By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
While the mainstream media are still overwhelmingly intent on seeing Barack Obama reelected as President, a number of journalists and news organizations are apparently having second thoughts. Or at least they are willing to examine the claims and representations that the Obama administration continues to put forth. This has been the surprising case regarding Obama’s State of the Union address in late January and the budget that he proposed in mid-February. Hopefully this may mark a turning point in how the media allow themselves to be used by the Obama administration, but don’t count on it. More likely it is isolated incidents of self-respect, and an acknowledgement that they can differentiate between normal political spin and outright lies.
The double standard still could not be more clear. During the many Republican debates there has been a constant effort to get the candidates to provide sound bites for Democratic ads during the general election, calling each other liars and flip-floppers, moderates, liberals, influence peddlers, and plutocrats. The ABC New Hampshire debate in which George Stephanopoulos spent a substantial amount of time on the burning issue of whether or not states have the right to ban contraception seemed like a Saturday Night Live skit in how it attempted to make the candidates appear radical. But now it looks more like coordination with the White House in preparation for their battle to make contraception a “free” entitlement for all under ObamaCare.
President Obama rarely faces such questions. He has been able to largely stay above the fray, managing the news flow, picking softball interviewers like NBC’s Matt Lauer before the Super Bowl, and ABC’s Diane Sawyer a few days before that. But what is new, and has the ability to change the dynamics, is that some of the loyal left in the media have begun to actually directly challenge Obama’s claims and narrative. Not enough of them, but it is starting to happen.
There are still hard-to-believe spectacles such as the Super Bowl on February 4 that played like an infomercial for the reelection of President Obama, in front of an audience estimated at 110 million people. But what is new is that within a day of the President’s State of the Union (SOTU) address, the Associated Press (AP) and The Washington Post were both out with detailed refutations of some of Obama’s signature claims—claims to do with the auto industry, the green energy industry, job creation, the size and scope of government under his term in office, Afghanistan, tax fairness, energy production, and relations with Israel.
During halftime of the Super Bowl was the much talked about two-minute Chrysler ad, with Clint Eastwood, calling it “halftime in America” and seeming to endorse a second Obama term, while suggesting the President was in the middle of a great accomplishment, namely saving America’s auto industry and with it the city of Detroit, Michigan.
Eastwood denied that he intended anything political with the ad, and it’s hard not to take Dirty Harry at his word. But the political overtones were clear, even to some of the giddiest of Obama’s allies in the media. For example, Frank Rich, formerly of The New York Times, currently with New York magazine, was on CNN the following night with Piers Morgan on his weekday show. Here was their take on the ad:
MORGAN: I mean, I don’t care what Chrysler says or Clint Eastwood, if you’re Barack Obama watching the Super Bowl, as I’m sure he was with his family yesterday, and up pops Clint Eastwood, one of the biggest movie stars in the world, highlighting one of your big success stories in this financial crisis, the successful bailing out of the car industry, and saying we’re halftime, America, well, the message is pretty clear, isn’t it? Give the guy another half.
RICH: Yes, I mean, for instance, one thing about this ad that’s just fascinating, is it has a “Morning in America” Reagan ad feel to it. It feels almost like a Reagan ad and yet you’re exactly right. It’s basically saying it was a good thing to bail out Detroit, and let’s not forget that Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee actually wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times saying “let Detroit fail. Let these companies go bankrupt.” And so you have Clint Eastwood, who isn’t at least normally a Republican and may well not have had any political motives, lending his incredible prestige and classic American voice and face to this Reaganesque message that’s in favor essentially of Democratic policies during this recession. It’s amazing.
MORGAN: I don’t know who they’re going to try—how they’re going to try and pretend this is not a political ad. And if it is, it really ratchets up this whole Obama-Hollywood thing. Most of the Hollywood stars I’ve been talking to appear to have gone a bit lukewarm with Barack Obama. But you can’t get better than Clint Eastwood, I don’t think.”
And what about Frank Rich’s statement about Mitt Romney’s op-ed in the Times—that Romney said, “let Detroit fail? Let these companies go bankrupt.” What Romney actually wrote in that piece for the Times was this:
“A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs. The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk…In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check.”
Yet Rich was repeating what Obama and others have said in characterizing Romney’s approach. The choice Obama made was a federal bailout of about $85 billion (including the $20 billion the Bush administration had offered as a bridge loan before he left office) in which for the first time, the secured bondholders, the people who had invested their dollars with the assurance that they were first in line should the company fail, got pushed to the back of the line, while the United Auto Workers came to own 55% of Chrysler, with no wage cuts.
