Donald Trump Versus Freedom Of The Press

Donald Trump got off to what might be the worst first month of a presidency since William Henry Harrison (who died after his first month in office). While  the apparently impotent White House chief of staff Reince Priebus denies it is a reset, The Washington Post reports that Trump attempts a reset with a rally, new staff and a renewed fight with the media. Regardless of whether it is part of a reset, Donald Trump appears to be further escalating his war on the media. This includes some of his latest Tweets, such as this one proclaiming the media to be “the enemy of the American People.”

Balloon Juice responded to the Tweet in asking if Trump is “a paranoid, unhinged demagogue who doesn’t understand the role of the press in a free society.”

The news media, broadcast more than press, does have serious problems, but we must not confuse legitimate criticism of the media with opposition to the free press, or ignore the importance of the role of the press in a free society. Just look at Donald Trump’s Twitter account, or watch his last press conference. Imagine if there was no free press, and this was our main source of information. Look at the media in totalitarian societies. With all failings of the news media, their reporting is far more representative of reality than what we would get from Trump. As John McCain warned, “That’s how dictators get started.”

CHUCK TODD: I’m curious of your reaction to a tweet that the president sent Friday night. “The fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people.” You believe the press is the enemy? You believe any group of Americans are the enemy of another group of Americans?

JOHN MCCAIN: I was talking about the period as, you know, of the new world order. A fundamental part of that new world order was a free press. I hate the press. I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve – I’m very serious now – if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.

CHUCK TODD: That’s how dictators get started, with tweets like that?

JOHN MCCAIN: No. They get started by suppressing free press. In other words, a consolidation of power when you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.

Daniel Politi put this in further historical perspective at Slate:

Trump blasting the news media is nothing new, of course. Even a day earlier, Trump uttered the phrase “fake news” seven times during a White House news conference. Yet labeling the media the “enemy of the American people” seemed to take things to a new level and many quickly drew parallels to tyrants throughout history that were fond of the phrase. Although it harkens back to ancient Rome, many remember that the phrase was used during the purges ordered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. “It is one of the most controversial phrases in Soviet history,” explained Mitchell Orenstein, professor of Russian and East European studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “What it basically meant was a death sentence.”

The expression was also a favorite of China’s Mao Zedong, who used the “enemies of the people” label against anyone who opposed his policies. Identifying and later punishing those enemies was central to Mao’s rule. A Chinese journalist, Li Yuan, pointed out the parallel on Twitter, noting that “every dissenting voice was ‘the enemy of the people’ under Mao.”

Beijing seems to be welcoming this fresh attack on the news media with glee. China’s state-run newspaper Global Times noted in an editorial that Trump’s “war with mainstream media” would make it difficult for the president to challenge Beijing on “ideological” issues such as human rights. “His war with mainstream media makes it difficult for Trump to ally with the media on [the] ideological front against China,” the newspaper said. “Many have predicted that Trump’s presidency would exacerbate the recession of liberalism.”

Presumably we will also hear some Democrats speaking out against Trump, but far too often they give the impression of opposing Trump more based upon opposition politics and not principles. The Democratic Party has put itself in a poor position to defend civil liberties after nominating someone with as conservative a record on First Amendment issues as Hillary Clinton in 2016. (The nomination of Clinton similarly weakens the position of Democrats on foreign policy and matters of government corruption.)

While written before his latest attack on the media, Jonathan Rauch looked at comparable problems under Richard Nixon and George Bush when writing Containing Trump for the The Atlantic:

The 45th president, Donald Trump, might pose the gravest threat to the constitutional order since the 37th. Of course, he might not. Perhaps we’ll get Grown-up Trump, an unorthodox and controversial president who, whatever one may think of his policies and personality, proves to be responsible and effective as a chief executive. But we might get Infantile Trump, an undisciplined narcissist who throws tantrums and governs haphazardly. Or perhaps, worse yet, we’ll get Strongman Trump, who turns out to have been telegraphing his real intentions when, during the campaign, he spread innuendo and misinformation, winked at political violence, and proposed multiple violations of the Constitution and basic decency. Quite probably we’ll get some combination of all three (and possibly others).

