Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Julie Bosman: America’s whiniest reporter

Remember the old joke—the food’s lousy and the portions are small? Well, New York Times “reporter” Julie Bosman has done that one better.

Bosman, who just five days ago was “blogging” about how hard it was to keep up with presidential candidate John Edwards’s breakneck campaign schedule, today writes what I guess passes for a news article in her portfolio, complaining that the former Senator’s campaign events run late. . . because of his breakneck schedule.

Leaving aside that her article is completely devoid of the reporting of actual issues—you know, like what John Edwards proposes we do as a country to house and feed the poor, provide affordable healthcare for all Americans, or restore our reputation abroad—has Ms. Bosman forgotten that just six days ago she was whining (and that’s the nicest word I can use) about how she and her pals couldn’t keep up with the Edwards campaign?

And, for that matter, where are the Gray Lady’s editors today? Too much Figgie Pudding? Bosman’s story is not only missing news value, and is not only purely and completely anecdotal, it violates several of the tenets of principled journalism.

First, this article implies that Edwards’s tardiness somehow represents a pattern—going so far as to list a set of different excuses given for delays at separate events days or weeks apart as if they stand for some sort of serial dishonesty. Bosman does not disprove any of the justifications, she just heavily insinuates that it is all some sort of cover-up—as if this is all exhibit “A” in the case against John Edwards’s character.

Bosman even opts to get catty:

Speaking in general about Mr. Edwards’s tendency to run late, Mark Kornblau, the campaign’s traveling press secretary, offered a more obscure explanation: “Fighting hard for change sometimes takes a few extra minutes.”

Yes, you are right, “catty” is also too nice a word.

Second, Ms. Julie leads us to believe that New Hampshire Representative Carol Shea-Porter wound up endorsing Barack Obama instead of Edwards on December 10th because Edwards kept her waiting at an event two weeks earlier. No one is asked about this—no doubt because no one would confirm the implied quid pro quo (or anti-quid pro quo)—but Bosman writes the graph in such a way as to imply it anyway. (And her editors let this stand.)

Third, Bosman takes what seem to be purely oblique quotes, and puts them into a context that gives them added meaning.

Let me ask all of you a question: let’s say that you had to leave an event that was running 20 minutes late (who knows why, maybe you had to pick up your daughter from school, maybe you had to pick up dinner, maybe your back hurt, maybe you were just bored), and on your way out, you were asked by a total stranger why it was you were leaving—what would you say?

Now read this:

Not everyone is patient enough to remain. In Lebanon, N.H., Karen Swanson headed for the exit with a friend after nearly a half-hour. “We can’t wait anymore,” Ms. Swanson said.

What does that mean? Exactly. It means that Karen Swanson couldn’t wait anymore.

Stop the presses.

And one more thing—from an editorial perspective, that is.

This is a one-sentence story: In the run up to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, John Edwards is campaigning at breakneck speed, keeping up a grueling schedule, and is at least sometimes—and maybe often—late to his own campaign events.

That sums it up. And yet, it takes Bowen 802 additional words to communicate that “fact”—well, that fact and all of her additional insinuations and complaints.

Memo to Julie Bosman: This campaign is about America’s future and the multiple men and one woman who want to play some part in shaping it. It isn’t about you.

Now, a few words about tardiness:

First, in my entire lifetime of attending such events—and, I must sheepishly admit, that dates back to shaking hands with George McGovern—I have never (never!) been to an event that started on time. This is the nature of campaigns, especially during crunch time. Candidates need to make numerous appearances, often miles apart, and so very much of the schedule is out of your control. There are security concerns, there’s traffic, weather, local crews that aren’t quite up to snuff, “serious” journalists that take a bit too much of your time asking those very important questions. . . or sometimes, sometimes, you just, as a candidate, want to break from the cookie-cutter demands of your campaign, and take a few extra minutes to connect with the very people whose votes you are soliciting. Imagine that.

