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.”