Post Politics: Fox News, Journalism, Nobel, More

Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 13, 2009; 11:00 AM

Federal Eye blogger Ed O'Keefe took your questions about who is up and who is down in the world of politics and the latest news out of Washington.


Ed O'Keefe: Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Post Politics Hour, I'm your host, Ed O'Keefe, author of The Federal Eye blog and substitute columnist for The Fed Page's Federal Diary column.

There's PLENTY of political and government news in the works today, so let's get to it!


Arizona: Ed, Thank you for taking questions.

On the eve of a Congressional health care reform vote, the insurance lobby issues its own industry-financed study that -- once you cut directly to their message -- appears to be a straightforward threat: if this bill passes, we are going to retaliate and raise insurance rates.

Metaphorically speaking, did the insurance industry just shoot itself in its own uninsured foot?

Has the insurance industry now raised the probability of a public option being in the final bill, when House and Senate versions are reconciled, to a you-can-count-on-it level?

Ed O'Keefe: Conventional wisdom seems to be that the insurance industry shot itself in the foot in that it might have inspired Democrats to rally together and pass the legislation.

Whether their estimates revive the possibility of a public option remains to be seen, but it would probably take more than one study to convince moderate Democrats to vote for one.


Washington, D.C.: The only problem I see with the Nobel Prize is that Obama was elected to be president of the US, not the world. His detractors have always said he is more focused on being a global leader, enacting policies that, while the world likes, hurt American interests. Americans, rightfully so, are distrustful or world bodies like the UN who seem to be controlled the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic States...organizations who run counter to everything the US stands for.

This award at this point, when lets be honest he has done nothing, only furthers that claim.

I just hope Obama remembers he is president of the US...

Ed O'Keefe: Oh goodness, this is the one and only Nobel question I will take today.

Remember: As my colleague Glen Kessler and others have reported, the Nobel Committee has a tendency to bestow the award for two reasons: Either for accomplishments (Mandela, Carter, etc.) or in an effort to raise awareness for a cause or elevate its global importance (see Rigoberta Menchu in the early 1990s and her fight for indigenous rights, or Mother Teresa in the late 1970s and her work for the world's poor, or Al Gore and the U.N. climate change agency in an effort to remind the world of the potential perils of climate change.)

In this case, the committee is rewarding Obama for what he has done and what he hopes to do -- negotiate peace in the Middle East, end the use of nuclear weapons, get Iran and North Korea to a negotiating table.

"We simply disagree that he has done nothing. He got the prize for what he has done," Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland

tells The Associated Press today


Jagland says Obama reached out to the Muslim world and "modified" a Bush-era proposal for an anti-missile shield in Europe. And the committee thinks some of the criticism is "patronizing" towards Obama.

And who cares if the leader of one place gets rewarded by a group from another? By that measure, your governor could never accept an award on behalf of your state from a national publication, or your mayor could never win the All-American City award from the president.

The Nobel win presents a mixed bag to the president, and it seems he and his staff know that more than anyone else.


Winnipeg, Canada: Can you tell me what's so complicated about abandoning the 'don't ask, don't tell' practice in your military? President Obama has repeatedly spoken out against it, and he's the commander-in-chief. Yet somehow, the time is never right to repeal it. As an outsider, it reminds me of the South African politicians of a few decades ago who said they wanted to repeal apartheid, but the time just wasn't right. This isn't like emptying Gitmo or bringing the troops home from Iraq, both of which pose complicated logistical problems. As far as I can tell, it's a stroke-of-the-pen thing, sort of like the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. What am I missing?

Ed O'Keefe: It requires a mix of executive and legislative action, and President Obama has said he wants to end it, but wants to make sure the government does so properly. That means a mix of executive actions that he can take and Congressional legislation that will make it law -- meaning his predecessors can't enter office and reverse his executive decisions.

It also requires a culture shift at the Pentagon, where many current and former officials support DADT's repeal, but others still oppose the idea.

I refer y'all back to what Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry -- the most senior openly gay federal official in American history -- said in June after Obama extended some benefits to the partners or spouses of gay federal employees: Berry basically said that when Obama leaves office, the gay community will be happy with what he did for them.

Stay tuned.


