MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough didn’t learn much from last week’s Politico misfire on the New York Times’s alleged bias in covering presidential campaigns. Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen tried to make that case and ended up getting buried. Turned out that the pair hadn’t dug deeply enough into the archives to put together an airtight argument.
That’s precisely the problem with the critique Scarborough trotted out before viewers this morning, during a meandering “Morning Joe” segment on alleged lefty media bias. Make that New York Times alleged lefty media bias.
The conversation launcher was a story in today’s Times titled “The Candidate Next Door.” Via colorful quotes and shoe-leather reporting, the story surveys the disaffection of Mitt Romney’s neighbors in La Jolla, Calif., over the planned expansion of his seaside home — and over the candidate’s politics. It occupied the front of the market-moving Home and Garden section of the New York Times — which Scarborough appeared to prize as choice journalistic real estate.
Scarborough went off on the piece and the unfairness in coverage that it allegedly exposed, speaking as if he has as strong a command of the New York Times’ archives as of his own political ups and downs. Here’s some of his anger (transcript verbatim from MSNBC.com):
SCARBOROUGH: did “the new york times “ ever dispatch reporters to john kerry ‘s homes? because john kerry is worth a lot more money, obviously, than mitt romney . like his georgetown home, was there ever a story on the georgetown home that you can recall?
MARK HALPERIN: i don’t recall that.
SCARBOROUGH: was there ever his massive, massive farm outside of pittsburgh, was there ever a story on that multimillion dollar estate ?
MARK HALPERIN: i think i would remember something like that.
SCARBOROUGH: you would? ok. let me ask you. the beacon hill residence, which we have both seen and it’s beautiful --
MARK HALPERIN: beautiful house .
“Wealth of Others Helped to Shape Kerry’s Life.” That’s the headline on the New York Times story that Scarborough is inquiring about. (For others, see this helpful Politico post.) The dateline carries hyphens: St.-Briac-Sur-Mer, France, suggesting that the paper invested heavily to bring this sweeping story into print. The date of publication carried political implications for Kerry: Oct. 10, 2004. Over four Internet pages, it chronicles the palatial cushiness of Kerry’s lifestyle. Reading the lines below, you’d almost suppose that Scarborough had edited the thing:
Mr. Kerry’s life changed at that point, and not just because the marriage made him happier. The couple bought and renovated a five-story 18th-century town house on Louisburg Square in Beacon Hill, giving the senator a permanent home in his home state at last. He also gained a Washington home, Ms. Heinz Kerry’s 23-room town house in Georgetown, and the two vacation homes in Idaho and Nantucket.
Seen from the outside, those houses are not especially ostentatious. The Sun Valley house, for instance, at the end of a 100-yard driveway about a mile north of town, is smaller than many of its neighbors, and rendered invisible from the road by landscaping. The Nantucket house is set on a small lot, with a screened-in porch, and a green and white loveseat swing on the front lawn.
Nexis tells us how the story was played: “Sunday, Section 1; Column 2; National Desk; THE 2004 CAMPAIGN: FAMILY BACKGROUND; Pg. 1, 2814 words.” Not quite Home and Garden front, but you have to start somewhere.
The episode teaches the same lesson we learned last week. Media-bias allegations are an inflammable liquid. Handle with care and keep out of the reach of people who aren’t willing to wear themselves out plowing through Nexis.
Good thing that one of Scarborough’s panelists — Willie Geist — did a bit of archiving during the segment. He dredged up the Kerry story and read a bit of it aloud. It came as news to Scarborough, despite his professed command of the New York Times archive. As Scarborough had said earlier in the segment: “The Times acts as if we don’t have something called the Internet or Lexis-Nexis. That we can’t search this stuff and show side-by-side.”
Facts notwithstanding, Scarborough rededicated himself to his attack in an interview with Politico.