Commentary Magazine


Topic: media bias

The Media and the End of President Christie

For supporters of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, it’s difficult to look at this past week’s events in any but catastrophic terms. A week ago, Christie was still basking in the glow of his landslide reelection and at the top of polls for Republican presidential candidates in 2016. Today, he is drowning in a sea of negative stories about Bridgegate. Yesterday’s apologetic news conference and penitential trip to Fort Lee did little to halt the avalanche of criticism from the mainstream media. Though most political professionals thought his performance at the press conference at which he answered every question was good, most of the reviews have been scathing with pundits denouncing even his straightforward apologies as merely more examples of his self-centered nature. Indeed, his claim that “I am not a bully” will inevitably be compared to Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”

As I wrote on Wednesday, there is neither proof nor reason to think the governor had any direct involvement in Bridgegate, Christie brought much of this firestorm on himself. He built his tough-guy reputation with an arrogant, pugnacious style that lends credibility to the notion that he created an environment that might lead some staffers to think he would approve of a petty, vindictive prank on a town run by a Democratic mayor who declined to endorse the governor’s re-election bid. Christie deserved every bit of the crow he was forced to publicly consume, and if many observers are saying his professions of ignorance about what happened are indicative of a faulty management style that is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s excuses for ignorance about his administration’s scandals, there is no obvious defense to the charge. Christie’s dream of winning the White House has been dealt a fatal blow and given that the same media that lionized him last fall will never let him live this down, it is far from clear exactly how he will be able to get back on message in the coming weeks and months. The betting here is that this marks the unofficial end of the governor’s presidential hopes. Two years is a lifetime in politics, but not long enough for this crisis to recede from public memory in time to rebound and recapture the enthusiasm for his 2016 candidacy.

That is the major fact to be understood about Bridgegate. However, once we acknowledge that Christie’s political brand is so tarnished by this episode that he won’t be able to reassume the mantle of the GOP frontrunner, it will then be time to ask whether the mainstream media that helped create Christie’s popularity was entirely correct in the way they destroyed it.

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For supporters of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, it’s difficult to look at this past week’s events in any but catastrophic terms. A week ago, Christie was still basking in the glow of his landslide reelection and at the top of polls for Republican presidential candidates in 2016. Today, he is drowning in a sea of negative stories about Bridgegate. Yesterday’s apologetic news conference and penitential trip to Fort Lee did little to halt the avalanche of criticism from the mainstream media. Though most political professionals thought his performance at the press conference at which he answered every question was good, most of the reviews have been scathing with pundits denouncing even his straightforward apologies as merely more examples of his self-centered nature. Indeed, his claim that “I am not a bully” will inevitably be compared to Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”

As I wrote on Wednesday, there is neither proof nor reason to think the governor had any direct involvement in Bridgegate, Christie brought much of this firestorm on himself. He built his tough-guy reputation with an arrogant, pugnacious style that lends credibility to the notion that he created an environment that might lead some staffers to think he would approve of a petty, vindictive prank on a town run by a Democratic mayor who declined to endorse the governor’s re-election bid. Christie deserved every bit of the crow he was forced to publicly consume, and if many observers are saying his professions of ignorance about what happened are indicative of a faulty management style that is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s excuses for ignorance about his administration’s scandals, there is no obvious defense to the charge. Christie’s dream of winning the White House has been dealt a fatal blow and given that the same media that lionized him last fall will never let him live this down, it is far from clear exactly how he will be able to get back on message in the coming weeks and months. The betting here is that this marks the unofficial end of the governor’s presidential hopes. Two years is a lifetime in politics, but not long enough for this crisis to recede from public memory in time to rebound and recapture the enthusiasm for his 2016 candidacy.

That is the major fact to be understood about Bridgegate. However, once we acknowledge that Christie’s political brand is so tarnished by this episode that he won’t be able to reassume the mantle of the GOP frontrunner, it will then be time to ask whether the mainstream media that helped create Christie’s popularity was entirely correct in the way they destroyed it.

As much as shutting down lanes on the George Washington Bridge as “revenge” was an astonishingly stupid thing for Christie’s aides to have done, at this point it’s time to note the disproportional nature of the attention to this story. The liberal media that spent a year treating questions about Benghazi as a Republican distraction and refused to draw any dire conclusions about the politicization of the IRS are now treating a traffic jam as more important than the deaths of four Americans at the hands of terrorists or the unconstitutional behavior of the most powerful agency in the government. Moreover, if Christie were a liberal Democratic star  who abused power in this manner rather than a Republican, it’s fair to assume the scandal wouldn’t be front-page news. We know that to a certainty because then-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer used the state police to spy on his political opponents—a maneuver that is at least as egregious if not far more serious than Bridgegate—without it being treated as front-page news in the New York Times or dominating cable TV news.

That the political press would go all-out on a story as juicy as this one is neither surprising nor, in and of itself, necessarily indicative of bias. But the idea that this was not only an embarrassment and worthy of censure but also merited calls for Christie’s resignation is the sign of how quickly this incident became a political stick with which to crush the man widely thought to be the most electable Republican in the 2016 field.

It should be stipulated that if proof ever emerges that Christie directly ordered lane closings on the bridge for political purposes, this will get a lot worse for him. But given the way he openly mocked suggestions that he had personally taken part in the scheme only last month, that seems unlikely. Even those who are rightly outraged at this abuse of power must admit the nature of the scandal doesn’t rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.

While I think a thorough investigation of the affair is warranted, it’s far from clear what laws were actually broken other than the informal rules of political conduct that ought to prevent those in power from abusing their prerogatives. Many people were inconvenienced in a prank that still makes no sense, but no money was stolen and, despite efforts to hype the angle of ambulance delays, no lives were lost as a result of the lane closures. It’s doubtful that anyone who would claim this should be enough to force Christie’s resignation from office (the subject of a New York Times “Room for Debate” feature) would be doing so were he not a Republican who looked like a major obstacle to Democratic hopes of winning the 2016 presidential election.

The overkill on Christie may be excused by his presidential ambitions, but the attention paid to this story and the refusal to accept his explanations stands in stark contrast to the willingness by many of the same media outlets to accept President Obama’s excuses about his administration’s scandals last summer. The same New York Times that now dismisses any attempt by Christie to disavow personal responsibility scoffed at anyone that would try to hold the president or his then-secretary of state accountable for what had happened on his watch with respect to Benghazi, the IRS, or spying on the media.

It should also be remembered that while Spitzer was brought down by a sex scandal, prior to that we knew he used New York State Troopers to spy on his political opponents, an abuse of power that is far more frightening from the point of view of democracy than the creation of a traffic jam. Like Christie, that, too, was in keeping with Spitzer’s reputation as a political bully earned while he played the “Sheriff of Wall Street” as New York’s attorney general. But if the liberal media paid any attention to it at the time, it was considered merely business as usual in the rough and tumble world of Albany politics. The fact that virtually no one on the right is making this point is an indication of how unpopular Christie had become among conservatives who can usually be counted upon to speak up when one of their own is under liberal media siege.

After three days, attacks on Christie have risen to the level of overkill and can’t be reasonably sustained without further material that is unlikely to exist. Saying this doesn’t diminish the damaging nature of the revelations or undo the damage that was done to his political career. But once the dust has settled, it will be time to ask ourselves whether the hysteria we’ve witnessed this week was entirely justified and why the same media that has all but buried Governor Christie stands silent and remains unmotivated to do the same amount of digging to expose the inner workings of the scandals in the Obama administration.

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Al-Qaeda and the Benghazi Question

The major New York Times story on the Benghazi attack that killed the American ambassador and three others has come under sustained criticism. The article was hyped when published but failed to live up to its billing, in part because the reporter got lost in the weeds of international terrorism and couldn’t quite find his way through the intricacies. This led some to allege that the article was part of the Times’s heavyhanded promotion of Hillary Clinton ahead of 2016, by attempting to portray Republicans as uninformed when tying the attack to al-Qaeda instead of an anti-Islam film.

The article’s glaring weaknesses also opened up an opportunity for another newspaper to get the story right, and the Washington Post appears to have done so. One issue that trips up some reporters is the interaction and fuzzy affiliation of terrorist groups. It’s something that has snared the Obama administration as well. I wrote about this in my November essay on the war on terror, with regard to the administration’s insistence that we were fighting a more limited war on al-Qaeda. But in Syria, for example, making those distinctions was a challenge:

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The major New York Times story on the Benghazi attack that killed the American ambassador and three others has come under sustained criticism. The article was hyped when published but failed to live up to its billing, in part because the reporter got lost in the weeds of international terrorism and couldn’t quite find his way through the intricacies. This led some to allege that the article was part of the Times’s heavyhanded promotion of Hillary Clinton ahead of 2016, by attempting to portray Republicans as uninformed when tying the attack to al-Qaeda instead of an anti-Islam film.

The article’s glaring weaknesses also opened up an opportunity for another newspaper to get the story right, and the Washington Post appears to have done so. One issue that trips up some reporters is the interaction and fuzzy affiliation of terrorist groups. It’s something that has snared the Obama administration as well. I wrote about this in my November essay on the war on terror, with regard to the administration’s insistence that we were fighting a more limited war on al-Qaeda. But in Syria, for example, making those distinctions was a challenge:

Some of these groups are working with al-Qaeda affiliates and some aren’t. How does that fit into the administration’s paradigm that our “enemy is al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates,” strictly speaking? Does the administration mean to say that jihadists coming from Afghanistan—where we are still fighting the “good war”—and joining in alliance with al-Qaeda in Syria, but not joining al-Qaeda de jure, are not our enemy?

The Post story shows why so many observers got the feeling the Times story started from a conclusion–Republicans must be wrong–and worked in reverse to reconstruct what happened based on that conclusion. The Post writes about a former Guantanamo prison inmate who was released to Libyan custody in 2007 and then released by the Libyan government the following year, named Abu Sufian bin Qumu. The Post reports on Qumu’s alleged role in the Benghazi attack and that American officials are expected to designate him and branches of his Ansar al-Sharia group as foreign terrorist organizations.

Then the Post adds the crucial context:

Qumu, 54, a Libyan from Darnah, is well known to U.S. intelligence officials. A former tank driver in the Libyan army, he served 10 years in prison in the country before fleeing to Egypt and then to Afghanistan.

According to U.S. military files disclosed by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, Qumu trained in 1993 at one of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist camps in Afghanistan and later worked for a bin Laden company in Sudan, where the al-Qaeda leader lived for three years.

Qumu fought alongside the Taliban against the United States in Afghanistan; he then fled to Pakistan and was later arrested in Peshawar. He was turned over to the United States and held at Guantanamo Bay.

He has a “long-term association with Islamic extremist jihad and members of al-Qaida and other extremist groups,” according to the military files. “Detainee’s alias is found on a list of probable al-Qaida personnel receiving monthly stipends.”

Qumu also had links to Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, known by his alias Abu Zubaida, a key al-Qaeda facilitator who is being held indefinitely at Guantanamo.

There are two aspects to this that illustrate why the Times piece was problematic, and they both revolve around Qumu’s role. The Times story was apparently written last summer and held, which could explain this sentence in the Times piece:

But neither Mr. Qumu nor anyone else in Derna appears to have played a significant role in the attack on the American Mission, officials briefed on the investigation and the intelligence said.

