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“CNBC Is The Perfect Scapegoat For The GOP’s 2016 Problems”: Candidates Who Blow It In A Debate Have Only Themselves To Blame

The third GOP presidential debate, held Wednesday evening in Colorado, revealed two key truths: The political media has declared war on several Republican candidates, and the candidates have declared war on the political media.

The GOP’s gripes against the media are legion. Over the past several election cycles, they have reached a fever pitch, with the presidential debates largely to blame. The problem, from a Republican standpoint, was epitomized by Candy Crowley’s intervention on behalf of President Obama during his crucial second debate with Mitt Romney in 2012. Reeling from a limp and lackluster performance the first time around, Obama needed to beat Romney on foreign policy; Crowley upended Romney’s plans by jumping into their exchange on the administration’s shifting talking points around the Benghazi attack, and essentially siding with Obama.

Long critical of the “lamestream media,” as Sarah Palin once called it, conservatives reserve a particular ire for debate moderators, who do, after all, command an outsized ability to influence how presidential candidates perform and are perceived.

So when Ted Cruz crushed the CNBC moderators Wednesday night, the resulting applause — in the studio and across the conservative internet — was not particularly surprising. The other candidates all quickly caught on. Chris Christie jumped at the chance to wryly cry rude. Donald Trump hooked his closing argument around the way he muscled the network into improving the debate’s format. Even Bush campaign manager Danny Diaz got into the act, railing against a CNBC producer about the distribution of speaking time. (Bush came in last.)

But the debate-bashing crescendo came courtesy of Ben Carson, whose own campaign manager, Barry Bennett, said he detests the traditional format and wants to rally the field to demand an anti-lamestream reboot. “There’s not enough time to talk about your plans,” Bennett griped. “There’s no presentation. It’s just a slugfest. All we do is change moderators. And the trendline is horrific. So I think there needs to be wholesale change here.”

Those critiques are legit. Whether you’re a beltway insider or just a Twitter junkie, you know well that debate season is a time for gallows humor, morbid drinking games, and existential boredom among the political media itself.

Embittered conservatives might say that suggests how endemic the cynicism and hypocrisy of that crowd has become. But from the standpoint of a sympathetic political writer, it’s not that simple.

The fact is that quite often, candidates who blow it in a debate have only themselves to blame. In part, that’s because the media just likes to reward winners. Whether it’s Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, or Mitt Romney in his first showdown with Obama, good performances get good press. In larger part, it’s because the media loves to punish losers. Candidates who do okay but turn off the media — like Trump — don’t pay much of a price in the horserace. Candidates who have a rotten debate night — like Bush — do. And when they do, it’s almost never because of a Crowley-esque act of butting in. It’s because the debate is a crucible, however clumsy, where a candidate’s behind-the-scenes struggles are revealed.

Consider Jeb Bush’s one big mistake last night, the one that defined the evening, cemented the narrative, and possibly sank his campaign. Looking for an opportunity to deliver a canned attack on Rubio’s spotty Senate attendance record — a talking point his campaign has been stressing in recent days — Bush let loose: “When you signed up for this, this was a six-year term and you should be showing up to work. I mean literally, the Senate, what is it, a French work week? You get like three days where you have to show up. You can campaign or just resign and let somebody else take the job.” With Rubio flush from his own knock on the debate moderators, Bush’s dig was both weak and poorly timed — and it resulted in this killer rejoinder: “I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record; the only reason you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that it’s going to help you,” Rubio said.

Game, set, match. That one exchange led everyone from The Weekly Standard‘s Jonathan Last to Slate‘s Jamelle Bouie to pronounce Bush politically dead. A judgment that harsh, across that broad a political spectrum, doesn’t indicate a new low for D.C.’s smug and jaded smart set. It doesn’t discredit today’s (admittedly dumb) debate format. And it doesn’t indict the media elite literally running the show. It reveals that Jeb Bush couldn’t prevent a horrendously unforced error — at this stage, proof of far bigger problems than bad timing or flimsy opposition research.

