Sheryl Stolberg Wades Into PR Flack Territory

Today, Sheryl Gay Stolberg has one of the lazier articles I’ve seen in the New York Times in a while. Not labeled as “News Analysis,” the piece is one of those “expectation setters,” relying on frustratingly unsourced statements like, “Mr. Obama came into office promising a more bipartisan Washington tone, which he has so far been unable to achieve.” Stolberg doesn’t define what “bipartisan tone” means, fails to adduce any evidence of Obama’s failing, and provides no source — poll or individual — of the information. In other words, it’s unalloyed personal opinion.

Anyway, that sort of writing isn’t unfortunately all that uncommon, but the New York Times really shouldn’t be in the business of this type of “reporting”:

One question for Mr. Obama is whether to try to strong-arm [Blue Dog Democrats], and face a rebellion from some of the very same conservative Democrats who helped put him in office. If he forces them to vote for a bill their constituents do not like, on a timetable that feels too rushed for them, it could hurt them at home. That could mean a bigger political problem for the White House: a resulting loss of Democratic seats in the 2010 midterm elections.

I mean, is Stolberg actually on payroll as a Blue Dog flack? If not, this is really an achievement in press manipulation. Following the logic, if a Blue Dog is pushed to vote for a bill their constituents don’t like, on a schedule they don’t personally like, then the White House risks losing a few unreliable votes in 2010. By my count, there are several things that should be verified in making such a statement. First, what do the constituents actually like? Second, why should personal pique at the legislative pace anger constituents? Third, are any of these members at risk of losing their seats? Here are the members in question:

Barrow, John (GA-12)
Gordon, Bart (TN-06)
Harman, Jane (CA-36)
Matheson, Jim (UT-02)
Melancon, Charlie (LA-03)
Ross, Mike (AR-04)
Space, Zack (OH-18)

Now, it’s true that Obama only carried two of these districts (Barrow and Harman at 54 and 64 percent respectively), but it’s also true that not a single one of these Representatives won by less than 60 percent (66, 74, 68, 63, 100, 86, 60). In other words, it’s by no means clear that a vote on health care spells anathema for a group of highly popular legislators a year down the road. What’s more, polls show that over 70 percent of Americans support a public option, which is the one of the only specific problems that the Blue Dogs have ennumarated.  In any case, while there is some evidence that Obama isn’t particularly popular in these districts  (I wonder why?), there is plenty of evidence that Democrats are popular and that more broadly, health reform is popular. Letting the Blue Dogs off the hook is simply lazy reporting.

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