That’s not what American officials appear to believe now, if they ever did. But it undermines the Times’s account of the entire episode because it shows it to be either too dated to be trusted or based on unreliable sources, which when mixed with an ideological predisposition against the conservative assessment of the administration’s spin only elevates and justifies the paper’s critics.

But it’s also part of the ongoing discrediting of the administration’s confused approach to national security, trying to wish away or minimize those terrorists who are not part of “al-Qaeda Central.” The president’s desire to end wars is understandable. His habit of pretending they have ended because of his own impatience is reckless.

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Haaretz’s Holocaust Revisionism

A new level of vileness has been reached in the pages of Haaretz. It has already published work extremely critical of the State of Israel–even running columnists that support boycotting the state. But regardless of one’s opinions on the Palestinian issue, the paper has now shown that it exists in a world entirely divorced from any Jewish consensus, and cannot claim the title of loyal opposition. It has crossed all prior bounds of decency and published a criticism of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, calling it a “myth,” and accusing its heroes of being responsible for the ultimate liquidation of the Ghetto. Despite disagreements on diplomatic, territorial, and religious issues, the memory of the Holocaust–its heroes and victims–had been the great unifying porch in post-War Jewish consciousness. Now the Holocaust is fair game too.

The article’s argument is that maybe if the fighters had not been so uppity, if they had not made a fuss–then the Nazis, who had already murdered 500,000 Jews of Warsaw, might have let the remaining 50,000 live. Maybe! It is not a new argument. Rather, the author amazingly resurrects and endorses the arguments of the Judernat, the Jewish collaboration government of the Ghetto. With every new deportation, they urged restrain with increasing urgency–maybe they will let the rest of us live, and if you fight, all the past deportations would be a sacrifice in vain.

There can be no more terrible case of “blaming the victim” than laying any responsibility for the liquidation of the Ghetto at the feet of the fighters.

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A new level of vileness has been reached in the pages of Haaretz. It has already published work extremely critical of the State of Israel–even running columnists that support boycotting the state. But regardless of one’s opinions on the Palestinian issue, the paper has now shown that it exists in a world entirely divorced from any Jewish consensus, and cannot claim the title of loyal opposition. It has crossed all prior bounds of decency and published a criticism of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, calling it a “myth,” and accusing its heroes of being responsible for the ultimate liquidation of the Ghetto. Despite disagreements on diplomatic, territorial, and religious issues, the memory of the Holocaust–its heroes and victims–had been the great unifying porch in post-War Jewish consciousness. Now the Holocaust is fair game too.

The article’s argument is that maybe if the fighters had not been so uppity, if they had not made a fuss–then the Nazis, who had already murdered 500,000 Jews of Warsaw, might have let the remaining 50,000 live. Maybe! It is not a new argument. Rather, the author amazingly resurrects and endorses the arguments of the Judernat, the Jewish collaboration government of the Ghetto. With every new deportation, they urged restrain with increasing urgency–maybe they will let the rest of us live, and if you fight, all the past deportations would be a sacrifice in vain.

There can be no more terrible case of “blaming the victim” than laying any responsibility for the liquidation of the Ghetto at the feet of the fighters.

It is true, the Jewish “communal leadership”–and the rabbis–opposed the uprising. That is what made it brave. The Judenrat had no right to decide if residents of the Ghetto died in gas chambers or fighting for their freedom.

Of course, Haaretz wants to be “edgy,” “iconoclastic,” and debunk cherished myths. But despite the article’s headline–“The Warsaw Ghetto Myth”– it reveals no myths at all, only a lack of precision where we always knew it existed. It claims that it turns out that not many people participated in the uprising–a well-known fact. Then it attempts to introduce confusion by saying the precise figures are “murky,” and endorses the low-ball estimates based on the recollections of one person. Playing such counting games is vile. No one knows the number of participants, just as no one knows the number of Holocaust victims. And “revising” such vague numbers downward is now the standard canard of Holocaust deniers.

Again, the small numbers do not “debunk” any myths–they reinforce them. This was a small group of young people who bravely risked capture and death by slow torture, in contradiction with the collaborationist leadership that had thus far been wrong about everything.

Ultimately, the article’s target is not really the Holocaust. The author objects to the glorification of the glorified by the Zionist movement in the early years of the state. Perhaps the fighters should have awaited deportation and seen themselves as “sacrifices for peace,” to use the buzzword of the Second Intifada.

No doubt this is why Haaretz has, somewhat oddly for a newspaper, chosen to revisit the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The newspaper has long tried to persuade Jews in Israel that they need no longer fight–they can trust someone to save them. John Kerry is coming to Jerusalem next month with just such a pitch. In order to advance their political agenda, the newspaper does not stop at besmirching one of the proudest pages of our history, nor at aligning themselves with the most shameful, the Judenrat.

The sanctified memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is not based on its military significance, its size–or its conformity to the Zionist ethos. Rather, it is the considered, consensus judgment of Jewish history that the fighters were right.

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Another NY Times Misfire on Gun Rights

In the lead-up to the high-stakes 2010 Senate election between Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle, a curious drama unfolded within the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, reportedly, considering endorsing Reid, incurring pushback from its conservative-leaning membership. Why would the NRA endorse a Democrat, even one more friendly to gun rights than most Democrats? Because, the logic went, a Reid loss coupled with the Democrats holding the Senate could elevate Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate.

Schumer is not just anti-gun, but the worst kind of anti-gun extremist: an East Coast liberal elitist who doesn’t know anything about guns or gun culture but hates them anyway. This propensity by Schumer to allow ignorance and prejudice to set his legislative agenda made the NRA understandably nervous. The NRA eventually chose to stay neutral in the race. This episode is worth keeping in mind when reading the New York Times Magazine’s lengthy article recreating the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun-control legislation earlier this year. The bill was aimed at beefing up background checks amid the “do-something” rush of activity following the Newtown massacre.

The effort was almost torpedoed by Schumer immediately; the tragic news of the shooting gave Schumer the opportunity he craved to punish law-abiding gun owners–people who, according to Schumer, only existed in theory anyway. As the Times reports:

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In the lead-up to the high-stakes 2010 Senate election between Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle, a curious drama unfolded within the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, reportedly, considering endorsing Reid, incurring pushback from its conservative-leaning membership. Why would the NRA endorse a Democrat, even one more friendly to gun rights than most Democrats? Because, the logic went, a Reid loss coupled with the Democrats holding the Senate could elevate Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate.

Schumer is not just anti-gun, but the worst kind of anti-gun extremist: an East Coast liberal elitist who doesn’t know anything about guns or gun culture but hates them anyway. This propensity by Schumer to allow ignorance and prejudice to set his legislative agenda made the NRA understandably nervous. The NRA eventually chose to stay neutral in the race. This episode is worth keeping in mind when reading the New York Times Magazine’s lengthy article recreating the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun-control legislation earlier this year. The bill was aimed at beefing up background checks amid the “do-something” rush of activity following the Newtown massacre.

The effort was almost torpedoed by Schumer immediately; the tragic news of the shooting gave Schumer the opportunity he craved to punish law-abiding gun owners–people who, according to Schumer, only existed in theory anyway. As the Times reports:

Joe Manchin shared the concern that the Democrats who were leading the charge on gun legislation didn’t understand how deeply people care about guns and needed to if they were ever to get anything passed. By January the universal background-checks legislation was being spearheaded in the Senate by Charles Schumer, a liberal from New York City. “Joe, I didn’t know anybody who owned a gun when I grew up,” Schumer said to Manchin, who replied, “Chuck, I didn’t know anybody who didn’t own a gun.” Schumer’s bill contained no provisions that might attract the support of gun owners, a fatal omission in Manchin’s view. “The bill Chuck Schumer dropped was one that I didn’t think anyone from a gun state would or should support,” Manchin told me. “So I reached out to the N.R.A. and said, ‘Let’s have an alternative.’ ”

That is, the Democratic effort on a major issue was being led by a man who was proud of his total lack of knowledge about the issue. It’s unclear whether Schumer realized his bill would never pass and therefore just wanted an opportunity to grandstand, or just wasn’t capable of leading a serious legislative effort. Manchin ended up nearly saving the effort by getting actual gun owners and experts involved, and crafting a quite reasonable bill that combined modest increases in restrictions in areas that arguably needed them with additional protections for gun rights.

In the end, the bill still didn’t quite make it, but it’s instructive to look at why that happened. Robert Draper, the author of the Times piece, says anti-gun activists must learn to better “break down the barriers of fear and mistrust from which the N.R.A. derives much of its power.” He then says this:

Yet even as the votes in the chambers still favor the N.R.A., gun-control advocates have some cause for optimism. Time does not seem to be on the N.R.A.’s side. According to data compiled by the nonpartisan National Opinion Research Center, between 1977 and 2012 the percentage of American households possessing one or more guns declined by 36 percent. That decline should not be surprising. Tom W. Smith, director of the research center, says: “There are two main reasons, if you ask people, why they have firearms: hunting and personal protection. Now, from external sources like the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, we know the proportion of adults who hunt has declined over the decades. And since the ‘90s, the crime rate has fallen. So the two main reasons people might want to have a gun have both decreased.”

On the issue of “fear and mistrust,” Draper throughout the article seems to ignore his own reporting. He notes, for example, that Anita Dunn spoke to a gathering of anti-gun Democrats and kept using “the R-word,” registration. This makes gun owners fear–wrongly according to Democrats–that the goal is to keep a registry of firearms owners to better confiscate them when the time comes. But as J.D. Tuccille recently pointed out at Reason, gun owners have been receiving confiscation notices from state government officials even as such moves are dismissed by lawmakers. “The problem for gun control advocates,” Tuccille writes, “is that they keep promising that no way will registration lead to confiscation of firearms, even as it does just that.”

And on Draper’s claim that time isn’t on the NRA’s side, it’s worth looking at the polling. It’s true that gun ownership rates have dropped, but that in no way means support for gun owners will drop. Here is Gallup’s detailed, long-term trend polling on gun rights, the most recent of which was taken in early October. It finds that household gun possession is at its lowest point since 1999. And yet, support for making gun-sale laws “more strict” is nearly twenty points lower than it was twenty years ago, and nearly thirty points lower than in 1990.

Support for a handgun ban has been dropping for decades, from 60 percent in 1959 to 25 percent today. The Gallup polling shows broad support for the expansion of background checks in the Manchin-Toomey legislation–regulation initially supported by the NRA as well. But when asked for some reasons respondents didn’t want the legislation to pass, 40 percent named Second Amendment rights.

The fact is, Americans take their constitutional rights quite seriously, even when they don’t directly impact them. Schumer and Co. seem to think rights of which they don’t avail themselves are irrelevant. It is to the American public’s great credit that they disagree.

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Bursting the ObamaCare Bubble

After Mitt Romney’s election-night loss to Barack Obama in November 2012, those outside the conservative movement had a ready cure for what ailed the right: stop listening to each other. Or, rather, stop listening to each other so much. Conservatives, we were told, lived in a media bubble of their own making. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf wrote a piece that quickly became the anthem of this bid to get the choir to ditch their preachers.

