Work the Referee


Following DPM’s post below on Michael Shear’s ACA website woes = Katrina piece, let me urge y’all to let Mr. Shear know directly of the problems you find in the piece.

Click on the link just below his bio to email him.  Again, please do so firmly, but politely.  The goal is to get better work out of Mr. Shear in the future, not to leave him in a “f**k the hippies” state of rage.

What I told him, more or less, is that most of his piece ain’t bad — he does note, albeit not strongly enough for my taste, that a crappy website aint’t a physical disaster, and that Republicans have set obstacles in the way of fixing Obamacare, a level of obstruction that Bush never had to deal with. The biggest problem lies, I said, with his lede, his framing of the story as one in which Obama’s troubles are the same as Bush’s accepts the premise of the Republican opposition. Instead, I said, he should have begun by asking if that attempted framing were true…and then the rest of the story would have followed a much more sensible (and useful) path

In other words: the goal is to get Shear from building stories on crap foundations — and if you can let him know you noticed this time in a way that suggests he can do better — that can  help.

Work the refs people. It’s part of politics these days, and if we want out side to come out on top, we gotta do so.

Image: Thomas Eakins, Taking the Count1898.

74 replies
  1. 1
    gogol's wife says:

    It’s a nice idea, but for the political reporters on the New York Times, accepting Republican framing of Obama is a feature, not a bug (to use the accepted cliche). I have to work all day and don’t want to write to him until I actually suppress my “gag reflex” and read the whole article, and I will write to him (as I wrote to the Public Editor two days ago about their constant bashing of the ACA on the front page), but I don’t have much hope of changing his way of approaching what he sees as his task.

  2. 2
    Tom Levenson says:

    @gogol’s wife: I think you’d be surprised how much individual notes to specific reporters matter, particularly when they’re reasoned and calm. If this guy gets a couple of dozen right to his folder it has an effect. If he gets them every time he screws up (and gets encouragement when he doesn’t) it has a more profound one.

    Look — the right does this all the time, which is one of the ways the “liberal” media doesn’t do liberal. You want to play in this sandbox, you got to use the plastic shovels you got, or some other crappy metaphor.

  3. 3
    Culture of Truth says:

    Tighty-whities; tuxedo-clad ref. Those were the days!

  4. 4
    Eric U. says:

    biggest sabotage was allowing rethug* govs a way out of Medicare expansion. This flows through to the rest of the system in those states where rates have to be higher because the number of insured will not decrease enough

    *I don’t use that term much anymore, but what do you call someone that hurts people for no good reason? A thug

  5. 5
    Culture of Truth says:

    for the political reporters on the New York Times, accepting Republican framing of Obama is a feature, not a bug

    Why do we think this is? Perhaps because they are in so intimidated by the right?

  6. 6
    Burnspbesq says:

    “Work the refs?”

    Do you also believe in the tooth fairy, Tom?

  7. 7
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Burnspbesq: See reply at number 2 above. Lazy cynicism is lazy.

  8. 8
    Burnspbesq says:

    The Department of Whiskey Tango Hotel is working extra hard today.

    Seriously, Wisconsin Legislature? Anti-abortion license plates?

  9. 9
    c u n d gulag says:

    You can’t really blame him.

    I’m sure that’s what everyone was talking about at last night’s cocktail party.

    That, and how “brilliant” Richard Cohen is, of course!

  10. 10
    Burnspbesq says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    Accepting an obvious reality is neither lazy nor cynical.

    Tell me what this reporter’s incentive is to (in his mind) “compromise his journalistic integrity by bowing to political pressure.”

    It’s really simple: if you want to influence how the NYT covers stories, buy the company. That’s your only viable option.

  11. 11
    piratedan says:

    @Tom Levenson: TY Tom for the link to him…. just popped off a note stating that if we wanted to compare, how about using some real government equivalencies, like the revoking of DADT or Bush’s Medicare expansion.

  12. 12
    beth says:

    @Burnspbesq: Yes, “Choose Life” plate passes but the motion to honor the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary doesn’t because I guess they didn’t.

  13. 13
    amk says:

    I e-mailed him and asked him to read the last thread, fwiw.

