Media Continues to Push "Dems Dislike Dean" Stories

With all of the damaging stories about the Bush administration and the Republican Party, it seems that reporters have a hankering for stories that represent a knock on the Democratic Party, if only to create some "balance" in their reporting. The most common class of these stories fits in with the tired meme that the "Democrats are devoid of ideas," which of course is not the case (or at least not more so than any other major political party or movement). A second, but only slightly less well known class is this: Howard Dean is doing a poor job as DNC Chairman, or more precisely that Democratic leaders in Washington are unhappy with Dean's tenure, thusfar. A prime example of this set of stories comes in today's issue of The Washington Post in an article penned by Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza.

Democratic congressional leaders aren't happy with the way Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is spending money. At a private meeting last month, they let him know.

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) challenged the former Vermont governor during a session in Pelosi's office, according to Democratic sources. The leaders complained about Dean's priorities -- funding organizers for state parties in strongly Republican states such as Mississippi -- rather than targeting states with crucial races this fall.

Balz and Cillizza continue by repeating the same complaints we have been hearing all year, citing "one congressional Democrat" who is unhappy with Dean's focus on the finances and staffing of state parties rather than building a warchest for the 2006 midterms. Of course, there is no mention of who this "congressional Democrat" is or why, for that matter, he or she was granted blanket anonymity for this story. It's not as if the Democrat would face criminal prosecution for such a leak, as might a government whistleblower, so why, exactly, are Balz and Cillizza allowing him or her to sling mud without being named? The only explanation I can come up with is that the two reporters are simply trying to forward the overstated meme that Democrats are hopelessly unable to coalesce.

Is there a place in journalism for stories about intraparty struggles? Certainly. But there are fundamental differences between policy struggles (i.e. differences among Democrats on how best to improve the situation in Iraq) or struggles between the two branches (Congressional Republicans rebuking President Bush over stem cell research, for instance) and tactical squabbles, such as where party finances should be directed. The latter class of stories are worth reporting from time to time, but they are not of equal importance as those stories falling in the first two categories, nor should they receive equal amounts of coverage.

In addition to my qualms about the content and tenor of the Balz/Cillizza story, I'm also having trouble understanding why this article was published today. There's nothing particularly timely about the information contained in the Balz/Cillizza piece; the purported meeting took place over a month ago, and there's no explanation of why this story is germane now. What's more, even if such news were fit for printing in The Washington Post, there's nothing new or groundbreaking about this story. Reporters have been saying exactly the same thing -- that Congressional Democrats are unhappy with Howard Dean -- since the beginning of Dean's tenure as Chairman, and probably even before then, when Dean was only running for the position.

This is not about defending Howard Dean against attacks from within the Democratic Party. I'm not Dean's biggest supporter  in the progressive blogosphere. I wasn't a Deaniac during the 2004 primaries and probably won't be one during the 2008 primaries, should he decide to run. But I'm frankly getting tired of reading the exact same story, month after month, about purported Democratic infighting surrounding Dean's tenure as DNC Chairman. Yes, Democrats bear some of the onus for these stories, as these stories could not be published were it not for individual members of the party complaining about Dean to reporters. But it's also time for journalists to begin ferreting out the real news from rubbish and get back to covering issues that actually deserve square inches of print.

Tags: Democrats, Howard Dean, journalism (all tags)

Comments

14 Comments

Not as bad as many!

I tend to think your expectations of media standards are a little unrealistic, on the basis of past performance!

They abuse anonymous sources all the time, concentrate on horse race and gossip largely to the exclusion of policy, hew to established narratives.

Insurgency would result in ruin; going along with the Powers That Be results in prosperity, more or less.

Them's the breaks.

The Post piece doesn't strike me as the worst.

Did the Reid/Pelosi/Dean meeting happen? Is its report of what went on broadly accurate?

My suspicion is the answer to both questions is, Yes.

That's the basic story right there: what Reid and Pelosi (are supposed to have) said, not this anonymouse.

Problem is, this all started with the 04 primaries, in which the Dean narrative was established as Dean is a loose cannon, Dem leaders are nervous what he'll do.

And, so far as I know, it was pretty much true (which, of course, is not at all required).

Then there was the Scream.

And Dem honchos decided to go with Mr Electable.

And the narrative was set in concrete.

If you can get through the Goremania, Somerby has racks of far worse going back to the 90s.

by skeptic06 2006-03-05 02:51PM | 0 recs
Re: Not as bad as many!

When I say, true, I mean that it was (probably) true that Dem honchos thought he was a loose cannon.

by skeptic06 2006-03-05 03:15PM | 0 recs
Dean, Feingold, Murtha, Levin

They're all okay with me. Screw Hillary, however.

