Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center (MRC), the publisher of NewsBusters. He’s been the central figure in the MRC’s News Analysis Division since the MRC’s 1987 founding and in 2005 spearheaded the launch of NewsBusters.
Baker oversees the selection of the award nominees and “winners” for the MRC’s “DisHonors Awards,” presented at an annual gala, and each week he helps the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard select a “Mainstream Media Scream.” (Full list of all those selected.)
An avid fan of the Washington Capitals NHL hockey team, in January of 2009 the Washington Post's "DC Sports Bog" took note of Baker's attendance at a Caps game with John Kerry: "The Caps, John Kerry and a Scourge."
Baker lived in Massachusetts through high school, whereupon he fled the liberal commonwealth for George Washington University in DC and, since graduation, a life in Northern Virginia. Full bio on MRC.org.
Obsessing over Sarah Palin's pro-life position on abortion, MSNBC hosts and reporters on Tuesday night repeatedly raised it and painted it as a detriment to Republicans even though last week with Democrats the channel did not similarly pursue how a solidly left view on abortion might hurt Obama and Biden. By the count of the MRC's Geoff Dickens, between 8 PM and midnight EDT, MSNBC raised abortion at least 16 times, twice with an edge that painted the GOP position as extreme by applying a “hard right” label. Chris Matthews declared “they are going hard right on abortion rights” and later David Gregory asserted: “The abortion platform here is pretty hard right.”
Chuck Todd, Political Director for NBC News, fretted over how “this is as stringent of a platform on abortion the Republican Party ever has. And the problem is” that “these delegates are more conservative than even the ones four years ago.” Andrea Mitchell described Palin as “very conservative” and pressed a Republican Congressman: “Now there are a lot of women in that area who are less conservative socially than Sarah Palin. There are a lot of women who believe in choice. So how do you square the circle there?”
Matthews bemoaned to Tom Ridge that “it seems like you got a convention saluting a vice presidential nominee who wants to outlaw abortion, period, across the country. Is this going too far?” To Tim Pawlenty, Matthews demanded:
Do you believe you can win with the cultural statement being made by the selection of Governor Palin? That statement being someone from the very culturally conservative part of your party?
The ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts on Tuesday all focused stories on the media's latest obsession: the inadequacies of VP choice Sarah Palin and John McCain's supposedly rushed and inept vetting process. ABC anchor Charles Gibson, for instance, teased: “The Republicans finally take to the convention floor. Many questions still being asked about John McCain's vice presidential pick.” But CBS was the most aggressive in trying to discredit Palin. Katie Couric teased the CBS Evening News:
Tonight, new questions about Sarah Palin's past, including whether she once supported a party that wants Alaska to secede from the U.S. How much did John McCain really know about his running mate?
Couric led by insisting, as if the media are simple observers and not participants: “The story that's continuing to get all the attention here -- and elsewhere for that matter -- is Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska, and John McCain's judgment in choosing her as his running mate.” Couric set up a second Palin story: “The McCain campaign has portrayed Governor Palin as a reformer and opponent of pork barrel spending, but there are some new questions about that. Wyatt Andrews now with a Reality Check.”
In the midst of being pounded by Wolf Blitzer and other CNN panelists about Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin's supposedly inadequate experience, Rudy Giuliani wondered late Tuesday afternoon: “Why did Barack Obama get a pass on his experience? And why is Sarah Palin's experience, which from the executive point of view is considerably more than Barack Obama's, under such scrutiny?” Blitzer retorted:
But who says he's [Obama] been getting a pass? He's been scrutinized for months and months and months.
To which, a laughing Giuliani scoffed: “I haven't seen the scrutiny of his experience or his record.” Blitzer then, seriously, asked: "Do you read your hometown newspaper, the New York Times?” Giuliani, still trying to get his words out while laughing at Blitzer's premise at the end of the first hour of The Situation Room, lightheartedly suggested: “Maybe that's the problem. I read the New York Times and I haven't seen much scrutiny of Barack Obama in the New York Times.”
Instead of just flat-out making a hypocrisy accusation against “the social conservatives” who “are rallying behind” Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin following news her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, CBS's Jeff Greenfield suggested “very conservative Republicans” may be hypocrites based on how they might have reacted eleven years ago. On Monday's CBS Evening News, Greenfield, at the site of the delayed Republican convention, felt compelled to share:
The one question that occurs to me is if 17-year-old Chelsea Clinton had become pregnant while living in the White House, would the reaction on the part of the Family Research Council and other very conservative Republicans been the same? Maybe it would have been, but it's a question worth asking.
