New Yorker Washington correspondant Ryan Lizza on how the MSM covers the campaigns
HH: Joined now by Ryan Lizza. He is the Washington correspondent for the New Yorker. Ryan, welcome and congratulations on the new site over at the New Yorker, Politics.Newyorker.com. I guess you’re gathering all the threads into one tapestry there.
RL: Yeah, that’s so. Thanks for plugging it. I appreciate that. Yeah, so you know, all of our writers who do anything on politics will all be there in one place. So there’s some good stuff on there already.
HH: Well, we’ve got a lot to cover about the campaign. I want to start, though, with a comment that Rick Perry and I, an exchange we had last night. Governor Perry was in South Carolina, and I asked him a question, he gave an answer I’d like your response to, or your commentary on. Here is from yesterday’s program.
HH: I must say, your patience with these moderators is admirable, Governor. I honestly do now know how you get through a David Gregory debate or George Stephanopoulos debate without laughing. What’s going on in your mind when you hear their loaded questions?
RP: Well, obviously this is all about reality TV, and frankly, making money for the networks. I mean, we’ve basically become pawns of the media from the standpoint of we’re not talking about the issues that are…in a minute reflection, frankly on some very, very idiotic questions. I mean, the idea about contraceptives that was asked the other night was just off the scale from the standpoint of being of any importance in this country. So it is was it is, and we’re going to continue on.
HH: So Ryan Lizza, what do you make of the Governor of Texas’ critique of you and yours?
RL: A few things to say about that. One, I think he is correct that these debates do not necessarily benefit the political strategies of the candidates, right? You probably read this. Karl Rove wrote a very good column in the Wall Street Journal recently pointing out that these are not really debates. They are press conferences. And when you have 20 multi-candidate press conferences in a six or seven month period, as Rove pointed out, what these campaigns are doing is transferring power from themselves to the media. Now as a member of the media, I think that’s a great thing, and I think it’s a great thing to have more and more press conferences where whether you like every question that every reporter asks these guys, these guys are being asked questions. Now you could argue that oh, they spent too long on the subject of contraception, but it’s not a completely whacky idea, right? Griswold V. Connecticut’s an important decision, there’s some important issues to explore there.
HH: He called it a very, very idiotic question.
RL: You know that’s fine. I’m not going to defend it one way or another. You know, you could argue they spent too much time on that one issue. But overall, I think the more debates, the better. We got to see these guys. Look, Rick Perry doesn’t like debates, because they’re not his thing. He doesn’t perform that well in them. Mitt Romney, I bet Mitt Romney likes these debates, because Mitt Romney has shown in these debates how much of a better candidate he is than all of his rivals.
HH: Ryan, last night on Colbert, George Stephanopoulos went on and mocked himself in his role of moderator of the debates with Colbert.
RL: (laughing) Well, good for him. He can laugh at himself.
HH: Well, but that’s, this is the prism through which…here’s the absurdity. The Republicans are selecting their nominee on the basis of debates moderated by George Stephanopoulos and David Gregory, who are very left wing guys, and on the votes of independents in Iowa, and independents and Democrats who reregistered in New Hampshire, all as mediated through the very conservative electorate of South Carolina. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
RL: Now first of all, I would disagree that Stephanopoulos and Gregory are very left wing guys. I mean, Michael Moore is a very left wing guy. David Gregory is not a very left wing guy.
HH: No, Hugo Chavez is a very left wing guy.
HH: When you’ve got guns, you’re very left wing.
RL: Look, the Republican Party is extremely skeptical of the mainstream media. I won’t argue there. So it is a little strange that they’ve become, in this campaign, so reliant. I think probably, I don’t know this for sure, but I’ve been trying to figure out why is it that all these candidates agreed to do so many debates. You know, you don’t have to show up. And I assume it’s because you have a field, a pretty underfunded field, right? If you’re Herman Cain, or Michele Bachmann, or any of the other candidates that really had to fight to get any media attention, it’s always in their interest to do nationally televised debates. And I think then they push a candidate like Romney, who doesn’t necessarily need to do or want to do debates to show up, because otherwise, it becomes a story if they don’t.
HH: Well, this brings me around to a Twitter comment you made earlier today.
RL: Oh, no.
