Howard Kurtz wrote a whole story Wednesday entertaining as a serious idea -- without any conservative rebuttal or extended break for belly laughs -- that Hillary Clinton suffers from a "harsher microscope" from the national media. It might be arguable that Barack Obama has received even better coverage lately, but it's like arguing that your little brother got a bigger stick of cotton candy than you did. The idea that "harsh" describes her media coverage is ridiculous.
Rock musician Todd Rundgren hasn't been prominent as a performer since the 1970s, but his Sunday concert at the Birchmere here in MRC's hometown of Alexandria drew a mixed review in the Washington Post. Tuesday's review by Stephen Brookes ended with this strange paragraph about Rundgren's failure to offend people:
And for a guy pushing 60, Rundgren still works hard, digging into the vocals and closing most songs with a leaping scissors kick. But his promises to "offend each and every person in the room" didn't quite deliver, starting with a tame "Fascist Christ" and ending with a listless jab against -- yawn -- neoconservatives. Sorry; if you want to talk politics in this town, you have to hit a lot harder than that.
Since when is a song viciously attacking American Christians as fascists considered "tame" and inoffensive? The only arguments in the Post's favor: The song is old (from 1993, hardly the zenith of Christian conservatism), and it's a very lame white rap song.
As Eat the Press has reported, NBC Nightly News has a famous new voice pitching Brian Williams at the program's introduction every night. It’s the actor Michael Douglas, best known as Aaron Sorkin’s liberal "American President" and as the evil Gordon Gekko character in the Oliver Stone Decade of Greed movie "Wall Street."
Douglas announces: "From NBC News world headquarters in New York, this is NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams."
It seemed a little under modulated on Debut Night, or maybe it just doesn’t match up to the James Earl Jones "This....is CNN" sonorous standard. But it’s easy to remember how much all the networks loved the Gordon Gekko line to sum up those greed-head Ronald Reagan 1980s, as we wrote in our newsletter at the time:
On CNN’s The Situation Room on Monday, CNN political reporter Candy Crowley publicized a new website started by the Hillary Clinton campaign at the address www.thehillaryIknow.com, designed to warm up Hillary’s cold, calculating image. Crowley touted how a combination of personal friends and New York constituents and "some names you would recognize" like Wesley Clark would spin for the candidate’s personal warmth.
Some of it was low on the relevance meter: "Today, we heard from a longtime – one of her closest friends in elementary school, who told us Clinton was captain of the crossing guards in elementary school." But go on the actual website, and on the front page is Jim Blair, described only as "A very close friend of Hillary’s whose wife passed from cancer in 2000." Political junkies should know that name: Jim Blair is the Tyson Foods lawyer who mysteriously set rules aside and massaged Hillary’s $1,000 investment into a $100,000 bonanza in the cattle futures market over nine months in 1978 and 1979.
Blair’s video testimonial is summarized underneath his video screen: "I’d like to tell the story of the last of Diane’s life...Hillary was in a Senate race in New York. Hillary called Diane every day for the last 90 days of Diane’s life...Hillary gave her comfort and the strength to keep going." Blair also tells of Hillary standing up for the couple as their politically correct "best person" at their 1979 wedding, but says nothing, obviously, about the quick six-figure commodities miracle.
Call it a meeting of the Bush-bashing minds. Longtime PBS host Bill Moyers invited on MSNBC host Keith Olbermann for Friday’s edition of Bill Moyers Journal. The strangest moment came as Moyers suggested that in a polarized country, it might be distasteful for journalists to favor one side. Moyers must be playing devil’s advocate, because he’s been every bit as vituperative against Bush as Olbermann.
The worries about polarization and contributing to "a nation of screechers" came up twice.
BILL MOYERS: It seems to me that this country has become two choirs, each side listening to, only to its own preachers. If -- should journalists take sides when everybody else is polarized?
In a long interview with Rachel Sklar of The Huffington Post, former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw accentuated the dark cloud inside the silver lining of the surge. The fact that it's having some effect only darkens a "black mark" against the administration. But when it comes to the current campaign, he could only offer praise for Hillary Clinton ("enormous capacity" of her "native intelligence") and Barack Obama (also with "enormous intelligence," and some rookie mistakes.) First, the war:
It was too late, there were a lot of officers and military analysts who said early on that we needed more troops there, the fact that the surge came so late in the process is, I think, a black mark against the war planners and against the administration, I don't think there's any question about that. But now that it's in place it is having some effect: The diminution of insurgent attacks — but now we find out that they're moving north and they're just changing the battlefield.
