NBC began its Friday Today broadcast with the grim-sounding news that Saddam Hussein will be executed soon. Why grim? Isn't this a moment, at least a day, showing some good news from Iraq, and reminding the country that it did something in deposing Saddam that pleased the Iraqi people? For NBC, this is merely a short interruption in the non-stop bad news from Iraq. It's an event they are predicting will be quickly overshadowed by increased violence. Lauer concentrated on the fears of our government, and Russert declared violence was a "huge fear" of the administration. Russert went on to predict that the Bush team would try to justify the war on Saddam around the execution of the dictator, but any echo of celebration "could in fact be very short term, depending on what level of violence follows his death."
An uptick in violence might happen. But it also seems that this prediction helps prevent a single news cycle from sounding any kind of positive note. Lauer began the Saddam part of his chat with Russert this way:
At the absolutely Bush-loathing website Buzzflash.com, there are Olbermann for President buttons. He is, they say, "the first-tier reality-based, progressive cable commentator" who has walked on "the path to becoming the contemporary heir to the courageous, succinct truth-telling of Edward R. Murrow." The love letter continued:
Olbermann's commentaries on the Bush Administration and America's promise are so succinct, articulate, and withering that they leave you breathless. You keep thinking, "How did the corporate media poobahs let someone so straightforward, eloquent and truthful on the air?"
In an age of media stenographers, Olbermann doesn't pull any punches. And he's not just hard hitting; he connects the dots too. In short, he puts the insane failure and duplicity of the Bush administration in context, a rare thing indeed on television and in the media in general.
On NBC's "Daily Nightly" blog, anchor Brian Williams explained that he was a big fan of Jerry Ford, and has a pile of handwritten letters from Ford in his later years. You can read between the lines the respect and nostalgia liberals have for a moderate Republican in a much more liberal era:
The truth is Jerry Ford was a nice man. He was decent, courageous, honest...and a loving and faithful partner to his wife, a wonderful and trail-blazing woman. By today's political standards he just might be a liberal. By today's standards he is an anachronism of a kind of cooperative, deal-making and dare I say much more bipartisan brand of politics.
The liberal encomiums for a more bipartisan time do seem to omit that the Democrats held the House by a majority of about 145 after the post-Watergate sweep in 1974, so bipartisanship was pretty much mandatory, even if it was a natural fit for Ford.
The Christmas break replay season offered a chance to catch up on shocking episodes of "The View" on ABC. On December 26, a replay of the December 6 program gave viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones the chance to see James Brolin pitch a government-set-up-9/11 website: "Can I tell you to have a look at www.911weknow.com? And then wait until I see you next time." The first broadcast was blocked in the East due to doting live coverage of the Iraq Study Group report release. (The eagle eyes at Hot Air lamented the dropout at the time. Hey, maybe that event was a government conspiracy to silence Brolin....) Video: Real (1.7MB) or Windows (1.9 MB)Plus: MP3 (292KB) The transcript is below.
The night after Christmas, the PBS show "Tavis Smiley" reran the Smiley interview with Rather from October when he was plugging the launch of his show on HDNet. Aside from his boast that he found reporting from the field "more addictive than crack cocaine," (and, um, how would Dan know that?), the interesting part was that Rather made it sound like he didn’t seem to discover the injustice of racism until he was 31 years old, and then professed that seeing racial hatred face to face made him a different media professional.
"When I came to the civil rights movement, covering it for CBS News, when I first came to work for the network in 1962, I had no idea. I was dumb as a fence post about civil rights. I'd vaguely heard of Dr. Martin Luther King, heard some things about sit-ins. But it became my first major responsibility for CBS News was to cover Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, just as it was beginning to really take traction. They'd been trying to get it to take traction for a long while. And the education that was for me, if I hadn't been before, and you can argue that I already was, that I became addicted to field reporting. And once you get addicted, trust me, it's more addictive than crack cocaine."
The Washington Post had a light-hearted headline for the day after Christmas at the top left of the front page: "Democrats Pledge to Restrain Spending." Lori Montgomery's article reflects a talk to the chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees. She reported they "said they will have little room in their budget blueprints for significant new domestic spending, such as closing a much-criticized gap in the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit that forces millions of seniors to pay 100 percent of drug costs for a few weeks or months each year."
