Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

Tierney, Tisei and a defense of party-line voting

John Tierney

We all live in Nate Silver’s world, so there were no real surprises on Election Day. Except one: Republican congressional candidate Richard Tisei’s failure to topple U.S. Rep. John Tierney, a Salem Democrat who was up to his neck in family trouble.

I was stunned that Tierney had prevailed. So, apparently, was Tisei, who was confident enough of victory to run a non-ad ad toward the end of the campaign showing nothing but a tranquil seascape. “That was lovely, but ultimately a waste of money,” writes Marjorie Arons-Barron. “Better he told voters why in a Republican-held Congress he could do more for them.”

Maybe better he didn’t.

As for whether Libertarian Party candidate Dan Fishman cost Tisei the election, I agree with Arons-Barron that Fishman probably drew a lot of support from Democrats who were turned off by the ethics cloud enveloping Tierney and who otherwise would have blanked it.

So what happened? Clearly Tierney benefitted from a party-line vote. You will find a lot of people who think that’s mindless. I think it’s pretty smart.

The culture on Capitol Hill these days does not encourage independence. Tisei, whom I first met in the 1980s when I was a reporter for The Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn, is a great guy and a true moderate, despite Democratic efforts to tag him as a tea party ally. But if he’d been elected, his first act would have been to vote for John Boehner as speaker. And you can be sure he would have voted with the Republican House majority most of the time on the issues that really matter — principally taxes and spending.

Tierney, who lacks Tisei’s personal warmth, has nevertheless been a reliable ally of the Democratic House minority. He voted for the Affordable Care Act, which Tisei said he opposed, even though as a state senator he supported Gov. Mitt Romney’s nearly identical Massachusetts version. And Tierney is a traditional Democrat when it comes to taxing the wealthy and preserving the social safety net. Those are values that voters in Massachusetts and across the country upheld this week.

It should also not go unmentioned that Tierney himself has not been credibly tied to his in-laws’ illegal gambling activities, even though his wife, Patrice Tierney, served a month in prison for her role. (I think the tale of Tierney and his in-laws is sufficiently convoluted to warrant the triple negative.)

People should vote their values and their interests. In the case of Tierney and Tisei, that’s what they did this week.

Photo (cc) by the Center for American Progress and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Climate change and the limits of journalism

Hurricane Sandy flooding New York’s East Village.

The most trenchant piece of media criticism you’re likely to see this week — this month? this year? — is an essay by journalist-turned-climate activist Wen Stephenson that appears on the cover of this week’s Phoenix.

Stephenson, an alumnus of the Boston Globe, the Atlantic and WBUR Radio, argues that though the media have in recent years finally moved beyond the false equivalence of balancing the scientific consensus with the views of a few fringe denialists, news coverage of climate change remains polite to the point of timidity. Stephenson writes:

Our most respected climate scientists … are increasingly clear and vocal about one thing: we’re rapidly running out of time to address climate change in any meaningful way and avoid the risk of global climate catastrophe, with the incalculable human suffering that it will bring, quite possibly in this century.

In the face of this situation — as much as it pains me to say this — you are failing. Your so-called “objectivity,” your bloodless impartiality, are nothing but a convenient excuse for what amounts to an inexcusable failure to tell the most urgent truth we’ve ever faced.

What’s needed, Stephenson says, is for the media to move beyond the political near-silence that has descended over the climate-change issue and instead focus relentlessly on the subject.

It’s a good, important piece, and you should read it. Nevertheless, I have some quibbles.

First, I think Stephenson, for all his experience, misapprehends the limits of journalism. It’s not like our best news organizations have ignored climate change. They’ve reported on it frequently, prominently and with great skill. But they’ve done it in an oxygen-deprived environment. That is, a story in the New York Times or on network television, no matter how it’s played, is not going to get the sort of traction Stephenson would like to see without the oxygen of an engaged political system.

That’s not to say Jim Lehrer, Candy Crowley or Bob Schieffer couldn’t have put President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney on the spot during the presidential debates. But that wouldn’t come close to the intensity generated by genuine political engagement, congressional hearings and the like. Climate change has slid off the public agenda. Journalism’s ability to force it back onto the agenda is not nonexistent, but it is limited.

