Gnomes, Lanterns, and Sorkin, Oh My!
A Challenge to the Practice of “Be a Leader” Journalism
An unstoppable force is finally meeting an immovable object. Cries of “C’mon, LEAD, man” are permeating media coverage of President Obama’s handling of the background checks bill, proposed immigration legislation, and the sequester are running into a small, persistent band of rebels who are, quite rightly, crying foul.
Brendan Nyhan describes it as the “underpants gnome” theory of political influence where super-leadery leadership, complete with arm-twisting, public appeals, and war rooms with names of persuadable congressmembers on a tote board magically lead to partisan political opponents caving to support the president. Both Nyhan Greg Sargent have called this the “Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power,” which is similar to the underpants gnome theory, but adds the claim that any failure of the president to bend Congress to the president’s will is a sure sign of a weak, irrelevant commander-in-chief who should be flogged by those who know what leadership is.
If only, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times keeps arguing, Barack Obama was more like a pretend president, like Aaron Sorkin’s Andrew Shepard in The American President, things would start getting done. Sargent, Nyhan, and others have written about how incredibly absurd Dowd’s argument is and I, and others, have expressed an almost rubber-necking a car accident fascination with her doubling down on the claim even after the president himself mocked it at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and during a press conference earlier this week. The American President ends with Shepard’s big speech calling out his opponents. The sequel should start with Sean Hannity playing Shepard’s promise from his big speech, “I’m going to get the guns” over and over as Shepard’s high-octane press conference moment failed to sway public opinion and further mobilized his opposition.
Dowd is not alone. She and many other reporters and columnists (like Ron Fournier and David Brooks) seem to believe that the president needs to be more of a leader and that being a leader begets policy success. I’d like to issue a challenge to those columnists and reporters who believe this. To do so, I’ll use another Aaron Sorkin vehicle, The West Wing, to present the challenge. When Nobel Laureate and President Jed Bartlet is debating Hunky Dipsh*t McGee, er Robert Ritchie, in his re-election run, Ritchie stumbles upon a convenient, sleek set of ten words that purport to illustrate one of his policy positions. Bartlet goes all “show me the money” on James Brolin’s Ritchie and says
Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? Give me ten after that, I’ll drop out of the race right now. Every once in a while… every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren’t very many unnuanced moments in leading a country that’s way too big for ten words. I’m the President of the United States, not the President of the people who agree with me.
Truth be told, I’m cutting Sorkin a break here as Bartlet begins the soliloquy by saying “ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns” even though there isn’t much evidence that they can.
But the point here, and the challenge, is this: what do Dowd, Fournier, and others mean by “leadership?” What do they propose that President Obama should do after he drinks with, golfs with, calls, grabs a movie with, arm-twists, photobombs, or subtweets his opponents…and they say “No. We actually fundamentally disagree with you and your ideas. We think that our ideas are better and even prefer nothing to happen to your ideas happening. In fact, if your ideas happen and work, that’s bad for us too. So…no.”
What then? What would the leaderiest leader do? I suspect the answer is “go public.” But, that is a strategy that is rarely successful, especially since most lawmakers who, say, voted against the recent background checks bill in the senate represent people who wanted them to vote that way. What is more, as several folks recently pointed out, supporting the president is a big risk for Republicans who do not want to get primaried – presidential involvement can even further polarize the debate. Or, as fake President Bartlet once said to a prominent gay supporter who wanted the president to advocate for gay rights, “I’m a human starting gun!”
So, what are the next ten words, believers in the power of presidential leadership? And what are the ten words after that?
I actually think there are useful things for reporters and columnists to do on this score. This is because I am sympathetic to the idea that millions of people voted for President Obama to try to do the things he said he was going to do. In fact, most presidents, including President Obama, do just that. But, I do admit that it is very unsatisfying to be told that our institutional structures, composition of the legislative and executive branches, factors that affect elections results, and unlikelihood of success should somehow equate to a claim that the president (or any leader for that matter) should stop trying to implement her or his platform. Of course the president should try to do what he and someday she says he’s going to do. What’s more, of course reporters should focus on how that process unfolds.
Here is where good journalism can and should come in (and often has! Really!). Given how hard it is to govern in a highly polarized, divided government, reporters and columnists are in a unique position to position themselves in a realistic political context and and begin to answer the questions: what is the president doing to get things done, why is the president doing that, and how likely is it to work? It’d be even better if those same questions were posed to Congress too!
