Sunday Long Read: “How the Mainstream Press Bungled the Single Biggest Story of the 2012 Campaign”

This one is worth giving the Huffington Post a click. Dan Froomkin — ejected from the Washington Post for being insufficiently ‘bipartisan’ — reports:

Post-mortems of contemporary election coverage typically include regrets about horserace journalism, he-said-she-said stenography, and the lack of enlightening stories about the issues.

But according to longtime political observers Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, campaign coverage in 2012 was a particularly calamitous failure, almost entirely missing the single biggest story of the race: Namely, the radical right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Republican Party, both in terms of its agenda and its relationship to the truth.

Mann and Ornstein are two longtime centrist Washington fixtures who earlier this year dramatically rejected the strictures of false equivalency that bind so much of the capital’s media elite and publicly concluded that GOP leaders have become “ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

The 2012 campaign further proved their point, they both said in recent interviews. It also exposed how fabulists and liars can exploit the elite media’s fear of being seen as taking sides….

60 replies
  1. 1
    Yutsano says:

    Yesbut…where’s the balance? You have to tell both sides of the story or ZOMG MEDIA BIAS!!

  2. 2
    PeakVT says:

    Ornstein is particularly infuriated that none of the supposed reader advocates at major newspapers have raised the issues they brought up. “What the fuck is an ombudsman doing if he’s not writing about this?” he asked.

    Somebody just made DougJ’s day.

  3. 3
    gogol's wife says:


    Well, don’t look to the NYTimes ombudsman. She’s complaining today that they didn’t play up the Benghazi hearings enough.

  4. 4
    jayboat says:

    A-mutherphuckin-men. Tell it Dan.

  5. 5
    c u n d gulag says:

    The MSM, looking at a grossly fat High School Senior on the teeter-totter on one side, and a slight Kindergartener on the other, always feel the need to find a way to balance the situation.

    Our “Fourth Estate” makes me want to drink at least a fifth, every feckin’ day.

  6. 6
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    These two guys have basically been declared personae non gratae by the vermin of the Village, both for rejecting the utterly bogus false equivalency meme and for noting that the Villagers are running around naked, and don’t look very good that way.

    Villago delenda est.

    Wipe them out.

    All of them.

  7. 7
    gogol's wife says:

    That is an excellent piece, well worth reading. I like the way they’re so fed up they don’t shy from expletives!

  8. 8
    scav says:

    @gogol’s wife: Jesus fuck, has the role now become Circulation
    Pusher, PR Cheerleader and Whiner in Chief? My abyssal respect for the position and employer just took yet another hard dive. Alvin’s crushed shell has yet to hit bottom.

  9. 9
    CaseyL says:

    The only measure networks care about is revenue and profit.

    Both Obama and Romney spent over $1b each on their campaigns. I’m betting those ad revenues were, and will continue to be, essential to making the target profit margins for the networks running them.

    No way will news divisions be allowed to give up the false-equivalency scam, or call out political pathological liars, because doing so will mean alienating the people who buy the ad time.

    I don’t know if the ratings for network and cable news are continuing their downward trend, but even if so, that’s irrelevant. The ads run at all hours, including during highly-rated programming. Piss off the campaigns and PACs by doing “real news,” and the rest of the programming suffers – not just the news, but popular TV shows.

    From the network and cable exec point of view, it’s a no-brainer. They have nothing to gain by doing “real news,” and too much to lose.

  10. 10
    Maude says:

    The media did take a side when they didn’t point out the lies and crazy statements of the right wing.

  11. 11
    Comrade Mary says:

    And boy, are they angry. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many occurrences of “fuck” and “shit” in a for-attribution interview before. Not that I’m blaming them at all for the language. I am impressed, actually.

    I will not repeat my epic whinge about CBC coverage of the fiscal whatchmacallit from Friday. Just want to say that so-called journalism sucks up here, too.

  12. 12
    Woody says:

    Reminds me of how Bartlett, Frum, and Sullivan are exiled from the Hard Right.

    It’s so junior-high it’s silly.

    Love to hear MoDo, Richard Cohen, and especially Mike Allen on this! Bet they’re working on their essays now!

  13. 13
    jayboat says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Wipe them out.
    All of them.

    And it can’t happen fast enough to suit me.

    But, I do feel it is happening.
    Information flow is the great equalizer.

