Part 3—Derision, snark and denial: To conservative voters, many acts by the mainstream press may look like acts of liberal bias.
In some cases, it would be hard to say that their perception is wrong. As one example, consider the ludicrous editorial which appeared in last Friday's New York Times.
The editorial carried this headline: "Gov. Christie, Time to Go Home." The editors argued that Candidate Christie should quit the current White House campaign and return to his work in New Jersey.
That wasn't the ludicrous part. The ludicrous part is shown below. To conservatives voters, this peculiar passage may seem to reflect liberal bias:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (10/30/15): It must have been rough for those who re-elected [Christie] to see him hold forth Wednesday in a debate that centered on the national economy, when he’s been a net failure on the New Jersey economy...Mr. Christie’s promises, from fixing the state’s pensions shortfall to its infrastructure, have come to less than nothing. More galling still is that he was not the only such politician on the dais. Since when does shortchanging your home state—looking at you, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal—qualify a public servant to be president?According to the Times editorial board, Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz are "shortchanging their home states" by running for president. The editors offer no evidence or argument in support of this claim.
If you're a conservative voter, some questions will almost surely come to mind:
Is Senator Sanders shortchanging Vermont in his bid for the White House? Was Senator Clinton shortchanging New York in the 2008 campaign?
Did a certain solon shortchange Illinois when he successfully sought the White House in 2007 and 2008? Did the Times ever run editorials which snarkily suggested that these senators should quit their respective campaigns?
To conservative voters, the snarky bombast of that editorial will look like liberal bias. It's hard to say that this perception is wrong.
But then, in the age of Andrew Rosenthal, the Times has published many such editorials. It's hard to say that a type of bias, expressed in double standards, doesn't routinely appear.
The Rosenthal gang took a shot at Candidates Rubio and Cruz. Any conservative worth his salt would suspect he saw the glaring presence of a double standard.
How strange! Two nights earlier, in the latest Republican debate, Candidate Rubio found himself confronting similar questions. Below, you see the first prepared question for this candidate, along with its follow-up question.
Just for the record, these questions weren't about matters of substance. They represented the end of a brief discussion of a major matter of substance.
Twelve minutes into the real debate, these questions marked an important departure. They signaled the end of any attempt by CNBC to conduct a serious examination of the ludicrous budget plans these candidates have proposed:
QUINTANILLA (10/28/15): This one is for Senator Rubio. You've been a young man in a hurry ever since you won your first election in your 20s. You've had a big accomplishment in the Senate, an immigration bill providing a path to citizenship the conservatives in your party hate, and even you don't support anymore. Now, you're skipping more votes than any senator to run for president. Why not slow down, get a few more things done first or at least finish what you start?Twelve minutes into this debate, this candidate was being asked if he shouldn't perhaps 1) drop out of the White House race, or 2) resign from the senate.
QUINTANILLA: So when the Sun-Sentinel says Rubio should resign, not rip us off; when they say Floridians sent you to Washington to do a job; when they say you act like you hate your job, do you?
To us, those seem like unusual questions. We don't think we've ever seen a moderator ask a question which was quite as insolent as that first question—and no, those questions didn't concern policy matters.
The candidate claimed a double standard on the part of the Sun-Sentinel, describing the way they've covered other candidates who missed a lot of senate votes while they were out on the trail. Did the Sun-Sentinel apply a double standard? We have no idea.
For ourselves, the larger meaning of those questions involves a fact the moderators were signaling—the fact that they had no intention of examining the crazy budget plans these candidates have proposed. This may suggest that these moderators were actually working from within the sphere of influence of our billionaire elites.
Still, to many conservative voters, that rather insolent pair of questions may look like liberal bias. So may the second question for this candidate, which extended Quintanilla's oddly disparaging theme:
QUICK (10/28/15): Senator Rubio, you yourself have said that you've had issues. You have a lack of bookkeeping skills. You accidentally inter-mingled campaign money with your personal money. You faced foreclosure on a second home that you bought. And just last year, you liquidated a $68,000 retirement fund. That's something that cost you thousands of dollars in taxes and penalties. In terms of all of that, it raises the question whether you have the maturity and wisdom to lead this $17 trillion economy. What do you say?Despite the porridge you've been fed by apologists like Ezra Klein, William Saletan and even Kevin Drum, Becky Quick had no intention of probing the ludicrous budget plans those candidates have proposed. Instead, she wondered if the fact that Rubio liquidated a retirement fund means that he's too immature to be president.
