Politico Reaches New Low

People know that I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Politico, but this has to be a new low. Apparently, Politico did some quasi-analysis of Obama’s speeches, counting references to specific words. The outcome apparently is that “Obama’s words downplay wars.”

How on earth do you make the jump from the references to the word “war” to the fact that Obama is “downplaying” the issue? It really defies any sort of standard for intellectual rigor, even by Politico’s complete lack of respect for well…anything. I bet if you looked at President Bush’s speeches from 2001-2002 you wouldn’t find a whole lot of reference to “waterboarding” or “torture” but clearly you’d be a real rube to argue that the Bush administration was downplaying intelligence gathering. Of course there’s no mention of the issue that Obama isn’t trying to sell the wars in which were involved to anyone — we’ve already launched them. As such, most of the policy is handled outside of Congress. What would he be playing up, exactly?

So there’s that, but at even a cursory examination of the bubbles, you realize the analysis is even more contrived than it looks. For instance, if you add up national security topics like War, Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, Palestinian, Terrorism, Security, and Iran you get 2,566 mentions, which would come in second only to “America.” Obviously then, national security is not a topic that’s been “downplayed.” If I could pick one passage to epitomize the baffling level of stupidity in this piece though, it would be this one:

But the disparity in his choice of language between topics domestic and foreign — with every word uttered by a president carefully weighed and vetted — is so distinct that Republicans charge that it shows a predisposition toward downplaying the threats abroad, the ones that his predecessor George W. Bush faced.

“That tells you everything you need to know about the priorities of this administration,” says Marc Thiessen, a former chief speechwriter to Bush. “Clearly, President Obama has made health care a priority and the war on terrorism a lot less of a priority.”

By my count, there are several stupid assumptions here. One is the assumption that President Bush wasn’t “playing up” the fighting terrorists. How do we know that Obama isn’t at the right level and that Bush was too high? Second, why does mentioning the word “war” less than health care(again, national security topics rank quite high in aggregate) reflect Obama’s priorities? Can Obama not have a top foreign policy priority and a top domestic priority? And again, he doesn’t need to publicly sell a war policy that already existed. Lastly, how does the number of times a word appears in a speech evidence priorities? Doesn’t it just reflect what Obama thinks he has the most to gain by talking about? Doesn’t it also reflect what people have asked him about?

Politico Again Ignores Fact, Common Sense to Sell Sensational “News”

Ah, boy (god, man, shit), it’s been a while since I’ve ripped on Politico. This stems most directly from the fact that I simply don’t read it anymore, but I do read Spencer Ackerman who sagely points out the lunacy in a story purporting Dick Cheney and Barack Obama to be planning “dueling speeches” on national security policy. Of course, given that Politico’s rise to prominence grew with the 2008 campaign, it’s easy to see why they report on government like it’s a popularity contest, but seriously? Dick Cheney is a discredited hack and Barack Obama is the President of the United States. These speeches are not “dueling.” But even more egregious than the idiotic framing of the article is the substance, which recent public polling seems to completely and totally invalidate. Let’s go to the tape!

President Barack Obama will attempt to regain control of a boiling debate over anti-terrorism policy with a major speech on Thursday — an address that comes on the same day that former Vice President Dick Cheney will be weighing in with his own speech on the same theme.

Now while it’s certainly conventional wisdom that Republicans own “national security” — and indeed, they have for a while — it’s simply not true any more. But why take my word for it? Here’s some data (linked above), starting deep in the throes of the “Global War on Terror” in 2003:

As you can see, Democrats have steadily closed the gap while Republicans have slowly squandered their support. That’s the broader picture. But how about this “boiling debate” of which Barack Obama has lost control? That is, specifically on the question of whether Obama is doing a better job than Bush, or as Politico put it, “the only subject on which many Republicans believe they have been able to gain traction against a popular president and the Democratic majority.”

As you can see — even if Politico can’t — Obama’s policies poll better than Bush’s by roughly two to one. Naturally, the relevance of substance hasn’t much stopped Politico from writing inflammatory stories in the past, so there was no reason to expect it would stop them now, but alas, this publication is really a bad thing for American government.

Stupid Politico Article of the Day

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Idiotic Politico Story of the Day

I’m feeling a recurring feature coming on… “The Obama Cabinet is a CEO Black Hole.” In addition to the complete pointlessness of the article, Eamon Javers, crack reporter, makes the following observation:

Still, some long-time White House observers find it noteworthy that when Obama convenes his best minds, there will be few people who have answered to shareholders as well as voters — people who know by intuition how the business community is likely to react to any given day’s news.

