Reporting on Politics and Policy.

July 25 2014 10:05 PM

Buzzenfreude and Plagiarism

It started, as so many few things start, with an argument about socks. Buzzfeed's viral politics editor, Benny Johnson, had asked former President George H.W. Bush for advice on stylish ankle-concealing garments. (Johnson had been on this beat for a while.) The aggregation-heavy conservative site IJ Review basically stole Johnson's content -- which included an exclusive quote from Bush -- and Johnson tweet-shamed them into taking it down. (Believe it or not, IJ Review had also trafficked in Bush socks stories.)

That was the cue. On the blog "Our Bad Media," writers known only as @blippoblappo and @crushingbort revealed that "a brief dip into the cesspool that is Johnson’s Buzzfeed articles quickly turned up several incidents of Johnson directly lifting from other reporters, Wikipedia, and Yahoo! Answers, a website where people go to ask if they can get pregnant from stepping on a rusty nail." They posted their evidence; Buzzfeed edited several of Johnson's stories to give proper credit. Not long after, Gawker's J.K. Trotter advanced the story with a comment from Buzzfeed's editor-in-chief, Ben Smith: "Benny Johnson is one of the web’s deeply original writers, as is clear from his body of work."

Advertisement

Ever since then (well, in the 28 hours since then) it's been open season on Johnson. He has not published anything since yesterday, and his body of Buzzfeed work is being "reviewed." (I sent Johnson an email but otherwise haven't contacted or heard from him about this.) Anyone with a working Google machine can compare Johnson's text, which typically consists of captions below photos or gifts, to existing content on Wikipedia or Yahoo -- the sleuthing has turned up more short phrases and sentences that look cloned.

Why is there so much heat on Johnson? The hubris started it, but there's been a healthy burble of Internet hatred toward the guy for ages. Johnson was a college Republican and writer for Glenn Beck's website The Blaze before he joined Buzzfeed, facts exposed and shamed by the mysteriously-named FeedBuzz in 2013. On the left, Johnson's probably best known as the guy behind the viral post "How to Thank a Soldier, by George W. Bush," ("14. Cook them a big-ass dinner if you can.") so writers on the left have spared nothing in gloating about the scandal.

"Describing buzz feed benny johnson as a viral load does an allusive disservice to more noble organisms like the AIDS virus," wrote Jeb Lund, who writes for the Guardian.

"Hearing that @bennyjohnson is not a paragon of ethics -- its like the day I found out Santa isn't real," wrote Matt Taibbi, who now writes for First Look Media.

You can follow the links to the sleuthing, but Dylan Byers has done the best job explaining the unseemly amount of schadenfreude.

In the eyes of many journalists, BuzzFeed is constantly walking a fine line between aggregation, or "curation," and theft. Go to BuzzFeed.com and click on any one of its lists. In very fine print, buried below each photo, there will be a link to another site -- usually Reddit -- which is where the photograph came from.
Is this plagiarism? Of course not. Does it feel a little seedy? Yeah, a bit.

This is not what Johnson did. I've seen Johnson at in D.C. (and once in Iowa), arriving at events with a camera and notepad to feed his stories. He's a photojournalist who fills out his stories with captions, and it's the captions that have got him into trouble. But his photojournalism is all live and earned. Just a week ago, Johnson got a lot of attention for a pair of posts about ugly federal buildings in D.C. -- one in which he gave readers a tour of their worst aspects, one in which he described how security guards tailed him and shooed him away. Johnson's last post before today's "review" was a photo-essay about military dogs being reunited with their owners. The few D.C. outlets that covered it gave the story a quickie "this happened" text treatment. Johnson profiled several of the dogs and owners, using very few words but plenty of schmaltzy pics. People ignored the other stories and read his.

But that's not an excuse for the lifted text. The added irony, which is upping the schadenfreude quotient, is that Buzzfeed has cornered a market in hitting politicians for plagiarism. In the fall of 2013, Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski made life hell for Sen. Rand Paul, pulling pages from his books and sections from his speeches that were lifted from Wikipedia or other sources. In 2014, Kaczynski expanded the franchise, shaming candidate after candidate for lifting grafs or phrases from other Republicans, usually (funny enough) Paul. 

Kaczynski's findings were baffling and pathetic. Who were these people, who cared enough about politics to mortgage their lives and reputations on runs for office, but didn't care enough to come up with their own thoughts? The cases of plagiarism were much more blatant than what Johnson's accused of. People have found him lifting sentences that included factoids; the pols were lifting bland political thoughts, word for word. But Buzzfeed was proving that catching plagiarism had become easy, and that lifting a few sentences without a link-back constituted outright fraud. 