Meanwhile, during the CBS News special at 10 PM EDT, Katie Couric whined to Nicolle Wallace of the McCain campaign: “Why wasn't the campaign, your campaign more pro-active about releasing this information? Why did you wait until sort of rumors and innuendos forced your hand?” Couric implied Bristol Palin's pregnancy should have disqualified her mother and suggested Sarah Palin was not putting her daughter's interests first.
Late Monday afternoon live on CNN, Bill Bennett rebuked -- as an “outrageous” piece of “advocacy” and “attack journalism” that “has no place on CNN” -- a story the channel had just run which used the pregnancy of Sarah Palin's daughter to score political points by relaying as fact the talking points on sex education from a left-wing group. A defensive Wolf Blitzer kept saying “hold on” as he tried to justify raising the supposed hypocrisy.
Live from Anchorage at 5:33 PM EDT/4:33 PM CDT/1:33 PM ADT, Kyra Phillips revealed “there were a number of things that we were sent here to investigate,” including “trooper-gate,” but before that, she stressed “here's what's interesting,” that Palin ”has gone on the record and said that she is in full support of abstinence, and that she doesn't believe in contraception on school grounds and sex education.” Phillips then highlighted:
The Alliance for Reproductive Justice...says abstinence doesn't work, we've got to have better sex education in schools and this is just one example, this just underscores -- the pregnancy of the Governor's daughter -- to why we need sex education in schools.
Audio: MP3 audio clip (2:10, 600 Kb) which matches the video above rendered for me by the MRC's Michelle Humphrey.
CBS's 60 Minutes led Sunday night with a taped interview with the Democratic ticket and in the piece Steve Kroft, who couldn't resist labeling Sarah Palin as a “conservative” while never tagging Joe Biden, presumed as fact that Palin “has less experience” than Obama and cued up Obama to agree with his own campaign's rhetoric about how Palin undermines McCain's experience argument:
Does the fact that he chose as his Vice President someone who has less experience than you take that weapon out of his arsenal?
On Sunday's NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams pursued the same media narrative as he pressed McCain about how as “a 72-year-old cancer survivor” he chose “a not yet one full term Governor of Alaska. Is she the best person to be literally a heartbeat away from the presidency, Senator?” McCain rejected the premise and, without even knowing it, countered Kroft:
She's been in elected office longer than Senator Obama. She's been the chief executive of the state that supplies 20 percent of America's energy, she has balanced budgets. She's had executive experience as Governor, as Mayor, as a city council member and PTA. So she was in elected office when Senator Obama was still a quote “community organizer.”
Williams, however, remained unconvinced: “But you know the question, Senator, given the field, given all that we know, is she the best person to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?”
Newsweek's Eleanor Clift disclosed on the McLaughlin Group -- seemingly without any compunction for how she was outing her fellow journalists as behaving the same way as Barack Obama's campaign staff, but I suppose we already knew that intuitively -- that John McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for VP was greeted by “literally laughter” in “very many newsrooms.”
From the show taped on Friday at Washington, DC's CBS affiliate and airing at various times over the weekend around the nation, mostly on PBS stations:
ELEANOR CLIFT: This is not a serious choice. It makes it look like a made for TV movie. If the media reaction is anything, it's been literally laughter in many places across news-
JOHN McLAUGHLIN, TALKING OVER CLIFT: Where is that? See that?
CLIFT: In very, very many newsrooms.
Audio: MP3 clip which matches the video (13 seconds, 80 Kb)
Stunning Fox News Watch host Bill Hemmer, panelist Jim Pinkerton, picking up on a NewsBusters post with video (“Maher: Matthews and Olbermann 'Were Ready to Have Sex with' Obama”), from just hours before the FNC show aired live at 6:30 PM EDT Saturday from St. Paul, pointed out that MSNBC's Democratic convention coverage was so adulatory that it led to:
Bill Maher, who's no conservative, who hates Bush, to joke that he thinks that Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews want to have sex with Obama. That's no slap at Obama, of course. He's innocent.
