RUSSERT WEPT! Tears splashed down Tim Russerts faceand a Major Dem kissed, smooched and fawned: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MAY 19, 2008
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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!