HH: You pointed to the Arthur Brisbane, the public editor…
RL: Oh, yeah. I’ve been on that.
HH: Should The Times Be A Truth Vigilante? And in there, and you seem to be outraged that he’s even asking the question.
RL: Yeah, I think this may be someplace where the two of us agree.
HH: No, I mean…
RL: You don’t think that…
HH: They should not. I thought you might be thinking, you endorsed his proposition. I think his proposition is insane.
RL: No, okay, so what I was saying, just to be clear, because sometimes with Twitter, it’s not that clear, I am saying that I think it’s strange that the Times should even be asking this question.
HH: Oh, good.
RL: But of course, of course the New York Times should be a truth vigilante. What the hell are you doing in journalism…
HH: Oh, but…okay, we don’t agree.
RL: We don’t agree? What are you doing in journalism unless you’re fact-checking these candidates?
HH: All right, let me read to you…fact-checking is fine, but let me tell you what he used as an example. He used the argument that Romney and others are making, that the President has apologized for America.
HH: And Mr. Brisbane writes, if so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the President has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less, the President has never used the word apologize in his speech about U.S. policy or history. And assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rest on a misleading interpretation of the President’s words. Do you think that would be legitimate, Ryan Lizza?
RL: Look, so on the question of whether Obama has apologized for his country, the overall point that a journalist, when writing about Romney using that phrase, he should, he or she should be able to tell the reader whether it’s true or not. I think of course, they should be doing that. You don’t agree with that?
HH: But now, stop. Oh, absolutely not, and I’ll give you my perfect example. In one of the most influential articles of the cycle, in a phrase that has been used by candidate after candidate, Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker said the President is leading from behind. Now every Republican says the President is leading from behind. But if the New York Times ombudsman gets his way, there will be a paragraph after that commentary saying the President has never said he’s leading from behind. The Republicans are lying. Ryan Lizza, what’s the difference?
RL: But there’s a way to do it, and there’s a way to do it in between those two extremes. You can say Mitt Romney accuses the President of leading from behind. This quote comes from an Obama advisor quoted in this piece. This is the context it was used in. and here’s how the phrase has sort of taken on a life of its own since then. You can back up and explain all that, and give the reader all that context, and in that case, without actually assailing Romney for using the phrase.
HH: Well, in the ombudsman piece, this will be very convoluted…
RL: Yeah, his examples weren’t great. I agree with you there.
HH: No, I mean, I don’t want the New York Times, I don’t trust the New York Time to mediate the truth. I don’t believe Glenn Kessler has got a clue about capitalism when he fact-checked, for example, Romney’s claim of 100,000 jobs. And I think I am the best interpreter of myself of what candidates say. I don’t want mediation by the bit media.
RL: But Hugh, do you want the press to just repeat what candidates say without any critical thinking?
HH: Absolutely, I do.
HH: And then on the op-ed page, critical thinking…
RL: Well then, we really do disagree on this one.
HH: Critical thinking to you is to me, media bias as exemplified by George Stephanopoulos asking contraception…
RL: Yeah, so I’m not as much of a postmodernist as you are.
HH: Oh, we’ll come back after the break.
RL: There is something called truth, that we can find it.
HH: And we’ll come back with Ryan Lizza, the premodernist, if he believes in journalistic objectivity when we return to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
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HH: Ryan, for a little context, to go back to our conversation, I love this one…
RL: Well, one thing on the politics site? A different political cartoon every day.
HH: Oh, that’s good. That’s an actually good grab. Do you have to write at least every two or three days over there?
RL: Yeah, I’m trying to, this is sort of new for me, is writing for the website, and I’m trying to write, you know, I think I am supposed to write two or three times a week. So that’s what my aspiration is. In fact, I just filed something that’ll be up on the site later, which you and I might want to talk about, and that is the whole controversy over Bain and the 100,000 jobs.
HH: Oh, yeah, we’re going to get to that. Absolutely. But I do want, for the benefit of the listener who’s saying well, has the President ever apologized? I quote from Rove’s original argument about this. On the President’s first foreign tour, “Mr. Obama told the French that America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive towards Europe. In Prague, he said America has a ‘moral responsibility’ to act on arms control, because only the U.S. had used a nuclear weapon. In London, he said the decisions about the world financial system were no longer being made by ‘just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy,’ as if that were a bad thing. And in Latin America, he said the U.S. had ‘not pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors,’ because we ‘failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas.'” Those are apologies, even though he doesn’t use the word apology, Ryan. So if the New Yorker’s standard is literalism, the New Yorker will be perpetrating a left wing fraud on its readers.
