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Political Media Loves Gossipy Book That Ignores Political Media’s Role In Election

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You know the drill. After every losing presidential campaign, there will be multiple books consisting of random inside baseball anecdotes from the losing campaign. They will get fawning reviews and the Mark Halperin one will get made into an HBO movie. The core premise of all such books is that structural factors are irrelevant, and that a campaign losing proves that the losing campaign was worse. The strategists with access to the reporter assure the reporter that they were right about everything but were ignored; field offices assure the reporter that they would have won if given enough money; disagreements within the campaign team are revealed; self-interested claims are always taken at face value if they reflect badly on the losing campaign. And, critically, the role played by the media is always ignored. Michiko Kakutani’s review of the first quickie campaign book hits every mark, but let’s just consider this:

There was a perfect storm of other factors, of course, that contributed to Clinton’s loss, including Russian meddling in the election to help elect Trump; the controversial decision by the F.B.I. director, James Comey, to send a letter to Congress about Clinton’s emails less than two weeks before Election Day; and the global wave of populist discontent with the status quo (signaled earlier in the year by the British “Brexit” vote) that helped fuel the rise of both Trump and Bernie Sanders. In a recent interview, Clinton added that she believed “misogyny played a role” in her loss.

[…]

After a planned appearance in Green Bay with President Obama was postponed, the authors write, Clinton never set foot in Wisconsin, a key state. In fact, they suggest, the campaign tended to take battleground states like Wisconsin and Michigan (the very states that would help hand the presidency to Trump) for granted until it was too late, and instead looked at expanding the electoral map beyond Democratic-held turf and traditional swing states to places like Arizona.

The Comey letter (which almost certainly changed the outcome of the campaign) and Russian interference (which might have, but the impact is much harder to measure) are given the usual yadda-yadda graf that makes no effort to determine how important they were and is written in a matter that suggests that even bringing them up is whining. On the other hand, resource allocation decisions that we know were not decisive (insufficient resources dedicated to WI and MI) are asserted to be crucial causal factors. But, again, the problem is that neither campaign devoted much attention to Michigan, and Clinton fought hard and consistently outspent Trump in Pennsylvania. The latter case is crucial, not only because WI and MI are meaningless without PA, but the outcome in PA shows that you can’t just assume that dedicating more resources would have changed the outcome. But, of course, the acknowledging that campaign tactics are a rather minor factor in determining the outcome of presidential elections would completely undermine books that argue that campaign tactics are massively important.

And the yadda-yadda graf is also notable for what’s missing — the media. Kakutani’s newspaper devoted 5 (out of 6) above-the-fold stories to Comey’s “controversial” letter the weekend after it came out. As Kakutani tastefully omits, like so many media outlets the Times was played — there was no basis for the belief that Weiner’s laptop would contain evidence implicating Clinton and the FBI quickly determined that it didn’t. The Times played a major role in amplifying the FBI director’s baseless implication that Clinton was a crook less than two weeks before the election. So I think why you can see why Kakutani passes over this remarkable and unique aspect of the 2016 campaign in a few words before returning to the bog-standard, unfalsifiable second-guessing that happens after every losing campaign.

But it’s a nice racket. Amazingly enough, pundits who were obsessed with Clinton’s EMAILS! are very pleased by books which assure them that they were irrelevant to the campaign:

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Does the Clinton campaign need self-examination? Sure. But so does the media, and all signs are that we’re never getting it.

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