The Washington Post is allowing George Will to engage in an "out-and-out conflict of interest" by promoting the work of a conservative advocacy group that's connected to him through financial grants.
Will wrote a June 25 Post piece attacking Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court's recent decision on the Affordable Care Act. For support, Will cited a lawyer for the Institute for Justice (IJ), who claimed that the United States is becoming "a country in which all the branches of government work in tandem to achieve policy outcomes, instead of checking one another to protect individual rights. Besides violating the separation of powers, this approach raises serious issues about whether litigants before the courts are receiving the process that is due to them under the Constitution."
Will and the Post did not disclose that the Institute for Justice is funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, where Will is a member of the board of directors. The foundation notes on its website that it "substantially supports IJ." The Bradley Foundation directly gave IJ over $500,000 from 2011-2013 (the most recent year available), according to its annual reports. It awarded IJ's president, William H. "Chip" Mellor, a 2012 "Bradley Prize" along with a stipend of $250,000. The foundation states that board members are responsible for grant-making decisions.
The lack of disclosure is perplexing given that the Post previously noted Will's financial connections to IJ. A Nexis search for "Institute for Justice" and "Bradley Foundation" in the Post did not return any results except for an August 21, 2009, correction about Will's ties ("he is a board member of the Bradley Foundation, which has contributed funding to the Institute for Justice").
Washington Post writer Erik Wemple has criticized his colleague's "out-and-out conflict of interest" in previously promoting Bradley Foundation recipients, explaining:
Here, Will touted an outlet funded generously by a group he helps to lead. And thanks to the columnist's kind words, WILL [Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty] may have an easier time finding funders outside of the Bradley Foundation. All very cozy, synergistic and, as media critics might say, an out-and-out conflict of interest -- an offense of which Will has been accused before.
Will defended himself regarding his lack of disclosure last year, claiming, in part, that "I see no reason -- no service to readers -- to disclose my several degrees of separation from the program: My tenuous connection has no bearing on what I think about what they do. There comes a point when disclosure of this and that becomes clutter, leaving readers to wonder what the disclosed information has to do with anything."
Media ethicists and journalism veterans have criticized Will for the practice, calling it a breach of journalistic ethics. As Media Matters has documented, Will has a long history of ethical misfires despite being long employed by a leading national newspaper.
Only one Republican presidential candidate reportedly made an appearance at the 32nd annual National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) convention, despite Republican National Committee and several GOP presidential hopefuls committing to reach out to Hispanic Americans. The snub comes after years of right-wing media's demonizing Hispanics and urging the GOP to take extreme positions on immigration.
The Washington Post reported on June 17 that of the more than one dozen announced and likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates, "only one -- retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson -- showed" up to the convention of elected federal, state, and local Latino leaders.
According the Post, many of the campaigns blamed "scheduling conflicts" for their absence, while "at least 13 GOP candidates plan to be in Washington this week to address the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to the Majority' conference, the latest in a busy series of presidential cattle-call events for social conservatives." The article continued:
"All I can say is that schedules reflect priorities," said Arturo Vargas, NALEO's executive director. "Of course they should be here."
Made up of federal, state and local elected officials, including mayors, law enforcement officers and school board members, NALEO is nonpartisan, although many of its members are Democrats. Prominent Republicans have addressed the conference in past years, including Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and the last two GOP presidential nominees, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).
GOP leaders have urged the need to engage the Latino community for years, arguing that Latinos will be key to winning the presidency in 2016. After Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election to President Obama, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told The New Yorker that "if Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community ... in a few short years Republicans will no longer be the majority party in our state." Cruz also asserted that "the Republican Party would cease to exist" if it did not do more to reach out to Hispanics.
In 2013, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus stressed that the party must reach out to minority voters. And in March of this year, presidential candidate Jeb Bush told a gathering of Tennessee Republicans that "the next Republican president that will win will reach out to the Latino community."
Similarly, in April, GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio told NPR that reaching out to "people from minority communities," like Latinos, is imperative for the Republican party because "if you think someone doesn't care or understand people like you, no matter what your policies are, it's going to be difficult to get them to listen to you, much less vote for you."
And in May, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), another Republican presidential candidate, appeared on Fox to push the importance of minority outreach, saying that he is "willing to show up" for minority communities.
