Monthly Archives: September 2009

Law? What Law?

Seems things got testy at the Senate Finance Committee today.  Chairman Max Baucus was getting impatient with an amendment GOPer Jon Kyl of Arizona wanted considered.  Kyl didn’t like that.

Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona indignantly raised his voice after committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana urged him to hurry up and finish a point. An outwardly irritated Kyl told Baucus he was not delaying, but was instead trying to make an extremely important point about flaws in the legislation. Baucus shot back that while Kyl’s point might be important, he also was holding up the panel’s work.

Kyl was speaking in favor of a GOP amendment that could have prevented the government from implementing the bill — even if it’s passed and signed into law.

Gee, Mr. Kyl, if you want to pass a law that the government can ignore, you need to run for the Senate in North Korea.

“Liberal Media”

The historian Rick Pearlstein has some insight on the media’s acquiescence to the conservative echo chamber in his interview with CJR’s Campaign Desk.  It’s in response to Washington Post Ombudsman Andy Alexander’s column Sunday where he argues that The Post doesn’t adequately take into consideration the conservative point of view.  He cites as evidence the delay in The Post’s picking up the ACORN story.

One explanation may be that traditional news outlets like The Post simply don’t pay sufficient attention to conservative media or viewpoints.

It "can’t be discounted," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. "Complaints by conservatives are slower to be picked up by non-ideological media because there are not enough conservatives and too many liberals in most newsrooms."

"They just don’t see the resonance of these issues. They don’t hear about them as fast [and] they’re not naturally watching as much," he added.

Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said he worries "that we are not well-enough informed about conservative issues. It’s particularly a problem in a town so dominated by Democrats and the Democratic point of view."

This mea culpa by Brauchli is not surprising.  But would he have admitted that coverage during the first Bush administration was biased because the government was controlled by Republicans?

In the comment section of a follow-up to this column in Alexander’s blog, someone, referring to the section of the column where Alexander points to surveys that show most reporters consider themselves liberal, argues, quite rightly I think, that though reporters are liberals, publishers are not.  Big media is owned by big business.  First and foremost, there interests will rump those of the peons.

But I don’t think that goes far enough.  Reporters, even those powerful enough to resist publishers’ prejudices, are thin-skinned.  And given that liberals are so open-minded they won’t even defend their own arguments, it’s not surprising that reporters bend over backwards to prove they aren’t liberal, thus leaning right more than providing objective and fair reporting.

Pearlstein insights are useful.

I read what Brauchli said, and what he was paraphrased as saying, and it almost suggests to me that Matt Drudge is becoming his assignment editor. I mean, why would a newspaper like the Post be training its investigative focus on ACORN now? Whether you think well or ill of ACORN, they’re a very marginal group in the grand scheme of things—and about as tied to the White House as the PTA.

The real story is that millions of Americans don’t consider a liberal president legitimate, and they’re moving from that axiom to try to delegitimize the president in the eyes of the majority. And one of the ways they do that is, frankly, by baiting the hook for mainstream media decision-makers who are terrified at the accusation of liberal bias. It really looks like Brauchli is falling for that.

He then cites ACORN’s work in 2004 for a ballot initiative to raise minimum wage.

In the conservative imagination, the idea that ACORN is working on a ballot initiative and that it might increase turnout for a Democrat is taken as prima facie evidence that ACORN and the Democratic Party are working hand-in-glove to distort the electoral process. But the Kerry campaign didn’t even seem to be aware of ACORN’s effort in this case.

So if Brauchli wants to do an investigation of ACORN, he should be able to justify it to the extent that they’re important in the grand scheme of things. And they’re important in the grand scheme of things now because the Republicans are yoking them to a narrative about the legitimacy of the president—that is the story, that is the event that brings ACORN to the forefront. Compare, say, the Chamber of Commerce’s ties to the Bush Administration—Bush’s head of the Consumer Products Safety Commission was a former executive with the Chamber of Commerce—to ACORN. Has an ACORN staffer ever made it anywhere near an executive position in the Obama administration? The scale of connection is infinitesimal.

So that’s the story, how these false equivalences get struck.

And then puts into perspective, Republicans’ efforts to smear ACORN during the 2008 elections.