Second, Stephenson’s argument does nothing to answer the sinking feeling I get whenever I read about climate change — that it’s already too late in many respects, that nothing we can do would offset the massive damage that is already occurring and that, essentially, we’re screwed. I’m not suggesting we be spared the truth. But that’s not the sort of message likely to lead to much more than sullen desperation.

Ironically, as I finish writing this, we are learning that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has endorsed Obama precisely because the president takes climate change more seriously than his opponent. Citing Hurricane Sandy, Bloomberg wrote:

Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.

So maybe facts on the ground — and in the sky, and the oceans — will accomplish what journalism has not: force all of us to take climate change seriously. Of course, we can’t pretend to know the relationship between Sandy and global warming. But it’s worth asking whether the storm was more severe than it would have been absent climate change; whether more storms like it are occurring; and whether Sandy caused more devastation than it otherwise would have because the seas are higher than they used to be.

Don’t misunderstand me. I completely agree with Stephenson and his observation that the mainstream media tend to seek consensus over difficult truth-telling. Maybe events like Sandy, and leaders like Michael Bloomberg, will start to change that consensus.

Photo (cc) by David Shankbone and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Obama shakes up the media dynamic in his favor

President Barack Obama’s commanding performance in the third and final debate mattered to the viewers at home, of course. But as we will see in the days ahead, it will matter even more in setting the tone for how the media will cover the campaign in the final run-up to the election.

Pay no attention to the silly pronouncements coming from Gov. Mitt Romney’s side — such as Bret Stephens’ analysis in the Wall Street Journal that Romney succeeded by coming across as “a perfectly plausible president.”

In fact, Romney’s timid me-too rhetoric on issues over which he’d been hammering Obama for months played poorly with the public. New York Times polling expert Nate Silver averaged the instant polls coming out of Monday night’s debate and found that Obama did even better than he had in the second one — a 16-point spread, compared to just 10 points a week ago.

Read the rest at the Huffington Post.

Fact-checking the fact-checkers on an “act of terror”

In claiming that President Obama was not fully truthful last night regarding when he said he labeled the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, an “act of terror,” the fact-checkers are adopting as their own the manner in which Gov. Mitt Romney wants to frame it. The attack claimed several American lives, including that of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

When the exchange took place, Romney appeared to be wildly, extravagantly wrong in claiming it took Obama two weeks to utter those words. He never fully regained his composure after moderator Candy Crowley read a transcript in which Obama, in a Rose Garden address the day after the attack, spoke of it in the context of “acts of terror.”

And it turns out that Obama said it again two days later: “I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished.”

Hard to be much clearer than that. Yet look at how some of the leading fact-checkers handled it.

PolitiFact, on Obama’s insistence that he labeled it an “act of terror” right from the beginning: “Obama described it in those terms the day after the attack. But in the days that followed, neither he nor all the members of his administration spoke consistently on the subject. There were many suggestions that the attack was part of demonstrations over an American-made video that disparaged Islam. We rate the statement Half True.”

FactCheck.org, on Romney’s claim that it took Obama withheld the terrorism label for two weeks: “Romney isn’t entirely wrong. Romney claimed Obama refused for two weeks after the Benghazi attack to call it a terrorist attack and, instead, blamed it on a spontaneous demonstration in response to an anti-Muslim video that earlier that day triggered a violent protest in Egypt.”

The Washington Post: “Romney’s broader point is accurate — that it took the administration days to concede that the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was an ‘act of terrorism’ that appears unrelated to initial reports of anger at a video that defamed the prophet Muhammad. (The reporting is contradictory on whether there was indeed a demonstration outside the mission.) By our count, it took eight days for an administration official to concede that the deaths in Libya were the result of a ‘terrorist attack.'”

It’s pretty easy to see what’s going on here. Romney has attempted to frame the issue as though any suggestions from the White House that the attack may have had something to do with the inflammatory video “Innocence of the Muslims” are incompatible with Obama’s statements that the attack was an “act of terror.”

