Monthly Archives: August 2009

Report the Facts: What A Concept!

Well, maybe we’re getting some consensus here.  After all, the country’s foremost media critic (he said with little attempt to hide his sarcasm) has stumbled upon a novel concept for today’s journalists:  Point out, gently I presume, that a politician, or anyone who has the ear of the almighty reporters, doesn’t have a fucking clue what he’s talking about.

Gently, of course.

Howard Kurtz: Yes, there is a point where the media should say a politician is wrong, and this is the point. There may or may not be a legitimate discussion about the end-of-life counseling in the Obama health plan (which is voluntary, by the way) and whether it is intrusive. It’s a long way from that to "death panels," even by the loose rhetorical standards of modern politics. I was surprised that the ex-governor’s Facebook comments didn’t get much pickup at first, though that is starting to change in the last couple of days. As I noted in this morning’s column, wasn’t it Sarah Palin who demanded that journalists "quick making things up"?

Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are decried for calling the town hall protests “un-American.”  (Let’s forget that those same charges were frequently leveled by Republicans at those protesting the Iraq War.)  And Steve Pearlstein has been taken to task for calling Republicans “political terrorists.” 

But if we are to look for someone to blame for the level of discourse in this country, I think we know who to blame.

For after all, it’s still true that if a tree falls in the woods and no one can hear it, it doesn’t make a noise.  It may make a sound but noise is something you can’t avoid.  And today, you can’t avoid the shouting masses at meetings who aren’t just airing their grievances, they are preventing others from hearing anyone but them.

Because the media has decided we need to hear it, whether it makes sense or has any connection to reality.

You and I can raise all the hell we want about the state of journalism today, but it mostly falls on deaf ears.  What’s needed is someone with cojones who is the subject of media coverage to call reporters out on it.

Conventional wisdom says you never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel.   But conventional wisdom, not so long ago, would also dictate that you don’t report the sky is yellow just because someone made the claim.

Whether it’s President Obama or anyone else in public life, they need to start holding journalists accountable for their coverage, which is to a large degree the result of laziness and lack of editorial leadership. 

It’s easy to write about a boisterous town hall.  All your evidence is in one place.  You can easily get quotes from both sides and generally give both sides equal weight, and boom, you’re out the door and into your favorite journalists’ barroom where everyone complains about the shrinking market for their increasingly marginal skills.

If just once, someone would say when asked a question about the meaning of the loudmouths at town hall meetings, “ Mr. Gregory, that’s the wrong question.  It’s the easy to question ask, because it absolves you from doing some work.  Instead of reading the health care bill and trying to help the public understand what’s being proposed, what the pros and cons are, you react to a mob.  You allow over-the-top behavior save you from doing work.  It’s a stupid question and I won’t entertain it.  Next question.”

The powers that be need to challenge a lazy, inept press.  If they won’t do the job their supposed to do – inform the public about the the pertinent issues of the day – then the hell with them.  Stop doing press conferences, stop doing press briefings, stop taking any questions.  Communicate directly to the public. 

Let newspapers die.  They deserve to.

Healthcare Reform Politics

Matt Yglesias sums up a plausible healthcare strategy:

if I were a member of congress in addition to the polling I’d be thinking about how things will actually look to people when a bill passes. If you think Medicare recipients will continue to be happy with the quality of the health care services they receive, then you should assume that Medicare recipients will continue to be happy with the quality of the health care services they receive. Conversely, if you promise younger people that your bill will improve their health care, you’d better deliver something that actually improves their health care. Whether or not you sell them on it in advance seems less important than whether or not what you did looks good in retrospect. [emphasis added)

I suspect that the main reason Obama wants healthcare reform passed quickly is not so much that he felt he had momentum, but that he needs a little time after it passes for people to calm down, get familiar with the new environment and see that they won’t be hurt but may be helped by reform.  Seniors especially need time to realize that Medicare won’t be changed. 

