Archive for November 20th, 2006

by Jay Stevens 

For those of you only now drifting back into consciousness after the election – or those of you with the blankets still tucked firmly over your heads – there’s been some major rumbling in the ‘netroots about our senior Senator, Max Baucus.

You heard a little bit here a week or so ago. That was just the harbinger of the coming storm. Next up was David Sirota, who wrote:

Because Baucus’s committee is so important, the question that will decide much of what happens in Congress is simple: will Baucus follow the populist trend emerging in his state and throughout the country, or will he listen to corporate lobbyists and insulated Washington “strategists” and staffers who tell him to tack to the so-called “right” (read: sell out)?

Sirota has a list of issues to watch Baucus on – though in no way is the list complete.

And today there appeared a post in from blogswarm, which summarized the history of discontent that Baucus has earned from the left, including names like Matthew Yglesias, Chris Bowers, The Nation, and The New Republic, a vertible who’s who of progressive mags and bloggers.

blogswarm’s post is a quick and dirty list of Baucus’ most egregious votes, but what I found most interesting about the post were these little statistics:

2002 Midterm: Max Baucus, incumbent Senator, unopposed: 66,713 votes

2006 Midterm: Jon Tester, grossly outspent: 65,757

It doesn’t take a genius to notice that Baucus would be very, very vulnerable against the right candidate in a Democratic primary. Let’s just say there’s an energized, excited group of people who just battled a three-term incumbent and won, and they’re suffering from hubris right now, and chomping at the bit to do a little more good for the country. Oh, and there’s apparent support from most of the major players in the ‘netroots who helped propel Tester financially and ideologically into his Senate seat. So any Baucus challenger would likely have a small army of foot soldiers and a chunk of change and a whole lot of free publicity.

Lest there are nay-sayers out there worried about the Democratic majority in the Senate if Montana’s left takes down Baucus, the 2008 Senate battle map is very favorable for Democrats. So there’s little risk of a Democratic minority after ’08.

As for me, I’m viewing the world with rose-colored glasses. The slate’s clean. It’s a brand-new day. I’m starting Senator Baucus off with an “A” for his role in the 110th Congress. He’s had some good votes lately – a “nay” on the torture bill, for starters – and I’m sure we’ll see some more. Here’s to Max becoming the man of the people.

Isn’t it great to be a Democrat?

On fairness in the media

by Jay Stevens 

I promised a few thoughts about Ed Kemmick’s column on fair coverage in the media in Sunday’s Billings Gazette. In it, Kemmick defends traditional media against criticism lobbed against it from both the right and the left and makes a case for sticking to traditional forms and ethics when covering the news:

Any thinking person will have beliefs and opinions, but a good reporter will bend over backward to prevent those beliefs and opinions from slanting a story. That is much different from failing to acknowledge those beliefs, or simply giving into them and becoming a partisan hack. Good reporters, trained in skepticism and objectivity, can still serve an important public function.What I mean by objectivity is that the reporter stays out of what he writes, not that he slavishly presents two “sides” to every story. If we report that a petroleum geologist has located oil in a formation 150 million years old, we are not obligated to tack on a disclaimer saying, “Many people, however, believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years old.”

What I mean by being fair and objective is presenting facts without comment and conveying the words and thoughts of other people as they would want them to be conveyed. That is not an easy thing to do, but I think we should continue to demand that reporters at least try.

First, I think we can all agree that everybody likes reporters and traditional media outlets that actually strive for “objectivity” and high ethics when presenting its consumers with its media product. And for the record, I’ve long been a loud critic of the “he says / she says” style of “objectivity” that so often finds it way onto the pages of our newspapers or onto our television or radio coverage.

But, see, the problem isn’t good reporting, it’s the consistent bad reporting from traditional media outlets that lands us into trouble. Ed assiduously defends his craft’s form from blog rhetoric or radio talk-show style, but completely ignores the huge questions surrounding the form, content, and performance of newspaper, television, and radio journalism. No one seriously believes that blogs will supplant journalism. Instead of defending journalism and his own work, Ed might have been better off identifying the real problems and offering solutions.

For example, Ed doesn’t like the “he said/she said” style of objectivity? Unfortunately that’s how the issue of global warming was covered. Despite near scientific consensus that human activity contributes to global warming, and that global warming exists, over half of all audited news articles on the subject gave “…roughly equal attention to the views that humans contribute to global warming and that climate change is exclusively the result of natural fluctuations.”