RL: So now, we’re getting closer here to each other, because you can explain that this is what Mitt Romney means when he says the President has apologized, and you can point to all of those examples, and you can also say that while he’s never actually used the phrase apologize, this is the sort of Republican critique. And that’s a whole lot of added context that informs the reader.
HH: But the one example that the New York Times editor uses is the President has never used the word apology in a speech, about the U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the President’s words. That’s a value judgment. You and I can reach different value judgments, but that’s absurd. Of course, he’s apologized. And if the New York Times, the “paper of record”, starts dismissing Republicans because they are liberal reporters, by and large, and left wing editors for certain, on the basis of so-called factual analysis, we’re into Orwellian land.
RL: No, I disagree with you. I think you can lay these facts out, and some things are going to be much more subjective than others. And just as the PolitiFact and all the fact checkers out there sometimes have a hard time saying with certainty how true a statement is, you can get pretty close. Your issue is you just don’t trust the mainstream media to do it.
HH: Exactly, because I think they’ll lie. And I think that they often, George Stephanopoulos does not really believe he did a bad job at that debate.
RL: But you know, that’s what’s great about the big flowering media we have today. If you don’t trust the New York Times, you don’t have to read it.
HH: That’s exactly what’s going to happen. That’s what’s happening to Politico is they’re ceding their credibility away. When I go to the New Yorker, I know what I’m going to get.
HH: I’m going to get a left of center, but nevertheless very heavily fact-checked…because of the tradition…
RL: But we’re not, look, the New Yorker is not an ideological magazine. It’s not, you know, the emphasis is very much on reporting.
HH: I agree, and Nick Lemann, for example, who wrote the profile about me a few years ago…
RL: Oh, that’s right. I forgot. You were the subject of a major profile.
HH: Exactly, and so I know the fact-checking thing.
HH: So I understand completely the way the New Yorker goes about it. But it is staffed by left wingers, and it very rarely, if ever, has center-right or right wing people writing for it. And so it will have a left of center view of the world.
RL: Who are some more conservative writers that you would recommend?
HH: Joseph Epstein, number one, Stephen Hayes, Lee Smith of the Weekly Standard, who writes wonderfully and beautifully, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Mark Steyn, who could write these beautiful obituaries, and got exiled from the Atlantic because he was a conservative. I mean, there are dozens of them.
RL: All right, I’ll run some of these up the flagpole.
HH: All right. Now let’s go to the 100,000 jobs. Oh, actually, let me begin by talking about Bain. When you see Bain, Romney had three careers at Bain.
HH: Under your standard, ought those three careers, young consultant at Bain…
RL: Hey, wait. You know, I’m the…okay, go ahead. Go ahead.
HH: Young consultant at Bain Consulting, the founding partner of Bain Capital, or the returning turn around artist who saves Bain Consulting. When the media says Bain, in this view of this new world, what should they report?
RL: No, that’s good, it’s not always being clear what they’re talking about. But Romney needs to be clear about what he means about the number of jobs he created, right?
HH: I actually think it is so obvious that he has created more than 100,000 jobs.
RL: All right, but let me, can I give you my spiel on this?
HH: Okay, well, we’re going to go up to a break, so save it, because we’ve got eight minutes, and I want to give you the floor, and I don’t want to cut you off in between on that. So…
RL: And I know you know the Romney record pretty well.
HH: Very well.
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HH: Okay, what’s the spiel?
RL: So not up yet, actually.