    This blog is as good an example of that what is happening now as anything.

    iphone video clear enough for tv?
    cc swipers on smartphones? tablets
    arab spring
    koch $$$ + 1% = losers

    We are in interesting times.
    new world media is poised to sweep all these jackals right into the sea.

  14. 14
    Comrade Mary says:

    Speaking of high school: the SNL cold open this week was apropos.

    (Link goes to a site for my fellow Canucks: you Yanks know how to find Hulu.)

  15. 15
    Walker says:

    It is time for Both Sides!

  16. 16
    Yutsano says:

    @CaseyL: Yet another thing we have St Ronnie to thank for: the demise of the Fairness Doctrine.

  17. 17
    Schlemizel says:

    For at least 5 years we have been trying to predict the peak wingnut event. I won’t believe it till we are 8 years past but could this finally be the cracks in their carefully crafted fantasy globe?

    It may be too late as we have probably made the earth uninhabitable for most if not all human life but maybe we could at least try to reduce the total damage & get a few people through the extinction event

  18. 18
  19. 19
  20. 20
    Comrade Mary says:

    @Steeplejack: Thanks. Doesn’t work for Canadians, as usual, but I knew that Yankee ingenuity would get at least one link that would work for them once I mentioned it ;-)

  21. 21
    MattF says:

    OK,… everyone here who gets their news from the Washington Post… (crickets)

    The good news is that there’s lots of information, the bad news is that it’s decentralized and comes from who knows where. Hard to say where it’s all headed.

  22. 22
    Chris T. says:

    I note that they (Mann and Ornstein) say that people must, in essence, whack the Republican Party with a clue-by-four to get them back to reality. But that’s just one possible solution, and not my preferred one (because it’s slow, inefficient, and leaves the two major parties still terribly unbalanced).

    Right now, we have a moderate right-wing party, which we call “the Democratic Party”, and a crazy party, which we call “the Republican Party”. Instead of whacking the crazy one with the clue-by-four, if we can just get them to go away entirely, we can then have the other one split. The majority of the remaining party will be moderate right wing, and a minority will be moderate left wing, and we’ll have what we had back in the early 1980s, perhaps.

  23. 23
    Dan says:

    @Chris T.:

    But the crazy people running the show in the GOP would still be in the country! It’s not as if getting rid of the GOP will suddenly cause these people to self-deport. That’s still a really big minority of American voters that can cause a ruckus.

  24. 24
    Randiego says:

    Did Romney release his tax returns yet? Future campaigns will see the Romney experience and see there is no downside for being completely dishonest.

  25. 25
    Spike says:

    “We want a strong, conservative Republican Party — but one with some connection with reality.”

    And I want a brace of unicorns to pull my gilded carriage around town. Which of us is more likely to get what we want?

  26. 26


    Future campaigns will see the Romney experience and see there is no downside for being completely dishonest.

    Except for that little part where he lost the election.

  27. 27
    scav says:

    So long as advertising and consulting and fund-raising are set up properly, one might even make a decent profit on losing campaigns, especially depending on who you are. Might even be internally justified as driving the debate without the downside and messy compromise-prone task of actually governing.

  28. 28
    West of the Rockies (formerly Frank W.) says:

    @Schlemizel: I’ve been wondering about this. Are we at last seeing the wingnut event horizon? Have they gone too far to reclaim any vestiges of sanity? I expected to see a bit more hand-wringing after the election from the Frum-types who actually have and use their functioning brain cells, but instead we’re mostly seeing a lot of rah-rahhing from the right. “We just need to tweek the tone of our message!” “We need to offer a true conservative in 2016….”

    What I do not think we’ll see is a great deal of responsible journalism anytime soon. We’ll get the occasional outlier voices (Frum, Sullivan), but mostly we’ll continue to see the talking bobbleheads twitching their eyebrows meaningfully (see Hannity) and offering us 1/4 profile views (which, oh, so effectively reveal deep thought).

  29. 29
    Kathy in St. Louis says:

    @Maude: Maude, you are correct.

  30. 30

    Actually, there were two stories here:

    The Republican Party’s ideological lurch to the right isn’t just the most under-reported story of the 2012 election, it was the most under-recognized story of the past decade. The GOP entrenched itself further into John Birch Society territory, while the political press wore blinders so it could adhere to its “bipartisan” fantasy.

