Re: The New Rules

1

What's the value there? Saiselgy gets a meet with Obama, the content of which he can't reveal, or feels he shouldn't; so he's more inclined to think positively about him?

That's so much the desire so many have to be part of the secret club, to be in the know. Are we, the public, going to get better reportage from Saiselgy? Better access? What the hell could Obama be talking about that Saiselgy feels he shouldn't share? I don't mean that in a conspiratorial mode.

Hell, if it was just a chill party and he had a good time, fucking say so. Otherwise, it's annoying to have it treated like a big secret. Is this Obama as product? Version 2.0 to be revealed soon, but please don't break the media embargo?


Posted by: Roamsedge | Link to this comment | 08- 4-07 11:56 PM
horizontal rule
2

I don't blame Matt for writing about it once he attended. That's as transparent as you can be, after the initial decision to attend; it would be a lot worse to attend and not mention it, I think. I don't think Yglesias is just showing off insider cred or whatever.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 4-07 11:58 PM
horizontal rule
3

Sure, his role requires him to be transparent, as much as is reasonable.

I'm not sure that it damages a journalists ability to tell the story by being more open. I think Saiselgy could have been more forthcoming; perhaps writing from indirect material.

Anyway, yeah, it annoys me. But, it's not because I've decided for or against Obama. I haven't felt a pull towards any candidate. I have a relative pushing me to support Richardson. I don't see success there.


Posted by: Roamsedge | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 12:10 AM
horizontal rule
4

Hell, revise that, a journalist should be more than reasonably transparent. I don't buy the objective observer stuff. You always bring yourself to the story.


Posted by: Roamsedge | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 12:11 AM
horizontal rule
5

But, surely off-the-record is the only way a national politician can say anything honest, thoughtful and nuanced -- certainly in the USA. I was talking (off the record, I think) with Chris Rapley, one of the big climate change people in this country, who had spent some time touring with Al Gore, watching him give his speech and film; Rapley said that every word of every speech was scripted. It was not always the same speech; it comes in modules that can be swapped in and out depending on the mood and sophistication of the audience. But it was essential that every word he said should be part of a written script, which had been carefully vetted beforehand for its resistance to distortion, quote-mining etc. Gore explained that this was how all American politicians had to speak these days.

You, ogged, have us interacting pretty honestly with someone calling themselves "ogged" and you're just a lawyer. How much less honest do you suppose we -- and you -- could be if your secret identity were known to all the world? If that were the case and you were a politician as well? Running for national office against Hillary Clinton and Karl Rove?


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 1:31 AM
horizontal rule
6

whoops, redact if necessary


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 1:32 AM
horizontal rule
7

Ok, Matt, here it is:Can Obama look you straight in the eye, shake your hand, lies his ass off, and you not have a clue?

Can Obama talk you into doing things that are against your beliefs, values, violations of your integrity, and make you like it?

Would Obama ever do such things?

If the answer to these questions is "no", then you are out of your league, letting your ego cloud your judgement, and should stay a safe distance from the bastard. All the bastards.

(cut & pasted from MY's)


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 2:28 AM
horizontal rule
8

I had the impression that this was really about journalists leaning on candidates, and obviously Obama in particular, to be more open on the record.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 2:56 AM
horizontal rule
9

"Obviously, off-the-record is useful and shouldn't be ruled out entirely, but how much it's used, and whether it's ok to use in this way, where a bunch of people get a secret talk, is a tough call."

A tough call? In what conceivable way?

If a someone wants to talk to you off the record, you should refuse because you're a blogger? WTF?

I honestly don't have the slightest clue why sane folks would think like this. I understand it's a popular conception among the insane and feeble-minded, but I'd have thought ogged wouldn't travel with the huffing gasoline crowd.

The contempt for reporting - not for bad reporting, mind you, but for reporting - is one of the least attractive qualities of the lefty infrastructure movement. I guess I understand why it's necessary to create these lefty zombie followers to counteract the righty zombie followers, but it always gives me pause when I see otherwise intelligent folks become part of the undead. At the end of the day, I generally think it's bad for my side if the folks on my side are encouraged to be idiots, no matter what the short-term gain.


Posted by: Petey | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 3:25 AM
horizontal rule
10

You, ogged, have us interacting pretty honestly with someone calling themselves "ogged" and you're just a lawyer.

Ogged's not even a lawyer.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 6:13 AM
horizontal rule
11

I'm not an expert on US politics, but my guess would be that there's always a statement about something that is both correct and sensible, but would be misinterpreted by some, causing them offense. So I'm with ogged that off-the-record shouldn't be ruled out, but dosified.


Posted by: unarmed | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 6:37 AM
horizontal rule
12

Is it really possible that Obama or any other candidate would tell journalists or whatever Yglesias is anything more authentic than what the rest of us are told? Is it possible that journalists or whatever Yglesias is could see or hear something in an off-the-record colloquy that is more meaningful than what the rest of us can see at tedious length on television?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 6:44 AM
horizontal rule
13

From the comments over there:
but blogs are supposed to be about a certain set of journalistic techniques

Umm, yeah, like The Drudge Report?

This whole blogosphere thing continues to confound me. Is everyone who buys into it just a big closet Orson Scott Card fan who feels the need to make Card's conceit of the sociopathic-kid-who-can-write-really-well-and-influcence-politics come true? There's no love lost between me and the corporate media, but at least if there's something dishonest or distorted in a daily newspaper, you can take the hierarchy to task and possible win some policy concession. What can you do to a blogger? Ruin their reputation? So they just create a new persona -- half of them are anonymous (or nearly so) anyway -- big deal.

