Obama Took On The Right At White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Obama White House Correspondents Dinner

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner has turned into a major event in recent years, and Barack Obama did a fine job. Among his jokes:

“For many Americans, this is still a time of deep uncertainty. I have one friend, just weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year, and she’s now living out of a van in Iowa.”

“Michele Bachmann predicted I would bring about the biblical end of days. Now that’s big. … Lincoln, Washington — they didn’t do that.”

On Bernie Sanders: “Apparently people really want to see a pot-smoking socialist in the White House. We could get a third Obama term after all.”

On Dick Cheney: “He thinks I’m the worst president of his lifetime, which is interesting because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime.”

Cecily Strong, while not as good a comedian, as Barack Obama, did better in this situation than as anchor on SNL’s Weekend Update. She had a number of jokes about the media, from the number of prison documentaries on MSNBC to the nature of Fox’s audience: “Fox News has been losing a lot of viewers lately, and may they rest in peace.”

She was clearly backing Hillary Clinton but she did mention the email scandal: “Hillary Clinton said that she used her private email because she didn’t want to use more than two devices. Now if that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s also one of the rules of the sex contract of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.'”

Obama’s expression of political views has received far more attention than Strong’s. On climate change: “Look at what’s happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it’s a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day, and instead of doing anything about it, we’ve got elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate! It is crazy! What about our kids?! What kind of stupid, short-sighted, irresponsible…”

Both conservative liberal blogs agreed that Obama was expressing liberal views in such jokes, but the spin was quite different. Power Line’s headline was Our Mean-Spirited President Cuts Loose. Ezra Klein put it differently (and more accurately): The joke was that Obama wasn’t joking.

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Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb Faced The Media But Hillary Clinton Continues To Avoid The Press

O'Malley Face The Nation

Martin O’Malley appeared on Face the Nation today, telling Bob Schieffer that he plans to decide by the end of May as to whether he plans to run against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Schieffer asked him why he plans to run:

O’MALLEY: Because I believe that our country faces big challenges.

And I know that leadership is important, if we’re going to turn these challenges into opportunities. I have 15 years of executive experience as a big city mayor and as a governor bringing people together to get things done. And I believe that I have the ideas that will help our country move forward to a time when our economy is actually working for all of us again, instead of wages declining.

There has been repeated mention in the media as to how Clinton has taken the unusual course of not meeting with the press (see here and here).  O’Malley did not take advantage of this opportunity to criticize Clinton:

SCHIEFFER: What do you think of way she launched her campaign? All these Republicans are up there making speeches, kind of doing it the old-fashioned way. She gets in this little van and drives all the way out there. She’s given no interviews, as far as I can tell. She hasn’t had a news conference. Can you get the nomination that way? And how will you do it?

O’MALLEY: Well, look, I will let others talk — second-guess her strategies and tactics. And she can certainly defend herself. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Secretary Clinton.

I believe that the best way to campaign is one-on-one with people. You can’t forge a new sort of consensus, you can’t forge public opinion by following public opinion. And you have to engage with people in living room after living room, in luncheonettes and lunch counters. I think that is the best type of campaign is the one- on-one contact, where we actually talk about the better choices we need to make to get earnings to rise again.

So far Clinton has only received gentle criticism for the manner in which she has avoided the press, but if she keeps this up I would expect the press to discuss this more, as back in 2008 when Sarah Palin was hiding from the press. The Washington Post noted that O’Malley and James Webb appeared on the Sunday interview shows but Clinton was only represented by stand-ins.

The full transcript of Face the Nation is available here.

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Brian Wiliams And The Problems At NBC News

Vanity Fair Brian Wilson

Vanity Fair has a fascinating article on Brian Williams and NBC News. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Much of the blame is placed on Comcast–an easy target to blame:

Since Comcast took control of NBC, the network’s news division—famously termed Comcast’s “crown jewel” by C.E.O. Brian Roberts—has endured one debacle after another. “When Comcast took over, they had the No. 1 morning show, the No. 1 Sunday show, and the No. 1 evening broadcast,” says a former top NBC executive. “That’s all completely fallen apart. I don’t know how you blame anyone but Comcast and the people it brought in. It’s been a nightmare.”

