Monthly Archives: July 2009

Anonymity in the Blogosphere

In the past, I’ve expressed my distaste for anonymous bloggers and commenters.  Now the Lawrence (Kan.)Journal World & News tried to write about how people comment on news sites and blogs.  The paper discerned who its top 10 commenters were and asked them to participate in the story.  But to do so, they would need to reveal their real names. 

Of the 10, two use their real names, and one no longer actively comments.  The other seven refused to reveal themselves.

I think it’s cowardly.  The excuse that they would face retaliation in their professional lives or from those who oppose their views doesn’t hold water with me.  If you can’t stand behind what you say, don’t say it. 

I think it’s just another way of people refusing to take responsibility as they might do in other aspects of their lives.  Someone else is to blame and someone else needs to bail them out, but it’s not their fault.

The right to free speech was written into our constitution without the writers having the benefit of what was to come, of course.  While you could not reliably express yourself orally without people knowing who you are, you could in print, and many people did.  They simply wrote a pamphlet, didn’t sign it and distributed it.  So you could say that our founders were OK with the idea of anonymous comments.

Still, I’m not.   Two hundred odd years ago, you had to physically  distribute those comments to people one by one.  Today, those comments are read by millions instantly and then forwarded on to another million or so.

The reason most anonymous commenters do it, I suspect, is that they are afraid to defend their views and take the chance that those views might hurt them.

“The Can’t-Do Nation”

Harold Meyerson has a column in today’s Washington Post complaining about the “Blue Dogs” hindering Obama’s healthcare goals.   They have many reasons – they are in red districts, their new, and they really worry about – everything.

While Meyerson says it reveals our country’s  inability to meet our national challenges, the practical interpretations by the electorate is the Democrats can’t govern.

Say what you will about the GOP under George Bush, they may have punted on the big problems, but its ability to pass most of its agenda is viewed as at least competent in governing. 

In 2010, if they pick the issues that voters are worried about – the economy, health, etc. – and put forth solutions, those voters just might say, “At least they can get something done.”

No New Taxes!?

This is astounding.

One of the bigger, but more under-reported, sea changes in American politics is how any kind of tax increase — whether in war or peace, good economic times or bad ones — has become absolutely unacceptable. After all, Ronald Reagan raised taxes. So did every modern American president involved in war, until George W. Bush. But not anymore. Indeed, as one of us pointed out on Nightly News last night, only 29% (or 157) of the 535 and House members and senators serving in Congress were around the last time — 1993! — the federal government raised taxes, and that was on gasoline. Think about that for a moment: Congress hasn’t really had a TOUGH vote in 16 years, if one defines a "TOUGH" vote as the government asking for a financial sacrifice from the American people. This is the political climate that President Obama faces in trying to pay for health reform. Republicans and some Democrats are opposed to a tax on the wealthy, and unions and Obama’s political strategists are against taxing health benefits.

What is astounding about it is not that taxes haven’t been raised in such a long while.  It’s not that so few Congressmen have ever had to raise taxes.  It’s not even that Republicans have so cowed Democrats on this issue.

What’s astounding is that it is “under-reported.”  Did it just occur to NBC reporters that this was happening?  If it’s under-reported it’s because journalists haven’t been doing their jobs.  A look back and putting the tax issue in historical context is something they should have done long ago.

Characterizing Poll Numbers

I’m thinking that if newspapers are to survive, they need a better way of delivering information.  It’s not only a paper vs. web dichotomy.  A lot of folks, me included, cannot envision a world without a paper to hold in one’s hands and the ability to have a story catch your eye while reading another.  That’s harder to do on the web.

One way to improve delivery is to re-think the need for every story to be a narrative.  But I’ll leave the larger question for a future post.

But certainly, a story that doesn’t lend itself to a narrative is reporting a poll.  Sure, some analysis is necessary for some readers.  But too often the interpretation inherent in a narrative is worthless.  Today’s poll story in The Washington Post is one example,  It would have been a better use of newsprint to simply present a chart with the key questions (if the entire poll results are too space consuming).

