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Mike Allen

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  • After Breitbart Attacked An Author For Criticizing Trump, A Horde Of "Alt-Right" Trolls Harassed Her

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    A slew of online trolls attacked Rosa Brooks for an article she wrote in Foreign Policy discussing possible consequences of Donald Trump’s historically abnormal presidency.

    Before we get to the harassment, it is worth first briefly considering the important point she was making. Brooks, a professor at Georgetown Law who also has served as a senior adviser to the State Department, used the January 30 article to consider various ways Trump’s presidency could end. After discussing the 2020 election, impeachment, and the 25th Amendment, Brooks briefly considered the possibility of a coup in the event that Trump gives an order that is not just imprudent but actually illegal and wildly destructive:

    What would top U.S. military leaders do if given an order that struck them as not merely ill-advised, but dangerously unhinged? An order that wasn’t along the lines of “Prepare a plan to invade Iraq if Congress authorizes it based on questionable intelligence,” but “Prepare to invade Mexico tomorrow!” or “Start rounding up Muslim Americans and sending them to Guantánamo!” or “I’m going to teach China a lesson — with nukes!”

    It’s impossible to say, of course. The prospect of American military leaders responding to a presidential order with open defiance is frightening — but so, too, is the prospect of military obedience to an insane order. After all, military officers swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not the president. For the first time in my life, I can imagine plausible scenarios in which senior military officials might simply tell the president: “No, sir. We’re not doing that,” to thunderous applause from the New York Times editorial board.

    These illegal-order scenarios Brooks mentions have been discussed in regard to Trump in the past year. Brooks chose these over-the-top examples because they involve patently unconstitutional, and thus illegal, orders. This topic is of interest to her: Brooks herself wrote a piece in The Washington Post a year ago discussing whether the military would follow illegal orders issued by a then-potential President Trump.

    Military leaders, pundits, and everyday Americans have not just a responsibility to ponder the possibility of Trump giving such an order, but a duty. Famously litigated at Nuremberg, the issue of how to handle illegal orders from leaders has also been an issue in the United States, going back to the first Adams administration; a Vietnam case reaffirmed that members of the military follow illegal orders on their own accord. Duke political science professor Peter Feaver explained this reality during the campaign in regard to Trump’s promises to bring back torture and also “take out” the families of terrorists:

    Both of these proposed policies are clear violations of the law. Civilian deaths that occur as collateral damage incidental to strikes aimed at legitimate targets are always avoided but sometimes an unfortunate part of lawful warfare; Trump is talking about deliberately targeting the family members as a matter of policy. I do not know of a single law expert who would say this is legal.

    ...

    Given that it would be illegal orders, General Hayden is absolutely correct: not only would the senior military leaders refuse to follow those orders, they would be legally and professionally bound to refuse those orders. Democratic civil-military relations theory further requires that they refuse these orders. Refusing these orders would not be a coup. It would be reinforcing the rule of law and healthy civil-military relations.

    Put more bluntly: Trump has promised to give illegal orders. Every member of the military is supposed to refuse to follow illegal orders. Trump has begun his presidency by doing the very things his apologists during the campaign assured us that he would not do.

    Which finally brings us back to Rosa Brooks and her thoughts about what the military should do should it be presented with illegal orders.

    When first released, Brooks’ column got the kind of reaction you would expect, with many praising it as an interesting read and a few criticizing it. It was also briefly mentioned near the end of a Breitbart column defending Trump adviser Stephen Bannon on January 31. But perhaps correctly assuming that its audience does not read past the headlines, on February 2, Breitbart wrote up Brooks’ column again, using the headline “Ex-Obama Officials Suggests ‘Military Coup’ Against Trump.” This time, the post spread quickly among right-wing fringe propaganda outlets and fake news purveyors: Infowars, Gateway Pundit, Pamela Geller, 8chan, Angry Patriot, Mad World News, Eagle Rising, Conservative 101, America’s Freedom Fighters, Natural News, Epoch Times, UFP News, ENH Live, The Washington Feed, Conservative Tribune, Mario Murillo Ministries (whose piece was shared by Trump ally Wayne Allyn Root), Infowars (again), Ammoland Shooting Sports News, Personal Liberty, PJ Media, Before It’s News, and The Political Insider. The story also spread to right-wing outlets like The Blaze and The Washington Times, which attacked her column but did not even bother to hyperlink to it. Neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer also joined in, saying that “the increasing insolence of American Jewry in their brazen calls to kill, overthrow and illegally undermine the election of President Trump must be crushed.” The story was also picked up by Russian state outlets RT and Sputnik.