Fox News contributor and radio host Laura Ingraham has repeatedly attacked Republicans for supporting immigration reform by threatening to blame them for terrorist attacks and suggesting such support could be "the end of the road" for their political careers. Rush Limbaugh explicitly urged the GOP to ignore the Hispanic vote while mocking candidates who do reach out to the Latino community. Limbaugh's idea of connecting with Latino voters includes playing "Feliz Navidad" on the radio, while Fox host Andrea Tantaros mocked Hillary Clinton's dinner at Chipotle as her attempts as "Hispanic outreach."
In 2013, The Week's Joe Gandelman outlined right-wing media's deep influence on the GOP, explaining that "[t]o truly rebrand, the GOP must extricate itself from a talk radio political culture that glorifies and rewards confrontation, brinksmanship, snarkiness, over-the-top verbal demonization and division -- and considers consensus oh, so 20th century, and compromise as something akin to treason." Gandelman continued:
The goals of the conservative media and conservative politicians don't always mesh. And herein lies the GOP's problem.
Limbaugh rapidly became less funny and more partisan. He impacted elections and created the model for partisan talk radio. When Fox News debuted in 1996, it grafted talk radio onto news. Talk radio is today as important in keeping the 21st century's divisive incarnation of conservatism intact as Republicans redistricting in many states is in ensuring a Republican House and convincing House GOPers to reject compromise if they want to avoid right-wing primary challenges.
So what can we expect? Some slight tempering of official rhetoric, maybe. But nothing more.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made news on his first official day as a GOP presidential candidate by suggesting that Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical on climate change could inappropriately push religion "into the political realm" and declaring: "I don't get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope." But the media should be covering Bush's remarks in the context of a closed-door meeting he held with coal industry CEOs earlier this month -- an important piece of information that could shed some light on who Bush is actually getting his "economic policy" from when it comes to climate change.
Bush's June 1 appearance at the Coal & Investment Leadership Forum was first revealed in a May 29 report by The Guardian, based on materials the newspaper received from the Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit watchdog group. As The Guardian reported at the time:
The former Florida governor is appearing at the invitation of six coalmining company owners and executives: Joe Craft III of Alliance Resource Partners, Kevin Crutchfield of Alpha Natural Resources, Nick DeIuliis of Consol Energy, Garry Drummond of Drummond Company, John Eaves of Arch Coal, and Jim McGlothlin of United Coal Company.
Between them, the six companies have spent more than $17.4m on campaigns and lobbying since the last presidential elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics Open Secrets website.
The Guardian further noted that the meeting occurred "at a critical time for the energy industry and for Bush's political ambitions," with the Environmental Protection Agency "expected to finalize new rules for carbon pollution from power plants this summer" and Bush "relatively free of fundraising disclosure requirements until the official launch of his presidential campaign."
Several media outlets parroted Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's economic message after he claimed his administration would oversee 4 percent economic growth and the creation of up to 19 million new jobs. But economists argue that his goals are unrealistic, and question the impact any single president can have on "decades-long trends."
A poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 20 percent of women who attended college in the past four years were sexually assaulted, contrary to claims in the right-wing media that the problem of campus sexual assault is overblown.
The poll of 1,053 men and women, conducted by phone between January and March, found that 20 percent of women and five percent of men reported being sexually assaulted either by force or while incapacitated. A further 11 percent of women reported an attempted assault.
The poll also underlined the problem of under-reporting in sexual assault cases, with three-quarters of victims saying they told someone else, but only 11 percent saying they told the police or college authorities. 89 percent said no one was held responsible or punished for the incident.
Men and women in the poll were sharply divided on what they perceive to be the rate of campus sexual assault, too: "58 percent of men believe the share of women sexually assaulted at their school is less than 1 in 5. An identical majority of women believe the share assaulted is 1 in 5 or greater."
The Post story highlighted the stories of some of the women who were given follow-up interviews:
A 21-year-old at a public university in the Southeast who participated in the poll said she was raped by a male student who escorted her out of a nightclub after she suddenly became woozy and separated from a group of friends. Someone, she suspects, had slipped a drug into her rum drink.
"In the morning, I woke up and my lip was so swollen," the woman said. "I just remember sobbing and sobbing and sobbing the next day. You learn a lot of lessons."
