Friday, November 13, 2009

The Post Grabs a Steno Pad

Our friend Mitch Berg devotes considerable space taking down the phone-it-in column that Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote about Tim Pawlenty. As always, what Mitch writes is well worth your time.

Here's what's interesting. Mitch surmises that the early column trashing Pawlenty is a sign that the Democrats are worried about Pawlenty as a potential rival in 2012. So when a commenter on Hot Air noticed this piece from the Post's sister publication, Newsweek, we get a good look at how a lot of journalism gets done these days:

If you want to figure out which of Obama's potential 2012 challengers the Democratic Party is most afraid of, it definitely helps to be political reporter. That's because the DNC is constantly bombarding hacks like me with stories, quips, fact sheets and comebacks designed to influence our coverage of a select group of prominent Republicans─namely, the ones they suspect of harboring 2012 aspirations, like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee. Determine which Republican is inspiring the most hate mail and you probably have a pretty good idea which one the DNC sees as the biggest threat.

The answer─surprise, surprise─is Pawlenty. The least-well-known of the 2012 crop, the Minnesota governor has, according to the Gaggle's patented Gmail filtration method, provoked 28 direct-attack e-mails (i.e., attack e-mails with his name in the subject line) from the DNC since March; by contrast, Palin, by far the most famous Republican in the country, has racked up 27. The next highest finisher, Romney, trails with nine, with Jindal (four), Gingrich (two) and Huckabee (one) bringing up the rear. All told, the DNC has mentioned Pawlenty in 48 e-mails over the past two months, versus 37 for Palin, 16 for Gingrich, 12 for Romney, 11 for Jindal and four for Huckabee. All of this despite the fact that a new national survey by Rasmussen Reports shows Huckabee as the top 2012 choice of 29 percent of Republican voters, with Romney a close second at 24 percent and Palin (18 percent) and Gingrich (14 percent) hovering in the double-digits─while only 4 percent of respondents picked Pawlenty.
No one complains that the DNC is doing this. It's their job. What's interesting is that the Newsweek article pretty much shows that Balz's profile of Pawlenty is pretty much a rewrite of the DNC talking points:

But what's really interesting is the content of the DNC's attacks. Every move Pawlenty has made in recent weeks seems calibrated to shore up his right
flank and prove to potential 2012 primarygoers that he's as right wing as they are: intervening on Hoffman's behalf in New York, dissing Snowe, knocking Obama for delivering an innocuous speech to school children, flip-flopping on climate-change legislation, refusing to dismiss the inane chatter about "death panels." The problem is, this sort of hyperpartisan maneuvering counteracts Pawlenty's original appeal─a plot twist that the DNC has smartly latched onto and begun to promote as a part of a larger storyline. "It looks like Tim Pawlenty isn't even going to offer the pretense of being anything but an extreme right wing radical anymore," reads one DNC message. "If Tim Pawlenty is running for President, he's running for the George W. Bush presidency," reads another. The goal, simply put, is to define Pawlenty as an inauthentic Romneyesque cipher willing to say anything for a vote─and to do so early and often. For better or worse, the DNC's thinking goes, the public already knows Palin and Co. But Pawlenty is a still blank slate.

In some ways, the Minnesotan is lucky. The 2012 election is so far off that no sane, rational person is paying enough attention to the early jockeying to be particularly swayed by the DNC's near-constant swipes. But the people who shape public opinion most definitely are. This morning, Dan Balz, the Washington Post's campaign correspondent emeritus, wrote that Pawlenty "has said and done things that have other Republicans wondering about his instincts and his sure-footedness as a prospective 2012 presidential candidate." Balz even─gasp!─compared Pawlenty to Romney. "The real risk for Pawlenty, as Romney learned in his unsuccessful 2008
campaign, is losing his true voice and his authenticity," he explained. "Romney spent so much time trying to reposition himself and picking narrow tactical fights with his rivals that the qualities that might have made him a more attractive candidate were lost in the smoke."

Emphasis mine. It would probably be better if Balz spent a little less time just channeling the DNC smoke and doing some original reporting, no?


Night Writer said...

I think they ought to grab their shine-box, rather than a steno pad.

Mr. D said...

No kidding, NW.

Gino said...

this is nothing new.
isnt strange how every weekend, on every major policy debate, all the reporters ask the same questions posed in the same way?
been that way since reagan, that i remember.
probably longer.

Mr. D said...

I didn't say it was new, Gino. But usually we don't get such a peek under the tent.

Anonymous said...

Something that WaPo, Balz and Newsweek have no control over came out yesterday that kinda bolsters their argument. Republican pollster Scott Rasmussen also released a Minnesota state poll that showed that only 42% of the folks in your state would vote for Pawlenty for President if he were the Republican nominee. That is similar to the numbers Romney had in Mass. in his last year in office.

You know a lot more than me about your state, but those aren't good numbers for an incumbent Gov with Presidential aspirations and a low national profile.

The other quibble I have is with the notion that DNC direct attack emails are indicative of the fear that potential candidates engender in the DNC. Those emails are about raising money from the base, and the subjects of the emails are the people who are currently throwing the most bombs, generating the most heat, and generally annoying the opposition the most. As you well know, Pawlenty has been trying to make a name for himself right, and has been throwing quite a few bombs. I suspect that that is why he has been generating a lot of DNC email. And I am not saying the DNC shouldn't be nervous about him; From what I have seen, he would be one of your strongest candidates. But Sara Palin is generating roughly the same amount of DNC email, and if you think the DNC fears a Palin nomination in 2012, then you must be hanging out with Marion Barry and Andre Aggassi in your spare time.


Mr. D said...

The issue isn't what the DNC does, Rich. They can do whatever they want. The issue is that Balz is serving as an unfiltered megaphone for the DNC. That's the issue.

As for T-Paw, I think he's more popular than that poll would represent. He's taking a pounding right now from the DFL and their media bobos, which is just about everyone in Minnesota except for KSTP television. They have all been in full high dudgeon/whine mode ever since Pawlenty cut them off at the knees at the end of the last session. They had it all set up to force Pawlenty to raise taxes, thus destroying his chances, but he outsmarted them by using what's called "unallotment" to unilaterally balance the budget by doing cuts. The governor can do this in Minnesota, and Pawlenty did it. They've been bashing him ever since, especially when he leaves town to do out-of-state events.

The problem the legislature has is that they are only a part time group and they can't come back into session into January. They want to hurt T-Paw bad, but they really can't, because he's not running for re-election.

Maybe more than you wanted to know.