Sometimes The Mainstream Media Does Get It Right

Good News On The Affordable Care Act

With all the poor reporting on the Congressional Budget Office report last week, I was disappointed to see that at times this extended to NRP, even if primarily by more conservative-leaning commentators discussing the report. Therefore I was happy to hear a report on Morning Edition today in which Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne immediately started out by setting the record straight:


It’s MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I’m Renee Montagne.


And I’m Steve Inskeep.

Let’s look for the truth behind some much discussed news about the Affordable Care Act. Congressional forecasters said last week that the law may cause fewer people to work full-time jobs.

MONTAGNE: Critics distorted that finding, saying the law was eliminating jobs. In truth, forecasters were mainly saying that people would leave full-time jobs that they had been keeping for the health benefits. ObamaCare makes it possible for more people to buy insurance outside their jobs in the private market.

Among the many errors I heard over the past week was John Prideaux on the Friday News Roundup on the Diane Rehm show both misunderstand that it is a benefit of the Affordable Care Act that people are freed from the “insurance trap” and fail to recognize that this was a goal from the start. He incorrectly stated that this benefit is “certainly not the one that people, you know, stated when they were backing the Affordable Care.” Allowing people the opportunity to leave their current job was promoted by backers of the Affordable Care Act from the beginning. Currently many people are prevented from retiring in their early 60’s in order to keep medical care. Often a spouse will work in a job the couple does not need primarily for the insurance coverage. Being free to leave a job without losing insurance coverage will also enable people to leave larger companies and to work at small companies or start their own business, strengthening the economy. This will even free up jobs to help reduce the unemployment rate.

The bulk of the report from Scott Horsley was on the unusual situation in this country for health insurance to be tied to one’s job, and how the Affordable Care Act will help change this. They also pointed out how the exchanges are working better:

HORSLEY: In other words, what Gruber calls the crumbling building of workplace health insurance may take a long time to come down. In the meantime, a new building – the insurance market set up by the Affordable Care Act – is slowly taking shape and looking a little less rickety than it did early on. As of last month, more than three million people had moved in.

Mother Jones also summarized the good news which came out yesterday on increased enrollment in the Affordable Care Act:

More Americans enrolled in Obamacare plans in January than expected, according to data released Wednesday by the Obama administration. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had expected to sign up 1,059,900 people last month. Instead, about 1.14 million people purchased health plans through the federal and state health insurance exchanges.

This is the first time since the uninsured started buying insurance on the exchanges in October that the administration has beaten a monthly enrollment goal…

There was also a slight uptick in the number of young adults signing up for coverage in January. A quarter of the Americans who have enrolled so far are young people, who tend to be healthier, and who the Obama administration needs to hold down insurance costs. That’s below the 40 percent target, but the trend is moving in the right direction.

The percentage of Americans who are uninsured hit a five-year low this month, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday. Sixteen percent of adults do not have health insurance, the lowest uninsured rate since 2009.

Despite all the negative news from those who dwell on early glitches and process issues, the Affordable Care Act is turning out to be a tremendous success.

Science Friday Lives

The first thing I wondered  upon hearing that NPR is ending Talk of the Nation is whether Science Friday would continue, as it fills TOTN‘s Friday time slot. Earlier articles I read talked about an expanded version of Here and Now taking its place but did not say anything about Fridays. I finally found an article at Politico saying that Science Friday will continue in the Friday time slot. I won’t mind losing TOTN as long as Science Friday remains.

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Yes, Propaganda Does Make A Difference

Howard Krutz calls on Obama and Gore to stop whining about the right wing media:

Now it’s true that Fox or Limbaugh can boost or batter any lawmaker, and that they can help drive a controversy into the broader mainstream media. But we’re talking here about the president of the United States. He has an army, a navy and a bunch of nuclear weapons, not to mention an ability to command the airwaves at a moment’s notice. And he’s complaining about a cable channel and a radio talk-show host?

