What I Didn’t Miss During a Long Walk in the Woods

NEW SLAUGHTERHere’s a list of things I didn’t miss during a week hiking down Isle Royale.

1:  Senate Republicans failing to come up with the 70 votes supposedly needed to give Speaker John Boehner “cover” to support immigration reform without the support of the majority of his neanderthal caucus. This was the presumption as we boated away from Grand Portage 12 days ago and nothing much changed, so what’s to miss?

There are only so many times I … you … paid pundits … the drunk on the next stool … can belabor the head-slapping destructive/self-destructiveness of this current crop of Republicans. And as much as road-blocking immigration reform is perhaps the single most damaging thing they could do to their election chances (in 2016, but very likely in 2014 as well) it just isn’t news anymore that these characters really are so … well, stupid is perfectly adequate word … that they will drive a stake through the heart of the one piece of legislation that might give them standing with the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country. A group big enough to turn … Texas for crissake … blue in another couple of election cycles.

It also isn’t worth mincing words about “why”. This isn’t another exercise in the hyper right-wing’s phony pursuit of Constitutional purity. It’s racism, pure and simple. The hillbilly sensibility of the Republican base has no time or sympathy for intruder factions unconnected by origin to new conservatives’ cockamamie mash-up of Hollywood westerns/xenophobia/Ronald Reagan hagiographies and snake oil punditry.

The fog that rolled up and over the Greenstone Ridge had the effect of blotting out a lot of toxic buffoonery.

2:  Even though I predicted it, I did not miss the minute-by-minute updates on where Edward Snowden was and might be going. Commercial media are incapable of engendering and sustaining a national conversation about anything of genuine importance … unless there’s a celebrity sex angle. The fact they’re treating Snowden the fugitive as “the story” and not the still-emerging details of the US’s multi-multi billion dollar cyber systems is too dismaying to “miss”. A hot shower after 50 miles of sweat, DEET and black flies, yes. A cold beer, yes. CNN, no.

3; Speaking of … I hadn’t been giving George Zimmerman a lot of thought, frankly. Although news of his trial start did make the crawl on a screen in the bar at the casino where we stayed the night before leaving. But upon return … I mean, WTF? Zimmerman is a bigger story than a military coup in Egypt? Even MSNBC has gone monomaniacal.

The Zimmerman trial is several rungs of significance up the ladder from the latest Jodi Arias/Casey Anthony sluts-who-slaughter convulsion, but round-the-clock?

Yes, I understand it’s far, far cheaper than sending crews to Cairo. And yes, I understand that certain key demographic groups will devote obsessional amounts of time watching a murder trial. But are we really at the point where we don’t even pretend “our viewers” have an interest in the meltdown of democracy in the anchor nation of the Middle East?

Don’t answer that question.

I get that CNN’s new boss, Mr. Early-Morning-TV-Works-in-All-Dayparts, Jeff Zucker sees an audience of attention-span deprived emotional adolescents, people who need a cooking segment and celebrity hype-chat to break the monotony of revolutions, car-bombings, cyber-warfare and legislative gridlock … but … passing mention? Imagine if another Carnival cruise ship flipped over in Miami harbor? You’d never hear of John Boehner again.

4:  Finally, I didn’t miss the story and intense local discussion about old Carl Pohlad’s tax troubles with the IRS … because they weren’t reported in the local press. Forbes magazine put out the story of the old man’s serious Mitt Romney-like gaming of the tax code … to the advantage of his heirs, a couple of whom at least have done some commendable things with the loot … they didn’t turn over to the common coffers.

Now that I’m back, after trying to cook my fabulous tuna schmeckler under a raggedy pine tree in a steady rain, would it be okay for someone in this town to get impertinent with one of the Pohlad boys and ask how exactly they justify the fantastical level of accounting magic that took their family off the hook for their “fair share” of taxes?

I understand every media outlet wants to be the Pohlads’ BFF. But now that this is “out there”, perhaps some tough-as-nails, take-no-prisoner reporter could “request” a first person comment from one of the boys.

I know, I know, it doesn’t have the reader interest of a list of “10 Great Places for Patriotic Dining”, but it is kind of like … news.