Journalists lazily and dutifully presented the “other side” of the issue, ignoring (or ignorant) of the fact that those studies were often funded by organizations (e.g., energy companies) whose financial interest ran afoul of good science and reporting. That is, journalist “objectivity” has likely contributed to our nation’s slow response to the climate change.

Or take the example of the New York Times’: they admitted their coverage of WMDs leading up to the invasion of Iraq was deeply flawed. What the apology doesn’t mention is that most of its misleading news articles came from a single source, Judith Miller, who dutifully reported WMD propaganda from administration stooge, Ahmad Chalabi, which was then used as support for the administration’s case for the war. Rumor has it that the newspaper liked having Miller on their staff, because she balanced the criticism that the paper had a purely liberal viewpoint.

The Times’ Miller fiasco easily stands as a synecdoche for the media coverage as a whole between 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. In a time of great crisis and importance, our national media gave the government the benefit of the doubt on every issue and is culpable for the disaster that ensued. The Bush administration exploited the media’s willingness to present its view, even if its view was manufactured propaganda.

In both cases – global warming and the WMD coverage – journalists stuck to out-of-date notions of “objectivity,” ignoring the fact that these ethical forms were crassly exploited by those looking to influence public opinion. By trying to remain neutral, journalists were forced to present…well…“fake” positions and became co-conspirators in the campaign to mislead the American public.

Problems exist in journalism. The question shouldn’t be, which is a better media, blogs or traditional media, but how can we change the traditional standards to make them less difficult to exploit? How can we ensure fairness in the media?

One possible way is with objective analysis. We saw some in the Montana Senate race with the series on analyzing the content of political ads. State reporters tried to objectively parse the accusations and promises of both candidates based on the television commercials they each aired.

That was a great start. Unfortunately no similar effort was made for debates or the gibberish coming from campaign spokespeople.

Update: Ed continues this discussion at his blog. Be sure to check out the comments, some of which are about 6 times as coherent and enlightening as this post.


Craig has all the pertinent info on Montana football in the I-AA playoffs. Aren’t football playoffs great? Bowl games? *yawns*

Ed Kemmick’s column on “fair coverage” and the traditional media. Worth a read. I’ll likely pen a response later…

JT was on Meet the Press yesterday, talking about earmark reform and transparency in government. Welcome words to this ‘netizen-reformer. (C&L has the video.)

Kossak mcjoan praises JT and what he means to the Democratic Party.

Is Tester’s America’s poorest Senator?

Is there a brouhaha boiling over the Good Guv’s coal plans?

MT GOP secretary of state thinks Sam Kitzenberg shouldn’t be allowed to switch parties. I think our secretary of state shouldn’t use taxpayer money to plaster his mug on every d*mn piece of literature that comes out of his office. And the billboards have to go.

The New York Times chips in with coverage on Kitzenberg’s defection.

Idaho’s idiot-elect, Bill Sali, shows up at the House Democratic caucus by mistake.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Robert Gerhke goes out on a limb and says the Western Democrat movement may be a “serious shift”…but then again, it could just be a “blip.”

Kos analyzes that same paper’s report on Democratic gains in the West.

In addition to Christopher Dodd, Colby Natale would like us to recognize Patrick Leahy’s work on behalf of democracy.

Notorious MarkT adroitly rebuts the typical conservative hysteria surrounding a rise in the minimum wage.

Polish Wolf considers the Bible, abortion, and Nicaragua.

Moorcat on the real cost of health care.

Newshog on the Houston janitors’ strike.

An update on the FL-13 recount.

Barack Obama proposes legislation that would levy harsh fines on the type of election abuses – robo-calls, voter intimidation, push polls – we saw way too much of this election.

Rep. Barney Frank’s “grand bargain” with corporate America.

“If we don’t begin a planned exit [from Iraq], there’s a good chance we’ll find ourselves in an unplanned one.” Kevin Drum discusses.

Tony Blair: Iraq is a “disaster.” If only Blair and the others responsible for this disaster would suffer some consequences for their actions. Public humiliation? Disgrace?

The Bush administration is breaking the law, says Senator McCain.

The Bush administration’s evil overlord, Dick Cheney, tells the Federalist Society that nobody — nobody — can stop them from doing whatever they want.

The Bush administration elimates hunger! From its vocabulary…

The Bush administration admits it doesn’t know what “scientifically accurate” means.

The Bush administration rejects intelligence. Read that as you wish. All interpretations apply.

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