Companion site:


Google search...


Daily Howler: Anita Dunn went after Fox hard. Did her complaints make sense?
Daily Howler logo
DUNN TALKIN’! Anita Dunn went after Fox hard. Did her complaints make sense? // link // print // previous // next //

The steady cave to corporate interests: Hurrah! Hurray! Olympia Snowe voted yes!

Partisan juices flowed in some quarters after yesterday’s 14-9 vote. But then again, in today’s New York Times, we see that Snowe still opposes a “public option.” As reported by Robert Pear:

PEAR (10/14/09): Ms. Snowe said she liked the Finance Committee bill because it would prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against people on account of health status or sex and would create a network of insurance exchanges where individuals, families and small businesses could shop for coverage, with subsidies from the federal government.

At the same time, Ms. Snowe said she shared Republican “concerns about vast governmental bureaucracies and governmental intrusions.” That, she said, is why she had opposed amendments to create a government insurance plan and would continue to do so.

Ms. Snowe said she was open to a compromise under which a public plan could be “triggered” in states where people could not otherwise find affordable insurance.

Snowe still opposes a public option, except in the most convoluted, denatured form possible. For our money, this captures a slow, steady turn in the health care debate—a turn toward the quiet protection of grasping corporate interests.

Snowe says she likes the Baucus bill because it lets people with pre-existing conditions get insurance. In that sense, it advances one original goal of the health reform effort—the desire to get everyone covered.

But how about the second major goal—the goal of lowering our nation’s astonishing health care costs? Remember: As a candidate, President Obama kept saying things like this:

OBAMA (7/7/08): I'll also help families who are struggling under the crushing burden of health care costs by passing a plan that brings the typical family's premiums down by $2500 and guarantees coverage to everyone who wants it.

As a candidate, Obama was going to “guarantee coverage to everyone who wants it”—and he was going to lower the typical family’s costs! But that typical family had disappeared from his triumphant statement last night:

OBAMA (10/13/09): Most importantly, this bill goes a long way towards offering security to those who have insurance and affordable options for those who don’t. It reins in some of the worst practices of the insurance industry, like the denial of coverage due to preexisting conditions. It also sets up an insurance exchange that will make coverage affordable for those who don`t currently have it. And as the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has certified, it will slow the growth of health care costs in the long term and it will not add a penny to our deficit.

What happened to that typical family—the family which already had insurance, but would pay much less for it in the future? That family was gone from last night’s statement. (Families which don’t have insurance will find “affordable options” under the Baucus bill, Obama said.) And uh-oh! Despite our massive current over-spending, “health care costs” will continue to grow! They will just grow more slowly, Obama triumphantly said.

Simple translation: The interests have triumphed! Our massive over-spending will continue—taking money from the pockets of typical people and handing it over to big corporate interests. Here’s how Pear describes the situation deep in today’s report. Pear is describing testimony in yesterday’s committee meeting—testimony which preceded Snowe’s vote:

PEAR: Douglas W. Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, said his agency had not estimated the impact of the bill on overall national health spending, public and private, and could not say whether it would “bend the cost curve,” as Mr. Obama and lawmakers want.

Likewise, Mr. Elmendorf said he did not know for sure how the bill would affect premiums.

“Bend the cost curve” is a vague phrase. Presumably, this means that Elmendorf wouldn’t say if the bill would slow the projected growth of our massive over-spending. And according to Pear, Elmendorf said he didn’t know what would happen to that typical family’s premiums.

Last year, that family’s premiums were coming way down. By yesterday, that reduction had disappeared.

You live in a country where typical people are massively over-spending for health care, as compare to all other developed nations. (Most of them don’t understand this, in large part because they’re rarely told.) As a candidate, Obama said that would change. But look where we’ve gotten to now!

It’s stunning to think that an “overhaul” will leave typical people over-spending in the massive current manner—handing massive amounts of their money over to corporate interests. Our questions:

Do you see the mainstream press corps addressing this point in anything like a serious way? How about the career liberal world? Does anyone seem to see the outrage involved in our clownish level of over-spending? And this:

Can a progressive bone be found in the whole “liberal”/mainstream world?

Special report: Pushing back liberally!

PART 2-DUNN TALKIN’: Given past Democratic Party conduct, it was odd—and refreshing—to see Anita Dunn pushing back at Fox this weekend (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/13/09). Quickly, let’s review some history before examining the specific things Dunn said:

Conservatives have been criticizing the mainstream press corps for roughly the past fifty years. And in fairness, at the time their organized criticisms began, these criticisms may have had merit. (Some still have merit today.) In his iconic book, The Making of the President, 1960, for instance, Teddy White described the press corps on the Kennedy plane joining staffers as they sang satirical songs about Candidate Nixon (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/14/03). On the Nixon plane, the candidate’s “trivial disdain” turned the press corps against him.”

White insisted that these reporters, his “proud” colleagues, tried not to let this affect their reporting. We can imagine that their efforts failed. And of course, then, as now, major journalists like White seemed congenitally unable to criticize their own.

