Anyone who thinks that the treatment Barack Obama has gotten from the media during this campaign is remotely the same as the treatment John McCain has received just has not been paying much attention. Because this pro-McCain prejudice has been both pervasive and unremarked-upon throughout almost the entire news media during the entire campaign season. McCain has even joked that the media is "his base" of support. It was a funny line, but there is an enormous truth at its core: the media has been hard on Obama but unbelievably light on John McCain. And this has to stop. Now. Because the election might just hinge on the media's portrayal of the two, so now is the time to point out the uneven nature of the press coverage to date on the two candidates. In time for the mainstream media to correct itself before the general election season really heats up.
Think about what you know or learned (through the mainstream media's coverage of this year's election) about Barack Obama. You may have heard of: his birth, his parents, where his parents lived, what nationality and race his parents are, where his grandmother lives, what race she is, where he went to elementary school, what Chicago radicals were doing while he was in elementary school half a planet away, where he went to college, what he did while in college, what he did after college, how he paid off his student loan, his career as a politician, which way he voted on things in the Illinois statehouse, what church he joined, what his preacher said back then, where he was married, where his kids were baptized, what his preacher said recently, what a visiting preacher said at his church even more recently, his stance on the war, his stance on race, his stance on Hillary Clinton, his stance on just about everything else, and the fact that he's a terrible bowler (but a pretty decent basketball player).
Now, what has the media informed us about John McCain this campaign season? His stance on the war. His stance on a gas-tax holiday. His stance on talking to foreign leaders. His stance on Iran (bomb it). How he's not like George Bush, dammit... even though the two agree on just about every policy you can name.
Now, all the things we have been told about McCain are indeed fair game on the campaign trail (since they're mostly policy positions), and the media has reported on them (somewhat). But mostly what they've reported on is how amazing his campaign was at coming back from the dead last summer, when everyone had counted McCain out of the running.
Facts about John McCain's private life? Nothing. McCain's military history? Nothing (other than the P.O.W. ads McCain himself runs). McCain's legislative history? Nothing, other than to repeat stories seemingly written in 2000 about what a "maverick" he is. Any scandals in McCain's past? Crickets chirping.
Now, this blatant media bias (up until now) has had somewhat of an excuse, since John McCain wrapped his party's nomination up months ago, and the press has been focusing ever since on the Hillary-and-Barack show (admittedly a center-ring circus act, if ever there was one). But it's now time for the general election. In other words, there is no more excuse for the bias. The imbalance has got to stop. And the only way to make it stop is to rub the media's face in their outrageous bias until they admit it exists.
How many voters, for instance, have heard the words "Keating Five" during this campaign? On a national news broadcast? And how many times have they heard "Reverend Wright"? Millions of voters have come of age since the Keating Five scandal two decades ago, and most of them have probably never heard of it. Since the media has shown already that it is fine and dandy to go rooting around in the muck for one party, I think it's about time they extend the same courtesy to the other candidate running. Especially during a subprime mortgage meltdown.
So my Friday Talking Points are all questions the media should be asking McCain, but (sadly) aren't. For any Democrat being interviewed on television this weekend (by some chucklehead who calls himself a journalist), these questions can easily be turned around on the interviewer, to show the rampant pro-McCain bias to the media themselves. For instance, a Democrat could ask:
"Why do we know details like this about Barack Obama's life, when you haven't even scratched the surface of John McCain's life? When is the last time you informed your viewers about the Keating Five scandal? I am sure that your network has video of what happened to John McCain as a result of this, and yet I bet you have not shown one single second of that video during his entire campaign. This is a scandal he was involved in while he was in office -- and you haven't even mentioned it during the campaign, because you're so obsessed over what Barack Obama was doing when he was eight years old. There's a reason why if you asked ten voters on the street nine of them couldn't tell you what the words 'Keating Five' mean -- and that reason is that the media just has not done its job in examining John McCain as a candidate for president. You, sir, are showing your bias in asking questions like the one you just asked me about Obama, while absolutely refusing to do the same for John McCain. Is this network owned by the Republican Party, or what?"
This would be an ideal time to rip the headphones and microphone off, and stalk out of the studio in rage.
OK, I got a little carried away there, but I think you see my point. So, quickly, we will dispense this week's awards, and then we'll get to a special version of Friday Talking Points. And, since I gave that one away (as it were), I promise I won't even mention the Keating Five in said Talking Points. Because there are just too many other questions about McCain's past to even bother to bring it up. And he just keeps adding more, with his weekly flip-flops on issues both large and small.
Both the awards this week deal with the same subject: the complete and utter capitulation of Democrats in the House of Representatives to give Bush exactly what he asked for -- the ability to decide what is legal and what is not, on his very own.
Make no mistake about it, giving telecommunications companies immunity from breaking the law just because the president asked them to means the rule we learned from Nuremburg doesn't apply any more. Remember that? "I was only following orders" was deemed an insufficient defense. Now, we have Republicans saying things like:
"I'm not here to say that the government is always right, but when the government tells you to do something, I'm sure you would all agree that I think you all recognize that is something you need to do."