In 2008, when the election was going on, conservative activists and Republican politicians were able to drive discussion of ACORN in the following way: they said that ACORN was aiding and abetting election fraud, and as evidence they gave all these false voter registration forms handed in by ACORN. You had to be an extremely alert news reader, you had to be an extremely informed member of the public, and you had to be very patient to be aware that it was actually ACORN that had discovered the fraud, and that law requires them to turn in every voter registration form they receive, even the ones that are fraudulent. In actual fact, they went above and beyond the law and flagged the ones they believed were fraudulent. So actually they were fighting electoral fraud, not creating electoral fraud.

And yet that became part of the narrative about the 2008 election, that there’s this group called ACORN, and they are working to abuse the American electoral process. How can you tell the story about what’s going on now with ACORN without leading with the idea of a conservative campaign to smear and vilify a group using any means, fair or foul? To me, that’s what happened last week. When it comes to this video, The Washington Post is completely letting the tail wag the dog.

…Everything has to be understood in historical context. Unless you grasp the history of conservatives attempting to appeal to newspaper editors’ guilt about being liberal—which has been around since Spiro Agnew—then you can’t tell these kinds of stories, because all that is part of the story. And unless you look at the repeated pattern of smear-driven narratives in presidency after presidency—which turn out, in the end, not to implicate anyone—then you’re not telling the story.

Honoring the perspectives of conservative citizens is an absolute imperative for any newspaper; honoring the perspectives of liberal citizens is an absolute imperative for any newspaper. But there are ways of honoring people with conservative politics without serving the agendas of conservative politicians.

…I would say that journalists’ job is not to see the world through the same prism as the conservative movement, or a different prism than the conservative movement. It is to tell the truth without fear of favor. And if the truth makes conservatives look bad, devil take the hindmost. And if it makes liberals look bad, devil take the hindmost. It’s just too easy—and if you read my work, it’s been too easy for four decades—for conservatives to exploit their ability to create a sense that the media are biased in favor of liberalism in order to manipulate the media, in order to get the stories they want told told in the way they want. It’s a strategy—you can see the memos in which people lay it out. And unless that strategy is reported on, and treated as part of the story, then you are not reporting on what’s actually happening in the real world.


Deeds Shows Courage, But Is He Proud of It?

It appears Creigh Deeds has listened to those who have ask him to show courage when talking about transportation funding.  Yesterday in The Washington Post, he wrote of his transportation plan, which while still a little thin on details, is honest about the funding alternatives and directly states that he would support higher taxes. 

Let me be clear regarding taxes. I will sign a bill that is the product of bipartisan compromise that provides a comprehensive transportation solution. As a legislator, I have voted for a number of mechanisms to fund transportation, including a gas tax. And I’ll sign a bipartisan bill with a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation — even if it includes new taxes.

At his web site you’ll find a transportation plan that is more goals than specific projects he would endorse, save a number of rail initiatives and completing the Coafields Expressway.  Still his op-ed is to be commended for its honesty about taxes.

The op-ed led to a favorable editorial today from The Post.

R.CREIGH DEEDS, the Democrat running for governor in Virginia, has now unequivocally committed himself to support higher taxes to rescue the state’s sclerotic road system. His stance is nothing more or less than common sense: Virginia needs tens of billions of dollars in new revenue for roads, and it will not materialize without asking taxpayers — the same taxpayers who rightly groan about traffic — to foot a good part of the bill. Still, by articulating that position in plain English on the opposite page Wednesday, Mr. Deeds showed political guts, which is more than one can say for the smoke-and-mirrors, wing-and-a-prayer approach to transportation endorsed by his opponent, Republican nominee Robert F. McDonnell.

Usually such a glowing editorial would be the subject of campaign email landing in my inbox before I have my second cup of coffee.  No such email has been received yet.  It may still come.  It’s as if he said, “OK, I’ve used the T-word and I’m not going to talk about it again.”

In any event, I hope now he can continue that honest approach by talking about options and how he will approach the decision if elected.  Will he conduct a statewide campaign as Mark Warner did to build support for his tax increase?  Despite yesterday’s op-ed, Deeds continues to be pummeled.  The Fairfax Chamber of Commerce yesterday, in endorsing Bob McDonnell, complained that Deeds still doesn’t indentify funding sources, though that’s exactly what he did in his op-ed, though not specifying which taxes.

What I find curious about both the Deeds campaign and about coverage by The Post on this issue is that neither talk about McDonnell’s plan to issue bonds to pay for transportation.  That’s passing the bill on to the the next generation.  Yet The Post reporters often leave that out when describing McDonnell’s plans

McDonnell has proposed paying for transportation by shifting state money and relying on funding sources that don’t involve tax increases, such as privatizing the state’s liquor stores and adding tolls on some highways.