Well, in the first place, I’d say it’s a good thing then at Obama was elected by voters instead of shareholders. But to engage with the argument a bit, it doesn’t take C-level intuition to understand how the “business community” — apparently a monolithic group of people in suits who share the exact same interests — will react to a given day’s news. Here’s a simple rule of thumb: if a policy proposal makes businesses change the way the they operate in a way that can be construed to raise costs or reduce profits, it will be vigorously opposed, especially if such measures target the balance of pay between upper and lower level employees (i.e., Employee Free Choice Act).

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How the Sausage is Made

Apparently, Politico hating is now all the rage. Don’t forget you felt the hate here first. Anyway, an internal memo outlining the institutional formula referenced in Gabriel Sherman’s piece on the publication is now available on TNR. Some snippets:

Stories need to be both interesting and illuminating–we don’t have the luxury of running stories folks won’t click on or spend several minutes with in the paper.
a) Would this be a “most e-mailed” story?

b) Would I read this story if I hadn’t written it?

c) Would my mother read this story?

d) Will a blogger be inspired to post on this story?

e) Might an investor buy or sell a stock based on this story?

f) Would a specialist learn something from this story?

g) Will my competitors be forced to follow this?

IN MOST CASES, THE ANSWER WILL BE “YES” TO SEVERAL OF THESE QUESTIONS IF THIS IS A STRONG POLITICO STORY. If you are not certain that several of these are “yes,” you can reframe your reporting and analysis so people will say, “POLITICO is reporting…” or “The way POLITICO put it is…”

If your friends or source are buzzing about something related in any way to public affairs, don’t ask yourself WHETHER it’s a Politico story. Ask yourself HOW you can make it a Politico story, to capture built-in traffic and mindshare.

There you have it — how the sausage is made.

My Endless Hatred for Politico, Part 85,832

Gabriel Sherman has an article in the New Republic on my favorite little rag, Politico. As I previously suspected, Politico is animated exclusively by driving readership through frivolous political controversy. At least they can admit it.

The motto around the Politico newsroom is to “win the morning, win the afternoon”–by which editors mean that Politico‘s stories need to be the most talked-about and cited in that day’s news cycle. One measure of winning is getting stories linked on sites like Drudge Report and The Huffington Post, which leads to appearances on the cable shows. Politico employs three publicists who routinely send out links to bloggers and producers.

Legitimate journalistic outfits report news, they don’t create news, and they certainly don’t cater to the Drudge Report (at least the Huffington Post exists independtly of shills sources for GOP politicans and interest groups). Anyway, I’m not sure what sort of unscrupulousness it requires to try and please Matt Drudge while masquerading as a journalist, but it makes me feel better about working in PR. This is the purview of tabloids and forum trolls, which is precisely what is so frustrating about this vapid publication: unlike the exploits of a few retarded 20-somethings in Los Angeles, public policy actually has tangible, involuntary impact on people’s lives.  I suppose Wonkette had it right to describe Politico as a “vulgar asshole of a publication.”

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More on Politico

Truevcu says this about my post on Politico:

As much as I enjoy(ed) politico as a source of news I find myself gradually more and more unable to refute the argument that, while not as hopelessly biased as FoxNews, are drifting into a very bad place.

Actually, I disagree — the primary reason Politico is egregiously terrible is precisely because of its assiduous adherence to neutrality. Because the publication emphasizes balance uber alles, disingenuous arguments and talking points exist, unqualified, next to legitimate — or at least, more legitimate — good faith arguments. This is compounded by Politico’s obsessively political focus, so policy gets even shorter shrift than it might in other publications. It’s worth noting that this problem is endemic to all traditional media coverage to varying degrees.

I also hate Politico because it feeds and purveys the notion that political considerations drive governance. Of course, there will never be complete seperation of politics and policy, but Politco covers government like fantasy sports. Who’s up? Who’s down? Who won? Who Lost? These questions should obviously be of secondary importance when considering matters of public policy, but jackals like Jim VandeHei, Chris Matthews, and Maureen Dowd spin — indeed relish spinning — governing into a giant soap opera, and becuase of their outsized voice, amplify the importance of political posturing in governance. The “narratives” they so dispassionately report become obtuse self-fulfilling prophecies, which quite unlike soap operas, have real impacts on real people. Like “balance”, this is hardly Politico‘s affliction alone, but for my money is arguably the most pernicious force in politics.