Commentary Magazine


Topic: media bias

Waging an “Anti-Segregation” Crusade on the Palestinians’ Backs

Here are some of the headlines that appeared in papers worldwide earlier this week: “Israel introduces ‘Palestinians only’ bus lines, following complaints from Jewish settlers”; “Israeli buses for Palestinians spark accusations of segregation”; “‘A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed’: Israel’s segregated buses spark outrage.” And here’s the headline that didn’t appear: “Palestinians thrilled: Finally, decent bus service for those who work in Israel!” That missing headline speaks volumes about the superficiality of global reporting on Israel–and also reveals, once again, how the Palestinians’ self-proclaimed champions often wind up making their lives worse.

Here are the facts everyone agrees on: Though Israel has barred entry to most Palestinians (for security reasons) ever since the second intifada erupted in 2000, tens of thousands have received permits to work in Israel after being vetted as low security risks. But for years, they had only two ways to get to and from work–take a shared taxi, which is expensive, or ride an Israeli bus, which is inconvenient: Israeli buses don’t serve towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority, so Palestinian workers had to commute to where they could pick up the bus.

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Here are some of the headlines that appeared in papers worldwide earlier this week: “Israel introduces ‘Palestinians only’ bus lines, following complaints from Jewish settlers”; “Israeli buses for Palestinians spark accusations of segregation”; “‘A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed’: Israel’s segregated buses spark outrage.” And here’s the headline that didn’t appear: “Palestinians thrilled: Finally, decent bus service for those who work in Israel!” That missing headline speaks volumes about the superficiality of global reporting on Israel–and also reveals, once again, how the Palestinians’ self-proclaimed champions often wind up making their lives worse.

Here are the facts everyone agrees on: Though Israel has barred entry to most Palestinians (for security reasons) ever since the second intifada erupted in 2000, tens of thousands have received permits to work in Israel after being vetted as low security risks. But for years, they had only two ways to get to and from work–take a shared taxi, which is expensive, or ride an Israeli bus, which is inconvenient: Israeli buses don’t serve towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority, so Palestinian workers had to commute to where they could pick up the bus.

This week, Israel finally took a first step toward solving this problem: It instituted bus service direct to central Israel from the Eyal crossing near Qalqilyah, to serve workers from that PA-controlled city and its suburbs. And as the Israeli daily Haaretz reluctantly reported–even as its editorialist denounced this “racist segregation”–most Palestinians are thrilled: “Thousands pushed onto the Tel Aviv line. There weren’t enough buses to meet the demand.” As one worker explained, the new buses will save him NIS 250 a month, more than a full day’s wages.

Moreover, as Israel’s Transportation Ministry pointed out, Palestinians who prefer to ride the old buses can still do so. De facto, because West Bank Jews and Palestinians don’t live in the same towns, most Palestinians will find the new buses more convenient, whereas Jews will prefer the old ones. But calling it “segregation” to have different buses serving Qalqilyah and Ariel makes about as much sense as saying that America has segregated bus lines because New Yorkers and Chicagoans ride different buses to get to Washington.

The real question, however, is why it took so long to provide this service. A major part of the answer, as with everything in Israel, is bureaucratic inertia and incompetence. But equally important is that the international response to the new bus service was utterly predictable–which constitutes a powerful disincentive to launching it. If every Israeli attempt to offer better service to Palestinians is going to spark cries of “segregation” and “apartheid,” Israel has an obvious interest in refraining from such attempts.

In short, the people who suffer most from the world’s knee-jerk reflex of denouncing every Israeli action are often the Palestinians themselves. But that doesn’t bother their self-proclaimed supporters; they couldn’t care less if Palestinian laborers continue to suffer from inconvenient, overpriced transportation. All that matters to them is denouncing Israel–even if it’s for the crime of providing better bus service.

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War on Woodward May Be a Tipping Point

A week ago, the White House was absolutely sure that its position on the sequester would prevail and that the Republicans would soon be surrendering on the president’s demands for even more new taxes in order to avoid the implementation of the draconian across-the-board budget cuts. Most of the press, backed by polls that showed the unpopularity of Republicans, agreed. But the discussion has shifted a bit in the last few days and the administration’s confidence in its ability to prevail in this political struggle has to be slightly shaken, even if they are not publicly admitting it. Part of the president’s problem is that the attempts of the secretaries of transportation and homeland security to scare the public about airport delays and the border if the sequester went ahead sounded fake and appeared to be politically motivated. But just as important was the intervention into the debate of an icon of liberal journalism: the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward.

Woodward’s op-ed reminded the public that the sequester was the White House’s idea and that any attempt to include a request for more taxes into the discussion of putting it off was “moving the goalposts.” While seemingly just one voice among many talking heads, the Woodward assertions touched a nerve in the White House and set off a furious back-and-forth argument that betrayed the administration’s sensitivity to criticism as well as a thuggish intolerance for anyone who would try to alter their hand-crafted narrative about the issue. Most of the attention on this spat today is focused on a senior White House official’s threat to Woodward that he would “regret” contradicting the president’s chosen spin.

This has provoked a discussion about how this administration and its predecessors have used threats about future access to intimidate journalists. This is a long and unfortunate tradition, and it often works when applied to less influential persons than the man who was portrayed by Robert Redford in the film account of his Watergate reporting that took down Richard Nixon. But there is more at work here than just a case of White House flacks picking a fight with the wrong guy. The problem here for President Obama is that the willingness of Woodward to expose the falsity of the administration’s position on the sequester, as well as their threat, could mark the beginning of the end of the administration’s magic touch with the mainstream press.

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A week ago, the White House was absolutely sure that its position on the sequester would prevail and that the Republicans would soon be surrendering on the president’s demands for even more new taxes in order to avoid the implementation of the draconian across-the-board budget cuts. Most of the press, backed by polls that showed the unpopularity of Republicans, agreed. But the discussion has shifted a bit in the last few days and the administration’s confidence in its ability to prevail in this political struggle has to be slightly shaken, even if they are not publicly admitting it. Part of the president’s problem is that the attempts of the secretaries of transportation and homeland security to scare the public about airport delays and the border if the sequester went ahead sounded fake and appeared to be politically motivated. But just as important was the intervention into the debate of an icon of liberal journalism: the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward.

Woodward’s op-ed reminded the public that the sequester was the White House’s idea and that any attempt to include a request for more taxes into the discussion of putting it off was “moving the goalposts.” While seemingly just one voice among many talking heads, the Woodward assertions touched a nerve in the White House and set off a furious back-and-forth argument that betrayed the administration’s sensitivity to criticism as well as a thuggish intolerance for anyone who would try to alter their hand-crafted narrative about the issue. Most of the attention on this spat today is focused on a senior White House official’s threat to Woodward that he would “regret” contradicting the president’s chosen spin.

This has provoked a discussion about how this administration and its predecessors have used threats about future access to intimidate journalists. This is a long and unfortunate tradition, and it often works when applied to less influential persons than the man who was portrayed by Robert Redford in the film account of his Watergate reporting that took down Richard Nixon. But there is more at work here than just a case of White House flacks picking a fight with the wrong guy. The problem here for President Obama is that the willingness of Woodward to expose the falsity of the administration’s position on the sequester, as well as their threat, could mark the beginning of the end of the administration’s magic touch with the mainstream press.

Last week, Politico’s feature on the ability of the Obama White House to manipulate the coverage they received generated a heated discussion about whether the supine attitude of mainstream journalists toward the president was the result of clever tactics and not, as they claimed, liberal bias. I agreed that the administration had broken new ground in employing smart ways to bypass and frustrate the working press, but pointed out the obvious fact that these strategies wouldn’t work half so well if the vast majority of the publications and networks that employ the journalists weren’t happy to roll over for Obama. No president has received the sort of adulation and fawning coverage from the mainstream since the halcyon days of John F. Kennedy’s Camelot White House.

While the Woodward rebellion hasn’t really altered that reality, it is a sign that his expectation that he will be treated with kid gloves for four more years may not be fulfilled. That the administration is pushing back so hard on Woodward betrays their worry that if the Watergate icon can get away with saying the emperor has no clothes, lesser mortals will soon be tempted to do it too.

As important as the sequester may be, this spat is about more than just that issue. The White House has assumed all along that its narrative about the budget cuts and the need for more taxes–even after the recent hikes enacted to avert the fiscal cliff as well as the raise in payroll deductions–would never be contradicted by what has been their active cheering section in the press corps.

As Max pointed out, there are good reasons to fear the effect of the sequester. But the idea that the president can bulldoze his way through Republican opposition to his big government agenda armed with the notion that the public and the media will unite behind him has been shaken. Today, even the still loyal New York Times admitted the public might not be panicked into pressuring the Republicans into submission. If the White House is today waging an unexpected war on Bob Woodward, it is because they fear the beginning of the end of their four-year honeymoon with the media.

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In Praise of Bob Woodward

I want to add to what Jonathan wrote about Bob Woodward calling out the White House for misrepresenting its role in sequestration and “moving the goalposts” in order to get its way.

Mr. Woodward is clearly sympathetic to President Obama’s approach; he’s said as much. (“Obama’s call for a balanced approach is reasonable,” Woodward writes, “and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more.”) But Woodward has enough integrity as a journalist not to allow a willful distortion to go unchecked and unchallenged.

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I want to add to what Jonathan wrote about Bob Woodward calling out the White House for misrepresenting its role in sequestration and “moving the goalposts” in order to get its way.

Mr. Woodward is clearly sympathetic to President Obama’s approach; he’s said as much. (“Obama’s call for a balanced approach is reasonable,” Woodward writes, “and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more.”) But Woodward has enough integrity as a journalist not to allow a willful distortion to go unchecked and unchallenged.