Maybe it’s all of the above, or something entirely different, but, as best I can tell, none of this says much about how you might rebuild a neglected New Orleans, provide medical care to 45 million uninsured Americans, or pull 150,000 US troops out of Iraq.

In fact, let me tell you a story.

This summer I arrived an hour early to see Barack Obama speak in New York—and two hours later, I was still not through the metal detectors. At that point, I had to leave.


I just couldn’t wait anymore. (I had to be somewhere to meet an out-of-town friend, if you must know).

Later that night, I turned on the local news, where I found out that I would have had to wait an additional 45 minutes in order to see Senator Obama. In other words, Barack Obama was an hour and 45 minutes late!

What do I think that says about the junior Senator from Illinois? Absolutely nothing.

Was I disappointed that I didn’t get to hear him in person? Yes. Did I think this said word one about his character? Not even.

Now, for someone we know to have been perpetually running behind: I am, of course, referring to Mr. Hillary Clinton.

The presidency of Bill Clinton was legendary for its lateness. His days started late—sometimes after noon—and ran late—sometimes into the wee small hours. The president was often very late to his own events (Matt Bai’s Sunday New York Times article recounts just such a story). And yet, despite this record of serial tardiness, the other of the three leading contenders for the Democratic nomination—that would be Hillary Rodham—can’t go five minutes without trumpeting the assumed successes of her husband’s their presidency.

George W. Bush, on the other hand, is famous for starting early, and finishing early. His events, filled with prescreened guests, coordinated and traveled to at taxpayer expense, run like clockwork (or so we’re told). And how has that worked out for all of us?

And, by all of us, I mean the country—the world, even—and not just Julie Bosman, who, I assume, is a journalist by choice, and is getting paid to keep up with—or sometimes wait for—the people she is assigned to cover.

Perhaps Ms. Bosman should remember some words the current president said about his job, and take them to heart about hers: it’s hard work.

Or at least it’s work. Paid, coveted, prestigious work. Work Julie Bosman whines about doing.

(Perhaps the only redeeming fact about the Bosman pathetic hit piece is that it didn’t make the NYT’s front page—that was reserved for yet another article about Hillary Clinton. How many is that now?)

Update: A different, less whiny, point of view

After posting a somewhat lengthy critique of Julie Bosman’s lazy whine-fest about the purported tardiness of the Edwards campaign, I was reminded of a different reporter’s take from just a few days earlier.

This is from seasoned CBS news reporter Chip Reid, who posted Five Things I Learned in Ten Days with Edwards just before Christmas:

1. DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE - I’m a bit unhappy with John Edwards. I’ve been covering his campaign for 10 days and he hasn't made a lot of news. Let’s face it – a lot of what political reporters report on is mistakes. The campaign trail is one long minefield, covered with Iowa cow pies, and when they step in one – we leap.

I’ve done very little leaping – and I blame Edwards. While other candidates misspeak, over-speak, and double-speak, Edwards (at least in these 10 days) has made so few mistakes that I end up being transported -- newsless -- from town to town like a sack of Iowa corn.

He has a remarkable ability to stay on message. Not just in “the speech,” but even in Q and A. Nothing throws him off. He turns nearly every question into another opportunity to repeat his central theme. Global warming? We need to fight big oil. Health care? Fight the big drug and insurance companies. Iowa farmers’ problems? Blame those monster farm conglomerates. And the Iowa populists eat it up. We'll see how well it works in other states.
He’s even disciplined in his daily routine. While most reporters use the campaign trail as an excuse to over-eat and abandon their exercise routines, Edwards squeezes in a run EVERY DAY, rain, sleet, or shine.

Come on John – relax. Step in an Iowa cow pie and let me do my job.

We know from Reid’s headline that he actually spent ten days with the Edwards campaign—that’s with Edwards, and not just chasing him. After contrasting Reid’s observations with Bowen’s anecdote-o-rama, one wonders where she spent the last ten days.

Alas, Chip Reid only got to post his reportage on the CBS blog—it’s probably a bit too pithy for broadcast. . . not to mention the back pages of a “serious” paper like the New York Times.

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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