I suspect it will be years before the impact of the bill becomes fully realized.  But if not much changes in a negative way come November 2010, the electoral prospects for Dems will not be as grim as they might be if no reform was passed.

Town Hall Meetings

The fuss over town hall meetings reminds me of the time more than 10 years ago when our local county supervisor held a meeting about a controversial subject: putting a cell phone tower on our neighborhood’s pool property.

After brief remarks, she began to take questions and listen to comments.  Most of them were skeptical if not down right hostile to the idea.  Those of us on the pool board had encouraged everyone, including people inclined to support the construction, to attend.  But it was clear from the questions she was getting the impression that this was not going to fly. 

I then suggested to her to ask for a show of hands for and against.  She was shocked to learn that a sizable majority supported the idea.  It was the turning point in our effort to get it built.  (Without the income from it, our community pool would have closed years ago.) 

After a 13-month battle, requiring approval from the planning commission and the board of supervisors, we received approval and got it built.

If supporters of health reform can get out to these town halls, they should ask for a show of hands.  They should ask that the question before the group be “How many of you support some kind of healthcare reform?”  If we don’t win that question, then we don’t deserve healthcare reform.

Stifling Free Speech, Part 2

ABC is reporting that Texas Republican Senator John Cronyn is sending a letter to the White House complaining that the Obama administration is stifling free speech by asking supporters to send the administration any “fishy” emails they receive about healthcare reform.  “Fishy” is a funny word to use in this case, as what they apparently were referring to emails that make claims about reform that the reader finds unusual given what s/he heard from reputable sources.

Seems Republicans want to make any outrageous claims they want to without being scrutinized.  What they want is to limit my free speech by prohibiting me from telling others that their claims are wrong.

But fishy was the wrong word.

Stifling Free Speech

CNN is refusing to air an ad by supporters of healthcare reform.   

Here’s the reason:

“This ad does not comply with our clearance guidelines because it unnecessarily singles out an individual company and person.”

Gee, does that mean they will no longer run ads that single out individual politicians?  Or is that “necessary”?

Isn’t it ironic that an organization protected by free speech denies it to others.

This is happening frequently.  CNN also refused to air an ad by Media Matters about Lou Dobbs.

Milbank and Cillizza Apologize

Washington Post reporters Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza have apologized for their latest Mouthpiece Theater, the one where they called Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a “bitch.”

And The Post has canceled the experiment that Mouthpiece was.

I have nothing against either one of them.  When Milbank sticks to skewering the righteous and puffed egos of the political elite he can be fun, though not necessarily required reading.  Cillizza is not offensive as an analyst, but I rarely read him.

But they deserved the video response below.  (The original, which was not only offensive to women but not even remotely funny, is below it.)

After this, the salon snafu and some editorial decisions – like this morning’s Governor story – you’ve got to ask yourself, “Whose minding the ship over at WaPo?


Taking a Chance on the American People

President Obama has tacked a bit over the past few weeks and is trying to sell his healthcare reform as heath insurance reform.  He is doing so by employing a GOP strategy:  appeal solely to people’s selfish interest.

[W]hen President Barack Obama gave a nationally televised news conference to explain his health care policies, he focused on two narrow questions that are defining the health care debate in Washington: “What’s in this for me?” and “How does my family stand to benefit from health insurance reform?”

The U.S. Constitution calls on Americans to “promote the general welfare.”  There was a sense during the presidential campaign that Obama subscribed to that notion.  But he seems unwilling to make that argument, especially when promoting healthcare reform.  Why not ask for sacrifice?

For uninsured Americans, health care reform represents a bonanza. For millions of other Americans (many of whom like their health care coverage), reform will mean more in the long term but potentially less in the short term: fewer tests, a demand for changed lifestyles and, as Obama suggests, a more “discriminating” approach to the health care system.

