Media are diverting attention from the fact that Republicans are obstructing a jobs bill that economists estimate would create millions of jobs by fixating on President Obama's comments that private sector job growth is "doing fine."
Suggesting that the failed solar company Solyndra is representative of a larger trend, Time magazine claimed that clean energy jobs grew slower than the economy as a whole between 2003-2010. In fact, the opposite is true. Time's purported source, the Brookings Institution, actually found that clean energy jobs grew "more than twice as fast as the rest of the economy."
One of the most predictable elements of any political controversy is the delayed rush by reporters and pundits to disparage the strategic and tactical response by the politician at the center of the controversy. I say "delayed rush" because these assessments so often come well after the fact -- when it is too late to be proven wrong, in other words -- but then come in a flurry.
Generally, the assessments come in one of two basic flavors: Either the politician made a mistake in failing to address the controversy, or the politician shouldn't have addressed it, which only gave the story "oxygen." Each comes in various permutations: Addressing the controversy can mean, among other things, a forceful denial accompanied by aggressive counter-attacks or a prompt and abject apology.
One great thing about waiting a week to say John Doe bungled this controversy by failing to immediately apologize or John Doe bungled this controversy by responding to the allegations, which only made them more newsworthy is that you can no longer be proven wrong, as you could if you made a prescriptive assessment on Day One. Another great thing about making such an assessment is that everyone has heard variations of each criticism often enough that it will ring true. Yet another is that there really are plenty of situations that would be best handled with an aggressive counterattack or a clear apology, and there really are plenty of situations that would best be handled by ignoring them until they go away due to lack of oxygen.
But that last part is what makes so many of the after-the-fact assessments so … well, empty and frustrating. See, sometimes "admit wrongdoing quickly and cleanly" is the right strategy, and sometimes "admit nothing, deny everything, make counter-allegations" is better. The trick is knowing which is best for a given situation.
Anyway, here's Time's Michael Scherer today, writing under the header "Blumenthal's Damage Control Bungle":
Earlier, Eric Boehlert (and Time's Michael Scherer) noted Politico's efforts to hype campaign contributions Barack Obama's campaigns received from employees of BP. I'm going to spell out two pieces of context the Politico article was missing, because I think it's an excellent example of how not to report on campaign contributions:
Obama biggest recipient of BP cash
While the BP oil geyser pumps millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama and members of Congress may have to answer for the millions in campaign contributions they've taken from the oil and gas giant over the years.
During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records.
So, Politico puts Obama in the headline and the lede because he has received more money from people who work for BP than any other elected official. But if you're trying to assess how much influence a company may have over a politician, looking at raw contribution amounts can be badly misleading. You need to consider how much of the politician's war chest the company provided. And that's where it becomes clear that the focus on Obama is absurd.
See, Barack Obama has raised $799 million for his campaigns. The $77,051 he got from BP employees is a drop in the bucket -- just one one-hundredth of one percent of his total campaign cash.
Meanwhile, Rep. Don Young -- mentioned only in passing by Politico -- has taken $73,300 from BP during his time in Congress, out of a total of $14.9 million raised. So BP contributions account for about one half of one percent of Young's fundraising -- still not a staggering amount, but enough to make BP contributions to Young far, far more significant than BP contributions to Obama.
The way Politico reported the BP contributions -- focusing on raw numbers, without putting them in context of the recipients' total fundraising -- is typical of the media's approach to campaign finance stories, but it isn't particularly useful.
Time reporter Jay Newton-Small insists it isn't her job to tell you which of two contradictory factual claims is true and which is false, claiming "I presented both sides of the story. I'll leave it to columnists and readers to draw their own conclusions on who had the best case."
Time reporter Michael Scherer fact-checks a DNC fundraising email and tells readers it contains a falsehood: "Biden got one big fact wrong. It is not true that 'powerful insurance companies' have been 'spending seven million bucks a week on lobbyists.'"
Maybe someone could explain to me when it's ok to fact-check statements and when that would be "slanted."
(For the record: I prefer Scherer's approach...)