Our TV media is not a direct reflection of our society, but it does reflect the attitudes of those in powerful positions. With that in mind, take a look at this video produced by the Women's Media Center (via Digby):
The hype surrounding the Iowa caucuses went from high to ridiculous last night. It is even becoming hard for me to resist, particularly since my preferred candidate is the beneficiary. Yet Obama supporters should not get overconfident, as many more, and much bigger states are still to come. Things can easily end up very different than they appear right now. I still believe the real decision point will be on Feb 5 and not before. There is no reason for Edwards or Clinton supporters to even think of giving up before then, and not even reason to get discouraged.
With the much greater Democratic turnout than in any previous Iowa caucus, some of my concerns about the caucus system were alleviated. Even still, the number of caucus voters was much smaller than the number of people who will be voting in November, and a small fraction of the total voting age population of the state.
As Kevin Drum pointed out last night, "It's funny how sometimes you have to wait and see how you actually react to something to know how you're going to react to something." In this sense, this first official voting of the primary season will likely end up very meaningful to many of us after all, in giving us a significant push towards or away from certain candidates. It's impossible not to pay attention to that, as it happens inside our own heads. So I overstated things in my previous post. The immediate results do not matter, but the effect they have on the rest of us is quite real and important.
In Drum's case, the effect seems to have -- temporarily, at least -- knocked him out of his long-held, vague anti-Obama attitude. In my case, it confirmed that I am an Obama supporter -- a direction I had already been headed strongly in but hadn't fully arrived at. It also helped me realize that I would be satisfied without Hillary Clinton as the nominee, and so am certainly not in her camp despite my positive feelings about her.
As for Edwards, I would be happy with him as the nominee, yet I feel Obama is a stronger candidate with a much higher upside for the long term. So I am hoping to see Obama come out on top when the "real action" starts on February 5.
The media and blogger hype surrounding the Iowa caucuses has been as great this year as I have ever seen it. I find this troubling given how undemocratic the caucus process is, how few people participate, and how unrepresentative those people are of the country as a whole.
No matter who "wins" Iowa (as if getting less than 40% of the vote should even count as winning), we should pay little attention. We should treat the Iowa caucus results as a curiosity, much like the similarly undemocratic and unrepresentative straw polls a few months back that no one even remembers now.
The real action is on February 5, when a large fraction of the country will have the chance to cast their votes for their party's nominee.
I say this as a nominally undecided Democratic voter who is now leaning towards Barack Obama, but with a soft spot for both John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.
We progressives who are politically active appear to have an instinctive understanding, epsecially after witnessing the last decade, that the mainstream media is not our friend and cannot be trusted. At least we have this understanding in theory.
So why are so many of us so quick to regurgitate what they write when it is from anonymous sources in the administration critical of our political allies?
In the latest example, why does Steve Benen of The Carpetbagger Report, now a regular guest blogger at Talking Points Memo, raise aspersions about "Democratic leaders" based on a Washington Post article whose sources are anonymous members of the executive branch -- an executive branch run by Bush that has been stacked with ultra-partisan GOP loyalists over the last seven years.
I'm hesitant to jump to conclusions, but I think there are a few lawmakers, including some Democratic leaders, who might want to comment on torture-policy briefings they received way back in 2002.
Benen goes on to recite a quote -- attributed in the article to former Rep. Porter Goss, famous as a partisan attack dog for the GOP -- but he neglects to tell us it is from Goss, and instead attributes it to anonymous "officials."
Not only did these lawmakers generally fail to raise objections, officials at the briefings "described the reaction as mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support."
I have no clue whether the Post article is true or false, but given the reliability of anonymously-sourced reports in recent years, there is no reason to even give any presumption of truth to what these anonymous administration officials say.
Other progressive bloggers, including a guest blogger at Atrios' Eschaton, are also too quick to jump on this bandwagon.
If we turn on our own this quickly and easily, we are putty in the GOPs hands.
Late last week, I heard an atrocious report on NPR about a supposed "tiny" movement amongst biologists. A movement towards support for "intelligent design". A movement, despite its tinyness, apparently being suppressed by tyrannical tenure committees and by impolite peer reviewers.
I knew the subject matter combined with the shallowness of the content and the slant of the coverage would prompt a response from the estimable Dr. Myers at Pharyngula Well, it took a few days, but he has at last published his thoughts on the report, and on the religion reporter who produced it.
Yes, NPR has assigned its religion reporter to cover this supposedly scientific (or so the IDers would have us believe) issue. I suppose that indicates something about what someone behind the scenes at NPR thinks of "intelligent design."
If you think CNN has any credibility left as a news organization, you may want to read some of the recent posts at Josh Marshall's blog Talking Points Memo.
