The problem with too many journalists — and especially those journalists inside the Beltway — is this: they do not write what they’re thinking. The reporters do not tell us what they know. The columnists and analysts do not tell us what they believe. Their resulting work is boring, uninformative, and manipulative.
Today at the Republican convention, Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for the first President Bush who now writes a column for the Wall Street Journal, got caught by a mike that I guess she thought wasn’t on. She was talking with Republican strategist and former McCain associate Mike Murphy. Here’s Salon’s transcription of the exchange:
Apparently referring to some of McCain’s current advisors, Murphy then says, “These guys, this is all like how you win a Texas race — you know, just run it up. And it’s not gonna work.”
Noonan can then be heard agreeing with Murphy, saying, “It’s over.” A little later, Noonan responds to a question about whether Palin was the most qualified woman McCain could have chosen. “The most qualified? No,” Noonan responds. “I think they went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives … Every time Republicans do that, because that’s not where they live and it’s not what they’re good at, they blow it.”
Now, if Peggy Noonan wrote a column every week that was as honest with her readers as she is here, with her colleagues, when she thinks the microphone is off, I would read it religiously. She’s part of a world that I don’t inhabit. But now I have a bright picture of the fact that she’s not writing what she knows and believes.
I know columnists are people; they have relationships to protect; they want insiders to keep talking to them. Still: virtually every journalist in DC could go a lot farther down the road of writing what they know and think. Doing so would probably earn them more respect, and more readers, and the sources and players would end up talking to them anyway.
We went through this five years ago when Laurie Garrett, a talented reporter, sent an email to her friends from Davos telling them about the big conference there in blunt, unvarnished and informative terms. Then she freaked out because this report — in which she was doing exactly what she ought to have been doing in her role as a journalist — became public and embarrassed her.
Gut: The Sarah Palin choice is really going to work, or really not going to work. It’s not going to be a little successful or a little not; it’s not going to be a wash. She is either going to be magic or one of history’s accidents. She is either going to be brilliant and groundbreaking, or will soon be the target of unattributed quotes by bitter staffers shifting blame in all the Making of the President 2008 books. Of which there should be plenty, as we’ve never had a year like this, with the fabulous freak of a campaign.
So: in print, it’s up in the air. But in truth, “it’s over” and the McCain campaign got seduced by “bullshit about narratives.”
How can anyone ever read a word by Peggy Noonan again and take it seriously? (And she’s been around the block long enough not to get too much sympathy for, you know, not knowing that microphones can betray you.)
If her editors had any respect for their readers, they’d fire her.
UPDATE: Noonan says the excerpt was edited or truncated and that her “it’s over” did not refer to the McCain campaign or the Palin nomination. I don’t know if that’s true; hope we can find out. Even if it is, she still expressed herself far more directly, bluntly — and persuasively — when she thought she was off-mike. That’s really my point.
- December 12, 2008 @ 10:43:23 [Current Revision] by Scott Rosenberg
- September 3, 2008 @ 19:30:35 by Scott Rosenberg