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Daily Howler: The Times learned what the rubes must think by asking the swells of Broad Ripple
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GREETINGS FROM BROAD RIPPLE VILLAGE! The Times learned what the rubes must think by asking the swells of Broad Ripple: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MAY 2, 2008

GREETINGS FROM BROAD RIPPLE VILLAGE: Is Reverend Wright worth talking about? That is a matter of judgment. For ourselves, we aren’t “offended” by Wright’s views—though Obama has said that “every American” is. Nor does Obama’s association with Wright make us question his values, which strike us as largely superb. We are astounded by the fact that Obama failed to see the political problem here—and yes, we’re slightly “offended” by that. In the twenty years since Dukakis went down, Dems have spent a lot of time learning how to avoid the culture-traps that can turn elections. It’s slightly annoying—and deeply puzzling—to read about the way Obama pushed on, oblivious to the political time bomb right there at his side. (Again, we recommend Michael Powell’s fascinating report in yesterday’s Times.)

Again, this is the politics of Reverend Wright, not the merits. If you don’t care who actually wins our elections, you can ignore such things totally.

Could this still affect the outcome this fall? Yes, of course—it actually could. Which brings us around to the coverage of this issue found in today’s New York Times.

Yesterday, one of the newspaper’s great provincials chuckled about the way Bill Clinton was talking to people in Apex—and Lumberton! Today, on page one, the Times’ Campbell Robertson speaks to African-American voters in Lumberton (and other such towns) about their views on this flap. Such reporting is always “anecdotal,” of course. But Robertson seemed to find that most black voters were going to stand with Obama:

ROBERTSON (5/2/08): [M]any black voters maintain that the situation has come about because of a double standard that holds Mr. Obama accountable for Mr. Wright's views while white political figures are not always held accountable for controversial opinions of their associates. They add that it makes them all the more motivated to support Mr. Obama.

All of that is fine with us. And we’re glad that Robertson would dirty his hands speaking with the actual people who live in a comical place like Lumberton. (Don’t tell Collins!) But we had to chuckle when we read this companion report by Monica Davey. Davey spoke to voters in Indiana about their views of the Wright matter. Well—she didn’t speak to all such voters. In fact, she went to “the cafes, gift stores and the gourmet dog biscuit shop in [the Indianapolis] neighborhood of Broad Ripple Village,” where she spoke to a particular slice of Indiana’s electorate:

DAVEY (5/2/08): The shoppers in Broad Ripple and in the neighborhoods nearby reflect a demographic group—mostly white, highly educated, professional, artsy, relatively well-off, politically independent—that has leaned toward Senator Barack Obama in other states and one that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will hope to gain an edge with here, in a state that polls show as almost evenly split.

But in interviews here on Thursday, voters said Mr. Wright's highly publicized comments and the responses and echoes that have followed had had little bearing on them.

Davey spoke to upscale, mostly white voters—and they didn’t care about Wright either. There was nothing wrong with her doing that, of course. But for the record: In its two articles, the Times spoke to regular black voters in North Carolina—and to upscale white voters in Indiana. Unsurprisingly, they found the same thing in both locations—a general lack of concern about the things Wright said.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, although a tilt can be found in the two locales which were chosen. But our analysts mordantly chuckled at one significant part of Davey’s report. That was the place when Davey asked those upscale white voters to explain what lower-income whites must surely be thinking. The Times didn’t send a reporter out to ask such voters to state their own views. Instead, Davey, in Broad Ripple’s dog-biscuit shoppes, recorded second-hand speculations about what down-state rubes surely thought:

DAVEY: Supporters of both Democratic candidates said that they did not think the Wright episode should change the race but said, again and again, that they feared it might in other, less cosmopolitan areas of Indiana where they thought people might be searching for some acceptable explanation for not voting for a black candidate.

Mr. Crockett, who said he was leaning ever so slightly toward Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton, his wife's preferred candidate, said he worried that Mr. Obama’s ties to his former pastor could harm him among voters in the far southern part of the state, the small towns, the more conservative enclaves.

“I think Reverend Wright will give a lot of people an excuse not to vote for Obama,”Mr. Crockett said. ''They're looking for an excuse, and this will be it.''

At some point, you just have to laugh at this kind of “reporting.” And make no mistake—these ruminations about downstate rubes was highlighted by Davey’s editors. “Minister’s Comments Hold Little Sway in Indianapolis Enclave,” this article’s headline said. And then you hit the boxed sub-headline: “A feeling that voters (elsewhere) may see things differently.”

Go ahead! Just enjoy a good laugh!

In fairness, this is just one day’s reporting about the public’s views of this issue. But let’s get clear on what the Times did: They sent a reporter to Tarheel towns to get the views of African-Americans. (Good!) And they sent a reporter to Broad Ripple to get the views of upscale whites. (Good again!) But what did the Gotham paper do to get the views of less affluent whites? Simple! Instead of interviewing such rubes, they simply asked the swells to speak for them! This produced a pleasing second-hand view: Low-income whites, with their racial bad faith, may well be swayed by this story!

Let’s be clear: If the Times had actually interviewed those down-state voters, it may well have found racial attitudes mixed in the brew. That would be an important part of this story, and we wish the Time had gone there. (As they’ve sometimes done in the past; just click here, then cringe.) But the pair of reports which are offered today represent a comical type of reporting. And they represent a perfect follow-up to Collins’ sneering about those small towns.

