September 19, 2008

A moment of McCainian hubris

Conservative Republicans, who most of the time derive great pleasure from distrusting and castigating the "mainstream media," occasionally find it convenient to depend heavily on it.

For example, a John McCain campaign spot refers to former Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines as advising Barack Obama on "mortgage and housing policy. Shocking." "Bad advice. Bad instincts," the ad concludes. "Not ready to lead."

John McCain relies for these tidbits on an item in the Washington Post. This is news — to both Obama and Raines.

In fact, Raines had sent an e-mail message to Carly Fiorina, who really is a McCain adviser — or was until she was unceremoniously "disappeared" — that read, "I am not an adviser to the Obama campaign. Frank."

Turns out Franklin Raines once took a "couple of calls from someone" with the Obama campaign, and this offhand remark during a photo shoot made him into an official Obama economic adviser for the purposes of a puff-profile in the paper's "Style" section.

Which was close enough to truth for John McCain's "good instincts."

14 comments:

gnarlytrombone said...

Nice hat, peckerhead.

gnarlytrombone said...

Someone actually awarded this guy a Ph.D.:

Were ads in 2004 tying George W. Bush to Enron’s Ken Lay racist because they were both white?

William Tyroler said...

John McCain relies for these tidbits on an item in the Washington Post. This is news — to both Obama and Raines.

But not news to readers of the Post, which had reported "that Raines had 'taken calls from Barack Obama's presidential campaign seeking his advice on mortgage and housing policy matters.'"

Now, maybe it was inept reporting (something I tend to expect from the Post anyway). But it's equally possible that Obama and Raines are now scurrying quickly from a once-cozy relationship. Maybe we'd get an answer if there was less interest in ankle-biting Sarah Palin and more interest in figuring just what the likely next president is really all about.

gnarlytrombone said...

But those ankles are friggin' irresistible, man.

Clutch said...

Maybe we'd get an answer if there was less interest in ankle-biting Sarah Palin and more interest in figuring just what the likely next president is really all about.

Documenting (effortlessly, it seems) the apparently inexhaustible stock of untruths that emerge from Sarah Palin = ankle-biting.

After all, why should an ability to speak a handful of sentences without lying be judged central to the qualifications for holding high office?

Treating as news the currently unevidenced but metaphysically possible proposition that Obama and Raines had a "cozy" relationship = er..., something that's not ankle-biting.


Smart people should not say silly things, but election time does seem to bring it out.

illusory tenant said...

Bill, personally I'm not all that concerned who was "advising" Obama or about what. My point is only that the same people who would tell you not to trust the Washington Post will themselves "trust" anything they see there if it suits their purposes. They have a clear double standard, which is worse than accepting advice from any particular CEO.

William Tyroler said...

My point is only that the same people who would tell you not to trust the Washington Post will themselves "trust" anything they see there if it suits their purposes.

Fair enough. But my point (probably not expressed terribly well) was about the media (more particularly: being in the tank for Obama). The Post reports (in its Business, not Style section, I believe) that Obama was soliciting advice from Raines, indeed relies on that very assertion in an editorial; McCain uses that report as the source for his ad; Obama and Raines then flee from their association (unconvincingly, in my view); the Post purports to fact-check McCain's ad, but does nothing more than take the Raines/Obama disavowal at face value, and breezily pronounces McCain's supporting evidence "pretty flimsy" -- an utterly cynical take, given that the "flimsy" evidence is the Post's own report (and editorial). So, the question isn't McCain's cynicism in relying on a source it typically disdains but, rather, the Post's own cynicism which is so profound it will disparage its own reporting to get in a dig at McCain.

If -- to repeat -- the media spent on "fact-checking" Obama a small percentage of the time it's devoted to frivolous and incorrect stories about Palin (she never tried to ban any library books; she never advocated teaching creationism alongside evolution; she never supported Buchanan; etc.), then just maybe we'd obtain deeper insight into the character and beliefs of our probable next president. Long and short of it is that I don't particularly like the idea of buying a pig in a poke, with or without lipstick. I can't believe I'm the only one out there who'd like to hear more about the amount of lobbying money Obama got from Raines and Johnson, for example, and how it might have influenced Obama's stance toward F. Mae & Mac over the years.

(No time to run down the links for the assertions above, but I really don't think there's any dispute about the facts.)

illusory tenant said...

I think a lot of the Palin business came about because nobody had ever heard of her, so reporters were falling over each other trying to beat one another to "stories."

A lot of the reporting has been crap, but on the other hand, she pretty clearly has been making all sorts of false claims in her canned speeches. That by definition invites more critical coverage.

I agree reporters should at least try to be evenhanded in their coverage, but that's pie in the sky. These days, the onus is on consumers to do their own legwork to try and get at the "truth."

By the way, take a look at the Journal-Sentinel yesterday, it was like a Palin-McCain special issue: huge color photos, McCain stump claims repeated as if Gospel, etc.

illusory tenant said...

Then there's poor Joe Biden.

gnarlytrombone said...

Ankle-biting at its finest.

William Tyroler said...

iT 11:08 a.m.

I tend to agree with just about everything, though I might want to embellish slightly: all politicians dissemble. Palin's distortions are, I don't think, worse than anyone else's by and large.