BTW … The beach at Siskiwit Bay was … idyllic. I’m already missing it.

“Rosengate” The Latest News Media Overreaction

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how badly the mainstream media and punditry class had miscalculated the public reaction to the Obamacare contraceptives policy. You’ll recall that the national news media originally declared that President Obama was getting slaughtered due to the “controversy” and “firestorm” he had caused by proposing to provide contraception to women.

Then polls showed that the issue had actually helped expand a gender gap in favor of Obama.

A few days ago, a similar cycle started again, although this one didn’t even have anything to do with Obama or an Obama policy. It all started with lefty pundit Hilary Rosen’s comment that Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life, forgetting three important words “outside the home.”

Reporters and pundits immediately became aroused. Forget that Rosen isn’t Obama. Forget that Rosen doesn’t speak for Obama, or work for him. Forget that most people know what Rosen presumably meant – that millionaire stay-at-home moms don’t have much in common with non-millionaire working moms — and that is an absolutely fair and relevant point. Once again, the national news media and pundits declared that Obama had a huge political problem on his hands that was crippling him with lovers of motherhood everywhere.

U.S. News blared the headline “Damage Already Done By Rosen’s Ann Romney Comment,” relying on conservative pundit Frank Luntz, who assured us:

“What she said is an insult to millions of American women,” Luntz told me, adding that even though Rosen apologized, the damage had already been done because many stay-at-home moms were offended.

CBS News went with the headline “Hilary Rosen flap a ‘win in every regard’ for GOP, says Nicole Wallace.” It quotes the giddy conservative pundit explaining:

“Ann Romney was able to connect in an instant to every woman in the country, with every woman in the country” by defending her decision to raise five boys.”

Talking Points Memo (TPM) even broke out The Suffix of Political Death, “-gate.” I kid you not, they went with “Rosengate” in their headline.

Holy Cuban plumbers, a “-gate!?” Because a supportive pundit mangled her soundbite?

Despite all that hyperventilating about Rosen’s comments and the dire consequences they supposedly had for Obama, today we’re starting to see some polling on the issue. From the Examiner:

A new Reuters poll out Tuesday shows Obama with a comfortable 14-point lead on Mitt Romney among women likely to vote in November’s general election, 51-to-37 percent. That split is more or less the same as a similar poll taken back in March that showed Obama with a 54-38 advantage.

A CNN poll out Monday offered similar numbers. The survey gave the president a 52-to-43 percent lead over Mitt Romney among registered voters, and also gave Obama a 16-point lead over Romney among women, 55-to-39 percent, almost as good as last month’s 18 points.

Another interesting development in the survey: “Despite Republicans’ efforts to portray themselves as the party of the family, Obama even had a big edge on family values among women, with 51 percent picking him as better on that issue compared with 36 percent for Romney.”

In fact, the poll found women rating Obama stronger on all issues, including the economy, jobs, health care and foreign policy.

So, after all of that talking head drama, apparently what we actually have is Nobodygivesashitgate.

– Loveland

Expecting More From News-Sponsored Polls

Last week, MinnPost released its inaugural public opinion poll, another step in it’s maturation as an increasingly central part of the Minnesota news landscape. I maintain polls are an important part of news coverage in a democracy, and Minnpost proved it last week when it was the first to tell the story of the public blaming Republicans, by a 2-to-1 margin, for the bitterly debated government shutdown. After months of wonky budget debate coverage, it was interesting to read about the public verdict, as measured by a random sample survey. Our little MinnPost is growing up.

But I have higher aspirations for MinnPost. In the future, I hope MinnPost polls will focus on more than just “approval,” “blame,” and “if the election were held today” questions. Goodness knows, that ground is already covered ad nauseum by the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Minnesota Public Radio, University of Minnesota Humphrey School, St. Cloud State and many others.

I hope MinnPost, or someone else in that pack, also asks questions that probe the values underpinning the opinions. For example, they could ask something like this:
Continue reading “Expecting More From News-Sponsored Polls”

Censored News Network (CNN)

censorship-1CNN is labeled a liberal network by conservatives who prefer Fox, a conservative network by liberals who prefer MSNBC, and an inane network by tripartisan wonks who prefer PBS or C-Span.

