Oddly, I will start this rather long and depressing critique of Sunday’s Meet the Press, hosted by Washington establishment journalist David Gregory, with something from another Sunday program, ABC’s This Week, which was hosted this morning by reporter Jonathan Karl.
At the every end of the program, Karl introduced the viewer-participation segment:
KARL: And finally, your voice this week. Today’s question comes from Christy Miller Johnson on Facebook, who says, “My 16-year-old has a Twitter account with 34,000-plus followers. Where do you see journalism heading in 15 years? What advice to the next generation of journalists would you give?”
Well, thank you for that question, Christy. I would say that regardless of what form Americans will get their news in 15 years or 20 years, my advice to the next generation of journalists is to remember the basics: Know your history, try to get your facts straight, always strive to be fair, and don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve made a mistake.
That’s pretty good advice for anyone, especially journalists. But let’s look a little closer at that “always strive to be fair” admonition, as it applies to reporters reporting the news.
Is it fair to report “both sides” of the flat-earth controversy? Of the moon-landing controversy? Of the age-of-the-earth controversy? Of the Barack Obama birth-certificate controversy?
How about of the fiscal-cliff controversy? Or the upcoming Round Two of the debt-ceiling controversy?
Keep that in mind as we plod through a few excerpts from Meet the Press. First up was an interview with President Obama, who, naturally, was asked about the fiscal cliff. Part of the President’s response included this:
OBAMA: …so far, at least, Congress has not been able to get this stuff done. Not because Democrats in Congress don’t want to go ahead and cooperate, but because I think it’s been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican Leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit, as part of an overall deficit reduction package.
Now, by all objective accounts, that is a fair assessment of the situation. The Democrats, much to the chagrin of folks like me, have been willing to give far too much at this stage just to get a “deal.” But David Gregory, because he subscribes to an embarrassingly false form of fairness, followed up with this unbelievably dumb question:
DAVID GREGORY: Well, you talk about dysfunction in Washington. You signed this legislation setting up the fiscal cliff 17 months ago. How accountable are you for the fact that Washington can’t get anything done and that we are at this deadline again?
That question is the equivalent of asking Mr. Obama how “accountable” he is for Donald Trump’s refusal to believe the President was born in Hawaii. It is an infuriating question because it ignores the reality that it was Republicans who held the country hostage in 2011, threatening to bring the whole economic house down over a phony debt ceiling “crisis,” if President Obama didn’t give them entitlement cuts.
At this point, because I’m afraid I’ll start using profane words, I’ll let the conversation continue with the President’s response:
OBAMA: Well, I have to tell you, David, if you look at my track record over the last two years, I cut spending by over a trillion dollars in 2011. I campaigned on the promise of being willing to reduce the deficit in a serious way, in a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy while keeping middle class taxes low.
I put forward a very specific proposal to do that. I negotiated with Speaker Boehner in good faith and moved more than halfway in order to achieve a grand bargain. I offered over a trillion dollars in additional spending cuts so that we would have $2 of spending cuts for every $1 of increased revenue. I think anybody objectively who’s looked at this would say that we have put forward not only a sensible deal but one that has the support of the majority of the American people, including close to half of Republicans.
GREGORY: But when they say–
OBAMA: And it’s–
GREGORY: –leadership falls on you, Mr. President, you don’t have a role here in–
GREGORY: –breaking this impasse? You’ve had a tough go with Congress.
OBAMA: David, at a certain point if folks can’t say yes to good offers, then I also have an obligation to the American people to make sure that the entire burden of deficit reduction doesn’t fall on seniors who are relying on Medicare. I also have an obligation to make sure that families who rely on Medicaid to take care of a disabled child aren’t carrying this burden entirely. I also have an obligation to middle class families to make sure that they’re not paying higher taxes when millionaires and billionaires are not having to pay higher taxes.
There is a basic fairness that is at stake in this whole thing that the American people understand and they listened to an entire year’s debate about it. They made a clear decision about the approach they prefer, which is a balanced, responsible package.
They rejected the notion that the economy grows best from the top down. They believe that the economy grows best from the middle class out. And at a certain point it is very important for Republicans in Congress to be willing to say, “We understand we’re not going to get 100%. We are willing to compromise in a serious way in order to solve problems,” as opposed to be worrying about the next election.
GREGORY: You said that Republicans have a hard time saying yes. Particularly to you.
