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DEEP THOUGHTS BY PAT HEALY! No big paper reports as poorly as the New York Times: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, AUGUST 7, 2006

AMONG THE WORLD’S STRANGEST RECORDED BELIEFS: Yes, we actually think he believes what he said. That said, our analysts came out of their chairs Sunday morning when David Brooks voiced an odd claim on The Chris Matthews Show. The panel was asking itself if The Daily Show makes its viewers too cynical:
MATTHEWS (8/6/06): Is it smart to think of this as cartoons? Like, Bush: Not too bright. Cheney: Tough guy. You know—Gore: Boring. Is it OK to have these tags we’re basically putting on these guys?

BROOKS: I think that’s fine. But I do, I do want to object to the cynicism. One of the things I’ve found in life is that politicians are a lot more sincere than us journalists, and we are more sincere than the people who read and watch us. The public is much more cynical, and that cynicism is stupid. It’s pseudo-intellectual, the belief that they’re all on to it. They’re not all crooks. Most of the people in public life are pretty honest.
Brooks' logic is a bit weak (for example, a person can "sincerely" believe that all pols are crooks, whether that view is correct or not). But, having followed this press corps for more than eight years, we’re inclined to file that highlighted remark under “Humankind’s Strangest Known Statements.”

By the way, why was the panel debating this tired old topic? Just guessing, but you can bet the house: CMS taped an early-in-the-week, “evergreen” show so Chris could jet to his Nantucket manse. His only Hardball appearance last week occurred on Monday night.

TOMORROW: Just asking: Could Bob Kagan really have been “sincere” when he wrote this ridiculous column?

DEEP THOUGHTS BY PAT HEALY: A few weeks ago, we noted a miserable trait of New York Times political reporting (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/25/06). That trait? The tendency to mind-read motives for a pol’s statement before even telling us what the pol said. But then, as we said at that time, the Times is in a class by itself when it comes to fly-weight political reporting. And uh-oh! On page one of this morning’s paper, Patrick Healy proves our point once again. Oof! Here’s the way he begins his report about Joe Lieberman’s Sunday:
HEALY (8/7/06): Senator Joseph I. Lieberman directly confronted the anger roiling the Democratic Party over Iraq yesterday, making a last-ditch attempt to explain his support for the war and to win back doubting voters in Connecticut before the state primary election tomorrow.

Using his strongest language of the campaign in a speech that might well determine his political fate, Mr. Lieberman essentially offered a new set of talking points for Democratic leaders who are struggling for the right words to reconcile their support for the war initially and the fiery antiwar views of many Democratic voters today.
Good God, that’s awful writing! Before Healy quotes a single word Lieberman said, he provides his own sweeping view of its meaning. What was Lieberman “essentially” doing when he said whatever he said? (Healy begins quoting the solon in paragraph 3.) According to Healy, Lieberman was “essentially offer[ing] a new set of talking points for Democratic leaders who are struggling for the right words to reconcile their support for the war initially and the fiery antiwar views of many Democratic voters today.” Does anyone on earth know what that means? Does anyone know why Healy “believes” it? No—but this incoherent, sweeping claim leads this critical, front-page report.

But then, New York Times political reporters have written this way for years. We’ll take a highly speculative guess: By the time they get hired at the Times, reporters may even believe their own twaddle; by virtue of their professional standing, they may think they have Deep Things To Tell Us about the meaning of every event. (Their editors may even believe this too.) Who knows? They may even think it would be unfair to deprive us of their Vast Deep Insights. But in fact, the paper seems to go out of its way to recruit fly-weights for its political reporting. Result? We get miserable work like this Healy piece—or like the mind-reading piece by Anne Kornblut which we critiqued at the link above.

Other big papers just don’t write this poorly. Again, we’ll make the Post’s Dan Balz our control group. Here’s how Balz begins his own report on Lieberman’s day on the front page of today’s Post:
BALZ (8/7/06): In a dramatic bid to stave off a potential defeat in Tuesday's Democratic primary, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) on Sunday rejected charges from rival Ned Lamont that he has been one of the chief cheerleaders for President Bush's Iraq policy, but he reaffirmed his belief that a hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces would prove disastrous for Iraqis and for the United States.

With polls showing Lamont leading the three-term incumbent, Lieberman at last moved to confront the issues—opposition to the war and anger with Bush—that have put his political career in jeopardy. The decision came after a lengthy debate within his campaign over whether he could win the primary without directly addressing his position on the war and his relationship with the president.

Campaigning with renewed intensity 48 hours before the balloting, Lieberman described himself as a proud and loyal Democrat who not only has opposed nearly all of Bush's domestic agenda but also has repeatedly criticized the administration's handling of the Iraq conflict.

Saying he still believes his vote to authorize the war was correct, Lieberman added: "What I don't think is right, as I've said over and over again, are many of the Bush administration's decisions regarding the conduct of the war. The fact is I have openly and clearly disagreed with and criticized the president."
Balz wasn’t moved to offer meandering thoughts about what Lieberman was “essentially” doing. He provided a big of basic context, then told us what Lieberman said.

Good God, that opening by Healy is awful! But then, New York Times political reporting has been cosmically awful for years. The paper seems to go out of its way to assemble a team of world-class fly-weights. And then, they’re instructed to share their Deep Thoughts. Disaster moves downhill from there.