Feb 1 2010


Newspeak 2010

“The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

—Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy (1/21/10), granting corporations the power to spend untold billions to do our thinking for us

‘Back to Basics’

Here’s a cable news discussion of the Massachusetts Senate race (noted by Political Animal, 1/19/10): Ad exec-turned-pundit Donny Deutsch described Scott Brown, the winning Republican, as a “traditional-looking middle-aged white male” and suggested that voters might be “going back to basics” after electing an African-American president and “we’ve had the female candidates and whatnot.” Deutsch said Brown “looks like the traditional view of a candidate,” which may bring a “visceral comfort” to voters.

Panelist and Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle agreed, saying there was “something to it.” The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan added that Brown is “a regular guy” who “looks like an American.” None of the five white panelists questioned what an American “looks like.”

Fox News? No, Fox’s “left-wing” competition, MSNBC (Morning Joe, 1/19/10).

The Quarter-Million-Dollar Middle

CNN anchor Kiran Chetry (American Morning, 2/1/10) interviewing White House budget director Peter Orszag:

CHETRY: You also talk about letting taxes expire for families that make over $250,000. Some would argue that in some parts of the country that is middle class.
ORSZAG: Well, I guess it’s not the parts of the country where I’ve been.

Households that make $250,000 or more a year make up 1.5 percent of the U.S. public.

David Brooks’ Faux Populism

Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks (1/29/10) laid out a political program for Barack Obama: Calling deficit reduction “the issue that unlocks everything else,” Brooks urged Obama to “force the country to accept common sacrifice…. Establish your credibility and offer to raise taxes on the lower 98 percent.”

Reality check: The bottom 98 percent are now dealing with 9.7 percent unemployment. In the past four decades or so, the per capita output of the U.S. economy has roughly doubled (Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Economic Accounts), but the typical U.S. family’s income has risen only about 15 percent since 1973 (U.S. Census, Historical Income Tables). Who’s been benefiting from this uncommon sacrifice? The average income of the 400 wealthiest families in the past 45 years has multiplied a spectacular 27 times (Economists View, 12/31/09).

Brooks fancies himself as speaking up for the little guy who eats at non-existent Applebee’s salad bars (Extra!, 9-10/08), but when it comes to policy, his approach is less populist than Marie Antoinette’s: Let them not eat so much cake.

Calvin Woodward Knows Hatchet Jobs

Reporter Calvin Woodward, who writes strained “factcheck” pieces for AP that feature weird value judgments, semantic games and crystal-ball gazing in place of genuine corrections (Extra!, 6/09), took on Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech in a piece headlined “Obama and the ‘Hatchet’ Job” (1/27/10). The piece singled out Obama’s call for a non-military discretionary spending freeze, pointing out that during the 2008 campaign Obama had said that rival John McCain’s proposal for a spending freeze was “using a hatchet where you need a scalpel.” Saying that Obama’s “proposal is similar to McCain’s,” Woodward complained that “he didn’t explain what had changed.”

Actually, the administration had explained quite specifically how the two proposals are supposed to differ: While McCain’s “hatchet” would freeze funding for individual programs, Obama’s “scalpel” would freeze overall domestic discretionary spending, allowing some programs to expand while others were cut (White House Blog, 1/26/10). You can question the wisdom of the policy, but you can’t claim that the White House doesn’t offer an explanation of how Obama’s approach differs from McCain’s. Or rather, if you work for AP, you not only can—you can make it the centerpiece of your “factcheck” article.

Obama’s Class Conflict

The Washington Post’s Eli Saslow (2/3/10) on Barack Obama:

He is a rare president who comes from the middle class, yet people still perceive him as disconnected from it.

Few presidents come from the middle class? Except for Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, Warren Harding and Woodrow Wilson, it’s hard to think of a single example from the last hundred years.

Harvey and Hoover’s Secret History

The Washington Post’s Joe Stephens (1/23/10) used government documents to show that folksy far-right broadcaster Paul Harvey (Extra! Update, 8/05) was longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s favorite kind of journalist: sycophantic (“If the Republic has survived, history will record that it was largely due to your vigilance,” Harvey wrote Hoover) and servile (“For a number of years, you have been kind enough to send me your daily copy,” an assistant FBI director noted to Harvey in 1957).

For its part, the Bureau viewed Harvey as a cracked though useful tool: Despite “a history of emotional instability,” said one 1952 memo, Harvey had become “very effectively anti-Communist.” The broadcaster “devoted entire shows to Hoover’s heroism,” the Post noted.

Stephens’ story revealed that Harvey first came to the attention of the Bureau when Harvey was interrogated in 1951 after trying to expose the Truman administration’s supposedly lax security at Illinois’ Argonne nuclear lab. Harvey was apprehended seconds after jumping the fence, but had written a script beforehand which would have complained about how easy it was to wander onto the facility “quite by accident”: “I had entered, unchallenged, one of the United States’ vital atomic research installations,” he had planned to claim. “We could have carried a bomb in, or classified documents out.” This combination of mendacity and right-wing politics would serve Harvey well throughout his career (Extra!, 9-10/97).