Many in the elite media–NBC’s Chuck Todd prominently among them—have made a concerted effort to downplay the role of paternity when it comes to the sequestration idea. (Todd declared, “Of all the dumb things Washington does, this ‘who started it’ argument has proven to be one of the dumber ones, especially since we’re so close to the actual cuts going into place.”)

But this is a ludicrous position. Any journalist worth his salt must know that for a president to eviscerate a “brutal” idea that his own White House championed and that the president himself approved of is a big story. And you can be sure Chuck Todd would think so, and treat it as such, if the president was George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan instead of Barack Obama. 

In any event, we only know about the White House’s role because of Woodward’s book The Price of Politics. And now Woodward himself is holding the White House accountable for disfiguring the truth.

I don’t always agree with Mr. Woodward’s judgments, and I’ve expressed those differences publicly. I’m also aware of the fact that it’s fashionable among some, including some conservatives, to disparage Woodward. But the truth is that he’s a monumentally important figure in the history of journalism. His books have genuine historical value. He’s not afraid to take on either Republican or Democratic presidents. And whatever his own political views are, he is first and foremost a reporter, and an awfully good one. Which he’s showed once again, in this most recent dust-up with the White House.

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Media Bias in the Age of Obama

The soft and at times obsequious interview Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” did with Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton) has received a lot of justifiable criticism. (Conor Friedersdorf demolishes Kroft in this piece.) Mr. Kroft didn’t help himself when he told CNN’s Piers Morgan that one of the reasons the president turns to Kroft so often is that he doesn’t use “gotcha questions” on Mr. Obama–the kind that “60 Minutes” routinely used against President Bush and other Republicans like Representative Eric Cantor.

But Mr. Kroft, as embarrassing as his interview was, is merely symptomatic of a larger phenomenon: the unprecedented swooning and cheerleading by the press for Barack Obama.

To say that the elite media has a liberal bias is similar to declaring that the sun rises in the east. But it’s never been this transparent, the infatuation never this deep, the advocacy this passionate. We are now seeing shows like “60 Minutes”–once a fearless giant in journalism–give interviews that you would expect to see on Entertainment Tonight or state-run television. We’re at the point when we have to count on tough interviews coming from news outlets like Univision. There are of course exceptions to this–journalists who are both tough-minded and fair-minded. But among the most significant political developments of our time is how many members of the press have become partisans in ways we’ve never before seen.

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The soft and at times obsequious interview Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” did with Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton) has received a lot of justifiable criticism. (Conor Friedersdorf demolishes Kroft in this piece.) Mr. Kroft didn’t help himself when he told CNN’s Piers Morgan that one of the reasons the president turns to Kroft so often is that he doesn’t use “gotcha questions” on Mr. Obama–the kind that “60 Minutes” routinely used against President Bush and other Republicans like Representative Eric Cantor.

But Mr. Kroft, as embarrassing as his interview was, is merely symptomatic of a larger phenomenon: the unprecedented swooning and cheerleading by the press for Barack Obama.

To say that the elite media has a liberal bias is similar to declaring that the sun rises in the east. But it’s never been this transparent, the infatuation never this deep, the advocacy this passionate. We are now seeing shows like “60 Minutes”–once a fearless giant in journalism–give interviews that you would expect to see on Entertainment Tonight or state-run television. We’re at the point when we have to count on tough interviews coming from news outlets like Univision. There are of course exceptions to this–journalists who are both tough-minded and fair-minded. But among the most significant political developments of our time is how many members of the press have become partisans in ways we’ve never before seen.

What explains this?

A combination of factors, I think. One is the rise of Fox News. For decades progressives had a monopoly on news, which meant they were content to slant the news but not routinely cross the line into advocacy. But now that Fox News has offered not only a different perspective, but a popular one, journalists may feel they must, in order to compensate for their loss of influence, increase their liberal advocacy.

A second factor is Barack Obama. He is liberal, Ivy League, and a person of color. That is simply too powerful of a combination for the elite media to resist. (If Obama were conservative, Ivy League, and a person of color, he would be a marked man, as Clarence Thomas has been.) Mr. Obama touches the media’s erogenous zone in ways that no other president, even JFK, ever has. One gets to sense that journalists not only like Mr. Obama; they are in awe of him. They want to impress him and please him and are afraid of being rebuked by him. (It is very much how my 3rd grade son views his teacher.) Being a bright fellow, Mr. Obama understands this, which is why from time to time he transitions from being president to being media critic. He issues marching orders to the elite media–and a stunningly high number of journalists salute and do as they are told.

A third factor is that more and more “objective” journalists seem to feel that liberalism is synonymous with social justice and they want to be in the midst of the fight to advance it. Hence we see people like Bob Schieffer and Tom Brokaw–who once upon a time would have actually tried to keep their biases reasonably in check–frame the issue over gun control as if we’re in Selma in 1965. It’s all rather silly–efforts to manufacture melodrama usually are–but I suppose there’s something emotionally satisfying about trying to recapture, over and over again, the moral moment that was the civil rights era.

All of this helps explain why Americans’ distrust in the media hit a new high in 2012, with 60 percent saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.

There is some rough justice, I suppose, in members of the press being the architects in their own profession’s destruction. It will be interesting to see how much worse things will get, and what will finally emerge from the wreckage. 

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Israel Punished in Survey of Press Freedom for Targeting Hamas

In November, New York Times media reporter David Carr wrote about the deaths of three alleged “journalists” in Gaza during Israel’s counteroffensive there. Alana Goodman pointed out here that two of the three were “cameramen” working for a television station owned by Hamas. Both Hamas and the television station itself are designated terrorist organizations. Alana then pointed to stories identifying one of the men as a Hamas military commander and another as an officer in Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Blogger Elder of Ziyon wrote that the whole episode was “not just an indictment of Carr. This is a systemic problem in the entire profession. The smugness that they are infallible, and the groupthink that they can rely on others’ work without double-checking it, all indicate that there is some significant daylight between how many journalists do their work and what the truth really is.” Carr had defended himself by saying other organizations referred to those killed as journalists. One of the organizations Carr mentioned was Reporters Without Borders, which, having duped Carr into treating terrorists as journalists has just released its rankings of press freedom worldwide–and it has dropped Israel 20 places for killing those terrorists that the organization convinced news outlets to treat as innocent journalists:

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In November, New York Times media reporter David Carr wrote about the deaths of three alleged “journalists” in Gaza during Israel’s counteroffensive there. Alana Goodman pointed out here that two of the three were “cameramen” working for a television station owned by Hamas. Both Hamas and the television station itself are designated terrorist organizations. Alana then pointed to stories identifying one of the men as a Hamas military commander and another as an officer in Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Blogger Elder of Ziyon wrote that the whole episode was “not just an indictment of Carr. This is a systemic problem in the entire profession. The smugness that they are infallible, and the groupthink that they can rely on others’ work without double-checking it, all indicate that there is some significant daylight between how many journalists do their work and what the truth really is.” Carr had defended himself by saying other organizations referred to those killed as journalists. One of the organizations Carr mentioned was Reporters Without Borders, which, having duped Carr into treating terrorists as journalists has just released its rankings of press freedom worldwide–and it has dropped Israel 20 places for killing those terrorists that the organization convinced news outlets to treat as innocent journalists:

Journalists in Israel (112th, -20) enjoy real freedom of expression despite the existence of military censorship but the country fell in the index because of the Israeli military’s targeting of journalists in the Palestinian Territories.

Israel was of course not targeting journalists; Israel was targeting terrorists aided by gullible and biased journalists. But since Hamas started the fighting with rocket attacks, fired at Israeli residential areas, and dressed up terrorists as journalists to attract Israeli fire, surely the Palestinian territories were punished by Reporters Without Borders as well? Nope: the Palestinians’ ranking  jumps ahead seven spots.

On Monday, Michael Rubin noted that human rights organizations often act against their stated cause by doing things that could make war more deadly. The stunt pulled by Reporters Without Borders with collusion from the Times and other outlets quite obviously makes war more dangerous for actual journalists (war is already dangerous for Hamasniks, though the international community is working on a way to fix that too). But the report makes something else clear: those who expose the fact that Israel was targeting terrorists instead of journalists are wasting their breath on groups like Reporters Without Borders. The organization acknowledges that it docked Israel points for going after Hamas:

The 20-place fall of Israel (112nd) is due to the actions of the Israel Defence Forces in the Palestinian Territories – actions that used to be given a separate ranking in the index under the label of “Israel extraterritorial”. During Operation “Pillar of Defence” in November 2012, IDF deliberately targeted journalists and buildings housing media that are affiliated to Hamas or support it. And the arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinian journalists is still commonplace. Israeli journalists meanwhile enjoy real freedom of expression but military censorship continues to be a structural problem.

The entry on the Palestinian territories does not even mention Hamasniks posing as journalists. Compared to last year, according to Reporters Without Borders, it’s all good news:

An improvement in relations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas has had a positive impact on freedom of information and the working environment for journalists.

Neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas is known for having a “positive impact” on freedom of the press, but Hamas is worse than its rivals. I predict disappointment in Reporters Without Borders’s future if Hamas gains in influence within the PA structure in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the campaign to delegitimize Israel among NGOs continues apace without fairness, accuracy, shame, or, indeed, borders.

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John Kerry and the Spy

Scott Shane’s New York Times account of the prosecution of former CIA operative John Kiriakou begins:

Looking back, John C. Kiriakou admits he should have known better. But when the F.B.I. called him a year ago and invited him to stop by and “help us with a case,” he did not hesitate. In his years as a C.I.A. operative, after all, Mr. Kiriakou had worked closely with F.B.I. agents overseas. Just months earlier, he had reported to the bureau a recruiting attempt by someone he believed to be an Asian spy. “Anything for the F.B.I.,” Mr. Kiriakou replied.

