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Daily Howler: Is Countdown actually on a roll? Here are the actual data
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PIMPING OLBERMANN! Is Countdown actually on a roll? Here are the actual data: // link // print // previous // next //

CHARTER SCHOOL DOWN: On the front page of this morning’s Times, Elissa Gootman pens a lengthy piece about the death of a South Bronx charter school. We don’t necessarily oppose charters ourselves, but we think this piece is quite instructive—in part for the things that Gootman includes, in part for the things she leaves out. What sorts of schools might help struggling kids in the Bronx? We’ll start to review this piece on the morrow.

ORDER RESTORED: Let’s face it. It will be plenty hard for Coach Howland tonight—hard to get his UCLA kids “up” for another SEC foe. Let’s face it—the NCAA tournament has clearly shown that Washington and UCLA were America’s top teams, followed closely by Arizona, which was eliminated when, for the second straight year, it narrowly lost a road game against a Number 1 seed. (This year, against Villanova, on one of Nova’s home courts. Last year, against Illinois, in Chicago.) And yes, when a team has played in the PAC-10 all year, it’s hard to get them “up” to play an endless string of SEC foes. (UCLA has already defeated Alabama and LSU in the tourney.) For that reason, we give Florida a chance tonight, although order has clearly been restored on the court. Despite the tourney’s scheduling machinations, it’s already clear who’s Number 1—despite what may happen tonight.

BUMILLER, NONPAREIL: As we’ve long noted, Elisabeth Bumiller’s “White House Letter” is a masterwork of press propaganda. This morning, Bumiller outdoes even herself, covering up for Darling Bush as she does.

Bumiller discusses the latest hot New York play—a play which attempts to look inside the Bush Admin’s march to war in Iraq. (''Stuff Happens,'' by British playwright David Hare.) And omigod! As luck would have it, Bumiller starts with a timely scene from the play—an Oval Office scene from January 2003. In the scene, Bush et al discuss Tony Blair’s desire for a second UN resolution before going to war with Iraq. Bumiller describes the play’s hot-and-heavy exchange between Colin Powell and Dick Cheney:

BUMILLER (2/3/06): ''Blair's been with us!'' Mr. Powell shouts [in the play]. ''He's been with us all along!''

''So?'' Mr. Cheney responds.

''Dick doesn't like him,'' Mr. Bush offers.

''I don't trust him,'' Mr. Cheney says. ''New Labor. What the hell does that mean? We don't call ourselves the New Republicans.''

Moments later, Mr. Powell tries again. ''I like Blair,'' he says.

''Maybe you do,'' Mr. Cheney responds coldly. ''But we don't need him. And as of this moment he's bringing us nothing but trouble.''

“The scene springs straight from the imagination of David Hare,” Bumiller says, continuing directly.

Yes, this scene does spring from Hare’s brain. Of course, as luck would have it, we now seem to know a good deal more about what really transpired in the White House at this juncture. Just last Monday, Bumiller’s own paper reported on the meeting between Bush and Blair on January 31, 2003—a meeting in which the issue of the second UN resolution was directly discussed. The Times had obtained a five-page record of the meeting—a memorandum written in real time by David Manning, Blair’s top foreign policy honcho. According to Manning’s real-time record, Bush and Blair had already decided that they’d go to war without a second resolution. Then, they went out and pretended otherwise—for roughly the next six weeks.

Wow! It could hardly be more timely! There was Hare, trying to imagine what had happened inside the Oval. And then, along came Manning’s memo, giving us a good look inside! But uh-oh! Bumiller is a consummate hack—and always knows which facts to deep-six. Result? She fails to mention the Mannning memo—the memo reported by her own paper! Well, she doesn’t entirely fail to cite it. Slickly, she does include this:

BUMILLER: It is impossible to say how much the imagined behind-the-scenes moments match up with reality, since fragments of what happened are only now coming out through journalists' accounts and the selective memories of participants. But Mr. Hare draws meticulously from the public record; a news conference with Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair at the president's ranch in April 2002, for example, takes verbatim sections from the White House transcript.
Poor Bumiller! She’d like to say if the brainy Hare is on-target. But she can’t, because the record is still incomplete! In this manner, she manages to avoid discussing the startling report from her very own paper. And by the way, that suggestive phrase—“the selective memories of participants”—may give us a hint of the lines she’s now getting from her handlers inside the Oval.

