Part 3—Prepared to be dumb and dishonest: Did Allen and VandeHei have a point about some of the Romney coverage?
In our view, they pretty much did, especially if you restrict yourself to what the lads actually said. In their piece, they evaluated Standard Republican Claims about bias in campaign reporting.
Republican "cry bias" all the time, the lads said. But according to their article, this is the current Republican complaint, the one they said might have some merit:
ALLEN AND VANDEHEI (5/31/12): Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary to President George W. Bush, said the personal coverage of Romney is silly and won’t cut it with voters, but that he finds the media inconsistency with regards to covering Obama to be galling.Fleischer complained about “personal coverage” of Romney; he said this “personal coverage” is “silly.” Beyond that, he seemed to say that this personal coverage has been “sneering.”
“These stories are not unusual, except they were never done about then-Senator Obama in 2008,” Fleischer said. “The press never ran probing, sneering stories about candidate Obama, and yet The Washington Post and New York Times are on overtime covering who-cares stories about Mitt Romney.
“The press never ran probing, sneering stories about candidate Obama,” he said. And yet the Post and the Times have been penning such stories about Romney.
Is there a bit of a point to this critique? We’d have to say that there may be. Allen and VandeHei focused on GOP complaints about two recent front-page reports—a sprawling 5500-word report about Romney’s behavior in high school, and a 2300-word report about Ann Romney’s love for dressage.
In our view, the dressage report was utterly daft—and yes, you might see it as “sneering.” (Instantly, Joan Walsh started to sneer when she discussed the report.) The ginormous report about Romney’s bullying contained a remarkable bit of journalistic malpractice—and it concerned the candidate’s conduct from the year 1965.
Regarding the high school bullying story, we’ve long said this about that: If you’re going to say what a candidate did as a teen, you’d better say that he robbed six banks—and then shot all the tellers. We’ve said this because we don’t want to grant license to our “press corps” to go rooting around in the dim, distant past, exciting us rubes with thrilling tales about drug use and bad tattle-taling.
There’s a bit of background to this. Starting in 1984, the rules began to change about the topics the “press corps” was allowed to discuss. From that point on, The World’s Dumbest People have flooded the zone with stupid discussions of ludicrous topics, in which they’ve used their dishonesty skills to thrill us with various claims.
A few thrilling examples:
Candidate Gore was raised at the Ritz!By and large, our “journalists” tend to be stupid people; they’re empty, soul-less, dishonest, inane. It’s madness to broaden the scope of the topics they’re allowed to pretend to discuss. But now that we pseudo-liberals have stopped our long nap in the woods, we want to grant these life-forms this license, especially when they turn their skills against the hopefuls we hate.
Candidate Kerry went wind-surfing! He put the wrong cheese on his cheese-steak!
Bill Clinton says he didn’t inhale!
Why didn’t Michael Dukakis punch Bernie Shaw in the nose!
In the long run, this is madness. But we aren’t very smart and we’re rather dishonest, like those we once claimed to hate.
In our view, the Politico pair had a bit of a point, though others’ reactions might differ. But when our liberal leaders replied to their piece, consider the ways they performed:
Reactions from Chairman Marshall: The first reaction we saw came from the pen of Josh Marshall.
A decade ago, Marshall was one of our smartest journalists. Today, he’s a businessman hack. On the day the Politico piece appeared, he served us some fast comfort food:
MARSHALL (5/31/12): I woke up this morning to read an astonishingly bad piece of reporting/analysis from Politico, publicly chin scratching about the apparently massive press bias against the Romney campaign. But a piece in GQ sums it up better than I could so let me quote the key passage...Marshall called the piece “astonishingly bad.” But he never explained what was wrong with the piece, even as he pretended that it alleged “massive press bias against the Romney campaign.” Instead of supporting his insult, Marshall simply quoted GQ making assertions about Politico’s motives.
This work is straight from the Hannity realm. But then, we’re all Hannity now!
