Blog

  • Why does MSNBC call Bill Ayers "Willie"?

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Earlier today, MSNBC ran this chyron:

    MSNBC 'Willie' Ayers

    "Race gets personal: Willie Ayers & Keating 5 are latest topics on trail."

    But Ayers' name isn't "Willie" Ayers, it's "William" Ayers. Or "Bill" Ayers. Nobody calls him "Willie."

    So what's with MSNBC's chyron? Maybe they were just trying to save space? No, that can't be it - "Willie Ayers" takes up more screen real estate than "Bill Ayers." Strange.

    Strange enough that we can't help recall another "William" who became "Willie" during an election year: William J. Horton. Kathleen Hall Jamieson has explained:

    Although his given name is William, he calls himself William, court records cite him as William, a July 1988 Reader's Digest article identifies him as William J. Horton, Jr.,and press reports prior to the Republican ad and speech blitz name him "William," the Bush campaign and its supporting PACs identified the furloughed convict as "Willie" Horton. Even the crusading anti-Dukakis newspaper that won a Pulitzer Prize for its expose on the furlough program consistently identifies Horton as William Horton or William Horton, Jr. When the Maryland man who was stabbed by the furloughed convict contacted the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, he too referred to Horton as William Horton. In his account of the attack in the PAC ad, however, that man, Clifford Barnes, instead identifies the convict as "Willie" Horton.

    One might trace the familiar "Willie" to the naming practices of slavemasters, to our patterns of talk about gangsters, or to the sort of benign paternalism that afflicts adults around small children. Whatever its origin, in discussions of murder, kidnapping, and rape, "Willie" summons more sinister images of criminality than does "William." After all, it wasn't J. "Eddie" Hoover who hunted down "Alphonse" Capone. And during his trial, the person to that point known as Willie Smith was identified by family and attorney as either William or Will. After his acquittal on charges of rape, the family reverted to the name by which he had been known before the trial.

    The televised PAC ad titled "Weekend Prison Passes," as well as the PAC ads featuring Horton's victims, all refer to him as "Willie Horton." When his mug shot appears on the screen of "Weekend Prison Passes," the name under it reads "Willie Horton." Reporters reduced Dukakis on crime to the Republican sculpted image of "Willie Horton." In news reports, "Willie" Horton's name was mentioned more often by reporters than by George Bush or any of his representatives. Use of dramatic, coherent narrative increases the likelihood of recall. Once the Horton narrative was embedded in public consciousness, mention of his name should have been sufficient to evoke the entire story.

  • Marc Ambinder's selective outrage

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Marc Ambinder:

    It's probably a little scuzzy for the Obama campaign to relitigate the Keating Five -- after all, it happened seventeen years ago, McCain was never charged, and he's acknowledged misjudgment -- what more can some reasonably expect out of him?

    "Scuzzy"?

    The Obama campaign's Keating Five criticisms are factual statements about actions McCain took as a public servant - he met with regulators on behalf of his wife's business partner, who had generously funded McCain's campaigns and flew him to lavish vacations on his private jet.

    The criticisms have to do with a banking collapse that was at least partially a result of deregulation, making them relevant to both the current financial situation and to McCain's general opposition to regulations. (Ambinder knows this: in a previous post, he wrote: "the Keating Five was a banking and financial scandal. So it fits better with the political environment than sudden attempts to re-raise Obama's associations with Ayers and Wright.")

    And, though the Keating Five happened years ago, it's a safe bet that the majority of voters don't know key details - such as the fact that McCain's wife was a business partner of Keating's - because the media has been politely ignoring the scandal for the bulk of this campaign.

    And Marc Ambinder says it's "scuzzy" for the Obama campaign to bring Keating up. That's laughable on its own merits - McCain was involved in what may be the most famous scandal in the history of the U.S. Senate, and his opponent isn't supposed to mention it? - but it is even more absurd in the context of Ambinder's reaction to recent attacks by McCain and his campaign.

    In three separate posts today, Ambinder notes the McCain campaign's criticisms of Obama's relationship with Jeremiah Wright - something that had nothing to do with actions Obama took as a public servant. In none of the three does Ambinder call the criticisms "scuzzy." The closest he comes to criticizing the McCain campaign for talking about Wright is saying it doesn't fit well "with the current political environment."

