Tag Archives: tea party

How the Post explained Cantor’s defeat before it happened

Robert Costa (left) and Ralph Hallow of The Washington Times at the CPAC 2013 conference.

Robert Costa (left) and Ralph Hallow of The Washington Times at the CPAC 2013 conference.

Published previously at WGBHNews.org.

The political press today is engorged with analysis that attempts to explain why House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost the Republican primary in his Virginia district to a Tea Party challenger on Tuesday. But given that the pundits were as surprised as everyone else, there is no particular reason to think they are capable of telling us why it happened.

Nearly a month ago, though, Jenna Portnoy and Robert Costa of The Washington Post saw it coming. In an article headlined “Eric Cantor’s tea party opponent in Va. primary may be picking up momentum,” the two wrote that Cantor’s opponent, David Brat, had energized the right-wing base of the party. Cantor, Brat’s supporters believed, had been insufficiently hardline on issues such as immigration reform, the debt ceiling and the Affordable Care Act.

Weeks before the voting, Portnoy and Costa also put their finger on a Cantor tactic that seems to have backfired: going after Brat so hard that he improved his unknown opponent’s name recognition and gave him legitimacy. They quote Brat as saying, “I’m a rookie, he’s never gone negative, and he’s putting my face and name on Fox News, which is unheard of. If they’re doing that, that means their internal polling shows that I’m not at zero. I’m a risk of some sort.”

Portnoy is a local reporter for the Post, having previously covered New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for The Star-Ledger of Newark. I’m sure she’s a fine reporter. What the Cantor story tells me, though, is that the Post’s move to poach Costa from National Review last November is paying off. As Joe Coscarelli wrote in New York magazine, Costa — who is not yet 30, and who rose to prominence during last year’s debt-ceiling debacle — is rare among conservative journalists in that he sees himself as a reporter first, trusted by and well-plugged-in among all factions.

If you want to know why Cantor lost, don’t bother with the Wednesday morning quarterbacking taking place elsewhere. Instead, go back and read what Portnoy and Costa wrote weeks ago.

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

How the IRS is killing nonprofit media

This article appeared earlier at The Huffington Post.

Outrage over the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party and other right-wing groups continues to boil — yet a potentially more consequential IRS practice has scarcely gained any attention.

Over the past few years the IRS has virtually stopped approving 501(c)(3) status for nonprofit news organizations. Given the well-documented decline of traditional for-profit newspapers, nonprofit journalism can be a vital alternative, especially at the local and regional levels. But even when applications for 501(c)(3) status aren’t rejected outright, they are stacking up, unacted upon, for months and even years.

A recent Council on Foundations report titled “The IRS and Nonprofit Media: Toward Creating a More Informed Public” put it this way:

There is significant anecdotal evidence that the IRS has delayed the approval of nonprofit media, potentially slowed the development of those already created, and harmed communities by leaving them without essential coverage, due to the application of archaic standards.

Starting in the middle part of the last decade, a number of nonprofit entrepreneurs launched community websites that were built roughly on the public radio model, funded by grants, sponsorships and contributions from readers. Gaining 501(c)(3) status allowed donors to make make those contributions tax-exempt.

In researching “The Wired City,” my book on the New Haven Independent and other community news sites, I was struck that nearly all of the best-known nonprofits — the Independent, Voice of San Diego, MinnPost, the Texas Tribune, the Connecticut Mirror and others — had been started during the same time period, from 2004 to 2009.

“There was an initial bubble of nonprofit start-ups, but you haven’t seen that great wave spreading across the country,” Andrew Donohue, the then-editor of Voice of San Diego, told me in 2011. He saw that as potentially a good thing — a sign that journalists were trying a variety of models, for-profit as well as nonprofit. Since then, however, it has become increasingly apparent that the IRS is a principal agent in stifling that great wave.

Consider some of the consequences of the IRS’s actions and inaction:

• In February 2012, the Chicago News Cooperative went under, in part because of its inability to obtain 501(c)(3) status from the IRS, as Ryan Chittum reported in the Columbia Journalism Review.