RL: I just filed it. We’ll see if it makes it up. But so here’s what I think his big mistake was, right? So in 2008, Romney ran, I think, and a lot of people criticized him for this, as a much further, much further to the right. He ran as much more of a social conservative. I think partly, that was about Iowa. And a lot of people at the end of that campaign said you know what? If this guy had run as the business turn around artist that is true to his professional background, maybe he would have done better. All right, fast forward to this campaign. The economy’s in the toilet, that is the campaign now that Romney runs, right? He emphasizes his successful career as a management consultant, his successful turn around of the 2002 Winter Olympics. He doesn’t talk about it much, but I think you can argue he was a successful governor of Massachusetts. And but the big mistake here was he didn’t just concentrate on the sort of managerial competence and the sort of Mr. Fix-it background. He made this very, very specific claim that his, what defines his career at Bain is specifically creating jobs, right? And this claim is now verifiable. And if this claim doesn’t withstand scrutiny, I think he’s in a lot of trouble, Hugh.
HH: And Ryan, let’s talk about…
RL: And the problem with the claim was Bain, and no company in America defines success by creating jobs.
HH: But let’s go and talk about verifying that. It is so obviously, patently true to me. When the Staples alone, of the hundred transactions, Staples now employs 89,000 people. It’s founder tells you there is a but-for relationship between Bain Capital and Staples.
HH: …that therefore, none of those people or the food trucks that are servicing them, or the gas stations next to them, or the architects who designed them, or the land use planners who placed them, none of that, it is patently and truly obvious that we’re at 100,000 plus.
RL: Yes, but if you, all right, fair enough, but if you really want to verify this claim, you need to go through the entire record here. And as Bain told the Wall Street Journal, look, we don’t define ourselves on how many jobs we create. And of course, no company does.
HH: And Ryan, fair enough. That’s an admission against interest.
RL: So I think that’s a big deal.
HH: It’s not.
RL: And that’s got, that statement has to be verified.
HH: Because the average American voter wants to know what did you do about the private sector that leads me to conclude that unlike our current president, you have a clue about what creates jobs. And Mitt Romney says although it was not our goal to go out and create jobs, that which I did revealed to me, both at Consulting 1 and 2, and Capital in between, what makes private enterprise works.
RL: But he’s gone further, Hugh. He’s actually said that, he’s actually put a specific number on this, now…
HH: Well, yeah, because…
RL: He’s defined his record in terms of the number of jobs he created.
HH: But again, if it’s…
RL: And this issue is not going to go away until the press sort of has…
HH: Oh, I don’t want it to. I think, in fact, everything that’s happened, if he is the nominee, will rebound to his benefit greatly, because we’ll be talking about job creation. And as you know, Ryan, the old rule is, if they’re talking about your issues when they start voting, you win. Barack Obama does not want to talk about job creation, so that, and here’s back to the media’s role. Every time they talk about 100,000 jobs claim, what did the President’s claim, that we have saved or created, what was it, three million jobs?
RL: That’s right.
HH: Have you ever seen any media person test that? Have you ever seen a Pinocchio analysis of that?
RL: Well, look, the claims about the number of jobs that the stimulus has saved or created is verified, or is tested on a regular basis by the CBO. The CBO puts out, I forget if it’s monthly or quarterly, a report about what the stimulus has done to the economy. And so you can go the CBO’s website, and look very clearly at what its claims are, and you can check those with what Obama claimed in 2009 when he was passing it.
HH: Not my job. I don’t set myself up as the arbiter. I’m asking if you have seen independent mainstream media, MSM analysis, of the government, which is obviously got a self-interest. The Congressional Budget Office, especially under Pelosi and Reid, have a self-interested role in defining what works, and they have static economic analysis. Have you seen independent verification of the claim in the same way that demands are being made on Romney?
RL: I think that what the CBO, what the way that the CBO, the extent that the CBO has studied the stimulus is far beyond anything I’ve seen so far verifying one way or the other, Romney’s claim. I’m not saying Romney’s claim is B.S.
HH: I’m not talking about the government. I’m talking about how the media reacts to the claim, which is to go after Romney in a pile-on, and that’s fine. That’s good. That’s what they should do. And then the President says it…
RL: Hugh, it’s not the media going after…the only reason this issue is raised, and you know this, is because it’s not the media that’s piled on. It’s Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and his opponents who are doing this.
HH: I’ll come back to that. But you’ve written about it…
RL: We cover conflict.
HH: Of course we do, but the President gets no conflict, because he’s got his pals in front of him in the press room.
RL: No, Hugh, wait until it’s one on one between him and, presumably, Romney. I think you’ll see a lot more pressure on Obama.
