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- BEST OF THE WEB TODAY
- JULY 28, 2011
America needs more media bias, claim some on the left.
At the same time, however, some of Obama's most fervid supporters are complaining that there's too much balance--in the media. On the New York Times website, former Enron adviser Paul Krugman rants that "the cult of balance" has "poisoned our political system":
Think about what's happening right now. We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating. . . .
So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent--because news reports always do that. . . .
The reality, of course, is that we already have a centrist president--actually a moderate conservative president. . . .
You have to ask, what would it take for these news organizations and pundits to actually break with the convention that both sides are equally at fault?The amusingly named Ari Melber, writing in the hard-left magazine The Nation, echoes the theme, complaining that reporters are "nursing Balance Bias." He quotes extensively from Jay Rosen, a New York University scholar who gives an intellectual gloss to the complaint that the media are insufficiently biased in favor of the left:
Rosen, a prolific media critic who has a theory, developed in a series of essays that are both elegant and reproachful, that today's political reporters are on a futile "quest for innocence" when reporting political disputes. By innocence, Rosen means "a determination not to be implicated, enlisted or seen by the public as involved." I asked him how that works on this debt story.
"Asymmetry in a highly contested situation fries the circuits of the press," Rosen said via e-mail this week. "The bigger the stakes, the more dangerous it feels for reporters to reflect that asymmetry in their accounts," he proposed. That makes sense, since often it's "the big lie" that gets more traction than little fibs. So the political press rebuted [sic] Sarah Palin's spin about opposing "The Bridge to Nowhere" in 2008, a low-stakes example, but they back down on a market-shaking feud like the debt fight. And Rosen suggests that while Democrats or Talking Points Memo or Eugene Robinson may call out the problem, that doesn't actually do much.
"The people screaming about an asymmetrical situation that has been artificially balanced are likely to be on one side of the contested ground, right? This fries the circuits even more, adding to the danger [for innocent reporters]," he says. This is also your brain on Balance Bias.This is a fascinating development. Conservatives have spent decades bellyaching about media bias, but their complaints have become less bitter in recent years with the rise of alternatives outside the so-called mainstream media: talk radio, independent bloggers and especially Fox News Channel.
Turnabout is fair play, and now people on the left grumble incessantly that Fox fails to live up to its "fair and balanced" slogan. They insist it actually slants right. That's undoubtedly true of its commentary programs, such as "Hannity" and "The O'Reilly Factor," but news shows like "Special Report With Bret Baier" are at least as down-the-middle as anyone else's.
But for the likes of Krugman, Melber and Rosen, down-the-middle journalism is the problem. They want the press corps to accept their own political doctrines as the truth and to treat anyone who departs from them as, in Krugman's words, "insane."
To some extent, they already do that. Writing for Reason.com, Barton Hinkle contrasts mainstream media coverage of congressmen on the two political extremes:
The late Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota was a man of the hard left. . . . Wellstone died in a plane crash in 2002, and was immediate [sic] lionized. The Washington Post called him one of the Senate's "leading liberals. . . . Colleagues from across the political spectrum praised Wellstone as a passionate advocate for his beliefs." He was "a hero to the left," the paper said, noting "there was little doubt where his heart lay." To The New York Times, Wellstone was "a rumpled, unfailingly modest man," a "firebrand," and although "his opponents always portrayed him as a left-wing extremist," Wellstone was "so happy, so comfortable, so unthreatening that he was able to ward off the attacks." Rumor has it he once fed a crowd with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
This is not, to put it mildly, how Tea Partiers and their congressional cohort have been portrayed during the recent game of chicken over the debt ceiling. Rather, those opposed to raising the debt ceiling--or willing to do so in exchange for a slowdown in the rate of government growth--are "obstreperous," "flatly and dangerously wrong," and "not interested in governing." (These are all quotes from major media organs, not obscure blogs.) They're "crazy" proponents of a "dangerous delusion"--"ridiculous," "extremist," "ultraorthodox tax haters," players of "ideological games," "totally unrealistic," authors of "madness," etc. etc.