Reporters should be investigating:
- How the president is using the powers of his office to run around Congress when possible
- How he is or isn’t trying to help, cajole, beg, or persuade members of his own party to be unified
- What strategies he is using (if any) to target folks in the opposite party
- What he is doing to engage the public
- What issues he is spending time, energy and resources on
- What promises he seems to have abandoned
- What incentives, electoral and policy, do congressional Democrats and Republicans have that encourage and discourage compromise, stall-tactics, and good governance more generally
- Finally, how the political landscape (public opinion, partisan make up and rules in the House and Senate, electoral time horizons, the state of the economy, idiosyncratic yet important events that pop up like the Boston terror attack) affects President Obama and Congress’ goals and behaviors.
Stories about these issues can remind voters of what President Obama – and congressional Republicans and Democrats – are up against as they try to produce policy to strengthen the economy, improve education and health care, lower crime, keep the country safe, protect the environment, address social policy questions, and win elections.
The country needs a vibrant, engaged, smart news media to explain how the context (things academics know a lot about) affect what politicians are doing (things reporters know a lot about). To go all Sorkin on you again, we want the truth…we can handle it. We’d even be better for it.
The election is over, but when considering the news coverage of the “Fiscal Cliff,” the framing of politics as a strategic game remains dominant. Even the term “Fiscal Cliff” is an example of how framing a conflict can influence the outcome; after all, one either stops short of a cliff and lives or falls over the cliff to one’s death. In reality, the nation does not appear to be facing that kind of a Butch and Sundance choice. Despite the framing of the policy issue as a “fiscal cliff” being treated with some close attention on MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes, most journalists and politicians have taken up the frame without much complaint.
Now that a policy negotiation is afoot, we might expect to read, watch, and listen to coverage about the various policy options that sit before the Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. Instead, as Regina Lawrence’s fine work suggests, we are generally being treated to coverage, on both the news and editorial side, of the “Fiscal Cliff” as a strategic game. Will the Republicans fold on tax hikes for the wealthy? Will the president fold instead? Who will move first? Game framing also boils down complex policy options to a battle of individuals: Obama vs. Boehner; McConnell vs. Reid, rather than an exploration of options and possible consequences of those options (But see here for an example of a nice exception).
One irony of game framing coverage is that, even absent elections, policy issues that come with a promised deadline, as the Fiscal Cliff does, get game framing coverage until the decision is made. Then, the attention turns to the substance. You know, after it is too late to do anything about it.
I encourage political reporters covering this important issue to work on stories that explain to their audience, in detail, what occurs if no deal is reached, what the major policy goals are on both sides of the aisle and at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and what experts think that the consequences might be if each side gets what they want, compromises, or refuses to make a deal.
In truth, this kind of reporting doesn’t change much of the writing of any individual story. It drops a few paragraphs of treating the debate as a contest between individuals or strategic game about appealing to voters or intra-party constituencies and adds in a few lines of policy information. The change is in the amount of work it takes to get that information, make sense of it, and explain it to the audience. I am confident that the nation’s political reporters are up to the task. When experts get called, I encourage them to avoid the game frame too; it turns out that we are often guilty of feeding the beast.
It isn’t that game framing is terrible; it often includes some useful information – it just isn’t the only useful information. Instead, game framing is the easiest information to include in reporting. The public would be better served by a sustained and comprehensive effort to cover this important story. And, as always, if all else fails, call Kreskin.
What’s Next? Two Suggestions for Post-Election News Coverage
Now that the triumph of the nerds over the pundits is behind us, we turn to Jed Bartlet and ask, “what’s next?” Social scientists are walking a bit taller this morning after political science forecasters like Drew Linzer and mainstream media forecasters like Nate Silver called the presidential election with eerie accuracy. Many people are saying that the election was a ‘win’ for Silver especially, and for forecasters more generally.
While battle victories are nice, and while my own performance on Twitter last night gleefully gloated about how the results lined up with both late forecasts and scholarly forecasts from months ago that relied on “the fundamentals” as compared to Pick Your Pundit’s “gut” let’s focus on what’s next: winning the war – how can journalists use what social scientists know to improve political news coverage?