    Brooks described what happened once these posts started:

    Within a few hours, the alt-right internet was on fire. The trickle of critical email messages turned into a gush, then a geyser, and the polite emails of the first few days were quickly displaced by obscenity-laced screeds, many in all capital letters. My Twitter feed filled up with trolls.

    ...

    By mid-afternoon, I was getting death threats. “I AM GOING TO CUT YOUR HEAD OFF………BITCH!” screamed one email. Other correspondents threatened to hang me, shoot me, deport me, imprison me, and/or get me fired (this last one seemed a bit anti-climactic). The dean of Georgetown Law, where I teach, got nasty emails about me. The Georgetown University president’s office received a voicemail from someone threatening to shoot me. New America, the think tank where I am a fellow, got a similar influx of nasty calls and messages. “You’re a fucking cunt! Piece of shit whore!” read a typical missive.

    My correspondents were united on the matter of my crimes (treason, sedition, inciting insurrection, etc.). The only issue that appeared to confound and divide them was the vexing question of just what kind of undesirable I was. Several decided, based presumably on my first name, that I was Latina and proposed that I be forcibly sent to the other side of the soon-to-be-built Trump border wall. Others, presumably conflating me with African-American civil rights heroine Rosa Parks, asserted that I would never have gotten hired if it weren’t for race-based affirmative action. The anti-Semitic rants flowed in, too: A website called the Daily Stormer noted darkly that I am “the daughter of the infamous communist Barbara Ehrenreich and the Jew John Ehrenreich,” and I got an anonymous phone call from someone who informed me, in a chillingly pleasant tone, that he supported a military coup “to kill all the Jews.”

    My experience is not unusual. Anyone who attracts the attention of the alt-right is in for a rough ride.

    As Brooks notes, this type of harassment by the “alt-right” is all too familiar. As I wrote in December:

    Harassment is a deeply entrenched aspect of the “alt-right” community. It came to prominence with Gamergate, and then there was a wretched, bigoted campaign against black actress Leslie Jones. “Alt-right” figure Milo Yiannopoulos has now taken his harassment tactics with him on a college tour. Another example is the recent smear campaign against satirist Vic Berger by “alt-right” figure Mike Cernovich. Cernovich is no stranger to such tactics, having bragged previously about his ability to game Google to get other outlets to pick up on his smears, spreading the lies to more false headlines and more viewers. Comedian and producer Tim Heidecker has also spoken out about abuse he has received, including death-threats, as a result of "alt-right" criticism.

    Since then, we’ve seen harassment campaigns launched against a journalist who tied a white supremacist to white supremacy, a college professor who sarcastically tweeted about “white genocide”, undocumented immigrants who use social media, and progressive author Lindy West.

    Now that Trump and former Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon are in the Oval Office, the “alt-right” sees its chance to break through to mainstream America. The movement’s adherents are huge fans of new Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson. Rape-promoting white nationalist Mike Cernovich was given a show on Right-Side Broadcasting Network, which has simulcast on Trump’s own Facebook page. Breitbart is starting to hire people from mainstream outlets.

    And yet, Breitbart is still situating itself at the center of these sorts of unconscionable attacks. Will it get away with that? If it does, it’s easy to see how: Since he was first appointed to lead Trump’s presidential campaign, mainstream figures have repeatedly shied away from tying Bannon to Breitbart’s enabling of white supremacy. Mike Allen, a former Politico reporter who recently founded a new media venture called Axios, lavished praise on Breitbart during an appearance on the latter’s radio show. As Breitbart now tries to move into continental Europe, these problems are more salient than ever.

