Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Morning Media: Giant Squid Attacks

TPM: CNN Prez to Lou Dobbs: Drop Birther Story

CNN President Jon Klein wrote an email last night to "Lou Dobbs Tonight" staffers telling them the Obama birth certificate story is "dead," TVNewser reports.

"It seems this story is dead," Klein wrote, "because anyone who still is not convinced doesn't really have a legitimate beef."

He sent the email just before Lou Dobbs went on the air. He included information CNN's political researchers had gotten from the Hawaii Health Department -- information which "seems to definitively answer the question."

"Since the show's mission is for Lou to be the explainer and enlightener, he should be sure to cite this during your segment tonite," Klein wrote.

This is what he sent:

*In 2001 - the state of Hawaii Health Department went paperless.*Paper documents were discarded*The official record of Obama's birth is now an official ELECTRONIC record Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the Health Department told the Honolulu Star Bulletin, "At that time, all information for births from 1908 (on) was put into electronic files for consistent reporting," she said.

This is what Dobbs then said during his show:

The state of Hawaii says it can't release a paper copy of the president's original birth certificate because they say the state government discarded the original document when the health department records went electronic some eight years ago. That explanation, however, has not satisfied some critics.

He then continued with a segment about the birth certificate.

Dobbs, who's said he believes the president was born in the U.S., has nonetheless given airtime (and a measure of validity) to "birthers," people who question Obama's right to be president and argue that he's hiding his real birth certificate.

Late Update: In an interview today with Greg Sargent, Klein said CNN wouldn't take action against Dobbs if he continues pursuing the birther story, saying it's "his editorial decision to make."

When pressed about the fact that CNN has debunked the birthers' argument, Klein said, "We respect our viewers enough to present them the facts and let them make up their own minds."

  • Steve Benen adds:

    The CNN president said he wants to let viewers "make up their own minds."

    I'm not sure how this qualifies as "journalism." The "phenomenon ... won't go away" because clowns like Dobbs keep telling viewers there this is a legitimate subject of discussion. It's not. There's nothing wrong with letting viewer make up their own minds about subjective political controversies, but CNN is giving its audience mixed messages -- reports saying the case is closed, coupled with reports saying there are lingering questions.

    A responsible outlet is supposed to report the truth, not present viewers with contradictory messages, leaving them to go elsewhere to sort out reality. This has nothing to do with a "partisan point of view," and everything to do with a major news outlet repeatedly lending credence to a bizarre conspiracy theory.

    Klein added that Dobbs' coverage of the right-wing conspiracy has been "legitimate." He didn't say why.

    As for Klein telling the show that the story "seems dead," only to see the show keep pushing the nonsense anyway, Media Matters' Eric Burns raises a good point: "This raised the troubling question of who is really calling the shots at CNN."

  • Think Progress: CNN’s Howard Kurtz Criticizes CNN’s Lou Dobbs For Giving Airtime To ‘Birther’ Conspiracies

    Last week, ThinkProgress noted that CNN’s Lou Dobbs is one of the most high-profile “birthers” in America, continuing to demand that Obama present a “long form” birth certificate to prove his citizenship. Dobbs’ focus on the story has been so bad that CNN President Jon Klein eventually sent an e-mail to staffers of “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” declaring that the “birther” story is “dead,” though he later backed down a bit. Dobbs has responded to his critics by calling them “limp-minded, lily-livered lefties” who don’t like that he had “the temerity to inquire as to where the birth certificate was.”

    On his Reliable Sources show today, CNN’s Howard Kurtz criticized Dobbs and others in the media who have given airtime to the “fringe of the fringe” that is the “birther” crowd. “These are ludicrous claims, there is no factual basis for them,” said Kurtz. “Why give the birthers any airtime?” He then specifically criticized Dobbs for not acting “responsible”:

    KURTZ: Callie Crossley, Lou Dobbs on his radio show said, “I believe the president is a citizen of the United States.” But he keeps raising these questions, complaining about criticism from “limp-minded, lily-livered lefties.” Is it responsible for Dobbs and others to go on the air, talk about these claims, demand proof, when we have seen a copy of the birth certificate? When Hawaii officials say that Barack Obama was born there in 1961?

    CROSSLEY: It absolutely is not responsible.

