It’s not often one compares President Obama to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, but it is actually fitting. Both have had quotes mangled in a similar way:
“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because [DEMOCRATS BELIEVE] they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.” – Mike Huckabee
“Sen. McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’” – Barack Obama
What do these quotes have in common? In both cases, someone was taken out of context in order to wrongly imply the messenger agreed with his paraphrasing of what someone else thought or said.
In the former example, Mitt Romney’s campaign selectively edited President Obama’s quote of something John McCain said, in order to put words in his mouth.
The second example is slightly less egregious, inasmuch as Huckabee’s rhetoric was sloppy, if hyperbolic (as the Washington Post notes, Huckabee’s 54-word sentence — which includes a 50-word dependent clause — was initially so confusing that several reporters thought Huckabee was attributing the ‘libido’ idea to himself.”)
Still, anyone who knows anything about conservative politics (and one would hope the reporters CNN and NBC sent to cover the Republican Winter Meeting would be vaguely familiar) knows that a conservative speaking at a Republican gathering would almost never seriously argue that anyone needs the help of government for anything.
It should have been obvious he was paraphrasing what Democrats think.
So how did everyone interpret Huckabee’s comments so horribly wrong? Via Mediate, two reporters for mainstream outlets reported them wrong:
You might expect a politician like Romney to play fast and loose with the truth in his campaign ads, but journalists are supposed to hold the politicians accountable when they do that — not contribute to the confusion, themselves.
In fairness, both reporters eventually tweeted corrections, but, as the Post notes: “Democrats distributed [the comments] far and wide, rehashing the so-called GOP ‘war on women’ and accusing Huckabee of insensitivity. Some enterprising campaigns even sought to tie their Republican opponents to the former presidential candidate, hoping Huckabee’s controversy would also play a bit part in their own races.”
“Rest assured, the first impression will be the one that sticks,” adds Noah Rothman. “Huckabee’s biting comments, delivered before a partisan audience, will be endlessly parsed and framed as just another campaign in the greater “’War on Women.’”
It’s hard to criticize Democrats for doing what you’d expect Democrats to do (just as it’s hard to blame the Romney campaign for doing what you’d expect them to do). But the media is held to a higher standard.
And it’s now one day later, and still, most of the postmortem coverage remains to be about the “war on women” thing — about how Huckabee is like Todd Akin — about how Republicans keep stepping in it when they talk about women’s issues…
The message isn’t that the media needs to be more careful when reporting, it’s that male politicians need to be more careful when talking about women’s issues. Even the Post’s story (which acknowledges Huckabee was misrepresented) still scolds him.
Talk about blaming the victim!
Yes, male politicians need to do a better job of communicating on certain policy issues, but was that really the takeaway of this incident? We all make mistakes, but I’d like to see a little more coverage about the perils of mainstream media outlets getting it so painfully wrong on Twitter. What about their responsibility?