Part 1—Chozick bungles again: If we were asked to pick the Most Problematic New Journalist of the past few years, one possible winner would leap to mind:
We'd be forced to consider the New York Times' Amy Chozick.
For all we know, Chozick may be the world's nicest person. As a journalist, though, we'd have to call her a puzzle inside a "Creeping Dowdist" enigma.
Let's start withe the ridiculous piece which brought Chozick to fame. Two campaigns back, in 2008, Chozick was working for the Wall Street Journal. That August, she penned a remarkable, lengthy assessment of a pressing problem:
Was Candidate Barack Obama too skinny, too fit, to be president?
We know—you think we're joking! Sadly enough, we aren't. Chozick wrote the nonsensical piece—and the Journal published it under these headlines:
"Too Fit to Be President? Facing an Overweight Electorate, Barack Obama Might Find Low Body Fat a Drawback."
You can peruse the piece here.
Later, evidence suggested that Chozick had perhaps played a bit fast and loose with her "man on the Web" evidence—alleged evidence which seemed to fuel her speculations about the way voters reacted to Obama's too-trim-by-half physique.
Ignore that possible second problem! Remembering that her editors permitted and enabled her piece, let's marvel at the sheer inanity of the essay Chozick wrote. Then, let's ponder this:
When work that foolish appears in print, it seems to send a signal to the New York Times. At the Times, the movers and shakers will quickly agree. They need to go out and hire the person who wrote that ridiculous piece!
Sure enough! In 2011, Chozick was hired by the Times "to write about corporate media." In 2013, she was somewhat weirdly assigned to a somewhat premature Hillary Clinton beat.
Last August, Chozick did it again. Her front-page report in the Sunday Times seemed to tell the world what Joe Biden's dying son, Beau Biden, had more or less said about Hillary Clinton, more or less on his deathbed, perhaps more or less with his dying words.
Yesterday, that same Joe Biden was telling the world how much he admires Hillary Clinton! Back in August, what was Chozick's source for her report about Beau Biden's highly unflattering, apparently dying words? Incredibly, Chozick sourced her front-page report to a Maureen Dowd column—a Maureen Dowd column which had offered no sourcing at all!
Has there ever been a stranger example of front-page non-sourced sourcing? Whatever the answer to that question may be, this is the type of work Chozick routinely creates at the Times.
In fairness, an editor purblished that front-page report—a news report sourced to a column which offered no sourcing at all. Also in fairness, the Times' ginormous "news report" from last April—its 4400-word report about the scary Russian uranium deal—was the worst news report of 2015, outdistancing even Chozick's front-page gonger.
Still, Chozick's work is routinely poor, in the manner warned about long ago, when Katherine Boo described the "Creeping Dowdism" which, she said, was threatening our national discourse. Boo offered her prescient warning in 1993. Today, our discourse lies in a gruesome slag heap—and Chozick has offered a lengthy attempt at the genre called campaign bio.
Chozick's attempt at campaign bio concerns—who else?—you-know-who! In hard copy, the lengthy report appeared last Thursday, beneath these suggestive headlines:
Strained Finances Left Clinton Juggling Necessity and IdealsLeave it to Candidate Clinton! There she went again, defying her principles and juggling her ideals!
Accused of Defying Her Principles As She Shouldered Family's Burden
At any rate, now that we've seen the hard-copy headlines, let's turn to the claims-in-themselves, as they appear in Chozick's 2600-word piece of campaign bio.
The "strained finances" to which that headline refers allegedly occurred in the aftermath of November 1980, when Governor Bill Clinton, then 34 years of age, lost his bid for re-election. Those alleged "strained finances," which allegedly occurred at that time, form the heart of Chozick's attempt at campaign bio.
Unfortunately, Chozick's attempt was poor. Down through the decades, we've read a lot of bad campaign bio. Chozick's bungled attempt goes to the "bad bio" Top Ten list.
Let's start with our own choice of words: In what we've written above, we've used the terms "alleged" and "allegedly" for an obvious reason. In fact, there is no sign in Chozick's report that the Clintons suffered "strained finances" in any serious way in the aftermath of that failed 1980 election.
Truth to tell, there's no apparent sign of "strained finances" in Chozick's report at all. In comments to the report, readers of both the left and the right noted this obvious fact.
Tomorrow, we'll start to review the obvious problems with Chozick's attempts at reporting. This will include one gigantic, obvious journalistic fail—an obvious problem which was noted in comments from both the right and the left.
For today, a quick overview:
Uh-oh! There is no evidence of any "strained finances" in Chozick's lengthy report. Beyond that, there is no sign in Chozick's report that anyone "accused [Hillary Clinton] of defying her principles as she shouldered her family's [financial] burden" at the time in question.
There is no sign that Hillary Clinton shouldered that burden, or that any such burden existed. There's no sign that anyone proceeded to "accuse" Clinton in the manner the headlines describe.
As such, the basic premises of Chozick's report seem to have emerged from thin air—or perhaps from twenty-four years of Standardized Mainstream Narrative. Even perhaps from some sort of journalistic "bias" of some kind!
Is there a "bias" at the heart of Chozick's report? Such questions are always hard to settle. But in the case of Chozick's report, that question yields an intriguing answer.
For us, the most striking "bias" in Chozick's report seems to appear at the start of the piece, right in her first three paragraphs. In those paragraphs, Chozick paints a familiar, highly unflattering picture of Hillary Clinton's supposed conduct on the day after her husband lost his bid for re-election.
The portrait Chozick paints as she opens fits a current Standard Picture of Clinton. Chozick's lengthy campaign bio opens with that portrayal.
Tomorrow, we'll consider those opening paragraphs—and we'll note an unsettling fact. Though Chozick paints an unflattering picture of Hillary Clinton's conduct that day, she provides exactly zero evidence, in the rest of her lengthy report, that Clinton engaged in the conduct described!
Did Hillary Clinton behave as described? No specific examples are provided at any point in Chozick's report. In the larger sense, Chozick provides no evidence in support of her allegations about the way Clinton reacted to her family's financial strain—a "financial strain" for whose existence Chozick provides no apparent evidence.
Was Chozick really writing a novel when she penned this campaign bio? So it has gone, for twenty-four years, when scribes like Chozick tackle this genre. In fairness, let's say this:
The most significant aspect of Chozick's report isn't its possible bias. Indeed, conservative readers saw her report as an attempt to cultivate sympathy for Candidate Clinton.
Those readers spotted a pro-Clinton bias in Chozick's campaign bio! Our sense of a possible anti-Clinton bias emerges from those opening grafs. But other readers spotted a bias which ran in the other direction!
We true believers will often see the bias which matches our preconception. But readers of the left and right could see something else in Chozick's report. Readers of the left and the right could see Chozick's journalistic incompetence.
For readers of Chozick's lengthy report, that incompetence was easy to see. In our view, Chozick's journalistic incompetence, not her possible bias, is the most striking aspect of Thursday's report.
In our view, Chozick flirts with a possible bias or two in this piece—but her basic journalistic incompetence is the more significant tale. Meanwhile, in Sunday's Washington Post, Fisher and Kranish presented this astonishing overview of their own forthcoming campaign bio.
Their campaign bio concerns Candidate Trump. It's a book called Trump Revealed.
On Monday, we quoted upper-end mainstream reviewers as they praised the lucidity of a comically incoherent new book. Tomorrow, we'll continue to explore the intellectual competence of our modern journalistic elites, especially that at the Times.
Can we talk? At the New York Times, incompetence is now the reliable norm, especially in the paper's political reporting.
Basic incompetence is the norm. Perceptions of bias will follow.
Tomorrow: Providing zero examples