If we get Strongman Trump or Infantile Trump, how would we protect our democratic institutions and norms? “Don’t be complacent,” warns Timothy Naftali, a New York University historian who was the founding director of the Nixon presidential library. “Don’t assume the system is so strong that a bad president will be sent packing. We have someone now saying things that imply unconstitutional impulses. If he acts on those impulses, we’re going to be in the political struggle of our lifetimes.” Meeting that challenge, I think, hinges on whether civil society can mobilize to contain and channel Trump. Fortunately, that’s happening already.

It’s tempting to think of Trump as a fluke, and to believe that at the end of his administration everything will return to normal. Many people hold a darker view, though—among them Yascha Mounk, the co-founder of a new watchdog group called After Trump. A lecturer on government at Harvard and a fellow at the New America Foundation, Mounk thinks the stakes are high. “Most people,” he told me, “are thinking about Trump as a policy problem: how he will lead to the deportation of undocumented immigrants or lead the U.S. to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. But I think Trump is also potentially an authoritarian threat to the survival of liberal democracy.”

The bad news is that we are not seeing any signs of this fictional Grown-up Trump. The good news is that resistance is already mounting to Strongman Trump and Infantile Trump:

“Civil society had a huge and unprecedented impact during the Bush administration,” Goldsmith told me. The networks that constrained Bush are still there, and Trump has put them on red alert. “Every single thing he does will be scrutinized with an uncharitable eye,” Goldsmith said. “That’s true of most presidents, but it’s true to an even greater degree with Trump.”

The forces are already mobilizing. In the first five days after the election, the American Civil Liberties Union saw what it called the greatest outpouring of support in its history: more than $7 million from 120,000 contributors, a 25 percent increase in Facebook followers (to nearly 1 million), and 150,000 additions to its email list. By early January, the ACLU had raised an impressive $35 million online, from almost 400,000 contributors. Meanwhile, according to Politico, progressive donors were discussing “forming a liberal equivalent to the right’s Judicial Watch, which spent much of the past eight years as a thorn in the Obama administration’s side, filing legal petitions under the Freedom of Information Act.”

I have seen evidence of mobilization firsthand. Just days after the election, a friend told me that he and others were organizing a network of law firms willing to provide pro bono legal services to people fending off harassment or bullying by the new administration or its allies. Before November was out, the Niskanen Center, a center-right think tank in Washington, announced a project to bring together intellectuals and activists and politicians (especially Republicans) to make the case for liberal democracy, hold the line against incursions, and try to prevent Trump’s excesses from being normalized. “It’s important for people coming from the center and center-right to resist the forces and ideas coming out of the Donald Trump campaign,” Jerry Taylor, the center’s director, told me. “We’ll be keeping a very close eye on administration undertakings and events on Capitol Hill, and when things cross the line we will be energetically pushing back.”

Update: Trump Continues To Receive Criticism For His Attacks On The News Media

Political Polarization–How The Left and Right Follow Different Sources For News

The Pew Research Center has released a study on Political Polarization and Media Habits. Most of their findings, summarized below, are as would be predicted:

Overall, the study finds that consistent conservatives:

  • Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics.
  • Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, fully 88% of consistent conservatives trust Fox News.
  • Are, when on Facebook, more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views.
  • Are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds (66%) say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.

By contrast, those with consistently liberal views:

  • Are less unified in their media loyalty; they rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some – like NPR and the New York Times– that others use far less.
  • Express more trust than distrust of 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.
  • Are more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network – as well as to end a personal friendship – because of politics.
  • Are more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.

It certainly comes as no surprise that conservatives are likely to follow Fox, which essentially means they are receiving the talking points of the Republican Party, with little regard for facts. While only 47 percent specifically cite Fox, I often find that conservatives are reciting the exact same talking points even if they deny watching Fox. Most likely they are following other conservative media which repeats the exact same message.