I especially like this observation: onus is on consumers to do their own legwork to try and get at the "truth.". Exactly right. Exactly. (Which is one reason I enjoy your blog so much, and appreciate your tireless efforts.) And right, too, if implicitly, about the partisan nature of journalism. I just wish the mainstream media would own up to it forthrightly.

gnarlytrombone said...

all politicians dissemble

I think that's a categorically unhelpful axiom. There are qualitative different types and degrees of lying that reflect strongly on a candidate's suitability for office.

What does the politician lie about? Inconsequential details, or matters of great import? How do they lie? By omission, "non-denial denial" or straight-up, making shit up? How often?

That's not to make the usual distinction between "big" versus "small" lies - i.e. oral sex v. war. Compulsively lying about everyday matters is highly problematic, not just as it relates to public trust but in the basic ability to function as an executive.

In the above link Teresa Nielsen Hayden (apart from the reckless DSM IV diagnosis) makes a strong case that Palin's lies aren't typically tactical as much as pathological. That is, most politicians lie to curry favor or protect their reputation. Palin lies in spite of those aims and without regard with how it diminishes her credibility and thus ability to govern. The key section:

Palin hasn’t bothered to keep track of the stories she tells. It’s not that she can’t; she’s not that stupid. Rather, it hasn’t occurred to her to do so. She isn’t thinking about other people’s reactions. That isn’t bad judgement, or an absence of judgement...

First she would not tell us why she fired Monegan. Then, finally, she said she wanted to take the department in a new direction. Then, finally, she said she wanted to take the department in a new direction. [It took forever (week at least) to get her to state what that direction was.

“Taking the department in a new direction” is not the same thing as “firing for cause.” It’s one of four unrelated issues Palin has cited as her reason for firing Monagan. She dropped the second one—that he was not adequately filling state trooper vacancies—after Monegan pointed out that the police academy was about to graduate its largest class ever. The third, that he wasn’t doing enough to fight alcohol abuse problems, is problematical in light of the fact that the state job she offered him at the time of his firing was Executive Director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The fourth, that he “did not turn out to be a team player on budgeting issues,” could mean anything...

Oh, and Palin also said, early and often, that it had nothing to do with repeatedly pressuring him to fire her ex-brother-in-law, which she never did, and didn’t know about either...

What are the odds of anyone having four different large-scale administrative problems so serious that every one of them warrants firing him on zero notice, yet none of the problems are interrelated? It’s improbable, is what it is...

Oh, who are we kidding? She didn’t fire him for cause. She ran out of patience one day with his continuing refusal to proceed illegally against her ex-brother-in-law, fired him, and only afterward realized that people would notice and have opinions about it. Even then, she didn’t realize that giving four or five different excuses would present a problem.

William Tyroler said...

I think that's a categorically unhelpful axiom

Maybe, but only if you think that Bill Clinton actually didn't inhale, or that Obama never did listen to Jeremiah Wright during 2 decades' worth of preaching.

There are qualitative different types and degrees of lying

OK, but Clinton did strike me as a compulsive liar, and I voted for him three times, including his 1st primary, which makes the qualitative component superfluous, at least with regard to me and with respect to him. I don't think a president's being a lying liar is necessarily a disqualification. But this takes us afield of where I was headed, which is that we've got a mainstream media itself filled with lying liars (a proposition I don't think gnarly would disagree with), more likely in today's climate to be on the Left (here, I imagine gnarly would disagree; no, I can't quantify the claim -- it's a matter of purely subjective opinion). At a minimum, I wish that those who support the Dems' inexorable march toward resuming their rightful control of government retain some skepticism of the media and its overweening ability to affect the outcome (no, and I don't mean overblown, prissy condemnations of "Faux News").

In the above link Teresa Nielsen Hayden (apart from the reckless DSM IV diagnosis) makes a strong case that Palin's lies aren't typically tactical as much as pathological.

But: I have a hard time separating out Hayden's reckless DSM IV diagnosis from her overall frivolousness. I don't believe she even cites DSM IV-TR, she more or less asserts that Palin is a narcissist. In fact, she strikes me herself as a paranoid loon -- e.g., "a good case for McCain having terminal cancer," and her commentary spirals out of control from there. For that matter, I suppose I'm as qualified as Hayden to derive a clinical diagnosis: she "edit(s) books, mostly but not exclusively science fiction and fantasy."

Most interesting discussion, and thanks for joining it, gnarly, but I'm afraid I'm done at this point. Thanks much to iT for offering up this forum, and for his valuable insights.

Clutch said...

It's hard to see why anyone would think the media's in the tank for Obama. But it's a fair cop that the media is irredeemably lazy, so once a Received Narrative starts to take shape, editors and pundits will tend to flop their stories comfortably into that mold.

For at least the last two elections, the GOP was so successful at laundering its spin points into the media (through owned venues like Fox News and the Washington Times) that this broader media laziness was functionally indistinguishable from the pundits in general being active GOP flacks. This time around, post-Rove and saddled with messages more complex than "Kerry looks French" and "Terrorists win if you vote Democrat", the Republicans have been far less successful at setting the agenda. One result: the relentless untruths of Palin, and of the McCain campaign re: Palin, have become a Received Narrative.

So, yes, mostly by accident, the media has settled into focusing on something that's actually the case. Whether it's fair -- i.e., whether it overlooks dishonesty in the Obama camp, or in previous campaigns -- is a further question. But no conjecture of tanking for Obama is required; and certainly the inane frippery to which his campaign has been subjected before Palin's nomination strongly suggests otherwise.