Reactions from Joan Walsh: The second reaction we read came from Salon’s Joan Walsh. She said the Politico piece was “deeply stupid.” Like Marshall, she focused on allegations of motive—and she dished the rock to GQ when it came time to explain:
WALSH (5/31/12): Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen have a really nice gig at Politico, so I don’t know why they’re trying out for a job with the Andrew Breitbart media empire. But that’s what their deeply stupid piece decrying media bias against Mitt Romney, particularly at The New York Times and Washington Post, reads like. It could be the latest installment of Breitbart’s whiny, posthumous “Nobody Vetted Obama So We Have to Do It by Printing Stuff We Know Is False!” investigative series.“The piece is just factually wrong,” Walsh wrote. Without quoting or explaining what the piece really says, she quickly cites one of the surveys in which the Project for Excellence attempts to quantify positive/negative coverage.
The piece is just factually wrong. First of all, the Project for Excellence in Journalism tracked Obama-Romney media coverage this year and found that the president received far more negative coverage than Romney did. GQ’s Devin Gordon took apart VandeHei and Allen here. He said everything I wanted to about the piece–most notably, the Times took the lead in reporting on Obama’s ties to Rev. Jeremiah Wright, starting with Jodi Kantor’s piece in April, 2007. Gordon found 2,950 references to Wright in the Times archives. Even if Gordon’s math is off by a factor of 10, that’s a lot of coverage.
Those surveys are dumbfoundingly worthless, as we've explained in the past. (If Romney wins a primary and a newspaper reports it, that’s listed as “positive coverage”—or at least, that’s how it has worked in the past.) All pundits know how to handle these surveys: Because we’re all Sean Hannity now, we cite them when they tilt our way, ignore them when they don’t.
But how about Gordon’s brilliant piece—the piece which said everything Walsh wants to say? Please note the comical way Walsh assembles her evidence:
According to Walsh, Gordon “found 2,950 references to Wright in the Times archives.” Like you, we don’t know what a “reference” is, and Walsh didn’t seem to have checked this claim out. In a wonderfully comical moment, she said that if Gordon is ten percent right, that’s close enough for her!
Close enough for journalistic work! Your “press corps” has clowned in such ways for decades. Joan Walsh is Sean Hannity now!
Reactions from Devin Gordon: How odd! We thought the Politico pair may have had a bit of a point—that there might be some semi-shaky work being directed at Romney. (Did you hear about the way he strapped his dog to the roof of the car?) But Marshall said their piece was “astonishingly bad.” Walsh called it “deeply stupid.”
Each tyro linked to Gordon’s report at GQ. Failing to see the amusement this piece might provide, our analysts raged on the moors when they saw what the gentleman wrote there.
For years, we’ve asked a basic question—how do these people get jobs as journalists? Including the fiery headline, here’s the way Gordon set out:
GORDON (5/31/12): Five Points About Politico's Hatchet Job On NYT and WaPoFirst, Gordon defines “the upshot” of the piece; he then invites us to guess which way the authors “supposedly lean.” That’s very fuzzy work, although it's all written in English.
Here's the piece, published this morning. The upshot: The political coverage of The New York Times and The Washington Post is "blatantly biased" in their vetting of Romney versus Obama. (Guess which way they supposedly lean.)
“Upshot” of the piece to the side, the authors say which way they lean, and Gordon proceeds to quote them. They say Republicans constantly "cry bias," but they also say the claim “often rings true.” They suggest that has been the case in those recent stories.
For ourselves, we’d challenge the (largely useless) word “often.” On balance, we'd say the press corps’ cosmic inanity has more often been directed at Democratic candidates in the past twenty years.
But Gordon is quickly refuting claims the Politico pair didn’t make. In the process, he gets to ignore the complaints they did make about the recent work:
GORDON: Ahem. Let's break this down.Is the Politico piece "about the relative fairness of candidate vetting?" Not exactly, no. In the main, it's a piece which says that some recent work has perhaps shown bias. Meanwhile, Tony Rezco’s name is “Rezko,” but then who’s keeping score?
(1) Any story about the relative fairness of candidate vetting that doesn't mention, even once, Jeremiah Wright or Bill Ayers (or even Obama's shady real estate pal Tony Rezco—remember him? Read all about him in The Times in March 2008!) cannot and should not be taken seriously. It displays right off the bat that its authors have fully swallowed the GOP meme that Obama's past wasn't sufficiently examined in 2008. So insufficiently, in fact, that even before Obama was his party's nominee he had to give a nationally televised speech disowning his former pastor. (Incidentially, The Times's Jodi Kantor wrote a long story about Obama's relationship with Wright in April 2007! A search of the Times's archives for Wright yields more than 2950 results.)
