Posts about Politics

Davos08: Condoleeza Rice

Condoleeza Rice addresses the opening of Davos. She talks about ideals and optimism and I wasn’t going to blog that; it sounded like boilerplate.

But then she said this: The United States is said not to deal fully with its past. “To which I say good for us. Too much dwelling on history can become a prison.”

That is a bold statement that slaps our enemies. It puts the line not between east and west but between past and future.

She says that America has no permanent enemies. We are engaged in relations with Syria and Vietnam as well as China and she says any talk about a renewed cold war is “hyperbolic nonsense.” She also says that America “has no desire to have a permanent enemy in Iran.”

Change: The emptiest word in politics

I’m sick of hearing the word “change.” Last night, during the Democratic debate in New Hampshire, we heard it 90 times. Change, change, change. Blah, blah, blah. It’s an utterly empty word. Meaningless. The worst of political rhetoric. The worst of political bullshit. Pure spin. Cynical marketing. Juvenile pandering. ‘I’m change.’ “No, I’m change.’ ‘Are not.’ ‘Am, too.’ Nya, nya, nya.

Oh, just shut up and do something. Or at least say something. And don’t say “hope,” either. Say something about the economy (note that on Facebook — which is overwhelmingly and disproportionately in Obama’s camp — the users wanted to hear a lot more about that). And health care. And education. And technology. And Iraq. And energy. And the environment. Or just tell us what change means.

glassplate.jpgGod bless Charlie Gibson last night — the best moderator on any debate so far, I’d say — who pointed to the emptiness of change when Barack Obama and John Edwards bragged about doing in those evil lobbyists and stopping them from corrupting democracy by buying legislators meals. Charlie pointed out that the only change in the rule is that they can’t buy lawmakers meals while sitting down. Here’s the solution to that: a one-handed a plate-and-glass holder.

And the truth is that we don’t really like change all that much. Corporations, universities, governments, and marriages are built around avoiding change. We fear change.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s plenty we should be changing, starting with this primary system that is drowning us in rhetoric and advertising and attacks, not to mention undue influence given to the ministates of Iowa and New Hampshire (I say we should hold a national primary no earlier than July). We need to get health care. We need a broadband policy. We need an energy policy. We need so much. It’s not change. It’s the work of government.

Here’s a cloud — and what an appropriate metaphor that is — from the transcript of last night’s Democratic debate (thanks to Tagcrowd). I suppose I should take comfort in the fact that “think” is bigger than “change.”

created at TagCrowd.com

TechCrunch, a stop on the way to the White House

If you ask me — and you didn’t, so I will — it’s pretty damned incredible that Michael Arrington and TechCrunch is getting interviews with presidential candidates: McCain today; Romney earlier. It’s just a blog. It’s just a tech blog. But it’s powerful and has an important audience in a critical industry. So candidates are paying attention. That and 10Questions and the YouTube debates are evidence of a political process that’s just beginning to open up.

The devil Drudge

Maybe I’m more aware of this because I’m a Hillary supporter, but it does seem as if the New York Times is taking any opportunity to swipe at her. Yesterday’s page one carried a story that was shocked — shocked, I tell you — that the Clinton campaign might actually be feeding stories to the dreaded Drudge Report.

….But it was a prime example of a development that has surprised much of the political world: Mrs. Clinton is learning to play nice with the Drudge Report and the powerful, elusive and conservative-leaning man behind it. . . .

That people in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign orbit would tip off the Drudge Report to its fund-raising numbers is in part a reflection of her pragmatic approach to dealing with potential enemies, like Newt Gingrich or Rupert Murdoch. . . .

The site is a potent combination of real scoops, gossip and innuendo aimed at Mr. Drudge’s targets of choice — some of it delivered with no apparent effort to determine its truth, as politicians of all stripes have discovered at times.

Would they be equally shocked if Rudy Giuliani or John McCain tried to get good publicity from, oh, the New York Times?

And it’s not as if the Times doesn’t benefit plenty from
Drudge. Last I checked, Drudge was the single largest nonsearch referrer to both the Times and the Washington Post. And I’ve heard executives from major publications and blogs say that they wouldn’t piss off Drudge because he sends them so much traffic.

So why are they so shocked that Clinton might try to get a favorable link? What’s the news there? Or is it an opportunity to slap Hillary while she’s up? Just asking.

Editing the Times

Here’s an exchange between Adam Nagourney of the Times and me over campaign coverage.

