WHY DO WE LOSE! Perlsteins readers just kept asking the worlds most important question: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, AUGUST 25, 2009
Howard Kurtz should rent a plane: Howard Kurtz so loves the press corps that he and the press corps should go rent a room.
Check that! Howard Kurtz so loves the press that he should go rent a tow plane! On Labor Day, he could tow banners up and down the beach, helping sun-bathers count the ways he loves the mainstream press.
Lets be fair. Kurtz made some accurate statements in yesterdays piece in the Washington Post. Its true: Even when they report the facts, [the media] have had trouble influencing public opinion. Lets expand on that a bit: On their own, no matter how hard they tried, the mainstream press could never create a well-informed debate. Disinformation spreads from many sources, including the nations talk-radio programs. No matter how hard they tried, mainstream press organs, on their own, could never repel that vast tide.
But how hard does the mainstream press really try? At this point, Kurtzs love for the mainstream press took over yesterdays effort. On Olympus, the gods roared with laughter when a smitten lover typed this:
Good God. On Olympus, the deities roared with laughter. Here on earth, our analysts searched for the wondrous report in which NBC Nightly News examined the intricacies of the public option.
NBCs report was Kurtzs first example of the way the press has labored to explain the intricacies of the competing blueprints. And uh-oh! NBCs reportthe report to which Kurtz likely referredwas about 370 words long!
On Nexis, NBC has given its mouse a mighty title: Making Sense of It All: The public option portion of Obamas proposed health care overhaul. Sadly, what follows is that full report, as offered by Tom Costello. Howard Kurtz so loves the press, he seems to regard this sort of thing as detailed coverage:
In fact, Costello examined only one question: How much health reform might cost. Despite the NBC headline, he devoted little attention to the public option portion of Obama's health care overhaul.
Is this the report Kurtz had in mind? No idea. But how well has NBC covered health care? Even in exploring the limited question of costs, Costello did a rather poor job on this particular evening.
This was not a great report. Costello tilted, from start to finish, in favor of anti-tax sentiment. Right from the start, his report was offered from the point of view of the many Americans for whom the cost of health care reform could be like a bitter pill. And he tended to exaggerate the overall size of that tax hike. Please note: He never said how much of that trillion-dollar price tag might be offset by those changes to Medicare and Medicaid. A viewer would thus have no idea how big the overall tax hike might be.
This just wasnt a good report, even allowing for its limited length. And yet, to Kurtz, it may have been Example The First of the way his lover has labored. Those who say the media haven't dug into the details aren't looking very hard, he said, balling his fists as he prepared to defend his loves reputation.
Question: Could Kurtz have meant the August 12 Nightly News report by Kelly ODonnell? (Headline: Term public option provokes strong reaction.) This report was about the public option. But like almost all reports on network news shows, it too was very shortagain, roughly 370 words. Sorry. ODonnells report dug into the details of very few intricacies.
Nightly News has done no other reporting on the public option. Despite what Kurtz wrote, NBC News has dug into very few details in its reporting.
We think we know where Labor Day morning will find our love-cursed reporter. Near dawn, hell sneak from his motel room, shutting the door behind him softly so his love can continue to doze. (Its the one thing she does truly well.) Hell head for the airport and fuel up his plane. From there, its off to the beaches!
How much does Howard Kurtz love the press? Let his banners count the ways! Sun-bathers will glance up as he flies by, distracted from the information on their talk radio programs.
How the New York Times digs into details: How does the New York Times report the intricacies of the health care debate? The papers reporting often seems to represent a form of pure madness.
This morning, the Times offers a short but intriguing report about the possibility of rationing under proposed health reform. Headline: Policy Experts Call Fear of Medical Rationing Unfounded.
Unfounded! You see, reporter Reed Abelson spoke to some actual experts. And according to Abelsons news report, policy experts...say there is nothing in the current proposals in Washington to suggest that the country is likely to embark on a system of medical rationing anytime soon.
Wow! According to Abelsons reporting, claims of rationing look like a big bunch of bunk! But so what? Abelsons report rates a mere 536 words. Its crammed at the bottom of page A10. It runs as an adjunct to a much longer front-page report, in which someone who isnt a policy expert is allowed to broadcast his outlook.
That non-expert is Bob Collier, a 62-year-old Georgia salesman who recently told his congressman, at a town hall meeting, that proposed health reform may lead to rationing! Repeat: What follows appears on this mornings front page. Bob Collier, who isnt a policy expert, spoke to Rep. Sanford Bishop:
Does Bob Collier know what hes talking about? On page A10, the Times reports the apparent answer: No! But so what? Out on page one, Bob Colliers calmer, more reasoned voice is telling Times readers that rationing looms. Only much later does Sack let us know where Collier gets his information:
Well guess that Bob Collier is completely sincere. But his information comes from Rush Limbaugh! But so what? This morning, Collier is featured on the Times front page, where hes praised for his calm, reasoned manner. The experts, who say hes full of old shoes, are buried at the bottom of page A10, in a much shorter report.