But now there is a CNN descriptor that can unify us all. Gutless.

In the last few days, CNN has refused to run one ad critical of CNN, and refused to run another ad critical of one of CNN’s top advertisers.

The first ad rails on CNN’s Lou Dobbs for his coverage of the birther’s movement, the group claiming that President Obama is not an American citizen. The second ad criticizes the health insurance industry for opposing the type of health system change that unions prefer. Sayeth “the most trusted name in news:”

“This (health reform) ad does not comply with our clearance guidelines because it unnecessarily singles out an individual company and person.”

First, these are hardly the first ads to grace CNN airwaves to single out a company or person for criticism. The deal breaker for CNN is WHO is being criticized, not critical ads in general.

Second, can anyone seriously continue to claim CNN is liberal? Liberal networks don’t gag union viewpoints and put up a human shield for corporate interests. Liberal networks don’t repeatedly air the most incendiary of attacks on the Democratic President, and then refuse air time for rebuttals.

Finally, beyond the tired old “is CNN liberal or conservative” debate is a more foundational one: Is a news network that is so thin-skinned about criticism and so conjoined with it’s advertisers to be taken serious by anyone of any political stripe?

– Loveland

Fixing the Newspaper Business or “Do I Have to Do Everything Around Here?”

to-do-listThis has been on my to-do list for a while but it keeps getting pushed downstream by other, more pressing issues.   The volume of whining – along with the complaints about the whining – has gotten so loud, though, I figured I’d better take an hour or two and get it done:

“#23: Fix newspaper business.”

Pay attention.  I’m only going to go through this once.

Continue reading “Fixing the Newspaper Business or “Do I Have to Do Everything Around Here?””

Beyond Joe

Based on last night’s presidential debate market research, this morning more than a few undecided voters feel little like middle child Jan Brady of the Brady Bunch fed up with too much attention heaped on a high achieving sibling: “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha! That’s all I hear about it is Marsha!”

I feel ya, Jan. Joe the Plumber, Joe the Plumber, Joe the Plumber! That’s all we heard about last night was Joe the Plumber!

John McCain’s use of a single undecided voter who apparently is one of the relatively few Americans who would do better under McCain’s tax plan than Obama’s was a savvy PR move that was executed with remarkable discipline. By some accounts, McCain mentioned JTP twenty times.

The framing worked spectacularly well. Last night, the Prince of Plumbs was all the rage with the pundits, who are always anxious to create the illusion that they have the pulse of “ordinary people.” Today’s news cycle will be clogged with breathless follow-up stories wondering “how will Joe vote?,” and I’d be very surprised if Joe isn’t in a McCain ad very soon.

How big of a triumph is this PR stunt? Huge, because if undecided Joe is leaning McCain — a fair bet since he’s been calling Obama a “socialist” on Fox News — he is a statistical abberation being portayed as a definitive divining rod. After all, according to a CBS poll of undecided voters, about twice as many undecided voters broke in Obama’s direction than McCain’s following the debate. And according to the dial testing of undecided voters randomly selected by CNN, undecided voters were as irked as Jan Brady about the Plumberpalooza, because their squiggly lines veered downward whenever Joe was mentioned by Roter Rooter rooting McCain.

Yet despite all this evidence of what large samples of undecided voters thought, the news media is adopting McCain’s framing of Joe as the very embodiment of undecided voters. While I admire McCain’s skill in executing the framing tactic, I can see why undecideds are irked. I’m sure Joe is a great guy, but Joe is not Everyman. He is a relatively rich white male, not unlike Joe the PR Consultant. Not Trump rich, not even close, but from a statistical standpoint, it sounds like America’s Plumber will be richer than nine out of ten if he is able to purchase his business.

And good for Joe. Joe is very much part of the American fabric, and a hopeful sign that the American dream lives on. But there is also more to America than lunch bucket white guys who are making it. Jane the teacher, Bob the sanitary engineer, Leroy the insurance adjuster, Maria the housecleaner, Abdul the factory worker, Monica the unemployed customer service rep, Ron the retiree, Amber the potential college student and the others among the 80-95% of Americans who would do better under Obama’s plan…they all deserve some attention from McCain and the media too.