I don't have anything against Snausagely or the other left-liberal bloggers who hang out here, but come on, all of this living-and-dying by the blog stuff is getting a bit silly at this point.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 7:10 AM
horizontal rule
14

I'm confused -- Yggles is, by this point, a modestly prominent pundit. He works for a major magazine; he knows a fair amount about foreign policy; he's working on his first book. If all these things were true about him and his blog were devoted solely to knife fights, beating up 5-year-olds, and what bands he saw at the Warehouse Nextdoor, would his decision to attend/not attend/attend but not mention be substantively different? Why is this a question about bloggers rather than reporters? I don't your statement of Mission McBloggy, Ogged, if only because so few bloggers do original reporting.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 7:20 AM
horizontal rule
15

I call Demosthenes!

Blogging is a medium, not an ethos. It's not that the one doesn't influence the other (no editor, instant publishing, pseudonymity, hobbyists), but it's unsurprising that a blog intended to be political journalism would end up playing by the rules of political journalism.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 7:27 AM
horizontal rule
16

"Blogging" s/b " a blog"


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 7:28 AM
horizontal rule
17

Yeah, I'm not crazy about blurring the lines between straight reporting and blogging either. If you're a reporter, then you're a reporter and you should be held to a certain standard. If you're a guy in a basement who obsessively reads over gossip emails for embarassing tidbits about the wealthy and famous, then who cares? I dunno, it just seems like this famous blogger/netroots stuff has gotten out of hand as a new mythos. Nothing has really changed.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 7:32 AM
horizontal rule
18

We interact with our media in bizarre and fucked-up ways. Why do I feel inclined to call Matt Yglesias "Matt" - or, heaven forfend, "Yggles" - rather than "Yglesias," as I would with any other political columnist? Because I assume I somehow have a better understanding of who this total stranger is because he periodically talks about basketball and posts inane YouTube videos of himself in a hoodie, while Paul Krugman (whom I have never once felt the urge to call "Paul") has never once photographed his breakfast burrito in his Times column?

This false feeling of closeness makes me more liable to cut Yglesias slack when he writes something dumb. But every time he does something that reminds me that yeah, he's actually a professional Washington media creature and not just my slovenly fuck-up kid brother sort of figuring shit out on his blog, the illusion is dispelled and I get just as pissed at him as I would with Ignatius or Broder. Yes, these people jockey for access and insider perks; yes, they are easily swayed by superficial appeals to charisma and ego; yes, they maintain cozy relationships with nominal ideological adversaries in ways that end up blunting their own ideological agenda. Surprise, surprise; professional opinion writing on the web is much like professional opinion writing in print.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:00 AM
horizontal rule
19

For this issue, I don't particularly distinguish between bloggers and reporters. I don't like the "off-the-record" stuff, but that isn't my problem.

The "intimate just a few bloggers off-the-record" stuff is the problem. That is how & why Woodward gets his stories, by being buddies with his sources, and that is Woodward's problem, that he can't be objective about his buddies.

Petey, who showed up above, is not trusted on politics anymore, he likes Edwards too much. Charm is what these guys do, and a Presidential candidate is a Barry Bonds or Michael Jordan of charm. If he/she wants a private meeting, you are gonna get fucked, love it, and come out of the room thinking you did the fucking.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:02 AM
horizontal rule
20

So I'm torn, and I'm not satisfied by the answer that we'll judge each journalists credibility case-by-case

So unbelievably wrong. There isn't any other option than case-by-case. There is no magic set of rules that will let journalist keep his purity and allow him to touch unicorns.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:09 AM
horizontal rule
21

God, I hate this shit. This is where the corruption in Washington comes from, personal relationships. "Obama is a nice guy with the best intentions. I have met him and know him."

Fuck, everybody is a nice guy with good intentions. Bush had and has people around him who think he is trying to do his best, should be given a break, cut some slack, helped out just a little.

If elected, one day Obama will have to directly or indirectly order the deaths of a lot of people;will make a compromise; will make a mistake. I will not trust Yglesias's reporting or opinion on that matter.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:12 AM
horizontal rule
22

but at least if there's something dishonest or distorted in a daily newspaper, you can take the hierarchy to task and possible win some policy concession.

OK, so you're a romantic. Did you see that Torres broke her own record after she turned forty? Amazing.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:14 AM
horizontal rule
23

On the specific issue of the thread, I have to agree with Bob. If there's an advantage to a "traditional blogger" way of reporting, it's that "traditional bloggers" didn't have any access to speak of; they had google and maybe a phone at best and had to rely on actual research. My take on professional campaign journalists is that most of them think of themselves as canny and cynical, but are total suckers, losing themselves utterly to the charisma and spin of the huckster du jour. Bloggers, who aren't used to getting anything like that kind of access, would seem to be doubly susceptible to this kind of manipulation. And no, I don't like the idea that a handful of selectively-picked "inside" bloggers got picked to get secretly wowed/influenced by a candidate's presence.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:15 AM
horizontal rule
24

If elected, one day Obama will have to directly or indirectly order the deaths of a lot of people;will make a compromise; will make a mistake. I will not trust Yglesias's reporting or opinion on that matter.

And I'm sure that hurts him deep down inside. He'll just have to nut up and get through it.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:16 AM
horizontal rule
25

Petey, who showed up above, is not trusted on politics anymore, he likes Edwards too much.

