Saturday, May 16, 2015

Tim Graham: Don't Believe Your Lying Eyes on Steve Schmidt

MRC Watch Dept. - Wednesday on NPR's Morning Edition, reporter Tamara Keith filed a story in which she spoke with Republican strategist Steve Schmidt; on Friday, the MRC's Tim Graham set up a few straw men around that portion of the report, which discussed Hillary Clinton's avoidance of the traditional press, and proceeded to beat the stuffings out of them then went off on a series of unrelated Schmidt-bashing tangents. The article's URL ends in "npr-shoveling-Schmidt."

Graham's headline is "NPR Finds GOP Pundit Steve Schmidt To Call Critics of Hillary Stonewalling 'Ludicrous'," but one will struggle in vein to find anything like that in Scmidt's comments. Graham's text doesn't even make that assertion. It offers, instead, a slightly different strawman; Graham writes that "what stuck out in the story was failed 2008 McCain-boosting (and Palin-trashing) Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, arguing it's 'ludicrous' that any voter really cares that Hillary won't talk to anyone in the media." Here's the actual exchange between Keith and Schmidt:
TAMARA KEITH: But will avoiding reporter questions hurt her with voters?
STEVE SCHMIDT: The premise of your question presupposes that the way that Hillary Clinton needs to reach voters is through the national media. And that's simply not the case anymore.
TAMARA KEITH: Steve Schmidt is a Republican strategist. He says a campaign as sophisticated as Clinton's can bypass the media filter and target voters directly.
STEVE SCHMIDT: The notion that real voters worried about real issues cares one whit about how often a presidential candidate talks to their traveling press corps or answers questions from them is just ludicrous. It's not the case.
To note the obvious -- as is so often necessary when dealing with the MRC -- "real voters worried about real issues" does not equal "any voter who really cares that Hillary won't talk to anyone in the media," and Schmidt is dismissing the notion that voters care about how often a candidate talks to the press, not insulting those who do care about such things. Graham, while offering his false characterization of that exchange, quotes it in full, which suggests he's either not the sharpest tack in the box or is confident his readers aren't. Or both.

Graham then goes off on a bizarre and totally unrelated tangent about Schmidt's days handling Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign:
"This is the same Steve Schmidt who assented to putting Sarah Palin into a long interview with Katie Couric. After it bombed and McCain-Palin lost, Schmidt went on 60 Minutes on January 10, 2010 and blamed Palin (not Couric) for what happened in the hardball interview."
The entire world, of course, saw Palin spectacularly self-destruct in that interview. Throughout it, Palin was evasive, rambling, looking away -- the impression was that of a clueless idiot completely out of her depth. The notion that the rather softball questioning by Couric was a "hardball interview" was one of a series of fictions about the incident manufactured by Palin after the fact.[1] Steve Schmidt, in an interview quoted by Graham, notes that Palin had refused to prep for that interview, spending much of the day leading up to it preparing detailed answers to questions posed by a small-town micro-circulation newspaper in Alaska. "I don`t think that Katie Couric asked a single unfair question in that interview." While Palin has persistently lied about nearly every aspect of it, her ghostwriter, writing as her in "her" book "Going Rogue," concluded, "Instead of my scoring points for John McCain [in the interview], I knew I had let the team down." Graham omits this fact.

Graham complains that Schmidt, in that 2010 piece on 60 Minutes, "did go on to say it was 'fair criticism' to suggest that Palin had a serious problem with inaccuracy and truth-mangling. He didn't say anything like that about Hillary on NPR." Which may have something to do with the fact that the brief NPR questioning had nothing to do with Hillary Clinton's accuracy or truthfulness. This, too, seems rather obvious but Graham remarkably concludes, from Schmidt's failure to go off on such an irrelevant tangent, that "Schmidt knows how to behave when he does the liberal-media interviews. He's a Republican In Name Only in those venues."

Uh huh.

Continuing on the same Schmidt tangent, Graham referenced an appearance Schmidt made on MSNBC's Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell in which the Republican strategist said
"I think, Lawrence, specifically with regard to Elizabeth Warren, you see her emerging as a titanic figure on the Democratic left in the Democratic Party. And I think Earrenism is going to be something that we`ll see whether it`s Martin O`Malley, whether it`s Bernie Sanders. But someone is going to be a champion of Warrenism against the centrism of Hillary Clinton and Clintonomics over the course of the Democratic primary."
All pretty straightforward analysis of the current situation in the Democratic party, just as one would expect from a professional political consultant, but Graham characterizes it as "Schmidt seemed more impressed with Elizabeth Warren than with critics of Hillary’s press stonewalling," and highlights the "titanic figure" comment, as if noting that Warren was the current star in the party was the same as praising her. And, of course, Schmidt doesn't express any opinion on "critics of Hillary's press stonewalling" in those comments -- that isn't the subject on the table. As with the NPR business, Graham, even as he's ludicrously misrepresenting Schmidt's comments, quotes them in full. Don't believe your lying eyes!

Schmidt is a fairly regular guest on various news programs and if Graham had any real interest in Schmidt's views on Clinton (as opposed to bashing a straw man), Schmidt has certainly never been shy about expressing them. Only a few weeks ago, for example, Schmidt appeared on NBC's Meet the Press and was asked about Clinton's campaign rollout:
"Look, it's so contrived, so inauthentic. It's almost difficult to articulate it. She talks about meeting real voters. But in the one instance, when she walks into a store, where there's an opportunity, the Chipotle, to actually talk to voters, remains in silence in disguise behind dark glasses. Bashes hedge fund managers, at the same time, her campaign is raising the first of its maybe nearly $2 billion in donations from hedge fund managers. The dissonance between what she says and the reality is startling."
A few days before that, he appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe to talk about Clinton's erasure of her private email server from her days as Secretary of State:
"...when you look at Hillary Clinton with this particular issue, the rules regarding the emails are unambiguous. Like a traffic light, red and green mean something very specific, not very difficult to understand, and clearly, her approach is 'I'm too big to fail. It doesn't matter. There is no consequence to me willfully, premeditatively breaking the rules on this,' and, in fact, there won't be an electoral consequence to it, but I think the issue that voters will focus on in is a person with that personality quality, do you want to make that person the most powerful in the world?"
And so on. Isn't Google a wonderful thing? Someone should perhaps introduce Graham to it.



[1] Palin also falsely asserted that the interview was set up by McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace to boost the ratings and "self-esteem" of Wallace's pal Couric, that CBS had deceptively edited the footage to make her look bad and that the interview, as sold to her beforehand, "was supposed to be kind of light-hearted, fun working mom speaking with working mom and the challenges that we have with teenage daughters" -- in reality, the interview was supposed to help establish Palin's credibility on foreign policy and was scheduled to take place while Palin was in New York visiting the United Nations. Part of it even included a walk-and-talk in front of the UN building. The "hardball" question that elicited one of the most remarked-upon answers from Palin: "[W]hat newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and understand the world?" Real tough stuff there, eh? Palin, who fumbled, fidgeted and was ultimately unable to name a single publication she read, later characterized this as a "'gotcha' question."

[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog that teaches the Media Research Center how to use Google.]

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