For all their problems, the debates — and those who run them — can only do so much damage to Republican candidates onstage. On debate night, the real lamestream doesn’t run through the political media, but through campaigns that could use some wholesale change of their own.


By: James Poulos, The Week, October 29, 2015

November 1, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primary Debates, Mainstream Media | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Mode Of Deception”: Carly Fiorina Abuses The Truth Just Like A Teenage Conservative Hoaxer

Comparing female politicians to petulant 13-year-old boys is generally unwise, but in Carly Fiorina’s case it is apt.

CJ Pearson, a black conservative teenager from Georgia, became a sensation on the right this year for denouncing President Barack Obama in homemade YouTube videos, two of which have now been viewed over two million times each. Pearson isn’t the first precocious conservative to become a right-wing celebrity, but he is probably the first to parlay that fame into a campaign gig, specifically as Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s youth-outreach chairman.

Late last week, though, the charismatic kid was revealed as the perpetrator of a number of hoaxes, including a trumped up beef with Facebook for censoring his speech (he was 12 years old at the time, too young to run a Facebook account of his own), and engaging in a Twitter fight with a supposedly racist Obama supporter, who turned out to be Pearson’s own sockpuppet. Most recently, he staged evidence suggesting that Obama had blocked his Twitter account, and got busted by a reporter at Glenn Beck’s conservative website, The Blaze.

Rather than admit to the prank, Pearson has continued to insist that his word was good.

“[H]ere’s what the PR folks are saying: say you lied and apologize to avoid backlash,” he wrote in a series of tweets. “But, instead, I choose to stand by my word. While the article will be incriminating, all we have in politics is our word and I stand by it.”

Carly Fiorina’s mode of deception, and her response to being fact-checked, is nearly identical. The main difference, of course, is that Fiorina is a 61-year-old former corporate executive who’s a top contender to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, while Pearson is still going through puberty. The fact that so many conservatives are lining up to defend her is indicative of the degree to which conservatism has become a movement defined by affective rage and imagined victimization by mainstream forces. This toxic brew contributed to the party’s difficulty winning recent national elections. It is already poisoning the party’s campaign for the presidency in 2016.

Two weeks ago, during the second GOP primary debate, Fiorina delivered a crowd-pleasing condemnation of Planned Parenthood for, as she’d have it, delivering children alive to steal their organs and sell them for profit.

“I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these [Planned Parnthood] tapes,” she said. “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.'”

If the footage she described existed, people might go to jail. But it doesn’t. In fact, basically every factual claim in those two sentences is untrue. Florina’s conservative defenders, and her super PAC, have produced footage unrelated to the Planned Parenthood sting depicting a life-like fetus—but not a verifiably aborted fetus, nor a fetus delivered during a procedure conducted in a Planned Parenthood facility. Nobody performing the procedure said, “we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,” either.

Fiorina’s fabricated description of the Planned Parenthood videos wasn’t issued in passing, but in a way that was calculated to dominate cable news highlight reels. She can’t admit to confusion, or to unintentionally blending unrelated footage into a single, imagined scene, because that would amount to telling her new supporters that the thing that attracted them to her wasn’t real.

So, like young CJ Pearson, she’s cooked up extremely weak post hoc defense, hoping that over time the truth and her twisted version of it will bleed together. “That scene absolutely does exist,” she said on Meet the Press this weekend, “and that voice saying what I said they were saying—’We’re gonna keep it alive to harvest its brain’—exists as well.” (It doesn’t.) But while Pearson’s reputation on the right is in free fall, many conservatives are twisting themselves into epistemological knots arguing that Fiorina’s right, even though she’s wrong. In the Los Angeles Times, the conservative writer Jonah Goldberg explained that while “the exact scene, exactly as Fiorina describes it, is not on the videos … anybody who has watched the videos would find Fiorina’s account pretty accurate.”

In a way, that the wagons are circling around Fiorina helps explain why Pearson thought his own fabrications might pay off. Recent history is replete with examples of conservatives racing to defend other conservatives caught peddling stories no less fictional than Pearson’s.

