Browsing the archives for the News Media category.


Politico Does the Reporting Job on the Hillary Victory Fund That Rachel Maddow Wouldn’t Do

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News Media, Sanders and Clinton

Politico, of all creatures, actually did an analysis of the Hillary Victory Fund and reached the same conclusion I did.

In the days before Hillary Clinton launched an unprecedented big-money fundraising vehicle with state parties last summer, she vowed “to rebuild our party from the ground up,” proclaiming “when our state parties are strong, we win. That’s what will happen.”

But less than 1 percent of the $61 million raised by that effort has stayed in the state parties’ coffers, according to a POLITICO analysis of the latest Federal Election Commission filings.

I believe this is based on the end-of-March filing and not the one due recently. At the end of March, the HVF had taken in $60,568,530 , according to Open Secrets. I hope they follow up when they can analyze the April data.

I’ve been flogging this story for awhile, even though it barely qualifies as a “story” since it’s gotten no traction in news media. It has been obvious that something really underhanded has been going on with the Hillary Victory Fund, but nobody wants to notice.

I haven’t watched Maddow’s show for awhile, in large part since I haven’t had regular access to a television for awhile. But I was never so disappointed with her as when she brushed allegations about the Hillary Victory Fund aside without even looking at what was going on. I wrote about this here.

Here’s something I did not know. Politico reports,

The victory fund has transferred $3.8 million to the state parties, but almost all of that cash ($3.3 million, or 88 percent) was quickly transferred to the DNC, usually within a day or two, by the Clinton staffer who controls the committee, POLITICO’s analysis of the FEC records found.

Maddow was too complacent to even just look at public reports. This was not exactly like meeting Deep Throat in the parking garage. Just look at the public record.

By contrast, the victory fund has transferred $15.4 million to Clinton’s campaign and $5.7 million to the DNC, which will work closely with Clinton’s campaign if and when she becomes the party’s nominee. And most of the $23.3 million spent directly by the victory fund has gone towards expenses that appear to have directly benefited Clinton’s campaign, including $2.8 million for “salary and overhead” and $8.6 million for web advertising that mostly looks indistinguishable from Clinton campaign ads and that has helped Clinton build a network of small donors who will be critical in a general election expected to cost each side well in excess of $1 billion.

The Sanders campaign complained about the latter, and news media told him to shut up.

But it is perhaps more notable that the arrangement has prompted concerns among some participating state party officials and their allies. They grumble privately that Clinton is merely using them to subsidize her own operation, while her allies overstate her support for their parties and knock Sanders for not doing enough to help the party.

“It’s a one-sided benefit,” said an official with one participating state party. The official, like those with several other state parties, declined to talk about the arrangement on the record for fear of drawing the ire of the DNC and the Clinton campaign.

Hillary and Debbie must be keeping everybody’s grandmothers hostage in their basements. Everyone on the Democratic side is terrified of them.

Some fundraisers who work for state parties predict that the arrangement could actually hurt participating state parties. They worry that participating states that aren’t presidential battlegrounds and lack competitive Senate races could see very little return investment from the DNC or Clinton’s campaign, and are essentially acting as money laundering conduits for them. And for party committees in contested states, there’s another risk: they might find themselves unable to accept cash from rich donors whose checks to the victory fund counted towards their $10,000 donation limit to the state party in question — even if that party never got to spend the cash because it was transferred to the DNC.

Money laundering. Thank you.

Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for Clinton’s campaign, suggested that a handful of key state parties last month received another $700,000 in transfers from the victory fund, and enjoyed other benefits from it that will be detailed in subsequent FEC reports. (The latest reports only cover through the end of March.)…

… But Schwerin did not respond to follow-up questions about how much of the $700,000 in victory fund transfers to the state parties was subsequently transferred to the DNC.

It’s also a shell game. They keep moving money around and everybody gets dizzy and loses track of where it is.