  14. 14
    Aunt Kathy says:

    Yeah, I’ve gotten mad enough to email CBS twice in the past couple of months. The first was right around the time of the shutdown, and Gayle King talked some false equivalency nonsense during the morning show that set me off. I actually got a specific reply on that one (not a satisfactory response, but it addressed my email content directly, so somebody DID read it).
    The second time was after the Eric Wemple takedown of Jan Crawford’s morning report on folks losing their existing health plans (Dianne Barrett), and then it turns out that the plan she had was worse than nothing, and not only did SHE not know that, Ms Jan Crawford was too busy being gleeful in her Obamacare takedown to find out the facts herself. I did a lot of shaming, and suggested that if that was the direction they were headed, they could just turn the show over to Hannnity and find something else to do with their time.
    I did NOT receive a reply that time. Ahem.

    But, in my old age, I find myself during more and more of this (being a general crank). Our little local newspaper had a habit of saying that someone “didn’t show up” when they failed to appear in court. After the 2nd or 3rd time, I had to get ’em. COME ON, people, you’re making us sound like rubes! An article yesterday had the wording “failing to appear.” Damn right.

  15. 15
    NotMax says:

    Using the Katrina analogy is more insidious than being bad reporting, it’s lazy reporting.

    Lazy reporters skate by whereas bad ones do get called on the carpet, even today.

  16. 16
    I, Floridian says:

    I wrote to Circulation:

    Dear New York Times Senior Vice President of Circulation–I thought I’d address this to you rather than Margaret Sullivan, the public editor. I feel sure there are others like me who would happily get the mobile NYT, except… Or who keep weighing a subscription, but then… To get to the point, there have been so many times I’ve been about to subscribe to the NYT and then the Times runs this kind of news analysis: “Health Law Rollout’s Stumbles Draw Parallels to Bush’s Hurricane Response.” Yes, a buggy computer program (with many of those bugs on the insurer’s side) which is being corrected equals a botched, halfhearted response to hurricane relief, forced migration and almost 2000 dead. I would feel foolish spending my money to support this kind of writing. It isn’t value for money, no matter how many good things there are on the NYT (and there are many).

  17. 17
    Barry says:


    ““Work the refs?”

    Do you also believe in the tooth fairy, Tom? ”

    Google the term. IIRC, Patrick Buchanan first used something like that.

  18. 18

    @Tom Levenson: I think you both might want to take a look at this:

    It shows that Shear isn’t a good journalist at all. He’s a hack.

  19. 19
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Burnspbesq: You are doubling down on a stupid position. There are intermediate possibilities between owning a paper and doing nothing — and I can assure you, having worked in a number of newsrooms (including elite ones) that direct communication from readers and or viewers has an impact.

    You can choose to ignore that fact, and stay happily and fecklessly above the fray, but fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

  20. 20

    TPM has a story up now covering what I’ve been saying the last few days about the insurance fix and how it affects things here in CA.

    Here’s why: The California marketplace, Covered California, has required insurance companies to terminate their non-compliant plans by Dec. 31, 2013, if they want to sell there.

    So that’s set up a showdown of sorts over the ‘fix’ between Covered California and the state insurance commissioner, Dave Jones, who told reporters Thursday that he opposed Covered California’s cancellation policy from the start.

    The reason for the policy is: California’s insurance companies wanted things this way. As Jones tells it, the insurance companies first went to the state legislature to require the Dec. 31 cancellations, but were turned down at least in part because of his opposition. Then they beseeched Covered California, which agreed to the policy and codified it into its contracts with insurers.

    The marketplace’s rule doesn’t apply to insurers who aren’t selling plans on Covered California — Jones said he would allow those companies to make the White House’s offer to their customers — but that’s a small portion of the state’s insurance market.

    Most insurers are selling on the marketplace, so they fall under its rule. Jones said that he’s asked the marketplace to “release” insurers from the contractual obligation that they made and take up the administration’s offer.

    “I’ve asked Covered California to take this action immediately, so that health insurers then are free from this contract provisions and can then follow the president’s request — and my request — that they allow their existing customers to renew their existing policies into 2014,” he told reporters on a conference call.