As the other panelists laughed, Hemmer was incredulous, interjecting “whoa, whoa” before pressing for corroboration: “Bill Maher said that?!” Pinkerton, Cal Thomas and Juan Williams all chimed in with confirmation and then Hemmer, putting his finger to his earpiece, informed viewers: “I'm hearing that we have a sound clip of that. Do we? Alright, roll it. Here's Bill Maher.” Viewers were treated to the video of Maher from his Friday night HBO show:
I think there is a problem, though, with the media gushing over him too much. I don't think he thinks that he's all that, but the media does. I mean, the coverage after, that I was watching, from MSNBC, I mean these guys were ready to have sex with him.
Audio: MP3 clip from FNC which matches video above (1:15, 450 Kb)
The media in general, and MSNBC in particular, are so far into the tank for Barack Obama that even the far-left Bill Maher, on his HBO show Friday night, recognized “there is a problem...with the media gushing over him too much.” Specifically, though he didn't name co-anchors Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, Maher pointed to MSNBC's coverage following Obama's acceptance speech: “The coverage after, that I was watching, from MSNBC, I mean these guys were ready to have sex with him.”
Maher's assessment, ironically enough, came in the midst of his panel (CBS Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and NPR's Michel Martin) all effusively praising, along with Maher, Obama's Thursday night address concluding the Democratic Convention in Denver. Maher's full rebuke on the August 29 Real Time with Bill Maher:
I think there is a problem, though, with the media gushing over him too much. I don't think he thinks that he's all that, but the media does. I mean, the coverage after, that I was watching, from MSNBC, I mean these guys were ready to have sex with him....It's embarrassing.
Last Saturday night, in multiple stories on all three broadcast network evening shows about Barack Obama's VP pick, Senator Joe Biden was never described as a liberal. Friday night, however, CBS and NBC accurately tagged John McCain's selection, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, as “reliably conservative” or a “solid conservative” -- and that's not counting references to how she will shore up support for McCain amongst conservatives. On ABC's World News, for instance, David Wright reported: “The McCain campaign also hopes Palin can excite conservatives given her life-long support for gun rights and her opposition to abortion rights.” Listing the pros and cons to the pick, CBS's Jeff Greenfield made “delights the right” a plus. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell combined a label with Palin's potential to help McCain: “Palin is a social conservative, against abortion and for gun rights, who could energize the party's base.”
On the CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer dubbed Palin “John McCain Jr.” since she's “somebody who is willing to take on her own party.” Anchor Katie Couric interjected: “But with conservative principles,” to which Schieffer affirmed: “Yeah, with conservative principles.” Two other straight-forward labels applied to Palin on the Friday night, August 29 newscasts:
Chip Reid on CBS: “On most issues, she is reliably conservative, agreeing with McCain on the need to cut taxes and slash spending.” He also described her as “a fierce opponent of abortion.”
John Larson, from Anchorage, on the NBC Nightly News: “Governor Palin is a solid conservative, firmly supporting gun rights and strongly opposing abortion.”
Television journalists were nearly uniformly enthralled with Barack Obama's Thursday night acceptance speech, relieved he showed the toughness to take on John McCain directly, unlike, in their world view, all too-soft past Democratic nominees. Only FNC offered a contrarian view or mentioned the word “liberal” while David Gergen on CNN trumpeted the address as a “symphony” and a “masterpiece” with elements of Lincoln, MLK and Reagan.
ABC's Charles Gibson insisted that “four years ago John Kerry” was “held accountable for not being tough enough on George Bush,” and “Obama was obviously not going to make that mistake.”
On CNN, Gloria Borger decided: “If anybody ever thought that Barack Obama was not tough enough to run against John McCain, this speech should really put an end to that.”
The second quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was revised upward Thursday by the Commerce Department from the initially estimated 1.9 percent to a robust 3.3 percent, but neither the CBS Evening News nor NBC Nightly News mentioned the good news, while on ABC's World News anchor Charles Gibson, at Invesco Field, allocated 13 seconds to what he considered “surprisingly strong” economic news:
Other news, a surprisingly strong reading on the economy. The Gross Domestic Product grew at a rate of 3.3 percent in the second quarter, helped by those government stimulus checks and a jump in exports because the dollar is so weak.
NBC News veteran Tom Brokaw, however, was still presuming economic disaster hours after the new GDP number was released in the morning. Just past 2 PM MDT/4PM EDT on MSNBC, Brokaw asserted from Denver:
Beyond this arena, and this city, the American people are facing some of the greatest problems that they have faced, certainly in our lifetimes. Financial crisis, greatest since the Depression; energy crisis; two wars in two different countries; the Russian bear is crashing around in the woods again.
