Wednesday, August 22, 2012

'False Balance'

'False Balance'

Why Obama is so out of touch.

The writer of this Associated Press headline is either witty or clueless: "Obama Defends Tenor of His Campaign, Slams Romney." The mixed metaphor almost seems appropriate for such a mixed message. At a press conference yesterday, the president "took questions from four reporters, the most he has taken from the national press corps in two months," the AP reports. One of the reporters, CBS's Nancy Cordes, actually asked him about the vicious tone of his campaign.
[image] Rex Features via Associated Press
I am not a jerk.
In response, Obama "defended the tone of his campaign . . . and insisted it's actually Mitt Romney's ads that are 'patently false.' " But his very denials of negative campaigning amounted to negative campaigning. As the AP puts it, he "did distance himself from a particularly provocative negative ad by a political group that supports him." Said the president: "I don't think that Governor Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad"--repeating the allegation in the course of weakly repudiating it.
Obama similarly employed apophasis when he asserted that "nobody accused Mr. Romney of being a felon." In fact, as the Washington Examiner notes, Obama aide Stephanie Cutter did just that, telling reporters last month "that Romney 'through his own words and his own signature' misrepresented 'his position at Bain to the [Securities and Exchange Commission], which is a felony.' " notes that last week, in an interview with "Entertainment Tonight" (!), Obama made this risible assertion: "I don't think you or anybody who's been watching the campaign would say that in any way we have tried to divide the country. We've always tried to bring the country together."
The reader who sent us this clip observes that Obama probably believes what he's saying and describes him as the "most isolated president since Nixon. That's always the problem. Who tells his boss he is acting like [a jerk]?"

Nixon was famously paranoid, which didn't mean his adversaries, including in the media, weren't out to get him. By contrast, journalists are generally favorably disposed to Obama. "The media is very susceptible to doing what the Obama campaign wants," The Weekly Standard quotes Time's Mark Halperin as having observed the other day. (As we've noted in the past, that's very much true of Halperin himself.)
How could Obama be so out of touch? The Taranto Principle--the theory that approving coverage from liberal journalists encourages self-defeating behavior by liberal politicians--would not seem to apply here, at least not directly. Even admiring journalists have taken note (sometimes admiringly) of the nastiness and divisiveness of Obama's re-election campaign. The New York Times reported a couple of weeks ago that the president "is an avid consumer of political news and commentary" in the form of newspapers and magazines, so he can't actually be unaware that some people think his campaign is divisive.
But the Times report suggests that Obama has adopted a system to rationalize away even such critical coverage as he receives:
In his informal role as news media critic in chief, he developed a detailed critique of modern news coverage that he regularly expresses to those around him. . . .
While Mr. Obama frequently criticizes the heated speech of cable news, he sees what he views as deeper problems in news outlets that strive for objectivity. In private meetings with columnists, he has talked about the concept of "false balance"--that reporters should not give equal weight to both sides of an argument when one side is factually incorrect. He frequently cites the coverage of health care and the stimulus package as examples, according to aides familiar with the meetings.
It gives Obama too much credit to say he "developed" this "critique," and in fact the Times piece acknowledges that his "assessments overlap with common critiques from academics and journalism pundits."
What exactly is meant by "false balance"? As the Times notes, the term, "which has been embraced by many Democrats, emerged in academic papers in the 1990s to describe global-warming coverage." In the ensuing years, a few news organizations expressly took this complaint to heart, announcing that thenceforth they would treat global warmism as a "fact" and banish dissent.
The Times notes that Obama "frequently cites the coverage of health care and the stimulus package as examples." The story doesn't elaborate on the complaint, but we think we know what he has in mind. At one point in Times reporter Kate Zernike's generally fair 2010 book, "Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America," she puzzles over how Tea Party activists "could be impervious to reports from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the closest thing the government has to a neutral arbiter, that the federal stimulus had cut taxes and created millions of jobs and that the health care legislation passed in 2010 would reduce the federal deficit."

