Media · Media Myopia

5 biggest ways the media misled America this month

5 biggest ways the media misled America this month
Joe Klein

In my opinion, Salon nails it in the following analysis:


We just had one of our nation’s most important foreign policy debates in years — and the media made us dumber…

We just witnessed several weeks of unfolding diplomatic events whose consequences could have life-or-death implications. But if you were expecting the press to give you the full story on Syria, you left disappointed.

Here are five things that (most of) the press got totally wrong in reporting on the Syria story over the last month.

1. Obama’s presidency rested on winning the Congressional vote

This was a common theme in the press leading up to the since-delayed Congressional vote, and it’s vastly overstated, at best. Presidents lose all the time…and then come back and win the next time. It’s probably true that a president’s influence, both on the Hill and with other people he bargains with, is marginally diminished by high-profile losses, all else being equal. But presidential influence on (for example) what Members of Congress do is overrated, anyway. Party, what their constituents want, long-standing political alliances, even the personal preferences of Members – all of those are going to be more important than whether the president is up or down.

Not only that, but “the presidency rides on the Syria vote” indulges one of the very worst press biases – that whatever is in the headlines today will be important down the road. Or even tomorrow. Just a few days after the Syria situation was put on hold, everyone’s attention went back to the impending budget showdown, and few of the good stories about leverage in that fight made any mention of Syria. What the whole presidency rested on just last week was instantly forgotten. Which is a perfectly predictable and often repeated phenomenon. The current story always gets hyped.

2. Barack Obama’s goal was war, and the key questions are about whether he gets it

As soon as Obama began talking about an intervention, the press snapped into a 2002 frame: Obama wanted war, and the question was whether or not he would get it. That certainly was the correct way to interpret the Bush administration’s approach to Iraq, but it was unhelpful in thinking about what Obama wanted in Syria. It would have been more accurate to frame it in terms of a goal – Obama’s stated goal – of increasing international norms against use of chemical weapons.

3. Presidents are “deciders” – so the important question is whether they can enforce their decisions

This is an old one, but George W. Bush put it into words, and as with the previous one the Bush experience seems to be driving plenty of the news coverage.

But there’s a different way of looking at the presidency. If presidents are not so much “deciders” as they are initiators, then Obama’s record on Syria looks a lot different. Then, the questions worth asking aren’t about whether he got his way, but things such as whether he made the right choices about what to spend his resources on, whether his initiative was well-timed, whether he did a good job of listening to the information that his initiative generated. And, most importantly, whether the eventual policy was a good one or not. Those are all more important in evaluating his actions, and to the larger questions about policy, than simply how the eventual policy compares with his initial ideas.

4. Presidents are “deciders” – so it’s crucial that they make decisions and stick with them

This one showed up in the aftermath of the sequence in which Obama seized on a new opportunity for a negotiated solution, and asked Congress to hold off voting after all. Again, as with some of the others, this one inexplicably looks back on George W. Bush’s behavior on Iraq as some sort of excellent role model. One would think that the press would rush to embrace flexibility in the White House, but that wasn’t the case during the Syria episode, where pundits like Joe Klein seemed insistent that Bush’s firm resoluteness was the gold standard, with or without context or nuance.

5. We are going to “war”

On this one, I count myself as guilty as anyone.

The press, along with the political establishment, utterly failed to find, or at least to consistently use, a vocabulary for what was on the table. Certainly air or missile strikes are an act of war, and should be reported as such; just as certainly, those sorts of limited attacks always bring with them the risk of additional involvement – either from retaliation or from mission creep. At the same time, calling that “going to war” summons up images of, well, troops marching, and casualties coming home to hospitals or in body bags. Even keeping the risks in mind, that’s not what was being talked about. A vocabulary is really needed to make clear that it is “real” war, but that it’s also not at all similar to Iraq, the Gulf War, or other full-out invasions.

U.S. Politics

Sunday Morning Blog Roundup 12-2-2012

The Putin Doctrine
Russia’s president flexes his muscle at home and abroad.

Copy of lost Da Vinci work found
A 400-year-old copy of a lost Da Vinci masterpiece is found

What Defines A Serious Deficit Proposal?
Apparently, it’s not about the money.