    If Trump does give an illegal order to deport all Muslim-Americans, reinstate torture, invade Mexico, or even start a nuclear holocaust, the survival of humanity may come down to where the individuals in charge of executing it get their news.

    Image by Sarah Wasko

  • As Axios Launches, Co-Founder Mike Allen Joins Breitbart Radio To Lavish Praise On Breitbart.com

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Former Politico reporter Mike Allen repeatedly praised Breitbart.com, the self-described “platform” for the white nationalist “alt-right” movement, in an interview discussing the launch of his new media venture, Axios.

    Allen appeared on the January 7 broadcast of Breitbart.com’s radio show, describing it as  “an honor” to join Breitbart.com reporters Matthew Boyle and Charlie Spiering.

    Allen promoted Axios -- which launched January 9 with a series of newsletters that it says will cover “media trends, tech, business and politics” -- during the interview and also said that at Axios “we admire so much what’s been built at Breitbart” because “you do things that other people aren’t, and both journalistically and as a business, that’s a great place to be right now.”

    Citing Breitbart.com’s election coverage, Allen characterized the outlet as “ahead of the curve” and concluded the interview by saying, “We admire your coverage -- we admire what Andrew Breitbart and his successors have built.”

    At no point during the interview did Allen address Breitbart.com’s noxious coverage, which has included headlines calling Bill Kristol a “renegade jew,” claiming that “birth control makes women unattractive and crazy,” and giving “permission” for people to use the word “faggot.”

    As ThinkProgress noted, “The interview provides a stark example of how Breitbart  -- an outlet that recently featured a ‘black crime’ vertical, published a piece last year equating feminism with cancer, and is currently under fire for running a fake news story about a Muslim mob setting fire to a church in Germany  --  is becoming normalized in Donald Trump’s America.”

    During the interview, Allen also praised Trump transition team tactics that make it harder for media outlets to report on cabinet nominations.

    Praising plans by Trump and Senate Republicans to schedule multiple hearings per day this week for nominations to the heads of cabinet level agencies, Allen said of the move, “That’s what we call ducks in a row”: 

    MIKE ALLEN:  I think a big storyline is that the Trump administration, the machinery that they are building, I think it is much more organized and much more aggressive than people realize. I think we have a little hint of that with the confirmations that we have teed up -- I think three on Tuesday, five on Wednesday, another on Thursday. That’s what we call ducks in a row.

    As Politico noted, “the net result” of this tactic “will likely be too many events for comprehensive news coverage.”

  • Media Return To Deriding Hillary Clinton's Laugh

    "The Cackle," "A Record Scratch," And Other Tired Attacks From The Debate

    Blog ››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

    Clinton and Sanders at the October 13 debate

    Multiple media figures derided Hillary Clinton's laugh during the first Democratic presidential debate, calling it a "cackle" and "a record scratch." During the 2008 presidential race, Clinton's laughter was repeatedly attacked, despite criticism that such attacks were rooted in sexism.

    During the October 13 CNN debate in Las Vegas, Clinton laughed after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders defended her from repeated questions about her use of private email by criticizing the media for fixating on the issue and saying, "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!" Clinton and Sanders shook hands as the crowd applauded.

    The moment has been described by several outlets as a highlight of the night.  

    But several media figures initially focused on Clinton's laugh. BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski tweeted, "oh god the Clinton laugh is out," while the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote, "THE CLINTON LAUGH," and Fox's Sean Hannity tweeted "Omg that laugh."

    Several conservative media figures took it further, calling it a "cackle":

    Attacking Clinton's laughter was a common theme during the Democratic primary before the 2008 election. In September 2007, after Clinton appeared on several Sunday political talk shows and laughed in response to some questions, media figures spent weeks debating and mocking her laughter. Fox News led the charge, with Bill O'Reilly even discussing Clinton's laughter with a "body language expert" who deemed it "evil," and Sean Hannity calling the laugh "frightening."

