When Amy weighed Obama: In October 2007, the Wall Street Journal assigned Amy Chozick to cover Candidate Clinton in the White House campaign.
In her new, remarkable, endless memoir, Chozick claims she headed for Iowa lacking the most basic clues:
CHOZICK (page 51): Unlike most campaign reporters who descended on Des Moines each presidential cycle and for all the steak fries and state fairs in between, I'd spent the prior couple of years covering Japan's consumer culture. I wrote a front-page story about how Westernized diets were causing young Japanese women to have larger breasts (headline: DEVELOPING NATION). In 2007, as my competitors were meeting campaign sources at Centro, Des Moines' hottest restaurant (though there wasn't a lot of competition), I was clubbing in Shinjuku with Ken-san, a Japanese deejay friend who went by the stage name Intelligent Milli Vanilli, a phonetic challenge for the Japanese. I didn't know who ran John Kerry's 2004 campaign. I'd never heard of Politico or its Playbook. The name Barack Obama sounded only vaguely familiar...When Isaac Chotiner interviewed Chozick, he thought it was strange that the Journal would have a reporter cover the Iowa caucuses who didn't know what a caucus was. Chotiner challenged Chozick on this point, but the idea that she didn't know who Obama was is a hundred times more amazing.
Years later I confessed to one of The Guys that when I got to Iowa I didn't know what a caucus was.
We wouldn't swear that Chozick is telling the truth about either matter. A great deal of her weird new book is devoted to a curious kind of anti-positioning, in which she emphasizes her own cluelessness.
In some circles, this is now chic. Chozick's book swims in this gruel.
At any rate, Chozick says she lacked the first clue when she hit the campaign trail. Along the way, she describes the early writing that got her the Hawkeye assignment:
Early in her career at the Journal, she wrote a front page report about women who have their hymens repaired so they can pretend to be virgins.
When she was sent to Tokyo to be the Journal's Japan correspondent, she wrote a report about the way dietary changes are enlarging the size of Japanese women's breasts. (At today's Times, this would be listed on page A3 as a "noteworthy fact.")
Nor is that all! Once she got to Iowa, her fresh eyes let her catch the campaign stories other reporters were missing! Here's the example she mentioned to Chotiner, though she also mentions this report in her book:
CHOZICK (4/27/18): My editor’s idea was that fresh eyes would find new angles and new perspectives...For instance, I wrote a Page 1 feature about campaign hookups. This is something that, if you have covered campaigns, of course people hook up, and that’s just a normal thing, but for me it was an interesting thing to see. Secret Service and reporters and all kinds of hookups. So I don’t know. I think you find stories with fresh perspectives...It wasn't just the larger breasts and the rebuilt hymens. It was also the campaign hookups which she spotted in Iowa!
In such ways, Chozick provides an invaluable service all through the first hundred pages of her astonishing book. She offers an undisguised portrait of the fatuous intellectual horizons which guide our modern "press corps."
That said, one of her most famous reports doesn't seem to have made her book, perhaps for obvious reasons. We refer to the profile she wrote of Candidate Obama in August 2008.
By now, Chozick had apparently come to know who this "Obama" was. With Candidate Clinton out of the race, Candidate Obama was going to be the Democratic nominee.
For reasons only they could explain, The Journal had moved Chozick onto the Obama beat. Incredibly, she offered a front-page profile around the premise that Obama might not be electable because he was too thin.
Really, no, we aren't making that up! Headlines included, the inanity started like this:
CHOZICK (8/1/08): Too Fit to Be President?/He might be too fit to be president! His low body fat might be a drawback!
Facing an Overweight Electorate, Barack Obama Might Find Low Body Fat a Drawback
Speaking to donors at a San Diego fund-raiser last month, Barack Obama reassured the crowd that he wouldn’t give in to Republican tactics to throw his candidacy off track.
“Listen, I’m skinny but I’m tough,” Sen. Obama said.