Hence, under the pretense of that counterterrorism episode, Kiriakou agreed to speak to the FBI without a lawyer present. What Shane does not describe, however, is the backstory, an episode that reflects on how newly-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry has put his own personal ambition above national security.

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Scott Shane’s New York Times account of the prosecution of former CIA operative John Kiriakou begins:

Looking back, John C. Kiriakou admits he should have known better. But when the F.B.I. called him a year ago and invited him to stop by and “help us with a case,” he did not hesitate. In his years as a C.I.A. operative, after all, Mr. Kiriakou had worked closely with F.B.I. agents overseas. Just months earlier, he had reported to the bureau a recruiting attempt by someone he believed to be an Asian spy. “Anything for the F.B.I.,” Mr. Kiriakou replied.

Hence, under the pretense of that counterterrorism episode, Kiriakou agreed to speak to the FBI without a lawyer present. What Shane does not describe, however, is the backstory, an episode that reflects on how newly-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry has put his own personal ambition above national security.

Kiriakou was serving on Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff when he was allegedly approached by an Asian national who apparently offered him money for information. Kiriakou is not a wealthy man and despite the leaking plea, he is a patriot; he not only refused, but he also apparently reported the contact to the FBI immediately, as all government officials in a similar situation should.

The FBI requested Kiriakou cooperate in an effort to gather evidence on the alleged spy—presumably wear a wire or some such thing—and Kiriakou agreed. Enter Senator Kerry: Fearing any controversy which could envelope him—and a foreign intelligence service seeking confidential information counted in his mind as controversy—Kerry and his Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director Frank Lowenstein, now with the Podesta Group, forbade any cooperation with the FBI that would prolong an investigation and involve a Kerry staffer cooperating with the FBI.

Problem solved, if the problem is political imagery. But if the problem is defense of national security, then Kerry seems to have decided his own ambition was the greater concern. How unfortunate, then, that he has been rewarded for such a cynical calculation. And how typical it is that The New York Times would not report on the broader issue because it might reflect badly on a politician the paper supports.

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Fox News Fights Back Against Obama Smear

Recently in an interview with the liberal magazine the New Republic on “his enemies, the media and the future of football,” President Obama took aim not just at his antagonists on Capitol Hill but also those in the press, particularly Fox News. He told the New Republic

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it.

The swipe at Fox wasn’t the president’s first, though it appears to have struck a nerve at the network. Two Fox personalities, Megyn Kelly and Kirsten Powers, responded to the president’s remarks. In a blog post on the Fox website, Kelly’s remarks were partially transcribed by the network, indicating the following was the main thrust of Fox’s argument against the statement:

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Recently in an interview with the liberal magazine the New Republic on “his enemies, the media and the future of football,” President Obama took aim not just at his antagonists on Capitol Hill but also those in the press, particularly Fox News. He told the New Republic

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it.

The swipe at Fox wasn’t the president’s first, though it appears to have struck a nerve at the network. Two Fox personalities, Megyn Kelly and Kirsten Powers, responded to the president’s remarks. In a blog post on the Fox website, Kelly’s remarks were partially transcribed by the network, indicating the following was the main thrust of Fox’s argument against the statement:

“For me this isn’t about what he said about Fox News [...] it’s about once again the president saying that if somebody disagrees with him, if Republicans disagree with him, it’s because someone has ‘gotten’ to them,” she told Fox News Digital political editor Chris Stirewalt. “It sounds dismissive of heartfelt beliefs that Republicans may hold or their constituents may hold that just don’t line up with his.”

One of Fox’s most vocal liberals, Kirsten Powers, took to the Fox opinion page to discuss Obama’s “war on Fox News.” 

Whether you are liberal or conservative, libertarian, moderate or politically agnostic, everyone should be concerned when leaders of our government believe they can intentionally try to delegitimize a news organization they don’t like. 

In fact, if you are a liberal – as I am – you should be the most offended, as liberalism is founded on the idea of cherishing dissent and an inviolable right to freedom of expression. 

That more liberals aren’t calling out the White House for this outrageous behavior tells you something about the state of liberalism in America today. 

Powers’s entire column is a must-read and holds the president’s feet to the fire on his administration’s efforts to remove Fox from the national conversation by denying the network equal access to conference calls and interviews. Despite Fox’s record-setting ratings, the president has deemed the network an illegitimate source of news while his allies at Media Matters declared their intention to destroy the network through “guerrilla warfare and sabotage.” It’s easy to imagine the kind of uproar President George W. Bush would have faced if he had made a similar attempt at stifling MSNBC or another liberal news outlet. It’s more difficult, however, to imagine President Bush actually attempting something so hostile to the free exchange of ideas and information.

While some media liberals spent the eight years of the Bush administration accusing the president of fascism, one would hope that the current president’s attempts to limit the freedom of the press to do their jobs would elicit a response of some kind. That no liberal but a Fox News paid contributor has forcefully pushed back against the president’s efforts portends a sad future for American liberalism, as Powers herself notes: “That more liberals aren’t calling out the White House for this outrageous behavior tells you something about the state of liberalism in America today.”

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The Israeli Election and the Media’s Teachable Moment

After the 2012 presidential election, liberals gave conservatives a piece of advice: do some soul searching, and get out of your media bubble. Conservatives were wrong about the election, they were told, because they turned their assumptions into predictions. So it will be interesting to find out if the leftist foreign-policy press is ready to take its own advice, after a colossally botched year of coverage leading up to this week’s Israeli Knesset election.

In his wrap-up of just how wrong the media was, Walter Russell Mead gives his readers the following tip: “As negotiations to form a coalition government unfold in the next few weeks, expect more of the same from the MSM”–referring to the mainstream media. I imagine he’s right about that; the liberal press in America got the Israeli election so wrong because they get Israel itself so wrong. But it’s easy to understand how this happens by reading the article that Mead singles out as the “piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts”–David Remnick’s essay in the New Yorker, dated for this week to coincide with the elections, on the rise of Israel’s right. Remnick writes:

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After the 2012 presidential election, liberals gave conservatives a piece of advice: do some soul searching, and get out of your media bubble. Conservatives were wrong about the election, they were told, because they turned their assumptions into predictions. So it will be interesting to find out if the leftist foreign-policy press is ready to take its own advice, after a colossally botched year of coverage leading up to this week’s Israeli Knesset election.

In his wrap-up of just how wrong the media was, Walter Russell Mead gives his readers the following tip: “As negotiations to form a coalition government unfold in the next few weeks, expect more of the same from the MSM”–referring to the mainstream media. I imagine he’s right about that; the liberal press in America got the Israeli election so wrong because they get Israel itself so wrong. But it’s easy to understand how this happens by reading the article that Mead singles out as the “piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts”–David Remnick’s essay in the New Yorker, dated for this week to coincide with the elections, on the rise of Israel’s right. Remnick writes:

More broadly, the story of the election is the implosion of the center-left and the vivid and growing strength of the radical right. What Bennett’s rise, in particular, represents is the attempt of the settlers to cement the occupation and to establish themselves as a vanguard party, the ideological and spiritual core of the entire country. Just as a small coterie of socialist kibbutzniks dominated the ethos and the public institutions of Israel in the first decades of the state’s existence, the religious nationalists, led by the settlers, intend to do so now and in the years ahead. In the liberal tribune Haaretz, the columnist Ari Shavit wrote, “What is now happening is impossible to view as anything but the takeover by a colonial province of its mother country.”

If that strikes you as a bit overdone, and maybe a conclusion that should have been subjected to rigorous cynicism before endorsing it, what follows that in the article offers a map for how this came to be published with such certainty. The next paragraph begins with a contemptuous dismissal of the Labor Party’s election platform and its focus on domestic issues, without even a quote from the party. But those aren’t important issues, we are told, and Remnick knows this because in the next paragraph he quotes Tzipi Livni telling him so. Livni’s old party was almost shut out of the next Knesset completely, holding on to what looks to be two Knesset seats (down from 28 in the 2009 elections). It’s fair to say that Livni was wrong about the “core issues.”

Remnick’s pessimism about the settlements continues, as he follows Livni’s section of the story with quotes from the director of Peace Now’s “Settlement Watch” project. And that is followed by former Palestinian legislator Ghassan Khatib, who is then followed in the story by the pro-settlement politician Danny Danon. After that, Remnick talks about the left’s favoritoe Israeli bogeyman, Avigdor Lieberman, and moves on to how Theodor Herzl would disapprove.

You’ll notice one thing missing from all this: the Israeli voter. There is no discussion of what was actually bothering Israelis about the Netanyahu government or their rejection of Livni’s attempts to lead a credible opposition. Remnick deserves credit for much about the piece: he interviews people with whom he vehemently disagrees at length, and lets them speak for themselves. He doesn’t simply bring up old quotes from the rightist Moshe Feiglin, for example, but talks to Feiglin himself to see if that’s where he still stands on the issues. He does not seem to cherry-pick statements or conceal the context of his conversations from the reader.

But it’s an article full of politicians whose beliefs dovetail with Remnick’s own expectations. Yair Lapid, who was the big story of the election by leading his party to 19 seats, is mentioned exactly once. Labor, the other party that improved its standing greatly by addressing the kitchen-table issues that regular Israelis had been talking and fretting about, is virtually absent; Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich is not mentioned at all.

So should we expect more of this type of coverage from the media? History tells us that the writers and pundits who get Israel wrong do so consistently. But there’s a real opportunity here for a “teachable moment,” as our president might say. If you want to know what everyday Israelis think, just ask them. Trust me, they’ll tell you.

