RETRACT, RENOUNCE, APOLOGIZE! Mosk clouds Clintons stance on the war—and he withholds the key facts: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2007
SWARNS RESTORED: With the help of several e-mailers, we sheepishly announce that the New York Times Rachel Swarns is nowhere near as bad as we said.
On Friday, we complained about the way Swarns quoted a barber making a string of counterfactual statements. Heres the part of her front-page report for which we called her every name in the book:
SWARNS (2/2/07): ''When you think of a president, you think of an American,'' said Mr. Lanier, a 58-year-old barber who is still considering whether to support Mr. Obama. ''We've been taught that a president should come from right here, born, raised, bred, fed in America. To go outside and bring somebody in from another nationality, now that doesn't feel right to some people.''But Obama is an American, we noted.. He does come from right here in America; he isnt from another nationality in the most literal sense of that term. He was born in America; he was raised, bred, fed here, except for a four-year period (ages 6-10) when he lived in Indonesia. No one had to go outside and bring him in in any clear sense of those terms.
What we said Friday remains true today; its unwise to quote the man in the street making counterfactual statements, unless you make it very clear that what is being said is inaccurate. But several readers noted that Swarns had pre-corrected one of the barbers statements, right in her previous paragraph. (No, we hadnt noticed.) Here is one such e-mail:
E-MAIL: To be a bit more fair to Swarms, she identifies Obama as "American-born" in the paragraph before she quotes the barber, Mr. Lanier. However, she sets up the quote, in a way that strikes me as very odd, by bringing up Debra Dickerson's recent article in Salon that claimed Obama isn't really "black." She sets up the quote by implying that it will speak to this same concern, that Obama is not a descendent of slaves and doesn't share the African-American experience. In fact, her article seems to hinge on her looking for this same viewpoint in the workaday African-American community. Mr. Lanier's quote does not have anything to do with that subject, instead laying out a string of misconceptions that, as you point out, Swarms does not address directly.We dont agree with all of that, but we certainly agree with the statement weve highlighted. When our analysts showed us the quote from the barber, we read through from there to see if Swarns adequately addressed his misstatements. We didnt notice what shed already written. Of course, the statement that Obama is American-born doesnt speak to the barbers full string of claims. But we definitely should have noticed Swarns statement. Very stupid—this time, by us.
On the other hand, our failure to notice helps point to the problem. We were struck by that barbers colorful statements. Trust us: Other people read this article without seeing that Obama was American-born—and some who did see it didnt realize that this fact means that he is an American. In general, writers shouldnt quote strings of counterfactual statements without putting major bells and whistles around them. But we doubt that wed have flagged this passage if wed noted that previous paragraph.
Very dumb—this time, by us. Only modestly bad form by Swarns, who should have done a better job explaining the facts RE Obama. No—just because its the New York Times, that doesnt mean that readers understand. The barber said many things which were untrue. Some readers may have gotten misled.
Very dumb—by us, not by Swarns. Next time our analysts bungle this way, well promise you—their heads will roll.
RETRACT, RENOUNCE, APOLOGIZE: On the other hand, for reporting which is just flat-out awful, consider Matthew Mosks report in this mornings Post. Mosk writes about John Edwards appearance on yesterdays Meet the Press. But uh-oh! He begins with the type of colorful, novelistic constructions which routinely jumble up our highest-level political reporting:
MOSK (2/5/07): Of the 2008 Democratic presidential contenders who voted to give President Bush authority to wage war in Iraq, only one will have no chance to make a very public U-turn when resolutions opposing the president's new war plan come before Congress in the coming days.Only one will have no chance to make a very public U-turn? Thats barely decipherable—and when its deciphered, it doesnt make much sense. Is some Democratic contender going to make a very public U-turn in the Senate next week? If a U-turn means a 180, its hard to imagine who that would be. For example, Hillary Clinton voted yes on the war resolution, but that was in October 2002. She has long since disowned the wisdom of the war itself, and of Bushs latest strategy. Ditto Senators Biden and Dodd, who also voted to give President Bush authority to wage war in Iraq.
U-turn vs. extended mea culpa might make for a colorful novel. But it makes for confusing journalism—and Mosks piece goes downhill from there. Mosk says that Edwards continued his soul-searching about the war resolution on Meet the Press. And then, he writes the following about Clintons position. This is flat-out awful:
MOSK: Some believe that kind of introspection has helped Edwards build a bridge to the most vocal anti-Iraq-war quarters of the Democratic Party and may help distinguish him from one of his chief rivals for the party's nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).Clinton has not retracted her vote, Mosk says—penning the latest fuzzy, misleading account of Clintons stance on her vote.
