The Usual Suspects

Get this, Howard Wolfson thinks Hillary killed in the Vegas debate

On Saturday, The Washington Post’s Dan Balz wrote a piece about the Democratic debate that took place in Las Vegas late last week. It’s a perfect example of something that drives us nuts: when political reporters insist on constructing the very narrative they then report on, without so much as an ironic nod to their role in creating the premise of their story.

The piece starts off telling us what we should think about Hillary’s performance in the debate, and what it means:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strong performance in Thursday’s Democratic debate here will blunt talk that she is on a downward slide and shift the focus to whether Sen. Barack Obama or former senator John Edwards can stop her march to the nomination, party strategists said Friday.

And whose talk will this “blunt?” The talk among reporters on the campaign trail, of course.

But the best is yet to come. Balz then reported the reactions of various campaigns’ communications staff, as if any flack for a particular candidate would do anything other than praise his boss. For example, Hillary’s mouthpiece, Howard Wolfson, offered this nuanced assessment:

She gave a commanding performance…I think this was the most important debate since the first one, and it was important for her to be dominating, and she was.

Next up was Robert Gibbs, Obama’s communications director, who, Balz writes, “disputed the high marks given to Clinton.” You don’t say! We also learned that “Advisers to Edwards (N.C.) discounted reviews of their candidate’s performance and said he continues to be a force, especially because of his strength in Iowa.” Amazing.

In all seriousness, interviewing the communications directors of various campaigns about how great a job their bosses just did in a debate is pointless. Why do I even have to write this? And it’s even worse to incorporate their answers into your story. It does nothing to move the story along, and serves as little more than a free press release for the campaign. Regardless, things like this seem to continuously slip right by much of the political press. Just ask CNN and James Carville.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.