If you want a one-word answer to the question of what's wrong with national reporting, look no further than Politico. Articles full of leaks from unnamed sources, dropped into Politico's inbox for sheer point-scoring. That's the nature of
September 12, 2011


If you want a one-word answer to the question of what's wrong with national reporting, look no further than Politico. Articles full of leaks from unnamed sources, dropped into Politico's inbox for sheer point-scoring. That's the nature of politics, but isn't Politico supposed to report them in a context that makes sense? You know, journalism?

Here are two shining examples where that sense of balance seems to be missing. First, Ben Smith's glowing example of how to smear a candidate with unfounded charges from a hot custody battle was truly a work of sensationalistic art.

Here's the story: 25 years ago, NY-09 Democratic candidate, David Weprin was involved in a wrenching custody battle. The files were sealed, which evidently means next to nothing when running for national office. The leak itself might actually have contained relevant information, if the allegations in the custody suit had been found to have merit. But alas, they were not. This did not, however, stop Smith from reporting them as if they were something that mattered.

From his post:

The November, 1986 document, provided by a source who asked not to be identified in any way, comes from a sealed case file in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. It is an interim ruling in a case that was, later, resolved in Weprin's favor, with the main judge handling the case later casting serious doubt on allegations made by the politician's ex-wife.

But in the ruling on Weprin’s suit for expanded custody, Justice Bruce Wright described Weprin as “heedless” of the welfare of his son, who was not yet two, and behaving in a manner that “shocks the conscience.” The judge also describes him “extremely temperamental with a short fuse” – a description backed by his “almost impossible to control” in the court-room. And the ruling describes Weprin’s behavior both as careless – he allegedly left the child with a doorman – and “obsessive”: Weprin allegedly “rushed into the toilet with the child and refused to allow [his ex-wife Roselyn] in or to come out, and [the ex-wife] was compelled to call the police before [Weprin] would exit, although the bathroom was said to be cold.”

[...insert more sordid details here, along with inflammatory quotes, then we skip to the very last paragraph]

Wright ruled against Weprin, and added a specific instruction that he not wake the child up or end his feeding prematurely to take his time with his son -- though the case would be resolved, three years later, in the opposite direction.

If one were to actually put that article in the context it deserves, it would have a headline that says "Leaked documents prove Weprin falsely accused in ancient custody battle". Why even write about these charges if they didn't pan out? How is the reader educated or enlightened by that?

I don't think it's all that tough to guess where that document came from. It's not like sealed documents just magically unseal without some serious opposition research. Yes, I'm looking at you, Republicans.

And then we have yesterday's report about how Republicans are choosing to do harm to President Obama's re-election chances by blocking the jobs bill. In a frank moment, one unnamed Republican source turned to Politico to whine that Republicans were feeling a bit boxed in. Here's what that unnamed source said:

And despite public declarations about finding common ground with Obama, some Republicans are privately grumbling that their leaders are being too accommodating with the president.

Obama is on the ropes; why do we appear ready to hand him a win?” said one senior House Republican aide who requested anonymity to discuss the matter freely. “I just don’t want to co-own the economy by having to tout that we passed a jobs bill that won’t work or at least won’t do enough.”

[Side note to anonymous senior House Republican aide: If you don't want to tout that you passed a jobs bill that won't do enough, get off your butt and encourage your boss to amplify what's been proposed.]

Their headline was: "GOP grumbles about jobs plan." Perhaps I wouldn't have as much of a problem with that article if they had put a headline on it similar to the one Oliver Willis used on his post: Republicans Say They'd Rather Hurt Obama Than Create Jobs, since that's actually what they said. Why bury the lede?

I suppose one could shrug and say, "Well, that's Politico." But when do we quit shrugging and point out that they missed the real story in favor of repeating nothing more than Republican talking points? Why isn't there a penalty for leaking sealed documents and spinning them away from their irrelevance in the middle of a heated Congressional race? Why are they reporting a 25-year old custody case as if it matters?

Politico is just sealing their rep as a trashy tabloid of politics.

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