Around the time of the election, Friedersdorf had been writing a bit obsessively about Rush Limbaugh, so his declaration that conservatives were listening to too much talk radio rang a bit hollow. It’s unclear if conservative talk radio had, at the time, a more dedicated follower than Friedersdorf. Nonetheless, it was true that many conservatives were surprised by Romney’s loss. And even if talk radio wasn’t responsible for the 2012 debacle, exhortations to avoid living in an intellectually closed bubble are worth heeding.

And since liberals were so convinced of the harm that such epistemic closure can have on a political movement, surely they will welcome the new Politico Magazine piece calling attention to something non-liberals knew long ago: on ObamaCare, the leftist media bubble has not only deprived American liberalism of a basic grasp of reality, but has visibly harmed the rest of country because of the still-prevailing dominance of the mainstream media.

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After Mitt Romney’s election-night loss to Barack Obama in November 2012, those outside the conservative movement had a ready cure for what ailed the right: stop listening to each other. Or, rather, stop listening to each other so much. Conservatives, we were told, lived in a media bubble of their own making. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf wrote a piece that quickly became the anthem of this bid to get the choir to ditch their preachers.

Around the time of the election, Friedersdorf had been writing a bit obsessively about Rush Limbaugh, so his declaration that conservatives were listening to too much talk radio rang a bit hollow. It’s unclear if conservative talk radio had, at the time, a more dedicated follower than Friedersdorf. Nonetheless, it was true that many conservatives were surprised by Romney’s loss. And even if talk radio wasn’t responsible for the 2012 debacle, exhortations to avoid living in an intellectually closed bubble are worth heeding.

And since liberals were so convinced of the harm that such epistemic closure can have on a political movement, surely they will welcome the new Politico Magazine piece calling attention to something non-liberals knew long ago: on ObamaCare, the leftist media bubble has not only deprived American liberalism of a basic grasp of reality, but has visibly harmed the rest of country because of the still-prevailing dominance of the mainstream media.

Liberal denialism on ObamaCare has made for some interesting moments, such as when liberals panicked when opening arguments were made at the Supreme Court’s consideration of ObamaCare’s constitutionality. Of course there was a serious question of the individual mandate’s constitutionality, and of course the justices would consider such arguments. But the Supreme Court case, naturally, followed lower-court considerations of the issue. How is it that liberals managed to not hear any of the basic arguments of the case until it was before the Supreme Court? How did they manage to close themselves off from political discourse that didn’t conform to their ideological orthodoxy for so long?

And how is it that the exposure in October 2013 as a complete and utter falsehood of Barack Obama’s central promise–that you could keep your health insurance or doctor under ObamaCare–could count as a revelation? The White House knew it was false. So did conservatives, whose other warnings about the reform law also turned out to be prescient. When it came to ObamaCare, conservatives knew what they were talking about and liberals were mired in delusion. Politico Magazine tries to explain this phenomenon by pointing out that the same mainstream media that conservatives are being told to heed carefully are largely responsible for the uninformed public:

Although the media spoke or wrote zillions of words about the ACA, relatively few explained in meaningful ways what the law was all about, who would be affected by it and how—in short, how would it affect peoples’ lives and why they should care. The media, for the most part, fell down on the job when it came to dissecting the promises made by supporters (for example, that people could keep their insurance and their doctors); who would pay for the subsidies; why essential benefits were important; and why there had to be an individual mandate with penalties for not buying insurance. And there’s no question most of us failed to dig into the most basic question of all: Would the darn thing work?

What the press delivered instead was mostly a conversation among policy wonks and Beltway political elites without letting in the people who would be most affected by the nostrums they were prescribing. The public was the victim of a messaging war, with much of the conversation shaped by spin and talking points. And as in all wars, truth is the first casualty. Americans needed clear, direct explanations, honesty, dot connection and a probe of the carefully crafted words that came to define the debate. Yes, there were plenty of fact-checkers keeping watch, but as press critic and political scientist Brendan Nyhan has pointed out, these services can fall short. Their one-the-one hand, on-the-other hand format often confuses more than illuminates. Against this backdrop, the backlash of the last few weeks was probably inevitable.

There’s plenty more, and the whole thing is worth a read. It’s damning, though it’s probably still too kind to its subject. One reason conservatives were right and liberals were wrong about ObamaCare is that they were essentially having two different conversations. Conservatives were treating health-care reform as a policy issue. So they correctly explained what the health-policy implications would be thanks to the design of the law.

To the left, however, the health-policy implications were close to irrelevant. They viewed ObamaCare simply as a wealth transfer, as a financial insurance plan. I explained yesterday why this is wrong in many cases as well. And that also explains why the website’s disastrous rollout garnered such attention from across the ideological divide, but especially, and finally, from the left. Liberals by and large weren’t troubled by the fact that ObamaCare kicked people off their insurance plans. The key question was: can lower-income Americans sign up for this wealth transfer? When the website failed, the answer was no.

There are a great many scandalous aspects of ObamaCare. This is the one that captivated the left because it’s the only one–the confiscation of some Americans’ money to give to others, under the guise of insurance reform–that endangered what they see as ObamaCare’s core mission.

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The Most Nonsensical Attack on Israel (Yet)

Twitter has been accused of helping to coarsen the culture, increase partisan rage, and further erode the line separating the personal and the political. But there is at least one advantage for writers: Twitter can be an outlet for a curious or ironic observation that has no shelf life and no coherence beyond 140 characters. Some thoughts are tweet-appropriate and nothing more.

Which means there is really no excuse for the New York Times’s decision to publish today’s installment of its ongoing Jodi Rudoren experiment. Rudoren has earned her share of corrections for false claims that editors really should have caught, but everyone makes mistakes, and being dropped into the middle of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the education beat perhaps deserves an adjustment period. But today’s story is not one that gets a few facts wrong or leans heavily toward the Palestinian side of the issue. It’s based on a nonsensical thesis that makes the paper look so desperate to attack Israel that it will throw everything it can find at the Jewish state.

Under the headline “Israelis See Ticking Clock, and Alternate Approaches, on Iran and Palestinians,” Rudoren discusses the supposed hypocrisy on the part of Israel’s government because it opposed the interim deal with Iran but supports interim deals with the Palestinians. (As a side note, this is a lesson the Israelis learned the hard way: they will be criticized for striking agreements and criticized for not striking agreements. It almost literally, as Joe Biden might say, doesn’t matter what Israel does in the opinion of the Western press.)

I’ll let the Times put forth this thesis in Rudoren’s own words:

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Twitter has been accused of helping to coarsen the culture, increase partisan rage, and further erode the line separating the personal and the political. But there is at least one advantage for writers: Twitter can be an outlet for a curious or ironic observation that has no shelf life and no coherence beyond 140 characters. Some thoughts are tweet-appropriate and nothing more.

Which means there is really no excuse for the New York Times’s decision to publish today’s installment of its ongoing Jodi Rudoren experiment. Rudoren has earned her share of corrections for false claims that editors really should have caught, but everyone makes mistakes, and being dropped into the middle of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the education beat perhaps deserves an adjustment period. But today’s story is not one that gets a few facts wrong or leans heavily toward the Palestinian side of the issue. It’s based on a nonsensical thesis that makes the paper look so desperate to attack Israel that it will throw everything it can find at the Jewish state.

Under the headline “Israelis See Ticking Clock, and Alternate Approaches, on Iran and Palestinians,” Rudoren discusses the supposed hypocrisy on the part of Israel’s government because it opposed the interim deal with Iran but supports interim deals with the Palestinians. (As a side note, this is a lesson the Israelis learned the hard way: they will be criticized for striking agreements and criticized for not striking agreements. It almost literally, as Joe Biden might say, doesn’t matter what Israel does in the opinion of the Western press.)

I’ll let the Times put forth this thesis in Rudoren’s own words:

Israeli leaders on Monday condemned the interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program as an exercise in appeasement by the Western powers and a delaying tactic by Iran. Yet many of them see the same strategy of interim confidence-building steps as the only realistic route to resolving their long-running conflict with the Palestinians.

Israel is outraged that, under the deal signed Sunday, Iran is not required to stop enriching uranium or to dismantle centrifuges while negotiating a final agreement with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany. At the same time, Israel continues to build West Bank settlements while negotiating with the Palestinians, prompting similar outrage from the international community.

Easing economic sanctions against Iran, Israel argues, will only remove the pressure that brought Tehran to the table in the first place. Yet Israel — as well as the United States — sees initiatives to improve the Palestinian economy as a critical companion to the political and security discussions.

Because so much gets written about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and because of the media’s blatant left-wing bias, consumers of news on the Middle East are often bombarded with exceptionally dimwitted thoughts. It’s more than just the Bibi Derangement Syndrome that makes even rational liberals lose their grip on reality when Benjamin Netanyahu is involved. It’s a propensity on the part of some news organizations to erase the line between the news and editorial pages and go on the attack any time Israeli officials have the temerity to speak up for their country’s interests.

And yet, today’s Times piece is something of a landmark achievement. It gets everything wrong: the history of the peace process, the Iran deal, international law. There is not a word that redeems the paper’s decision to publish this assault on reason.

The piece suggests Israel is opposed to the concept of an interim agreement with Iran, when that is false. Israel doesn’t like the terms of this agreement, so it opposes it. Rudoren’s attempt to shame Israel for trying to improve the Palestinian economy in the absence of a deal is more proof that for Israel, no good deed goes unpunished. It’s also difficult to know what Rudoren could have possibly been thinking when she compared Jewish settlements in the West Bank to a genocidal regime’s march toward attaining nuclear weapons.

Similarly, the piece suggests Israel is opposed to the concept of a final-status agreement with the Palestinians–also verifiably false. Israel has repeatedly offered comprehensive deals to the Palestinians. Ehud Barak’s offer was followed by a Palestinian intifada. Ehud Olmert’s offer was followed by Palestinian ceasefire violations and the Gaza war. The Palestinians are now in the habit of requiring minor agreements to even begin negotiations. Blaming Netanyahu for this is typical of the Times, and typically daft.

The Times piece also, in the third paragraph, compares the Palestinian drive for statehood to the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons–the latter being a means to destroy Israel. The Palestinians should be insulted by this, but later in the article Palestinian officials embrace the comparison. Perhaps they agree.

Each time the Western press publishes a delusional attack on Israel based on illogic and false equivalence, serious analysts of the Middle East wonder how it could possibly be topped. But the media, as today’s story shows, will always find a way.

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NY Times’s Sudden Aversion to Calling the President a Liar

Barack Obama’s election neatly coincided with the liberal left’s rediscovery of the value of civility in the public square. The time for derangement was over. Liberals remembered that they have had only modest success in outlawing political speech, and that when tempers flared they could be on the receiving end of overheated criticism now that they were back in power.

Among the results of the left’s newfound distaste for dissent was a suddenly self-censoring media. And, as evidenced by the New York Times’s rather amazing Sunday editorial on ObamaCare, giving the president the benefit of the doubt is back in vogue. The Times explained that when President Obama said that if you liked your health-care plan you could keep your health-care plan, period, he simply “misspoke.”

Believe it or not, the Times’s Andrew Rosenthal is defending the word choice. The paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote a post yesterday afternoon responding to the criticism the Times has received on the editorial. She asked Rosenthal for an explanation. Here is his response:

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Barack Obama’s election neatly coincided with the liberal left’s rediscovery of the value of civility in the public square. The time for derangement was over. Liberals remembered that they have had only modest success in outlawing political speech, and that when tempers flared they could be on the receiving end of overheated criticism now that they were back in power.

