If you read all the way to the end, you learn that Romney was wrong: We’ve often said the news is a novel.
Sometimes, it’s more like a dream state. Chronology may get tangled up. Familiar events may appear, but they’re strangely out of place.
So it seemed when we scanned page A15 of this morning’s New York Times. Were we back in 2009? Perhaps in 2008? This was the headline which sprawled across the top of the page:
“Conservatives Sowed Idea of Health Care Mandate, Only to Spurn It Later”
It isn’t Michael Cooper’s fault. But his report seems to have emerged through a worm hole.
Good grief! We don’t see anything “wrong” with Cooper's report. But the Times has arrived at the scene of the fire, tires squealing, about three years too late! The topics Cooper discusses have been old hat on the web for years.
Today, these topics arrive in the Times, in something resembling a dream state.
Readers of the New York Times think they subscribe to the nation’s most informative paper. This morning, do they know that they’re getting their information three years after its due date? In a rational world, Newt Gingrich’s very recent endorsements of a mandate should be explained in much more detail; this should have happened months ago. But overall, this morning's report is just amazingly late.
We had a somewhat similar reaction to this report by Michael Shear, a report which is much more current.
Shear reports on Mitt Romney’s past stance regarding the auto bailout—more specifically, on the stance he took in November 2008. Can we talk? This really isn’t a complex story—except at the New York Times, where everything’s hard to explain:
SHEAR (2/15/12): Mr. Romney’s explanation is a complicated one, especially given the industry’s remarkable turnaround in the last three years.Maybe we’re being too critical here. But Romney’s explanation just isn’t “complicated.” He says the restructuring would have gone better without the “bailout” (read the full piece). Obama says that’s bunk.
Mr. Romney says he always favored what he calls a “managed bankruptcy” for the auto companies that would have allowed the businesses to restructure and emerge stronger than before. He criticized Mr. Obama for choosing what he called a “bailout” of the industry that benefited big labor unions.
But Mr. Romney next acknowledges that General Motors and Chrysler did in fact go through a “managed bankruptcy” at the urging of Mr. Obama’s administration—and he takes credit for being the one to have the idea first.
That simply isn’t complicated, though Shear was eager to warn his readers about the shoals which lie ahead. And by the way: One major part of this story isn’t complicated at all. And it’s extremely salient, given Romney’s repeated claim to financial expertise.
This part of the story is very basic. But Shear buries it deep in his piece, starting in paragraph 18:
SHEAR: Democrats also accuse Mr. Romney of trying to rewrite the history of his earlier positions.Obviously, that prediction by Romney was just flat wrong. Mitt Romney, the famous turn-around genius, was totally wrong about that. We don’t know why readers had to fight all the way to paragraph 18 to learn such a basic fact.
In the first paragraph of his 2008 opinion article, Mr. Romney made an unmistakable prediction: “If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.”
In fairness, Shear deserves credit for citing that passage, which is highly salient. By happenstance, we reread Romney’s column last week. We too were instantly struck by that blatantly bungled prediction.
That said, this story just isn’t complex. Except at our greatest newspaper, where almost everything seems “complicated”—where the news may arrive three years late, with readers being warned to fear the confusion ahead.