Behind the scenes much of the blame has been laid at the feet of three executives: Turness, a British-trained newcomer to U.S. television; Fili, who had virtually no experience in journalism; and Fili’s boss, the steely, driven C.E.O. Comcast installed to run NBCUniversal, Steve Burke. Under Burke the network has done well overall—its ratings have rebounded from last to first in the coveted 18–49 demographic, and NBCUniversal’s profits were up 18 percent last year—but he and his deputies, their critics charge, time and again proved unable to rein in the news division’s high-priced talent. “News is a very particular thing, NBC is a very particular beast, and Deborah, well, she really doesn’t have a fucking clue,” says a senior NBC executive involved in recent events. “She’s letting the inmates run the asylum. You have kids? Well, if you let them, they’ll have ice cream every night. Same thing in TV. If you let the people on air do what they want, whenever they want, this is what happens.”

The problem is also attributed to Brian Williams being more interested in corporate politics than national politics or foreign affairs:

One might expect that, in the wake of Williams’s suspension, his colleagues would be brimming with stories of other fanciful tales he told. That’s not the case. There are a few tales, it’s true, but when asked for the unvarnished truth about Williams, the two topics people at NBC News return to again and again are these: his prowess as a bureaucratic infighter and his limited interest in the kind of “heavy” news topics and investigative pieces that had long been championed by such NBC stalwarts as Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert.

“What always bothered Tim was Brian’s lack of interest in things that mattered most, that were front and center, like politics and world events,” says a person who knew both men well. “Brian has very little interest in politics. It’s not in his blood. What Brian cares about is logistics, the weather, and planes and trains and helicopters.”

“You know what interested Brian about politics?” marvels one longtime NBC correspondent, recently departed. “Brian was obsessed with whether Mitt Romney wore the Mormon underwear.” (A supporter says that this characterization is unfair and that Williams reads deeply and broadly, especially about history and politics.)

Williams took the anchor chair in December 2004, after a career handling the news at local stations and MSNBC; though he had worked as NBC’s chief White House correspondent for two years, he was never a foreign or war correspondent. He was deeply insecure about this, some of his friends believe. These people suggest that his storied broadcasts from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which proved a boon to his ratings, were in part an effort to overcome the perception that he was a journalistic lightweight. In his first years on Nightly News, several colleagues say, Williams’s weaknesses were kept in check by other strong figures at the network, from Brokaw and Russert to Capus and a Nightly News executive producer named John Reiss. With the departures of each of these men, especially Russert, who died in 2008, Williams slowly consolidated his power.

Plus Williams often appeared to be more interested in entertainment than hard news:

For a while, he was. In fact, as an excellent article by Gabriel Sherman in New York magazine recounted, Williams had long displayed an ambivalence with continuing in the anchor chair. With his abundant charisma and disarming wit, what he truly wanted, it appears, was his own talk show. According to New York, he talked to Steve Burke about succeeding Jay Leno. When Burke refused, Williams reportedly pitched Les Moonves, at CBS, to replace David Letterman, who was soon to retire. Moonves also allegedly declined. Though his appearances on shows such as 30 Rock and Jimmy Fallon successfully repositioned Williams as a good-humored Everyman—and thus expanded not only his own brand but that of Nightly News—they were not popular among many of his colleagues.

“He goes on Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon and all that, that’s where his heart was, and [at NBC] that’s seen as running away from the news division,” says a former NBC executive.

A Williams partisan disagrees. “The irony is that the very things people are criticizing Brian for now were the things they loved most about him at the time, the fact that by going on all these shows, with their young audiences, he was building bridges to the younger people who weren’t watching network news anymore,” this person says. “It was something the previous generation of anchormen, like Brokaw, hadn’t been able to do. Brian was doing it.”

After refusing Williams the Leno spot, Steve Burke offered him a consolation prize: his own magazine show, Rock Center, a bid to anchor what he hoped would be the second coming of 60 Minutes. It wasn’t. Rock Center debuted in 2011 to tepid reviews and worse ratings. Its journalistic efforts received less notice than its stunt hiring of Chelsea Clinton, whose signature contribution was the interview she did with the Geico Gecko that appeared on the show’s Web site.