Sure, ultimately Obama is more powerful when it comes to going to war than Fox is, and Obama was able to win reelection because less than half the country believe the misinformation coming out of Fox and talk radio. That doesn’t alter the fact that having a propaganda network disguised as news does cause a substantial number of people to believe many things which are not true.

How many people vote for Republicans based upon blatantly untrue arguments such as that Republicans support small government or fiscal responsibility? How much more difficulty is it to bring about economic recovery when so many voters are misled by Republican Voodoo Economics? How much harder is it to deal with problems such as Climate Change and health care reform when so many people are fooled by right wing misinformation?

Would we have gone to war in Iraq if not for untrue Republican  propaganda claiming that Saddam threatened us with WMD and was involved in 9/11?  How many votes are affected by falsehoods such as that Barack Obama is a Muslim or a socialist? While Obama did win. would Kerry have won if not for the false claims of the Swift Boat Liars?

How many people are voting for Republicans, against their interests and the interests of the country, based upon fear and hatred instilled by right wing propaganda? Yes, this is not the same as having an army, navy, and nuclear weapons. but that doesn’t mean that the right wing noise machine is not a terrible weapon for evil.

Kurtz argues that “MSNBC can be counted on to defend the Democrats almost around the clock.” First this isn’t entirely true as MSNBC does have conservatives on the network, and MSNBC’s liberals have been known to criticize Obama, not being essentially a part of the party apparatus as Fox is. Beyond this, while MSNBC does frequently correct the misinformation presented by Fox or Rush Limbaugh, this does not reduce the damage caused by the right wing propagandists. Not many fans of Rush Limbaugh turn on MSNBC and change their views once exposed to the facts.

Kurtz has a strange rational for why the right wing media exists:

What liberals sometimes forget is that the conservative media took root because many Americans felt the fourth estate was too left-wing. ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, The New York Times and The Washington Post all strive for fairness, in my view, but there is little question that they have a social and cultural outlook that leans to the left. Collectively, they have far more weight than Fox, talk radio and The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Much of the media (although no longer The Washington Post and broadcast networks) do lean towards the left socially and culturally, meaning they are more likely to  support the values of American liberty and Democracy while opposing the authoritarian mindset of the right. As Kurtz admits, they strive for fairness. How does this provide justification for the right wing in responding with media outlets which intentionally promote falsehoods disguised as news? It is difficult to measure which has more weight, but, as I pointed out above, their comparative influences does not diminish the harm done by the propaganda outlets of the right.

Dumb Inauguration Day Commentary: Obama and Republican Opposition

I am really disappointed in NPR this morning.

During the early Inauguration Day coverage there was naturally talk of how these events include speeches referring to national unity, contrasting that with the degree of division in the country. Ron Elving claimed that many Republicans wanted to work with Obama but they got home and their constituents demanded that they oppose Obama’s policies. The reality is that the Republicans had decided to do everything possible to block Obama’s policies, even meeting to plot this on the day of his first inauguration.

Update: More on Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration

Quote of the Day

“The fight to stop funding PBS is getting ugly. The Republicans are spreading a rumor that Elmo was born in Kenya.”–Andy Borowitz

Quote of the Day

“It turns out that the Republican budget that they submitted for next year slashes funding for the agency that issues tsunami warnings and organizes responses to the tsunami. In their defense, Republicans say that tsunamis are just a theory, they are not a real threat like ACORN, the Black Panthers, NPR, and math teachers in Wisconsin.” –Bill Maher

How NPR Left Itself Open To James OKeefe’s Smear Campaign

In previous posts on the James O’Keefes smear campaign against NPR utilizing dishonestly edited video, I noted how NPR was too quick to give into conservative pressure.Other liberals are getting frustrated with those who refuse to fight back. For example, Atrios wrote:

I’ve really lost interest in defending organizations that are uninterested in defending themselves.

Aside from the dishonesty, O’Keefe’s basic schtick is to exploit the fact that when confronted with crazy assholes, most people rationally humor them.