Baltimore: Did Congress shoot down the idea of pay for performance this past Friday and decide to stay with the current GG scale.

Ed O'Keefe: The short answer is yes.

As I wrote last week

, the longer answer is that the Defense authorization bill repealed the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) and suspended a similar pay-for-performance program used to compensate hundreds of thousands of DOD and intelligence community employees, but left open the possibility that future defense secretaries and OPM directors could present detailed alternatives for a pay-for-performance plan.

Lawmakers, federal employees, their unions and other outside observers generally agree that NSPS failed to achieve its goal and that federal employees should continue to use the GS system or a stronger, better executed pay-for-performance option.


Dayton, Ohio: Where is the coverage of the White House telling the nation that they will not appear or accept anything that FOX new says? Not a peep on one of the biggest political story of week from one of the biggest newspapers in Washington, D.C. Strange. White House vs. Fox News

Ed O'Keefe: Uh, I beg to differ. See the link below. See also the New Yokr Times' coverage of this on Monday's editions and turn on any other news broadcast.

And kudos to Fox for reporting on the controversy itself and clearly stating the difference between its news and opinion shows, but also acknowledging the controversy those opinion shows can cause.


WH attacks FOX News: Do you think Anita Dunn's Fox attack was on the mark.

Today, Howard Kurtz said:

"Plus, if you look at MSNBC's lineup after 6 p.m., Fox isn't the only network that goes heavy on the opinionated hosts. "

Did I miss something? Does MSNBC run informercials from 6am-6pm?

They have 3 hours of liberal, 3 hours of conservative, and 3 hours of moderate and 4 hours of straight news programming. Fox has 23 hours of far right conservatism and Shephard Smith.

But yet Howard Kurtz seems to equate the two. Is the Anita Dunn ahead of the media and specifically the Washington Post in making the point that FOX does not represent a legitimate news operation?

Ed O'Keefe: No, not 23 hours of "far right conservatism."

In addition to the down-the-middle Shepard Smith, Bret Baier's "Special Report" is generally considered balance and Greta Van Susteren is no flag-waving conservative. Same goes for Geraldo Rivera, who's endured several verbal tongue lashings from colleague Bill O'Reilly for their differences of opinion.

"America's Newsroom," "Happening Now," and "Live Desk" are also generally considered straight news shows, but certainly have their share of opnionated guests.

MSNBC has a morning show co-hosted by a former GOP congressman, two sidekicks that generally disagree with him politically and a great balance of conservative, liberal and non-partisan guests. Their next show is similar, but the lead host pledges no partisan allegiance. Then they have an hour of straight news. Then a show about health care (let's see how long that lasts). Then Andrea Mitchell, generally regarded as one of the finest newswomen in the business. Then three hours of straight news, followed by six hours of opinion shows.

(All of this makes me miss "Crossfire," by the way.)

As Kurtz pointed out today, Dunn seems to be calling out Fox for what many of its critics have long-believed: That it's not a news network in the traditional sense, but more of a "news and views" network. She also noted that President Obama will likely appear on the channel again at some point. I can't wait to see that!


San Diego: Just an hour or two after the announcement was made that President Obama had been awarded the Nobel prize, WaPo reporters were already telling us that the award would "box him in" or some such.

How about this: Reporters keep to the how, when, where, and whys of a story, and leave the analysis of the effects of such an award to opinion writers? Seriously, I read very little of substance with regard to why the award was given, and how the selection was made, but the WaPo published a great deal of what various politicians thought it would mean, and whether or not it was "deserved."

Ed O'Keefe: There was little solid reporting on "How the Nobel committee picked Obama" because the committee is historically tight-lipped, making it difficult for reporters to know why a selection was made.

Of course that is

until today

when members defended their selection of Obama.

And there, you made me break my vow to NOT take another Nobel question... next query?


Minneapolis: Hi Ed -- Back to DADT for a moment. I'm a gay person, and I think the policy is a travesty, but did those in attendance at the HRC event Saturday really think that Obama, in what was a relatively brief speech, would lay out a specific timeline? Let's be real -- he's not going to box himself in like that. What do you think?

Ed O'Keefe: Nobody should have expected he'd state a clear timeline. As with most interest groups, they're just happy that the president devoted moments of his precious time to their organization or cause.