But apparently Joe Klein of Time magazine didn’t see it the same way Frank Rich and Piers Morgan saw it—as a Democratic dream ad. Instead Klein cited Karl Rove, “the master Republican strategist,” as having been “offended” by the ad. Klein said that “any normal person watching this ad had to be thrilled—Eastwood’s voice, the rousing script, the fighting spirit: ‘This country can’t be knocked out with one punch we get right up again when we do the world’s going to hear the roar of our engines.’” Klein said that Rove saw the ad as “a Chicago style payback from Chrysler to Barack Obama for bailing out the company.”
Then Klein went off unhinged into a hyperbolic, left-wing rant saying that Rove lives in a world in which “Obama is the Antichrist…and maybe even, who knows, a secret Muslim immigrant.” At least Klein’s liberal brethren, Frank Rich and Piers Morgan, understood exactly what this ad was about, and they were in full agreement with Rove, though obviously from a different perspective.
Klein went on to peddle the same falsehood as Frank Rich—that Romney took the position that “Detroit should be allowed to fail.”
In the end, both Chrysler and GM went into and came out of bankruptcy only after the $85 billion bailout, with the U.S. government owning 61% of GM and the UAW pension fund owning 55% of Chrysler. The only way either can be considered profitable is by factoring in a $45 billion tax credit granted by the government, and still, the taxpayers are more than $23 billion in the hole.
The unknowable is how the companies would be doing if they had gone through managed bankruptcies, without setting unfortunate precedents related to secured bondholders and crony capitalism.
But that is far from the only falsehood or misrepresentation put forth by the Obama administration. Most are allowed to pass, and receive little examination by the media as to their accuracy.
A word or two on the so-called fact checkers. In December of last year The Weekly Standard ran an article called “Lies, Damned Lies, and ‘Fact Checking.’” While pointing out that “Media fact checking endeavors have never been more popular and influential than they are now,” they argued that too often they represent a liberal ideological bias rather than “providing an impartial referee to help readers sort out acrimonious and hyperbolic political disputes.” Perhaps The Weekly Standard provided a service, pushing some of the fact checkers, like The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, the AP and Bloomberg, to become more objective.
Here are some examples from both the January SOTU and the February budget released by the President, as analyzed by these fact-checking services:
The Washington Post
From Glenn Kessler, the Post Fact Checker, on the State of the Union (SOTU) address:
OBAMA: “Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.”
KESSLER: “This is fanciful budget math. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were funded with borrowed money, so what Obama is really asking for is an increase in domestic spending relative to the Pentagon. The United States is still running huge deficits, so none of this imagined savings would “pay down the debt” until the United States once again began running surpluses. Instead, his proposal would continue to add to the debt.”
OBAMA: “Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world, all of whom are eager to work with us. That’s not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin; from Cape Town to Rio; where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years.”
KESSLER: “Obama’s self-congratulatory tone aside, the most striking thing about this list is that it does not include any cities in the Islamic world. Obama had made a high-profile speech in Cairo in 2009 designed to bolster the U.S. image; judging by recent polling, his effort has been a failure. The Pew Research Center in May said that both the U.S. favorability rating and confidence in Obama had fallen sharply since 2009. In Turkey, a NATO ally, for instance, the confidence in Obama fell from 33 percent in 2009 to 11 percent in 2011; in Jordan, another key ally, the favorability rating for the United States fell from 25 percent in 2009 to 13 percent in 2011…The survey said that Obama’s handling of the political change spawned by the Arab Spring was a key factor in the slumping numbers.”
OBAMA: “Our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a government program.”
THE FACTS: “That’s only half true. About half of the more than 30 million uninsured Americans expected to gain coverage through the health care law will be enrolled in a government program. Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people, will be expanded starting in 2014 to cover childless adults living near the poverty line…The other half will be enrolled in private health plans through new state-based insurance markets. But many of them will be receiving federal subsidies to make their premiums more affordable. And that’s a government program, too.”
OBAMA: “The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.”
THE FACTS: “Obama is more sanguine about progress in Afghanistan than his own intelligence apparatus. The latest National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan warns that the Taliban will grow stronger, using fledgling talks with the U.S. to gain credibility and stall until U.S. troops leave, while continuing to fight for more territory. The classified assessment, described to The AP by officials who have seen it, says the Afghan government hasn’t been able to establish credibility with its people, and predicts the Taliban and warlords will largely control the countryside.”
BUDGET: “It counts on phantom savings [about $850 billion] from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s underpinned by tax increases Republicans won’t let happen and program cuts fellow Democrats in Congress are all but certain to block…And it assumes rates of growth that the economy will have to become strikingly undead to achieve.”
