Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Blogosphere Is Not a Good Place for the Fainthearted, the Thin of Skin; as TIME Swampland Blogger Jay Carney Shows Us

In this post, Jay Carney, a blogger for a TIME website, suggested that President Bush in his State of the Union address would copy Clinton, who "[i]n late 1994 and early 1995…was in free fall." That is, according to leaked previews, Mr. Bush would not "spend much time tonight [Jan. 23rd] talking about surging troops in Iraq or the Global War on Terror. Instead, he'll put forward what for him will be progressive and bold policy proposals on health care, the environment and immigration reform." This tactic was based on the premise that "Americans reward presidents who, even in the face of enormous distractions, focus on issues that matter to them."

Unfortunately, President Clinton's numbers were well above the 40s by the time 1994 rolled around, and in the high fifties during the darkest days of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which he also refers to. Moreover, the improvement in the economy, which I assume was the unstated "distraction" behind the purported poll numbers, was behind the improvement in Mr. Clinton's fortunes. In addition, he made an unfortunate, if (in that particular State of the Union speech context) inconsequential, error, in forgetting that it was the Vice President (Al Gore), not the Majority Leader (Robert Dole), who was the President of the Senate.

The comments begin with predictable comments unfavorable to Mr. Bush. But some readers wrote in to point to Mr. Carney's mistakes, in kind and, more often than not, not so kind words. Moreover, many of the subsequent comments turned into accusations against Mr. Carney not only of incompetence, but also of dissing Clinton to help the Bush adminstration. The two threads of thought, that is Mr. Carney's errors and Mr. Bush's sins, had bled into each other in the minds of many of the subsequent posters.

Now Mr. Carney never made any claims that he himself believed that the Iraq War was another one of those "enormous distractions". In fact, at the end of his post, he states that Mr. Bush's "plight is so dire, and his fate so inextricably tied to [the Iraq] issue, that no matter what he proposes tonight, he is unlikely to lighten the public's sour mood, about him or the state of the union he governs." So, what he did was, he thanked the people, particularly the ones who did so in a civil manner, to point out his errors and, and that he regretted the fact that his errors blinded so many Clinton fans to the fact that he did not believe that the Bush administration's analogy worked and that he thus concluded that the ploy would not work. Not.

In fact, with an aptitude for hole-digging propensity that only a true Keynesian (or fellow journalist, let's fact it) could love, he lambasted (this word never fails to conjure an image of a whole lamb, turning slowly on a pit while someone slathers gooey BBQ sauce on it; remind me not to fact check, lest I spoil this delectable image) his critics as " the left…full of unthinking Ditto-heads as Limbaugh-land". Truthy, but as for the points that the more sober commentators raised, all he has to say is that "[o]ne (italics mine) commenter was correct in noting that when Clinton delivered his 1995 State of the Union, his approval ratings were not 'mired in the 30s' but had risen into the 40s. What is true, however, is that Clinton's first-term approval rating did drop into the 30s, with a low of 37% in June 1993. And his disapproval rose to 54% in September 1994 as he headed into the mid-terms that delivered the GOP the House and Senate." But that was clearly not what he was saying in his original post. So, instead of graciously acknowledging his misstatements, apologizing and then and only then going on to addressing the bloggers who failed to read his entire comment and attacked him personally (it is important to note that not a few of the negative comments, in criticizing Mr. Bush, ignore Mr. Carney completely), he chooses to spin his comment without acknowledging the fact, then lump his critics and Mr. Bush's together and attack them en masse. This is not a good way to endear himself to his more thoughtful readers.

I have no idea how Mr. Carney will ultimately wind up handling this. Most mainstream journalists are not used to being the subject of the story. They have notoriously thin skins. (For an example of collective loss of nerve, google "white house correspondents association rich little stephen colbert"; for institutional failure, see Kansai TV hiding from the rest of the Japanese media by faxing it in, a point which the English Yomiuri does not mention.)

How about this blog? Unfortunately, I do not have as many readers as Mr. Carney. Even less fortunately, I am not being paid to blog. But these circumstances surely conspire to shelter me from much public embarrassment, as well as responsibility.

Speaking of being paid, does anyone want to pay me to do that long-awaited book review on Shinzo Abe's "Utsukushii Kuni (Beautiful Country)"?

Just sayin'; 's all.

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