    This affects about a million people, or maybe ⅓ of all the people in the country that are having their policies cancelled. And CC may go along with it because the insurers have already achieved the goals that the rule was intended to achieve – the clear segregation of exchange and non-exchange participants. The insurers on the exchange already agreed to stop selling those policies and my guess is that even if they sign on to the President’s plan, the insurers will still cancel those policies – the reason being is that the insurers want these people in the exchange risk pool. It won’t change much of anything.

  21. 21
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Phil Perspective: Hack’s are easier to push around than the ones who simply think they’re right. Lean on them, they go over. So, given that, should we just leave Mr. Shear to the simple pleasures of Hugh Hewitt. Or should we whup him upside the head a bit?

    Res ipsa loquitur.

  22. 22
    srv says:


  23. 23
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Burnspbesq: “Working the refs” has demonstrably worked, for the right. Say “liberal media” a thousand times a day for 50 years, and it does have an efect, as we have seen. Having Murdoch buy your company helps, but it wasn’t necessary.

    I despair at the absence of even simple conclusions in most (all?) US-centric media, and contrast this with an article in last week’s Economist about the recent VA and NJ elections. They describe the Cuccinelli camp’s framing of his loss, and end a graf with “In this account, Mr Cuccinelli’s defeat was a victory.” First sentence of the next graf: “This is nonsense.”

    See, it’s not hard. And this was a news article, not an opinion piece.

  24. 24

    @Tom Levenson: To the woodshed he goes!! Especially since Snuffleupagus(another ex-Clintonite!!) was using the exact same framing this morning, according to his Tweet.

  25. 25
    burnspbesq says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    I’m hearing a lot of cheap talk from you, but I’m still waiting for evidence. Until you’ve got some, you’re just flapping your gums in the breeze, and I’ve got better things to do with my time and resources.

  26. 26
    Mike E says:

    @Burnspbesq: Umm, you haven’t seen this?

  27. 27
  28. 28
    Tom Levenson says:


    I’ve got better things to do with my time and resources.

    I’m having trouble truly accepting that claim, but whatever. Enjoy your dudgeon.

  29. 29
    Elizabelle says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    I think you are right, Tom, about reasoned personal notes.

  30. 30
    catclub says:

    Sky not falling.

    I agree with T. Levenson vs Burnsy:, making a case to the reporter will have more effect than whining on Balloon Juice.

  31. 31
    maya says:

    Dear Mr. Shear,
    Let’s review: Katrina. Obamacare. One has two A s in it. The other has 3. Close enough. Roll the presses.

    Thanks again for your insights,

    A respectful reader

  32. 32

    The English crappy journos are too many.

    Alba gu bràth!

  33. 33
    MikeJ says:

    Working the refs isn’t going to help Obama, or the Dem that gets elected in ’16. It will take 50 years. Republicans have a shit fit if you disparage slave owners. They’ve murdered talk show hosts who publicly stated they didn’t like Nazis. It will take a long time before the media respond to the left the way they respond to the right. Which isn’t a reason to not do it. It’s a reason to start now.

  34. 34

    And they wonder why they are losing their readership.

  35. 35
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    @catclub: Must be a cloudless day in SoCal if Burns is on the intertoobz yelling.

  36. 36
    JWR says:

    @👾 Martin: I saw that piece at at TPM last night, the one about “Covered California and the state insurance commissioner, Dave Jones”. But then I saw, I think, the same guy on the TV telling me he was for it, it being the Obama “fix”. Maybe the new day will sort this one out.

    [Edit to chime in for a shout out for Tom’s position. It all takes time, and it’ll never end. If you’ve not the stomach for it, get out. Just stop trolling with your negativity.]

  37. 37

    NYT pissed me off after they published that stupid op-ed by that Tunku Varadarajan dissing Sachin Tendulkar, my response

    ETA: For those who don’t know, Sachin Tendulkar is a cricketing great, playing his last test match (5 day version of cricket) right now.

  38. 38
    stoned stats says:

    Ah, I come for the ad hominen of DPM (and DougJ), I stay for the professor’s level-headed take-downs. <3 you, Tom Levenson and your choice of art (seriously, I do appreciate it).