And look what he said: "I will repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell."

A good start yes, but I know of several gay rights activist impatiently waiting for more than just words.


FOX controversy: I watch FOX News almost exclusively. (Although Tamron Hall has made me start changing channels) The problem for FOX is that very often their "reporters" are very opinionated. Carl Cameron almost never plays a story straight, and many of the others can be just as bad. It's sort of okay when Shep does it because he skewers both sides, but the rest of the staff weigh in with pure GOP talking points.

Ed O'Keefe: Ooo yes, my other favorite part of media criticism... direct critiques of the journalists. Keep 'em coming!


The problem with Conventional Wisdom: You said: "Conventional wisdom seems to be that the insurance industry shot itself in the foot in that it might have inspired Democrats to rally together and pass the legislation. "

I think that is unlikely. Insurers are very experienced lobbyists. The much more likely scenario is this report was released to provide cover to Max Baucus who can now say he isn't in the pocket of AHIP, AHIP can say they fought hard, and Democrats can not safely vote for a bill written heavily by AHIP and still say they stood up to the lobbyists.

It is very transparent. Why is the media obligated to act as though the insurance looby is that foolish?

Ed O'Keefe: Hmm, a good point worth sharing. Maybe this reader is correct...


Princeton, NJ: Ed, you are right on in delineating the two reasons why the award is bestowed, though I wouldn't be using Rigoberta Menchu as a really stellar example, since she seems to have fabricated quite a bit of her bio.

Ed O'Keefe: Be that as it may, I use Menchu as an example because it shined a light on the plight of indigenous populations. I also vividly remember arriving in Guatemala the day after she won the award to visit my family, and remember the pride most of the country felt for her win.

But since then, many Guatemalans have grown to resent Menchu for airing the country's dirty laundry in such a public fashion and then moving out of Guatemala after winning the award to live in Mexico or Europe. Her failed presidential bid a few years ago is another example of that resentment.

I'm not saying Obama will do that (breath people, breathe), but the Menchu case demonstrates the long-term impact of an award.

And I broke my "No Nobel Questions" vow yet again... grr...


DC: As an attorney, one thing I've never understood is why the FEC doesn't investigate Fox News as in-kind donations to the RNC. It's clear they have an agenda. They organized the teabagger movement...?

Ed O'Keefe: Um, there's a thing called Freedom of Speech, Mr. Attorney. Go brush up on your Bill of Rights.


DC re: DADT: Truman integrated the military by executive order. Obama can end DADT if he wished to. He's just wishing more for a second term.

Middle of the road until the second term is the conventional wisdom. Expect as much from a conventional moderate of a President.

Ed O'Keefe: Well, Obama's decision to not do it just by executive order is pinged on the possibility of having a successor unilaterally reverse that executive decision, as would be a future president's right. The current White House prefers a mix of legislative and executive action on this issue.


Rockville, MD: What's curious is how thin-skinned this administration is. If the Bush WH would have made an announcement about never talking to the NYT or MSNBC, I'm sure there would be barrels of ink wasted on that story. Biased much?

Ed O'Keefe: Oh trust me, this Obama-vs.-Fox story will keep going and going for quite some time...


Alexandria, Va.: Just a comment about Fox's so-called news programming - they (meaning the daytime reporters/programs) openly promoted the tea party protests months before they happened and on that day (Sept. 12th), they showed the protests all day long, choosing to ignore a speech President Obama gave on health care.

Ed O'Keefe: Well, was it promotion or "balanced" reporting? Some would argue it was the latter, as part of an effort to show what critics of the Obama administration were doing to voice their opposition.

Did they spend too much time on the issue? Maybe.


Belfast, ME: Is anyone proposing a ban on TV commercials for prescription drugs? It seems like that could lead to significant cost savings - not just the cost of producing and airing all those ads but in fewer prescriptions.

Ed O'Keefe: Yes, but it would also mean the end of network evening newscasts, since every other ad during those broadcasts is produced and paid for by the prescription drug companies.

And there, I've just found a way to tie together all the health care and Fox News questions. If only there was a pharmaceutical company named Nobel...


Roberts Supreme Court: The SCOTUS is actually going to hear Jeff Skillings appeal. Can you believe this? The lower courts have upheld ALL of his convictions.

