Everything You Hate About Political Journalism In One Post

This post, from The Washington Post‘s “The Fix” blog, is nearly laudable for its complete and utter disregard for any traditional understanding of what it means to be a journalist. Blake’s writing about the aforementioned “It worked” lie, and in the process of writing 300 or so words of nothing, journo Aaron Blake distills everything contemptible about vacuous horse race coverage into one radioactive post:

There’s a lot of controversy these days about campaign tactics and what crosses the line. Obama’s team has been crying foul for two weeks now that “You didn’t build that” has been taken badly out of context by Republicans.

The problem is, the gray area is just too gray. Fact-checkers are great (especially our Glenn Kessler), but as long as either side has an argument to justify its attacks, the history of politics dictates that it’s all fair game.

Romney’s team is exploiting that fact — to the credit of its political acumen, if not its strict adherence to accuracy.

OK. Right off the bat we have the frivolous “the game inside the game” version of analysis that is the raison d’etre of “The Fix” and, just by the way, the reason I feel slightly unclean every time I end up there. What Blake’s doing here is professionalizing, intellectualizing, romanticizing, what have you, a “tactic” being implemented by Team Romney that most rational people would describe rather simply: lying. There’s nothing special about it, and recognizing its being done does not make you some kind of savvy insider. It’s lying; it’s been around since Krog first ran against Urk for the Presidency of Cave 193.

So not only is Blake engaging in vacuous, post-modern wankery — he’s doing so in service of what’s a rather ho-hum development.

It gets worse.

Things really go off the rails once Blake attempts to parse a new Republican ad, one that takes the President’s “It worked” wildly and predictably out-of-context. Now even though most observers sympathetic to the President found the whole “You didn’t build that” kerfuffle to rest on a patent distortion, I think that at my most charitable I could imagine someone honestly thinking Obama more or less said what Republicans claimed. But “It worked” is another story. He’s clearly talking about tax policy — specifically raising taxes to Clinton-era rates on the top 2% of earners — and no amount of pretzel logic or sophistry can even half-convincgly turn “It worked” into an endorsement of the economic status quo. Lucky for Obama’s antagonists, then, that they’ve Blake around to bullshit for them:

If you’re a Democrat, Romney’s [“It worked”] ad will look wildly out of context and irresponsible.

But if you’re a Republican, you can make a credible case that the ad is completely justified.

It goes like this: Obama was contrasting two different tax policies — one being the Republican policy, and the other being the Democrats’ policy. Obama was talking about how the Democrats’ policy is better. But Democrats have been in the White House for four years now, and things are still bad. So obviously Democrats’ policies — on taxes or otherwise — aren’t that great.

If you’re predisposed against Romney, that sort of justification will seem ludicrous and make your skin crawl. But it paints just enough of a gray area over the whole matter to justify the attack.

In case your brain started hemorrhaging around “things are still bad,” here’s what Blake — despite his “if you’re a Republican” sock-puppetry — is arguing: Obama wants to return to Clinton’s tax program. Clinton, like Obama, is a Democrat. Obama has been President during a time of economic distress. Therefore, it is “credible” and “completely justified” to argue that all Democratic policies, even the ones that are not in effectare responsible for the present crisis. The Civil Rights Act? Social Security? S-CHIP? The Camp David Accords? They’re all utterly discredited because the unemployment rate is above 8 percent. Or something.

I guess if you’re writing something this bad, you better finish strong (i.e., terribly); so Blake wraps things up with a weirdly condescending finish, one that leaves the reader with the distinct impression that Blake thinks himself some clear-eyed teller of hard truths:

Romney may be attacked in the days ahead for running an out-of-context campaign, and some objective reporters might even say it has gone too far.

But the fact is that these two comments further clarify a picture (or caricature, depending on where you stand) of Obama that’s already out there. And plenty of — nay, almost all — people who don’t dissect this stuff as much as we do are going to take the pulled quotes at face value.

Is it warm and fuzzy? No. Does it work? Yes. And that’s why they do it.

Let’s not even bother untangling whether his claim that these ads “work” is true. It strikes me as profoundly in need of further definition — what does “it work” even mean in this context? That Romney will win the Presidency because voters heard Obama say a silly thing? — but that would require a degree of thought on our part that Blake clearly didn’t expend for himself. Instead, let’s just thank Yahweh that the only people who take this kind of crap seriously are likely small in number and certainly well beyond saving.