Among the results of the left’s newfound distaste for dissent was a suddenly self-censoring media. And, as evidenced by the New York Times’s rather amazing Sunday editorial on ObamaCare, giving the president the benefit of the doubt is back in vogue. The Times explained that when President Obama said that if you liked your health-care plan you could keep your health-care plan, period, he simply “misspoke.”

Believe it or not, the Times’s Andrew Rosenthal is defending the word choice. The paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote a post yesterday afternoon responding to the criticism the Times has received on the editorial. She asked Rosenthal for an explanation. Here is his response:

“We have a high threshold for whether someone lied,” he told me. The phrase that The Times used “means that he said something that wasn’t true.” Saying the president lied would have meant something different, Mr. Rosenthal said — that he knew it was false and intended to express the falsehood. “We don’t know that,” he said.

It may be honorable for the media to be more sparing with accusations of outright lying. But that is most certainly not the Times’s standard. Rosenthal’s spin about the paper’s “high threshold” is arrant nonsense, and the paper’s readers presumably know this. In January 2006, the Times published an editorial criticizing George W. Bush and calling attention to what the Times pronounced as “a couple of big, dangerous lies.”

What were those two “lies”? The first was that the Bush administration’s domestic spying apparatus “is carefully aimed” at those working with al-Qaeda, when in fact by the Times’s lights the program “has violated the rights of countless innocent Americans.” That’s some fairly clumsy–and dishonest–sleight of hand from the Times in what amounts to a disagreement over just how “careful” the surveillance had been. What was the other “lie”? That with the domestic surveillance now in place 9/11 could have been prevented. Perhaps that is an unlikely justification, but any threshold which considers that a “lie” is low indeed.

The idea that Bush “lied” the country into war with Iraq has long since been debunked: Bush, like those around him and our allies, was fooled by the faulty intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. But the Times editorial board painted Bush as a serial liar on the matter. In December 2008, reflecting on the Bush tenure, the Times published an editorial growling that it was by then public knowledge that “Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney manipulated Congress, public opinion and anyone else they could bully or lie to.” Does the accusation–again, by then conclusively debunked–that Bush was a compulsive liar meet the “high threshold” the paper now claims governs its use of the word? Of course not.

Two years earlier the paper’s editorial board lamented that Bush needed “a blue ribbon commission” to tell him that “Government officials should not lie to the public.” It appears that the left, including the Times, was quite liberal with its use of the “l” word to an extent that rivaled the left’s obsession with calling Bush a fascist.

Yet aside from the Times’s obvious hypocrisy on the issue, there is another critique of the Times editorial. Even if it isn’t true that the Times has a high threshold for calling someone a liar, we could argue that they should. As I noted earlier, it would behoove the Times to live up the standards to which it pretends to adhere. Yet even so, Rosenthal presents what the president might call a “false choice.” Certainly there is something in between “liar” and saying the president “misspoke.”

Sullivan pointed this out in her correspondence with Rosenthal:

But “misspoke” does suggest a one-time slip of the tongue.

Wouldn’t it have been better, I asked Mr. Rosenthal, if the editorial had said that Mr. Obama’s statements “clearly weren’t true,” or that the president “was clearly wrong” when he repeatedly made those statements?

He responded that the editorial’s language was fine, but he also allowed, “We could have done that.”

The president did not have a “one-time slip of the tongue,” of course. Obama made the promise repeatedly and without qualification. We now know that, as the Wall Street Journal reported, the decision to make this promise was made knowing that it was inaccurate and after a debate within the administration over whether to be frank about ObamaCare or not.

The president obviously decided that accuracy was a luxury the administration could not afford if it was to get its agenda through Congress. The Times should be encouraged to be discerning when accusing the president of being a liar. But were the Times to show such restraint, it would be new indeed.

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Giving Obama the Benefit of the Doubt

In a front-page story in the Washington Post, we read this:

A new controversy over the president’s health-care law is threatening to overshadow the messy launch of its Web site: Notices are going out to hundreds of thousands of Americans informing them that their health insurance policies are being canceled as of Dec. 31.

The notices appear to contradict President Obama’s promise that despite the changes resulting from the law, Americans can keep their health insurance if they like it.

Yes, those notices appear to contradict President Obama’s promise in the same way that it appears that if you release a hammer it drops toward the ground. But perhaps it’s all an optical illusion. Perhaps the hammer actually floats to the sky.

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In a front-page story in the Washington Post, we read this:

A new controversy over the president’s health-care law is threatening to overshadow the messy launch of its Web site: Notices are going out to hundreds of thousands of Americans informing them that their health insurance policies are being canceled as of Dec. 31.

The notices appear to contradict President Obama’s promise that despite the changes resulting from the law, Americans can keep their health insurance if they like it.

Yes, those notices appear to contradict President Obama’s promise in the same way that it appears that if you release a hammer it drops toward the ground. But perhaps it’s all an optical illusion. Perhaps the hammer actually floats to the sky.

In this instance the Post need not be so qualified in what it reports. It doesn’t simply appear as if reality contradicts what the president said; it actually and without doubt does contract what the president said. And even liberal newspapers shouldn’t be shy about saying so.

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The Government Shutdown: The Sky is Falling! (Or Maybe Not)

The Democrats and the mainstream media (but I repeat myself) have been carrying on as if a shutdown of the federal government would be a catastrophe for the country and the economy, perhaps even pitching us back into recession while little old ladies starve in their beds and children die of neglect.

That won’t happen. While it is embarrassing that the politics of the world’s most powerful country are in such disarray that a defunding of the government could happen, we’ve been similarly embarrassed before with few if any long-term consequences.

Non-essential government workers will be furloughed and not paid for the duration of the shutdown. Whether they will be paid for those days eventually is up to Congress. But air-traffic controllers, border and prison guards, and weather forecasters will all be on the job. As will the military.

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The Democrats and the mainstream media (but I repeat myself) have been carrying on as if a shutdown of the federal government would be a catastrophe for the country and the economy, perhaps even pitching us back into recession while little old ladies starve in their beds and children die of neglect.

That won’t happen. While it is embarrassing that the politics of the world’s most powerful country are in such disarray that a defunding of the government could happen, we’ve been similarly embarrassed before with few if any long-term consequences.

Non-essential government workers will be furloughed and not paid for the duration of the shutdown. Whether they will be paid for those days eventually is up to Congress. But air-traffic controllers, border and prison guards, and weather forecasters will all be on the job. As will the military.

Those parts of the federal government that are not funded by annual appropriations (which is, in fact, most of the government, at least as measured by cash flow if not personnel), such as Social Security and Medicare, will tick along as usual.

Non-essential workers make up about 825,000 workers out of 2 million. So it’s not a shutdown of the government, it’s a shutdown of 40 percent of it.  The National Labor Relations Board will furlough all but 11 of its 1611 employees, while the EPA will lay off about 97 percent of theirs. In both cases that strikes me as good news, not bad news.

Still, the average man in the street, unless he wants to apply for a passport or visit a national park or museum, will not notice much of a difference in his quotidian routine. Police, firemen, train conductors, etc. are all state or local employees. Even Amtrak will continue to chug along.

As Jonathan noted earlier, any shutdown will be blamed by the media 100 percent on the Republicans. If you’d like to see just how biased the MSM has become, read this AP “news” article (h/t Powerline) on the impending shutdown. Such AP copy is used by nearly every news organization that does not maintain its own Washington news bureau. So it will be presented in hundreds of newspapers and local TV news shows as simply news. But it’s not. It’s so slanted that were it to come in as a press release from the Democratic National Committee, is there an editor in the country that would doubt its authenticity as such?

Perhaps that’s why Obama, Harry Reid, etc., are being so intransigent and refusing to negotiate. They know they can’t lose the public opinion battle.

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Cruz’s Grand Gesture Deserves Respect

In the end, Ted Cruz didn’t mean it. Neither he nor any of his colleagues that had been urging Republicans to filibuster the House bill that defunded ObamaCare and which they had been previously asking for voted to deny cloture on the measure. The 100-0 result in the immediate aftermath of Cruz’s 20-hour filibuster that wasn’t technically a filibuster showed that he and other GOP senators like Mike Lee hadn’t taken leave of their senses. Had 39 other Republicans listened to them—and their ardent followers on Twitter who called anyone who said they would approve a vote on the bill RINOs—then the GOP would have been launching a government shutdown by a procedural technicality that would have made for some very bad optics and an impossibly weak argument. That showed good judgment on their part. The same can be said for Cruz’s talkathon that stretched from early Tuesday afternoon to noon on Wednesday.

As Bethany noted earlier today, the almost universal hostility that Cruz’s publicity stunt generated is as blatant an example of media bias as we are likely to get. A few months ago, the press transformed Texas State Senator Wendy Davis into a national heroine for her equally pointless filibuster defending late term abortion. But since most of the media likes ObamaCare almost as much as they approve of any kind of abortion, Cruz was condemned for taking up the Senate’s time. But Cruz’s stunt wasn’t the disaster that his critics are calling it. I disagreed vehemently with the senator’s efforts to create a standoff that could shut down the government in order to defund ObamaCare. But his marathon speechifying was neither foolish nor did it hurt Republicans the way a shutdown would. Instead, it did exactly what the hashtag created by his followers to celebrate the event wished for: It made Washington listen to complaints about ObamaCare.

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In the end, Ted Cruz didn’t mean it. Neither he nor any of his colleagues that had been urging Republicans to filibuster the House bill that defunded ObamaCare and which they had been previously asking for voted to deny cloture on the measure. The 100-0 result in the immediate aftermath of Cruz’s 20-hour filibuster that wasn’t technically a filibuster showed that he and other GOP senators like Mike Lee hadn’t taken leave of their senses. Had 39 other Republicans listened to them—and their ardent followers on Twitter who called anyone who said they would approve a vote on the bill RINOs—then the GOP would have been launching a government shutdown by a procedural technicality that would have made for some very bad optics and an impossibly weak argument. That showed good judgment on their part. The same can be said for Cruz’s talkathon that stretched from early Tuesday afternoon to noon on Wednesday.

As Bethany noted earlier today, the almost universal hostility that Cruz’s publicity stunt generated is as blatant an example of media bias as we are likely to get. A few months ago, the press transformed Texas State Senator Wendy Davis into a national heroine for her equally pointless filibuster defending late term abortion. But since most of the media likes ObamaCare almost as much as they approve of any kind of abortion, Cruz was condemned for taking up the Senate’s time. But Cruz’s stunt wasn’t the disaster that his critics are calling it. I disagreed vehemently with the senator’s efforts to create a standoff that could shut down the government in order to defund ObamaCare. But his marathon speechifying was neither foolish nor did it hurt Republicans the way a shutdown would. Instead, it did exactly what the hashtag created by his followers to celebrate the event wished for: It made Washington listen to complaints about ObamaCare.

Cruz is the kind of politician for whom style often becomes substance. He is an equal opportunity bull in a China shop that has dissed GOP Senate elders as well as Democrats ever since he arrived on Capitol Hill. Though he is clearly as smart if not a lot smarter than most of his colleagues, his obnoxious personality is tough for most of them to take. The same goes for the media and even sections of the public. If I have doubts about him really being presidential timber it is not so much that I disagree with some of his stands but because I don’t believe anyone who comes across as a mean guy, as Cruz undoubtedly has to much of the public, could ever be elected president.

