Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 14, 2011

THE MEDIA SURE IS HARD TO PLEASE.... Last week, much of the media establishment drooled all over itself while praising Paul Ryan's right-wing budget plan. For most major news outlets, the far-right chairman of the House Budget Committee was "courageously" tackling an issue the media cares about -- deficit and debt reduction -- in a way they found satisfying (slashing health care for seniors and the disabled = "serious").

Perhaps, then, the media would be pleased with President Obama's debt-reduction plan. After all, he's playing the game the establishment wants him to play -- focusing on fiscal responsibility -- and doing so with a sound, credible proposal that would actually do what it sets out to do. Best of all, the White House made sure the president's numbers add up, which is more than we can say about Ryan's plan.

But the media's still not happy.

Mark Halperin complained yesterday that Obama "failed to offer a bold, paradigm-shifting budget proposal." What? A center-left Democratic president, saddled with a massive Republican debt, has a plan to reduce the budget shortfall by $4 trillion. It includes provisions the left and right don't like, and takes a political gamble by calling for tax increases on the wealthy.

Is this not exactly what the media establishment said it wanted? Is the only acceptable plan one that hurts Medicare, Medicaid, and low-income families?

Politico chastised the president overnight for being "partisan" and hurting Republicans' feelings.

President Barack Obama extended a fiscal olive branch to Republicans on Wednesday. Then he beat them up with it.

Obama's long-anticipated speech on the deficit at George Washington University was one of the oddest rhetorical hybrids of his presidency -- a serious stab at reforming entitlements cloaked in a 2012 campaign speech that was one of the most overtly partisan broadsides he's ever delivered from a podium with a presidential seal.

Fox News has condemned the "partisan" tone of yesterday's speech over and over again.

So, if a Democratic president sounds like a Democratic president, even while tackling an issue that's allegedly critical to Republicans, it's a failure. Obama's job, apparently, was to address the Republican goal, in Republican terms, while touting Republican ideas. Anything else falls short of being "bold" and "paradigm-shifting."

For the record, while Obama delivered a spirited defense of progressive governance, he also went out of his way not to call out George W. Bush by name for his spectacular fiscal failures, and opened the door to a constructive bipartisan dialog: "I don't expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. This is a democracy; that's not how things work. I'm eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum." As best as I can tell, he's not any getting credit for this from those concerned about "partisanship."

There's no reason for so many in the media to be so annoyed. If I didn't know better, I might think the establishment noticed that much of the left liked the speech, which necessarily led pundits to assume there was something wrong with it.

Update: The Wall Street Journal's increasingly ridiculous editorial page is toeing the party line, whining about "blistering partisanship." The irony of the WSJ complaining about others' partisanship went unnoticed.

Second Update: It's only fair to note that while Halperin, Politico, Fox News, and the WSJ got this very wrong, there were many in the media who got the story right. Credit where credit is due.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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You got it partially right. Need to screw the leeches (anyone not rich), but also cut our taxes! All that matters is cutting our taxes!

Posted by: Millionaire Media on April 14, 2011 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Our current MSM: intellectually dishonest fools. Willing tools of the plutocrats. Cowards.

All of the above.

Posted by: LL on April 14, 2011 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

The media already gave Ryan a blow job for such a nice proposal, so to give Obama one also would make them look like sluts. They much prefer to whore their services to their corporate masters.

Posted by: bignose on April 14, 2011 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Well, they're partisans. And... they're hacks. Ergo, partisan hacks. QED.

Posted by: MattF on April 14, 2011 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Todays "Reporters" have few marketable skills, and constantly fear for their jobs- downsizing is an ongoing event in the news biz.

Politico et al exist to feed the beast- corporate ownership. And corporations have little use for little people, because they have no money.

Posted by: DAY on April 14, 2011 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Your headline is desceptive. Mark Halperin is more RNC flack than journalist. He has zero credibility. He is completely in the tank for the Republicans. He is just paid by NBC. Politico is the congressional Republcan house press. Fox News? What does Fox have to do with journalism and news.

Your headline should have been "Republican spokesmen are sure hard to please."

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 14, 2011 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

This is the danger of Obama straying too far from Rancho Oligarcho. And as nicely reviewed as his speech was from our side, that's all the more reason to assume Obama will eventually capitulate. And then we in the bleachers will capitulate and struggle to understand why we can't get anything done.

Posted by: walt on April 14, 2011 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

I mean, please, did anyone expect anything different?


Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 14, 2011 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Significant defense cuts would have been "paradigm shifting". But I somehow doubt Halperin would have liked that either. Gouging the poor is now the new "paradigm shifting".

Posted by: Bulworth on April 14, 2011 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

It's a bit astonishing that anyone could call that speech partisan after the naked partisanship of the last administration. Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I don't recall much criticism of the partisanship of the Bush/Cheney regime.

