Be skeptical about political journalism

The New York Times broke a shocking story:

Joe Ricketts, an up-by-the-bootstraps billionaire whose varied holdings include a name-brand brokerage firm in Omaha, a baseball team in Chicago, herds of bison in Wyoming and a start-up news Web site in New York, wanted to be a player in the 2012 election. On Thursday he was, though not in the way he had intended.

Word that Mr. Ricketts had considered bankrolling a $10 million advertising campaign linking President Obama to the incendiary race-infused statements of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., brought waves of denunciation from Mitt Romney, the Obama campaign and much of the rest of the political world.

via Joe Ricketts Rejects Plan to Finance Anti-Obama Ads – NYTimes.com.

It seems Ricketts, an owner of the Chicago Cubs, started a Super-PAC to support Mitt Romney.  One of the proposals put forward by a political operative was to associate President Obama with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his radical former pastor.  Apparently, the proposal was “racially tinged.”   So Ricketts and Romney are getting slammed accordingly.

But Mitt Romney has repudiated the tactic.  Even more to the point, RICKETTS repudiated the ad.   There is no ad!  Ricketts refused to fund it.  Not once it hit papers, at the time it was proposed!   Somebody suggested doing this, but everyone said “no.”

So what is the story?  There is no story.

It would be as if a reporter from Fox News was in a bar and overheard some drunk say, “I’m for Obama, and I gave his campaign twenty bucks!  And I think the first thing he should do is kill all the capitalists!”  The reporter then runs a story with the headline, “Obama supporter calls for killing capitalists.”

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • rlewer

    The NY Times must b trying to compete with the Washington Post for phony stories.

  • rlewer

    The NY Times must b trying to compete with the Washington Post for phony stories.

  • James Sarver

    “The reporter then runs a story with the headline, “Obama supporter calls for killing capitalists.””

    No, it would be more like “Obama rejects murder, heroically defends liberty.” It’s all in the spin. The facts are only there to support the premise.

  • James Sarver

    “The reporter then runs a story with the headline, “Obama supporter calls for killing capitalists.””

    No, it would be more like “Obama rejects murder, heroically defends liberty.” It’s all in the spin. The facts are only there to support the premise.

  • reg

    “Obama supporter calls for killing capitalists.” Wait, I saw that story on fox news yesterday and the day before that and the day before that…….. I think they are running a series on it and it is in their daily talking points memo until after the election is over.

  • reg

    “Obama supporter calls for killing capitalists.” Wait, I saw that story on fox news yesterday and the day before that and the day before that…….. I think they are running a series on it and it is in their daily talking points memo until after the election is over.

  • Kirk

    “It would be as if a reporter from Fox News was in a bar and overheard some drunk say, ‘I’m for Obama, and I gave his campaign twenty bucks! And I think the first thing he should do is kill all the capitalists!’ The reporter then runs a story with the headline, ‘Obama supporter calls for killing capitalists.’”

    You speak as though this is outside of the realm of possibility.

    Anyways, I agree with your overall point about the Rickett-Wright story. It’s worth mentioning, however, that the Romney campaign only repudiated the ad after the NY Times broke a story about it. I suppose this is fair, as the PACs and politicians aren’t supposed be coordinating. This makes me wonder if the issue here is less toxic political journalism (though I don’t discount that it’s an element) and more confusion surrounding the nature and affiliations of super PACs. I think the media vaguely understands how PACs work, but I think the voting public is far less clear, which makes this Wright story an easy talking point of the Obama Administration and his supporters. It looks like it’s a Romney ad when it’s really something else.

  • Kirk

    “It would be as if a reporter from Fox News was in a bar and overheard some drunk say, ‘I’m for Obama, and I gave his campaign twenty bucks! And I think the first thing he should do is kill all the capitalists!’ The reporter then runs a story with the headline, ‘Obama supporter calls for killing capitalists.’”

    You speak as though this is outside of the realm of possibility.

    Anyways, I agree with your overall point about the Rickett-Wright story. It’s worth mentioning, however, that the Romney campaign only repudiated the ad after the NY Times broke a story about it. I suppose this is fair, as the PACs and politicians aren’t supposed be coordinating. This makes me wonder if the issue here is less toxic political journalism (though I don’t discount that it’s an element) and more confusion surrounding the nature and affiliations of super PACs. I think the media vaguely understands how PACs work, but I think the voting public is far less clear, which makes this Wright story an easy talking point of the Obama Administration and his supporters. It looks like it’s a Romney ad when it’s really something else.