The result of all this? An unusual coalition of people -- liberals, Republican pols, journalists -- gloating that Buzzfeed has been caught. At. Last. It would be very easy to Johnson to return to his beat, being more careful to credit his sources. But there's just so much glee and animosity about the circumstances.

Update: Shortly before midnight, Buzzfeed announced that Johnson had been fired. The most interesting part of the two relevant statements -- one to readers, one to staff -- is this.

BuzzFeed started seven years ago as a laboratory for content. Our writers didn’t have journalistic backgrounds and weren’t held to traditional journalistic standards, because we weren’t doing journalism. But that started changing a long time ago.
Today, we are one of the largest news and entertainment sites on the web. On the journalistic side, we have scores of aggressive reporters around the United States and the world, holding the people we cover to high standards. We must — and we will — hold ourselves to the same high standards. BuzzTeam, too, has, over the last two years, raised its game dramatically, focusing on creative and ambitious work, and increasingly careful attribution.

That's the website putting down a marker and promising that Bennyghazi (as at least one Twitter user has called it) was the moment Buzzfeed stopped tolerating slapdash, Reddit/Wikipedia content. More eyes will be looking for it now.

Video Advertisement

July 25 2014 5:50 PM

It Is Legal (Again) to Unlock Your Cellphone

Just a minor update to something that has moved in and out of the news cycle—the cellphone-unlocking ban is dead. First spotted by techies in 2012, first made infamous by Republican tech thinker Derek Khanna, the quirk in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that had banned unlocking has been erased. The House vote was unanimous.

The irony, of course, is that a vote that rockets through Congress with this much ease isn't very interesting. But there's another angle to this. The White House "We the People" widget, by which ordinary humans can start petitions and ask the president to respond to their concerns, has largely existed as farce. The most attention any petition got was for the the one that asked the White House to stimulate the economy by building a Death Star. Most of the newsy petitions have followed that format.

Advertisement

The unlocking petition is the first to travel from the website to actual action in Congress.

July 25 2014 5:42 PM

A Confusing Attempt to Denounce Obamacare

The young couple holding hands outside the entrance to “Creepy Carenival” held on the National Mall July 23rd were rather baffled by it. “I think it’s something about Obamacare?” the woman said. “I think they’re going to talk about it?” They had happened upon it on a walk; they weren’t sure if the message would be for or against. 

Advertisement

The event had been put on by Generation Opportunity, a lobby group of free-market minded youngsters who mostly advocate on millennial issues like youth unemployment and student debt. Obamacare, their spokesman informed me, was their first foray into healthcare. In case there’s any confusion, they’re against it: they say that it increases health premiums for those 27 and under who wish to buy healthcare through the federally mandated program. The carnival (“Where fun is Mandatory”) had catchy slogans to go with its theme, featuring a contortionist “bending the rules” and a kissing booth for love and law that are “too good to be true”, but somewhere the metaphor about how Obamacare failure is like (or unlike?) three ring fun may have been lost. None of the attendees I spoke to said they had any strong feelings about the law; mostly, they saw an opportunity for free snacks and fun for their kids and took it. In fact, there seemed to be as many staff and journalists as carnival goers (granted I arrived early). 

I chatted with a few performers and blue-shirted young men from Talk of the Town, the entertainment whose games were hired out for the festivities. Their employers, it appears, did not provide health insurance: The young acrobat was still on her parents’— she says will think about what to do once she turns 26 (but "her views are her own and do not represent those of Generation Opportunity"). Another, older carnival worker said he bought his direct through the insurance company. A third young man, running the high striker, had been instructed to give a flimsy hammer to anyone under 27, and an actual sledgehammer to anyone older. I read aloud a placard at his station, which said that women under 27 would on average see their premiums rise by 44 percent, and men by 91 percent. “You’re the first person all day to read that,” he informed me. When I asked him about the meaning of the trick versus real hammers, he shrugged. Some staffers quickly swooped in to explain—something about the game being rigged against you—but the exact gist remained a bit opaque. But they were very kind in offering to point me to the right person for comment.

It hardly needs mention that millennials unhappy about Obamacare is bad for its chances of long-term success. For the law to work, the ACA needs healthy young people to subsidize the old—this is how insurance works, and it means an uptick in their premiums. But I’m not sure if anyone who didn’t already dislike the law would have walked away with their minds changed or having learned anything new. It was good fun. I asked for a teddy bear as a keepsake. I was informed they were technically for the winners of a raffle. But a kind staff bent the rules and gave me one anyway. 