Um, no. "The government" is the people of the United States of America. Our representatives -- from dogcatcher up to the president -- swear an oath to the Constitution. Well, OK, I'm not sure dogcatchers are actually sworn in, but presidents certainly are. And now, apparently, if the president tells you to do something -- legal or not -- you'd better do it, right quick. And don't worry about prosecution later on, because you were "only following orders."
The whole episode is a disgusting display of spinelessness from Congressional Democrats. Well, some of them. Others opposed the bill (you can check the roll call to see what your Representative did). But Russ Feingold wins Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week for being first out of the gate with a quote that the media picked up. Here's what he had to say, in full:
"The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation. The House and Senate should not be taking up this bill, which effectively guarantees immunity for telecom companies alleged to have participated in the President's illegal program, and which fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home. Allowing courts to review the question of immunity is meaningless when the same legislation essentially requires the court to grant immunity. And under this bill, the government can still sweep up and keep the international communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power. Instead of cutting bad deals on both FISA and funding for the war in Iraq, Democrats should be standing up to the flawed and dangerous policies of this administration."
Exactly right. And for that, Senator Feingold, you have earned the Golden Backbone of the week, the MIDOTW award.
[Congratulate Senator Feingold on his Senate contact page to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
I should point out that Glenn Greenwald at Salon has been following this fiasco closer than anyone else, so if you need any of the details of this story, I would advise checking his column out.
The Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award should really go to all 105 House Democrats who voted for this abomination, but we just don't have that many statuettes to hand out this week, so I'm going to limit it to three.
Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are the top culprits for putting this deal together, so they each win a MDDOTW award this week. They are currently giving gushing quotes to the media about how successful this "compromise" was, but I refuse to repeat such drivel here. I generally approve of Pelosi's leadership in the House, but I cannot condone this. I generally don't approve of Hoyer's actions, but then I don't live in Maryland, so there's not a lot I can do about him.
And (drumroll...) this week's third MDDOTW award goes to... Barack Obama.
Now, I know Obama's in the Senate (which will most likely vote on this bill next week), and that this was a House vote. But Barack Obama is not just any senator. He is the Democratic nominee for the White House. This means he's supposed to be a party leader. And the thing about being a leader is you've got to get out front and, well, lead. Obama's conspicuous silence on this issue has already been noted on the Huffington Post, and as of this writing there is still nothing up on his campaign website about the issue at all.
This is not leading. This is not a good sign.
Now, I do understand that Obama is now in the general election and that winning is more important than any one particular issue. I don't say that Obama's silence is all that surprising, therefore. But I do say it's disappointing. Which means he gets a MDDOTW award.
Remember, the federal government spied on Martin Luther King, Jr. in this very fashion. Why did they spy on King? They considered him a threat to "national security." Why did they consider him a threat to national security? Because he opposed the war we were fighting. Sure, Bush says he's only after "terrorists," but how soon before that gets watered down to the exact same reasoning used to spy on Martin Luther King, Jr.? Which was, incidentally, the whole reason the FISA law was passed in the first place -- to correct such abuses of power.
So Pelosi, Hoyer, and Obama... for shame. You have all earned your very first Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards.
OK, enough of that. Onward to the Talking Points segment. Originally, I started writing this section as advice for NBC journalists (and those who call themselves such, but don't actually deserve it) who will be "trying out" the Meet The Press moderator's chair for the next few weeks. They all must have dreams of being the "next" Tim Russert, and they can all see themselves as the show's permanent host, I am quite sure.
My personal feeling is that they should go back to the days where they had a whole panel of "press" that interviewed one politician. I kind of like the concept of ganging up on them this way, and with more press on the panel, they'd compete amongst themselves in order to ask tougher and tougher questions than the guy or gal sitting next to them. But since that likely won't happen, I started writing this bit as advice for Meet The Press host wannabes, to show them some questions they should ask John McCain -- questions that (astoundingly enough) nobody else has seemed to ask him yet on camera, or at least not for quite a while. In the "gotcha" genre of journalism, Tim Russert was king, so in order to take his place, you've got to hone your "gotcha" skills.
So this week, the quotes are all suggestions for the media to ask John McCain (instead of for Democrats to answer in interviews, our normal format). Although (as I pointed out earlier), these questions can be easily turned around and thrown back in a reporter's face by a Democrat, if need be.
These questions might seem a bit harsh and confrontational to the uninitiated. They might -- but only if the detached observer who labeled them thus had absolutely no knowledge of what Barack Obama has already been through this year, and what John McCain has mercifully escaped.
So, you want Tim Russert's job, journalists and pseudo-journalists? Here are the questions you need to ask John McCain now, in order to prove you're worthy of filling his shoes.
Volume 36 (6/20/08)
Why won't you release your military record?
