Greg already flagged a brutally bad New York Times story about the Hilary Rosen flap earlier this morning, pointing out that the Times totally butchered Rosen’s (non-) involvement in Barack Obama’s campaign. He’s right — but that only scrapes the surface of what a bad job this story does with the phony controversy that broke out when Rosen said something stupid on CNN on Wednesday.
Let’s start with the headline: “Collision Over Roles of Women Sets Off Combative Debate Along the Trail.” Huh? That never happened. There was no “collision over roles of women,” and especially not “along the trail,” which is to say, in the context of the campaign. What actually happened is that one TV talking head, to be sure someone there to represent the Democrats, said something foolish which was immediately pounced on by Mitt Romney’s campaign…and by the Obama campaign as well. No collision. No debate.
The article took the entire “controversy” (as framed by Republicans) at face value:
The campaign for the White House spilled into the politics of motherhood on Thursday as a combative back-and-forth involving a Democratic strategist and Mitt Romney’s wife quickly revived a deeper, decades-old cultural debate about the roles of women in and out of the workplace.
Again: that never happened, at least not within the campaign’s context. Did some people use Rosen’s words as an excuse to wallow in a “decades-old cultural debate”? Sure. But no one who speaks for the Obama campaign or the Democratic Party in any meaningful capacity took the “objectionable” side of that debate. No officials from the Obama campaign or the Democratic Party said anything about stay-at-home moms that attracted criticism. And when one lone Democrat did say something, the Obama campaign and the larger Democratic Party network condemned it and said exactly the same things that the Romney campaign said. There was no campaign disagreement. Anyone who only read the Times story would have come away believing that there was an actual presidential campaign dispute over stay-at-home moms.
Here’s the bottom line. We’re going to have these manufactured controversies throughout the campaign. Both sides know how to take an awkward remark and turn it into a huge flap, regardless of whether there’s anything real behind it. Hey, editors and reporters: don’t fall for it! No one is really offended; there’s no there there, and you shouldn’t be afraid to say so. It’s fine to report what the campaigns are up to, but whether it’s Etch-a-Sketch or this one or the next dozen that are going to follow, there’s absolutely no excuse for taking this stuff at face value.