Like most who said they had been assaulted, the woman did not report the incident to university officials or police. She said she worried about whether she would ruin the man's future and wondered what to make of what had happened: Had there been a misunderstanding? Should she have been more vehement in saying no? She remembers clearly crying during the attack. She knew it was rape. But how would others see it?
Many in the right-wing media have downplayed concerns about college sexual assault. Previous studies with similar findings caused widespread outrage among right-wing media figures when the White House cited them in its campus sexual assault strategy launch, with the Daily Caller describing a Centers for Disease Control study that found one in five women is sexually assaulted in college as "bizarre and wholly false." On an NRA News show, The Washington Examiner's Ashe Schow claimed that the "one in five myth" was driving "hysteria" on campuses. And Rush Limbaugh went so far as to call the issue of college sexual assault "fake" and "made up."
Last year, the Post's own George Will described efforts to combat such assaults as an attempt to "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privilege," calling a 20 percent assault rate "preposterous." Not long after the poll's publication, the Post's fact-checker Glenn Kessler tweeted that he was removing the single "Pinocchio" that he had given President Obama for his citation of the one-in-five statistic.
The raucous political warfare of the 1990s returned into view late last week with the stunning news that former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is under indictment for allegedly agreeing to pay more than $3 million in hush money to cover up sexual abuse involving a male student at a high school where Hastert taught decades ago.
Hastert's unsettling case doesn't have anything to do with partisan politics, per se. But his rise to the speakership back in 1998 sure did. Like virtually everything else inside the Beltway at the time, Hastert's promotion revolved around the Republicans' relentless impeachment pursuit against President Bill Clinton. And today, Hastert's alleged crime once again throws into focus what a strange and hypocritical spectacle it was for GOP men to play sex cop and crusade for impeachment.
The impeachment of Bill Clinton defined American politics in the 1990s. It also defined the Beltway press, which still clings to many of the bad Clinton-related habits it formed that decade. The impeachment farce, where the press teamed up with Republicans to wage war on a Democrat, could also explain why the Clintons today might not fully trust the media as Hillary Clinton expands her presidential run and the press stands "primed" to take her down.
Why won't Hillary Clinton open up to the press? Why can't Bill and Hillary handle the media? Why has she "withdrawn into a gilded shell"? Why does she wear media "armor"? Those questions have been rehashed in recent months as journalists focus on themselves and what role they'll play in the unfolding nomination contest.
A suggestion: Follow the path back to Dennis Hastert's impeachment era for clues to those Clinton press questions.
During the 1990s, Hastert remained a firm advocate of impeachment, at one point condemning the president for his "inability to abide by the law." Hastert stressed, "The evidence in President Clinton's case is overwhelming that he has abused and violated the public trust."
Of course it was the impeachment imbroglio that elevated Hastert, indirectly, to his lofty position of speaker of the House; a position he later leveraged into millions by becoming a very wealthy lobbyist.
The background: Former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced to resign in 1998 after the impeachment-obsessed GOP faced disastrous midterm losses. (Gingrich later admitted he was engaged in an affair with a Congressional aide at the time.) Up next was Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. "One of the loudest of those calling for the House to impeach Clinton over an extra-marital affair," noted the National Journal, Livingston was soon ousted after he was forced to publicly confess to committing adultery "on occasion."
Into that void stepped Hastert.
That means all three Republican House leaders who pursued Clinton's impeachment have now confessed or been accused of sexual and moral transgressions themselves. Those were the people the D.C press took its cues from during the impeachment charade?
As Orin Kerr noted in the Washington Post following the Hastert indictment:
If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.
While some in the press have conceded that the '90s impeachment was a strange circus, the truth is the Beltway press basically served as executive producers for the GOP's doomed theatrical run. It was the media elite who legitimized for years the right-wing's Javert-like pursuit of all things Clinton. "So much of the media was invested in breathless, often uncritical coverage of Clinton's impeachment," wrote Josh Marshall at Salon in 2002, while detailing the final release of the independent prosecutor's $70 million Clinton investigation.
Put another way, the same D.C. press corps that openly taunted the Clintons for years in the '90s, culminating with impeachment, is the same D.C. press corps that's now openly taunting them, for instance, regarding the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton's emails, and anything/everything else that can be presented as a Clinton "scandal" story.
That's why when the New York Times story about Hillary Clinton's email account first broke in March, "The media and politicos and Twitterati immediately responded with all the measured cautious skepticism we've come to expect in response to any implication of a Clinton Scandal," noted Wonkette. "That is to say, none." And that's why Times columnist and chief Clinton sex chronicler Maureen Dowd has, to date, published 100 columns mentioning "Lewinsky."