But in a nation in which 66% of the voting-age population is overweight and 32% is obese, could Sen. Obama’s skinniness be a liability? Despite his visits to waffle houses, ice-cream parlors and greasy-spoon diners around the country, his slim physique just might have some Americans wondering whether he is truly like them.
The lengthy piece went on and on, then on and on from there. Instantly, Chozick began quoting Average Americans who seemed to think that Obama's lack of body fat meant he was maybe elitist or possibly out-of-touch:
CHOZICK (continuing directly) The candidate has been criticized by opponents for appearing elitist or out of touch with average Americans. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted in July shows Sen. Obama still lags behind Republican John McCain among white men and suburban women who say they can't relate to his background or perceived values.The piece went on and on. There seemed to be no earthly end to Chozick's taste for the fatuous.
"He's too new ... and he needs to put some meat on his bones," says Diana Koenig, 42, a housewife in Corpus Christi, Texas, who says she voted for Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.
"I won't vote for any beanpole guy," another Clinton supporter wrote last week on a Yahoo politics message board.
That said—to her sheer inanity, you can add Chozick's fraudulence. To wit:
Chozick had wanted to pretend that actual voters were actually discussing this utterly ludicrous topic. To create that impression, she herself had started the discussion on that Yahoo message board without identifying herself.
She then published the reactions she got, without describing the way she'd primed the pump. Beyond that, she "edited" a tongue-in-cheek comment about Obama's slender physique to make the joking remark sound serious.
Chozick had worked a scam. The Journal added a correction to her report when this pitiful mess came to light:
Corrections & AmplificationsThe Journal didn't note the way she doctored that one response. Luckily, New York Magazine did. Also, Ryan Tate at Gawker.
This article about Barack Obama's weight included a quote from a Yahoo bulletin board that was posted in response to a question from a Journal reporter who initiated the discussion. The article should have disclosed that the reporter used the bulletin board to elicit the comment, "I won't vote for any beanpole guy."
Let's backtrack for now on the fraudulence. Let's return to the sheer inanity of Chozick's lengthy report.
In this blog post, Paul Krugman quoted part of Chozick's report, adding this comment: "Truly, we're doomed." Digby mocked the inanity here.
That said, inanity has long been the fuel on which our modern "press corps" runs. Two days later, Chozick gained purchase in the Sunday New York Times, right where you knew she would:
DOWD (8/3/08): Despite Obama’s wooing, some women aren’t warming. As Carol Marin wrote in The Chicago Sun-Times, The Lanky One is like an Alice Waters organic chicken—“sleek, elegant, beautifully prepared. Too cool”—when what many working-class women are craving is mac and cheese.Chozick's inanity had been transmitted by the obvious messenger.
In The Wall Street Journal, Amy Chozick wrote that Hillary supporters—who loved their heroine’s admission that she was on Weight Watchers—were put off by Obama’s svelte, zero-body-fat figure.
“He needs to put some meat on his bones,” said Diana Koenig, a 42-year-old Texas housewife. Another Clinton voter sniffed on a Yahoo message board: “I won’t vote for any beanpole guy.”
It wasn't just the Japanese breasts. It wasn't just restored hymens in Gotham; it wasn't just the hookups! Once she learned who "Barack Obama" was, she ran a gong-show profile, working off partisan messaging about his alleged otherness. Most remarkably, the Journal published this dreck!
Offhand, it's hard to know why a scam like this didn't get Chozick fired. Needless to say, what actually happened is this:
Amy Chozick had been spotted at the glorious Times. Three years later, our most vacuous upper-class newspaper did the obvious. It hired her!
Today, our journalists are deeply concerned about Donald J. Trump and who he may have f*cked. For decades before this amusement arrived, they ran on fuel like this.
What happened when Chozick went to the Times? Chotiner had a very good eye concerning that question too.
Tomorrow: Meeting Chozick's boss