By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

More on the so-called liberal media

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that Dana Milbank’s smear of Barack Obama in the Washington Post — a self-regarding quote that’s neither verified or presented in context — is just the latest example of how the so-called liberal media establish their bona fides by beating up on liberal politicians.

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  1. Robin Edgar

    There you go. . . Reinforcing the conservative stereotype that liberals eat their own.Not that they don’t of course. 😉

  2. Brian Flaherty

    I think you should differentiate between columnists like Milbank and Vennochi and news people like the network anchors and others. The bias there is profound. does a great job exposing this.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    No, Brian. Everyone has to deal with the same set of facts — you don’t get to distort the facts to fit what you want to say.

  4. O-FISH-L

    Dan, your Guardian column borders on the absurd. The tiny disparities you cite do nothing to change the gist of either story. Your claim that any of this is evidence of the liberal media somehow overcompensating is hogwash. You love to carp that Gore never claimed to have invented the internet, but what he really said is indistinguishable. “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.” Inventing / creating? Please, Dan. As for Obama, you’re partially right. Millbank’s piece failed miserably but not for the reasons you noted. Millbank loses credibility by not citing Obama’s repulsive makeover of the Presidential Seal or his claim in St. Paul that “I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick …” My guess is that Americans are greatly offended when the likes of Obama decides to tinker with a treasured national symbol and relegates American heroes such as Linda Richards, Clara Barton, Jonas Salk and the tens of thousands of their modern-day health care brethren to the scrap heap. Millbank’s column is only suspect in that he failed to use the best material available.I won’t even get into Obama’s claim that the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal once he defeated Hillary.Dan, I give you credit for trying to argue a tough case but if I’m a juror the verdict on the media remains “liberal [and favoring liberals] as charged”.

  5. Rick

    From your latest: Obama campaign official said the candidate’s actual words were more along these lines: “It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign – that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It’s about America. I have just become a symbol.”Is there a tape to back up that version? Why is one version more accurate than the other if there is no video or audio recording?

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: What you and other Gore critics have never grasped is the huge difference between “invention” and “creation.” No, Gore couldn’t invent the Internet, and he never claimed to have done that. But he was a principal creator of it — he pushed a series of policies that transformed the ARPANET from a small network serving higher education and the military into the Internet that we all use today. That’s what he said, and that’s what he meant.Here is the single most comprehensive explanation of how Gore’s words were transformed from something unremarkable into one of the biggest laugh lines of 2000. You can’t say they mean the same thing unless you read this and are prepared to refute it.At least you don’t dispute that Dowd made up the Kerry quote.As for the Obama stuff you cite, I’m not going to try to refute it point by point. But surely you would agree that faking what Obama actually said on one occasion isn’t acceptable just because he’s done similar things on other occasions.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Rick: Read my column. Weisman quite explicitly says there is no tape. He took an anonymous report from someone who was there and put together a lengthy quote, complete with quotation marks. So by definition the quote is fake on some level, unless the nameless witness was taking notes. Which, we can be almost certain, he wasn’t.Weisman presented the pro-Obama spin as a direct quote, too, but I didn’t. I used quotation marks, following Weisman’s lead, but I prefaced it by saying Obama’s words may have been “more along these lines.”The points are these: (1) Weisman concocted a long quote out of hearsay based on no tape, no notes and not having been there himself; (2) Milbank, who enjoyed a far larger audience than Weisman because he was writing for the print edition rather than a Post blog, didn’t even present the counterspin, as Weisman did.

  8. Aaron Read

    No, Brian. Everyone has to deal with the same set of facts — you don’t get to distort the facts to fit what you want to say.I’m getting cynical in my old age, but frankly Dan – that’s a loser of a strategy. Fighting lies with facts is something liberals seems genetically programmed to do and it NEVER works.If liberals want to win, they need to learn how to fight lies with better lies.Frankly, I’m amazed the Obama camp hasn’t strategically “leaked” that McCain secretly had a biopsy at Lombardi that revealed a malignant tumor on his neck near his spine. You want voters to run away screaming from McCain? Just keep putting out rumors that he’s as sick and mentally feeble as a man his age could easily be. Nobody wants Grandpa forgetting where the red metal key to the nukes is.

  9. mike_b1

    Reagan was old and feeble and mentally handicapped and the public kept voting him in. So we need something better than that. How about: Old Man McCain has a black daughter, is married to an ex-hooker and plans to work with Democrats to raise taxes?Nothing would worry the Christian reactionaries more.

