Readers may be getting whiplash trying to follow the advice the Times columnist is offering the McCain campaign. As Glenn Greenwald wrote, last week Kristol was telling Republicans to "take the gloves off" and really go after Barack Obama.
The campaign did and, according to the polling data, it flopped. So McCain showed up on Fox News yesterday and walloped the McCain campaign for...taking off the gloves.
Today is his Times column, Kristol announces the McCain campaign is a disaster and that the candidate should be running as a "cheerful" leader, which of course, is pretty much the opposite of what Kristol advised seven days ago.
Appearing on CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday, the cabler's Candy Crowley was asked about the lack of substance in so much of the campaign coverage to date. She responded:
Well, as you know, these are [media] enterprises that have to make money, both papers and networks. They are catering to their customers and what they think their customers are going to read and/or see to a certain extent.
Really? News consumers don't want to bothered with substance which is why editors and producers don't highlight it during the campaign? Beltway insiders say they're just catering to the customers' (shallow) demands.
Fact is, Crowley's point is proven false by all kinds of polling data, none of which has ever suggested that come campaign season news consumers love to read about polling and tactics and gaffes. Journalists do. But voters do not.
From the New York Times' public editor on Sunday:
The public has told the media what it wants. Early this year, roughly three-quarters of voters of all political persuasions surveyed by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said they wanted more coverage of the candidates' stands on issues. For the most part, they were disappointed, and their satisfaction with the news media has declined, according to Pew. In February, 55 percent said the election coverage was good or excellent. By June, 54 percent said it was fair or poor.
Nate Silver at Fivethirtyeight.com notes that Matt Drudge is hyping the smallest of poll upticks for John McCain and suggests Drudge is "priming a McCain reboot narrative":
Something is a little bit funny when Matt Drudge is treating 1-2 point gains for McCain in the Rasmussen and Zogby tracking polls as "BREAKING" news. Naturally, Drudge ignores other results like the just-released ABC/WaPo poll that show Obama continuing to gain ground.
Drudge has a nose for news, and he knows that a one-point gain in a tracking poll is not news -- unless someone desperately wants it to be.
Drudge's headline, under a picture of a smiling McCain, is "READY FOR COME BACK?" That headline links to a Politico article by Mike Allen headlined "Struggling McCain debuts comeback speech."
Which seems as good a time as any to look back at Howard Fineman's admission that the news media "want[ed] a race" in 2000, and was unwilling to allow the last weeks of the campaign to consist of Al Gore's "triumphant march to the presidency."
Here's a September 21, 2000 exchange between Brian Williams and Howard Fineman:
HOWARD FINEMAN: The media pendulum swings, as you were pointing out before, Brian. Bill Clinton can resurface in this campaign in a way that might not necessarily help Al Gore. And Al Gore himself has a tendency to begin - when he's ahead especially I think - talking down to the country like he's the kindergarten teacher talking to the class. I think all those factors are at play right now as Bush has really had probably the best week he's had since his convention speech. And Gore has had his worst.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Howard, I don't know of any kind of conspiratorial trilateral commission-like council meetings in the news media. But you bring up an interesting point. And boy, it does seem true over the years that the news media almost reserve the right to build up and tear down and change their minds and like an underdog. What's that about?
HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, what it's about is the relentless search for news and the relentless search for friction in the story. I don't think the media was going to allow just by its nature the next seven weeks and the last seven or eight weeks of the campaign to be all about Al Gore's relentless triumphant march to the presidency.
We want a race I suppose. If we have a bias of any kind, it's that we like to see a contest, and we like to see it down the end if we can. And I think that's partly the psychology at play here.
UPDATE: A reader points out that New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney made a similar statement in today's paper:
Campaigns have rhythms, and inevitably swing back and forth for all kinds of reasons, including mistakes by candidates (think Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and driver's licenses for illegal immigrants) and the news media's desire for a competitive race and tendency to find the "underdog is surging" story line irresistible. The pendulum theory is certainly one that Republicans are grabbing onto these days.