But have no fear, Sen. Kent Conrad has an easy solution, as he emphasized war costs. "Raising taxes would certainly be an option...The President this is his policy. He's got an obligation to pay for it." So why isn't the headline "Democrats Say Raise Taxes"?
Time magazine's website had an online poll recently to help (supposedly) determine who should take home its 'Person of the Year' designation. Radical-lefty Hugo Chavez fans are upset that they loaded up on the online poll for a victory, but the poll was not definitive. The folks at the Hands Off Venezuela blog do have this amusing take:
Interestingly, the present issue of Time carries another article called "Power to the People" (read it here), which starts by saying:
"Meet 15 citizens-including a French rapper, a relentless reviewer and a real life lonely girl-of the new digital democracy"
Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass comes at Barack Obama's media hype machine from a local perspective, wondering how a President Obama might be useful to corrupt Illinois politicians in both parties. But he says he like the man, if not his starry-eyed media hype:
He's a decent fellow and I like him. He might make a fine liberal president someday. And though I disagree with him on policy, I'd bet my White Sox tickets that his wife, Michelle, won't keep 800 secret FBI files of their political enemies hidden in some White House bedroom.
Obama isn't irritating. What's irritating is the relentless media fawning and hype. Tom Bevan of the Real Clear Politics Web site recently predicted the slobbering will "drive John Kass nuts."
The Center for Media and Public Affairs, the long-time shingle of academic media-bias expert Robert Lichter (have you ever read "The Media Elite"?), has a new study out on just how negative "The Daily Show" was in the week leading up to Election Day 2006. CMPA, also the former home of MRC research guru Rich Noyes, has long specialized in studying the political tilt of TV jokes as well as TV news. This study suggests that if negativity is a problem in our political culture, then Jon Stewart ain’t the solution:
Comedy Central’s highly-rated "Daily Show" program covered the 2006 mid-terms with a nearly unanimous negative tone, according to a new study released by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA). While the show bills itself as ‘fake news,’ their reporting prior to the election was 97% negative – far more unfavorable than network news coverage of the Mark Foley scandal, and even of Saddam Hussein – though equally harsh towards Republicans and Democrats.
President Bush submitted to a 25-minute interview Tuesday with the three Washington Post White House correspondents: Peter Baker, Michael Fletcher, and Michael Abramowitz. The transcript in today's Post leaves the definite impression it was another game of asking "when will you submit to the will of the Democrats, er, the people?" The tone of questioning suggests Bush is denying the reality that America is now in the capable hands of a MoveOn.org majority, and demands that he "listen" to their wish list, since his wishes are no longer viable:
Given the election results, is increasing the troop level in Iraq even a viable possibility or option?
Listening to the Stephanie Miller radio show today on the local Clear Channel "progressive talk" station, I found the trend to rely on comedians for left-wing talk radio entertainment continues. Miller's out, and the guest hostesses are comedian Elayne Boosler and comedy writer Merrill Markoe, still best known for her professional/personal relationship with David Letterman. Today, Boosler joked that Republicans "were so vile" that they were calling Sen. Tim Johnson a "bleeding-brain liberal." It fell so flat, even in the studio, that Boosler tried to point out that it was a joke.
Bloggers have pondered the term, but that was long before Senator Johnson's unfortunate illness.
Yesterday, this dynamic comedy duo was discussing Iraq, and Markoe claimed that Iraq was surrounded by Sunni Arab countries. Boosler weakly suggested "No, I think Iran is Shi'a," but Markoe insisted she was right, and they had to consult someone else to figure it out.
Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne attempts to redefine the "real America" as the new headquarters of liberal chic, and picks the fake-newscasters of Comedy Central as the trendiest of left-wing gunslingers:
When the right seemed headed to dominance in the early 1990s, the hot political media trend was talk radio and the star was Rush Limbaugh, a smart entrepreneur who spawned imitators around the country and all across the AM dial.