40 replies
  1. 1
    Todd says:

    The dude needs to wipe Romney’s splooge off his chin. It is unseemly to take a facial and wear it proudly for the length of time necessary to string together that many words.

  2. 2
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    “Political acumen”? Being used to describe Rmoney’s campaign?

    /Daffy Duck voice

    It is to laugh. Ha ha.

  3. 3
    El Cid says:

    This is what you need to be highlighting, and contrasting.

    McClatchy discusses its formal ban (they argue they upheld better standards in general) of allowing sources to ‘edit’ quotations.

    But this is precious. From James Asher, McClatchy’s Washington DC Bureau Chief:

    During the height of the U.S. Attorney’s scandal in 2006 when McClatchy was breaking nearly all of the damning stories that led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, an official from the Justice Department promised us an exclusive leak of government information.
    After he provided the details, he went on to tell our reporter: “Highlight this. Disregard this and emphasize that.”
    When our reporter refused, he said:

    “You are the most unprofessional journalist I have ever worked with.”

    That exchange says leagues about the relationship between sources and the news media.


    In Washington, journalism itself is considered unprofessional.

    If you do journalism, it’s unprofessional; if you write down press quotes from officials so they can see them printed in prestigious venues, then you’re a skilled professional.

    In other words, the best journalist is “search and replace”.

  4. 4
    Hill Dweller says:

    I guarantee the US press will try to downplay Willard’s disastrous London trip.

    They’ll also ignore the blatant lies in this latest campaign ad.

  5. 5
    Yutsano says:

    @El Cid: Well of course it is. Journalism could hurt some delicate politician’s fee-fees. And THEN where would we be?

  6. 6
    Buggy Ding Dong says:

    The only reason it would “work” is pathetic stenographers like this hack don’t call it what it plainly is: a lie.

    If voters heard over and over again that Mitt Romney is simply lying, well, they would know that the charge is a lie.

    But that just isn’t possible. And both sides do it, blah, blah, blah.

  7. 7
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    If the guys in the rolodex don’t return our calls, we might actually have to do some work, and that cuts into cocktail weenie time!

  8. 8
    cervantes says:

    This is, BTW, already known as the Cokie Doctrine. It doesn’t matter whether it’s true, our job is to report that it’s been said, and people believe it.

  9. 9
    danimal says:

    I agree that the article is execrable, but I’m not sure we want to spend the next four months doing media criticism. Better to ignore the Beltway Bastards and keep blasting at Rmoney and the GOP.

    Better to shrug our shoulders and say that Mitt is a lying bastard and his lies are going to destroy the reputation of the Mormon (LDS) church as much as GWB destroyed the reputation of the GOP. Then walk away. Over time, Fisking is losing. They know they are lying, proving it doesn’t help much. Better to dismiss them with contempt, it really drives conseravative bonkers.

    Who really cares what WaPo, Politico or HuffPo wank on and on about, anyway?

  10. 10
    Waynski says:

    Who is this fking asshole? I mean the writer, not Romney, although the question should be copy for a bumper sticker with Romney’s face on it.

  11. 11
    Maude says:

    @Hill Dweller:
    Mitt refused to answer US press questions. I doubt he will be treated with kid gloves anymore.

  12. 12
    El Cid says:

    I think we also need to point out that we can already read and listen to and watch press releases.

    We don’t need some publication to relay that to us.

    They claim to be businesses, big businesses, with such and such budgets, and such and such a staff, and investors, and so forth.

    But to sell a worthwhile product you have to add value — and it isn’t added value to simply reprint press release quotes and change the paragraphing, or publish GOP or insider official comments in your own pages.

    I can already read and hear and watch PR from any politician or office or business.

    When the same stuff appears in a venue which believes itself to be practicing journalism, but it’s the same stuff, no value has been added to the consumer.

    (Yes, value has been added to the interests pushing their PR, but they aren’t the consumers supposed to be purchasing a newspaper or watching some channel.)

  13. 13
    Jay in Oregon says:

    Sorry, but Blake lost me at:

    Fact-checkers are great (especially our Glenn Kessler)

    Did DougJ get a gig at the WaPo when we weren’t looking?

  14. 14
    Trentrunner says:

    Put a few more syllables in his words, and those meaningless convolutional mental hemorrhoids could have earned a PhD in Cultural studies circa 1999.

