Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Obama VP Drama

Silly or asinine coverage is nothing new, but I was struck last night by a few mind-numbing passages in Obama-VP pieces. Those concerns have been eclipsed by Ron Fournier's AP hit piece today, though. Still, there's a continuity in that the press continues to insert themselves into the story, and for the ill.

First up, let's look at this one from The Politico, running on Yahoo:

Obama's striptease may be risky

Fred Barbash
Fri Aug 22, 7:08 PM ET

In dragging out the announcement of his vice presidential nominee to almost the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama has at once demonstrated his willingness to defy conventional political expectations — and to hold the news media in his thrall while doing it.

By keeping the “who will it be?” drama going all week — and at least a couple days past when many media commentators and political operatives thought the answer would become known — Obama discarded a widespread belief in political circles that a vice president should be picked far enough in advance that a nominee can enjoy several days of massive publicity about the ticket.

Delay brings two potential risks for Obama.

As it now stands, his announcement will land on a weekend and bleed right into the nominating convention — a time when a nominee can already expect to be dominating national attention.

What’s more, by keeping expectations hanging for so long, Obama makes it harder to deliver on all the anticipation. A weeks-long strip tease, ending with a naked Joe Biden or Evan Bayh — or some other safe but unsexy choice — might prove deflating.

It goes on. I don't know whether Barbash or his editor came up with article title – I suspect Barbash, based on the fifth paragraph - but "striptease"? They're comparing the Democratic presidential candidate to a stripper now? Nothing against strippers, but it's a rather odd comparison.

Read that second paragraph again. There's a bit of pissy threat in there, I think: 'Obama's defied conventional wisdom and the will of the press corps, and we might make him pay for it.'

"Dominating," "anticipation," "strip tease," "naked Joe Biden" "safe but unsexy," "deflating"... Is this a political analysis piece, or a Viagra ad? There's nothing wrong with having a little fun, but our political press corps is disturbingly sex-obssessed in their attitudes toward politicians. I really don't care about what reporters do in the personal lives but it'd be nice if a political non-story wasn't covered through the lens of their sexual frustration.

The piece overall is exactly that – a non-story. It's not entirely horrible as such pieces go and I imagine they just wanted or needed to file copy. But Obama hadn't announced yet, and there was no actual news - never mind that Obama would announce soon enough and there would be. So on the Friday night before the announcement, The Politico churned out a process story about the lack of news (make that a momentary lack of news) and its great significance... to their libidos. Yikes. Normally I'd call this masturbatory coverage, but given the frustration angle, in this case that would be slightly inaccurate.

On to our second piece, "Obama taps Biden to be running mate," by the AP's Liz Sidoti and Nedra Pickler, which contains this gem about the Obama text message being scooped by the press:

Michael Silberman, a partner at online communications firm EchoDitto, said the campaign gambled when they made such a high-stakes promise and find themselves in a precarious situation where they could risk a great deal of trust with supporters.

"For Obama supporters, this is like finding out from your neighbor instead of your sister that she's engaged — not how you want or expect the news to be delivered," Silberman said.

You have to be friggin' kidding me. To be fair, the AP piece is decent overall, and this section appears quite late in it. Maybe Silberman said a bunch of brilliant things that didn't make the piece, but this take strikes me as pretty ridiculous, without legitimate journalistic value. Obama was a stripper in the first piece, and now Obama supporters are emotionally fragile family members. I've read accounts from a few Obama supporters who expressed disappointment, although in at least one case it was because the message didn't go through, probably due to overloaded circuits (network activity was at 225% of normal according to one piece). I've yet to see any Obama supporter say anything approaching, "I used to trust Obama, but now that despite his best efforts the press leaked his pick a few hours early so the west coast found out about it before I did, I don't know how I can every trust him again!!!" Even if Obama supporters were somehow that emotionally distraught, in this account reporters' own glaring culpability is completely absolved! They destroyed the event for some people, Obama didn't! E.J. Dionne correctly noted on NPR on Friday the high degree of discipline the Obama campaign had shown on the matter. The press squawking over the harm done by their own leak is like a burglar chiding his victims: "Despite their alarms and the safe, I was able to rob the family's jewelry. I'm just not sure I can ever feel safe in their house again."

I really hoping this idiotic meme doesn't spread too far, although DDay spotted another instance and had a similar reaction:

Setting aside the merits of Joe Biden for a second (short take: he fits the traditional attack-dog model of a Vice President to a T), late last night as the news nets were announcing the pick David Shuster said something like "Barack Obama has now betrayed his supporters by not giving them the first opportunity to hear his choice..."