Related Video

Best of the Web Today columnist James Taranto on whether Republicans stand a shot of picking up the Missouri Senate seat this November. Photos: Associated Press
The complaint of "false balance" turns out to be little more than an appeal to authority. Global warmism is not actually a fact but a theory consisting mostly of vague warnings of disaster. Likewise, the CBO's rosy view about ObamaCare is a prediction, not a fact, and its assertions that the stimulus created jobs is an interpretation that not everyone accepts. To complain of "false balance" is to deny the distinction between opinion, or at least authoritative opinion, and fact.
"What you need to realize is that the CBO is the servant of members of Congress, which means that if a Congressman asks it to analyze a plan under certain assumptions, it will do just that--no matter how unrealistic the assumptions may be," former Enron adviser Paul Krugman observed in 2010. But as we noted at the time, Krugman frequently cites CBO analyses as authoritative when they agree with him.
Krugman's faults are legion, but as he is an opinion writer, simple bias is not among them. The complaint of "false balance," however, amounts to a complaint about balance--to a demand that news reporters adhere to a particular point of view.
Obama's "critique" of the media takes the Taranto Principle to a new level. He is not only taken in when liberal journalists give him unrealistically favorable coverage but insulated when they give him realistically unfavorable coverage.
The latter sort of insularity is a danger for conservative politicians as well. Correctly expecting the media to be biased against them, they are apt to minimize indications of genuine popular discontent. But Obama, by means of his tendentious "critique" has managed to make himself impervious even to friendly criticism.
I'm Your Ice Cream Man Baby, Stop Me When I'm Passin' By
The Obama personality cult may be fading, but it's not dead yet. Last week, "a historical marker went up at the corner of Dorchester Avenue and 53rd Street" in Chicago, "noting the exact location" where the future president and first lady "had their first smooch," the Chicago Tribune reports:
The 3,000-pound granite boulder, commissioned by the owners of Dorchester Commons, was 2 1/2 years in the making, according to Jonelle Kearney, a spokeswoman for Mid-America Asset Management, which manages the shopping center. She said the idea came about after several queries from visitors.
The mall was the site of a shop where Barack took Michelle out for ice cream:
Though the Baskin-Robbins the Obamas visited has been replaced with a Subway sandwich shop, there is a different Baskin-Robbins a few doors down in the same shopping center. Some suggested that the site could become a popular spot for first dates and even marriage proposals.
But things are a lot different today than they were back in 1989.
Fifteen-year-old Justen Jackson, a ninth-grader at Hyde Park Academy, said it would be hard to find a girl who would be impressed with a first date at an ice cream shop.
"It's nice, but I wouldn't bring anyone here on a first date," Justen said. "They're going to want to go somewhere better than Subway or Baskin-Robbins."
We doubt things have changed all that much since 1989. Give young Barack credit for having the confidence not to have to rely on a pricey venue to impress a girl.
In other ice cream news, the Associated Press reports that Mitt Romney "ordered coffee ice cream at Millie's restaurant in Nantucket [Mass.] Saturday." The AP's Charles Babington lightheartedly suggests this is scandalous: "Mitt Romney joins other observant Mormons in shunning alcohol and coffee. . . . Mormons traditionally avoid alcohol and caffeine."
Our understanding is that Mormons are enjoined to avoid alcoholic beverages and "hot drinks," understood to mean coffee or tea. Although some avoid caffeine altogether, that is not mandatory. The prohibition on alcohol is not absolute either: A Mormon acquaintance once told us that the only time she ever got drunk, it was from cooking wine, which apparently is kosher.