James O’Keefe, a propagandist and agent provocateur with a history of selectively editing his sting footage to make the opposite of reality seem true, is a right-wing celebrity. Republicans in Congress, including Pearson’s boss, Ted Cruz, want to shut down the government over videos that everyone knows have been doctored. In 2012, conservatives dedicated themselves to the fiction that Obama had refused to call an attack on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi an act of terrorism, when in fact he had called it terrorism the day after it happened, in the White House Rose Garden. When Mitt Romney repeated the myth at the second presidential debate, CNN moderator Candy Crowley famously embarrassed him by interjecting to set the record straight. To this day, conservatives detest Crowley, and insist that she didn’t give Romney a fair shake by telling the truth.

As more interviewers and moderators interject to debunk Fiorina’s story about a video segment that doesn’t exist, Fiorina’s reputation among conservatives isn’t suffering. Instead, the right’s journalist shit-list is growing longer.

Pearson can be forgiven for expecting the conservative media to rush to his aid, rather than orchestrate his demise. He’s coming of age in a movement that often treats reality as subordinate to perception; that will embrace obvious distortions of facts if doing so might move the needle of public opinion, and dissemble and whine, rather than admit error, when the media gets wise. If the stakes were higher—if Pearson were a 61-year-old presidential candidate instead of a 13-year-old kid—he would be climbing in the polls today.


By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, September 28, 2015

September 29, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, Conservatives, Planned Parenthood | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Paul Ryan Is A Whiny Sore Loser”: Why He’s Still Mad At Candy Crowley For 2012 Loss

Wow. Rep. Paul Ryan is still complaining about CNN’s Candy Crowley’s 2012 debate moderation. Specifically, about the fact that she corrected Mitt Romney for saying President Obama took 14 days to call the 9/11 attack on the Benghazi compound “an act of terror,” when Obama said those words in the Rose Garden the very day after the killings of four Americans.

Talking to Hugh Hewitt Wednesday night, Ryan rehashed the Crowley moment, agreeing with Hewitt that it was “perhaps the most significant intervention by a member of the media in a presidential campaign ever.” While Ryan wouldn’t speculate about whether Crowley would do anything different if she knew what we know now (more on what we know now, later) he alleged that Crowley “violated the rules of the debate.”

There’s so much to unpack in Ryan’s complaint, but it underscores why Benghazi fever is so rampant in the GOP. There’s a strain of the fever for every type of Republican. Ryan’s not a crazy birther (though he’s got some racial issues) or a bomb-thrower; he likes to play the statesman. He’s not a fact-averse “prosecutor” like newly minted Benghazi investigator Trey Gowdy, getting the details of the story wrong every time he opens his mouth.

No, Ryan’s particular strain of Benghazi fever lets him use the faux-scandal to rewrite the results of the 2012 election: If the White House had told the truth, as soon as it was known, Obama wouldn’t have been able to boast about his national security record, and Romney-Ryan would have won the election. It’s an updated version of the “unskewed” polls movement that blinded Republicans, including Ryan and his running mate, to the ticket’s impending loss 18 months ago.

There’s so much wrong with even this relatively moderate strain of Benghazi fever, it’s hard to know where to start. First of all, despite all the ongoing noise about the composition of Susan Rice’s infamous Sunday show “talking points,” there is no evidence the White House hid the unfolding truth about what had happened at the compound (the CIA’s role is more murky). And like it or not, there is also no evidence that Americans cared very much about the issue when they cast their votes that November.

It also helps to remember that Romney himself set the stage for the way the Benghazi story unfolded, with reporters and with voters, with his witless and craven attempt to jump in front of the facts and accuse Obama of “sympathizing” with the attackers. Here’s the statement his campaign released the same night as the killings of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans:

I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.

