The media has come under fire this week from some conservatives who charge they exploited the Middle East chaos in order to help Barack Obama. Some think it unseemly that after Mitt Romney’s press conference, reporters focused on campaign implications. (After all, they say, shouldn’t the real story is the killing of an ambassador?)
In my estimation, this is sophistry.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza was criticized for writing about how the chaos in the Middle East might impact the presidential race (he wasn’t alone, but I’ll use him as an example.) But while it might be fun to bash the a Post reporter, there are a few problems with this line of criticism.
First, there are plenty of journalists whose job it is to focus on foreign policy. It would be odd for Richard Engel to drop his coverage of the killings and the protests — and focus on what might be a more trivial “horse race” analysis. But Cillizza’s coverage has always focused on campaigns. You may not like that, but that is his job.
To be sure, there are rare occasions when it is inappropriate to discuss politics at all. On September 11, 2001, nobody was thinking or talking about partisan politics. December 7, 1941 was another such occasion. But as horrific and concerning as the events of this week were, they do not rise to that level. We are in the midst of a hotly-contested presidential race, which has huge implications. We are electing the leader of the free world — and it is entirely possible that the events of this week could play a role in determining the outcome of this, and possibly future, elections.
Lastly — and probably most importantly — it was Mitt Romney who injected politics into the discussion by holding a press conference. When an unelected candidate for president goes out of his way to weigh-in on a topic, it becomes fair game for reporters to discuss and analyze it in a political context.
Unfortunately for Romney, things didn’t go as planned. Ultimately, he threw reporters off the trail of Obama’s security failings, and gave them an excuse to write about his failings.
For saying this, even I have come under attack by some of my friends on the right.
So this might be a good time to discuss what this blog is and what it is not.
I’m a conservative, and I have frequently made the case for why conservative ideas are better for America. But when it comes to campaign analysis, I see my job as to provide honest commentary — not to help Republicans get elected (as fun as that might be.)
This means that I call them like I see them. Strategy and tactics are philosophically neutral. What I mean by this is that I can appreciate Bill Clinton’s ability to empathize or emote in a speech — just as I can admire Ronald Reagan’s ability to inspire. If Obama gives a great speech and Romney gives a bad one, I will admit it. Or if the opposite were true, I would say it.
At the risk of trivializing this, a sports analogy might help explain my approach: I’m a Redskins fan, but if coach Mike Shanahan decides to go for it on 4th and 5 and falls short, I am dispassionate enough to criticize that decision. I don’t pretend that Shanahan always makes the right call. And saying he doesn’t does not make me a sellout. I am an intellectually honest football fan. (The sports analogy, of course, isn’t perfect. Fans don’t vote on who wins a game, and thus, the commentators can’t directly impact the results. Conversely, it is possible that political commentators can, sometimes, move the numbers. But you get my point.)
Back to politics. There is little doubt that my political philosophy is much closer to Romney’s than it is to Obama’s. Having said that, if Mitt Romney holds a press conference, I reserve the right to say that it was stupid. (Which, by the way, it was.)