    The mainstream press picked up on the attacks on Clinton's laugh, with New York Times political reporter Patrick Healy writing an article with the headline "Laughing Matters in Clinton Campaign," in which he described Clinton's "hearty belly laugh" as "The Cackle," calling it "heavily caffeinated" and suggesting it may have been "programmed."

    Then-Politico reporter Ben Smith also described Clinton's laugh as her "signature cackle," while Politico correspondent Mike Allen and editor-in-chief John F. Harris wrote that Clinton's laugh "sounded like it was programmed by computer."

    And New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who has a long history of nasty attacks on Clinton, claimed Clinton's laugh was allowing her to look less like a "hellish housewife" and a "nag" and more like a "wag":

    As Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, once told me: "She's never going to get out of our faces. ... She's like some hellish housewife who has seen something that she really, really wants and won't stop nagging you about it until finally you say, fine, take it, be the damn president, just leave me alone."

    That's why Hillary is laughing a lot now, big belly laughs, in response to tough questions or comments, to soften her image as she confidently knocks her male opponents out of the way. From nag to wag.

    The list goes on: MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, then-MSNBC host David Shuster, then-MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, radio host Mike Rosen, Dick Morris, the Drudge Report, The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi, Time magazine's Joe Klein, the New York Times' Frank Rich, CNN's Jeanne Moos, and others all debated or derided Clinton's laughter during Clinton's first run for president.

    Politico's Allen said on MSNBC during all of this that "'cackle' is a very sexist term," and disputed MSNBC's Chris Matthews' use of it in reference to Clinton. Other outlets agreed; Jezebel called out Matthews for his "cackle" criticism and other derisive remarks, asking, "can we agree that no matter what your political allegiances, this is not the way you speak of a woman -- whether she is a senator or not?" Rachel Sklar, writing in the Huffington Post, said at the time "I keep finding sexist Hillary Clinton bashing everywhere I turn," noting that criticisms of the candidate's laughter "turn completely on the fact that she's a woman. 'The Cackle?' So would never be applied to a man. We all know it."

    Unfortunately, the criticism hasn't stopped in the intervening seven years. The Washington Free Beacon has a "Hillary Laugh Button" permanently on its site. The National Journal published in June 2014, many months prior to Clinton declaring her second bid for president, a "Comprehensive Supercut of Hillary Clinton Laughing Awkwardly With Reporters." And conservative tweet-aggregator Twitchy in August mocked "scary as hell" pens which featured "Clinton's cackling head." 

  • Media Distort Clinton's Record With "Reset" Fixation

    ››› ››› EMILY ARROWOOD & ELLIE SANDMEYER

    Media are distorting Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state by fixating on her attempt to reset the U.S. relationship with Russian in order to make Russia's invasion of Crimea a political issue in the 2016 presidential election. But Clinton has long maintained that Russian President Vladimir Putin is untrustworthy and helped negotiate Russian cooperation on Iran sanctions and use of Russian airspace for the war in Afghanistan.

  • Politico's Woodward Warmongering

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    "Woodward at war," was the headline Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei attached to their February 27 article playing up Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's claim that a senior White House official had threatened him over email regarding Woodward's reporting on the origins of the budget sequestration. The Politico report on Woodward's "major-league brushback" caught fire in the press and prompted allegations of White House intimidation. However, the email chain -- which Politico published the following morning -- shows that the claims of threats and intimidation by the White House are, at best, wildly overblown, and that Politico helped hype a bogus allegation by Woodward absent the full context.

    The original February 27 Politico piece featured a short clip of Allen and VandeHei's "hourlong interview" with Woodward "around the Georgetown dining room table where so many generations of Washington's powerful have spilled their secrets." In that clip, Woodward reads from an email he received from a top White House official, later revealed to be economic advisor Gene Sperling. As Woodward puts it, Sperling did "something that I think it is important for people to understand. He says, you know, 'I think you will regret staking out that claim,'" referring to Woodward's assertion that the president was "moving the goal posts" in negotiations to avert sequestration.