(Photo by David Weigel: "Creepy Uncle Sam" joins three "death panel" members in the Creepy Carenival's Haunted Hospital.)

July 25 2014 2:15 PM

How Did a Virginia Conservative Activist Become the Star of a North Carolina Abortion Ad?

Last month, in an episode of the podcast, I interviewed Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser about what her group was doing to prevent future abortion guests. SBAList was inviting pro-life candidates to training sessions where they had—my phrase, not hers—the stupid beat out of 'em.

"What's at the heart of it is a fear of addressing it in the hope that it won't come up," Dannenfelser told me. "We're 100 percent clear that it will come up. The best thing is one-on-one conversation—one-on-one conversation along the model of a murder board, preparing for a trial. That's what they deserve. It's throwing at you the question that I think is going to be the hardest in your campaign. It's a measure of how disastrous the results can be if you haven't prepared in your mind and your heart."

Advertisement

Today, Jeremy Peters reports on what these sessions actually look like. He also has more detail on SBAList's aggressive approach—what Dannenfelser described to me as "getting out the fetal position, ironically."

The group recently hired a polling firm to test messages. It found that when it told Florida voters that a Democratic candidate for an open House seat there, Alex Sink, did not support limiting abortion after five months, women in Democratic households shifted their support toward the Republican in the race, David Jolly.

Last month, the "super PAC" affiliated with the Susan B. Anthony List began testing this message in North Carolina against Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, in its first move in a Senate race this year. In a TV ad, a young couple talks about their daughter, who was born prematurely at 24 weeks. “These are babies,” the mother says. “This is human life. And we are their only voice.”

This was interesting, because in June, Hagan was the first potential messaging target Dannenfelser brought up. "Ask Kay Hagan, why did you say you couldn't possibly support a 20-week restriction on abortions?" asked Dannenfelser, previewing the attack. "That's wildly out of touch with North Carolinians."

Funny thing about that ad, though. The couple featured is Ned and Becca Ryun. Ned Ryun is the founder of American Majority, a conservative grassroots training group. The Ryuns first shared their story in a 2011 post for RedState.com. So this is the story of a family of activists—who live in Purcellville, Virginia. Not in Hagan's North Carolina.

July 25 2014 10:57 AM

Dinesh D’Souza and the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

This blog has mostly covered Dinesh D'Souza's Obama-era adventures in punditry as an exercise in how to outrage the right and collect the profits. After some slow initial sales, D'Souza's America (the book, not the country) is at No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list. Is it a sleeper hit? Is it getting a bounce from D'Souza's media campaign, in which he claims booksellers and search engines are trying to censor him? All we know is that the sales jumped after D'Souza turned buying America into a political cause, and that I really hope I can pull that off next year when my progressive rock book arrives. (If you hate King Crimson, you hate freedom.) 

My point is that D'Souza's sales and looming trial have proved newsy enough for the front page of the New York Times. The paper's straightforward profile explains that conservatives listen to D'Souza because, in a world of shouters and pundits, he comes off as an intellectual.

Born and raised in India, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth and has been affiliated with some of the country’s most respected conservative think tanks. ... Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” says Mr. D’Souza’s roots and scholarly bona fides give him “credibility” in right-wing circles. ... Some accuse him of cynically using his academic credentials to advance false, reductive ideas.
Advertisement

Let's establish that D'Souza is very smart and a world-class debater. Still: "scholarly bona fides"? "Scholar" is a pretty malleable word, often used ironically, but in the news context it's typically used to describe someone who devotes his time to scholarly research. Julian Zelizer, for example, often cited as a congressional politics scholar, holds a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in history. Norm Ornstein, a "resident scholar" at AEI and favorite quote for liberals looking for a critic of the right, holds a Ph.D. in political science. Arthur Brooks, the president of AEI, holds an M.A. in economics and Ph.D. in policy analysis. Jonathan Turley, often cited as a "constitutional scholar" (especially when he's criticizing Obama administration overreach), has a J.D. in law and teaches at GW's law school. Stanley Kurtz, who is often called a "scholar" by conservatives, has a Ph.D. in social anthropology. Newt Gingrich himself has a Ph.D. in European history. Generally, people get called "scholars" in the press if they're publishing/have published academic work relevant to what they're opining about. 

