Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Media We Have.

Atrios: First, Assume Away Morning Joe
Everybody in media world agrees. MSNBC is to the left, Fox is to the right, and CNN tries to be down the middle. They all also agree to pretend Morning Joe doesn't exist, even if they're regular guests.
Here's Rachel, committing journalism again.
Racist roots of Arizona law April 26: Rachel Maddow exposes the origins of Arizona's new immigration law in the racist Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The larger discussion about Sunday shows and fact-checking continues to percolate, and I'm delighted to see the concerns that originated with NYU professor Jay Rosen generate so much attention.

We know that ABC's "This Week" is partnering with PolitiFact.com to check its content, and Jake Tapper has defended the idea. We also know that "Meet the Press" has declined, and David Gregory has said that viewers can fact-check the program "on their own terms."

This week, Bob Schieffer, host of CBS's "Face the Nation," weighed in, taking Gregory's side.

Bob Schieffer, host of CBS' "Face the Nation," similarly described his role as "the front line on fact-checking," when a guest makes a dubious claim, he's there to ask follow-up questions.

And if an inaccurate statement slips by, Schieffer said he expects that viewers and media-monitoring groups on the left and right will call attention to it quickly, noting that "everybody's welcome to fact-check us all they want."

To be sure, the notion that the host is the first line of defense against false claims is compelling. When a guest says something that's not true, ideally the host would follow-up and make that clear to viewers. But the first line of defense often fails -- sometimes a host isn't aggressive enough; sometimes the host simply doesn't have the information at his or her fingertips to know that the guest isn't telling the truth.

That said, Schieffer's take, like Gregory's, seems to miss the point of the exercise.

About 2.3 million Americans tune in to watch "Face the Nation." Presumably, they watch to learn something about current events and public affairs. Schieffer asks questions, and we hear arguments from various political figures. If those 2.3 million Americans want to know if the arguments are accurate, why would Schieffer expect them to go figure it out on their own? If they trust "Face the Nation" and its host enough to tune in, shouldn't they also trust the program to separate fact and fiction?

I suppose it's nice, in a way, to give the audience credit for being so sophisticated, they'll not only watch the interviews, but also have the wherewithal to do independent research to verify the accuracy of the claims.

But realistically, a mainstream audience isn't well equipped to do its own analysis and fact-checking -- the public relies on professional news outlets to provide them with reliable information. Schieffer wants to give viewers the arguments, not the truth. At that point, the show itself becomes unnecessary -- we can all just read press releases and then scour the 'net to learn if the points are true.

A couple of months ago, when this discussion began in earnest, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, host of his own CNN program on the media, talked to a guest who said online sites are adequate for fact-checking the newsmakers. Kurtz responded, "Exactly. And I'm saying why leave it entirely to the blogs? Why don't television producers and correspondents do it themselves?"

That was in January. We haven't heard a good answer yet.

Postscript: In related news, some interested students have launched "Meet the Facts" to fact-check "Meet the Press." Seems like a worthy endeavor.

Booman: Clowns to the Left of Me, Nutters to the Right
Steve Benen:

Long-time readers may recall a discussion we had back in December, about the quality of the debate over health care reform. It was obvious at the time that the meaningful, interesting disputes weren't between conservatives and liberals, but between liberals and other liberals.

It's not that the right remained silent; it's that they offered arguments that no serious person could find credible. Consider, just off the top of your head, the most prominent concerns raised by opponents of the Affordable Care Act. What comes to mind? "Death panels." "Socialism." "Government takeover."

It was the biggest domestic policy fight in a generation, but most of the policy debate was spent debunking transparent, child-like nonsense. The left approached the debate with vibrancy, energy, and seriousness. The right thought it was fascinating to talk about the number of pages in the legislation.

This is a result of the FrankLuntzification of the Republican Party. Nevermind the frothing maniacs on the radio or Fox News, the Republicans are actually operating in lockstep on the basis of focus-grouped talking points. Then the nutters throw in some Death Panel nonsense for good measure and suddenly Chuck Grassley isn't looking to cut a deal but talking about a government conspiracy to kill our grandmas.

So, yeah, there is no doubt that the only interesting political conversations going on in this country right now are between liberals and other liberals, and sometimes with centrist Democrats, too. The only factual criticism of the president is coming from the left. And there is plenty of it. A lot of it isn't fair, but much of it is. I heard David Brooks say on NPR today that the whole Crist-Rubio spectacle (and what is signifies for the modern GOP) makes him want to suck on a tailpipe. I don't blame him.


Today, a tri-partisan climate/energy bill was supposed to be unveiled after months of efforts. The package -- crafted by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) -- faced an uphill climb, but the legwork had been done, and it stood a fighting chance of passage.

Late Saturday, Lindsey Graham signaled his intention to walk away. As he explained it, Democratic leaders seem more interested in tackling immigration before climate -- instead of the other way around, as he'd been led to believe -- so he's inclined to kill both efforts.

Joe Klein argued yesterday that Graham has done Democrats "a big favor." When I saw the headline, I thought Klein may have identified some other way to get the bills passed without Graham's support. But Klein was actually arguing the opposite -- Graham's doing Dems a favor because he's killing the legislation Dems want to pass.

Lindsey Graham effectively killed the Senate's looming cap-and-trade package by yanking his support from the bill -- and thereby did the Democrats a favor. I'm all in favor of combating global warming, although I think a straight-ahead carbon tax (refundable in the form of reduced payroll taxes) would do the job far more efficiently than cap-and-trade. But if I'm a Democratic strategist, I'm thinking Augustinian thoughts: Lord, make me energy independent, but not just yet.

Why? Because the public has had quite enough, thank you, of government activism this year ... and, after Wall Street reform is passed, any further attempts to pass major legislation will add to legitimate conservative arguments that the federal government is attempting to do [too] much to do any of it well.... [P]ublic skepticism about the Democratic Party is bound to increase if another humongous piece of legislation, which effectively guarantees higher energy prices, is passed this year.

I see the political landscape much differently. For one thing, I've seen no evidence to suggest Americans want policymakers to stop having so many successes. This came up a bit last year -- many pundits insisted that President Obama was doing "too much, too fast" -- but it was never borne out by the polls. I tend to think the electorate will be more impressed by Democratic successes than by relative inaction over the six months preceding the midterm elections.

Put it this way: when was the last time a party was punished by voters for successfully passing too much of its policy agenda, and fulfilling too many of its campaign promises?

For another, to characterize the climate/energy bill as "effectively guaranteeing higher energy prices" isn't entirely fair -- with various incentives and tax credits, most consumers wouldn't see a price increase, and many would actually see their energy bills drop.

But perhaps most importantly, I think Klein underestimates what the lawmaking process will be like in 2011 and 2012. He wants to see bills on climate and immigration pass -- and so do I -- but Klein seems to believe policymakers can just pick this up again in the next Congress.

That's almost certainly not the case. In the Senate, the Democratic majority is poised to shrink quite a bit, making it nearly impossible to overcome Republican filibusters. In the House, the Democratic majority may very well disappear entirely, and a GOP-led House will immediately ignore every policy request made by the administration.

It's why I think Klein has it backwards -- those who want to see progress on climate and immigration have to act quickly, because this is likely the last chance policymakers will have on either effort for quite a while.

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