Joe matters a lot, but he’s not the only one who matters. “Marsha, Marsha, Marhsa!” No wonder those dial testers went south.

– Loveland

P.S. Information that became available after this was originally posted made it clear that JTP’s income is well below $250,000, so he would not receive a tax increase under the Obama plan after all. He would get a tax cut under the Obama plan.

Therefore, this charcterization of JTP from my original post is inaccurate: “…a single undecided voter who apparently is one of the relatively few Americans who would do better under McCain’s tax plan than Obama’s.”
billing software fine

Biden on Points

I’ve now watched the debate twice and if the audience had been a panel of debate judges, it would have been a knock-down for Senator Biden.  His 36 years in the Senate plus a week of intense debate prep gave him the base to range freely across the questions and demonstrate his experience in both foreign and domestic policy.  As has already been identified, he (and Governor Palin) did some stretching and distorting, but in general no egregious blunders.

By comparison, Governor Palin spewed soundbites, even if they were only tangentially related to the question, and mostly got away with it.  Ms. Ifill rarely pressed her and Senator Biden was clearly coached not to attack her directly.  She wandered into the weeds on just a couple questions – on equal rights for same-sex unions and on the question of whether the vice president is a member of the legislative branch as well as the executive, but there were no deer-in-the-headlight Couric moments.

But…the audience wasn’t just debate coaches so while Senator Biden still won, IMHO, it was on points and not with a knock out.  Governor Palin is technically very proficient at using television to her advantage, looking the camera dead-on and delivering her lines with almost always the right inflection and cadence.  Interestingly, though, as I watched the debate on CNN I noticed that their focus group of undecided voters consistently turned negative when Governor Palin dropped her voice into the lower part of her range and layed on the folksiness.  This contradicts some of the punditry going around this evening stating this was an advantage for her in “talking to Main Street” voters.

The CNN flash poll of debate watchers bears out the “on points” analysis. Fifty-one percent of those polled thought Biden did the best job, while 36 percent thought Palin did the best job. Both exceeded expectations with 84 percent of the respondents saying Palin did a better job than expected and 64 percent saying Biden exceeded expectations.

On the key question of whether each candidate was qualified to assume the presidency, however, Governor Palin did little for herself or the ticker: 87 percent of those polled said Biden is qualified but only 42 percent said Palin is qualified.  She did, however, win Miss Congeniality as 54 percent of respondents viewed her as more likeable to Biden’s 36 percent.

Bottom line: neither side got the game-changer it was wishing for, but the debate did nothing for Team McCain except stop – or at least slow – the slide of Governor Palin into a national punchline.  Second place, even a closer second place than many would have predicted, does nothing to change the overall dynamics of the race.  Tomorrow, it’s back to the big show – the bailout bill in the House and the economy overall.  These are still Obama’s issues and he is still the candidate with momentum.  A look at the electoral map paints a pretty grim picture for the Red Team.

So, once again, the old (and I mean that literally) fighter pilot is going to start jinking and dodging, looking for a patch of blue sky in between a lot of ack-ack fire (sorry, I’m bored with the Hail Mary metaphor so I’m mangling a new one).  This will probably mean a return of “McNasty,” a side of Senator McCain that’s been mostly out of sight over the last several months. The downside of this tactic is – as noted before – it’s a low-percentage move and is now contributing to the “McCain is erratic” theme that is echoing across the mainstream media and the blogosphere.

On the other hand, the McCain campaign would be making a big mistake if they viewed tonight’s performance as the green light to open media access Governor Palin.  This format allowed for a more set-piece give-and-take rather than a dynamic conversation with follow-ups and challenges.  Senator Biden, as noted above, also didn’t use any of the numerous opportunities the Governor created to jab at her and throw her off message (except for the same-sex benefits exchange in which he and Ms. Ifill collectively put Ms. Palin on the ropes).  The mainstream media won’t be so constrained.  Better she stick with teleprompter speeches, fundraising and friendly talk show hosts (a tactic she adopted this week).

– Austin payroll service fine