Thursday, October 21, 2010

Screw Juan Williams...

...and Bob Beckel and Susan Estrich and Pat Cadell and Doug Schoen and Alan Colmes and all those other Fox-enabling Democrat/Liberal whores who appear on Fox News.  This Fox stable of washed-up Dem politicos, who could not get hired by a current campaign if their life depended on it, grant legitimacy to the illegitimate alternate factual universe of  Fox, where up is down, black is white, and an overly market-based solution to a severe health insurance problem is a socialist government takeover.  They sit in studios with putrid people like Sean Hannity, Anne Coulter and Bill O'Reilly, agree too much with the wingnut hosts, and pretend the difference between left and right is just a matter of degree.  Screw them all.

The difference between the rest of these soulless skanks and Williams is that Williams was also employed by a real journalistic institution with ethics, standards and credibility it sought to protect.  Why NPR let Williams do his sickening "I sometimes disagree with you, but you're a great guy" routine on Fox for so long is beyond me.  Just the phase "Juan Williams of National Public Radio" (or, for that matter, milquetoast Republican Mara Liasson) granted undue legitimacy to the Fox News opinion panels as somehow "fair and balanced".  Anyone that can sit in the same room with the likes of Brit Hume, Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer on a regular basis and not run out screaming is simply not the real journalist they pretend to be. 

NPR had a specific code of ethics that they did not enforce strongly enough with Williams as he not only appeared on Fox' fake "news" programs, but also on Hannity and O'Reilly's screedfests as well.  In fact, he is a regular fill-in for O'Reilly, facilitating the promotion of ridiculous right-wing story-lines just like the regular host.  No legitimate news organization would allow their reporters or even their part-time commentators (Williams was not on NPR much, anyway) to get on TV with overheated nutbags and engage them in opinionated banter.  Williams' stupid, bigoted statements about peaceful Muslims on planes was just the last straw.  They should have tossed him out on his ear long ago.  He never had that much interesting to say anyway.

Now, Williams is a cause celeb for the right-wing, allowing himself to be used as a poor victim by the nation's most sinister forces.  He has dropped all pretense and signed a $2 million contract with Fox, leaving whatever dignity he had left as a reporter and commenter in the real world far behind.  Thus does the whore move in to the mansion. Beckel, Cadell and company should be so lucky.

Screw Juan Williams.  Good riddance.

Monday, October 11, 2010

PolitiFact Adds Puff-Pieces To The Mix

I don't really want to spend the rest of the campaign season writing about the Journal Sentinel's disastrous PolitiFact project, but they really give me no choice.  Since its inception and every day now for over a week, the PolitiFact editors and writers have made outrageous "rulings" against Democrats, let lying Republicans off the hook numerous times, and generally shown itself to be an incredibly biased series. 

It is also becoming increasingly clear that this result is no accident.  It is by editorial design. How else would you explain the two entirely unnecessary pieces that ran last week and this Monday, concluding that two self-serving and (more importantly) unchallenged claims by Republicans were True and Mostly True? 

Who ever said that Scott Walker didn't perform the political stunt of giving $370,000 of his salary back to the county?  No one, that's who.  But that didn't stop a PolitiFact editor from assigning one of the reporters to examine the truth of a claim that no one had challenged.  The result was predictable.  Message #1:  Scott Walker is Truthful.  Message #2: We should care that the most politically opportunistic empty-suit in Wisconsin history, who has been running for governor since he was a radical-right lieutenant in Scooter Jensen's political machine, would play games with his own income for the sake of making a meaningless claim about fiscal austerity during just this campaign. 

Similarly, who ever said that loopy tea-bagger State Senate candidate Leah Vukmir was wrong when she pulled a meaningless statistic out of the air that there are sometimes more government than manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin? Nobody, that's who.  The claim, even if true, was widely ignored as irrelevant.  What, Leah?  Is there something wrong with firefighters, cops, teachers, National Guard? 

But, again, a PolitiFact editor assigned someone to examine the truth of a claim that no one had challenged and no one cared about.  Now Leah Vukmir has the Journal Sentinel's imprimatur as a Truthful candidate and -- most important for her -- not a statewide laughing stock in a tight race against the much more sane incumbent, Jim Sullivan. 

