Monday, July 25, 2005
# Posted 1:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Eric responds that:
[NYT White House correspondent Elisabeth] Bumiller is an easy target, because so much of her reporting is obsequious and, frankly, unsophisticated. But what Adesnik characterizes as "condescending," is in fact simply a paraphrase of quotes from senior administration officials. Why, exactly, do we have "every reason to believe" that Bush "carefully chose" Roberts as a candidate because of substantive reasons, as Adesnik writes? That would seem to directly contradict what Bush's own officials say.Eric is 100% correct that everything Bumiller wrote was a paraphrase of statments made by White House officials or other pro-Bush individuals. But take another look at Bumiller's prose and I think you'll see how its curious presentation of those paraphrased remarks makes it sound like Bush's own allies are testifying to the superificiality of the president's intellect.
Bumiller begins by having Judge Wilkinson recount Bush's idiosyncratic criticism of the Judge's exercise regimen. Then, without sayng so explicitly, Bumiller suggests that Bush's criticism of Wilkinson's exercise habits actually influenced the president's decision to nominate John Roberts instead. Specifically, Bumiller writes that Bush's conversation with Wilkinson about jogging "was typical of how Mr. Bush went about picking his eventual nominee, Judge John G. Roberts, White House officials and Republicans said."
Now, did those "White House officials and Republicans" mean to say that Bush actually considered personal habits such as exercise and diet to be relevant criteria for the selection of a Supreme Court justice? Or did they mean to say that the president tried to establish a certain rapport with his potential nominees by asking them about what they do outside of work? Although the latter is far more plausible, Bumiller's phrasing clearly suggests the former.
Now consider how Bumiller's final sentence reinforces that interpretation:
Mr. Bush, they said, looked extensively into the backgrounds of the five finalists he interviewed, but in the end relied as much on chemistry and intuition as on policy and legal intellect.By juxtaposing this sentence with Judge Wilkinson's anecdote about jogging, Bumiller suggests that the president's reliance on "chemistry and intution" belongs in the same category as Nancy Reagan's infamous reliance on astrologers.
But say what they will about his intelligence, even the president's harshest critics admit that he has remarkable charisma in one-on-one settings. What I would suggest is that Bush wisely relied on small talk in order to make Wilkinson and the other candidates more comfortable -- and therefore more candid -- during their interviews in the Oval Office.
Now, for the benefit of those liberals who have read this far without throwing their hands up into the air and wondering whether OxBlog thinks that there is even a liberal bias to the NYT's weather reports, I say this:
Sometimes, you can read too much into the newspaper. Impending deadlines do sometimes force journalists to prioritize speed over precision. And I don't think for a minute that Elisabeth Bumiller intentionally sought to twist the words of Judge Wilkinson and others into an attack on the president's intelligence.
My best guess is simply that Bumiller heard what she wanted to hear. Her article most probably presents the evidence exactly as it seemed to her. In other words, Bumiller didn't have to spend much time figuring out how to make Bush look foolish, because her instincts already presented the available evidence in that light.
But the far more important question is whether anyone should care about the subtle tilt of Bumiller's coverage. If it takes nine paragraphs to debate two sentences in the NY Times, perhaps the whole question of bias is irrelevant.
I disagree. Although it may take nine paragraphs to explain precisely how Bumiller's language manages to cast aspersion on the president's intellect, I think that even fairly casual readers will come away from Bumiller's article thinking to themselves "Oh my God, this country is being run by a simpleton."
In fact, I would argue that the subtlety of Bumiller's language is precisely what makes it so effective, since intelligent audiences would react very negatively to bias that was more overt. Thus, while ensuring a certain degree of fairness and balance, the informal code of conduct that governs American journalism also has the unintended effect of cloaking bias in the guise of objectivity. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
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