As I tell every group of aspiring journalists I teach and many reporters I talk to during interviews, Hans Noel’s “Ten Things That Political Scientists Know That You Don’t” and Brendan Nyhan and John Sides’ “How Political Science Can Help Journalism (and Let Journalists Be Journalists)” are the best places to start to begin focusing on the long-view. As for reporters looking for stories now, here are some suggestions regarding two stories that are newsworthy right now: post-election mandates and how governance might work under divided government with an ideologically diverse electorate.
After elections come competing claims from the news media and political elites about whether the election results are a mandate. They are not (John Sides goes into detail today at The Monkey Cage). Voting is a very blunt instrument. Citizens do not vote, “Obama, keep Obamacare, cut defense spending, restrict late-term abortions, raise taxes on the wealthy, invade Iran.” They vote Obama. Even with detailed exit polls, it is difficult to discern what a vote “means.” Nyhan’s treatment of “the coming mandate debate,” which highlights James Stimson and colleagues’ excellent work, is a great place to begin for reporters who are interested in what the election means for governing. And, be on the lookout for those who claimed that George W. Bush’s victory meant/did not mean that he had a mandate while Barack Obama’s victory does not/does mean that he has one.
As David Karol noted in The Monkey Cage last week when he highlighted Margie Hershey’s interesting study, the news media play a role in determining what the election means by developing the “constructed explanation” of what the election means. There may be a story in comparing the media’s coming explanation for Obama’s victory to how people develop attitudes about why Obama won. Kim Fridkin’s work shows that news coverage of presidential debates affect perceptions about who won; reporters (and scholars) can start investigating if the same is true about media constructions about who won the White House. Even more generally, stories explaining why there is not a mandate can help citizens develop realistic expectations about how governing works – expectations most citizens do not possess.
Governance Amidst Public Ideological Potpourri and Divided Government
The American people were pretty closely divided between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Beyond the economic fundamentals, presidential approval, and the like, part of the closeness is a function of the menu of options that the American people had before them when making their vote choice. Political elites are deeply divided along a single left-right ideological dimension with Republicans on the right and Democrats on the left. The people: not so much (self-promotion alert!). A substantial portion of the electorate does not answer survey questions about self-identified ideology and many who call themselves moderate are actually either libertarian (wanting the government out of economic affairs and social choices) or communitarian (wanting the government to manage economic affairs and social choices). Those groups are not moderate at all, they just as divided as liberals and conservatives but they are both called moderate by the mainstream media (and many scholars).
My collaborative work with Ted Carmines and Mike Ensley demonstrates that people organize their preferences around both economic and social issues and that these preferences affect their partisanship and civic engagement. For some, their issue preferences match what the parties are offering – these folks are polarized as they have liberal views on both economic and social issues or conservative views on both. Obviously, the Democratic Party is the clear choice for liberals and the Republican Party is the clear choice for conservatives. For others, it is not so simple. Some of their views match Republican positions and some match Democratic ones. These folks are stuck in the middle of a system that does not reflect their preferences. Journalists have an endless supply of stories about how parties try to appeal to those groups (Can the parties appeal to libertarians and communitarians simultaneously? Do they have to pick one of the other? Does the strategy vary by state? What did the candidates do in 2012? Did it work? How might those groups affect the long-term electoral prospects for each major party, and whether these groups are on legislators’ minds when they begin governing in the new year?).
Reporters can shed a great deal of light on how lawmakers see the electorate and how that view does or does not influence the agenda lawmakers put together, issues on which people may be willing to compromise, and so forth. Stories explaining what we know about governing in divided government would be a good way to frame post-election coverage as well.
Finally, reporters would benefit from keeping in mind how their own systematic behavior serves their readers, viewers, and listeners. Regina Lawrence has shown that even policy coverage can focus on “game framing” rather than the content of policy proposals. Ironically, she shows that substantive coverage dominates after decisions have been made. Putting the substance first has enormous news value and can give interested citizens better tools on which to follow the both President Obama and Governor Romney’s admonitions to stay involved civically after the election.
The Hill’s Bob Cusack has an interesting story today that raises worthwhile questions about professorial presidential donations and those same academics serving as sources in news coverage. A “months’-long” investigation found at least six professors who donated to President Obama’s campaign in either 2008 or 2012 have been quoted in articles about the 2012 race or the Obama administration’s performance in office more generally. The article also quoted some instances of those sources saying things that could be fairly read as being positive for President Obama. The investigation found no comparable evidence with respect to Governor Romney’s campaign.