But why should that be so? Why are they mutually exclusive? Obama said from the start that the attack was an “act of terror,” he repeated it and he hasn’t wavered on it. The administration has wavered on what role the video might have played. It’s worth noting that the New York Times, which had people on the ground in Benghazi, stands by its reporting that the anger stirred up by the video actually did play into the attack. The terrorist attack, if you will.

The administration’s response to the Benghazi attack has not been a shining moment, and Romney had plenty to work with. So it was obviously a huge mistake on Romney’s part for him instead to dwell on whether and when Obama labeled it an “act of terror” rather than focusing on the reasons for the security breakdown and shifting explanations for what went wrong.

But thanks to the fact-checkers’ genetic disposition to throw a bone to each side regardless of the truth, Romney’s mistake looks less damaging today than it did last night.

Photo (cc) by Cain and Todd Benson and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

New York Times repeats a $5 trillion falsehood

This is pretty bad. In a profile of Stephanie Cutter, President Obama’s deputy campaign manager, the New York Times repeats a demonstrably false allegation advanced by Paul Ryan and others. Times reporter Amy Chozick writes:

Ms. Cutter doesn’t always stick to the talking points. In a recent CNN interview, she said Mr. Romney’s tax cuts “stipulated, it won’t be near $5 trillion,” as the Obama campaign had earlier claimed. The gaffe became fodder for a Romney attack ad three days later and was raised by Representative Paul D. Ryan in the vice-presidential debate on Thursday night.

Chozick links to the transcript of Cutter’s exchange with CNN’s Erin Burnett, but apparently she didn’t bother to read it; the headline, “Cutter Concedes $5 Trillion Attack on Romney Is Not True,” is simply wrong. Because here’s what Cutter actually said: the tax cut could be a lot less than $5 trillion if Romney closes loopholes and ends deductions; but Romney hasn’t specified any; therefore, yes, it’s a $5 trillion tax cut.

“The math does not work with what they’re saying,” Cutter told Burnett. “And they won’t name those deductions, not a single deduction that they will close because they know that is bad for their politics…. Last night, he [Romney] walked away from it, said he didn’t have a $5 trillion tax cut. He does.”

I wrote about this last week for the Huffington Post.

Obama changes the media narrative — in Romney’s favor

In my latest for the Huffington Post, I argue that, contrary to what Obama supporters will tell you, the president’s poor performance in Wednesday’s debate will matter a great deal in the days ahead.

Blame Jim Lehrer’s comatose moderating style and Mitt Romney’s falsehoods all you like. Obama could have risen to the occasion, and he didn’t.

Falsehoods too blatant for the media to ignore

Paul Ryan in 2011

When you claim that President Obama was responsible for the closing of an auto plant that actually shut down before President Bush left office, people are going to notice. The question is whether anyone will care.

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan delivered a speech Wednesday night that was unusual for its deliberate mendacity, even by the rough-and-tumble standards of political combat. Right after he finished, the usually timid souls of CNN praised his address for its tone and approach, but volunteered that the fact-checkers would surely have something to say.

Indeed. FactCheck.org, nonpartisan and often cautious to a fault, reports that Ryan’s speech “contained several false claims and misleading statements” — the auto-plant closing as well as the Surety Bond cost, of course, but also:

  • Criticizing Obama’s $716 billion reduction in the future growth of Medicare when Ryan himself, before joining the Romney ticket, had embraced those same cuts.
  • Taking Obama to task for the ratcheting down of the federal government’s credit rating even though Standard & Poors specifically blamed congressional gridlock.
  • Blaming Obama for the failure of the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission’s recommendations without mentioning that he himself had a key role in ensuring they would fail.
  • Falsely claiming that none of the more than $800 billion in stimulus money went to American workers.

FactCheck competitor PolitiFact rated Ryan’s auto-plant whopper as “false” and his Medicare claim as “mostly false.”

New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen recently wrote a provocative blog post on the media’s encouragingly aggressive response to a much bigger lie being perpetrated by the Romney-Ryan team — that Obama had loosened the work requirements for welfare recipients.

The problem is that though the media have deviated from their usual he-said/he-said/you-decide formula in frankly labeling the welfare claim a falsehood, the Republicans keep using it on the theory that it’s working. And there’s little evidence that the media’s diligence will make any difference with the public, which is likely to chalk it up to politics as usual.