Sanders’ campaign late last year signed a joint fundraising agreement with the DNC, but the committee has been largely inactive. Instead, after Sanders was chided by Clinton allies for not helping down-ballot Democrats, he sent out appeals to his vaunted email list that helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a trio of progressive House candidates, who got to keep all the cash.

The Hillary Victory Fund, by contrast, allows the Clinton campaign to maintain tight control over the cash it raises and spends.

The article goes on to describe how the Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon vs. FEC (2014) made this operation possible. It goes way beyond the fundraising apparatus of any previous presidential campaign. But I’ll skip over that part for now.

According to the agreements signed by the participating committees, which were obtained by POLITICO, the money is required to be distributed, at least initially, based on a formula set forth in joint fundraising agreements signed by the participants. The first $2,700 goes to Clinton campaign, the next $33,400 goes to the DNC, and any remaining funds are to be distributed among the state parties.

But what happens to the cash after that initial distribution is left almost entirely to the discretion of the Clinton campaign. Its chief operating officer Beth Jones is the treasurer of the victory fund. And FEC filings show that within a day of most transfers from the victory fund to the state parties, identical sums were transferred from the state party accounts to the DNC, which Sanders’ supporters have accused of functioning as an adjunct of the Clinton campaign.

This scheme was in the works for a long time before the primaries started. Isn’t it odd that, in a year in which the Oval Office contained an open seat and the Republicans were expected to be in disarray, no “insider” Democrats stepped up to challenge Hillary Clinton? What are the odds, given that probably every politician in Washington has at least entertained fantasies of being POTUS? It’s as if they all got threats, in plain envelopes slipped under the office door — Nice grandma you have there …

For example, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party received $43,500 from the victory fund on Nov. 2, only to transfer the same amount to the DNC that same day. The pattern repeated itself after the Minnesota party received transfers from the victory fund of $20,600 on Dec. 1 (the party sent the same amount to the DNC the next day) and $150,000 on Jan. 4 (it transferred the same amount to the DNC that day).

That means that Minnesota’s net gain from its participation in the victory fund was precisely $0 through the end of March. Meanwhile, the DNC pocketed an extra $214,100 in cash routed through Minnesota — much of which the DNC wouldn’t have been able to accept directly, since it came from donors who had mostly had already maxed out to the national party committee.

A similar pattern transpired with most of the participating state parties. As of March 31, only eight state parties (most of which were in battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia) had received more from the victory fund than was transferred from their accounts to the DNC.

This is the kind of analysis I couldn’t do myself, and it tells us that the Hillary Victory Fund is an even bigger scam than I thought it was.

Another area in which critics contend the Hillary Victory Fund appears to be pushing the bounds of joint fundraising is in its online advertising campaign, which has included many ads urging readers to “Stop Trump” or to support Clinton.

While joint fundraising committees are allowed to pay for ads as part of their fundraising efforts, they are forbidden from funding campaign advertising urging voters to vote for or against specific candidates. Those types of ads qualify as electioneering expenses that are supposed to be paid for directly by the campaign or by party committees.

Nice bit of line-blurring, there. The Clinton people say these ads are for fundraising purposes, not Clinton campaign purposes. Here’s a page full of those online ads. You be the judge.

Those victory fund ads, as well as a direct mail campaign funded by the same committee, “appear to benefit only [the Clinton campaign] by generating low-dollar contributions that flow only to HFA, rather than to the DNC or any of the participating state party committees,” charged Sanders’ campaign lawyer in an open letter sent to the DNC in April. It alleged that the victory fund was essentially a pass-through to allow Clinton to benefit from contributions that far exceed the amount that her campaign could legally accept.

In a news release accompanying the letter, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver argued “it is unprecedented for the DNC to allow a joint committee to be exploited to the benefit of one candidate in the midst of a contested nominating contest.”

Typically, the Clinton campaign responded by calling any criticism of The Empress Hillary out of bounds.

Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook called the letter a “shameful” and “irresponsible” fundraising ploy, and urged Sanders to “think about what he can do to help the party he is seeking to lead.”