What's sad is that our elite political pundits now seem to live in the walled off world of the top 2 percenters. They rarely seem to venture out of the village to see what is happening for the vast majority of Americans.

What's infuriating is that their intellectual slothfulness has led them to believe that the only good budget solutions are ones that hurt, and by extension, the ones that hurt the most must be superior.

As for Halperin? I've long since given up expecting honest analysis from him.

Posted by: JoeW on April 14, 2011 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Politico chastised the president overnight for being "partisan" and hurting Republicans' feelings.

Yeah, NPR did the same thing on All Things Considered. Which just goes to show that 1) The Republicans have no factual, substantive criticism of Obama's speech and b) the SCLM is either too dumb or too partisan to figure that out.

Posted by: Gregory on April 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

We all know that, had there been a "bold, paradigm-shifting" budget proposal, Halperin would have knocked it for being impractical and unlikely to pass.

As for being partisan, I thought Obama let 'em off easy by not naming names. And not just Bush. Names like Boehner, Cantor and Ryan are all over the bills that dug us into this hole.

Sadly, in the media, being "partisan" is something only Democrats can do. They think the word means "to not act like a Republican".

Posted by: biggerbox on April 14, 2011 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK


Posted by: blue on April 14, 2011 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

"If I didn't know better, I might think the establishment noticed that much of the left liked the speech, which necessarily led pundits to assume there was something wrong with it."

Nah. The beltway punditry/media either heard what they want to hear or did not. If it was not what they think should have happened (for Obama to Win and for GOP Congress to Lose, or vice versa) then that confuses the reporters and the commentariat.

It is quite possible the campaign speech angle threw them off the scent in this Ongoing Narrative they are writing about Obama. Add some even handedness, a defense of Progressive policy and good speechifying and the beltway media didn't know what to do except declare it a failure as a policy speech (sooo totally unrealistic, dude!) or as a big volley towards 2012 (Obama Says, Game On!)

True, they probably did expect, like the Republican congress seems to expect, that Obama was going to either harangue the House and the Ryan plan (highly unlikely) or that he would do what Obama does: kiss some Pachyderm Patoot. From what I read, he didn't say:
Let's End Welfare As We Know It.

So, since he didn't say that what he said to the ears of those reporters/GOP/etc was dissing the GOP and declaring "Game On! Win the Future!"

Posted by: gus on April 14, 2011 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

If I didn't know better, I might think the establishment noticed that much of the left liked the speech, which necessarily led pundits to assume there was something wrong with it.

Incorrect and invalid thinking!

The correct and valid thinking is that the corporately owned media pundits assume there is something wrong with any proposal that is not been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce.

Posted by: SadOldVet on April 14, 2011 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Right. It's okay for the Republicans to question whether or not Obama is a Christian, whether or not he was born in the United States, whether or not he is a business-hating Communist, or whether or not Bill Ayers personally instructed Obama on how to blow up innocent babies with home made bombs. But as soon as Obama points out that Ryan's numbers don't add up, he's being "partisan".

The truth is partisan and lies are not.

Fuck these clowns.

Posted by: Me on April 14, 2011 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Our politics are cruel and stupid.

The way they have always been.

Posted by: LL on April 14, 2011 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Halperin is a weasel.

Posted by: Joe Friday on April 14, 2011 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

The president rocked yesterday...the dems must get used to pushing the tea-thugs around, it's the only thing those entitled bitches understand.

Posted by: David on April 14, 2011 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Krugman made the right comparison.

Nine years ago Colin Powell made a blatantly false speech to the UN. That day the US media gushed over how wonderful it was. While the world media showed that it lied about translations, had no evidence, had no real evidence, etc.

Now - the establishment media ignores the fact that Ryan Plan's numbers just don't add up. Forget about the politics - the numbers don't add and the assumptions are ludicrous.

They aren't the Prez's friends.

And talking about that media aren't they the same one's who thought Clinton's P**** was auch a fascinating subject?

Posted by: Samuel Knight on April 14, 2011 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

I just don't get Steve Benen's faux-shock schtick. My ass Benen is surprised that Halperin, Politico, and Fox would trash Obama. Was he also surprised when the Sun rose in the East this morning?

It does nobody any good to treat GOP hacks like journalists and then act shocked when they behave like GOP hacks.

Posted by: square1 on April 14, 2011 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Politico chastised the president overnight for being "partisan" and hurting Republicans' feelings.
Oh, waaaaaah. Too f'in bad. Talk about hurt feelings, what about all the children in this country who are now suffering under massive cuts to programs that help them (not to mention their unemployed parents), made partly because the rich were given massive cuts under GWBush. Hurt feelings? What about the more than 4K US military who died in Bush's war of choice? What about seniors and the disabled who can't get the care they need? They should be lucky to only suffer hurt feelings.