Sally Quinn, spouse of former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee and co-founder of the Post website's On Faith page, greeted the approaching holy day of Christmas by touting liberal and leftist books on religion and atheism in the Book World section: "These books offer a generosity of spirit, communion and wisdom. In a sense they are like the basic tenets of most religions -- they embody the Golden Rule. And they give us something to contemplate as we approach an often difficult, yet joyful and transcendent time of year." The most provocative political lesson in these four mini-reviews was from gay black Harvard Baptist minister Peter Gomes, author of The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus. Quinn explained:
He contends that Jesus is a revolutionary, a radical, and a socialist -- that Jesus "would not have been unsympathetic to the famous social slogan of the nineteenth century, 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.'"
The top headline in Saturday's Washington Post underlines the tendency for displaying bias by practicing future-tense journalism. "Bush's Budget Wins May Cost Him" is the headline on Jonathan Weisman's report. Inside, the headline is similar in tone: "President Could Pay a Price for Victories Over Democrats." He may -- or he may not. He could -- or he could not. But it's hard to escape the notion that the Post thinks he should. Or perhaps the Post is afraid that a series of wins by Bush may make him look powerful and boost his approval rating, and they want to keep following his image around with their own cherished personal collection of dark clouds of text.
Why can't the newspapers simply report what has already happened, and not bog down the reader with their own biased impressions of what could or should happen next? Why must reporters always get out a crystal ball and wear a silly fortune-teller's hat? Weisman's soothsayer story began this way:
On Saturday's Religion page in The Washington Post, they highlighted the typical secular liberal reporter in his natural habitat -- tremendously skeptical of letting religious people play a role in public policy. In a box highlighting the "On Faith" Internet feature of The Washington Post and Newsweek, the magazine's Christopher Dickey was visibly disturbed in answering the question "Do you think the world's biggest problems -- poverty, disease, homelessness -- can be cured by well-intentioned religious believers?" The Post featured this grab:
“Well-intentioned religious believers”? That phrase, I confess, makes me deeply uneasy. In practice the selflessness of such people can be awe inspiring. In horrible conditions, their powerful faith gives them the strength to endure, to comfort, to heal. But at a policy level when they see practical problems through the narrow prism of dogma the results can be shocking.
At his blog Political Punch, ABC News reporter Jake Tapper stirred up angry Hillary supporters by suggesting Sen. Clinton was exaggerating when she claimed in Thursday’s Democratic debate that "I passed" a law requiring the head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to have emergency experience. "But knowledgeable Senate sources say that is not what happened," Tapper reported. "Clinton never ‘passed’ the legislation to do this."
His post began:
One of the knocks on Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, by her opponents is that she takes credit for things she shouldn't -- say, the myriad successes of her husband's administration (and few of its failures).
Those inclined to wonder about this quality may have gotten more fuel for the fire yesterday.
The decline in bad news from Iraq is bound to improve the president’s poll ratings, right? But if it does, will you find the story? The Washington Post reported on its latest poll with ABC News in a story Friday headlined "Poll Shows More Optimism on War: After Record Lows, Bush Gains With Republicans, Independents." The Post placed it on page A-18.
Liberal activity was more important news. On A-3, we learned New Jersey voted to ban the death penalty. On A-7, the House passed a bill to ban harsh interrogations by the CIA. On A-8, Pat Leahy and the Senate Judiciary Committee declared Karl Rove and Josh Bolten in contempt of Congress.
Perhaps, just like the death tolls in Iraq, the Post will need to find several months of improving polls before it’s "real news." Reporters Jennifer Agiesta and Jon Cohen diligently recounted that the polling news is still gloomy on the war being a mistake that needs to be ended, but:
What's on Keith Olbermann's mind about the media? This week, as Rupert Murdoch takes over the Wall Street Journal and as the FCC is about to allow more newspapers to expand into the broadcast business, BILL MOYERS JOURNAL continues its reporting on media consolidation and gets insight from MSNBC's popular and provocative Keith Olbermann.
As one delighted commenter replied,
Look up "National Treasure" in the dictionary and there's a picture of Bill Moyers.
