Media

No, Not Ray Carney…

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Veep-elect Joe Biden has picked Jay Carney, Time's Washington bureau chief, to be his communications director. This inspired the historian-pundit Rick Perlstein to dust off a New Republic piece he wrote last year about Carney's conflicts with blog commenters:

bloggers

On Time's new blog, "Swampland," D.C. Bureau Chief Jay Carney posted a pre-assessment to the State of the Union Address comparing President Bush's political position to Bill Clinton in January of 1995. Like Bush, "President Clinton was in free fall….His approval ratings were mired in the 30's and seemed unlikely to rise."

Moments later, a writer identfiying himself as "Tom T" pointed out an error in Carney's "nut graf" that would have earned a failing grade for a first-year journalism major: "Clinton's approval rating in January of 2005 was 47 percent. It was not mired in the 30s." At 9:12, the blogger Atrios, also known as Duncan Black, alerted his readers to the gaffe, and they descended on the Time blog like locusts–and, to mix the Biblical metaphor, served Jay Carney's head up on a charger. They tabulated several more boneheaded errors: Carney wrote that 1995 was Clinton's first State of the Union "with Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole seated behind him as Speaker and Senate Majority Leader"; but, of course, it is the Vice President, not the Senate Majority leader, who sits behind the president. He also wrote of Clinton's "recovery…during Monica, in 1999"–but, as a commenter reminded him, "Clinton never had to 'recover' from Monica, unless polls in the high 50s and 60s are something you have to recover from."

Then the commenters unraveled the entire foundation of Carney's argument. He had said that, because "Americans reward presidents who, even in the face of enormous distractions, focus on issues that matter to them…Bush won't spend much time tonight talking about surging troops in Iraq or the Global War on Terror." But, as writers identifying themselves as "jjcomet," "dmbeaster," and "Newton Minnow" pointed out, the issue of greatest concern to the nation "is far and away the war in Iraq, at 48% the only issue in double digits." Another made a similar point, shall we say, more qualitatively: "The Iraq War is a DISTRACTION?? Are you serious? Am I wrong or did he compare the Lewinski scandal to Iraq??? What is the matter with you!?!?"

At which Carney snapped back so churlishly ("the left is as full of unthinking Ditto-heads as Limbaugh-land") that, for a moment, it was hard even to remember–why was it, again, that we were supposed to defer to the authority of newsweeklies (and the mainstream press) in the first place? Carney was rude and wrong. The barbaric yawpers of the netroots were rude and right.

On one point, I think Carney's controversial comments were defensible: Given the strain that Monicagate put on his presidency, I don't think it a stretch to say that Clinton had to "recover" from it, whatever his poll numbers might have been. Otherwise, though, the netrootsers ate him for lunch. For Perlstein, the event "inaugurated a rough week for those who still wish to uphold a model of cultural authority in which the fact that someone is a professional with a famous name–credentialed by other professionals with famous names–can serve as a reasonable proxy for trustworthiness. It marked one more step in the arrival of our new, more uncomfortable media world–one in which, to judge a piece of writing, we must gauge not the status of the writer, but his or her words themselves, unattached to the author's worldly rank."

Which means, I suppose, that Carney has made a smart career move. If you like to confuse rank with trustworthiness, there's no better job than political flak.

Elsewhere in Reason: Our editors praised Perlstein's books here and here, while attacking his views on firefighting here.

NEXT: D.C. Ink

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  1. Yeah, us famous guys get no respect no more.

  2. First!

    Long, lame post Jesse, and you had been doing much better lately

  3. #, er… second, I think

  4. The quoted text reminds me of what I do to Reason’s hack writers all by myself.

    As for the popup window (a Reason ad), it already gave me a gift by obscuring Reason’s content.

    As for Perlstein’s blather, almost all of the commenters at Swampland from Time Magazine are on the “liberal” side. In fact, I thrice tried to get FReepers to join up in order to discredit their hacks without luck. Note also that they moved their site a few months back, deleting all the old comments in the process.

  5. “the left is as full of unthinking Ditto-heads as Limbaugh-land”

    Hard to argue with that one.

  6. The quoted text reminds me of what I do to Reason’s hack writers all by myself.

    I’m sure it does. In other news, there is a patient in Bellevue who regularly mistakes his feces for filet mignon.

    I thrice tried to get FReepers to join up in order to discredit their hacks without luck.

    Apparently, people’s failure to take Lonewacko seriously transcends the left/right spectrum.

  7. lonewacko – have you ever read “pale fire” by nabokov?

  8. Which means, I suppose, that Carney has made a smart career move. If you like to confuse rank with trustworthiness, there’s no better job than political flak.

    I’m more of a political junkie than 99% of the population, but I couldn’t for the life of me name any vice-president’s communication director without googling it. Heck, the only current or former vice-presidential staff members I can think of off the top of my head are Scooter Libby and Bill Kristol. Rank? In the office of the vice president? Like virtue among whores (or seniority among butterbars). Also, I have a strong feeling that the vice-presidency is going to revert to it’s historical warm piss (spit in the family version) worthiness.


  9. I’m more of a political junkie than 99% of the population, but I couldn’t for the life of me name any vice-president’s communication director without googling it.

    That is why Jesse spiced it up with some comments from TIME‘s blog from two years ago that he lifted from some other blog’s post on sunday.

    I can’t think of a lamer H@R post.It’s very worthlessness is worthy of comment.

  10. It’s #’s praise that really stings. He says I “had been doing much better lately” right after I spent a week-plus out of the country and barely posted a thing. I get the hint!

  11. jesse,

    I wondered why your posts were so much better lately,now I know!

    Seriously, your “here is a link to my radio show” and “review of a book you wouldn’t buy for .99 off the remainder table” posts are better than this one.

  12. I dunno, doesn’t this post indicate what Carney will do when faced with relied-upon factual errors?

  13. I’ve read Swampland more than a few times, and something I noticed is that Carney, and Joe Klein, too, actually warmed up to the blogging hordes, and learned to come down off the mountain, take them seriously, and genuinely engage in a dialogue and even modify their position based on what they learned. Better than most old media types, anyway.

  14. I have a question:

    Why does the VP need a media director, anyway?

  15. Because he’s Joe Biden?

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