I could care less about the hurt feelings of people who are supposed to be public servants, especially those who are millionaires.

Posted by: Hannah on April 14, 2011 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Since right wing hacks were the ones that called Ryan's "plan" courageous, they know Obama was knocking them for lying - of course they were going to go all emo, they don't like someone pointing out their idiocy.

Posted by: amused on April 14, 2011 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

President Barack Obama extended a fiscal olive branch to Republicans on Wednesday. Then he beat them up with it.

And there's your problem, he beats people up with olive branches when he should be taking a baseball bat to their knees.

Posted by: martin on April 14, 2011 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

If the Obama administration and the Dems don't keep the momentum going, don't get their talking points out strong and clear and in keeping with what the President said, the vacuum of the right-wing media and watered down wishy-washy responses from the centrists and democrats will once again get completely forgotten and lost.

We need commercials for the damn deficit discussions--and good ones. Short of that, we need really good speakers out there. I wonder if the Obama administration is working on this messaging crisis.

To add to the horrors of what everyone is noting, I heard David Gergen on CNN last night say it was nice to hear Obama talk about our values of compassion and so forth, but then he dropped the bomb..adding "The question is however, just how serious is he about deficit reduction?". (paraphrasing). What B.S.

I note he said this in his typical cool, calm way that feigns being balanced (starts off with a compliment, then moves in for the kill).

If one pauses, it's clear he's suggesting that no, Obama is not taking deficit reduction seriously. Or at least planting the thought for other Republicans who dig him to take that and run with it.

These less extreme presenting David Gergen types who are used/interviewed again and again can be the most dangerous of all. Because the talking heads at CNN really eat this stuff up. I mean, the guy is very appealing, with his balanced and soft-spoken comments. Even though he drops misleading bombs that undermine the Dems all the time. He's so smooth, so polite.

Posted by: The David Gergen Darlings of the Media on April 14, 2011 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

no paradigm shift!! haha, anything that doesn't screw seniors is not a paradigm shift...AND the punditocracy will have to pay more taxes!! oh-nos!!

Posted by: bruce k on April 14, 2011 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Obama "opened the door to a constructive bipartisan dialog."

I still think you're missing the point, as are most commentators. We both know damn well the republicans are not about to walk through that door, no matter how Obama framed the invitation (see, e.g., today's circus trying to get the finding compromise through the House).

The only thing that counts here is that Obama be seen -- by independents and conservative dems, because that's where the balance for 2012 lies -- as making an effort for bipartisan compromise, which the Repubs then reject.

At which point gridlock ensues (it's pretty much inevitable, really), the tax cuts expire, and the Repubs get blamed -- at least by the voters that matter -- for failing to make a deal that would have averted the expiration.

That's a win on policy, and a win on politics. Thank you, Ryan.

Posted by: retr2327 on April 14, 2011 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

The main problem with Obama's proposals yesterday was that they were Obama's proposals. That's really all the Media needs to declare them unworkable,stale, partisan, job-killing, etc.
As for Ryan's proposed plan, does it matter that the numbers don't add up and many valued programs would be abolished? Not so much.

Posted by: T2 on April 14, 2011 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

If they're not screaming like stuck pigs, you're not doing it right.

Ignore them. Seriously. Ignore them. The people are on the right side; you know, the folks that aren't in the top 2% working as mouthpieces for the corporatocracy. Ignore them. That includes you, Steve.

Posted by: danimal on April 14, 2011 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

I suppose it also didn't sit especially well having Obama say that nothing about Ryan's plan was courageous after so many in the Village had alreaqdy beaten a path in the rush to proclaiming that it was.

Posted by: sparrow on April 14, 2011 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

My main takeaway is how utterly impotent the 'critique' is. Does calling Obama 'partisan' have ANY legs at all?

The speech, like so many others by Obama (remember Tucson?) was a winner. And everyone including crybaby Ryan knows it.


Posted by: jjm on April 14, 2011 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

Politico chastised the president overnight for being "partisan" and hurting Republicans' feelings.

Who cares what the scummy shitheads at this Republican disinformation campaign masquerading as a news operation have to say? They're Republicans!!!! Of course they're going to echo the Republican line that Obama was "too partisan"!

Too bad "Anonymous" can't shut down their website. Permanently.

Posted by: TCinLA on April 14, 2011 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Gawd, did anyone hear Matt Lauer lash into both content and form of Obama's speech as well as the money they hope to raise (as problematic given our economy) for 2012 with Debbie Wasserman Schultz this am on the Today show? Clip on-line. So glad she's the new party leader..she did really well, as well as one could be with Lauer's ridiculously stupid questions.

What's problematic is how much Lauer gets paid for asking dumb questions and sitting around giggling with Meredith and gang about latest recipes, fashion, movies...what a confused three hours they do, especially when they step way out of their league and portend political savvy.

