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August 11, 2006

Nagourney recycles security spin

Adam Nagourney claims that this week's foiled hijacking plot reinforces the idea that Republicans are stronger on security than Democrats:

The developments played neatly into the White House-led effort, after Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, lost on Tuesday to an antiwar primary challenger, to remind voters of the threats facing the nation and to cast Democrats as timid on national defense. [NYT]

This argument is absurd. I don't understand how anyone can repeat it with a straight face. Democrats and Republicans on national security is the Republicans' kooky idea that invading and occupying distant countries will really show those Al Qaeda sleeper cells in London and San Francisco. This time, the would-be bombers were British and they were caught by conventional police work. Even Dick Cheney doesn't think we should invade Great Britain to stop terrorism. (Update: Anonymous Liberal fleshes out this line of argument beautifully.)

Withdrawing from Iraq will help us combat real terrorism, you know, the kind voters actually care about--small groups of semi-autonomous stateless radicals blowing up planes and subways in the Western world.

The Bush administration wants to expand the term "terrorism" to encompass all diplomatic challenges, and all national security issues. When the Republicans are allowed to redefine national security as one big counter-terrorism operation, they can accuse anyone who challenges their tactics of being soft on terrorism.

The Republicans couldn't run counter-terrorism and military conquest together if it weren't for uncritical political journalists like Adam Nagourney.

Nagourney is a prime example of a particularly shallow and self-indulgent school of political journalism. Instead of digging for new facts, he prefers to spin sociological theories based on the talking points he's given.

Nagourney reports primarily on perceptions and spins, as if he were reviewing marketing campaigns for hand lotion or dish detergent. Nagourney writes as if this studied detachment absolves makes the truth irrelevant.

Like any marketing analyst, Nagourney's bedrock assumption that voters are influenced by narratives independently of facts or logic. Maybe he's right. But if that's what Nagourney thinks, doesn't he feel any responsibility to sound alarm? To warn the public that someone is trying to trick them? Evidently not. Marketing analysts aren't paid to care about the truth. They have no responsibilities beyond predicting what will. Political journalists, on the other hand, are supposed to inform the public.

Nagourney thinks he's sized up the poor dumb voters and calculated that they will fall for the Republican spin, yet again. Later in the column he lets on that he knows that the Republicans are turning a foiled terrorist plot into a cheap publicity stunt:

The White House had been aware for weeks that Britain was moving to shut down this plot. White House officials said that Mr. Cheney was kept abreast of the plot and the investigation, but that his comments on Wednesday, in a rare teleconference with news service reporters, were simply in reaction to what they said was an extraordinary political event, the defeat of a sitting senator.

A senior White House official on Air Force One, speaking on the condition of anonymity, dismissed the notion that there was anything wrong with these kinds of issues being mixed up in a political campaign.

“The issue is going to be discussed in the fall,” this official said. “Are you saying if the Democrats talk about the war, we shouldn’t? We will talk about the war, and we will talk about the consequences of the policies advocated by the Democrats.” [NYT]

Nagourney doesn't seem to care that he's an accessory to deception.

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Comments

I think it's worth noting that Democrats aren't that good at spinning terrorism. I mean, I know that a lot of Democratic politicians say that the US should fight in Afghanistan but not in Iraq, and that Iraq is a diversion from really fighting terrorism. But I don't think most voters do, so the Democrats end up looking weak on defense.

Cass Sunstein thinks the problem is biological

Two words: "Where's Osama"? Should be the FIRST two words out of the mouth of EVERY DEMOCRAT who talks to a reporter about national security.

You can't fight terrorism.. what a stupid concept.

You can't do detective work and find out people about to do some nasty mischeif and thwart their plans and arrest them.

You could probably work to remove the underlying causes of the use of terrorism as a tactic to struggle for some cause.

Seems to me that Shock and Awe is remarkably similar to terrorism and done on a pretty massive scale. How many innocents in Iraq have died in our fight against terrorism... admitted 50,000 probably over 100k... and how many terrorists have we killed or caught over there? 50? 100? 500? It only cost 350 Billion $ and 2600 US soldier's lives and 20 thousand maimed for life. We doin fine!

I was thinking... how about we try something out of the box..

We surrender! What are the conditions of surrender?

US out of the middle east? Fine with me

Israel back to 67 borders... Fine with me

What else you want? Box seats at yankee stadium? Fine with me.

> Nagourney thinks he's sized up the poor dumb voters
> and calculated that they will fall for the Republican
> spin, yet again.

Well, in that he might be correct.

Cranky

You can't do detective work and find out people about to do some nasty mischeif and thwart their plans and arrest them.

Why not?

Nagourney may be correct, but if so, he's got a responsibility to DO SOMETHING to make sure that narratives can't survive unless they're minimally fact-based. I have nothing against spin or marketing per se. You've got to sell the sizzle, but the least the press can do is make sure there's a steak in there somewhere.

That's what journalists are for. We don't need a senior political reporter to tell us that a narrative that has worked for several years will probably keep working. That's not news. We need political reporters who will evaluate the spin and challenge it.

These outlandish narratives are allowed to flourish because some journalists think they're too high class to actually report. Instead, they prefer to pontificate and prognosticate. How would people know you were a senior political reporter if you just asked questions and did research like an ordinary beat reporter?

That's what journalists are for. We don't need a senior political reporter to tell us that a narrative that has worked for several years will probably keep working. That's not news. We need political reporters who will evaluate the spin and challenge it.

Good post and even better comment. This is exactly the problem. The "elite" reporters like Nagourney aren't content to just report the news. They feel the need to predict how the public will react to it. But by doing so, they are actually shaping how the public will react to it. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it's annoying as all hell, especially when their predictions invariably mirror RNC talking points.

Good points all around. And where's Osama indeed?

These outlandish narratives are allowed to flourish because some journalists think they're too high class to actually report.

Bingo. The amount of actual reporting that goes into the news is shockingly small. Uncovering facts is expensive, but pontification is cheap. I'd pay good money for a source of news that was relentlessly focussed on diggin up facts and kept pontification to a minimum. So far the best bet appears to be occasional overviews and roundups on specialist blogs.

Now http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060812/ap_on_go_ot/terror_explosives_detection_7> this is rich... how about a nice big Democratic stink about it, every time a reporter asks about national security?

I was thinking... how about we try something out of the box..

We surrender! What are the conditions of surrender?

US out of the middle east? Fine with me

Israel back to 67 borders... Fine with me

What else you want? Box seats at yankee stadium? Fine with me.

Posted by: DefJef | August 11, 2006 at 04:24 PM

DefJef, you're likely to get your wish, if we keep doing ridiculous things like we've done by invading Iraq.

This argument is absurd. I don't understand how anyone can repeat it with a straight face.

It doesn't matter that it's absurd. And there are plenty of people, from Ann Coulter to Hugh Hewitt to Cal Thomas, who will be repeating it ad nauseam until Election Day.
Why not? Repeating absurdities has worked for them before.


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