CREEPING HANNITYISM! Sean has played this game for years. Must our side get dumbed down too? // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, APRIL 4, 2011
From more than 100 to eight in three days/Quickly they turn: Its amazing how quickly the news can change without real explanation. Consider a change in Bill Turques reporting last weekreporting which has been technically accurate every step of the way.
Turque reports on the DC schools for the Washington Post. He has done some good work over the years. Last Wednesday, he reported that DCs acting public school boss had called for a cheating/erasure probe:
As of Wednesday morning, Henderson had called for a probeand more than 100 schools had displayed the unusual rates of erasures.
But just that quickly, the world seemed to turn. The next morning, in an editorial, the editors helped us collect our thoughts:
According to this editorial, there had apparently been erasure marks at a handful of schools. Overnight, more than 100 schools had turned into eightthough the editors noted that any time there is a suggestion a school may have cheated its way to showing improved student achievement, there is reason for serious concern.
Say what? According to Turques new construction, elevated rates of answer-sheet erasures had been found at eight schools. That more than 100 schools was gone; Turque had adopted the much smaller number. A test security firm hired by the District said it found no evidence of cheating at eight schools flagged for high rates of answer-sheet erasures, he wrote a bit later. At no point did he say that the erasure problem extended beyond those eight schools.
Turques lengthy piece appeared on page one of Sundays Metro section. Presumably, many Washingtonians were reading about the erasure problem for the first time. But in this new report, they read about a vastly diminished problem.
We can find no reporting in the Post which explains the drop in that number. In Wednesday mornings news report, USA Today did a bit better. They seconded what the Post editors said about Hendersons probe request:
To Henderson, the integrity of test scores is of utmost importance. So she requested that eight schools be probedeight, out of more than 100!
In fairness, only 46 schools were flagged for excessive erasures in 2009only 41 in 2010! But at the Post, the official number now seems to be eight, and things are more right with the world. (The Post makes its money from Kaplan, Inc., a major testing concern.) In 2009, Michelle Rhee had ordered a narrow probe, restricted to just eight schools. Now, Henderson, and the Washington Post, are making that number iconic.
Better yet: If you read the New York Times, you dont have to think about numbers at all! Rhee was a made man in Gotham billionaire circles before she ever got shipped to DC.
Not a word has appeared in the Times about this silly nonsense.
CREEPING HANNITYISM (permalink): People sometimes wonder why were not big fans of the Rachel Maddow Show.
Thats a perfectly sensible question. For starters, consider the programs Creeping Hannityism, which reached a new peak last week.
Last Thursday, Maddow complained again about the Beltway press, thus giving us liberals our latest cheap thrill. In the past few months, this has become a fairly standard complaint on this program, though specific offenders are rarely named. In this case, Maddow complained about the way the Beltway press had covered a fairly minor event which had occurred a month before. On that occasion, Maddow now claimed, the Beltway press had been mystified by something Obama said.
As usual, the segment began with the requisite dose of self-involvement. To watch the whole segment, click this:
Interesting! Requisite self-contemplation completed, Maddow began her actual report. She described a position Obama announced on February 28 as he spoke to the nations governors. In the process, she offered a derisive complaint about the Beltway press:
As she continued, Maddow described the motive behind Obamas modest change in position. Derisively, she said this move had mystified the Beltway press. She didnt name any actual journalists who had been thus mystifiedbut at least in this case, she did let us know which news orgs she meant. Brief screen shots of three news reports appeared as Maddow described the corps vast confusion. In fact, she was quoting words from the headlines of those reports as she mocked the way the press had been mystified.
Can we talk? In our view, little was wrong with the three reports to which Maddow referred (links below). Its absurd to say that the authors of these reports were mystified by Obamas proposal. But to understand the problem here, lets consider where those three reports appeared. According to Maddow, these are the three news orgs which, in this particular instance, constituted the Beltway press:
The Washington Times; Agence France-Presse; the Christian Science Monitor. When Maddow rolled her eyes at the Beltway press, that was who she meant!
Can we talk?
