Friday, February 29, 2008

CC: Letter to Adam Nagourney

The following is a copy of a letter that I sent to Adam Nagourney of the NY Times.

(Update: AN reply in the Comments)

Mr. Nagourney:

I just finished reading your piece, "For Obama, a Taste of What a Long Battle Would Hold."

It was a good overview, I thought, but omitted one key element that we have already seen deployed: It is clear that an ongoing strategy by the Republican Party will be to use surrogates like, most recently, Bill Hobbs, Bill Cunningham, and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), to sling the mud, while John McCain remains above the fray and even gets to pick up bonus points for "condemning" these attacks.

Hobbs, you probably recall, was the Tennessee GOP media consultant responsible for the material later removed from that organization's web site. Cunningham was the conservative talk show host who introduced John McCain at a recent event, while managing to say "Hussein" early and often. Kingston's latest effort was to question Obama's patriotism, on MSNBC and elsewhere, because the Senator does not wear a flag lapel pin.

I am not claiming that these tactics are done at McCain's direction. They don't need to be, any more than the Swiftboaters needed daily marching orders from Karl Rove to carry out their attacks on John Kerry. It's clear to all involved how the game is played. Therefore, we can expect a steady stream of obnoxious statements, misleading images, and emails containing outright lies about Obama to spew forth, all while McCain jumps in front of cameras to distance himself, or at best, to issue the occasional "tut tut."

Admittedly, the blogosphere has been all over most of the recent slurs. On the other hand, I expect that you are writing for different readers, many of whom rely upon the Times as a principle or sole news source. I imagine that you are aware of the tactics I have described, but might be hesitant to print them, since finding sources who will confirm the implicit connections is difficult. On the other hand, there is no shortage of reporting, in the Times and other respectable media channels, about the content of the attacks themselves. If such events are considered reportable, then it seems equally reasonable to mention the phenomenon that I have outlined. It also seems reasonable to acknowledge that McCain will look to benefit -- in two ways -- from the gutter politics played by surrogates. To fail to mention this in a political analysis piece is disingenuous.


slag said...

Good letter. You were much nicer than I would have been. Adam Nagourney is one of the bigger NYT hacks out there (and that's saying something). Way to take action (or as I like to put it "dispense karmic justice"). We need more of that on our side!

bjkeefe said...



I was nicer than I might have been, too, but I do try to keep a measured tone when writing to the NYT. Part of it comes from a hope that foaming at the mouth might earn my words more attention, and part comes from being brought up to respect the NYT unquestioningly.

I know AN gets a lot of guff about being a hack, but I don't think he's anywhere near as a lot of MSM political analysts. I think he suffers more from obsession with coming off as neutral, an understandable approach given his employer's desires, but one that I think can get carried too far.

BTW, I do like the phrase "dispense karmic justice." It does, however, seem a little at odds with my understanding of karma -- I think of this as something that happens outside of the control or action of individual human beings. Maybe you are a god? ;^)

bjkeefe said...

Errata: Previous comment should have had "not" before "foaming." Also, "near as" should have been "near as bad as."

bjkeefe said...

(Via email, from Adam Nagourney):

I think this is a very smart point. I tried to allude to it in the section about other groups of operating independently (or quasi-independently) of the candiate and the party. I suspect this will be something we will be writing about again and again in the months ahead, particularly the quesiton of whether they are acting independently or not.

Thank you for writing; please keep in touch

bjkeefe said...

(My emailed reply to Adam's reply. Peripheral paragraphs requesting permission to post his email omitted.)

Thanks for getting back to me, Adam.

Yes, you did note the actions of (quasi-)independent groups. With all due respect, however, this seemed like an obvious point. I would expect anyone who reads the Times, particularly your stuff, already knows what "527" means. I was more concerned about the lack of a clear description indicating how McCain can use these groups to his advantage, while appearing to maintain his saintly persona.

Same thing, of course, if it should happen that some lefty groups start smearing McCain in an equivalent fashion. Hard to imagine that they will, or what they would even say, but I suppose, in principle, it could happen. However, recent history, both in this campaign and over the past couple of decades, suggests that the far right makes much more use of these tactics, that their favored candidates benefit from them, and that those candidates do little to disavow such tactics. This is not an issue that should be treated with an obsession over balance; it's clear that one side is far more prone to this behavior than the other. Not that I'm accusing you, in particular, of the fetish for balance. I am thinking in more general terms, of your paper, and others,

I'm glad to hear you plan to keep an eye on this, and that you expect to cover it further. Keep up the good work.