  • steve

    Kirk,

    I don’t know for sure but, maybe, since there was no ad run there was nothing for Romney to repudiate. Is it possible they knew nothing about it at the national campaign level? Even if they did, who does it benefit to put out a press release saying “we found this questionable ad that may or may not ever be aired but we repudiate it anyway”? Is it good for the party? Does it portray Romney in a better light to the wing of the party that doesn’t think he has their best interest at heart? When your brother is about to misbehave in public, do you call him out in public? Or do you call him aside and make sure he doesn’t make a fool of himself before it gets to the public?

  • steve

    Kirk,

    I don’t know for sure but, maybe, since there was no ad run there was nothing for Romney to repudiate. Is it possible they knew nothing about it at the national campaign level? Even if they did, who does it benefit to put out a press release saying “we found this questionable ad that may or may not ever be aired but we repudiate it anyway”? Is it good for the party? Does it portray Romney in a better light to the wing of the party that doesn’t think he has their best interest at heart? When your brother is about to misbehave in public, do you call him out in public? Or do you call him aside and make sure he doesn’t make a fool of himself before it gets to the public?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Why is political journalism more often than not about anything and everything except the issues that people really care about.

    The few issues that are discussed ad nauseam don’t even interest people very much. I mean gay marriage? Who really cares? I mean if you push them into a corner and make them vote, they will vote it down, but the actual level of interest is extremely small which is why it has never been an issue ever before in history. No one ever had much interest in something so marginal. We have a 64% labor participation rate. That is a real problem. How about some articles on that?
    http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS11300000

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Why is political journalism more often than not about anything and everything except the issues that people really care about.

    The few issues that are discussed ad nauseam don’t even interest people very much. I mean gay marriage? Who really cares? I mean if you push them into a corner and make them vote, they will vote it down, but the actual level of interest is extremely small which is why it has never been an issue ever before in history. No one ever had much interest in something so marginal. We have a 64% labor participation rate. That is a real problem. How about some articles on that?
    http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS11300000

  • rlewer

    On the other hand, Wright was Obama’s pastoral mentor during most Obama’s years in Chicago. Obama chose that congregation and that pastor for himself and his family after a careful investigation of the churches in the area. Why would it be terrible to mention the facts? Why would the NY Times think it would be terrible to mention the facts?

    Is the Times using a non-story about a n0n-ad to short circuit any conversation about that issue?

  • rlewer

    On the other hand, Wright was Obama’s pastoral mentor during most Obama’s years in Chicago. Obama chose that congregation and that pastor for himself and his family after a careful investigation of the churches in the area. Why would it be terrible to mention the facts? Why would the NY Times think it would be terrible to mention the facts?

    Is the Times using a non-story about a n0n-ad to short circuit any conversation about that issue?

  • mikeb

    @ 1

    I wish the Times could get back to the level of quality that the reporting by Jason Blair brought to it’s pages.

  • mikeb

    @ 1

    I wish the Times could get back to the level of quality that the reporting by Jason Blair brought to it’s pages.

  • rlewer

    And now we find that NY Times reporter Jody Cantor has been questioning and investigating Romney with his fellow congregation members. She also reported to MSNBC. It seems that the Obama media is connected. Will Mass. and Mich. now be deluged with “investigative” reporters looking for dirt as Alaska was four years ago?

    If mentioning Wright is wrong, why is this not wrong?

    And the Washington Post is bringing up as a major story a Utah massacre from 150 years ago as if it has something to do with Romney. Is the Obama press panicking?

    Will they write a series of stories on Obama’s teen years and the bragging about drugs and terrible grades that got him major scholarships ? Does anyone wonder how this happened? Will the “mainline” press show their balance?

  • rlewer

    And now we find that NY Times reporter Jody Cantor has been questioning and investigating Romney with his fellow congregation members. She also reported to MSNBC. It seems that the Obama media is connected. Will Mass. and Mich. now be deluged with “investigative” reporters looking for dirt as Alaska was four years ago?

    If mentioning Wright is wrong, why is this not wrong?

    And the Washington Post is bringing up as a major story a Utah massacre from 150 years ago as if it has something to do with Romney. Is the Obama press panicking?

    Will they write a series of stories on Obama’s teen years and the bragging about drugs and terrible grades that got him major scholarships ? Does anyone wonder how this happened? Will the “mainline” press show their balance?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith said:

    Ricketts refused to fund it. Not once it hit papers, at the time it was proposed!

    That seems inaccurate. According to the Times article:

    In a statement on Thursday, a spokesman for Mr. Ricketts said the plan Mr. Davis’s team submitted was “merely a proposal” and “reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take.”