On Tuesday, I took out after Nagourney for his Times story presenting the impression that Obama is winning over Iowa youth even though the polls, which he quotes, do not back up that hypothesis. I posted a comment on his story (though it never showed up there) and also crossposted it here. Nagourney responded the next day (though being crazed with the Networked Journalism Summit, I had no time to reply until now). Here is his article and here my criticism (with my comment at the end). Here are his response to me and mine to him:

* * *

Hey Jeff:

Here’s my feeling on this: My job is about getting information out to the public, from what I see and learn on the campaign trail, and trying to put it in as much perspective as possible. In this case, it looks like something MIGHT be going on with Obama and younger voters, based on anecdotal evidence (turn-out at his rallies, conversations with younger voters, the make-up of his campaign staff), but also because his campaign is clearly trying to work it (the Iowa High School program is pretty neat.) To me, journalistically, I want to make sure I get that information out to readers – but with all the statistical and historical information that makes clear that this remains very speculative right now.. (Also, keep in mind, I wrote that for one of our Web columns, where we have more flexibility in voice and tone – hence the phrase, ‘polls aside.” — which was important I think in communicating to readers that this is not some breathless announcement story.)

The alternative would have been not to write anything at all, and sit back and feel like a jerk if Obama, say, sweeps through Iowa and New Hampshire and exit polls show it’s because it was because of a sudden surge of under-30 voters.

Hope that answers your question.

Adam

* * *

Adam,

Thanks so much for the reply.

Of course, it’s your job to get information out to the public. But it’s also your job to judge that information. You had an impression. But the polls simply didn’t back up that impression. So is that impression information? Is it news, worthy of running in the Times? And is covering your flank — so you don’t feel like a jerk, as you say — sufficient cause to shove this round peg into that square hole?

In any case, this remains a horse-race story and I’m among those who are tired of them and, indeed, think they can be a perilous addiction. For they are too much about betting, entertainment, and ego: covering one’s rear in hopes of being the one who called it right. But what value does that really give us? What does that tell us about the candidate? What knowledge or news does that provide to help us vote? Not much, I’d say.

I’d point you to this post, inspired by a Politico blog item that noted the syncopation between the polls and the media’s narrative: Clinton was ahead in the polls but Politico had the impression that national media’s narrative gave Obama the mo’. Now that all this coverage is digital and searchable, it’s not hard to test that hypothesis as I did here. Note also the six-month candidate coverage chart on Daylife (where, full disclosure, I am a partner); the service gathers and analyzes coverage from thousands of news sources. It shows that Clinton’s coverage has not broken away from Obama’s until last month. Media impression is only now catching up to voter reality.

So return to your story. Without the facts — and polls are about as close as we get — one is left (I was left) with the question: Why did you do the story? Seeking your motive is a reasonable question since you’re the guy who controls that news hole into which was shoved this dubious peg.

So if writing in a web column gives you more flexibility in voice and tone, then I say run with it. Be transparent. Bloggy, even. If Obama impresses you, say so. If you think his high-school program is really neat, then print that. Make that the reason for the story. For without that, we are left to wonder: Is this wishful thinking? Please tell us.

Now please allow me to speak more as a former editor than as a blogger and say that there are plenty of ways I think you could have attacked this story that wouldn’t have required the taffy stretching. A few ideas:

You could have focused in solely on that high-school program and reported the hell out of it, talking with the strategists who created it, the operatives who facilitated it, and the students who followed this Pied Piper and those who didn’t. Then I still would have seen the Obama campaign’s dogged pursuit of youth. I’d still like to know about the programs of the other candidates, though.

Or you could have gone to rallies for Obama and Clinton and done a census of age. It’s even something you could have crowdsourced: Get volunteers to ask 100 random, truly random people their age. Get a fact. Contrast that with the polls. Talk with the young people in both places. Tell me why they like either candidate. Why they don’t like the other. Let me hear them speak.

Or go to a mall and find 100 random youth yourself. Ask them for whom they’re voting and why and whether any actions of the campaigns have influenced them.

Or do a statistical analysis of past campaigns and show how much impact the youth vote had on victory since, say, 18-year-olds got the vote. Then look at the relative support of Clinton and Obama and explain why it is or isn’t wise for the Obama campaign to be going after youth.

Or poll young people about the issues and stands that matter to them — if, indeed, youth speak at all monolithically — and analyze the candidates’ stands next to that to see who should be more appealing (this approach having the fringe benefit of actually discussing a few issues in addition to the obvious, Iraq).

And if Iowa’s caucuses are, as you report, unlikely to be affected by the youth since they swing so old, then maybe picking another state might be more productive.

Journalistically, to paraphrase you, doesn’t replacing reportorial generalities and rhetorical questions with reported facts get more information out to readers and voters?

I’ll be blogging this, too. I don’t know why my comment didn’t end up attached to your story. If you with to reply, I’d hope you’d do so in one or the other of our comments.

– Jeff

[I should have added in my reply to him — in the interest of transparency — that I am likely to vote for Clinton.]