The Village was cooing last night over "Game over: The Clintons stand alone," the speculative and gloating hit on the Clintons by Politico's Ben Smith.
Smith breathlessly recounts claims about the Clintons that first appeared in Mark Halperin's new book Game Change, then takes a sneering ha-ha-nobody-likes-the-Clintons tone in noting the purported lack of Clinton loyalists contesting the book's claims.
Now, there's another pretty obvious possible explanation for the lack of an aggressive high-profile response to the book by the Clintons and their former staff. As John Aravosis -- who, if memory serves, did not take a favorable view of Clinton during the presidential primaries -- explains:
I think, rather, that Hillary is being a good Secretary of State. ... I think the lack of response from Team Clinton on this book is because she doesn't want to be a distraction for the President. And if that's the case, she deserves credit.
Now, I don't know if Aravosis is right, or if Smith is. Don't really care, either. But it is striking that Smith never even considers the possibility that "Team Clinton" is laying low for the reason Aravosis suggests. It suggests a tunnel vision on Smith's part, and an eagerness to portray the Clintons as adrift and alone.
One passage in Smith's article was particularly striking to me (emphasis added):
Finally, the depiction of candidate Clinton in "Game Change" suggests that her competitiveness sometimes expressed itself as consuming suspicion.
"I am convinced they also imported people into those caucuses," she reportedly told Penn a month after her concession. In that conversation, which the authors appear to have obtained from a tape-recording or transcript, she reporteldly gave Penn a particularly self-serving assignment:
I want you to start thinking about how I avoid being blamed [for Obama's possible defeat]", Clinton said. "Because I shouldn't be blamed. But they are going to blame me. I somehow didn't do enough."
What's interesting about this passage isn't the substance of Clinton's purported comments. I mean, who really cares if Clinton asked Mark Penn to think about how she could avoid being blamed for an Obama general-election loss? What's remarkable about that?
No, what's interesting is Smith's description of the book's sourcing for the comment. Think about it for a minute: Ben Smith can't tell whether the authors got the quote from a tape-recording or a transcript. That speaks volumes about the authors' shiftiness in describing their sourcing. There's a huge difference between having recordings and having a transcript. If it was a transcript, that would raise all kinds of questions about who produced it and when and how accurate it was.
It says something about the authors that they were ambiguous about which it was, recording or transcript. Just as it says something about them that the source of the famous Clinton/coffee quote isn't described in any way whatsoever:
But Bill [Clinton] then went on, belittling Obama in a manner that deeply offended Kennedy. Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said, A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.
Quick: who's the source of that quote? The Kennedy friend, right? That's what a lot of people have assumed. But read it again: Halperin & Heilemann don't actually say the Kennedy friend was their source. Their source could have been a friend of the friend. Or the friend's gardener. Or the friend's cousin's roommate's high school girlfriend's uncle. We have no idea.
That's bad enough. What's worse is that Halperin and Heilemann's writing is either sloppy or disingenuous enough that it leads the reader to assumptions about the sourcing -- the Kennedy friend; the tape-recording -- that, for whatever reason, the authors don't come out and confirm. They imply sourcing that is stronger than they are willing to assert.
That, to me, is a clear sign of a book -- of authors -- that cannot be trusted. Yet it apparently didn't raise any red flags for Smith, or Cillizza, or the other journalists who have been raving about Smith's piece. And that speaks volumes about the state of political journalism.
UPDATE: Greg Sargent weighs in:
what's mystifying is that virtually none of the media figures lavishing attention on this book have broached the sourcing issue, something you'd think would merit a bit of discussion among professional journalists. Discussion of this has been left almost entirely to bloggers.
The following are some of the "creative" images posted on FoxNews.com's "Photo Op: The Trouble with Harry":
Fox News states that they're only "showcas[ing] the best submissions!"
Mark Halperin & John Heilemann explain their approach to interviews for Game Change, amid suggestions that they broke their ground rules in quoting Harry Reid:
As a chagrined Reid telephoned political allies in the Senate and civil rights community to shore up his support this weekend, he made it clear that he felt burned by the authors.
In the book's"Authors' Note," they wrote: "All of our interviews - from those with junior staffers to those with the candidates themselves - were conducted on a 'deep background' basis, which means we agreed not to identify the subjects as sources in any way. We believed this was essential to eliciting the level of candor on which a book of this sort depends."
Heilemann said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe": "We had a very clear agreement with all those sources that our interviews would be on deep background. ... Our ground rules are ... that we won't identify any of our sources as the sources of the material. But we said to them all very clearly that if they put themselves in scenes of the book, if they were uttering dialogue to people in the book in part of a scene, that we would identify them as the utterer of those words."
