it's the fourth of july, probably my favorite holiday of them all. and there's been a couple of big stories in the news this week that i've been trying to not let get my blood pressure up: fisa, the mccain/ wesley clark thing, and obama on the war. but i've found these this morning that, i think, are letting me just relax and enjoy my favorite holiday of the year.
[from the carpet bagger...]
McCain gets busy, the media gets spun, and Obama gets screwed
The more the presidential campaign unfolds, the more it resembles a Twilight Zone episode in which reality has no meaning at all.
For over a year, Barack Obama’s position on Iraq has been entirely consistent — a flexible withdrawal timeline, over 16 months, with one to two brigades a month. He would consult with commanders on the ground about how best to execute this policy, and would consider conditions on the ground, but Obama is committed to a withdrawal policy. He’s said this over and over again.
In fact, conditions-based flexibility has always been a hallmark of Obama’s policy. Asked earlier this year if he’d refine the timeline based on events on the ground, Obama said he would. Asked if he’d guarantee that all the troops would be out of Iraq, no matter, what 2013, Obama demurred.
So, yesterday, when Obama repeated the exact same policy he’s emphasized for over a year, the McCain campaign and the national political media — the distinctions between McCain and his “base” continue to blur — pounced. Obama, they said without evidence or connection to reality, had changed his policy.
The problem, of course, is that McCain and the traditional media outlets had already picked the narrative in advance. Republicans decided recently that Obama would change his Iraq policy. Why? Because they said so, and proceeded to repeat the claim, incessantly, over the last 10 days. Major news outlets, demonstrating 2000-like levels of professional malpractice, bought into it. Why? Because Republicans told them to like the “move to the center” narrative, and the media is anxious to acquiesce.
As such, when Obama explained yesterday morning that he’d continue to take reality into account when shaping the details of his withdrawal policy, the Republican National Committee issued a statement that said, “There appears to be no issue that Barack Obama is not willing to reverse himself on for the sake of political expedience.” The RNC assumed — or at least, hoped — that professional journalists at major media outlets are blisteringly stupid.
At which point, the professional journalists at major media outlets sought to prove the RNC right. They started the week royally screwing up the Wesley Clark story, and they ended the week royally screwing up Obama’s Iraq policy story.
The AP, which has basically been running McCain campaign press releases as news articles, said Obama had “opened the door … to altering his plan to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq in 16 months.” That hadn’t, you know, actually happened, but the RNC said it had, and that was good enough for the Associated Press. Other news outlets followed suit, as did the cable news networks.
Almost immediately, it became accepted fact — Obama had reversed course. “Everyone” knew it was going to happen, and then “everyone” knew that it had happened. That Obama’s policy hadn’t changed at all was irrelevant, and frankly, inconvenient. McCain and the media had what they wanted, and they were running with it.
So, Obama, visibly frustrated, held another press conference to say, again, that his policy has not changed.
Remind me again why any mentally healthy individual would argue that the national media is going easy on Obama?
The hang-up seems to be over Obama’s use of the word “refine.” Obama is willing, in other words, to improve the details on how he’d withdraw from Iraq. What’s less clear is why anyone over the age of seven would find this controversial. As Matt Yglesias put it, “Basically, unless Obama comes out and says something like ‘I’m a totally unreasonable person whose views on Iraq will in no way be influenced by anyone’s advice or any possible factual developments’ he’s now a flip-flopper. Meanwhile, John McCain’s views on Iraq receive no scrutiny whatsoever.”
In a sign of the Rovian tactics to come, the McCain campaign’s press statement insulted the intelligence of everyone who saw it.
“Today, Barack Obama reversed that position proving once again that his words do not matter. He has now adopted John McCain’s position that we cannot risk the progress we have made in Iraq by beginning to withdraw our troops immediately without concern for conditions on the ground. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind when the facts on the ground dictate it. Indeed, the facts have changed because of the success of the surge that John McCain advocated for years and Barack Obama opposed in a position that put politics ahead of country.
