ERASING NO PRECONDITIONS: Yikes. A pair of corrections in todays New York Times are sadly instructive.
Lets start with the following fix-upone which doesnt get blamed on the editors. One wonders how the worlds greatest newspaper makes errors as basic as this:
NEW YORK TIMES CORRECTION (5/19/08): An article on Sunday about Senator Barack Obamas plans to spend primary night on Tuesday in Iowa referred incorrectly to the state of the delegate race for the Democratic nomination. Mr. Obama could amass enough additional pledged delegates on Tuesday from primaries in Oregon and Kentucky to secure a majority of pledged delegates from nominating contests sanctioned by the party. But that alone would not be enough to allow him to proclaim, without fear of contradiction, that he is now the Democratic nominee...
That error, in Larry Rohters news report, concerned a remarkably basic matter. In this case, the Times doesnt blame Rohters mistake on an editing error. But its pretty amazing to think that a Times reporter would have bungled something so basicand, in turn, that his editor wouldnt have noticed so basic a flub.
A second correction is more instructive. Rohters work is at issue againand this time, the official correction does blame an editing error. On Saturday, Rohters front-page news report was amazingly incoherent at one point. Todays correction concerns Obamas position on meeting with iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It returns us to an early part of the Democratic nomination campaign:
NEW YORK TIMES CORRECTION (5/19/08): Because of an editing error, an article on Saturday about Senator Barack Obamas response to remarks by President Bush in which the president likened those who call for talks with terrorists and radicals to those who appeased the Nazis referred incompletely to Mr. Obamas stance on the circumstances under which he and his administration would negotiate with Iran.
In responding, Mr. Obama drew a distinction between having his administration begin negotiations with Iran without preconditions and getting directly involved himself. He has said Iran would have to meet certain benchmarks before he would get personally involved. He went on to say in his response that agreeing to begin talks without preconditions does not mean we would not have preparations. Those preparations would involve starting with low-level diplomatic contacts, such as National Security Council or State Department emissaries.
Because this correction refers to an editing error, well assume that Rohter presented coherent workand that his editors then rolled up their sleeves.
This second correction takes us back to an early part of the Democratic race. At last Julys YouTube debate, a crunchy-granola, kumbaya-style voter asked the Dem hopefuls this uplifting question about that old chestnut, bold leadership:
QUESTION (7/23/07): In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?
The term without preconditions was somewhat vague. But as an elementary matter, it was hard to imagine that any president would meet separately with Kim Jong Il (and the other leaders) during his first year in office, with or without preconditions. But Obama, forced to go first, said he would meet with those leaders, without preconditions, during 2009. Clinton, going second, gave a more plausible answer. (Going third, Edwards said he would meet with Chavez, Castro, Kimthen said, I think actually Senator Clintons right though. Before that meeting takes place, we need to do the work, the diplomacy, to make sure that that meeting's not going to be used for propaganda purposes, will not be used to just beat down the United States of America in the world community.)
Readers, sometimes candidates make mistakes. Candidate Clinton has made mistakes, and so has Candidate Obama. Indeed, Candidate Gore even made mistakesalthough he made so few mistakes that the press corps was forced to invent mistakes for him. But this answer was one of Obamas mistakes, as we see in the way his campaign has apparently reshaped his position. If the Times correction is right, there will be no preconditions for lower-level negotiations. Obama himself will not get involved unless the other nations meet certain benchmarks.
In other words, when it came to this matter, Clinton was right and Obama was wrongif the Times correction is accurate. (About other matters, the situation was reversed.) But what struck us most about this correction? The way Obamas position has been allowed to change without the press taking notice.
To all appearances, Rohters editors were completely confused about Obamas positionthough thats pretty much par for the course. But in this case, it isnt just the editors who were unclearwed say that everyone is! Obamas stance on this general matter has become a central point in the current flap with Bush and McCain. But has the press corps ever clarified his position, going back to his initial statement? Aside from this correction, we can find no sign that the Post or the Times has ever attempted to do so.