But bob, how did you figure that out without Petey revealing that Edwards blew him? What astonishing magic power lets you intuit--simply from a man's words about policy--that someone might be in the tank for someone? Promise us you'll use this power for good, bob.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:18 AM
horizontal rule
26

When Yglesias started out, he was a neoliberal with neocon tendencies. There's been a big improvement, but let's not expect too much.

My take on the political blogosphere is that it would be no big deal if the major media weren't so awful. There's nothing special about the medium per se or the people using it. Some way had to be found to break the neocon consensus which was being imposed on the public.

David Brooks, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, et al are 27 percenters, but they still claim to speak for "The American People". It's a fiendish way of trying to convince the 73 percent that they're a tiny minority. Without the blogosphere it might work. Their job is neither to give The American People information nor to report what The American People actually think. It's to convince most of The American People that they're helpless and alone in the midst of a horde of Bush loyalists.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:19 AM
horizontal rule
27

He'll just have to nut up and get through it.

By that point he'll have his fat paycheck as the up-and-coming Richard Cohen of our generation to comfort him.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:19 AM
horizontal rule
28

"The "intimate just a few bloggers off-the-record" stuff is the problem. That is how & why Woodward gets his stories, by being buddies with his sources, and that is Woodward's problem, that he can't be objective about his buddies."

If you can't resist being charmed by your sources then you're a bad reporter.

But someone who would avoid sources is also a bad reporter.

-----

Seriously, I do fail to understand the objection here. Yglesias should contemplate not meeting with Obama because off-the-record is somehow illegitimate? Yglesias should contemplate not meeting with Obama because not every human being had the same opportunity to meet with him?


Posted by: Petey | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:22 AM
horizontal rule
29

"If there's an advantage to a "traditional blogger" way of reporting, it's that "traditional bloggers" didn't have any access to speak of"

OK, that's at least coherent, even if I find it somewhat insane.

But in that case, you should have avoided Yglesias from the get-go. Harvard grads who move to Washington are obviously a bad bet for your ideal.


Posted by: Petey | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:26 AM
horizontal rule
30

The question under consideration here is how should bloggers be different from journalists. The question should be: How should bloggers and journalists be different from other human beings.

What human being thinks he should never agree to keep information confidential?

Also, what Tim said in 20.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:27 AM
horizontal rule
31

But someone who would avoid sources is also a bad reporter.

I. F. Stone avoided sources. Not all of them, but most.

Petey, there's a real problem here which you don't seem to want to understand. So this is really about you now (as it often is): Why does Petey refuse to understand?

I've had doubts about Yglesias from the beginning, but he has improved a lot.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:32 AM
horizontal rule
32

I don't think 'off-the-record' is any more problematic for bloggers than for journalists, but I do share some of the worries expressed that off-the-record in general can lead to journalists ending up being partisan because they like the candidate personally and it gives them special favors.

It might be less of a problem for bloggers because they already have a style which personalizes everything and are likely to go 'squeeeee! I met Obama and he's cool!' Their audience knows then, that part of what they like about Obama is how cool he is, not just dispassionate policy.

A regular reporter surely wouldn't be allowed to write a one-line article that said 'squeee!', but then we conclude that their reasons are all perfectly rational and pure.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:35 AM
horizontal rule
33

If there's an advantage to a "traditional blogger" way of reporting, it's that "traditional bloggers" didn't have any access to speak of; they had google and maybe a phone at best and had to rely on actual research.

To be fair, there's also the pull-it-out-of-your-ass bit.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:36 AM
horizontal rule
34

I expect to see a split soon between the bloggers who are primarily Democratic loyalists (Kos above all, but probably Yglesias) and the ones who aren't (e.g. Billmon, who quit entirely). The recent Congressional cave on wiretappping makes it hard for the loyalists, as does Hillary's determined hawkishness. (Forget anything good I ever said about Sen. Klobuchar).

Harsh remarks about Gravel and Kucinich, the only Democrats making a forthright statement about Iraq, are a tell.

Several of the now-Democratic bloggers are ex-Republicans: e.g. Kos and Aravosis. As Bill Clinton said, Democrats are the new Rockefeller Republicans.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:39 AM
horizontal rule
35

"If you can't resist being charmed by your sources then you're a bad reporter."

You avoid becoming a junkie by not using heroin, not be believing in your special secret powers.

You know, it is weird, but I think my mental illness has given me an advantage, a humility. Paranoia is true perception.

Everybody thinks they can tell a liar by looking in his eyes, can't be snookered by a great used-car or mutual funds salesman, will know when the partner is cheating, are a pretty decent parent.

Everybody is great at interpersonal relationships and applied psychology. We can all hit 755 homeruns too, I suppose.

stras is saying it better today.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:41 AM
horizontal rule
36

As Bill Clinton said, Democrats are the new Rockefeller Republicans.

Did he intend this as praise or criticism?

I don't really follow Kos, but he was anti-Lieberman, no? The Kos-types haven't been coopted - so far, at least, they seem to want the Democratic Party to change.

When these guys start explaining away the wiretap-type votes, we'll know something has gone wrong.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:48 AM
horizontal rule
37

Come on folks, there is a difference between bloggers and traditional reporters. Two important ones: if Yglesias refused to attend an off the record meeting, there's no editor to tell him he screwed up; it's totally his call. Second, he's subject to different peer pressures--a bunch of people from this site know him personally--and he can still "hear" a principled anti-insidery position without thinking that it's naive (I assume this, anyway). In short, he's on a different career track from someone working his way up the ladder at the Times, and there are different pressures and expectations.