It also is no surprise that liberals are more interested in finding objective information and turn to a variety of sources such as NPR and The New York Times. Conservatives distrust media which doesn’t echo their viewpoints (even though, as Stephen Colbert has explained, “reality has a well-known liberal bias”). It is also not surprising that, while conservatives follow outlets with more overt political propaganda, liberals do not show as high an interest in MSNBC, and paid even less attention to Air America before it went out of business. This is not to say they are a mirror of Fox. MSNBC is far more factual when presenting liberal views. The point is that liberals are much more likley to seek an objective news source as opposed to listening to opinion.

When media outlets are examined by the ideology of viewers and readers, MSNBC’s audience is barely more liberal than the audience for CNN and the broadcast networks. Conservative outlets such as Politico and The Economist have a more liberal following than MSNBC. This might be because, while we generally think of MSNBC’s liberal evening shows, the network carries more objective news during the day. In the morning it runs a show hosted by conservative Joe Scarborough and, until he moved to Meet The Press, Scarborough was followed by another conservative, Chuck Todd. MSNBC’s overall audience is presumably different from their evening audience.

Buzzfeed is the least trusted source, but I suspect that this is because of not being well-known, or perhaps not being taken as seriously, as opposed to an ideological divide. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck follow as the least trusted, and Ed Schultz’s show is the least trusted liberal program.

As the Republican Party is now an ideological conservative party, it is also expected that conservatives are more likely than liberals to follow a political party. The authoritarian mind set which is common on the right might also make them more likely to follow a party, although conservatives have never been shy about complaining when they think the GOP is not conservative enough. Lacking a consistent liberal party in this country, it is expected that liberals are more likely to follow issues as opposed to the Democratic Party.

Initially I was surprised to see that liberals are more likely to defriend based upon ideology, but it makes sense as I think about my own experiences. I have some conservative Facebook friends who I have no reason to consider defriending, but have defriended other conservatives (along with some on the left). While I have certainly run into some on the left who are every bit as obnoxious as those on the right, ideologues on the right are often more likely to attempt to spread their views with a religious fervor. Arguments coming from the right are less likely to rely on facts or logical arguments, and much more likely to resort to insults.

This difference extends to the real world. While I have never ended a true friendship over politics, there are neighbors who I could never be friends with due to politics. I certainly have no use personally for those neighbors who have told my wife that she would go to Hell for having a Kerry sign in our front yard, or who have harassed my daughter in parking lots due to the Darwin Fish sticker on her car. While the experience of others might differ, I don’t see this type of fanaticism from liberals.

Republicans Prefer Out of Context Quotes Over Serious Middle East Discussion

Republicans, lacking any actual coherent policy arguments, love to dwell on taking comments from Democrats out of context, often distorting what was said. They made such an distorted quote the centerpiece of their last national convention. We are bound to hear another out of context quote over and over from Republicans. In response to a question from Chuck Todd, Obama explained why it is premature to take a plan to Congress before specific military targets are determined and arranging a regional coalition to fight ISIS. Republicans are ignoring the substance of what Obama said and taking a few unfortunate words out of context: “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

Follow up discussion by Chuck Todd on  The Daily Rundown this morning (his last as host before taking over at Meet the Press), placed this in context. Todd and Andrea Mitchell were supportive about Obama’s transparency on the issue and consideration of the ramifications of military intervention (video above). It was good to see a news report provide the full context. The failure of other news outlets to do the same has placed the Obama administration in damage-control mode.

Steve Benen has a a good take on this “gaffe”

To see deliberate thought and planning as the object of criticism is a mistake – delaying military intervention in the Middle East until a firm strategy is in place is a positive, not a negative.

It’s a feature of the president’s foreign policy, not a bug.

Much of the media seems stunned by the process: “You mean, Obama intends to think this through and then decide whether to pursue military options in Syria?” Why, yes, actually he does. The question isn’t why Obama has adopted such an approach; the question is why so many are outraged by it.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” without context, lends itself to breathless Beltway chatter. To accommodate the political world’s predispositions, maybe the president should have added the rest of the thought: “We don’t have a strategy yet for possible U.S. military intervention in Syria, which may require congressional approval.”

