It's been such a long, long Time since it's been good
How many ways can one news outlet demonstrate that it is out of touch with the public in one week?
Yesterday, Time Washington bureau chief Jay Carney wrote about his magazine's latest poll, noting that the survey shows Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both losing to Rudy Giuliani and John McCain in hypothetical general-election matchups. Carney noted:
It's hard to know exactly why respondents who are generally unhappy towards -- and in many cases fed up with -- the G.O.P. might still prefer a Republican for President over a Democrat. Much of it has to do with the individual candidates involved.
Indeed, much of it does. Carney didn't mention this, but the poll included two other hypothetical matchups -- Clinton vs. Mitt Romney, and Obama vs. Mitt Romney. Clinton beats Romney by 17 points; Obama beats him by 24. Strange that Carney left those results out of his article.
Actually, it's strange that Time tested Romney in the hypothetical matchups in the first place. Why was Romney included and Democrat John Edwards left out?
According to Time's own polling, registered voters basically have no idea who Romney is. The newest Time poll found that only 35 percent say they know "a great deal" or "some" about Romney; 44 percent know only his name or have never heard of him at all. In the previous Time poll, only 29 said they knew a great deal or some about Romney, while 39 percent had never even heard of him, and more than half had either never heard of him or only knew his name.
Yet Time decided to include Romney in head-to-head matchups against Clinton and Obama. And, when he lost badly, Time's Washington bureau chief Jay Carney decided to disappear those results from his article headlined "A Surprising G.O.P. Edge for '08."
That edge sure looks bigger when you look only at the data that support it and ignore data that contradict it. How convenient.
And John Edwards, who Time did not test in head-to-head matchups? The newest Time poll found that 75 percent of registered voters know a "great deal" or "some" about him. The previous Time poll found 68 percent knew at least "some" about him.
Yet Time decided to leave Edwards out of the head-to-head matchups. Why did Time include Romney and not Edwards? Why, having included Romney, did Carney omit those results from his article purporting to show a GOP advantage in head-to-head matchups?
Carney went on to suggest that Democrats will be at a disadvantage in 2008 on national security issues:
Democrats also may have a residual disadvantage going into 2008 -- a long-standing disposition among voters to view Republicans as stronger on issues involving national security. Without question, Bush has done serious damage to the Republican brand in this arena. But, with the nation waging two wars and terrorism still a threat, that underlying sentiment might be one of the reasons G.O.P. candidates appear competitive at all.
Carney didn't include any polling data to back up his assertion that the "long-standing disposition among voters to view Republicans as stronger on issues involving national security" constitutes a disadvantage for Democrats in 2008. And, in fact, polling data on the topic suggests -- and has long suggested -- that this "long-standing disposition" is melting away. Just one week ago, Rasmussen found that more Americans trust Democrats to handle national security than Republicans -- a slim lead that balloons to 12 points when voters are asked specifically about Iraq. Those results aren't anomalous: We've written frequently that the media's continued insistence on portraying national security as a sure political winner for Republicans is not supported by the facts (for examples, see here, here, and here.)
Indeed, Time's own polling shows the folly of asserting that Republicans maintain a "long-standing" advantage on "issues involving national security." The last Time poll that measured attitudes toward the parties on national security issues found Democrats with a lead on Iraq and Republicans with a lead on terrorism.
Carney has also repeatedly projected his own discomfort with John Edwards staying in the presidential race despite learning that Elizabeth Edwards' cancer has returned. Carney wrote a March 22 article on the topic in which he declared Edwards' explanation "discomfiting":
John said that when the two of them were alone, Elizabeth was concerned about everyone but herself -- her children, her husband and her country, in that order, but not herself.
He clearly meant it to be inspiring, but there is also something discomfiting about that statement. Even more discomfiting was Edwards' claim that by soldiering on while his wife has incurable cancer, he would be proving that he could deal with the pressures of being President. I wonder how voters will react to that sentiment.
Ana Marie Cox, Carney's Time colleague, pointed out in a Swampland post that if voters react as Carney suggests they will, it will be in large part because of how people just like Carney treat the topic:
As a piece of punditry, his point may yet stand: Over time, voters may react negatively to [the] image of a man pursuing the presidency as his wife struggles with an incurable disease. But whether or not that is the image they see is another question, and that creation of that image largely depends on how we in the media frame the Edwards' decision.
