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Archive for September 2008

Newspapers are endorsing early, and for Barack Obama

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Originally published on on Tue, 09/30/2008 – 10:20am

Newspaper endorsements: we’re supposed to ignore them yet they still happen. Some newspaper endorsements are obvious: The New York Times will likely endorse Barack Obama for president. The Washington Times will likely endorse John McCain for president.

There are a few newspapers that flipped from tradition and voted against the Republican Party nominee in 2004. But often, newspaper endorsements come down to endorsing the [INSERT PARTY’S NAME HERE] candidate for president.

And usually, endorsements come down the pike toward the end of the campaign, when the debates have already aired, when the candidates have had their chance to show the country what they might do in the White House. They do this, even if they know in the summertime who their endorsement will be.

But we are starting to see a few endorsements already rolling in.

The Seattle Times endorsed Barack Obama. Okay, this isn’t a shock, especially if you’ve read the paper. What was a little surprising is that the endorsement came on September 25.

Here’s the shocker: The Stockton Record, a California paper that has endorsed Republicans every time since 1936, went for Obama on September 28 with this headline: Choice is clear: Obama for president.

You can tell when you read the endorsement that the editorial board didn’t like endorsing a Democrat, but felt like it had no choice.

We’re not suggesting Obama is without faults. He, like McCain, has demonstrated a marked lack of knowledge in recent days about the financial mess facing this nation.

But unlike McCain, who is trying to position himself as a born-again regulator, Obama would increase the oversight of our markets and demand accountability. He would actually put regulators in the oversight agencies that were systematically dismantled by the Bush administration.

While the blame doesn’t all accrue to the Bush administration, the past eight years have been marked by looking the other way. McCain aided and abetted that behavior.

Closer to our home, we are wondering (like others) whether the Chicago Tribune will endorse Obama. You could think, “gee, it’s the hometown paper of the Democratic candidate” but the newspaper has NEVER endorsed a Democrat, not even FDR.

A lot of that was the legendary Colonel McCormick, who ran things for the newspaper for a long time. But the pro-Republican Party agenda has continued so far. The Tribune is under new ownership (Sam Zell), but the paper still won’t be eager to make the switch.

The Chicago Tribune probably won’t be the most conservative paper to flip and possibly endorse Obama. But even though it’s the major hometown paper (sorry, Sun-Times), a Chicago Tribune endorsement of Barack Obama, even a begrudging one, would be a gigantic step toward MSM consensus that there is a obvious difference in leadership.

Has the traditional Tribune Republican endorsement had any impact? I don’t have the figures, but national Democrats do quite well in the city, have been doing better in the suburbs, and Illinois last voted for a GOP presidential candidate in 1988.


Written by democracysoup

September 30, 2008 at 10:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

First debate: Obama dominated on foreign policy, but needs to punch more on the economy

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Originally published on on Fri, 09/26/2008 – 11:56pm

We had a debate tonight. Woooo!!

The pundits will have their say on “Who won” and “Who lost.” That’s not my concern; I’m more focused on what I saw that others might have missed.

The pundits seemed to think Obama did well on the economy portion of the evening, and waited to see on the foreign policy section. But Obama hit several home runs during the foreign policy parts, and lost focus on the economy part.

Obama did well in explaining more specifically what the bailout should have. Unfortunately, the audience was left wondering where McCain stood, and there wasn’t much focus on Jim Lehrer to get him back on it. After all, the Republicans are holding up a bailout bill, yet the MSM won’t press them on what they want.

But McCain came back with earmarks, and dominated the discussion. At this point, McCain was driving the agenda, and when McCain was in control, Obama didn’t look good.

McCain was focused on the $932 million earmark figure from Obama. I have no idea whether the figure is accurate, or what those earmarks really were for (senior center??). Would have been nice if Obama had mentioned that McCain’s hands aren’t completely clean on this issue. A casual viewer would have assumed that McCain never took an earmark ever.

Obama did do a great job pounding home the $300 billion in McCain tax breaks for wealthy corporations and individuals.

One nice thing, and McCain has been consistent on this since the Iowa caucus: eliminate ethanol subsidies. For once, the maverick hat fits. But McCain lost Iowa, and even though it needs to happen, one of the candidates, preferably Obama since he is from the Midwest, should step up and offer to overhaul U.S. farm policy.

But on ethanol and earmarks, McCain repeated the phrasing of threatening to veto any spending bill with earmarks “and you will know their names.” Obama also said he would go through lines in the budget.

Since we have two sitting Senators running for president who may not know this, but the President DOESN’T have the power to go through lines in a budget. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, two sitting governors when they ran for president, promised the same thing. As things stand now, the President CAN’T do that.