No, Manning’s memo isn’t a memory; it was written in real time. But is it “selective?” We suppose one could say that. After all, Manning may have misunderstood what was said at various times in the meeting. And of course, there is no videotape against which his “selective” account can be compared. But Bumiller outdoes even herself with her bowdlerized effort today. We now have an amazingly good idea of what went on at the time she discuses. But her handlers don’t want Times readers to know about that, and Bumiller—wonderfully “selective” as always—omits the thing they mustn’t hear.

It’s amazing to think that the New York Times keeps putting this absolute crap into print—and that Bumiller’s nonpareil efforts gets so little notice from those who critique today’s press.

CORN GETS IT RIGHT: By way of contrast, be sure to read David Corn’s superb re-checking of Bob Woodward’s Bush at War (offered here by The Huffington Post). In his book, Woodward gives an account of that January 31 meeting between Bush and Blair; Corn has gone back to compare Woodward’s best-selling account with the real-time account which has now come from Manning. This is superb work by Corn, and it should be widely discussed. But don’t be surprised if it isn’t.

PIMPING OLBERMANN: We’re not quite as high on Keith Olbermann as many other Dem/lib types are. Yes, he’s clever, but his presentations on Countdown are often weak, and the hour-long program is simply larded with fluff, tomfoolery and filler. (His choice of guests tends to be weak and repetitive.) For our money, when Olbermann started doing a daily hour on ESPN radio last fall, the decision seemed sadly typical. Hosting an hour-long cable news show is a great honor—and a great responsibility. But for many with Millionaire Pundit Values, one great gig just isn’t enough. Where’s Olbermann when he ought to be prepping for Countdown? Oh yeah! He’s on ESPN, wasting his time with Dan Patrick. Every time we see a weak Countdown segment, we recall where our host has been.

For that reason, we think it’s worth considering one passage from Howard Kurtz’s eek-a-mouse profile of Olbermann in today’s Post. Playing the role of perfect parrots, many activist liberal sites have recently been pimping propaganda about Countdown’s wondrous success in the ratings. But uh-oh! The presentations have been rather selective. Here is Krutz’s account:

KURTZ (4/3/06): "Countdown" is still in third place among the cable news networks—Fox's "O'Reilly Factor" dominated the first quarter, with 2.26 million viewers, followed by CNN's Paula Zahn with 632,000 and Olbermann with 404,000. But the MSNBC show boasts of a 41 percent jump over last year among viewers age 25 to 54, edging CNN in that category.
Yes, MSNBC has been boasting about that “jump over last year” among certain viewers. But good God! Olbermann is still getting crushed by Paula Zahn, who stages the most fatuous program on television. And he’s getting massively crushed by O’Reilly—not that you’d know it from reading the crap that our activist libs have churned out.

Olbermann’s program is often lazy and weak—but the activist sites are eager to pimp it. They’re willing to settle for tiny, small crumbs—and to treat you like rubes in the process.

FOR THE RECORD: If you want the facts on Olbermann’s triumph, here’s Matea Gold’s report in the L. A. Times:

GOLD (3/29/06): The folks at MSNBC's Secaucus, N.J., headquarters had something to smile about Tuesday. For the first time in almost five years, the third-place cable news channel had a prime-time victory to crow about, albeit a small one: "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" beat CNN's "Paula Zahn Now" in the key 25- to 54-year-old advertising demographic in the first quarter of 2006, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The MSNBC show drew an average of 164,000 viewers in that demographic to CNN's 156,000, as Olbermann, who has been engaged in a colorful feud with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, enjoyed an increase of 25% in total viewers compared with this point last year.