But that’s effectively all that he said. There is no great “gaffe” here.

If only George Bush had taken the time to develop a comprehensive strategy before going into Iraq.

Peter Beinhart pointed out that Obama does actually have a strategy in the middle east:

President Obama’s critics often claim he doesn’t have a strategy in the greater Middle East. That’s wrong. Like it or loathe it, he does, and he’s beginning to implement it against ISIS. To understand what it is, it’s worth going back seven summers.

In July 2007, at a debate sponsored by CNN and YouTube, Obama said that if elected president, he’d talk directly to the leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela. Hillary Clinton derided his answer as “irresponsible and frankly naïve.” The altercation fit the larger narrative the media had developed about the two Democratic frontrunners: Obama—who had opposed the Iraq War—was the dove. Hillary—who had supported it—was the hawk.

But less than a week later, a different foreign-policy tussle broke out. Obama said he’d send the U.S. military into Pakistan, against its government’s wishes, to kill members of al-Qaeda. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act,” he vowed, “we will.” Suddenly, Obama was the hawk and Clinton was the dove. “He basically threatened to bomb Pakistan,” she declared in early 2008, “which I don’t think was a particularly wise position to take.”

So was Obama more dovish than Clinton or more hawkish? The answer is both. On the one hand, Obama has shown a deep reluctance to use military force to try to solve Middle Eastern problems that don’t directly threaten American lives. He’s proved more open to a diplomatic compromise over Iran’s nuclear program than many on Capitol Hill because he’s more reticent about going to war with Tehran. He’s been reluctant to arm Syria’s rebels or bomb Basher al-Assad because he doesn’t want to get sucked into that country’s civil war. After initially giving David Petraeus and company the yellow light to pursue an expanded counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, he’s wound down America’s ground war against the Taliban. Even on Libya, he proved more reluctant to intervene than the leaders of Britain and France.

On the other hand, he’s proven ferocious about using military force to kill suspected terrorists. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, he’s basically adopted the policy Joe Biden proposed at the start of his administration: Don’t focus on fighting the Taliban on the ground, since they don’t really threaten the United States. Just bomb the hell out al-Qaeda from the air. Compared with George W. Bush, he’s dramatically expanded drone strikes, even though they’re unilateral, legally dubious, and morally disturbing. And, as promised, he sent special forces to kill Osama bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission, even though his vice president and secretary of defense feared the risks were too high.

When it comes to the Middle East, in other words, Obama is neither a dove nor a hawk. He’s a fierce minimalist. George W. Bush defined the War on Terror so broadly that in anti-terrorism’s name he spent vast quantities of blood and treasure fighting people who had no capacity or desire to attack the United States. Hillary Clinton and John McCain may not use the “War on Terror” framework anymore, but they’re still more willing to sell arms, dispatch troops, and drop bombs to achieve goals that aren’t directly connected to preventing another 9/11. By contrast, Obama’s strategy—whether you like it or not—is more clearly defined. Hundreds of thousands can die in Syria; the Taliban can menace and destabilize Afghanistan; Iran can move closer to getting a bomb. No matter. With rare exceptions, Obama only unsheathes his sword against people he thinks might kill American civilians.

Understanding Obama’s fierce minimalism helps explain the evolution of his policy toward Syria and Iraq. For years, hawks pushed him to bomb Assad and arm Syria’s rebels. They also urged him to keep more U.S. troops in Iraq to stabilize the country and maintain American leverage there. Obama refused because these efforts—which would have cost money and incurred risks—weren’t directly aimed at fighting terrorism. But now that ISIS has developed a safe haven in Iraq and Syria, amassed lots of weapons and money, killed an American journalist, recruited Westerners, and threatened terrorism against the United States, Obama’s gone from dove to hawk. He’s launched air strikes in Iraq and may expand them to Syria. As the Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis has noted, the Obama administration is also trying to strengthen regional actors who may be able to weaken ISIS. But the administration is doing all this to prevent ISIS from killing Americans, not to put Syria back together again. Yes, there’s a humanitarian overlay to Obama’s anti-ISIS campaign: He’s authorized air strikes to save Yazidis at risk of slaughter. But the core of his military effort in Iraq and Syria, and throughout the greater Middle East, is narrow but aggressive anti-terrorism…

