DOJ and CNN

Let's stick with the theme of the media's interest in GOP-talking point ratings over honest journalism with the utterly deplorable case of Liz Cheney's organization releasing an ad referring to the Department of Justice as "Department of Jihad" because it employs lawyers who have worked defending Guantanamo detainees (most of whom we actually know were innocent, not "the worst of the worst."  For the moment, we'll hold off on how scurrilous, anti-American, and morally shameful this attack is and take a look at how CNN covered the matter.  Via Glenn Greenwald (you really should read the whole post, here's the key excerpts):

On Twitter yesterday, I wrote:  "How media figures treat Liz Cheney after her vile McCarthyite smear campaign will say a lot about their character."

CNN's Wolf Blitzer spoke volumes today about himself and his "news network."  First, on Twitter earlier today, he excitedly promoted
his upcoming story about what he called the "intense debate about Obama
Justice Dept bringing in lawyers who previously represented Gitmo
detainees."…

Blitzer first teased the
segment as this on-screen logo appeared, taken directly from the Cheney/Kristol ad:  "HAPPENING NOW: DEPT. OF JIHAD?"

The next time he teased the story, CNN flashed this logo — "Al Qaeda 7?"
— also taken directly from the Cheney/Kristol ad, as Blitzer explained
that numerous Justice Department lawyers have been — as he put it — "accused of disloyalty"
by a national security organization headed by Liz Cheney.  The
final Blitzer tease came as these words were flashed on the screen:  "Are Justice Dept. lawyers disloyal?"

The
story itself began when Blitzer posed this question:  "Should there be
a loyalty test over at the Justice Department?"  He then introduced
CNN Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve, who — echoing Liz
Cheney — introduced her segment by asking about the Obama DOJ:  "Should it really be called the Department of Jihad"?

Meserve's
segment then included, without any judgment, various opinions on these
questions, with "some" saying that lawyers shouldn't be judged by the
clients they represent while "others" explained that these lawyers'
presence in the Justice Department presents a serious national security
issue.  None of the facts compiled earlier today by ABC News' Jake Tapper
— such as the fact that the Bush DOJ also hired lawyers who had
represented Guantanamo detainees, just as Rudy Giuliani's firm had,
without any objections from the Right — made it into CNN's story, as I knew would happen.

Following
Meserve's breezily neutral, "each-side-says" report, Blitzer hosted a
"debate," featuring right-wing lawyer Victoria Toensig defending the
Cheney/Kristol crusade, and some criminal defense lawyer meekly and
lamely objecting to some (though not all) of Toensig's
arguments.  Blitzer passively let Toensig ramble uninterrupted and
dominate the exchange, asking not a single challenging question.  The
entire time as Meserve's story itself was being broadcast and the
"debate" took place, this was the logo CNN had on screen:  "DEVELOPING STORY – ARE JUSTICE DEPT. LAWYERS DISLOYAL?"
 The two segments, from start to finish, were constructed based on the
exact McCarthyite narrative Cheney and Kristol puked up, and although
Blitzer did note that even some Bush officials found the ad to have
gone "too far," the entire 30 minutes of broadcast time — both when
the story was repeatedly previewed and when it finally appeared –
continuously reinforced the smears with both graphics and Blitzer's
words.

As much as conservatives mindlessly believing in the "liberal media bias" annoys me, I don't think anything annoys me more than the absurdly mistaken belief that CNN, in particular, has a liberal bias.  What they have is pathetic standards for journalism.  And, on the merits of this disgusting smear, Eugene Robinson has a nice column highlighting the criticism from very conservative (yet, still with integrity) legal scholars.   Of course, the Post in there ongoing efforts to show "we're not part of the stinkin' Liberal Media" has hired former Bush speech-writing hack, Marc Thiessen, who actually tries to defend this. 

