Wednesday, March 16, 2011

ANDREAS THE GIANT! Full of advice and trailing a conflict, a lofty Parisian bureaucrat is on his way to the states:


Liberal blogger gone wild: Yesterday, Kevin Drum made a crazy statement.

In a truly outrageous post, he discussed last year’s decline in cable news viewership. Why might cable news be down? In the course of a semi-explanation, one of our favorites went wild:

DRUM (3/15/11): I don't really know what to make of this, but in a weird way I blame MSNBC. For a while, Fox was sui generis, and their viewers basked in the idea that they were part of an exclusive fraternity of insurgents fighting the liberal media monolith. Then MSNBC became the Fox of the left, and suddenly the liberal monolith was unmasked as.....Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann. Once prime time explicitly became just a battle of Team Right versus Team Left and Team Nothing, that made all the blowhardery just a little less special than it used to be in the good old days.

People, can Kevin Drum say that?

For ourselves, we wouldn’t call MSNBC “the Fox of the left.” We would say that MSNBC is rapidly adopting the strategies and tactics of Fox, while engaging in occasional conduct that looks a bit like lying. And yes, MSNBC is driven by “blowhardery” too! Indeed, some of Kevin’s commenters showed how effective this approach can be; they flew into action, reciting the various points which have been designed to reject such claims of moral equivalence. (Inevitable: “Fox News broadcasts misleading right wing propaganda, and MSNBC tries to set the record straight.”) That said, let’s note one of the Fox-y ways MSNBC can dumb us all down. This takes us to a report by Ed Schultz on Monday night.

To Schultz’s credit, he didn’t throw Wisconsin under the bus just because of events in Japan. On Monday, he focused on Japan, but he also presented two reports on Wisconsin. (By way of contrast, the word “Wisconsin” wasn’t heard on Maddow, O’Donnell or Hardball. The shut-out continued last night.) But to close Monday’s program, Schultz did a report which kept us slightly barefoot and clueless. He returned to a much-repeated statement Obama made as a candidate:

SCHULTZ (3/14/11): Finally tonight on the Ed Show, this just in: President Obama’s advisers are telling him that he needs to reconnect with the people that got him elected. You think? He is missing a golden opportunity here to do just that with the people in Wisconsin, to stand with those wage earners…

This is what he said as a candidate.

OBAMA (videotape): If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States of America, because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.

SCHULTZ: Well, we’re at that point! The executive director of the National Nurses United, Rose Ann DeMoro, has offered to buy the president that comfortable pair of shoes. Even recent requests from union leaders and from the vice president of labor secretary to come to Wisconsin—they have been rebuffed. They’ve asked him to show up and he hasn’t.

Schultz called in Laura Flanders of Grit TV. They spent the segment wondering why Obama hasn’t gone to Wisconsin.

Why hasn’t Obama walked that line? Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea. But if you watch Fox, you’ve repeatedly been given a reason—and you’ve learned some basic facts in the process. Under current cable arrangements, these are the types of facts we liberals aren’t permitted to know.

Which facts do they get to hear on Fox? Three weeks ago, Bill O’Reilly played that same tape of Candidate Obama pledging to walk the picket line. But good lord! In what follows, Mr. O offered “a good reason” for Obama’s failure to act:

O’REILLY (2/25/11): So far President Obama has not fulfilled that promise. He is staying out of the Wisconsin brawl and there is a good reason for that.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Strassel nails it. Quote, "President Obama is the boss of a civil work force that numbers up two million. Those federal workers cannot bargain for wages or benefits. In 1978, Democratic President Jimmy Carter backed by a Democratic Congress passed the Civil Service Reform Act. It severely prescribes the issues over which employees could bargain as well as prohibited compulsory union support", unquote.

So federal workers don't have the union rights that Wisconsin workers have; the only thing the federal union can do is negotiate personnel matters. That's why President Obama can't go to Wisconsin. His guys don't have many union rights thanks to President Carter and Mr. Obama has not advocated for any change.

Is that why Obama hasn’t gone to Wisconsin? We have no idea. But the explanation does make some sense—and some actual facts were included in O’Reilly’s report.

To this day, most viewers of MSNBC haven’t heard those facts.

If you watch Fox, you’ve heard that explanation again and again. In the process, you’ve learned a basic fact—federal employees don’t have collective bargaining rights! For ourselves, we still weren’t entirely sure about that; we had never heard it on MSNBC, after all. So yesterday, we did some googling—and we quickly found Ezra Klein confirming this fact, way back on February 23. Klein cited the very naughty Josh Barro, who had said the following five days before, at the start of the fight in Wisconsin:

BARRO (2/18/11): Barack Obama weighed in Wednesday on the collective bargaining reforms that Wisconsin Republicans want to enact, and he doesn't like them. He said "some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, generally seems like more of an assault on unions."

The funny thing about this statement is that the scope of collective bargaining for federal employees is sharply limited. They are forbidden to collectively bargain for wages or benefits; instead, raises are determined annually through legislation. Wisconsin unions would actually have slightly more scope for bargaining than this [if Walker’s proposal were to pass]: they could bargain for cost of living adjustments up to CPI, or more if approved in a referendum. So, if the Wisconsin law is an assault, federal employee unions have already been pummeled.

Federal employees have few collective bargaining rights. As best we can tell, no MSNBC host has ever stated that fact. It did come out on March 2, when Lawrence O’Donnell invited—who else?—Wisconsin state senator Glenn Grothman to appear on his program. (Sometimes, it seems if it weren’t for Grothman, we liberals would learn no fact sat all!)

“Look, the federal employees do not have collective bargaining rights at all, which is less than you have,” Grothman told a Wisconsin activist. “And the reason the federal employees don`t have collective bargaining rights is because Jimmy Carter got rid of them, and Barack Obama kept them away. Now, you’re expecting Scott Walker to give you far more rights than people like Barack Obama wants you to have.”

That’s pretty much the only time we’ve been allowed to hear those facts on The One True Liberal Channel. Those facts may not explain Obama’s absence from Wisconsin, but they seem to be part of the overall story about collective bargaining rights. Meanwhile, Fox viewers have heard those facts again and again, for obvious political reasons. But in the process, they’ve been allowed to learn certain facts—facts which have been kept from us liberals, who are self-admittedly smart.

In such ways, we create a thoroughly tribalized political world—a world in which two warring tribes know two different sets of facts.

If you watch MSNBC, you often get treated like rubes these days, just like viewers of Fox. On the Maddow show, you have never been told the size of Wisconsin’s pending deficit—even though Maddow has never stopped suggesting that Walker created Wisconsin’s shortfall with his (relatively minor) tax cuts. That claim is flatly false, of course. But it’s widely believed in our tribe.

On Monday night, Schultz and Flanders wondered why Obama won’t go to Wisconsin. Neither one could seem to think of a reason for his absence.

Federal workers don’t have collective bargaining rights—could that be part of the answer? Not on the One True Liberal Channel! On Fox, they heard that fact long ago. We liberals are still in the dark.

This doesn’t make MSNBC “the Fox of the left.” But we seem to be gaining ground fast.