“Now that Barack Obama has changed course and proven his past positions to be just empty words, we would like to congratulate him for accepting John McCain’s principled stand on this critical national security issue. If he had visited Iraq sooner or actually had a one-on-one meeting with General Petraeus, he would have changed his position long ago.”
I like to think that public service through politics is an honorable pursuit. The McCain campaign is surprisingly anxious to remove any shred of honor from this process. This statement is a lie, the campaign knows it’s a lie, the reporters have to know it’s a lie, and anyone who speaks English can see that it’s a lie. But they said it anyway.
And Josh Marshall explained why the McCain campaign would bother to issue such a breathtakingly dishonest statement.
For the McCain campaign to put out a memo to reporters claiming that Obama has adopted McCain’s policy only shows that his advisors believe that a sizable percentage of the political press is made up of incorrigible morons. And it’s hard to disagree with the judgment.
The simple truth is that this campaign offers a very clear cut choice on Iraq. One candidate believes that the US occupation of Iraq is the solution; the other thinks it’s the problem. John McCain supports the permanent deployment of US troops in Iraq. That is why his hundred years remark isn’t some gotcha line. It’s a clear statement of his policy. Obama supports a deliberate and orderly withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. It’s a completely different view of America’s role in the world and future in the Middle East. Reporters who can’t grasp what Obama is saying seem simply to have been permanently befuddled by George W. Bush’s game-playing over delegating policy to commanders.
Yesterday was a farce. The journalists at the major news outlets ought to be ashamed of themselves. They are, quite literally, hurting the country. I expect the McCain campaign and the RNC to lie — it is, regrettably, what they do best — but there’s simply no excuse for the kind of reporting we’ve seen over the last 24 hours. It doesn’t even take any sophistication — just look at what Obama has said before, consider what he said yesterday, and notice that nothing has changed. Hell, use Google; it’s free.
It’s almost as if we’re watching a game in which the refs have been paid off.[from media matters...]
John McCain's "protective barrier"
Nearly four months ago, I wrote that many journalists were going along with John McCain's apparent efforts to declare that, because of his military service, any criticism -- even if it doesn't have anything to do with his service -- is out of bounds. In one early example, McCain attacked Mitt Romney, claiming that Romney (who, McCain noted, "has never had any military experience") had criticized Bob Dole's "service and courage." In fact, Romney hadn't said anything about Dole's service, or his courage. Not even close. But that didn't stop the media from going along with McCain's false claims.
A few weeks later, MSNBC's Contessa Brewer asked if Barack Obama was "taking aim at John McCain's age, an American war hero." Obama hadn't said anything that had anything to do with McCain's status as an "American war hero" -- indeed, he hadn't mentioned McCain at all. Still, Brewer felt compelled to invoke McCain's status as a war hero at the slightest hint (real or imagined) that McCain is being criticized -- even though that (real or imagined) criticism had nothing to do with McCain's military service.
But incidents like that were apparently just trial runs for what has happened this week, as much of the media has abandoned any pretense of neutrality. In the most vivid example to date of media describing any criticism of McCain as criticism of his military service, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell described a television ad that made not a single mention of McCain's service as being a part of "an organized campaign against John McCain's military service."
Here's the ad; watch for yourself. It's an ad about McCain's Iraq policies. It doesn't make any mention of McCain's military record. Doesn't even hint at anything having anything to do with McCain's service. Yet Mitchell suggested it was part of "an organized campaign against John McCain's military service." She may as well have said a giant purple unicorn had called McCain a traitor, for all the truth there was to her statement.
Mitchell's description was deeply dishonest, but what's really remarkable is how well it fit in among the rest of the media's political coverage this week.
On Sunday, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer suggested that the fact that Barack Obama has not "ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down" makes him less qualified to be president than John McCain. His guest, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, responded by saying that having done so is not a qualification to be president:
SCHIEFFER: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean --
CLARK: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.
