“Live By The Media’s Favor, Die By The Media’s Disfavor”: After Pumping Him Up For Months, The Press Turns On Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio is in serious trouble, so he’s now attacking Donald Trump, something he hasn’t been as eager to do before. While it may produce a return slap from the Republican front-runner, it probably won’t be enough to shift the discussion around Rubio, who is now learning a very hard lesson: Live by the media’s favor, die by the media’s disfavor.
Rubio’s rapidly shifting fortunes demonstrate how capricious those ups and downs in coverage can be. As much as we might like to believe that we’re nothing more than observers, chronicling the events that take place in as fair a way as we can, the media inevitably shape events too. As Walter Lippman wrote in 1922, news coverage “is like the beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then another out of darkness into vision.” For a long time, the light shining on Rubio illuminated the things that people thought made him a formidable general election candidate. But when the light’s focus shifted, things got very bad very fast.
A lot of Republicans fail to understand media dynamics because they’ve bought in so fully to their own propaganda about how the liberal media are biased against conservatives. Here’s how Sen. Orrin Hatch explains Rubio’s fall:
“Democrats can run a younger person like John F. Kennedy because the media is with them. Republicans will have a more difficult time because if somebody’s young, they’re going to get beaten up like never before by this biased media.”
Putting aside the utility of Kennedy’s experience running for president 56 years ago in explaining what’s going on today, the notion that the media were biased against Marco Rubio is ludicrous. In truth, no other Republican candidate got more glowing coverage for months than Rubio did; as I and others have pointed out, there have periodically been waves of stories about how Rubio was about to have his moment and rocket to the front of the race, since those in the know understood just what a formidable general election candidate he would make.
The trouble was that Republican voters never seemed to clue in to what the insiders were telling them. And even though after the Iowa caucuses media outlets everywhere declared Rubio the real winner despite his third-place finish, the Rubio explosion never happened. So when last Saturday’s debate came, the stage was set for a new story about Rubio. Chris Christie mercilessly attacked him for repeating a line about how “Barack Obama knows exactly what he’s doing” was the hook for the new narrative.
Why was Rubio’s performance in that debate such a big deal? It wasn’t because there’s something objectively horrifying about a candidate repeating a talking point a bunch of times, even after getting called out on it by an opponent. The real problem was the substance of what he was saying: that Barack Obama is intentionally trying to destroy America, a rancid idea that is no less vile for being common on the right. The repetition got so much attention in part because reporters approach debates by looking for some supposedly revealing moment or exchange that can be replayed over and over again. All the better if it involves confrontation (as this one did, between Rubio and Christie) and all the better if if makes somebody look foolish (as this one also did).
It also created a new story to write about — Is Rubio too robotic? — that reporters may have been primed for by watching Rubio’s message discipline on the campaign trail. That’s critical to understand, too: among the media’s most important biases is a bias toward the new. A new event, a new story, a new narrative will always be more interesting than another iteration of a story you’ve written ten times before. After writing “Rubio Poised to Break Out” for months, the media was ready for the dramatic shift to “Rubio Crashes and Burns.”
And then, just two days after the debate, Rubio had a brain fart during a town hall meeting, repeating twice the same line about pop culture getting rammed down our kids’ throats — saying it, then immediately saying it in almost exactly the same words again. That was too good for the press corps to pass up, since it reinforced the emerging storyline. (This narrative has also been pushed forward by his opponents.) Then when Rubio came in fifth in New Hampshire, the cascade of negative stories continued, leaving him where he is today.
Though he has taken responsibility for his own poor performance in the debate, if he’s like most candidates (both Democrat and Republican), Rubio probably thinks he’s not being treated fairly by the media. But nobody gets to have it both ways. You can’t say that it’s entirely appropriate to characterize a third-place finish in Iowa as a grand victory, then say it’s unfair to characterize a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire as a crushing defeat. You can’t say that everyone should pay attention to all the things that on paper make you a strong candidate, but object when too much attention is paid to your real-life flaws. And you can’t bask in your positive coverage, then object when you screw up and that winds up on the front page, too.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, February 11, 2016
“Pope Francis Will Not Help Your Political Cause”: Even The Pope Can’t Change The Fundamental Calculus Of Congress
“Pope Francis gets political in remarks at White House,” read the headline at The Hill.