    Allen and VandeHei wrote:

    Woodward repeated the last sentence, making clear he saw it as a veiled threat. " 'You'll regret.' Come on," he said. "I think if Obama himself saw the way they're dealing with some of this, he would say, 'Whoa, we don't tell any reporter 'you're going to regret challenging us.'"

    "They have to be willing to live in the world where they're challenged," Woodward continued in his calm, instantly recognizable voice. "I've tangled with lots of these people. But suppose there's a young reporter who's only had a couple of years -- or 10 years' -- experience and the White House is sending him an email saying, 'You're going to regret this.' You know, tremble, tremble. I don't think it's the way to operate."

    It's not clear whether Allen or VandeHei had access to Woodward's full email exchange with Woodward -- as they put it, Woodward "[dug] into one of his famous folders" to read the offending excerpts to them, meaning that at the very least they had the opportunity to demand to see more from that exchange before publishing Woodward's claims. From all appearances, though, Allen and VandeHei's initial reporting on the email exchange was based solely on what Woodward told them about it. Their "exclusive" follow-up article on the email exchange indicates as much: "POLITICO's 'Behind the Curtain' column last night quoted Bob Woodward as saying that a senior White House official has told him in an email he would 'regret' questioning White House statements on the origins of sequestration."

  • What "Liberal Bias" Is Really About

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei have an article up this morning with a dog-bites-man headline and premise: "To GOP, blatant bias in vetting." Republicans? Alleging liberal media bias? Pardon me while I find some pearls to clutch.

    The conceit behind this whole affair is that Haley Barbour and Ari Fleischer told Allen and VandeHei that "liberal bias" is real and it's devastating, and Allen and Vandehei believe them:

    Republicans cry "bias" so often it feels like a campaign theme. It is, largely because it fires up conservatives and diminishes the punch of legitimate investigative or narrative journalism. But it also is because it often rings true, even to people who don't listen to Rush Limbaugh -- or Haley Barbour.

    The best evidence Allen and VandeHei could muster regards the placement of stories about Mitt Romney's high-school bullying and Barack Obama's high-school drug use:

    And the imbalance can do slow, low-grade but unmistakable damage to Romney: Swing voters are just getting to know him. And coverage suggesting he is mean or extravagant can soak in, even though voters who took the time to weigh the details might dismiss the storyline.

    It's certainly hard to argue that the Romneys' horse-riding habits today are worse than the Maraniss revelations, which have gotten little mainstream coverage.

    And the horse-riding story came a few weeks after a second story that made Republicans see red -- another front-pager, this time in the Washington Post, that hit Mitt Romney for bullying a kid who might have been gay, in high school nearly a half-century ago. The clear implication to readers: Romney was a mean, insensitive jerk.

    Maraniss works for the Post and his pot-smoking scoop, which included details of Obama's college-era dope-smoking club and waste-no-weed rules for inhaling it, never made the front of his own paper.

  • Life And Near-Death In Texas

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Last night's Republican presidential debate generated no shortage of headlines and much coverage of the record number of prisoner executions during the administration of Texas governor Rick Perry.

    Asked by NBC's Brian Williams if he struggles with the idea that any one of those executed prisoners might have been innocent, Perry answered: "No, sir. I've never struggled with that at all. ... In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed."

    Much of the coverage thus far has focused on the theatrics of Perry's staunch defense of Texas' system for capital punishment, rather than the substance. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote this morning that Perry was one of the "losers" last night, but "salvaged the second half of the debate with a very strong answer on the death penalty." For those wondering what was so "strong" about it, tough luck: Cillizza didn't explain. In today's Politico "Playbook," Mike Allen counseled Perry to "give the same answer on executions in every debate."

    A few media outlets have noted Texas' controversial record on capital punishment, and some even spotlighted the case of Cameron Todd Willingham as a counterpoint to Perry's faith in the Texas criminal justice system. Willingham, convicted of murdering his three daughters by arson, was put to death in Texas in 2004. Perry denied a stay of execution to allow the state to review evidence that the fire science used to convict Willingham was spurious. In 2009 he abruptly replaced several members the state forensic science commission just before it was scheduled to hold hearings on the matter.