Is this what we can expect from the "Roberts Supreme Court?

Ed O'Keefe: Ehem, I have a rule about opining AFTER I read up on the facts.

Here are the facts on why SCOTUS took the Skilling case:

" asking the court to consider whether the federal "honest services" fraud statute was applied correctly. The justices already have two other cases on their schedule dealing with the honest services law, a favorite tool of federal prosecutors in white-collar crime and public corruption cases.

"The law has been criticized as vague and unfair because the government need not prove, in some instances, that a defendant personally benefited from the alleged fraud.

"Skilling also claims that he did not receive a fair trial in Houston following Enron's collapse, describing "blistering daily attacks" in the media. "Skilling was pronounced guilty throughout Houston long before trial," his lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, said in his court filing.

"A ruling in his favor on the fair trial claim probably would result in a new trial. The effect of the ruling on honest services is unclear since Skilling was convicted on other charges as well, including securities fraud."

It seems, after reading the facts (

read the story here

), that Skilling has good legal grounds on which to ask SCOTUS to consider his case. A ruling on the "honest services" statute has already been requested in other cases, so it seems the legal community needs a ruling from the high court. And like him or hate him, Skilling's attorneys seem to have a fair argument to make about whether he got a fair trial in Houston.


Poplar Bluff, MO: Ed, do we have inclination of how Sen. Snowe's vote will be on the health-care bill today? Has the White House contacted her to try to persuade to vote for the bill? Thanks.

Ed O'Keefe: No word yet on how she will vote, but the White House has done everything it can to win over Sen. Snowe. Obama even offered to give her his Nobel Peace Prize.




Ask and ye shall receive.

Ed O'Keefe: Oh. My. Gosh.

There IS a pharmaceutical company named Nobel!


Now -- what can you do about getting me a raise?


Wrong again Ed: "Um, there's a thing called Freedom of Speech, Mr. Attorney. Go brush up on your Bill of Rights."

Better check up on your FCC laws and the definition of "in-kind" contributions. Or is that asking too much?

Ed O'Keefe: Oh, duh. Good point.

This is why I'm not an attorney.

No word on whether anyone -- FEC or FCC -- is investigating Fox.

Pity the guy who gets stuck with that investigation, if it ever happens.


There is no objective news on Fox: Just by deciding to air some stories and ignoring others, Fox is political thru and thru. I remember the day Scooter Libby was convicted. Every news channel was reporting the story; on Fox, nothing...

Ed O'Keefe: Right, but couldn't critics argue that CNN and MSNBC devoting so much time to the Libby conviction was an equally political decision?

This is the silliness of this type of debate... all of these channels serve the marketplace of ideas. It's up to you to pick your brand.


The Fox Boycott: I can see the administration choosing not to appear on the Fox News Channel. I'm sure President Obama would have little to gain by going on a program like the Hannity show. But Fox News Sunday? Chris Wallace is hardly a Sean Hannity. He is no more an on-air conservative than David Gregory is an on-air bleeding heart lib.

The President has little to gain from ducking FNS.

Ed O'Keefe: I agree. FNS is a different animal than FNC, even if it uses the same studio and some of the same on-air contributors.

Wallace is a D.C. journalism veteran, a straight shooter and his show regularly beats George, Bob and John in the D.C. market (not that that's the audience the president needs to reach, but still.)

Some of the White House's beef with Fox News Sunday however is that it airs on the Fox broadcast network, which did not broadcast Obama's address to Congress on health care or his last two primetime news conferences. The broadcast network instead ran a promo urging interesting viewers to watch the address on... the Fox News Channel.


Original Attorney: I accept the apology ;)

Seriously, given the obvious slant (albeit minus the last eight years of any government enforcement of anything) it's a wonder Democrats haven't asked for an investigation by both the FEC and the FCC yet.

Hear that Nancy?

Ed O'Keefe: Glad you accept the apology! Sorry again!


Ed O'Keefe: Phew! Well, now THAT was interesting. Thanks for all of your questions.

Considering today's questions, I'm now off to watch the Nobel Pharmaceutical ads airing on Fox News in between segments that debate the merits of health care reform.

Read my blog

and talk to you soon!


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