As she did last week, Guardian columnist Ana Marie Cox joins me today for a discussion of the Politico story that has everyone picking ants from their pants. This week, we learn that that the GOP and the Romney campaign don't like The New York Times or the Washington Post, because of bias. Uhm ... "breaking," I guess?
Ana Marie Cox: Hello, again!
Jason Linkins: Thank you for joining me again. So, you know, after we did our little spit-take on that Allen/VandeHei joint from last week, there were lots of people (well our pal @delrayser, anyway) who wanted us to keep talking about the Politico feature stories that capture our imagination. By which I mean, they LITERALLY grab our imagination and imprison it, in hell.
Ana Marie: Where we are joined by the editorial staff of Politico, ironically. And I don't mean "ironically joined by them," like with them winking at us. Though they may do that, too.
Jason: True enough. So today, we have a long story, that is -- I guess? -- about how Republicans do not care for The New York Times, and also the Washington Post, because: BIAS. [As Michael Calderone reported earlier today, the Times and the Post reject the implication. As expected.] Which I didn't think was a new story, frankly. I think what is "new" here is that Politico is sending out some sub-rosa valentine to the Romney campaign. "Bring us your grievances, please." At least that's how many are interpreting it, among other uncharitable but not ill-founded interpretations.
Ana Marie: This must be different than the WHITE HOUSE MIND MELD that Mike Allen sometimes channels. But I would also quibble with the valentine being a sign of a new relationship. It is simply a new valentine. "HAPPY OFFICIAL NOMINATION GUYS HERE'S A REMINDER OF OUR ABILITY TO REPEAT YOUR MESSAGE. VERBATIM. FOREVER."
Jason: Yes, I think that's a fairer way of interpreting it. Still, there are things that I find strange about Politico's take. Start with their assertion that Ann Romney's equestrian adventures got more media attention, thanks to The New York Times, than Barack Obama's adventures with the "Choom Gang," thanks to the Washington Post, which put that story on page A6 or whatever, instead of going full "CHOOM OMGZ" on the front page. First up: did Ann Romney's horseplay get more media attention? This is the first I've heard of this story. I feel no urge or compulsion to read about this, even now. But the "Choom Gang" story was EVERYWHERE last week. That story went crazy viral.
Ana Marie: Also I'd point out that Obama was the first person to talk about Obama's drug use. Have the Romneys been touting Ann's horseyness? (By which I mean simply riding horses. Ann Romney herself is quite attractive in the facial region.) None of this is to say the horse tale should have been on the front page. We can disagree with the Times' news-sense. I do all the time! Like, when they told us Iraq had WMDs! But I think it's fair to say that the Romney story's placement was probably not the result of mischievous collusion with the Obama campaign.
Jason: As for the NYT's "michievous collusion with the Obama administration," we can see that in the recent story about his "kill list" (which maybe didn't play the way the administration had hoped, among liberals).
Ana Marie: More likely, a lot of Times readers just ride horses? Or have opinions about people that do.
Jason: That brings up an interesting point, made by Dave Weigel last week, when he recalled that the last time Obama was semi-scandalized by his past drug use, the accusation was that he was exaggerating his druggy past for dramatic effect, and that it was hard to believe he was that much of a weed-head. The paper that made this accusation? The New York Times. Now, we learn that he was a total cheeba-fiend, and the problem is that we've not learned it HARD ENOUGH.
Ana Marie: Also, and this may get me in trouble, but it's not like Obama is spending $200k* on weed TODAY, right NOW. (*That was just on one horse, right? The numbers were so high they felt made up, so I might be getting them wrong.)
Jason: Not only is Obama not spending that much money on weed, he's been fairly antithetical to the interests of other would-be Choom Gangs, all across the nation. He basically treats pro-legalization advocacy like a silly joke. But I don't see, say, Silvestre Reyes laughing!
