Combating Lieberman Fatigue in the New York Times

At the Times, reporting on the race between Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont has become a ritual in repetitiveness.

The New York Times just can’t seem to get enough of the struggles faced by Connecticut Democratic senator Joe Lieberman, who’s trying to win a primary battle on August 8. Over the past week, we’ve seen a succession of pieces rehashing essentially the same themes concerning Lieberman’s attempts to fend off challenger Ned Lamont, and with each new article, we seem to be offered less and less new news about the race, while being fed the same old facts, figures and anecdotes.

Hearken back, if you will, to July 16, when Mark Leibovich cranked out an 1,800-word piece on the race which focused on Lieberman’s struggle with the vocal Democratic “base” — and an army of liberal bloggers — who find his fierce loyalty to President Bush’s Iraq policy (such as it is), and his unwillingness to criticize the obvious shortcomings of said policy, unacceptable.

This past Sunday, the paper ran a somewhat similar piece by Adam Nagourney headlined, “After Sluggish Start, Lieberman Heeds Alarms,” (which echoed Leibovich’s headline, “A Struggling Lieberman Hopes His Fate Isn’t Sealed With a Kiss,”) and parroted some of the main themes of the earlier piece. Nagourney also talked to a bevy of Democratic party kingmakers and former Lieberman aides who give us the same old story we’ve been reading for weeks now: “Joe’s in trouble because of his stance on the war, and he has been slow to try and rally his supporters” - or some variation thereof.

The Times editorial board also waded in to the Lieberman fight on Sunday, endorsing Lamont in a scathing editorial that cut Lieberman to ribbons. The paper noted that “At this moment, with a Republican president intent on drastically expanding his powers with the support of the Republican House and Senate, it is critical that the minority party serve as a responsible, but vigorous, watchdog…this is no time for a man with Mr. Lieberman’s ability to command Republicans’ attention to become their enabler, and embrace a role as the president’s defender.”

And if the Leibovich piece, the Nagourney piece and the editorial weren’t enough to allow loyal Times readers to wrap their heads around the issues involved in Lieberman’s fight for survival, this morning, Anne E. Kornblut penned yet another look at the Lieberman/Lamont contest. Given the headline, “For Rivals in Connecticut, a Dash to Pick Up Votes,” one might think that the article would look at the positions of both men running for the Senate seat, but other than a few brief mentions of Lamont’s stump speeches, it focuses largely on Lieberman’s record and the big-ticket Democratic pols who have been coming to Connecticut to stump for him.

Other than these big pieces, the paper also ran a “campaign trail” piece on Saturday about the race, and another one on Friday concerning the contest’s ad spending, and another one on Thursday, looking at how Jews feel about Lieberman.

There’s no doubt that the Lieberman/Lamont primary race is an important one this election season, and is one the beltway gang is watching due to its implications for Democrats who supported the war across the country. It also has the added drama of pitting an old political hand and presidential and vice presidential candidate against a wealthy newcomer, and revolves around the big topic of our time: the war in Iraq.

But the more we read about the race— and in the Times, it’s become a daily ritual — it seems the more things stay the same. The die was cast back when Lamont first entered the race months ago, and it seems that everything since has just been recycling the same themes. We know the Times isn’t — and shouldn’t — shy away from covering the story, but we’d suggest its editors try to come up with a new angle before they decide to spill yet more ink recycling the same old story yet again.

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