My argument isn't that he shouldn't do off the record because "bloggers don't do that," but that if off the record is problematic and because bloggers have a chance to behave differently from traditional journalists, they should think carefully about how they deal with it.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:50 AM
horizontal rule
38

While I'm not blind to the potential negatives of an off the record session like this one, it seems to me that Yglesias's takeaway point--"Candidates should save their impressive remarks for on the record sessions"--is the right one. As several people have pointed out in various ways, the danger for a writer (and his readers) is that he'll come out of a meeting like this one impressed by what he saw and heard and thinking that he now knows the "real" candidate. Public statements and actions during the campaign in conflict with what the writer "knows" to be in the candidate's s3kr33t heart are then discounted to some degree--the writer thinks he's in on the con. Whether one thinks that Ygelsias is likely to indulge such illusions about Obama says more about one's opinion of him at this point than anything else.

As a general matter, going off the record is an absolutely necessary and sometimes valuable tool in all sorts of reporting. If people couldn't be sure that off the record communications would be held in confidence, a lot of people (not just bigshots, but minor figures in bureaucracies who help steer reporters in the right direction) simply wouldn't talk. The question is, what value is gained? When it comes to candidates' statements on public matters, if it's nothing they're willing to say openly, I'd answer, "not much." But I still don't think that's a reason not to go if you're invited--just remember what the situation is.

Two final points in passing: I'm always surprised at how much anger Ygelsias seems to stir in some people--not that he's unique in this among bloggers, but it still surprises. Also, while it's not exactly the same as going off the record with a reporter, as someone who blogs anonymously but has never really been too careful about it, I'm pretty wary of any idea of full disclosure. The blogging world has generally been pretty good at allowing people who don't abuse it anonymity to have public voices; while this has it's own dangers, it seems to me to be a good thing.


Posted by: JL | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:52 AM
horizontal rule
39

In short, he's on a different career track from someone working his way up the ladder at the Times, and there are different pressures and expectations.

"In short" is doing an unbelievable amount of work there.

boff the record is problematic and because bloggers have a chance to behave differently from traditional journalists

Oh gawd. Isn't it possible that--because of the ways in which bloggers are different from regular opinion writers/reporters--the problems of off-the-record conversations are slightly different than those for journalists?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:55 AM
horizontal rule
40

people who don't abuse it anonymity s/b eople who don't abuse anonymity.


Posted by: JL | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:57 AM
horizontal rule
41

Oh, fuck me.


Posted by: JL | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 8:58 AM
horizontal rule
42

"...if off the record is problematic..."

The main idea of late in the blogosphere that off-the-record is problematic had to do with a very specific set of circumstances - executive branch officials regularly refusing to go on the record, but still wanting their quotes in the paper as SAO's.

I'm not aware of any non-loony argument against off-the-record in the abstract, but I could be missing some strain of thought from the Greenwald district of the blogosphere.


Posted by: Petey | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:00 AM
horizontal rule
43

To be fair, some number of ex-Republicans were Republicans because they were young and stupid.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:03 AM
horizontal rule
44

37: How's the peer pressure supposed to work differently? I'm imagining Armsmasher bravely holding Yglesias back as he prepares to make a shrine to Obama... but seriously, the young off-the-record reporter probably has a few real-life friends who read his work, too.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:10 AM
horizontal rule
45

According to Greenwald (I think) there's also something going on right now with rumors of an imminent terrorist attack and rumors of a serious Iranian threat floating around the Washington circuits. These rumors are not publicly reported, but motivate opinion-makers to to take Bush's fear-mongering more seriously.

All along, Bush's actions have been so unintelligible in relationship to his proclaimed goals that you're tempted to believe that there's some secret plan. A lot of the most hawkish writers seem confident that there is, though I doubt that they're all in agreement about what the secret plan is. "Imperialism" is a pretty good name for it, though, with everything else the administration says just being throwaway lines.

It's a long stretch from Bush's secret government to Obama's off-the-record talk, but in both cases we're being assured that everything is OK even though we aren't being told what the situation really is.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:10 AM
horizontal rule
46

I would like to see Emerson and McManus quit whining and meta-whining and put their ice axes where their mouths are.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:10 AM
horizontal rule
47

How's the peer pressure supposed to work differently?

If your friend is a traditional journalist, it's a much bigger deal to say "should you be attending off the record talks?" than if your friend is a blogger. In the first case, you're really asking a "can you do your job and be a decent person?" question, while in the second you're hashing out the rules as you go along, because the blogger hasn't implicitly committed to the norms of the profession.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:14 AM
horizontal rule
48

47: Can you clarify what it is you find so disturbing about off-the-record talks? Especially for people revealing that they attended such talks.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:19 AM
horizontal rule
49

Uh, nothing? I thought I was pretty clear about that. Off the record can be useful, but bloggers have a chance to decide how much to use it and how insidery they are willing to be. Atrios linked to a statement by I think Russert who said that he assumed that everything was off the record unless it was explicitly on the record. That's bad.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:22 AM
horizontal rule
50

the blogger hasn't implicitly committed to the norms of the profession.

I think it's silly to generalize in this way. In the specific case of Yglesias, he is, as has been pointed out, a professional (if not exactly much of a reporter), and he seems to be committing to the norms of the profession just fine. That said, I still see nothing wrong in itself with attending the session--it's what's done with it that counts.