    Willingham's case is an important one, but we should also be talking about the many wrongly convicted prisoners freed from death row in Texas in the last ten years. They, more than the unresolved Willingham case, demonstrate conclusively not just that the Texas criminal justice system is capable of making catastrophic errors when meting out capital punishment, but also that such errors happen with appalling frequency.

  • Allen's "critics" of Kagan rely on distortions and stereotypes

    ››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

    In his May 9 "Playbook," Politico's Mike Allen claimed President Obama was "poised to name" Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court and purported to characterize "what critics will say" about the nomination. However, the "critics' " arguments that Allen presented rest on baseless accusations, stereotypes and distortions of Kagan's record.

  • The Politico-ization of the New York Times

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    The New York Times Magazine's Mark Leibovich profiles Politico's Mike Allen, touting his -- and Politico's -- success in driving the daily conversation among the political and journalism elite. Leibovich paints a rich portrait of Allen's thoughtful gestures toward friends and sources and his hyperkinetic workaholic tendencies. But in more than 8,000 words, he devotes little more than passing attention to questions about the quality of Politico's journalism. Tellingly, Leibovich doesn't quote or refer to a single media critic or journalism professor -- his entire portrait of Politco appears to be based on his own observations and conversations with political operatives and reporters. It is a piece about the author of Politico's "Playbook," written by a self-described member of the Playbook "community," and reliant entirely upon interviews with other members of that "community."

    An astonishing 6,585 words into the profile, Leibovich finally raises a key question:

    Harris and VandeHei have clearly succeeded in driving the conversation, although the more complicated question is exactly where they are driving it.

    But Leibovich doesn't linger long on that question -- and hardly applies it to Allen, the subject of the profile, at all. If Leibovich is right about how influential Mike Allen and his Playbook are in setting the agenda in the nation's capital (and I'm not prepared to argue against that premise), Leibovich's decision not to explore this question is a glaring omission. Leibovich writes that the Playbook is "the cheat sheet of record for a time-starved city," but pays no attention the question of whether it should be -- whether, for example, Allen compiles and writes his Playbook in a way that points its Very Important Readers toward thoughtful analysis of important policy questions and ground-breaking investigative pieces, or toward horse-race journalism, dime-store political analysis, and gossip.

  • White House official: Fox News is the "scene of the crime" on health care "falsehoods and myths"

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Fox News is the "scene of the crime" on health care "falsehoods and myths" an unnamed White House official told Politico's Mike Allen in the lead up to President Obama's sit-down interview with the conservative network last night:

    A White House official: "Many of the falsehoods and myths about health reform gained traction with Glenn Beck and others on FOX, so the President is returning to the scene of the crime to make the final sale. As we have said, we will work with Fox where it serves our communications interests, and this does."

  • Politico reporter forgets Politico's role in pushing Michelle-Obama-as-liability storyline

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Politico's Jeanne Cummings on MSNBC about half an hour ago, discussing Michelle Obama's popularity:

    She's doing much better than what people thought. There was a time during the campaign in 2008 when lots of Republicans thought that Michelle Obama could become some sort of liability.

    Hmmmm. I don't remember that sentiment being limited to Republicans; I remember a lot of reporters expressing it as well. Reporters like ... Jeanne Cummings Politico colleagues. Let's fire up The Nexis, shall we?

    Jim VandeHei & John Harris, Politico, 3/17/08:

    The GOP has proven skilled at questioning the patriotism of Democratic candidates. Just ask John F. Kerry, defeated presidential candidate, and Max Cleland, defeated senator, if such attacks work in the post-Sept. 11 political environment.

    They will blend together Wright's fulminations with quotes of Michelle Obama saying her husband's candidacy has made her finally proud of America with pictures of Obama himself sans the American flag on his lapel (the latter a point that has thrived in conservative precincts of the Web and talk radio).

    In isolation, any of these might be innocuous. But in the totality of a campaign ad or brochure, the attacks could be brutal, replete with an unmistakable racial subtext.