But this is a moment when credit must be given where credit is due. His filibuster was a model of reasoned argument in which he labored mightily to call attention to the fact that the American people are unhappy about the way a Democratic Congress forced ObamaCare down their throats. They are rightly worried about the way it will affect their own health care as well as the potentially devastating impact it will have on the economy as jobs are killed and costs rise. Call it what you like and acknowledge that like Rand Paul’s far less substantial argument about drone attacks in his filibuster earlier this year, his motivation had a lot to do with his desire to run for president in 2016.

But there is something grand about a filibuster and Cruz’s stand deserves the same applause that the media was willing to give to Paul as well as Davis.

As was the case with Paul—whose arguments I disagreed with—Cruz showed there is still space in our public square for principled and high minded debate on the issues. In an era in which sound bytes dominate and in which even most politicians generally shun traditional oratory with the gift for gab, filibusters are a unique opportunity for the participants to riff on big issues and do more than merely give cable news the catch phrases they are asking for. Filibusters give the Senate the kind of glamour that was once associated with it in bygone eras and even if we are well rid of some of the traditions of the past they raise the level of discourse in a way that should be applauded.

I still think Cruz’s efforts to galvanize support for what is, despite his denials, an attempt to shut down the government over the issue, are ill considered and seem mostly focused on increasing his own growing following. But the sniping at Cruz’s filibuster from a media that was ready to lionize Davis and focus on her fashion choices should be dismissed. So, too, should that coming from many of his colleagues among whom he has already worn out his welcome.

Republicans should not be trying to shut down the government but they should seize every opportunity to discuss the ObamaCare disaster. Though the Senate is now moving on and the House will have an opportunity to step back from the brink toward which Cruz has pushed them, the Texas senator deserves credit for stopping the machinery of the Senate for a day to highlight the assault on the nation’s liberties and its economy that ObamaCare represents. So long as the Democrats control the Senate and the White House, more than that is not possible. That frustrates conservatives and leads many to lash out and seek to do the impossible. But anyone who doubts that Cruz did himself a world of political good with this gesture misunderstands both the issue and the conservative movement. We can’t know for sure what the future holds for Cruz but in the last 24 hours we got a glimpse of his political talent. That should scare Republicans and Democrats who will clash with him in the years to come.

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Cruz Waits for the Wendy Davis Treatment

Those of us paying attention this morning woke up to somewhat surprising political news: Ted Cruz was still talking, seventeen hours and counting after taking the Senate floor. One would have to be paying attention, as news of Cruz’s stand (it’s not technically a filibuster) hasn’t made the top of the news anywhere nationwide. A Texan senator has taken over the floor of the nation’s most powerful legislative body and that sound you hear is crickets from some corners of the media, derision from others. Compare this coverage to that of another Texan senator, this one a female state senator protesting late-term abortion restrictions, for yet another example of why the public’s trust in the media has plummeted. 

The filibuster undertaken by Wendy Davis and the floor speech of Ted Cruz are remarkably similar in their futility. Not a single legislature or informed observer actually expected either of the stunts to achieve anything tangible. They were planned for one reason: publicity. For Wendy Davis, it worked, catapulting her onto the national stage, setting the groundwork for the unknown state senator’s run for the governor’s mansion. The actual contents of Davis’s speech weren’t reported with nearly as much enthusiasm as her shoe choice, however. Given the grotesque nature of what Davis was fighting to protect (abortion via dismemberment of viable human beings capable of feeling pain), it’s understandable that the media chose to focus on fashion first and foremost. The inherent sexism of this choice was lost on a media cheering the rise of a woman in a male-dominated profession. 

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Those of us paying attention this morning woke up to somewhat surprising political news: Ted Cruz was still talking, seventeen hours and counting after taking the Senate floor. One would have to be paying attention, as news of Cruz’s stand (it’s not technically a filibuster) hasn’t made the top of the news anywhere nationwide. A Texan senator has taken over the floor of the nation’s most powerful legislative body and that sound you hear is crickets from some corners of the media, derision from others. Compare this coverage to that of another Texan senator, this one a female state senator protesting late-term abortion restrictions, for yet another example of why the public’s trust in the media has plummeted. 

The filibuster undertaken by Wendy Davis and the floor speech of Ted Cruz are remarkably similar in their futility. Not a single legislature or informed observer actually expected either of the stunts to achieve anything tangible. They were planned for one reason: publicity. For Wendy Davis, it worked, catapulting her onto the national stage, setting the groundwork for the unknown state senator’s run for the governor’s mansion. The actual contents of Davis’s speech weren’t reported with nearly as much enthusiasm as her shoe choice, however. Given the grotesque nature of what Davis was fighting to protect (abortion via dismemberment of viable human beings capable of feeling pain), it’s understandable that the media chose to focus on fashion first and foremost. The inherent sexism of this choice was lost on a media cheering the rise of a woman in a male-dominated profession. 

It remains to be seen how much Cruz will profit from his stunt. Already a darling of his base, the Tea Party, Cruz is unlikely to gain much in the way of more notoriety, given the lack of media coverage. 

This morning, at around 7, Cruz discussed how the media should be covering his speech. He chided the impulse to discuss it in terms of Cruz’s possible presidential political ambitions and instead asked that the substance of his speech be the focus. A reporter for Politico, Ginger Gibson, tweeted that that was why reporters “mock” Cruz, a sitting U.S. senator. Gibson, rather unprofessionally, shed light on the usually unspoken impulses of her and her colleagues, who apparently demand reverence from the politicians they cover. Gibson was more than happy to contribute an evenhanded and favorable piece on Wendy Davis for Politico (one of several dozen the site ran on the state senator), which would indicate that she has no similar qualms about Davis’s level of respect for reporters’ integrity or professionalism. Davis, however, has no reason to heap scorn on how reporters do their jobs; she can rely on fair and usually favorable coverage from a media that holds her positions in higher esteem than those of conservatives. 

What we’ve learned here is a lesson everyone in the mainstream media and Washington already knows: When politicians play the game and fight for liberal causes, they are rewarded by their equally liberal friends in the press. What makes Cruz and his fellow conservatives the target of reporters’ scorn is their politics, not their lack of reverence for a profession that saw fit to obsess about the shoe choice of a woman who was fighting for access to a procedure so abhorrent that all but four countries in the world have made it illegal. 

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ObamaCare’s Desperate Defenders

Liberal opinion writers who feel duty-bound to defend President Obama’s signature health-care reform law have been quite creative in trying to blame the GOP for the flaws in what was a law passed by Democrats against bipartisan and public opposition. The most recent narrative, that Republicans are “sabotaging” the law, is quite clearly nonsensical. But they are opinion writers, so we can understand their efforts to spin the policy failure.

Yet there is really no excuse for supposedly impartial reporters to not only infuse their news writing with such silliness but even openly rant about it as a prelude to the facts. That, however, is exactly what USA Today does when reporting on the latest USA Today/Pew Research poll on ObamaCare. The poll finds that–surprise!–the unpopular law is still unpopular. And in fact there’s some news in this one: only 49 percent of the uninsured approve of it, with 46 percent disapproving. That means the targets of the law’s new entitlement structure are pretty evenly divided on whether they even want what the government is offering.

You have to go Pew’s website for that piece of information. The USA Today piece is mostly an epic rant against the GOP. Here is how the article opens (and remember, this is a newspaper, not a left-wing blog or the president’s press secretary):

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Liberal opinion writers who feel duty-bound to defend President Obama’s signature health-care reform law have been quite creative in trying to blame the GOP for the flaws in what was a law passed by Democrats against bipartisan and public opposition. The most recent narrative, that Republicans are “sabotaging” the law, is quite clearly nonsensical. But they are opinion writers, so we can understand their efforts to spin the policy failure.

Yet there is really no excuse for supposedly impartial reporters to not only infuse their news writing with such silliness but even openly rant about it as a prelude to the facts. That, however, is exactly what USA Today does when reporting on the latest USA Today/Pew Research poll on ObamaCare. The poll finds that–surprise!–the unpopular law is still unpopular. And in fact there’s some news in this one: only 49 percent of the uninsured approve of it, with 46 percent disapproving. That means the targets of the law’s new entitlement structure are pretty evenly divided on whether they even want what the government is offering.

You have to go Pew’s website for that piece of information. The USA Today piece is mostly an epic rant against the GOP. Here is how the article opens (and remember, this is a newspaper, not a left-wing blog or the president’s press secretary):

Republican lawmakers have failed in dozens of attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but a new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll shows just how difficult they have made it for President Obama’s signature legislative achievement to succeed.

As the health care exchanges at the heart of the law open for enrollment in two weeks, the public’s views of it are as negative as they have ever been, and disapproval of the president’s handling of health care has hit a new high. Confusion and misinformation about the law haven’t significantly abated, especially among the law’s main targets.

That makes it sound like Republicans are sowing “confusion and misinformation”–after all, the first paragraph tells us they are the ones who have “made it” difficult for the law to succeed. But then in the very next paragraph, we are told this:

Among the 19% polled who are uninsured, nearly four in 10 don’t realize the law requires them to get health insurance next year. Among young people, whose participation is seen as crucial for the exchanges to work, just 56% realize there’s a mandate to be insured or face a fine.

So in other words, the most controversial aspects of the law, and the ones Republicans have been shouting about from the beginning, still have not fully seeped into the public consciousness. And USA Today thinks this is holding back support for the law? Because people don’t know the government is now forcing them to buy a product or face a fine? I’m guessing that if USA Today would like some help getting the word out about the individual mandate, Republicans would be happy to pitch in.

No story like this would be complete, of course (though keep in mind we haven’t even approached the in-depth explanation of the poll itself), without a wildly out-of-proportion (and factually unsustainable) historical analogy:

“There has been a full-court press from Day One from the opposition to characterize and demonize the plan,” says Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, who wrote about the GOP efforts in a 2012 book about Washington he co-authored, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. “The campaign against the law after it was enacted, the range of steps taken, the effort to delegitimize it — it is unprecedented. We’d probably have to go back to the nullification efforts of the Southern states in the pre-Civil War period to find anything of this intensity.”

Republicans have pursued their opposition to ObamaCare through the constitutional process. First, Republicans and Democrats rallied public opinion. Then they voted against the law. Then they challenged the law’s constitutionality in court. They lost. Now they are trying to pass congressional legislation to either repeal the bill or limit its harm. When they lose, they do not pretend they won; they simply redouble their efforts for another try, which is what really bothers commentators like Mann.

This whole process, of advocating for the concerns of their constituents and then taking part in the legislative process, is a pretty basic part of congressional work. That leftists don’t seem to understand it or have patience for it is unfortunate. That they are enraged beyond reason by it is more than troubling. That some of them, like USA Today and think-tankers like Thomas Mann, have identified this democratic process as the enemy pretty conclusively demonstrates that it isn’t the Republican Party or the conservative movement whose adherents have become unhinged by ObamaCare, but the president’s increasingly desperate supporters.