For doctors, reform could mean less take-home pay; for small businesses, new mandates; and for insurance companies, more government regulation and greater competition.

In short, all members of the health care ecosystem will have to change their behavior so that, in the end, the overall system will be more efficient and more effective.

Sacrifice is a tough sell.  But if Obama asked for it in the name of our children, he might succeed.  People like to think they are leaving a better world to their children.  Asking people to make sacrifices so that the next generation will not be stuck with the healthcare tab for our generation, he might at the very least squelch the wackos yelling at town hall meetings.

We have been self-indulgent and careless with our health.  We baby-boomers will cost a lot to care for in our later years.  Under the current system, insurance premiums will continue to rise to pay for that care.  And our children will get stuck with that bill.

The president has sought to reassure Americans that nothing will change for them with reform. But if Obama’s goal is far-reaching and not incremental change, then inevitably he is going to have to ask Americans to give something of themselves for the greater good. It’s foolish to think that there can be serious policy changes that don’t involve someone’s ox getting gored, whether the issue is health care, climate change or any other policy shift that will have an effect on the way Americans live their lives. Obama clearly wants to be a change agent, but he’s not pushing Americans to do their part.

For a politician who rose to prominence by using the force of his words to inspire and energize millions of Americans, such a call for sacrifice and citizenry responsibility has been strikingly absent from his rhetoric. During his campaign for the White House — and even in his inaugural address — Obama showed little inclination to merge patriotic devotion with civic responsibility, à la John F. Kennedy or even Lyndon B. Johnson. The result is a debate on health care focused on making the system more efficient rather than more fair.

In his election night victory speech, Obama said, “Let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.” The time has come for the president to demand of his fellow countrymen that they help make that pledge a reality.

It’s OK If You’re a Republican

A comment on a story about the latest in the Ensign affairs sums up the press’s reaction to sexual indiscretions.

It’s important to remember that when a Democrat has a sex scandal (Clinton, Spitzer, Edwards, etc.), a hypocritical, immoral adulterer has been exposed for what he is.

When a Republican is involved (Ensign, Sanford, Vitter, etc.), a decent, God-fearing Christian only showed he is human, and this uncharacteristic lapse in judgment should not overshadow his strong moral character and dedication to his constituents.

Any questions? Remember IOKIYAR (It’s Okay If You’re A Republican).

No Proof, But Post Story Makes Front Page

Here’s all you need to know about Sandhya Somashekhar’s front page story about the Virginia governor’s race.

There is no empirical evidence [emphasis added] at this point in Virginia’s race for governor showing that huge numbers of voters think like Cleland and will respond by sending a message to Washington.

But that didn’t stop the Post reporter from fashioning an entire argument about the dynamics of the governor’s race based on the opinions of two individuals, one of whom was clearly ambivalent.  More likely, the reporter decided the slant she wanted and found two people who confirmed it, even though there is “no empirical evidence.”

This is another example of the lazy journalism increasingly practiced by The Washington Post, especially when it comes to the Virginia governor’s race.  We had another example Monday, when Roz Helderman wasted newsprint on a story that Democrats are still running against Bush.  The story was written for the political insiders but offered no help to general Post readers in deciding who to vote for.  Instead of writing stories about the issues, they write about the political dynamics, much of which they make up.

Regarding today’s story, there is mention that 52 percent of Americans support Obama, but it’s described as “the lowest number of his tenure.”  Indeed, it is also twice the number of his predecessor.  Ah, but that’s not the story she wanted to write.

According to a late July poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 78% of Americans think it is at least somewhat likely that “Obama will bring real change in the direction of the country.”  A month after his election that figure was at 81%.  The margin of error is 3.1%.  Which is to say, it’s about the same.  Meanwhile, you have 61% of Americans saying they have an unfavorable position of Republicans in Congress.

So why would someone vote Republican in the Virginia’s governor’s race.  I don’t know, but one can argue it has nothing to do with the Obama administration.