    Watch it:

    As one of the top media critics in the country, Kurtz has been criticized for not commenting on Dobbs’ birther obsession in his Washington Post column. As has been noted by many, the birther claims that President Obama wasn’t born in America are groundless.

Benen: CLINTON ON 'MTP'....

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton covered quite a bit of ground on "Meet the Press" this morning, including praise for China as part of the international response to North Korea, which, she noted, "doesn't have any friends left."

Clinton also took a firm line with Iran, telling its leaders that pursuing a nuclear weapons program is "futile," adding, "What we want to do is to send a message to whoever is making these decisions, that if you're pursuing nuclear weapons for the purpose of intimidating, of projecting your power, we're not going to let that happen."

The Secretary of State added, however, that the should the U.S. engage Iranian officials, it will not betray the dissidents who took to the streets to protest the ruling regime. "We have negotiated with many governments who we did not believe represented the will of their people," Clinton said. "Look at all the negotiations that went on with the Soviet Union.... That's what you do in diplomacy. You don't get to choose the people."

More generally, I found her discussion of administration vision and principles pretty compelling:

I also got the sense watching this that the administration is functioning exactly as it should:

Steve Benen 11:45 AM


Conceit is nearly always unseemly, but it takes a smug fool with misplaced arrogance to be truly offensive.

The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes devotes his latest column to bashing President Obama's economic policies. That, in and of itself, is unremarkable. Barnes is a Bush/Cheney Republican, and Obama isn't. They're bound to see economic policy differently.

What's striking, though, is how Barnes presents his argument. Instead of simply making the case against the administration's policies, he feels comfortable arguing that Obama is "an economic illiterate," the "Know-Nothing-in-Chief," and a leader lacking "even a sketchy grasp of economics." This from a shameless conservative hack who has never demonstrated any proficiency in any area of public policy.

At his press conference, Obama endorsed a surtax on families earning more than $1 million a year to pay for his health care initiative. This is no way to get the country out of a recession. Like them or not, millionaires are the folks whose investments create growth and jobs -- which are, after all, exactly what the president is hoping for.

Another tax hike -- especially on top of the increased taxes on individual income, capital gains, dividends, and inheritances that Obama intends to go into effect in 2011 -- is sure to impede investment. It's an anti-growth measure, as those with even a sketchy grasp of economics know. But Obama doesn't appear to.

In the world where the grown-ups live, the surtax, if passed, wouldn't kick in until 2011. Just as important, there's no evidence tax increases on the very wealthy have ever stunted economic growth. These are the kind of details those with even a sketchy grasp of current events know. But Barnes doesn't appear to.

He declared it "a good thing" that banks are profitable again, but he couldn't leave it at that. He went on to bemoan the absence of "change in behavior and practices" among bankers. As for the "record profits" of insurance companies, he had nothing but disdain.

This, Barnes argued, is evidence of a president who doesn't understand economics. But that's absurd. Obama raised concerns about changing the behavior and practices of banks, because the president would like to avoid things going to back to the way they were -- conditions that led to the collapse of the economy in the first place. He objected to health insurance companies making "record profits," because American families are struggling badly with rising health care costs. If Barnes disagrees, fine, but the president's concern is hardly evidence of ignorance.

Barnes goes on (and on) from there. Obama, he says, needs to cut corporate taxes. The stimulus, he argues, needed even more tax cuts. If Obama disagrees, Barnes says, he must be an idiot.

What an embarrassment.


I found myself yelling at my monitor this morning, reading Adam Nagourney's NYT piece about the "possibility of bipartisanship" on health care reform. It's not Nagourney's fault, necessarily, but the piece touches all of the bases on the problems with the underlying assumptions.

...Mr. Obama is under growing pressure to choose between wooing a small band of Republicans or struggling to rally his party to use its big majorities in Congress to get the job done. The bipartisanship exhibited in the passage of two other ambitious domestic programs that offer one historical backdrop for this debate -- Social Security in 1935 and Medicare and Medicaid 30 years later -- seems increasingly improbable in today's Washington. [...]

Even if he goes the bipartisan route and succeeds, the end result could be comparatively modest: Perhaps fewer than 10 Senate Republicans, and perhaps not even that many in the House, party officials said. Social Security, by contrast, passed in 1935 with the support of 16 of the 25 Republican senators and 81 of the 102 Republican representatives. [...]

