So Much Promise, So Little Delivery

Here’s another example of a New York Times story that promises something in the lede, then fails to deliver. (Remind you of anything?)

Michael Slackman begins a piece headed, “Rebuffing Bush Seems to be Primary Goal of New York’s Democratic Voters” by telling us that New York voters are “less intent on casting a ballot for Sen. John Kerry or Sen. John Edwards than in lodging a first vote against George W. Bush, political analysts, pollsters, and ordinary voters said.”

The reader might then expect that what comes next in this story is those “political analysts, pollsters, and ordinary voters” repeating that message in their own words, or something close to them. The reader would be wrong.

Slackman begins by quoting Sarah Kovner, who does indeed say that, “People have jumped to beating Bush. They have jumped to the next stage.” And who is Kovner? She’s identified as “a longtime political activist who served in the Clinton administration.” Is she perhaps one of the promised “political analysts”? Well, a Nexis search revealed not a single news article that has ever referred to Kovner as a political analyst. But neither is she a pollster or an “ordinary voter.” Indeed, her status as an activist and a former member of the Clinton administration would seem to make her more likely to see anti-Bush sentiment among voters than others might.

Further down, Slackman does undeniably find one “ordinary voter” to back up his lede: Step forward, Clifford Anglin, a hospital laundry-worker who dutifully tells Slackman, “If it’s Dean. If it’s Kerry. It doesn’t matter. Anybody.”

Next Slackman quotes Josh Isay, “a Democratic political consultant who is not affiliated with either camp.” It’s certainly fair to call Isay an “analyst,” but he’s not one who says anything to support the “anti-Bush” case made in Slackman’s lede. Here’s what he does say: “I think the Kerry momentum, the huge Kerry momentum, unplugged this primary. In New York, a huge lead can only be overcome by huge money, and John Edwards did not have huge money to spend in the New York City media market.”

Next, we get our long-awaited pollster, Lee Miringoff of the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion. But again, Miringoff tells us only that, “There is no evidence of any Edwards surge. If anything, the Kerry numbers are firming up.” He says nothing about anti-Bush feeling.

And finally, Slackman gives us Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. Like Kovner, Horner is an activist, albeit a non-partisan one. Maybe he could also be described as an analyst, but either way, he does no better than Isay or Miringoff at supporting Slackman’s lede, telling us only, “I think upstate there is a sense of inevitability in the whole thing. There is a sense that the Kerry steamroller has picked up speed.”

Let’s recap. We’re told up front that “political analysts, pollsters, and ordinary voters” are more intent on voting against Bush than in casting a ballot for Kerry or Edwards. To back that up we get the following:

- One partisan activist who makes Slackman’s point.
- One voter who feels that way, too.
- A political consultant who makes a different point altogether.
- A pollster who makes a different point as well.
- And an activist, who could plausibly be called an “analyst,” who also makes a different point.

The longer we read, the lonelier Slackman’s lede gets.

Zachary Roth

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

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.