Nice bit of misdirection there, and every bobblehead on television fell for it.

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Stupid Protesting, a Primer

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Civil Rights, News Media

Shoving aside last night’s Republican debate, which I’m sure was the usual crazy salad, I want to say a little more about the situation at my alma mater, the University of Missouri. As I wrote a couple of days ago, I have no doubt the campus is a genuinely hostile place for black students. And I have no doubt that the examples of racist incidents given in news stories are just the tip of a huge iceberg. I’m sincerely glad the students’ protests got some tangible results.

However …

The student organization behind the protests, #Concerned Student 1950 — 1950 is the year the university began to accept black students — managed to screw the pooch by trying to physically evict journalists from their gatherings, in public space on university grounds. The incident that got everyone’s attention involved a senior at the School of Journalism named Tim Tai, who had gotten a freelance photography assignment to cover the football team protests from ESPN (good for you, Tim!). As he patiently tried to explain to hostile protesters that he had a First Amendment right to report on public demonstrations on public property, an assistant professor of media (NOT part of the School of Journalism) named Melissa Click actually tried to grab Tai’s camera and then yelled “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here!”

(I was seriously relieved to learn that Click is not a J School prof. When I was a student at the J School, covering the news any way we could was considered a sacred duty.)

Conor Friedersdorf wrote,

In the video of Tim Tai trying to carry out his ESPN assignment, I see the most vivid example yet of activists twisting the concept of “safe space” in a most confounding way. They have one lone student surrounded. They’re forcibly preventing him from exercising a civil right. At various points, they intimidate him. Ultimately, they physically push him. But all the while, they are operating on the premise, or carrying on the pretense, that he is making them unsafe.

Not all of the news stories about this have explained that Tim Tai is also an undergraduate student at the University of Missouri. It’s not just his public space; it’s his campus. Do go to Friedersdorf’s column to see the video and read his blow-by-blow description. I cringe whenever righties dismiss progressive demonstrators as thugs, but in this case the demonstrators were being thugs.

Do we need to review the Bigger Asshole Rule, people? Let’s do it, for the record.

The Bigger Asshole Rule

Effective demonstrations are those that make them look like bigger assholes than us.

It’s important to be clear how mass demonstrations “work.” Demonstrations should be viewed as a form of public relations. The point of them is not to somehow intimidate or change the minds of the people you are protesting. The point is to win public sympathy to your cause. Demonstrations can also be tools for organizing, among other things. But demonstrations are a dangerous tool, because they can just as easily work against you as for you.

The really great mass protest movements — the prototypes are Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement — “worked” because the public at large sympathized with the protesters. The protesters behaved in a way that demonstrated they were worthy of respect, and the Powers Than Be they were protesting — whether redneck southern sheriffs or the British Empire — behaved like assholes. Eventually it was public sympathy – not the protests themselves —  that forced the Powers That Be to step down.

In short, if your demonstrations don’t win public sympathy, you are shooting yourself in the foot and hurting your cause more than helping it.

At Missouri, the football team created a financial leverage that spoke louder than the demonstrations, but this is very unusual. Most of the time when people demonstrate in public it’s because they have no other leverage.

So now that we’ve reviewed the Bigger Asshole Rule, let’s go back to the University of Missouri. Charles Pierce wrote,

There’s now a lot of cheesy posturing going on regarding an encounter between a photojournalist named Tim Tai and an assistant professor of mass communication named Melissa Click. Tai was trying to cover the student demonstrations at the University of Missouri and Click went apeshit at him. This immediately made Tai a hero to anyone wishing to discredit what the students at Missouri accomplished over the past week. Rod Dreher was beside himself, which certainly is at least one too many Rod Drehers. The gang at Breitbart’s Mausoleum For Chronic Unemployables stamped their little feet in outrage. And other, lesser fauna joined right in. For his part, Tai seems baffled at being in the middle of this, and good for him. If he can resist the temptation to conspire in his own martyrdom, he will be a better person than most of the people who are claiming to be his champion. …

… Tim Tai was doing a job of work. He should have been allowed to do so without interference. He also should have been allowed to do so without being turned into a cudgel to be used against the people whose protest he was trying to cover. Welcome to the world, Tim. Hang in there.