Halperin added: "There's no one we talked to for the book who we burned in any way, or violated any agreement with."
I really have no idea what that bolded part means. Among other problems: How could an interviewee put himself in scenes of a book that had not yet been written? Obviously, he couldn't. The only person who can put an interviewee in a scene of a book is the book's author -- that's the person who decides what the scenes are.
And I'm not alone in being baffled by that explanation. Moments ago, veteran journalist Bob Franken responded on MSNBC:
"That's the most convoluted explanation I've heard in a long time. There's one thing that you have to remember in Washington: You don't burn sources. You don't burn them not because it's the right thing to do, it's because you don't get any information the next time around. And I really believe that what we might see is that these guys are not going to be welcome when they're talking to different people who might provide them information in the future."
Silver Spring, MD: It is my understanding that Sen Reid's remark was made almost two years ago, with reporters present. If true, why is it that this wasn't newsworthy then, but it is now?
Ben Pershing: Reid didn't make the comments in some public venue, he made it to these two authors who were working on their book and obviously wanted to save it for the book. The more interesting question, just from a reportorial perspective. is whether Reid thought the comments were off the record. The two authors -- Mark Halperin and John Heilemann -- have tried to explain how they were able to conduct their interviews on "deep background" but still name Reid as making these comments. I'm not sure if I understand their explanation.
Well, the story of the first ever Tea Party convention just gets more and more interesting. The confab is set for Nashville next month and features Sarah Palin along with right-wing birther nut Joseph Farah, which raises all kinds of obvious questions. Such as, is Palin a birther fan? Does she condone the run-away gay and Muslim-hating that Farah so proudly traffics in? Those types of uncomfortable questions seem blindingly obvious given the circumstances, yet the political press remains mum.
But now comes word that Palin's appearance will be closed to the press, and it sounds like virtually the entire Tea Party convention will be hermetically sealed in order to keep nasty, mainstream media reporters.
Set aside the hypocrisy of a grassroots political movement that rallies around a cry of transparency (the way the Tea Party does) suddenly deciding to make sure nobody but paying members are admitted to its convention, and that journalists are not welcomed. More importantly, will the press raise questions about why Palin's refusing to allow her speech to heard and seen by journalists? Will the press ask why Palin is hiding? That would seem to be the next logical move since remember, the same Beltway press corps went bonkers when former vice president Al Gore taught a class as Columbia Univ. and the school asked that it be treated as off the record.
Here, Palin's getting paid big bucks to give a political speech before a convention crowd, but journalists won't be allowed in? If reporters don't raise doubts about that, than I give up.
UPDATED: FWIW, the GOP blog RedState thinks Palin might be making a big mistake by appearing at the Tea Party convention.
UPDATED: According to this Minneapolis Star Tribune report, a limited number of "selected" journalists will be allowed to cover the Tea Party convention. Question: Will Fox News (i.e. Palin's employer) be among the anointed few allowed to cover Palin's speech?
And now, a special guest commentary on Game Change, the new book about the 2008 presidential election by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann:
For most of my time covering presidential elections, I shared the view that there was a direct correlation between the skills needed to be a great candidate and a great president. The chaotic and demanding requirements of running for president, I felt, were a perfect test for the toughest job in the world.
But now I think I was wrong. The "campaigner equals leader" formula that inspired me and so many others in the news media is flawed.
[W]hat do those of us who cover politics do now?
Well, we pause, take a deep breath and resist. At least sometimes. In the face of polls and horse-race maneuvering, we can try to keep from getting sucked in by it all. We should examine a candidate's public record and full life as opposed to his or her campaign performance. But what might appear simple to a voter can, I know, seem hard for a journalist.
If past is prologue, the winners of the major-party nominations will be those who demonstrate they have what it takes to win. But in the short time remaining voters and journalists alike should be focused on a deeper question: Do the candidates have what it takes to fill the most difficult job in the world?
Oh, wait: I'm sorry. That isn't a commentary about Game Change. That's from an op-ed published by the New York Times on November 25, 2007. The author? Mark Halperin.
(Ana Marie Cox has found another example of Halperin violating his own prescriptions for better journalism.)
Because that's the only one reason I can think of to explain why Politico continues to cover a book release about a two-year-old campaign as if it were a lunar landing; because Politico's under contract to gin up publicity.
