The Peter Pan of politics

Here is another example of either lazy or agenda-laded — or both — political reporting in the Times: Adam Nagourney’s exercise in apparent wishful thinking as he muses on Barack Obama attracting young voters. On Obama:

He has clearly struck a chord among younger voters. And his campaign has made what seems to be the most sophisticated effort of any of the Democrats to reach out to them, taking steps like sending recruiting teams to Iowa high schools and trying to ensure that New Hampshire college students who might be out of state on primary day get absentee ballots.

What will this mean in the end?

Now that’s a rhetorical question. Clearly, Nagorney doesn’t know and so one wonders why the story was done. The impression was certainly out there that Obama had younger supporters and that’s the premise of the story. But Nagourney’s first fact belies that:

The truth of the matter is that every four years – as sure as a sunset – stories appear about a surge of interest among younger voters in presidential politics, typically predicting a jump in turn-out that will benefit one campaign or another. It rarely turns out to be true: the percentage of voters under 30 in the total electorate was basically unchanged between 2000 and 2004– 17 percent, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls. Polls taken by The Times and CBS News last month suggest that there is no difference in the level of support between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton among younger Democratic voters, though they view Mr. Obama slightly more favorably.

One wonders again why the story was done, then. But Nagourney goes on to sell his now-questionable premise:

But could this finally be the year – and this the candidate – that produces the ever-expected burst of interest among younger voters? Polls aside, the kind of crowds Mr. Obama is drawing – and a walk through his campaign headquarters in Des Moines – certainly suggest that some young people have taken a strong interest in his candidacy.

Polls aside. Facts aside. History aside. Damnit, he’s determined to write this story, to push the image of Obama as the political Pied Piper. He moves to meaningless observations:

At 46, Mr. Obama has just the slightest streak of gray hair, no creases in his face and works out every day to keep trim. Democrats may debate whether his youthfulness makes it tough for him to come across as presidential; at the least, it means that he does not come across as parental, at least not to the newly voting age crowd.

The story is utterly uninformative. And I have to wonder whether there is an agenda here: another slap at frontrunner Clinton or an effort to boster the flagging Obama. In either case, I wish that we could have a dialogue with Nagourney over this story to ferret out the motive and method behind stories such as this.

I posted this comment on the story:

In one breath, you quote polls saying that there is essentially no difference between Obama and Clinton in youth’s support of them.

In the next breath, you try to argue that Obama is the youth candidate with little more to back up your contention — is it a wishful one? — than your vague, generalized observations about his hair and fitness and tactics, still unproven.

Why was this story written? What is the news here?

  • You ever think you might be in the wrong line of work, Jeff? I mean…you have a good appreciation of SUBSTANCE, but you’re really kind of stuck in this ‘meta-journalism’ gig… journaling about journalism… Am I detecting a subconscious wish to get back to the nuts & boltz of hard news reporting on your part, or am I just imagining that…?

  • cue up: Bend Me Shape Me

    I’m wondering why Hillary decided to land in New York, post Washington.

    I think because its the perceived headquarters of the world. I hope the rest of America is not asleep at the vote in Nov08. As much as you all in NY NY think you run the world, ie public thoughts and financial leaching, we feed you with labor, food and those cash derivatives.

    We need a computer program that runs in the background. Analyzes words for manipulation.
    NO – really we voters need the ability to make horse track policy, elect a jocky who follows orders and is supported by a party horse (donkey, elephant, unicorn).

    I think human thought is more sophisticated these days. Straighten up and evolve with the population, please.

  • I actually wrote a similar piece to this, also outlining how Nagourney had his facts wrong about youth turnout and emailed Nagourney raising all of these points. He blew me off, so good luck on getting that discussion.

    You can read my blog post about it here:

  • Nagourney’s statement about youth not finding the 46-year-old Obama parental made me smile. When I was 46, my eldest child was 23. She considered me ancient, I’m sure. And parental, too.