Right-wing echo chamber

The Power of Three

The Washington Post covered a protest over the weekend outside the home of Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio). 

They showed up to decry the freshman congressman’s vote for the overhaul, standing in the chilling rain most of the afternoon Sunday holding signs that read: "Driehaus Voted to Destroy Our Children’s Future" and "Remember in November."

How big a story is this?

Sunday’s gathering, which never included more than three people at a time [Emphasis added], was anchored by Jim Berns, a libertarian who has run for Driehaus’s seat three times and for the state legislature 10 times. He wore a suit and waved at the congressman’s neighbors — a couple of whom greeted him with a middle finger, others with a thumbs-up.

What do you think the likelihood is of The Post covering a three-person protest in favor of healthcare?

Does the GOP Work for Fox News?

David Frum, the conservative speechwriter for W, who criticized Congressional Republicans for their healthcare strategy, has lost his job at the American Enterprise Institute due to AEI donor pressure.   In an interview with ABC (I can’t get the embed to work), he makes an astute observation.

Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox. And this balance here has been completely reversed. The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party.

Fox is the 800 lb. gorilla of the right.  (Rush Limbaugh is the 700 lb. gorilla, though he looks like he’s put on a few pounds lately.)  I don’t watch Fox enough to know if it ever criticizes the GOP Congressional leadership for being too extreme, but if its right-wing agenda is putting the GOP in a box with a padlock on it, the implications for both are intriguing. 

If some of the more moderate Republicans start to exert themselves, can they withstand the Fox assault?  If they begin to boycott Fox because they would get pummeled, can the network sustain itself with only the most strident voices?  I’m told that Fox actually has a good following among independent voters.  Will they desert the network if it is only the wing nuts?  GOP leadership as guests must give it some seal of approval to independents, and if they leave, will a part of its audience?

MSNBC, most notably Chris Matthews, has a few right-of-center guests.  I’m not sure if Rachel Maddow tries hard to get the other side and is shunned.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Olbermann avoids them; he seems only capable of pandering questions to the left.  Matthews and especially Maddow can hold their own, so it’s a disappointment to me that she doesn’t have more opponents on her show.  But MSNBC has been critical of Democrats, especially the president and conservative Dems.  (I’ve rarely seen its hosts criticize the most liberal Dems, unless it was Rep. Kucinich for threatening to vote against the healthcare bill.)

If the GOP leadership were smart, they’d go on Fox and push back.  If they were smart…

George Will Slams Media

While Will’s column is more about the futility of populism, his last graph puts a knife in today’s journalists.

Political nature abhors a vacuum, which is what often exists for a year or two in a party after it loses a presidential election. But today’s saturation journalism, mesmerized by presidential politics and ravenous for material, requires a steady stream of political novelties. In that role, Palin is united with the media in a relationship of mutual loathing. This is not her fault. But neither is it her validation.

In fact, it is to MSM’s advantage to make Palin credible as she is a ratings draw.  So they will not ignore her; they will give her attention that any other female politician who deserted her constituents would not get, especially if they weren’t as attractive physically as she is.

Newspapers’ Problem: A 30-Something Nurse

An open letter to The Washington Post:

I met the problem newspapers like The Washington Post face.  She is a 30-ish admissions nurse at Inova Hospital.

I was sitting in her office clutching The Post and the Wall Street Journal, my hands gray with newsprint.  She noticed and volunteered, “I stopped my subscription recently because the paper was all yesterday’s news.”  She confirmed to me that she gets her news online.

The most obvious way to profit from readers like her is to give her information she can’t readily get elsewhere or charge for online content.  Maybe you put it in newsprint before going online with it, if you think newsprint is your future. 

I suggest you might save both your newsprint and online real estate for stories that readers like her care about.  Dan Balz’s article about a “pep rally”  is a case in point.  I understand that The Post’s reputation has been built on its reporting of politics, but that’s no longer helpful for two reasons.

One, Politico, Huffington Post, blogs, etc. give us more and faster. 

