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October 09, 2009

Mash-Up: Edsall vs. Halperin

I thought I'd mash-up two articles getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere.

The first is Thomas Edsall's good (mostly) article on liberal media bias. And how liberals in the media should stop pretending they're not liberal, stop lying, take ownership of the problem, and correct it.

The other is Mark Halperin's absurd grading of the Obama Administration. Halperin must be thanking God right now that the Nobel committee made him only the second biggest joke of the day (and, in fairness, a fairly distant second). But I'm not done with him yet.

I trust you'll be able to tell which is which. I have made frequent cuts without notice (as it would be disruptive to the nature of this mash-up). In one case (the discussion of the media's belief conservatives are stupid), I've moved Edsall's order of topics in order to make a better comparison at the end.

I recommend a reading of Edsall's critique in full -- we can deal with his claim that conservatives can't be real journalists later -- and Halperin's risible autoerotic beclowning too, just for the lulz.

Correction/Note: Halperin's piece is not, as I thought, new. It is in fact a grading from Obama's first 100 days. Not sure why the Seinfeld Presidency deserved such high marks then, either -- seems ludicrous to grade him after such a short period of time, and give him "A-'s" to boot.

But this was an error of assumption on my part, and I'm sorry about that.

Still: I like the mash-up.

“Many readers were not buying [the] contention that liberal bias had nothing to do with the slow response to ACORN and, before that, to the resignation of Van Jones, a White House aide,” Hoyt wrote this past Sunday.

[NYT "Public Editor Clark] Hoyt quoted correspondence from angry Times readers: “‘So, beside Jill Abramson, Bill Keller and Barack Obama, were you able to find anyone, not resident in a cemetery, who was so tuned out?’ asked Charles Harkins of Spartanburg, S.C. Jerry Komar of Collingswood, N.J., charged that Times editors ‘hoped the story would blow over. They were caught in their own web of bias.’”

Barack Obama, President Grade: A-

Instantly comfortable and highly skilled at the hardest job in the world — proving his supporters' contention that all the traits that made him a great candidate would serve him well in the White House: even temper, cool demeanor, boldness under pressure, shrewd facility for managing personnel, unfailing instincts about when to delegate and when to engage. A handful of public missteps (particularly on his international trips and on torture issues) and a failure to ameliorate the partisan divide are the only true blemishes so far.

The actions at both the Post and the Times are ad hoc reactions to the latest blow up, and do little or nothing to address the underlying reality at most papers.

The mainstream press is liberal. Once, before 1965, reporters were a mix of the working stiffs leavened by ne’er-do-well college grads unfit for corporate headquarters or divinity school. Since the civil rights and women’s movements, the culture wars and Watergate, the press corps at such institutions as The Washington Post, ABC-NBC-CBS News, the NYT, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, etc. is composed in large part of “new” or “creative” class members of the liberal elite—well-educated men and women who tend to favor abortion rights, women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights. In the main, they find such figures as Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Pat Robertson, or Jerry Falwell beneath contempt.

Joe Biden, Vice President Grade: A-

Involved in major decisions, carrying water on Capitol Hill, fulfilling difficult foreign policy tasks, reaching out to constituencies for which he has great instincts and offering rigorous private advice when he believes he knows better. (And admirably staying on message — and on the reservation — when he doesn't get his way.) For many observers, part of a White House tableau of family values, purposeful diligence and middle-class championing.

In a UCLA study of media bias, reporters were found to be substantially more liberal and more Democratic than the public at large. Hoyt, in a column last year, acknowledged this finding: “Being human, journalists do have personal biases, and a long line of studies has shown that they tend to be more socially and politically liberal than the population at large. There is no reason to believe Times journalists are any different.”

If reporters were the only ones allowed to vote, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry would have won the White House by landslide margins. More specifically, reporters and editors tend to be social liberals...

Michelle Obama, First Lady Grade: A+

Setting style trends that honor her personal taste, her position and her awareness of the economic crisis is just one of the ways she has stayed true to herself — brilliantly achieving her most important goal of raising her two daughters with as much grace and thoughtfulness as she brings to the public sphere.

Along the same lines, reporters might consider carefully the question of why the party of the left in this country, the party that claims to represent Jane and Joe Sixpack, has such trouble winning the votes of the white working class. The answer may lie more in the issue of redistributed benefits than in a right-wing conspiracy.

Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff
Grade: A

Exhibiting an uncharacteristic ability to delegate actions to others while thinking strategically. Has already moved or launched several major initiatives, with still more under-the-radar programs in the pipeline. Deserves much of the credit for getting an Administration filled with White House first timers (including his boss) off to a fast start, with only a few minor errors of substance, tone and relations with Capitol Hill. Living up to the great potential Obama saw in him when he insisted that Emanuel take the job.

Reporters might also attempt to think outside the prism of their own experience. Why did so many fail to see the news value when they learned from Glenn Beck that Van Jones, Obama’s environmental czar, had signed a 2004 petition accusing the Bush administration of deliberately allowing the 9/11 attacks to occur, calling for an “immediate inquiry,” and noting that a survey of New Yorkers showed 41 percent believed “US leaders had foreknowledge of impending 9/11 attacks and ‘consciously failed’ to act? Similarly, what form of ideological myopia prompted the mainstream press to miss for days the story of ACORN staffers advising a self-proclaimed pimp and prostitute on ways to illegally get federal grants and to falsely fill out loan applications?

Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary
Grade: A-

A clever amalgamation, Gibbs is stitched together with the most useful parts of his predecessors: courtly Southern humor (Mike McCurry), stare-down-style toughness (Ari Fleischer) and an ability to keep reporters on his side even in difficult circumstances (Dana Perino). Transition practice paid off; had good podium skills and consistent preparedness right from the start, despite the rude awakening of the grand tug-of-war nature of the job. Knows what to say — and when not to engage. Occasionally too flip or repetitive when the going gets rough, but he remains comfortably in the loop, which boosts his credibility and the press corps' confidence in his answers.

The Van Jones and ACORN cases are the extremes, but the more pervasive and subtle form liberal ‘blindness’ takes is in routine coverage. Stories, local and national, of virtually every culture-war issue commonly reflect reporters’ allegiance to social insurgents against traditionalists—and readers, who include many with traditionalist leanings, sense this. The facts and quotes from the school board meeting or Congressional debate are accurate. But something is missing in the reporting on the parents who do not want explicit sex education taught in the third grade, or the pro-lifers who are convinced that abortion is murder. These people exist all too often as stick figures or caricatures whose views are delegitimized.

David Axelrod, Senior Adviser to the President Grade: A-

Reluctantly came to Washington but has thrown himself into his first White House gig for the best of reasons: he cares about the President, his agenda and the country — and it shows... [T]he message, energy and clarity of the Administration's daily focus is consistent with the campaign's, and for this he and his friend the President deserve credit.

Attempts by journalists to conceal deeply held political convictions can be dangerous. While no agreed-upon mechanism or forum exists, at present, for editors and reporters in the mainstream media to declare personal ideology and partisan leanings, the goal of improved objectivity is more likely to be achieved through individual self-scrutiny and institutional honesty among those in authority. A reporter fully aware of his or her own relevant political and moral beliefs, and conscious of how those views influence what and how he or she reports, is likely to produce better journalism, in which both left and right get their due, without resorting to the bland, forced neutrality found in many publications seeking to conceal the beliefs of their staffs.

Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State
Grade: A-

Exactly what Obama was counting on when he asked her to join the team: a significant, powerful, worldly, respected figure who could hit the ground running. So far she's playing nicely with others, hired an all-star team, and is working hard at the job with a great sense of history and opportunity. Is hearkening back to her Senate days by running a tight ship and avoiding controversy.

An important first step is to abandon the notion, popularized by Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas?, that white working class voters are suckers, willing to cast ballots against their economic interests because corporations and evangelical Christians have scared the bejesus out of them with phony issues like gay marriage, abortion, government takeover of the healthcare system, and distribution of condoms in the schools.

These voters are not stupid... The mindset that perceives these voters as dumb jerks is what permitted a reporter and a series of Washington Post editors to let a description of evangelical Christians as “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command” go unquestioned into a front-page story.

Republican Congressional Leaders
Grade: C

Expelled from the White House and from control of both chambers of Congress (through their own mistakes as well as external factors), the party's chief Representatives continue to flounder in terms of legislative wins and public popularity. Still employing a scattershot pattern of attack and exhibiting a failure to promote the consistent personalities and positive policy messages essential in order to have a fighting chance against the Obama megaphone.

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posted by Ace at 02:25 PM

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