Postman delivers: For political reporters, the most memorable scene in “The Boys on the Bus,” Tim Crouse’s classic chronicle of campaign coverage of the 1972 presidential race, comes at the close of a dreary candidate debate in California: “Walter, Walter, what’s our lead?” one of the reporting pack shouts at the great Walter Mears, of the Associated Press.
The now-retired Mears is known as one of the best ever at performing what Crouse described as “the parlor trick” of instantly finding the lede of a political story – recognizing and honing in on the most important, precisely correct point with which to begin a clear, concise and rational account of what is often a sprawling, complicated and uncertain event.
Amid the countless trees killed in the service of covering President Obama’s first State of the Union this week, the Washpost’s Dan Balz proved anew why he’s the premier political scribe among the Beltway Wise Men, by nailing a Mears-like lede in his thumb sucker on the speech, one of the toughest deadline stories on the beat.
After the theatrics and the rhetoric and the canned responses, two questions remain from President Obama’s first State of the Union address: Did he succeed in persuading nervous Democrats not to cut and run on his presidency; and will he succeed in making Republicans think twice about their united opposition to almost all things Obama?
Our old friend Dan next pulled out and featured, high up in his yarn, the key money quotes from Obama’s hour-plus oratory, focusing on the president’s effort at shaming congressional GOPers into doing something beyond trying to trash and de-legitimize his presidency:
After last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, a super-majority, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.
Unfortunately for Obama, the answers to the questions Balz raised in his lede are:
a) most likely not
Limbering up for punditry: While Balz won top Calbuzz honors for Instant Analysis, Richard Dunham of the Hearst Washington Bureau captured the award for print’s Best Pre-Game Show, posting a series of Harper’s Index-style, by-the-numbers measures on Obama’s first-year as president.
Put up on the Chron’s “Politics Blog,” Dunham’s report was a terrific, value-added, online element that provided advance perspective on the speech, on everything from Afghanistan to the anger of voters, as measured by official stats and top-rank national polls.
There was great sadness in the newsrooms of the Chron, and of other Hearst papers, when the mother ship folded local Washington bureaus into a consolidated D.C. operation, but Dunham’s good work on the SOTU offers a case study of how journalistic efficiencies of scale can sometimes work.
eMeg speaks – but not to you! In her unstinting effort to be elected Governor of the United States, Meg Whitman hit her talking points sat for interviews with three national outlets on her big book tour this week, once again stiffing the media organizations that actually cover the California governor’s race.
Breathlessly gushing about her appearances with Today’s Matt Lauer , Neil Cavuto on Fox and NPR’s Morning Edition, her press shop offered this dreck —
Meg has been doing a series of interviews over the past few days, and doing a great job explaining how she will be a different kind of leader for California
— apparently utterly oblivious to the irony that she’s explaining what a swell leader she’d be to REPORTERS WHO ARE NOT IN CALIFORNIA.
Breaking news: 150 days and counting since Calbuzz extended its dinner invite to eMeg.
What difference does it make what he says? Ben Smith at Politico got into an interesting beef with Senator John Cornyn, who accused the journo of being “blatantly unethical” after Smith posted a press release the Texas Republican put out commenting on Obama’s speech – hours before it was given.
I understand why Cornyn and his office are unhappy about the item and that they intended the early release as a convenience. I respectfully disagree on both the news value and the ethics. My blog item didn’t suggest that the mild deception in which his office was asking reporters to participate was some kind of major crime. It was just an opportunity to lift the curtain on a bit of Washington artifice and cast a little light on the way the parties actually interact.
And traditional ground rules, which I’ve been clear about in the past, are that you can’t put something off the record or under embargo without a reporter’s consent.
Hurricane anticipation: Cornyn wasn’t the only one to engage in a little crystal ball gazing about the speech. Carly Fiorina opined that Obama was offering “gimmicks, not real solutions” in the speech nearly seven hours before Obama started talking.
“Carly on anticipated SOTU content,” read a release eblasted by her campaign at 11:07 a.m (PDT), recounting her interview with some radio windbag from San Diego. A mere eight hours and 34 minutes later, iCarly shared her thoughts on the actual speech on You Tube.
She said that Obama had offered “gimmicks, not real solutions.”
(Memo to Carly handlers: You really should let her know not to keep looking down at the script when she’s on camera, which makes her look, um, kinda shifty. Also: that buzz cut is looking a little poofy around the ears, no? We’re just sayin’).
This just in: Sarah Palin has arrived to help with the relief effort in Tahiti.