Says Who? Says You

It’s only Wednesday, but The Boston Globe’s Glen Johnson is already in the hunt for this week’s unsupported lead prize. Today Johnson kicks off his story with this: “To detractors and even some supporters, John F. Kerry’s decision this week to cancel his speech to the US Conference of Mayors because of a picket line was typical of how he makes many judgments: protracted, messy, and guided by self-interest.”

One might expect to find in Johnson’s story quotes from said assortment of “detractors” and “supporters” — either named or even speaking anonymously to cover their own asses. One would be wrong.

The only sources Johnson quotes by name in his piece are a Harvard professor (supporter? detractor?) and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (detractor). Romney’s quote — basically, that Kerry makes decisions like a senator, not an executive — is at least pertinent to Johnson’s lead. For the professor, it’s a stretch. (“‘Both of these candidates are focused on long-term victory,” said David C. King, a public policy professor at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. ”They understand that the swing voters will not be making up their mind until October… . What happens now won’t concern them as long as everything is looking good by then.”)

Maybe some of Johnson’s supporting sources were edited out. Maybe, by “detractors” and “supporters,” Johnson meant himself and a few people he knows. Who knows?

But here’s a thought: If Johnson, having covered John Kerry for so many months, has noticed that the candidate’s decision-making tends to be “protracted, messy and guided by self-interest,” he should just say so and provide examples that he has observed over time (as he actually does in the piece).

Johnson’s authority as an eye-witness is a lot more convincing than this pointless buttressing of his case with those mysterious “detractors” and “supporters” who clutter up his lead, only to never again make an appearance.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.