The Washington Times is a famous outlier. It was founded by someone who says hes the Second Coming of Christ. Last year, this person repurchased the failing newspaper from his sonfor the purchase price of $1. The New York Times charges twice that much just for a single copy!
Agence France-Presse is a French news agency, as its name implies. Its headquarters are in Paris.
The Christian Science Monitor is an historic but small and struggling concern. In print form, it publishes just once a week now. Have you ever seen this newspaper? For good or for ill, the Monitor plays a very small role in Americas public discourse.
Perhaps you see why were sometimes a bit underwhelmed by Maddow and her staff. No, we didnt find much that was actually wrong with these news orgs reports about Obamas proposal. (The Washington Times embellished a bit.) But at this point, these are extremely marginal orgs; in no way do they represent or constitute the Beltway press. But here is the much larger point: Searching around, we can find no sign that anyone in the Beltway press was mystified, in any way, by what Obama told the governors.
Simply put, nothing much was really wrong with the press corps work on that topic. No one was mystified by this story, in any discernible way.
Why then did Maddow make this claim, citing three outlier news orgs? Just a guess:
That same night, at that very same hour, the same type of foolishness was being displayed on the Fox News Channel. Sean Hannity had invited Brent Bozell to come on the air for his weekly cry; the boys devoted a segment to silly complaints about liberal mainstream media bias (Hannity). To their credit, they at least managed to name major names, including Diane Sawyer and even Matt Lauer. But their complaints were tortured, silly, pointless, thin.
Then again, so was Maddows.
But uh-oh! In the past few months, Maddow has been doing this sort of thing with increasing frequency. She makes sweeping claims about the Beltway media or the Beltway press, rolling her eyes as she lets liberal viewers revel in victimization. Her complaints are often so vague that they cant be tracked. In other cases, theyre completely absurd.
But lord, how good these glancing blows make us feel! Wed call this Creeping Hannityism. Its the essence of tribal living.
Sorry! As Hannity has done since the dawn of time, Maddow seems to be playing her viewers a tad, letting us feel the joy of victimization. Is anything actually gained by this? Or does the liberal world just get a bit dumber?
There was a more to complain about in Maddows work at the end of last week. On Thursday, she opened her program with a report about child labor laws in Maine; she didnt know, or didnt say, that the other New England states permit teen-agers to work much longer hours than Maine. Instead, we were encouraged to feel righteous fury against Maines (Republican) governor, who is a bit of a nut.
Friday night, she opened her program with this familiar old play:
Where does she get this stuff? (A bit later on, well show you.)
Maddow got part of her story right here. The Fraternal Order of Police has always tended to endorse Republican candidates. But please! The big giant International Association of Firefighters has long been very Democratic in its political orientation. Example: In 2010, the IAFF endorsed 29 Democrats in Senate racesand only four Republicans. In governors races, state affiliates endorsed 27 Democratsand exactly two Republicans. (Click here, scroll down.)
And yes, as youll see if you click and scroll: The Wisconsin affiliate endorsed Tom Barrett, not Scott Walker, in last years race for governor. This remains a basic fact, though Maddow keeps fudging it. Walker was endorsed by a small local in his home base, Milwaukee. The much larger statewide firefighters union endorsed Barrett, Walkers opponent. (For Politifacts treatment from February 21, you know what to do: Just click here.)
Back to the Maddow shows Creeping Hannityism, which got so absurd last Thursday night that the analysts told us to act.
Whats wrong with Maddows jibes at the Beltway media? Consider a formulation she introduced at the start of her March 10 program:
Maddow never came back to explain just what the media hasnt really caught on to. Nor did she cite specific news orgs, or specific journalists, who have fallen down on the job. But in her report, she offered a string of complaints about budget proposals by Republican governors, especially proposals which would give tax cuts to corporations or upper-end earners. On March 21, she returned to this theme, making a more specific complaint about the Beltway press:
According to Maddow, all the Beltway media reporting had been about how governors are making hard choices and taking controversial steps to close their budget deficits. That could be true, but she gave no examples. By way of contrast, its our impression that major news orgs have actually done very little work in this area. We would have liked to see Maddow cite some especially egregious examples, preferably not from news orgs whose oeuvre is rather obscure. But naming the names of significant journalists hasnt been Maddows style.
