It's not every day that you see a reporter call the media useless, but that's precisely what Aaron Blake of the Washington Post did today when he published this piece giving cover for politicians -- Mitt Romney in particular -- who attack their opponents with wildly out-of-context quotes. The true context won't really matter, argued Blake, because the attacks work:
Context is dead. Long live context.
For the second time in two weeks, Mitt Romney's campaign has an out-of-context quote it can use to bludgeon President Obama. First it was "You didn't build that," and now it's two ill-fated words that Obama spoke at a fundraiser Monday: "It worked."
As with "You didn't build that," the Romney campaign's attacks on "It worked" will be criticized for being out-of-context, lowest-common-denominator politics. And as with "You didn't build that," "It worked" is going to ... well ... work.
Romney may be attacked in the days ahead for running an out-of-context campaign, and some objective reporters might even say it has gone too far.
But the fact is that these two comments further clarify a picture (or caricature, depending on where you stand) of Obama that's already out there. And plenty of -- nay, almost all -- people who don't dissect this stuff as much as we do are going to take the pulled quotes at face value.
Is it warm and fuzzy? No. Does it work? Yes. And that's why they do it.
That's some fairly epic question-begging. How do we know it works? Because they're doing it. OK, but...
Go back and read that highlighted section again: "Plenty of -- nay, almost all -- people who don't dissect this stuff as much as we do are going to take the pulled quotes at face value." I was under the impression that we have political reporters who will dissect this stuff and determine whether such attacks are fair and accurate precisely so other people won't take them at face value. That whole "informed electorate" thing.
But Aaron Blake says that's pretty much a waste of time because the attacks will "work" regardless, which reduces the role of political journalists to that of... what? Scorekeepers? Vaguely interested cynics?
It's hard to know what to say when you see a reporter acknowledge that a candidate isn't being truthful and then brush it off with "eh, it's working."
Here's the dumbest article of the week, courtesy of The Hill:
Polls suggest healthcare debate a boon to GOP candidates running for Senate
By Aaron Blake - 11/12/09 04:45 PM ET
The healthcare battle appears to be helping Republicans running for the Senate.
Two Quinnipiac polls released Thursday show the leading GOP candidates in Connecticut and Ohio growing their leads.
Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) leads Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), 49-38, and former Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has opened his first leads over two potential Democratic opponents.
The surveys are the first major Senate polls since the House passed its healthcare bill on Saturday.
And here's a Quinnipiac press release about its Connecticut poll:
From November 3 - 8, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,236 Connecticut registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points. The survey includes 474 Democrats with a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percentage points and 332 Republicans with a margin of error of +/- 5.4 percentage points.
So the poll was conducted from November 3 - 8. And The Hill thinks it reflects public reaction to a House vote that took place late in the day on November 7.
A House vote, by the way, that neither Dodd nor Simmons cast, as neither of them is a member of the House of Representatives.
And here's Quinnipiac's press release about the Ohio poll:
From November 5 - 9, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,123 Ohio voters, with a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points. The survey includes 406 Republicans and 394 Democrats, each with a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points.
That's a little better, but for three of the five days the poll was in the field, the House health care vote had not yet happened. And, like Connecticut, nobody in the Ohio Senate race cast a vote, as none of them are members of the House of Representatives.
Here's a tip for The Hill: As a general rule of thumb, polling tends not to reflect public reaction to events that have not yet occurred.
UPDATE: From Quinnipiac's Ohio press release -- and not mentioned in The Hill's article -- "Ohio voters support 53 - 40 percent giving people the option of a government health insurance plan. Independent voters support this public option 55 - 38 percent." Quinnipiac found even more support for a public option in Connecticut, with 56 percent supporting such an option, and only 37 percent opposing.