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Israel’s Equilibrium

Because of the consistent participation in Israel’s Knesset elections of new, ill-defined, and self-styled “centrist” parties, it can be difficult to accurately apply the labels “left” and “right” until after each election. Nonetheless, yesterday’s Israeli Knesset elections clearly represent a leftward shift. How far left? That remains to be seen. The election, as Evelyn noted, was about domestic issues and not the peace process. This is beneficial for Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike.

But because the resurgent Labor Party–which performed as well as it did because it has learned to downplay Oslo in favor of bread-and-butter issues–has more to gain long-term by staying out of the next governing coalition and regrouping and recruiting some more, the leftward shift will be most clearly felt on issues of religious identity. Simply put, the ultra-Orthodox will be up against something of a secular mandate. But all this will sort itself out in the coming weeks as coalition forming and its attendant horse-trading begins. The more interesting question for now is: Could the liberal American press, which hysterically predicted that the election would create a suicidally fascistic government, have known all along how wrong they were? The answer is yes–they just needed to learn a bit of Israeli history.

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Because of the consistent participation in Israel’s Knesset elections of new, ill-defined, and self-styled “centrist” parties, it can be difficult to accurately apply the labels “left” and “right” until after each election. Nonetheless, yesterday’s Israeli Knesset elections clearly represent a leftward shift. How far left? That remains to be seen. The election, as Evelyn noted, was about domestic issues and not the peace process. This is beneficial for Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike.

But because the resurgent Labor Party–which performed as well as it did because it has learned to downplay Oslo in favor of bread-and-butter issues–has more to gain long-term by staying out of the next governing coalition and regrouping and recruiting some more, the leftward shift will be most clearly felt on issues of religious identity. Simply put, the ultra-Orthodox will be up against something of a secular mandate. But all this will sort itself out in the coming weeks as coalition forming and its attendant horse-trading begins. The more interesting question for now is: Could the liberal American press, which hysterically predicted that the election would create a suicidally fascistic government, have known all along how wrong they were? The answer is yes–they just needed to learn a bit of Israeli history.

Israeli elections often hover around what amounts to an equilibrium. Two mainstream parties–Likud and Labor, historically–usually compete to form either a center-right government or a center-left government. Floating centrist parties come and go, often within one election cycle. Kadima is the exception that proves the rule. It was created by Ariel Sharon just before he was incapacitated. Once it was out of government and led by Tzipi Livni, it remodeled itself as the peace party–its existence as such only made possible by the struggles of Labor. It is no surprise, then, that in yesterday’s election Labor’s surge back to respectability and the emergence of Yair Lapid’s new centrist party nearly wiped Kadima out completely.

The equilibrium includes an Orthodox party, Shas, and in recent years there’s been more of an effort to include specifically secular representation to make up for the fading of the Israeli left. For a couple of election cycles that has been Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu, which has pushed for conscription for the ultra-Orthodox, civil marriage, and the decentralization of the Rabbinate’s state authority. This is an important point because for all the media’s complaints of the electorate’s rightward shift, thanks to Lieberman the left had many of its policy preferences championed from within a supposedly right-wing government. Space for a new secular party opened up when Israel Beiteinu merged with Likud prior to this election.

And that gets at a broader problem with the “Israel’s lurch to the right” chorus. Israeli politicians have opinions on an array of issues, both foreign and domestic. The Western left elevates any politician’s opinion on the peace process above all others; Israelis are not so myopic or simplistic. A consensus has formed in Israel about Oslo, the peace process, and Jerusalem. Few politicians gain much success by being far beyond the parameters of that consensus–to the right or left. In recent years, the left has been outside those lines, clinging to the memories and legacy of Oslo and stuck in the mid-1990s. Labor has now emerged from that vacation from reality enough to offer coherent thoughts on domestic policy, and has been rewarded by the electorate for joining the country in the 21st century.

This doesn’t mean the country is anti-peace. It’s simply the hardheaded realism that sustains Israel’s electoral equilibrium. The peace process has a way of crowding out everything else–meetings, summits, negotiations, visits to and from every busybody who wants a piece of the action, and the parade of special envoys convinced they’re Kissinger abound. And that leaves no time or energy or political capital–and in Israel, everything takes political capital–to attend to domestic reforms.

The Western press may sneer at an election that was more about the price of cottage cheese than the future of the two-state solution, but that’s because they don’t for one second put themselves in Israelis’ shoes and walk a mile or two. Israelis are not pieces on a chessboard, and yes, the price of cottage cheese makes a difference (though that was really just a stand-in for a general sense of concern over certain household economic trends).

The ability to compartmentalize the issues and leave the peace process in its box every so often is essential for Israel. Liberal journalists don’t seem to have this ability to compartmentalize and thus they cannot see past Oslo. Call it the triumph of Haaretz over experience–the leftist press lives in its own world. The irony of all this is that only by discarding liberal editorial boards’ peace process fantasies has the Israeli left been able to rebound back from relative obscurity. You can be inside the consensus sustained by Israel’s equilibrium or you can have an obsessive focus on the peace process, but not both–as yesterday’s election demonstrated once again.

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Are You There Obama? It’s Me, CNN

Over the weekend, CNN anchor and reporter Tom Foreman wrote a piece for CNN’s website explaining the genesis of a tradition he has kept for the last four years. He was absolutely correct that his behavior required an explanation, but the one he provided was far from adequate. Foreman has been writing President Obama a letter every single day of Obama’s first term. Some letters offered Obama advice, while others explained to Obama why Foreman rarely buys a lottery ticket. Some talked about his family, others about sports. He wondered whether Obama had read any of the 1,460 letters, and he asked the president to call if he got the chance. Some demonstrated Foreman’s lack of self-awareness more clearly than others, such as when he wrote this before Inauguration Day:

Of course, as a journalist I am paid to never get that “into” any candidate, but even if I had, I can’t imagine that I’d ever feel so strongly about an elected official that I’d pack my bags and get onto an airplane just to cheer for him or her from a distance. But hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans are going to do that in just a few days because that is how they feel about you. Isn’t that something?

As an objective CNN reporter, he would never get so “into” a candidate as to travel to watch him speak. But he would write said candidate more than a thousand letters. But beyond the strangeness of it all, and the obvious questions about bias, lies another revealing element of this. The family updates, the requests for Obama to please call him when he’s not too busy, the wondering if Obama ever read all those letters: liberals, especially those in the media, have a particularly off-putting way of treating Obama as a father figure.

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Over the weekend, CNN anchor and reporter Tom Foreman wrote a piece for CNN’s website explaining the genesis of a tradition he has kept for the last four years. He was absolutely correct that his behavior required an explanation, but the one he provided was far from adequate. Foreman has been writing President Obama a letter every single day of Obama’s first term. Some letters offered Obama advice, while others explained to Obama why Foreman rarely buys a lottery ticket. Some talked about his family, others about sports. He wondered whether Obama had read any of the 1,460 letters, and he asked the president to call if he got the chance. Some demonstrated Foreman’s lack of self-awareness more clearly than others, such as when he wrote this before Inauguration Day:

Of course, as a journalist I am paid to never get that “into” any candidate, but even if I had, I can’t imagine that I’d ever feel so strongly about an elected official that I’d pack my bags and get onto an airplane just to cheer for him or her from a distance. But hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans are going to do that in just a few days because that is how they feel about you. Isn’t that something?

As an objective CNN reporter, he would never get so “into” a candidate as to travel to watch him speak. But he would write said candidate more than a thousand letters. But beyond the strangeness of it all, and the obvious questions about bias, lies another revealing element of this. The family updates, the requests for Obama to please call him when he’s not too busy, the wondering if Obama ever read all those letters: liberals, especially those in the media, have a particularly off-putting way of treating Obama as a father figure.

Foreman’s far from alone. Whether it’s liberals writing in worshipful tones that Obama is like a basketball star taking the time out to play with kids (Congress, in this case), or Kevin Drum’s announcement that if he and Obama “were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I’d literally trust his judgment over my own,” the leftist intellectual class speaks and writes from a childlike perspective when it comes to Obama.

It is human nature to think more highly of those we agree with than those we think are usually wrong. And it is true that the liberal anti-intellectualism of recent years has not yet begun to fade. But the liberal inclination to literally–to use Drum’s word–outsource their thinking to a Democratic president is an Obama-era phenomenon. And this kind of bias as well as the more popular brand of cultish behavior will only get worse in Obama’s second term, with the president’s Second Inaugural clearly expressing the fact that yes, he is a standard-issue left-liberal and no, he’s not Eisenhower, or George H.W. Bush, or Bill Clinton or any other of the centrist personalities to which the left bizarrely and against all evidence compared Obama in his first term.

It also presents CNN with a bit of a challenge. They’re not hiding Foreman’s letters, after all–they’re promoting them. And CNN reporter Jim Acosta was observed on-air expressing his giddiness over being close to Obama at the inauguration. Of the three major cable news stations Fox has always been on the right, CNN the left, and MSNBC far out on the fringe. But CNN has sought to move MSNBC into the mainstream left and position itself in the center. It is unlikely that a single person in the country believes this. And it makes CNN look a bit ridiculous, like they’re the only ones not in on the joke.

Liberal journalism professor Jay Rosen has for quite some time advised media companies to just embrace their biases and stop pretending. It would probably earn them some goodwill from viewers, who can’t possibly take CNN seriously if the network is going to claim impartiality while its anchors are one-way pen pals with the president.