"Senator McCain, you have made an issue of your military service in your campaign, even running ads with pictures of you as a prisoner of war. So why have you refused to sign the military's Standard Form 180 and (by doing so), release your full military record to the public? Senator John Kerry was completely unafraid to do this when he ran for president in 2004. Why haven't you volunteered to do what John Kerry willingly did? If you are proud of your military record, then why hide it? Why not put it out there for the public to see? Or is there something in there you don't want the public to find out about? Aren't you as courageous as John Kerry, Senator?"
Why won't Cindy release her tax returns?
"Senator McCain, your current wife, to date, has released only two pages from a single year of her tax returns. Will she ever fully release her tax returns to reporters? How are the American people supposed to know if you will have any conflicts of interest if you won't even release your immediate family's tax returns? Senator Obama has released all of his tax returns for recent years, which include his wife's income, and yet your wife refuses to do so. What is she hiding in the tax returns that she has not released? Are you just afraid taxpayers will find out how wealthy she is, or is there a specific reason she has not come forward with this information? Don't you think the voters need to know where your family gets its money, Senator?"
What exactly did you do for Grumman?
"Senator McCain, you personally intervened with the Pentagon over an Air Force tanker contract. That contract went to Northrop Grumman and the parent company of the European company Airbus. Now it has been shown that the Pentagon did not handle the bidding process properly, and it looks like the American company Boeing will get another chance at the contract. So why did you intervene to send thousands of aerospace jobs overseas, Senator? Could it have anything to do with the lobbyist Northrop Grumman hired, who until a month ago was your national finance chairman? To put it bluntly, this doesn't exactly sound like straight talk, sir, it sounds like lobbyists buying influence."
Lie back and enjoy it, John
"Senator McCain, you abruptly cancelled an appearance at a fundraiser recently. The man whose house at which the fundraiser was held, Clayton Williams, was quoted while running as a Republican for the Governor of Texas, when he made a joke about being raped. He actually equated the bad weather at a campaign stop to being raped. His exact words, talking about the weather and being raped, were (quote) As long as it's inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it (unquote). During the same campaign, he compared his opponent Ann Richards to cattle on his ranch, saying he would (quote) head her and hoof her and drag her through the dirt (unquote). And yet you, Senator McCain -- while you did not appear at his fundraiser -- have accepted $300,000 which Williams raised for you. What sort of message to the women of America do you think that sends, Senator?"
If we did to prisoners what was done to you, would you call it torture?
"If elected, you would not be the first man who has been held prisoner of war by an enemy, as Andrew Jackson had that distinction from his participation in the War of 1812. But you would almost assuredly be the first president who had ever been tortured by an enemy. Yet your views on torture seem to have, to put it politely, evolved over the past year. At first, you were strongly against it, but then you voted to allow the C.I.A. to use techniques on prisoners held by the United States which, if used against you in Vietnam, would surely have been called torture. So what is your stance on torture, Senator McCain? Should the United States government limit itself to the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual, or should the C.I.A. be given latitude to use what many call 'torture' against prisoners of the United States? In short, Senator, where exactly do you stand on torture, and where exactly do you draw the line? If, as president, you discovered that George W. Bush used the exact techniques on American prisoners as were used against you by the North Vietnamese, what would you do about it? Would you tell the American public that such things had been done in their name?"
[If McCain denies the United States has tortured anybody, have this ready to go:]
"But Senator McCain, earlier this year 60 Minutes aired a clip of you answering the question 'Is waterboarding torture?' by stating (quote) Sure, yes, without a doubt (unquote). You were then asked 'So the United States has been torturing POWs,' to which you responded: 'Yes.' These are your own words, Senator."
So, are you a "war criminal" or not?
Senator McCain, when you were tortured by the North Vietnamese, you talked. You said later that you gave them misinformation to fool them, telling them in essence what they wanted to hear. When interviewed by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, he asked you what you had done wrong while a prisoner of war, and you said (quote) I wrote a confession. I was guilty of war crimes against the Vietnamese people. I intentionally bombed women and children (unquote).
In 2001, the United States captured Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in Afghanistan. We sent him to Egypt. The Egyptians used harsh techniques to interrogate him -- what many would call 'torture.' He told his interrogators that al Qaeda had received chemical and biological training from Saddam Hussein's Iraq. This was a primary source for what Colin Powell told the United Nations, and what President Bush used as a rationale for going to war. And yet the Senate report which just came out points out that the Pentagon, on February 22, 2002 was saying (and I quote) It is possible he [al-Libi] does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh [al-Libi] has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to debriefers that he knows will retain their interest (unquote).
So, Senator, do 'enhanced interrogation techniques' actually work, or do they just produce lots of false information? How can you say you were tortured and managed not to tell your captors the truth, but that it will work and should be allowed against people the C.I.A. interrogates?
Ever been to a shrink?
"Thomas Eagleton had to withdraw from running for Vice President with George McGovern in 1972 after it was disclosed that he had undergone electric shock treatment. Have you, Senator McCain, ever seen a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or any other mental health professional? About what? Would you make those records available to the media, and if not, why not? Don't you think the American public deserves to know the mental health of a man who wants to be president?"
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
Follow Chris Weigant on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ChrisWeigant