Chuck Todd to Replace David Gregory As Host of Meet the Press

chuck-todd

While I might not always agree with Chuck Todd, I stick with what I wrote back in 2009 that Todd was the best choice to replace Tim Russert as host of Meet the Press. The only surprising thing about today’s news that Todd will be taking over is why it took NBC so long to replace David Gregory. Todd’s enthusiasm for the game of politics, and depth of knowledge of the field, make up for the times in which I have been unhappy with what he has said.

Chuck Todd, a political obsessive and rabid sports fan, is the likely successor to David Gregory as moderator of “Meet the Press,” with the change expected to be announced in coming weeks, according to top political sources. The move is an effort by NBC News President Deborah Turness to restore passion and insider cred to a network treasure that has been adrift since the death in 2008 of the irreplaceable Tim Russert. Although Todd is not a classic television performer guaranteed to wow focus groups, his NBC bosses have been impressed by his love of the game, which brings with it authenticity, sources, and a loyal following among newsmakers and political junkies.

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With Web Site Working, Democrats Can Concentrate More On Promoting Benefits of Affordable Care Act

There are mixed reports, but overall it sounds like healthcare.gov is working. The administration rushed to be able to show improvements by December 1 and concentrated on the front end–the experience of consumers shopping for insurance. The back end, or information sent on to insurance companies, still needs more work, and this is where most of the reports of continued problems are coming from.

On Monday most of the reports I heard were from either Obama administration sources discussing successes or from Republicans who were claiming defeat, reading from a script which could have been written a couple of weeks ago without regard for the changing facts. Therefore it was good to see more objective sources begin to weigh in. For example, Consumer Reports, which was critical of the early faults, now gives a favorable review to the site, at least on the front end:

After advising consumers to steer clear of Healthcare.gov in October, Consumer Reports health care expert Nancy Metcalf told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd Tuesday morning that the federal health care exchange website was improved enough following the Obama administration’s frantic month of repairs that users could confidently use it.

Consumer Reports had earlier told its readers not to even bother with the website through the first month, a provisional verdict it later said had been misrepresented.

“Now we’re saying, ‘it’s time,’” Metcalf said, in particular praising the new window-shopping function, in which users can peruse health plans without registering with the site. The requirement to make an account before viewing options was considered one of the main causes for the site’s initial traffic bottleneck. “It’s terrific, I’ve tried it, it was working yesterday through the busiest times,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf stopped short of saying the website was fixed, noting that she was endorsing using it in the context of the short window customers have to access the site, and, more importantly, the subsidies available through it, in order to purchase insurance that takes effect on January 1. Metcalf warned that consumers had no control over the back-end problems, which are giving inaccurate information to insurance providers, and said that if you enroll through Healthcare.gov and don’t hear from your new provider within a week, your best bet is to contact the insurer directly.

Personally I plan to circumvent the back-end problems, which most likely will be fixed, by purchasing directly from the insurance company’s web site–which is another possibility. (This might not be possible for those also applying for subsidies.) One of the mistakes made in the roll out of the Affordable Care Act was to put such a heavy emphasis on purchasing through the government web site. In retrospect it would have made more sense to promote the site as just one of several ways to purchase insurance, especially in red states which failed to create state exchanges. I did find healthcare.gov to be of value, even in October, as a means of comparing what is available.