Posted by: JL | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:24 AM
horizontal rule
51

but bloggers have a chance to decide how much to use it and how insidery they are willing to be.

I can't seem to work out how this would be articulated. Do you mean something like, "I will only attend one off-the-record talk per month"? I don't understand the measuring system.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:26 AM
horizontal rule
52

Thinking about it, I'm inclined to say that the problem isn't with off-the-record talks in general as much as it is with off-the-record talks that purport to give the real personal insight about the issue (or more worrisome, the candidate.) I find it hard to fault an off-the-record aside that would have said, 'You can't quote me on this, but you really need to look at the yellowcake issue.'

So at a first pass, I'm thinking the problem is when the off-the-record talk brings the reporter into the circle of friends, which might make the reporter more interested in maintaining his status than actually reporting. But I'm not sure how this translates into practical advice. Yglesias is catching a lot of heat but I don't think he's better off if he doesn't meet with Obama.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:27 AM
horizontal rule
53

Am I the only one who feels like the comments at Yglesias have generally become much more unpleasent recently (see, for example, this thread)?

I think part of the general problem raised by off the record meetings is that, as a culture, we are conflicted about how we think presidential campaigns should be conducted. Prior to the 70's a crucial part of american politics was meeting with influential opinion leaders and trying to win them over in private. I feel like there was more opposition to that idea in the 70's (coming out of oppostion to the Vietnam war) and that in the 80's you saw Reagan running as a pure TV candidate while most congressional races were still run at the level of being heavily influenced by state and local insiders. Then in the 90's congressional elections became much more media driven, and there was even more anxiety about the question of, "is it really a good idea to run campaigns with everything on the bland polished surface."

In the "blog-era" there are two separate threads of criticisms of American politics. One is that the media is too willing to be manipulated, the other is that politicians are too unwilling to be anything other than a facade because the risks of saying anything sincere tare too great. People hope that there's a third way.

I suspect that the primary response to this in the blogosphere is some version of the pundits fallacy in stating that a politician who can be honest and be themsevles will also be popular, which seems like wishful thinking.

Yglesias' off the record meeting just brings that tension to the fore. We all want Obama to be able to say the same things in public that he said to Yglesias, and for that to be good strategy. (this is separate from the argument that stras and Bob are making which is, essentially, that politicians are the enemy and shouldn't be trusted).

On another note, I can't help but think that part of the anger expressed in the comments at Yglesias is that it dramatizes the fact that Yglesias and his readers are not peers. Part of the appeal of Yglesias' blog is that it lets readers feel like they're peers with a Harvard educated nascent Washington insider, and this just shows that isn't the case. I feel like there's been a general peevishness in the response to many of his Yearly Kos posts.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:28 AM
horizontal rule
54

"Off the record" reporting wanders into "trust me" territory, but because of the way it's been abused readers no longer feel much trust. I don't think that blogger-vs.-journalist has much to do with it; Matt is a journalist who got his start as a blogger.

Seemingly we're getting a hint that Obama is less hawkish and more liberal than he sometimes seems. On the other hand, maybe he was just reading the room and telling the audience what they wanted to hear. And we don't even know what it was that he said anyway.

Give Matt credit that the main point of his piece was that he wished that Obama had been willing to say the same things on the record. I'm not always a Matt-defender, but he seems blameless in this case.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:34 AM
horizontal rule
55

Matt has always drawn an emormous amount of envy (anti-Harvard, anti-Ivy, anti-Dalton). I even played that game myself a bit at the beginning, until I saw how incredibly stupid it was becoming.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:36 AM
horizontal rule
56

53 - I think the comments at his blog have been much worse since his move to the Atlantic.

Seriously, I don't understand the objection here. The chief problem with off-the-record comments is that they, like anonymous sourcing, allowed people (mostly Bush administration people, for still-debatable reasons) to inject their spin into stories without any downside when it became clear that they were lying through their teeth. This is bad. The other problem is that journalists became too tied to their subjects and can't cover them objectively, as with McCain (or Gore, for that matter) in 2000 or the dwindling echo McCain boom of the last few years. Does attending an off the record talk threaten to cause either of these problems, especially if Matt* says that he was enormously impressed by Obama at a presentation he agreed not to discuss in detail.

More than that, I still don't get where Ogged is coming from about the role of journalist-bloggers. Matt does do occasional pieces of actual reporting -- as when he attends hearings and posts on what he saw -- but he's primarily a pundit; he's a purported expert about a subject, so he gives his reaction to things rather than doing reporting (reading through documents or doing interviews). Ezra Klein saying what he thinks of Obama's health care plan is punditry; TPM documenting that Ted Stevens' clerk was being paid to do his personal bookkeeping is reporting. Many bloggers are generally pretty darn good at the former; if someone would bean David Brooks with a shovel and replace him with Hilzoy, America would be enormously better off. Blogs tend to be bad at the latter, for a variety of reasons. Did Matt* buy into blogosphere triumphalism, that a nation of pajama-wearers were going to completely replace the Times? Did he ever use the phrase "fact-check your ass"? What's does the phrase "culture of blogging" mean here?

* He's "Matt" because he comments here occasionally.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:56 AM
horizontal rule
57

It seems to me that the question whether off-the-record is problematic or not depends a lot more on the motive of the source, rather than the medium of the reporter. Off-the-record slander is more problematic than background explanation.