    The president and general counsel of the Ending Spending Political Action Fund, Brian Baker, said through a spokesman that the plan was submitted to a group that included him and two of Mr. Ricketts’s sons at a meeting in Chicago last week. “I was surprised and troubled by what I saw,” he said. “It was not what we asked for.”

    But on Wednesday, when Mr. Baker was asked in an interview whether Mr. Ricketts had rejected the advertising proposal, he said only that no decisions had been made.

    Please note: Ricketts’ spokesman was already being interviewed on Wednesday, but had no announcement at that time that Ricketts had “refused to fund it”. Until Thursday, that is, when the story blew up.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith said:

    Ricketts refused to fund it. Not once it hit papers, at the time it was proposed!

    That seems inaccurate. According to the Times article:

    In a statement on Thursday, a spokesman for Mr. Ricketts said the plan Mr. Davis’s team submitted was “merely a proposal” and “reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take.”

    The president and general counsel of the Ending Spending Political Action Fund, Brian Baker, said through a spokesman that the plan was submitted to a group that included him and two of Mr. Ricketts’s sons at a meeting in Chicago last week. “I was surprised and troubled by what I saw,” he said. “It was not what we asked for.”

    But on Wednesday, when Mr. Baker was asked in an interview whether Mr. Ricketts had rejected the advertising proposal, he said only that no decisions had been made.

    Please note: Ricketts’ spokesman was already being interviewed on Wednesday, but had no announcement at that time that Ricketts had “refused to fund it”. Until Thursday, that is, when the story blew up.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    As for this line of Veith’s:

    It would be as if a reporter from Fox News was in a bar and overheard some drunk say, “I’m for Obama, and I gave his campaign twenty bucks! And I think the first thing he should do is kill all the capitalists!” The reporter then runs a story with the headline, “Obama supporter calls for killing capitalists.”

    Yes … if the drunk also had the millions/billions of dollars necessary to fund a SuperPac to implement his vision and have it influence others on a national scale.

    Look, if Republicans are going to argue that political spending equals speech, then it follows (as we are seeing) that those with more money have more speech. That means that when they make — or even entertain — stupid ideas, those ideas might be magnified according at the same level as their intended messages.

    So if the drunk at the corner bar says something stupid, he will be ridiculed by those who can hear him — which is to say, no one outside the bar.

    But when you attempt to take the national stage like this on purpose, then yes, your moves will be scrutinized with the amount of attention you are attempting to capture. So try not to make any goofy moves, or else that attention might not go how you’d planned.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    As for this line of Veith’s:

    It would be as if a reporter from Fox News was in a bar and overheard some drunk say, “I’m for Obama, and I gave his campaign twenty bucks! And I think the first thing he should do is kill all the capitalists!” The reporter then runs a story with the headline, “Obama supporter calls for killing capitalists.”

    Yes … if the drunk also had the millions/billions of dollars necessary to fund a SuperPac to implement his vision and have it influence others on a national scale.

    Look, if Republicans are going to argue that political spending equals speech, then it follows (as we are seeing) that those with more money have more speech. That means that when they make — or even entertain — stupid ideas, those ideas might be magnified according at the same level as their intended messages.

    So if the drunk at the corner bar says something stupid, he will be ridiculed by those who can hear him — which is to say, no one outside the bar.

    But when you attempt to take the national stage like this on purpose, then yes, your moves will be scrutinized with the amount of attention you are attempting to capture. So try not to make any goofy moves, or else that attention might not go how you’d planned.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And, while chock full of foul language (you’ve been warned), I actually feel like the story “5 Ways to Spot a B.S. Political Story in Under 10 Seconds” is actually a useful contribution to the discussion about why one should “be skeptical about political journalism”.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And, while chock full of foul language (you’ve been warned), I actually feel like the story “5 Ways to Spot a B.S. Political Story in Under 10 Seconds” is actually a useful contribution to the discussion about why one should “be skeptical about political journalism”.

  • rlewer

    Why is the Times concerned about a possible ad about the facts about Wright and Obama. Why would this be a story that “blew up?”

    Still, it is plain that it was never approved or even seriously considered and never even reached the status of “a plan.” Even if it had, why would this be news? Is it evil to mention the real relationship between Wright and Obama? Wright was Obama’s carefully chosen pastor. Why would this fact be off limits in the minds of the Times or anyone else?

  • rlewer

    Why is the Times concerned about a possible ad about the facts about Wright and Obama. Why would this be a story that “blew up?”

    Still, it is plain that it was never approved or even seriously considered and never even reached the status of “a plan.” Even if it had, why would this be news? Is it evil to mention the real relationship between Wright and Obama? Wright was Obama’s carefully chosen pastor. Why would this fact be off limits in the minds of the Times or anyone else?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Rlewer said (@13):

    Still, it is plain that it was never approved or even seriously considered and never even reached the status of “a plan.”