As for the notion that “both sides do it,” well, they do and they don’t. I think Rosen gets it exactly right:

If you’re wondering: do I recognize that the Obama forces have also used deceptive, depraved and untrue claims? Yes. I do. These stand out: Romney didn’t say he likes firing people in the way some Democrats and TV personalities have suggested, so that counts as a kind of lie. The Priorities USA ad that suggested (without quite saying it) that Bain Capital was somehow responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife: that goes in the depraved category. When the White House claimed it knew nothing about the case that was clearly untrue — pathetic, really. The refusal to condemn the ad was a black mark, as well. Obama ads calling Romney “outsourcer in chief” were over the top and relied on false or overblown claims.

In my view these are serious transgressions. And in my view they do not compare to the use of falsehood and deceptive claims in the Romney 2012 campaign. Nor is there anything coming from the Obama machine that is like the open defiance of fact-checking we have seen from Romney and his team.

Romney delivers his acceptance speech tonight. It will be interesting to see whether he takes the high road, content to let his running mate do the dirty work — or if he will dive into the muck himself.

Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Pro-Obama cancer ad may be sleazy, but it’s not “false”


The Paul Ryan announcement has made Joe Soptic seem like yesterday’s news. But before we let go, I want to take a look at a truly miserable job of fact-checking done by FactCheck.org on the pro-Obama ad in which Soptic appears to blame his wife’s death from cancer on Mitt Romney.

My purpose is not to defend the ad, produced by Priorities USA, a Super PAC aligned with President Obama. I agree with just about everyone that it’s over the top, though I take it as kind of a warning shot for Romney to ease up on his own false claims (see this and this for recent examples).

Last December, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post on the downside of the explosion in fact-checking. FactCheck’s attempt to knock down the Soptic ad is a good example of what I found troubling about the phenomenon. I would have no problem with calling it a toxic bit of sleaze, because it is. But false? Not by any standards I’m aware of. Essentially, the ad omits the sort of factual statements that could be subjected to a binary true/false test.

The FactCheck fact-check, by Robert Farley (click here and scroll down for bio), is rife with distortions. Let me take a few.

First, and most important, FactCheck is sticking with its insistence that Romney had nothing to do with Bain Capital in February 2002, when Bain pulled the plug on the steel mill where Soptic worked. (The back story on the plant closing, reported by Reuters last January, is well worth reading.) “As we’ve reported before, when the plant closed Romney was running the 2002 Winter Olympics,” Farley instructs us.

But as the Boston Globe and others have reported, Romney — who says he left Bain in 1999 — was chief executive of the company until well into 2002. Whether he was hands-on or not, he was in charge and he benefited financially from the decision that left Soptic unemployed.

The idea that Romney shouldn’t be held accountable because he was running the Olympics is mystifying. As someone else said (I wish I had the link), imagine that Obama owned an apartment building in Chicago, and that rats and cockroaches were discovered there. Do you think anyone would be inclined to let him off the hook because he was an absentee landlord and had hired a manager to look after the property?

FactCheck’s Farley also finds the ad “misleading” because Ranae Soptic “didn’t lose coverage when the plant closed. Mr. Soptic told CNN that she lost her own employer-sponsored coverage a year or two later. She had no coverage after that.”

Seriously? This isn’t hard, folks. If Joe Soptic hadn’t lost his health insurance after Bain shut down the plant where he worked, his wife could have slid over onto his coverage after she lost hers — assuming she wouldn’t have been rejected for having a pre-existing condition. I have absolutely no idea what point Farley even thinks he’s making.

Finally, Farley wants us to know that the ad is “misleading” because Mrs. Soptic “died in 2006 — five years after the plant closed.” Good Lord. I’m not even going to attempt to comment on that except to point out that uninsured people tend to let things go.

Interestingly enough, the ad has never even appeared on television as an ad, but it’s been shown numerous times for free so critics could denounce it. That’s cost-effective advertising.

Voters should feel free to judge the candidates on the tenor of their campaigns. Fact-checking has its purposes. But it has real limits as well.