(I talk to reporters from time to time, nearly always off the record. I'd like to think that my honest explanations of things are useful to the reporter in understanding context, but my interest in seeing my name in print is usually very low, for a variety of reasons.)

I will say this, though: people who can't tell the difference, in terms of whether OTR is consistent with ethical journalism, between Mark Felt on Watergate and Scooter Libby on Valerie Plame are not competent to be making journalistic judgments.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:00 AM
horizontal rule
58

53:I don't think politicians are the enemy. In fact, I think I cut them more slack for doing a filthy job in a filthy world than most. I have defended HRC's Iraq vote and her current foreign policy, and have said that fucking Vietnam was LBJ's necessary sacrifice for civil rights and the Great Society.

It is the idealists that are scarey, the ones who think we can end war and achieve social justice without hurting anyone but bad guys. They are the ones sucked in by charisma and sincerity, because they want politics and policy to be pretty.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:05 AM
horizontal rule
59

"Off the record" reporting wanders into "trust me" territory, but because of the way it's been abused readers no longer feel much trust.

But don't we have to decide whether or not, and to what extent, we trust a reporter, independent of off-the-record talks? I don't trust reporting from Fox, and I won't trust it even from a Fox reporter that promises never to hang out with Republican officials.

Initially, I thought this was some weird procedural liberalism/formalism claim, and was fairly surprised to see mcmanus defending it. Now I think that maybe it's a claim that opinion writers like Yglesias stand in for us--which I think is true--and that some people see MY's increasing access, etc., and wonder if that makes it impossible for MY to act as a reasonable proxy for readers anymore. (I now think several people have made this point already.) That seems like a reasonable worry, but I don't think there's a way around it. A system that requires someone to commit, in some fashion, to not becoming more successful is not one that is likely to be sustainable. And as an opinion writer becomes more successful, he just is going to be the target of more blandishment. Moreover, people who are committed to unremitting hostility to The Man don't seem more credible to me. In fact, they seem less credible to me (thought that probably mostly says something about my relative comfort with The Man).


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:06 AM
horizontal rule
60

I don't think politicians are the enemy. In fact, I think I cut them more slack for doing a filthy job in a filthy world than most. I have defended HRC's Iraq vote and her current foreign policy, and have said that fucking Vietnam was LBJ's necessary sacrifice for civil rights and the Great Society.

I was wondering how you would react to my characterization, and I'm glad you took it in the affectionate spirit in which it was intended. I didn't actually think you were describing them as the enemy just as "not us".

FWIW, I am very much in agreement with the quoted paragraph.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:08 AM
horizontal rule
61

I don't think politicians are the enemy.

See? McManus is crazy.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:10 AM
horizontal rule
62

56:Yglesias & Ezra Klein & hilzoy were transformed by the Iraq war, radicalized by George Bush. I watched it happen. I was never that innocent or idealistic, even in grade school, and I don't understand or trust such conversion experiences.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:13 AM
horizontal rule
63

49 -- But this presumption is essential to have a real life. My son has classmates who have big time journalists as parents, and we interact from time to time. Think what an impact it would have if, say, Ms. Bumi//er was to print my name in a story about, say reflections on Reagan's death (which took place while we were on a Cub Scout campout). It would be as big a breach, of course, for me to write here what she had to say on the subject, because our interaction is as human beings, not as sources/reporters.

I can see why a candidate would want to meet OTR with a bunch of bloggers journalists, but I think co-optation at some level is a big part of it.

On the tone of comments at MY's site, it seems to me that metaconversation draws a different kind of interaction that issue conversation.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:18 AM
horizontal rule
64

(I talk to reporters from time to time, nearly always off the record. I'd like to think that my honest explanations of things are useful to the reporter in understanding context, but my interest in seeing my name in print is usually very low, for a variety of reasons.)

Presumably this doesn't apply to people running for president.

The more I think about it, the more it's obviously why both candidates and pundits would like to have occasional off the record conversations. This makes me more sympathetic, on one hand, to the idea that if it's valuable for both parties involved why fight it and, on the other hand, the idea that it's important for there to be strong norms about what are and aren't appropriate ways to use off the record conversations because those norms are the only limiting factor. As the excesses of the current MSM show, off the record conversations can still be useful for both a politician and a reported even when they aren't useful for the public.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:20 AM
horizontal rule
65

Cub Scouts should be made to realize that they're responsible for their statements. If you have to plaster their words on the opinion page of the Times, so be it!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:27 AM
horizontal rule
66

My problem with 'off the record' access generally is that it gives the writer unchallengable authority. What I find attractive about blog, rather than professional, news analysis, is that generally a blogger either has explicit accessible sources for the information they're relying on, or they're explicitly saying "I'm just guessing." A professional reporter/pundit who's in the loop on this sort of thing tends to write everything from the implicit perspective of "This is what I've concluded, based on all the confidential information I have access to and you don't. Trust me."

And so on a case by case basis, you don't have any choice but to trust the guy -- if he's wrong enough, you can start ignoring him, but everything's based on his personal credibility, not on arguments from evidence. That seems to me to be how a lot of the run-up to Iraq happened -- writers were treating the Administration's arguments as if they were credible, and readers took that as indicating that the Administration's arguments were supported by credible secret evidence that the media knew about but we didn't. And we got snookered.

So, now that Matt knows stuff about Obama that he can't tell me when he blogs about it, it means that I can't just read his posts with the assumption that everything I need to know to evaluate it is in the post. And if he fucks up, I've got no way to correct for it anymore.

