Adopting Fawn Brodie’s procedures: Early next year, our nation will embark on it latest White House campaign.
The two-year campaign will be endless. Increasingly, the coverage of these campaigns is built around journalistic cartoons.
Did we see one such cartoon growing again in today’s New York Times?
Chelsea Clinton is leaving her post at NBC News. This is a strikingly trivial matter.
That said, did we spot a certain cartoon in the Times? Headline included, Amy Chozick’s news report started like this:
CHOZICK (8/30/14): Chelsea Clinton to Leave Well-Paid NBC News JobIn the headline and in the first paragraph, readers were instantly told that Clinton’s position at NBC was “lucrative” and “well-paid.”
Less than three years after she embarked on a new and lucrative career as an NBC News special correspondent, Chelsea Clinton said on Friday that she would leave that position.
In a letter posted on her Facebook page, Ms. Clinton said she had decided to depart NBC News to focus on philanthropic work at the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. She and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, are also expecting their first child this fall. At the same time, her mother, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is mulling a presidential bid in 2016.
Such statements can’t be said to be false. Nor is it clear why this assessment appears right in the headline.
Is Chozick extending the newest cartoon? Before long, she composes a passage which does strike us as misleading or false:
CHOZICK: Ms. Clinton’s tenure at the news outlet was not a smooth one, less because of her feel-good reports than because a media-shy first daughter was hired as a television journalist earning a six-figure salary. (In 2009, NBC News hired Jenna Bush Hager, a daughter of former President George W. Bush, as a special correspondent for the “Today” show, drawing similar criticism.)That paragraph makes suggestions and claims which strike us as inaccurate:
To some, that passage may suggest that the criticism of Clinton’s tenure came at the point of her hiring. In fact, the criticism which Chozick is surfing came several years later, when it was reported, without confirmation, that Clinton was being paid $600,000 per year.
As far as we know, there has been no “similar criticism” of Jenna Bush, which is fine by us. In a quick and yet still tedious search, we found no news reports about Bush’s salary, and very little speculation about that tedious subject.
Chelsea Clinton was paid too much money! As we noted yesterday, a cartoon seems to be forming around the potential candidate who is Clinton’s mother.
Candidate Gore just couldn’t stop lying. It’s beginning to seem that a Candidate Clinton is going have too much dough.
As everyone knows (but careerists won’t say), the press corps’ cartoon about Candidate Gore ended up changing world history. By way of contrast, this growing cartoon about Candidate Clinton may have no major effect.
That said, our major journalists certainly love their cartoons! In March 2000, the Washington Post’s ombudsman, E. R. Shipp, used a different terminology to describe this low-IQ process.
We’ve quoted this passage many times. Needless to say, the entire press corps ignored it (headline included):
SHIPP (3/5/00): Typecasting CandidatesIn that passage, Shipp described the way the Post was fashioning four cartoons, one of which made a “whipping boy” of the Democratic front-runner. (The headline called this “typecasting.”)
The Post provides its share of "who's winning the horse race" stories and those that dissect a candidate's strategy—the "insider" stuff that many readers tell pollsters they could do without, thank you.
But The Post has gone beyond that kind of reporting in favor of articles that try to offer context—and even conjecture—about the candidates' motives in seeking the office of president. And readers react—sometimes in a nonpartisan way, more often not—to roles that The Post seems to have assigned to the actors in this unfolding political drama. Gore is the guy in search of an identity; Bradley is the Zen-like intellectual in search of a political strategy; McCain is the war hero who speaks off the cuff and is, thus, a "maverick"; and Bush is a lightweight with a famous name, and has the blessings of the party establishment and lots of money in his war chest. As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.
As Shipp continued, she described some ways in which the Post had portrayed Gore as a “delusional” liar. She explicitly cited erroneous news reports in the Post.
That portrait of Gore was a deadly cartoon. Routinely, it was built out of blatantly inaccurate reporting. People are dead all over the world because the Post (and the rest of the corps) behaved that way for two years.
The “Clinton has too much money” cartoon seems tame by comparison. But make no mistake—Chozick has started to push that cartoon into her news reports.
When did this culture of cartooning take hold in the national press? In the last few days, we’ve continued to marvel at this culture as we’ve perused a pair of high-profile books.
We refer to Rick Perlstein’s 2008 best-seller, Nixonland. Also to Fawn Brodie’s 1981 “psychobiography,” Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character, one of Perlstein’s principal sources.
We’ve been amazed by Perlstein’s portraits of the young Nixon and his parents, but Brodie’s cartooning came first. Because she was a major figure, it’s amazing to see the ludicrous ways she arrived at her various judgments—which, to be fair, were often less demonized than those of her successor.
At some point, we’ll be returning to the portraits penned by these two writers. To our surprise, we do see an important theme in Brodie’s book which transmigrated into the coverage of Candidate Gore, eighteen years later.
Quite routinely, on page after page, Brodie’s work in her bio of Nixon was blatantly absurd. It’s stunning to think that journalistic and academic elites tolerated such ludicrous chains of reasoning in real time. It’s even more surprising to see Perlstein hailing Brodie thirty years later.
Cartoons abound in both books. Unless it’s entertainment we seek, this is a dangerous culture.