Paul Waldman

Media Bias Revealed

Frame of Romney coverage during the primaries, from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism is out with their latest report on news coverage of the primary campaign, and the big headline is that, surprise surprise, the tone of coverage varied pretty much exactly with whether candidates were winning or losing. Does that mean reporters had a pro-Romney bias when he was winning primaries, and a pro-Santorum bias when he was winning primaries? Of course not. It shows, instead, just how ridiculous most discussion of ideological bias is. I spent many years designing and executing this kind of study, and hands down, the most difficult thing to assess in an objective, reliable way is whether coverage is "positive" or "negative" for a particular figure. There are some stories that are obviously damaging ("Candidate Caught Smoking Crack"), which can be "negative" even though they are reported in a completely neutral way. There are some stories that are obviously helpful ("Candidate Wins Primary By Large Margin"), but which are also simply...

What Veep Captured about Washington

A scene from Veep.
The Washington Post has a feature in its Style section called "Hey, Isn't That...?" which reports on celebrity sightings in the District. It isn't a gossip column like you'd find in a paper in New York; it's just brief, breathless accounts of how an actual celebrity was right here in our town. Like, Susan Sarandon was spotted at a restaurant in Georgetown! Pinch me! It shows just how provincial D.C. can be. Which is why people here seem very taken with Veep , the HBO program that premiered last night. As Tom Carson pointed out last week, there are some things the show gets wrong, like the fact that people treat the vice president without much deference. And there are some things it gets right, like the look of offices on Capitol Hill (incredibly cramped, with people having to step over each other to get to their desks; see the picture that accompanies this post). And of course, some characteristics and scenarios are exaggerated in unrealistic ways—that's comedy. But the show's two...

Shooting Blanks

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
In many ways, this presidential election features a reversal of a pattern we've gotten used to in recent campaigns. More often than not, it's the Republican who is self-assured and ideologically forthright, while the Democrat apologizes for what he believes, panders awkwardly, and generally acts terrified that the voting public might not like what he has to say. This time around, Barack Obama is the confident candidate, and Mitt Romney is the worried one (which says far more about these two men than it does about this particular historical moment). But there is one major exception to this pattern, on an issue that has re-emerged after being dormant for a decade and a half: guns. It isn't that Romney isn't pandering unpersuasively on the issue. What's different is that Barack Obama's campaign seems frightened of its own shadow and is trying hard to convince Americans that Obama is actually some kind of pro-gun president. Which, for all intents and purposes, he is. A week and a half ago...

In the Air and On the Ground

Obama volunteers in 2008 (Flickr/Barack Obama)
In recent years, a series of studies by political scientists have demonstrated that the most effective means of winning votes and getting your voters to the polls is one of the oldest: in-person contact. Having neighbors knock on doors and talk to people gets you significantly more votes per dollar of investment than direct mail or television ads. The only trouble is that putting together a comprehensive ground operation is really difficult. You need people, lots of them, and you need them to be devoted, enthusiastic and willing to put in long and frustrating days calling people and trooping from house to house. Over the weekend, The New York Times had a good article explaining how the Obama campaign's allies, particularly labor unions, will be putting their focus on the ground game in this November's election, while the Romney campaign's allies will be focusing on the airwaves. It's going to be a pretty stark contrast: With just more than six months to go before the November...

Liberal Bias at Fox News?

Mitt Romney on Fox News.
Over at The New York Times , Nicole Hemmer has a nice piece explaining some of the history of the right's "liberal media bias" charge and how it has left them incapable of seeing anything that happens in the media—even their own media—clearly. It turns out that supporters of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum (not to mention Gingrich and Santorum themselves) were shocked to find that their favorite news sources didn't validate everything they believed, including who should win the Republican primary: "this role reversal is the end product of a process that was set in motion by the conservative media. Having spent decades promoting the charge of bias, they have helped strip it of meaning. These days, bias translates roughly to 'reporting something I don't like,' a reflexive defense against stories that cut against conservative interests." Conservatives got so used to seeing bias everywhere that it reached the point where some of them began accusing Fox News of being "liberal" because it...