HH: If I challenged you to go…
RL: Obama’s, the race right now is on the other side.
HH: If I challenged you right now to go via Google or anywhere to find a mainstream media fact check of the three million jobs saved or created, do you think you could find one that did not rely on the CBO, but upon independent verification?
RL: I, if I had $10,000 dollars like Romney, I would bet you $10,000 dollars I could.
HH: (laughing) See? That’s a good jab. But that’s fine, because that’s your job. You won’t, and again and again and again, the guy gets away with murder. And so here you folks are, you’re straining at the gnat on Romney and Gingrich and Perry and Santorum, and the President, the most powerful man in the world, has gotten a free pass from you folks every single day.
RL: But he has not, okay, wait until it’s a one on one race. What you’re witnessing here is obviously much, much more coverage on the Republicans during their primary. That’ll all change once it’s a one on one race.
HH: All right, now the Newt thing. We’ve got a minute to the break, and then the last segment, I want to talk to you about…what do you think is the overall impact on everyone as a result of the Occupy Wall Street rhetoric employed by Newt, and to a lesser extent, but nevertheless there, Rick Perry?
RL: Look, as far as I can tell, it’s rallied conservatives to Romney in a way that nothing else has been able to do this race. Now I don’t know if that’s just at the sort of conservative elite level, but you see a lot of talk, radio hosts, and opinion makers online rallying to Romney’s defense. But you know, we’ll get a real test to this when we see some more polls in South Carolina, and then see if it has an impact in a primary. But it certainly didn’t in New Hampshire, did it?
HH: Did it have enough time? Ten seconds.
RL: No, exactly, it maybe didn’t have enough time in New Hampshire.
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HH: I want to conclude today’s program by playing, Ryan Lizza, a little cut of the President yesterday.
BHO: Some of these other countries allow corporations to pollute as much as they want. Let’s get rid of protections that help make sure our air is clean and our water is safe. You know, I don’t think we should have any more regulations than what are necessary for our health and safety. And we’ve made reforms that will make sure that businesses save billions of dollars. We want government that is smart and efficient and lean. And by the way, we’ve issued fewer regulations than the Bush administration. They’ve been better regulations.
HH: All right, stop right there. Do you believe that for a moment, Ryan Lizza?
RL: That they, which part of it?
HH: Issued fewer regulations than the Bush administration? Do you think that’s a true statement?
RL: Oh, man, you’re calling me out here on something I actually don’t know the facts on, but I think this is, but this is an example of something as a journalist that should be very easy to verify. And to go back to the first part of our conversation, this is exactly the kind of fact-checking if you were writing a story about President Obama talking about regulations where you’d want to let the reader know if he was correct or not.
HH: Well, what you really want is a White House press corps that would say to Jay Carney, can you tell us exactly what the President meant, and that they would dutifully report what Jay says.
RL: But Hugh, wait a second. This is what I was talking about from the beginning. You’re now saying that what the President said is wrong, and I bet you would love it if the New York Times reported that statement, and in the next sentence said the President was wrong.
HH: No, I would like a news reporter to say, get the answer of what he’s defending it on, because my guess is he’s going to say well, we’ve only been here three years, and I’m talking about their entire eight years of regulation, that pushed to the wall, he’ll be duplicitous. And I would like that entire thing…
RL: But if that’s the case, that is exactly, we’re on the same page on this. This is exactly the kind of thing that reporters, the context that reporters should be including in these pieces. If we did it the way you want it, that you described in the beginning of this conversation, the reporter would just say this is what the President said, and the reader would be none the wiser.
HH: The reporters would ask questions and not opine the veracity if they were “reporters”. But here’s the key thing, Ryan, we can close. This will never get asked. It’s nowhere today. He said it yesterday. We’ve got the audio. Go look. It’s nowhere. He does this routinely.
RL: I’ll agree with you that I have not seen any coverage of this. And again, I can only say that the political press right now is overwhelmingly invested in the Republican race. And frankly, Obama’s not getting as much coverage as he was in the first couple of years.
HH: I love that term. They are the vulture investors of the news.
HH: Ryan Lizza, thanks for the time. It’s always a pleasure catching up with you. http://politics.newyorker.com, America.
End of interview.