Many things about the Affordable Care Act are far from perfect. What is important is not a comparison to a perfect system but to compare the benefits of the Affordable Care Act to the problems with health care coverage in the past. The Affordable Care Act has been highly successful when considered on that basis. The Obama administration and Congressional Democrats are now starting to concentrate on selling the Affordable Care Act based upon its benefits. Politico reports:

President Barack Obama will launch a coordinated campaign Tuesday by the White House, congressional Democrats and their outside allies to return attention to why the Affordable Care Act passed in the first place.

After two months of intense coverage of the botched HealthCare.gov rollout, the president will host a White House event kicking off a three-week drive to refocus the public on the law’s benefits, senior administration officials told POLITICO.

The White House will take the lead in emphasizing a different benefit each day until the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for Jan. 1 coverage. The daily message will be amplified through press events and social media by Democratic members of Congress, the Democratic National Committee, congressional campaign committees and advocacy organizations, officials said.

These are the important arguments, and the benefits will undermine any further Republican attempts at repealing Obamacare:

“The consequences of Republican repeal are exactly the case that we need to be making — because Republican repeal would take us backward to a broken system that hurts too many Americans — like forcing millions of seniors to pay $1,200 more for their prescription drugs,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Every poll tells us that when we make that case, voters choose Democrats.”

On Wednesday, the White House and Democratic allies will focus on how Americans are paying less for preventative care under Obamacare. On Thursday, they’ll highlight that people with preexisting conditions can no longer be charged more or denied coverage. And on Friday, they’ll emphasize the slowing growth in health care costs.

 

Republicans Unable To Shift Blame For Their Recklessness

The Republicans have once again shown that they are incapable of governing responsibly by giving into the Tea Party extremists and bringing about the shutdown. They further show their lack of integrity by trying to place the blame for their actions on Barack Obama and the Democrats. This shut down is 100 percent the fault of the Republicans. There is no blame to share. The Republicans have no business trying to hold the Affordable Care Act hostage in these negotiations. Obama is right that “This perpetual cycle of brinksmanship and crisis has to end once and for all.”

The Republicans are having difficulty so far in placing the blame for their actions on others, fooling only right wing ideologues and sheep. While flipping through the channels after midnight last night I noticed Chuck Todd questioning the Republican line. If the Republicans lost Chuck Todd, this hopefully means that they will lose many in the mainstream media who practice the false objectivity of artificially placing the truth half-way between the claims of each party.

The Republicans are not fooling the American people, with a new Quinnipiac poll showing the Democrats leading the Republicans in a generic Congressional poll by 43 percent to 34 percent. We can’t read too much into a margin which will probably drop after the current crisis ends, but such a wide margin could mean that the Republicans really are risking control of the House. The Republicans have a built-in advantage in the House as Democrats tend to be more highly concentrated in urban districts. Gerrymandering after the 2010 election further strengthened the Republicans. After the 2012 elections, when more people voted for Democrats for Congress than Republicans,  Think Progress calculated that it would take over a seven point lead by Democrats to take control of the House.  That sounds quite difficult, but if the Republicans continue to act this recklessly a wave election which changes control of the House no longer looks impossible.

Wrong Chuck Todd: Journalists Should Report The Facts, Not Just Repeat Right Wing Propaganda

Republicans have built a massive media operation based upon spreading false information, knowing that the news media will do little to challenge their lies. Chuck Todd demonstrated how poor the mainstream media has become at reporting news when discussing the false information being spread by Republicans about the Affordable Care Act.

“But more importantly, it would be stuff that Republicans have successfully messaged against it,” Todd told Rendell. “They don’t repeat the other stuff because they haven’t even heard the Democratic message. What I always love is people say, ‘Well, it’s you folks’ fault in the media.’ No, it’s the President of the United States’ fault for not selling it.”

As a result we have the remarkable situation where a majority of people, including Republicans, support the actual components of the Affordable Care Act when polled, but also say they oppose the Affordable Care Act. Not surprisingly, Republicans are more likely to oppose  ObamaCare, when polled under that name, than the Affordable Care Act.