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More Anti-Israel Bias at the Times

Earlier this week I took the New York Times to task for its article on the Palestinian “hobby” of throwing rocks at Jews. The piece illustrated the way violence is accepted as normal behavior in Palestinian culture. But the author, Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, also gave short shrift to the Israeli victims of this hobby and dismissed the thousands of casualties they’ve suffered over the years with one throwaway sentence that gave a second-hand account of one case that resulted in the deaths of two people. The piece failed to ask why Palestinians never thought to try to interact with Jews who live nearby as fellow human beings rather than mere objects that must wounded, maimed, or killed.

But the previous day in a different article on the settlements, Rudoren also threw in a false statement in which she claimed the United States considered Israeli communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem to be “illegal.” This is false, and credit should go to Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon for calling her out on this point. The U.S. may disapprove of Israeli building, but it does not take the position that the settlements are, a priori, illegal. In response, the Times has now issued a correction on that point acknowledging that the U.S. does not take a position on their legality. That’s a minor victory, but this isn’t the first time Rudoren has made an egregious error with regard to settlements. Assuming they care about the integrity of their pages, this latest mistake should prompt both the reporter and her editors to think seriously about the biased manner in which the Times continues to report about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians.

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Earlier this week I took the New York Times to task for its article on the Palestinian “hobby” of throwing rocks at Jews. The piece illustrated the way violence is accepted as normal behavior in Palestinian culture. But the author, Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, also gave short shrift to the Israeli victims of this hobby and dismissed the thousands of casualties they’ve suffered over the years with one throwaway sentence that gave a second-hand account of one case that resulted in the deaths of two people. The piece failed to ask why Palestinians never thought to try to interact with Jews who live nearby as fellow human beings rather than mere objects that must wounded, maimed, or killed.

But the previous day in a different article on the settlements, Rudoren also threw in a false statement in which she claimed the United States considered Israeli communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem to be “illegal.” This is false, and credit should go to Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon for calling her out on this point. The U.S. may disapprove of Israeli building, but it does not take the position that the settlements are, a priori, illegal. In response, the Times has now issued a correction on that point acknowledging that the U.S. does not take a position on their legality. That’s a minor victory, but this isn’t the first time Rudoren has made an egregious error with regard to settlements. Assuming they care about the integrity of their pages, this latest mistake should prompt both the reporter and her editors to think seriously about the biased manner in which the Times continues to report about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians.

It’s worth remembering the correction the paper was forced to make about a story published in December, in which Rudoren swallowed a Palestinian lie about the building of a new Jewish suburb in the Jerusalem area cutting off Bethlehem and the southern part of the West Bank from Ramallah and areas to its north. As Elliott Abrams noted, Rudoren’s work reflects the prejudices of the far left of Israeli society, leading her to misunderstand the country’s politics (in which that far left has been completely marginalized) and to misreport security and settlement issues.

It needs to be remembered that these issues are not minor goofs. The West Bank is disputed territory in which both Israelis and Palestinians can put forward historic and legal claims. If peace is ever to be achieved, it will have to be done on a basis in which the two sides acknowledge the legitimacy of their antagonists’ position, not on the total surrender of one or the other. By adopting the Palestinian canard about Jews having no right to live or build in the heart of their ancient homeland, Rudoren is affirming the position that the settlers are thieves who deserve violence. In doing so, the Times dehumanizes these people and portrays the conflict as a morality play in which only Palestinians are victims and never the perpetrators of crimes.

In this context, it is also worth repeating the point I made on Monday when I noted that Rudoren’s choice of the village of Beit Omar to profile Palestinian hobbyists was particularly ironic because the surrounding neighboring settlements predate the 1948 War of Independence. The Gush Etzion bloc was the site of Jewish communities that were overrun by murderous Arab gangs, and their inhabitants were either massacred or captured. After the 1967 Six-Day War they were rebuilt. Of course, mentioning this history would have undermined the Palestinian narrative of victimization and Israeli usurpation and illegality.

Many in Israel and in the pro-Israel community have long since given up hoping for fair coverage of Israel in the New York Times. But while we are used to the bias on their opinion pages and the slanted nature of their news coverage, it really isn’t asking too much to expect them to at least get their facts straight and to put stories in an accurate context. Unfortunately, so long as Ms. Rudoren is in place and supervised by editors who don’t seem to care much about these concerns, there is little reason to expect anything better than her appalling “hobby” report.

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The One Insult John McCain Can’t Forgive

The part of John McCain’s interview with the New Republic getting the most attention today is where he admits to being conflicted over whether, in a hypothetical 2016 general election, he’d vote for Hillary Clinton over Rand Paul. The article is even headlined “John McCain, Undecided 2016 Voter,” as if to nudge readers along, in case they thought the flames of GOP internecine warfare weren’t being fanned quite enough yet this week.

And of course it is juicy enough in its own way, raising the prospect that the party’s former presidential nominee will jump ship rather than be captained by a libertarian. Nonetheless, though the interview spans foreign and domestic policy, from drones to “wacko birds” to Egyptian coups, one part of the interview caught my attention. McCain was asked about the role Sarah Palin played in the 2008 campaign and her choice of attack lines to aim at the Obama/Biden ticket (“IC” is the New Republic’s Isaac Chotiner, who conducted the interview; “JM” is McCain):

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The part of John McCain’s interview with the New Republic getting the most attention today is where he admits to being conflicted over whether, in a hypothetical 2016 general election, he’d vote for Hillary Clinton over Rand Paul. The article is even headlined “John McCain, Undecided 2016 Voter,” as if to nudge readers along, in case they thought the flames of GOP internecine warfare weren’t being fanned quite enough yet this week.

And of course it is juicy enough in its own way, raising the prospect that the party’s former presidential nominee will jump ship rather than be captained by a libertarian. Nonetheless, though the interview spans foreign and domestic policy, from drones to “wacko birds” to Egyptian coups, one part of the interview caught my attention. McCain was asked about the role Sarah Palin played in the 2008 campaign and her choice of attack lines to aim at the Obama/Biden ticket (“IC” is the New Republic’s Isaac Chotiner, who conducted the interview; “JM” is McCain):

IC: But she also accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” It wasn’t entirely positive.

JM: Well, if she attacked Obama and Biden, that is fairly standard.

IC: “Palling around with terrorists”?

JM: With all due respect, you never heard about when John Lewis said my campaign was worse than the Birmingham church bombing? That may have escaped your attention.

IC: It did. I agree, that is bad.

JM: OK, well, that is what he did, when they orchestrated this “racism” effort against me. Maybe Sarah Palin said “palling around with terrorists,” but the things that were said about me and her were far worse. I’ll never forgive John Lewis.

IC: Did you ever talk to Lewis?

JM: No. I would be glad to show you the press release. But we selectively take something Palin said, and the vice president’s job is to attack, and how many people know about John Lewis? I can show you many other comments. For me to complain about it is a waste of time.

This actually quite tragic, and it just reinforces the fact that the false accusations of racism in which the media and elected Democrats traffic is so corrosive to American politics. You don’t hear McCain complain about the fact that the Obama campaign mocked his war wounds or told Hispanic voters that McCain was against immigration reform when it was Obama who torpedoed McCain’s attempt to liberalize the system. Or, for that matter, any of the other more routine attacks.

Politics ain’t beanbag, of course. Campaigns breed all kinds of personal and political attacks, but rarely the kind that can never be forgiven. Tarring a person’s character with the racism charge just to try to win an election is especially reprehensible. It’s reminiscent of Ted Kennedy’s attack on Robert Bork at the latter’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. “Robert Bork’s America,” the bilious speech claimed, would be a place where “blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.”

It went beyond the usual character assassination and smear campaigns typical of the left. It forever changed the way judges were confirmed. It broke new ground–even for Kennedy, who had long mastered the politics of personal destruction and turned vapid belligerence into an art form. The confirmation process never recovered, and neither did the courts, membership of which was now available only to those who pretended not to have an opinion about anything. Intellectual discourse was off the table–Kennedy had spoken.

And American politics hasn’t truly recovered either. Even the left understands the damage Kennedy and his cohorts (including the current vice president) did to the country. As Joe Nocera wrote in the New York Times in 2011:

The Bork fight, in some ways, was the beginning of the end of civil discourse in politics. For years afterward, conservatives seethed at the “systematic demonization” of Bork, recalls Clint Bolick, a longtime conservative legal activist. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution coined the angry verb “to bork,” which meant to destroy a nominee by whatever means necessary. When Republicans borked the Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright less than two years later, there wasn’t a trace of remorse, not after what the Democrats had done to Bork. The anger between Democrats and Republicans, the unwillingness to work together, the profound mistrust — the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.

And yet the media and Democrats persist in their efforts to call everyone with whom they disagree a racist. Detroit’s bankruptcy is just the latest example, but the trial of George Zimmerman is a reminder of this as well. NBC chose to edit the 9-1-1 call Zimmerman made in order to make it appear as though Zimmerman might be racist, setting off a trial that was suddenly a referendum on racial justice. The press decided to paint Zimmerman as a racist monster, and now the family Zimmerman saved from a car wreck is afraid to speak out publicly on his behalf for fear of “blowback.”

I’m sure there are those who will accuse McCain of sour grapes or unjustly holding a grudge. But he seems to have been able to let the election go. He just can’t quite get beyond the sinister accusation of racism, which became so normalized by the left that virtually every Republican candidate four years later was hit with the same accusation. The damage this is doing to the country is visible and resilient, but as long as Democrats believe it helps them win elections, we can only expect more of it.

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On Abortion, It’s Liberals vs. Public Opinion

If pro-abortion activist Wendy Davis was seeking to move the polls on public attitudes toward abortion and her own political fortunes, she seems to have succeeded–though surely not in the direction she intended. After Davis’s media blitz, Texas voters still made clear they’d vote against her for governor. And now the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll confirms what has been the case all along: Davis and the Democrats hold extremist views on abortion.

The Post reports: “By a margin of 56 to 27 percent, more Americans say they’d prefer to impose limits on abortions after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy rather than the 24-week mark established under current law, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.” That 20-week mark was the subject of the restrictive abortion bill that Davis worked so hard to stop in Texas–though the Texas bill also sought to upgrade health facilities for women, which Davis also strenuously opposed.

The media, which tends to be far more pro-abortion than the rest of the country, has tried to cloak that extremism with spin. In the case of Davis’s poll numbers, they were forced to argue that “Wendy Davis won’t be the next governor but could help Democrats win the larger political war.” In the writeup of the new abortion poll, the Post adds:

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If pro-abortion activist Wendy Davis was seeking to move the polls on public attitudes toward abortion and her own political fortunes, she seems to have succeeded–though surely not in the direction she intended. After Davis’s media blitz, Texas voters still made clear they’d vote against her for governor. And now the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll confirms what has been the case all along: Davis and the Democrats hold extremist views on abortion.

The Post reports: “By a margin of 56 to 27 percent, more Americans say they’d prefer to impose limits on abortions after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy rather than the 24-week mark established under current law, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.” That 20-week mark was the subject of the restrictive abortion bill that Davis worked so hard to stop in Texas–though the Texas bill also sought to upgrade health facilities for women, which Davis also strenuously opposed.