2012’s Hurricane Season, in 4.5 Minutes
2012’s Hurricane Season, in 4.5 Minutes

‘Fox News Sunday’ Gets John Boehner Interview
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Notorious “eco-terrorist” finally arrested
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“The Central Park Five”: New York’s darkest hour
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Joe Klein: Predicting Obama’s Cabinet Shuffle
Joe Klein: Predicting Obama’s Cabinet Shuffle

Police: Kansas City Chiefs’ Belcher Kills Girlfriend, Self
Police: Kansas City Chiefs’ Belcher Kills Girlfriend, Self

Sunday Talk Shows (12/2/12): Fiscal cliff, Grover Norquist, Meet the P..
Guests scheduled for the Sunday political talk shows include Treasury Secretary Timo..

U.S. Politics

‘O: A Presidential Novel’: Who Wrote It?

Lots of speculation going around about a novel which claims the author’s name is “Anon”.  In the past, the same sort of speculation arose over a book called Primary Colors  (A novel about the Clintons) in which the author used the name “Anonymous”.  Subsequently, Joe Klein announced that he wrote that book.

Huffgington Post

Simon & Schuster will publish the anonymous “O: A Presidential Novel” this month, a political fantasy novel described as “provocative” by its publisher Jonathan Karp on a new website created for the book. The announcement of the book’s release has sparked a wave of theories about the identity of its author, with speculation ranging from Joe Klein and humorist Christopher Buckley to Jon Stewart and Obama campaign guru David Plouffe. Even HuffPost’s own Howard Fineman.

Here are a roundup of a few key suspects. Who do you think wrote “O”? Let us know in the comments section below.

Here are a few.  The rest can be found here…






Glenn Beck Conspiracies

Joe Klein: Glenn Beck Is A “Telecharlatan” With A “Phony, Professorial Air”

Time Magazine’s Joe Kline has been on point lately in his assessment of a  “bitter” Sen. John McCain and now the “Techcharlatan” Glenn Beck.  Klein is definitely on a roll!


During a segment on this morning’s The Chris Matthews Show, host Chris Matthews asked his panel to hand out year-end awards. Most of the broadcast was a fun discussion with good-natured praise and jabs for the year’s most notorious political celebrities. However, for the category of who demonstrated the biggest “Chutzpah” of the year, one nominee had guest Joe Klein nearly foaming at the mouth with anger.

With Matthews’ suggestion of Fox News host Glenn Beck and his decision to host his Restoring Honor rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech”, Klein let loose on Beck more generally:

There has to be a word for Glenn Beck. Who is a telecharlatan. And who really, I mean he retires the cup. Not just for that rally, but for this phony, professorial air that he has when he is broadcasting in which he promotes these ridiculous conspiracy theories by John Birch Society nutcakes. I mean it’s outrageous.

No one on else on the panel seemed interested in challenging Klein or discussing Beck at all, and instead suggested Republican leaders and their continuously evolving stance on earmarks was deserving of the “Chutzpah” award.

Video via Mediaiate

Park 51 Islamic Center

Mosque Bore

Joe Klein of Time Magazine really gets it… 

Over at the National Review, Clifford D. May takes the mainstream media, including Time, to task for rolling over for the “terrorists” on the Cordoba Center mosque in downtown Manhattan. He does cite our poll which had 46% of Americans thinking that Muslims were more likely than others religionists to act violently: 

Goodness, why would anyone think that? Could it have something to do with the fact that there have been close to 16,000 terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam since 9/11? Just last month, Time had on its cover the photograph of an 18-year-old Afghan girl whose nose and ears were sliced off by members of the Taliban because she had violated Islamic religious law as they interpret it by “running away from her husband’s house.” The word “Taliban” means “the students.” Students of what? Engineering? Dentistry? No. Of Islam. 

Now, to say that this is slipshod slander of more than 1.5 billion human beings (minus maybe 20,000 extremists) is almost beside the point. Although I do find it offensive that Mr. May has problems with Sufis–among the most peaceful religionists extant–the former Cat Stevens, the Green Movement protesters in Iran, the “liberated” people of Iraq, plus several close Muslim friends of mine who are–at least, it seems to me–far more civilized than any hater who would make this sort of statement. 

It can be safely said that Mohammed, unlike Jesus and Moses, was a prophet who took up the sword and this may have had some influence on some of his more extreme followers (Moses, a wise delegator, asked God to take up the sword against his enemies). It could also be said that western colonial assumptions about Islamic inferiority may have had something to do with creating the ghastly anger that attends the outer precincts of Islam now. And it could also be said that Christianity, in its crusading phase, spilled an awful lot blood and behaved, in general, in a manner that might have caused its pacifist Jewish founder to become a Buddhist or Zoroastrian, or a Sufi. 

