Saturday, August 23, 2008

The AP Hatchet Job

Feeling bouyant about Obama's choice for VP, I log on to my email account this morning, to see a string of Associated Press headlines and articles slamming Obama:

Analysis: Is Obama Ready for the World's Toughest Job?
Analysis: Biden Pick Shows Lack of Confidence
Biden Pick Draws Democratic Praise, GOP Criticism

Bam! Bam! Bam! As Springsteen sings: shot between the eyes!

And some of you wonder why I post as The NeuroticDemocrat?

(Compare this to how the NY Times objectively portrayed the day's news in the headline: "Obama Adds Foreign Expertise to the Ticket," subhead: "Selection of Biden Puts an Emphasis on Experience")

I know the AP has a long history of abusing Obama in this race, but this trifecta is worth commenting on.

The first article, by Christopher Wills, begins this way:

"SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Americans picking a president usually turn to people who have run states or armies. The biggest thing Barack Obama has ever run is his own presidential campaign.
The 47-year-old Illinois senator is asking voters to look beyond his thin resume and conclude that he has the wisdom and toughness to be president. The economy, terrorism, health care — he hopes voters will trust him with all that and more.
That's a lot to ask for someone who just a few years ago was an obscure member of the Illinois Legislature."

Questions for Chris: What's the biggest thing John McCain has run? Isn't it conventional wisdom in this country that the presidential campaign you run actually does say something important about the candidate? (Witness the Atlantic Monthly's reporting about how the Clinton candidacy imploded in a tsunami of mismanagement -- which seems to me like perhaps one of the most compelling arguments against her for president.) When has Obama described his own resume as "thin," as you suggest here? And what about it, exactly, is "thin"? Does the community organizing not count? Does his experience as a lawyer, and as a teacher of constitutional law, not count? Does his experience as a state legislator not count? Would you have used the same adjective, in a news analysis, to describe George Bush's military resume vis-a-vis John Kerry's, four years ago? What is your evidence that Obama was "obscure" in the legislature?

And that headline, "Is Obama Ready for the World's Toughest Job?" -- Couldn't that have been ripped directly from the McCain attack machine? Isn't one of their constant refrains: "Is he ready?" The AP's raising it this way emphatically suggests the answer to anyone who is even moderately paying attention: No. He's not ready. (A different writer, who is not pro-McCain, might write a story headlined, for example: "Has Obama's Unique Experience Readied Him for the Presidency?" It could still probe the same themes, but without shredding Obama before the dateline is written.) This was a gift, on what should be one of Obama's days in the spotlight, to the McCain campaign.

Now to the other headline, over the article by Ron Fournier: "Analysis: Biden Pick Shows Lack of Confidence."

Here is the key graf: "The picks say something profound about Obama: For all his self-confidence, the 47-year-old Illinois senator worried that he couldn't beat Republican John McCain without help from a seasoned politician willing to attack. The Biden selection is the next logistical step in an Obama campaign that has become more negative — a strategic decision that may be necessary but threatens to run counter to his image."

Questions for Ron: Why doesn't the pick say something about the fact that McCain has unleashed a blisteringly string of negative attacks, which runs counter to McCain's image, and that Obama showed good judment and political smarts in picking someone (unlike, say, John Edwards four years ago, or Lieberman eight years ago) who is willing, capable, and adept and fighting back? How does an editor possibly conclude for a headline, even from what you write here, that the pick shows a "lack of confidence"? Could you look at this pick of Biden -- a strong, seasoned foreign policy veteran with years of experience -- and conclude that the pick is illustrative of Obama's supreme confidence: That he is not afraid to have as his right-hand-man one of the titans of foreign affairs. Doesn't it require confidence to invite this kind of heft into your administration? Doesn't it say that Obama is not afraid to be pushed and prodded and challenged? And, taking a step back -- isn't it exactly that kind of challenging that, over time, will lead to better policy-making? Better decisions? Isn't the lack of this kind of back-and-forth one of the biggest reasons that the Bush administration has been such an abject failure? (Even, it seems, in the eyes of John McCain.) Isn't it possible, Ron, that choosing a person who has in fact criticized Obama before, as a running mate, is an expression self-confidence, rather than evidence of its absence?

Reasonable people could have different answers to this question. My point is simply that in asserting these headlines, helping to shape how people receive this pick, on this day, is loaded and slanted and inherently biased in favor of McCain. Let's see what the AP headlines are when McCain makes his pick. Something tells me they won't be nearly as cutting.