GREGORY: What is it about you, Mr. President, that you think is so hard to say yes to?
I will interject here and point out how such a question muddles reality—not to mention demeans Mr. Obama—by placing the blame for reckless Republican rigidity on the President and not on recklessly rigid Republicans, which is how the recklessly rigid Republicans are able to get away with their recklessness.
It’s as if, in the birther context, Gregory had asked, ”What is it about you, Mr. President, that you think makes some of your critics believe you’re not an American?” It’s the kind of question that helps us understand what is wrong with high-profile journalists like David Gregory.
Here’s how the President responded:
OBAMA: That’s something you’re probably going to have to ask them, because David, you follow this stuff pretty carefully. The offers that I’ve made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me. I mean I offered to make some significant changes to our entitlement programs in order to reduce the deficit.
I offered not only a trillion dollars in — over a trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next 10 years, but these changes would result in even more savings in the next 10 years. And would solve our deficit problem for a decade. They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they’re behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme.
And at some point I think what’s going to be important is that they listen to the American people.
Next, Gregory moved on to cover for Republicans in Congress on the issue of entitlements. As we all know, the GOP is hell-bent on cutting Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid benefits, but they want Democrats to do it for them, in some kind of “deal” that will shield the Republican Party from the electoral fallout. Our Meet the Press host bravely ran offense for Republicans:
GREGORY: If this fight comes back– and I want to ask you specifically about entitlements. Medicare and Social Security. Are you prepared in the first year of your second term to significantly reform those two programs? To go beyond the cuts you’ve suggested to benefits in Medicare, which your own debt commission suggested you’d have to do if you were really going to shore up Medicare at least. Are you prepared to do that in your first year of the second term?
OBAMA: What I’ve said is I am prepared to do everything I can to make sure that Medicare and Social Security are there, not just for this generation but for future generations.
DAVID GREGORY: You’ve got to talk tough to seniors–
GREGORY: –don’t you about this? And say, something’s got to give?
OBAMA: –but I already have, David, as you know, one of the proposals we made was something called chained CPI, which sounds real technical but basically makes an adjustment in terms of how inflation is calculated on Social Security. Highly unpopular among Democrats. Not something supported by AARP. But in pursuit of strengthening Social Security for the long-term I’m willing to make those decisions.
What I’m not willing to do is to have the entire burden of deficit reduction rest on the shoulders of seniors, making students pay higher student loan rates, ruining our capacity to invest in things like basic research that help our economy grow. Those are the things that I’m not willing to do. And so–
GREGORY: Would you commit to that first year of your second term getting significant reform done? Telling Congress, “We’ve got to do it in–”
OBAMA: No, no, no–
GREGORY: –”the first year?”
OBAMA: –but, David, I want to be very clear. You are not only going to cut your way to prosperity. One of the fallacies I think that has been promoted is this notion that deficit reduction is only a matter of cutting programs that are really important to seniors, students and so forth.
That has to be part of the mix, but what I ran on and what the American people elected me to do was to put forward a balanced approach. To make sure that there’s shared sacrifice. That everybody is doing a little bit more. And it is very difficult for me to say to a senior citizen or a student or a mom with a disabled kid, “You are going to have to do with less but we’re not going to ask millionaires and billionaires to do more.” That’s not something that we’re–
GREGORY: Can I ask you about–
OBAMA: That’s not an approach that the American people think is right. And, by the way, historically that’s not how we grow an economy. We grow an economy when folks in the middle, folks who are striving to get in the middle class, when they do well.
Forget for a moment all that disappointing stuff the President said, like the reference to a chain-weighted CPI, a concession that sounds completely unwarranted to my ears, and notice Gregory’s aggressive questioning based on Republican talking points, especially this:
GREGORY: You’ve got to talk tough to seniors, don’t you, about this? And say, something’s got to give?
What? It should be the President who has to “talk tough to seniors“? The President should tell seniors that “something’s got to give“? It seems to be that since a majority of seniors voted for Republican candidates in the last election (Romney won those over 65 by a 56-44 margin), it ought to fall upon the Republicans to talk tough to them and tell them something’s got to give.
But, no. In the mind of a wealthy, corporate-sponsored journalist like David Gregory, it should be the President and the Democrats who have to tell seniors, and other folks benefiting from social insurance and government programs, that they will have to cough up more so that Republicans can keep tax rates low on the wealthy.
