Part 2—Did they have a point: Did Allen and VandeHei have a point about the election coverage?
We speak of Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, the well-known Politico majordomos. Last week, the pundit pair authored this semi-lengthy piece concerning the way the two major candidates, Obama and Romney, are currently getting covered.
Did Allen and VandeHei have a point about the current coverage? By the emerging rules of the game, we liberals found ourselves forced to say that their claims were dumbsillyabsurd.
As we liberals have finally emerged from the woods and constructed our own pseudo-liberal culture, we increasingly build counterparts to the shout machines of the right. And uh-oh! Allen and VandeHei suggested the possibility that Romney has been encountering a bit of “bias” from some of our major press organs!
By the emerging rules of the game, we liberals were forced to adopt the Hannity role. We had to shout, sometimes in silly ways, about how absurd this absurd notion was.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at some liberal reactions to the pundit pair’s pronouncements. For ourselves, we’d have to say the Politico pair did in fact have a bit of a point, especially if we limit ourselves to the things they actually said.
What did the pundit pair actually say? Their article ran beneath a headline which referenced the GOP’s current perspective. “To GOP, blatant bias in vetting,” the headline said.
The gents cited several high-profile reports about which Republicans have been complaining. Before too long, they cited their own view about this familiar boo-hooing.
In our view, the boys had a bit of a point, although there’s room for varying views about the reports in question:
ALLEN AND VANDEHEI (5/31/12): Republicans cry “bias” so often it feels like a campaign theme. It is, largely because it fires up conservatives and diminishes the punch of legitimate investigative or narrative journalism. But it also is because it often rings true, even to people who don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh–or Haley Barbour.Republicans constantly cry bias, the pundit pair correctly noted. At present, the complaint “rings true,” they seemed to suggest, referring to the recent coverage of Ann Romney’s dressage, Mitt Romney’s high-school bullying and Obama’s “prolific, college-age dope-smoking”—the story David Maraniss reported, which actually took us back to the president’s high school days.
It’s certainly hard to argue that the Romneys’ horse-riding habits today are worse than the Maraniss revelations, which have gotten little mainstream coverage.
And the horse-riding story came a few weeks after a second story that made Republicans see red–another front-pager, this time in the Washington Post, that hit Mitt Romney for bullying a kid who might have been gay, in high school nearly a half-century ago. The clear implication to readers: Romney was a mean, insensitive jerk.
Has the treatment of those stories suggested the possibility of bias? As they continued, the tyros defended the fact that these topics were reported. They challenged the degree of emphasis these topics were given.
In one way, we think what follows is silly. In another way, we’d say the boys have a bit of a point:
ALLEN AND VANDEHEI: The reality is that presidential nominees get every chapter of their lives exhumed and prodded–and should. And The Post story, by Jason Horowitz (“Romney’s pranks could go too far”), alleges more than harmless hijinks: It reported that Romney was part of a group that held down a kid they believed to be gay and chopped off some hair, an incident several involved said they feel ashamed about until this day.The pundit pair defend the fact that the bullying story was reported. Indeed, they affirm the idea that nominees should have “every chapter of their lives exhumed and prodded.” Their complaint concerns the emphasis the Post gave this story—an emphasis they compare to the way the Maraniss report got downplayed in the Post.
But the 5,500-word account was invested with far more significance than it merited, and is more voyeuristic than relevant to assessing Romney’s readiness for office.
We think the lads have a point. The bullying story got mammoth treatment; it started on the Post’s (Sunday) front page, then ate several pages inside the paper. By way of contrast, Maraniss’ report about Obama’s drug use was lightly glossed in a page 6 (Saturday) story which ran 461 words.
Meanwhile, Ann Romney’s dressage rated 2300 words on the front page of the (Sunday) Times. Was the story worth reporting at all? If so, did it rate that kind of coverage?