I'm not saying off-the-record briefings are an unforgivable sin, but I don't approve of the atmosphere they create.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:33 AM
horizontal rule
67

I talk to reporters from time to time, nearly always off the record. I'd like to think that my honest explanations of things are useful to the reporter in understanding context, but my interest in seeing my name in print is usually very low, for a variety of reasons.

Me, too--and to the extent that I sometimes write about stuff that I'm also having conversations offline about with people who can supply context, the importance of off the record conversations can go both ways for me, even though I'm not any kind of journalist. That said, I have to take some issue with your follow-up in 63. It's true it's necessary for a certain amount of off the record presumption in order to have a life if you're living it around journalists. But that doesn't mean Russert was right. When I'm talking to a journalist, even in a casual way, I know what my business requires be kept confidential--and I just don't talk about that. Russert, if I remember correctly, made his remark in the context of taking about why he never reported on something a government official called and said to him, not something said in the context of private life. At the time it might not have been something important to report anyway (Scooter Libby bitching about Chris Mathews not being exactly a "stop the presses!" sort of story), but there's no reason a presumption of confidence should have applied.


Posted by: JL | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:35 AM
horizontal rule
68

61:Yes, I am. But I know it, and can use it.

59:SCMT, did you follow the huge blog conversation about orthodox & heterodox economists: what it took to be successful, accepted by peers, what was acceptable in the discourse, etc etc? I connect this issue directly to that one, albeit inarticulately and inchoately.

It's about social networks, credentialism, discourse, all that meta-shit for which I don't have the names or terms to drop and the books to cite. It is what humans do as social animals.

Joe Klein and Jonathan Alter didn't intend to become assholes. David Broder was apparently born that way.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:36 AM
horizontal rule
69

My problem with 'off the record' access generally is that it gives the writer unchallengable authority.

His authority seems to be under challenge both at his place and here. And, again, I think it is always the fact that you have to decide whether to trust a writer or not, or any specific piece of his or not. If MY hadn't mentioned the off-the-record meeting, would he have been more trustworthy? That seems strange.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:41 AM
horizontal rule
70

Joe Klein and Jonathan Alter didn't intend to become assholes.

Right, but I'm betting you were able to tell that even without explicit information about off-the-record chats they'd had, and that such information only confirmed what you already suspected.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:43 AM
horizontal rule
71

There is of course a road to Hell via OTR - it leads to Broder having quail dinners with Rove, just about the entire career of Bob Novak, and WashPo & NYT writing articles on how "hard" Bush studied the trial in coming up with the Libby commutation strategy. It is the current dominance of excesses like these in the current national political media that leads to the such suspicion of OTR in general at present. They are vital to reporting (and most punditry), but I think the real question is whether the individual is sufficiently aware of the immediate and long-term dangers of the practice, and applies enough skepticism in the analysis of the motives of both parties involved.

Nothing that I have seen from Matt Y. would make me think that he is not up to that task in the short term. Although long-term, I suspect that someone on Matt's (and many other bloggers') trajectory will be a pretty well entrenched Beltway insider in 10-15 years.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:44 AM
horizontal rule
72

34: What's the easiest way to get the votes on this? Clicking through from Senate pages unwarily I would up at the House's clerk. I was able to get the House vote easily enough (my rep voted no), but I haven't found the Senate vote.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:45 AM
horizontal rule
73

Just as an aside, I want to note that Atrios is the one person I really admire for being apparently unsnookerable by personal relationships. He blogged about Bob Ney's corruption case even though Ney had been personally good to him when Atrios testified before his committee, and yesterday morning he mentioned meeting Kit Seelye and that afternoon he named her wanker of the day.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:49 AM
horizontal rule
74

69: Oh, Yglesias isn't forever tainted or anything, but once I know that his conclusions are based on his evaluation of evidence I'm not allowed to look at, I can't disagree with him in an informed manner. I can trust him to be right even though I can't check his facts, or I can not trust him and start ignoring his writing. I'll probably keep reading him anyway, but I'd find his writing much more personally valuable if I knew it was based completely, or at least mostly, on facts I could look at for myself.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:52 AM
horizontal rule
75

but once I know that his conclusions are based on his evaluation of evidence I'm not allowed to look at,

I feel awfully dense. I can't see how Yglesias + OTR is different from Yglesias without. In each argument, he'll show his work or he won't, but his evaluation will be driven, in part, by things he doesn't include--his background, his susceptibility to certain types of arguments, etc. If he shows his work, you can continue to disagree on the basis of the evidence to which he points. If he doesn't, you can skip the piece, send him an angry e-mail, or take it on faith. Access doesn't seem to change anything.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 11:05 AM
horizontal rule
76

75: If I know he's generally relying on only publically available information, I can spot check his posts, and assume his stated facts are reliable the rest of the time, unless I start catching him lying -- I don't have to check every factual assertion he makes, because I know it comes from something public. If part of the time he's relying on stuff I won't be able to check, I have to pay really really close attention to be certain whether he's showing his work or not.

And I want to trust him. We agree about a lot of stuff, he's smart, if he knows stuff he can't tell me that nonetheless informs important conclusions, I'd really like to be able to rely on it. It's going to to be psychologically unpleasant and disturbing to remember that I don't trust anything where I can't see the evidence. But once I start trusting him, we're right back on the road to Iraq.