  39. 39
    grrljock says:

    Thanks for the reminder, just sent off my comment to Michael Shear. Gripers gonna gripe, but we do have to do things like this along with other efforts.

  40. 40
    Tone in DC says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    I despair at the absence of even simple conclusions in most (all?) US-centric media, and contrast this with an article in last week’s Economist about the recent VA and NJ elections. They describe the Cuccinelli camp’s framing of his loss, and end a graf with “In this account, Mr Cuccinelli’s defeat was a victory.” First sentence of the next graf: “This is nonsense.”

    I like it.

    I won’t e-mail the Hewitt fan Mr. Shear. I will contact the Kaplan Post’s useless ombudsman about the paper’s incessant ACA/Obama bashing. I think the Times is too far gone; they apparently want to out-Murdoch the damn WSJ. Something no fishwrap ought to attempt. Even the Richmond Times-Dispatch won’t go there.

  41. 41
    gwangung says:

    @burnspbesq: I think this comment is ironic, given your posts around here.

    And it clearly ignores the reality of national media, who are clearly disconnected from most people not in Washington AND are contacted mostly by right wing ideologues. The combination of those two makes it worth your time and effort to do the low energy work of writing a critical commentary.

    I mean, really…writing a letter is clearly a whole lot less effort than raising money to feed the hungry, working to combat civil rights violations in minority parts of towns, or….community organizing.

  42. 42
    MikeJ says:

    You think the healthcare web site is bad? Microsoft is taunting Sony.

  43. 43
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    Obama Never Lied About Your Plan

    The plans being terminated because they don’t meet the minimal standards were all plans that insurers introduced after the passage of the ACA. Insurers introduced these plans knowing that they would not meet the standards that would come into effect in 2014. Insurers may not have informed their clients at the time they sold these plans that they would not be available after 2014 because they had designed a plan that did not comply with the ACA.

    However if the insurers didn’t tell their clients that the new plans would only be available for a short period of time, the blame would seem to rest with the insurance companies, not the ACA. After all, President Obama did not promise people that he would keep insurers from developing new plans that will not comply with the provisions of the ACA.

    So what in the world is Obama “apologizing” for?

    “Obama lied!” AKA the biggest scandal since Watergate has essentially zero merit. Of course, the press is so eager for a scandal and committed to finding “X’s Katrina”, and far too many Democrats cowed by them and the Republicans, that the facts are not even entertained.

    You can blame the media, and rightly so, but a huge part of the problem is that we have weak Democrats. Far too conciliatory is the default position, and it’s depressing.

  44. 44
    Liberty60 says:

    I am thinking of how the creationists have managed to turn what was once a reasonable and uncontroversial concept into a dangerous topic, best not dicussed, or if so, done timidly, with uncertainty.

    They got in people’s faces, thats how.

    Whenever high school teachers started speaking about it, they had plants in the classroom argue, hector, express offense and outrage. They had parents and helpful outside groups threaten lawsuits. They barraged newspapers letters sections, online comment boards.

    We need to do that. Whenever we are at a party where someone starts spouting off about “private sector school reform”, “union pension reform” “tax reform” or whatever other Frank Luntz approved bullshit, we need to speak firmly, push back, make the conversation uncomfortable.

    I did that at a church meeting. One elderly Tea Party gent started in with the whole “47% dont pay taxes and have no skin in the game” line. I argued, forcefully, that my wife was one of these, earning minimum wage, and taking the bus to work and most DEFINITELY had “skin in the game”, i.e., an investment in the infrastructure of her community and I won’t stand for anyone saying that.

    It was a very awkward and uncomfortable moment.

    But he never. Ever. Used that line again

    This is how national arguments are won. At bars, cocktail parties, PTA meetings, dinner tables, where one by one, people identify themselves as being part of one view or another, and socially ostracize the opposing sides. They need to feel embarrassed and afraid to trot out lines of bullshit like the NYT story.

    If we aren’t willing to stand up at a backyard BBQ and defend liberalism, why should a US Senator?