Now the chic medium is televised political comedy and the cool commentators are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Their brilliant ridicule of the Bush administration and conservative bloviators satisfies a political craving at least as great as the one Limbaugh once fed. Stewart and Colbert speak especially to young Americans who rely on their sensible take on the madness that surrounds us. The young helped drive their popularity, and the Droll Duo in turn shaped a new, anti-conservative skepticism.
As the religious holidays commence, people who preach tolerance worry that religious (or non-religious) minorities are left out. As Christmas approached and Hanukkah began on Friday night, National Public Radio’s "All Things Considered" devoted a story to atheists, but not just any story. It was a story about atheists who feel that ridicule and intolerance of religion is just what this country needs. The message was simple: atheists look forward to when "religious tolerance is no longer tolerated."
Co-anchor Robert Siegel began: "Atheism has never gained much of a foothold in the United States. Barely one percent of Americans describe themselves as atheists. Now, a small group on nonbelievers has a new approach to getting their message out, challenging the faithful with a fiery rhetorical blend of reason and ridicule, especially ridicule..."
In his "Best of the Web Today" column on Opinion Journal, James Taranto noticed the New York Times recently reported a story on the eagerness in Iraq to see Saddam Hussein executed, but reporter Kirk Semple's piece transmitted that all-too-familiar tendency to identify with the convicts, and not the ones they caused to suffer:
From a New York Times story on Iraqi execution methods, set to be used on convicted murderer Saddam Hussein:
The victims are led up a set of steel stairs to a platform, about 15 feet above the ground, and nooses fashioned from one-and-a-quarter-inch-thick hemp ropes are slipped over their necks. The executioners are different each time, drawn from among employees of the Justice Ministry who volunteer for the job. Many have lost relatives or friends in insurgent attacks, officials said.
Monday's first hour of National Public Radio's Diane Rehm show out of Washington focused on the health and political ramifications of Sen. Tim Johnson's brain surgery. Guests were Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Early in the show (about 7 and a half minutes in), Rehm grew a little crass, asking if Sen. Johnson's family could ruin the slender majority the Democrats hold in the upper chamber. Consider this through the lens of the Terri Schiavo debate, and see the liberal flip-flop coming:
Rehm: "What’s if Johnson’s family were to say ‘Tim Johnson can no longer serve’? Do they have the right to do that?"
The front page of Monday’s Washington Post is a topped with a local religion story, as seven Episcopal parishes voted to break with the Episcopal Church USA over the church’s tilt away from the Bible and toward a "progressive" future with gay bishops and gay "marriage" ceremonies. Reporters Michelle Boorstein and Bill Turque describe these dissidents as "conservative" four times in the story (and once in the headline), but there are no "liberals" in the piece, not gay Bishop Gene Robinson and not the top Presiding Bishop, Kathleen Jefferts Schori. In paragraph 17, the reporters do attribute talk of a "leftward drift" to a disgruntled parishioner.
(Perhaps most surprising is the picture: conservative opponents of homosexuality embracing after the decision to split away. Nearly every national newspaper story on gay issues is illustrated by gay plaintiffs, gay protesters, gay parents – and social conservatives go for years without being pictured.)
In the era of Bill Clinton, the liberal media was not shy about locating "Clinton haters." In March of 1994, Washington Post reporter Ann Devroy reported from the front of conservatism, "Bill Clinton’s enemies are making their hatred clear, with a burning intensity and in some case with an organized passion." She listed as haters Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, Michael Reagan, and so on. But the Post doesn’t seem to use the term "Bush hater," even when Bush haters are dancing right in front of them.
See Monday’s Style section for a feature on a Bush-hating ballet. Sarah Kaufman’s review of a Kennedy Center performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company is mildly headlined "Paul Taylor, Hitting Close To Home: At His 'Banquet of Vultures,' George Bush Is the Centerpiece." What a treat, another "antiwar" artist trashing the warmongers, with Bush cast as uncaring about troop deaths, and even committing one himself:
Steven Spruiell of NRO Media Blog offered a few thoughts on Tony Snow's apology to David Gregory for suggesting a question about how Bush is a failure was partisan in character. (To me, it had a bit of a "sorry I said the sky is blue" logic to it.) I'm more in line with Steve's POV than Noel Sheppard's praise for Snow's decency:
Snow's smart enough to realize that the White House simply doesn't enjoy the kind of popularity it would need to survive a war with the beltway media right now, and the last thing he needs is the Milbanks of the world attacking his credibility on the eve of a major policy change in Iraq.