In a not-so-veiled swipe at Giuliani and McCain, both of whom fell for younger women while still married, Romney told The Examiner that “people who commit adultery or other practices of that nature are carrying out absolutely heinous acts.”
The book editor of the Washington Post responded to the charge that its scalding Bill O’Reilly book review by Alan Dershowitz was a pre-planned hit job. In a Monday chat session at washingtonpost.com on the broader subject of authors, Book World section editor Marie Arana insisted her assigning editor "had no idea what Dershowitz would say." Then they clearly didn’t Google around for two minutes and find that Dershowitz loathes O’Reilly. Here’s the Q&A:
Alexandria, Virginia: Pardon me if this is rude, but might I ask Marie about her choice of reviewers on the Bill O'Reilly book yesterday? Was picking Alan Dershowitz meant to provoke the TV host? Did it seem like a book review to you, or some sort of slash-and-burn editorial?
Marie Arana: This question is way off point, but I'm glad to take it on.
In the Who's Sappier? contest of Hillary Clinton profiles on Sunday between The New York Times and the Washington Post, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote up a 3,085-word article called "Growing Up Rodham" that completely matched the Clinton-campaign template about her upbringing under a stern, even tyrannical father who was odiously conservative. Like the Times, the Post couldn’t find a single Hillary critic or adversary in the entire 3,000-plus words.
In the Post, it kicked off a series of long candidate biographies called "The Front-Runners." Jenkins is usually a sports writer and sports columnist for the Post. (Oddly, the Mitt Romney profile on Monday was written by reporter Eli Saslow, also brought over from Sports.) The overall effect of the Jenkins piece was to use Daddy’s ill-tempered right-wing views to nudge Hillary’s image into the center. On the front page Sunday, under a smiling Hillary portrait, these words appeared in large print:
The New York Times and the Washington Post seemed to have a contest on Sunday to see which could write the sappier profile of Hillary Clinton. The Times carried another soft-soap job by political writer Mark Leibovich titled "Clinton Talks of Scars While Keeping Her Guard Up." Her life, we’re told, is a long series of vicious "ego-mangling" attacks. But not one source in the 2,490-word story was an actual opponent of Mrs. Clinton. It was only friends and supporters, very cozy and unanimous.
Leibovich noted Mrs. Clinton likes to say that women in politics "need to develop skin as tough as a rhinoceros hide"... "I joke that I have the scars to show from my experiences," she said in an interview. "But you know, our scars are part of us, and they are a reminder of the experiences we’ve gone through, and our history. I am constantly making sure that the rhinoceros skin still breathes." Her rhino skin still breathes? Is that supposed to be a catchy campaign slogan?
The Times arrived at its usual Poor Dear thesis in this passage:
Under some fire for pounding Rudy Giuliani on Sunday’s Meet the Press with questions about a New York City security detail for his mistress, and whether it would be "appropriate" for a president to provide Secret Service protection for his mistress, Tim Russert hit NBC and MSNBC on Monday morning to defend himself and suggest that it’s essential we know what skeletons presidential candidates have in their past. But did Russert ever ask Bill Clinton about Secret Service protection for his mistresses? Russert’s interviews with Bill Clinton (especially lately) are classified under C for Chummy. Here are Russert’s mistress questions to Giuliani, followed by his defenses on Monday:
Always eager to promote another Hollywood film that casts a snarky eye on American foreign policy, Time magazine interviewed Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman about Charlie Wilson’s War, a new movie about a conservative Texas Democratic Congressman who secured funding for the Afghan rebels, written by liberal West Wing scribe Aaron Sorkin. Hanks recalled that when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, he just knew it was the beginning of the Soviets’ Vietnam, that "They have made a mistake equal to anything wrong America has done." Moral equivalence with the Soviets? Still in vogue in Hollywood in 2007.
Reasons to be skeptical? At the time, Hanks was 23 and had yet to get his big break as Kip-slash-Buffy in the ABC sitcom Bosom Buddies; and Hanks also suggested the Soviets freshly took over Hungary in 1956, instead of merely keeping the Soviet lid on the country. The interview began with Time’s Belinda Luscombe celebrating her own ignorance about American support for Afghan rebels:
CBS This Morning co-host Harry Smith offered a typically sappy and supportive Bill Clinton interview in the 7:30 half hour on Monday. Our Kyle Drennen will have more on that later today. But bias aside, can we just suggest that viewers should expect a news anchor who does his homework? In reporting on Andrew Young's remarks that Clinton is as black as Barack Obama, Smith called him "your UN ambassador," and Clinton had to correct him: he was a UN ambassador for Jimmy Carter.