Cusack’s piece raises a good question about the credibility of sources that I’ll praise below, but I want to push the implications of the story a bit too.
The Hill’s article highlights a broader, important question for reporters covering presidential politics and for people who consume news: how can we determine if a source is credible? Plenty of academic research shows that source credibility is an important determinant of individual attitudes about important matters. (I checked the author of the linked study’s, Jamie Druckman, FEC records and found no evidence of giving to presidential candidates.) So, how do reporters decide whether a source is credible? And do donations to a candidate mean that an expert source’s credibility is in question? I’m not convinced that they do. Stipulating that, it is good for reporters to consider these questions and to write stories about what they learn about their sources, especially those they turn to when they need fair-minded arbiters of the verifiable truth for a story.
Indeed, it would be hard to argue that professors giving money to a candidate don’t prefer that candidate in a presidential election. So, as Gregory Korte said to me in a Twitter conversation about the article, “Fair or not, contribs (candidate contributions) cast doubt on credibility.” I think this is a fair point. But, reporters shouldn’t turn off the skeptical meter just because they learn an “expert” source has given to a candidate. The next step is to try to figure out whether the analysis they give, or have given in the past, is correct, or at least reasonable, given the known evidence. The story seems to imply that giving to a candidate leads to biased answers to reporters’ questions about the campaign.
Reporters-in-training in our School of Journalism and Mass Communication are taught that experts, such as faculty, are invaluable resources for reporters covering a wide variety of subjects. I know that this information sinks in, as I have been a source for dozens of campus newspaper reports and a fair number of local and national news stories over the years (samples here). I am most comfortable answering questions about my own research, but those calls are, sadly, very few and far between. Next, I am almost always comfortable commenting generally about areas in which I publish or about which I teach. Here, I think that I am an expert. Sometimes, the questions I get essentially ask me to be a pundit about some manner of public policy and its likelihood of working. While I took a graduate comprehensive exam in public policy nine years ago, I don’t think I am an expert as most of my research is not about the policy-making process or the outcomes of policy decisions. Usually, I smartly politely decline to talk about those issues and pass along a name of someone who knows more than me, but sometimes, I stupidly opine, giving it my best educated guess (which is not very valuable). In these cases, as Gregory Korte pointed out (in general, not about me) to me on Twitter, academics are basically “serving as pundits;” I’d go as far to say that there is pretty limited value to what academics say in print or, less often, on the air when commenting about matters outside their direct expertise.
But, even a cursory look at The Monkey Cage, Brendan Nyhan, or The Mischiefs of Faction shows that when academics are talking about their areas of expertise, they are very valuable sources, for reporters and the news audience. Scholars can be very helpful to reporters, as Brendan Nyhan and John Sides are in the linked article. I even developed a course at UNL to help political reporters learn how to incorporate academic research into their reporting, which is probably why I want to caution journalists about overreacting to news an expert source has given money to a presidential candidate.
For example, one professor who is prominently featured in Cusack’s story is Emory’s Alan Abramowitz, a well-known political scientist. He is an expert on elections, political parties, and public opinion, having written seven books and over 50 articles published in peer-reviewed journals or academic edited volumes. Abramowitz also regularly contributes to U of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato’s “crystal ball,” which handicaps elections. Fox News has called Sabato “America’s favorite political scientist.” A regular forecaster (ex: he predicted Bush to win in 2004, Obama to win in 2008), Abramowitz even faced criticism when he updated his favored forecasting formula after concluding that his model “consistently overstated the winning candidate’s margin of victory.”
In short, Abramowitz’s model correctly predicts who will win the popular vote on Election Day. What is more, while all forecasts of which I am aware underestimated the Republican’s dominant 2010 midterm performance in the House of Representatives, Abramowitz was among the closest to the mark.
Next, while Professor Abramowitz gave $250 to the Obama campaign in 2008, his 2012 forecast for Obama is hardly the most positive made by those who regularly forecast elections. Further, a quick and totally unsystematic reading of his mentions in recent media coverage fails to provide, at least to me, evidence that he is not a credible source. To the contrary, he is a highly credible source who also seems willing to talk to reporters. News of a $250 donation ought not be damning.
On a personal note, before I left my position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for my job at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I did plenty of interviews about Bob Kerrey’s (D) senate run in the Cornhusker State. While I have a picture of Kerrey and I from an Election Night party in 2000 on a shelf in my home office, I have consistently said that I think he will lose to GOP-nominee state senator Deb Fischer. Lose by a lot.
