Political Animal


September 22, 2011 8:30 AM Clinton, context, and coverage — a case study

By Steve Benen

If you perused the headlines on several prominent political news sites yesterday, you were led to believe that former President Clinton, in an interview with Newsmax, expressed his opposition to President Obama’s debt-reduction plan, or at least the provisions related to tax fairness.

Newsmax’s own headline: “Ex-President Clinton to Newsmax: Raising Taxes Won’t Work”

Politico headline: “Bill Clinton: No more taxes now”

Business Insider headline: “Bill Clinton Breaks With Obama, Says No To New Tax Hikes”

USA Today headline: “Clinton: No new (Obama) taxes?”

Perhaps the most egregious was Time’s Mark Halperin, who ran this as the lead political story yesterday afternoon. The headline, referring to Clinton as the nation’s 42nd president, read, “42: No Tax Hikes.” The blurb told readers, “In Newsmax interview, Clinton says, ‘I personally don’t believe we ought to be raising taxes … This has been a dead flat economy.’”

What did Clinton actually say? The quote from the former president is pretty straightforward: “I personally don’t believe we ought to be raising taxes or cutting spending until we get this economy off the ground.”

Notice the difference between the quote and the media’s coverage?

First, these media outlets simply chose to ignore the part of the quote in which Clinton rejected spending cuts during a weak economy. Halperin went so far as to use ellipses to take out the part in which the former president dismissed the Republicans’ priority, misleading the reader about Clinton’s position.

Second, while some outlets were eager to tell the public that Clinton’s view is at odds with Obama’s view, both presidents are taking the same approach to the issue. Clinton wants tax increases delayed until the economy is stronger and so does Obama. Reporters who spend even a couple of minutes looking at the White House plan will see that the president wants to boost tax revenue to lower the deficit, but not until 2013. In the short term, Obama wants to cut taxes, not raise them.

Clinton and Obama are saying the same thing. There’s no excuse for these media outlets telling the public otherwise.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • Live Free or Die on September 22, 2011 8:35 AM:

    The media are the problem. Which ELECTED Democrat will call them out, in the same way ELECTED Republicans have been crying "liberal media" for the last 20 years?

  • Mark-NC on September 22, 2011 8:38 AM:

    But, you can't "catapult the propaganda" by telling the truth.

    Honesty doesn't help the Repugnant Ones - no problem for those with no moral center at all.

  • Live Free or Die on September 22, 2011 8:42 AM:

    Also, too these are the same people that have been trying to create the narrative that deficit fever is the only thing Americans care about and have been whining about Obama's new approach, convinced that Obama needs to go back to doing what has not worked over the past few years. You know how lobbyist here in Texas write the legislation? I think that lobbyist write the articles for Politico and then send them to Mark Halperin.

  • c u n d gulag on September 22, 2011 8:45 AM:

    You know what will never be a headline?

    "Mark Halperin is a shameless hack!"
    Dog bites man, don't you know.

    "Deficit Fever - Catch It !!!"

  • steve duncan on September 22, 2011 8:50 AM:

    In the same vein Fox News had an interesting chyron scrolling intermittently across the bottom of the screen for much of yesterday afternoon. I can't quote verbatim because I didn't write it down but this is close:
    "President Obama's approval ratings drop amid Solyndra scandal reports"

    My first thought was I bet I could stand on a street corner in any major city in America and 2 in a 100 people would have even heard of the Solyndra scandal or had the vaguest damned idea what it was all about. Nor would even the smallest fraction of the citizenry care. Yet Fox wants the viewer to believe it's dragging down Obama's approval numbers.

  • Danp on September 22, 2011 8:51 AM:

    So did the Newsmax interviewer ask Clinton if he is pro-deficit? Seems to me that an organization that promotes deficit spending as the most important issue of the day should be asking Clinton to make a choice?

  • DisgustedWithItAll on September 22, 2011 8:54 AM:

    I like saying it: Halperin is an asshole.

  • Anonymous on September 22, 2011 9:03 AM:


    "Live Free of Die,
    Yes, and that truly puts us in the minority.
    A much ostracized minority.

    I wonder what that, if anything, had to do with making me a Liberal?"

    Once you go black you dont go back. No, that does not work with hate of chocolate ice cream. Once you go Vanilla..... No that does not work because most people start with Vanilla ice cream. I guess you cannot mix up ice cream with political metaphors. But I thought I was the only one that hated chocolate ice cream.

  • Millstream Pigworker on September 22, 2011 9:09 AM:

    Mark Halperin is a dick. There, I said it! I suppose that means I'm now banned from appearing on Morning Joe (but can soon return to continue pushing Republican frames under the guise of an objective journalist).

  • ckelly on September 22, 2011 9:11 AM:

    Damn liberal media.

    There's no excuse for these media outlets telling the public otherwise.

    Inexcusable yes, surprising? No.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on September 22, 2011 9:11 AM:

    @Anonymous: Allelujah!!!!! I've met another human that dislike chocolate ice cream! And so have you.

