Don’t blame media for Republicans’ dumb comments

June 19, 2013

Politico Executive Editor Jim VandeHei today appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to defend a Politico story titled “The GOP’s clueless caucus.” Written by Politico reporters Alexander Burns and Jake Sherman, the piece examined the protracted rash of controversial Republican statements on touchy social issues, starting with the comments of GOP Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock regarding rape, through Rep. Don Young’s “wetbacks” moment and beyond.

Chatting with host Willie Geist, VandeHei talked about how there’s no “control mechanism” in the Republican Party to stop these crazy remarks. A lot of the constituents of these fellows, he argued, “like it when they say these incendiary things.”

Nicolle Wallace, a communications chief in the White House of George W. Bush, jumped in with some opposing views, which can be reduced to “blame the media”:

It’s fair to point out, too, that I think that one of the frustrations that Republicans have is that those of you in the media are obsessed with these members who, I think even you could admit, that none of them are, as you said, leaders of the Republican Party. None of them are important chairmen of important committees making legislation. And if you go back to the substance — we’re talking about immigration — I think even Democrats would admit that there’s no one in the country — no elected official in the country — more important to that effort than Marco Rubio. So, there are plenty of Republicans leading on important, difficult issues, but you guys remain focused on their gaffes and ridiculous statements.

Now there’s a false trade-off for you. Wallace appears to be suggesting that the Beltway media, which is nothing if not prolific, can’t address the role of Sen. Marco Rubio and other GOP titans on pressing issues while also covering the gaffes of certain less prominent lawmakers. In fact, it can do a bit of both. For stuff on Rubio and immigration reform, for instance, sample these 700-plus recent stories on the topic.

As for the gaffes, there’s but one threshold for exhaustive coverage: Is the person who says the extremely dumb thing a duly elected federal official or a prominent political player? If you can check that box, cover the utterance, the reaction, the apology, the fallout, the political implications, the social implications and on and on. And if the offensive comments keep on coming, then yes, a big trend story on the matter is a fine idea.

Wallace would do better to question whether the media reacts with equal vigor to the gaffes committed by the other major party. That’s a debate for the ages.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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Erik Wemple | June 18, 2013