The problem is not that the President of the United States is not selling the Affordable Care Act but that the media covers both true and false statements, and prefers more sensationalist claims. Obama is putting out factual information about the Affordable Care Act. The media quotes Republicans who just make things up, and their attacks make for better sounding news bites. At very least a true journalist should counter the Republican claims with the actual facts as to what is in the law, but they rarely bother to do so. Apparently it is because too many journalists think like Chuck Todd and don’t believe it is their job to provide such information.

Simply quoting what conservatives say without reporting the actual facts is not reporting the news. This is true with regards to the Affordable Care Act as well as with a wide range of issues. Republicans have found that they can say whatever they want, regardless of the facts, as the news media will simply report what they say.

Shorter Sarah Palin on Hannity And A Rational Conservative Response

Sarah (Reload) Palin’s appearance on Sean Hannity did nothing to satisfy those of us who remained shocked by the recent shootings in Tucson, along with many other acts of politically-motivated violence. Here’s Shorter Palin on Hannity:

“I will continue to speak out to promote hatred and division. I stand by my anti-Semitic slur. I was the real victim. My words never cause harm; words critical of me do.”

That, of course, was not Palin’s actual words, but is the message she conveyed to those beyond the fringe element who supports her. Most conservatives are unable or unwilling to understand what liberals have been saying in the aftermath of the shootings. Rather than responding to what we are saying, they falsely claim that liberals are placing the blame for the shooting on Palin and then respond to this instead of what is actually being said.

One exception is Joe Scarborough who has this message for conservatives:

We get it, Sarah Palin. You’re not morally culpable for the tragic shooting in Tucson, Ariz. All of us around the “Morning Joe” table agree, even if we were stunned that you would whine about yourself on Facebook as a shattered family prepared to bury their 9-year-old girl.

The same goes for you, Glenn Beck. You’ve attacked your political opponents with words designed to inspire hatred and mind-bending conspiracy theories from fans. Calling the president a racist, Marxist and fascist may be reprehensible, but it did not lead a mentally disturbed man to take a Glock to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s “Congress on Your Corner” event.

Good on ya, buddy. You weren’t personally responsible for the slaughter at the Safeway. Maybe you can put it on a poster at the next “Talkers” convention.

But before you and the pack of right-wing polemicists who make big bucks spewing rage on a daily basis congratulate yourselves for not being responsible for Jared Lee Loughner’s rampage, I recommend taking a deep breath. Just because the dots between violent rhetoric and violent actions don’t connect in this case doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore the possibility — or, as many fear, the inevitability — that someone else will soon draw the line between them.

Actually, someone already has. When you get a minute, Google “Byron Williams” and “Tides Foundation” to see just how thin a layer of ice Beck skates on every day…

Who, other than Palin’s most strident supporters, was not troubled by the bull’s-eye target over Giffords’s district? Or the political advertisement promoting the removal of Giffords from office with the firing of a “fully automatic M16” with her opponent? Or the gunned-down congresswoman’s own warning to NBC’s Chuck Todd that violent words have consequences?

And who on the right is really stupid enough to not understand that the political movement that has a near monopoly on gun imagery may be the first focus of an act associated with gun violence? As a conservative who had a 100 percent rating with the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America over my four terms in Congress, I wonder why some on the right can’t defend the Second Amendment without acting like jackasses. While these types regularly attack my calls for civility, it is their reckless rhetoric that does the most to hurt the cause.

Which brings us back to Palin and the GOP’s field of 2012 candidates.

In Palin’s Facebook manifesto last Wednesday, she didn’t condemn extreme speech and its potential for violence. Instead, she seemed to say, “Deal with it.” Then she proved it, ineptly and offensively naming herself the victim of a “blood libel,” which generations of persecuted Jews know carries connotations much more serious than a drop in the polls.

We know Palin won’t call out irresponsible language or lead the discussion back to civility, but who will?

Where was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who covets the moral authority to lead his party in 2012? Is there anything — anything at all — a member of his own party can say that offends this man?

Or former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who refused to call out his state’s best-known congresswoman, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, for saying that the best way to oppose energy legislation is to be “armed and dangerous.”