Reconciliation and the media

Sure, I've said it before and I'll say it again, the idea that the mainstream media has a liberal bias is generally preposterous.  Quite simply, they have a bias in favor of anything that will help get them ratings.  And, all too often, that bias is to have them mindlessly repeat the absurd claims of the right-wing noise machine that does the GOP's bidding.  With the Senate looking to slightly modify the financial aspects of health care reform– they already got 60 votes to pass the comprehensive plan on Christmas Eve– the Republicans are going nuts about "jamming" "ramming" etc., through health care via reconciliation and the media is simply doing their bidding for them in this.  And how did the media cover the GOP's use of reconciliation in 2003?  As you might expect, they pretty much ignored it.  Jamison Foser at Media Matters had the great idea of comparing media coverage of contreversial tax cut legislation in 2003 to today's overblown coverage and here's what he found:

The Senate reconciliation vote
occurred on May 23, 2003.
In the month of May, only one New York Times article so much as
mentioned the use of reconciliation for the tax cuts — a May 13, 2003, article that devoted
a few paragraphs to wrangling over whether Senate Republicans could assign the
bill number they wanted (S.2) to a bill approved via reconciliation. The Times also used the word "reconciliation"
in a May 9, 2003,
editorial, but gave no indication whatsoever of what it
meant.

And that's more attention than most
news outlets gave to the use of reconciliation that month. The
Washington Post
didn't run a single article, column, editorial, or
letter to the editor that used the words "reconciliation" and "senate." Not one. USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated
Press were similarly silent.

Cable news didn't care, either. CNN ran a quote by
Republican Sen. Chuck
Grassley about the substance of the tax cuts in which he used the word
"reconciliation" in passing — but that was it. Fox News aired two interviews in which
Republican members of Congress referred to the reconciliation
process in order to explain why the tax cuts would be temporary, but neither
they nor the reporters interviewing them treated reconciliation as a
controversial tactic.

And ABC, CBS, NBC? Nothing, nothing,
nothing.

A nice editorial in TNR also addresses this ridiculousness:

In response, Republicans have exploded in indignation, and their
complaints have found a sympathetic hearing in the Washington media.
Here are a few select samples of the coverage–all from straight-news
reporters: “Democrats have not ruled out the possibility of using a
strong-arm tactic, called ‘budget reconciliation,’” (Associated Press);
“Obama may be ready to play hardball and lean on filibuster-busting
reconciliation rules” (Roll Call); “the hardball strategy would worsen partisan friction” (Congressional Quarterly). The New York Times, as if seized by a tic, has used the term “muscle” on at least three occasions to describe reconciliation.

Next time you hear some poorly mis-informed conservative soul mention the liberal media bias, you might want to bring up this whole sorry episode.  

Not entirely on the point of this post, but I love the conclusion to the editorial (I'm thinking Chait most have wrote it):

The health care debate, with opponents crying socialism about reform
that is patterned after classic moderate Republicanism, has exposed the
small-mindedness of the GOP. The party’s reconciliation hysteria may
not be its worst moment of this episode, but it is its most pathetic.
That opponents have had to lean so heavily on a completely trumped-up
objection speaks volumes about the overall strength of their case.

Update: Just found this… Stephen Colbert and Ezra Klein on reconciliation– what a combo!

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Action Center – Health Care Bill – Ezra Klein
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Skate Expectations

Wake schools

So, as occasionally happens, I've been requested to blog about a particular topic.  In this case, one actually near and dear to me because it is the dismantling of my kids' school system.  Rather than bus based on race, Wake County has been balancing schools based on socio-economic status with a very simply guideline– no more than 40% of the students in a school should qualify for free or reduced school lunch.  Bus some kids from downtown out to the 'burbs and bring suburban kids downtown through magnet schools and there you go.  It's not perfect, but it's worked pretty damn well.  And, of course, the genius is that it's not actually based on race, but the correlated factor that really matters: poverty.

The signal achievement is that there are no bad schools in Wake County.  You keep poverty in the school down and lots of good things happen: good teachers and administrators want to stay there and engaged and concerned parents want their kids to stay there.  You got that at at school and you're in business.  In contrast, once poverty starts climbing and bringing attendant problems, the best teachers and administrators and the parents of more promising students all flee and the school ends up in a downward spiral.  E.g., you can see quite clearly what happened in Mecklenburg County NC (Charlotte) when they ended their race-based busing.

All good, right?  Well, it so happens that having such a great school system means lots of people want to live here and thus Wake County schools have been growing at a huge rate.  You know what happens then– kids get bussed all over the place, especially from the high-growth fringe suburbs as schools cannot keep up with the growth.  Unfortunately, many kids end up being bussed 10 miles or more from home– a very unhappy situation.  The thing is, in most cases, this is a symptom of growth, not busing for socio-economic diversity.  Alas, busing for diversity makes an easy bogeyman for unhappy parents in lily-white suburbs and we've now got a very GOP-backed (in officially non-partisan elections) majority on our school board.  Diversity out, "neighborhood schools" in. 

