Ambinder slams media coverage of Sestak/Romanoff

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder gives the Sestak/Romanoff nonstory -- and the journalists responsible for it -- a sound thrashing:

[P]ractice -- and not simply underhanded practice, but open, above-board practice, since the time those laws were written suggests that the law's authors intended them as a bulwark against official corruption, not against the mixing of politics and policy. In other words, if you apply an originalist reading of these statutes, you will not end up with anything remotely resembling an indictable offense. What keeps this story alive is the media's feeding off the energy that can be generated from deliberately misconstruing the law and its intent.

It is simply not illegal for the White House to offer him an alternative to running against their preferred candidate. There is a reason why no one has ever been prosecuted for this crime.

Making this distinction is critical, because the moment these claims are treated as valid claims, rather than politically-motivated cant, is the moment that they become legitimate facts worthy of a debate, and of news coverage. See this story in USA Today: "Obama under fire for election tactics by Sestak, Romanoff." Under fire ... because USA Today has decided that the charges warrant the label.

The media ecosystem is such that the denials and fact-checking and common sense will serve to reinforce the conviction (if it, indeed, is real) by those making these allegations that there must be something to the story.

More potentially pernicious than liberal bias, than the false equivalences bias, than really just about any other bias that journalism that inject into a public discussion of a story is the power that comes from merely selecting which subjects to cover. Whatever the collection of facts about White House officials attempting to influence primary elections is, it is not a scandal. It is not the type of story that journalists with credibility and experience should be selecting to cover. It's the type of story that journalists ought to resist covering, precisely because the act of giving it attention elevates the arguments that don't correspond with the truth. If journalism is good for anything, it is to provide what Republican Bruce Bartlett calls "quality control" over the narrative. Well, a big mess just slipped by.

Although Obama never promised to abstain from politics, he invited some of this scrutiny by refusing to delineate what he found acceptable and what he did not. But this is a venial sin compared to the transgressions of organized journalism. [Emphasis added]

Oh, just go read the whole thing.

The Atlantic
Marc Ambinder
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