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Daily Howler: When ABC News selected that question, they showed us the shape of their culture
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THE FRUIT OF A CULTURE! When ABC News selected that question, they showed us the shape of their culture: // link // print // previous // next //

THE FRUIT OF A CULTURE: Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve been fighting off a touch of the 24-hour labyrinthitis. Yesterday, inspired by Dowd, we managed to ignore its effects. But we’re a bit behind on our general musings—and we’ll have to wait a day for a transcript of last night’s debate.

As a general matter, we’ll stand with the analysts’ Uncle Walter, cringing thusly about the sad session:

SHAPIRO (4/17/08): If the debate was a dress rehearsal for the Oval Office, then the job of a 21st-century president primarily consists of ducking gotcha questions. As Obama rightly complained, deflecting a fatuous question about his seeming reluctance to don an American-flag pin, “This is the kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with and, once again, distracts us from ... figuring out how we get our troops out of Iraq and how we actually make our economy better for the American people.”

More on that particular question below. But let us register two impressions:

First, it was a joy to reach the debate’s second hour, when Obama and Clinton were finally allowed to talk about serious policy matters (however imperfect those questions sometimes were). Second, it was sad to recall how good these candidates seemed in the South Carolina and California debates, before the events of the past month brought The Cult of the Offhand Comment so deeply into this race.

Last night’s debate was, in many ways, a high mass staged by priests of that cult. Why, so many offhand comments were flying around that we even revisited Hillary’s cookies! But surely, the evening’s most ludicrous question was the one Shapiro cited. (Sorry—we don’t have a transcript.)

ABC News had traveled about, taping questions from Pennsylvanians. Which question was presented to Obama? A woman asked him to explain why he doesn’t wear a lapel pin.

Should that question have been selected? You can make a case for almost anything. And it’s true—this matter has been bruited about; almost surely, there are other Pennsylvanians who are wondering about it. Some Pennsylvanians, including that woman, may even cast their vote on this basis. (People vote for every imaginable reason. See example below.)

But ABC News had less than two hours, and the world is full of complex issues. At some point, journalists have to set their priorities. And by the way: If ABC taped a lot of citizens, surely someone looked into the camera and asked Obama if he’s a Muslim—or if it’s true that he won’t swear on a Bible. Did someone ask Clinton about all her murders? At some point, a news org has to show some judgment about which questions to pick.

In fairness, no misinformation was involved in that woman’s question. Obama doesn’t wear a flag pin, and he once discussed his reasons—probably unwisely. But at some point, news orgs have to judge the value of the questions which get asked.

Obama called it “a manufactured question.” For our money, that may not be great politics, although it’s certainly true (in part). But in one especially clownish recent episode, Republican congressman Jack Kingston appeared on The Abrams Report to discuss Obama’s missing flag pin. Unfortunately, Kingston wasn’t wearing a flag pin himself. This discussion ensued:

KINGSTON (2/27/08): I think that there are these questions that the American people want to know about. I mean, you know, when you listen to why he doesn’t wear an American flag button, it`s a very convoluted answer. And, you know, American flag buttons—I’ve been in politics and you have been around politicians for a long time, Dan. Everybody wears them, from the mayor to county commissioner, to members of Congress to the president.

It’s curious that suddenly, there’s a guy who doesn’t want to do it. And if you put that with the wife’s comment, the first time in her adult life she’s proud of America—you’re running to be the number one cheerleader in the country. So I think these questions aren’t off limits.

ABRAMS: All right. Congressman, first let me ask you—you’re not wearing a lapel pin, are you?

KINGSTON: I will wear one and I have worn one. I’m not making a statement about it.

ABRAMS: But you see my point? I had no idea you were going to show up without a lapel pin, but it seems kind of absurd that you are saying that Barack Obama’s patriotism should be questioned because he’s not wearing a lapel pin and then you come on the show not wearing one.

KINGSTON: Well, Dan, I don’t follow that at all. I’m saying I will be glad to wear one and I have worn one and I do wear one. But Barack Obama says he won’t wear one. That’s a completely different thing. You’re probably not wearing one now.

ABRAMS: I’m not.

KINGSTON: But you would you wear one?

ABRAMS: I would wear one. But I don`t feel—

KINGSTON: Then there you go.

ABRAMS: But I wouldn’t criticize someone who doesn’t. I wouldn’t say I’m going to question someone`s patriotism. Would I wear one at some time? I’ve worn one I think once in my life, at one point for something.