The MRC's new Culture and Media Institute has already drawn national press attention by making a Christmas list -- not your everyday Christmas list, mind you, but a list of who's been naughty in denying Christmas in the public square, and who's nice in upholding traditions. The list of "Santa's Helpers" and "Grinches" is here. CMI's Kristen Fyfe explained:
It seems almost ridiculous that acknowledging Christmas should be controversial. In a country where 96% of the citizens celebrate it, why do so many feel like Christmas is under attack? An online poll done by the Chicago Tribune last week showed that 68% of respondents think there is a war on Christmas. Why?
Brent Bozell's entertainment column this week focuses on a Simon Dumenco column in Advertising Age magazine demanding the resignation of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin because he's too cozy with "ultra-conservatives" who want the FCC to uphold broadcast decency standards in any way:
If Dumenco wants to play Donald Trump and fire assorted government officials that bring him displeasure, perhaps he shouldn’t start with Mr. Martin, who is merely enforcing the law as it stands. Memo to Mr. Dumenco: If Martin refused to enforce decency provisions, then he would be in violation of the law.
Washington Post movie critic Stephen Hunter (not a role model for the Politically Correct Movie Critic) cracks today that Will Smith's new movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" unfolds like a lecture from your "old man" about working hard to achieve your dreams.
Hunter calls it "a radically conservative encomium to trying hard, to capitalism, to salesmanship, to Dean Witter, to never saying die, and to reaping the big reward." I don't get what's so "radically conservative" or capitalistic about working hard to achieve. (Don't socialists work hard to achieve their socialistic goals? Hillary?) It sounds to me more like "I can't believe Hollywood made a positive film about a black man in a Dean Witter office."
In the hullaballoo over Sen. Tim Johnson's brain surgery, there are a few facts and examples that I'm not seeing, at least in the TV coverage:
1. In the sad case that Sen. Johnson cannot continue in office, some suggest it's outrageous that replacing Johnson with a Republican would deny the voice of the majority. Just remember how tight that Senate race was in 2002. Sen. Johnson was reelected by about 500 votes -- 167,481 to 166,954.
2. One of the recent examples of a death in office was Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell, who was re-elected to a second term in 1998, and died after a hemorrage and brain surgery in 2000, and was replaced in the Senate by former Gov. Zell Miller, a Democrat. This was one reason the Senate tipped to a 50-50 margin after the 2000 election. No one in the media fussed that the seat changed parties. (This was before Zell Miller became a thorn in the hide of the national Democrats.)
My pal Cam Edwards at NRANews.com forwarded an example of media incompetence followed by arrogance on the issue of the state of Ohio pre-empting local gun laws:
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reversed course on the issue of firearms pre-emption laws, writing an editorial in favor of pre-emption back in August and then slamming the idea a few weeks ago. Chad Baus, from Buckeye Firearms Association, had a lengthy and funny email exchange with the head of the editorial page. You can find the whole story here.
Baus found a clear case of an editorial writer who had not read the bill he was writing about, and an editorial page editor who refused to admit they hadn't read it.
Surely, Americans of all stripes ended up rooting for CNN's Wolf Blitzer as he sparred against that oily hater David Duke on Wednesday night. But many Americans also might suspect that the Duke booking was a stunt to goose ratings and create buzz for CNN. Conservatives have often been outraged that liberals would suggest Duke was one of them, when he was always appearing in the liberal media, and not on conservative talk radio. They made him famous. For those readers who are too young to remember the last national media heyday for David Duke, it was in the presidency of George H. W. Bush, whose election was widely believed by liberals to be the result of racist Republicans responding to Willie Horton's face in political ads. Here's an old article I wrote in 1992 on the phenomenon:
Why is David Duke famous? The national media jumped all over the Duke story from the time he campaigned for and won a state representative seat on January 21, 1989. He gained nationwide infamy because his presence proved two things journalists would like to believe about American politics -- first, that the country's whites as a whole are still inherently racist; and second, that George Bush won the 1988 election almost completely because of that.