As I noted previously, NPR presents as balanced a view of the news as we are likely to see anywhere. While it is possible they do hire more liberals than other media outlets, they also have quite a few conservatives working there, and the liberals at NPR (as in most of the media other than MSNBC during prime time) tend to bend over backwards to appease conservatives to avoid any sign of bias. This apparently has included coverage of O’Keefe by NPR. Media Matters points out that in previous coverage of O’Keefe, such as in his use of dishonestly edited video against ACORN, NPR only once gave any indication as to the nature of O’Keefe’s tactics:

Dishonesty is James O’Keefe’s defining trait. If there is anything news organizations should tell their audiences about him, it’s that he’s repeatedly been caught lying and producing misleading videos and transcripts. His whole operation is a sham. That’s all you need to know about James O’Keefe. And yet, NPR’s reporting on O’Keefe consistently failed to make that clear — or even to hint at it. A search of NPR transcripts in the Nexis database finds 10 NPR reports that mentioned O’Keefe prior to the controversy over his NPR video. Only once in these 10 reports is there so much as a hint that O’Keefe had ever behaved dishonestly in presenting the results of his “stings” to the public — a September 23, 2009 interview in which an attorney for ACORN says “The tapes have been edited and rearranged.”

No NPR report available on Nexis that mentions James O’Keefe has included the fact that California’s attorney general said the ACORN tapes were “severely edited by O’Keefe” and constituted a “highly selective editing of reality.” None mentioned a New York Daily News report that a law enforcement source said O’Keefe “edited the tape to meet their agenda.” In several reports, NPR journalists adopted the false claim that O’Keefe had dressed as a pimp; none of the reports indicate that this was not, in fact, true. NPR never got around to telling listeners that O’Keefe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with one of his stunts. And O’Keefe’s bizarre scheme to lure CNN reporter Abbie Boudreau onto a boat under false pretenses, then secretly record her reaction to being confronted in an enclosed, unfamiliar environment by a strange man with handcuffs and sex toys? None of the NPR reports available on Nexis mentioned that.

In short, NPR repeatedly covered O’Keefe, and adopted his (false) claims about what his videos showed. But only a single NPR report available on Nexis contained so much as an allegation that he’d ever been less than honest. NPR’s coverage of O’Keefe helped enhance his stature and credibility. And then he peddled a misleading videotape of an NPR executive, and the media ran with it, badly damaging NPR.

Being objective does not mean to accept statements from liberal and conservative sources as equally valid in cases where the liberal source is being honest and the conservative source is being dishonest. Perhaps if NPR had worried less about this form of false objectivity and really reported the facts about O’Keefe in the past they would  have been in a better position to withstand his dishonest attack upon them.

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Dishonest Editing In NPR Hit Tape Exposed, Surprisingly By Glenn Beck’s Web Site

It comes as no surprise to learn that James O’Keefe video was selectively edited to exaggerate the case against former NPR executive Ron Schiller. After all, dishonest editing is a common right wing  tactic, such as with the ACORN tape. What is surprising is that the first site to expose the falsified editing was Glenn Beck’s site The Blaze.

Among the portions which were edited included those which indicated a connection to the Muslim Brotherhood and editing to falsely suggest that Schiller was amused or approving of the group’s support for Sharia law:

The cadence is jovial and upbeat and the narration moves on.  The implication is that the NPR exec is aware and perhaps amused or approving of the MEAC mission statement. But when you look at the raw video you realize he was actually recounting an unrelated and innocuous issue about confusion over names in the restaurant reservation.

The full tape demonstrates that Schiller’s criticism isn’t of all Republicans but of the extremist elements. The Blaze found that “in the raw video, Schiller also speaks positively about the GOP. He expresses pride in his own Republican heritage and his belief in fiscal conservatism.” Many of the strongest critics of the extremists now in control of the GOP are former Republicans and opposition to the far right does not make one a leftist.

The attack on the Tea Party as racist was also edited:

NPR exec Ron Schiller does describe Tea Party members as “xenophobic…seriously racist people.”

This is one of the reasons why he no longer has a job!