Let's go to the tote board:
-"Palin aide warned of 'epic debacle'" (Jan. 7)
-"Sunday talk show tip sheet" (Jan. 9)
-"Palin attacks book; Reid regrets" (Jan. 9)
-"Reid confirms racial remark" (Jan. 9)
-"Book: Obama, Biden clashed in '08" (Jan. 9)
-"Republicans charge Lott-Reid double standard" (Jan. 10)
-"Harry Reid holds his ground" (Jan. 10)
-"Steve Schmidt: Sarah Palin has trouble with truth" (Jan. 10)
-"'Game Change': The freak show" (Jan. 10)
-"Raising Tim Kaine over Harry Reid" (Jan. 11)
-"Harry Reid apologizes again" (Jan. 11)
-"Game over: The Clintons stand alone" (Jan. 11)
-"Inside the Reid eruption" (Jan. 12)
-"Coburn bucks party, backs Reid" (Jan. 12)
The scary part? Game Change has been in stores for only 48 hours. I'm guessing that by week's end, Politico will have churned out close to three dozen Game Change-related stories.
And a note to Politico's publisher: If your pub isn't on retainer, it ought to be.
The Washington Times responds to Sen. Harry Reid's controversial comments by penning a January 12 editorial in "Negro dialect":
I cain't believe all the fuss that's been kicked up over what I said about th' president not bein' like a reg'lar Negro.
Lawks a mercy, I was complimentin' the man.
Billy Bob said a few years back he'd be the one fetchin' the coffee; I don't see people getting' so danged riled up about that.
That's way worse'n what I said.
I said he had no Negro dialect. NO dialect. None.
He ain't like them other Negroes.
People can understand what he's sayin'.
Unless he wanted to talk like a Negro, of course.
Dang right. And jumpin' on me for sayin' he's light-skinned. Well he is! It is a fact! Judas Priest, he's half-white.
I'm saying he's not like the rest of 'em; that's my point. He appeals to white folk. He can get votes. Nothin' negative about it.
You said great things about the man, and anyway, you already apologized for 'em.
Now here I'm gettin' dumped on by them dang reporters when the president already said he forgave me.
He said the book is closed, his own words.
Yep. He stood by me. Proves my point.
Mighty white of him.
Yep, he's one a th' good uns.
PARKS: Well, first off, the liberal establishment seems to have a problem with dark-skinned black people. Look at what happened to O.J., the darkening of his picture for the Newsweek cover. If you look at Hollywood in general, light-skinned black women seem to be the preference of Hollywood, and the darker-skinned black male usually tend to be the bad guys when it comes to these kind of portrayals.
As far as Harry Reid is concerned, I think he's just more embarrassed and has been pushed to apologizing because he got caught saying these statements. I don't see anything in his recent history that shows that he has any kind of great love for black people. I'm not saying that -- I'm not going to jump right out and say he's a racist like a lot of other people are saying, but I think his apology is more out of convenience than out of sincerity.
PARKS: Well, this is where I could probably get in some trouble, but I'll say it anyway. I think a lot of black people like being the victim. And whenever a racist statement is issued, they can get all offended, but if you look at the way that the Democrats' policies in the past -- if you don't mind, I'm going to read a quote from my "bonehead of the day," which was Eleanor Holmes Norton on January 10:
"Eleanor Holmes Norton (IF she can be intellectually honest with herself) should look at all things that Democrats like Reid have done To blacks instead of for them: the destruction of the black family through entitlement programs, politically endorsed mass abortion of black babies, denial of school vouchers to help black kids escape failing schools run by liberal teacher unions (sound familiar, Congresswoman?) economic development broken promises, a liberal entertainment cul-ture that discourages black education and towards sports and rap are prominent things that come to mind."
The Democratic Party can scream racism all the want. The Congressional Black Caucus, which I don't believe sends any of their kids to public schools, they can scream racism all they want. And unfortunately, the black community will hear this. Hopefully, at one point in the near future, the Republicans, the conservatives will come out and throw the history of the Democratic Party back in their faces, so they may think twice before going this knee-jerk route of race-baiting.
From Jason Cabel Roe's January 11 BigGovernment.com post:
Republicans have, of course, drawn parallels to another famous majority leader's race gaffe, Senator Trent Lott (R-MS). There are major differences however that no number of Al Sharptons can - or should be allowed - to paper over.
Lott's comment about America being better off if centenarian Senator Strom Thurmond would have been elected as a Dixiecrat in 1948 was a light-hearted salute to an old man at his birthday party. Rather than being considered an article of faith, it rightly should have been considered a gratuitous tribute at someone's birthday celebration. It is like giving your grandpa a t-shirt that reads "World's Best Grandpa."
However, Reid's comments show a belief. And further, that belief is a stereotype and it is only made worse that Reid now says that he thought he was off the record - as if that makes it better.