Tag Archives: Campaign

On politics and blogging

Hmm … two posts about politics in one night. I’m not usually that fired up.

Maybe it was the rape kits that pushed me over the edge. Ezra Klein explains:

Eight years ago, the Alaskan Legislature had to pass a bill that banned towns from charging rape victims for the kits used to prove the crime and capture the perpetrator. These kits cost between $300 and $1,200 a piece, and are an essential portion of the investigation. There was only one town in the state doing this: Wasilla, where Sarah Palin was mayor. This was the same town that received tens of millions of dollars in pork, and had the money to hire a high-priced lobbying firm to bring in yet more. Shame Ted Stevens couldn’t appropriate some money so rape victims weren’t hit with a $1,000 bill.

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Journalism’s trouble with lies

Why oh why can’t journalists call a lie a lie?

The question has come up repeatedly in this campaign season of depressingly typical he-said-she-said news stories — with increasing frequency since John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.

In an ideal world, as Dylan Matthews points out, “When Sarah Palin claimed she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere, the AP headline would be ‘Palin Repeats Lie about Infamous Bridge’.”

In the real world, even a Washington Post story that’s ostensibly about campaign lies has to resort to wishy-washy phrasing:

Palin and John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee, have been more aggressive in recent days in repeating what their opponents say are outright lies. Almost every day, for instance, McCain says rival Barack Obama would raise everyone’s taxes, even though the Democrat’s tax plan exempts families that earn less than $250,000. (emphasis added)

Notice how the story won’t call McCain a liar — it’s McCain’s “opponents” who say he lies. But in the very next sentence, the Post reporter accurately describes one of McCain’s lies. The facts aren’t in dispute: Obama has a detailed tax plan, and McCain has repeatedly falsely described that plan. He has lied about it. So why can’t the story just come out and say so?

The reticence to call a lie a lie is perhaps the most pernicious example of how modern journalism’s objectivity fetish has been taken to such extremes that it’s become meaningless.

Objectivity is no longer (if it ever was) a means to reporting the truth. It has become an end in itself. If the facts can be interpreted to reflect negatively on a subject (at least if that subject is a Republican or allegedly conservative candidate for office), then they must be avoided. Indeed, this twisted notion of objectivity has turned facts into mere subjective interpretations.

But facts are facts. The interpretation comes after. And journalists should not worry about how the facts will be interpreted.

For example, simply pointing out that someone is lying is descriptive, not normative.

“John McCain lied about Barack Obama and sex education” is a statement of fact. It does not render judgment on McCain — it merely points out that what he said about Obama was intentionally false.

Now, it’s true that in American culture in general and presidential politics specifically, people generally don’t think highly of liars. But that’s reason for John McCain to stop lying — not for the media to stop pointing out when he lies.

If the facts reflect poorly on a subject in the culture’s eyes, that’s the subject’s business — not the media’s. (The whole point of objectivity was that the media shouldn’t be in the reflection business!)

The good news is, there’s been so much outrage in certain quarters about the media’s fear of lie-detection that maybe things will change. And if a new AP story on McCain’s lies doesn’t quite reach Dylan Matthews’ ideal — the still-too-tentative headline: “Analysis: McCain’s claims skirt facts, test voters” — at least it’s a start.

What this election is about

There are any number of reasons why someone might not want to vote for Barack Obama.

I get that. But I also agree with Andrew Sullivan about what’s at stake in this election.

We need to think about: Who best can win the war on terror? Who best can extricate us from Iraq? Who best can handle Pakistan? Who best can manage the financial meltdown? Who best will rid us of addiction to foreign oil? Who best can unite the country? Who best can tackle the enormous debt the Bush-Cheney years have landed us with? Who best can restore America’s core abhorrence of torture?

Now watch these videos.

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Ignorant political journalism in full effect

In light of this post, it seems appropriate to mention that Wednesday’s Democratic debate turned out to be the apotheosis of mindless, ignorant political journalism. I only caught the last 45 minutes, so I didn’t see the really egregious stuff at the beginning. But even some of the policy questions were bad — i.e. Charlie Gibson channeling Grover Norquist and trying to get the candidates to agree to a no-tax pledge — and from all accounts the rest was a joke as well. (Update: Crooks and Liars has video of the more inane questions.)

There’s been a ton of response to the debate around the blogosphere. Andrew Sullivan has roundups here and here, and a good post of his own. James Fallows weighs in from China with an important post that includes an excerpt from his 1996 article, “Why Americans Hate the Media”:

When ordinary citizens have a chance to pose questions to political leaders, they rarely ask about the game of politics. They want to know how the reality of politics will affect them—through taxes, programs, scholarship funds, wars. Journalists justify their intrusiveness and excesses by claiming that they are the public’s representatives, asking the questions their fellow citizens would ask if they had the privilege of meeting with Presidents and senators. In fact they ask questions that only their fellow political professionals care about.

In the same vein, anyone interested in this topic should read Matthew Yglesias’ December Washington Monthly piece on how NBC’s Tim Russert is the driving force behind this kind of political coverage.

The one good thing about the debate is that it was such a monumental debacle — even Tom Shales, the Washington Post’s TV critic, called it “shoddy” and “despicable,” — that the backlash might finally be strong enough to keep this conversation going and (one can dream) eventually spark some changes.

Political journalism’s policy ignorance

I’ve been meaning for a while to write a post about the pointlessness of the “Is the media finally getting tough on Barack Obama” meme. The gist would have been that the media’s “getting tough” on Obama — just like the media’s alleged “Obama bias” — had zero to do with policy and everything to do with personality, image, and media meta-narratives. Likewise the media’s alleged bias against Hillary Clinton has nothing to do with her policy proposals.

Furthermore, the near-total focus on these sorts of things to the exclusion of policy shows the general shallowness of newspaper political journalism, especially campaign journalism. There are many reasons for this, starting with objectivity conventions, which give reporters little reason to read white papers, policy proposals, scholarly books, etc. Whereas writers for New Republic, Atlantic, Slate et. al. are a) not bound by “objectivity” strictures and b) well-versed in policy.

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Can we have some actual democracy, please?

Something is seriously screwed up in the way Americans vote for their presidential nominees.

Whether it’s because this campaign is a tight race for the first time in a while or something else, the byzantine ins and outs of the American election system have never been clearer and more frustrating than they are in 2008.

We’ve seen the two parties ridiculously kowtowing to Iowa and New Hampshire by stripping Florida and Michigan of delegates for leap-frogging those early states’ votes (and Hillary Clinton’s equally ridiculous, retroactive attempt to claim those delegates despite having already agreed to said kowtowing). And Barack Obama getting more delegates in Nevada than Clinton despite getting a smaller share of the vote. And the odd prevalence of caucuses. And Louisiana’s weird rules negating Mike Huckabee’s win on Saturday. And Texas’ upcoming primary/caucus hybrid. And the inexplicable “superdelegates.” And news of 49,500 ballots in Los Angeles County that can’t be counted because they were too confusing and were marked incorrectly. (This is all separate from the GOP’s usual obsession with voter ID laws, “voter fraud,” and other attempts to generally suppress voting.) Continue reading

McCain beats Obama! (In viral videos, that is)

Here’s a great response video/parody to that too-serious Barack Obama vid. Besides being a pretty hilarious takedown of John McCain, it also nicely punctures the overwrought atmosphere of the will.i.am. project.