CNN’s Michigan Source

If it’s a Clinton supporter, this is spin posing as news

Over the last few weeks, the issue of what to do about Michigan and Florida has emerged as one of the major battlegrounds in the ongoing Democratic nomination struggle. And just as important as the question of what happens to those states’ delegates is the simultaneous spin war over who’s to blame for the impasse.

That’s why reporters, as always, should be careful about passing on charges and countercharges without putting them in context—something CNN fails to do in a Web story today.

The CNN report, headlined “Source: Obama Not Embracing Michigan Revote,” reveals in its lead that “[a] top Michigan Democrat expressed frustration Wednesday with Sen. Barack Obama for not embracing a plan to conduct a revote of the state’s Democratic primary.”

It goes on to note:

“The Obama people are blocking it in the Legislature,” the Democratic source tells CNN. The source also says the group has repeatedly and unsuccessfully reached out to the campaign for input and cooperation. The source says that Obama’s campaign has been asked to craft an alternative or to meet with the Clinton campaign to work out an acceptable compromise, but that those requests have been met with silence.

But there’s a crucial piece of information missing. Is the source neutral in the race, or is he or she supporting one of the candidates?

If the source is neutral or supporting Obama, then the frustration with what the source sees as the Obama camp’s foot-dragging is newsworthy, and may reflect a more widespread feeling among Michigan Democrats. If, however, the source is a Clinton supporter (and his or her decision to criticize Obama to CNN suggests that’s a serious possibility), then this is nothing more than predictable partisan spin that should be clearly labeled as such if it’s going to be reported at all.

Without knowing the source’s allegiance, readers can’t evaluate the significance of what’s being reported.

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.