WHERES THE BEEF! The New York Times broke out the soft soap for a front-page profile of Bachmann: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2009
Dont ask, dont force her to tell: On Sunday, the Washington Post Outlook section presented an (edited) interview with Olympia Snowe.
It was part of Outlooks OUTSPOKEN series. But Outlook seems to have worked rather hard to shelter Snowe against the need to engage in any such conduct.
(To read the full feature, click here.)
Darlings! In such lofty journalistic preserves, Serious People do not rock the boat. They dont embarrass or challenge senators who have agreed to be interviewed. We thought of this Abiding Law of Village Decorum when we scanned two of the first four questions published in the Post.
(Repeat: This feature is edited. It presents edited excerpts.)
In Question 2, Snowe was given the chance to wax about the great work of the Gang of Six. Heres the full Q-and-A as it appears in the Post:
There! Snowe got a chance to wax about her colleaguesand her ownvast greatness. But two questions later, she was asked about a troubling matter. In response, she mounted her high horse again. Then, she changed the subject:
Snowe said she was stunned by Becks wild tales. And then, she basically changed the subjectsomething the Post allowed.
Lets state the obvious. Even the kid who hid in the attic would have thought of the obvious follow-up: If Snowe was so stunned by Becks vile conduct, what did she think about Senator Grassley, one of the lordly Gang of Six whom she had just praised to the skies? After all his grand/glorious work on the bill, Grassley scurried home to Iowaand he declaimed about those death panels too! In Question 2, Snowe had praised Grassleys encouraging conduct. But what the heck had she thought when this great solon behaved just like vile Beck?
Choosing not to rock the boat, the Post interviewer never asked. Or who knows? Perhaps he did ask! If he did, his editor wisely cut that unmannered crap out.
The interviewer was Ezra Klein. Klein was once a promising comer, seemingly careful not to say the wrong things. Today, hes perilously close to being accepted in The Order of Serious People.
What did Senator Snowe think of Grassley? More to the point: Was she asked?
Gagging us softly: The feature appeared beneath a gag-worthy headline: A Conversation With Olympia Snowe, Reform Rebel.
PART 1WHERES THE BEEF: We were struck by a lengthy profile on the front page of last Thursdays New York Times.
The profile, written by Monica Davey, examined second-term Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann. The profile appeared beneath a rather innocuous headline: GOP Has a Lightning Rod, And Her Name Is Not Palin.
Just a guess: Many Times readers had never heard of this new lightning rod before they saw the profile by Davey. Another guess: And after they read the profile by Davey, these people still had no real idea what the big fuss is about.
That there is a big fuss surrounding Bachmann is fairly clear just from the size of the piece. Daveys profile covered some 26 paragraphs, stretching to 1150 words. It was accompanied by a second piece, totaling 405 words, in which Davey which fact-checked some statements by Bachmann. (Headline: Fact Checker Finds Falsehoods in Remarks.) The twin pieces included one small photo on the front pageand three larger photos on page A20.
The profile started on the front page; its lay-out inside the paper was huge. But after reading Daveys twin pieces, its doubtful that a New York Times reader would have understood why this little-known, second-term congresswoman had generated such a big fuss.
Why was the New York Times profiling Bachmann? As she started, Davey offered a familiar, rather innocuous framework:
Not bad for a newcomer, Davey said, describing Bachmanns cable exposure. She then offered a familiar construct: Some people love Bachmann, others loathe her. But why is Rep. Bachmann so loathed? Go ahead! Read the whole Times lay-out! If you didnt know the answer coming in, youll still have little idea.
Why is Michele Bachmann loathed? As she continues, Davey quotes the DNC making a strong assertion:
Bachmann has been spreading reckless lies, the DNC has said. But theres more: In paragraph 6, Davey quotes Sean Hannnity; he calls Bachmann the second-most-hated Republican woman in the country, second to Governor Palin. In paragraph 12, Davey extends this theme:
At this point, weve read twelve paragraphs. Weve been told that Democrats accuse Bachmann of reckless lies and outrageous claims. Weve been told that Democrats think she is wacky. Shes Americas second-most-hated Republican woman, according to a major talker.
Clearly, theres a big fuss about Bachmann. But does Davey let Times readers know what the big fuss is all about? In our view, the scribe works rather hard in this piece to under-report the statements by Bachmann which have created this fuss.
In our view, Davey took out a big tub of soft soap as she constructed her profile.
In a profile like this, it isnt Daveys job to agree/disagree with Democratic criticisms. It is her job to let readers know what the big fuss is about. But is the New York Times willing to tell the truth about a reckless figure like Bachmann? Or is the New York Times bending again to fear of attacks from the right?
TomorrowPart 2: Get out the soap