  45. 45
    boatboy_srq says:

    @Burnspbesq: What really sux about the “Choose Life” plates is that way too many unthinking vehicle owners will assume the extra funds go toward adoptions. At least the Sons of the Confederacy and Xtian Righteousness promo plates haven’t gotten through in many places yet.

  46. 46

    OK letter has been sent to Shear of NYT where I sheared his analysis. Also too, sent one to WashPo yesterday and blogged about it, Brave Sir Richard, not so brave actually.

  47. 47
    different-church-lady says:

    1) Is “You’re a typically nitwit-ish stenographer for Republican memes” polite enough?

    2) Republicans don’t “work” the refs — they acts as Mongol hordes who intimidate the “officials” into compliance. (See treatment of the umpire at the beginning of Baseball Bugs for a demonstration of the technique and response.) While it’s sweet to think a modern day political journalist would respond to polite correction, it’s also naive, since by now the only thing they ever react to is virtual crowds with torches and pitchforks.

  48. 48
    the Conster says:


    Agreed – people repeat bullshit because they think everyone agrees with them, because most people are polite and don’t want to make a scene. I’m old and cranky now and don’t care anymore, and that’s just what’s going to have to happen. You have to push back, and if it makes people uncomfortable in a social setting, oh well.

  49. 49
    agrippa says:

    I emailed him.
    I was polite and respectful, but firm.

    It may not do much good, but the piece was OTT.

  50. 50
    bemused senior says:

    Just sent this to the idiot who wrote that piece:

    The comparison of website roll-out problems in a site supporting Americans from revanchist states who have willfully blocked implementation of the ACA with Bush’s handling of Katrina is absurd on its face, yet you swallow it whole.

    A more relevant comparison is to the Part D roll-out. Let’s see a follow-up that analyzes that.

    (my name)
    (yes my family is a long time NYTimes subscriber, in California where the roll-out of ACA is going fine.)

  51. 51
    gian says:

    I presume you cancelled your check for his services and will no longer read or post to his threads?

  52. 52
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    This maggot, like all Villager scum, needs to take a tumbrel ride.

  53. 53
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @burnspbesq: How in the world is having worked in the newsrooms under discussion and having seen it first hand not evidence?

    Not as concrete as vast experience commenting on Balloon Juice I realize, but still.

  54. 54
    the Conster says:

    My contribution to Shear’s inbox:

    I read your article this morning in total disbelief that a reporter – a REPORTER – could ever compare the problems to the human, ecological and moral catastrophe that was Katrina.

    Katrina was 8 short years ago, so fresh in my mind even now – the unbelievable non-response by the Bush administration to such a disaster was one of the most shameful episodes this country should ever bear witness to. BODIES WERE FLOATING IN THE WATER!!!! How does a balky website designed to HELP PEOPLE GET HEALTHCARE even make it into your top ten list of things to compare Katrina to? What is wrong with all of you reporters?? It seems like the lack of an actual scandal in the Obama administration has turned the press into an angry hive. Please gain some perspective, because this article was lazy and inept.

  55. 55
    Lex says:

    Sorry, Tom, but after 25 years in newspapers and the loss of my wife’s elderly mother’s house to Katrina, I didn’t have the patience to use your approach. I believe the last sentence in my email was, “Good Christ, I wish stupid were painful.”

    Very few reporters get to the Times overnight, and if someone gets to the Times without the willingness to review critically the most bizarre and inappropriate of story frames, then there’s probably no teaching him.

  56. 56
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    @Lex: I believe the last sentence in my email was, “Good Christ, I wish stupid were painful.”

    Good on you, and ain’t it the truth.

  57. 57
    gogol's wife says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    Okay, I wrote to him. I’m sure it will make him see the light!

  58. 58
    AdamK says:

    I just sent a strongly worded letter to Thomas Eakins, expressing my disapproval of his public depiction of a gentleman’s gluteus muscle peeking out of his shorts. The very idea!

  59. 59

    @Phil Perspective: Ha! Also he stole the idea of comparing the rollout to Bush’s Katrina response from the unspeakable Ron Fournier, who trotted it out weeks ago. I wrote the following at the time: http://yastreblyansky.blogspot.....eople.html I’m not writing to Shear today.