Ana Marie: I would point out that, right now, as we chat, Obama and George Bush are making jokes with each other at the unveiling of the Bush presidential portrait. Here's the thing: I am not sure they would necessarily find a lot to disagree about.
Jason: No, I think those two are pretty chill about overarching, unimpeded executive power. Maybe David Yoo is all, "Wow, now this really is too bloodthirsty!"
Ana Marie: Obama is killing maybe-terrorists, not joints. Both still extra-legal!
Jason: Ha, yes. "Intercepted!" he yells, to innocent bystanders in Pakistan.
Ana Marie: Smoking up vans, still, but with drones! But yes, one of things that amuses me on a consistent basis is the conviction on the right that Obama is somehow *too liberal* for the vast majority of Americans. He is actually probably just about right, on the spectrum of what voters actually believe. On gay marriage, even.
Jason: I'd agree with that. As for the Washington Post, the accusation is this: the post played up Jason Horowitz's reportage of Romney's life at Cranbrook -- especially his brief adventures as a coiffeur -- while David Maraniss' story did not receive the same real estate, in terms of where it was placed on dead trees.
Ana Marie: For a news organization that has so fully embraced social media as the platform of choice, that is a kind of willfully ignorant analysis that Politico is making.
Jason: Isn't it, though? It's getting really hard to keep bitching about A1 versus A12 these days, when in the end, any hot scoop gets HuffPosted or BuzzFed or Memeorandumbed.
Ana Marie: Not to mention Twittified. Facebooked. Put in Mike Allen's ridiculously influential tip sheet.
Jason: I also sort of wonder if David Maraniss necessarily desired the entirety of his book to be boiled down into a bunch a weed comedy vignettes. I could easily see him saying, "Well, run what you have to run, but if you could not make a huge obscene deal about it, because I have this whole entire book I'm trying to sell."
Ana Marie: Or even, "I have this pride I'm trying to keep intact."
Jason: This is something about Maraniss that even Politico once asserted. These are their own words: "Maraniss is a biographer in search of real insight, not Drudge links or Colbert appearances, a writer and researcher who can’t be dismissed as a cheap hack or fortune hunter, a label Obama’s aides hang on lesser writers with regularity. If ever anyone could find the strand that unravels the sweater, it’s Maraniss, a Washington Post associate editor who defies the news cycle."
Now they are arguing that Romney has a case, in the way the Post didn't serve Maraniss up explicitly for Matt Drudge and Stephen Colbert. If the Post wants to avoid bias, it really should have done more to present Maraniss' reporting as the work of a cheap hack.
Ana Marie: How did Politico present Maraniss' reporting, by the way? I'm sure they treated the Choom Gang story with polite disdain.
Jason: Well, they got onto the Maraniss biography with a bunch of weird concern-troll articles about the "composite characters" that Obama used in his own autobiography, to flesh out his romantic life. They sort of wanted to make that into a big deal -- "Obama never revealed that these were composite characters!" Only this led to immediate mockery when it was pointed out that this was, in fact, revealed, in a publisher's note at the beginning of Obama's book. That led to a series of hack semi-corrections designed to preserve their reasoning against the simple fact that their premise was complete crap. Eventually, I had Glenn Thrush intimating at me on Twitter that I was ignoring some larger issues about memoirs. I didn't think I was, though! So I went out for drinks with a pal of mine who used to work in publishing, and she told me that Politico's concern was "to laugh." As she explained, if memoir writers did NOT use composite characters, then every memoir would be long and disjointed and unpleasant to read. (I am quite sure that I am the only person who covered that dust-up who actually talked to someone in publishing.)
Ana Marie: OH I REMEMBER THAT. The time when Politico took up a Drudge-baiting story only to have it crumble into a pile of "meh." There was that time.
Jason: I think that it was basically an attempt to sort of slide Mike Daisey's silhouette over the Obama autobiographies.
