Caprice Prize

By From the December 2009 - January 2010 issue

The first week in October saw a stunning turnabout in coverage of Barack Obama. Pro-Obama coverage might have hit its peak on Monday, October 5, when CNN's Situation Room aired an astonishing segment "fact checking" a comedy sketch. No joke.

The skit had appeared two days earlier on Saturday Night Live. Fred Armisen, playing President Obama, delivered a speech in which he said, "When you look at my record, it's very clear what I have done so far. And that is nothing." He continued: "Almost one year and nothing to show for it. You don't believe me? You think I'm making it up? Take a look at this checklist." He then rehearsed a series of campaign promises -- closing Guantanamo, improving Afghanistan, taking over the health care system, and so on-and declared all of them undone.

CNN interviewed Bill Adair of the St. Petersburg Times's, one of those supposedly nonpartisan fact-checking outfits, which had actually published a "study" of the SNL skit earlier that day. Adair said:


‘Call Fox’

By From the November 2009 issue

By the time readers of the New York Times met Van Jones, the Obama administration's so-called green-jobs czar, he had become the Obama administration's former so-called green-jobs czar. Jones's departure came over Labor Day weekend, in the wee hours of Sunday morning. The Times managed to squeeze into Sunday's paper 71 words of an Associated Press dispatch about Jones's resignation. The next day, the Times published a full story on his rise and fall:

Jones...signed a petition in 2004 questioning whether the Bush administration had allowed the terrorist attacks of September 2001 to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East.

He also used a vulgarity to refer to Republicans just before being appointed to his White House post early this year, and he has publicly supported Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is on death row for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer....


Appeal to Authority

By From the October 2009 issue

Are you running for something?” Richard Nixon asked Dan Rather at a March 1974 press conference.

“No, sir, Mr. President,” the CBS newsman replied. “Are you?”

Five months later, Nixon left the White House in disgrace. Three decades after that, Rather left the network in disgrace. He had become the Richard Nixon of news.

Like the post-presidential Nixon, Rather has been waging a campaign to rehabilitate himself—although unlike Nixon, who expressed regret for the scandal that sank his career, Rather has not acknowledged doing wrong.

This summer Rather, styling himself an elder statesman of journalism, made a proposal aimed at saving the news business. In a July Aspen Institute speech and an August Washington Post op-ed, Rather endorsed a long-standing leftist critique of the media: that they are controlled by corporations and therefore in the pocket of the government.

As he wrote in the Post:


Now They Tell Us

By From the September 2009 issue

THE BAD NEWS CAME in an Associated Press dispatch July 8 titled "PROMISES, PROMISES: Obama Tax Pledge Unrealistic." Candidate Barack Obama had promised not to raise taxes "on anyone but the wealthiest Americans." But President Obama had already violated that pledge by signing a bill in February that raised excise taxes on tobacco.

By July, the AP reported, Obama and congressional Democrats were considering a tax increase on alcohol, new taxes on soft drinks and employer-provided health insurance, and limits on the deductibility of home mortgage interest, state and local taxes, and charitable contributions. The House had already passed a bill that would impose a massive new tax on energy. The only way Obama would come close to keeping his promise not to raise taxes on families earning under $250,000 would be if Congress balked at the rest of his domestic agenda.

Goodness, why didn't anyone warn us during the campaign?


Tea Hee

By From the July 2009 - August 2009 issue

It’s too early to tell if the anti-tax-and-spend “tea party” movement will fizzle or develop into a serious opposition to President Obama’s domestic policies. But at the very least, it is newsworthy when thousands of Americans gather around the country to demonstrate against a liberal president’s policies. Whereas the left has a well-entrenched protest culture, mass demonstrations, notably excepting those against abortion, are a rarity on the right.

Yet whereas news coverage of antiwar and other left-wing demonstrations is generally respectful, even deferential, coverage of the tea parties has at times been confrontational and mocking. Here’s the lead paragraph of an April 15 Associated Press dispatch:

Whipped up by conservative commentators and bloggers, tens of thousands of protesters staged “tea parties” around the country Wednesday to tap into the collective angst stirred up by a bad economy, government spending and bailouts.

Good luck finding an AP story on a left-wing protest that begins by telling readers who “whipped up” the demonstrators.


Nuance and Nazis

By From the June 2009 issue

It appeared in the April 1 edition, but otherwise there was no reason to think David Leonhardt’s New York Times column was a joke. It was, however, a shock:

In the summer of 1933, just as they will do on Thursday, heads of government and their finance ministers met in London to talk about a global economic crisis. They accomplished little and went home to battle the crisis in their own ways. More than any other country, Germany—Nazi Germany—then set out on a serious stimulus program. The government built up the military, expanded the autobahn, put up stadiums for the 1936 Berlin Olympics and built monuments to the Nazi Party across Munich and Berlin. The economic benefits of this vast works program never flowed to most workers, because fascism doesn’t look kindly on collective bargaining. But Germany did escape the Great Depression faster than other countries.

An obvious rejoinder is that Germany also began mobilizing for war “faster than other countries.” But Leonhardt saw a positive lesson in the Nazi experience: “Stimulus works.”


Gold Star Movie

By From the May 2009 issue

Throughout George W. Bush’s second term, journalists puzzled over why, even after opinion polls showed Americans to have soured on the Iraq war, no serious antiwar movement emerged. More recently, journalists have puzzled over why movies about the Iraq war have done badly at the box office. The second question holds some clues to the first.

A July 2007 article by Michael Cieply of the New York Times, titled “While Real Bullets Fly, Movies Bring War Home,” typifies the genre. The peg was the impending release of In the Valley of Elah, a fictional film inspired by the real-life murder of an Army specialist by fellow Iraq veterans during a night of drinking near Fort Benning, Georgia. “Some in Hollywood want moviegoers to decide if the killing is emblematic of a war gone bad,” Cieply explained.


The Honeymooners

By From the March 2009 issue

Barack Obama ran for president promising to win back the respect of "the world," which George W. Bush has alienated. So the big question is this: How long after Obama's inauguration will it take before "the world" begins to sour on him—begins to suspect that he is one of us, not one of them?

The answer is minus 16 days.

On Sunday, January 4, the website of London's Guardian published a column by Simon Tisdall faulting Obama for failing to side with Hamas in its war against Israel:

Obama has remained wholly silent during the Gaza crisis. His aides say he is following established protocol that the US has only one president at a time....

But evidence is mounting that Obama is already losing ground among key Arab and Muslim audiences that cannot understand why, given his promise of change, he has not spoken out. Arab commentators and editorialists say there is growing disappointment at Obama's detachment—and that his failure to distance himself from George Bush's strongly pro-Israeli stance is encouraging the belief that he either shares Bush's bias or simply does not care.


Blogged Down

By From the February 2009 issue

After the 2004 election, conservatives loved blogs. “As CBS News can tell you, the rise of the Internet… is the latest and perhaps most explosive change that is shrinking liberal media dominance,” wrote Brian Anderson in his 2005 book, South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias.

It was a blogger, Charles Johnson of, who proved that the “memos” that were the basis of CBS’s hit piece on President Bush’s National Guard service were produced on Microsoft Word, not a 1970s typewriter. Conservative bloggers also gave respectful attention to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who challenged John Kerry’s campaign narrative portraying him as a war hero. The mainstream media had, for the most part, uncritically repeated that narrative and almost unanimously dismissed the Swift Boat Veterans as liars.

It would overstate the case to say that bloggers cost John Kerry the election, but it is surely accurate to say that he lost despite having the support of the mainstream media, and that the efforts of bloggers contributed to that outcome.