Hey, what happened to people of conviction? Aren't the Tea Partiers "firebrands"? Isn't there little doubt where their hearts lie?Indeed, here's Paul Krugman eulogizing Paul Wellstone in October 2002:
Paul Wellstone took risks. He was, everyone acknowledges, a politician who truly voted his convictions, who supported what he thought was right, not what he thought would help him get re-elected. He took risky stands on many issues: agree or disagree, you have to admit that his vote against authorization for an Iraq war was a singularly brave act.Can't the same be said of, say, Rep. Michele Bachmann and her determination to vote against increasing the debt limit (a position with which, we suppose we should note, this column disagrees)? Instead, in January Krugman lied and accused her of using "eliminationist rhetoric."
The Bachmann-Wellstone comparison is apt, for she, like him, is ideologically at the far end of her party. She was one of only nine House Republicans to vote against the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, because it included a debt-ceiling hike. This is not a big enough bloc to hold the balance of power in the current Congress.
When Krugman and like-minded lefties refer to the "insane" Tea Party Republicans, they have in mind a larger group: a group big enough, and sufficiently willing to compromise, that they can push the ultimate resolution of the current standoff in a rightward direction. They wish that the media not only would take sides but had the power, by taking sides, to win this for Obama and the Democrats.
That was the outcome when the last Democratic president engaged in similar brinksmanship with a Republican Congress, in 1995 and 1996. Many things were different in those days, but one was a far more uniform media environment. Rush Limbaugh was around, but not Fox News or the blogosphere. In those days you didn't hear lefties complain that the mainstream media were too balanced. Yet if anything, they have become more unbalanced. (Krugman, for example, had not yet been hired by the New York Times.)
Suppose that tomorrow CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, the Associated Press and the news sections of the Times and the Washington Post all changed their journalism so that their reporting was as unbalanced as Krugman's columns. Would that win the day for Obama? We very much doubt it. Rather, it would drive the size of their reader- and viewership toward the levels of The Nation and MSNBC, which are not exactly powerhouses of influence.
What the self-styled opponents of balance really want is something resembling a state media monopoly--but one that is nominally independent and that is pliant when liberals run the government and adversarial when conservatives do. That is more or less what existed between the 1970s and the late '90s, when competition greatly weakened the authority of the formerly mainstream media. Strident leftism is not going to restore that authority.
Extremism in Defense of Moderation Is No Vice
"It's time for moderates to abandon centrism and stop shifting with the prevailing winds. They need to state plainly what they're for, stand their ground, and pull the argument their way. Yes, they would risk looking to 'the left' of where the center is now--but only because conservatives have pulled it so far their way."--E.J. Dionne, Washington Post, July 27
The War on Christmas
Greg Sargent of the Washington Post reports on a hilarious new White House talking point in support of President Obama's position that the debt ceiling must be raised by enough to last until the 2012 election. Obama aide David Plouffe told MSNBC this morning that if Speaker John Boehner has his way, " 'this whole debt ceiling spectacle' will be 'repeated again a few months from now over the holidays' ":
"The debt ceiling debate would ruin Christmas," Plouffe said. He was apparently ad-libbing the line, but now it's found its way into the White House's official talking points.Sargent quotes from those talking points, which politically correctly omit mention of Christmas: "Under the Boehner bill, we will be right back into this debate during the holiday season, which is the most important time in the year for our economy."
How about a compromise in which the debt ceiling is raised to last through, say, Oct. 15, 2012?
"Debt Deal May Depend on Obama Staying Silent"--headline, FoxNews.com, July 28
"In fact, Republicans, in Orwellian fashion, are turning black into white."--David Corn, MotherJones.com, July 27
Those Are His Principles, and if You Don't Like Them . . . Well, He Has Others
- "This theory of presidential power argues, in essence, that when the President acts in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, he may make his own rules and cannot be bound by Congressional laws to the contrary. This is a theory of presidential dictatorship. These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush Administration in the days following 9/11."--Jack Balkin, Yale Law School, March 3, 2009
- " 'At the point at which the economy is melting down, who cares what the Supreme Court is going to say?' Professor Balkin said. 'It's the president's duty to save the Republic.' "--New York Times, July 25, 2011
From the Houston Chronicle:
An AWOL Muslim soldier who had been granted conscientious objector status earlier this year was arrested and bomb-making materials were found in his motel room near Fort Hood, the same Texas Army post where 13 people were killed in a 2009 shooting rampage blamed on an Army psychiatrist, an FBI spokesman told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Killeen police arrested 21-year-old Pfc. Naser Abdo on Wednesday after being alerted by "concerned citizens," and agents found firearms and "items that could be identified as bomb-making components, including gunpowder," in his motel room, said FBI spokesman Erik Vasys.