The problem comes with the headline and adjectives and adverbs that inevitably accompany poll stories.  The Post’s headline is “Poll Shows Obama Slipping on Key Issues.”  That’s the most many readers will see.  It’s accurate, but polls need to be taken in their entirety.  And the picture is more mixed.

At the same time, there is no slackening in public desire for Obama to keep pressing for action on the major issues of the economy, health care and the deficit. Majorities think he is either doing the right amount or should put greater emphasis on each of these issues.

So whatever his slackening of support about his specific policies, folks want him to continue fighting to change things.  And in many ways, politics is an either or proposition. 

Obama’s handling of the economy, the deficit and health care reform outpaces the Republicans by about 20 points.

So if his handling of things is 20 points better that GOPers, and folks want him to continue fighting, a stalemate is not what they’re looking for, much less the GOP solutions (if any).

And while, 49 percent approves of his handling of the healthcare issue,

On health care, the poll, conducted by telephone Wednesday through Saturday, found that a majority of Americans (54 percent) approve of the outlines of the legislation now heading toward floor action. The measure would institute new individual and employer insurance mandates and create a government-run plan to compete with private insurers. Its costs would be paid in part through new taxes on high-income earners.

What that “legislation” is, is questionable as there are several plans now working their way through Congress.

But the problem I have with many of the poll stories is that the reporters feel compelled to interpret them for us.  The tenor of this report is that Obama is slipping and people are losing confidence in him, despite the findings that most people still consider him a strong leader.

Obama’s leadership attributes remain highly rated, despite some slippage. Seven in 10 call him a strong leader, two in three say he cares about the problems of people like themselves, and just over six in 10 say he fulfilled a central campaign pledge and has brought needed change to Washington.

As an example of perhaps misplaced adverbs,

More than three-quarters of all Americans say they are worried about the direction of the economy over the next few years, down only marginally since Obama’s inauguration. Concerns about personal finances have also abated only moderately since January. [emphasis added]

That “moderate” abatement in concern about their personal finances is seven percent, from 70 percent in January who were worried to 63 percent today.

Yet the key figures that support the thrust of the story – he’s slipping significantly — are reflected in eight to nine point drops:

Approval of Obama’s handing the economy dropped from 60 percent in February, the earliest date available in the poll, to 52 percent, an eight point drop.

Approval of Obama’s handing the economy dropped from 57 percent in April, the earliest date available in the poll, to 49 percent, an eight point drop.

Approval of Obama’s handing the deficit dropped from 52 percent in March, the earliest date available in the poll, to 43 percent, a nine point drop.

So what makes an eight to nine point drop significant enough to support the thrust of the story but a seven percent drop is only “moderate.”

The answer is simply:  If the story was “Obama drop in support for policies is only moderate,” well, it might not make the front page.

The Post would have been better of simply printing a chart of the results, and let us interpret them.

The Poll Number to Be Worried About

The Washington Post has a poll out this morning (more about it later), but the poll to be worried is the Rasmussen poll number.

Eighty percent (80%) of Americans now say Wall Street benefited more from the bailout of the financial industry than the average U.S. taxpayer.

If Obama is viewed as caring more about Wall Street than Main Street, he’s finished.

The Party With the Best Message Wins

The challenge is on (via Political Wire).

Democratic momentum is slowing but not yet reversing. What Republicans should hope for, and Democrats should fear, is that we are nearing an inflection point, when the directions change. That hasn’t happened yet.

The key indicator to watch for the rest of the summer is public confidence in Obama. Whether looking back at the economic stimulus package and the budget, or forward to the pending climate-change and health care reform proposals, voters see legislation that is massive, important, and complex. Few will understand the intricacies of any, let alone all, of these measures, which will be defined, positively or negatively, by the media and public dialogue. Whichever party does the better job of messaging will win.  [emphasis added]

The first thing I hope Democrats do is work the refs.  Democrats tend to wring their hands when the media criticizes them or, more important, when the media consistently regurgitates the GOP talking points.  They never seem to challenge reporters.

Or for that matter the GOP talking points.  The Dems in Congress will probably argue that they defer to Obama to take the message to the people, and he has shown that he has some fight in him.  But he could use some help. 