Make no mistake: When Manhattan provincials sneer at Lumberton, as Collins did on Thursday, they’re sneering at those towns’ white residents, not at African-Americans. One day after Collins’ eye-rolling, the Times sent Robertson to Lumberton (good), where he spoke with some of the people who live in that Carolina town. But did the Times speak to low-income whites, letting them voice their views for themselves? Please! Why bother, when the swells of Broad Ripple were willing to state their views for them?

We had to chuckle at Davey’s report—at the remarkably unbalanced set of reports found in this morning’s Times generally. Will the flap about Wright change votes next Tuesday? We don’t have the slightest idea. You see, the Times forgot to go to the parts of these states where the votes are most likely to change.

A LONG HISTORY: Condescension toward southern whites is deeply entrenched in the culture of Manhattan journalism. It’s seen among upscale snobs, like Collins. But this condescension has long been a trick of some “working stiff” journalists too.

Just yesterday, working on another project, we reviewed Jimmy Breslin’s gruesome rant, during Campaign 2000, about the way vile Candidate Gore dumped Willie Horton on our heads. The claim was perfect nonsense, of course—although it was voiced by a string of reporters. It had long been part of RNC lore, and by the fall of 1999, the mainstream press corps was so in the tank that they took turns reciting it too. No, Gore never mentioned Horton, in any way, during the 1988 campaign (it might have been better for Dems if he had), but “journalists” stood in line to say different. And by the way: Note how perfectly slick Breslin was when he took his turn with this nonsense, early on in this frenzy. Note how he avoids saying that Gore had mentioned Horton, while giving that clear impression. Finally, note the way he plainly says that Gore did this because he was southern:

BRESLIN (10/17/99): [O]ne night here at Town Hall, which I am walking by as I remember this on Friday, Gore was in a debate with Dukakis and Jackson and at one point he brought out something that Republicans from the campaign of George Bush Sr., vice president, candidate for president, had been whispering around. There had been prisoners released in Massachusetts on a furlough program and they had committed crimes.

The big name was Willie Horton, who had killed and raped. The furlough program was a federal idea and had been used everywhere. It was a policy in Massachusetts before Dukakis was governor. Yes, it happened. No matter that so many everywhere had been furloughed without an incident. All that counted was that Willie Horton had gone on a rampage.

Horton was black.

Gore got on the stage at Town Hall and announced that Dukakis was weak on crime and the furlough policy proved it.

The primary went on and Dukakis won the state, Jackson the city and Gore nothing. He ended his campaign.

But Gore left his southern contribution to the year's politics.

Let’s play scum-ball! Again, note how hard Breslin works to keep his claims “technically accurate.” He never says that Gore mentioned Horton, though he makes you think that he did. And at the end, he makes it clear why Gore did such a thing. Gore had made “his southern contribution to the year's politics,” Breslin said.

It’s hard to be more dishonest than that—or more of an open-sore bigot. To Breslin, Candidate Gore was a southern white—and that meant he must be a cracker! But to this day, Manhattan provincials, upscale and down, seem to love the cultural politics acted out in that column. Breslin acted it out with bald deception; Collins, years later, with sneers.

This is very bad politics for liberals and Dems. But readers! It feels good going down!

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: For the record, Breslin seems to be wrong on some of his facts. (What a shock!) We don’t think we’ve ever seen anyone claim that Bush’s aides “had been whispering around” about the furlough program as of the time this debate occurred (4/12/88); all the reporting seems to say different. As far as we know, the Bush campaign’s egregious conduct, which made Horton an icon of race-card politics, began in June of that year. And Breslin presents a disingenuous defense of Dukakis (a fine person) and the Massachusetts program. Yes, “it was a policy in Massachusetts before Dukakis was governor.” But in 1976, the legislature amended the program to prohibit furloughs for first-degree murderers—and Dukakis vetoed the measure. Meanwhile, no other state had a program in which a convict serving life without hope of parole could be furloughed. In fact, Dukakis had supported a program which was hard to defend. In the long run, it would have been better for Dems if Gore (or somebody else) had challenged this policy in more detail during the primaries—if only to help Dukakis get his responses together.

In fact, Gore mentioned the program just once, in one debate (out of dozens), provoking an exchange of perhaps sixty seconds. He never mentioned Horton, or Horton’s crime; he made no type of racial statement. But so what? Eleven years later, droogs like Breslin stood in line to pretend that Gore first played the Horton card. And Breslin explained why Gore had done it. He had done it because he was southern. It just doesn’t get much more gruesome.

By the way: As a string of journalists took their turn playing this nasty card against Gore, your “liberal journals” stared into air, too weak and foolish to voice a complaint. (Are you happy with the way that conduct worked out?) And uh-oh! They kept quiet because their darling, Bill Bradley, was lying though his teeth about this. You see, they were sure they knew then, as they’re sure they know now, which Dem hopeful had better character. Sadly, we’re in Iraq today because these dopes were our “leaders.”

To review this story in more detail, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02. Remember: While all this nonsense was dumped on Gore’s head, your “liberal journals” sat there and stared. One big journalist complained when it counted. Sad! It was Morton Kondracke.