Friday Music Break

The Last Waltz
I realize I posted a couple of Levon Helm clips yesterday on the occasion of his passing, but for this week's Friday Music Break I have to give you one more song from The Last Waltz . Here's Van Morrison with The Band, doing "Caravan" in an outfit that in no way screams '70s. Turn on your electric light!

Religious Belief Declining Very Slowly Around the World

Nope. Not by a long shot.
For a century or two now, people have been predicting the eventual disappearance of religion. As education spreads and scientific knowledge increases, people were supposed to cast off their old superstitions and come into the light of reason. While that has happened in many places—basically, the developed countries of the West, with the exception of the United States—for the most part religion has stubbornly persisted. An interesting survey of religious belief in 30 countries just out from the University of Chicago shows overall religious belief is declining, but at a very slow rate. And even in countries with high rates of atheism, as people get older, they are more likely to become religious. There is evidence from the survey that this is both a cohort effect (older generations being more religious than younger generations), and an aging effect, that individuals may actually be changing their beliefs as they age, particularly as they hit senior citizenship. Why? Death, of course...

Romney Cookie Apology Coming In 3...2...1...

Mitt Romney sneers at you, cookies! (Flickr/Dana Robinson)
Every time some candidate airs a negative ad, you can reliably turn on cable news and hear some "strategist" or other say, "This is going to be the most negative campaign in history!" But I'm still waiting for someone to say, "This is going to be the dumbest and most trivial campaign in history!" The 2012 campaign will not be the most negative in history, trust me. But it might be the dumbest. So what do we bloggers do when confronted with the latest bit of campaign idiocy? You can ignore it, of course. You can say, "This is actually quite revealing...", in which case you're full of it. Or you can say, "This is inane." I'm opting for number three. If you haven't heard about Mitt Romney's cookie gaffe, then behold: Egad! This obviously demonstrates ... absolutely nothing about what kind of man Mitt Romney is. He just meant that the cookies looked store-bought and not homemade. He may have been trying to rib his own people, saying to the folks around the table, I realize this whole set-...

Levon Helm, 1940-2012

Levon Helm, from "The Last Waltz."
When I was a junior in high school, somebody gave me a videotape of The Last Waltz , Martin Scorsese's 1978 documentary about The Band. It was revelatory—not only hadn't I ever heard The Band before, it was the first time I heard many of the other artists who appeared in the film, like Van Morrison and the Staples Singers. It changed the way I looked at music forever. If you haven't seen it, you should. As soon as you can. Seriously. Today, Levon Helm died at age 71. He was The Band's drummer and lead singer, a soulful musician and by all accounts a real nice guy. Here's a clip from The Last Waltz of Helm doing "Ophelia": And here's a clip of Helm doing the same song just this February. Stricken with cancer and obviously frail, Helm could still pick up the sticks and deliver the goods. Rest in peace. Watch Quick Hits: Levon Helm Performs "Ophelia" on PBS. See more from Sound Tracks.

President Romney and the Republican Congress

The Congressional Tea Party Caucus. In the rear, Rep. Louie Gohmert appears to be about to swallow a small child whole.
As we've discussed here many times, there a number of factors that make it more likely than not that Barack Obama will win re-election in November. But it's also quite possible that Obama will lose, and Mitt Romney will become president in January. If Romney does win, chances are that he'll come into office with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress. That's because whatever conditions produce a Republican win at the top will also probably allow Republicans to hold on to the House and take the Senate. It's even possible that Obama could win and Republicans wind up with both houses, since Democrats right now hold only a 53-47 lead in the upper chamber, and they are defending 23 seats in this year's election, while Republicans are defending only ten. There's an outside chance that a big Obama win could allow Democrats to hold the Senate and take back the house, but for now let's focus on the possibility of a Romney win, which will probably leave him with the benefit of total...