For ourselves, we think the pundit pair's basic premise is baldly absurd. Is it really true? Should “presidential nominees get every chapter of their lives exhumed and prodded?” Plainly, we think the answer is no; we also think it’s abundantly clear that the ethos the boys affirm here has been a tool, in past elections, for a kind of agenda-driven pseudo-reporting which has badly harmed major Democrats.
In 1999, this same Maraniss reported the fact that Candidate Gore, when he was age 6 or so, was “an egregious little tattle-tale,” a child who had a “compulsion to adhere to the expected order” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/17/12). Should that chapter of the candidate’s life have been “exhumed and prodded?”
Alas! When journalists grant themselves the right—the obligation—to exhume and prod every chapter, they’re paving the way to mischief. This is especially true when someone like Solomon defines the ethos as he was quoted doing in a published interview:
ALLEN AND VANDEHEI: Regarding that debate—over whether it’s relevant to revisit an episode from Romney’s high-school days—Horowitz told GQ in an interview: “Yeah, I think that’s a fine debate to have. But I also think it’s good to have something to debate about, and the material for people to make their decisions upon. My feeling is my job, if somebody’s running for president, is to know as much about him or her as possible and what people find relevant or not relevant is fine, but my job is to put as much out there as voters can know.”Horowitz may have said more, but let’s consider what he said in the interview as it was published. According to Horowitz, reporters should “put as much out there” as possible about the nominees. He offers no thoughts about the idea that some “knowledge” about a nominee may be highly relevant, while some “knowledge” may be only marginally relevant, or of no relevance at all.
Could some knowledge be “more prejudicial than probative?” Not as the journalist’s task is defined here! Meanwhile, Horowitz fails to note the point the pundit pair would later push. For whatever reason, the Post decided that knowledge of Romney’s high school conduct deserved 5500 words of (front-page) treatment, while knowledge about Obama’s drug use rated just 461 words.
Plainly, the Post did not “put as much out there as voters can know” concerning Obama’s youthful drug use. We think their judgment was good in this case, but what about the stirring ethic Horowitz defines in this interview?
For ourselves, we think the slender coverage of the drug use was appropriate. It’s the sprawling treatment of Romney’s high school conduct which raises a point of concern, especially given a remarkable journalistic point the Politico pair didn’t mention:
Right in the opening paragraph of his bullying piece, Solomon plainly suggested that Romney’s bullying may have been occasioned by anti-gay bias (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/16/12). This suggestion tended to get big play wherever this tale was retold.
Remarkably, though, there is no evidence in Solomon’s article that this suggestion is true. Solomon spoke with a long list of people who witnessed or took part in the bullying incident; several of the participants expressed great remorse for what they had done (in 1965). But none of them was quoted saying anything about any anti-gay bias. No one was quoted saying that anybody even thought that the victim, John Lauber, was gay.
Since Solomon had 5500 words at his disposal, this was an astonishing journalistic failure. Given the times, it’s unsurprising that Allen and VandeHei failed to notice this malpractice, even in a lengthy piece suggesting possible bias on the part of the Post.
Was Ann Romney’s dressage worth 2300 words on the Times front page? Did the bullying story rate 5500 words? Like the Politico pundit pair, we too were struck by the limited way the drug story got covered, in light of the sprawling treatment devoted to these other reports.
For our money, the drug story was worth extremely few words; Ann Romney’s dressage was worth even less. That said, was the bullying story worth 5500? If it was, why did it start with an inflammatory suggestion—a suggestion which was backed by no evidence at all?
This was stunning journalistic misconduct. Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen it mentioned nowhere. Alas! When you (rather dumbly) think that every chapter has to be prodded, your standards of proof may start to slide. We don’t live in a bright age.
Like the Politico pundit pair, we found ourselves wondering about the treatment of these topics. For that reason, we though the boys had a bit of a point in their much-reviled article. Of course, we’ve also wondered why the Post and the Times keep failing to report about Mitt Romney’s conduct at Bain, especially about the reported looting of the pensions of steel workers.
Of course, that is a question few will ask in these unfortunate times.
Tomorrow: Response from the new liberal world
Thursday: Solomon does Mormon