In this morning’s New York Times, reporter Carl Hulse tells the story of Nancy Boyda, a House Democrat who won her bid for Congress in 2006 in a heavily Republican district in Kansas, and who is nervous about her reelection prospects.
Hulse says that she might indeed have a hard time in ‘08 if Obama, Edwards or Clinton wins the Democratic nomination (essentially, he’s saying that Democrats in Congress up for reelection will have a tough row to hoe once a Democrat—any Democrat—is nominated, a line of thinking he seems to have adopted from GOP TV ads, and Republican sources).
More bothersome is Hulse’s insistence—and he’s hardly alone among members of the political press in this—on hanging the story on quotes from mostly partisan, interested parties. So, for some useful perspective the difficulties Boyda will face if Hillary Clinton gets the nod, Hulse turns to Howard Wolfson, the communications director for the Clinton campaign. “Anyone can speculate,” Wolfson tells him, “but there are a set of facts that tell a very different story…The actual evidence makes clear that she is an asset in tough districts.”
Of course she is. What else might Wolfson possibly say?
Next up is a quote (balance!) from Patrick Leopold, campaign manager for Lynn Jenkins, who is running against Boyda. Leopold sees Clinton as, you guessed it, a potential drag on his rival’s campaign. “Whether you are a moderate Republican or a conservative Republican in Kansas, you are pretty much of the same mind on Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Leopold said. “There is no question Hillary is going to be a drag for Boyda.”“
Right. No question.
Next on the list of reliable sources is Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who feels that no matter who the Democratic nominee is, it can only help those running for Congress: “If they approach it right and tell their constituents where they stand, it enhances their credibility and independence.”
Get that? Whoever wins, it’s a good thing!
It’s only in the last several paragraphs that Hulse quotes people without a vested interest in getting their own version of the story across. We hear from local resident Greg Unruh and Joe Aistrup, chairman of the political science department at Kansas State University.
Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.
We’ve said it a million times—what’s the point in quoting people whose only goal in talking to you is to frame your story from their predictable perspective? Interviewing campaign officials is fine, but building a story around their quotes is little more than free advertising.