Posted by: Jo on April 14, 2011 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

Just remember what Scott McClellan said about the corporate media relative to the Iraq War: " they were actively complicit in making it happen". Yes, and they are actively complicit in promoting the corporate/ repiglican agenda in every way. That's what the million dollar punditry is hired to do.

Posted by: stormskies on April 14, 2011 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

You can always tell when you've drawn blood from the republicans. They run around, squealing "partisan!, partisan!" like stuck pigs and project all their faults on to you.

Like fucking clockwork.

Let's keep 'em squealing.

Posted by: bdop4 on April 14, 2011 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Say what?

The giant corporations that own virtually all of the mass media in the USA are using their near-totalitarian control of information and the public discourse to attack a Democratic president's budget proposal and promote a right-wing Republican budget proposal?

I'm shocked.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 14, 2011 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

I would rather have the Postal Service run my health insurance than have EXXON, AT&T, or GE run it, wouldn't you? But that's what Republicans want with their new budget proposals to privatize Medicaid and Medicare.

It's all very fine if you are a member of the upper class who can afford health costs out of pocket, but for the rest of us who deal with health insurance companies we know they do not have the public interest in mind, only the short term profit of their shareholders.

Work against the public interest? Corporations? You say.

Well, my young Randian apprentice let's look at the record, which shows many companies cut corners which proved disastrous to the public interest.  Union Carbide in India, BP in the Gulf of Mexico, EXXON In Alaska. There is no reason to think that health companies do any different given they continually raised premiums IN A RECESSION.

Remember, we had pass laws to reign in corporations' greed 100 years ago. 

So to the idealogue Republicans, I say not only NO, but HELL NO!

 America and the world was never more prosperous than during those times when people paid their fair share, this means we must tax the rich and use the money to build infrastructure paying good wages for good work to good people while protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on April 14, 2011 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

General Custer was bold.

Posted by: patrick II on April 14, 2011 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, the problem is that you thought the media was clamoring to hear Obama's plan for deficit reduction. What they've been clamoring for is Obama's plan to kill Medicare.

If his deficit reduction plan doesn't kill Medicare, then they don't want to hear it. Kinda exposes Ryan's "deficit reduction" for what it really is.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on April 14, 2011 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

@ Jo,

Just saw the clip. Wasserman-Shultz "handled" Lauer without even breaking a sweat. Nice job.

Posted by: bdop4 on April 14, 2011 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Article: "Politico chastised the president overnight for being "partisan" and hurting Republicans' feelings.

President Barack Obama extended a fiscal olive branch to Republicans on Wednesday. Then he beat them up with it."

Steve, please stop using Politico as a credible journalism source. It's just another right wing facade pretending to be a news organization. At least Google these clowns and see who created them and who bankrolls them.

Posted by: max on April 14, 2011 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK
We need commercials for the damn deficit discussions--and good ones. Short of that, we need really good speakers out there. I wonder if the Obama administration is working on this messaging crisis.

It appears that their approach to the problem is largely to bypass the mainstream media, focussing on new media (Youtube as was used for the speech and the subsequent Q&A that was embedded here; Twitter, etc.)

Posted by: cmdicely on April 14, 2011 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Raising taxes to reduce deficits is "old school", the exact OPPOSITE, of paradigm.

It's dull and unsexy. Of course entertainment networks like Fox hate it.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on April 14, 2011 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Oh come on, Steve. What happens when you tell an 11 year old girl that you think a certain 16 year old singing idol has a bad haircut? You don't even have to mention his name, she'll know who you mean, and the resulting sh!t storm won't be pretty. The media and the GOP have been declaring their undying love for Paul Ryan all week and now Obama says his wonderful, beautiful plan isn't SERIOUS? Sniff, that's just cruel, that's what that is!

Posted by: T-Rex on April 14, 2011 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Born and raised in America! I'm 10th generation! I heard President Obama's speech, and I can't for the life of me understand why any other Americans who may have heard the same speech are complaining.

I did not hear a Democrat speech. I would know, because I have been a Republican for over 30 years now. I heard an American speech! Explaining American exceptionalism! Sharing our collective interest in equality before the law, equality of opportunity, and equality of access!

I heard a thrust of American values!

Have the coporate media lost its sense of direction? Do journalists still carry the mantel of honesty? Is unbendable partisanship our new reality?

WTF professional intellectual class?

Who do you serve?

Our heritage where truth should always be spoken to power? Or, the Koch Bros. who make wealth for all who would be undemocratic? -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 14, 2011 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

I heard more of this bravery bullshit on NPR yesterday and I thought WTF? This is NPR? They're bigger ass kissers than Obama! Jesus fucking Christmas, doesn't anybody have a penis any more?

Posted by: Trollop on April 14, 2011 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK
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