“Pope Francis brings political agenda to Washington,” said Politico.
“Pope Francis wades into U.S. politics,” read The Washington Post.
Seeing all that, you might think that the pontiff had said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, and also, call your representatives and tell them to vote yes on H.R. 2451…”
Meanwhile, countless interest groups are sending out press releases saying the pope agrees with them on their issue of concern (the dumbest I’ve seen has to be the 30-page report from a Democratic group charging that the Koch brothers are “on the wrong side of the Holy Father”). But I have some bad news if you were hoping the pope would aid your particular partisan cause, whatever it is: The pope’s visit is not going to matter much.
I suppose you can’t blame the political press for interpreting the pope’s trip through the lens of politics, since it’s their job to view everything through the lens of politics. And it’s true that the pope is visiting the White House and giving an address before a joint session of Congress while he’s here. But is he really going to change the nature of any of the serious partisan arguments we have?
It’s not too likely, because no matter how popular Francis might be, nobody here is just going to do what he says on any issue just because he’s the pope. It’s strange now to look back at the 1960 campaign and see that people were genuinely concerned that John F. Kennedy would be taking orders from the Vatican instead of doing whatever he thought was best. We’d never accuse a Catholic presidential candidate of that today, less because it would sound intolerant than because it would sound ridiculous. When ordinary Catholics don’t take orders from the pope, why would a Catholic president?
Catholics have a lot of practice at picking the Church edicts they want to obey and those they don’t — and that applies to both liberals and conservatives. The conservatives take all that stuff about helping the poor with a grain of salt, while the liberals have decided to agree to disagree with the Church on matters like same-sex marriage. And most everybody disagrees with the Church on birth control; in this Pew poll, three-quarters of Catholics said the Church should permit contraception, and the overwhelming majority of Catholic women of childbearing age use it.
Of course, this isn’t just about obedience, it’s also about the pope’s ability to add his voice and moral authority to political questions. You could argue that when the pope talks about climate change, he makes concern about it seem like a mainstream position and not the province of lefties and liberals. Which is true as far as it goes, but in the U.S. today, that isn’t that far. In the intensely polarized environment in which we live, even a highly popular religious figure can’t change the fundamental calculus of Congress.
One of our two great parties has committed itself to fight any moves that might address climate change, a commitment that is unlikely to change any time soon. That’s true despite the fact that most of their own constituents believe we ought to do something about it. The dynamics of party politics mean that the Republicans who actually get elected are going to be the ones who are most doctrinaire, on this as on most issues. That means that as long as they control Congress, there will be enough of them to stop any climate legislation, which in turn means that action will only come through the kind of regulatory changes that the Obama administration has instituted. The only thing that will produce meaningful climate legislation is huge Democratic majorities in Congress of the kind they had briefly at the start of Barack Obama’s first term. Might there be a Republican member of Congress somewhere who wishes she could publicly advocate reductions in greenhouse gases, and will finally have the courage to do so now that she can claim Pope Francis as an ally? I suppose it’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it — let alone there being some significant number of Republicans who would join her.
The same is true of other issues: the more something matters to us politically, the less the pope is able to change anyone’s mind here in the United States, whether he’s talking about abortion or refugees or tax policy.
Even if some conservative media outlets are now going after Francis like he was Hillary Clinton because of what he’s said about climate and capitalism, they needn’t worry so much. While everyone is parsing the pope’s words to see if he supports their position on something or other — he said he’s an immigrant, so he must be criticizing Donald Trump! He said we need religious liberty, so he must be backing Kim Davis in Kentucky! — what will come out of this visit is a lot of selfies, a lot of media puff pieces, and probably a jump in the pope’s popularity. But politically, everything will stay just the same.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, September 24, 2015
“Ben Carson’s Fear Of A Muslim President”: Islam Is ‘incompatible With The Constitution’; So Much For Constitutional Conservatism
What a week to be Muslim! Last Monday, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for making a homemade clock and bringing to school. But by Tuesday, we saw an outpouring of support for Mohamed on social media and from celebrities like Mark Zuckerberg and even President Obama.