No less important, a partisan vote could also undercut the political legitimacy of the effort itself. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were all passed with significant support from both parties, which is one of the reasons those programs have become such an accepted part of the country's political landscape.

That's true. But when there was bipartisan support for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, we were dealing with a Congress that had Republicans who a) took electoral mandates seriously; b) were chastened by electoral defeats; and c) had plenty of moderates and pragmatists in their caucuses. That's no longer the case.

As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, it's not Obama's fault Republicans have become too conservative, failed at governing, and were punished by voters.

The question of "legitimacy" then becomes tantamount to a heckler's veto -- a small, reflexive minority can cast doubt on the credibility of everything, simply by being stubborn partisans.

Nagourney said independent voters might reject Obama if he "abandons efforts to reach out to Republicans." But what about the months of outreach the president has already done? How about the fact that we'd likely get pre-recess votes in both chambers if the majority stopped caring what Republicans thought?

Nagourney added, "[T]he go-it-alone course could cost Mr. Obama and, more important, Congressional Democrats political cover should the health care plan prove ineffective, unpopular or excessively costly before the 2010 or 2012 elections." Perhaps, but it seems Republicans don't much care about "cover" when it comes to launching campaign attacks. Eight GOP House members voted for the ACES bill on global warming. Will that over vulnerable House Dems "political cover" in 2010? I seriously doubt -- Republicans are going to attack if they see a political benefit in it. And they always see a political benefit in it.

Nagourney went on to say relying on Democrats to pass health care reform may set "a polarizing pattern for the remaining three years of Mr. Obama's first term, complicating his efforts to get through an ambitious agenda by forcing him to rely only on Democrats for votes."

Maybe, but if the shrinking Republican minority is dominated by conservative ideologues, who don't take public policy seriously, and who reflexively reject anything Obama proposes because they're desperate to deny him successes, who's responsible for the "polarizing pattern"?

No less a figure than Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana, one of the chamber's more conservative Dems, conceded, "The Republicans are reduced to a core, so there aren't that many pragmatists left to work things out."

DougJ: The pause that refreshes in the corridors of power

I’m not an optimist. I think that in some general sense we’re fucked as a society. Our public dialog is mind-numblingly stupid and the likely end result of that will be second-world status, unless the rest of the world is as screwed up as we are, and in that case, things will be even worse.

All of that said, I think you’re gonna find—when all this health care shit is over and done—I think you’re gonna find Obama one smilin’ motherfucker. Democrats in Congress know what happened last time they dropped the ball with health care. Pelosi will get something through the House because she could get a ham sandwich through the house, or whatever the right expression is. And there’s no way on earth that Nelson, Lieberman, Bayh, and Lincoln will end up filibustering something this big indefinitely. I think there will some kind of for cloture but against the bill type compromise those guys go along with. In the end, almost anything that passes will be be better than the disaster we have on our hands right now. The people who don’t have insurance now who have it afterwards will be grateful, and they’ll be inclined to vote Democrat in the future.

Nate Silver describes exactly what I think may happen as a result of the delay on the vote:

I also believe that the media can, in the short term, amplify and sometimes even create waves of momentum. But almost always only in the short term. And that is reason #1 why it’s not such a bad thing that the Democrats are getting a breather on health care. They’re at, what I believe, may be something of a ‘trough’ or ‘bottom’ as far as this media-induced momentum goes. By some point in August, the media will at least have tired of the present storyline and may in fact be looking for excuses to declare a shift in momentum and report that some relatively ordinary moment is in fact the “game changer” that the Democrats needed. This is not to say that the real, underlying momentum on health care has especially good—and the Democrats’ selling of the measure certianly hasn’t been. But it hasn’t been especially poor either . As I’ve said before, the health care process has played out just about how an intelligent observer might have expected it to beforehand.

A lot of the pessimism about health care is because of the “Dems in disarray”/”Liberal suicide march”/”It’s 1994 all over agin” type headlines. And those headlines are getting more attention than they might because not much else is going on.

But things could change in a few weeks. There could be a flurry of celebrity deaths. Or shark attacks. Or giant squid attacks. And while the media is distracted by that, it may be possible to get something done.

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