The cynical joined by the silly: How silly does "campaign reporting" get at the New York Times?
It gets extremely silly; more accurately, it gets almost completely faux. Consider a pair of hard-copy "news reports" from this morning's editions. In our hard-copy Times, the utterly silly pseudo-reports appeared beneath these headlines:
"Resurgent Rubio Sprints To the Finish in Iowa"In the first report, Jeremy Peters was describing Candidate Rubio's alleged resurgence in Iowa. In the second report, Ashley Parker was reporting that Candidate Bush comes across better in person than he does on TV, at least in the state of New Hampshire.
"Stump Gets Bush Across in Way TV Hasn't"
Each "news report" was an upbeat journalistic gong-show. Let's start with that report by Peters, who claims to have spotted a resurgence by Rubio in Iowa, or something to that effect.
Peters has his ear to the ground in the Hawkeye State! Headline included, here's how he starts his report:
PETERS (1/25/16): Resurgent Rubio Sprints To the Finish in Iowa"Something appears to be shifting" for Rubio, Peters semi-excitedly says. He bases that judgment on "a string of endorsements," and on the quiet confidence Rubio has begun to express!
For months, it was the biggest question nagging at the Rubio campaign here: “Where’s Marco?”
His schedule was not packed with 16-hour days spent rolling across Iowa’s hinterlands in a bus. As an Iowan, you were probably more likely to see him on Fox News or hear about him visiting New Hampshire or South Carolina. Other candidates like Ted Cruz and Donald J. Trump had the support of more high-profile conservative leaders.
But something appears to be shifting for Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. It is a change evident in his growing crowds; a string of endorsements; a friendly nod from a popular Iowa senator, Joni Ernst; and the cautious confidence he is starting to express.
Has Rubio picked up "a string of endorsements" in Iowa? It's possible, but as he continues, Peters cites exactly one. That's the endorsement of the Des Moines Register, which isn't exactly scriptural reading for Republican caucus-goers.
(In a photo caption, some editor has made this general claim more exciting. The caption says that Rubio has picked up "a string of key endorsements," which have "produced momentum for him.")
Have endorsements, or anything else, produced momentum for Rubio? Peters doesn't present a scintilla of evidence to that effect in his 22-paragraph report—a silly-bill, Potemkin report which strangely ends like this:
PETERS: Mr. Rubio is still facing unrelenting attacks from opponents, none more apparent than those from the Right to Rise “super PAC,” which supports Mr. Bush and has inundated the airwaves in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.According to Peters, Rubio is picking up steam in Iowa, except for the fact that all those attacks seem to be sticking! What newspaper except the Times publishes piddle like that?
“If you add up all the other candidates, more has been spent against me than all the other candidates combined,” he told his audience here.
The most potent attack so far—and the one that has Mr. Rubio’s backers most concerned—is an ad that depicts him as a weather vane, shifting his political positions on immigration as the wind blows.
In the crowd on Sunday afternoon, there was evidence the attacks were sticking. A man stood up and asked Mr. Rubio to clarify how his support for immigration reform did not amount to supporting “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.
“I’m a little confused,” the man said. “Where’s the difference?”
On the same page, Parker seemed to be trying to top her colleague's work. For whatever reason, she was trying to pretend that Candidate Bush is on the make in New Hampshire, or something like that. This is the way she began:
PARKER (1/25/16): Expectations are not always high at Jeb Bush’s campaign events, where impressions of his halting performances in debates and other TV appearances often precede him.In fairness to Parker, she at least seems to signal that, despite her upbeat air, Bush faces a "challenging path" toward a state of resurgence.
“He comes off on television as being boring,” said Robbie Munce, 38, an undecided Republican who owns a portable-toilet company and who came to see Mr. Bush speak here last month. But after watching Mr. Bush field questions for more than an hour on issues as diverse as banking regulation and homegrown terrorism, Mr. Munce left impressed.
“I think he really listens to what people have to say. He doesn’t just pick the one term in someone’s question and turn it into a talking point,” he said. “He’s answering the questions that people are asking.”
The frequency of that assessment—that Mr. Bush is a lot more compelling in person than on TV—suggests a possible, if challenging, path toward reviving his faltering campaign. And as he makes his way from veterans’ halls to high school gyms in New Hampshire, a state that typically rewards retail campaigning in presidential races, he is not only surprising voters with his skills on the stump, but also winning over many of them.
Still, Bush isn't just surprising voters with his skills on the stump. According to Parker, he is also "winning over many of them."
Later on, Parker admits that "Bush’s perceived improvement has not yet resulted in a significant shift in the polls." As a matter of fact, she offer no evidence that there has been any improvement at all.
On the other hand, Parker also reports that Bush is "drawing larger, more enthusiastic crowds"—at least according to a Republican committeeman who presumably supports him. A bit later on, she goes upbeat again, offering this weird statement:
PARKER: Voters here have a history of blunting the momentum of the winner out of Iowa, where Mr. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas lead the Republican polls for the caucuses next Monday.New Hampshire Republicans "seem open to candidates" like those? We have no idea why Parker says that. In the most recent Fox poll of New Hampshire, the four candidates she names are commanding 22 percent of the Republican vote between them.
New Hampshire Republicans seem open to a candidate who is perceived as more moderate—like Mr. Bush, Mr. Christie, Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio or Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
In the most recent Monmouth poll, they command that same puny share of the GOP pie in New Hampshire—22 percent. Mathematically, that's out of 100 percent in all!
These news reports aren't news reports—they're offerings from the silly-bill side of Times post-journalistic culture. As a general matter, we'd say these reports express a disingenuous time-honored theme:
Something seems to be happening out there!
Something seems to be happening! By making this suggestion, the New York Times lets readers think that the newspaper has its ear to the ground, that it's serving them the famous product known as news.
Alas! In the case of today's reports, there isn't a scintilla of evidence that anything's happening in either one of these states for either one of those candidates.
Alas! At the New York Times, "campaign reports" seem to come in two forms: cynical and silly.
Full disclosure: Parker began her career at the Times as Maureen Dowd's "research assistant!"
As far as we know, no one has ever explained what that could possibly mean.