More than twenty years ago, the Clintons understood that the so-called liberal media was working with conservative activists and Republican prosecutors to try to destroy Bill's presidency. For the GOP, the motivation was purely partisan. For the press, it seemed to be a mix of careerism (Clinton bashing proved to be good for business), combined with a genuine dislike of the Clintons.
Today, it's often difficult to recapture just how completely bonkers the D.C. media establishment went during the impeachment saga, and how on some days it seemed journalists were more pruriently obsessed with the Clintons than their tireless Republican tormentors. The recent Hastert sexual abuse allegation helps bring into focus the absurdity of the era, and reminds us why, as a new campaign season unfolds, the Clintons might not fully trust the Beltway media.
Some conservative media pundits suggested 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) may have disqualified himself from the presidency after his opposition to the National Security Agency's bulk phone collections program caused parts of the PATRIOT Act to lapse.
On May 26, Sen. Bernie Sanders hosted his first major campaign rally since announcing his presidential candidacy last month. Staged on the banks of Lake Champlain in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont, the Sanders rally reportedly drew more than five thousand people, making it one of the largest campaign events of 2015, hosted by either a Democrat or a Republican.
But the sprawling rally didn't cause much of a media stir. Rather than cover it as a major news event, the Washington Post ignored the rally in its print edition the next day, as did the New York Times, according to a search of the Nexis database. The network news programs that night covered the event in just a few sentences.
At a time when it seems any movement on the Republican side of the candidate field produces instant and extensive press coverage, more and more observers are suggesting there's something out of whack with Sanders' press treatment.
And they're right.
As the Vermont liberal spreads his income equality campaign message, the press corps seems unsure of how to cover him. In the month since he announced his bid, Sanders' coverage seems to pale in comparison to comparable Republican candidates who face an arduous task of obtaining their party's nomination. The reluctance is ironic, since the D.C. press corps for months brayed loudly about how Hillary Clinton must face a primary challenger. Now she has one and the press can barely feign interest?
As for the media attention Sanders does receive, a lot of it attempts to place him and his liberal policies outside the mainstream of American politics. Yes, he's a proud socialist, but note that most of the GOP's White House hopefuls are adamant climate deniers. No matter, the Beltway press doesn't portray them as political outliers.
Media are hyping claims that Carly Fiorina's 2016 bid for the GOP presidential nomination renders the Republican "war on women" neutral -- because both parties now have women running for office -- dismissing how Fiorina's policy positions would harm women.
Ever since Peter Schweizer's new attack book Clinton Cash was touted as the must-read tome of the campaign season, a growing number of media organizations, including Politico, BuzzFeed, ABC News, FactCheck.org, and Time, have detailed factual shortcomings in the book. (Media Matters has, too.) Noticeably absent from that fact-checking procession has been The New York Times and the Washington Post, the two newspapers that entered into exclusive editorial agreements with Clinton Cash's publisher.
The Times' and Post's seeming lack of interest in detailing the book's long list of misstatements certainly raises questions about whether the papers' exclusive pacts made the dailies reluctant to highlight Clinton Cash's obvious shortcomings.
After all, if those other media organizations can find the Clinton Cash errors, why can't the Times and the Post? And even if Times and Post reporters can't spot the misinformation, why aren't they at least writing about the key revelations that others are uncovering? Recall that it was the Times that trumpeted Clinton Cash as the "the most anticipated and feared book" of the campaign season. If it's so important, why isn't the Times documenting the crucial errors found between the Clinton Cash covers?
Hyped by its publisher -- the Rupert Murdoch-owned HarperCollins -- as being "meticulously researched and scrupulously sourced," Clinton Cash has instead turned out to be a mishmash of allegations glued together by innuendo and falsehoods. That, according to an array of news outlets that have documented the book's shortcomings.
Reports by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters and NPR uncritically relayed climate science deniers' criticism of the Vatican's climate change summit and Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical on climate change. By contrast, other media coverage -- including a different New York Times article -- noted that the organization behind these efforts has received funding from fossil fuel interests and their claim that humans are not responsible for global warming is firmly rejected by the vast majority of climate scientists.
James Carville is a guest contributor to Media Matters.
