Politico’s “Vetting” Flop

GQ, Poynter, and every other media organization that employs an English-speaker has ripped apart Politico’s lead story today – a Mike Allen/Jim VandeHei stunner about Republicans’ certitude that their guy is getting tougher treatment than Barack Obama. Politico’s media scribe Dylan Byers has a good run-down of the controversy. Problem: He closes it out by trying to explain where Politico may have been coming from.

VandeHei and Allen cite four different stories – two in the Times, two in the Post – and in each case their central preoccupation is with which page the story appears on in the print edition. A Times story about Ann Romney’s horse-riding days appears “on the front page of its Sunday edition,” while a Times story about new revelations of Obama’s pot-smoking days appears as “a brief on A15.” The pot-smoking story “landed on page A6” of the Washington Post, while Horowitz’s story about Romney’s bullying was “a front-pager.”

1) Who, in the news cycles of 2012, cares what page an article appears on? Campaigns care if the Post or the Times covers a story. They shoot out e-mails informing reporters that the Post or the Times covered said story. These e-mails rarely make reference of what page the stories appeared on because reporters are going to read them online. (A Romney e-mail today sends me, twice, to the excellent Washington Free Beacon, which is online only.)

2) If we’re playing the page number game, the idea that the Times (focus on them for now) buried its “vetting” stories about Obama can’t stand up to scrutiny. You can’y compare Obama 2012 to Romney 2012, because Obama’s already been his party’s nominee and won an election. Go back to Obama’s first run. In April 2007, nearly a year before he became a campaign issue, the Times published a 2,593 word Jodi Kantor story (with addtional reporting from Kenya!) about Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his relationship to Barack Obama. The story appeared on A1. On May 11, 2008, when Obama had largely locked up the nomination but still had to fend off Hillary Clinton in tough states, the Times published a 5,024 word story titled “Pragmatic Politics, Forged on the South Side,” which delved into Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dorhn – “Hyde Park’s fringes,” and “unrepentant members of the radical Weather Underground that bombed the United States Capitol and the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War.” This also appeared on A1.

3) The David Maraniss story about Obama’s pot-smoking days adds to a fact that was already known about the president when he ran in 2007. Horowitz’s story was an original scoop, based on interviews with Romney associates who hadn’t talked before. Also: One is about the illicit use of a drug, while the other is about bullying a kid with a gender-bending haircut.

Here’s the issue: the “Obama wasn’t vetted” outrage doesn’t have any quantitative, factual proof. If you’re angry that Obama won in 2008, it sure feels like the media went too easy on him. It sure feels like the press was so interested in the story of the First Black President that it ignored stories that reflected poorly on him.

Feeling isn’t proving. Still, don’t get me wrong – it’s really interesting that Haley Barbour, a Republican lobbyist and former governor, thinks the media is being unfair to his party’s candidate. One point to Politico!