See, this is what happens. Certainly there’s nothing #Concerned Student 1950 could have done to make the likes of Drehers and the Breitbrats like them, but even in Missouri there are some reasonable people whose sympathy is still up for grabs. #Concerned Student 1950 will need that sympathy going forward, if they’re going to win any battles with the troglodyte state legislature. It’s unlikely they will get that sympathy.

BTW, Click has issued an apology to Tim Tai. Yesterday the journalism faculty met to discuss revoking Click’s teaching privileges in the J School; she was not a J School professor but apparently taught a class there now and then. She resigned her own privileges before that was decided, however.

See also Steve M and Betty Cracker.

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View From Nowhere

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News Media, Republican Party

Timothy Egan has a column up at the NY Times comparing the candidates to junk food. Here’s just a bit:

More empty calories: Scott Walker, the governor whose foreign policy experience is limited to breakfast at the old International House of Pancakes, threatens to start at least two wars upon taking office. He promises to use military action if necessary to coax Iran into doing what he wants it to do. He also wants to pick a fight with Russia, sending weapons to Ukraine and erecting a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Walker’s home state of Wisconsin ranks 35th in private sector job creation. But New Jersey is worse, suffering nine credit downgrades and ranking near the bottom in job growth. Even the governor of the state, Chris Christie, would not rise to Jersey’s defense after fellow candidates described Atlantic City as something akin to Baghdad on a hangover.

Those governors want to apply their ruinous models to the rest of the country. In the same vein, a failed former chief executive officer, Carly Fiorina, having fired 30,000 employees and driven her company’s stock price into the ground, feels more qualified than ever to be president. She’s never held elective office and rarely voted while living in California. A junk comeback.

But what about the Dems? All the Dem candidates, like them or not, are offering real policy proposals for real problems. But Egan — and I like Egan — can’t bring himself to step out of the View From Nowhere and declare that dictates we must see both sides as just as bad.

Finally, to the Democrats. A 73-year-old socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, is getting lots of attention because Hillary Clinton’s email story is boring, by Clinton scandal standards. When a noisy intruder, an African-American, jumped to the podium and refused to let Sanders speak, it was widely interpreted as a big problem for the candidate and race relations.

Wrong. The censor with the mouth was, it turns out, a self-described “extremist Christian,” from a family that once backed Sarah Palin. Some members of Black Lives Matter distanced themselves from her.

How did this stunt become a thing among the national press corps? Junk media. Sadly, the sugar high goes two ways.

Yes, if you take the time to parse this he’s admitting that the problem is with media reporting, not Dem candidates, but the quick impression is that the Dem candidates don’t have anything to offer either. Of the two front-runners, one is just an old socialist and the other is bogged down in a boring email scandal.

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Stop David Brooks Before He Expresses Himself Again

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News Media

It was bad enough that The Cabbage was caught on video opining that Bernie Sanders “doesn’t get the working class.” As I wrote on my Facebook page, “Next we’ll hear Donald Trump complain that Joaquín Castro doesn’t get Latinos. Or Richard Dawkins will lecture us that the Pope doesn’t get Catholicism.”

But today Brooks has outdone himself. His column lectures Ta-Nehisi Coates on racism. Someday, when somebody builds the Museum of Clueless White Privilege, this column should be the first exhibit.

Responding to Coates’s new book Between the World and Me about the experience of being a black man in America, Brooks actually whitesplains to Coates that racism in America just isn’t as bad as he thinks it is. At one point he assumes that Coates doesn’t always mean what he wrote literally and accuses Coates (whose main strength as a columnist, IMO, is his masterful and well-researched presentation of American history) of distorting American history. It’s embarrassing. Someone at the New York Times would have done Brooks a favor by killing this column before anyone else saw it.