"We have to address the fact that the president has broken the law." -- Senator Russ Feingold

by Landsurveyor 2006-03-05 05:06PM | 0 recs
Not Cillizza's first hit piece on Dean

Check out my diary over at DailyKos from last time Chris Cillizza wrote a hit piece on Dean, Democracy Bonds; or how I said Fuck You to Chris Cillizza.

by Fran for Dean 2006-03-05 06:39PM | 0 recs
"Dems Dislike Dean"

Reid and Pelosi were against Dean from the start, so it's no wonder they're trying undercut him in the press. The last thing they and their D(L)C cohorts want is for Dean to successfully rebuild the party at the grassroots with newcomers who will owe allegiance to him. They'd rather lose elections than their grip on the machinery of power within the party. But they're dinosaurs who only think they can't keep the weather from changing.

by Sitkah 2006-03-05 09:27PM | 0 recs
"Dems Dislike Dean"
I agree with Jonathan.
These stories get old, and serve no real purpose.
by v2aggie2 2006-03-05 09:28PM | 0 recs
Reid and Pelosi

 If they want to win this fall, they might be well-advised to stop complaining about Dean and start mounting serious, forceful and consistent opposition to the Bush agenda.

 The stuff the Democrats did in 2002 and 2004? They might want to consider doing the opposite of that. It might produce a different result!

 The Dems' performance in November is every bit as much in Reid/Pelosi's hands as it is in Dean's. Probably much more.

 If the Dems in Congress keep on caving and buckling to a president polling in the thirties, they're not going to win this fall if Franklin D. Roosevelt comes back to earth and occupies Dean's body.

by Master Jack 2006-03-06 03:39AM | 0 recs
Deanism and the D(L)C

I think the post is spot on; thanks for it. I think the comments, with the excellent "D(L)C" equating everyone in DC with the mythic symbol of unDeanness and the "why won't the Democrats just do what we want" (even though they don't control the agenda or media and to fight a guerilla war need support and flexibility of hte base, since attackign them for not being Deanenough is precisely the Rove strategy) ...show why we're a minority party. Its because the basic tendency of our most fervent (and probably least active) supporters is to blame our own leaders for the state of affairs ...Siktah, do you also think that if John Kerry had just stopped flip-flopping and taken a clear stand on abortion, gun control and against the war, we would have won the election?

by desmoulins 2006-03-06 04:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Deanism and the D(L)C

Its because the basic tendency of our most fervent (and probably least active) supporters is to blame our own leaders for the state of affairs ...

I won't comment on your level of activity past or present since I can't possibly know anything about it (I call those who use it as a debate ploy "activist snobs"). The opposite tendency is for some to blame those who don't support or vote for Democrats for the party's failures rather than the party itself. But it's just plain silly to expect people to support any party or candidates when they don't feel represented by them. A party must come to the people -- not the other way around.

Siktah, do you also think that if John Kerry had just stopped flip-flopping and taken a clear stand on abortion, gun control and against the war, we would have won the election?

Since the election was probably stolen in OH, probably not. But, unlike Gore in 2000, Kerry was beaten in the popular vote nationwide --  and the pathetic political tendencies you cited were probably the reason he was outpolled by the worst president in history.

by Sitkah 2006-03-06 07:32AM | 0 recs
D(L)C

By the way, the reason I think D(L)C is excellent is because before he was DEAN, he was a "rising star" in the DLC and head of the Democratic Governor's Association, which is based (can you guess) in DC.

by desmoulins 2006-03-06 04:37AM | 0 recs
Re: D(L)C

Which is why it's so ironic that the DLC hates him so much.  Then again, they hate Gore now, too, and Gore was a founding member of the DLC.

Of course, Dean and Gore were beloved of the DLC back when the DLC was about finding solutions across the political spectrum and not primarily about defending Bush-backing Democrats.

by Phoenix Woman 2006-03-06 05:08AM | 0 recs
by Sitkah 2006-03-06 07:37AM | 0 recs
It's the last month of the quarter

And time for yet another story about handwringing Democrats.  AdNag has one up today at the NYTimes, too:  For Democrats, Many Versus but No Chorus
He's very fond of that storyline; it's his stock in trade.

Last November, Cillizza wrote "Democrats Losing Race for Funds Under Dean."  He must have a reminder in his Outlook calendar that the month before the quarter ends, he has to take a shot at Howard Dean.  (Cillizza came to the Post highly regarded but his elephant underoos are showing.)  That story also had quotes attributed to unnamed Democrats.

According to the Post's own policy on sources, "When we use an unnamed source, we are asking our readers to take an extra step to trust the credibility of the information we are providing.   We must be certain in our own minds that the benefit to readers is worth the cost in credibility." In this instance, as with other Cillizza stories, the readers clearly do not benefit.

Good post, Jonathan, even though you're not a Dean supporter.  I may poach from it when I write my LTE.

by KimPossible 2006-03-06 05:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Media Continues...

Why not let Chris know what you think?

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/thefix/20 06/03/weekend_fix_2.html#comments

--ian

by ibcoleman 2006-03-06 05:18AM | 0 recs

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