It is, of course, more complicate than that, but that gets you 80% of the way there.  Toss in a previous majority that simply had a heavy-handed way of doing business (I supported their policies, but was not a fan) and also was increasingly requiring kids to attend mandatory year-round schools (9 weeks on, 3 weeks off on four different "tracks") and you've got plenty of unhappy parents.  I've always believed that if this was only about the economic diversity, our new anti-diversity majority would not have won.

So, what's so wrong with neighborhood schools.  Nothing, if you live in Cary, or Apex, or Wake Forest.  A lot, if your neighborhood is Southeast Raleigh.  The simple fact is that in many areas of Wake, schools will undergo a dramatic deterioration, greatly struggle, and ultimately fail to offer the consistently high level of education heretofore available throughout the entire school system. 

There is, of course, one potential step to mitigate this– invest tons of resources in these high poverty urban schools to ensure that they don't fall behind.  Do you really see a Republican majority board doing this?  Me neither.  They make vague mentions, but there's clearly, and not surprisingly given their ideology, no specific commitments or ideas to prevent this.  In short, it would take a lot of money and school spending– not generally the GOP approach. 

If you want some more background, the story has garnered national media attention.  Here's NPR.  And here's the NYT

Frum thoughts

Conservative thinker and former Bush administration flunky David Frum gave an address at NC State earlier this evening.  It was a weird experience, as for most of his speech, I found myself in a surprising amount of agreement with him.  I kept on turning to Cobb and saying "this is freaking me out."   When all was said and done, I realized why it was that I had so much agreement.  Frum approaches public policy seriously.  He believes in an honest accounting of costs and benefits to determine the best course of action.  The sad thing is, though, you could probably only apply that statement to a tiny handful of Republican elites (as opposed to plenty of elite Democrats).  Most Republican leaders these days have either outright disdain for thinking intelligently and seriously about policy or simply utter ignorance on the matter.  They see policy as something to be symbolically distorted for electoral goals, not something that is fundamental to how our country functions. 

Frum and I certainly have our disagreements, but I honestly feel that if you just put me and him in a room together, we could work out reasonable compromises composed of smart policy for the majority of America's problems.  Of course we disagree on subjective interpretations of various costs and benefits as well as certain goals we should have as a society.  For the most part (we'll leave out invading Iran), Frum struck me as a fellow traveler in the reality-based community (a specimen seemingly nearing extinction in the conservative world).  What separates Frum the vast reactionary and willfully ignorant body of the modern Republican party, though, is his willingness to think seriously about policy.  That's a sad, sad state of affairs.

Strategic Advice

Steve Benen had a nice post today pointing out the inanity of the idea that Republicans are somehow offering Democrats sincere advice on how to proceed on health care.  What's most frustrating to me is that the mainstream press keeps on quoting this drivel as if it were actually some sort of non-partisan, sincere, strategic advice.  Guess what, if Republicans keep on telling Democrats it would be a horrible thing for them to pass health care reform, it would most likely be a good thing for them.  Republicans now that passing this is good for Democrats, of course, but I think they believe that if they say it enough, maybe they can get the media to convince Democrats that this is actually the case. 

…it seems McConnell is awfully anxious to give Democrats campaign advice, which he expects Dems to take seriously.

"Every election this fall will be a referendum on this bill," McConnell said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

McConnell also said he sees no potential upside for the
Democrats, at least in the short term. "The benefits don't kick in for
four years," the Senate leader said. "Just looking at the politics of
it there's nothing but pain here for the next four years. Why in the
world would they conclude that would be popular?"…

In fact, I continue to think McConnell is protesting too much. If he
and his GOP colleagues were truly convinced that health care reform
would be the Democrats' death knell, they probably wouldn't be fighting
quite this hard to kill the bill.

It's more likely McConnell & Co. are feeling a little nervous.
After 100 years of talking about health care reform, Democrats may
actually deliver. After seven presidents tried to get this done,
President Obama may be the one to cross the finish line. For all the
GOP bravado, some Republicans might actually realize that the reform
bill, if given a fair hearing, is likely to be pretty popular with the
public.

If Dems take electoral guidance from McConnell, they'd be making a colossal mistake.

Yep.  The voting public is none too bright, but they're not particularly known for rewarding failure. 

 

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