    Glenn Thrush, Politico, 8/25/08:

    Plastic bags stuffed with big M-I-C-H-E-L-L-E signs are being loaded into the Pepsi Center for a prime-time speech by would-be first lady Michelle Obama. Her tasks are twofold: to introduce herself to the convention as a strong-willed, nonthreatening surrogate who has always been proud of her country - while portraying her Barack as a messy, absent-minded, regular dad who likes playing with his daughters when he's not out inspiring the millions. How she is received could determine how much she is used on the road this fall.

    Mike Allen, Politico, 8/25/08:

    Michelle Obama set out to reassure voters Monday that she would leave the governing to her husband and would not be a domineering White House presence.

    Nia-Malika Henderson, Politico, 3/28/09:

    Traditional? Hardly. In fact, Obama's approach so far is decidedly different from the usual model of the modern first lady - pick a platform of two or three issues and stick to it, by and large, for four years.

    ...

    Yet in the midst of all those themes, it isn't yet clear whether her self-described core messages - about military families, volunteerism, and helping working women balance work and family life - are truly breaking through. Some wonder if she's spreading herself too thin to emerge in the public mind as a leading voice on those topics.

    ...

    [F]or some, Obama's multi-tasking approach to the job raises the specter of Rosalynn Carter, who was dogged early on by questions of whether she was taking on too much and trying to be all things to all people. Ironically, some are raising the same "too much, too fast?" question about Michelle that they're raising about her husband, the president.

    ...

    As for her more official three-issue platform, branding expert Hodgkinson said that for Obama, "the broader mission is to install herself in the psyche of the country and then after that take a look at what does she then wants to advance and can reasonably advance. "

    Military family issues might not be the right fit, she said.

    "When you think about military families it's not a connection you first make with the first lady," she said. "Without that natural pull, it's going to be a harder campaign especially if people's ears are turned elsewhere."

    But now that Mrs. Obama has proven to be quite popular, Politico's Jeanne Cummings wants you to think it was just the Republicans who thought she'd be a liability -- just forget all about what Politico wrote about her.

  • Politico editor offers misleading defense of Cheney stenography

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    The Plum Line's Greg Sargent gets Politico editor John Harris to defend Politico's uncritical copying-and-pasting of Dick Cheney's attacks on the Obama administration. But Harris's defense doesn't hold water.

    Harris writes "[I]t seemed to me that the people who found Cheney's comments most objectionable were the ones who found them most newsworthy." What does that even mean? That the people who found Cheney's comments objectionable objected to them, which means they were noteworthy? That's incredibly circular. Further, Harris is ducking: He ignores a key aspect of the criticism of Politico, which was not merely that Cheney's comments didn't deserve attention, but that Politico failed to place them in appropriate factual context.

    Next, Harris suggests that it's ok that Politico uncritically passed along Cheney's attacks because other Politico articles filled in some of the gaps:

    If you look at the other stories we ran at the same time as the Cheney quote there was a Josh Gerstein piece leading the site comparing Obama's response to Bush's after the 2001 shoe bomber and debunking the notion that Obama's response was more sluggish. We also had a piece looking at GOP politicization of national security.

    If anyone should be aware of the need for individual articles to stand on their own, it should be a Politico editor. How many people sit down and read Politico cover-to-cover? Somewhere in the neighborhood of "none," I'm guessing. If it was ever adequate for a news organization to pass along unfiltered partisan attacks in one report, then add the necessary context in other reports, that time is long gone. It simply doesn't reflect the way people consume news.

    Finally, Harris offers this:

    Trying to get newsworthy people to say interesting things is part of what we do. Also in December we had a long Q and A with the other prominent former vice president Al Gore. That story might also have looked to some like providing an uncritical platform if you viewed it only isolation.

    Another misleading dodge. The Cheney article that drew criticism wasn't the result of a "long Q and A." It was based on what Politico described as a Cheney "statement to Politico." A press release, in other words. Which Politico reporter Mike Allen dutifully copied-and-pasted in its entirety. It isn't a "Q and A" if the person providing the A doesn't face any Q.