    Alas, you're anonymous so have I really met such a person?

  • Live Free or Die on September 22, 2011 9:15 AM:


    Anonymous= LFoD. So now we have three people who dislike chocolate ice cream. Perhaps we should start a club.

  • DAY on September 22, 2011 9:16 AM:

    The same Bill Clinton discussed much- including the Razorback/'Bama game!-with Mika and Joe this AM.
    A telling comment was that agreement doesn't get much news coverage; they WANT conflict. Old news, I know -man bites dog- but coming from the President who got almost as much done in two terms as Obama has in less than one, should carry some weight.
    I'll wait for Fox to run clips. . .

  • Live Free or Die on September 22, 2011 9:19 AM:

    Today on Morning Joe, they were still obsessing over the deficit. Don't they know that the "deficit" is passe now? The deficit is fin; jobs is deck. They were talking about how disappointed they were that Obama did not want to cut SS. They said this proves how Obama is back to politics as usual. I guess the only way for Obama to appear centrist is to unconditionally surrender to the Teabaggers.

  • Lifelong Dem on September 22, 2011 9:23 AM:

    "Perhaps the most egregious was Time’s Mark Halperin ..."

    That may be the biggest shocker of the week. I think Halperin is kind of a dick--we're on delay this morning, right?

  • pol on September 22, 2011 9:26 AM:

    OK.. Forgive me for my ignorance, but aren't the Bush tax cuts for the rich due to expire before 2013? If they are, isn't this, in essence, a tax increase?

    This is an honest question... When do those tax cuts expire?

  • SadOldVet on September 22, 2011 9:28 AM:

    Why the surprise?

    Halperin and the corporately owned media are only fulfilling their assigned roles as echo chambers and message amplifiers of repuknican messages!

    Any surprise would be if any readers here actually believe that the 6 corporations who own 94% of all of the broadcast and print media in the U.S. are owned or run by liberals.

  • square1 on September 22, 2011 9:32 AM:

    The difference between Republican political leaders and Democratic political leaders is that when Republicans make public statements they stay on message and attempt to advance their agenda while Democrats (e.g. Clinton here) open their mouths just because they love to hear the sound of their own voices.

    Did the media twist Clinton's words? Yeah, but so what? It is a stupid, stupid quote in context. What possible point was Clinton tryin to make? Does Bill Clinton believe that there is some actual danger that Democrats will overreach and raise taxes on the middle class in the next 18 months?

    The only "logic" that I can see is that Clinton, as a good Centrist, gets personally defensive when people talk about "going back to the Clinton-era tax rates" as if that was a time of massive taxation. I suppose Clinton feels the need to reassert his bona fides as an anti-tax centrist.

    Please, people, take note. It isn't magic that Republican talking points bounce around the media universe while Democrats' messages never resonate. The reason is that Republicans stay on message while Democrats blabber incoherently like Bill Clinton.

    (incidentally, if Bill Clinton wanted to make the point that Obama was correct to both raise taxes and to wait until the economy improved for their implementation then he could have said that clearly and in a manner that couldn't be taken out of context. It isn't too much to ask a former 2-term president to grasp how the media works.)

  • Live Free or Die on September 22, 2011 9:33 AM:

    On Morning Joe yesterday, Elizabeth Warren was on and Halperin was very hostile to her. He kept asking her some esoteric question about the Chinese military trying to make her look bad and trip her up. It was very weird. I do not believe any of the GOP presidential candidates were ever asked about China's military. When she kept on trying to answer it, he kept on going back to some esoteric detail that he wanted her to answer. He did not ask her anything about the economy though.

  • CDW on September 22, 2011 10:04 AM:

    I seem to recall that Clinton raised taxes at the beginning of his first term when the economy was in bad shape. I think he should just keep quiet, or try to get through to Obama in private.

    the urpuzi - back atcha captcha

  • jtadetroit on September 22, 2011 10:17 AM:

    Elizabeth Warren slapped down Halperin's "gotcha" question about Chinese military spending with a clear logical answer,on Morning Joe yesterday.

    Seeing his smug expression get wiped off was priceless

  • SecularAnimist on September 22, 2011 12:04 PM:

    Steve Benen wrote: "There’s no excuse for these media outlets telling the public otherwise."

    The corporate media doesn't need an "excuse" to LIE.

    LYING to the American people is what the corporate media does -- all day, every day.

  • TCinLA on September 22, 2011 12:33 PM:

    There’s no excuse for these media outlets telling the public otherwise.

    Yes there is. If they told the truth, it wouldn't advance the interests of their corporate masters, the ones who pay them enough to put them in the top 1 percent.

    Paraphrasing Orwell: "there is no use confronting a man with facts when his economic well-being depends on his ignoring those facts."

  • tamiasmin on September 22, 2011 12:39 PM:

    "Halperin went so far as to use ellipses..."

    Yes, Halperin is egregious and so forth, but using ellipses is going less far than giving a reader no indication that you have altered a quote.