But none of this matters. Nor does the occasional immoderate statements made by the Cordoba Center’s founder, who truly seems a person attempting to create an important interfaith dialogue…most of the time. 

Why doesn’t it matter? Because the Cordoba controversy isn’t about Islam. It is about America. It is about whether or not we take the freedom of religion clause in our Constitution seriously. And that is all the dispute is about. Period. I find it hilarious that conservatives who insist on the purity of the Second Amendment are such relativists when it comes to the First. I find it appalling that neoconservative Jews, whose presence and historic success in this country is a consequence of the First Amendment, would deny full rights to Muslims…and that, in their mania, seem to think that it’s all right to defame so many innocent people. (By refusing to acknowledge the specific and benign humanity of most Palestinians, for example–a too-common practice among American Likudniks–they relinquish the right to be assumed civilized themselves.) 

I am, admittedly, a bit radical on this subject: I think Ground Zero itself–not a building two blocks away–would be a terrific site for a mosque, as a demonstration of American freedom, one of the truly superior qualities our nation offers the world. But you don’t have to agree with me. You don’t even have to like Muslims. You may be concerned about the senstivities of  some of the families of some of the 9/11 victims; I certainly am; some of them are my neighbors. You just have to like the Constitution. I love it. 

Update: Greg Sargent took Krauthammer to task for similar assumptions about the nature of Islam recently in the Washington Post.

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President Obama

Apocalypse Not: Are the Dems Really Facing Doom?

I tend to share Mr. Klein’s sentiment.  The reports of the demise of the Democratic majority has been greatly exaggerated!

Time Magazine – Joe Klein

In the midst of the mid-July doldrums, Barack Obama suddenly was beset by a zeitgeist tornado blowing in — hard — from the media and the opposition. A Washington Post headline blared that “6 in 10 Americans Lack Faith in Obama.” The Drudge Report, rippling off the poll, screamed, “CREDIBILITY CRISIS.” The New York Times asked 15 brilliant people to give the sinking Prez advice on its op-ed page. Charles Krauthammer, the neoconservative columnist, argued that the worst part of Obama’s failure was that he was succeeding — he was reversing Reaganism, with legislation like the health care and financial-reform bills. The President’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, noted, accurately, that the Democratic Party might lose the House of Representatives in the coming elections. This droplet of candor rendered the Speaker of said House, Nancy Pelosi, inexplicably apoplectic. Various commentators began to speculate that it was possible that the Democrats could lose the Senate as well.

Yikes. With all the hyperventilation, it was easy to gain the impression that something was actually happening. In truth, not much was. Take that Washington Post poll, for example. It was true that 57% of those surveyed had only some or no faith in the President’s ability to solve the country’s problems. But that was pretty good compared with, well, everyone else in town: 67% lacked faith in the congressional Democrats, and a mere 72% felt that way about the Republicans. By the way, the lack of faith in the President’s ability to fix the economy seems entirely rational to me: another short-term stimulus burst is needed, and so are long-term deficit-reduction fixes, but both seem beyond the Administration’s capability right now. On the other hand — in the midst of a fierce recession and the oil spill and a massive Republican smear campaign — Obama’s approval rating stood at a buoyant 50%, which was slightly higher than most other polls had him, all of which were higher than Ronald Reagan’s at a similar point in his presidency. (See TIME’s poll: voters like Obama, not his policies.)

It was certainly true that the Democrats were poised to take a shellacking in the coming elections. That’s business as usual; congressional campaigns almost always give heartburn to sitting Presidents. But the intensity of the reflux remains a mystery. The Lost Senate scenario depended on the Democrats’ dropping every last race imaginable — and even as the dire prognostications were being propounded, Harry Reid was rising from the dead in his Nevada Senate race (on the strength of the weird Tea offered by his Republican challenger), a pattern that could repeat itself in other states where the Republicans have settled on test-tube libertarians who want to privatize old-age entitlements, believe that people receiving unemployment insurance are lazy and still have doubts about the legality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (See “Harry Reid — The Democrats’ Inside Man.)