The Daily Caller reports that Romney also has an indirect tie to the Obama date site: "In 2005, Bain [Capital] and two other private equity firms purchased Dunkin' Brands Incorporated for $2.425 billion, according to a 2006 company press release. Dunkin' Brands is the parent company of Baskin-Robbins."
This Is Not an Editorial
"For years, the 80-year-old [Augusta National Golf] club's restrictive membership policies, which excluded blacks until 1990, cast it as a remnant of the antediluvian South."--news story, New York Times, Aug. 21
Other Than That, the Story Was Accurate
"The Saturday Profile article, about the leader of Israel's settlement movement, Dani Dayan, included several errors. The underground military organization led by the revisionist Zionist Ze'ev Jabotinsky is the Irgun, not the Haganah. One of Mr. Dayan's critics, Itzik Shadmi, serves as chairman of the settlers' committee in the Binyamin Region, not as chairman of the Binyamin Council. (That position is held by Avi Roeh.) Mr. Dayan moved to Israel with his family from Buenos Aires in 1971, not in 1979. And Mr. Dayan's father, Moshe, was a second cousin--not a first--to Gen. Moshe Dayan."--New York Times, Aug. 20
What Would We Do Without Experts?
"Akin Rape Comment Doesn't Help GOP With Women, Experts Say"--headline, Kansas City Star, Aug. 20
Quit Stealing Our Material
"Madeleine Albright Campaigns for Obama: We're Going to Blame Bush 'Forever' "--headline,, Aug. 21
With DNC in Mind, City Bans Carrying Urine, Feces
"A Quick Look at Runs"--headline,, Aug. 20
Free Helen Thomas!
"Fossils Dealer in Florida Wants Seized Dinosaur Back"--headline, Associated Press, Aug. 20
To Serve Man
"Steve Brill: Media Need to Grill Fareed Zakaria"--headline,, Aug. 21
Life Imitates 'South Park'
  • "After seeing the 'saddest commercial ever' presented by Sarah McLachlan about crack babies, Kyle goes to help volunteer at the hospital, but finds Cartman already volunteering there. Suspicious, Kyle follows Cartman and finds that he, Craig, Clyde and Butters have gathered together to form a new business called the 'Crack Baby Athletic Association.' in which they induce crack-addicted babies to fight each other for a ball filled with crack, with the fights being broadcast on the Internet." summary of "Crack Baby Athletic Association," aired May 25, 2011
  • "Three Delaware day care employees have been accused of encouraging toddlers to fight each other while the children were under their care. . . . Tiana Harris, 19, Lisa Parker, 47, and Estefania Myers, 21, employees of the Hands of Our Future Daycare in Dover, were arrested after a cellphone video emerged of them allegedly encouraging two 3-year-olds to fight in an organized battle. Police said in the video one child is heard yelling, 'He's pinching me!' A day care worker allegedly responded, 'No pinching, only punching.' ", Aug. 21, 2012
Probably Pining for the Cascades
"Parrot Stabbed to Death; Everett Man Arrested"--headline, Herald (Everett, Wash.), Aug. 20
Questions Nobody Is Asking
  • "Should This Be Romney Campaign Theme Song? Starship--We Built This City"--headline,, Aug. 21
  • "Does Paul Ryan's Black Ex-Girlfriend Matter?"--headline,, Aug. 20
Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking
"The Morning Plum: No, Romney and Ryan Don't Really Want a 'Great Debate' "--headline, Washington Post website, Aug. 21
It's Always in the Last Place You Look
"Message to the GOP: Maine is not lost!"--headline, Washington Post, Aug. 21
Bottom Stories of the Day
  • "Condi Rice's Membership at Augusta National Is Nothing to Celebrate"--headline,, Aug. 20
  • "Dogs Were Not Tied to Track and Killed by Train in Tremont Area"--headline, Plain Dealer (Cleveland), Aug. 18
The Ultimate Meter
"Philadelphia-based utility PECO has suspended its smart meter program after 15 installed units overheated in Bucks County, Pa.," reports. "Of those units, two have caused a fire."
You may be wondering how smart these meters can be if they're going around burning houses down. But we've watched enough "Star Trek" episodes to know that the problem isn't a lack of intelligence but a lack of moral perspective. Given an imperative to save energy, these meters were smart enough to figure out that burning down the houses would reduce consumption by 100%. Too bad they didn't have the sense to know it was the wrong thing to do.

No comments:

Post a Comment