Steve Benen points out that three of the Sunday shows completely ignored the Palin/Troopergate report:
On Friday, Palin was found to have violated the public trust in an abuse of power scandal. On Saturday, it was on the front page of the major dailies. And on Sunday morning, NBC's "Meet the Press," ABC's "This Week," and CNN's "Late Edition" ignored the story altogether, despite lengthy discussions about recent political events, as if a major scandal involving a candidate for national office isn't particularly interesting. I'll simply never understand this.
His weekend program is awash in misinformation. Rachel Sklar takes a closer look at the conspiracy theories and erroneous claims that Huckabee highlighted. She writes:
Did you know that the recent financial crisis could actually be the result of economic terrorism? Or that Congress took off after the bailout vote to get an early jump on Christmas shopping? Or that the Chinese might be drilling off the coast of Florida right now?
That's what the Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt concluded in his column today, although he was more polite. He said the Times' campaign coverage has been bogged down in "horse race, political tactics, polls and the like."
In other words, trivia.
Clark's assistant counted up the number of articles the Times has published regarding the campaign since late August. The findings [emphasis added]:
Through Friday, of 270 news articles published in The Times about the election since the national tickets were formed in late August, only 29, or a little over 10 percent, were primarily about policy substance. And that is a generous tally that includes some very brief items.
My guess is if Hoyt were not being "generous," the tally would be closer to five percent. Or, 95 percent of the mighty New York Times general election coverage has been pretty much substance-free.
This, of course, after numerous polls have shown American news consumers are absolutely desperate for substance in the campaign coverage. It's their number one request of the campaign press. But the Beltway press couldn't care less because the coverage they produce is not aimed at voters, it's aimed at other journalists.
Two quick points about the Hoyt tally. If he had included Times opinion columns in that mix of campaign coverage, my guess is the percentage of subtance would have plummeted even lower.
Second, that tally only covered the general election. I don't have an assistant to count articles, but that if I did and the assistant counted up campaign articles published in the Times since Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton kicked off the campaign season in early 2007, my very conservative hunch is the total would hover around 1,000 articles, of which probably 900+ would be listed as substance-free.
But fear not Times readers! Hoyt reports that editors claim they're going to address all that (annoying) substance stuff between now and Election Day.
A couple weeks ago we noted the mash note the Times' media columnist typed up for Couric. It was about how she seemed to be rebounding during the presidential campaign; how she had her swagger back. We thought it was odd to so lavishly toast an anchor who, despite her $15 million pay day, was still languishing in last place in the ratings. Talk about setting a low bar for success.
Well, on Saturday, the Times returned for another Couric mash note. It's about how she seems to be rebounding during the presidential campaign; she has her swagger back. (Thanks to Palin-related YouTube clips.)
We still think it's odd to so lavishly toast an anchor who, despite her $15 million pay, is still languishing in last place in the ratings. Talk about setting a low bar for success.
This week John Walcott, Washington bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers, accepted the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence and delivered a must-read speech about the state of journalism, especially its catatonic state between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.
Here's a small sample:
Being an outsider, a gadfly, a muckracker, isn't always as much fun as being an insider, a celebrity journalist on TV and the lecture circuit. Worse, in these troubled economic times for the news media, it makes enemies, sometimes powerful ones, and it can offend readers, advertisers — and, as conditions in our business continue to worsen — potential employers in public relations and other industries.
(h/t Glenn Greenwald)
Given that Sarah Palin spent much of the week blasting Barack Obama for allegedly "palling" around with a "domestic terrorist" with whom Obama was not actually close, you might think the news media would examine Palin's ties to far-right extremists who support not only Alaskan succession, but speak favorably of 30 other states succeeding, too.
You'd be wrong.
But Salon picks up the slack with a detailed look at Palin's relationship with Alaska Independence Party and John Birch Society leaders who "helped launch Palin's political career in Alaska."
Though Chryson belongs to a fringe political party, one that advocates the secession of Alaska from the Union, and that organizes with other like-minded secessionist movements from Canada to the Deep South, he is not without peculiar influence in state politics, especially the rise of Sarah Palin. An obscure figure outside of Alaska, Chryson has been a political fixture in the hometown of the Republican vice-presidential nominee for over a decade. During the 1990s, when Chryson directed the AIP, he and another radical right-winger, Steve Stoll, played a quiet but pivotal role in electing Palin as mayor of Wasilla and shaping her political agenda afterward. Both Stoll and Chryson not only contributed to Palin's campaign financially, they played major behind-the-scenes roles in the Palin camp before, during and after her victory.