KINGSTON: Dan, you know why these, as you call them, attacks—I don`t really think they’re attacks. I think it`s just a little banter back and forth. It seems that the leftists have their hypersensitivity buttons on. But it works. Apparently, it`s like scratching fingernails across a black board when you say “Barack Hussein Obama.”

Kingston’s closing remark was disgraceful; more below. But no, the solon didn’t contradict himself with what he said about the flag pin. There actually is an “argument” there; you have to judge if it’s a good one. And yes, there are people out in the country who may even vote in this basis.

But in a different cultural era, Kingston would have been mocked to the death for showing up without a flag pin to criticize Obama’s lack of a flag pin—and he would have been roasted over hot coals for that last, indefensible comment. But we don’t live in an era like that. We live in this political era—an era in which ABC News decided that the woman’s question was more important than the million global issues they failed to get to in last night’s debate.

“The political media are a broken institution. Hopeless,” Digby wrote last night. This morning, when we went to ABC News to see if they’d posted a transcript, we found this story at the top of their page, with a photo which was simply delicious:

Kim’s Embarrassing Panty Pic
Reality star Kim Kardashian successfully pleads with "pap" to erase picture.

In the real world, some questions are more equal than others. And some questions reflect the broken-souled culture of a broken, multimillionaire press corps. A press corps which our liberal journals have accepted, without a peep of complaint, for a good many years.

Why have these journals done that?

MANY THINGS DON’T HAPPEN: Did the following event really happen? Gail Collins seems to be referring to the April 14 dinner which is reported here. But as we’ve learned down through the years, many events described in Times op-ed columns didn’t happen in the real world. Our question: Did this really occur?

COLLINS (4/17/08): It's amazing how often age comes up in this campaign...

This week, while Obama was doing his “fired up” speech at the Philadelphia Democratic Party dinner, he told the story about how he went to a sparsely attended gathering at Greenwood, S.C., feeling tired and slightly depressed until a local woman appeared, crying out: ''Fired up and ready to go!”'

“She's seen some years,'' Obama said, describing the scene to a room full of well-fed politicians and union officials. ''She's maybe close to 60 ...”

Oh, no! Some middle-aged women in the crowd started to hiss. The battered Obama campaign aides must have been swooning. First the gun lovers, now the baby boomers.

This long, long primary has come down to a matter of age—or at least tenure under the presidential spotlight.

We’d already seen several elements in Collins’ column which seemed to benefit from “creative retelling.” But did this incident really occur? We can find no report of Obama saying this anywhere in the Nexis archives. Darlings, it makes for splendid enjoyment! But did it really occur?

Of course, Times columnists have long enjoyed improving dull, unhelpful facts. Later, Collins offers this familiar portrait. In our view, it’s based on a factual howler. Try to ignore Collins’ tone, developed inside a palace:

COLLINS: Maybe the problem is Pennsylvania. Not that it isn’t a lovely place. (Full of people who despite their economic woes are in excellent moods all the time.) But whenever the candidates’ pollsters crunch Pennsylvania they seem to determine that the entire state—and possibly the presidency—hinges on a couple of exurban neighborhoods full of alienated outdoorsmen. This causes Democrats to go into strange contortions to try to woo them. Witness Obama and Clinton at the debate, racing away from gun control as if they were a pair of greyhounds.

This makes for familiar entertainment, with Democrats pictured as big pander bears. We don’t have the transcript yet—but if memory serves, Clinton endorsed reinstatement of the assault weapon ban last night, blaming Republicans for letting it lapse. We don’t recall Obama playing greyhound either. In short, Collins had some good solid fun. You and the truth can go hang.

Note: We’re using Collins’ text from this morning’s hard-copy Times. Changes have occurred on-line. The Dems are still big phonies, of course—but the bungled facts are now AWOL.

Darlings, we hope you enjoyed the fun. They do love to hand you their novels.

SMILE-A-WHILE: People vote on every conceivable basis. This example caught our eye today. It’s from David Broder’s column, for entertainment purposes only:

BRODER (4/17/08): Another Democratic voter, Ellen Sharm, 49, of Fort Washington, is unequivocally opposed to Clinton “because my father hated Bill Clinton and he hated her.”

Sharm herself is equivocal about Obama and McCain and she said she is "halfway between" their opposing views on Iraq—with Obama urging an immediate start on a pullout and McCain saying the United States should remain there in force until Iraq is stable. Sharm described her own position on the war as "wishy-washy" and, while her disqualification of Clinton "out of respect for my father" dictates a vote for Obama in the primaries, she said “if it’s Obama versus McCain I'll have to consider" what to do in November.

Too funny! People vote for various reasons—including the desire to show their respect for their (late?) father’s sanctified hatreds.