D'Souza has a B.A. in English from Dartmouth, and ... no, that's it. He got fantastic grades at an Ivy, then worked for D.C. think tanks, then started writing ambitious books. But he came at them with as much of a scholarly background as the average political pundit, which he basically was. His first books, especially The End of Racism, were ambitious and looked authoritative, but they were basically works of pop sociology. Again, there's a market for that, but actual scholars have found the books lacking, and D'Souza's later books (like America) have more closely resembled the average conservative bestsellers. Ronald Reagan was a great man, heaven is for real, etc. (Read paleolibertarian David Gordon, who has a Ph.D. in intellectual history, and who points out that D'Souza totally misread Darwin in order to cite him in the racism book.)

What's wrong with being a smart generalist pundit? Nothing. It's just unusual for such a pundit to be seen as a scholar on whatever topic he's writing about at that moment. (Also it's a little unfair to someone like the aforementioned Stanley Kurtz, who applies real rigor in his research into Barack Obama's past and his current economic plans.) The D'Souza story is being portrayed as a thoughtful scholar descending into mere politics. Isn't he just a right-wing pundit, regressing to the mean?

July 25 2014 9:13 AM

Libertarians Think They’ve Found a Smoking Gun in the Halbig Case

Last night I joined the cheerful libertarians of the Competitive Enterprise Institute for a celebration of the D.C. Circuit's Halbig decision, gathering string for a piece about where the movement goes from here. In a short speech, the Cato Institute's Michael Cannon—basically the Professor X of the case—recalled how he could not figure out who had standing to sue the government over the ACA's mandate and subsidy regime, until he was bored and checking email (at a congressional hearing) and some dude emailed him a thought. What about an average citizen, who would be forced to buy health care if the subsidies went into place? Wouldn't he or she have standing?

"I thought, 'Who are you?' " remembered Cannon. "And why are you so much better at my job than me?"

Advertisement

Hours earlier, another random American had just given Cannon—and Halbig supporters—a fabulous gift. At 11:44 a.m. Eastern, a commenter on Jonathan Adler's blog post about the case (Adler, a blogger at the libertarian Volokh Conspiracy, is the key attorney in Halbig) pointed to an unnoticed 2012 speech by Romneycare architecht Jonathan Gruber. Asked "bostonbakedbeans":

How about the understanding of one of the key architects, Jonathan Gruber, of the PPACA from January 2012 (jump to 31m30s): https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GtnEmPXEpr0 ? Here he outlines why the Federal exchanges were holding back -- and specifically that the intent was to put pressure on the states to enact because any state under a Federal exchange doesn't get tax credits for its residents.

The exact same comment was reposted with the sleuth's actual name, Rich Weinstein. Hours later, CEI's Ryan Radia wrote a blog post about the video. By late Thursday night, the entire conservative/libertarian blogosphere/twittersphere was crowing about the video.

Here's what Gruber said, when asked whether the feds would create exchanges if recalcitrant states did not.

So these health-insurance Exchanges, you can go on ma.healthconnector.org and see ours in Massachusetts, will be these new shopping places and they’ll be the place that people go to get their subsidies for health insurance. In the law, it says if the states don’t provide them, the federal backstop will. The federal government has been sort of slow in putting out its backstop, I think partly because they want to sort of squeeze the states to do it. I think what’s important to remember politically about this, is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits. But your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying to your citizens, you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these Exchanges, and that they’ll do it. But you know, once again, the politics can get ugly around this.

The timing of the speech is important. Gruber said this in January 2012. It wasn't until May 2012 that the IRS issued a rule, clarifying that subsidies would also be available to the states that joined the federal exchange. And it wasn't until July 2012 that Cannon and Adler published their paper making the argument that the language of the law forbade any such mulligan for states.

But this bolsters the libertarians' case. Gruber is acknowledged, by everyone, as an architect of the ACA. There is, to date, no evidence that he flogged the carrot/stick subsidies idea on Congress, and as Cannon writes in a piece at Forbes, Gruber has done hours of scoffing at the rationale behind Halbig. It just happens that in early 2012, when Cannon was barnstorming states to get them to avoid creating exchanges, Gruber was telling them they had better create exchanges or they wouldn't get subsidies.

July 24 2014 5:55 PM

An Instant-Classic “War on Women” Whiff

In a very well-reported piece for Politico, Alex Isenstadt vividly portrays how Virginia Del. Barbara Comstock parlayed her years in the anti-Clinton salt mines into a political career, and how obsessed Democrats are with beating her. Among the Democrats being quoted, Paul Begala says Comstock has an "almost sick, stalker-like obsession with President Clinton."