Romney’s charge was based on a statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo attacking the anti-Islam video that was inspiring protests across the Middle East (and that was first believed to have sparked the Benghazi attack). The statement came from embassy officials, not from the White House, and it was issued before the Benghazi killings. Reporters challenged Romney on his charge the day after he made it. But Ryan’s running mate doubled down: “When our grounds are being attacked and being breached, the first response should be outrage,” he told reporters. “Apology for America’s values will never be the right course. We express immediately when we feel that the President and his administration have done something which is inconsistent with the principles of America.”

So let’s be clear: Given a chance to focus Americans on the valid questions about what had happened in Benghazi, the Romney-Ryan ticket went for dishonesty and cheap shots. That pattern set the context in which Crowley gently corrected Romney for insisting the president hadn’t called the attacks an “act of terror.” Ironically, Romney himself was accusing Obama of lying when the president said he’d used those very words to describe the attack the day after it happened in his Rose Garden statement. “Get the transcript,” Obama shot back, and that’s when Crowley gently interjected: “He did, in fact, sir.”

That’s what Hewitt calls “perhaps the most significant intervention by a member of the media in a presidential campaign ever.” Ryan and other Republicans would have you believe that’s when they lost the election. By the way, Ryan’s wrong that Crowley “violated” the debate rules. She was honest about never signing off on them in the first place.

This is why Republicans can’t get over Benghazi fever. It’s a symptom of a more deadly disease: the party’s determination to deny Obama legitimacy. If he lied to get reelected, he didn’t really win at all. They don’t have to reckon with the truth that voters rejected the soulless Romney, who would say anything to get elected, and his running mate, the allegedly principled and wonky Ryan. In the end, he had to hide his unpopular budget ideas to face the voters, turning out to be as craven as Romney.  It’s not really a surprise that he’s blaming Crowley for his troubles, but it’s disturbing nonetheless.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 8, 2014

May 9, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Beyond The Borders Of Logic And Reason”: The Threat Of Terrorism Is Still Making People Really Stupid

When you’re a partisan, you have a certain obligation to be, well, partisan. That means you have to put the things your side does in the best light and the things the other side does in the worst light. Their motives are always suspect while your are always pure, and if anything goes wrong it was obviously their fault, while if anything goes right they had nothing to do with it.

But just how far does this obligation extend? How far beyond the borders of logic and reason can you ride it? The unfortunate answer is, pretty darn far.

As you’ve heard, the administration ordered a number of embassies, mostly in the Middle East, closed for a few days because of some “chatter” relating to a potential al Qaeda attack. Republican Congressman Peter King said that this demonstrates that “Al Qaeda is in many ways stronger than it was before 9/11,” which is kind of like saying that the fact that the Backstreet Boys are currently touring shows that they’re even more popular than they were in the 1990s. And for some unfathomable reason, Rick Santorum was invited on Meet the Press on Sunday, and when he was asked about the significance of this potential attack, here’s what he said:

Oh, I think it’s a huge deal. And I think it’s really a consequence of the policies of this administration. I mean, if you look at Benghazi and what happened there. We had an attack on our embassy. We’ve seen really nothing other than cover-ups. We haven’t seen anything from this administration really go after the people who are responsible, or the network behind it. And I’m sure if you’re looking at it from a terrorist perspective, you say, “Well, here’s an administration that’s pulling back, that’s timid, and an opportunity to go after additional embassies.” So this is to me a direct consequence from what we saw in Benghazi.

Oh for pete’s sake. Now let’s think about this for a moment. What actually happened here? Well, American intelligence agencies, through whatever combination of techniques they’re employing, picked up information leading them to conclude that some kind of an attack or series of attacks was imminent. The government then decided to take action to make it more difficult for those attacks to take place, in a highly public way that no doubt had as one of its purposes letting the potential perpetrators know that we’re on to them. Unless there is an attack, this would seem like exactly what we want the government to do. Success, right?

But Santorum wants us to believe that this is actually a terrible failure! Sure, we may have headed off the attack, but just the fact there are still terrorists in the world who would even contemplate committing acts of terrorism shows how weak Barack Obama is.