Republicans are chortling that Deeds has had his “Mondale moment.”  I think he has a good chance of carrying this off.

In Print, Not Online

Well, here’s a novel way of trying to protect newsprint.  The editor of the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat has announced that from now on each Sunday he will publish a major story that will appear only in print.

Sunday’s are special days for readers of traditional print editions of newspapers. More people read the newspaper that day. There are more features and advertisements. More young adult readers pick up a copy of the Sunday paper than any other day of the week, based on national statistics.

We want to keep Sundays special for our print-edition readers, who pay extra for the newspaper and deserve more.

Each week, we’re going to develop a special report aimed at them, something that moves beyond the news to provide greater depth and analysis of a story, and publish it exclusively in print.

The story will not appear on its web site, he says.  Is that a good move?  Subscribers who may be out of town and want to catch on the hometown news might not think so.  Nor will it do much to advance a story that deserves “greater depth and analysis.”  Still, he has one good point.

Most digital readers simply won’t read the long narrative Sunday story; we know that these stories, while in high demand in print, don’t generate huge traffic online, which has evolved into a breaking-news medium and a place for readers to discuss the news. We’ll use online to provide multimedia and long documents that don’t work in print.

I certainly don’t like reading long stories online.  Interesting concept.

Salaries Out of Whack

No, we’re not talking about bank CEOs.  Mike Messing is talking about salaries of network news anchors.

Katie Couric’s annual salary is more than the entire annual budgets of NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered combined. Couric’s salary comes to an estimated $15 million a year; NPR spends $6 million a year on its morning show and $5 million on its afternoon one. NPR has seventeen foreign bureaus (which costs it another $9.4 million a year); CBS has twelve. Few figures, I think, better capture the absurd financial structure of the network news.

I have no particular beef with Couric.  How could I; I’ve never watched her show from beginning to end.  In fact, since she’s been on the air at CBS, I’ll bet I have seen 10 minutes of her show.  I am an NPR fan, though I don’t get to hear it but occasionally. 

The network signature news programs each night are losing their audiences in droves.  Young people rarely listen to them.  As with newspapers, many of which continue to follow the political gamesmanship rather than give readers information they can use, network news hasn’t changed the product in a meaningful way in decades. 

The networks are in a death spiral, yet they keep airing the same tired product. Could they do things differently? Has the anchor system perpetuated the problem? What changes might succeed in luring new viewers?

You can’t really blame the anchors, but you can’t credit them with anything either.

So why do they continue to pay anchors multi-million salaries when there is no evidence they improve the product or increase the audience?

Pay to Play

In a town of crazed fans for a mediocre team owned by a egomaniac who sues fans who can no longer afford their years-long contracts for expensive seats, how long do you think it will be until The Washington Post tries this.

Pay to Play

In a town of crazed fans for a mediocre team owned by a egomaniac who sues fans who can no longer afford their years-long contracts for expensive seats, how long do you think it will be until The Washington Post tries this.

Clinton: Obama to Recover Once Healthcare Reform Passes

Ever the astute politician, former President Bill Clinton has got this right.

Clinton predicted "the minute health care reform passed, President Obama’s approval ratings would go up 10 points." And he said they would go up 20 points next year once Americans saw that none of the bad things Republicans said would happen came true.

A 20-point gain is a bit of a stretch, perhaps.  But it makes sense that, while the extreme right will find something else to wail about, once healthcare reform is understood not to include gassing granny, most folks will be happy with it, assuming that the bill is written so that most of the reforms are immediately effective.  Once people start finding affordable healthcare, the better off Obama’s popularity numbers will be.

But the devil is in the details.  One thing I haven’t heard discussed is the cost of the insurance for people in the upper middle class.  Once you get passed $66,000, which seems to be the cut off point for government aid, cost can be an issue, even for folks making more than $100,000 per year.  The insurance companies won’t be able to deny you for pre-existing conditions, but can they raise your rates so high it won’t be affordable?  Can they offer “affordable” insurance premiums but with high deductibles?

Ombudsman Obama

Congrats to the Prez.  I’ve urged this more than once. 

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.

I’m glad to see the president calling the media out on how it covers the news – and sometimes makes it.  Obama hit four of the five interviews yesterday with his take on the news.