The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Monday, June 25, 2007

The latest Democratic non-scandal

I guess the Edwards haircut story is played out, at least as far as headlines go. Now we've just moved into the phase where it becomes an handy panic button for conservatives in losing arguments or smarmy pundits who want to look clever (yeah, I'm thinking of Maureen Dowd, too), or debate opponents who also spend shocking sums on their hair and makeup.

But journalism has become so thoroughly corporatized that it's barely about journalism anymore. It's about looking the part, and finding some angle to exploit that will get you name recognition and promotions until you, too, can join the ranks of such renowned and dedicated career journalists as the aforementioned Dowd, Tim Russert, Katie Couric, or Bill O'Reilly.

Ezra Klein points out the latest would-be 'Gotcha!' story that owes its very existence to a blatant misrepresentation of the facts (in its entirety):

To say a bit more on the New York Times' John Edwards story, shouldn't the question of ends enter in here? The piece uses a lot of ominous adjectives and innuendo to note that though Edwards' Poverty Center was a "a nonprofit organization with the stated mission of fighting poverty," the center raised funds that "paid Mr. Edwards's expenses while he walked picket lines and met with Wall Street executives. He gave speeches, hired consultants, attacked the Bush administration and developed an online following. He led minimum-wage initiatives in five states, went frequently to Iowa, and appeared on television programs. He traveled to China, India, Brussels, Uganda and Russia, and met with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and his likely successor, Gordon Brown, at 10 Downing Street."

Well, Brown and Blair have spearheaded the UK's remarkable efforts against child poverty, which Edwards has mentioned in speeches. So that hardly seems problematic. Indeed, this all seems like an extremely successful venture. Edwards raised some money to fight poverty. He used a certain amount of that money to finance his own pre-presidential campaigning, which was entirely focused on poverty reduction. During that campaigning, he spent an enormous amount of time...talking about poverty, and restoring its place in the national political discussion. Given that the sum of money we're talking about is $1.3 million, how has this not been an extraordinarily effective anti-poverty center? Granted, among its methods were to enable a national politician to continually raise the issue's profile through his personal advocacy, but isn't that what folks donating to a John Edwards poverty center were expecting? And hasn't Edwards -- who still brings up poverty in his speeches, just released a book on the subject, and whose efforts spurred Matt Bai to write a New York Times Magazine cover story on the reemergence of the issue in the national political discourse -- proven very, very effective? If you care about poverty, this seems like $1.3 million well spent.

But I mentioned a blatant misrepresentation of facts, and not just oily shysterism. Another Prospect contributor is on top of it:

The National Review crowd loves it, of course. But according to Greg Sargent, the article might be a little unfair. He writes that TPM "just learned something new and surprising about the story. The Edwards campaign has just told us on the record that The Times refused the chance to talk to any real, live beneficiaries of Edwards' programs. If this is so, this strikes us as highly suspect."

The NYT obviously deserves a chance to respond, but this makes me initially uneasy since it so comfortably fits into the common media narrative that because Edwards is rich, so he can't possibly really care about poverty. Considering he's the only major politician really talking about that issue, this is extremely troubling and makes me suspicious of articles like the one linked to above.