Before I end this depressing critique, I want to note that the panelists on Meet the Press charged with talking head duties on this Sunday included no outspoken liberals. None. No one on the show was there to speak on behalf of progressive solutions to these problems. Not a single one.
Thus, I will end with a few excerpts from the roundtable discussion among the panelists, which included conservative columnist David Brooks, NBC News’ Chuck Todd and Tom Brokaw, and presidential historians Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin.
David Gregory, unbelievably, made yet another ridiculous suggestion to the panel, based on his Obama interview:
GREGORY: My big take away, the president is setting a tone here with Republicans, putting them on notice that yes, taxes are going to go up, and that he’s going to drive a pretty hard bargain on a lot of different issues rather than try to bring them into the fold. He doesn’t feel like compromise is going to work at this point.
The President is “going to drive a pretty hard bargain“? Huh? Did Gregory even listen to Mr. Obama’s answers? Did he hear the words, “chained CP” ? Or, “I offered to make some significant changes to our entitlement programs in order to reduce the deficit” ?
And Gregory said Obama “doesn’t feel like compromise is going to work at this point.” Can you see how the context of Gregory’s suggestion places Obama in the position of the obstinate one? Wow.
To his credit, and only to his partial credit because he went on to say something equally as ridiculous as Gregory’s suggestion, David Brooks included in his response the following:
BROOKS: Now I think most of the blame still has to go to the Republicans. They’ve had a brain freeze since the election. They have no strategy. They don’t know what they want. And they haven’t decided what they want.
We can applaud Brooks for at least speaking a partial truth here. But then he goes on to utter the following nonsense that plays off Gregory’s blame-Obama theme:
BROOKS: But if I had to fault President Obama, I would say that sometimes he’s– governs like a– a visitor from a morally superior civilization. He comes in here and he will not– he– he’ll talk with Boehner, he won’t talk with the other Republicans. He hasn’t built the trust. Boehner actually made a pretty serious concession, 800 billion dollars in tax revenues, probably willing to go up on rates. But the trust wasn’t there to get that done. And if the president wants to get stuff done over the next four years, it’s got to be a lot more than making the intellectual concessions. It’s got– got to get to the place where Republicans say, okay, we’ll take a risk. This guy won’t screw us.
Mm-Hm. Mm-bleeping-Hm. You get it? It’s not enough for this president to make “intellectual concessions.” Oh, no. That’s not enough. He’s got to somehow get this extremist group of Republicans to trust him! He’s got to have them over for lunch or, well, I’ll just let the wealthy journalist Tom Brokaw tell you:
BROKAW: To David’s point, I do really believe that the president doesn’t work hard enough at bringing everybody into the White House and rolling up his sleeves, having them in the living quarters, getting them around the table and saying how do we get this deal done. He didn’t talk downstream about tax reform, for example.
And I think it would have been helpful to him this morning to have said, look, we get this tax deal done, I’m here to help on Medicare and Social Security reforms. We’ve got to address those, instead of just saying I’m going to protect the seniors who are there and the Medicare and Medicaid recipients. Give a little something. Show good faith about what needs to be done on deficit reduction and the entitlement programs.
Can you believe this stuff? Tom Brokaw actually said that President Obama should tell Republicans he is “here to help” them cut Social Security and Medicare. “Give a little something,” the renowned establishment journalist insisted. “Show good faith about what needs to be done on deficit reduction and entitlement programs.” Are you kidding me? This is so outrageous it’s hard to write about it.
Again, the theme is that Obama is at fault. If he would only coddle this group of Republicans, give them the warm-and-fuzzy treatment, somehow a little Socratic deficit-reduction baby would be born, with most of the labor pains assigned to those who have born so much Bush-recession pain already.
This is what passes for “fairness” in much of the mainstream press. As I said, not an outspoken liberal in the bunch on Meet the Press this day. No one took the other side. The entire program, except for President Obama’s answers to Gregory’s questions, was designed around Republican themes and presented in Republican language.
It was an infuriating, and depressing, hour. Because on the horizon, as Senator Lindsey Graham said this morning on Fox, looms another fight over the debt ceiling, a fight Graham said will be where Republicans will have real leverage—meaning they will threaten the country again with default and economic ruin—and I fear that unless President Obama and the Democrats get extremely aggressive very soon, we will see the David Gregorys frame the issue as a failure of the President to stop them from wrecking the country.