Then Smith turned to Clinton saying he always opposed the Gulf War. He said "I did a little Googling," and found that all Clinton said was we should let the inspectors do their work. Harry Smith has the resources and the tape library and the high-faluting Tiffany Network traditions of CBS News -- and he's Googling by the seat of his pants at 4 in the morning? He should have found what ABC's Jake Tapper found, and he could it have Googled it from NewsBusters:
Late in the last decade, liberal legal eagle Alan Dershowitz wrote a book called "Sexual McCarthyism," in which he made the "compelling" analogy about Joe McCarthy searching for fake communists, just as Bill Clinton was recruiting fake...sex partners? This old book is relevant only because The Washington Post selected Dershowitz as the book reviewer for Bill O'Reilly's new book "Kids Are Americans Too."
Dershowitz began by noting factual errors in the book, a routine task for a critic. But quickly, he dipped into the sexual harassment lawsuit of former O'Reilly producer Andrea Mackris. Instead of reviewing the book, then Dershowitz turned it into a screed mocking O'Reilly as a hypocrite. For example:
Why would Barbara Walters make Bill Clinton a Most Fascinating Person of 2007? She explained it on Thursday’s Good Morning America: “We didn't want a political candidate, but I mean he has had such a year. Wrote another best-selling book, Giving, traveled all over the place. And we talked to him about what it was like to be, you know, what he thinks it's going to be if she wins.”
But the ooziest, least credible part came when GMA co-host Robin Roberts asked Walters “What do you make of the partnership between Bill and Hillary Clinton?” Walters laid on the lovey-dovey-Clintons line, thick as an oil slick: “Well, you know, we asked him, for example if he does, you know, text messaging. And he said no, he calls her because he has to hear her voice. He knows from the moment she says hello what kind of a day it is for her. Well, that's the only kind of relationship you can have if you're very close and, you know, obviously, they are.”
The recent setback in Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez’s efforts to proclaim himself ruler for life were stunning to ABC News woman Barbara Walters. "I was amazed that he, that he didn’t get to be president for life."
Perhaps Barbara was shocked that the people would rise up against this charismatic man she’d already wrapped into her special on the Ten Most Fascinating People of 2007. When asked if Hugo’s setback made him less fascinating, Walters said no, that "we try to have people that do positive things." But her actual profile of Chavez (recycling a March interview) turned a bit dreary. Her enthusiasm cooled enough that she actually edited more emotional quotes (both from Walters and Chavez) out of the brief profile.
James David Dickson of The American Spectator reviewed our book Whitewash on Blogcritics:
"In the general election," counsels Jonah Goldberg, "audiences will remember Whitewater, Travelgate, illegal fundraising, bimbo eruptions and impeachment. If they don't, you can be sure Republicans will remind them. Fair or not, the Republicans' intense dislike of Hillary will underscore the idea that a vote for her is a vote for more of the same rancor."
Whitewash is a great place to start in producing this rancor. As to whether conservative journalists will have any success cajoling their mainstream brethren to join them, that, like Hillary's election next November, is far from inevitable.
Some conservatives have insisted that the Republican nominee can't win merely by offering negatives about Hillary Clinton scandals, even if Dick Morris did call her "The Tornado" for all the trouble she caused. It's not up to the GOP to remind people of Hillary scandals. It's up to the conservative New Media.
In the fall edition of Ms. magazine, author L.S. Kim interviewed former ABC news anchor Carole Simpson to discover that it used to be that the news was presented "not in the public’s interest, but in white men’s interest." If that sounded plausible forty years ago, it certainly does not today. But feminist bloggers thought that Kim's article was "one of the standout articles." Here's how Kim quoted Simpson:
As Carole Simpson, a trailblazing African American woman who was ABC’s former weekend anchor for World News Tonight, explains, the news of old wasn’t delivered by men but solely decided by them. " And they were usually white, middle-aged, and upper-middle-class," says Simpson, currently a faculty member at Emerson College School of Communications. "The news they presented was not in the public interest, but in white men’s interest. News about, for, and by women was relegated to ‘women’s pages’ or ‘women’s shows.’"
