Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Truthiness on the March

As a follow-up to my last post (and yes, it is taking me this long just to write follow-up posts), I just wanted to highlight something I read in that Count Chocola article:

According to the commercials, Chocola has accepted more than $80,000 from various energy and natural resources PACs since he began running for Congress "while voting against bills that would have penalized those companies for price gouging." …According to figures supplied by MoveOn, the contributions range from a high of $7,000 from the American Electric Power Committee for Responsible Government to a low of $250 from the National Grid USA Political Action Committee.

According to a statement issued by the Chocola campaign, the incumbent has been "tough on oil companies" and has voted to prevent price gouging during times of emergencies and to direct the Federal Trade Commission to investigate price gouging after Hurricane Katrina.

Uh, am I crazy, or do these paragraphs contain facts?  The kind of facts that can be verified?  So what the hell is this “According to…” stuff supposed to mean?  Either the Count got more than $80,000 from energy PACs or he didn’t.  Could it really be that hard to research this stuff?  And sure the “tough on oil companies” claim is a tad subjective, but would it kill them to tell us what Chocola did to prevent price gouging?  Those all sound like facts to me.  Facts that could have been researched.  And to know the accuracy of these facts would go a long way towards informing the paper’s readers whether or not Chocola is fairly attacking MoveOn.  But instead, readers are left having to decide for themselves whether there are merits to these attacks; and they can only base that on what they already think of MoveOn.  What kind of reporting is this?  They’d have been better off not saying anything at all.  

And can there be any doubts as to who benefits most from this anti-objective reporting?  Reporting that relies on the reader’s own bias to fill in the gaps?  Reporting which prefers perceptions over reality?  Of course this plays to the Republican Way.  Sure, it’s possible that MoveOn is lying and that a more truthful telling would exonerate the poor, abused Count.  But on the whole, this subjective style of reporting plays right into the Republicans’ hand.  They believe that they can invent their own reality, and journalists like this one are surely allowing them to do that.

The Crap That Jack Wrote

Oh, and for some additional fun, be sure to check out Tribune columnist Jack Colwell’s take on the whole thing.  Having…something…truthiness.  Needless to say, the few facts that found their way into the above Tribune news article do not seem to have made it into Jack’s column.  No, there is no mention of the $80,000 that Chocola supposedly received from energy and natural resource PAC’s; which supposedly was a big focus of the ad.  Instead, Jack decides that all of this is really about Bush, saying:
Voters certainly may disagree, if they wish, with Chocola's solid support of President Bush, but clearly he has voted that support because of his belief in those principles, not due to any lobbyist providing incentives.

Of course.  And Jack knows that Chocola has voted his principles because….well because, Jack needs it to be that way for his argument.  After all, it’s not quite proper to declare that an attack ad is unfair if you can’t pretend that the charges aren’t true.  Everyone knows that.  Besides, lobbyists are simply notorious for giving “incentives” to people who are already going to vote how the lobbyist wants.  That’s what the word “incentive” means; to give something to someone for absolutely no reason.  I’m sure Jack’s editors are well familiar with that concept.

And I seem to be missing something here, but is he saying that President Bush is a principle?  And does the phrase “he voted that support” mean something to you?  Because it sounds kind of stupid to me.  And if it’s really the principles that Chocola supports, then what does Bush have to do with any of this?  I mean, he doesn’t even list Bush as having been mentioned in the ad.  He mentions DeLay, Cheney, and Abramoff; which he describes with “They are all said to be Republicans "caught red-handed" at one nasty thing or another.”  Though I’m not sure if he’s disputing the red-handed part or the Republican part.  But he doesn’t even mention Bush being in the ad.  So why does he cite this as being an issue of Chocola’s solid support of President Bush?  It seems to me that Jack just hit a rough patch in his column and decided to smooth the way by suggesting that Bush-hatred had something to do with this.  

But that’s not all the fact-checking you’ll get in Jack’s column.  Heck no.  Try this heaping helping of fact-checking action, and remember, he gets paid for this:
He also denied the specific charge against him that he "has been caught red-handed, protecting oil company profits while we pay more at the pump." MoveOn cites documentation for its charges. Chocola cites documentation for his defense. And oil policy is a matter that will be debated in the campaign.

Wow, talk about your hard working journalists.  This guy might have actually had to get out of bed to research those claims.  Both MoveOn and Chocola cited documentation.  It doesn’t get any more truthy than that.  

Oh, but he’s more than just a human encyclopedia of fact-checking.  Oh no.  He’s also a master political strategizer.  Try this sage advice:
Similar Move.On ads were run against Republicans in three other House races in Connecticut, Virginia and Ohio. One of the targets, Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, Republican incumbent in Connecticut's 5th District, hit back, going on TV immediately with her own ads attacking MoveOn.  

Good strategy, in the view of the political consultants who favor never letting an attack go without an even stronger attack in defense.

An ad attacking MoveOn?!?  Are they shitting me??  That’s a lousy idea.  First off, a smart political consultant knows that you never play defense.  And attacking MoveOn??  That’s just a stupid way to get deeper into the fray with someone who isn’t your main opponent; thus allowing them to dirty the candidate without the opponent getting equally dirty.  But I guess all this is a little beyond Jack’s meager brain skills.  He’s heard that attacks are the “in” thing in politics these days, and he acts like Mr. Cool Worldly Guy with his nonchalant talk of “air wars” and attacking in defense.  In reality, he’s a dope who’s confused all this with a sporting match and constantly sounds like Jimmy the Greek handing out Superbowl predictions (and yes, my sportscaster trivia is limited to an oddsmaker who died ten years ago).

Oh, but before we’re done, we’ve got to admire Jack’s humdinger recap at the end.  To do it the injustice of a paraphrase, he says that these MoveOn ads could either energize the Democratic base and turn out more Dems, or it could annoy the Republican base and turn out more Repubs.  Wow.  That’s genius.  Could he really have thought of that all by himself, or did he happen to overhear it…when everyone else was saying it?  Probably both.  And yet that guy got paid to write that, while I’m avoiding my real job doing this crap.  What a world.

P.S. Jack’s ending reminded me of this quote from Will Ferrell’s Dan Fouts:
"The team that scores the most points will probably win the game."
Truer words were never spoken.


Heraldblog said...

I spent some time as a newspaper reporter, and I can tell you, reporters are lazy. Not all reporters, but too many. Reporters are also under deadline pressure all the time, and are always on the lookout for ways to shorten the amount of time it takes to research, write, and submit a story. There are also space limitations to stories, and when an editor assigns a story, he was an idea of how long the story should be. This is not to make excuses for sloppy reporting, but it does help explain why newspapers rely on subjective responses to fill in the gaps.

Mumphrey said...

Well, as I said once before:
The American Press:
Lazier Than a Hatfull of Assholes.