AP Story Serves as Political Rorschach Blot

Today may be the first day of spring, but the interminable snowball fight among partisan bloggers shows little sign of thawing.

Today may be the first day of spring, but the interminable snowball fight among partisan bloggers in the ‘sphere shows little sign of thawing.

With the three-year anniversary of the war in Iraq upon us, Donald Rumsfeld’s guest op-ed for the Washington Post yesterday remains one of the most-discussed news items for bloggers, while others are taking aim once more at Cindy Sheehan, inspired by a new profile of her in the San Francisco Chronicle. In this edition of the blog report, however, we turn our eyes to a more nuanced blog debate that has been swirling for the past few days: a mini-storm set off by Associated Press writer Jennifer Loven’s weekend story, “Bush Using Straw-Man Arguments in Speeches.”

Loven leads off with several examples of thinly supported rhetorical assertions by President Bush — “Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day” and “Some say that if you’re Muslim you can’t be free” — before countering that “hardly anyone in mainstream political debate has made such assertions”:

When the president starts a sentence with “some say” or offers up what “some in Washington” believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.

The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.

He typically then says he “strongly disagrees” — conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.

Given such red meat, bloggers have responded by providing yet another example of a news story interpreted by Web scribes exactly according to their blue- or red-tinted political goggles.

“Funny, I thought that [the straw man] device was considered a weak tactic in debate. In fact, some say it’s a fallacy,” wrote A Songdog’s World of Random Thoughts. “Just one more example for those of you who cringe every time he opens his mouth (like I do).” Reprinting the AP’s headline, dangerousmeta! found reason for hope “[t]hat the media is recognizing and reporting on straw-man arguments,” while Dave at PhillyBurbs chimed in simply, “Finally, someone in the MSM points this out.”

Giving “enormous credit” to Loven, The Carpetbagger Report called her effort “the kind of article that’s entirely too rare: the kind that calls Bush on his bogus rhetorical games.” Meanwhile, Maximus at The Situation Room called the piece “a rare but penetrating piece of news analysis.” “No doubt conservatives are somewhere screaming ‘liberal bias!’ about this story,” Maximus wrote. “But Bush’s own words make the case.”

And, indeed, a majority of those blogging about the story were none too happy with Loven’s work.

Calling Loven a “Democratic operative” and her story the “latest example of astoundingly brazen bias masquerading as ‘news,’” Little Green Footballs posted it “just for the record — to mark one more grim milestone on mainstream media’s descent into irrelevance.” “Check out this partisan hit piece against President Bush from the ‘news’ outlet the Associated Press,” wrote the editors of American Federalist Journal at their blog The Unalienable Right. “AP ‘reporter’ Jennifer Loven is a failure at elementary logic as well as objective journalism. This piece is not labeled as an op-ed or ‘news analysis.’ It should be labeled ‘DNC press release.’ It is a prime example of egregious bias, even by AP standards.”

The Loven-bashing continued over at Bookworm Room, where the blogger wrote that “Loven is at it again. She’s the political writer for AP who always comes out with anti-Bush stories, and who always, somehow, manages to forget to disclose that her husband is a former Clinton employee and was working for John Kerry last I heard. I took her latest ‘news’ story and, just for the fun of it, fisked the first part of it. I noted the editorializing, the unattributed ‘facts,’ and the rhetorical devices, and, as you’ll see, once I got rid of the Lovenizing, there was nothing left.” Concluded Bookworm Room: “[T]he gist is that Loven, while falsely castigating Bush for making false claims to bolster his rhetoric, repeatedly engages in precisely that tactic.”

While refraining from attacking Loven, Michael J.W. Stickings at The Reaction thought her piece stated the obvious. “Well, duh. Has Bush ever made a case for anything on its merits? Has he ever been truly honest in making a case for anything? No,” Stickings wrote. “His whole presidency, and not just his speechifying, has relied on misrepresentation and deception.”

Loven’s piece “isn’t really news,” concluded Stickings, “but, as far as I’m concerned, any attempt to expose Bush for what he is and how he operates should be welcomed. Too many people out there remain in the dark on even this most obvious of points.”

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.