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“Who Needs ‘Meet The Press’?”: It’s Not Sunday Shows Audiences Hate, It’s Sunday Show Hosts

If you want to put your finger on the problem confronting Chuck Todd, who made his much-ballyhooed debut as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, you don’t have to look much farther than the two “fun new features” introduced on the first show.

Todd said the recurring segment called “Who Needs Washington?” will explore politics beyond the Beltway, which this week meant interviews with mayors of cities that are “going it on their own with little of Washington’s help or dysfunction.” The second new feature is “What everyone in Washington knows but is afraid to say.” This week the thought that dare not speak its insight was “what Hillary Clinton’s really up to.”

But maybe what everyone on Meet the Press is really afraid to say is that Todd’s mission is at best inherently self-contradictory: although his new show desperately wants some outsider cred to boost the ratings, it’s not willing to risk its insider status to do so.

Talking to America’s big-city mayors is hardly new—Sunday shows have always been bringing on local pols who claim to be better at governing than the national leaders. And while the very existence of a Sunday Beltway talk show would seem to hinge on telling you what “everyone in Washington knows” and you don’t, as it turned out, neither Chuck nor his panelists had anything new to say about “what Hillary’s up to.” (And since when was anyone in the media afraid to speculate about that? The only fear you smell is their fear of admitting, “I don’t know.”)

As MTP fell from first to third place during David Gregory’s misbegotten reign, NBC brass realized that something was wrong beyond Gregory, but they weren’t sure what. “The show needs more edge,” NBC News President Deborah Turness recently declared. Format changes, she suggested, will include a panel of journalists questioning guests, as the show did in its earlier, better days. “The one-on-one conversation belongs to a decade ago,” she said. “We need more of a coffeehouse conversation.”

So just how edgy or coffeehouse was yesterday’s show? It stuck to a one-on-one interview, of President Obama, but it usefully tweaked the format so that the panel discussion was interspersed with the interview.

But only one panelist conceivably had “edge,” or his visibly tattooed armed did, anyway: Buzzfeed reporter John Stanton, who’s been a guest on Chris Hayes’s and then Steve Karnaki’s Up—a show that’s edgy enough to not broadcast its need for that quality.

But the other panelists included the usual inside-DC suspects and MSNBC stalwarts: Andrea Mitchell, who has her own MSNBC show and is married to former Fed chair Alan Greenspan; The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson, who pops up on MSNBC to convey the most conventional wisdom in the most conventional way; and Joe Scarborough, now promoted to an “NBC News senior political analyst.” It’s possible that Joe could bring the edge of his sarcastic annoyance as well as coffeehouse demeanor from Morning Joe. But on Todd’s show, Joe wasn’t allowed to play the alpha male, and he was on his best network TV behavior; he even had only nice things to say about Obama.

Try as he might—and he only might—Todd may not be able to escape the safe blandness endemic to network Sunday shows.

The shadow all the NBC anchors are trying to outgrow is Tim Russert’s, who was MTP host until he unexpectedly died in 2008. Russert had a reputation for “gotcha” journalism, in a good way. He’d use the technology of his era—tapes from the archives—to confront a guest: back then you said that, but now you say this. Some guests were rattled, but the show soon acquired a chummy atmosphere—seasoned pols would lean in and say, “You sure are good with those clips, Tim,” and then chuckle through an analysis of spin. “Meet the talking points,” critic Jay Rosen calls the show.

After all, the hosts and producers didn’t want to alienate the guests they’d need to book down the road. Even more, of course, they didn’t want to alienate the corporate sponsors. Corporations advertised on the Sunday shows to influence policy legislated by the target audience of “thought leaders.” The shows were dominated by companies like GE, Northrup Grumman and Archer Daniels Midland, who helped determine what policies and scandal were not talked about on Sunday shows. Yesterday on MTP, Koch Industries ran its big national ad that says, in so many words, they’re so powerful you’re better off working for them than boycotting them.