Clinton has not retracted her vote? The formulation makes little sense. After all, how does a senator retract a vote? Has Edwards somehow retracted his? No, Mosks construction doesnt make clear sense. And it takes the place of real information about the things Clinton has said.
MATTHEWS (2/2/07): Is Bill Clinton going to be a problem in this campaign?Several points:
First: Matthews just cant seem to keep his nose out of the Clintons sheet drawer. Its where he wants his nose to be; when his nose is there, he feels fully human. Is Clinton going to behave himself? Matthews asked his childish question six separate times in this session.
Second, note how Matthews construes the New York Times story in which Patrick Healy told us how often the Clintons spend the night together. To Matthews, this wasnt a news report. This was the New York Times saying, on its front page, that Bill Clinton better watch it. It seemed to be a news report. But Matthews says it was a warning.
Third: Note how Matthews explains his own session with Lewis. He isnt trying to gain information or get her opinion. Instead, hes trying to get Lewis to spread the word that [Clinton] better watch it. Chris isnt gathering information. Playing the role of public nanny, hes sending his betters a message.
Finally, note the talkers plea at the end. Why does Matthews want Clinton to behave himself? So that he, Chris Matthews, wont get distracted! Lewis suggests that Matthews should just shut up and stop distracting himself—should simply talk about things that matter. But its no use! Stop him before I get distracted again! this talker sadly implores.
Matthews savaged your candidate for twenty straight months during the course of Campaign 2000. His endless insults and disinformation helped put Bush where he is. Regarding Clinton, hes gearing up again—and of course, he loves Saints John and Rudy. Indeed, Saint John McCain is a patriot, he solemnly announced on Sundays Chris Matthews Show. Just like old Tail-gunner Joe, Matthews knows whos been naughty—and whos been nice. He even seems to think he knows who is—and who isnt—a patriot.
Hes gearing up to do it again. If we care about outcomes, we libs and Dems will work to make him stop.
REIGNING KING OF THE ANTOINETTES: Its official! Dana Milbank is reigning king of the press corps Antoinettes. He took the crown with Saturdays sketch. Sadly, it started like this:
MILBANK (2/3/07): Yesterday was the first cattle call of the Democratic presidential campaign and—holy cow!—these candidates can moo.Good God, what an idiot! The war continues to rage in Iraq. The threat of a war with Iran is apparent. But so what? When Milbank attended Fridays DNC conclave, he showed up with his stopwatch in hand and proceeded to time all the speakers! With apologies to those with IQs above 9, here were his next three paragraphs:
MILBANK (continuing directly): Each candidate has been given seven minutes to speak," announced Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean before the first of six Democratic candidates took the stage at the Hilton Washington. He further announced that an "official timekeeper" will hold up warning and "time's up" signs. "After 10 minutes, wild gesticulations will take place," he threatened.This was the sole topic of Milbanks sketch. (He also noted that Dodd appeared in his Phil Donohue hairdo, a tribute to his regent, Maureen Dowd.) He discussed the minutes-and-seconds of every speaker, even criticizing Harry Reid for breaking the seven-minute limit—while noting that Reid was not technically under the seven-minute rule. (Take the word technically out of that sentence and Milbank has stated a fact.) In closing, he turned to Hillary Clinton—and showcased his skill with percentages:
MILBANK: After the Kucinich intermission, Clinton greeted the crowd with an announcement: "I'm here to start a conversation with our country." A couple of audience members took that offer seriously, and, eight minutes into Clinton's speech, began heckling her about Iraq. This made Clinton's speech louder, not shorter. "I've been fighting for more than 35 years," she said after talking for more than 13 minutes.Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Whew! That was the end of his sketch.
Earth to Milbank: At events like this, speakers (and performers) always exceed their prescribed, widely-flogged time limit. Everyone knows it, and no one really cares; indeed, this point will be of little interest to anyone who has spent more than an hour on the planet (60 minutes). But so what? This inanity consumed 880 words on page 2 of Saturdays Post. And of course, Milbank used his pointless facts to tickle a treasured press corps script: Dems just dont have any discipline! Its a script—and Dana Milbank seized his chance to apply it. Democrats Control the Hill, but Not Themselves, said the headline.
Weve searched for metaphors to describe the crowd which loves to type such perfect drivel. Today, lets disregard the real possibility that theyre just an alien race. Weve also suggested that you view this gang as a powdered royal court—as a cohort straight outta Louis XIV. On Saturday, Milbank became our current top Antoinette—Maureen Dowds silly-boy consort.