A big part of Coates’s problem, Brooks thinks, is that he doesn’t appreciate the American dream.

In your anger at the tone of innocence some people adopt to describe the American dream, you reject the dream itself as flimflam. But a dream sullied is not a lie. The American dream of equal opportunity, social mobility and ever more perfect democracy cherishes the future more than the past. It abandons old wrongs and transcends old sins for the sake of a better tomorrow.

Oh, let’s not be patronizing or anything, Mr. Brooks.

This dream is a secular faith that has unified people across every known divide. It has unleashed ennobling energies and mobilized heroic social reform movements. By dissolving the dream under the acid of an excessive realism, you trap generations in the past and destroy the guiding star that points to a better future.

I like the “acid of excessive realism.” Does that mean “what people experience in the real world,” by any chance?

Brooks concludes,

Maybe you will find my reactions irksome. Maybe the right white response is just silence for a change.

Ya think?

In any case, you’ve filled my ears unforgettably.

But not head head, apparently. But cabbages aren’t known for their mental acuity.

See also Helmut Monotreme at Sadly, No and Scott Eric Kaufman at Salon.

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Daniel Halper of Weekly Standard Is Eight Years Old

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News Media

He seems to have been around for longer than that, I know, but being eight years old is the only excuse for this observation. It’s the sort of thing only a child would notice and comment upon.

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The Hoped-for Twilight of Bill-O

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News Media

Some of Bill O’Reilly’s former colleagues at CBS News are ganging up on him to dispute his accounts of his Falkland War experiences and his short association with CBS News generally. O’Reilly sees himself as a brilliant and even heroic reporter who was held back by some pernicious good-old-boys system; his colleagues remember a callow hot dog who couldn’t follow direction.

See, for example, “How Bill O’Reilly imploded at CBS following his Falklands War ‘combat’ reporting.” By O’Reilly’s account, his career at CBS was blocked because he wouldn’t play their “games.” But his manager at CBS remembers him as the rookie who showed up at pro training camp for the first time with his scrapbook of press clippings. He was incensed because he wasn’t allowed to present his footage of an alleged riot himself on the nightly news, but instead the footage was spliced in with other footage and presented by Bob Schieffer. Worse, he disregarded instructions to keep camera lights off so as not to draw attention to the filming, putting his camera crew in danger.

In other words, he was oblivious to the deeper meaning of “new hire.” And because he obviously was too much of a prima donna — and more trouble than he was worth — he was quickly let go by CBS, and he is still pissed off about it.

This was all touched off last week when David Corn and Daniel Schulman wrote for Mother Jones that O’Reilly’s accounts of his “combat reporting” in the Falklands War simply didn’t past the smell test. Over the weekend one of Bill-O’s former colleagues at CBS came forward to corroborate what Corn and Schulman wrote. Crooks and Liars has a great video.

Unfortunately, it’s doubtful this revelation will end O’Reilly’s career. The first time I saw O’Reilly on television he struck me as being such an obviously narcissistic and witless gasbag I marveled he made it to national media at all. But Bill-O’s followers love him. They even read his books, such as his book on the Lincoln Assassination that is so riddled with errors that the National Park Service won’t carry it in souvenir shops. O’Reilly has defended himself by saying its hard to know what really happened after all this time, but in fact there is little about the Lincoln assassination that wasn’t documented and preserved down to fine detail. Victorian-era people were hoarders and record-keepers to a fault, and by now more than a century of excellent scholarship has sorted through it all. The truth is that Bill O is a sloppy researcher who didn’t bother to distinguish between good and bad source material. But you can’t tell that to his fans.

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Great Moments in Journalism

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News Media

Over the weekend Breitbart scooped the world with the earth-shattering news that Loretta Lynch, who has been nominated to replace Eric Holder as AG, had defended the Clintons in the Whitewater investigation. Cue right-wing feeding frenzy.