Kurtzs love affair to the side, this is the way the New York Times labors to explain health care.
Astonishing! Sacks report about Bob Collier gets 1085 words. It features three photos; this includes a color photo on page one, and a very large photo of Collier inside, on page A10. Sack makes little attempt to help readers know if Collier knows what hes talking about.
In his own report, Abelson says that Collier is most likely wrong. But so what? His report is shortand its buried. There are no photos of the policy experts who say Collier is full of old shoes.
This is the third long article in recent days in which the Times has presented the fears of relatively uninformed peoplerelatively uninformed people like Collier. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/09.) There is a definite role for this kind of reporting, but the Times doesnt seem to know what it is. On this mornings front page, Times readers are essentially reading the things Rush Limbaugh has recently said! Kurtz still dreams of the wonderful ways his lover has dealt with this topic.
You inhabit a crazy political culture. With apologies: For many years, your mainstream press corps has seemed to be mentally ill.
PART 1THE WORLDS MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: Rick Perlstein did an on-line discussion at the Washington Post last week. Friend, are you a frustrated liberal or Democrat? Are you tired of seeing your keister get kicked in the nations political wars? If so, four of Ricks interlocutors posed versions of the worlds most important question. (For the full discussion, click here.)
We posted three of those excellent questions last week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/09). They ought to be studied in detail.
Steve had written a street-fighting piece about the crazy people who have appeared at recent town hall meetings. Whatever one thinks of those particular voters, support of Obamas health care proposals has been droppingin part, driven down by deeply demagogic claims by Republican elders. In particular, Republican leaders like Palin and Grassley have told the public that Obamas plan contains something fairly described as death panels. The claim is absurdprofoundly demagogic. And it has been widely believed.
Palin and Grassley paraded about, baldly misleading the public. Talk-radio demagogues jumped into line, eager to push the claim forward. At the Washington Post, Fred Hiatt kept printing columns which seemed to say that there really was something to the death panel fears. (Even though the literal claim was rubbish!) The claim was rubbishbut continued to spread. Support for reform plans diminished.
How can Republicans win debates with such demagogic claims? If youre a frustrated liberal or Dem, its the worlds most significant question.
On the day of that on-line discussion, Steves second questioner went right to this point. What can a fairly sane person do about this sort of nonsense?
What actions might a sane person take in the face of such claims, this reader asked. Before long, a reader from Wisconsin posed a similar question:
This reader added an accurate pointin the past few decades, the fringe have often seemed to be in charge in our political discourse. Soon, a reader in Boston took the question one step further. Why dont Democrats know how to deal with such nonsense, this reader asked:
We ourselves had cringed as liberals and Democrats used the term end-of-life discussions, thus sounding like they might be confirming a charge even as they tried to deny it. For our money, a fourth questioner captured the sheer absurdity of our political discourse:
This writer liked Perlsteins original article. (On balance, we didnt.) But like the questioner from Boston, this writer seems to have noticed the liberal worlds general lack of skill in such discussions. This writer has noticed something important: In recent decades, Democrats and liberals have often been defeated by ridiculous and blatant falsehoods! No, there are no death panels in these proposed bills. But then, Al Gore never said he invented the Internet! But so what? For twenty straight months in 1999 and 2000, the public all heard something different.
For the most part, liberals and Democrats didnt even try defending their man.
Why dont Democrats (and liberals) know how to deal with this sort of thing? These writers all more-or-less asked the same question. But the Derry writer seemed to have noticed something else. This critical question wasnt covered in Perlsteins original article, he said.
For ourselves, we thought Perlsteins answers to these on-line questions were weak; well plan to look at those answers on Friday. We dont mean that as a criticism of Perlstein, whose Nixonland we strongly recommend; theres no reason why an outstanding historian should also be the worlds top expert on how to win messaging wars. But does anyone know how to answer those questions? At the upper end of the mainstream press corps, Paul Krugman has been the smartest, most important liberal voice since the late 1990s, by far. (And he holds the Nobel Prize in economics!) But alas! In Mondays column, we thought Krugman seemed a bit weak on this question too. More on that to come.
Death panels are just the latest example! For decades, liberals and Dems have gotten slaughtered in the political messaging wars. Perlsteins readers wanted to know why our side cant seem to play this game. Why the hell do we keep getting beaten, even by ridiculous falsehoods?
Friend, if youre a frustrated liberal, its the worlds most important question! Well be discussing that critical question for the next several weeks.