If McCain actually became president, we would never have a spending bill — ever. But the conventional wisdom isn’t to mention this. For once, I’d love to see a presidential candidate tell the truth on this: “As president, I wouldn’t have the power to do this, but I would work with Congress to reduce these earmarks.” I love awarding points for honesty.

Yes, Obama had the facts on his side. But could he be pithy?

— on the budget, accused McCain of using a hatchet instead of a scalpel.

— working with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) after McCain mentioned him. McCain has been whining about Obama not crossing the aisle. Coburn is really far to the right. Oh, and worked with Dick Lugar (R-IN).

— not dealing with Russia by looking into eyes

— can’t view everything through the lens of Iraq

— telling McCain that he likes to pretend the war started in 2007 when it started in 2003

— also had a bracelet from a fallen soldier

Back to foreign policy, Obama at least twice made reference to 21st century vs. 20th century. This is a golden nugget that should see the light of day. Building on Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century, it was a great way of Obama showing the vision of the future vs. McCain being stuck in the past. Obama needs to use that in his speeches, and bring it back to the debates. It’s not about age (but it is), it’s about vision for the future.

As for Jim Lehrer, he tried to get the two to talk to each other. Obama was more comfortable with this, and sometimes (usually the right time) would look into the camera.

But even McCain fans had to be horrified at watching their candidate not look at Obama or the camera. Did McCain realize the debate was on television?

Lehrer didn’t throw any curveballs: Vietnam/Iraq, Iran, Russia, Afghanistan. But no Israel-Palestinian questions? No questions on how we should regard countries as friends vs. enemies, e.g., snubbing Spain just because it pulled out of Iraq. No “where are the new trouble spots coming”? And no North America questions. Disappointing, but not surprising.

Some final nuggets:

— what the hell was the League of Democracies? McCain proposed something out of the Saturday morning cartoon lineup from the 1970s. We have the UN and NATO, thinking that Great Britain, France, and Germany will change their minds on sanctions against Iran if we just give a new name to an alliance.

–McCain was allowed to get away with saying that the vets were on his side. Someone, please, check the record. It’s not true.

–One thing that is true and McCain admitted to it: we torture. Nice admission. Wonder if the Bush team will back him up on that.

Written by democracysoup

September 26, 2008 at 11:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Moderator-only debates limit voices to ask necessary questions

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Originally published on on Fri, 09/26/2008 – 11:02am

Jim Lehrer, Gwen Ifill, Tom Brokaw, Bob Schieffer

These are the only four question-askers in the 2008 debates. Four TV journalists, one current national anchor, two former national anchors, and one public affairs host. That’s it. In 2004, it was the same list, with Charlie Gibson in for Tom Brokaw.

Since 1996, we have had only single-moderator debates. In 1992, two of the four debates featured panels of print and television journalists.

We certainly don’t want a return to the nightmare of Bernard Shaw’s 1988 Kitty Dukakis question. But do we need the return of reporters to the debates?

I did get inspiration for bringing this topic up from TV Barn’s Aaron Barnhart, TV critic for the Kansas City Star. Even though his background is in television, Barnhart wonders about the difficulty of the moderator having to “play the part of both impartial judge and hard-nosed prosecutor,” and in the town hall setting, is concerned that “the place of the journalist has been taken by so-called ‘uncommitted voters.’ ”

As the Shaw example proves, perhaps TV reporters aren’t the best modes of getting in quality questions. I would nominate print reporters and those from the blogosphere with credibility.

For example, Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post would be a good pick. Perhaps Chris Hayes of The Nation might work. Ana Marie Cox has certainly earned her way to the table. There are countless other examples to consider.

This means no disrespect to Lehrer, Ifill, Brokaw, and Schieffer — all of whom are good moderators. But it puts a lot of pressure of four people, who get to come up with the questions in the major spectacle that helps most otherwise uninformed Americans who they should vote for on November 4.

Ifill, who turns 53 on Monday, is by far the youngest moderator and she is doing the VP debate. No offense, but there are issues and concerns of young people that usually get ignored by these debates. Lehrer (74), Brokaw (68), and Schieffer (71) are really close to McCain’s age, and politics aside, might wonder if Barack Obama might be ready to lead simply because he is old enough to be the child of these three men.

And what about the perspective of people who don’t live in New York or Washington? We have seen from Charlie Gibson’s performances in New Hampshire and Philadelphia that he doesn’t have a grasp of economic reality outside the two East Coast media capitals.