However, however, the Whitewater Loretta Lynch was a different Loretta Lynch.

True to form, Breitbart issued a non-correction correction, since taken down but captured for posterity at TPM.

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Bring Back MWO

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elections, News Media, Obama Administration

Not to bum you out or anything, but it appears Iowa is about to elect a certifiable whackjob to the Senate. Molly Ball writes at The Atlantic,

Joni Ernst is an Iowan, born and bred, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, and the Republican nominee for the Senate in Iowa. She has also flirted seriously with wacky conspiracy theories, especially Agenda 21, which takes off from an innocuous, voluntary UN resolution and turns it into a sinister plot which, as the John Birch Society says, “seeks for the government to curtail your freedom to travel as you please, own a gas-powered car, live in suburbs or rural areas, and raise a family. Furthermore, it would eliminate your private property rights through eminent domain.” And she has made comments about Americans totally dependent on government that make Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” observations look almost populist by comparison.

She’s a Michele Bachmann clone, in other words, but she’ll be in the Senate where she can do a lot more damage than Bachmann could in the House. Thanks loads, Iowa.

However, we might not entirely blame Iowans. Molly Ball also writes that news stories and profiles of Ernst in mainstream media make her seem harmless, even charming.

The other day, The Washington Post carried a front-page profile of Joni Ernstby feature reporter Monica Hesse. The piece was particularly striking—a long, warm, almost reverential portrait of a woman candidate charming Iowans by doing it “the Iowa way”—no doubt, an accurate portrayal by a veteran journalist. Hesse did suggest, in passing, that Ernst has taken some controversial positions in the past, such as supporting “personhood,” but emphasized that she has walked them back. Not mentioned in the piece was Ernst’s flirtation with one of the craziest conspiracy theories, or her comments on dependency—or her suggestion that she would use the gun she packs if the government ever infringed on her rights.

For those of you who don’t remember, the MWO in the title refers to one of the first liberal blogs that made an impact, Media Whores Online. MWO was the blog everybody talked about in 2002, but then it ceased to be, sometime in 2003 I think. As I remember it, MWO was instigated in part to rage against the fawning deference and considerable slack news media had given GW Bush in the 2000 campaign, as opposed to the pubescent piling on of Al Gore, who was treated as the kid nobody wanted at his lunchroom table.

Ball writes that media is falling into its old habit of writing The Narrative. The Narrative is the story of the campaign, or the general theme in which political coverage is framed. Use of The Narrative is a natural storytelling device that makes politics news stories more interesting to the public at large, I suppose, but it also  introduces considerable bias.

I found an article from the 1990s discussing the media’s tendency to create frames that are “frequently drawn from, and reflective of, shared cultural narratives and myths and resonate with the larger social themes to which journalists tend to be acutely sensitive.” Although it goes back several years I think what it describes is still going on. See also “The Master Narrative in Journalism” by Jay Rosen.

Molly Ball writes,

The most common press narrative for elections this year is to contrast them with the 2010 and 2012 campaigns. Back then, the GOP “establishment” lost control of its nominating process, ended up with a group of extreme Senate candidates who said wacky things—Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle—and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in races that should have been slam dunks. Now the opposite has happened: The establishment has fought back and won, vanquishing the Tea Party and picking top-flight candidates who are disciplined and mainstream, dramatically unlike Akin and Angle.

It is a great narrative, a wonderful organizing theme. But any evidence that contradicts or clouds the narrative devalues it, which is perhaps why evidence to the contrary tends to be downplayed or ignored. Meantime, stories that show personal gaffes or bonehead moves by the opponents of these new, attractive mainstream candidates, fit that narrative and are highlighted.

However, by all accounts Ernst and some of the other “establishment” GOP candidates are every bit as wacky as Akin or Angle, but the public wouldn’t know this by media coverage. The “establishment” Republican candidates are being fluffed, but as Ball describes, their Democratic opponents are not. Media are, possibly unconsciously, attempting to give the Senate to Republicans.