  10. Aaron Read

    Reagan was old and feeble and mentally handicapped and the public kept voting him in. True to some degree, but I think the situation is different. First, Reagan was “only” 69 when elected. Don’t underestimate the psychological impact of 69 vs. 70…why else do people say they’re “29 and holding” when asked their age? And while I have met him and hold him high regard personally…in 1980 a warm bucket of spit could’ve beaten Carter.As for 1984, the power of incumbency was in full swing in favor of Reagan…and again, was Mondale the BEST the Democrats could do?!?Plus I’m not sure the issues around Reagan’s age ever gained much traction thanks to his “kindly grandpa” image, something McCain singularly lacks and, indeed, is known for rather the opposite.While I think you have a point, dissuading right wing voters also will not work. No matter how bad they think McCain is…they will always think Obama will be much, much worse. You won’t get them to vote for Obama, nor will you get them to stay home.Obama’s keys to success are to energize his base (and get people who normally don’t bother voting to get out there and do so) and to convince right-leaning independents that McCain is bad enough that they just stay home in disgust. So far Obama’s doing a lousy job of both as of late…he’s alienating his left-wing base with compromise on things he shouldn’t be compromising on, and he’s not demonizing McCain enough to dissuade independents from voting for him (McCain).

  11. O-FISH-L

    Dan, why would I need to read a third-party explanation of Gore’s words when I have them in plain English right in front of me? Why complicate it? Political speech, like a told joke, fails when it needs to be explained to the listener. Make no mistake that Gore critics [and even many of his supporters, I’m sure] fully grasp the distinction between invention and creation and frankly there’s not a dimes worth of difference in this case. What you don’t seem to grasp, Dan, is Gore’s unmitigated hubris in using the words, or variations thereof, “I” “created” “Internet” in the same sentence. Does it really matter whether people are laughing at Gore’s poor word choice or an intentional exaggeration?For all his faults, Gore is a well educated man and a shrewd politician. He knew full well what he was saying but, as the saying goes, he got “too cute by half.” He deserves as much ridicule as he gets on this one.Contrast that with another former VP who is still the subject of “laugh lines” after being handed a misspelled flash card with the word “potatoe” written on it. Dan Quayle has endured endless scorn for repeating a mistake initially made by someone else, so I have no sympathy for the megalomaniacal Gore when he is mocked for what was an intentional, if careless, statement solely of his own making.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: Essentially you are saying that context doesn’t matter. As a result, you have no standing to discuss this matter any further. You don’t have to agree with me, but you do have to engage.

  13. Dan Kennedy

    Aaron: I think a strong case can be made that Mondale was the finest candidate the Democrats have nominated in our lifetime — a rare combination of experience, intelligence, issues and personal decency. Yes, he was the best the party could have nominated, though he wasn’t as dynamic as he might have been. But there was no way a Democrat was going to win in 1984 anyway.Except that Charlie Pierce has argued (can’t find it; it might have been in an e-mail) that if the moderator had asked Reagan in the first debate, “Mr. President, do you know what city we’re in?”, Mondale might have been elected president. If Reagan was having an Alzheimer’s moment, it had passed by the second debate.

  14. Aaron Read

    I stumbled across this post by Drew Weston on Huffington Post today…it’s a far more elegant, more detailed and less cynical expansion that kind-of parallels the ideas I was just talking about…although Westen obviously has spent a lot more time fleshing out the concept.Here’s the key point:There is a simple fact about elections that has eluded Democrats in every presidential campaign they have lost in the last 40 years: that as a candidate, you have to focus first and foremost not on a litany of “issues” but on four stories: the story you tell about yourself, the story your opponent is telling about himself, the story your opponent is telling about you, and the story you are telling about your opponent. Candidates who offer compelling stories in all four quadrants of this “message grid” win, and those who leave any of them to chance generally lose.Weston goes on to say how Obama hasn’t done any of these, much like how Al Gore didn’t in 2000 (and narrowly “lost” to a candidate he should’ve wiped the floor with) and Kerry only focused on the story about himself and ignored the rest (leaving easy pickings for Karl Rove and company).BTW, Mondale might’ve been an excellent politician and a good man…but the consistent story I’ve heard about him was that he was absolutely the worst possible candidate to run; he represented everything about the Democratic party from the previous twenty years – the exact thing the electorate was running away from to vote for Reagan.Granted, while I was a precocious and politically-aware little brat, I was still only eight in 1984. I’m not going to pretend I was old enough to really understand all the nuances of Presidential politics first-hand at that age. 🙂 As such, I’m relying on anecdotal evidence collected over the rest of my life, rather than a detailed examination of history. The point being that I’m certainly willing to be proven inaccurate…but if Mondale was really all that and a bag of chips as a Presidential candidate I find it hard to believe he’d lose 49 states.

  15. mike_b1

    What political scientists Wayne and Hess have argued is that tough liberals win, weak liberals lose. Their book, “The Road to the White House,” which was published in 1991 or ’92, and covers through the Bush-Dukakis race, offers up the notion that FDR, Truman and JFK were “tough,” while Mondale, Carter, Stevenson, etc. were not.Bill Clinton counts as tough — as crystallized when he threatened to take to the woodshed anyone who picked on Hillary. It’s good stuff.What we tend to do is overstress what we think Obama is doing wrong. Remember, there are many, many on the GOP side who think Old Man McCain is running a pathetic race.

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