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Fiscal-Cliff Countdown

No Deal, But Plenty of Blame

Both sides are playing blame-game politics, with no budget deal in sight just days before the year-end deadline. Why Washington lacks the will to avoid the train wreck.

There was a brief burst of optimism after Barack Obama’s reelection that Democrats and Republicans would finally go the grownup route and avert the so-called fiscal cliff.

Fiscal Cliff Congress

Hopes brightened again when John Boehner moved off his no-new-taxes-ever stance, agreeing to boost rates on millionaires, and Obama raised the income threshold on those who would be affected to $400,000 from $250,000. At last it seemed that rationality would prevail in Washington.

Nope.

What Fiscal Crisis?

A Cliff Overshadowed by Tragedy

The horror of Newtown has made the budget crisis appear small. Howard Kurtz on why both Democrats and the GOP are suddenly keen to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Maybe it was just a coincidence.

Maybe both sides were just posturing before the inevitable deal-making began.

Boehner

Boehner has announced that he is moving to a “Plan B” to solve the fiscal-cliff issue. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

But I believe the Newtown tragedy had an impact, however subtle, on the endless fiscal-cliff negotiations.

Ex-CNN executive demands bold response to Newtown shootings

Frank Sesno, who runs the journalism school at George Washington University, has a challenge for the media.

He says the school massacre in Newtown calls for nothing less than a full-fledged media agenda on guns and violence.

“I mean an agenda in terms of an attention span,” he tells me in a video interview. “Our agenda should be to recognize that this is a deep, complicated, hugely emotional and constitutional issue.”

NBC correspondent and crew subjected to psychological torture

NBC’s Richard Engel emerged safe on Tuesday after a five-day kidnapping ordeal in Syria in which he never knew whether he was about to be shot to death.

The chilling details serve as a stark reminder that western journalists who operate in war zones, especially in the Middle East, are risking their lives.

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Charles Sykes/AP

"We weren't physically beaten or tortured. It was a lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed," Engel told the Today show from Turkey.

More women see a broader societal problem

A striking gender gap has emerged in the way that people are reacting to the horror of the Newtown school shootings.

By a margin of 54 to 37 percent, women say the Connecticut massacre reflects broader problems in society. But men, by a 51 to 39 percent margin, say such shootings are the isolated acts of troubled individuals.

That’s according to a Pew Research Center survey that provides the first detailed snapshot of public reaction to Friday’s tragedy.

There is a partisan tilt as well, with 54 percent of Democrats saying such shootings reflect societal problems, and 49 percent of Republicans blaming troubled individuals. College graduates (54 percent) were also more likely than those with no more than a high school degree (42 percent) to blame the broader problems of society.

Senator, Scarborough say Newtown school massacre changed everything

There are tentative signs that the heart-rending tragedy in Connecticut is starting to change America’s conversation about guns.

These are early glimmers, and it may or may not lead to legislation in a Congress that has been staunchly opposed to gun control for nearly two decades. But some in that camp are rethinking their positions.

Joe Manchin

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat endorsed by the NRA, said on Morning Joe on Monday that “everything should be on the table.”

Where's The Press?

Time for a Media Agenda on Guns?

The coverage briefly surges after each mass shooting but quickly recedes. Howard Kurtz on why the press should lead a national debate.

One of my television guests didn’t pull punches in the wake of the Connecticut school shootings.

On ‘Meet The Press,’ New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the NRA's power was “overrated.”

“There needs to be a real media agenda here,” Frank Sesno, director of George Washington’s School of Media and Public Affairs, told me on CNN.

A media agenda—the phrase sounds like a crusade in which committed journalists won’t rest until politicians are pressured into passing stricter gun-control laws. That’s not how Sesno frames it.

Repercussions

Watershed for Gun Control?

The president's emotional reaction to the Connecticut shootings has gun-control advocates hopeful—but the White House is already downplaying his response. Howard Kurtz reports.

White House officials could not help but notice how grim President Obama looked after news of the Connecticut school shootings reached the White House.

U.S. Capitol

The flag at the Capitol flies at half staff after the Newtown shooting. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

“It was the most emotional I’ve ever seen him,” one said.

In perhaps the most stirring moment of his tenure, Obama shed his usual steely resolve and wiped away tears as he addressed the nation on Friday about the tragedy. He even ad-libbed his closing words, quoting Scripture about the need to “heal the broken-hearted and bind up their wounds.”

