Jan 1 2009


When a Mandate Isn’t a Mandate

Columnist Robert Novak (Chicago Sun-Times, 11/5/08) wrote that Barack Obama’s victory didn’t measure up to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first re-election in 1936, when “the defeated Republican candidate, Gov. Alf Landon of Kansas, won only two states, Maine and Vermont, and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress by wide margins.” Obama’s win, Novak continued, “was nothing like that. He may have opened the door to enactment of the long-deferred liberal agenda, but he neither received a broad mandate from the public nor the needed large congressional majorities.”

OK, you say, Novak has a strict definition of what constitutes a mandate, and Obama’s 53/46 percent, 9.4 million popular vote margin just doesn’t fulfill it. But after the 2004 election, when Novak appeared on CNN’s Capital Gang (11/6/04), Mark Shields asked him directly, “Bob Novak, is 51 percent of the vote really a mandate?” To which Novak responded: “Of course it is. It’s a 3.5 million vote margin.” Novak explained why some people might be in denial about Bush’s mandate: “The people who say there’s not a mandate want the president, now that he’s won, to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to accept the liberalism that the voters rejected.’ But Mark, this is a conservative country, and it showed it on last Tuesday.”

How to Unite

A USA Today editorial on “How Obama Can Be a Uniter” (11/7/08): “If Barack Obama wants to show he meant what he said about bridging the blue state/red state divide, there’s an easy way do it: Ask the best of President Bush’s appointees to stay on and adopt some of Sen. John McCain’s better ideas.”

In other words, if Obama really meant the things he said, then he would not do some of the things he said, and instead do the things John McCain said.

Which Traders Need Scare Quotes?

There was some interesting punctuation in a Washington Post piece (11/14/08) explaining that Obama’s economic advisers “span the policy spectrum”: “They include free traders and ‘fair traders,’ deficit hawks, Wall Street executives, corporate moguls and labor advocates.”

The typographical implication is that “free trade” really is free, whereas “fair trade” is just a slogan dreamed up by advocates. This treatment of so-called “free trade,” as economist Dean Baker has long explained (Truthout, 7/7/08), “reflects deeply held biases in the media…These are not free trade agreements. They do not free all trade and, in fact, increase some forms of protectionist barriers.” But in the corporate media, “free trade” does not generally require any qualifier or explanation.

Unclear on What ‘Fairness’ Is

In a column warning Barack Obama against progressive policies (Washington Post, 11/15/08), former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson gave an inaccurate description of the Fairness Doctrine, which he called “a federal regulation (overturned by the Reagan administration in 1987) requiring broadcast outlets to give equal time to opposing political viewpoints. Under this doctrine, three hours of Rush Limbaugh on a radio station would have to be balanced by three hours of his liberal equivalent.”

In fact, the Fairness Doctrine (Extra!, 1-2/05) was never an equal-time rule; instead, it required broadcasters to provide some coverage of controversial issues and to make some provision for opposing views. In practice, the FCC would accept roughly a 5-to-1 ratio as providing adequate balance. Far from making conservative talk radio impossible, a talkshow format in which the host occasionally takes calls from listeners who disagree was an easy way for stations to fulfill their Fairness Doctrine obligations.

From History to Allegation

According to a Los Angeles Times piece (11/6/08) on debate within Iran over negotiating with the U.S., “Some point to the injustices allegedly committed by the U.S. against Iran, such as the 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected government, as reasons why America should make the first move.”

Is the L.A. Times really unsure whether the U.S. was actually involved in overthrowing the Iranian government? Just three weeks earlier (10/17/08) it had referred to the shah of Iran having been “brought back to power by a U.S.-engineered coup in 1953.” Do facts become allegations when Iranians bring them up?

‘I Knew He Knew Who I Was’

Right-wing talkshow host Glenn Beck, who recently moved from CNN Headline News to Fox News, has been talking about an incident where a trucker supposedly called him a “racist bigot” and threatened to run him over. “I wanted to say, ‘I think you have me mistaken for someone else,’ but I knew he knew who I was and he just hated me for who I was,” Beck wrote on his blog (11/17/08). “Wow. Is this who we’ve become?”

Unfortunately, “we” have been like this for quite a while. It was Beck who told his radio audience (5/18/05): “I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out—is this wrong?” Beck has also threatened to put Muslim Americans behind “razor wire” if they didn’t “shoot the bad Muslims in the head” (FAIR Action Alert, 12/5/06).

Newsweek’s ‘Other Holocaust’

In the Darfur region of Sudan, it is estimated that from 200,000 to 400,000 have died as a result of a conflict that erupted five years ago. In Congo, up to 25 times more people have died—over 5 million—in more than a decade of conflict. The Darfur conflict, though, has received much more U.S. press attention than Congo—on the three broadcast networks, for example, Darfur was mentioned three times as often in the past five years as Congo. And in Newsweek magazine, Darfur mentions outnumbered Congo mentions two to one. Which might help to explain why the magazine would run a brief piece about Congo in its December 1 issue under the headline “Africa’s Other Holocaust.”

More SoundBites

February 2009 / December 2008