After more discussion of the scandal which led to Williams being taken off the air there is speculation on his future–including what might be a perfect solution:

Williams’s future, NBC insiders insist, remains up in the air. He and Andy Lack are close friends, leading to widespread speculation that Lack will reinstate him once his suspension is complete. But people close to Lack say nothing has yet been decided. Many NBC observers simply can’t imagine a network anchorman ever returning to his former position after being exposed as Williams has. The most Machiavellian scenario, floated by an NBC partisan, is that Jeff Zucker, whose distaste for Comcast executives is well known, has fanned the flames of controversy so that he can eventually snare Williams for CNN—not as a newsman but as the long-sought replacement for Larry King. “That’s the perfect solution,” a source says. “Zucker gets a star, and Brian gets the talk show he always wanted.”

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Saturday Night Live Spoof of CNN, And Hillary Clinton Deleting Her Email

Saturday Night Live had a good parody of CNN this weekend, starting with their coverage of airline disasters. Check out their simulations, along with their coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, using puppets as the actual meeting was behind closed doors. Also check out their simulation of Hillary Clinton deleting her email, using a cat for the simulation, about four minutes in.
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Hillary Clinton Jokes About Her Problems With The Media

Clinton Media

Hillary Clinton spoke at the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting Monday night, and I do give her points for both humor and self-awareness:

“I am well aware that some of you may be a little surprised to see me here tonight,” she said. “My relationship with the press has been at times, shall we say, complicated.”

“I am all about new beginnings: a new grandchild, another new hairstyle, a new email account,” she quipped, “Why not a new relationship with the press? So here goes. No more secrecy. No more zone of privacy.”

So far not bad. I heard more of her speech last night and had to go through several media accounts until I found one which included a reference one of the best lines: “Before I go any further, if you look under your chairs, you’ll find a simple non-disclosure agreement. My attorneys drew it up.”  As I said, she showed self-awareness.

As is typical for Clinton, she also refused to take questions, but Dan Baltz, who won this year’s award, did offer to yield some of his time if Clinton would take some questions. She did not accept the offer.

This was a far better appearance for Clinton than her book tour or her press conference after the email scandal broke. It is questionable whether this will really repair her problems with the press. Joking around with the press hardly makes up for using her private server to block Freedom of Information Act requests for information from the media.

Clinton at least showed a better connection to reality than Breitbart which covered her speech in this manner:

“We need more than ever smart, fair-minded journalists to challenge our assumptions, push us towards new solutions, and hold all of us accountable,” she reportedly told mainstream media reporters who notoriously protect Democrats like Clinton.

I don’t think Clinton believed she was receiving any protection from the mainstream media when she received well-deserved criticism in the past month because of the email scandal from mainstream media sources such as The New York Times, NPR, AP, NBC News, MSNBC, and The Guardian. Plus there was the Boston Globe pushing for Elizabeth Warren to run against her, and far more scathing criticism from many liberal publications.

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AP Files Suit Over Clinton Email, Media Fact Checks Clinton, and Al Gore Goes To Iowa

Clinton Press Conference NBC

As I discussed previously, one of the more serious aspects of Hillary Clinton violating rules regarding government records is that she used her private server to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests, including requests from the Associated Press. AP is now filing suit:

The Associated Press on Wednesday sued the State Department to force the release of email correspondence and government documents from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

The legal action follows repeated requests filed under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act that have gone unfulfilled. They include one request the AP made five years ago and others pending since the summer of 2013.

The suit in U.S. District Court comes a day after Clinton broke her silence about her use of a private email account while she was America’s top diplomat.

The FOIA requests and the suit seek materials related to her public and private calendars; correspondence involving aides likely to play important roles in her expected campaign for president; and Clinton-related emails about the Osama bin Laden raid and National Security Agency surveillance practices.

“After careful deliberation and exhausting our other options, The Associated Press is taking the necessary legal steps to gain access to these important documents, which will shed light on actions by the State Department and former Secretary Clinton, a presumptive 2016 presidential candidate, during some of the most significant issues of our time,” said Karen Kaiser, AP’s general counsel.

Said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll: “The Freedom of Information Act exists to give citizens a clear view of what government officials are doing on their behalf. When that view is denied, the next resort is the courts.”

Other media outlets have made similar complaints, so this might not be the only suit.