Even though MSNBC won in that demographic, CNN's Zahn still won in total viewership. "Countdown" averaged 404,000 viewers versus 626,000 for Zahn on CNN, and both shows trailed Fox's "O'Reilly Factor," which had more than 2.27 million viewers, on average.

Good God! Countdown attracted 164,000 of these prized viewers, smashing Zahn’s 156K. These are utterly tiny numbers, attained by a frequently lazy program. But so what? Liberal sites swung into action, announcing nirvana was here.

SPEAKING OF INCOMPETENT: Meanwhile, if it’s facts you enjoy, Kurtz’s piece touches on one other point, a point we skipped in real time. Deeply troubled by Olbermann’s liberalism, Kurtz lists some of the troubling ways Olbermann has opened Countdown programs. One of the openings is this, from the March 17 program:

OLBERMANN (3/17/06): Pollster says, which one word best describes President Bush? The correct answer starts with “in,” has “compe—” in the middle and “tent” at the end.
In the end, Olbermann reported this matter somewhat more accurately than many other journalists did. But did some pollster—Pew, in this case—report that the word “incompetent” “best describes” President Bush? Hardly. In March, Pew asked 710 respondents for a one-word summary of Bush. (This is a common, if perilous, type of question.) How many offered the word “incompetent?” Uh-oh! Only 29 respondents offered that word—out of 710 who were asked! Yes, this was the most common single response—but only four percent gave it. Nor did this represent a big jump from Pew’s previous survey, conducted in July 2005. At that time, Pew had asked the same question—and 26 out of 751 said “incompetent.” Meanwhile, did Pew find a big jump in the types of words offered? Not really. According to Pew, 48 percent of their respondents offered a negative word about Bush this March. But then, 42 percent had offered a negative word back in February 2005. For the data from all these Pew surveys, you know what to do—just click here.)

This is pretty minor news. And the “one-word” question is intrinsically perilous, because so many scribes are—forgive us—completely incompetent when they report the results of such questions. This time around, no one bungled it worse than Mark Shields, on the March 24 NewsHour. Prepare to avert your gaze in shame as Shields completely misreports the results of this familiar type of question:

SHIELDS (3/24/06): What has happened—in Andy Kohut's Pew poll, they asked a wonderful question: "What single word would you use to describe George Bush as you see him, how you feel about him?" And "honest" had been the top word, 38 percent, two out of five voters, basically. Then it fell to third, and “incompetent” was second—this was over the last year and a half actually, since January of 2005.

And now “incompetent” is number one, and “honest” has fallen all the way to sixth. Only 14 percent say “honest” is the word that comes to mind. This is a real problem for the president; in between are words like "idiot" to describe him. So the president's effectiveness in communicating, there's a sense that he's locked in, that he's locked in, in a way—that he's locked into this policy.

“They asked a wonderful question,” Shields gushed. But good God! He then completely misreported the answers—in a way Pew specifically warns about. No, there never was a time when 38 percent of respondents said “honest” when asked for one word about Bush. The real facts? In February 2005 (Shields had the month wrong too), 38 respondents—out of 761—had used that word for Bush. That was five percent of respondents, not the 38 percent Shields reported. Shields completely misunderstood—and misreported—these basic data, in a manner so predictable that Pew specifically warns against it. That’s right! If a scribe bothers to check the Pew data, he’s handed the following warning:
PEW: Figures show the actual numbers of respondents who offered each response; these are NOT percentages.
The Pew folk even went to all caps, trying to stop this kind of bungling! But so what? This problem has persisted for years, as hapless pundits lazily put their Millionaire Values to work.

The problem starts with Pew, for asking—and promoting—this perilous type of question. Then its jumps to scribes like Shields, who still can’t seem to understand these completely conventional data. And then, of course, to the liberal web, which was pimping the “incompetent” data last month. The change in these numbers was rather slight. But, if you’ll excuse one last moment of truth, the “incompetence” was pretty much everywhere.