Give some credit where it’s due, Ifill did unofficially solicit questions from readers, not all of whom are from Washington. But there’s no guarantee she will use any of them.

Those who know very little about the two major party candidates will learn something tonight in Mississippi, October 2 in St. Louis, October 7 in Nashville, and October 15 in Hempstead, NY. But we will learn more about what four media elites think we should learn from the candidates than what we should know.

Written by democracysoup

September 26, 2008 at 11:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Democracy is better off when comedians step in where journalists fear to tread

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Originally published on on Thu, 09/25/2008 – 9:36am

But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here.

Send in the Clowns, Stephen Sondheim, 1973

While I don’t watch much late-night broadcast TV lately (and virtually no Jay Leno), I always appreciate having David Letterman around. Last night proved why it’s crucial to have him on the air.

Yes, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do commentary and political humor much better and much more often than the traditional late-night hosts. But Letterman, Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson, and Conan O’Brien draw much larger audiences on broadcast TV than Stewart and Colbert do.

Leno has been in the tank for Republicans (McCain, Schwarzenegger) not out of philosophy, but rolling with the status quo. And you can say Letterman is over the top against Bush, but when Letterman speaks, you know it comes from the heart.

Letterman spoke highly of McCain last night, calling him a hero when there aren’t that many heroes left. But he kept focusing on “why would you suspend a campaign.” Even when distracted, Letterman bounced back to this theme, and noted that something smells in this decision. At this point, the blame went to unnamed McCain campaign advisers, not the candidate himself.

But the tone changed as the show went on.

“You don’t suspend your campaign,” Letterman added. “Do you suspend your campaign? No, because that makes me think, well, you know, maybe there will be other things down the road — if he’s in the White House, he might just suspend being president. I mean, we’ve got a guy like that now!”

The fun really kicked in during Keith Olbermann’s second segment. Olbermann, the pinch-hit guest for McCain, looked uncomfortable as the second segment began. This is because Letterman and his crew discover during the break that while Letterman is taping his show at the Ed Sullivan Theater, McCain is still in New York City, taping an interview with Katie Couric not too far away at Black Rock, home of CBS News.

If you are ditching school or work, don’t put yourself in a position where someone can see you. If McCain was on with Brian Williams or Charlie Gibson, Letterman wouldn’t known about it. But if you set up an interview on the same network, it’s entirely possible you will get caught.

“He doesn’t seem to be racing to the airport, does he?” Letterman said, shouting at the television monitor: “Hey John, I got a question! You need a ride to the airport?”

When you suspend a campaign to appear non-political, you should suspend everything. Here was the McCain campaign priorities:

cancel Letterman appearance
cancel meeting with Prime Minister of India
postpone debate


do interview with Katie Couric at the same time as Letterman
do a scheduled speech for the Clinton Global Initiative in New York

Besides the premise of suspending a campaign, well sort of, anyway, Letterman’s fury was that he was told, presumably by McCain, that he had to go back to Washington to do his part. This from a Senator that hasn’t voted in the Senate for anything since at least April, and isn’t even on the committee looking into the bailout deal. And McCain knew he wasn’t leaving New York.

Merriam-Webster defines “suspend” as “to cause to stop temporarily <suspend bus service>, to set aside or make temporarily inoperative.” Doing some things and not others doesn’t fall into line with suspend. It would be like suspending a child from school, but that child could go to 1st period math.

The one troubling element to the media was the sheep-like reaction of the MSM to the horror that George W. Bush created, the fear, the scare tactics, the constant mendacity. No matter how bad things got, they were afraid to speak up, give perspective, or challenge that perhaps something from Bush Administration people could be wrong.

It is tragic and pathetic that comedians, who don’t have the classic training, are the ones who aren’t afraid to speak the truth. Letterman spoke in a way that Couric, Williams, Gibson, et al can’t on won’t. Their inability to speak up has helped cost us rights and lives. Thank goodness for the “clowns.”

Written by democracysoup

September 25, 2008 at 9:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Sean Hannity misses obvious Palin flip-flop, eagerly running to win Media Putz

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Originally published on on September 25, 2008

Sean Hannity

To this point, only two media figures have had the honor of talking with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin: ABC’s Charlie Gibson and FOX’s Sean Hannity. While Gibson has had his troubles, especially with Barack Obama, he did okay in his shot with Palin.

Even those who like Hannity had low expectations for his sit-down with Palin. Softball? T-ball? Those speeds are much too fast for Hannity. Late-night infomercials ask tougher questions than Hannity did with Sarah Palin.