This concerns the story that broke over the last few days of the explosives looted from the al Qaqaa munitions installation in Iraq. Apprently NBC briefly ran a story that suggested that when U.S. troops first arrived at al Qaqaa during the war last spring, they found that the explosives were already gone. NBC soon discovered, however, that this story was not true. Nonetheless, CNN has been pushing this story harder than NBC ever did. Not coincidentally, I'm sure, CNN's version is just what the Bush administration wants everyone to believe, as it would excuse them of a monumental f***-up.
Here is how Josh Marshall's latest post sums up what CNN has been doing:
As we noted last night, on the Nightly News, NBC ran a segment on one of their news crews' visit to al Qaqaa on April 10th, 2003, as embeds with the 101st Airborne. According to that NBC initial report, these were the first US troops on the scene and the explosives were already gone.
NBC didn't run very hard with the story, though, as evidenced by the fact that it didn't even show up on the MSNBC website. But after Drudge started hammering it and it got ginned around the Republican media echo chamber, CNN picked it up and started running with it harder than NBC ever did.
They even made it the headline story on their website for much of last night.
They did this apparently without doing a google or Nexis search to see that the NBC crew embedded with the 101st Airborne wasn't with the first US troops to get there. That actually happened a week earlier, on April 4th 2002, as we noted in this post last night.
In a series of reports today from a member of the news crew in question and from follow-up reporting from Jim Miklaszewski, it became clear that the troops in question made no attempt to inspect the facility for the explosives in question.
Yet CNN is apparently still pushing it.
No matter how easy you guys give it up, they're still not going to love you like FOX.
Late Update: As of 5:29 PM on the east coast CNN has a front page story that still includes the now-defunct NBC story.
Looking at CNN's site, I see they now have the corrected version of the story (via AP). Nonetheless, with all the alternatives out there, please do not rely on CNN for your news until they prove that they are once again reliable.
Kevin Drum joins TAPPED in piling on the DNC for a perceived lack of a vigorous response to the GOP convention. (See this post of mine from earlier today.) He links to a comment from another TAPPED writer about this, who in turn links to yet another comment from still another TAPPED writer about this. After following this chain of links, I think I finally figured out the problem: the young journalists who write TAPPED didn't sign up for the DNC email list and so aren't getting their expected regular updates.
Fortunately there is a simple solution to this problem for them. Can we please lay off the DNC now and resume our fire in the proper direction? Based on my perusal of the Democratic Underground discussion board today, it sounds like there are plenty of Dems, notably General Wesley Clark, making the TV circuits and even getting airtime.
Jeffrey Dubner at The American Prospect magazine's blog TAPPED thinks the lack of Democratic voices on PBS this week is somehow the Democratic Party's fault:
NEWSHOUR, PBS, 10 P.M.: Even PBS can't dig up a Democratic spokesperson or Kerry surrogate. To preview Zell Miller's speech, PBS interviews Republican senatorial candidate Johnny Isakson and Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Jay Bookman. No Democrat. We've seen Karl Rove and Republican Representative Chris Cox -- but not, as far as I've noticed, a single Democrat. Mark Shields is doing all he can, but that ain't much. What are the Democrats doing wrong if they can't even place a voice on PBS?
This criticism is misguided and incorrect. I watched a major portion of PBS's coverage of the Democratic convention last month, and I cannot recall a single partisan Republican voice other than Shields' regular counterpart, David Brooks.
And also, this excerpt is representative of a disturbing tendency amongst left-leaning observers---reflexive criticism of the Democratic Party for any perceived lack of presence in the popular media. Writers such as Dubner are fully aware of the media's proclivities; they must realize that the Democratic Party does not get to decide who gets airtime and how much. Quit with the circular firing squad, Dubner. Please.
Yes, it is indeed GOP propaganda week. The New York Times joins in with this article supposedly on Bush's 2000 campaign promises, by By Edmund L. Andrews and Robin Toner.
The entire thing presents about the exact picture of the Bush presidency that Bush would love to present to the few moderate "undecided" voters still out there. There is too much for me to comment on at the moment, but one item in particular stood out for me, and so I dug a little deeper.
Mr. Bush has come under attack from Democrats and educators who accuse the administration of failing to finance the law [No Child Left Behind (NCLB)] fully. But federal spending on the poorest schools has increased about 60 percent on his watch, to $13.3 billion from $8.3 billion.
So many things to pick apart even if this mere two sentence excerpt! First, the Times journalists fail to note the specific amount of underfunding for NCLB claimed by Democrats. This number is over $26 billion! Second, the comment about the $5 billion increase in spending on the "poorest schools" appears to be a Republican talking point, almost word for word, though is not described a such. This is revealed by an article in the very same New York Times from a couple weeks ago (by a different author, Diana Jean Schemo):
Though the law passed with strong bipartisan support, Democrats, civic groups and teachers' unions complain that federal spending consistently falls short of the amounts authorized when they signed on - an accusation that Republicans reject, saying that spending on the nation's poorest schools has risen by more than 50 percent on Mr. Bush's watch.