On March 12, I posted on Media Matters to discuss what I called the Clinton Rule. The Clinton Rule is as follows: There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for Hillary and Bill Clinton.
Well this week we got the ultimate proof of the Clinton Rule when The New York Times got its hands on a copy of Clinton Cash, a forthcoming book which purportedly claims that the State Department received favors from foreign entities that donated to The Clinton Foundation. Now, I wasn't the least bit surprised that the conservative media echo chamber immediately reverberated with cries of the "very damning" "bombshell," of a book that "could threaten [Hillary's] campaign." And I say purportedly because almost no one has read the book yet.
Here's the thing that did surprise me:
Never have we seen a more instant classic for followers of the Clinton Rule than with this latest tome. The book isn't even slated to be released for several weeks and yet The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Fox News are in cahoots with the author -- reporting on what might be inside. I'll run you through the playbook.
Let's start with the facts. The star of this latest instance of the Clinton Rule is the author, Peter Schweizer. He's a discredited fringe conservative activist and former political aide to the likes of George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Bobby Jindal. That's a trifecta that pays a high dollar for pushing right wing conspiracies. Schweizer has worked for such "reputable" publications as Breitbart.com -- the same Breitbart.com that once called gun safety advocate Gabby Giffords a "human shield" for the gun safety movement. His right wing bona fides don't end there. Schweizer is even listed as a contributor to one of former Fox News host Glenn Beck's books.
Speaking of Schweizer's work -- back in 1998 he took on the "gay subculture" that was "blossoming" at Walt Disney World. In Disney: The Mouse Betrayed -- which is not listed on Schweizer's website with his other works -- he attacked the "gay activism" at the theme park, with special attention for the annual Gay Day at the Magic Kingdom. "There is a lot of openly displayed affection during the event -- holding hands, kissing, and the like," Schweizer wrote. God forbid.
Here's the deal, Peter Schweizer's new book out May 5 is likely to have serious problems -- one embarrassing error has reportedly already been found. As Media Matters noted this week, Schweizer has been called out at least ten times by journalists and independent fact checkers for getting his facts wrong in his previous articles and books. His past work has been called "incorrect," "bogus," and "a fatal shortcoming in journalism 101." In short, he's a SERIAL MISINFORMER.
Yet, The New York Times, Washington Post, and Fox News have all made exclusive agreements with Schweizer for early access to pursue "the story lines found in the book." I'm not shocked that Fox News took the shady deal here since Harper Collins, which is publishing Schweizer's book, is also owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and is the sister company of Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox. But I'm hard pressed to find any reason why The New York Times and The Washington Post would do the same except for the Clinton Rule.
The rule where every piece of nonsense the press can grab onto about the Clintons gets headline after headline.
But here's the thing, friends. The last time I remember a major media outlet hyping a right wing book this much was when CBS' 60 Minutes got duped by a guy whose tall tale included him scaling a 12 foot wall on the side of the diplomatic compound in Benghazi and dispatching a terrorist with his rifle butt. We all know how that ended: a book pulled from publication, a 60 Minutes report retracted, and a "journalistic review" which ended with a CBS reporter and producer taking a leave of absence.
All I'm saying here folks is this: The bottom line is that mainstream media must be up for the challenge. To all the reporters wanting to push the limits and take an advance look into the claims of a guy whose history of reporting is marked by errors and retractions, I say it's time to break the Clinton Rule. But in this case, I'm afraid the smarter bet is that we are going to see the same playbook over and over again.
Again, let me repeat what the Clinton Rule is: There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for the Clintons. After the latest antics on the part of The New York Times I am forced to add to the Clinton Rule. At The New York Times when it comes to the Clintons, there are no rules.
Syndicated columnist George Will claimed that fossil fuel divestment is an ineffective exercise in "right-mindedness" that will only serve to harm universities' endowments, returning to arguments he made almost 30 years ago to dismiss divestment from apartheid South Africa. But many financial analysts have determined that divesting from fossil fuels has a negligible or even positive impact on institutions' investment portfolios, and the track record of past divestment campaigns -- including in South Africa -- suggests that the current movement can be successful by stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry.
Media outlets trumpeted likely Republican presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie as striving to be "authentic and brave" for proposing harmful cuts to Social Security benefits that would include raising the retirement age.