  60. 60
    agrippa says:

    @the Conster:

    I used different words; but, basically, I told him the same thing.

    I asked him to compare and contrast a hurricane with a website.

    How is katrina similar to a balky website?
    How is a balky website different from katrina.?

    You need to ask yourself those two questions.

  61. 61
  62. 62
    the Conster says:


    I followed up with another message to him, asking “did Bush ever apologize for Katrina? No? Oh yeah – “Heckuva job, Brownie!” JUST THE SAME!!!

    Actually I’m all wound up about Katrina again, and could send him messages all fucking day about how those two events aren’t the same, they’re not even in the same category.


  63. 63
    Gravenstone says:

    @burnspbesq: Like getting into self righteous virtual arguments that take nearly as much of your “precious” time as actually authoring a brief missive to a reporter with whom you might disagree?

  64. 64
    Jerome Armstrong says:

    Yea, get out there and cheerlead on behalf of the corporations you mules.

  65. 65
    agrippa says:

    @the Conster:

    You have to wonder – seriously – if people think things through.( I tell people from time to time “Play the tape to the end”).
    I doubt that he did much thinking. Maybe, ‘it seemed the thing to do at the time’.

  66. 66
    David Koch says:

    Shear is a republican.

    If you’ve ever seen him push his point of view on tee vee and in his print “analysis”, it’s republican.

    He was WaPo’s beat reporter for the McCain campaign in 2008. He was such a boot licker, he was naturally hired by NYT so when people falsely call them liberal, they can respond by saying, “we’re not liberal, we have Michael Shear and Jonathan Martin and David Brooks”.

    That’s why his pieces are built on crap. Demand a report base his report/analysis on fact is something you do with a young reporter working on a small paper, not someone working for NYT. That his post is crap is the point. Republican policies are too unpopular to run on, so instead, they fling baseless crap (eg Judith Miller, Adam Nagourney, the mustache of understand).

    So sending him an email will fall on deft ears. It’s as futeal as thinking an email would influence Mark Halperin or Bill Kristol.

    If you really want to work the refs, you go over his head and make his editor feel miserable. You cancel your subscription. You boycott advertisers. That’s the only way.

  67. 67
    Sondra says:

    I wrote this to Mr. Schear,

    Maybe you had a better title for this piece about Obama and the ACA rollout vs Bush’s handling of Katrina and your editor thought it was too tame. I don’t know, but on balance your article is fair to Obama while being critical of the ACA rollout.
    Why compare him to Bush at all? What Bush did re. Katrina cost people their lives and caused people to suffer needlessly and longer than they should have. He had nothing but contempt for the people and contempt for FEMA as an organization.
    There is nothing contemptuous about President Obama and just because Republican obstructionists want to make it into a disaster, doesn’t mean you should let them con you into helping them.
    It’s a good law that has had many benefits in the 2 years that it has been in place: I’ve benefited from it greatly because when I turned 65 2 years ago, it had become illegal for my corporate insurance company to dump me as they surely would have done.
    So the open enrollment has been difficult, so what really is the disaster? They’ll fix the web site and make it work.
    Why not write about how the insurance companies are having a field day out of the botched enrollment start: that would be a great headline and have the added benefit of being true.

  68. 68
    Sondra says:

    @the Conster
    What you said! dammit.:

  69. 69
    David Koch says:

    Always fun to talk with @hughhewitt, who always asks smart questions.” ~ Michael Shear.

    “Always fun…” “always smart”. Hugh Hewitt! Hewitt is the loon who was pushing Chuck Hagel is a “friend of Hamas” smear.

    That’s who Shear thinks is fun and smart. See, I told ya he was a winger.

  70. 70
  71. 71
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Mike E: Guess I commented about eight hours too late.

  72. 72
    GHayduke (formerly lojasmo) says:


    And yet, here you are.

  73. 73
  74. 74
    Cervantes says:

    @Tom Levenson: I can assure you, having worked in a number of newsrooms (including elite ones) that direct communication from readers and or viewers has an impact.

    OK, that’s worth looking at. To begin with, can you name one reporter (anywhere) whose work got noticeably better after (never mind because) he or she heard from readers?

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