Despite claims made during her misleading press conference yesterday, Clinton has violated Section 1236.22 of the 2009 National Archives and Records Administration requirements, along with what White House spokesmen describe as “very specific guidance” from the White House. While some Clintonistas follow their usual formula of denial of wrongdoing on the part of the Clintons, distraction, and demonization of critics, the media has been fact-checking and debunking Clinton throughout the day. Some Clintonistas are claiming this story is coming from Republicans and Fox, ignoring the fact that the story originated in The New York Times and it has been liberal magazines and blogs who have been criticizing her misconduct on principle.  Andrea Mitchell reported on problems on record retention in the Clinton State Department on NBC tonight. NPR’s All Things Considered was just one of many media outlets which debunked statements made during her press conference, including her claims that she did not break the rules:

Clinton admitted her decision to carry one smartphone device rather than two during her tenure as secretary of state might have been a mistake. Apart from that, though, Clinton maintained her conduct regarding her email was by the book.

Others aren’t so sure. For instance, Clinton said it was “undisputed” that “the laws and regulations in effect” when she was secretary of state allowed her to use her personal email account for work. Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University in D.C., disagreed. He said the Federal Records Act of 2009 “in effect discouraged the use of personal email for official business.”

Clinton was confirmed as secretary of state in January 2009. The Records Act did not prohibit use of personal email accounts, but Blanton said the language is clear. “It says the head of every federal agency — and that’s who she was as secretary of state — is responsible for making sure that records of that agency’s business are saved on agency record systems,” he said.

Blanton said that does not include a server in Clinton’s Chappaqua, N.Y., home.

Clinton also asserted: “For any government employee, it is that government employee’s responsibility to determine what’s personal and what’s work-related.”

Blanton said Clinton did indeed have the right to separate out her personal emails from official records. But had those emails been on a government server, it would have been a more transparent process, he said. “If those emails were in the State Department system, that separation of personal or non-record material from the official stuff would be done by a professional records manager or professional archivist, a civil servant — not an aspiring politician and her lawyers.”

Similar coverage from The Guardian:

How can Clinton believe she didn’t violate any rules?

Clinton also said at the press conference she “fully complied with every rule I was governed by”. Well, actually: a 2005 State Department directive said “It is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized [Automated Information System], which has the proper level of security control to provide nonrepudiation, authentication and encryption, to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information.”

Sources told Politico the rules were “clear-cut”. An ambassador was harshly criticized in 2012 for breaking this rule in the same manner Clinton did and subsequently fired in part for using a private email account at work. And Clinton herself signed a State Department cable in 2011 saying that all ambassadors should avoid personal email for professional business.

This is just a small sample of the criticism of Clinton from the liberal media. Meanwhile from the center, Ron Fournier did a good job of summing up what it is important:

Her rule-breaking and obfuscation force anybody who is not paid by Clinton or blindly loyal to ponder an uncomfortable choice. Clinton either has no idea how much damage she’s doing to her image and her party (which doesn’t speak well of her crisis-management skills) or there is something untoward in those emails.

It would be nice if we could all assume the former: She’s just a lousy candidate, not a liar or a crook. But the vast majority of Americans have no faith in politicians, politics, or government. Most know the Clintons’ history of stonewalling. And to those people, her answer to legitimate questions about government email and the Clinton Foundation is, “Trust me.”

The Washington Post Fact Checker gave Clinton three Pinocchios for her spin on the rules:

By the time Clinton took office, federal expectations for archiving electronic records were clearer than they were under Powell’s tenure. That does not absolve Powell for not being able to locate his records a decade later, or for not turning them over to National Archives back then. But it does mean that Clinton was held to a more definitive standard. Moreover, this common defense among her supporters is used to deflect the central issue: that Clinton exclusively used a personal account, and did not provide records until she was requested to, after she left office. That is the most relevant point, so the Democrats earn Three Pinocchios.

Unless smoking gun comes up, or Clinton botches further controversies as badly as this, most likely she will still win the nomination. This scandal, and other problems such as during her book tour, have raised questions from all sides of the political spectrum as to whether another Democrat can beat Clinton for the nomination. Several writers on the left are suggesting that Clinton needs a primary challenge.  The Weekly Standard has an interesting suggestion from the right:

As reporters and members of Congress begin to dig into the Clinton email scandal, former Democratic presidential candidate has announced an upcoming visit to Iowa. He’ll be in the important caucus state from May 5-7, as part of a training sessions for the Climate Reality Project, of which he’s chairman…

While Gore has not expressed presidential ambitions in some time, some Republicans cannot help but wonder about the timing of the trip.  Especially as the Clinton email scandal begins to grow.

“When it comes to politicians visiting Iowa, I don’t believe in coincidences,” one experienced Republican hand says.