Or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich? Oh, wait. Never mind.

From their defensive crouch, these candidates are clearly scared to do the right thing by calling out reckless rhetoric.

The Relationship Between Obama And The Press

This story should be filed under generally true but not very significant criticism of Barack Obama. While there has often been the impression that Obama receives favored coverage from the press, there has actually been some friction. Even during the presidential campaign many noticed that Obama was somewhat distant from the press and the campaign was working hard to control the message.

Politco ran a story whining about this today as they noted most reporters prefer to keep this off the record because they “worry about appearing whiny.” They write:

Obama and the media actually have a surprisingly hostile relationship — as contentious on a day-to-day basis as any between press and president in the past decade, reporters who cover the White House say.

Reporters say the White House is thin-skinned, controlling, eager to go over their heads and stingy with even basic information. All White Houses try to control the message. But this White House has pledged to be more open than its predecessors, and reporters feel it doesn’t live up to that pledge in several key areas:

— Day-to-day interaction with Obama is almost nonexistent, and he talks to the press corps far less often than Bill Clinton or even George W. Bush did. Clinton took questions nearly every weekday, on average. Obama barely does it once a week.

— The ferocity of pushback is intense. A routine press query can draw a string of vitriolic e-mails. A negative story can draw a profane high-decibel phone call or worse. Some reporters feel like they’ve been frozen out after crossing the White House.

— Except toward a few reporters, press secretary Robert Gibbs can be distant and difficult to reach — even though his job is to be one of the main conduits from president to press. “It’s an odd White House where it’s easier to get the White House chief of staff on the phone than the White House press secretary,” one top reporter said.

— And at the very moment many reporters feel shut out, one paper — The New York Times — enjoys a favoritism from Obama and his staff that makes competitors fume, with gift-wrapped scoops and loads of presidential face time.

The attempts to control the issues are also understandable considering how much the right wing noise machine distorts the truth. Yes, ideally we would have a White House which is totally open with the press. However, considering how poorly the media (including Politico) often does in covering the issues, this attitude is understandable.

The report notes, “this attitude, many believe, starts with the man at the top. Obama rarely lets a chance go by to make a critical or sarcastic comment about the press, its superficiality or its short-term mentality.” I certainly have to agree with Obama here. I have also read elsewhere that Obama is often very sarcastic but keeps such remarks private, recognizing that his sarcasm might not always come off well publicly. While I don’t always agree with him, I tend to like what appears to be the real Obama as opposed to the Messiah image which some detractors believe is what attracts supporters.

The complaints against the White House might also be summarized in this item from the article:

The New York Times’ Peter Baker, who reported on the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations for the Washington Post, said that the Obama administration is “in some ways … more transparent,” but in other ways, “they’re just like every other White House.”

In some ways they are transparent and in some ways they are not. In some ways they are just like every other White House and in some ways they have changed things. Somehow none of this is terribly shocking, or different from what I anticipated.

Some of the problems might just come from the learning curve as White House staffers must figure out the best way to deal with the press. They must balance openness with trying to get out a message which is not totally distorted by the media. While, as I noted above, I heard these same complaints during the campaign, Chuck Todd believes that the Obama people have become more open since taking office.

“So far, I actually feel like the Obama White House is treating the press with more respect than the campaign,” Todd said, adding that it was a “myth” that the Obama campaign and traveling press corps had a great relationship. “There’s more access to these guys, weirdly enough, than during the campaign.”

Those who thought Obama was going to totally change everything bad about Washington overnight will be disappointed. Those who understand the real world will hardly be shocked by any of this.

Protest Sign at Obama Town Hall: Beware of “Rashing Care”

Chuck Todd had a live Twitter feed of Obama’s town hall. Among the more interesting tweets:

Obama: “95% of you got a tax cut” because of Harry Reid. 1M people in NV; Most direct I’ve heard yet from Obama on his ’09 tax cuts.

Just got to Henderson, NV, Obama town hall site. One anti-Obama spectator is protesting #hcr, worried about “rashing care.”