Then on Thursday, Donald Trump refused to counter a supporter spewing vile anti-Muslim crap at a Trump event. But come Saturday, Trump was declaring,
Trump even said he would “absolutely” be open to appointing a Muslim American to his cabinet or have on his ticket as a running mate. (Good luck finding a Republican Muslim after this week!)
That brings us to Sunday. Ben Carson, currently running second to Trump for the GOP presidential nomination, gave us this gem while on NBC’s Meet the Press: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
Why would Carson be adamantly opposed to a Muslim president, you may ask? Because Carson believes that Islam is “incompatible with the Constitution.”
The glaring irony of Carson arguing that a Muslim should not be president simply because of his or her faith is that his position is what’s actually incompatible with the Constitution. Carson is calling for a religious test for the presidency. But that’s expressly banned by Article VI of the Constitution, which provides that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Our nation’s Founding Fathers could not have made it more clear that Carson’s view that a person’s faith should disqualify him or her for federal office violates the values and principles of our nation.
Carson’s words are truly no different than the anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic rhetoric heard in American politics in the past. For example, during the 1960 race for president, John F. Kennedy was attacked for his Catholicism. As Shaun Casey noted in his book The Making of a Catholic President allegations against Kennedy included that the “Roman Catholic faith was ultimately incompatible with principles” of our nation.
And anti-Semitism was part of the American political landscape in the 1930s. For example, Father Charles Coughlin was a wildly popular radio host who had spewed anti-Semitic diatribes including the idea that Jews weren’t loyal to America. But that didn’t stop American politicians from partnering up with him. In fact Coughlin spoke at the 1932 Democratic National Convention.
So you see, what Carson and other Republicans have said about Muslim holding beliefs inconsistent with American values or not being loyal to America has been said before about Catholics and Jews.
Now the good news for Muslims (and bad for Carson and his ilk) is that a poll from July found that 60 percent of Americans would support a Muslim candidate for president. Maybe Carson is jealous because he will never see that level of support?!
And even more upsetting for Carson is that the poll found 76 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds would support a Muslim, as would 67 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds. That means the future for a Muslim candidate for president is far brighter than Carson’s.
Now Carson’s point that somehow Islam is incompatible with American values is astoundingly wrong. Islam is grounded on Judeo Christian values, which is why all three of these religions are known as the Abrahamic faiths. I guess Carson is clueless that Jesus, Abraham, and Moses are revered by Muslims.
In fact, this Thursday marks one of the most important Islamic holidays known as Eid Al Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice. Does this day celebrate something to do with the Prophet Muhammad? Nope, it commemorates the moment when God appeared to the prophet Abraham and asked him to sacrifice his son as an act of devotion. Yep, that’s the same Abraham the Jews like.
Putting all of this side, what’s truly the most alarming about Carson’s words is that he’s feeding the narrative we hear from others on the right that Muslims are threat to America. He’s stoking flames of fear about Muslims that not only leads to hatred, it may bring some to the doorstep of violence. And sadly some have crossed through that threshold. For example, right-winger Glendon Scott Crawford was convicted in April for plotting a terrorist attack to kill Muslim Americans with a weapon of mass destruction and will soon be sentenced to 25 years to life.
And Robert Doggart, a Christian minister, is about to start trial on charges of plotting to slaughter Muslims in upstate New York using M-4 military assault rifles, explosives, and a machete to cut the Muslims “to shreds.”
Carson’s words also contribute to a climate where hate crimes versus Muslims are five times higher today than pre 9/11. And I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that weekly, I see incidents of everything from threats against Muslim Americans to defacing of Muslim houses of worship to actual physical assaults on Muslims. (I mention these events every week on my SiriusXM radio show in the segment “Islamophobe of the week,” and we are never at a loss to find three or more nominees.)
I have no doubt that Carson will lose this race. But sadly his views will continue on in the GOP until we see a real leader in that party stand up and make it clear that this type of fear mongering against fellow American is no longer acceptable. I just wonder if we will see that day any time soon?