    Did you even read the article? Are you just making things up because you wish they went that way?

    Even if it had, why would this be news?

    Probably precisely because of the reaction it’s engendering among the “news”-following public, including you. So … it’s working, your protests to the contrary notwithstanding.

    Is it evil to mention the real relationship between Wright and Obama? Wright was Obama’s carefully chosen pastor. Why would this fact be off limits in the minds of the Times or anyone else?

    Honestly, what article did you read? It obviously wasn’t the one Veith linked to. Who said anything about “off-limits”? Who said Wright was “carefully chosen”? Who said anything about “evil”?

    In my professional opinion (NB: I am not a paid political advisor), it would have been a colossally boneheaded maneuver to attempt to make Wright the subject in this election. Stories like that have some currency when a candidate is running for national office the first time, when he’s a relative unknown for most people. But you know what? Obama’s been running this country for over three years now. If you’re going to try to scare us all with some goofball Manchurian Candidate story about Obama’s Real Agenda, then you’re also going to have to explain why we still need to be scared about it … three years into his administration. When most people still haven’t detected any obvious influence by Mr. Wright. Are we supposed to believe that Obama will only reveal his True Hatred of White Folks in his second term? Because that’s a smart plan.

    No, the reason this is news is because it’s a story about how any fool can be soon parted from his money if he wants to run a SuperPAC. It’s a story about a guy with tons of money but not a lot of political savvy, and how he stumbled before he ever started. People love stories like that. And they’re also pretty fired up about SuperPACs, as well. And it’s an election-year story, in which every trivial detail about every candidacy gets floated before a voracious, if stupid, public.

    Really, you can’t figure out why this is so interesting?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Rlewer said (@13):

    Still, it is plain that it was never approved or even seriously considered and never even reached the status of “a plan.”

    Did you even read the article? Are you just making things up because you wish they went that way?

    Even if it had, why would this be news?

    Probably precisely because of the reaction it’s engendering among the “news”-following public, including you. So … it’s working, your protests to the contrary notwithstanding.

    Is it evil to mention the real relationship between Wright and Obama? Wright was Obama’s carefully chosen pastor. Why would this fact be off limits in the minds of the Times or anyone else?

    Honestly, what article did you read? It obviously wasn’t the one Veith linked to. Who said anything about “off-limits”? Who said Wright was “carefully chosen”? Who said anything about “evil”?

    In my professional opinion (NB: I am not a paid political advisor), it would have been a colossally boneheaded maneuver to attempt to make Wright the subject in this election. Stories like that have some currency when a candidate is running for national office the first time, when he’s a relative unknown for most people. But you know what? Obama’s been running this country for over three years now. If you’re going to try to scare us all with some goofball Manchurian Candidate story about Obama’s Real Agenda, then you’re also going to have to explain why we still need to be scared about it … three years into his administration. When most people still haven’t detected any obvious influence by Mr. Wright. Are we supposed to believe that Obama will only reveal his True Hatred of White Folks in his second term? Because that’s a smart plan.

    No, the reason this is news is because it’s a story about how any fool can be soon parted from his money if he wants to run a SuperPAC. It’s a story about a guy with tons of money but not a lot of political savvy, and how he stumbled before he ever started. People love stories like that. And they’re also pretty fired up about SuperPACs, as well. And it’s an election-year story, in which every trivial detail about every candidacy gets floated before a voracious, if stupid, public.

    Really, you can’t figure out why this is so interesting?

  • rlewer

    Vieth: “There is no ad. Ricketts refused to fund it.”

    Article: “Word that Ricketts had considered…” Not “the fact that…”

    How did Ricketts “fumble”? He supposedly “considered” and rejected an idea. Probably wisely, since as you say, the issue is old news.

    He was not separated from any of his money.

    BTW: The topic was being skeptical of political journalism.

  • rlewer

    Vieth: “There is no ad. Ricketts refused to fund it.”

    Article: “Word that Ricketts had considered…” Not “the fact that…”

    How did Ricketts “fumble”? He supposedly “considered” and rejected an idea. Probably wisely, since as you say, the issue is old news.

    He was not separated from any of his money.

    BTW: The topic was being skeptical of political journalism.

  • Pingback: Chicago Cubs Lose 10th In A Row While Teams Owner Joe Ricketts Busy Obama Hating….Still. « The ObamaCrat.Com™

  • Pingback: Chicago Cubs Lose 10th In A Row While Teams Owner Joe Ricketts Busy Obama Hating….Still. « The ObamaCrat.Com™


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X