The media, which tends to be far more pro-abortion than the rest of the country, has tried to cloak that extremism with spin. In the case of Davis’s poll numbers, they were forced to argue that “Wendy Davis won’t be the next governor but could help Democrats win the larger political war.” In the writeup of the new abortion poll, the Post adds:

More broadly, overall support for legal abortion remains stable, with 55 percent saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 41 percent say it should be illegal in most or all cases. That finding is similar to a 2012 Post-ABC poll and surveys in recent years.

Pro-abortion activists may see that as a silver lining, but it’s not much out of step with the rest of the poll. Most abortions take place before the 20-week mark, which means a bill restricting abortion after that point would still mean abortion in most cases would be left in place. An additional ten percent of respondents didn’t think the 20-week restrictions would go far enough, making the Wendy Davis Democrats true outliers in public opinion.

The real silver lining for the left, if there is one, would be this part of the poll:

By more than a 2 to 1 margin — 66 to 30 percent — Americans say they prefer that abortion laws be decided for all states on the basis of the U.S. Constitution, rather than a state-by-state approach. This applies to both hardcore abortion rights supporters and opponents: 73 percent of those who say abortion should always be legal want a national rule, as do 72 percent of those who say it should be illegal in all cases.

A majority of Americans want a national abortion standard subject to Supreme Court approval of its constitutionality. This is where the left has some success. When American voters disapprove of liberal culture-war stands, the courts can often be counted on to legislate from the bench, especially when pressured by the administration and the media to get in line. The high court has already established precedent inventing a right to abort children in the Constitution, so getting national law to conform with popular opinion would be an uphill slog.

The other interesting aspect of the poll is the support for abortion, or opposition to the abortion facility regulations, that didn’t come from the self-identified liberal end of the spectrum:

Meanwhile a Columbus, Ohio, resident who asked that he only be identified by his first name, Robert, and described himself as “a conservative Republican” who backs abortion rights, said he did not understand why politicians were seeking to rewrite the nation’s abortion laws.

“I would really prefer that government focus on fiscal issues, and stay out of the social issues,” he said.

And Milo Shield, a professor at Augsburg College who lives in Prescott, Wis., said he also supports abortion access without restrictions until the 24th week of pregnancy. He questioned Wisconsin’s new law requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors, which Planned Parenthood said could shutter two of its four clinics in the state.

“There doesn’t seem to be data about whether it makes a difference to have a doctor present or hospital admitting privileges,” said Shield, who considers himself a libertarian and does not affiliate with either party. “I don’t know what Wisconsin’s rationale was. It’s like creationism — it’s shrouded in science, but not science-based.”

The second commenter here identifies as a libertarian, and the earlier comment was from a “conservative Republican” who expressed a fairly libertarian attitude by telling the government to focus on fiscal issues “and stay out of the social issues.” The libertarian approval of unrestricted abortion is something I find baffling. The science is pretty clear: the unborn child is the same human person before and after birth. Any policy approach that gives some people less value and fewer rights than others doesn’t strike me as particularly “libertarian.”

But it does get at a point encountered often in political discussions: people just aren’t that comfortable talking about abortion, at least to the extent they are usually comfortable talking about, say, taxes. The media plays a role in this, casting opposition to abortion as part of a “war on women,” a shameful smear that is simply not supported by the polling but which is intended to foreclose debate precisely because Americans side with conservatives on this issue more than Democrats, and certainly more than abortion absolutists on the left.

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Helen Thomas and Bias in the Press

Longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas is being celebrated today as a trailblazer who showed the way for young female reporters and the avatar for tough-minded journalism. Thomas deserves great credit for making her way against the odds in a man’s world before becoming a fixture as the dean of the White House press corps and a leading member of the once-all male Gridiron Club. Doing so required grit, tenacity, and the kind of work ethic that enabled her to beat out many of her colleagues and win her a place among the elites of the Washington press corps. But even the most laudatory discussion of Thomas’s career must mention its end when she was forced to resign from her last post for an anti-Semitic outburst. In order to maintain the story line of Thomas as trailblazer, obituaries like the front-page article in today’s New York Times, and appreciations like the one in the Daily Beast by Eleanor Clift, must treat it as something that does not detract from her significance or an understandable expression of legitimate opinion that showed she didn’t care what others thought.

But an honest assessment of her legacy requires us to do more than make a token acknowledgement of the “get the hell out of Palestine” statement while lionizing her as a symbol of equal rights for women. Thomas’s prejudice was not a minor flaw. It was a symptom not only of her Jew-hatred but also of a style of journalism that was brutally partisan and confrontational. We want reporters to be tough and relentless in the pursuit of good stories and truth. Yet anyone who watched her use her perch in the front row in the White House press room as if it were a platform for political opposition to administrations whose policies she didn’t like must understand that, along with her symbolic importance, we must also give Thomas her share of the credit for the creation of an ugly spirit of partisanship that characterizes much of the press.

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Longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas is being celebrated today as a trailblazer who showed the way for young female reporters and the avatar for tough-minded journalism. Thomas deserves great credit for making her way against the odds in a man’s world before becoming a fixture as the dean of the White House press corps and a leading member of the once-all male Gridiron Club. Doing so required grit, tenacity, and the kind of work ethic that enabled her to beat out many of her colleagues and win her a place among the elites of the Washington press corps. But even the most laudatory discussion of Thomas’s career must mention its end when she was forced to resign from her last post for an anti-Semitic outburst. In order to maintain the story line of Thomas as trailblazer, obituaries like the front-page article in today’s New York Times, and appreciations like the one in the Daily Beast by Eleanor Clift, must treat it as something that does not detract from her significance or an understandable expression of legitimate opinion that showed she didn’t care what others thought.

But an honest assessment of her legacy requires us to do more than make a token acknowledgement of the “get the hell out of Palestine” statement while lionizing her as a symbol of equal rights for women. Thomas’s prejudice was not a minor flaw. It was a symptom not only of her Jew-hatred but also of a style of journalism that was brutally partisan and confrontational. We want reporters to be tough and relentless in the pursuit of good stories and truth. Yet anyone who watched her use her perch in the front row in the White House press room as if it were a platform for political opposition to administrations whose policies she didn’t like must understand that, along with her symbolic importance, we must also give Thomas her share of the credit for the creation of an ugly spirit of partisanship that characterizes much of the press.

As for Thomas’s line about throwing the Jews out of Palestine, the attempts to soften its impact by her friends still fall flat. The reporter wasn’t talking about Jewish settlers in the West Bank. She was referring to all six million Israeli Jews who, she thought, ought to go back where they supposedly belonged, to Germany and Poland. We are supposed to give her a pass for that because she was either elderly at the time or because she was the child of Lebanese immigrants, who brought their prejudices against Jews with them. Though she subsequently attempted to weasel her way out of the dustup with a statement that expressed her wish for peace, it was clear that she thought such a peace ought to be based on Israel’s eradication. This wasn’t so much, as the Times wrote, an “offhand remark” as it reflected a deep-seated hatred for Israel and its Jewish population that had characterized much of her reporting and writing throughout her career. That her fans are willing to regard this as not germane to the main story about her achievements is to be expected. But let’s ask ourselves how her stature would be affected if her offhand remarks, even in her dotage, had been aimed at African-Americans, rather than Israelis? Rationalizing or minimizing her prejudices for the sake of preserving Thomas’s reputation is intellectually indefensible.

Many people grew to like Thomas specifically because of her unrelenting hostility to the George W. Bush administration and her open opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those stances are seen by some as either prescient or praiseworthy these days, but even if you shared her political position, it’s important to understand that her use of her front-row seat in the White House briefing room to promote those positions represented a disturbing breakdown in civility as well as the way the press views itself.

Thomas made no secret of the fact that she felt the mainstream press gave too much leeway to Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. But her decision to fight her own war against the war on terror from inside the White House wasn’t quite the responsible position that many of her backers pretend it to be. Thomas’s point wasn’t so much based on skepticism about whether Saddam Hussein really did possess, as every Western intelligence agency thought he did, weapons of mass destruction as it was on the idea that Islamist terrorists and their allies had legitimate grievances against the United States and the West. In her view, American attempts to defend against these threats or Israeli efforts to protect their people against a bloody terrorist offensive were the real problems.

Moreover, as much as the press needs to always be on guard against a tendency to be played by the president (something that has been crystal clear during most of Barack Obama’s presidency, as much of the mainstream media served as his unpaid cheerleaders), Thomas illustrated the pitfalls of the opposite trend. At times, Thomas appeared to be acting as if she thought the role of the press was to be the mouthpiece for Bush’s detractors. In doing so, she undermined her own shaky credibility more than she cut the president down to size.

Journalists should recognize that Thomas helped paved the way for subsequent generations of women in the working press. But we should also understand that the negative lessons of her career are as instructive as the positive ones. Helen Thomas may have been a pathfinder for women, but her prejudices and poor judgment are textbook examples of how journalists should not behave.

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The Media’s Irresponsible Reaction to the Zimmerman Verdict

Monday’s New York Times editorial on the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is a sorry piece of work.

The editorial board says that the case is all about race: “ask any black man, up to and including President Obama, and he will tell you a few stories that sound eerily like what happened that rainy winter night in Sanford, Fla.”

I have no reason to doubt that most black men in America have a true story to tell about being unjustly suspected of wrongdoing. But the story of race in America has never cast Hispanics like George Zimmerman in a leading role. And we still don’t know what happened that night. My guess is that the stories to which the Times refers foreclose the possibility that the storyteller knocked down the unjustly suspicious person and slammed his head repeatedly into the concrete. Yet the prosecutors never came close to discrediting that part of Zimmerman’s story, much less proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman committed second degree murder or manslaughter.

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Monday’s New York Times editorial on the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is a sorry piece of work.

The editorial board says that the case is all about race: “ask any black man, up to and including President Obama, and he will tell you a few stories that sound eerily like what happened that rainy winter night in Sanford, Fla.”

I have no reason to doubt that most black men in America have a true story to tell about being unjustly suspected of wrongdoing. But the story of race in America has never cast Hispanics like George Zimmerman in a leading role. And we still don’t know what happened that night. My guess is that the stories to which the Times refers foreclose the possibility that the storyteller knocked down the unjustly suspicious person and slammed his head repeatedly into the concrete. Yet the prosecutors never came close to discrediting that part of Zimmerman’s story, much less proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman committed second degree murder or manslaughter.

From the beginning, politicians have attempted to turn State of Florida v. Zimmerman into an advertisement. The Times has now joined in. The case proves that it was “sanguine” of the Supreme Court to say that things have changed dramatically in America since 1965. Shelby v. Holder may be open to criticism, but is the Times really on record as proposing that race relations have not changed dramatically since 1965? And are they really on record proposing George Zimmerman as an exemplar of Southern white racism?

The Times, like the rest of us, does not know much about George Zimmerman. But the editorial board feels free to discount the testimony of neighbors and its own story on the FBI’s “wide-ranging investigation,” which “found a man not prone to violence or prejudice and who moved easily between racial and ethnic groups — a ‘decent guy,’ ‘a good human being.’” Never mind all that. What is “most frightening is that there are many people with guns who are like George Zimmerman” (my emphasis). And of course, the “Justice Department is right to continue its investigation into whether George Zimmerman may still be prosecuted under federal civil rights laws.”