    This. is. the. problem. Why don’t we just dub over a voice on Mitt video saying “If I could, I’d have six wives, because who doesn’t like fresh pussy once in a while?” Because we know that’s a caricature of a Mormon, amirite?


  15. 15
    SatanicPanic says:

    Their obliviousness is Romneyesque

  16. 16
    Zifnab says:

    Man, love that horse-race. Mitt’s coat is so glossy and his teeth are so white, he’s sure to win. And sure his handler’s are taking a knife to Obama’s saddle, but that’s just a clever racer’s trick dontchaknow. I’m more than confident Mitt’s got this one in the bag.

  17. 17
    BGinCHI says:

    Krog endorse Romney.

    Urg like Obama from dark cave on other side of mountain.

  18. 18
    Rome Again says:

    Shorter Blake: ‘I like confirmation bias’

    And, btw, his statement just completely railroaded any credibility that Glenn Kessler may have had previously.

  19. 19
    BGinCHI says:

    @El Cid: Great catch and great comment.

  20. 20
    Catsy says:

    @Buggy Ding Dong:

    The only reason it would “work” is pathetic stenographers like this hack don’t call it what it plainly is: a lie.

    DING DING DING! A winnar, it’s you!

    This waste of column space is the equivalent of someone standing beside a fire hose they could turn on and lamenting the fire burning down their neighborhood while they pour gasoline on the flames.

  21. 21
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    Shorter Aaron Blake: “To show my loyalty and earn my paycheck, I was the sacrificial goat that was chosen to wash Glenn Kessler’s balls today.”

    It looks like he pulled the pubes out too. With his teeth.

  22. 22
    David Koch says:

    Humpty Romney sat on a wall.

    Humpty Romney had a great fall.

    All the Village stenographers and all the Village apologists

    Couldn’t Romney together again.



    I mean seriously. Keep fucking that chicken Kaplan.

  23. 23
    kindness says:

    The ‘Bought Media’ (most the MSM) is in the tank for Romney. They see his utter fail and are doing everything they can to deflect it or using Karl Roves method of blaming Romney’s faults on Obama and using Obama’s best results (killed Osama) against him. Hey, it worked in 2004!

  24. 24
    slag says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Seriously. Like it takes some noteworthy “political acumen” to notice that the most rewarded members of the press will do little more than amplify the lies you tell. Nobody could have predicted!

    So, can Obama retroactively change his “that” to “those” then? Is that allowed?

  25. 25
    Face says:

    Shorter Blake: Thank god, for both Romney and me keeping my job, that many, many Americans are complete fucking idiots.

  26. 26
    Yutsano says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Plus they might be MEAN to us! Will no one think of our fee-fees??

  27. 27
    Rafer Janders says:

    Fact-checkers are great (especially our Glenn Kessler),

    The strangest thing just happened. I was reading this post, my right hand on the mouse, scrolling down, and then when I got to the above sentence I suddenly noticed that my right hand had left the mouse, grabbed me around the throat, and was slowly squeezing my windpipe closed.

    Some might say it was a buried impulse to self-destruction finally manifesting itself. But I say it was my own body attempting to protect itself by choking me into unconsciousness before I could read any more nonsense.

  28. 28
    kay says:

    Just remember, these are the exact same people who spent two weeks moaning that the Obama campaign was too negative.

    Over the last couple of years, for me, beating the super-saavy sophisticates in political media with an election has become as or more satisfying than beating the Republican. I want them to lose.

    I watched a clip of a CNN news personality breathlessly predicting the demise of Obama when the morons read the SCOTUS opinion wrong and fed him the wrong line. He was thrilled. I truly enjoyed watching that. I regret only that we were denied seeing his face when he realized the law had been upheld.

  29. 29
    jl says:

    Didn’t Mark Twain pretty much do the definitive analysis? So, why to the media celeb political horse race announcers bother?

    “… lying is a necessity of our circumstances, the deduction that it is then a Virtue goes without saying.
    No virtue can reach its highest usefulness without careful and diligent cultivation, therefore, it goes without saying that this one ought to be taught in the public schools, even in the newspapers. What chance has the ignorant uncultivated liar against the educated expert? What chance have I against Mr. Per… against a lawyer? Judicious lying is what the world needs. I sometimes think it were even better and safer not to lie at all than to lie injudiciously. An awkward, unscientific lie is often as ineffectual as the truth.