Ana Marie: When I heard about the "composite character" scandal, my thought was "Huh, those books came out how many years ago? Could Hillary's people really have missed that? The team that tried to make an issue of his kindergarten aspirations?"
Jason: Yes! That was a story about Obama that got covered with an air of disdain.
Ana Marie: I wonder what Hillary staffers think when they hear the right say Obama has not been "properly vetted." I think they tend to bang their head against the wall because the issue isn't whether or not people know stuff about Obama, it's whether they *care.*
Jason: Now, it's not exactly news that the Romney campaign doesn't like The New York Times, and would appreciate it if they'd run more "probing, sneering stories" -- to use Ari Fleischer's words -- about Obama. Personally, I think we got a lot of probing stories in 2008. Maybe they weren't sneering enough! But if Romney has a good case, it's to be made in the way the Times occasionally covered John McCain. I'm thinking of their weird election year correction, about how they were no longer going to call McCain a "fighter pilot." And I'm especially thinking of the Vicki Iseman story, which -- I'm sure you know -- is a story that I thought was straight up journalistic malpractice.
Ana Marie: Yes. Really, it's hard to find people who are straight-up fans of the NYT on either side. I don't, by the way, buy into the journalistic canard that having critics on both sides means you're "doing something right." It often means you're doing a lot of things wrong.
Jason: I think it's strange to think that the "Choom Gang" story should have done MORE damage to Obama, and if it had been put on the front page, it would have been a "sneering" story. The fact is, if you think drug use is a disqualifer, there's an obvious choice in this election: Mitt Romney, whose vices include ... what -- chocolate milk? Meanwhile, lots of people smoke weed. Lots of people do college stuff, in college. Those who would be turned off by Obama's "Choom Gang" exploits represented a sunk cost to him, politically, anyway. Find me the story where Obama held a guy down on the ground and went at him with scissors, and I'll say, "Run that sucker."
Ana Marie: I think the real criticism here may be that both the Romney story and the Choom Gang stories are probably not relevant to the presidential selection of a vast majority of Americans. I feel like we say that a lot. About political coverage.
Jason: Now and forever. Beyond that, what Romney maybe doesn't recognize (and what Politico, institutionally, would never admit) is that we're in the period of the election season where everyone's gone on vacation from this coverage. The American people are going to rejoin this moveable feast in late August. Peace out until then, they say, to the political media. Which means that Romney got a big break from his haircut story running when it did. And he's going to get a big break that all of his activity with Donald Trump is happening in May. He'll squeeze Trump for the cash he can garner, weather his clownish escapades, and by the time normal human Americans get back into political news, Trump will be a forgotten story. Unless, of course, Trump insists on being otherwise. And if that happens, who knows, maybe we'll learn that Eric Fehrnstrom has a "kill list" of his own.
What normal human Americans are going to fixate on, for the next few months, is their own economic fortunes. (Political science proves this!) And chances are, when everyone returns to the conversation, Romney will have his shot at making the argument he wants to make about the economy. And we'll hear Obama's defense. The stories of springtime are likely to be far from the minds of voters. And frankly, if the Romney campaign gets its wish and the Times runs a bunch of "sneering" stories about Obama, it's going to keep the conversation away from where Romney wants it.
Ana Marie: They will say it themselves: "Every day we are not talking about the economy is a losing day for us." Arguably, it's a losing day for voters as well.
Jason: Call me crazy, but there's a good chance that come September, Team Romney is going to be quoting Paul Krugman an awful lot. Albeit selectively. I want to close by pointing out that Politico has also done that thing where it has a Politico EXCLUSIVE about all the news it made, today. Shove your face down our meta-hole, America, and suck deeply!
Ana Marie: Oh, the synergy!
[Ana Marie and I would also urge you to read John Cook's take on the matter, which implies that there is, perhaps, some vestige of humanity within VandeHei and Allen that is crying out in warning that nobody should actually read Politico, if not a straight up cry for help in general.]