The Duck of Minerva

Inside the Bubble

13 September 2012

Erik Erikson’s full-throated attack on the US media and Obama is getting bounced around the right-wing twitter-verse today.  For those of us who aren’t part of that universe, it provides an interesting glimpse inside the bubble.

It begins thus:

Yesterday, as the American consulate in Libya was smoking and the rioters were returning in Egypt, the President of the United States flew off to Las Vegas for a fundraiser while his spokesman was telling the American press corps that yesterday wasn’t really a normal political day. Had it been George W. Bush, the media would, right now, be marching on the White House with pitch forks and torches.

Should Obama have suspended his campaign on September 12th? In the absence of any major foreign-policy decisions, I don’t really understand the argument here. And I don’t see how anyone who lived through the Bush presidency can say, with a straight face, that “the media would have been marching on the White House with pitch forks and torches” under similar circumstances.

He continues:

I get that Chuck Todd is a former Democrat hill staffer. I get that the Politico is riddled with Democrats, some former activists and a former staffer for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I get that Michael Scherer from Time magazine is a left wing reporter for Mother Jones and turned respectable, “objective” journalist. I get that Ben Smith, leading up Buzz Feed, is a leftwing journalist paraded about as if he is some sort of objective reporter at a trendy site full of cat photos. What I really get is that the American media runs with a herd mentality, leans left, and yesterday collectively fell over their group think as they leaned so far left to focus on Mitt Romney and not President Obama. Yesterday, the American media beclowned itself in ways I didn’t really even think was possible, even knowing how in the tank for Barack Obama they are.

Of course, it wasn’t just “the media” that was shocked and appalled by Romney’s disingenuous opportunism.

Yesterday, we learned that there were no Marines protecting our Ambassador to Libya despite State Department warnings about violence and kidnappings in the Benghazi. We already knew Al Qaeda was coming on strong there. But we relied on locals for support and now we know the locals betrayed us as they have in the past in Afghanistan and Iraq too. 

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

Speaking of “the media,” both of these links go to posts at Both of those posts are riffs on…. wait for it…. mainstream media reporting. Anyway, according to google news there were 71,500 English-language stories that mentioned “Egypt OR Libya” and “Embassy OR Consulate.” Of those, 47,800 did not include the word “Romney.” A quick browse suggests that the ~60% of the stories mentioning Romney simply included a reference to his campaign statement condemning the attacks and the Obama Administration. Note that the Romney campaign issued its condemnations with the aim of getting them included in stories about the attacks.

Is 60% too much of a focus on Romney? That’s a subjective judgment. I tend to think that the answer is “yes,” but I’m also convinced that if the media had ignored Romney’s campaign statements then Republicans would be crying foul. No, what Erikson is actually upset about — and this is clear from his rundown of biased reporters — is that the political media focused on Romney.

Let’s repeat that again: the political media focused on Romney. Chuck Todd is not a Middle East reporter. Politico’s main goal is to call who “won the morning” in American politics. Ben Smith’s gig at buzzfeed? Definitely not “foreign correspondent.” These people were doing their jobs. Now, you and I may not think much of the inordinate attention that they get. I’d prefer that we focused more on foreign affairs qua foreign affairs. But I suspect Erikson wouldn’t have been at all upset if these same people had been lambasting Obama for his “poor handling” of attacks. Scratch that: I’m almost certain he’d been dancing with glee.

Why am I certain? Because his next line is:

Night before last, the President condemned Mitt Romney in harsher tones than he condemned the rioters. It took him until sun up yesterday to condemn them.

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

And, of course, the link is to Breitbart (linking to Talking Points Memo). The TPM story says no such thing. It covers Secretary of State Clinton, who is, I should remind readers, speaking on behalf of the US government, condemning the attacks. Here’s Clinton:

I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack. 

This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation. 

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind. 

In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.”

 It also reports the following:

Mitt Romney seized on the embassy attacks as an opportunity to condemn Obama’s “disgraceful” handling of the situation in a statement late Tuesday. Despite the embassy’s assertion that its statement was drafted before protests began, Romney slammed the White House for turning to apologies as the “first response” to violence. 

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” 

That didn’t sit well with the Obama campaign, who accused Romney of exploiting the crisis for electoral gain. 

“We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” Obama’s campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said in a statement.

Are the tones used by the Obama campaign harsher than those used by Secretary Clinton? You can judge for yourself. The important point, however, is this: “Obama campaign,” “President Obama,” and “Secretary of State Clinton” are not the same things. Indeed, the idea that there’s something wrong with the Obama campaign responding to an attack by the Romney campaign prior to the President’s own official statement is rather bizarre.

Obama’s official statement, which came yesterday, carried no mention of Mitt Romney. Obama’s comment on his rival’s statements was, in fact, rather terse.

Back to Erikson:

Yesterday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a man who swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, called an American civilian to ask him to stop exercising his first amendment rights. 

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

I’m well into tl;dr territory, so I’ll just point out that unless Dempsey threatened Jones, there’s nothing unusual about what he did — nor anything unconstitutional.

We also now know that the President, close to 60% of the time, has opted for printed intelligence briefings, which this White House thinks are as useful as an intelligence officer in the room who the President can probe, prod, challenge, and question. 

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

Written briefings convey information much more quickly than verbal ones. I’m also sure that if the President wants to “probe, prod, challenge, and question” intelligence reports, he has ways of doing this that don’t involve having a briefer in the room. Those ways might even be more effective, as briefers will never be experts on every aspect of intelligence in the PDB.

And in focusing on Mitt Romney, finally, of all the places, Slate and Dave Weigel finally point out that Mitt Romney’s gaffe was no gaffe, it was a consistent view of foreign policy foreign to the ears of the political press. He, I, and many others really do think Barack Obama is an apologist. We really do think his speech to Cairo after his entrance to the White House was part of a world apology tour. And we sure as hell think his actions in the past year to foster the Arab Spring were the actions of a naive fool.

But then the media has been playing the naive fool for him.

Uh. Ok. Even if the term”gaffe” was a central part of the criticisms being leveled at Romney — and, of course it is not — I don’t think Weigel’s column means what Erikson wants it to mean.