Simply an amazing statement on a variety of levels. Actually, who betrayed the public is you, the media, again, because you just couldn't stand not being insiders for ten minutes and waiting out the pick and maybe using those resources of staking out potential candidates' homes and working the phones on, I don't know, illegal wars and torture. The press only breaks out their investigative skills every four years so they can scoop their competition by 20 seconds. Would it have killed them to embargo the story and let the campaign play it out the way they wanted? Would it have mattered to anyone?

This secret was so tantalizing to them, making it necessary to marshal the full resources of the American media, while eight years of secret government and secret law received no such attention. The discovery of the pick was an end in itself, justifying their clubby, insider self-images as the coolest kids in the room. And then, after they've undermined the rollout, they blame the candidate.

It's going to get lost because it happened so late at night, but it was a shining example of how the media works.

Again, for the press, the press often is the story. They were jilted. They didn't get what they wanted when they wanted it, an advance look at the prime gossip (and for some, a dose of Viagra). And they shall have vengeance for it!

And lo, their agent of vengeance shall ride a pale horse, and his name shall be Ron Fournier of the AP:

Analysis: Biden pick shows lack of confidence

By RON FOURNIER, Associated Press Writer
Sat Aug 23, 2:12 AM ET

DENVER - The candidate of change went with the status quo.

In picking Sen. Joe Biden to be his running mate, Barack Obama sought to shore up his weakness — inexperience in office and on foreign policy — rather than underscore his strength as a new-generation candidate defying political conventions.

n picking Sen. Joe Biden to be his running mate, Barack Obama sought to shore up his weakness — inexperience in office and on foreign policy — rather than underscore his strength as a new-generation candidate defying political conventions.

He picked a 35-year veteran of the Senate — the ultimate insider — rather than a candidate from outside Washington, such as Govs. Tim Kaine of Virginia or Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas; or from outside his party, such as Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska; or from outside the mostly white male club of vice presidential candidates. Hillary Rodham Clinton didn't even make his short list.

The picks say something profound about Obama: For all his self-confidence, the 47-year-old Illinois senator worried that he couldn't beat Republican John McCain without help from a seasoned politician willing to attack. The Biden pick is the next logistical step in an Obama campaign that has become more negative — a strategic decision that may be necessary but threatens to run counter to his image.

Democratic strategists, fretting over polls that showed McCain erasing Obama's lead this summer, welcomed the move. They, too, worried that Obama needed a more conventional — read: tougher — approach to McCain...

So the question is whether Biden's depth counters Obama's inexperience — or highlights it?

Do read the rest if you can stand it, but that's probably my favorite bit, the last sentence of this excerpt, Fournier pretending to ask a question after he's just spent ten paragraphs and a headline giving us his answer.

Clinton did make Obama's short list by many accounts, depending on how "short" one's making it, and Obama's repeatedly praised her, but Fournier's trying to sell the idea that Obama has shown her disrespect. (Vote McCain, Clinton diehards!) It's also pretty funny that Fournier, given his GOP ties, is smacking Obama around for choosing from the "white male club." I guess Obama's campaign just isn't historic enough for Fournier on its own; yet again, Obama's either too scary or just not black enough for some white guy.

The other pieces may be annoying in parts, but it's hacks like Fournier that really endanger the Obama campaign. You've probably seen Eric Boehlert's piece on Fournier, that the McCain campaign tried to hire Fornier, and he praised the Bush administration in flowery language in e-mails to Karl Rove. You may know that the decline of the AP directly corresponds to Fournier's rise in power there. And while Fournier is biased and unfair, he's on the presidential beat for the AP. It's ridiculous. If he were just another hack like Krauthammer writing sneering op-eds, it wouldn't be quite so bad, but he's pretending to be an actual, somewhat objective journalist.

Steve Benen and Digby have pieces on the Fournier piece, Crooks and Liars' piece has contact information for complaining to the AP, and FireDogLake has set up a way to write your local papers about carrying Fournier. An avalanche of "polite but firm" e-mails would be great.

Let's be honest – regardless of who Obama picked, Fournier was going to write a hit piece. He quotes a few Democrats to give him cover, but the key message he's trying to sell is the same one the GOP has been trying to sell for over a month now: Obama is scared of McCain, and he's weak. It's bullshit, of course, but the GOP can only win if they can obscure how lockstep McCain has been with Bush, and make the election a referendum on Obama. We're going to see a lot more of this crap, and the more we can push back on it, the better.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)


FranIAm said...

Great post and you highlight a lot of assholery going on out there.

Emails to be sent post haste.

Thanks Batocchio for yet another great piece.

Comrade Kevin said...

Two things.

a) I thought the AP was supposed to be impartial in its coverage. That story is anything but.

b) I've all but ignored most VP speculation. It seems like a few pundits and columnist want to be the few contrary voices so they can score "I-told-you-so-points" if everything goes wrong for Obama's campaign.

None of this sounds like responsible journalism.