Vasys said the FBI planned to charge Abdo with possessing bomb-making components later Thursday, at which time he would be transferred into federal custody. He said there was nothing to indicate Abdo was "working with others."It seems to us that this raises serious questions about whether he deserved to be granted conscientious-objector status.
Great Moments in Socialized Medicine
"Hip replacements, cataract surgery and tonsil removal are among operations now being rationed in a bid to save the NHS money," reports London's Independent, referring to Britain's National Health Service:
Two-thirds of health trusts in England are rationing treatments for "non-urgent" conditions as part of the drive to reduce costs in the NHS by £20bn [about $33 billion] over the next four years. One in three primary-care trusts (PCTs) has expanded the list of procedures it will restrict funding to in the past 12 months.Among other things: "Hip and knee replacements only being allowed where patients are in severe pain. Overweight patients will be made to lose weight before being considered for an operation."
On the bright side, "these stories are false," or so says former Enron adviser Paul Krugman. Actually, we have an idea for Krugman to suggest to his bosses at the New York Times: As ObamaCare kicks in, maybe they could offer free surgery as an inducement to sign up for a free subscription to NYTimes.com.
Out on a Limb
- "Antibiotics Better for UTIs [urinary tract infections] Than Cranberry, but May Increase Drug Resistance, Say Researchers"--headline, FoodNavigator-USA.com, July 27
- "Peter King: New York Times Intellectually Dishonest"--headline, Politico.com, July 27
"Don't Blame the House"--headline, The American Spectator website, July 27
The Lonely Life of Obama
- "Shockingly, the president was left waiting by the phone one day last week while the speaker would not take or return his calls. At some point, Obama, the jilted lover, simply gave up and went to bed."--Maureen Dowd, New York Times, July 27
- "You got health care reform, and then you got heartache. What you must worry that you'll never get is a sustained, true chance."--Frank Bruni, New York Times, July 28
"MSNBC Protects Obama"--headline, The American Spectator website, July 27
It Worked for Sarah Palin
"Want a Big Brain? Head North"--headline, LiveScience.com, July 26
John Edwards Prepares for a Date in Court
"Heading for a 'Haircut' "--headline, The Wall Street Journal, July 28
They Don't Know What This Word Means, Do They?
- "[Frances Fox Piven's] name has become a kind of shorthand for 'enemy' on Mr. Beck's Fox News Channel program."--New York Times, Jan. 22
- "[Press secretary Jay Carney] spoke repeatedly but without specifics of private conversations and nonstop meetings involving administration officials 'up to the highest levels'--White House shorthand for the president."--New York Times, July 28
- "Shuttle's Last Flight Leaves Russia With Space Monopoly"--headline, The Wall Street Journal, July 7
- "USSR Wins Space Race as U.S. Shuts Down Shuttle Program"--headline, Onion, July 27
"Lost 1967 Spaceship Found Crashed on Dark Side of the Moon?"--headline, FoxNews.com, July 27
The Slippery Slope From Same-Sex Marriage
"Artist Marries Her Work, Poetry"--headline, Half Moon Bay (Calif.) Review, July 27
They Got It From DSK
"Herpes Virus Kills Half of French Oyster Population This Year"--headline, Bloomberg, July 26
The Defendant Claimed He Had Been Subjected to Double Jeopardy
"Alex Trebek Injured Chasing Burglary Suspect"--headline, San Francisco Chronicle, July 28
She Must've Aced the Talent Competition
"100-Year-Old War Veteran Wins Alabama Beauty Contest"--headline, Daily Telegraph (London), July 28
Autopsy Reveals He Died of the Flue
"Remains of Man Missing for 27 Years Discovered in Bank Chimney"--headline, Daily Telegraph (London), July 27
Hey, Kids! What Time Is It?