    At some point — I’d say around 2001 or 2002, before the Iraq invasion — they should have called out the crazies on the right. But they didn’t, and that forced them to ignore every other obvious thing around them, until by the 2012 election, they were forced to pretend that Mitt Romney was a viable candidate.


  31. 31
    Kathy in St. Louis says:

    @Randiego: That’s been my thought all along. He lied, he omitted information, he didn’t tell us what he was or who he was, or what his plan was, yet got 47 percent of the fools in this country to vote for him. Sets a really bad precedent.

  32. 32
    West of the Rockies (formerly Frank W.) says:

    @Dan: Maybe we could go all junior high on their collective asses and whisper to Rush that Coulter said he smells weird; we could then tell Savage that Hannity and Malkin said he’s homely and that he said they’re both stupid — start a civil war!…

    A lad can dream, can’t he?

  33. 33
    Snarki, child of Loki says:

    @scav: Is that you, Max Bialystock?

    Hey, listen that’s a GREAT idea, but they already did “Springtime for Hitler” and it was a smash hit.

    Maybe “Springtime” didn’t have enough Nazis; the GOP is working on that.

  34. 34
    Chris says:

    @Southern Beale:

    I’d trace it back to the 2002-2006 era in which they had control of every branch of government. Before that, they never had complete control, but those four years were supposed to be culmination of the Reagan Revolution, and they were supposed to usher in a “permanent Republican majority” that was going to last for, I think the prediction was, forty years.

    Instead, it fell in 2006, and they’ve been fucking mad ever since, much the same way a five year old would be if you took away his ice cream after he’s taken a few bites.

  35. 35
    Woodrowfan says:

    it never ends well when one of a country’s main political parties goes insane. I don’t think it will end well here either.

  36. 36
    RareSanity says:

    I think that history will look back on the era from roughly 1984 to roughly 2016-20ish, as the time of the greatest successful con, that was ever run.

    Not that the rightwing media convinced a large percentage of the American public that traditional media had a “liberal bias”. But, that they convinced that traditional media, that they had a liberal bias.

    I’m sure future writers will come up with some wonderful title for this era, but I don’t think anything other than, “The Greatest Con in the History of Mankind”, will truly describe it.

    I mean when you consider the sheer number of people involved in the con (whether knowingly or unknowingly), and how many people fell victim to it, it’s hard to think of anything over human history that even comes close.

  37. 37
    Elizabelle says:

    Thanks for bringing Froomkin’s article on Mann’s comments to attention.

    It’s not like we are going to hear about this elsewhere.

    And I am glad that Mann and Ornstein shredded the fig leaf of MSM “fact-checking.”

    How Fact-Checking Made Things Worse

    … But Mann and Ornstein said that in practice, the fact-checkers may have made things worse rather than better.
    “We had these little flurries of fact-checking — which I found not worthless, but not a substitute for coherent, serious reporting — and most of the time it just got stuck in the back of a news organization’s output and there was no cost to a candidate of ignoring it,” Mann said.
    And then there was this terrible irony: “Fact checkers almost seemed obliged to show some balance in their fact checking.”
    “There was some damn good stuff done, and stuff that really did hold Romney to account,” Ornstein said. But no fact-checker intent on “appearing to be utterly straightforward, independent, and without an axe to grind, is going to actually do the job of saying that we’re going to cover 20 fact checks on one side, to three on the other.”
    So, Ornstein concluded: “If you looked at where the scales should have been, and where they were, they were weighted. And they weren’t weighted for ideological bias. They were weighted to avoid being charged with ideological bias.”

    This. This. This.

  38. 38
    Woody says:

    Reality based folks know the Fox cocoon will never be pierced, as Murdoch makes much too much money pandering to Teh Base.

    There is no excuse for the traditional media to continue the charade that the GOP offers sanity.

  39. 39
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Southern Beale:

    The GOP entrenched itself further into John Birch Society territory, while the political press wore blinders so it could adhere to its “bipartisan” fantasy.

    For completely unrelated reasons, I was poking around one of those On-This-Day-in-History sites, and couldn’t help noticing that today is the anniversary of the founding of the JBS (1958).

  40. 40


    Future campaigns will see the Romney experience and see there is no downside for being completely dishonest.