• Because the IRS does not consider journalism to be among the educational activities covered by the 501(c)(3) rules, the agency told the Investigative News Network to remove the word “journalism” from its articles of incorporation. The INN complied and won approval, according to an article about the Council on Foundations report by Justin Ellis of the Nieman Journalism Lab.

• In a similar vein, according to the report, the Johnston Insider of Rhode Island received a message from the IRS telling it: “While most of your articles may be of interest to individuals residing in your community, they are not educational.” Because of that and other reasons, editor Elizabeth Wayland-Seal announced that she was suspending publication.

What adds to the absurdity of the IRS’s stance, as the report notes, is that we are already accustomed to relying on nonprofit, tax-exempt media for much of our news and information — not just from community news sites but from long-established outlets such as NPR and local public radio stations, “The PBS NewsHour” and magazines such as Mother Jones, Consumer Reports and National Geographic.

Here is how the media-reform organization Free Press, which has assembled a useful repository of information about the IRS and nonprofit news, describes the problem:

Nonprofit journalism is not a silver bullet for the future of journalism. But fostering a more diverse media system is. If the IRS decides against allowing nonprofit status for newsrooms, it will essentially be arguing that all journalism should be done for profit. The problem is, the market has shown it will not support the full extent and diversity of news and perspectives we need.

Four years ago, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, proposed a bill that would have allowed newspapers to become nonprofit organizations. At the time it struck me as superfluous. Now it appears that it warrants another look — not just for newspapers, but for other forms of media as well.

Absent legislation, President Obama should appoint a new IRS commissioner who understands that providing quality local journalism is indeed the sort of educational activity that should be covered by the provisions of 501(c)(3).

At a historical moment when it has become increasingly difficult for the traditional media to provide the information we need to govern ourselves in a democracy, the IRS shouldn’t stand in the way of promising alternatives.

The missing context in the IRS scandal

Here’s an assignment for some enterprising journalist: Try to find out how many conservative 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) groups were formed in, say, 2009 through 2011 and compare that to the number of liberal groups formed during the same time period.

Only then can we judge how outrageous it was for some IRS employees to be searching for terms like “tea party” and “patriot” in attempting to crack down on tax-code abuse.

You drop your line where the fish are, you know?

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.

How Kennedy and Obama are alike, for good and for ill

Kennedy with Nikita Khrushchev in 1961

I’m most of the way through Robert Caro’s “The Passage of Power,” the latest in his series of Lyndon Johnson biographies. And I’ve been struck by his description of John F. Kennedy’s governing style, and of the similarities to President Obama.

What they share is a daunting intelligence; level-headedness in moments of confusion and  anxiety, which served them in good stead when high-stakes foreign-policy decisions had to be made quickly (the Cuban missile crisis, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound); and the ability to give a terrific speech, undermined to some degree by their aloof detachment.

The downside? Kennedy comes across as utterly clueless in working the levers of power with Congress, a failing he shares with Obama. Yes, it often appears that the Republicans are going to say no to Obama regardless of what he proposes. But Caro describes a coalition of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats in the early 1960s that was no less intractable than the Tea Party Republicans of today.

Kennedy, Caro writes, concluded that working with Congress was hopeless as he watched his tax-cut bill and civil-rights legislation go nowhere. But when Johnson became president, he engaged in a combination of cajoling, flattery and threats that he mastered in the 1950s as Senate majority leader. What Kennedy had seen as the pragmatic acceptance of reality turned out to be a rationalization of his own shortcomings.

Could Obama have gotten more than he has from Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Eric Cantor? It seems unlikely. But given Bob Woodward’s description of the president’s hapless dealings with the Republican leadership, perhaps a leader more willing to engage with the opposition could have had better results.

Not to get carried away. It’s hard to imagine a better schmoozer in the White House than Bill Clinton. Yet his tax plan was approved without a single Republican vote — and on health care, Obama succeeded where Clinton failed. (I enjoyed Clinton’s speech last week as much as anyone, but his invocation of the 1990s as a time of bipartisan cooperation was pure fiction. I assume the Big Dog hasn’t forgotten that he was impeached for his personal behavior.)

Still, it’s interesting to think about how the past four years might have been different if Obama was a little less JFK and a little more LBJ.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons, from the U.S. Department of State in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Who needs the T-word when you’ve got the H-word?