Somehow Edwards and Toner (or their editor perhaps), when transcribing this paragraph from Schemo's earlier article, managed to drop the connection between Republicans and this talking point.
Finally, that talking point is not even a rebuttal of the Democrats' claims, as this fellow at a blog called PoliticalJuice pointed out back in May:
Bush has been hit hard with the charge of underfunding, and he wants you to think it isn't true. After all, just look: spending on education is up! But this confuses spending with funding. If you implement a new law that costs $100, and you increase spending by $10, you can say that spending is up, but you're still underfunding the new law (by $90 -- or perhaps even by the full $100 if your $10 increase in spending is going to other areas). In other words, the claims regarding increased education funding are misleading.
Indeed. According to Kerry's website, the amount of underfunding is over $26 billion. This dwarfs the alleged increase of $5 billion for some vaguely defined sub-category of schools. And the $26 billion figure is derived from verifiable facts: the actual funding appropriated for NCLB versus the funding forecast included in the original NCLB bill. So why does the Times gloss over this?
The San Antonio Express-News today has an intriguing article about the U.S. military's relationship with the press in Iraq. Apparently the GOP talking point from last year: "Why isn't all the good news being reported?" is, unbelievably, still making the rounds. I thought this spin had been dropped back in the spring, when Iraq deteriorated so visibly that it was impossible to deny the tragic situation there.
"You're looking at a city that didn't look very much different than any community in the United States," said Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy chief of the U.S. Central Command. "Traffic all over the place, people all over the streets, commerce going on, and they don't have mortars going off and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) blowing up and all that stuff all the time." Alas, no.
That's the Iraq he thinks many Americans never see or read about. It's an argument as old as the U.S.-led occupation and tends to be made by some in the military and supporters of President Bush. Once a whisper, the claim is now a roar. "You're not telling the good news stories," they say.
I once was amused by that refrain. Too many Americans don't know about life in Iraq, in part because they get most of their news from television, whose 90-second stories are driven more by sound bites than journalism.
Now I'm worried. It's convenient for the Bush administration and its supporters to make journalists the object of scorn for flawed policies and an obvious failure to do their homework. It is especially convenient to do so in an election year.
Journalists filing flimsy stories might be tired, stressed, under deadline pressure or lazy, but it's a stretch to imagine that any of us wake up in Iraq each morning thinking about how to trash Bush or the military.
Day in and day out, we try to find compelling stories. As we do that, we worry about being kidnapped or killed by IEDs and car bombs. Bush isn't on the radar.
Talk with Smith and it's clear he's fed up with the reporting. He is unhappy with some Arab outlets, which he said let all sides of a story say whatever they want — without checking to see if the claims are true.
(Hmmm. Sadly, that behavior sounds very familiar.)
Smith, Central Command's deputy chief, is weary of the Western media's focus on terrorist bombings, insurgent attacks and the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. Such reports overshadow a "vibrant" economy in Baghdad, a city that has "an awful lot of activity that's positive."
Arkansas National Guard Spc. James Hess sides with Smith. Men are dying and that's bad, he said, but death is always a part of war. "You figure the time frame we've been over here versus some other wars, we ain't really losing a lot of men," said Hess, 34, of Arkadelphia, Ark.
"Whenever I talk to either my family or people I know they just hear, 'Oh, man, I heard somebody else got killed again. We were worried it was you.' And I said, 'Do you hear anything about the Iraqis getting the opportunity to rebuild?'"
There are good things happening, to be sure. Kids are going back to school. Garbage is picked up. Power is restored.
As he sat in his office July 8, after a two-day tour of Iraq with Express-News photographer Ed Ornelas and myself, Smith complained that Western media were still focused on Abu Ghraib.
"Abu Ghraib isn't a big story with the Arab media anymore. The turnover of the government, the future of Iraq, the folks that are dying senselessly, those are issues for the Arab media," he said. "But (the U.S. media) keeps wanting to get drawn back to this small group of people that humiliated a small group of Iraqis who in general were not good people to begin with."
"The deteriorating relationship between the civilian leadership of the Pentagon is troubling," said Dave Moniz, president of Military Reporters & Editors, an organization I co-founded after 9-11. "I think there is a lot of uneasiness and hostility just under the surface."
[Gordon Lubold, a reporter for Marine Corps Times] fears that commanders don't understand the role of journalists in a free society and instead want cheerleaders.
"There are successes: Bad guys get killed or caught. Schoolhouses get painted. There are also failures: People die. Equipment fails. Frustrations abound," he said. "But in trying to write candidly about a complex, rich story that I believe is fascinating, we're being perceived as bad actors. Reporters are becoming convenient scapegoats for the frustrations the military is feeling about its own mission."
The author's conclusion is hard to refute. Things must be very tragic in Iraq for these military officers to resort to talking points like "Nothing blew up in Mosul today," or "Compared to other wars, it isn't so bad."