Heres why we find this stuff maddening:
Weve long found Maddow quite underwhelming when it comes to domestic politics. Those Republican proposals may all be vilebut this proposition isnt evident just because Maddow asserts it. One example: Maddow has never stopped hacking away at Walkers relatively small corporate tax giveaways (see above). But many governors, including Democratic governors, make such pitches to various corporations or to the generic corporate class. Given our federal systems race to the bottom, these proposals may be horrid ideasbut then again, they may not. But Maddow seems to think her job is done when she lists all such proposals by Republican governors, then simply asserts that theyre badvery, very bad.
Question: When will Maddow and her staff discuss governors Cuomo and Quinn?
Have Republican governors been offering tax cuts to upper-end earners? Have Republican governors been cutting education funding, another frequent complaint on this program? Yes they have, but so have Cuomo and Quinn, the very Democratic governors of two very large states (New York and Illinois)states which the Maddow program doesnt seem to have heard of. Just this past Friday, one part of the national media (the New York Times) published its latest editorial about Cuomos proposals, noting the very large education cuts he has proposedand noting the tax cuts he has proposed for New Yorks biggest earners. Mr. Cuomo and Senate Republicans decided to give a tax break to millionaires while cutting money for schools, the elderly, the poor and the sick, the editors wrote. Thats inhumane and fiscally backward.
In this earlier editorial, the editors complained that Cuomos tax break for the highest earners will cost the state $2 billion this fiscal year, and $4 billion the following year. This dwarfs most of the tax cuts Maddow complains about when they come from Republican governors. If the editors are right, this particular tax break for millionaires is more than forty times the size of Walkers much-maligned corporate tax cuts. It is 200 times the size of the tax cut Maddow attacked down in Maine.
On a percentage basis, Cuomos proposed education cuts are almost the size of Governor Scotts. Scotts proposed cuts have had Maddow screeching about the loathing for regular people displayed by Republican governors.
Regarding Quinn, well only repeat the text of this AP report from mid-February: Gov. Pat Quinn is proposing a budget that would cut aid to the poor, skimp on many services and count on borrowing billions to pay overdue bills. When last we checked, Quinn was still refusing to raise corporate or income tax rates, even though Illinois has a flat income tax, with a single rate that is almost three points below the rate Walker still dumps on Wisconsins upper-end earners.
We dont say this to criticize Cuomo or Quinn. Given the way our federal system works, governors may well be forced to join that race to the bottom. We say this to criticize Maddows reporting; in our view, she has been doing massively lazy budget work and behaving like a consummate partisan hack in the process. Theres nothing wrong with political rallies, but theyre better left to the politicians. Then too, theres all that Hannityism, which crept past the point of no return in that absurd report Thursday night.
By the way: How big a concession did Obama make to the nations governors? The concession wasnt really that big, the Christian Monitor said. The Monitors report wasnt perfectbut Peter Grier certainly wasnt mystified by Obamas move. Neither was the nameless scribe who composed this short dispatch for an org which reports back to Paris.
Hannity has peddled this pap for years. Surely, our side can do better.
Straight outta Politico: Presumably, Maddows staff got Friday nights framework from this report by Jeanne Cummings in Politico. Cummings overstated and insinuated, but she kept her work technically accurate; youll note she never says that firefighter unions have leaned to the GOP. (She makes vague claims about union members, failing to use any numbers.) She even made this factually accurate statement about the Wisconsin governors race, while making an unsupported insinuation about Walkers subsequent motives:
Note the key word: small. Cummings failed to add the complementary factCandidate Walker was opposed by the big police/fire unions. According to Cummings, Walker carved out a special exemption for police/fire unions after they opposed mainly him.
Cummings was spinning a bit in this piece. People, what else is Politico for? Perhaps confused by what she wrote, Maddow and/or her imperfect staff took things one step further.
By the way: The firefighters opposed Candidate Kasich too. In last years governors race in Ohio, they endorsed the Democrat, Governor Strickland, as they so typically do.