Saturday, March 29, 2008

On Slate's John Dickerson and a story's lean

A couple of recent columns by John Dickerson on got me thinking - is Dickerson a shill for Hill? I think highly of Dickerson's writing, and usually he has been fair and balanced (for real, unlike Fox!)

I think highly of Slate's John Dickerson's writing, and usually he has been fair and balanced (for real, unlike Fox!) However, a couple of recent columns by Dickerson got me thinking - is Dickerson a shill for Hill?

Now think about the two paragraphs above - both essentially the same, yet perhaps conveying a different impression to the reader of what I now feel about John Dickerson's writing. Wikipedia suggests that a story's most important part is the lede or start. However, there is another rule I learned in school - I think, or I could have read it some place and it has stuck in my mind ever since. That is, how a story ends also says which way the writer's personal opinion swings.

An example is that research presents both advantages and disadvantages of a chosen technique. If the writer is in a conciliatory mood, then the article ends on a positive note; if not, and the disadvantage is critical in the writer's opinion, the opposite occurs. [RS - This is not how my writings should be read! Wink, wink, nudge, nudge!]

I have been reading Dickerson's stories about the Democratic Presidential primary campaign with the usual (considerable!) interest. Some recent columns left me wondering if Dickerson has a dog in this race.

The first was on Senator Obama's race speech. Dickerson analyzes the speech, praises it as an effective State of the Union address delivered even though Senator Obama's just a candidate for President. He also notes that Senator Obama wrote the speech in the midst of a "a sleep-stealing, gut-punching presidential campaign, which is like writing the speech while riding backward on a flaming unicycle."
At the end of the third paragraph, however, Dickerson starts faulting the speech. Some examples: "But Obama's courage didn't extend to directly taking on the words that have caused such controversy.... He didn't need to refer to Geraldine Ferraro twice. [...-...] a cheap attempt to loop Wright and Ferraro with the same lasso." Dickerson says that it was Senator Obama's staffers that jumped on "a Drudge Report item about a supposed Clinton staffer supposedly passing around a picture of Obama" [emphasis mine] and "who made the most of Geraldine Ferraro's remarks." And yet, Senator Obama blithely listed "pouncing "on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card"" as political bad behavior, without calling out his own campaign. Senator Obama should have taken the opportunity to talk about his own shortcomings, and that was a failing of the speech, says Dickerson.

Another column is on an alleged quid pro quo for Governor Richardson in return for his endorsement of Senator Obama. Apparently, James Carville's "Judas" comment about Governor Richardson's actions on Good Friday is a common feeling of Clinton supporters. [RS - Governor Richardson's prominence in national politics is apparently owed to President Clinton conferring upon him a Secretaryship and an Ambassadorship, and so Governor Richardson should have bowed to Senator Clinton, or so the story goes.] Some Clinton supporters say the Governor had signaled his eventual support to Senator Clinton; so this reneging on his word must have been due to a bribe!
Dickerson says:
"Those who know him say that as a politician who has negotiated with some of the world's trickiest foreign leaders, [Governor Richardson] knows how to let people "believe what they want to believe," as one put it. Both Obama's and Richardson's spokesmen offer ironclad denials that Obama offered Richardson anything specifically or implicitly in the way of a quid pro quo, and there is no actual evidence of any kind of deal." [emphasis mine]
Yet, despite the "ironcald denials" and "lack of evidence," Dickerson ends with this tantalizing tidbit:
"But there is one other little piece of evidence that suggests Richardson must have wrested some promise in return for his support. It's contained in the "Richardson Rules," his pointers for how to negotiate: "Don't concede absolutely everything the other side is requesting. Get something in return, even if it's minor."" [emphasis mine]

In a third column, Dickerson suggests that President Clinton was not implying Senator Obama was unpatriotic when President Clinton talked about preferring a contest between two candidates for President who are both patriotic and can focus the campaign on the issues, without other issues [RS - like racism? Rev. Wright?] distracting the voters. Quoting Senator Obama's book The Audacity of Hope, Dickerson also says "If I'm inclined to think the worst of Hillary Clinton and her husband, it's the senator [Obama] who reminds me to recognize alternative interpretations."
Since some Obama supporters are interpreting President Clinton's statement otherwise, Dickerson says, this suggests Senator Obama fails to see the alternative explanation, and is possibly incapable of seeing anything other than evil coming out of the Clinton camp - which calls into question Senator Obama's judgment. Dickerson ends this piece with:
"...if we're not supposed to take all of Obama's speeches seriously, we're stuck embracing the Clinton claim that he offers "just words" and doesn't mean what he says. To believe in the full measure of Obama's words then is, perhaps, to be too hopeful."

While the third piece may not suggest that Dickerson is taking sides, I posit that by calling Senator Obama's judgment into question based on the quotes of his supporters - and appropriating said quotes to reflect Senator Obama's own opinions - Dickerson apparently is.

Of course, there have been other columns like when Dickerson called the Clinton campaign's case to the superdelegates as "hokum" and also said Governor Richardson's endorsement may have been a repayment of Senator Obama's kindness during one of the Democratic debates. Maybe Dickerson just likes poking holes in the front-runner's story, or is making up for positive bias the main-stream media (perhaps including Dickerson) has apparently shown toward Senator Obama... As the Clinton campaign would have us believe.

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