    I wouldn’t recommend that any Democratic candidates withhold their tax returns. The corporate press/media will rediscover their ability to force disclosures.

  41. 41
    Ash Can says:

    Newspapers and news magazInes are afraid of losing readers and advertisers if they do a better job of reporting the news, but this is happening anyway. They’re cutting staff, they’re going internet-only, they’re going away altogether. You’d think that, even as a last resort and when they felt they had nothing left to lose, they’d try telling it like it is for a change.

  42. 42
    Anton Sirius says:


    It is time for Both Sides!

    It’s probably because of Anne’s Tom Rush post above, but I just assumed this would link to a Judy Collins performance.

  43. 43
    Anton Sirius says:


    Did Romney release his tax returns yet? Future Republican campaigns will see the Romney experience and see there is no downside for being completely dishonest.

    FTFY. I’d like to see a Democrat try to get away with that shit.

  44. 44
    Regnad Kcin says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Exterminate them all. The horror

  45. 45
    geg6 says:

    Great piece, Anne Laurie. Mann and Ornstein are tragic heroes, IMHO. Haven’t clicked on a HuffPo link in a few years, but that one was worth it.

  46. 46
    mapaghimagsik says:

    it was definitely worth reading the whole article. it was interesting to read House of fact checkers wound up in the same trap that the reporters were in.

  47. 47
    Lojasmo says:


    No downside…besides getting absolutely clobbered.

  48. 48
    Taylor says:

    And these guys won’t appear on the talking heads shows, because….the TV shows want a Republican on to balance them out.

    The trial of Scooter Libby was a revelation. First-hand testimony of he and his ilk have been working the refs for the last few decades.

  49. 49
    Full Metal Wingnut says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: When the revolution comes around, the Village, before anyone else, should be the first at the guillotines.

  50. 50
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    So many “inconvenient truths”. Can’t talk about our life-killing addiction to carbon fuels, we sure as shit can’t talk about half the country going off the rails politically.

    So many things we can’t talk about.

  51. 51
    handsmile says:

    Dan Froomkin’s “White House Briefing/White House Watch” blog at Kaplan Test Prep Daily was an essential beacon during the dark days of the Cheney/Bush regime.

    He was one of the very few journalists affiliated with a major US newspaper who actively and aggressively pushed back on the practices and policies of that criminal administration. His abrupt termination by the Post in June 2009, never credibly explained, unmistakably signaled how malignant that once proud paper had become. (And Friday’s WSJ story that Kaplan TPD will establish a pay-wall in 2013 may be a bellwether of its hastening demise.)

    Froomkin next became affiliated with Harvard’s Nieman Foundation Watchdog Project blog, but that has recently announced a change in its mission. The byline credit of the linked HuffPo article mentions obliquely that he is developing a journalism accountability project. Froomkin’s voice, reporting, and analysis is always worth seeking out.

  52. 52
    Yutsano says:

    @Forum Transmitted Disease: Why discuss it? You people already know all you need to know and don’t need to bother with one thing more.

  53. 53
    danielx says:

    cough**Karl Rove**cough

  54. 54
    priscianusjr says:


    Future campaigns will see the Romney experience and see there is no downside for being completely dishonest.

    Other than losing a national election in a particularly clownish way.

  55. 55
    Full Metal Wingnut says:

    @priscianusjr: Well, I think he lost because he was a shit candidate, not because of the complete dishonesty (well, he was a shit candidate in part because of the constant dishonesty, but I think my point is clear). You put up a guy who’s more uh ahem likable and relatable and we’ll see.

  56. 56
    AnotherBruce says:

    I’m thinking that Peak Wingnut is something we don’t want to ever see.

  57. 57
    Kane says:

    It’s not so much that the Village was upset with Mann and Ornstein for rejecting the false equivalency meme, it is that they pointed the finger squarely at the Republican party. If Mann and Ornstein had put the bulk of the blame on Democrats, I have no doubt that they would have found themselves with plenty of gigs on the Sunday talk shows to promote their book.

  58. 58
    scav says:

    cough**Oh? :) **cough

  59. 59
    Triassic Sands says:

    Of course Froomkin means Tom Mann from the RADICAL LEFT WING Brookings Institution and Norm Ornstein from the MODERATE CENTRIST American Enterprise Institute.

  60. 60
    LanceThruster says:


    “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ”
    ― Paulo Freire

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