By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, September 20, 2015
Writers and advocates on the left have long catalogued the exaggerations, meltdowns and many stumbles of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, to show that the guy who runs the No-Spin Zone is frequently unfair and relentlessly unbalanced. But now O’Reilly has a different sort of watchdog in CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, host of “Reliable Sources” – and Stelter is attracting more company.
Oh sure, the Fox bully dismisses Stelter — along with his critics at Mother Jones, Media Matters and, for that matter, Salon — as just another left-winger out to get him. But that charge won’t stick. The bright, earnest, hardworking former New York Times reporter isn’t known for his ideological crusading; he goes after MSNBC, not just Fox. But when Stelter finds an important story, he digs in.
The CNN host just spent his second straight Sunday on the O’Reilly mess, this time advancing the story about what has become the most damning and incontestable charge against the Fox host: that he lied about personally hearing the suicide of a mysterious friend of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, in Palm Beach, Florida, back in 1977, just as congressional investigators were closing in on the source. O’Reilly told the lie in his book “Killing Kennedy” as well as on the air at Fox.
In his book, O’Reilly wrote of tracking George de Mohrenschildt, who’d lived in Minsk and became friends with Oswald and his wife, Marina, in Dallas, after they returned from a stay in the Russian city. Kennedy assassination researchers believe de Mohrenschildt was a CIA asset, and he’s implicated in a lot of theories about the real motive for Kennedy’s murder. O’Reilly doesn’t dig into that story, but he tells a dramatic tale of his search for the Oswald associate:
As the reporter knocked on the door of de Mohrenschildt’s daughter’s home, he heard the shotgun blast that marked the suicide of the Russian, assuring that his relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald would never be fully understood.
By the way, that reporter’s name is Bill O’Reilly.
There’s no evidence O’Reilly was anywhere near the shooting. In fact, two years ago Jefferson Morley obtained a tape of a conversation between O’Reilly and congressional investigator Gaetan Fonzi, which proves he wasn’t there. Morley, a former Washington Post and Salon editor, posted the tape on his site JFKFacts.org, a clearinghouse for assassination news.
But it wasn’t easy to hear. After Media Matters surfaced Morley’s reporting, CNN obtained a much more audible version of the taped conversation from Fonzi’s widow. It proves O’Reilly wasn’t on the scene when de Mohrenschildt died. You can hear Fonzi tell O’Reilly “he committed suicide,” as O’Reilly asks when and how (“they say he shot himself). The Dallas-based reporter wraps the conversation by saying, “I’m comin’ down there tomorrow, I’m comin’ down to Florida,” and as he discusses grabbing a flight, it’s clear he wasn’t anywhere close. “Bill O’Reilly did not hear a gunshot from 1,200 miles away,” Morley told Stelter Sunday morning.
The journalist and JFK assassination investigator took his findings to Fox News two years ago, he said, but got no reply. Since Media Matters revived the Morley story, Fox has referred all questions to O’Reilly’s publisher, which is mildly interesting, since on the other charges Roger Ailes has staunchly stood behind his anchor.
The Kennedy lie is different from the other charges against O’Reilly – although as the number of challenged O’Reilly claims mount, it’s possible to wonder how much more reporters have yet to uncover. Let’s take them in order.
When it comes to reporting on his exaggerations and falsehoods about his time covering the Falklands War and guerrilla uprisings in El Salvador, there is at least some confusion over the real story. Although it’s clear O’Reilly didn’t come close to combat in the Falklands as he claimed, he’s been able to produce enough conflicting accounts about the Buenos Aires riot that he did cover to at least cloud the charges against him. Likewise, he obviously, even ludicrously exaggerated the danger he saw reporting in El Salvador, but you have to sort through different versions of different war scenes to get the truth.
O’Reilly’s claims that he witnessed the murder of nuns in El Salvador – “I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head,” he said more than once – were debunked by Media Matters too. But the Fox host told Mediaite, one of his go-to defenders, that he was referring to seeing photos of the murdered nuns, not the actual murders. “No one could possibly take that segment as reporting on El Salvador,” O’Reilly sputtered. Critics widely mocked him, but he seems to be getting away with that one too.