Now, this is not to say that professors are not largely lefties. They are. And it is not to say that some might couch their personal opinions under the title “Dr.” or “Professor.” They might. This is to say that reporters and readers, but especially reporters, should take the time to try and find a way to judge the expertise of their academic sources before using evidence of a political donation to write them off. Have they published in the area about which the reporter is seeking a quotation? Do they have a record of being unfair to one or more sides of the political aisle? Are the experts referring to published evidence when making their claims? Are other experts who publish in that same area chomping at the bit to refute your source’s arguments as the ramblings of a crazed-partisan? Google News, Google Scholar, and a few phone calls would be all most reporters would need in most instances to be able to make a reasonable judgment in most cases.
Reporters, as noted in Cusack’s story, could also just ask their sources if they donate to political campaigns. This is not something journalists do for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it could make the source feel uncomfortable, wrecking the interview and perhaps the source’s willingness to answer the phone the next time a reporter’s call comes. But most academics enjoy mixing it up and defending their professional analyses and asking them why they should be believed even though they gave money to a candidate, or have posters of FDR, Truman, and Ike in their offices is reasonable to do so long as the reporters listen to the answer.
It is worth pointing out that Cusack had his work cut out for him in this story. Since giving of under $250 does not need to be reported, the study surely underestimates the number of liberal professors who gave to Obama and have been quoted in stories about him. It likely misses some of the same for those who support Romney. Cusack is constrained by the limited evidence – about six professors – where the most prominent donator is a leading, accurate, expert in the areas in which he is quoted.
Some of this boils down to the fact that American politics is designed to be contentious and it is fun to argue about this stuff. Not to mention that there are plenty of folks for whom the use of the term “professorial” is a put down. Perhaps systematic evidence will someday emerge that people who study politics professionally are different animals than those in other professions when it comes to the ability of checking personal opinions at the door when the time comes to conduct professional analysis, but it is still worth noting that rare is the day that a physician is asked “Romney or Obama?” before the patient decides to listen to advice about a medical procedure. That might not be such a fair comparison, but rarer still is the day a physician is asked “Romney or Obama?” when telling a patient whether her life or health would be at risk if she did not seek an abortion.
There are lots of things to say about The Daily Caller’s release and reporting and Hannity’s televised reveal of the (not-at-all) SHOCKING video of not-yet-President Obama giving a speech to a predominantly black audience in 2007 at Hampton University. After reading Carlson’s Daily Caller article in which he claims that Obama uses an “accent he almost never adopts in public” (except here and, according to Rush Limbaugh, here and here) and Hannity’s yelling at Juan Williams over Hannity’s apoplexy that Obama’s voice sounds different than usual in the video, one could introduce Carlson and Hannity to the concept of code-switching among many, many, other things.
While there are other important issues that this whole deal raises in terms of race in America and white privilege, for instance, I am not an expert in those areas; I want to stick to areas that I know well when posting in this space. I want to call attention how The Daily Caller’s decision to “release” the video, their reporting about the video, and Hannity’s show covering the release of the video are an affront to journalism.
Hannity and Carlson both read Obama’s mind to then directly contradict what Barack Obama said in his speech with what they asserted were “facts” about his “real” intent. Hannity and Carlson used evidence not related to their argument to “prove” their argument.
Reporting the Olds and not the News
Most of this video has been online for years; a transcript of the prepared remarks was also available, though Obama deviated from the script. Carlson argued that the deviations were important, telling, and disgusting. Of course, Tucker Carlson himself covered the speech (well, he reported on it; he was not there covering it) back in 2007. The “shout out” to Jeremiah Wright was named one of Obama’s top gaffes of the 2008 election by Politico. What is new? Only the items below; claims that were ignited by Carlson, stoked by Drudge, and fanned by Hannity.
Mind Reading and the Telling of Direct Lies
Carlson claims that the real reason Obama is giving the speech is to tell the audience, “They don’t like you because they are black. That is the theme of the speech from front to back, from beginning to end.” It is really impressive of Carlson to read Barack Obama’s mind. This is especially impressive because Carlson is able to read Obama’s mind despite what Obama actually said in the speech!
