Friday, June 22, 2007

How much credibility did the New York Times sacrifice to attack John Edwards?

Quite a bit, it seems.

Yesterday evening, the New York Times reported that John Edwards created a 501(c)4 - think MoveOn.org, the League of Conservation Voters, or AARP - to cover the cost of his anti-poverty campaign before he declared his candidacy for president:

The money paid Mr. Edwards’s expenses while he walked picket lines and met with Wall Street executives. He gave speeches, hired consultants, attacked the Bush administration and developed an online following. He led minimum-wage initiatives in five states, went frequently to Iowa, and appeared on television programs. He traveled to China, India, Brussels, Uganda and Russia, and met with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and his likely successor, Gordon Brown, at 10 Downing Street.

That's the fact. But the story goes on, both before and after, and in the end, the New York Times does its best to make Edwards look like Satan.

Well, the blogosphere ain't havin' it. Personally, I'd like to know what about that organization made it any less deserving of its 501(c)4 status than any other. The New York Times doesn't really explain, and that, I don't like. (Nor, apparently, does Susan Madrack at the Huffington Post.)

At TPM Cafe, Greg Sargeant notes that while the story accuses Edwards of being the only beneficiary of the 501(c)4, they made no effort to determine if that were, in fact, true:

[I]f you are going to publish an enormous story alleging that a person's antipoverty program was set up mainly to benefit the person who set it up -- then basic journalistic fairness would dictate that you make a genuine effort to see how the program fulfilled its "stated" purpose of helping people. Surprisingly, no mention of how the programs actually impacted people appears until the story's 18th paragraph -- and at that point it comes from the mouth of an Edwards spokesman. There's no indication that the reporter made any genuine independent effort at all to discover whether the programs helped anyone.

Such an effort might entail, you know, speaking to such people, among other things. Yet no such people are quoted in the story.

So we checked in with the Edwards campaign. And yep -- the campaign confirmed that the paper had turned down the chance to speak to any people directly impacted by Edwards' programs.

Now that's some serious lack of picking up the damn phone, there.

At Tapped, Steven White places the story in context:

this makes me initially uneasy since it so comfortably fits into the common media narrative that because Edwards is rich, so he can't possibly really care about poverty. Considering he's the only major politician really talking about that issue, this is extremely troubling and makes me suspicious of articles like the one linked to above.

Also at Tapped, Ezra Klein asks,

[S]houldn't the question of ends enter in here? The piece uses a lot of ominous adjectives and innuendo to note that though Edwards' Poverty Center was a "a nonprofit organization with the stated mission of fighting poverty," the center raised funds that "paid Mr. Edwards's expenses while he walked picket lines and met with Wall Street executives. He gave speeches, hired consultants, attacked the Bush administration and developed an online following. He led minimum-wage initiatives in five states, went frequently to Iowa, and appeared on television programs. He traveled to China, India, Brussels, Uganda and Russia, and met with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and his likely successor, Gordon Brown, at 10 Downing Street."

Well, Brown and Blair have spearheaded the UK's remarkable efforts against child poverty, which Edwards has mentioned in speeches. So that hardly seems problematic. Indeed, this all seems like an extremely successful venture. Edwards raised some money to fight poverty. He used a certain amount of that money to finance his own pre-presidential campaigning, which was entirely focused on poverty reduction. During that campaigning, he spent an enormous amount of time...talking about poverty, and restoring its place in the national political discussion. Given that the sum of money we're talking about is $1.3 million, how has this not been an extraordinarily effective anti-poverty center?

At the Daily Howler, Bob Somersby contrasts the New York Times treatment of Edwards and Giuliani.

In the past two days, the New York Times has run a remarkable pair of candidate stories. One of these news reports beats the bushes, looking for ways to suggest that John Edwards has been misbehaving. The other report beats the bushes too—to help us see how vastly decent Saint Giuliani really is.

The bullet on the Giuliani story: it includes a quote about how "Rudy believes in the loyalty of family." But Edwards . . . yeah, I'm gobsmacked.

It's understandable that the New York partisans at the New York Times would prefer two New Yorkers - Hillary and Giuliani - as the candidates in the general election, if only for the convenience, but going to these lengths to encourage that outcome? Suffice it to say, I think the New York Times tipped its hand, here, and from this point forward, it's gonna be difficult to buy, even as an Edwards partisan, those anti-Obama pieces they've been running.

The derision continues at Daily Kos, Atrios, TalkLeft, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, and better blogs everywhere.