Initial reports on TV, online named suspect's brother

In the saturation coverage that followed the Connecticut school massacre, some in the media made an awful mistake.

While fragmentary reports after a mass shooting are often marked by errors, it is difficult to imagine a worse blunder than identifying the wrong man as the killer.

It began on social media, which reported that Ryan Lanza, the 24-year-old son of a teacher, was the shooter. Images of Lanza’s Facebook profile spread across the web. (The media wrongly reported that Lanza's mother taught at the Newtown elementary school, a mistake that was initially repeated here.)

CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and CBS reported that Lanza was the shooting suspect. So did Slate and the Huffington Post. “Ryan Lanza Facebook Page Shows Suggestive Details of Apparent Newtown, Connecticut Shooting Suspect,” said the HuffPost headline. Some reports attributed the information to investigators.

On CNN's 'Starting Point,' The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz and Daily Download's Lauren Ashburn debate whether the new film 'Zero Dark Thirty' has an obligation to portray events and people involved as close to real life as possible.

Whit Ayres says alienation of Hispanics could relegate Republican Party to irrelevance

A new study by a Republican pollster says the GOP is on “a route to political irrelevance” unless the party can find a way to repair its battered image among Hispanic voters.

The survey by veteran Republican strategist Whit Ayres and the Hispanic Leadership Network’s Jennifer Sevilla Korn minces no words, saying the party’s candidates have simply “run out of persuadable white voters.”

That the GOP is facing this kind of demographic time bomb is hardly breaking news. It was obvious during a presidential campaign in which Mitt Romney called for illegal immigrants to “self-deport” that the contenders, with the exception of Newt Gingrich, were trying to outflank each other on the right. But to have a respected party voice like Ayres assess the situation so harshly has got to be an eye-opener.

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Latino protesters march by the hotel where US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is scheduled to attend a fundraising event in Salt Lake City, Utah on September 18, 2012. (Nicholas Kamm / Getty Images)

David Ignatius sees missteps in president's foreign policy

David Ignatius, the Washington Post columnist, is not impressed with President Obama’s handling of Syria.

“He has been awfully slow,” Ignatius tells me in a video interview.

Why didn’t Obama, who finally recognized the Syrian opposition this week, move more quickly to help topple the Assad regime?

“There’s nothing that would have prevented the U.S. from working harder to help build the muscle tissue of a solid command and control structure that could win, but that seems to be happening without our help,” Ignatius says.

New poll shows public siding with president by huge margin

President Obama is crushing John Boehner in the fiscal cliff battle—at least in the polls.

An ABC/Washington Post survey out this morning finds 49 percent of those questioned approving of Obama’s handling of the budget negotiations, compared with 42 percent who disapprove.

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Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Now look at the House speaker’s numbers: Some 49 percent disapprove of his performance, with only 25 percent giving a thumbs up.

Matt Lewis says the party is trapped in a no-win situation

Conservative columnist Matt Lewis doesn’t sound inebriated as he assesses the staggered state of the GOP.

Daily Caller columnist Matt Lewis tells Howard Kurtz that the GOP ‘is sort of like a drunk that needs to hit rock bottom.’

“The Republican Party is sort of like a drunk that needs to hit rock bottom,” he tells me in a video interview.

A columnist for the Daily Caller and The Week, Lewis agrees with Joe Scarborough and Bill Kristol that there is a conservative “racket,” which includes “the same old guys” who keep getting hired as political consultants.

Faux Crisis

The Fiscal Cliff Is a Snooze

The debt-ceiling showdown, which threatened to send the country into default, kept us enthralled. But the fiscal cliff won’t plunge us into a recession on Jan. 1. Howard Kurtz on the mass tune-out.

From the outside, it must appear that Washington is gripped by high drama as the country faces the daunting prospect of plunging over the fiscal cliff.

Um, not exactly.

We’re as bored as the rest of the country. People aren’t chatting about this at the coffee machine or arguing the angles over lunch. The cliff notes are just background noise, humming along at far lower volume than the roar that greeted Robert Griffin III’s latest Redskins performance.

About the Author

Author headshot

Howard Kurtz

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast and Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, and writes the Spin Cycle blog. He also hosts CNN’s weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.

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