As ABC’s Jake Tapper reported (I noticed that NBC’s Today did so too this morning), Obama explicitly says to the same crowd in the same speech that race is not a factor in his anger at the government over the response to Hurricane Katrina. Obama said that he thought the Bush administration’s “incompetence” was “colorblind” and was not about race. That is an explicit rejection of the entire thesis of Carlson and Hannity’s absurd exercise – even though Carlson views Obama’s comments about New Orleans (including the direct claims that the government’s failures are not racially motivated) as “remarkable moment, and not just for its resemblance to Kanye West’s famous claim that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
Umm, no. If it is remarkable, it is because it makes no such claim at all. In fact, it directly rejects such claims (see Ta-Nehisi Coates’ fascinating essay ).
Leaving aside the wisdom of Carlson’s use of the word “whipping” when describing his view that then-Candidate Obama was trying to build “race hatred and fear,” in his speech – where is the fear? Obama does not tell the audience to fear the government, to fear whites, or to fear anything (except, perhaps – if you really want to stretch – complacency). Carlson seems to want to argue that Obama is race-baiting and trying to make people afraid without evidence that he is doing so and despite actual words from the actual speech that explicitly state he is not doing so.
Obfuscation and Totally Unfair Comparisons
Journalism is about reporting the verifiable truth, not providing falsely equivalent facts for readers, viewers, and listeners to sift through. Yet, Carlson’s reporting on the Hampton University speech is SHOCKING (sorry) with respect to how facts are used. Candidate Obama complained that the Stafford Act provision requiring a 10 percent local match of federal dollars to rebuild, in this case, New Orleans, had not been waived even though it was waved after 9/11 and Hurricane Andrew. That was a reasonable question to ask.
Carlson calls it “basic dishonesty” because the “federal government had sent at least $110 billion” to help with Katrina. Carlson’s fact is true, but it has nothing at all to do with the fact about the Stafford Act that Obama presented to his audience. Obama asked about the basic fairness of waiving the Stafford Act requirement for one hurricane (and 9/11) and not waving it for another. That is unrelated to whether the federal government gave money to help with rebuilding efforts.
What is worse, Carlson goes on to say that a little while after Obama’s speech, (after Obama’s speech), the Bush administration sent another nearly $7 billion to locales affected by Katrina with “no strings attached.” Stafford waivers did come later as well, which Carlson noted in a lazy way, claiming that the waivers came at (here at the actual) times.
Is Carlson angry at Obama for not appreciating something that had not happened yet? I think he is and I think that that is actual “basic dishonesty.”
Another unfair comparison is Carlson’s use of government aid in response to 9/11. “Compare this,” Carlson writes (referring to the $110 billion in aid given to Katrina-affected areas) “to the mere $20 billion that the Bush administration pledged to New York after Sept. 11.” First, this leaves aside other money pledged to the victims of 9/11 and their families, but more importantly, it implies that the cleanup and rebuilding of the horrific destruction of the Twin Towers is directly comparable to the cleanup and rebuilding costs for an entire city; indeed, an entire gulf region, after a devastating hurricane. This is a ridiculous claim and a wholly unfair comparison.
Why is it Terrible to Remember History?
Carlson closes his Daily Caller post noting Obama’s veering off-script to conclude his speech by saying that “we won’t forget what happened 19 months ago, or 15 years ago, or 300 years ago.” Carlson writes, “Three hundred years ago. It’s a reference the audience understood.”
What is Carlson implying here? That the audience understands Katrina happened 19 months from the time of the speech, the L.A. riots 15 years prior, and slavery 300 years before? If so, that’s great, he is praising the audience for understanding history. Of course, I suspect (but can’t know for sure) that Carlson is not implying this. Carlson’s interview on Hannity suggests that Carlson rejects Obama’s references to race (though again, Obama did not make them in the way Carlson claimed) as destructive, mean-spirited, manipulative, and divisive. I’m not so sure it is a bad idea to recall the effects of a devastating storm, riot, or national scar. What is there to fear from recalling history and then engaging in a debate about what historical events are analogous to today, affect what is happening today, and might help us understand what to do tomorrow? We certainly don’t have to agree about what role racism and slavery played in these and other matters to have productive conversations about them.
He Has Seen the Media and it isn’t Him
At one point last night, Sean Hannity said that he hoped “the media” would start to cover Obama’s speech from 5 years ago. If only he had a radio show, a television show, a website, a friend named Tucker who worked for a media outlet at another website to talk with on television, and a web-muckracker named Matt to promote Hannity’s multi-platform megaphone…