And, no, it doesn't matter that Vukmir's claim about $5 billion in tax increases was "ruled" false on the same day -- that ran as an inconsequential sidebar on page 2, while the story of her wonderfulness in not being wrong about the unchallenged jobs data was one of the few PolitiFact columns that ran on the front page.  The Journal Sentinel knows how to use layout tricks to minimize the impact of negative news about their obviously favored fruitcakes.

All in a day's work for the Journal Sentinel's right-wing managing editor George Stanley and the PolitiFact editors, whose apparent mission is to make the world safer for Republicans.  This new trend of adding Republican puff-pieces like the one on Walker and Vukmir to the mix of harsh judgements on Democrats and muted criticisms of Republicans will make for an entertaining last couple of weeks of this election cycle, as PolitiFact Wisconsin attempts to make sure the prophesies of their right-wing columnists and radio wing-nuts are self-fulfilled.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

PolitiFact Jumps the Shark

The Journal Sentinel continues to make sure the St. Petersburg Times lives to regret its renting of its PolitiFact brand to the incredible shrinking Milwaukee newspaper.  It's one thing to have the balls to hold yourself out as the arbiter of Truth in political advertising.  It's quite another to fail miserably, serve as a shill for every shade of Republican and embarrass yourself on a daily basis, as the J-S has done.

On Saturday morning, the local paper's PolitiFact project moved officially from the ridiculous to the absurd.  Apparently giving the local writers a breather to get ready for the homestretch of their daily Republican-friendly blather, the J-S ran a column by two national PolitiFact reporters about the not-so-hard-to-understand (unless you are a Journal Sentinel or PolitiFact writer) Republican effort to at least partially privatize Social Security. 

This is the third time in a month that the Journal Sentinel has attempted to provide cover for the GOP on this third-rail issue.  It has already used its harshest Pants On Fire judgement on the subject twice regarding perfectly legitimate claims by Wisconsin Democrats about their opponents' subscription to the Book of Ryan and his radical plan to throw Social Security funds into the winds of the private market. Just in case you forgot the J-S's previous "rulings" on the subject, the column by the national writers is embellished by not one but two Pants On Fire graphics and recaps of the paper's previous finger-wagging.

A funny thing happened, though, on the way to the J-S's use of the national report to support their protection of Republicans in general and their fair-haired boy Paul Ryan in particular.  While using some of the same language and pathetic hair-splitting of the local writers ("Ryan said personal accounts should not be called 'privatized'".  Well, alrighty, then.), the national writers reach quite a different conclusion.  Those writers concluded a statement by President Obama on the subject -- accusing Republicans of "pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda" -- was Barely True, which is two tics up from POF on the Truth-o-Meter (no kidding -- that's what it's called).  And that was only because Obama said the GOP wanted to make it a "key part" of their agenda, when they were clearly running for the hills from Ryan's radicalism, lest they be tainted by its obvious intent.

In fact, PolitiFact licensee columns in other states are wildly inconsistent on the degrees of Truth in the perfectly legitimate privatization accusation.  In the Colorado Sentate race, a claim that the tea-bagging Republican candidate wanted to privatize Social Security was at least Half True.  And none of the other states' writers rate the privatization claim as any worse than Barely True, even though most of the columns evaluate the same Ryan Roadmap, often using exactly the same language. 

So, what is the problem with the Journal Sentinel on this and other issues threatening to Republicans (see also their wimpy Barely True rating of Ron Johnson's "$500 billion cut from Medicare" lie)?  Perhaps Journal Communication's other property -- wing-nut radio station WTMJ -- is the tail wagging the newspaper dog.  Perhaps, because they are intimidated by the right-wing loudmouths on their radio station and editorial board, they are bending over backwards trying to be "fair" to the party of Lie, Cheat and Buy. 

Whatever.  But the inconsistent results evaluating the same established facts illuminates what a ridiculous exercise it is to hold yourself out as the decider of political Truth.  Political campaigns, their consultants and ad writers are experts in the use of the half-truth and the parsed argument.  Certainly, there are some lies told by the right every day on talk-radio, Fox News and Ron Johnson commercials, that can and should be exposed for the outrageous untruths they are. 

But the way to do that is in regular news articles, in 72 point font, above the fold.  Try this: Ron Johnson Lies About Medicare "Cuts".  See? It almost writes itself.  Trying to do it as part of a trademarked brand purchased from another newspaper,with a cute logo and meter graphic just trivialize the political claims being examined and the journalistic project itself.  Especially when the result just puts on display how much the Journal Sentinel has its collective head up its ass.