Palin backed Chryson as he successfully advanced a host of anti-tax, pro-gun initiatives, including one that altered the state Constitution's language to better facilitate the formation of anti-government militias. She joined in their vendetta against several local officials they disliked, and listened to their advice about hiring. She attempted to name Stoll, a John Birch Society activist known in the Mat-Su Valley as "Black Helicopter Steve," to an empty Wasilla City Council seat. "Every time I showed up her door was open," said Chryson. "And that policy continued when she became governor."
There's more. Much more.
Salon isn't the only independent news organization doing the journalism the establishment media is ignoring. Yesterday, the Washington Independent published a lengthy look at a topic the rest of the media has largely ignored: Cindy McCain's financial ties to Charles Keating. The Independent finds their business dealings lasted far longer than was previously understood:
Sen. John McCain's wife and father-in-law continued a lucrative business partnership with disgraced financier Charles H. Keating Jr. for 11 years after the GOP presidential nominee said he ended his close friendship with Keating in March 1987.
Cindy McCain's business partnership with Keating in a real-estate development between 1986 and 1998 netted her a tidy profit, in addition to years of significant tax benefits. Her father, who died in 2000, earned similar returns.
In my column this week, I noted that The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder seemed to suggest that the media is not covering Bill Ayers.
Shortly after that column was finished, Time's Michael Scherer posted (with permission) an email exchange he had with Ambinder, in which Ambinder makes that point more clearly:
But it's not working. To the extent that questions are being raised, they are being raised at the extreme margins of a 10 point race (or seven point race). They know this; they see the same polls and do the same focus groups. They're not grabbing news cycles. The news isn't about Ayers...
In fact, the stories that seep through seem to be about conservative intellectuals abandoning McCain, not about William Ayers -- or they're about McCain's soul -- or about conservatives questioning whether McCain has lost his soul, or they're about angry Republicans at events... One CNN segment on ACORN?. [emphasis added]
This is nothing short of delusional. As I noted in my column, a Nexis search returns more than 1,800 news stories mentioning Barack Obama and Bill Ayers -- in the past week alone. 1,800.
But Ambinder thinks that what the media is really focusing on is "conservative intellectuals abandoning McCain." Oh yeah? How many news stories have there been about that in the past week? Since he can't be bothered to provide actual facts to back up his assertions, I'll be happy to do the Nexis searches if Ambinder provides the names of the "conservative intellectuals" he thinks are getting more attention than Ayers. But I'm confident it's going to be a heck of a lot fewer than 1,800 hits.
(Ambinder demonstrated the absurdity of his own claims less than two hours later, when he noted that ACORN came up during an ESPN college football broadcast. At 6:05 PM, he was claiming ACORN wasn't seeping through; that there had only been "One CNN segment on ACORN." By 7:53 PM, he was forced to acknowledge it had seeped all the way through to ESPN.)
And this delusion that the media is paying more attention to -- what? Bill Buckley's kid endorsing Barack Obama? -- than to Bill Ayers leads Ambinder to suggest that the media is in the tank for Obama. Of course, his suggestions of media bias are always just that -- suggestions. He doesn't say it directly; maybe he thinks that removes any obligation to actually provide evidence. In this case, Ambinder says the media is "let's face it, kind of in tank for change, if not for Obama."
Speaking of Ambinder and Ayers ... earlier this week, I noted that Ambinder called Obama's decision to bring up the Keating Five "scuzzy" -- but his numerous posts about the McCain campaign's focus on Ayers and Jeremiah Wright contained no such denunciations. Well, Ambinder has written a lot more about McCain's focus on Ayers since then. And the turn McCain has taken over the past few weeks has been blasted even by Republicans who have supported McCain. But Ambinder hasn't called McCain's tactics "scuzzy," or offered criticism anywhere near that harsh. The closest he's come seems to be complaining that they're poorly executed.
To sum up: Marc Ambinder thinks the media is not covering Bill Ayers. And he thinks it's Obama who is running a "scuzzy" campaign.