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Misunderstanding Israel’s Election

Just as we already know the broad outlines of today’s Israeli election, we also know pretty much what the international and American media will say about the results. They will tell us that the victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the parties that make up his current coalition represents a sharp step to the right for Israel. It will be portrayed as a rejection of peace and a blow to the chance of a two-state solution to the conflict. Sadly, it will almost certainly lead to editorials and op-eds calling for a reevaluation of the U.S.-Israel alliance and even for American Jews to question the ties between their community and the Jewish state. The narrative of a cruel Israel that is indifferent to the suffering of the Palestinians will be endlessly rehearsed and the vote will be used to justify the isolation of Israel and to garner support for the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. But while it is true that the likely outcome of the vote will show gains for Israel’s right-wing and nationalist parties, the reason for this, as well as the sentiments of the voters, will be misunderstood and falsely construed.

Netanyahu’s victory as well as the major gains that will be scored by the party to his right, led by Naftali Bennett, will not be largely the result of a philosophical shift to embrace right-wing ideology. It is not the charms of the notoriously unlikeable Netanyahu or even the undeniable attraction that Bennett has for many Israelis who like his modern outlook as well as his military and business record. The change in the Israeli electorate from an evenly divided electorate between left and right is due entirely to the experience of the last 20 years, during which Israel has tried to make peace with the Palestinians. It is the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace and embrace of terror and violence that has changed the minds of so many Israelis and convinced them that even though they want a two-state solution, there is no partner for peace with whom they can make such a deal. Rather than damn Israelis for turning their backs on peace, the rest of the world, and especially Americans who think of themselves as friends of Israel, should be asking themselves what it is that Israelis know about their neighborhood that they have preferred to ignore.

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Just as we already know the broad outlines of today’s Israeli election, we also know pretty much what the international and American media will say about the results. They will tell us that the victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the parties that make up his current coalition represents a sharp step to the right for Israel. It will be portrayed as a rejection of peace and a blow to the chance of a two-state solution to the conflict. Sadly, it will almost certainly lead to editorials and op-eds calling for a reevaluation of the U.S.-Israel alliance and even for American Jews to question the ties between their community and the Jewish state. The narrative of a cruel Israel that is indifferent to the suffering of the Palestinians will be endlessly rehearsed and the vote will be used to justify the isolation of Israel and to garner support for the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. But while it is true that the likely outcome of the vote will show gains for Israel’s right-wing and nationalist parties, the reason for this, as well as the sentiments of the voters, will be misunderstood and falsely construed.

Netanyahu’s victory as well as the major gains that will be scored by the party to his right, led by Naftali Bennett, will not be largely the result of a philosophical shift to embrace right-wing ideology. It is not the charms of the notoriously unlikeable Netanyahu or even the undeniable attraction that Bennett has for many Israelis who like his modern outlook as well as his military and business record. The change in the Israeli electorate from an evenly divided electorate between left and right is due entirely to the experience of the last 20 years, during which Israel has tried to make peace with the Palestinians. It is the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace and embrace of terror and violence that has changed the minds of so many Israelis and convinced them that even though they want a two-state solution, there is no partner for peace with whom they can make such a deal. Rather than damn Israelis for turning their backs on peace, the rest of the world, and especially Americans who think of themselves as friends of Israel, should be asking themselves what it is that Israelis know about their neighborhood that they have preferred to ignore.

Bennett’s rise is the big story in this election, and there’s little doubt that his mix of traditional Zionist sentiment and hardheaded thinking about the Palestinians is generating a surge for his Jewish Home Party that puzzles liberal Americans. It is true that many in his party represent hard-core settlers and illiberal religious leaders who have little in common with Americans. But his appeal is also the product of a realization on the part of some more secular Israelis that his approach is a throwback to a more heroic era in Israeli thought. Though the tension between Netanyahu and Bennett, who once worked for the prime minister, is palpable, he is a mainstream figure whose future in his country’s politics is likely to eventually find him back in the Likud rather than leading a smaller party.

But while some insist that this is a “Seinfeld” election that is about nothing, that nothing is a context in which the country’s once-dominant left-wing parties and traditional left have been essentially marginalized or forced to drop peace as a major issue, as is the case with Labor. Where once there was a consensus that Israel needed to try to trade land for peace with the Palestinians, after Oslo, the withdrawal from Gaza, and the rejection by both Yasir Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas of Israeli offers of statehood that included a share of Jerusalem, only a mindless ideologue can pretend that the lack of peace is due to Israel’s failure to make concessions. The fact that the Likud and its nationalist competitors have shifted even more to the right on peace is rooted in a widespread understanding that, as Bennett’s TV ads say, the Palestinians are no more likely to ever accept a two-state solution (no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn) than for “The Sopranos” to make a comeback.

If many Americans not otherwise prejudiced against Jews and Israel nevertheless blame the Jewish state for the standoff in the Middle East, it is largely due to ignorance of the context of events in the Middle East and the history of the conflict. Rather than thinking, as President Obama reportedly does, that we understand Israel’s “best interests” better than the country’s voters, Americans should show a little humility. If Netanyahu and the right are winning, it is not because Israelis don’t want peace but because they have paid attention to the events of the last two decades and drawn the only possible conclusion.

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The Times Spots a Squirrel

The New York Times, the very apotheosis of agenda-driven “journalism,” has a front-page story today that takes up a quarter of that page, above the fold, and half an inside page, entitled, “Not Even Close: 2012 Was the Hottest Ever in U.S.” It covers the recently issued report of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center regarding last year’s weather statistics.

The Times correctly tells its readers what NOAA reported, which fits in perfectly with the Times’s take on global warming. What it does not do is question in any way, shape or form, whether the statistics in the report are accurate.

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The New York Times, the very apotheosis of agenda-driven “journalism,” has a front-page story today that takes up a quarter of that page, above the fold, and half an inside page, entitled, “Not Even Close: 2012 Was the Hottest Ever in U.S.” It covers the recently issued report of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center regarding last year’s weather statistics.

The Times correctly tells its readers what NOAA reported, which fits in perfectly with the Times’s take on global warming. What it does not do is question in any way, shape or form, whether the statistics in the report are accurate.

But there are a lot of questions, as Power Line reported yesterday. Anthony Watts, who runs the highly popular Watts Up With That blog on climate change, has uncovered evidence that the data had been systematically corrupted in order to produce the desired curve of rising temperatures. For instance, he found that in the original paper versions of data from February 1934, the average temperature for that month in Arizona is given as 52.0 degrees F. In the current on-line data available from the National Climatic Data Center, the average temperature for Arizona in February 1934, is given as having been 48.9 degrees. The difference of more than three degrees is huge.

If Anthony Watts’s reporting is accurate, this would be gross scientific malpractice. I haven’t the faintest idea who is right here, Anthony Watts or the NCDC, as I am neither a climatologist nor a statistician. But one would think that the New York Times, with its unmatched journalistic resources, might have looked into the discrepancy before running with the story.

After all, if they could discredit Watts Up With That, they would diminish a major critic of the global warming hypothesis. If they can prove that the NCDC data has been cooked, they will have uncovered a major government scandal, and that sells newspapers, which is the business the Times is supposed to be in.

But, it seems, there’s an agenda to advance and so … Oh, look, a squirrel!

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Those Courageous Liberals

The question at the heart of the Chuck Hagel controversy was always whether President Obama actually wanted Hagel as his secretary of defense, or whether it was all a gimmick to trick the press into further proclaiming the absurd-beyond-belief characterization of Obama’s cabinet as a “team of rivals.” You would think it would raise some eyebrows that this supposed ream of rivals all agree with each other. But Obama figured the press could be fooled again by appointing a registered Republican to run the Pentagon.

A gimmick, however, is generally not worth fighting for. But to understand why Obama thought the press could be fooled so easily into this nonsense, take a look at yesterday’s National Journal article, which broke the news that the White House is considering dropping Hagel. It’s a well-reported piece that got a scoop where everyone else merely had inklings. But notice the way this straight news story characterizes Hagel’s stand on the Iraq War:

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The question at the heart of the Chuck Hagel controversy was always whether President Obama actually wanted Hagel as his secretary of defense, or whether it was all a gimmick to trick the press into further proclaiming the absurd-beyond-belief characterization of Obama’s cabinet as a “team of rivals.” You would think it would raise some eyebrows that this supposed ream of rivals all agree with each other. But Obama figured the press could be fooled again by appointing a registered Republican to run the Pentagon.

A gimmick, however, is generally not worth fighting for. But to understand why Obama thought the press could be fooled so easily into this nonsense, take a look at yesterday’s National Journal article, which broke the news that the White House is considering dropping Hagel. It’s a well-reported piece that got a scoop where everyone else merely had inklings. But notice the way this straight news story characterizes Hagel’s stand on the Iraq War:

While much of the criticism centers on questions of whether Hagel has been a strong enough supporter of Israel and tough enough on Iran–as well as past comments he made about gay people–he is also paying, in part, for his bluntness and bravery in advocating unpopular positions during his 12 years in the Senate. Hagel’s gutsy and prescient stand against his own party and President George W. Bush in the run-up to the Iraq invasion—and his criticism of the war’s management afterwards—all but cost him his political career, turning him from a possible GOP presidential contender into a pariah within his party.

As John Tabin noted last night, something is missing from the description of Hagel’s “prescient” stand against the Iraq War. And that something would be Hagel’s vote in favor of the Iraq War. What’s more, turning on the war effort when trouble hit was far from constituting “bravery,” as National Journal would have it. It was the popular thing to do.

Beyond the fact that reporters should not be bestowing medals upon politicians in straight news articles such as this, and in addition to the need to actually get the history and the facts right, there is the pattern of the press deciding that whenever a politician takes a stand on an issue that they agree with, it’s brave and courageous.