Here's a project for you, Journal Sentinel.  How about a daily examination about how the Republicans are going to outright purchase this election? How about a think piece about the hours of free advertising and friendly exposure ("Hi, Scott! How good is your county budget?") that is provided every day by talk-radio who slavishly follow the daily talking points provided by the RNC?  How about writing about how "independent" expenditures by unnamed rich Republicans -- foreign and domestic -- enabled by a radical-right Supreme Court majority, are going to swamp this state on behalf of Walker and Johnson, making the fundraising figures provided by the official campaigns laughably irrelevant?  How about following the money, rather than chasing around a story about whether Scott Walker can actually stop a train?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Journal Sentinel PolitiFact® Fails Again

I think it's past time for the Journal Sentinel to put its dreadful PolitiFact® project out of its misery. 

Day after day for a month now, we have been subjected to ridiculous "rulings" (no kidding -- that's what they call them) on political claims made in the heat of the various campaigns.  Throughout the project's sorry history, the J-S writers have repeatedly saved their harshest snarky "Pants-on-Fire" conclusions for completely legitimate claims by Democrats (such as obvious Republican plans to at least partially privatize Social Security) and let Republicans off the hook for every outrageous lie they tell everyday.  The Journal Sentinel should give the PolitiFact® trademark back to whoever they bought it from and let someone else have a crack at it.

An excellent example of the creative ways in which the PolitiFact® writers get things wrong is today's review of a Ron Johnson ad that is full of lies about health care reform.  Rather than go after Johnson for his tea-bagging recitation of false claims about the "government takeover of health care" and other such nonsense, Dave Umhoffer focuses on what is, at best, a side-issue in the ad -- whether Russ Feingold's support for health care reform was opposed by a majority of Wisconsin voters, as Johnson claims.

The resulting column is a mish-mash of what opinion polls did or didn't conclude about support for the bill at the time, all depending on how the question was worded, and by whom.  Conservatives never cared about opinion polls while Junior Bush was in office, recklessly conducting the Stupid War on Iraq and destroying the economy.  Now, they waive around manipulative polls by the right-wing Rasmussen and others, insisting that politicians do whatever the majority of those polled say, or stand accused of violating the "will of the people".  Umhoffer properly rates Johnson's claims about the polls as "false", at least in part because many of those opposing the bill actually wanted more government involvement.

But the focus on the poll claims misses the point of the bigger lies in the ad.  The main point of the ad is that Feingold is being attacked for supporting a "government takeover of health care" that doesn't exist.  This is the phrase that the Republican word-smiths have designed to create opposition to health care reform -- but it's a lie.  Incredibly, Umhoffer points out that fact as an aside, in the 21st paragraph:
Our PolitiFact colleagues have repeatedly probed the truth of the government takeover charge and found it ridiculously false -- a Pants on Fire.  In truth, the health care law creates a market-based system that relies on private health insurance companies.
The column purports to examine Johnson's statement that "A majority of Wisconsinites opposed the government takeover of health care. But Russ Feingold voted for it anyway."  Besides claiming that the majority opposed the "government takeover", it also says Feingold voted for "it" -- "it" being the grand "government takeover" bogeyman.  By focusing on and headlining the polling data, the column ignores the bigger lie that health care reform was a "government takeover".   A casual aside 21 paragraphs down in the story does nothing to change the fact that the takeover lie survives the noise of the rest of the ad, which is really Johnson's main goal -- to demonize health care reform and Feingold's support for it.

This isn't the only thing the PolitiFact® team has gotten wrong, in focus or substance.  Just yesterday, they "ruled" that the Democratic challenger to Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, Scott Hassett made a "false" statement in an ad when he said that Van Hollen "did nothing" about allegations he was aware of that my boyhood hometown DA, wannabe sex kitten Ken Kratz, was trolling for babes in DV witness waiting rooms. 

Sure enough, Van Hollen's investigators looked at some paperwork and called Kratz up to suggest he turn himself in.  But, no charges were issued, no referral made by the AG to OLR.  He let it go.  In prosecutors parlance, this is known as doing nothing.  It doesn't mean you do anything if you think about doing something and still do nothing.  You did nothing.  And, you can read that whole story and never know that Kratz, like Van Hollen, was also a Republican.