The idea is that these corporations are above right/left politics, a delusion the news media helps perpetuate by repeating the false equivalency canard that both political sides are equally guilty of any wrong. This Sunday, Todd kept suggesting that it won’t make any difference if the midterm elections result in a Republican or a Democratic senate majority, because gridlock will rule the day. (Obama gave a decent explanation for why that’s crazy.)

In trying to brand the show and himself, Todd has been repeating his own slogan of sorts: “It’s not politics that people hate, it’s that they hate the politicians that don’t know how to practice the art of it.” That sounds plausible, but it also sounds like a reluctance to examine underlying structural issues to focus instead on the personalities of the moment.

In fact, you might say, it’s not Sunday shows audiences hate, it’s Sunday show hosts.

But as Jason Linkins wrote, “A New Host On ‘Meet The Press’ Isn’t Going To Solve Its Problems.” He made a great case for why John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight “beats ‘Meet The Press’ coming and going. The show literally wandered right onto ‘Meet The Press’ Beltway turf and delivered a report [on the nutritional supplement industry] with a sophistication that no Sunday show has pulled off in years.” It wasn’t just the jokes that made it work, but “the show wanted to have a point” and demonstrated a “real respect and genuine concern for their audience, instead of trying to get over by posing as an ‘insider’ operating under a veil of savviness.”

Todd is smart enough to recognize the problem, but to really shake off that toxic insider status, he might consider Jay Rosen’s advice:

I think it would be wise for Chuck Todd to see himself and his colleagues, Washington journalists, as part of the class that has screwed up politics.

And maybe, in taking over “Meet the Press,” he can begin to address some of how that happened.


By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, September 8, 2014

September 9, 2014 Posted by | Media, Meet The Press | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Grappling With Their Shortsighted Rejection”: The Tough Politics Of Medicaid For Republicans

In the world of Republican politics, there is no surer bet than opposing ObamaCare. But conservative obstruction to the health care overhaul may finally be catching up with a handful of Republican governors running for re-election. Their rejection of ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid — the federal health assistance program for the poor and disabled — has been them losing both the argument and voters.

Princeton political scientist Sam Wang recently published an analysis of polling data from this year’s gubernatorial races. It found that Republican incumbents who resisted ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion — including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, and Kansas’ Sam Brownback — are in much tighter races than those who accepted it. “Republican governors who bucked their party’s stance and accepted the policy are faring better with voters — in these races, an average of 8.5 percentage points better,” Wang discovered.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Setting aside the incendiary politics surrounding ObamaCare and its alleged freedom-killing agenda, the simple truth is that Republican governors have blocked health insurance for nearly six million citizens. And they’ve done so despite the fact that under ObamaCare, the federal government covers all the cost of expanding Medicaid for the next six years, and at least 90 percent of the cost in 2020 and beyond.

Why have Republican governors spurned this incredibly good deal? Their ostensible justification has been disbelief that the federal government would hold up its end of the bargain, leaving states to pick up the tab.

But researchers at the Urban Institute threw cold water on this argument in a study last month. They found that the federal government has almost never reduced funding to the states for Medicaid. In fact, it has not done so since 1981, when President Reagan and Congress imposed a temporary funding cut.

Indeed, Congress has been far more likely to increase funding for state Medicaid programs. It has done so twice in recent memory — in 1997 and in 2005 — boosting state funding even while making other cuts to the program.

The sanctity of the federal commitment to Medicaid has only grown in recent years. As evidence of federal faint-heartedness, conservatives point to an administration proposal floated during 2011 budget negotiations that would have reduced federal Medicaid funding to the states.

But this bad idea was dropped after the states got newfound bargaining power from the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision making the Medicaid expansion entirely voluntary. With the expansion now optional, the administration can ill afford to weaken the financial carrot for red states to buy in. This has also made the administration agreeable to some conservative twists on traditional Medicaid, like using public dollars to enroll people in private health plans in Arkansas and Iowa.

The Urban Institute also quantified how much intransigent red states are losing by resisting ObamaCare. They’re turning down $400 billion in free federal money over 10 years. They will have missed out on over 172,000 new jobs in 2015 alone. And they’ve cost their hospitals $168 million, enough to completely offset ObamaCare’s reimbursement cuts to hospitals for Medicare and Medicaid.