Even on the House side, the picture wasn’t entirely clear. A composite index of polls had the Republicans slightly ahead in a generic ballot (albeit with a far more enthusiastic potential electorate). But in the tawdry area of fundraising, a very precise leading indicator of success in congressional races, Democrats were thrilled by the fact that many of their vulnerable candidates — Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, Chris Carney in Pennsylvania, for example — had significantly outraised their Republican opponents. Here, too, the Republicans were evening the odds by offering strange brews of Tea against Democrats who tended to be solid, moderate Blue Dog sorts. (Several polls had the Tea Party’s initial, mildly favorable public impression turning sour.) (Comment on this story.)

This is not to say the President doesn’t have problems. The public is distressed by the recession and confused by Obama’s solutions. The financial-reform bill that the President signed on July 21 may tourniquet some of Wall Street’s excesses, but who could explain it? The big banks remain intact, with only a byzantine regulatory process standing between them and another bailout. There is no transaction tax to discourage the casino gambling in financial derivatives that fueled the crash. Indeed, the most accessible news from the bill is that one unpopular big (Wall Street) was impinged upon by another (government regulators), who don’t have a fabulous track record when it comes to being outsmarted by the Madoffs of this world. The other headline was that the bill funds 68 government studies, all of which — I’m sure — will be carefully read and implemented. (See “Financial Reform: Obama’s Triumph of Policy Over Politics.”)

This is a “solution” that doesn’t connect with the “problem” perceived by the electorate, which is the government’s affinity for bailouts. “The big guys got taken care of,” says Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, one of 53 congressional Democrats who lost their seats in the 1994 Republican tsunami, “and everyone else is getting hammered. There is enormous frustration about that, and people tend to take it out on the party in power.”

And so it will surely be this year, though perhaps not the apocalypse the zeitgeist warriors are predicting.


Fear Mongering · POTUS Criticism

Time’s Joe Klein: The Tsunami of Obama Criticism

I just received my weekly copy of  Time magazine.  The article by Joe Klein caught my attention immediately.  Klein has been a luke warm supporter of President Obama, so I wanted to read what he had to say. Klein makes this assessment:

Over the past few weeks, Barack Obama has been criticized for the following:

He didn’t go to Berlin for the 20th anniversary of the Wall’s coming down.

He didn’t make a forceful enough statement on the 30th anniversary of the U.S. diplomats’ being taken hostage in Iran.

He didn’t show sufficient mournfulness, at first, when the Fort Hood shootings took place, and he was namby-pamby about the possibility that the shootings were an act of jihad.

He has spent too little time focusing on unemployment.

He bowed too deeply before the Japanese Emperor.

He allowed the Chinese to block the broadcast of his Shanghai town-hall meeting.

He allowed the Chinese President to bar questions at their joint press conference (a moment memorably satirized by Saturday Night Live).

 He didn’t come back with any diplomatic victories from Asia.

He allowed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 plotters to be tried in the U.S. criminal-justice system rather than by the military.

He has dithered too long on Afghanistan.

He has devoted too much attention to — and given congressional Democrats too much control over — health care reform, an issue that is peripheral to a majority of Americans.

Klein then goes on to give his take on the piled on criticism of Barack H. Obama:

As a fully licensed pundit, I have the authority to weigh in here … but I demur. Oh, I could sling opinions about every one of the events cited above — some were unfortunate — but it would matter only if I could discern a pattern that illuminates Obama’s presidency. The most obvious pattern, however, is the media’s tendency to get overwrought about almost anything. Why, for example, is the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall demolition so crucial that it requires a President’s presence? Which recent U.S. President has gotten the Chinese to agree to anything big? (In fact, Obama has secured significant diplomatic coöperation from the Chinese on North Korea, Afghanistan and Pakistan.) Was his deep bow indicative of anything other than his physical fitness? (My midsection, sadly, prevents the appearance of obsequiousness in such circumstances.)


So it is way too early to make pronouncements on Obama’s fate. One pattern that can be limned from the recent overseas controversies is that this President has a tendency to err in the direction of respect toward other countries. This is a witting reaction to the Bush Administration’s tendency to diss our allies and insult — or invade — our enemies. It is a long game, which will yield results, or not, over time. After a first year spent demonstrating a new comity, Obama has gained the global credibility to get tough — on Iran, for example — in his second year. But the real evaluation of Obama’s debut must wait for the results of the two biggest problems he’s tackling: his decision on Afghanistan and the congressional attempt to pass health care reform

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