10/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Journamalism! WaPo Writers Reprints McCain Talking Points

Oy. This Jonathan Weisman/Peter Slevin piece in today's Washington Post achieves new frontiers of uselessness. A weak-tea digest of news already covered to death, it manages to provide nothing of use to an actual news consumer, while simultaneously straining for the sorts of equivocations that many of Weisman and Slevin's colleagues have managed to successfully avoid.

The basic news peg is this: a series of McCain ads, culled from a series of not-all-that-controversial "controversies," have thrown the Obama campaign off-message. Anyone invested in this race got this news Tuesday, of course, just as everyone not currently making their domicile on the underside of a stone understands that the McCain camp has steadily evinced a skill at winning news cycles by ginning up whatever rapid-response ad occurs to them at any given moment.

I'm pretty sure that no actual enterprise reporting went into this story. This sentence gives a clue (emphasis mine):

The McCain campaign, meanwhile, sought to portray itself as the victim of unfair smears and sexist attacks against Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin even as it pursued its own assaults on Obama. The rhetoric was echoed yesterday on conservative talk radio, the Internet and in the House, where Republican women decried Obama's alleged sexism.

Apparently, the AP Style Manual offers no guidance on how to correctly form the dateline, "Reporting Live From Inside The Right-Wing Echo Chamber!"

Well, okay: the reporters called somebody in pursuit of this story. In specific reference to "a television advertisement saying Obama favored 'comprehensive sex education' for kindergartners," and charges that "the Democrat had referred to Palin as a pig," they report the following:

Obama aides say the assaults will not work, arguing that all of the accusations against him are a reach, if not fabrications.

This sentence makes it seem as if "Obama aides" are of the opinion that there is still an argument to be had on these matters -- that there remains some wiggle room, forcing the Obama campaign to continue to explore whether these charges are "fabrications" or not! If only there was some way to actually obtain facts, and report them!

But that would be crazy, right? Frankly, "crazy" might be continuing to read Jonathan Weisman's reporting. Yesterday, he was up to the same nonsense:

From the moment Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin declared that she had opposed the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," critics, the news media and nonpartisan fact checkers have called it a fabrication or, at best, a half-truth. But yesterday in Lebanon, Ohio, and again in Lancaster, Pa., she crossed that bridge again.

Sarabeth, from 1115.org, as she so often does, spares me the trouble:

Note how Weisman very carefully does not himself call Palin's Bridge to Nowhere claim a fabrication, or even a half-truth. He merely records that the news media and nonpartisan fact checkers have called it those things. For Weisman is merely a journalist. And how is a journalist to know whether something is a truth or a lie? Journalists apparently (as distinct from the news media?) do not dabble in truths or facts. Journalists, as everyone knows by now, are not nonpartisan fact checkers. And as far as Weisman is concerned, nor should they ever strive to be.

Sarabeth's entire exegesis of that story is recommended, because what was true yesterday was true today and will be true tomorrow just as it was true months ago, when Weisman was happily countenancing a Dana Milbank article that flat-out misled the WaPo readership, telling them that a fleet of entirely commonplace activities (such as setting up a Presidential transition plan, something that Presidential candidates simply do as a matter of course in the summer before the election) were indicative of Obama's "presumptuousness."

Oh, to recline inside the beautiful mind of Jonathan Weisman, which I imagine to be like bathing in butterscotch pudding.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias sends Weisman a letter:

I read your article about how "Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign launched a broadside against Sen. Barack Obama yesterday, accusing him of a sexist smear, comparing his campaign to a pack of wolves on the prowl against the GOP vice presidential pick, charging that the Democratic nominee favored sex education for kindergartners, and resurrecting the comments of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr."

This left me a bit confused. I wouldn't want to vote for a candidate who's sexist or who favors sex education for such young children. But I also wouldn't want to vote for a candidate who would level those charges against an opponent in a dishonest matter. So which was it? Were McCain's charges accurate? I was expecting your second paragraph to assess the charges you were reporting on, but which was it? Could you clarify for me?

Seeking "clarification" from Weisman? Jeez, Matt, next thing you'll be asking him to clean the Augean stables or something!