Two, politics has become so predictable and offensive.  Writing an article that’s nothing more than dueling talking points probably holds little interest for most of your readers.  Exactly how many of them care to hear the partisan tit-for-tat about what might happen a year from now?  And even “Republicans acknowledge that events could change the political landscape before next November.”  In March 2007, a year before Obama’s breakthrough victories in the primaries, who would have bet on his being president?  Still, let’s assume such navel gazing matters to political insiders.  Count them all.  I’m sure there are thousands.  Are there enough to save The Post

Now consider Shear and Eggen’s story this morning.  There is no news there except the coordinated effort by healthcare opponents to tie the recent mammogram study to “healthcare rationing.”  And The Post dutifully obliged to help that effort with front page placement.  The lede has no news hook:  “opponents stepped up efforts to define the legislation as big-government ambition run amok that will interfere with intimate medical decisions and threaten the pocketbooks of average taxpayers.”  Is that news?  Increased taxes had never been mentioned before yesterday?  “Stepped up efforts”?  I was unaware opponents were holding their powder before yesterday.  The story is “fair and balanced,” if that’s your criteria for good journalism.  But is this story of any value to my admissions nurse?  It certainly helped “radio show host Rush Limbaugh and Fox News host Glenn Beck,” who again seem to act as The Post’s assignment editors.

I might argue with at least one point in the article:  “Obama administration officials [say the] U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which issued the [mammogram] guidelines, has no power to affect coverage decisions by insurance companies.”  In fact, insurance companies could use the results of the task force as a rationale to cut coverage for mammograms for women under 50.

But my complaint is not about any partisan slant or arguable point.  Nor is it with any of these reporters.  My problem is their talents are going to waste because of bad decisions about what content readers want.  That ultimately rests with Mr. Brauchli.  Maybe he needs a push from the national editors. 

Maybe readers want more critical analysis of the big issues of our day, which I seem to get more of in Post columns than I do in daily stories.  Or maybe it’s a curriculum change being considered by the local school board.  I don’t know, but surely it isn’t what The Post has done for decades.  That’s over.  You’ve lost that war, at least for your newsprint edition.  And I would argue that getting the story about the Republican governors’ conference on your web site faster isn’t the answer, either.

Brauchli’s Troops Advance on Liberals

A couple of weeks ago, Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander wrote that he thought the newspaper was tone deaf to conservatism.  He cited both the ACORN story about the prostitution imposters and the firing of Van Jones after allegations that he once thought Bush knew in advance of the 9/11 attacks.  Alexander said The Post ignored the stories for too long.

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."

To guard against it, he said, "I challenge our reporters and editors with great frequency to look at what is going on across the political spectrum . . . at the extremes, among the rabble-rousers, as well as among policymakers." He said he pressed the National desk this week to provide more ACORN coverage.

Conservatives are getting their payoff from Brauchli.  Today we have two stories, one about the labor union SEIC.  The planned attacks on SEIC were discussed last week on the Rachel Maddow show.

Now, both SEIU and ACORN – they find themselves under attack, both from Republicans, as we documented on last night‘s show, painted a bull‘s-eye on ACORN as soon as ACORN started registering large numbers of likely Democratic voters and from corporate interests who aren‘t crazy about things like minimum wage hikes, corporate interest that‘s gin up suspicions of groups they don‘t like by funding PR efforts to destroy those groups, PR efforts run by guys like Rick Berman, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist who we talked about on this show before. 

Brauchli, perhaps afraid as are many journalists of being accused of being liberally biased, assigned a reporter to follow the SEIC story, no mOrly Taitzatter how thin it might be.

But at least you could make an argument that there was some news value there.  The Style section has a front page story and big photo about Orly Taitz, the woman obsessed with proving Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii.  The photo shows her as a dentist, giving her argument a patina of credibility.  It’s one thing to make the right wing echo machine your assignment editor; it’s quite another to give legitimacy to an issue with no credibility.  The Post expended nearly 2,500 words on this discredited woman.

It’s little wonder that The Post is going under.  Its top editors are cowards.  Perhaps they should heed the advice of one judge who had to deal with a frivolous lawsuit she brought before his court.

In September, U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land dismissed a Georgia case that Taitz brought on behalf of a military doctor, Connie Rhodes, which held that Rhodes should be spared deployment to Iraq because Obama is not constitutionally qualified to be commander in chief. More than just rejecting it, he excoriated it.

"Unlike in Alice in Wonderland, simply saying something is so does not make it so," Land wrote scathingly in his order dismissing the action. Singling out Taitz for criticism, he accused her of using the legal system to further a political agenda.