Did you “read all about Rezko” in the Times in March 2008? Not exactly. The Times reported on Rezko that month because he went on trial in Chicago, and because Obama told the Chicago Tribune on March 14 “that he had made repeated lapses of judgment in dealing with...Rezko and acknowledged that Mr. Rezko had raised more money for his political campaigns than he had previously disclosed.” (We're quoting the Times report.)
According to Nexis, the Times gave 356 words to Obama’s statements that day—and the Washington Post didn’t report them at all. In fact, the relative underplaying of that story stood in contrast to the decade of bogus coverage the “press corps” devoted to the Clintons’ Whitewater venture. But however one might judge the depth of the Rezko coverage, it’s hard to know what that has to do with Politico’s current critique of the recent Romney stories.
But so what? Just as Sean Hannity would, Gordon pretends that the Politico pair “have fully swallowed the GOP meme that Obama's past wasn't sufficiently examined in 2008.” However one might judge that claim about 2008, at no point do the pair say or imply that. But this gives Gordon an excellent way to delay discussing the recent reports, the ones they did discuss.
“Incidentially,” does a search of Times archives for Jeremiah Wright “yield more than 2950 results?” Depending on the way you search, it might yield more than that! Here's the way the "press corps" does research:
This morning, we searched on “Jeremiah Wright;” the Times archive claimed “about 2620 results.” Then we searched on “Jeremiah A. Wright.” This produced a claim of “about 17,100 results,” a substantially larger number.
But uh-oh! When we clicked on strings of these “results,” Wright wasn’t mentioned at all! Meanwhile, the Times site kept giving us this warning:
NEW YORK TIMES SITE: Having trouble finding what you're looking for? [Yes.] Try our advanced search while our archive is being re-indexed.Using the site known as “Nexis,” we find well fewer than 300 reports and columns in the Times which have ever cited Wright’s name even once. When Walsh hoped that Gordon might be ten percent right, she seems to have come very close!
This is the way your “press corps” works. It has worked this way for decades.
During Campaign 2008, did the Post and the Times cover Rezko and Wright correctly? Did they overplay these topics? Did they perhaps underplay them? These are matters of judgment—but these judgments have nothing to do with Allen and VandeHei’s stated judgment concerning the recent Romney stories.
Regarding those stories, we think the Politico pair had a bit of a point. But their point has nothing to do with past reporting on “Rezco.”
According to the increasingly hapless Walsh, Gordon said everything she wanted to say. But much of what Gordon said was inane. Consider the highlighted nuggets from points 3 and 4:
GORDON: (3) Politico dismisses Washington Post reporter (and, full disclosure, occasional GQ contributor) Jason Horowitz's Romney bullying story with a wave of its hand, not even entertaining the reasons why it struck such a chord, and why it so spooked the Romney team that it responded within hours the morning it was published. The reason is simple: lots of people read the story and thought, "Wow, I did a lot of dumb crap in high school but I never would've done that." The incident spoke to a core suspicion some seem to have about Romney, and that the Romney campaign is clearly worried about: that he's a rich guy with a nasty streak, and that's who he's always been. We can debate how much stock readers / voters should place in such a long-ago incident, but that's for readers / voters to ultimately decide. Surely we're not debating whether the story should've been published, are we, Politico?Good God! According to Gordon, one reason to publish a 5500-word front-page report is “to see how a campaign will respond to it!” (We didn’t make that up.) Meanwhile, as with all these “journalists,” Gordon says all these stories should be published. We should simply let the readers decide what to think about them.
(4) More on the bullying story: one crucial reason to publish a story like Horowitz's is to see how a campaign will respond to it. The response tends to be as revealing as the story that spawned it.
He gives no thought to the question of emphasis which lay at the heart of what the Politico pair wrote. Just publish it all, he says! Put the wind-surfing on the front page! The readers will figure it out!
Did Allen and VandeHei say or suggest that the bullying story “shouldn’t have been published?” Well actually no—they didn’t. They questioned the gigantic play it was given, especially as compared to the story of high school drug use.