    Bill Ayers is mentioned at least in passing in five different Ambinder posts today. In none of them does Ambinder say it is "scuzzy" to bring Ayers up - even though the attack has nothing to do with Obama's performance as an elected official, even though Obama had nothing to do with Ayers' anti-war activities decades ago, and even though the McCain campaign has not been honest about Obama's relationship with Ayers. (Indeed, on Saturday, Ambinder repeated Sarah Palin's false description of Ayers as a "Pal" of Obama's, despite the fact that the New York Times article on which Palin based her comments specifically concluded that the two men "do not appear to have been close.")

    So: The McCain campaign is attacking Barack Obama not for things he has done as an elected official, but for things people he knows have done. And they are doing so dishonestly. But Marc Ambinder thinks it is "scuzzy" for the Obama campaign to make factual statements about things John McCain himself did - his use of public office on behalf of his wife's business partner and his political and personal benefactor.

  • USA Today can read Hillary Clinton's mind

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Or at least it tries to.

    The newspaper's Clinton article today is relatively straight-forward report on how Clinton is pitching in to help get Democrats, and especially Barack Obama, elected in November. It details the fundraisers she'll host.

    But here's the odd part, with emphasis added:

    Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton has raised more than $8 million for former rival Barack Obama's presidential campaign since July and plans to barnstorm the country for even more cash, as the New York senator works to show she is aggressively helping the candidate who cut short her White House bid.

    USA Today seems to suggest that Clinton isn't actually working aggressively to help Obama. She's working to show that she is helping Obama.

    See the difference between the two? And see why why it's really not USA Today's place, especially since it provides no evidence to back it up, to imply Clinton's campaign work is just for show and she's simply trying to create the perception that she's helping, rather than, y'know, actually helping.

    In other words, why didn't USA Today just write this:

    Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton has raised more than $8 million for former rival Barack Obama's presidential campaign since July and plans to barnstorm the country for even more cash, as the New York senator works aggressively to help the candidate who cut short her White House bid.

  • Stay classy NewsBusters

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Over the weekend, Brent Bozell's conservative crew of media critics noted the recent passing of Osborne Elliott, who served as Newsweek's editor from 1961 to 1976, and then presided over the Columbia School of Journalism until 1986. Elliott died at the age of 83.

    So how did NewsBuster mark the sad passing of a prominent journalists who left the newsroom decades ago? By going through Bozell's archives and finding ancient quotes that proved how Elliott was part of the "Angry Left" that "populated the highest levels of the mainstream news media."

    And yes, the McCarthy-like "highest levels" was an especially classy touch.

  • Conservative media and marketplace woes

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Maybe they need a different message.

    First came news last week that after losing tens of millions trying to attract a neocon following, the conservative New York Sun was folding

    Now comes word of the Hollywood turkey laid over the weekend in the form of An American Carol, a "comedy" that ridicules liberals and Micael Moore in particular.

    Former Hollywood producer Jane Hamsher dissects the movei's absolutely anemic per-screen box office returns.

  • The David Brooks contradiction, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    At Crooks and Liars, bluegal notes the continued hypocrisy coming from the NYT columnist, especially when it comes to defending/promoting Sarah Palin:

    David Brooks continues his journey as a conservative apostate. He no longer believes in the Republican Party anymore, but then looks in the mirror and realizes he's a bishop in their church. After admitting that Sarah Palin isn't qualified to be President, Brooks praises her for winning the debate.

  • RE: Regarding Gwen Ifill

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Last week, Eric wrote:

    Believe it or not, there are more than four of five Americans who are qualified to moderate a debate. It's time for the commission to branch out and tap other talent.

    Here's a good sign he's right: On Meet the Press yesterday, VP debate moderator Gwen Ifill said Sarah Palin "more than ignored" her questions, adding, "Blew me off i think is the technical term." As Brad DeLong notes, it's one thing for Ifill to say three days later that Palin wasn't answering the questions asked of her -- but she should have done it during the debate:

    When you are running a debate, and when one participant doesn't answer your questions. You say: "governor, please answer my question." Gwen Ifill didn't do that.

  • McCain and press, pals for life?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Despite running an anti-media campaign, and despite columnists like Richard Cohen and Joe Klein announcing their public break-ups with McCain, the GOP candidate won't have trouble re-igniting the Beltway media's passion after Nov. 4, according to Michael Shaffer at TNR:

    Candidates like John McCain don't have to change their behavior when the pundits get on their high horses. They know that their reputations will be bailed out eventually.