Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Obama and the Establishment press, Week 2

David Broder, Dean Of All The Pundits: and the fact that he is that is a real commentary on the state of our American press

No, I'm not planning to do one of these every week. In general, I would prefer to stay away from media criticism as such. But when our national press is so broken down that it not only creates huge problems for Obama getting his programs past but is also in its dysfunctionality a danger to the survival of democracy, it's hard to avoid it sometimes.

First I'll say something nice about our Beltway press: the tax problems of senior nominees is a legitimate story.

Then there's the rest of their stuff. This piece from the New York Times Obama, F.D.R. and Taming the Press by historian Jean Edward Smith recommends that Obama use Franklin Roosevelt's approach to the press as a model. He takes it for granted that Obama's problems with the press are all his own fault. But he makes two deeply erroneous assumptions. And the fact that he can makes such assumptions without being embarrassed says a lot about the state of news media in America today. The two assumptions are:

  • That Obama has the option of having a non-adversary relationship with the national press
  • That the national press understands their role as practicing journalism (as distinct from infotainment)
To see why both are false, all one needs to do is watch a couple of hours worth of the talking heads on Sunday, or read the Times opinion pages for a few days. (Forget the Washington Post opinion page, which is so neocon-heavy now that it's beginning to look like an AEI bulletin!) And while doing so, just ask whether normal human being typically process information in the way its being done by our Big Pundits.

Then there is Tom Edsall in Where Is The Stimulus Shock And Awe? Huffington Post 02/03/09. A puzzle that has bugged me for years Given his obvious reverence for Republican framing of issues, I've never understood that. It really baffles me. I read his articles to see what the "concern troll" position is on things, i.e., the position that advises Democrats that they have to be like Republicans to prevail on anything they want to accomplish. Although, again, if they have to be like Republicans to accomplish anything, why be Democrats at all? Very mysterious.

In this latest lead balloon of a report, he writes:

During a November 25 press conference, then President-elect Obama promised "a new spirit of ingenuity," declaring that the "old ways of Washington simply can't meet the challenges of today and tomorrow," and that "just because a program, a special interest tax break, or corporate subsidy is hidden in this year's budget does not mean that it will survive the next."

Now, as the centerpiece of the Obama administration's agenda -- the $819 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 -- is before the Senate, there is a growing chorus of economists, policy specialists, and commentators -- men and women across the ideological spectrum -- who suggest that the legislation falls far short of Obama's own standards, that it is rooted in the past, that it lacks ingenuity, that it is not sufficiently geared toward innovation, that it contains a raft of special interest tax breaks and subsidies, that huge chunks of cash will be funneled through old bureaucratic pipelines, and that the measure will plunge the country deeper into debt with little to show for it. [my emphasis]
The only phrase in those two paragraphs that I can see that departs even minutely from the Republican Party line of the moment is the passing mention of "special interest tax breaks", tax breaks being always and everywhere virtuous for the Republicans, especially those aimed at freeing our wealthiest citizens from the horrible burden of paying taxes to support their country.

He follows that with this recital of stock Beltway Press conventional wisdom:

"I just don't understand," said one key Obama transition aide who worked on the economic program, "how a group of A-level people could produce such a B-minus, C-plus product," referring to top economic advisers Larry Summers, Jason Furman, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
A "key Obama transition aide"? Like, the barrista at Starbucks where the transition team went for the occasional coffe break?

He does put on his "liberal" hat in the next paragraphs where he begins quoting economist Joseph Stiglitz. And I can see how he might actually be mistaken by a liberal if you saw the article without its first three pages. Although he tips his hand at one point by quoting Jamie Galbraith strongly endorsing the recovery bill and then following it by quoting someone who, Edsall writes, "a more practical, bread and butter level." As opposed to, you know, wild and crazy hippies like Joe Stiglitz and Jamie Galbraith.

Bottom line: here's a guy who has a fairly long article full of quotes from his interviews with liberal economists. And he opens it by ... citing the Republican Party line on Obama's recovery bill.

Joan Walsh is spot-on in discussing the recovery bill when she writes, "Clearly the best ally the Republicans have is the economic illiteracy of the pundit class in America."

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