In our view, they had a bit of a point. That said, you can’t really disagree with their view until you explain what they actually said—and until you stop discussing other, more pleasing topics.
Reactions from Weigel and Digby: Gordon’s piece was utterly daft, but Marshall and Walsh loved it. In a similar vein, Dave Weigel offered some comical thoughts at Slate.
Did the Post put the high school story on its front page? Did the Times put dressage on the front page too? According to Weigel, no one should care about piffle like that! Try to believe that he typed it:
WEIGEL (5/31/12): Who, in the news cycles of 2012, cares what page an article appears on? Campaigns care if the Post or the Times covers a story. They shoot out e-mails informing reporters that the Post or the Times covered said story. These e-mails rarely make reference of what page the stories appeared on because reporters are going to read them online.That’s so foolish, and so self-involved, that we won’t bother explaining. In closing, we’ll extend some praise to Digby for saying what she actually meant.
Filling in for Kevin Drum, Digby did engage in a bit of misdirection. She focused on what Ari Fleischer was quoted saying, not on the judgments expressed by the Politico pair.
Eventually, though, she said what she meant. We compliment her for her candor, though we strongly disagree with her judgment, which we think is amazingly bad:
DIGBY (5/31/12): The difference between the stories about Kerry's and Romney's wealth and Obama's is quite simple: the Obamas weren't wealthy by comparison. (Poor Al Gore was the one who was treated most shabbily, with a GOP-concocted tale of childhood wealth that wasn't true.) And in this campaign, at this time of economic stress, the fact that Romney is extremely wealthy—and from a form of capitalism that is under extreme scrutiny—is a very relevant story. More relevant than usual, I'd say.Allen and VandeHei didn’t say that newspapers should have focused more on Obama’s wealth. They said the recent stories about dressage and bullying made Republican cries of bias “ring true.”
The Republicans are playing the refs and they are good at it. (And Politico sure seems to love a polarizing media story, all the more if it implicates its rivals.) But this is one time when a close look at a candidate's wealthy lifestyle and how he acquired it is important. We're in a new gilded age suffering from the aftermath of a Wall Street meltdown perpetrated by wealthy gamblers and vulture capitalists like Mitt Romney. It would be journalistic malpractice not to examine that. If the GOP doesn't want the American people to know that they are in the grips of the wealthy financial elite, perhaps they shouldn't have nominated one of their poster boys as their candidate.
In this passage, Digby seems to imply that the dressage and/or bullying stories were intended to make us aware of Romney’s wealth. We will guess that the Post and the Times wouldn’t cop to that motive. But that seems to be what Digby thinks; she seems to think the dressage story belonged on page one for this very reason.
In our view, Digby’s analysis is tragic. For ourselves, we would have no problem with a very long front-page report which explicitly reports Romney’s wealth. Indeed, we have begged these newspapers to do more reporting about the way he attained this wealth.
Digby doesn’t seem to have noticed that these papers are working quite hard to avoid this task.
We would love to see these papers report on Romney’s wealth. But Digby has a more foolish idea; she wants them to pimp this topic with subterranean tales about dressage, and even wind-surfing. Let us explain:
Because we’re all Sean Hannity now, we have to pretend that any story about The Hopeful We Hate is good and pure and noble.
This even leads Digby to defend the crap that was pimped about Wealthy Old Kerry! Darlings! All that wind-surfing that he did! And that home on Nantucket!
And that horrible wife of his, the one with too much money!
Back in the day, the "press corps" engaged in stupid shit about Kerry. But now that they're working their stupid shit with Romney, we find ourselves saying that it was OK when they did Kerry like that. We should hear about Romney's wealth, Digby cries, ignoring the fact that the Post and the Times are trying very very hard to avoid certain parts of that topic.
All too often, the life-forms at the Post and the Time come from a very low order. They aren’t very smart and they aren’t very honest. They do enjoy making shit up.
In the past twenty years, they have done tremendous damage to progressive interests. That leads to a fairly obvious question:
What kind of progressive wants to give these life-forms even more license? Truly, we’re all Sean Hannity now! In pursuit of our short-term tribal aims, we’re all prepared to scrounge around posing as dumb and dishonest!
Tomorrow: Did the boys perhaps have a point? Solomon’s next step