Longtime journalist John Dickerson knows what it’s like to unearth unflattering information about someone. Over the weekend, he found out what it’s like to be on the other end of that transaction. The CBS political director and Slate columnist, as a result, is being vilified as a purveyor of media bias. All on the basis of cold and hard evidence: a hastily composed e-mail!
As the political world now knows, Dickerson last week sent a note pooh-poohing the prospects of Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. The backdrop was a booking matter for a web show that was to follow Saturday night’s CBS Republican presidential debate. Who would appear?
Let’s go to the e-mail traffic. When asked if Bachmann would be a suitable guest for the show, Dickerson sent an e-mail reply whose recipients mistakenly included a Bachmann operative. The addressee gaffe ensured that the missive leaked to the public. Here’s what it said:
Okay let’s keep it loose since she’s not going to get many questions and she’s nearly off the charts in the hopes that we can get someone else.
Cue the eruption. The Bachmann campaign cried foul, saying that Dickerson is a “piece of [excrement]” and should be fired. Right-wing media mavens called it evidence that Bachmann was “intentionally” asked few questions at the debate.
Such outrage might be warranted if Dickerson had issued instructions to minimize Bachmann’s profile in the event. “Would that I had that kind of power,” says Dickerson, showing strong command of the statement-contrary-to-fact subjunctive mood and adding that he doesn’t “have the power to issue such a directive.”
Dickerson was merely stating his punditristic expectations of the event. Bachmann had long since retreated to second-tier status, a debate-question ghetto in which you have to claw your way into the proceedings. “What I was saying for the web show was reflective of the fact that I was anxious to talk to those who have a greater chance of getting the Republican nomination,” he says.
The other potentially objectionable part of Dickerson’s e-mail is where he says that Bachmann is “off the charts,” a clear reference to her dive in the polls. That is a fact supported by just about any poll you can pull up on Google over the past several weeks. Citing a fact=beyond reproach.
As for the call for Dickerson’s ouster, it appears to be finding no answer. When asked if there’s been any disciplinary discussions around the much-discussed e-mail, Dickerson replies: “No, not at all.” There was “no freaking out” by his bosses at any point, says Dickerson.
Go the other way with this one, says I. Give Dickerson a raise. I was not tuned in to his web show, but had I been, I would have clicked to another spot had Dickerson been staring through my computer screen and saying, “Here to discuss the events of the night is one of the hopefuls herself, candidate Michele Bachmann. Welcome, Mrs. Bachmann.”
Not only that, but I am tired of Dickerson calling the e-mail a mistake. He should have gone further in spitting at the prospect of a post-debate session with Bachmann. This would have been appropriate:
A web show with Bachmann? That’s a good one! Only if she promises to hype the dangers of the H.P.V. vaccine with no scientific evidence. LOL, and let’s get a real candidate.
Or perhaps this one:
Bachmann on web show? Ha. And I get to keep my entire CBS/Slate paycheck! Cain/Perry/Romney/Gingrich/bust.
Dickerson & Co. corralled reps from the Perry, Romney, and Gingrich campaigns, as the Bachmann people set out to rip Dickerson and whine about media bias. It’s funny how they had no such complaints a few months ago, when the media was overplaying the Bachmann phenomenon. “I think that she, like other candidates, has benefited from a flood of coverage,” says Dickerson.