For starters, stop talking like geeks.  Talk in big themes, and by all means, criticize Republicans.  If you want to win, you need to not only give your argument but destroy your opponents’.  And don’t be afraid to put things in simple language.  This is not a debating society.  Talking points:


  • Health care is already controlled by a massive bureaucracy.  it’s called the insurance industry.  Which seems to be what the GOP is beholden to.
  • Meanwhile, Medicare, a public option plan, has worked great for 50 years.
  • The U.S. has some of the worst health outcomes of industrialized nations and the highest costs.  The GOP points to France.  Well, they’ve got some of the best outcomes, there is no wait, and it costs less than U.S. healthcare.   Pass the french fries, please.
  • A public option will help small businesses, most of which can’t afford health insurance for their employees.  Why does the GOP think it’s more important to help businesses avoid healthcare than it is to ensure healthcare  for its citizens?


  • The top 1-2% of the population had massive tax cuts in the last decade, while the middle class and below sent their children to war that they rich would not pay for.  It’s time to be fiscally and morally responsible.
  • A tax increase of a couple of percentage points on the rich would still put them below levels of taxation during the Reagan administration.  Is he the GOP’s gold standard?
  • Over 98% of small businesses would not be impacted by higher taxes on the wealthy.
  • Democrats are taking responsibility for paying for better healthcare, a cleaner environment and a stronger military.  The GOP wants our grandchildren to pay for everything.

The Party of No

  • Why is it that the GOP, whether it’s war or the economy or healthcare, their answer is always fear?  Fear of what might happen.  Democrats act as Americans have always acted – with boldness, confidence and commitment to make things better.
  • The GOP was against social security, against Medicare and Medicaid, against civil rights, against unemployment insurance.  Historically, the GOP is defined by what it opposes and never offers an alternative. 
  • We want to include Republican ideas.  There are dozens of them in the healthcare bill, for example. 
  • Republicans seem to think “bipartisan” means we put out our ideas and they put out theirs…and then we do it their way.  No, Republicans did enough of “my way or the highway” when they were in power.    We have been more bipartisan in a few months than Republicans were in 8 years.  We’re serious about solutions.  Republicans are serious about politics.


  • Cap and trade is a responsible way of ensuring a cleaner future.  The GOP thinks Big Oil is the answer because that’s who pays their bills.
  • Does anyone really think that gas will never rise to $4 a gallon again?  It is likely to rise to $10 a gallon by 2020. 
  • The wind and sun are free.  Let’s harness them.  American ingenuity is up to the challenge.  Why don’t Republicans trust Americans to solve big problems?
  • It is a sin how we are destroying God’s earth.  We have a moral responsibility to tend to it, to protect it and to leave it vibrant and lush for generations to come.
  • American parents have made sacrifices for two centuries to give their children a better future.  Investing in a future where our children won’t worry about a polluted environment and unaffordable energy is a legacy Americans want to leave.


  • (Here pretty much you can say the same thing to whatever criticism they have of the economy.)  When many people we thinking we might fall into a depression, what was the Republican solution.  Oh yeah, it was “do nothing.”
  • From day one, we knew – and said – the economic turnaround would take time.  Meanwhile, the Republicans were saying “do nothing.”  Now they’re saying, we didn’t do something fast enough.  Democrats take a long view that Republicans are apparently incapable of.  We want the money to be spent wisely, so that we take on projects that will benefit our country in the long run.
  • We need to rebuild our economy in a way that rewards work, not moneychangers. 
  • We need to respect those who work for a living and not those who risk our money for their living.
  • Believe it or not, Republicans argue that we don’t need more regulations.  They just want to enforce the regulations we have.  Wasn’t that what they were supposed to be doing before the crisis?

That’s enough for a Friday afternoon. 

Obama Grabs the News Cycle on Healthcare

The president just finished a rather unusual Friday 4 p.m. statement – without taking questions.  It was on healthcare, and it again demonstrated his ability to take the long view.  More important, it was a demonstration to the public of his ability to do just that.  It positions him as someone who cares about the future and not about political points. 