But, that's par for this sorry course. The Journal Sentinel in general and PolitiFact® in particular continues to cover for Republicans by going hard on Democrats (five Pants on Fire declarations against Dems; none against GOP politicians) and letting Republicans get away with slaps on the wrists for big lies (Walker claiming he eliminated waiting lists he had nothing to do with is just fine; Johnson calling Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" is also judged within bounds).

In the past month, the Journal Sentinel PolitiFact® team has proved absolutely incapable of selecting the right topics or getting anything right.  A perhaps noble project in the beginning has become a confusing embarrassment.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Secrets of the Whack

I keep waiting for Wisconsin’s very own Tea-Party-Talk-Radio (TPTR) product, Ron Johnson, to be included on the list of amateur right-wing nut-jobs in the national press. I search in vain for his inclusion on the list of whack over-heated rookies like Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul and the deliciously unhinged Carl “I’ll Take You Out” Paladino.

But, no. The bland-by-design Johnson is merely single-minded, stupid and naive – not entertaining in a no-masturbation sort of way. So Wisconsin has thus far been spared the indignity of having its Republican electorate mocked for having such a lightweight on the ballot for something serious like a seat in the U.S. Senate; against the venerable Russ Feingold, no less. I guess our time to be subjected to national ridicule will be after the election, if we are foolish enough to dump the finest senator in Wisconsin history for an empty-suited creature of the TPTR astro-turf flash-in-the-pan “movement”.

Should that formerly-unthinkable and now simply horrific event occur, it is fair to ask what the TPTR candidates like Johnson are going to do in Washington after they get out on the Senate floor and make their little speeches about imagined threats to Freedom and Liberty and the Peril of Tyranny that apparently resulted from the 2008 election. After their efforts to destroy health care reform, re-deregulate the financial and deep-water drilling industries and otherwise serve their corporate masters fail, what then?

The Big Secret of the TPTR candidates is that, for all of their blather about “career politicians” and the Dangers of Potomac Thinking, any of them that manage to get elected will be more beholden to Washington insiders than any group of new senators in the nation’s history. Knowing nothing but the blind, misdirected rage of the simpleton targets of the manipulative campaigns that recruited them and got them elected, they will be lost in the hard work of real legislation. Faced with the unfamiliar processes of appropriations (yes, tea-baggers, money must be spent), constituent relations (yes, tea-baggers, you are going to have to talk to people other than yourselves) and the other nuts-and-bolts of government, Ron Johnson and the others will have to turn to the supposed experts that want to pull their strings in the first place.

And they won’t have to go far to find that help. Standing right there at their office door when they show up for the transition will be staffers from Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks and other right-wing “think” tanks – the same people who created the Tea Party conceit as a re-branding of Republicanism in the first place. Senator Ron Johnson won’t have to reach in his back pocket to find the help he needs because he is already in someone else’s back pocket. All they need to do in his first day in Washington is take him out and attach the strings.

That’s why we have always wanted to know how our candidates think – to try to get an idea how they will deal with the unexpected issues that always arise in the flow of the nation’s work. When you get a candidate like Johnson, with limited experience and even less of an interest in the weighty issues of state, you have someone who needs help. And we know where he’ll get it from – from the same people that produced the debacle of the Gingrich/Bush years. We’d be replacing the relatively-independent, seriously thoughtful Feingold with a bought-and-sold puppet of a vast network of Washington insiders who failed when they were last in power and yearn to fail again.

Johnson has an ad in heavy rotation right now, bragging about his general state of ignorance and the fact that he’s not a lawyer. There is a reason that lawmakers in the Senate are more likely than not to be a lawyer – sometimes it takes that special skill to craft legislation that has the effect you want it to have. There are people from the business community in the Senate as well – Herb Kohl is an excellent example. But Herb Kohl isn’t in the Senate to avenge some slight affecting his single business, as Johnson says he is (to avenge the imagined effects of health care reform). Kohl has always been thoughtful and well-rounded, with a consistent world view that guides his quiet but effective tenure. That a single-issue dweeb like Ron Johnson could become the same is against all the evidence.

If you want independent thought and careful consideration of all issues from all sides in Washington, Wisconsin will never do as good as we are already doing with Russ Feingold. The election of Ron Johnson would put one of Wisconsin’s senate seats in the hands of reprehensible Washington insiders with bad track records, bad ideas and bad intentions.