During the 1960s, conservative began to complain, in organized ways, about the pres corps’ alleged liberal bias. Voters have heard these claims for fifty years. But by the time of Campaign 2000, reports of similar press misconduct began to drift in—reports which now came from the Bush campaign plane! Had the press corps’ party loyalties flipped since 1960? Candidate Gore was trashed for two years, just as President Clinton had been.

Forty years earlier, conservatives had pushed back hard against those songs on the Kennedy plane. But now, with the tables turned, Democrats—and “career liberals”—were politely silent. Presumably, career liberal writers dreamed of being seen as Serious People. They kept their pretty traps tightly shut.

In the process of shutting their traps, their careers flourished.

(In 2007, Ezra Klein told the truth about the Gore coverage—once. After that, he shut his trap. Today, he works at the Washington Post—and he’s telling wonderful jokes about Al Gore said he invented the Internet. It’s insane—but it never ends. For a good solid laugh, just click this.)

Because of that history, it was surprising to see Dunn, a major Obama spokesperson, pushing back on Reliable Sources. True, she was pushing back against Fox alone; the mainstream press isn’t waging a war against Obama, as it did against Clinton, then Gore. But in theory, it’s a very good thing when voters are warned to think twice about claims they hear about Dems.

In the past seventeen years, the Democratic Party has largely sat here and taken it. This was a disservice to voters, who deserve to be told about the major forces that are affecting their lives.

That doesn’t mean that Dunn’s claims all made sense—and some of her claims pretty much didn’t scan. But on balance, we think it was a very good thing that the White House was willing to do this.

So what did Dunn say on Reliable Sources? This was her early nugget statement about Fox. She spoke with CNN’s Howard Kurtz:

DUNN (10/11/09): Howie, I think if we went back a year go to the fall of 2008, to the campaign, that it was a time when this country was in two wars, that we had a financial collapse probably more significant than any financial collapse since the Great Depression.

If you were a Fox News viewer in the fall election, what you would have seen would have been that the biggest stories and biggest threats facing America were a guy named Bill Ayers and something called ACORN.

The reality of it is that Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.

And it's not ideological. Obviously, there are many commentators who have conservative, liberal, centrist, and everybody understands that. But I think what is fair to say about Fox, and certainly the way we view it, is that it really is more a wing of the Republican Party.

Does Fox “operate almost as the communications arm of the Republican Party?” Is it “more a wing of the Republican Party” than a true news organization? Those are sweeping claims—the types of claims which are hard to “prove”—but Dunn repeated them as she proceeded. Obama will go on Fox in the future, she told Kurtz, “because he engages with ideological opponents.” But Fox “really is not a news network at this point,” she said. “He's going [on Fox] to debate the opposition.”

Dunn did praise one Fox correspondent, White House reporter Major Garrett. “I've differentiated between Major Garrett, who we view as a very good correspondent, and his network, and Major knows this,” she told Kurtz. “I'm not talking about people like Major Garrett. I'm talking about the overall programming.” And Dunn made it clear that, in her opinion, the overall programming just wasn’t real good. Opinionated hosts like Glenn Beck were mentioned throughout her discussion with Kurtz. But she specifically cited Chris Wallace too, the host of Fox News Sunday.

Given the silence of the past many years, we think it’s a very good thing when a major Democrat engages this way. And some of what Dunn said this day was very savvy. In the long passage we’ve quoted above, for example, she criticized Fox for its story selection, not for actually making false statements. (The financial world was melting down—and they were obsessed with Bill Ayers!) Whatever the merits of the specific complaint, that’s a very important conceptual distinction, one we’ll discuss at some length before this series is done.

Dunn had made some sweeping claims about the Fox News Channel. On balance, we think it’s a very good thing that Democrats are finally willing to speak to voters about press issues. But some of Dunn’s specific claims didn’t make super good sense this day. At a quick glance, we’d say that about her specific complaint about Wallace (details tomorrow). But we also think that this complaint may be a bit hard to sustain:

DUNN: For instance, Howie, the New York Times had a front page story about Nevada Senator John Ensign and the fact that he had gotten his former chief of staff a job as a lobbyist and his former chief of staff's wife was someone Ensign had had an affair with.

KURTZ: We reported the story.

DUNN: Did you see coverage of that on Fox News? I'm not talking Glenn Beck, and I'm not talking Sean or The [O’Reilly] Factor. I'm talking about Fox News.

KURTZ: I will have to check on that. I assume you know the answer.

Here’s the answer, based on the Nexis archives: In fact, Fox didn’t report the New York Times story on its evening news shows on the day the story appeared (Friday, October 2), or over that weekend. (The story was briefly mentioned during the panel discussion on Friday’s Special Report.) But then, CNN barely reported the story—and none of the network news orgs reported it. It wasn’t discussed on any Sunday morning talk program, except on CNN’s State of the Union.

Fox didn’t report the New York Times’ findings. But does that mean that Fox is “the communications arm of the Republican Party?” In our view, some of Dunn’s specific complains weren’t especially strong. But then, some of Fox’s rebuttals to Dunn were exceptionally weak—and some major figures in the mainstream press seemed to go along with certain aspects of their analysis.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at a few of Dunn’s specific complaints. And we’ll consider some very weak rebuttals from the honchos at Fox.

Tomorrow—Part 3: But it’s only opinion!

Part 4: But it’s only a joke!