When Reporters Interview Reporters

On “Fox News Live” this morning, anchor Brigitte Quinn interviewed Paul Bedard, editor of U.S. News and World Report’s Washington Whispers column. The first topic discussed? The Bush team’s confidence that the president will win reelection. Here’s a snippet:

Bedard: …internally, Matthew Dowd, who’s the pollster, is saying, “we won it, 50 to 47.” You know, Cheney’s kind of saying the same thing out there. They are confident, they got — I mean, let’s face it. All but one poll has them ahead, and the Kerry people have to come back and say, well, “average ‘em out it’s only 47 percent.” So they seem fairly confident and it’s kinda feeding into their strategy this week to go upbeat.

Quinn: Yeah — but I, I don’t know Paul, I’m still a little bit — I always thought this was a game of lowering expectations. Maybe not.

There are a lot of things Quinn might have said to Bedard here. The first that springs to mind: “Seeing as it’s common knowledge that political consultants expect voters to lean towards the candidate they expect to win, isn’t it possible that the Bush team leaked this information to you in order to create an aura of inevitability?”

It’s not as though Dowd hasn’t tried to manipulate the press before, after all: we all remember his prediction that Kerry would get a 15 point bounce after the Democratic convention, an attempt to control the storyline that the New York Times bizarrely treated as credible. (We lampooned the incident here.)

Quinn didn’t seem to be aware of all that, and said nothing. That’s a problem, of course, but more troubling is what she did say: that she thought campaigns were in “a game of lowering expectations,” even right before an election. Does she really think Bush wants to garner negative coverage of his reelection chances this week? That would be a fairly bizarre strategy — after all, the bounce to be had from a spate of positive coverage following a performance that exceeds low expectations isn’t worth a whole helluva lot in mid-November.

Brian Montopoli

UPDATE, 3:55 pm: On CNN’s “Inside Politics” this afternoon, Judy Woodruff uttered the words “lowering expectations.” She was responding to a discussion between two Congressmen about who will win the presidential race in Pennsylvania, a discussion in which both men predicted narrow wins for their partyís candidate. Like Quinn, Woodruff seems to have so embraced the dominant jargon of the campaign that she canít bring herself to think through its meaning.

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.