“Al Gore, like Hillary Clinton has spent most of his life in politics. Running for office is something that’s in his blood, and he probably thinks that the waters for a potential bid are getting a little, shall we say, warmer.”

I suspect that it is purely coincidence that this climate meeting is in Iowa this spring, but this is also one of the rare times that I hope that Republicans speculation is right. If Hillary Clinton’s campaign continues to self-destruct, Democrats would benefit from a candidate who is not only well known, but who once even won the popular vote for the presidency. His move to the left while Clinton has moved to the right would, of course, be another big plus from my perspective.

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Question of the Day: Jon Stewart On Lies About Iraq

Jon Stewart

“Never again will Brian Williams mislead this great nation about being shot at in a war we probably wouldn’t have ended up in if the media had applied this level of scrutiny to the actual f**king war.” –Jon Stewart

This again raises the question–if Brian Williams is now being punished for lying about Iraq, what about Bush and Cheney?

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Quote of the Day: Seth Meyers on CNN

Seth Meyers

“CNN is developing a game show to be hosted by Anderson Cooper. It will be just like the other CNN shows except the contestants will make wild guesses instead of the news anchors.” –Seth Meyers

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Jon Stewart Leaving The Daily Show

Jon Stewart

Comedy Central has confirmed reports that Jon Stewart will be leaving The Daily Show by the end of the year when his contract expires.

As with most major news these days, the mainstream media was bypassed, and this was released on Twitter:

There is no news as to what Stewart plans to do next. Considering he plans to be free prior to the first primaries, maybe Stewart plans a last minute challenge to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Or perhaps he will replace Brian Williams at NBC News. It is only fair that Williams be punished for lying about Iraq, but I’m still waiting for Bush and Cheney to receive their punishment.

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John Oliver Exposes Pharmaceutical Marketing

John Oliver and Last Week Tonight returned on HBO last weekend with a biting expose of the pharmaceutical industry (video above). Like Jon Stewart, Oliver’s comedy version of the news is far more revealing than what is seen on most actual news reports. Last Week Tonight also has the advantage of spending more time on a single story than either Jon Stewart or actual news shows.

Oliver pointed how how Americans are addicted to prescription drugs, spending almost $330 billion on them. He suggested that Walter White of Breaking Bad could have made a lot more money cooking up drugs for rheumatoid arthritis instead of meth. He lampooned the efforts of pharmaceutical companies to influence the prescribing habits of physicians, describing their ethics with this comparison:  “Drug companies are a bit like high school boyfriends; they are much more concerned with getting inside you than being effective once they are in there.”

Oliver concluded with a warning about doctors who take large amounts of money from the pharmaceutical industry with a mock public service commercial, Ask Your Doctor:

Here’s how it works. Money combines with the cash receptors in your doctor’s wallet to create fast-acting financial relief, so your doctor can rest easy and enjoy life.

Common side effects of doctors taking money may include chronic overprescription, unusually heavy cash flow, dependency on free samples, inflammation of confidence, affluenza and an increased tendency to suggest off-label prescriptions, which in turn can cause heart attack, stroke, loss of feeling in arms and legs, seizures, blurred vision, grinding of the teeth, temporary deafness, total blindness, numbness, sudden bursts of rage, angry erections lasting over 17 hours, and death.

Ask your doctor today if he’s taking pharmaceutical company money. Then ask your doctor what the money is for. Ask your doctor if he’s taken any money from the companies that make the drugs he’s just prescribed for you. Then ask yourself if you’re satisfied with that answer.

The story was quite accurate. If this was a documentary as opposed to a comedy show my only complaint is that it concentrates on one side of the story in portraying doctors who take money and are susceptible to pharmaceutical sales pitches. Many doctors actually are quite aware of the problem and many do not take any meaningful amount of money from pharmaceutical companies.

For example, Oliver quoted a drug rep as being disturbed when a doctor asked her for advice on treating a patient as she is just a poli-sci major. I often feel the opposite, when pharmaceutical reps act as if they are qualified to give me advice (invariably involving greater use of their drug), knowing how little pharmaceutical or medical background most of them have. While I do accept samples in order to help out patients, which requires me to have some contact with drug reps, I am certainly not going to consider anything they say to be anything other than advertising. One time I even had a drug rep run out of my office crying when I didn’t play long with her sales pitch. We also have not been too welcoming to the rare drug rep who attempts to get back into our sample room in order to put his drugs in front and hide the samples form the competition.

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