On March 23, Carney followed up with his own Swampland post, in which he defended his suggestion that the Edwardses' decision is "discomfiting":
I don't think it's inappropriate or unfair (or remotely politically biased) to say that I feel discomfited by the decision and the rationale behind it, or to make the fairly simple point that some Democrats out there might feel the same way.
I don't think it is a stretch to suggest that, as they learn about Elizabeth's recurrence and about her and John's decision to continue his campaign, parents across the country are going to be asking themselves what they would do in such a situation. Surely how they answer that question will affect how some of them see John Edwards' presidential aspirations -- more favorably for some, less so for others.
Two days later, Carney wrote again:
I am no doubt inviting more criticism for having the gall to feel uncomfortable with the Edwards' decision, and for suggesting that other Americans might also feel that way. It must be obvious by now that others do, in fact, have similar doubts -- especially about the issue of whether a father of two young children whose wife may be seriously ill, and may even die, might be too distracted to be effective as president.
Carney, of course, can have doubts about whatever he wants to have doubts about. That's his business. But his repeated suggestion that he speaks not only for himself but for the masses as well makes us wonder why he hasn't addressed any of the available polling on the topic. Polling that shows that, by at least a 2-to-1 margin, Americans support the Edwardses' decision.
It's bad enough that Time's Washington bureau chief is badly out of touch with the American people. What's worse is that he claims to speak for them -- and ignores evidence to the contrary.
Carney, of course, famously declared the Bush administration's prosecutor purge to be a nonscandal interesting only to liberal conspiracy theorists. Whoops. To Carney's credit, he eventually acknowledged that "Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo and everyone else out there whose instincts told them there was something deeply wrong and even sinister about the firings" were right, and he was wrong -- though he didn't apologize for the conspiracy-theorists crack. Nor did he explain what, if anything, he has learned about whether journalists should be in the habit of simply assuming that the government hasn't done anything wrong.
As long as Carney and Time had changed their ways, such complaints may have seemed minor. And, indeed, Time finally paid a bit of attention to the story.
But that seems to be over now.
First, Time's Richard Stengel took to The Chris Matthews Show to declare the story uninteresting and to flatly assert that pursuing answers would turn out badly for Democrats. Stengel later claimed in an email to Ana Marie Cox that he had been "caught out speaking as a citizen rather than as editor of Time." But, as Greg Sargent explained:
Look, Stengel can say he's speaking as a "citizen," but this citizen is also the managing editor of one of the nation's top newsweeklies, and it's kinda off-putting to learn that someone with such journalistic influence either:
(a) knows what these polls say but is not letting them interfere with his view that the American public is predisposed to see Congressional oversight in such negative terms; or
(b) uninterested in consulting said evidence to learn what folks actually think about such matters before speaking for them with the authority of, yes, Time magazine's managing editor.
Moreover, Stengel may have been simply speaking as a citizen, but by amazing coincidence, the magazine of which he is managing editor just so happens to be behaving in a way that is entirely consistent with citizen Stengel's beliefs.
Time national political correspondent Karen Tumulty followed Stengel's lead with her own claim on Swampland that "the public so far seems relatively uninterested" in the prosecutor purge. Tumulty didn't attribute that claim to anything. She did, however, quote a Project for Excellence in Journalism item to show that the media has devoted a great deal of attention to the story.
As Media Matters noted, that same PEJ item selectively cited a March 16-19 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press to support the assertion that "the public has yet to evince great enthusiasm" for the story. In fact, the Pew survey itself found that the percentage of people following the scandal very closely exceeded the percentage who followed the savings and loan scandal very closely, easily surpassed the percentage who followed Scooter Libby's conviction very closely, and was nearly equal to the percentage who followed Whitewater very closely. In other words, far from showing that the public is "uninterested," the Pew survey found that public interest is comparable to other recent scandals (real and invented).
And, as Ana Marie Cox (who lately seems to be playing the thankless but vital role of correcting her colleagues' blatant misrepresentations of both public opinion and reality) pointed out in response, other polling shows that "72 percent think Congress should investigate the White House's role in the dismissal of the attorneys."
And now, the new issue of Time magazine appears on newsstands, and it "contains precisely zero stories on the scandal. Nothing. As though it's not happening."