There is so much more to say today, but my family is waiting for me at the Pearl St. Mall in downtown Boulder, so I'll just touch on the highlights.

I ended my CNN boycott to watch the day's political news unfold. That didn' t last long. One thing that struck me about the narrative the press is going to push this week is the "Snubbed Clinton" line. Today she was snubbed because she wasn't vetted for VP. And she and Bill were snubbed because Obama didn't call to seek their counsel. I have to say, I have been tremendously impressed with Hillary Clinton, herself, in all of this -- her grace in complimenting Obama's choice, today, and in complimenting Obama. Surely, that was not easy. Indeed, the way she is acquitting herself in all of this makes me feel better and better about her as a presidential candidate in the future, should she ever run again. But the way these nameless supporters of hers are carrying on, behind the scenes -- leaking their frustration anonymously to CNN -- in a way that only serves to undermine the Obama-Biden ticket: It's a shanda. A disgrace. I have a three-year-old who behaves better when he doesn't get what he wants. It's some of the same reckless, near-sighted, ugly behavior that doomed the Clinton campaign from the start.

Speaking of my three-year-old: I need to go find him on Pearl St.

I feel an uptick, today. I feel something shifting for Obama. Something not even the AP, in its infinite wisdom, can crush.


drdad said...

The AP and others will always find an easy way to criticize if they have already made the editorial decision to do so. Had Obama chosen someone with less experience he would have been skewered for weakness because of his fear of being overshadowed by someone with more heft and experience. Had he chosen a women he would have been attacked for caving in to women's group and as offering a sop to Clinton's supporters. If he had chosen a governor it would have been to make up for his lack of administrative experience. Etc., etc., etc...... Strawmen are so easy to knock down - that's why people without legitimate arguments use them.

Loyal said...

Ron Fournier is an unadulterated McCain shill. He has interviewed for a job wiht McCain and told Karl Rove to keep up the good work I believe that TPM has done some nce work showing how unprofessional it is for AP to have Fournier cover this campaign. He is doing McCain's work at the AP.

NeuroticDem said...

Drdad -- Great point about the Strawman, and that Obama would have been skewered no matter what. It is amazing to me, though, that the AP is such a heavy-handed party to this. Millions of people still get their news this way, in small local papers across the country. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised.
Loyal -- I've seen some of that stuff on Fournier. Can you post some links from Talking Points Memo, so folks can read it for themselves?
I'm off to Denver for the first event tonight. Hopefully will blog on it when I return to Boulder, tonight.

Loyal said...

ND. As requested:

TPM reporting Politico re job interview

TPM re Karl Rove emailTPM

TPM referring to another Politico story

Josh Marshall on AP's _endorsement of McCain_ back in July


NeuroticDem said...

Anyone who didn't follow the links that Loyal provided, absolutely should. It contains the scoop on AP reporter Ron Fournier's link to McCain. Here's the relevant grafs:

"Before Ron Fournier returned to The Associated Press in March 2007, the veteran political reporter had another professional suitor: John McCain's presidential campaign.

In October 2006, the McCain team approached Fournier about joining the fledgling operation, according to a source with knowledge of the talks. In the months that followed, said a source, Fournier spoke about the job possibility with members of McCain's inner circle, including political aides Mark Salter, John Weaver and Rick Davis.

Salter, who remains a top McCain adviser, said in an e-mail to Politico that Fournier was considered for "a senior advisory role" in communications."

62Robinson said...

NeurDem, I'm surprised that you find this:

Biden Pick Draws Democratic Praise, GOP Criticism

to be a bias headline, but label as "objective" this:

Obama Adds Foreign Expertise to the Ticket
Selection of Biden Puts an Emphasis on Experience

I won't get into the "analysis" headlines you go into more detail on. Analysis by definition will have a slant. But the above AP head is so objective that it is bland. "Democrats like the pick, Republicans don't." Could have written that head a week ago, no matter who the pick was.

But the Times headline is not objective. "foreign expertise" and "emphasis on experience" are very positive phrases. These are loaded words that Obama backers would see as correct but McCain backers would no doubt see as filled with praise for Biden.

If you flip the coin, "foreign expertise" could have been replaced with "overcoming Obama's shortcomings" and "emphasis on experience" becomes "anti-change."

Obviously these words are just as loaded. But keep in mind that objectivity is in the eye of the beholder.

Sorry. Just had to be the Devil's advocate when you brought up headlines.