But the clip in the edited video implies Schiller is giving simply his own analysis of the Tea Party. He does do that in part, but the raw video reveals that he is largely recounting the views expressed to him by two top Republicans, one a former ambassador, who admitted to him that they voted for Obama.

Yet more evidence that, even if Schiller’s views were representative of those of NPR, this is the view of Republicans who are opposed to the radical right taking control of the GOP and not of liberals. Undoubtedly these portions were left out of the initial release as this moderate conservative view from NPR doe snot fit the far right narrative that NPR is biased towards the left.

David Weigel discussed this point and provided another example:

Hypothetical time. Let’s say I’m interviewing a senator, and he said: “I was talking the other day to a businessman, who said he can’t support Obama anymore because he’s clearly a communist.” What if I wrote:

“He’s clearly a communist,” said the senator, referring to Obama.

That would be a lie — the senator didn’t say that, he quoted someone who said it.

Review of the full tape supports my argument that NPR was foolish to force people out of the organization based upon the initial reports. The full tape provided quite a different story from what James O’Keefe originally released. Once again, for the benefit of any conservatives who might think that this is just some sort of liberal cover up, the exposure of O’Keefe’s dishonest tactics came from Glenn Beck’s web site.

NPR Once Again Gives In To Conservative Pressure

Following yesterday’s controversy in which a former NPR executive responsible for fund raising, with no connection to news or editorial policy of the network, was caught on tape stating the truth, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller has been made the sacrificial lamb. In addition, Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian Schiller), who made the comments about the right wing and Tea Party, and had previously taken a job elsewhere, has been placed on administrative leave for his limited time remaining at NPR.

There has been considerable talk about the controversy–much of it in NPR blogs and on NPR shows. For example, Diane Rehm devoted an hour to the controversy. While we naturally expect higher standards from an objective media outlet such as NPR than from Fox, compare this to what occurs at Fox whenever someone there demonstrates conservative bias. Have we ever seen Fox devote time or web space to an honest discussion of  what “fair and balanced” really means? Has Fox ever fired an executive for displaying conservative bias? Has Fox ever reacted the numerous times when an anchor on a news show has slipped and referred to the Republican Party as their side?

NPR’s news reporting is high quality and unbiased–far better than any other broadcast or cable news reporting available. While it is probably true that they employ more liberals than conservatives, the liberals there generally bend over backwards to be fair, often giving conservatives an edge there. The controversial, but mostly true, comments from Ron Schilling are certainly not reflected in the shows they air.

Whether the reactionary and xenophobic views of the right wing should be discussed more on air is open to debate. On the one hand a news outfit should not be openly favorable to one party over the other (as Fox is to the Republicans). On the other hand, the extreme right wing movement which has taken control of the Republican Party does represent a serious threat to American liberty which should not be ignored. The right wing pushes its agenda by spreading misinformation to counter actual facts. Objectivity does not necessarily mean to accept the statements of each side as equally valid when one is being honest and the other is spreading untrue propaganda.

Hostility towards the extreme right wing which has taken control of the Republican Party is not the same as openly opposing formerly mainstream Republican beliefs. Many former conservatives have rejected this extremism. In his later years Barry Goldwater rejected the influence of the religious right on the Republican Party and referred to himself as a liberal. Despite the frequency with which his name is brought up, it is also doubtful that Ronald Reagan would be happy with the current direction of his party.

While NPR does an excellent job in presenting news, they have been rather awkward when it has come to firing people. Juan Williams should not have been employed as a news analyst at NPR but he also should not have been fired based upon the specific remarks which led to his dismissal.

The CEO of NPR is inevitably going to be faced with political controversy when faced with a right wing movement which is hostile to objective news and the First Amendment. Handling controversy is a necessary skill of the CEO and perhaps they ultimately need someone better than Vivian Schiller to handle this position. However to force her out today is a foolish act of capitulation to the authoritarian right. This will do nothing to reduce conservative attacks on either NPR or the free press, and more likely will only act to encourage them.