And, of course, these states have also frozen themselves at pre-ObamaCare rates of high uninsurance. “While the number of uninsured in other states fell by 38 percent since September 2013,” the researchers explain, “non-expanding states experienced a decline of just 9 percent.”

As the midterm elections approach, Republican candidates are discovering that the politics around health care reform are becoming unexpectedly complicated. Trailing badly in the polls, Gov. Corbett announced last month that Pennsylvania will expand its Medicaid program. In states that have already expanded their programs, pro-repeal conservative candidates are stumbling to explain how they would handle new Medicaid enrollees.

But this is what happens when you engage with the actual policy implications of health care reform. Conservatives can whip up fear and hostility over an abstract big-government monolith called ObamaCare. But the actual programs contained therein (like expanding public health insurance for the poor) tend to be pretty appealing to voters.

As their arguments are rendered hollow, obstructionist Republicans are paying the electoral price for thwarting these types of programs. When they picked a fight against expanding Medicaid, conservatives chose the wrong bulwark for massive resistance against national health care reform.


By: Joel Dodge, The Week, September 9, 2014

September 9, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Medicaid Expansion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Promising Tools Than Brute Force”: Obama Keeps His Options Open On Dealing With Islamic State

President Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State may be hard to pin down — maddeningly so, some complain — but it is likely to work far better than anything his bellicose critics advocate.

Perhaps the president will eliminate any confusion when he addresses the nation Wednesday, but I doubt it. Based on what he told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” there may be no way to reduce Obama’s fluid and perhaps deliberately ambiguous thinking to a black-or-white, all-or-nothing dichotomy.

“This is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops. This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war,” Obama said. Later in the interview, he added that “we’re not looking at sending in 100,000 American troops” and that “our goal should not be to think that we can occupy every country where there’s a terrorist organization.”

Clear? Kind of.

We understand that the president will not announce the deployment of U.S. troops in large numbers and that he does not intend for the United States to ­re-invade and re-occupy Iraq. But we know that U.S. military advisers and Special Operations teams have already been active in both Iraq and Syria. And since Obama described the fight against the Islamic State as “similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we’ve been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years,” we can assume there will be some U.S. military presence on the ground, however covert and limited.

A strong believer in multilateralism, the president asserted that “we have, I believe, a broad-based coalition internationally and regionally to be able to deal with the problem.”

True? Again, kind of.

The 10-nation coalition assembled last week to fight the Islamic State — the United States plus Australia and NATO members Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark — is much less than meets the eye, operationally speaking. Britain, France, Australia and Canada have the will and capacity to project military power overseas. The others, not so much.

As far as regional cooperation is concerned, perhaps Turkey can be counted on to help tear down the Islamic State. But assistance from two key powers in the Middle East that also find themselves threatened by the jihadist group — Iran and Saudi Arabia — promises to be tenuous and situational at best.

To further complicate a situation that already seems hopelessly complicated, every blow against the Islamic State is a blow in favor of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and his murderous regime. But Obama implied on “Meet the Press” that Assad is a secondary concern and said that, “when it comes to our policy and the coalition that we’re putting together, our focus specifically is on ISIL,” another name for the Islamic State.

In internal administration discussions, Obama has reportedly been skeptic-in-chief about the capabilities of the ostensibly “moderate” Syrian rebels. On Sunday, the president was less than fulsome in his praise of groups such as the Free Syrian Army, which he noted “have been on the defensive.” He said, “We’re going to have to develop a moderate Sunni opposition that can control territory,” indicating that no such opposition now exists.

It all sounds kind of circular and vague, implying there is much that may be planned, or already taking place, that we know nothing about. Obama seems to give himself the option of confronting the Islamic State directly when he chooses, ignoring it when he feels it can be ignored, using airstrikes when he believes they are needed, cooperating with adversarial or unreliable governments only when he believes it is in the U.S. interest to do so.

I don’t know if it will work. But I’m confident that the hawkish alternative — more bombs, more boots, more bluster — would be a tragic failure.