We call your attention to this for a reason: One way to judge the press corps preference is by seeing whose mistakes (and readjustments) they ignore. Obamas initial, odd position remains a potential point of electoral danger. If the Times is right, Obama has adjusted his stanceand the press corps has looked away as hes done so. If the Times is right, Obama has slid from an odd position to one that makes senseand no one has called attention to the change.
Once again, we offer this thought: Almost surely, Obama will not be attacked by the press in the way some past Dem hopefuls have been. In todays paper, the Post finds time for this silly, strained analytical piece about vile Clintons vast, troubling perfidy. By way of contrast, Obamas changed stance on this central issue has not been reviewed by the Post. Dems should hope that the Post and the Times remain this permissive through the fall.
RUSSERT WEPT: Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! Tears splashed down Tim Russerts face at one point during yesterdays Meet the Press. In response, Bob Shrum showed us how Dem Party leaders play ball. He showed us how the partys leaders have behaved for the past twenty years.
First, of course, the cryin time. If you werent moved by what follows, your heart is just stone. People! If its Sunday morning, its Meet the Press! And this Sunday, Russert had spotted someone taking the lords name in vain:
RUSSERT (5/18/08): Tuesday, Oregon and Kentucky, two primaries. Hillary Clinton still campaigning, not against Barack Obama. She is now taking on another group of people, Washington insiders. This was Hillary Clinton on the campaign stump on Saturday.
CLINTON (videotape): And you know all those people on TV who are telling you and everybody else that this race is over and I should, you know, just be, you know, graceful and say, Oh, it's over, even though I've won more votes, those are all people who have a job. Those are all people who have health care. Those are all people who can afford to send their kids to college. Those are all people who can pay whatever is charged at the gas pump. They're not the people I'm running to be a champion for.
RUSSERT: Where's the love?
Poor Russert! He was too hurt to tell the full story. But just like that, one of his sycophant pals jumped in to explain what that woman was doing:
RUSSERT (continuing directly): She must be talking about James Carville and Rahm Emanuel, because
SHRUM: No, no. She has ashe has a picture of you in her ad, and I think a picture of George Stephanopoulos. Look, her problem
RUSSERT: And Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews!
Is there no decency? Even them! Hillary Clinton had run an ad which implicitly criticized Russert. And even Matthews and Olbermann! But, as a great American once said, This would not stand! Helping us understand her problem, Bob Shrum rushed in to succor his friendto pander, kiss, smooch, fuss and fawn:
SHRUM (continuing directly): And if she wants to get mad, she ought to put a picture of Euclid up there, because the problem is the math doesn't add up. No matter how you do this, this race is fundamentally over. She's not going to be the Democratic nominee for president, Barack Obama is. And we need to go into a process of healing. And I want to say, on her behalf in the last week, the, the level of the rhetoric has come down, the level of the attacks have come down. She's making an electability argument. I think she really cares about the Democratic Party, and I hope that, in the end, whether she's mad at you or not, she can somehow or other help unite this party and move us toward victory in November.
That was stirring stuff! But it started with a Big Dem Consultant running about as fast as he could to take the side of these long-time Democrat-trashers against a Big Major Dem. Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! he said. Oh pleasepleaseplease, he told his friend. Pleasepleaseplease dont punish me for the vile things this vile person said!
If she wants to get mad! In that gruesome formulation, Shrum revealed a basic fact about Democratic Party elites: No matter what happens to them or their candidates, they pretty much never get mad. Put more simply: Weve rarely seen the slightest sign that these people really care about who wins elections. Over the years, Russert has very much earned a butt-whipping from anyone concerned with Dem Party politics. But when Clinton dares to flash his face in one ad, Shrum runs to comfort/console him.
But then, a lot of this is going on as the Democratic campaign winds down. Simple story: Your political world has long been built to hide the role the Russerts play in deciding the fate of Major Dem hopefuls. Career Dems wont address it; Big Scribes play dumb too. Yesterday, Shrum kissed, smooched, swooned and fawned. Here at THE HOWLER, well review other examples of terminal cluelessness as the week grinds on.
Oh pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease, Shrummy said. Ive been good down through the years! Please dont let this count against me!