REALITY: “There is no direct peace dividend from ending the wars because the government borrowed to pay for them. The government would have to keep borrowing that amount of money to have it to spend on something else.”
BUDGET: “Forecasts healthy growth in years ahead, with GDP growth predicted to reach 4 percent in 2014 and 4.2 percent in 2015.”
REALITY: “It’s obviously too soon to know, but reputable private forecasts are not nearly as rosy as the administration’s assumptions, and their track record tends to be better. They are generally forecasting a percentage point lower or close to that, a huge difference, and don’t see reaching 4 percent growth in the foreseeable future…Last year, the administration built its proposed budget on a projection of 2.7 percent growth in 2011; it turned out to be 1.7 …Such projections are key because the government’s spending and debt plans rest on how much revenue can be expected to come in.”
OBAMA: “We need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.”
IBD: “The claim that the rich don’t pay their fair share is simply untrue. The current tax code is extremely progressive, more progressive in fact than it was back in 1979, according to the Congressional Budget Office. As a result, the richest 1% today accounts for 36% of all income taxes paid, while nearly half of taxpayers owe nothing at all, or get cash back. If that isn’t fair, Obama owes it to the country to describe just what sort of distribution would be fair.”
When the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in early February that the unemployment rate had fallen to 8.3%, that was great news, right? But the report showed that in that same month, a record 1.2 million Americans left the labor force. And according to an article in SmartMoney.com last December, “the real unemployment figure including all discouraged workers who stopped looking for work is closer to a staggering 22.6%.”
The Washington Times
(From an article titled “Obama’s Made Up Jobless Numbers,” by Joseph Curl:)
When the unemployment rate dropped to 8.5 percent in December, the Financial Times wasn’t convinced. “According to government statistics, if the same number of people were seeking work today as in 2007, the jobless rate would be 11%.”
Curl argues that the BLS has been “busy rewriting the rules” for counting the unemployed, presumably to make sure that come election time, the official unemployment rate will be 8% or less, allowing Obama to hit his mark.
These are just a few of many examples of phony and misleading claims by the White House that are beginning to be challenged by the mainstream media, but which still are not getting nearly the attention they deserve. Fact checking should be a process reflected in every article or story. The problem is that these stories don’t have any traction in the broadcast media, and thus, are largely ignored.•
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of AIM.
Dear Fellow Media Watchdogs:
AIM returned to CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, from February 9-11. As we’ve done for the past several years, we presented the annual Reed Irvine Awards, one for investigative journalism to CBS’s intrepid investigative reporter, Sharyl Attkisson, and one for grassroots journalism to Dana Loesch, a blogger turned Tea Party activist who is now the Editor-in-Chief of Andrew Breitbart’s BigJournalism website.
We received a lot of attention from articles in The Washington Post, Politico, Big Journalism and other sites when the far-left, George Soros-funded Media Matters for America attempted to browbeat CBS News into rejecting the award for Ms. Attkisson. Though it turned out that she was unable to attend because of an assignment, they did send the Washington bureau chief of CBS News, Chris Isham, who graciously accepted the award on her behalf.
Then, on Sunday, February 12, The Daily Caller (DC), co-founded by Tucker Carlson, last year’s winner of the Reed Irvine Award for grassroots journalism, broke part one of an explosive series about Media Matters. They reported that “Media Matters has in less than a decade become a powerful player in Democratic politics. The group operates in regular coordination with the highest levels of the Obama White House, as well as with members of Congress and progressive groups around the country. [David] Brock, who collected over $250,000 in salary from Media Matters in 2010, has himself become a major fundraiser on the left. According to an internal memo obtained by The DC, Media Matters intends to spend nearly $20 million in 2012 to influence news coverage.”
And that was just the beginning. Memos discussed plans to hire private investigators to look into the personal lives of Fox News personnel, and others in the conservative movement. A source told The DC that Media Matters staff “were pretty much writing their prime time” talking points for the cable channel MSNBC. “But then virtually all the mainstream media was using our stuff,” they bragged. There were also reports of erratic behavior by the group’s founder, one-time conservative journalist David Brock.
AIM also gave a Reed Irvine Lifetime Achievement Award to Capt. Charles Rozier (USN Ret.), who still volunteers as head of the Speakers Bureau at AIM at age 91, after 15 years. Charlie is a veteran of D-Day, the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and was the Captain of the ship that raised the nuclear-armed Soviet submarine during the Cuban missile crisis. Contact him if you need a speaker•
For Accuracy in Media
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.