Steve M agrees but thinks Ball is missing the bigger story on The Narrative.

It’s also that the press agrees with the GOP (and much of the public) that Barack Obama is a terrible president who needs to be punished. Journalist resent Obama because he hasn’t always been nice to them (why weren’t they allowed to watch him play golf with Tiger Woods?). He hasn’t been the guy they thought he was in 2008, the the cool, hipster bro capable of solving all of America’s problems without breaking a sweat. He let them down, so no matter what it does to the country, they’re going to put the boot in as he gets stomped. Plus, they’ve already got a crush on a whole new crop of dreamboat frat boys — Rand, Jeb, Christie, Ryan. And besides, if they’re nasty toward the Democrats, maybe right-wingers will stop denouncing them as “the liberal media.” So what if that’s never happened before? It could totally happen now, right?

It’s Bush v. Gore coverage all over again. At least it’s just a midterm.

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Media: The Un-Meritocracy

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News Media

I knew there was no point watching the rebooted Meet the Press when I read last week that NBC had hired Joe  Scarborough as its senior political analyst and Luke Russert as a reporter and regular “roundtable” member. Seriously, how could it not be crap? And lo, the reviews of the first episode are in, and they are derisive. By most accounts Chuck Todd’s interview of President Obama remained true to his predecessor’s tradition of content-free banality. D.R. Trucker wrote,

Todd’s questions about ISIS and immigration showed precious little insight and imagination. At times, it seemed as though he was barely asking questions at all. Frankly, Todd came close to a Saturday Night Live parody of a Meet the Presshost. The entire interview reminded me of Gertrude Stein’s famous line about Oakland, California—“There is no there there.”

Of course, the Obama-haters are attacking Todd because he didn’t beat the president up enough. That wasn’t the main flaw with the interview. The main flaw with the interview is that the viewer gained nothing, learned nothing, felt nothing.

Not that David Gregory was any prize…but they got rid of him for this?

Charles Johnson provides a specific example:

Obama mentioned Syria specifically four times before Chuck Todd blurted out, “You’ve not said the word, ‘Syria,’ so far in our conversation.”

Arrgh.

On the other hand, Todd’s debut is getting warm reviews from Politico and the Washington Post. No surprise.

I dimly remember there was a time, years ago, I wanted to watch the politics talk shows, even though they were mostly infuriating. As far as the old Meet the Press goes I thought Tim Russert was overrated as an interviewer; his basic shtick was to slide around big issues, find a relatively small point to bore into and then grill his subject relentlessly on that. But at least he grilled them on something, and you got the sense he was actually listening to what the subject said and responding to it, and not reading interview questions off a teleprompter.

The real problem isn’t so much the hosts, I don’t think. The real problem seems to be that, pretty much across the board, Washington news media are run by people who got their jobs through insider connections and not competence. And “insiderism” is all they know. That’s the only explanation, I say. Simon Maloy writes,

The problem facing “Meet the Press” isn’t the person in the moderator’s chair, it’s the culture that all the Sunday shows operate in. They all provide slightly different versions of the same thing: mostly white, mostly male pundits, politicians and Beltway “insiders” arguing with each other about who’s “winning” and who’s “losing” in politics that week. And this isn’t going to change any time soon because everyone involved is far too sure of their own indispensable relevance.

Consider this exchange on Fox News yesterday morning between Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday,” and Howard Kurtz as they discussed why Sunday shows still matter:

WALLACE: We probably get 4 to 5 million people that are tuning in on Sunday to watch our interviews. We either finish first or second almost every week in terms of total audience, and that’s a lot of people. And it’s a self-selecting audience. I mean, it’s an audience of opinion makers, opinion shapers, people who are deeply interested in the news—

KURTZ: And that’s why the shows are important and have relevance. Because of the rather elite audience.

WALLACE: Exactly. And, you know, you look at the Monday morning paper – not to say that that is our goal, I don’t think it is. But it does really indicate the degree to which the Sunday shows can still set the agenda for the coming week.