After a week in which Kyle Sampson testified and Monica Goodling announced her intention to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in order to avoid doing so -- and a week in which polling found that 70 percent of Americans favor investigating the growing scandal -- Time magazine decided to go back to ignoring it.
Stengel is by no means the only journalist to suggest that pursuing an investigation supported by more than 70 percent of Americans will backfire on the Democrats. The media have been full of dire warnings to Democrats not to conduct congressional investigations, dating back to before Democrats even took control of Congress. Glenn Greenwald, Steve Benen, Greg Sargent, and others have also noted and debunked claims that the public opposes investigations of the Bush administrations. (Chris Lehmann has tackled the equally pervasive pundit declarations that there is nothing to see here, move along please.)
These media warnings that the Democrats shouldn't investigate the administration's actions frequently invoke the public's disgust at Republicans investigations of the Clinton administration in the 1990s. That's a false comparison.
First, Bill Clinton was a popular president, while George W. Bush may be the most unpopular president of all time. Perhaps that suggests that the public might not react the same way to investigations of Bush?
Second, and more important, the nature of the investigations is quite different. Congressional Republicans conducted countless redundant investigations of the same failed land deal, all of which failed to produce evidence of wrongdoing by the Clintons. They investigated the White House Christmas card list. Then there was Dan Burton's carnival freak show of an "investigation," which involved the Indiana congressman shooting a pumpkin in his back yard in order to "prove" that Vince Foster was murdered. They probed the president's personal life. By contrast, congressional Democrats are investigating things like whether the Bush administration fired prosecutors because they didn't indict enough Democrats, and whether they lied to Congress about it. And they're looking into the false claims the administration made in taking the nation to war.
When a media figure suggests that Democratic investigations of the Bush administration will backfire the way Republican investigations of the Clinton administration backfired, just keep in mind that Republicans harassed a popular president by shooting produce in the back yard, while Democrats are looking into a historically unpopular president's mishandling of an unpopular war.
Then keep in mind that the media largely acted as cheerleaders for the investigations of Clinton.
In 1998, they didn't understand that the public was sick of partisan investigations of Clinton. In 2007, they don't understand that the public wants investigations of the Bush administration.
They'd know these things if only they would glance at their own polls.
Finally, in a remarkable example of bad Time-ing, the April 2 issue of the magazine included a profile of Giuliani that gushed over "America's mayor," declaring him the "rock of 9/11" and asserting that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were "Giuliani's finest hour" and gave him "automatic standing" on the issue of terrorism.
Though you wouldn't know it from Time's Teen Beat approach to Giuliani's rocklike heroism, there actually are widespread criticisms of Giuliani's actions related to the September 11 attacks and other security issues, as Media Matters has detailed.
Indeed, even as Time's mash note lingered on newsstands, the New York Times revealed that Giuliani testified in 2006 that he had been briefed on Bernard Kerik's "relationship with a company suspected of ties to organized crime" before Giuliani appointed Kerik as New York City police commissioner. Giuliani had previously claimed he had not been told of the ties. And the Associated Press reported:
Giuliani, the leader in polls of Republican voters for his party's nomination, has been faulted on two major issues:
- His administration's failure to provide the World Trade Center's first responders with adequate radios, a long-standing complaint from relatives of the firefighters killed when the twin towers collapsed. The Sept. 11 Commission noted the firefighters at the World Trade Center were using the same ineffective radios employed by the first responders to the 1993 terrorist attack on the trade center.
[Sally] Regenhard [whose firefighter son died on September 11], at a 2004 commission hearing in Manhattan, screamed at Giuliani, "My son was murdered because of your incompetence!" The hearing was a perfect example of the 9/11 duality: Commission members universally praised Giuliani at the same event.
- A November 2001 decision to step up removal of the massive rubble pile at ground zero. The firefighters were angered when the then-mayor reduced their numbers among the group searching for remains of their lost "brothers," focusing instead on what they derided as a "scoop and dump" approach. Giuliani agreed to increase the number of firefighters at ground zero just days after ordering the cutback.
More than 5 1/2 years later, body parts are still turning up in the trade center site.
"We want America to know what this guy meant to New York City firefighters," said Peter Gorman, head of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. "In our experiences with this man, he disrespected us in the most horrific way."
Looks like it's Time to stop polishing Giuliani's halo and start doing some reporting.