Clark has made similar comments in the past, and various media figures said much the same thing about John Kerry in 2004. Morton Kondracke, for example: "It does not qualify you to be the commander in chief of all the Armed Forces because you were a Swift boat commander." And Kathleen Parker: "[M]ilitary service neither qualifies nor disqualifies one for political office." That same year, Bush campaign spokesperson Steve Schmidt -- now John McCain's de facto campaign manager -- dismissed the relevance of Kerry's military service, noting that it had occurred decades earlier.
Nobody much cared when people said John Kerry's military service didn't qualify him to be president. But the media have different rules when it comes to John McCain. And so Clark's comments were met with a firestorm of media criticism. Never mind that Clark hadn't criticized McCain's service; that he hadn't said McCain served poorly or dishonorably -- in fact, Clark called McCain a "hero." Never mind all that; the media quickly, relentlessly -- and falsely -- jumped all over Clark.
They falsely accused him of attacking McCain's military service. They falsely accused him of attacking McCain's patriotism. They went along with the McCain campaign's complaints that Clark -- who, again, called McCain a "hero" -- "didn't pay proper homage" to McCain. By the end of the week, one creative journalist went so far as to falsely claim that Clark's comments were part of a "pattern of attacks" on McCain as "psychologically unfit for presidential office." In short: they freaked out.
A few journalists felt compelled to acknowledge the obvious: that what Clark said was actually right -- that McCain's military service, like John Kerry's, is not sufficient qualification for the presidency no matter how honorable and heroic it was. But they still insisted Clark shouldn't have said it.
New York Times columnist Gail Collins, for example, wrote: "When Schieffer pointed out that Obama had neither run a squadron nor 'ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down,' the correct response was: 'No, and he honors Senator McCain's service.' ... Nevertheless, what Clark said was obviously true." Collins' Times colleague John Harwood agreed during an appearance on MSNBC: "[I]t was a misstep by Clark ... It was not a well-advised thing for Clark to do ... It actually was true."
When did journalists decide that the "obviously true" answer to a question is not the "correct" answer? When did they decide that it was appropriate to spend days excoriating someone for saying something that is "true" but isn't "well-advised?" Columbia Journalism Review's Zachary Roth, writing about an ABCNews.com report, explained:
This is the perfect embodiment of the press's unbelievably destructive habit of assessing every piece of campaign rhetoric for its political acuity, rather than for its validity and accuracy. Clark's comments may (or may not) have been impolitic. But that has no bearing on their validity or lack thereof -- which is how the news media should be evaluating them.
Incredibly, many in the media compared Clark's "obviously true" comments to the vicious smear campaign waged by the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against John Kerry. The comparisons began almost immediately. Just hours after Clark's appearance on Face the Nation, CNN host Rick Sanchez asked, "[D]id Wesley Clark pull a swift boat on John McCain today?" He later described Clark's comments as "A respected military leader dissing, some might say, swift-boating John McCain's military record." The absurd comparison quickly gained traction, particularly on cable news.
But wait: it gets worse. Not only did the media compare Clark to the noxious Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, many of them politely averted their eyes when McCain turned to a member of that group -- which McCain once called "dishonest and dishonorable" -- to respond to Clark's non-attack. The Washington Post, one of the media outlets that did note Bud Day's membership in the SBVT, quoted him rejecting the comparison between Clark and the anti-Kerry group -- because, he claimed, the comparison was unfair to the Swifties: "The Swift boat, quote, attacks were simply a revelation of the truth. The similarity doesn't exist. ... One was about laying out the truth. This one is about attempting to cast another shadow."
The Post didn't bother to tell readers that, in fact, the Swift Boat attacks were deeply dishonest and nasty smears.
In short: John McCain turned to a member of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group whose false and despicable attacks on John Kerry's war record McCain once denounced, to attack Wesley Clark for comments in which Clark did not criticize McCain's war record -- and in which he, in fact, called McCain a hero. And the media went along with it.
But -- because the only limit to how absurd the media's pro-McCain coverage will become is time -- it gets even worse.
While defending the Swift Boat Vets' lies about John Kerry and attacking Wes Clark for something he didn't say, Bud Day said of Clark: "General Clark spent a month in Vietnam, got badly wounded, evacuated, and that was his Vietnam experience. I'd say let's hold the two of them up and see who's most qualified to talk about their experience as a combat officer."