Peter Roff, a conservative activist and longtime U.S. News & World Report columnist, argues that Democrats are foul hypocrites if they don't apologize for Begala's sexism.

Sick? Stalker-like? Obsession? Begala would never say that about a man, but apparently thinks he can get away with using such loaded terms because Comstock’s a woman. It’s an attack that is without basis and is lower than low – but discrediting opponents, real and imagined, is what the Clinton spin machine is all about... Too many liberal men like Begala think they can engage in a war on conservative women because nobody ever tells them it’s wrong. They think they can say anything they want, cast any aspersion, make any crack and that folks will laugh – all the while subtly undermining the credibility of an accomplished woman like Comstock who refuses to stay on the feminist plantation.
Advertisement

You've got to love the "plantation" trope, which makes some sense in the black conservative context and literally none here. After all, the "REAL war on women" argument is different flavor, same food group as the "black voters should know that Democrats used to be racist" argument, which my colleague Jamelle Bouie frequently kicks around the room. There's no sexism whatsoever in attributing "stalker-like" behavior to Comstock.

Let us turn to page 208 of David Brock's memoir, Blinded by the Right.

Comstock invited me to go along on an expedition to the Washington home of senior White House aide David Watkins, the central figure in the travel scandal Olson and Comstock were probing. A short time later, Republican lawyers Comstock, Olson, and other congressional investigators, including David Bossie, and Whitewater investigator Christopher Bartomolucci, pulled up outside my house in an SUV. Though I wasn't sure what the group hoped to accomplish -- they were visibly frustrated with their inability so far to incriminate Watkins -- I went along for the ride. Olson explained that Congressman Sonny Bono had cleared us into the private, gated community where both Bono and Watkins lived, in the northwest section of Georgetown. When we arrived at our destination, Olsen giddily leapt from the truck, trespassed onto Watkins's property, and hopped down a steep cliff that abutted his home. Barbara peered into Watkins's window where she observed him -- watching television. No crime there.

Comstock had the tenacity of a PI. Democrats didn't like it. And the Watkins operation wasn't even what Begala was thinking of when he talked to Politico.

"Even I had forgotten that," says Begala. "But it is true that Barbara asked me if she had deposed me when we were at Mass."

Add to this the fact that women are roughly three times as likely to be stalked as men, and that it's mostly men who stalk women, and I don't think there's much left for every female Democrat to apologize for.

July 24 2014 4:50 PM

The Death of Immigration Reform in Two Rubio Family Quotes

Last year Time's great Miami-based reporter Michael Grunwald described a voicemail Marco Rubio's mother left for her son. (His full name is Marco Antonio Rubio, hence the "Tony.")

“Tony, some loving advice from the person who cares for you most in the world,” she said in Spanish. “Don’t mess with the immigrants, my son. Please, don’t mess with them.” She reminded him that undocumented Americans—los pobrecitos, she called them, the poor things—work hard and get treated horribly. “They’re human beings just like us, and they came for the same reasons we came. To work. To improve their lives. So please, don’t mess with them.”
Advertisement

One year, a few months, and a stalled immigration bill later, Alex Leary quotes Rubio:

The U.S. must also make clear that the Deferred Action program, or any law or policy for that matter, does not and will not apply to any recent arrivals. Furthermore, because the recent wave from Central America spiked after DACA was announced, it is in our interest to wind down this program. If you are not currently in it, you should not be eligible for it. For President Obama to raise hopes it may actually be unilaterally expanded is irresponsible and threatens to make this problem even worse.

As Leary explains, Rubio had favored a version of the DREAM Act in 2012, folded it into the 2013 reform, and has basically shrugged at the House Republicans' role in shelving the whole thing. While on the topic of Congress doing nothing even on issues that members claimed to be obsessed with solving, read Sam Stein.

July 24 2014 2:55 PM

Rand Paul and Paul Ryan Are Both Talking About Criminal Justice Reform. How Did That Happen?

My economics-minded colleagues are covering most of the details of Rep. Paul Ryan's long-awaited anti-poverty agenda. From the rundowns, I'll just focus on this:

Once people have paid their debt to society, they should be able to move on. In that spirit, this proposal suggests three possible reforms:
• Grant judges more flexibility within mandatory-minimum guidelines when sentencing non-violent drug offenders.
• Implement a risk- and needs-assessment system in federal prisons while expanding enrollment in rehabilitative programming to reduce recidivism. Allow non-violent and low-risk inmates to use enrollment to earn time off their prison stay towards prerelease custody.
• Partner with reforms at the state and local level.
Advertisement

OK, not terribly exciting, but it follows some explanations, produced by the office of a top Republican, of how "minority men are much more likely to serve time" and overincarceration has multigenerational impacts on poverty. Ryan released this one day after Sen. Rand Paul joined the Brennan Center (briefly) for a voting rights event, and talked through his idea of reducing more felonies to misdemeanors. 

Nearly all the time, it's worth being cynical about the outreach tours members of Congress take, and the speeches they give to unfamiliar constituencies. But Sen. Paul and Rep. Ryan had very similar experiences in African-American outreach. They stumbled initially, Paul with a slightly patronizing speech at Howard and Ryan with an accidentally glib description of the inner cities.

They kept at it. Paul and Ryan have held many more events with African-Americans, sometimes inviting press, sometimes not. They really have met black men whose lives were ruined because they made mistakes that suburban whites get away with all the time. Paul frequently cites the experience of a friend who went to jail for growing marijuana, and had his life ruined.

In other words ... they look sincere. Both men dabbled in immigration reform politics, and both have settled on other ways to appeal to black voters and poor whites. In a post-Obama, post-immigration-debacle polity, these might be more fruitful pursuits.

July 24 2014 11:50 AM

Where Have You Gone, Brian Schweitzer? A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You.

A full month has passed since Marin Cogan published the definitive 2014 profile of the much-interviewed Brian Schweitzer. Covering Schweitzer, who governed Montana from 2005 to 2013, was irresistable—he gave good quote, he was openly speculating about a 2016 presidential bid, and if your news organization had the ad revenue, he would usher you into the magical landscape of his state. (When Schweitzer was expected to run for Senate, one adviser told me to come up and ride a prop plane with the man himself. Needless to say, this isn't something you're offered if you're profiling Martin O'Malley.)

Cogan blew up the reporter gravy train. Actually, she got Schweitzer to put down his own controlled demolition. In interviews for the piece, Schweitzer basically said that Rep. Eric Cantor seemed gay ("men in the South, they are a little effeminate") and that Sen. Dianne Feinstein was a slut for the national security state ("standing under the streetlight with her dress pulled all the way up over her knees").

Advertisement

This damaged Schweitzer in a way none of his other quotes had damaged him. Ruby Cramer is the first reporter to survey the rubble, emptying her notebook from the times Schweitzer gave her quotes that seemed newsy if said by a 2016-er and just sort of sad if said by a has-been. Cramer's the first to point out just how bad Schweitzer's timing was. Days after his gaffes ...

Hillary Clinton was quoted in a newspaper saying she and her husband are not among the “truly well off,” and the political world rushed to wonder aloud how she could have ever said such a thing. Washington moved on. Schweitzer was suddenly laughable to the people who propped him up most — he had no place to show his skunk hide; no makeup artists to charm; no use, not at the moment, for the HD uplink, cell tower-powered, Israel-innovated, one-of-its-kind live-hit in-home studio at the end of his dirt road.

Has Schweitzer been that invisible? Yep. On June 17 he appeared on MSNBC's Ed Show, to talk about energy exploration and the Middle East. ("We keep tying economic interest to these unpredictable conflicts on the Middle East when we have all the power to do it here at home and we have all the people behind it.") On June 19, Cogan's profile went online. Schweitzer has not appeared on cable TV since then. He's contracted to MSNBC, and the network simply isn't using him. He has not slipped free of the contract to appear on CNN or Fox News. Actually, the only mention of Schweitzer on cable in the month of July came on Monday, when pollster Pat Caddell suggested Schweitzer would be a good candidate against Hillary Clinton.

Caddell is, of course, a shameless hack who is booked because he will say anything. He previously argued that Democrats needed to save their party by dumping Obama for Clinton. But the "booked because he will say anything" role belonged to Schweitzer just weeks ago. He's been silent as Clinton's been battered over her post-State speaking fees, and as ISIS swept into Iraq. Those are his issues!

I left Schweitzer a message, to figure this out and to, you know, give him a chance to weigh in on policy like he used to. But I suddenly remembered how there was literally zero buzz about Schweitzer at last weekend's Netroots Nation conference. Schweitzer had spoken at NN in the past (in 2010) and had been touted for years by progressive bloggers.

READ MORE STORIES