A couple of samples from Part I and Part II of the interview:

Is Senator Obama then using what happened on Wall Street this week? Is he using it for political gain? Is there a danger of a presidential candidate is saying to the world that America’s situation of economic crisis is the worst that we’ve seen in decades — which was words that he was using yesterday — is there a danger in terms of the world hearing that?

This wasn’t a question to Obama — this was a “question” to Sarah Palin.

This was the “question” to Palin on taxes with a smidge of bias:

“…why does everyone benefit if the rich pay less or if everybody pays less in taxes? Why is that good for the economy?”

Now you would expect given Hannity’s journalism background that he would, uh, wait a minute. Oh, that’s right. Hannity doesn’t have a journalism background.

To quote Wikipedia: “Described as ‘an indifferent student’, Hannity dropped out of New York University for financial reasons and later decided to pursue a radio career. In 2005, Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University awarded him an honorary degree.” No journalism training, no college degree, no sense of what might be right or wrong, even if that sense is ignored.

As Newshounds points out, “Last year, FOX News defended Sean Hannity’s fundraising for then-presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani by saying, ‘Sean is not a journalist – Sean is a conservative commentator.'”

Just so we’re clear, we aren’t making fun of the fact that he doesn’t have a college degree. There are thousands of people without a college degree who could ask better questions than Hannity. Most fifth-graders could have done better. Even a second-grader might have asked her why she hates polar bears.

But Hannity had one moment, one shot to try a follow-up to show he could ask a semi-tough question, and it wasn’t even political. Palin told Gibson that she didn’t blink when McCain asked her to be his running mate.

HANNITY: What was your family’s reaction? Was there time to huddle and have a hockey team meeting?

PALIN: It was a time of asking the girls to vote on it, anyway. And they voted unanimously, yes. Didn’t bother asking my son because, you know, he’s going to be off doing his thing anyway, so he wouldn’t be so impacted by, at least, the campaign period here.

So asked the girls what they thought and they’re like, absolutely. Let’s do this, mom.

Any follow-up? Nope. Any curiosity on why she flip-flopped her answer? Nope. This was a reversal (wrestling term, not hockey). She didn’t blink, but she asked her daughters to vote? An inconsistency no one can blame on anyone but Gov. Palin, but that news didn’t penetrate Hannity’s brain.

Even if you encompass the cynical nature of Hannity’s role in trying to make Palin look as good as possible, Hannity still failed miserably. From Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post:

“I think the Hannity love-fest offered a valuable look at Palin, perhaps more revealing because she was on such friendly territory. For all the softballs Hannity tossed her way, Palin did not come off very well, in my view. If this was a political commercial, I wasn’t buying the product.”

Hannity received a gift very few people get, especially those who aren’t journalists: an exclusive interview (relatively) early on for a person who might be a heartbeat away from the White House. And you underwhelmed us, which is sad since we had very, very low expectations.

Since you play a media figure and a “journalist” who isn’t really one, sticking to a propaganda stance that benefits the far right-wing segment of the population that gave birth to your radio career and now TV career, we once again select Sean Hannity as our Media Putz of the week.

Sean Hannity previously won the Media Putz on March 27, 2008 and September 13, 2007.

Written by democracysoup

September 25, 2008 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM

Campbell Brown calls out McCain campaign for being sexist toward Sarah Palin

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Originally published on on Wed, 09/24/2008 – 9:29am

Campbell Brown is an anchor with CNN, not a commentator. But Brown launched into a commentary that was spot-on in terms of how the McCain campaign has treated Sarah Palin.

The McCain campaign has treated her like a China doll (which does add to her foreign policy experience, relating to China and all that). Two interviews, even if one of those was with Sean Hannity, in almost a month in the spotlight. The final straw came yesterday when reporters were initially banned from covering Palin in New York City.

Here is the rant in its entirety and the video:

But, first, bear with me for a short rant on another subject, because, frankly, I have had it. And I know a lot of other women out there are with me on this. I have had enough of the sexist treatment of Sarah Palin. It has to end.

She was here in New York City today meeting with world leaders at the U.N. And what did the McCain campaign do? They tried to ban reporters from covering those meetings. And they did ban reporters from asking Governor Palin any questions.

Tonight, I call on the McCain campaign to stop treating Sarah Palin like she is a delicate flower that will wilt at any moment. This woman is from Alaska, for crying out loud. She is strong. She is tough. She is confident. And you claim she’s ready to be one heartbeat away from the presidency. If that is the case, then end this chauvinistic treatment of her now. Allow her to show her stuff. Allow her to face down those pesky reporters, just like Barack Obama did today, just like John McCain did today, just like Joe Biden has done on numerous occasions. Let her have a real news conference with real questions.