Then former colleagues came forward in the Guardian to refute O’Reilly’s heroic accounts of his reporting on the 1992 Los Angeles riots. O’Reilly claimed “concrete was raining down on us” and “we were attacked by protesters,” but journalists on the scene with him say they faced no such violence, though a camera was smashed by an angry resident. Jon Swaine reported:
Two of the team said the man was angered specifically by O’Reilly behaving disrespectfully after arriving at the smoking remains of his neighbourhood in a limousine, whose driver at one point began polishing the vehicle. O’Reilly is said to have shouted at the man and asked him: “Don’t you know who I am?”
A Fox spokeswoman told Swaine the Los Angeles stories were “nothing more than an orchestrated campaign by far left advocates.”
That’s a lot of smoke, and O’Reilly critics clearly believe there’s fire. But Fox is able to use the “he said, she said” nature of some of the charges to polish its brand and trash its perfidious left-wing enemies in the media. The Kennedy story isn’t crumbling under that treatment, because we have a tape of Bill O’Reilly contradicting Bill O’Reilly. It’s a “he said, he said” conflict — but the guy on tape is more believable than the guy writing the book.
I’m not going so far as to predict the Kennedy story will endanger O’Reilly’s perch at Fox. But this one might get other editors and reporters to take the story more seriously. It could encourage other former colleagues to bring more evidence about his serial exaggerating, even lies. O’Reilly may well survive this round of challenges to his credibility, but the stories aren’t going away any time soon.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 2, 2015
“Our Democracy Is Dying”: For All Intents And Purposes, Our Government Is Merely The Handmaiden Of Corporations
In case anybody hasn’t noticed, democracy in America is dying now. This isn’t an overstatement; it’s a fact. Corporate interests dominate our politics so much at this point that our government, for all intents and purposes, is merely its handmaiden. Whatever Wall Street wants, Wall Street gets. Corporatism is the new order of the day. One political party stands for it; the other political party won’t stand against it.
The word inertia means the tendency of an object to move in whatever direction its been moving until and unless there’s the introduction of a counterforce, and the Democratic Party is simply not providing the necessary counterforce to the corporatist agenda so exalted by the Republicans. Such a possibility is undermined by Democrats with corporatist agendas of their own. Watch them trying to sideline Elizabeth Warren as I write this. It’s all gotten so terribly predictable.
Some people are pussyfooting around the word, but others are realizing it’s time to say it: we need a peaceful revolution in America. In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” The American people have simply got to stand up now. This isn’t the time for any of us to go mute – whether it’s those who feel there’s no point in saying anything, or those who feel there’s too big a risk in saying anything. And you know who you are.
The social revolution we need is comprised of two major categories: What we say No to, and what we say Yes to. In the American Revolution, with the Declaration of Independence we said no to what we would no longer accept (living under British rule). In ratifying the Constitution, we said yes to what we would do instead (form our own system of government). The template was genius then, and it’s genius now. Today, we need to say no to a situation in which our government is bought and paid for, and yes to a return to democracy. Nothing short of an historic, nothing namby-pamby-about-it, serious social movement will take us out of our free fall and set America back on the track to real liberty. Today, lobbyists – not the people – are in control. And that is not freedom.
The situation has shaken out – and thank you, Senators McConnell and Reid for adding to the disaster of Citizens United by upping the amount people can contribute to political parties; that really helps (not) – in such a way that nothing short of a Constitutional Amendment will stop the big money flowing into our political campaigns like poison into the veins of our democracy. The best bet now — given the resistance within both major parties to seriously taking down the dastardly “For Sale” sign posted on the front yard of our government — is for the people ourselves to call for a Constitutional Convention, state by state. And that’s what has started to happen.
If something inside you says, “That’s true,” then I hope you get active. We’re in serious straits now and things won’t get better by themselves. In denial about this? Go stand over there. Too cynical to think we can change things? Go stand over there. Too sedated to be upset yet? Go stand over there. An apologist for the system? Go stand over there. Ready to kick ass? Go to http://www.wolf-pac.com/ and express yourself big time. Work with that organization, or with any other you like. But this isn’t a time to sit on the sidelines. Our democracy is sick – it is really, really sick — and all of us are needed now to nourish it and make it well.
By: Marianne Williamson, The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 14, 2014