Hagel didn’t vote against the Iraq War, so his bravery consists of badmouthing Republicans and conservatives. In our current media climate, that is possibly among the least-brave acts one can take. But yesterday’s news also centered on the ongoing controversy over gun control in the wake of the Newtown tragedy–and it followed the same pattern and took the same tone it has since the fatal shooting took place. In a column about gun control, the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof had earlier asked: “Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?” What kind of courage, specifically, do we need? Kristof answers: “the gumption to stand up to National Rifle Association extremists.”

Of course. Just as in the case of Hagel’s nomination, we hear of powerful lobbies controlling members of Congress. But is it really courageous to attack the NRA? Bashing the NRA has been a daily ritual since the tragedy in Newtown, and both Republican lawmakers and Democratic legislators have said they’re open to adjusting their positions on gun control in favor of stricter rules and in defiance of the NRA.

But of course to the left, listening to interest groups can also be courageous and wise—it just depends on the interest groups. California Governor Jerry Brown is presiding over a fiscal basket case well on its way to becoming a failed state. But the L.A. Times, in discussing how to grade Brown’s year, can’t decide “whether to give him a B-plus, an A-minus or a full A.” What did Brown do to earn such accolades? He raised taxes on the state’s high earners. Specifically, “He merged his tax proposal with a more liberal version sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers.”

So allowing public sector union leaders to write legislation aimed at protecting their benefits by getting to choose who pays for them gets Brown on the dean’s list. It doesn’t seem to matter that the tax increase is already seen as a laughable bit of delusional public policy and that the state’s finances keep getting worse even as Brown and the unions celebrate their victory. When the tax initiative seemed headed for defeat, its supporters in the business community stepped forward to rally support. In another supposed straight news article, the San Francisco Chronicle called supporters of the tax hike “The few and the brave.” In case you didn’t get the point, one of the major liberal groups supporting the measure calls itself the Courage Campaign. After the tax passed, Brown praised the state’s “courageous decision.”

The liberal press knows bravery when it sees it. It’s just a coincidence that by their own criteria, America’s newspaper reporters join the Hagels and Browns up on that pedestal.

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The Times Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Map

On December 7, the New York Times website ran a “correction” to Jodi Rudoren’s article on the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim (a community of about 40,000 Jews living less than two miles east of the capital). The Times acknowledged that, contrary to the article, the E1 plans “would not divide the West Bank in two” and “would not technically make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). As Israeli ambassador Michael Oren noted, one would know this if one were to “just look at a map.”

Elliott Abrams wrote that it was “just plain extraordinary” that the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief “knows so little about the geography of the Jerusalem area that she could write such things.” He suggested a reason for her errors:

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On December 7, the New York Times website ran a “correction” to Jodi Rudoren’s article on the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim (a community of about 40,000 Jews living less than two miles east of the capital). The Times acknowledged that, contrary to the article, the E1 plans “would not divide the West Bank in two” and “would not technically make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). As Israeli ambassador Michael Oren noted, one would know this if one were to “just look at a map.”

Elliott Abrams wrote that it was “just plain extraordinary” that the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief “knows so little about the geography of the Jerusalem area that she could write such things.” He suggested a reason for her errors:

“Here’s my theory: that just about everyone she knows … know that they are true. Settlements are bad, the right-wing Israeli government is bad, new construction makes peace impossible and cuts the West Bank in half and destroys contiguity and means a Palestinian state is impossible. They just know it, it’s obvious, so why would you have to refer to a map, or talk to people who would tell you it’s all wrong?”

In an email to Politico, Rudoren said she “deeply regretted” that “on deadline, late at night and at the end of a very long couple of weeks, I used imprecise language and, yes, did not study the map carefully enough.” She asserted she consults “a broad variety of people” and that “most of the people” she associates with do not have “any particular perspective.” At Israel Matzav, Carl in Jerusalem ran an experiment to test Rudoren’s assertion, and cast some doubt on it.

Then on December 20, the Times ran an editorial entitled “The Fading Mideast Peace Dream”–and repeated the same Rudoren errors, alleging the E1 plans “would split the West Bank” and “prevent the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state.” What made the Times–two weeks after it knew the assertions were false–repeat them on its editorial page? The editors were not working on deadline, and they had ready access to maps. They had corrected Rudoren’s assertions not only December 7 on their website, but on December 16 in the print version of the paper, on page A3. They had presumably read Oren’s “just look at a map” article, since it appeared in the New York Daily News a week earlier.

I have a theory. The Times has a “worldview” of “political and cultural progressivism” that “virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times,” treating certain developments “more like causes than news subjects.” Actually, it’s not a theory, and it’s not mine. The words are those of Arthur Brisbane, in his final column earlier this year, summing up his two years as the Times’s public editor. There is a logical corollary: you are not likely to become the Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief without subscribing to its worldview of Israel–one that, as the Times editorial shows, produces errors caused by something more than long weeks and nights, deadlines, and insufficient map study.

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The Ugly Politics of Piers Morgan

On Tuesday night, CNN’s Piers Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America. Anyone who has watched Morgan knows he has an obsessive dislike for America’s gun culture. He’s a fierce advocate for gun control, so it didn’t take a genius to predict the interview would be confrontational. But it turned out to be much more, and much uglier, than that.

Mr. Morgan was furious, insulting, and childish during the interview. He called Pratt “an unbelievably stupid man,” “dangerous,” accused Pratt of being a liar, said, “You shame your country,” and for good measure added, “You don’t give a damn, do you, about the gun murder rate in America.”

On Morgan v. Pratt, I have three observations to make. The first is that you would think that if Mr. Pratt was as stupid as Morgan said, Morgan could easily best him in a debate. But he didn’t. And I say that as someone who has disagreements with Pratt on gun control.

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On Tuesday night, CNN’s Piers Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America. Anyone who has watched Morgan knows he has an obsessive dislike for America’s gun culture. He’s a fierce advocate for gun control, so it didn’t take a genius to predict the interview would be confrontational. But it turned out to be much more, and much uglier, than that.

Mr. Morgan was furious, insulting, and childish during the interview. He called Pratt “an unbelievably stupid man,” “dangerous,” accused Pratt of being a liar, said, “You shame your country,” and for good measure added, “You don’t give a damn, do you, about the gun murder rate in America.”

On Morgan v. Pratt, I have three observations to make. The first is that you would think that if Mr. Pratt was as stupid as Morgan said, Morgan could easily best him in a debate. But he didn’t. And I say that as someone who has disagreements with Pratt on gun control.

Second, Morgan embodies an attitude that we’re seeing more and more on the left. It’s a nasty combination of supreme self-righteousness and reflexive demonization. Piers Morgan can’t accept that people of good will and decency might hold views that are very different than he does on gun control. And so it’s not enough to say Pratt is wrong; he has to be portrayed by Morgan as moronic and a moral monster. This act is lovely coming from those who from time to time, and when it’s convenient, lecture the rest of us on the importance of civility in public discourse.

Point three is that Morgan and his CNN colleagues Don Lemon and Soledad O’Brien have become vocal and emotional (but not particularly well-informed) advocates for gun control since the Newtown massacre. There is not the slightest pretense of objectivity. They and their network have a story to tell, a cause to advance, an ideology to champion. And they will use their posts as journalists, including (in the case of Lemon and O’Brien) as anchors, to make their case.

Now the liberalism of these three individuals–and CNN more broadly–is hardly a state secret. Their bias is evident to anyone who watches them. That’s true of someone like Anderson Cooper, whose show I generally like. But since the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, CNN’s cast of characters (Cooper excluded) has begun to resemble the prime-time line-up at MSNBC. And for all of MSNBC’s problems–and they are very nearly endless–at least there is no play acting. They are left and they are proud of it. Which is better in some respects than CNN, which is liberal but pretends not to be.

Piers Morgan made a fool of himself and embarrassed his network on Tuesday night. And while I don’t share Larry Pratt’s views on guns, he did the country a bit of a service in revealing the ugly politics of Piers Morgan.

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Racism at the Times

There is a New York Times op-ed this morning that is somewhere beyond appalling. It is by Adolph L. Reed Jr., a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Reed writes about the appointment of Rep. Tim Scott to replace the retiring Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Scott, in Reed’s view, is essentially an Uncle Tom because he does not agree with the politics of most black Americans:

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There is a New York Times op-ed this morning that is somewhere beyond appalling. It is by Adolph L. Reed Jr., a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Reed writes about the appointment of Rep. Tim Scott to replace the retiring Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Scott, in Reed’s view, is essentially an Uncle Tom because he does not agree with the politics of most black Americans:

. . . his politics, like those of the archconservative Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, are utterly at odds with the preferences of most black Americans. Mr. Scott has been staunchly anti-tax, anti-union and anti-abortion.

Of course, Tim Scott will not be representing black Americans in the Senate, he will be representing South Carolinians, who are, overwhelmingly, staunchly anti-tax, anti-union and anti-abortion. So it would seem that while white people can be liberals or conservatives according to the dictates of their thinking, blacks cannot. If you’re black but not liberal, in Professor Reed’s worldview, then you’re not really black.

He notes that, “All four black Republicans who have served in the House since the Reagan era — Gary A. Franks in Connecticut, J. C. Watts in Oklahoma, Allen B. West in Florida and Mr. Scott — were elected from majority-white districts.” So? All that proves is that the voters of these districts elected people according to their political positions and not the color of their skins, which is all Professor Reed seems to care about.

He can’t even get skin color right, however. He writes:

Mrs. Haley — a daughter of Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India — is the first female and first nonwhite governor of South Carolina, the home to white supremacists like John C. Calhoun, Preston S. Brooks, Ben Tillman and Strom Thurmond.