Massive airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria probably would not be enough to destroy the Islamic State without ground support. In Iraq, such support has been inconsistent. In Syria, it could come only from Assad’s brutal army. If U.S. troops are not an option, should we encourage Saudi Arabia and even Iran to deploy their forces? To me, that sounds like fighting a fire with gasoline.

To the hawks, Obama’s cautious, patient, this-could-take-years approach to dealing with the Islamic State will be emotionally unsatisfying. But, given the complexity of the situation, subtlety and indirection are more promising tools than brute force. Locking the United States into the kind of rigid strategy that critics demand would likely ensure only that this crisis sows the seeds of the next one.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 8, 2014

September 9, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, ISIS, War Hawks | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pay Close Attention!”: Don’t Be Fooled By New GOP Enthusiasm For Over-The-Counter Birth Control

The hot new trend among Republican candidates is a surprising one, to say the least. As of now there are four GOP Senate contenders who have endorsed making birth control pills available over the counter.

All four — Cory Gardner in Colorado, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Ed Gillespie in Virginia, and Mike McFadden in Minnesota — oppose abortion rights, and all four oppose the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurance policies pay for preventative care, including birth control, with no deductibles or co-pays. Yet these conservative Republicans are touting their deep commitment to easily available birth control. It’s likely that more Republicans will now be asked their position on OTC birth control, and some will embrace it to counter Dem criticism that they’re soldiers in a “war on women.”

The one who has advocated OTC birth control pills most aggressively is Gardner, in large part because he has been the target of relentless criticism from Democrats over his prior support of “personhood” measures granting full legal status to fertilized eggs, which would outlaw not only abortion but some forms of birth control as well. Here’s an ad in which Gardner practically pretends to be Gloria Steinem while a group of women nod and smile their approval.

Democrats telegraphed way back in April that they would make these attacks central in multiple Senate races. The fact that Republicans have come up with this new push-back suggests the Dem attacks may have been working.

The new-found embrace of OTC birth control pills might seem odd, even bizarre. But it makes more sense if you think about it as a fundamentally elitist position. The truth is that conservatives have long been much more concerned with restricting the reproductive choices available to poor and middle class women, while leaving wealthy women free to do pretty much as they please. And allowing birth control pills to be sold over the counter is perfectly in line with that history.

Let’s be clear that making birth control pills available over the counter would be a good thing — but only if insurance continued to pay for it. The cost of the pill can be as much as $600 a year, which is out of reach for many women. And we know that insurance companies seldom reimburse customers for OTC medications. The price of the medication might come down over time if it were sold over the counter, but in the meantime millions of women are dependent on their insurance plans to be able to afford it. By opposing the ACA, all these GOP candidates are putting themselves on record in opposition to requiring insurance companies to pay for any birth control in policies women themselves have bought. And that’s not to mention other forms of contraception, like IUDs, that require a doctor’s care and come with a significant up-front cost.

If you’re well-off, you can afford whatever kind of contraception you like whether your insurance company reimburses for it or not. And abortion restrictions don’t impose much of a burden on you either. The federal government bans Medicaid from paying for abortions, but that only affects poor women. A law mandating a 48-hour waiting period before getting an abortion may be an inconvenience for a wealthy woman, but it can make it all but impossible for a woman without means. In some states, it means taking (unpaid) time off work to travel to one of the state’s few abortion clinics, driving hundreds of miles, and paying for a hotel room.

While they’re going to use a lot of buzzwords like “access” and “choice,” the net effect of the policies these candidates are advocating would be to make birth control less available to women. And I think that’s why we haven’t seen any public blowback from the Christian right on this issue. The articles written about the new Republican enthusiasm for OTC birth control sometimes include a disapproving quote from a representative of the Catholic Church. But none of the bevy of organizations with the word “Family” in their name, which are so vehemently opposed to any kind of reproductive freedom for women, are loudly condemning these candidates. Nor are any of their Republican colleagues. So what does that tell you?


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 8, 2014

September 9, 2014 Posted by | Birth Control, Contraception, GOP, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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