More on Politico‘s “room service” posts: Politico reporter Marc Caputo took intense umbrage** at a recent kf tweet and post criticizing Politico‘s habit of running pieces that effectively give sources (e.g., political aides and strategists) several screens’ worth of space to air their BS spin. I may have incompetently made my point — which is not that Caputo (and his co-author, Anna Palmer) are somehow, in any way, in the tank for Bush. Reporters who write source greasers aren’t in the tank for the source or for the source’s preferred candidate — they’re gathering chits with the source in the hope, maybe, of later using the source to uncover some really important truth, maybe a scoop that blows the source’s candidate out of the water. Politico’s innovation seems to be to make the source-greaser a recurring feature — not just something that happens at the beginning of a beat — by running stories on the order of ‘What Bush Aides Think.’ Next week it will be ‘What Cruz Aides Think’ or ‘Why Walker Isn’t Panicking.’ And it’s certainly not just Caputo and Palmer. It seems like an institutional problem, (which is the reason I didn’t use their names). ***
Does any other press outlet think this journalistic form is worthwhile? It’s an invitation to misinformation. Caputo and Palmer’s piece is headlined “5 Reasons Bush isn’t freaking out about Trump.” Jeb “is sticking to his plan,” they say. “Jebworld isn’t freaking out.” His “supporters aren’t panicking.” Do we really believe this? Do Bush’s aides and supporters really believe this? Do Caputo and Palmer really believe this? They stick in semi-red flag phrases like “sources close to the candidate insist” [Emphasis added]. Doesn’t that translate as “They may be lying to us but we’re not going to go to great lengths to uncover what they really think, at least not in this piece”? The result is long paragraphs of uninterrupted spin and brave-frontery with only an infrequent and brief dissonant note (e.g. “Trump’s demise has been long-predicted and refuted, though.”) Here, for example, is the entirety of the fourth reason Bush isn’t panicking:
Underpinning Jeb, Inc.’s belief in its candidate is that no other Republican candidate can match his record as governor: high job growth (more so than any other GOP candidate), a pioneering school-choice voucher program, fighting the teacher’s unions, eliminating a stocks-and-bonds tax, expanding gun-ownership rights, restricting abortions and cutting so much in spending that an ally dubbed him “Veto Corleone” for “whacking” so many parts of the budget.
This is “the Florida story” that Jeb, Inc. has already started to tell. The campaign and his backers say that, in the end, most Republican voters don’t know it and only identify Bush as the son and brother of former presidents. And Bush supporters are counting on Bush’s long history of working to elect Republicans — in contrast to Trump, who has supported and contributed to Democrats.
“Mr. Trump doesn’t have a proven conservative record,” Bush said in Iowa. “He was a Democrat longer in the last decade than he was a Republican.”
Look for Bush’s campaign and super PAC to continue to hammer this message over and over again in the coming weeks as both look to introduce him to the broader electorate.
I’d thought I was too crude to say this was like printing a Bush press release. But maybe not!
“[H]e’s doing all the right things,” Richard Cullen, chairman of McGuireWoods and an apparent Bush backer, says of his candidate. Does Cullen actually think this? Because if he does he’s too dumb to be quoted, even in a source-greaser.
The hoary Journalism 101 rule about calling the other side for comment may or may not be obsolete in the Internet era. But I always thought the point was to get these people off their talking points, not to demand more.
Update: Sure enough, only a few days after Caputo and Palmer said big Bush donors “aren’t spooked by Trump” and were standing by Jeb, a second Politico story by Eli Stokols reported — surprise! — “Jeb Bush’s fundraising juggernaut shows signs of slowing.” According to one Jeb backer quoted in this second piece: “The debate performance scared a few people.” Hmm. The debate was August 6. Caputo and Palmer’s piece came out August 21. Surely there were signs of donor dissatisfaction, even among big donors, by then. Did Caputo and Palmer really want to find them? Or was their story just not that kind of piece? … More: A week after Caputo’s “his supporters aren’t panicking” piece he’s back with the real story: “Three top Jeb Bush fundraisers abruptly parted ways with his presidential campaign on Friday, amid internal personality conflicts and questions about the strength of his candidacy.” …
** — Caputo’s response took the form of an evening of lively trolling, in which he tweeted about my “Stormfront take,” later adding a Joycean rush of phrases like “knuckledragging liar” and “Grand Kleagle.” All good fun. He acknowledged these tweets were basically BS designed to give me a “taste of [my] pandering lies.” Almost like a form of performance art! The trouble is, he’s a reporter. He’s not supposed to write BS, even if falsely calling critics racists “builds followers” by stirring up Twitter. Where does Caputo the Troll stop and Caputo the distinguished Politico reporter begin? (I ask you!)