    Note that venerable proverb: Children and fools, always speak the truth. The deduction is plain, adults and wise persons never speak it. ”

    On The Decay Of The Art Of Lying

  30. 30
    Rafer Janders says:

    But Democrats have been in the White House for four years now, and things are still bad

    Sure. Four years ago was July 2008, which was just when Obama took office….

  31. 31
    Calouste says:

    @El Cid:

    When the same stuff appears in a venue which believes itself to be practicing journalism, but it’s the same stuff, no value has been added to the consumer.

    (Yes, value has been added to the interests pushing their PR, but they aren’t the consumers supposed to be purchasing a newspaper or watching some channel.)

    For media, advertisers are the customers. People reading or watching are the product to be sold to the advertisers.

  32. 32
    Rafer Janders says:

    Is it warm and fuzzy? No. Does it work? Yes. And that’s why they do it.

    You know who else did things that weren’t warm and fuzzy, but that’s worked?

    Also, too, love how the previously simple act of accurately reporting what someone said is now mocked as “warm and fuzzy”.

  33. 33
    Valdivia says:


    ftw :)
    triple points for that classic and relevance.

  34. 34
    El Cid says:

    @Calouste: True, but that’s not the justification made to us marks to buy or watch.

    Remember, the big thing about such things is that you cannot tell the mark he’s being taken.

    If someone — like us — too successfully points out the rigged game, then the carnie gets mad because his dime’s been snatched out of his fingers.

    When I point out that no value has been added, I’m talking to the marks, we consumers, not to the carnies, or circus owners.

  35. 35
    jl says:


    But we have good evidence that you are neither a child nor a fool. Should I believe you? :) (thank goodness I remembered the smiley face).

    I will now become all “seriously” and PC, we need to quit insulting horse race analysts and announcers, since they would do a much better job.

    Think if for example, Bob the Schieff just said, after Mitt clinched it: therrrroffff. Obama by a head. Toward the first turn at a steady pace. Both hoooolding therground.

    Then next week, he would say: Innnnthefirst tuuurn. Obama bya length…

    And that would be it. Done is ten seconds.

    Now we have to hear endless political horse race nonsense for 20 minutes, and then Schieffer says “HOhKay now, let’s talk poleeetics!” like he is a kid getting an extra helping of ice cream, and they dive in again.

    Though, I admit, not sure how either a horse track tout or a race announcer would describe what Romney is doing so far on his World Tour. Any horserace people here would know? Nothing so hilarious and sad has happened in a horse race, has it? Lemme know.

  36. 36
    Valdivia says:


    hey wait-a-minute, how do you know, I am neither a child nor a fool? ;)

    To your ore substantial comment: if they were purely doing horse race it would be marginally horrid, it’s the fact that they dress horse-race analysis as deep think revelations. Also, too. That the more outrageous the lie the more they like it and as with the above exemplar, give it kudos. I loathe loathe these people.

  37. 37
    jl says:

    @Valdivia: You are a commenter of international mystery, like many others at this place. I didn’t mean to blow your cover, and hope I have not.

    Actually, I do not listen to those shows anymore, and last heard courtly ol’ Bob say that months ago. Perhaps he has reformed.

    When I am visiting home and my folks sputter in outrage at those shows and ask me something about it, I just say “you should just turn it off” now. I hope that is not rude.

    It doesn’t turn out rude I guess, since soon I am pleading “pllleeeease turn it off, pleeease, or I have to go outside!”

  38. 38
    Valdivia says:


    I spend every day pleading with my folks to turn the stuff off. My dad watches Al Jazeera and BBC now thanks to me. Before it was Fox all day long :)

  39. 39
    cat48 says:

    Kessler needs to get rid of the pinnochios & just go with half true on everything. I don’t look at his crap anymore b/c I become too angry. He’s obviously not capable of making a decision against the rich white man who worked at Bain b/c he might come to where he works & demand a retraction or something.

    He’s still whining b/c no one at Bain will go on record or write him back about after 1999. Duh! That’s b/c they don’t want to Lie for Mitt.

  40. 40
    Chris T. says:

    To put it more plainly, what he said is:

    Romney lies, because lies work, because we—the media—refuse to call him out on his lies.

    Of course, if he put it that plainly, he’d be doing actual journalism, which would get him fired.

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