That happens to be false. Clark served at least six months in Vietnam, not "a month." Day's comments about Clark constituted an actual falsehood about a distinguished veteran's military record, made on an official McCain campaign conference call by a hand-picked surrogate. Surely, after days of freaking out over something Wes Clark didn't say, the media quickly gave as much attention to SBVT member Bud Day's false claims about Clark's own war record?
Of course not. Remember: the rules are different for John McCain.
Then there's Bob Dole. Earlier this year, McCain falsely accused Mitt Romney of criticizing Dole's service. This week, Bob Dole returned the favor by releasing a statement calling Wes Clark's non-attack on McCain's service "Beyond comprehension" and a "further erosion of our nation's political discourse."
CNN, MSNBC, Time and the Associated Press, among others, reported Bob Dole's comments about Clark. But nobody mentioned an inconvenient fact that completely undermines Dole's credibility on this topic: In 2004, in the midst of the Swift Boat controversy, Bob Dole went on national television to make false claims about John Kerry's war injuries, suggesting the Democratic presidential candidate didn't deserve his Purple Hearts.
Dole said in 2004 that he will "always quarrel about" Kerry's Purple Hearts, because "he got two in one day" even though he "never bled" and only had "superficial wounds." In fact, Kerry's Purple Hearts were not awarded for the same day, and he did bleed, according to Kerry crewmate Del Sandusky, who -- unlike Dole -- was present when Kerry was injured. There has never been any evidence that John Kerry did not earn his medals, and there is considerable evidence he did.
The false claims Bob Dole made to suggest John Kerry did not deserve his Purple Hearts are what it looks like when somebody actually smears a war hero. Yet the media who dutifully repeated Dole's criticism of Clark didn't bother to mention Dole's bogus and offensive comments about Kerry.
After all, Dole was defending John McCain from (imaginary) attacks, and the rules are different for John McCain.
Let's pause for a moment to review. According to the news media, if you call John McCain a "hero," but say that heroism doesn't qualify him to be president, you have dishonorably attacked his military service. (Feel free, however, to say the same thing about John Kerry.) And if you criticize McCain's Iraq policies, you are participating in "an organized campaign against John McCain's military service."
But wait! There's more!
The media's knee-jerk defense of McCain doesn't stop at their use of his military service to rule criticism of his Iraq policies out of bounds. It extends to (things having nothing to do with) his age, too. See, if you criticize John McCain for ignoring his own pledge to avoid negative campaigning, the media will quickly announce that you're really attacking his age. That was ridiculous, of course, but McCain aide Mark Salter told them to say it, so they did.
You get the picture: the media is on the verge of declaring any criticism of John McCain off-limits -- even when it isn't really criticism. Even when you call him a "hero," but not quite enthusiastically enough.
One of the hallmarks of the Karl Rove era of GOP politics is that the Republicans aren't particularly subtle about their tactics. They tend to clearly telegraph what they intend to do, though often with the slight wrinkle of accusing the opposition of doing what they plan to do themselves.
That is certainly true of the McCain campaign. In the very memo in which Salter convinced the media to pretend that Obama's criticism of McCain's negative campaigning was an attack on the Arizona senator's age, Salter wrote: "Senator Obama is hopeful that the media will continue to form a protective barrier around him, declaring serious limits to the questions, discussion and debate in this race."
Yes, that's John McCain's senior adviser complaining that the media has formed a "protective barrier" around Barack Obama.
The American people, however, seem to see through this nonsense. Two months ago, The New York Times and CBS News conducted a poll in which they asked respondents whether the media has been harder or easier on John McCain than on other candidates. Only 8 percent thought the media had been harder on McCain than on other candidates; more than three times as many people thought the media had taken it easier on McCain than on other candidates. (Asked the same question about media coverage of Barack Obama, respondents split pretty much down the middle.)
It probably could go without saying at this point, but in case you're wondering: No, neither the Times nor CBS reported those poll results.