Why More Democrats Aren't Coming Out for Marriage Equality

One of the few pro-marriage-equality Senate candidates. (Flickr/Edward Kimmel)
American public opinion on same-sex marriage has been steadily moving in the direction of support for marriage equality for some time, and recently some polls have shown a majority of the public in favor ( see here for example). Politicians, however, have lagged the public on this issue, none more visibly than Barack Obama, who is famously "evolving" on the issue. One presumes that evolution will reach its higher stage some time after he gets re-elected, but you'd think that candidates running for lower offices might be a little more willing to come out in favor of marriage equality, particularly since it's so obvious that such a position will only become more popular over time. But as Jonathan Bernstein tells us , that doesn't seem to be happening, at least when it comes to Democratic Senate candidates. "The web sites of the 10 Democratic candidates running as challengers or for open seats show that very few of these candidates are eager to jump on this particular bandwagon. Only two...

Why Romney Won't Ever Be Able to Stop Playing to the Base

Who do I love? You! You're the one I love! (Flickr/Terence Burlij/PBS NewsHour)
A lot of the things that consume us during a presidential campaign have absolutely nothing to do with what kind of a president any of the contenders will be. It isn't as though during the last three years we've said, "Boy, it sure was a good thing we spent all that time talking about Reverend Wright in 2008." But some things actually matter, and so it is with the discussion about whether Mitt Romney can comfortably appeal to voters in the center and to what degree he has to continue reassuring his conservative base. This will not cease to be a relevant question on the day he takes office. Instead, he'd be constantly confronted with choices that involve potentially angering conservatives. So it's useful to understand just what forces would be operating on a President Romney. Steve Kornacki makes a useful comparison with George W. Bush, who despite his own rather profound conservatism found ways even as a candidate to distance himself from his party. And that was (for the most part)...

How Mitt Romney's Supporters Are Like Uncle Leo

Uncle Leo and his anti-Semitic hamburger.
We always knew that Mormonism was going to be a touchy issue in this presidential campaign. After all, there are still many Americans who express discomfort with the idea of a Mormon president (up to 40 percent , depending on how you ask the question). But it's one thing when you ask that question in the abstract, and quite another when we're talking about a particular Mormon. In that case, I'm fairly sure that nearly everyone is going to decide their votes on how they feel about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, not how they feel about Joseph Smith. Even Robert Jeffress, the Baptist minister and Rick Perry supporter who only a couple of months ago denounced Mormonism as a "cult," just announced that he'll be supporting a member of that cult for president, since Obama is so vile unto his sight. But all that doesn't mean that the Romney campaign and its supporters aren't going to be on the lookout for any anti-Mormon slights, so long as they come from Democrats. You may remember that back...

Cautious Candidates

I am smiling. Please don't mock me. (Flickr/World Affairs Council of Philadelphia)
After John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, some people saw the origins in McCain's love of craps, a game involving little in the way of strategy but a willingness to take big risks. McCain was quite unusual in his penchant for risk-taking; the life of a politician, where your words are watched closely and there is always a whole party of people out to destroy you, not to mention the fact that you constantly have to appeal to ornery voters, inclines one toward caution. As Time 's Adam Sorenson says , in today's campaign, "Every semi-public utterance will find its way into the news; every available scrap of personal history will worm its way to daylight. That’s why we end up with candidates like Romney and Obama, men of catalog-perfect families, immaculate pasts and abundant political caution." I'd actually argue that Obama has exhibited what might be called a general cautiousness punctuated by episodes of extreme boldness, none more so than his decision to seize the...

Rise of the Machines

What's he doing in my office? (Flickr/brixton)
Seemingly intuiting my desire for a quick diversion from politics into a more important topic, Kevin Drum links to this post by Stuart Staniford discussing the day, not long in coming, when Planet Earth's robots outnumber its humans, including a semi-serious projection that shows Them outnumbering Us some time in the early 2030s. Should we be worried? Well, yeah, but not because they're going to kill us all. The problem is capitalism. Keep in mind that even as the number of robots increases dramatically, that doesn't mean there will be millions of self-aware humanoid machines walking around, planning the day when they finally rise up against their meat-sack oppressors. Instead, there will lots and lots of relatively simple robots doing things that now can only be done by humans, and nearly all of them will look nothing like us. Can a robot run a burrito truck? Not now it can't, but some steady advances in speech recognition and mechanical coordination will certainly bring that day...

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