Matthew Balan's item on CNN describing (unlabeled) Planned Parenthood and the "conservative" Heritage Foundation is all too common. It happens almost daily. It's even worse when radical leftists are unlabeled, and conservatives are described as "hard line." Liberals can't even describe their own ideological brethren as ideological.The difference in Wolf Blitzer’s labeling of Seymour Hersh and Pat Buchanan on Tuesday’s edition of The Situation Room is merely the latest lesson. Blitzer plugged upcoming segments this way:
How did the Bush administration apparently get it so wrong [on Iran] -- the intelligence community -- even as they were turning up the war rhetoric?I'll speak with Sy Hershof The New Yorker magazine. He broke the story, actually, a year ago and got slammed by the White House for reporting it. Plus, Pat Buchanan, the hard-line conservative -- you're going to find out why he thinks immigrants are right now destroying the American way of life. Pat Buchanan is standing by to join us live this hour.
Let’s now return to the goo at GQ, part 2. In his glory-to-Bill prayer of a story, George Saunders lamented how the media isn’t half-kind enough to the man they hope is President Clinton the First: "To observe Clinton up close is to get a mini seminar in the deficiencies of the media in conveying the real scale of our public figures." Clinton is enormous. Saunders pushes comparisons to Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King, as well as Frank Sinatra, Willie Mays, and Michael Jordan. Clinton's heart is immense, his talents prodigious. He is so brilliant he makes the writer feel like an idiot: "Because when Bill Clinton’s at your table, you don’t really want anyone else talking, and that includes you. When you do talk, you feel stupid. I mean, you are stupid."
Saunders does more mooning over Bill as the man stands in the bright sun listening to boring speeches by local African dignitaries:
Try to remember a time in September when it was reported that the Hillary Clinton campaign showed its "hard-nosed media strategy" by getting GQ magazine to spike a piece on Clinton team in-fighting by threatening to pull access to Bill Clinton for GQ’s planned December "Man of the Year" cover package. Well, that "Man of the Year" issue is out, and there was no bucking, only fawning. The article is titled "Bill Clinton, Public Citizen: On the road with one man who believe that there is no problem on Earth, no matter how complex or horrific, that cannot be solved." GQ spiked the negative article and gave the former president a puff piece so puffy that it will lead to Monica Lewinsky jokes. The editor found Clinton to be Reaganesque.
In his letter from the editor in the December issue, Editor/Spiker-in-Chief Jim Nelson makes no reference to the deal he made with the Clintons. In a note headlined "The Year of the Wide Stance," he summarized the year like this: "It was a year when politicians couldn’t decide what they stood for – or in the case of Larry Craig, what they sat for." Nelson mocked Rudy Giuliani for citing Reagan as a role model and joked candidates should pick a more obscure president to model after, like alcoholic Franklin Pierce. Then he compared Clinton favorably to Reagan:
Sometimes, newspapers bury the lede on purpose. Today’s Exhibit A? The Washington Post Style section profile of Chris Weitz, the director of the new anti-religious movie The Golden Compass. The Post’s anodyne headline was "‘Golden Compass’ Director Seeks True North." David Segal’s story takes eight paragraphs and a sentence before it gets to the point, why the publicity: The trilogy of books behind the movie "attacks the concept of organized religion -- more specifically, any religion that rules by fiat and claims an exclusive pipeline to the truth."
Weitz has done quite the comedy routine in defending the film. In a soundbite on CNN’s The Situation Room on Tuesday, he claimed: "I don’t think the books are a threat to organized religion. First of all, I think organized religion is strong enough to stand on its own. Secondly I don't think that Pullman is aggressively anti-Catholic or anti-religious." Come again? This is like Weitz claiming his American Pie movies weren’t about teenage sex.
Between her tirades against White House press secretary Dana Perino, Helen Thomas granted an interview to the Huffington Post about how she has never made a major mistake. "I don't have any mistakes to tell you about," she said. The Huffington Post’s Seema Kalia replied: "You don't have any recollection of any time you didn't do something well?" Thomas said: "No, not that I know of. I don't say I'm perfect, and I do say I've made mistakes, but nothing that's colossal." This is not the standard she’s used to judge President Bush, writing at least two columns that lamented his answers to list-your-mistakes questions from the White House press corps.