It’s hard to think of a more elitist description of your own relevance – I’m important because people I think are important think I’m important. That’s the Sunday show mentality, and it will persist regardless of who sits in the moderator’s chair.

When the “insiders” setting the agendas only talk to themselves, where does that leave the rest of us?

You may have heard that CNN’s Crossfire is back, sort of. Apparently it airs sporadically and has been on hiatus since mid-July. Perhaps they couldn’t think of anything insider-y to talk about, what with all those messy news stories coming out of Saint Louis and Iraq and all.  

As the show’s been off-air, S.E. Cupp — the show’s conservative co-host who hasn’t run for president — has been in demand, appearing on “The View” in what may well be quasi-auditions for a new right-leaning panelist, and writing for the New York Daily News, most recently about how Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebrities ought not to have taken nude pictures of themselves if they didn’t want them leaked.

This is why no one misses “Crossfire” when it’s not on — because its hosts have nothing to say. A show in which hosts debate the issues of the day from differing perspectives could, if done well, be a hugely valuable asset to a news channel especially in a political landscape wracked by contentious issues (Ferguson, ISIS). That presumes, though, that its hosts would be able to keep their eye on the ball and avoid small-bore polemics, things that Cupp, as evidenced by her Daily News writing, is unable to do.

And it’s something “Crossfire” has proven itself uninterested in doing; at times when serious policy discussion is more needed than ever, the debate show indulged the same prattle as every other talk show. Before “Crossfire” left the air in July, segments included Bill Richardson disclaiming on whether Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren would win in a hypothetical 2016 Democratic primary. Cupp delivered a monologue over cable system customer service. This is neither offensively off-tone in a way that might spark some insight, nor is it — heaven forbid — providing any news value or public service. It’s just trending topics presented flatly.

Ultimately the fault for this incompetence is with the executives who make hiring and programming decisions which tells me the executives in charge of news have absolutely no idea what they are doing. One wonders how they stumbled into the MSNBC evening lineup, particularly Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow, who actually present,  you know,  content. It must have been an oversight.

A postscript — a little over a year ago NBC hired a British journalist, Deborah Turness, to be president of NBC News. She was recently quoted as saying,

“People in the organization from top to bottom recognized that NBC News hadn’t kept up with the times in all sorts of ways, for maybe 15 years. I think the organization had gone to sleep.”

Apparently the NBC News organization from top to bottom was outraged by these remarks.  So I guess they hadn’t recognized it. But on the whole I think she’s right, although it isn’t just NBC. But this episode suggests to me that Turness is being kept on a leash by somebody else, and she’s not being allowed to mess with the status quo.

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Michael Kelly Is Still Dead

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Bush Administration, Iraq War, News Media

Michael Kelly, a prominent cheerleader for Bush’s War, died just over ten years ago. He was in Iraq to cover his glorious little war when his Humvee overturned and plunged into water. Kelly drowned.

Kelly was the worst kind of smugly infuriating propagandist, leading the pre-Iraq War assault on reality and reason. A lot of my early blogging amounting to griping about Kelly. And then he was gone. And I haven’t even thought of him for years.

See Tom Socca, A Stupid Death in a Stupid War: Remembering Michael Kelly

The premise of Kelly’s argument for invasion was that escalating the war, carrying it to Baghdad on the ground, would settle the problems “easily and quickly.” Like his fellow poets, Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens, he presented his romantic vision as clear-eyed advice. Evil must be opposed. Good would triumph. Anyone who disagreed was benighted, mistaken, immoral. …

… Perhaps, like Sullivan, he would have changed his position on Iraq, had he lived to see our military might losing control, the easy liberation collapsing into hell, Saddam’s torture prisons reopening with American torturers. What might he have written, if he’d had the chance to engage with the terrible truths of this past decade? What might a hundred thousand other people have done, if they’d lived too?

And we’ve never properly mourned, have we?

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