Wednesday, July 2, 2008

NPR's Liasson: Actually, it's Smith who proves that Obama's got bipartisan cred

Any hopes I had of sleeping in this morning were finished shortly after five, thanks to my clock radio, which is set to NPR. This story had me off the bed, across the room, and pounding on the "off" button with a shoe in about five seconds flat.

MSNBC's sexually-confused man-child Chris Matthews famously said of John McCain's relationship to the media, "We're his base."

Yet even Matthews, and his donut-lovin' colleagues on the Straight Talk Express who have reduced themselves to little more than groupies--really, all they need to do is start selling candles in the parking lot at his tour events--might blanch at the seven-and-a-half minute tongue-bath that FOX News regular and (inexplicably) NPR reporter Mara Liasson gave McCain this morning:

The topic: "Measuring McCain And Obama's Bipartisan Efforts."

The bottom line:
Whenever there's a bipartisan scrum of moderate Democratic and Republican senators working toward a compromise on judicial filibusters, or with other groups dealing with torture, tobacco regulation or global warming, McCain can usually be found right in the middle. The same is not true for Obama.

McCain's accomplishments?

McCain has made a career of taking heat from his own party for working with liberal Democrats, such as Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform or Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy on immigration. These bipartisan efforts are both the source of his maverick reputation and the cause of his ongoing problems with his own party's conservative base.

Missing in action from this list of McCain's achievements?

Liasson's report doesn't mention any of the following:

But what about Obama?

Comparing Obama and McCain on bipartisanship is a little like comparing apples and oranges. Obama has only been in the Senate for three years, and he voted with his party 97 percent of the time.

McCain — who has been in the Senate since 1987 — voted with his party just 83 percent of the time.

If the criteria are who has stuck his neck out on difficult issues and paid the price for doing it, McCain has done it over Obama.

So what is the question?

So the question is, would it be easier for a President Obama to act on his post-partisan instincts, or for a President McCain to re-enact his Senate record of working across the aisle?

Speaking of bipartisanship:

This was the second-longest piece on Morning Edition this morning (it ran about 15 seconds shorter than "Rival Actors Sparked Fatal 'Shakespeare Riots'"). And yet there apparently wasn't time for a single Democrat, liberal, progressive, independent, or nonpartisan to be interviewed for the story.

Nope. Not one. On the subject of who has the more bipartisan record, McCain or Obama, the quoted sources, in order, were:

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R - SC)

  • Sen. Tom Coburn (R - OK)

  • Sen. Gordon Smith (R - OR)

  • Mike Murphy, identified as "former McCain strategist"

  • Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, identified as having "written extensively on partisan gridlock in Washington"

Ornstein, according to an unusually tortured explanation in Wikipedia, "is considered within [conservative-leaning] AEI to be a bipartisan centrist"--whatever that means. Evidently that wobbly credential, plus the fact that Al Franken used to like sparring with Ornstein on his Air America show, means he was injected into the story to provide token "balance."

And surprise, surprise! The consensus--the unanimous decision, actually--among these "experts" was that McCain has the bipartisan credentials, not Obama. McCain has a track record (never mind that he's reversed course on most of it); at best, Obama has only his professed good intentions. In fact, in a clever two-rail shot, several of the Republican sources, echoed by Liasson herself, helpfully pointed out that it's not entirely Obama's fault that he hasn't developed a long record of bipartisan achievement--since he has so little experience.

And yes, you read that right: Gordon Smith, Oregon's own Junior senator, got a great big PR freebie: the story included almost the full length of Smith's widely-derided "Truth" ad from last month, in which Smith, chair of the McCain campaign in Oregon, made a desperately dive for Obama's coattails to save his own political skin. Liasson's story brazenly portrayed Smith's ad as one of the few bits of evidence that Obama has a record of bipartisan achievement, rather than vice-versa.

No mention was made of the fact that Obama immediately denounced the substance of Smith's embarrassing ad. Such a detail would confuse the point of the narrative, which is that Smith's ad--created to gin up evidence of a bipartisan track record for Smith--is actually one of the (supposedly scant) indicators of Obama's bipartisan intentions. (Not his bipartisan record, keep in mind, since an assumption of the story is that Obama has no such record; at most, he only has intentions.)

(Memo to the Washington press corps: When an individual candidate like Smith or McCain desperately takes sides against his own record to dodge political fire, this does not count as an example of "bipartisanship." Please make a note.)

You couldn't have gotten a more thorough trashing of Obama, or a more shameless promotion of McCain, if the assignment had been handed to a FOX News operative.

Oh yeah. That's right. Never mind.

NPR should promote Liasson to Special Correspondent at once and consign her to covering supermarket openings for eternity, or else send her back to FOX full-time in exchange for two food critics to be named later. Whatever value she might once have had as a journalist (rather than a partisan shill) is long gone.

And, as a sad little side-light: The next time the right-wing noise machine finds it necessary (or simply fun) to pound on NPR for its so-called liberal tilt, shameless mash notes to the right like this won't buy them an drop of mercy. Which makes you wonder why NPR bothers to try.

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