Aug
20
2012

Another Brave, Anonymous Campaign Whistleblower

The Washington Post has done it again. Reporter Felicia Sonmez (8/17/12) somehow got a  Republican campaign adviser to spill the beans on the Ryan/Romney relationship : A senior Republican adviser close to the campaign who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Ryan views Romney's career as "a case study of some of the ideas that he has been immersed in and debating about for years." "By his intellect and political upbringing, he is a natural champion for the success of the free-market system," the adviser said of Ryan. "He's a true believer in the free-market system. And so he […]

Aug
14
2012

Romney Whistleblower Comes Forward (Not Really)

Washington Post columnist Dan Balz has a big scoop from an anonymous source in today's paper (8/14/12): The choice, like most vice presidential selections, also was a way for Romney to say something bigger about the kind of campaign he hopes to run. In that sense, advisers say, Ryan was "Mitt's pick, completely." "Stories talk about it being a bold choice," said one senior Romney adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about the decision. "To me, it was a confident choice. He was very confident in himself, in Paul Ryan, in the campaign and in the […]

Aug
13
2012

PBS Does 'Both Sides' on Bogus Romney Welfare Attack

Some campaign disputes can be tricky to sort out. Others are not. That's why media coverage that takes the both-sides-have-a-point approach can be so disappointing, if not dangerous. Take Mitt Romney's recent claim that the White House was "gutting" the work requirements in the  1996 welfare "reform" law. As a Romney TV ad put it: "Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check." That charge earned a "Pants on Fire" from PolitiFact (8/7/12), which pointed out that the policy change that is supposedly at issue […]

Aug
08
2012

Harry Reid, the New Joe McCarthy

Senator Harry Reid started a whole lot of trouble on the campaign trail when he told some Huffington Post reporters that he'd heard that Mitt Romney paid no taxes. As in zero. For an entire decade. Now there are reasons to be skeptical of Reid's account. As Dana Milbank pointed out, Reid's record does not inspire confidence. He says he got this scoop in a phone call with a Bain Capital investor. There is no other documentation or information to substantiate the allegation. Of course, Romney could settle the issue by releasing his tax returns– which is presumably why Reid […]

Jul
30
2012

Pundit Accountability: What an Idea!

Writing in Newsweek, Peter Beinart has a pretty good idea: America's foreign-policy debate desperately needs some measure of accountability. I'm not suggesting that politicians and pundits who got Iraq wrong be banished from public life. (This standard would leave me looking for other work.) But neither should they be able to flee the scene of the disaster. Imagine if every time Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton or John Bolton or John McCain or William Kristol was interviewed about military intervention in Iran or Syria, the interviewer began by asking what they've learned about the subject from their experience supporting the […]

Jul
20
2012

Objectivity and Its Opposite, 'Objectivity'

Whigs vs. Tories

One of the most confusing terms in the media discussion is "objectivity." In philosophy, it refers to a belief in a reality independent of the conscious mind, generally one that can more or less be known and meaningfully discussed. In journalism, on the other hand, it means "don't scare away any potential customers." "Objective" journalism emerged as newspapers realized that they were alienating potential readers by positioning themselves as a paper that saw the world through the lens of a particular party. Why be a Whig paper or a Tory paper, in other words, when you could be an independent […]

Jul
17
2012

Mitt Romney Swift Boats Himself

The criticism of Mitt Romney's time at Bain Capital doesn't appear to be leaving the headlines.  And thus some political reporters are, as Jamison Foser notes, drawing an unusual comparison: Romney is being Swift Boated. The latest example comes from Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (7/17/12): In a sense, Romney deserves the Swift Boating he's now getting from the Obama campaign and the president himself. In case you missed the 2004 campaign: The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was formed to cast doubt on John Kerry's Vietnam War record. TV commercials were cooked up to expose Kerry as a fraud […]

Jul
17
2012

David Gergen Factchecks His Friends—and Financial Partners—at Bain

There are some pretty intense factchecking fights over what is true and not true about the Obama campaign's claims about Romney's record at Bain Capital. Media outlets are struggling with how to render a verdict; most seem to think Obama has exaggerated. But one outlet has found a voice willing to deliver a judgment. CNN has published a column (7/16/12) by veteran pundit David Gergen headlined: Facts don't support Obama's charges against Romney This is, for Gergen, pretty strong stuff; he's a talking head whose head mostly talks about campaign strategy and the like. He's not one usually to call […]

Jul
16
2012

How Campaign Strategists Turned Reporters Into Brain-Picking Zombies

Political strategists

In the if-you-like-sausage category, the New York Times' Jeremy Peters has a piece today (7/16/12)  about a new trend in journalism: Political sources demanding–and receiving–final control over what they are quoted as saying in news stories. Quote approval is standard practice for the Obama campaign, used by many top strategists and almost all midlevel aides in Chicago and at the White House–almost anyone other than spokesmen who are paid to be quoted. (And sometimes it applies even to them.) It is also commonplace throughout Washington and on the campaign trail…. Romney advisers almost always require that reporters ask them for […]

Jul
16
2012

Paul Krugman Reads the New York Times

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman writes today (New York Times, 7/16/12) on media's failure to factcheck campaign claims: Perhaps in a better world we could count on the news media to sort through the conflicting claims. In this world, however, most voters get their news from short snippets on TV, which almost never contain substantive policy analysis. The print media do offer analysis pieces–but these pieces, out of a desire to seem "balanced," all too often simply repeat the he-said-she-said of political speeches. Trust me: you will see very few news analyses saying that Mr. Romney proposes huge tax cuts for the rich, […]

Jul
13
2012

The Third-Party Lock Out

Jill Stein, Green Party presidential candidate

The New York Times has a long profile (7/13/12) of presumptive Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Though I could have done without some of it ("ever polished in bright scarves and slim pantsuits"), reporter Susan Saulny gives readers a good–and rare–look at a third party political candidate. Stein actually debated Mitt Romney in the 2002 gubernatorial race, and Saulny notes that many viewers thought she'd won. ("It's easy to debate a robot," as she put it.) Barring a miracle, she's not going to get another chance to beat the robot. The Times tries to explain why: She longs to […]

Jul
10
2012

NYT: Tax Factchecking Is for the Editorial Page

The New York Times has a piece today (7/10/12) that pairs Obama's tax announcement with Republican attempts to kill Obamacare, presenting both as "politically charged proposals." It's hard to see how the two are at all similar, but the Times attempts to make the connection, noting that "lawmakers worry about alienating people who like expanded health coverage or tax cuts." That actually confuses matters even more. The vast majority of people would get a tax cut under the Obama plan. Repealing Obamacare would do a lot more harm to a lot more people–i.e., the ones "who like expanded health coverage." […]

Jun
22
2012

When 'Factchecking' Means Telling Your Colleagues They're Liars

Factchecking ought to be an everyday part of each journalist's job, but instead it's relegated to a specialty feature. Maybe lack of regular practice explains why those side efforts are so disappointing. Take Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post's piece (6/21/12) on Barack Obama's latest ad critical of presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Kessler gives the ad "four Pinocchios"–reserved for the most deceptive statements: "On just about every level, this ad is misleading, unfair and untrue, from the use of 'corporate raider' to its examples of alleged outsourcing." Kessler was defiant when Talking Points Memo (6/22/12) asked him how he […]