And like many commentators, the Times insists on treating the case as an indictment of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, even though the defense did not invoke it during the trial. To repeat, the prosecution was never able to cast serious doubt on Zimmerman’s contention that, at the time of the shooting, he was pinned to the ground and had had his head slammed into the ground repeatedly. Under such circumstances, there is no state in the union in which there is a “duty to retreat.”

The prosecution was more successful casting doubt on Zimmerman’s denial that he set out to follow Martin that night. But even if it could be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman followed Martin, the rest of the story, in which Martin becomes the aggressor, breaks Zimmerman’s nose, bashes his head into the concrete, and reaches for Zimmerman’s gun, would be sufficient to make out a case for self-defense not just in Florida but in any state.

That is not to say that Zimmerman’s story is true, that every jury would have acquitted Zimmerman, that it is as hard to prove self-defense in Florida as it is elsewhere, or that Zimmerman bears no responsibility for Martin’s death. But it is disingenuous to make State of Florida v. Zimmerman a commentary on recent Supreme Court decisions or on gun control. The Times even says that what may well have been a case of justified self-defense “should be as troubling as . . . mass killings” like Columbine and Sandy Hook. While I understand that day-to-day killings and policies to prevent them deserve as much or more attention than rare mass murders receive, the Times has no way of knowing whether it was fortunate or unfortunate that Zimmerman was armed.

Now that the case is over, Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Martin family, compares Martin’s case to that of Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist deliberately shot in the back outside his home by a member of a White Citizen’s Council. While no one expects the Martin family to accept George Zimmerman’s acquittal, it is up to observers like the New York Times editorial board to attend to the cases that the defense and prosecution put on, to take account of how little we know about what happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, and to resist the urge to turn the living or the dead into cartoon heroes and villains in a story about civil rights.

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Luke Russert, Journalist and Advocate

A new survey by the Pew Forum shows that Americans continue to hold the military in high regard, with more than three-quarters of U.S. adults (78 percent) saying that members of the armed services contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being.

At the same time, compared with the ratings four years ago, journalists have dropped the most in public esteem. The share of the public saying that journalists contribute a lot to society is down 10 percentage points, from 38 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2013. The drop is particularly pronounced among women (down 17 points). The decline in the perceived contribution of journalists cuts across partisan leanings, age and education level. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents as well as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents all are less likely to say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being today (down 8 points among Republicans/leaning Republicans and 10 points among Democrats/leaning Democrats).

I believe the public’s views toward both institutions–the military and the media–are warranted. And I suspect that public esteem for the press will continue to drop if there are more episodes like this one (h/t National Review Online) from NBC’s Capitol Hill correspondent Luke Russert.

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A new survey by the Pew Forum shows that Americans continue to hold the military in high regard, with more than three-quarters of U.S. adults (78 percent) saying that members of the armed services contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being.

At the same time, compared with the ratings four years ago, journalists have dropped the most in public esteem. The share of the public saying that journalists contribute a lot to society is down 10 percentage points, from 38 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2013. The drop is particularly pronounced among women (down 17 points). The decline in the perceived contribution of journalists cuts across partisan leanings, age and education level. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents as well as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents all are less likely to say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being today (down 8 points among Republicans/leaning Republicans and 10 points among Democrats/leaning Democrats).

I believe the public’s views toward both institutions–the military and the media–are warranted. And I suspect that public esteem for the press will continue to drop if there are more episodes like this one (h/t National Review Online) from NBC’s Capitol Hill correspondent Luke Russert.

Mr. Russert’s question was delivered in the form of commentary that was both tendentious and arrogant. For example, Russert decided to establish a premise before his question, telling Boehner, “it’s well known you guys got your rear ends handed to you in the Latino community in the 2012 election.” He made opposition to a pathway to citizenship seem unreasonable, saying, “Do you not risk putting Republicans at a disadvantage with the fastest-growing electoral voting group for another generation?” And as Boehner was attempting to move on after answering the question, Russert continued to press ahead, wondering if the GOP “brand” would be hurt with Hispanics and make it impossible to win future national elections with a party comprised of “all white folks.” It’s not simply what Russert said; it’s also the tone with which he said it. I say all this as someone who is actually somewhat sympathetic to the view being advocated by Russert.

(What Russert said was also ignorant, referring to Marco Rubio as the “presumptive 2016 nominee” for the Republican Party. Senator Rubio may or may not run for president, and he may or may not win. But it’s silly to state that he’s the “presumptive” nominee at this stage.)

Speaker Boehner responded to Russert’s questions by stating, “I didn’t know this was an opinion show.” But increasingly these days to be a journalist means to be an advocate. Why else do so many journalists get into the profession in the first place, if not to advance an ideology and a political agenda without having to go through the hassle of winning elections?

There’s certainly a place for opinion shows in journalism, but Russert is supposed to be a correspondent, not a person advocating a particular point of view. Yet increasingly that distinction is lost on journalists and young progressives like Luke Russert. His profession is suffering, and should suffer, as a result.

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Media Help America Misunderstand Egypt

Americans are frequently accused of being clueless about the Middle East. But given the nonsense they’re fed by the so-called “serious” mainstream media, cluelessness is virtually inevitable.

Take, for instance, the explanation of last week’s Egyptian coup offered by a star columnist for one of America’s premier newspapers: According to the New York Times’s Roger Cohen, it was about the ousted government’s failure to satisfy the following cravings: “personal empowerment, a demand to join the modern world, and live in an open society under the rule of law rather than the rule of despotic whim.” And on what does he base this conclusion? He quotes exactly two people–the director of Human Rights Watch’s Cairo office and former International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei. In other words, two members of the same liberal elite to which Cohen belongs–but which is highly unrepresentative of most of the estimated 14 million demonstrators who thronged Egypt’s streets last Sunday.

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Americans are frequently accused of being clueless about the Middle East. But given the nonsense they’re fed by the so-called “serious” mainstream media, cluelessness is virtually inevitable.

Take, for instance, the explanation of last week’s Egyptian coup offered by a star columnist for one of America’s premier newspapers: According to the New York Times’s Roger Cohen, it was about the ousted government’s failure to satisfy the following cravings: “personal empowerment, a demand to join the modern world, and live in an open society under the rule of law rather than the rule of despotic whim.” And on what does he base this conclusion? He quotes exactly two people–the director of Human Rights Watch’s Cairo office and former International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei. In other words, two members of the same liberal elite to which Cohen belongs–but which is highly unrepresentative of most of the estimated 14 million demonstrators who thronged Egypt’s streets last Sunday.

Reporters who spoke to those demonstrators, like Haaretz’s anonymous (presumably for his/her own protection) correspondent in Cairo, got a very different picture. “There’s no construction in Egypt and no company is hiring workers,” complained an unemployed engineer. A small boat owner said he could no longer feed his children because the falloff in tourism had killed his livelihood, which was taking tourists on Nile cruises. A Cairo street vendor who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood last year said bluntly, “The city is dead. Dead. No work. No food.” As columnist David P. Goldman (aka Spengler) noted, “It is not that hard to get 14 million people into the streets if there is nothing to eat at home.”

This is not a minor misunderstanding. If you think last week’s revolution was primarily a revolt against the Muslim Brotherhood’s undemocratic behavior, then you’ll think the West’s main goal should be “supporting the Egyptian people in their aspirations to democracy and inclusive governance,” as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton put it last week–for instance, by helping them draft a new and improved constitution. But if you realize that the revolution was primarily about economic distress, then you’ll understand the West’s main goals should be arranging short-term aid and pushing long-term economic reforms needed to stabilize the economy–because without economic improvement, even the best constitution won’t prevent another coup next year. Desperate people can’t afford to wait for the next election to bring about policy changes.

I’ve written before about how journalists’ tendency to talk almost exclusively with their counterparts abroad–i.e. members of the liberal elite–leads to gross misunderstanding of the countries they’re ostensibly enlightening their readers about. And the inevitable outcome is bad policymaking: It’s not possible to craft intelligent policy based on erroneous information.

But since the mainstream media isn’t going to change, policymakers urgently need to develop their own sources of information rather than relying so heavily on the media to understand foreign countries. As COMMENTARY’s Michael Rubin has frequently argued, ordering diplomats to spend less time hobnobbing with the liberal elite and more time learning what everyone else thinks might be a good place to start.

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Obama’s Sycophants in the Press (Continued)

Question: When is a politician’s flip-flops treated as if they are the result of a philosophical evolution by a modern-day Socrates? Answer: When the elite media is covering Barack Obama.

As evidence for this assertion, I would cite this Washington Post story by Philip Rucker and Juliet Eilperin. In a piece about Obama’s shift on counter-terrorism policies, we’re told, in a story with the headline “A philosophical shift in policy on surveillance,” this: “The former constitutional law professor — who rose to prominence in part by attacking what he called the government’s post-Sept. 11 encroachment on civil liberties — has undergone a philosophical evolution, arriving at what he now considers the right balance between national security prerogatives and personal privacy.”

In case you didn’t notice, dear reader, Mr. Obama didn’t simply experience an evolution; it was a philosophical evolution. It all sounds so downright thoughtful, well considered, and intellectual. We’re also told in the headline on the jump page of the story that “Obama strives for a pragmatic approach.”

Of course he does.

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Question: When is a politician’s flip-flops treated as if they are the result of a philosophical evolution by a modern-day Socrates? Answer: When the elite media is covering Barack Obama.

As evidence for this assertion, I would cite this Washington Post story by Philip Rucker and Juliet Eilperin. In a piece about Obama’s shift on counter-terrorism policies, we’re told, in a story with the headline “A philosophical shift in policy on surveillance,” this: “The former constitutional law professor — who rose to prominence in part by attacking what he called the government’s post-Sept. 11 encroachment on civil liberties — has undergone a philosophical evolution, arriving at what he now considers the right balance between national security prerogatives and personal privacy.”

In case you didn’t notice, dear reader, Mr. Obama didn’t simply experience an evolution; it was a philosophical evolution. It all sounds so downright thoughtful, well considered, and intellectual. We’re also told in the headline on the jump page of the story that “Obama strives for a pragmatic approach.”

Of course he does.

Something similar occurred with Obama’s position on same sex-marriage (SSM). In the 1990s, as a state legislator, he supported it. Then, when running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, he opposed it, including on grounds that it violated his Christian beliefs. Obama also said he opposed same sex-marriage in the 2008 presidential election. Once he became president, however, he indicated he was rethinking his position–and by 2012, Obama endorsed same-sex marriages, arguing that his Christian faith helped dictate his decision. And how did the press report Obama’s shift? Here’s a headline from ABC News: “Obama’s Evolution On Gay Marriage.”

If mere mortal politicians–or at least mere conservative politicians–did what Obama does, they would be accused of being unprincipled and crafting their positions on important public matters based on which way the political winds were blowing (which was certainly the case for Obama on SSM). But the elite media, still enchanted with Mr. Obama, are determined to portray him as our modern-day Greek philosopher–a deeply pragmatic, empirical, and non-ideological truth seeker who has the ability to “grow” in office and rethink his positions.

We’re supposed to come away from stories like the Post’s grateful for having as our chief executive a man of such intellectual detachment and off-the-charts intelligence. For my part, I came away from the story once again reminded of how, when it comes to Barack Obama, many journalists are simply courtiers, and will be until the day he leaves office.

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