By treating Sarah Palin different from the other candidates in this race, you’re not showing her the respect she deserves. Free Sarah Palin. Free her from the chauvinistic chains you’re binding her with. Sexism in this campaign must come to an end. Sarah Palin has just as much a right to be a real candidate in this race as the men do. So, let her act like one.

Can’t say Brown has been one of my favorite anchors lately. Her take, along with Erica Hill, on the hearings looking into impeachment, was an embarrassment.

There is her marriage to Dan Senor, contributor to Fox News Channel and The Wall Street Journal and the former chief spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

And even when she “confronted” John McCain spokesperson Tucker Bounds on a story, she was so apologetic to him, something no one in the MSM has ever done to a Democratic candidate or spokesperson.

I appreciate you coming on and taking the time to have this debate. I think it’s important. People don’t know a lot about her. They want to understand her qualifications as much as possible. We’re not beating you up here. We’re not trying to. We’re just trying to educate ourselves and educate our viewers. So I really do appreciate your time and thank you for your time coming on.

And what Bounds received was flowers and greetings as liberators compared to what Democratic candidates and spokespeople get on a regular basis. The campaign’s response to the “outrage” was to cancel an interview with McCain and Larry King.

Given what happens when anchors become commentators, and say things the McCain campaign doesn’t like, Brown took a gamble. But Brown said something yesterday that was beautiful and needed to be said. I’ve been saying similar things about how badly the campaign is treating its own VP candidate.

You can argue cynically that perhaps Brown is frustrated since she wants more access to Palin, as is the consensus of most journalists these days. True, but this goes deeper.

Almost from the start, the McCain campaign has treated the idea of asking questions of Palin to be sexist. But the worst sexism — worse than Tina Fey, worse than Photoshopped pictures of her in a bikini shooting a gun – has come from the McCain campaign.

McCain was asked about Palin on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, noting that he “had watched her very carefully. I had followed her career” and that he based the decision “on what’s the best for the country. I looked at her record. I looked at her.”

But what we’ve seen since August 29 doesn’t reflect that reality at all.

Written by democracysoup

September 24, 2008 at 9:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Does Sarah Palin help the GOP in Congressional races?

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Originally published on on Tue, 09/23/2008 – 9:47am

There are a number of people who are asking why John McCain picked Sarah Palin. For all her faults, and there are a lot of them, there is one way she might help the GOP, even if the McCain/Palin ticket loses in November.

Rallying the base is a key reason for picking a VP pick, at least it is for the Republicans, who are more concerned about their base than Democrats are about their own base. And Palin, like her or not, has energized the Republican base.

In mid-August, the GOP was depressed. They had many House and Senate races that weren’t going well. Even the GOP knew that the Democrats would make significant strides in November. Several Republican senators running for re-election didn’t show up at the convention, and very few current major players spoke at the convention in St. Paul. And a Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge pick would drive the base to stay home on Election Day.

But along came Sarah Palin, and the base is back. There isn’t enough of the current GOP base to get McCain/Palin elected, but there are plenty in certain areas where the Dems were hoping would stay home so that crucial seats would flip to the Democratic side.

“Sarah Palin definitely gave a boost, no question,” said Sen. John Ensign (Nev.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “In races where we were way down, a lot of those races are even. In some of the races that were even, we are up.”

There are the obvious Senate and House races in Alaska. A potential sweep on Election Day of Alaskan representation for the Democratic Party may still happen, but Palin’s presence makes it more likely that Ted Stevens (84 and under indictment) and Don Young (75 and under investigation) will return to Washington.

But there are Senate races in Mississippi, Colorado, New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, and Minnesota where turnout is vital. In all of those states, Republicans have the seat or Republicans are retiring.

There are countless House seats where having the GOP base stay home would have helped. Tim Mahoney (D-FL) won Mark Foley’s old seat two years ago and would love to keep it. Dan Seals in Illinois is trying again to oust Mark Kirk (R-IL) in Chicago’s far northern suburbs.

The difficult task is figuring if there are specific areas where Palin helps (other than Alaska). She’s not a natural for the Appalachian areas of Pennsylvania and West Virginia or the manufacturing belts of Michigan and Ohio. But the overall base in those areas and others are motivated.

So Palin may be a distraction to the MSM, but her agenda is clear: get Republicans to the polls. And even if it’s not enough to get her and her running mate in the White House, the ticket may do some damage for a President Obama: fewer Democrats in the House and especially in the Senate.

Written by democracysoup

September 23, 2008 at 9:47 am

Posted in Uncategorized