  • Politico hypes Cheney attack on Obama's response to plane plot; doesn't mention plotters released by Cheney administration

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    If you were typing up Dick Cheney's attack on Barack Obama's response to the Christmas Day attack in which someone tried to blow up a plane bound for Detroit, and hyping the GOP "strategy for next year's midterm congressional elections" of "portray[ing] Democrats as weak on security," would you maybe include mention of the fact that two of the four people who allegedly plotted that attack were released from U.W. custody in 2007, while Dick Cheney was Vice President?

    Oh, you would, would you? Well, that's the difference between you and Mike Allen. Because Politico really is just a GOP bulletin board.

    UPDATE: And just to be clear, Allen didn't get an interview with Cheney. No, he describes the source of Cheney's attacks as "Cheney said in a statement to POLITICO" -- which is a fancy way of saying "Cheney said in a press release." So to sum up: Dick Cheney sends Mike Allen a press release, which Mike Allen then copies-and-pastes it into a "news article" without mentioning key facts that would undermine Cheney's press release. Aren't you glad Politico got a spot on the Pulitzer committee?

  • Giving the people what they (might not) want

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Washington Post reporter Michael Shear explains his paper's wall-to-wall coverage of Sarah Palin's new book:

    Why do we spend so much time on Palin? And is it too much? Perhaps. There's a danger that we are overdoing it -- four stories in today's paper may have reached that point. On the other hand, there seems to be an insatiable demand from our audience -- liberals and conservatives -- and at the end of the day we have to, and should, respond to that.

    Really? There's an "insatiable demand" from Washington Post readers for coverage of Sarah Palin's book? How does the Post know this? The book just came out -- has the paper's switchboard been flooded with demands that for all-Going-Rogue, all the time? Are Post editors getting angry emails insisting that three articles in one day's paper just won't do -- a fourth is absolutely necessary, though still not sufficient?

    I doubt that very much.

    I don't mean to single Shear out here. You see this kind of thing all the time -- reporters justifying something they can't justify on the merits by asserting public demand they can't (or won't) quantify.

    Like when Howard Kurtz defended obsessive cable news coverage of a balloon that was not carrying a little boy by writing "The ratings, forgive me, must have soared." Must have? Well ... Did they? Or when Politico's Mike Allen asserted that "Fox executives are relishing" their recent fight with the White House because "ratings at Fox are through the roof" -- without actually providing the ratings to back up that claim. As Eric Boehlert has explained in detail, Fox's ratings spike is a myth.

    It's bad enough when journalists suggest that the news media should simply report what the public to see. That isn't journalism -- and if we go too far down that road, it won't be long before NBC Nightly News consists of nothing more than cat videos and B-list celebrity sex tapes. But it's even more frustrating when they make decisions about what to cover based on baseless assumptions about what the public wants.

    And it's how you get a decades-long dumbing-down of the news based on assumptions about viewer preferences that may be completely wrong:

    For years, local news producers have led their stations in a race to the bottom, driven by the prevailing belief that "eyeball grabbers" and "soft news" are the only hope for local news in an era of declining TV audiences.

    But a 2004 study* argues that they might want to rethink their approach. In "The Local News Story: Is Quality a Choice?" political science professors Todd L. Belt and Marion Just conclude that sensationalistic news does not lead to sensational ratings.

    Belt, assistant professor at the University of Hawai'i, Hilo, and Just, a professor at Wellesley College and the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, argue that the prevailing worldview in the nation's newsrooms has it all backward: Good, solid journalism, not tawdry, tabloid-style content, keeps viewers tuned to their TVs.

    ...

    What Belt and Just found certainly goes against industry conventional wisdom.

    "The data show quality journalism produces commercial success," they write. Newscasts that posted high scores on the quality index nabbed higher ratings than their mediocre counterparts. The finding held true for both the early and late evening news time slots. It also held for lead stories, suggesting that the old TV news mantra - "If it bleeds, it leads" - might be in need of revision.

    Although local news viewership as a whole fell during the period covered by the study - 1998 to 2002 - the data nonetheless show that those stations that produced high-quality newscasts did better in hanging on to their audience.