gay, he "wouldn't have been afraid of his response." After all, Ambrosino wrote, he's confident that Falwell wouldn't have supported stoning Ambrosino.

  • Ezra Klein On CBO Report: Media Ignore Finding That Minimum Wage Increase Would Boost Net Income By $2 Billion

    Blog ››› ››› ELLIE SANDMEYER

    Media coverage of a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the economic effects of raising the minimum wage has largely missed the finding that a $10.10 minimum wage would generate net income gains of $2 billion, Ezra Klein pointed out.

    This month President Obama signed an executive order raising the hourly minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers. According to a CBO study released February 18, the increase could reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, but would also raise wages for 16.5 million workers and raise 900,000 people out of poverty. The report concluded: "Once the increases and decreases in income for all workers are taken into account, overall real income would rise by $2 billion."

    MSNBC political analyst Ezra Klein explained how this significant finding -- $2 billion in net income gains as a result of the minimum wage increase -- has been "mostly missed" amidst the media's focus on job losses during an appearance on Morning Joe:

    KLEIN: There's a headline number in this report that I think is getting mostly missed, which is $2 billion. Which is, after you account for everything -- any jobs you think you might lose, all the income gains you think you might have -- you have a net real income gain to workers of 2 billion. So the net result here is positive. 

  • The Right-Wing Media's "Real Unemployment Rate" Deflection


    Despite hopeful signs of economic progress, the right-wing media have attempted to downplay positive economic news by using alternative measures to argue that the "real unemployment rate" is much higher than has been reported. In fact, these alternative measures are not appropriate substitutes for the official unemployment rate.

  • The Washington Post can't be bothered with facts

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    The Washington Post's write-up of the President's proposal to freeze pay for federal workers devotes three full paragraphs to the allegation that federal workers get paid more than their private sector counterparts -- without ever once including a single fact that would help readers assess whether that is the case. Here's the closest the Post comes to shedding light on the topic:

    For months, administration officials and critics have battled over whether federal workers, on average, make more than their private sector counterparts. Government officials defend public-sector pay and say that the way critics have calculated averages is misleading.

    So, basically: One side says something; the other side says something else. Useful!

    The Post appears to be allergic to helping their readers understand whether this claim is true: On October 18, the paper devoted nearly 2,000 words to public opinion about government workers, again presenting the debate over their compensation as a he-said/she-said situation.

    The Post's Ezra Klein has noted an Economic Policy Institute briefing paper which concludes "public employees are compensated 2-7% less than equivalent private sector employees" -- but that data has been absent from the Post's news reports on the topic. In other words, Washington Post readers who want actual facts about government employee compensation should skip the Post's "news" pages and head for Klein's "opinionated blog." Meanwhile, those who are content with opinion can get their fix from the Post's news reports. It's all a bit confusing.