"It's July--So Time for Harrods and Selfridges to Open Their Christmas Shops"--headline, Daily Telegraph (London), July 28
Questions Nobody Is Asking
- "Do Somali Pirates Have Legitimate Gripe?"--headline, Clifford May syndicated column, July 26
- "Debt Crisis Question: Where Are the Former Presidents?"--headline, Washington Post, July 27
- "Can't We All Just Get Along?"--headline, Chicago Tribune, July 27
- "Is Michelle Obama Trying to Kill Me?"--headline, PajamasMedia.com, July 27
- "Does the Sight of a Cross in a Museum Give You Indigestion?"--headline, National Review Online, July 27
- "Mangia? Mangia?"--headline, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 26
- "Why the Tea Party Is Unyielding on the Debt Ceiling"--headline, Washington Post, July 27
- "Why Our Society Is Ageist"--headline, Puffington Host, July 28
- "Why Groups Like J Street Have Palestinians Pining for 'Extreme Zionists' "--headline, Commentary website, July 28
- "Why I Am So Proud of Being Norwegian"--headline, Puffington Host, July 27
"Aliquippa Woman Finds First Lady Welcoming, Committed"--headline, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 28
Too Much Information
"After a Rocky Start, Semprae's Female Arousal Oil Gains Traction"--headline, Bloomberg, July 26
News of the Tautological
"Report: Unemployment Hurting Those Hunting for a Job"--headline, KLAS-TV website (Las Vegas), July 27
Breaking News From 1630
"Kepler's Dilemma: Not Enough Time"--headline, Sky & Telescope website, July 27
Breaking News From May 14
"On the Job Compo Taken to New Level: Worker Hurt During Sex in Hotel"--headline, Sydney Morning Herald, July 27
Bottom Stories of the Day
- "Town Won't Name Bridge After Kurt Cobain"--headline, Associated Press, July 28
- "Louisville's Homeless Not Bothering to Vote"--headline, Associated Press, July 27
- "Martha Stewart, Macy's CEO Studying Haiti Crafts"--headline, Associated Press, July 28
- "Tea Party Leader Blasts Romney, Praises Perry"--headline, RealClearPolitics.com, July 27
- "Obama Polling Better Than Nixon"--headline, Washington Examiner website, July 28
A news story in the New York Times raises questions about whether MSNBC should give Al Sharpton a show. No, the Times, which spent a few weeks earlier this year lecturing on the need for "civility" in the media, isn't concerned with Sharpton's history of inciting hatred. Rather, the story is about a possible conflict of interest:
Last year, Comcast was lining up the Rev. Al Sharpton to lobby for its bid for NBCUniversal. This year, the cable news channel owned by NBCUniversal, MSNBC, is weighing whether to make him a daily television host. . . .
Mr. Sharpton, the president of the National Action Network, a civil rights organization, was one of the many activists and boldface names who agreed to support Comcast as it sought government approval for its takeover of NBCUniversal.Say what you will about Sharpton, this story makes us proud to be an American. In what other country can a parasite realistically aspire to become a host?
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(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Tim Magee, Harris Perry, Ed Grinberg, Tom Mayer, Michele Schiesser, Rex Pilger, Christian Germain, Keith Kemper, John Williamson, Ethel Fenig, Kevin Coughlin, Brian Warner, Robert Koslover, Chet Hosch, Jared Silverman, J.B. Stricker, Rod Pennington, Joe Perez, Mark Davies, David Fenton, David Hallstrom, Chris Hayes, Bruce Goldman, Walt Neuman, John Sarna, Ron Cook, Mike Corrado, Greg Askins, Marion Dreyfus, Alexander Robbins, T. Young, Daniel Goldstein, Ted Alpert, Arlene Ross, Hillel Markowitz, John Lord, Ed Jordan, John Bobek, Paul Sepe, Scott Siegel, Dave Nemzek, Dave Ceely, Frank Free, Zack Russ, Mark Kellner, Tim McAleenan, Edward Himmelfarb and Miguel Rakiewicz. If you have a tip, write us at email@example.com, and please include the URL.)
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