Precision in Labeling

Over at TPM Cafe, Todd Gitlin (who writes CJR’s “Russert Watch” column) schools reporters on the definition of “condescension” and provides, without condescension, a handy example of the word’s proper usage.

Armed with Nexis search results Gitlin says that reporters, as well as Barack Obama’s opponents, have been “stamping…the condescension label onto Obama’s forehead” and now this “branding of Obama is leaking into territory where it doesn’t belong.” Like here, in today’s New York Times:

[Obama] waxes incandescent at rallies, but in the 18-hour days leading up to primaries, he can sound aloof and querulous before smaller audiences. Condescension can creep in. He suggested, for example, that his youthful travels to Asia and Europe had left him more knowledgeable than Mrs. Clinton or Mr. McCain about foreign affairs.

Improper use of the word “condescension,” Gitlin argues, convincingly. And evidence of an emerging Obama-related “trope.”

Speaking of that Times piece today. One thing that jumped out at me (admittedly less grave than Gitlin’s point) was the reporter’s fixation on Obama’s claim that he doesn’t read profiles of himself. The reporter, Michael Powell, returns to that unbelievable notion twice in the piece.

One of the curiosities about Mr. Obama is his professed lack of interest in the writers who pore over [his] life…He claims not to read profiles that pile high in his plane…

Which can’t possibly be true, right? Obama’s going to read my piece, right?


You return to that question again: You really don’t read profiles of yourself?

Why won’t Obama read my story? He’s just saying that, right?

This is the same reporter who wrote in yesterday’s Times, as I noted:

Are you sure [Obama] undid his tie?! What depths of emotion must roil beneath that cotton dress shirt!

Someone needs to spend a little more quality time with his traveling press corps. Just a little attention. Please?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.