Obama has a knack for demonstrating to the public that he is thoughtful.  This statement was exactly that.  He took, in his words, “the long view” of the healthcare debate.  Just knowing someone is taking that view reassures the public.

He first focused on the idea that we have a consensus that something that needs to be done.

He then ticked off those who support him by listing the organizations that have either agreed to concessions or who have endorsed his plans – the pharmaceutical Industry, hospitals, nurses and the AMA.  What that does is reassure people that “your doctor is behind me.”

He also talked about the need to improve “preventive and wellness programs.”  Which is a way of saying, “Americans, you need to take responsibility for your health, without sounding like a fitness nut.

He used words like “stability and security,”  which can resonate in these uncertain times.

He then talked about keeping coverage even if you lose your job and not losing coverage for preexisting conditions.  Those are two key points.

He then addressed how we pay for it.  He discussed not adding to our deficit, paying for immediate changes and slowing long-term health costs.  He repeated that point, and sure enough, the news program I was watching, Bloomberg, emphasized that point. 

He made a plea for controlling costs by having independent doctors and others over seeing costs. Which means taking Medicare payments control away from Congress.

He finished by saying, “Now is not the time to slow down” on healthcare reform.  If we step back, we we assigning our children to crushing deficits and increased healthcare costs.”  It’s always a good idea to frame the debate with cherub faces.

He also said that “If we don’t get this down, no one insurance is secure.”  Which polls suggest the public understands.  Even if they like their current insurance, they know we have a problem.

Sure enough, the Bloomberg anchor, led with “Sounding confident, Obama…” and then mentioned the support he has among key players.

This guy is as good if not better than Reagan.

Pay to Play

The American Conservative Union is for sale.

The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group’s endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.

Reporting Lies

"People have been allowed to get away with . . . making statements that they knew weren’t factual….Washington games are still being played with the truth."

–Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary

Politicians and political advocates (or adversaries) will speak lies.  Often, it’s not just bending the truth to fit an agenda, but flat out making things up.  That, alas, we’ve come to expect.

But what responsibility do journalists have when they know someone is misstating the facts?  I think they need to – at the very least – challenge liars or even folks who unintentionally state the wrong facts. 

We see a prime example of that with The Washington Post’s Mike Shear and Virginia Republican Congressman Eric Canto.  Shear is a good reporter, and I don’t think he has a bias, at least not one that regularly comes through in his reporting.  But I can’t understand why he – and he is not alone on this; he’s just a recent example –allows Cantor to make a knowingly false statement in a story last Sunday.

"Remember the promises? They promised you that if you paid for their stimulus, jobs would be created immediately," Cantor said. "In fact, they said that unemployment would stay under 8 percent. Yet just months later, they are telling us to brace for unemployment to climb over 10 percent. They promised jobs created. Now they scramble to find a way to play games with government numbers by claiming jobs saved."

When I read this, I knew Cantor was not truthful.  The administration hadn’t said it would stay below 8 percent; it was 8.5 percent.  Is that a relatively small difference?  You be the judge.  But it was clearly inaccurate and Shear knew it. 

Why do I know he knew it?  Here is Shear writing today.

Obama’s team had predicted that the stimulus package would keep unemployment to a peak of about 8.5 percent, but the rate soared to 9.5 percent last month….

If Shear know Cantor was misstating the fact, why did he use the lie in his Sunday story?

I have objections to journalists reporting some positions that are not clearly defensible.  One is the myth that “small businesses” create most of the jobs in this country.  The other myth is that higher tax rates on incomes of more than $250,000 impact small business people the most because their profits are  reported to the IRS on their individual tax returns, when in fact less that two percent of small business owners make over $250,000. Moreover, of the 600,000+ small business making over $250,000 (which includes companies as large as 500 employees) many of them are sole proprietorships that have no employees (lawyers, accountants, consultants, etc.); hence a greater tax on them doesn’t cost jobs.

But when a politician misstates a fact of who said what when, the role of a reporter is to say “that’s not true,” and either point that out in the article or refuse to report the misstatement.

Gibbs is right, but that probably won’t change anything.