Speaking in New Hampshire on April 14, the New Jersey governor laid out a series of proposed broad changes to Social Security benefits, including means tests for seniors making $80,000 a year in non-Social Security income and a phase-out of all payments for those making above $200,000. Christie also proposed raising the retirement age at which seniors can receive benefits to 69 and the early retirement age to 64.
Many media outlets characterized Christie as a straight-shooter for his proposal, describing him as attempting to paint himself as a teller of hard truths.
The Wall Street Journal, for example, wrote that Christie had "moved to depict himself as the fiscal truth-teller of the Republican presidential field" with his proposal, calling it "provocative, and risky." A Washington Post opinion piece said Christie was "positioning himself, like other would-be presidents of the past, as the one guy willing to talk straight about the government's unsustainable finances." An NBC News article on the proposal was titled "Chris Christie Sells 'Hard Truths' on Social Security Reform," while a Business Insider headline declared, "Chris Christie's plan to win the White House is to tell people what they don't want to hear." Fortune's Nina Easton claimed on Fox News' Happening Now that Christie's proposal "plays into the narrative that he's authentic and brave and tells it like it is."
Painting Christie as seeking to be seen as a "brave" and "authentic" truth-teller in coverage of his proposed Social Security cuts not only helps the likely GOP candidate spread his desired narrative, but it masks the harmful impact such cuts would have on the poor and middle class.
"Raising the retirement age is terrible for the poor," Vox explained, despite Christie's contention that his plan would only affect the rich. Raising the retirement and early retirement age would effectively constitute "an across-the-board benefit cut of almost 10 percent in Americans' lifetime Social Security benefits." As economist Teresa Ghilarducci told PBS Newshour, "Evidence shows that many older workers are simply not able to work past traditional retirement age without substantial suffering. Reducing their retirement income and throwing them off medical insurance will create a new cohort of impoverished elderly, reversing the tangible gains in reducing old age poverty made since the Great Depression."
What's more, Mother Jones' Kevin Drum noted, cutting benefits for those making over $200,000 is unlikely to save the program much money, given how few recipients earn that much. His estimations are backed up by a 2011 Center for Economic and Policy Research study, which found that 90 percent of Social Security recipients earn less than $50,000 in non-social security income.
When it comes to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who announced his presidential campaign this week, over and over the press' to-go description is "charismatic." That adjective has been making the rounds in the Financial Times, Vox, NPR, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. There's been heated agreement among reporters and pundits that Rubio is unquestionably magnetic and alluring.
For candidates, of course, "charismatic" represents a coveted label that elevates a politician above the ordinary. It signals that he or she is a bold communicator who can tap into voters' emotions; who can inspire and motivate in a way most mundane practitioners cannot.
There's certainly nothing wrong with dispensing compliments to politicians. But as the campaign season unfolds and media memes are formed around candidates (Al Gore never shook the press' "exaggerator" tag), it seems worth noting, as New York magazine highlighted, how the Beltway press years ago concluded that the much sought-after "charismatic" tag would be applied to Rubio, and it would be applied to him no matter what trajectory his career was on.
The "charismatic" term is clearly subjective and is used by journalists who seem to consider Rubio to be a transcendent speaker and politician. What's curious though, is that journalists often don't point to speeches or events in Rubio's past that confirm his "charismatic" status. Instead, the compliment has been doled out for years matter-of-factly. For instance, from the New York Times and Washington Post:
* "Marco Rubio, the charismatic senator-elect from Florida" (Nov. 26, 2010, New York Times]
* "Mr. Rubio, a charismatic Latino senator from a crucial swing state" (March 29, 2012. New York Times)
* "[A] charismatic young Republican senator from Miami, Marco Rubio" (March 22, 2015. New York Times)
* "Marco Rubio, the charismatic young Cuban American who has captured the hearts of conservatives around the country" (April 10, 2010. Washington Post)
* "The charismatic Cuban American lawmaker from Florida," (Oct. 26, 2011. Washington Post)
* "The 43-year-old senator from Florida and charismatic son of immigrants" (April 6, 2015. Washington Post)
Note that there are no caveats. The Times and Post usually don't suggest that it's supporters who see Rubio as "charismatic." And they don't use the adjective to describe a Rubio speech. Instead, for the Times and Post (and many, many other news outlets), Rubio's "charismatic" nature is simply presented as fact, like his age or hometown.