Whites don’t all come from northwestern Europe, Professor Reed. Sikhs are overwhelmingly Punjabi. Punjabi is an Indo-European language and its speakers are, to use a 19th century term, Caucasians, i.e., white. It might be pointed out that Calhoun died in 1850, Brooks in 1857, and Tillman in 1918. Strom Thurmond died in 2003 at the age of 100 and had long since abandoned his racist ideas, just as Justice Hugo Black and Senator Robert Byrd, two other Southern politicians of his generation, had abandoned their memberships in the KKK. Of course Black and Byrd were liberals in their later careers, so … Oh, look, a squirrel.

Professor Brooks writes, “Redistricting and gerrymandering have produced ‘safe’ seats for black politicians across the South but have also concentrated black votes in black districts, giving white Republicans a lock.” Well, whose idea was that? It’s a liberal one and not a very bright one at that, as concentrating black votes in certain districts necessarily drains them away from the other districts, making those districts more conservative. And it is based on the thoroughly racist idea that only black districts will elect blacks to Congress. Frank, Watts, West, and Scott prove that idea wrong.

Professor Reed calls his piece “The Puzzle of Black Republicans.” But the puzzle is easily solved. Tim Scott is not a black Republican. He’s a Republican who happens to be black. Professor Reed sees racism in everything. But if he’d like to see a real racist, he needs only to look in a mirror.

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Leftists Claim AFP Tore Down its Own Tent in Michigan

This is why it’s absurd when people bemoan the insularity of the conservative media, as if this is a phenomenon found exclusively on the right. The left-wing blog world comes up with insane theories all the time, and the latest one–that the Americans for Prosperity tent was not ripped down by union thugs in Michigan, but actually by AFP supporters–is a classic:

Yet this overwhelming evidence has not stopped the Lansing Truthers from claiming this all is a Koch conspiracy.  Here are Hamsher’s updates to her original post, noting that one of Firedoglake’s own bloggers was spreading the conspiracy theory:

Update: Marcy Wheeler reports that “witnesses say the Americans for Prosperity people were trying to provoke union members to violence, and witnesses reportedly saw AFP people loosening the ropes on the tents so they would come down.”

Update II: Chris Savage from Eclectablog says that Americans for Prosperity tore down their own tent, and promises video soon:

Ed Schultz of MSNBC is on board helping spread the conspiracy.

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This is why it’s absurd when people bemoan the insularity of the conservative media, as if this is a phenomenon found exclusively on the right. The left-wing blog world comes up with insane theories all the time, and the latest one–that the Americans for Prosperity tent was not ripped down by union thugs in Michigan, but actually by AFP supporters–is a classic:

Yet this overwhelming evidence has not stopped the Lansing Truthers from claiming this all is a Koch conspiracy.  Here are Hamsher’s updates to her original post, noting that one of Firedoglake’s own bloggers was spreading the conspiracy theory:

Update: Marcy Wheeler reports that “witnesses say the Americans for Prosperity people were trying to provoke union members to violence, and witnesses reportedly saw AFP people loosening the ropes on the tents so they would come down.”

Update II: Chris Savage from Eclectablog says that Americans for Prosperity tore down their own tent, and promises video soon:

Ed Schultz of MSNBC is on board helping spread the conspiracy.

One left-wing blogger (h/t NiceDeb) wrote that he “knew right away [the tent collapse] was likely a false flag.” Why? Because the labor movement is known for being so peace-loving and polite?

What’s most infuriating about this is that the violence in Michigan is real. It’s on video. And yet it’s not going to get a fraction of the media attention that mere speculations about Tea Party violence received in 2010. There aren’t going to be any Time magazine covers depicting union “rage,” or news specials about the rise of left-wing extremism. Media bias isn’t just about what they do report, it’s about what they don’t report. And unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine this will get the attention it deserves.

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Reporters Still Badgering Amb. Oren About U.S. Election

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren had lunch with reporters today in Washington. What was the most newsworthy bit? According to Buzzfeed’s write-up, it’s that Oren made the unambiguously true statement that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not interfere in the recent American presidential election. “Prime Minister Netanyahu went to extraordinary lengths not to be dragged into the U.S. presidential elections,” Rosie Gray quotes Oren as saying.

That this is considered news is a good demonstration of how hysterical some reporters (not Gray, I should be clear) became during the election when Netanyahu didn’t spend enough time, in their minds, praising President Obama. But Oren’s words were actually chosen carefully here, it seems. Of course Netanyahu didn’t interfere in the election, and a great many members of the press embarrassed themselves by accusing him repeatedly and falsely of doing so. But Oren is right: it’s not just that Netanyahu didn’t interfere. It’s that he had to work especially hard not to get dragged into the election. And those dragging Netanyahu into the election were none other than the media personalities accusing Netanyahu of interfering.

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Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren had lunch with reporters today in Washington. What was the most newsworthy bit? According to Buzzfeed’s write-up, it’s that Oren made the unambiguously true statement that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not interfere in the recent American presidential election. “Prime Minister Netanyahu went to extraordinary lengths not to be dragged into the U.S. presidential elections,” Rosie Gray quotes Oren as saying.

That this is considered news is a good demonstration of how hysterical some reporters (not Gray, I should be clear) became during the election when Netanyahu didn’t spend enough time, in their minds, praising President Obama. But Oren’s words were actually chosen carefully here, it seems. Of course Netanyahu didn’t interfere in the election, and a great many members of the press embarrassed themselves by accusing him repeatedly and falsely of doing so. But Oren is right: it’s not just that Netanyahu didn’t interfere. It’s that he had to work especially hard not to get dragged into the election. And those dragging Netanyahu into the election were none other than the media personalities accusing Netanyahu of interfering.

The best example of this came during a September broadcast of “Meet the Press” when host David Gregory interviewed Netanyahu, and proceeded to first criticize Netanyahu for getting involved in the election and then try to goad him into getting involved in the election–on Obama’s behalf. Gregory asked Netanyahu why he was criticizing Obama when Netanyahu talked about the need to establish red lines on Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu responded that he didn’t intend it as a criticism of Obama but actually that other (unnamed) world leaders had been accusing Netanyahu of being reckless, and he wanted to establish clearly that Israel has a right to defend itself. Gregory completely ignored the answer and proceeded as if he wasn’t even listening when Netanyahu spoke:

GREGORY:  Your criticism, your calling on President Obama to set this red line, comes in the middle of a heated presidential campaign.  You understand the American political system very well.  You’re very sophisticated in that regard.  In your view, would Governor Mitt Romney as President Romney make Israel safer?  Would he take a harder line against Iran than President Obama in your judgment?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  God, I’m– I’m not going to be drawn into the American election.  And– and what’s guiding my statements are– is not the American political calendar but the Iranian nuclear calendar.  They’re just– you know, if they stop spinning the centrifuges for– and took timeout for the American elections, I wouldn’t have to talk.  And I wouldn’t have to raise this issue.  But as the prime minister of Israel, knowing that this country committed to our destruction is getting closer to the goal of having weapons of mass destruction then I speak out.  And it’s got– it’s really not a partisan political issue.  And I think it’s important for anyone who is the president of the United States to be in that position of preventing Iran from having this nuclear weapons– nuclear weapons capability.  And I’m talking to the president.  I just talked to him the other day.  We are in close consultations.  We’re trying to prevent that.  It’s really not a partisan issue.  It’s a policy issue not a political issue.

GREGORY:  Well, but it may not be a partisan issue.  You have known Mitt Romney a long time.  The reality is– tell me if you disagree that Governor Romney just in an interview this week said that his position is very much the same as President Obama.  They are both committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Not just as an impartial observer, as the prime minister of Israel, do you agree with that that both the president and his challenger have the same view with regard to preventing Iran from going nuclear?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  I have no doubt that they are equally committed to preventing that.  It’s a– it’s a vital American interest.  It’s a– it’s an existential interest on my case so, this isn’t the issue.  We are united on this across the board.

Netanyahu might have thought he was out of the woods, but after one more question Gregory returned the pressing matter of attempting to hector Netanyahu into praising Obama:

GREGORY:  Prime Minister, one more question on the American election.  You have been accused this week by pundits in this country of trying to interfere in this presidential election, siding with Governor Mitt Romney.  Now, Governor Romney for a year, and he said it in his convention speech, has said, quote, “President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus.”  Do you agree or disagree with Governor Romney’s charge?  It’s a serious charge.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Well, you’re– you’re trying to get me into the– into the American election and I’m not going to do that.  The relationship between Israel and the United States is a bond of– it’s just a very powerful bond.  It was, it is, and will be and will continue to be.  And I– I can tell you there’s no one– there’s no leader in the world who’s more appreciative than me of the strength of this alliance.  It’s very strong.  There’s no one in Israel who appreciates more than me the importance of American support for Israel.  It’s not a partisan issue.  In fact, we cherish the bipartisan support of Democrats and Republicans alike.  This is critical for us.

GREGORY:  But prime minister, with respect, if I may just interrupt you…

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  And– and I think it’s critical that we take…

Gregory, now agitated, interrupts again:

GREGORY:  I think this is a very important point because you say you don’t want to interfere in the election.  There are tens of millions of Americans who are watching that speech, who hear that rhetoric, who hear that charge, who may not understand the complexities of this issue.  You are the leader of the Jewish people.  You say this is not a partisan issue.  You get billions of dollars from direct foreign investment from this country, hundreds of millions of dollars from Americans, Jews and Christians alike from this country.  It seems to me for you to remain silent on whether this administration has thrown Israel under the bus is tantamount to agreeing with the sentiment.  So where do you come down on that specific charge against President Obama?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Now, there you go again, David, you’re trying to draw me into something that– that is simply not– not the case and it’s not my position.  My position is that we– we have strong cooperation.  We’ll continue to cooperate.  We’re the best of allies.  And Israel is the one reliable ally of the United States in the Middle East…

Not good enough, says Gregory:

GREGORY:  So President Obama has not thrown Israel under the bus?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  …if that wasn’t understood until yesterday.  So it’s– it’s– there’s– there’s no bus, and we’re not going to get into that discussion, except to say one thing.  We have a strong alliance and we’re going to continue to have a strong alliance.  I think the important question is where does the– the only bus that is really important is the Iranian nuclear bus.  That’s the one that we have to– to derail.  And that’s my interest.  That’s my– my only interest.