The latest word from AP on hospitalized Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota is that he was disoriented, but did not suffer a stroke or heart attack. Everyone should wish him well. He's about to turn 60, which doesn't seem so old these days, especially for Senators.
AP writer Mary Claire Jalonick adds this sentence near the bottom of the piece: "Johnson, a centrist Democrat, was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and has been one of the more reserved members of the chamber, rarely taking center stage at news conferences." He certainly is low profile, but his lifetime ACU rating is 20, and his last two sessions in the Senate were 11 percent in 2004 and 13 in 2005.
One of the most persistent tics of the passive-aggressive press is its denials of its power, that it doesn't run the country, or at least try to run the country. All that journalism-school boilerplate about how the media is merely a watchdog, or like it's the BASF of democracy, you know, it doesn't make everything, it just makes the secret ingredient that makes everything better? Baloney. Some of us signed up for the media-criticism business because the media want to pretend they're not major players in the political process that make every other actor in the political system try to figure out how to capture the warm glow of media adulation, or at least avoid it like an obstacle course. So when Dow Jones Chairman Peter Kann wrote an editorial on the press (see it over on his company's Opinion Journal), I liked the end the best:
The Baltimore Sun wasn’t alone in promoting Nancy Pelosi, not even among its fellow newspapers in the Tribune publishing group. On Monday, in a story headlined "Pelosi Piques Public's Interest," Los Angeles Times reporter Faye Fiore portrayed Pelosi as an object of public fascination:
As Pelosi prepares to be sworn in Jan. 4 as the first female speaker of the House, she has become an object of fascination and curiosity in political circles and beyond. Barbara Walters interviewed her as one of the year's 10 most fascinating people. People magazine has written about her twice in recent weeks. An article in a Palm Springs newspaper ran with the headline: "How To Get the Nancy Pelosi Look." (Answer: an Armani suit.)
Only weeks ago, Republicans were doing their best in the heat of the campaign to paint Pelosi, 66, as a conservative's nightmare — a San Francisco liberal out of touch with the American mainstream. But more recently, a poll measuring political charisma showed that she had "dramatically improved her standing" with the public, sponsors of the survey said, with voters knowing her better and feeling warmer toward her.
If political reporters think their job is to lay out the facts, then why would anyone try to claim Nancy Pelosi is not a liberal? In Tuesday's Baltimore Sun, reporter Matthew Hay Brown is the latest Pelosi profiler to suggest liberal is just a "brand" Republicans have tried to burn on her. He began: "As she introduces herself next month to a national audience, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be stressing her roots in working-class, Catholic Baltimore as a way of recasting the liberal image with which Republicans have tried to brand her." Brown extensively used liberal professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, often used by network reporters over the years to debunk political ads, to attempt to make plausible the bunk that Pelosi is firmly in the mainstream because, forget the voting record, she's a Catholic grandmother. In 19 years in the House, Pelosi has a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of three out of 100.
Two notes on Bill O'Reilly controversies today. First, Brian Maloney at the Radio Equalizer blog reports a forthcoming operatic work on the Andrea Mackris complaint of sexual harassment against O'Reilly, "an oratorio for 31-piece chamber orchestra, 32-voice chorus and three soloists." It debuts in Seattle, where Christmas trees are controversial, but not this?
The late Jeane Kirkpatrick was well-known for distinguishing the difference between authoritarian governments and totalitarian governments. The Washington Post also distinguishes: it's harsher on right-wing authoritarians then on left-wing communist dictators. Coverage of the death of right-wing Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was all focused on the "dictator's dark legacy" and how he'd escaped punishment. But upon the death of Chinese dictator Deng Ziaoping in 1997, the Post emphasized how he opened China to outsiders and liberalized the economy (alongside news events like the murderous crackdown on student dissidents in Tiananmen Square in 1989). The first front-page article did not wonder why no one had brought Deng to "justice."
In a story simply headlined "A Chilean Dictator's Dark Legacy," Monte Reel and J.Y. Smith focused heavily on the left-wing brief against Pinochet, Richard Nixon, CIA infiltration, and fear of communism. Note the absence of any talk of democratization and economic liberalization: