Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Are Sarah Palin's Emails Proof of Literary Greatness?

| Fri Jun. 17, 2011 8:50 AM PDT

One week ago today, the MoJo DC bureau was consumed by the arrival of Sarah Palin's emails covering the first half of her half-term as Alaska's governor. As David Corn detailed, there were plenty of interesting discoveries—a less than chilly attitude toward climate change, for instance, and a sometimes obsessive attitude toward media critics (marginal and otherwise).

While we were poring over the documents, though, Michael McLaughlin of AOL's Weird News was taking a different approach:

AOL Weird News brought samples to two writing analysts who independently evaluated 24,000 pages of the former governor's emails. They came back in agreement that Palin composed her messages at an [8.5] level, an excellent score for a chief executive, they said...

"She's very concise. She gives clear orders. Her sentences and punctuations are logical," Payack said. "She has much more of a disciplined mind than she's given credit for."

Although it's like comparing apples to oranges, Payack said that famous speeches like Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was a 9.1 and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" oration rated a 8.8 on the scale.

Having read several thousand pages of the Palin emails, I think apples and oranges might be a bit of an understatement here. But there's also a bit of truth there: Palin's written communications are noticeably more coherent than her efforts to explain herself verbally (witness: Paul Revere-gate). 

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Meet the Right's New Agent of Intolerance

| Fri Jun. 17, 2011 7:33 AM PDT

With Texas Gov. Rick Perry teaming up with the American Family Association (considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) for a mega-event in Houston next August, the liberal watchdog group People for the American Way is out with a new report looking at one of the group's leading lights—issues director Bryan Fischer. Fischer, as we've previously noted, has used his radio show, Focal Point, and column to articulate a fiercely anti-gay agenda; he's called gays "Nazis" and advocated for the criminalization of homosexuality. (He shares the same disdain, incidentally, for grizzly bears and killer whales.) It's a pretty comprehensive report. Here's a sample:

Fischer's roots in anti-gay bigotry go back to his days as head of the Idaho Values Alliance, when he promoted Scott Lively, the former head of AFA’s California chapter. Lively's book, The Pink Swastika, blames gays for the rise of fascism and the Holocaust.

On Focal Point, Fischer not only defends Lively, but espouses the view that gays were responsible for the Nazi Party and the Holocaust. According to Fischer:

"Hitler recruited around him homosexuals to make up his stormtroopers, they were his enforces, they were his thugs, and Hitler discovered that he could not get straight soldiers to be savage, and brutal, and vicious enough to carryout his orders, but that homosexual soldiers basically had no limits in the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict on whoever Hitler sent them after. So he surrounded himself, virtually all of the stormtroopers, the brownshirts, were male homosexuals."

I would just add, riffing off of what Dave Weigel wrote earlier this week about Michele Bachmann, that it's important to understand Fischer isn't simply going off the rails when he says things like this. What makes him such a powerful advocate is that his message is actually steeped in loads and loads of research—not accurate research, mind you, but research nonetheless. Through books like The Pink Swastika, or the collected works of David Barton, there's a carefully crafted alternative historical narrative that give Fischer's incendiary views the illusion of legitimacy. The result is a remarkably potent and durable echo chamber, buttressed even further, as the report notes, by Fischer's cheery relationship with prominent conservatives like Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty (both of whom have appeared on Focal Point).

Advice for President Obama: Don't Listen to Mark Penn

| Thu Jun. 16, 2011 6:12 AM PDT

Outside of his inner circle, few Americans did as much to put Barack Obama in the White House as Mark Penn. It was Penn, you may remember, mapped out then-Sen. Hillary Clinton entire campaign strategy without taking into account the small fact that convention delegates were allocated proportionately and not winner-take-all. The result was that the Clinton campaign poured most of its resources into a few big states where it barely broke even on delegates, while Obama was able to build an insurmountable delegate lead by competing everywhere else. Math!

Now Penn is back—this time with advice for President Obama in a GQ interview on how to avoid embarrassing himself next November. Among other things he believes the President should downplay one of his singular national security accomplishments—killing Osama bin Laden—and consciously refrain from undertaking similar operations:

He's already mentioning it in speeches, and he has to stop. Never ever put the Osama mission in political terms. People are going to want him to put this in ads. Don't. Everybody knows he did a great job! This was a different kind of thing for sure, but after impeachment was over, Joe Lockhart had this great phrase: 'We're in a gloat-free zone.' The president's gotta stay in a gloat-free zone...

Obviously he took the biggest risk of his presidency with the Osama operation, and it completely paid off. He was right. But watch out now for overconfidence. Don't try this again with Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban. The next risk could end up being a disaster that is very difficult to recover from. Sometimes I think Bush got into Iraq because the original Afghanistan mission seemed to go so easily—and he wound up with something that defined the rest of his presidency.

I'd love to meet the Obama voter who decides that he's going to vote for Mitt Romney instead because, back in early 2011, the President gave a few speeches in he which he mentioned the successful resolution of a 10-year man-hunt for the most universally hated man in American history. (Perhaps he's one of Penn's vaunted Micro-trend demographics?) Anyway, the whole interview is not very long, but I'll make it even shorter for you: The simplest way for President Obama to embarrass himself next November is to start asking Mark Penn for advice.

Michele Bachmann's Fact-Checking Pays Off

| Wed Jun. 15, 2011 6:04 AM PDT

Last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann's campaign manager, Ed Rollins, caused a bit of a stir when he promised that everything his candidate says on the trail will be "100-percent fact-checked." This seemed like a pretty daunting challenge; we noted at the time that the non-partisan fact-checking site PolitiFact had never fact-checked a Bachmann statement and found it to be anything but "false" or "very false"—the only major political figure for which that was the case.

No longer. Via PolitiFact:

Michele Bachmann said she would not support increasing the debt ceiling if it didn't include major reductions in government spending. 

"I've already voted no on raising the debt ceiling in the past. And unless there are serious cuts, I can't," she said at debate June 13, 2011, in New Hampshire...

Bachmann said Obama refused to approve an increase in the debt limit when he was a senator, and that he blamed President Bush for failed leadership, as well as Bush's supporters in Congress. She's right on both counts, and we rate her statement True. 

Clearly, Rollins' political savvy is paying off.

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