Typical modern political journalism
by Jerome Armstrong, Sun May 25, 2008 at 11:21:57 AM EDT
Unfortunately, its not a defect but a feature.
A revealing article, over on Politico, by John Harris describing the media hype process with the latest example. Harris encouraged Jonathan Martin to get the take, "Wow. Maybe she has come unhinged?" up on the net asap:
But not as quick as The New York Post, which was the first outside South Dakota to notice Clinton's inflammatory remarks (Martin himself knew about Clinton's remarks from the New York tabloid's story). The Associated Press, in what looked at first blush like a classic example of what reporters call "burying the lead," had no mention of Clinton's RFK remarks in its original dispatch on the interview.
I urged Martin to keep his foot on the gas: Be the first to post reaction from the Obama campaign. Obama spokesman Bill Burton quickly obliged, denouncing Clinton's comments and saying such sentiments have "no place in this campaign." Burton's comments quickly went into Martin's blog post. Soon enough, several websites and cable news outlets were giving the story trumpet-blaring treatment.
Perhaps half an hour after the story broke Martin called me back over to his desk. It turned out the Argus Leader had video of its big interview. I huddled over Martin's computer as we watched.
It was a deflating experience.
The RFK remarks were deep in a 20-minute clip of an otherwise routine conversation. Then, once we actually got to the relevant portion of the video, it was hardly an electric moment.
Clinton does indeed mention the Kennedy assassination, speaking in a calm and analytical tone: "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California."
Martin and I both thought we saw a slight twinge in Clinton's facial expression, as though she recognized she had just said something dumb.
Whether she recognized it or not, she had.
But it was also clear that Clinton's error was not in saying something beyond the pale but in saying something that pulled from context would sound as if it were beyond the pale.
It would be a big story if Clinton said something like this: "Hey, I know it looks bad for me now. But, think about it. Obama could get shot and I'd get to be the nominee after all."
It is a small story if Clinton said something like this: "Everyone talks like May is incredibly late, but by historical standards it is not. Think of all the famous milestones in presidential races that have taken place during June."
It seems pretty obvious that the latter is what Clinton meant, and not too far from what she actually said. It was not surprising that the Argus Leader's executive editor, Randall Beck, put out a statement saying, "Her reference to Mr. Kennedy's assassination appeared to focus on the time line of his primary candidacy and not the assassination itself."
Make no mistake. Clinton stepped on a rake with her comment and got bopped in the face. This was entertaining political slapstick, for those of us who like that kind of thing. Little wonder she apologized.
But Clinton's clumsiness does not excuse news media clumsiness in making a minor story seem like a major one. A note on the randomness of the news: If this really was a big story, then the media has blown it for months. Clinton made similar remarks to Time magazine back in March. (The Wall Street Journal reporter with Clinton has an entertaining look at how the pack traveling with the candidate initially missed the story.)