The Politico’s John F. Harris has run an… interesting piece. It starts out good:
This weekend’s uproar over Hillary Rodham Clinton invoking the assassination of Robert Kennedy as rationale for continuing her presidential campaign is an especially vivid example of modern journalism as hyperkinetic child — overstimulated by speed and hunger for a head-turning angle that will draw an audience.
The truth about what Clinton said — and any fair-minded appraisal of what she meant — was entirely beside the point.
Her comment was news by any standard. But it was only big news when wrested from context and set aflame by a news media more concerned with being interesting and provocative than with being relevant or serious.
Next, Harris explains how he and his Politico colleagues decided to go with “interesting and provocative” instead of relevancy or seriousness.
On Friday afternoon, I heard my colleague, Politico reporter Jonathan Martin, bellow in excitement as he called me over to his desk.
Martin was furiously typing away, not looking up as he told me the latest: Clinton had given an interview to the editorial board of the Argus Leader newspaper in South Dakota in which she answered inquiries into why she is staying in the race by citing the fact that it’s only May, and RFK had been shot and killed in June.
Here is what I was thinking: Wow. Maybe she has come unhinged? It’s not as though such macabre thoughts have never occurred to me, but for Clinton to give public voice to such a scenario is bizarre. This is going to be a big story and is almost certainly going to shadow and quite likely accelerate the final chapter of her presidential campaign.
No sexism in the media there, huh? SO nice to see an “objective” journalist’s thought processes regarding a story. But it gets better.
Here is what I said: Martin, quick get that item up!
He needed no prompting.
As leaders of a new publication, Politico’s senior editors and I are relentlessly focused on audience traffic. The way to build traffic on the Web is to get links from other websites. The way to get links is to be first with news — sometimes big news, sometimes small — that drives that day’s conversation.
We are unapologetic in our premium on high velocity. In this focus on links and traffic we are not different from nearly all news sites these days…
I’m sure William Randolph Hearst would be proud. But I digress.
Things didn’t work out too well for Harris and his fellow Politico hacks, though, when they actually saw the video of what Clinton said and how she said it:
I urged Martin to keep his foot on the gas: Be the first to post reaction from the Obama campaign. Obama spokesman Bill Burton quickly obliged, denouncing Clinton’s comments and saying such sentiments have “no place in this campaign.” Burton’s comments quickly went into Martin’s blog post. Soon enough, several websites and cable news outlets were giving the story trumpet-blaring treatment.
Perhaps half an hour after the story broke Martin called me back over to his desk. It turned out the Argus Leader had video of its big interview. I huddled over Martin’s computer as we watched.
It was a deflating experience.
The RFK remarks were deep in a 20-minute clip of an otherwise routine conversation. Then, once we actually got to the relevant portion of the video, it was hardly an electric moment.
Harris rambles on for a bit, then sticks a shiv in Clinton for no good reason by way of Bill, showing that despite his airy pronouncements about the media’s responsibility to inform the public and keep politicians honest, he doesn’t mean a damn word of it.
All in all, a bizarre article which gives me the sense that Harris is trying to justify something to himself, but can’t quite get past his own hypocrisy to do so.
Update, 05/25/08 2:55 PM:
According to another Politico hack, Mike Allen…
…Clinton concluded her meeting at the Argus Leader and arrived at the supermarket, where a few hundred onlookers assembled in the produce section, when the RFK comments began to reverberate around the Internet. As the New York senator was delivering her stump speech in the grocery store, reporters began receiving messages on their BlackBerrys from editors wondering about a New York Post story posted prominently on the Drudge Report that referenced the senator’s mention of the assassination.
Also according to Allen? We Clinton supporters are feeling livid, stunned, and sandbagged all at the same time at the media and Obamacult over this swiftboating . As if it were possible to be both livid and stunned simultaneously.