Mitch McConnell

Thanks to intemperate remarks by pundits such as Tom Friedman and Joe Nocera, and to an anonymously sourced item in Politico about Vice President Joe Biden, liberals have been on the defensive about civility following the debt-ceiling debate. It seems that folks like Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby think it’s wrong to call Tea Partiers and right-wing Republicans “terrorists.”

If you want to be offended, be my guest. I agree that it’s uncivil, and frankly I’d much rather call Tea Partiers economic illiterates, which is more descriptive and more accurate. Economists explain.

But now comes Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who, according to the Washington Post, wants us to know that it’s perfectly all right if we want to refer to Republicans as hostage-takers and to crack wise about them shooting their victims. After all, he does. This is amazing:

“I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting,” he said. “Most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done.”

Ah, yes. You see, McConnell is a moderate Republican, which in 2011 means you hold the hostage for ransom, like civilized folks do. Although he concedes that those who wanted to shoot the hostage have a point, too. After all, he has to keep the caucus together.

You. Can’t. Make. This. Up.

The politics of white backlash

In my latest for the Guardian, I take a look at the tea party, the Republicans and the politics of white backlash.

Thursday update: Glenn Beck had some fun with my Guardian column yesterday on Fox News. I don’t believe there’s a publickly available link, but I have posted the relevant excerpt from Lexis-Nexis, along with a retort, in the comments.

Poll illuminates tea-partiers’ views on race

Thanks to Greg Mitchell’s Twitter feed, I know far more about the New York Times/CBS News poll of tea-party supporters than I would have if I’d relied solely on the Times’ polite take. (The Times does better with an interactive presentation of the complete results.) What you really want to do is check out CBS News’ coverage, starting here. A few findings that are worth pondering:

  • Fewer than half — 41 percent — believe President Obama was born in the United States. Thirty percent flatly declare that Obama was born in another country, and another 29 percent don’t know. In other words, 59 percent of tea-partiers are either hard-core or soft-core birthers.
  • Then again, 32 percent of Republicans believe Obama was born in another country.
  • Eighteen percent of Americans identify with the tea-party movement, and just one percent of them are black. Not surprisingly, 52 percent of this overwhelmingly white group say that too much is made of the problems facing black people, and one-fourth believe the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.
  • Fifty-four percent are Republicans, and 41 percent are independents. Given that 73 percent say they’re conservatives, it stands to reason that most of the independents are politically to the right of where they perceive the Republican Party to be. Just 5 percent say they are Democrats.
  • Sixty-four percent believe a flat-out falsehood (other than the birther falsehood): that taxes for most Americans have risen during the Obama presidency. In fact, they have fallen.
  • And here’s the explanation: 63 percent say they get most of their news from the Fox News Channel, and large majorities hold favorable view of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.
  • While anger is a prime motivating factor, tea-party “activists” turn out to be even angrier than mere supporters: 72 percent of activists are mad as hell, compared to 53 percent of supporters.

Conclusion: Anyone who thinks the tea-party movement isn’t motivated by racial fears is deluding him- or herself.

Playing on racial fears

Let’s see how many media outlets report on the speaker who angrily referred to President Obama as “Barack Hussein” (not even the typical “Barack Hussein Obama”) at this morning’s tea-party rally on the Boston Common — and on all the members of the audience who cheered. Not this one, unfortunately.

I won’t call it racism, but it’s certainly a case of playing on racial fears.

The Tea Partiers’ dubious ties

This New York Times story on the Tea Party movement starts slowly but gradually gains momentum. In the first half, reporter David Barstow seems intent on showing that many of the new Tea Party activists are nice folks, if a bit misguided. In the second half, he really lets it rip, writing about the movement’s ties to far-right extremist militia groups that have been around for years.

As Barstow makes clear, there is no one single Tea Party organization. Tea Party activism was crucial to Scott Brown’s victory, and neither he nor they (with some exceptions) could be considered extreme.

But Barstow reports that a large segment of the movement is far-right, dedicated to Obama-hatred and conspiracy theories. There may come a time when the Republican Party and Fox News regret egging them on.