But no, Brauchli and his malleable ilk will continue to prostrate themselves to the echo machine.

The doubters have put themselves on the public’s radar. Eight in 10 Americans in a July Pew poll said that they had heard "a lot" or "a little" about the contention that Obama was not born in the United States and is ineligible for the presidency.

Hearing relentlessly about a charge, even if it’s been disproven, is enough for some in the media to reverberate it.  They also must bear some responsibility for what they enable.

At a minimum, organizations who monitor extremist groups say that the fantasy of Obama’s ineligibility is now a central tenet. "The birther conspiracy itself is now totally widespread among military and paramilitary [militia] groups and new, what we would call quote-unquote ‘patriot’ groups, which are groups that are virulently anti-government," says Heidi Beirich, director of research at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In oh so many ways, Brauchli played right into her hands.

And although she criticizes the mainstream media, she calls after the interview to see when this article will run. So she can flag it on her Web site.

One-Sided Remarks

Ceci Connolly’s article today in The Washington Post is generally a good one, providing the perspective of folks who actually know the medical business as opposed to those we’ve elected to regulate it.  It’s worth the read because it thoughtfully describes some of the issues we’re facing and it has a great closing quote.  But the article includes one remark from a politician, and as you might expect, it’s a Republican perspective.

"We don’t want to turn health care over to a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington, who then will determine what kind of health care we have," committee member Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said recently. "And you know that rationing is going to happen."

Is this news?  No, it’s the well worn rhetoric we’ve heard many times before.  It’s also widely ridiculed because, of course, it’s now insurance companies who ration care, denying 20% of claims, according to an ad currently running on television. 

But if Connolly is going to allow the Republicans another chance to spout meaningless tripe, then why not give the other side to mouth its well worn tripe?

Does the quote add anything to the discussion?  No.  If she wanted to set up the premise of the article — that we are already rationing healthcare — why not write:

While Republicans worry about government rationing care and Democrats saying that insurance companies are rationing care, the truth lies closer to this: care is rationed for a variety of reasons, and it’s costing Americans billions of dollars a year, according to medical experts.

The closing quote?

"In the United States today, we give you all the care you can afford, whether or not you need it, as opposed to all the care you need, whether or not you can afford it."

–Arthur Kellerman, an associate dean at Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta

William Safire Started It All?

William Safire, the New York Times columnist and former Nixon speech writer who died this weekend, is credited with starting the conservative’s campaign against the mainstream media by putting words in former Vice President Spiro Agnew’s mouth:  nattering nabobs of negativism.  Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News, who thinks Reaganism is a fiction of conservative imagination, doesn’t think so much of that.

The words that William Safire penned and that Spiro Agnew mouthed actually had enormous impact that has lasted until this day. They helped foster among conservatives and the folks that Nixon called "the silent majority" a growing mistrust of the mainstream media, a mistrust that grew over two generations into a form of hatred. It also started a dangerous spiral of events — journalists started bending backwards to kowtow to their conservative critics, beginning in the time of Reagan, an ill-advised shift that did not win back a single reader or viewer on the right. Instead, it caused a lot of folks on the left and even the center to wonder why the national media had stopped doing its job, stopped questioning authority.

Post Reporter Promotes Conservative Terminology

Washington Post reporter Anita Kumar, by her own admission, promoted the language conservatives use to describe late-term abortions in her article about Creigh Deeds’ and Bob McDonnell’s legislative records.

McDonnell supported bills that banned a procedure some of its opponents refer to as partial-birth abortion, required minors to obtain parental consent before getting an abortion and mandated a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking one.

So after admitting that the terminology is the language conservatives want her to use, Kumar writes in the very next paragraph.

Deeds supported bills that required parents to be notified if their child was seeking an abortion but not bills that required parental consent or a waiting period. He voted for a ban on partial-birth abortion but later changed his mind because he said he worried that the bills were unconstitutional.

A neutral description would be a “late-term abortion” or “an abortion in the final three months of a pregnancy” and “the later abortions” on second reference.

You see this with other right-wing propaganda that reporters adopt, death taxes being the one that first comes to mind.

The question for Kumar is, why, after admitting it’s the term right-wingers want, she decided to use it instead of a more neutral term?

“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.


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.