“Professor George Stephanopoulos,” on Wednesday's Nightline, awarded the Democrats “straight A's” for the third day of their convention, with an A for “Filling in the Blanks,” an A for “Heartstrings,” an A for “Red Meat” and an A for “Body Language.” The former Bill Clinton campaign operative and White House aide glowed over “a night of perfect political choreography” from his former boss and other Democrats as he marveled “the only problem Barack Obama has right now, and it's a high-class problem, as Bill Clinton used to say, is can he top what happened tonight?” Anchor Terry Moran echoed: “An extraordinary series of speeches.”
Nightline has used Stephanopoulos all week to assign grades. Not counting his F on Monday night for the "garish stage," of eleven grades over three nights Stephanopoulos has presented eight A's, two grades of B+ and one C.
Hailing 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry's Wednesday night address to the Democratic convention “the toughest speech” by “perhaps the most forceful speaker so far,” one in which Kerry denounced the “Swiftboating” of Barack Obama, NBC anchor Brian Williams channeled the liberal view, which he described merely as that of “people watching tonight,” that Kerry lost in 2004 because he didn't take on the presumed unfair “Swiftboating” attacks against him four years ago. The first question from Williams to Kerry during NBC's 10 PM EDT prime time hour of coverage:
I don’t need to tell you, people watching tonight were, you can answer this before I do, saying, “Sure, now, he took on 'Swiftboating’ in his speech tonight, but not when he ran for President.”
Kerry vociferously rejected the premise, then agreed with it, before he rejected it again as he credited newspapers with writing “the truth” about how he was smeared:
But we did actually. That’s not true. We took it on. The problem we made was a miscalculation about the truth being out there. We thought enough had been done. And the mistake we made was not spending enough money to answer the lies. We should have done that. I accept responsibility for that. But believe me, we answered it. Countless newspapers wrote the truth.
CBS reporter Dean Reynolds on Wednesday night described the attacks on the other candidate by Barack Obama and John McCain, but only felt McCain's required a correction. After conveying how Obama is painting McCain as “out of touch and asleep at the switch are two...Obama favorites,” Reynolds cited a new McCain “ad attacking what it said was Obama's position on Iran.” Viewers saw a clip of the ad: “Iran. Radical Islamic government, known sponsors of terrorism. Obama says Iran is a 'tiny' country, 'doesn't pose a serious threat.' Obama, dangerously unprepared to be President.” Reynolds pounced:
But the ad is a stretch because this is what Obama really said last May in Pendleton, Oregon, on the need for diplomacy.
CBS then played a clip of Obama on May 18, part of the statement the McCain campaign cited to support its ad: “Strong countries and strong Presidents talk to their adversaries. I mean, think about it, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us.”
Most prevalent theme during Tuesday night's coverage of the Democratic National Convention, after speculation over healing the Clinton-Obama feud: TV journalists worrying about how the Democrats are not adequately aggressive in their attacks against John McCain as reporters, especially on CBS, repeatedly pressed for more “red meat” and wondered if the speakers are being “hard enough” or “tough enough” on McCain?
CBS's Bob Schieffer rued to keynoter Mark Warner that “normally keynote speeches” deliver “a lot of red meat,” but “I didn't hear a lot of that.” Over on NBC, Brian Williams pushed Warner: “You know there's some in the party who feel that this gathering isn't tough enough against a John McCain who, after all, hasn't let up for a day against this party.” Back to CBS, Jeff Greenfield asserted Barack Obama needs Hillary Clinton “to wake up this hall after a speech that was not only not red meat by former Governor Warner, but more like tofu with sprouts.” Couric even asked Michael Dukakis “if he thought the Democrats were hitting John McCain hard enough?” Clinton's speech left Couric unfulfilled: “We expected a lot of red meat from Senator Clinton tonight...Are you surprised she didn't sort of attack him more vociferously?”
Previewing Ed Rendell early in the evening, CNN's Wolf Blitzer wondered: “Let's see if he has some red meat.” On MSNBC, Chris Matthews was “amazed why they don’t have more fun with the man who calls himself Dick Cheney,” as he lamented: “It seems like they’re pulling their punches.” Analyst Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post yearned:
I am waiting for someone to take the podium and say the word “torture.” I'm waiting for someone to take the podium, say the word “Iraq.” I'm waiting for someone to take, to take the podium and talk about domestic surveillance...