With that, Gregory was satisfied (or almost out of time). This was only the most visible case of what Oren was talking about–though of course he was too diplomatic to get into details. Netanyahu had to work to stay out of this election, and it’s because the American media so desperately wanted his interference.

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Democrats Begin Working Toward Hillary Clinton’s Coronation

One of the most pronounced recent changes in the attitudes toward leadership and order of the two major American political parties is the reversal in affection for handing off the baton to the next in line. Republicans had long bestowed the party’s presidential nomination on last time’s runner-up, or a candidate who had put in his time and whose turn, it was believed, had come.

But the battle for the 2016 GOP nomination is looking wide open, and will likely consist of a cast of young, more conservative candidates competing to set the party’s new direction. The Democrats, on the other hand, nominated Barack Obama in 2008 with the rallying cry of striking out against political entitlement, embodied by Hillary Clinton. Next time, however, Democrats seem to want a coronation, not a nomination. And they would like the beneficiary of this appointment with history to be Hillary Clinton. Here’s James Carville yesterday on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”:

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One of the most pronounced recent changes in the attitudes toward leadership and order of the two major American political parties is the reversal in affection for handing off the baton to the next in line. Republicans had long bestowed the party’s presidential nomination on last time’s runner-up, or a candidate who had put in his time and whose turn, it was believed, had come.

But the battle for the 2016 GOP nomination is looking wide open, and will likely consist of a cast of young, more conservative candidates competing to set the party’s new direction. The Democrats, on the other hand, nominated Barack Obama in 2008 with the rallying cry of striking out against political entitlement, embodied by Hillary Clinton. Next time, however, Democrats seem to want a coronation, not a nomination. And they would like the beneficiary of this appointment with history to be Hillary Clinton. Here’s James Carville yesterday on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”:

This is entirely different. Every Democrat I know says, “God, I hope she runs. We don’t need a primary. Let’s just go to post with this thing. We don’t want to fight with anybody over anything.”

The Republicans, they need a fight. Somebody’s got to beat somebody….

Yeah, you’ve got to beat somebody. And the Republicans know that they need a primary. We don’t want — we don’t want a primary. We don’t want to be slugging this thing out (inaudible) you know what? We’ve got a pretty good demographic deck. We kind of get — we like winning presidential elections. She’s popular. Let’s just go with it.

Aside from the obvious, there’s a key phrase Carville used here that went unnoticed on the show. The Democrats have “a pretty good demographic deck.” Not only do the Democrats want to avoid a primary election, they’d like to avoid a general election too. Though Carville probably didn’t have this in mind when he used the phrase, running a “historic” candidate like Clinton would basically be a replay of Obama’s two elections, in which the media coverage was fawning and devoid of any serious examination of the Democratic candidate, and in which opposition to the Democrats’ candidate can be chalked up to bigotry. “We don’t want to fight with anybody over anything,” says Carville. Expect that to be the case in 2016 if Clinton is their candidate.

Don’t believe me? Take a gander at the New York Times’s article on Clinton’s options going forward. It’s appallingly worshipful, but it’s only the beginning. The conceit of the piece is a question: What should Hillary do? It’s a clear indication that Clinton wants people to think she’s running, and buried in the article we finally get the reason why. The Times tells us that Clinton “may appear to be a figure of nearly limitless possibility.” There is nothing she can’t do, so what should she do? The Times asks another related question and then endeavors to answer it:

What is the most dignified way for her to make money?

Being a Clinton is expensive, and when the former secretary leaves office, she’ll want a staff and the ability to travel on private planes, friends say. The Clintons — who already own costly homes in Washington and Chappaqua, N.Y. — love renting in the Hamptons in the summer, according to friends, and buying their own home there could easily run well into the seven figures. Though friends say Mrs. Clinton could easily make a lot of money at a law firm, advising foreign countries on geopolitical risk, or at an investment bank or a private equity firm, none of those pursuits would be likely to wear well in a presidential campaign.

Wealth is her burden. “Being a Clinton is expensive,” after all. She is doomed to a post-State Department hiatus during which people will throw gobs and gobs of money at her, and her second burden is that she must decide how and where she’d like to accept all this money.

Another consideration for Clinton is when she should start her (purely theoretical!) presidential campaign. The Times’s three reporters (it takes a team to sufficiently praise Clinton) tell us that Clinton doesn’t seem to want to start the campaign early, like last time (why rush an anointing?), because it exhausted her. This time around, however, there’s another reason not to start the campaign early. The Times again:

The speculation is not without its advantages. If Mrs. Clinton is not running, she is a widely respected figure whose chief accomplishments are mostly behind her; if she may be running, she glows with White House and historic potential. “Nobody interacts with Hillary Clinton like she’s fading off into the sunset,” Mr. Reines said.

In other words, before she officially declares her campaign for president, she will be treated like she’s running anyway but still be able to keep those cushy jobs she’s being offered. It’s a win-win. Plus, stories like this one in the Times will presumably keep flowing in.

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Liberals Already Miss Mitt Romney

There is more than enough silly commentary on the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations to go around, but you can’t do much better than Dana Milbank’s column today for the Washington Post. Milbank’s column emerges out of the latest trend in liberal opinion writing: now that the election is over, they have made a conscious decision to consider being more honest in their political pronouncements.

Reason magazine flagged a prime example of this on Monday, when they picked up on a quote from the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg: “[Obama] was the champion of our side, he vanquished the foe….. [but] now liberals don’t have to worry about hurting his chances for re-election, so they can be tougher in urging him to do what he should be doing.” Milbank’s entry today isn’t quite at Hertzberg’s level, but it’s in the same vein. Now that the election is over, Milbank can admit it: the country really needs Mitt Romney.

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There is more than enough silly commentary on the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations to go around, but you can’t do much better than Dana Milbank’s column today for the Washington Post. Milbank’s column emerges out of the latest trend in liberal opinion writing: now that the election is over, they have made a conscious decision to consider being more honest in their political pronouncements.

Reason magazine flagged a prime example of this on Monday, when they picked up on a quote from the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg: “[Obama] was the champion of our side, he vanquished the foe….. [but] now liberals don’t have to worry about hurting his chances for re-election, so they can be tougher in urging him to do what he should be doing.” Milbank’s entry today isn’t quite at Hertzberg’s level, but it’s in the same vein. Now that the election is over, Milbank can admit it: the country really needs Mitt Romney.

You might think that liberals would appreciate Romney’s decision to step out of the spotlight and accept his loss to Obama with grace and dignity. After all, even though John McCain is still a senator, nearly every time he criticizes President Obama it is chalked up to an apparent case of sour grapes over the election. Romney isn’t even in office. But no matter. Milbank wants Romney back in the arena, and he’s going to taunt him out of hiding:

Never again, likely, will his voice and influence be as powerful as they are now. Yet rather than stepping forward to help find a way out of the fiscal standoff, or to help his party rebuild itself, he delivered a perfunctory concession speech, told wealthy donors that Obama won by giving “gifts” to minorities, then avoided the press at a private lunch with President Obama.

Though keeping nominal residence in Massachusetts, the state he led as governor, he moved out to his California home and has been spotted at Disneyland, at the new “Twilight” movie, at a pizza place, pumping gas and going to the gym. In warm weather, he plans to live at his lakefront manse in New Hampshire. The man who spoke passionately about his love for the American auto industry has been driving around in a new Audi Q7.

A former adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, told Rucker that Romney will “be involved in some fashion” in public service. And nobody can begrudge Romney some downtime. But his failure to engage now, at a time when he could have the most clout, reinforces the impression that his candidacy was less about principle and patriotism than about him.

That’s what you get for bowing out gracefully and spending time with your family, if you’re a Republican. But put aside the fact that Republicans are trying to move on from much of Romney’s problematic messaging during the election and rebuild their brand around some of their more popular elected officials. Did Milbank always think of Romney as a man whose involvement in public life was so important to the country? No.

In a sarcastic response to conservative complaints that the media was being unfairly critical of Romney, Milbank suggested in September that the press back off. Romney, he said, was a gaffe machine, and simply for the entertainment value the press should help him get elected. “Admittedly, this may not be the best outcome for the country, or for the world,” Milbank snickered, adding that “he could bring transatlantic relations back to War of 1812 levels.”

But the fiscal cliff is about economics, and that’s where Romney’s business experience could come in handy, right? What did pre-election Milbank think of Romney’s business experience? He summed it up in an August column in which he said that a business-oriented video game his young daughter played functioned “strikingly like Bain Capital did under Mitt Romney.” And how is that? “The game is devoid of business ethics,” he wrote.

Romney was a liar, Milbank said in the week of the election. But that might be because he’s a brainwashed zombie, as Milbank had proposed a month earlier. By the time the election was over, Milbank said, the Romney campaign had “abandoned any pretense of being a campaign for the common man.”

In some ways, Milbank’s column is actually a breakthrough in bipartisanship. It took Democrats quite some time to decide that Ronald Reagan wasn’t purely evil through and through. It only took them a few years to reconsider George W. Bush in light of contemporary Republican officeholders. And now it has taken only a matter of weeks for the left to admit that the Republican presidential candidate isn’t who they said he was; he’s not so bad after all, and their guy isn’t so great, it turns out. At this rate, it won’t be long before liberals come to grips with reality before, instead of after, a presidential election.

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