Now, perhaps one should be asking, “Why the hell would Meet the Press think anyone gives a crap what Rick Santorum thinks?” Is he really the best person they could get to represent the Republican view of things? A former senator and failed presidential candidate, widely acknowledged to be one of the most repellent characters in American politics in the last couple of decades? What was the producers’ meeting like that week? “You know who we should try to book? Rick Santorum! He’s terrific! And such an important and influential voice!” “Ooh, great idea, Biff—get on it!”

Back on Earth, when you identify a possible terrorist attack and take steps to prevent it, that’s a good thing, even if there’s a Democrat in the White House. But I wonder what your average middle-of-the-road voter thinks when she hears stuff like this. Is she turned off by it? Does it not really bother her, or make even the tiniest difference in how she looks at the parties and how she might vote next time around? Now imagine if Rick Santorum had said, “This is certainly serious, but let’s give credit where it’s due—if what we’re hearing is accurate, we should commend the intelligence analysts for locating this threat, and the Obama administration did the right thing by closing the embassies as a precaution.” People watching would have said, “Wow, maybe Santorum is a more thoughtful, reasonable guy than I thought.”

But hey, it isn’t just Republicans! Here’s Candy Crowley asking Lindsey Graham, “Since the mission of terrorists is to terrorize, in some sense do you feel as if they’ve already won?” Because we temporarily closed some embassies! Of all the reactions to the threat of terrorism you could come up with, that’s about the least terrorized you could imagine. Something about this topic seems to turn so many people into idiots.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 5, 2013

August 6, 2013 Posted by | Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Public Perceptions And The Limited Value Of Recent History

CNN’s Candy Crowley made a noteworthy comment on the air last night, and we’ve heard similar remarks from other media figures quite a bit lately. The subject was President Obama’s prospects for a second term.

“He has to buck history, number one, a president with that kind of high unemployment rate has never been re-elected at 9 percent.”

At first blush, the observation is plainly false. Franklin Delano Roosevelt won a second term when unemployment was at 17%.

In fairness, though, Crowley probably just misspoke, and meant to refer to the post-Depression era. But even if we give her the benefit of the doubt here, the observation is largely pointless.

As a factual matter, it’s true that every president since FDR who’s won re-election has seen an unemployment rate below 7.2%. Will the unemployment rate fall below 7.2% by Election Day 2012? No one, anywhere, believes this is even remotely realistic.

But the context matters, and the media routinely pretends it doesn’t exist. No president since FDR has won with a high unemployment rate because no president since FDR has had to govern at a time of a global economic crisis like the Great Depression or the Great Recession. The U.S. has seen plenty of downturns over the last eight decades, but financial collapses are fairly rare, produce far more severe conditions, and take much longer to recover from.

Of course the unemployment rate won’t be below 7.2%. Under the circumstances and given the calamity Obama inherited, that’s impossible.

The more relevant question is what Americans are willing to tolerate and consider in context. In 1934, during FDR’s first midterms, the unemployment rate was about 22%. The public was thrilled — not because a 22% unemployment rate is good news, but because it had come down considerably from 1932. By 1936, when FDR was seeking re-eleciotn, the unemployment rate was about 17%. How can an incumbent president win re-election with a 17% unemployment rate? Because things were getting better, not worse.

That’s obviously the challenge for President Obama. The numerical thresholds are largely irrelevant — comparing the current economic circumstances to what other modern presidents have dealt with is silly. The more relevant metric is directional — are things better or getting worse by the time voters head to the polls, and if worse, who gets the blame.

What’s more, let’s also not lose sight of sample sizes. CNN’s Crowley made it seem as if no American president has ever won a second term with this high an unemployment rate. But even if we limit the analysis to the post-FDR era, as Dana Houle explained a couple of months ago, “Since FDR only Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and the two Bush’s have been elected president and then sought reelection. It’s hard to draw big conclusions from a sample of seven.”

If the media is preoccupied with this metric, it will shape the public’s perceptions and help drive the campaign. Here’s hoping news outlets come to realize how incomplete this picture is.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 4, 2011

September 4, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Journalists, Media, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Press, Public, Public Opinion, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Unemployment, Voters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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