Paying tribute to Hillary Clinton hours before her address to the Democratic National Convention, on Tuesday night CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric delivered a nearly five-minute-long review of Senator Clinton's campaign and why it came up short, though Couric ended on a laudatory note: “She did leave her mark in the history books.” Following a soundbite from former Clinton campaign operative Geoffrey Garin touting how “for the next woman who runs for President, they don't have to wonder what the model looks like. The model looks like Hillary Clinton,” Couric trumpeted: “And the party platform, where for the first time, the issue of sexism in America is raised.”
Over on the NBC Nightly News, sitting with NBC political director Chuck Todd inside the Pepsi Center to preview the upcoming speech, anchor Brian Williams rued:
And I assume she's going to talk about that glass ceiling, i.e., a woman President of these United States, which begs the question as we listen to her tonight, if not her, who and when?
After Michelle Obama's Monday night speech at the Democratic National Convention, ABC and NBC mentioned her “for the first time in my adult lifetime I'm proud of my country” previous slap at the United States, but in the context of how she resolved any doubts. ABC's George Stephanopoulos declared:
“Tonight, there was no doubt. The money line in this speech was that line when she said, 'that is why I love this country,' and she lingered.” Noting how “we heard the word 'America' or 'American' or 'Americans' 12 times,” NBC's Chuck Todd decided “this is definitely a response in some ways to that whole kerfuffle that she created for herself, six or eight months ago, about being proud to be an American.”
CBS didn't touch on the topic during its prime time hour, though during an interview with Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Katie Couric described Mrs. Obama not as controversial, but as “slightly controversial.” In a taped session later with Craig Robinson, Michelle's older brother, Couric wondered: “What one word would you like viewers all across the country to use to describe your sister?” When he suggested “sincere,” Couric agreed: “That's a good word.”
On the ideological labeling front, Ted Kennedy's appearance the hour before, highlights of which led all three broadcast networks at 10 PM EDT, failed to prompt a single liberal label on ABC or CBS, but NBC applied the tag three times, two of those to describe Kennedy as a “liberal lion.” (CNN and MSNBC provided scattered liberal labeling.)
One reason Barack Obama selected Joe Biden as his running mate is that Obama's advisers “think the press loves Biden and so the press will sort of go easy on him on the past gaffes and when he's contradicted Obama,” CNN's Jessica Yellin revealed minutes before midnight Friday night, just an hour ahead of CNN and other media outlets reporting Joe Biden was, indeed, Barack Obama's pick.
Hailing Barack Obama's attacks on John McCain's foreign policy as “profound” with “the fire I've been waiting for,” during live MSNBC coverage Saturday afternoon of Obama introducing running mate Joe Biden, Chris Matthews was pleased “he finally took on John McCain on the issue of our time, which is Russia” as “he used the word bluster twice.” Matthews then smeared John McCain and conservatives as warmongers: “There are a lot of neo-conservatives out there that just love the old black and white Manichaean cold war feeling again. They'd like to get rid of color television, in fact. Let's go back to the '50s and let's fight with the Russians again.” That earned approving laughter from co-anchor Keith Olbermann who later cited Biden's call “to restore America's soul” and wondered: “Does it bring it up to this kind of Lincolnian greater than the sum of the parts public good mission almost?”
Matthews explained to his viewers that Obama “referred to it as bluster because if you read the really smart columnists,” and those would be “people like David Ignatius and Tom Friedman” who are “in the middle politically,” Obama was just “calling it what it is, bluster. It's just words, just sword-rattling, and he called it today. I thought that was profound.”
At about 3:42 PM EDT, just after Biden finished speaking, Matthews oozed over Obama's address with “dignity and indignation,” comparing him to actors Denzel Washington and Spencer Tracy. Really:
When I was watching Barack, I said there's the fire I've been waiting for. Maybe it was the camera angle, but I was looking up, if you look at some of the stronger performances, and they're almost always strong by the actor Denzel Washington, when he's really sticking it to the bad guys at the end of the movies, when he's really making his sort of Spencer Tracy moment, there's something about the face, there's something about that statement of strength and even anger where you really make your point with dignity and indignation, and I thought he was doing it today for the first time as a candidate: Barack Obama taking the fight to the bluster of the opponent.