To conservative voters, those questions will almost surely seem to carry the odor of liberal bias. We wouldn't make that assumption ourselves, for the reasons we've suggested.
We would say that those questions are examples of very strange "journalism." But for whatever reason, the moderators of last week's debate posed such questions right from the start.
Half an hour into the evening, Candidate Cruz attacked the moderators for the tone of their questions. In our view, he had a decent point. For today, let's consider the opening pair of actual questions, directed to Candidate Trump.
As the debate began, six minutes were burned as the candidates were asked to discuss their greatest weakness. Then, the actual questions began.
John Harwood started like this, addressing Candidate Trump:
HARWOOD (10/28/15): Mr. Trump, you've done very well in this campaign so far by promising to build a wall and make another country pay for it.Let's understand what Harwood did. He asked Trump about a range of campaign promises—about the promise to build a giant wall; about the promise to make Mexico pay for the wall; about the promise to deport everyone who's in the country without authorization; the promise of a major tax cut, which will produce increased prosperity without increasing the deficit.
HARWOOD: Send 11 million people out of the country. Cut taxes $10 trillion without increasing the deficit.
HARWOOD: And make Americans better off because your greatness would replace the stupidity and incompetence of others.
TRUMP: That's right.
HARWOOD: Let's be honest. Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?
TRUMP: No, not a comic book, and it's not a very nicely asked question the way you say that...
He then gave Candidate Trump sixty seconds to discuss this range of topics! As a kicker, he asked if Trump was running "a comic book version" of a White House campaign.
We're not sure we've ever seen a moderator ask a question like that. In his follow-up question, Harwood went down that same snarky road:
HARWOOD: We're at the 60 seconds. We're at the sixty seconds. We're at 60 seconds, but I gotta ask you, you talked about your tax plan.We're not sure we've ever seen a question like that one either. In each of his questions, Harwood used colorful imagery which was openly derisive/insulting/dismissive, or which came rather close.
You say that it would not increase the deficit because you'd cut taxes $10 trillion and the economy would take off like—
HARWOOD: Hold on, hold on. The economy would take off like a rocket ship.
TRUMP: Right. Dynamically.
HARWOOD: I talked to economic advisers who have served presidents of both parties. They said that you have as much chance of cutting taxes that much without increasing the deficit as you would of flying away from that podium by flapping your arms.
Might we offer a speculation? Harwood seemed to be placing provocation, attitude and snark ahead of sound journalistic practice.
In this age of cable snark and snide, it may be that Harwood's corporate owners had directed him to do this. He may have been following orders! But in the course of doing so, Harwood helped trigger an angry rejoinder by Cruz which constituted a giant distraction from the substance of the debate, to the extent that there was any.
He also asked a pair of dumb-assed questions.
In that follow-up question, Harwood could have quoted respected budget authorities who have challenged Trump's ludicrous claims directly, on the record. Instead, he treated the world to his masterful wit and his worthless snark, triggering the ten millionth pointless debate about alleged liberal bias.
As the post-debate discussion unfolded, apologists would jump up to swear that Harwood, Quintanilla and Quick had staged a substantive debate. How silly did these claims get? Tomorrow, we'll even show you Ezra Klein, seeming to claim that he doesn't know why Harwood's "comic book" reference should be seen as derisive or unusual.
"I’m a comic book nerd," Klein writes, "and even I don’t know what it means to ask if something is a 'comic book presidential campaign.' "
Trust us. Conservative voters do know what it means to ask a question like that. To them, Harwood's language will seem like an obvious marker of liberal bias.
We wouldn't make that assumption ourselves. That said, we also know what it means to talk about a candidate's "comic book campaign." Ezra Klein was willing to say that he doesn't know what that means!
He also said that he thinks the debate was unusually substantive. Tomorrow, we'll ask two important questions:
Do you believe a word of that? And how did we get to this point?
Tomorrow: The abject refusal to challenge or question those ludicrous budget plans