Thursday, October 01, 2015


Over the past 24 hours, The New York Times has published several versions of the Jennifer Steinhauer story at this URL. The story concerns Kevin McCarthy and the likelihood that he'll succeed John Boehner as Speaker of the House. As Daily Kos's Laura Clawson noted yesterday, the first version of the story buried news of McCarthy's admission that the point of the Benghazi committee was to tank Hillary Clinton's poll numbers in its eighth paragraph; the innocuous headline was "John Boehner Sets House Speaker Vote for Next Week." A later version of the story shifted to the headline "Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker Favorite, Under Fire for Benghazi Comment," and put McCarthy's comments in the lede. (See a record of the shifting versions at NewsDiffs.)

But that wasn't the end of the rewriting.

The current version of the story re-buries the lede -- or, rather, it subsumes the lede in a narrative that portrays McCarthy not as a partisan hack, but as a happy, friendly golden retriever of a man who might run into trouble as Speaker because he's so darn outgoing.

No, I'm not kidding. I'll quote the current version story at some length so you can see how it works:
Can Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker Favorite, Go From Buddy to Boss?

WASHINGTON -- Representative Kevin McCarthy of California has built a loyal following among House Republicans by calling them up just to gab, giving them special jackets when they joined his vote-whipping team and telling them their ideas are fantastic, even after telling the last guy who left his office that his (completely opposite) idea was great, too.

“If you want to talk to him,” said former Representative Tim Griffin of Arkansas, “then you’re the only one in the world at that moment.”

But for Mr. McCarthy -- relatively inexperienced at governing and at times a political chameleon -- the question now is whether he can transform himself from the House fun dad always ready for a trip to Disneyland into one who makes the children do their algebra homework and eat their kale.

In just the past 48 hours, the man who longs to be speaker of the House insulted the man he would replace, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, and suggested that a taxpayer-funded committee to investigate the terror attack in Benghazi was designed to harm the political fortunes of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The remark was a gift-wrapped gaffe for Democrats, who will now spend the week before Mr. McCarthy’s effort to be elected speaker painting him as a partisan hack.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” Mr. McCarthy told Sean Hannity of Fox News on Tuesday night. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable.”

Mrs. Clinton responded that she found Mr. McCarthy’s comments “deeply distressing.”

Mr. McCarthy’s moves point to an uncomfortable problem: Many of the qualities that have led to his meteoric rise during a mere eight years in Congress may be liabilities should he be chosen to wield the speaker’s gavel, as is widely expected to happen next Thursday.

“His success has been his personality,” said Representative John Carter, Republican of Texas. Nonetheless, he said, “There has to be a strong hand somewhere in this because it is like herding cats over here.”
This is appalling. It suggests that the only problem with McCarthy's comment about the Benghazi committee was that he was trying to be the "fun dad" he always is and he's going to have to stop saying fun things like that if he wants to make House Republicans "eat their kale."

(In the same interview, McCarthy undiplomatically gave Boehner's speakership a grade of B-minus. Steinhauer apparently believes that slighting Boehner and acknowledging the nakedly political purpose a committee ostensibly devoted to the investigation of four deaths at a U.S. diplomatic outpost are morally equivalent gaffes.)

If you look at the "Compare with previous" links at NewsDiffs, you can see that the "fun dad" bit is new, and became part of the story only in the third version. Obviously that was the take on McCarthy that Steinhauer was working on when news of his Benghazi statement broke, and she just plowed on and shoehorned the Benghazi remarks into her take without ever considering that maybe "fun dad" didn't quite address what had just happened. But the "fun dad" take is classic Beltway-insider journalism: It seems to be a frank assessment of a power player, but it's a gentle, toothless critique. Is McCarthy too warm? Is Hillary Clinton too cold? That's what matters to insider journalists, not what these people actually do -- what laws they enact, what policies they support.

A guy who exults in shameless smashmouth partisanship is not being a "fun dad." Steinhauer doesn't get that, nor do her editors at the Times -- to them, it's all just sport. This is the mentality of horserace journalism expanded even beyond election coverage -- McCarthy is rising in the polls in the House GOP, and that's all that matters. The real-world consequences of what dishonorable politicians do don't matter.


Knight of Nothing said...

Between this and its "review" of Niall Ferguson's hagiography of Kissinger, the gray lady is really making me sick this week. "All the Pandering that's Not Really Fit to Print"

Yastreblyansky said...

Obviously from the standpoint of the members who make the difference in the House GOP caucus, what McCarthy said is not only acceptable but not even a "gaffe"--what should they be using hearings for other than to knock down Clinton's poll standings? Complaining about it is just that kind of nitzy stuff Democrats are always doing, always fussing about the rules because they don't know how to play the game, and of no significance (Democrats will have forgotten about it in two months anyway, and the neutral voters will just have their sense that there's something vaguely suspicious or not-aboveboard about Hillary reinforced).

The Times political department and all the other horserace reporters also know it's a game, but have no reliable concept that there's real money at stake, let alone human lives, so somebody like Steinhauer or Nagourney is in a way even more pathologically stupid than the worst conservative in the Congress. Fun dad! Eat your kale!

Steve Gerrard said...

The Internet rule is that if the headline asks a question, the answer is No.

Feud Turgidson said...

The Internet already killed the dead tree medium some years ago. It's inevitable the reality of the age of instant widely distributed low cost Communication and Information would eventually take out the NYTimes.

There are various business strategies available to survive in this age of Free Stuff, but the only ones of them that, IMO, actually work to preserve the outmoded newspaper are just giving up to an oligarch or to the service of the fabulously wealthy (The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Economist) or being run under a trust arrangement (The Guardian).

Fuck the Times. It's really no different now than the WaPo or the HuffPo: a bazaar full of con artists, savants, a window on the zeitgeist, and the occasional good tip on a bit of science or a decent book. As a carrier of reliable political information, it's been crap for decades.

Unsalted Sinner said...

Looks like a fine example of what Jay Rosen calls "the cult of the savvy":

"Savviness! Deep down, that’s what reporters want to believe in and actually do believe in— their own savviness and the savviness of certain others (including operators like Karl Rove.) In politics, they believe, it’s better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It’s better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere or humane.

Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) Savviness—that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, “with it,” and unsentimental in all things political—is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it."

Never Ben Better said...

Heh. Apparently "Fun Dad" wasn't supposed to spill the beans quite so unamibuously; his colleagues are sputtering and ol' Kevin is trying to 'splain it all away today. No, no, there's nothing at all political about the Benghazi hearings!