There's a place for insidery journalists, but I would really like a class of professional, wonky, journalists who aren't insiders and don't know anything I can't check to continue to exist. They'd be much less of a strain to read intelligently.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 11:13 AM
horizontal rule
77

Obama is providing off-the-record comments on a campaign trail, he's not delivering them on anything related to the powers that he currently possesses (as a senator).

It seems like that should be one of the criteria for judging the matter. People who have the power to actually implement policy should have a greater level of transparency when they talk about those policies.

The problem with the Bush Administration's management of the media in the lead-up to the Iraq War was not that there was a lot of insiderish garbage, it was that they were whispering to the media clique about the war while also having the power to actually start a war.


Posted by: Yuri Guri | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 11:31 AM
horizontal rule
78

Oh, yeah, it's all case-by-case, and this meeting by itself isn't much. (And the sort of off the record "You should look into [X]" CharleyC was talking about is unobjectionable as well, as is anonymous whistleblowing and sor forth.) It's just the atmosphere of "If you knew what I know about Obama or whatever else, you'd have no choice but to agree with me," that I think is kind of pernicious.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 11:40 AM
horizontal rule
79

It's just the atmosphere of "If you knew what I know about Obama or whatever else, you'd have no choice but to agree with me," that I think is kind of pernicious.

But isn't use of that sort of claim of authority sort of self-limiting? Don't people immediately discount that statement and, in the face of several such statements, discount the writer? I recall knowing that Joe Klein was in the tank for Clinton pretty early on in the 1992 campaign.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 11:46 AM
horizontal rule
80

79 cont. ...and discounting some of the things he said about Clinton for that reason.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 11:47 AM
horizontal rule
81

Obama is providing off-the-record comments on a campaign trail, he's not delivering them on anything related to the powers that he currently possesses

On the campaign trail is still pretty bad. It gives the impression that the face he is presenting isn't his actual face in a pretty important way. It is like Bush running on a humble foreign policy and then getting the hard right pundits to support him by telling them OTR that he really intends to invade Iraq.

Obama doesn't have the power he is campaigning for now, but he is trying to get it. I would like to think I could get an idea of what he would do with it if he did get it.


Posted by: CJB | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 11:48 AM
horizontal rule
82

I'm late to this thread and all, but my main objection to the MY/BO thing is that this wasn't classically OTR. A classic OTR would be if MY said something along the lines of "One of the democratic candidates secretly hates kittens." OTR is for when a journalist/blogger can only get a certain piece of information by granting anonymity. If no information is given to the reader at all, as in the MY/BO case, what is the purpose of the meeting? From MY's perspective, apparently hanging out with Obama was a reward in itself. From Obama's perspective, he gets a chance to tell a blogger what he wants to hear. Neither of these things benefits the reader.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 11:55 AM
horizontal rule
83

79: No, I don't think people do discount it. I was anti-Iraq war all along, but going against all of the "If you knew what I know" was painful, and I was diffident and weak about my opposition because of it. It's really really hard assuming people are lying to you, and most people won't. If we were better, stronger, smarter people, we would discount that sort of thing, but I don't think we are.

And everything that foolishmortal said.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 12:06 PM
horizontal rule
84

If no information is given to the reader at all, as in the MY/BO case, what is the purpose of the meeting?

To get a better, fuller sense of the candidate, I assume. And that sense probably in some way influences his analysis. But that sense always exists and always influences--now it's just formed by greater exposure to the candidate.

MY's always been analyst rather than a reporter. I don't know that finding out new, previously not public, information is much of a focus for him.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 12:09 PM
horizontal rule
85

Why do I find all this so disturbing? Jumping through comments.

stras way up at 18, and LB at 76, have it right.

Yglesias made a decision, considered or not. Whether he said something he should have trades on the extent to which his readers trust his judgment. That's his call; I don't read him enough to know.

Meanwhile, I am astonished to read about an apparently continued resentment about what Emerson in 55 described thus:

Matt has always drawn an emormous amount of envy (anti-Harvard, anti-Ivy, anti-Dalton).

Jeebus christ. I'm ex-Harvard too. Who the fuck cares?

A writer is to be judged, over time, on the merits or her or his writing, and nothing else. This would be one clue to what might be problematic about Matt's Obama post.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 12:13 PM
horizontal rule
86

I was anti-Iraq war all along, but going against all of the "If you knew what I know" was painful, and I was diffident and weak about my opposition because of it. It's really really hard assuming people are lying to you, and most people won't.

Yeah, I don't quite get that. I'm not sure it's lying I'd point to so much as biases rooted in upbringing, educational background, industry, etc.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 12:18 PM
horizontal rule
87

But the media's biases were lent credibility by their implictly claimed possession of information I wasn't allowed to look at. I can correct for the biases a lot more easily than I can correct for biases plus secret information that maybe settles everything. 'Lying' is the wrong word, I suppose -- I don't know how to sum up what's wrong with writing from a perspective informed largely by secret, unchecked information as if it were reliable.

We've got people around here who were pro-war -- don't you think lots of them were swayed by the insidery consensus that 'Based on the stuff we know and you don't, this isn't a crazy thing to do"?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 12:23 PM
horizontal rule
88

don't you think lots of them were swayed by the insidery consensus that 'Based on the stuff we know and you don't, this isn't a crazy thing to do"?

Not really. I think people come to facts with a bunch of previously held views, and that doubtable evidence is unlikely to change their minds (as is described in what looks like a sort of anti-Econ 101 post by Dani Rodrik (which might interest you)). I like technocratic solutions, but I don't really believe in anything like the One Technocratic Solution, if that makes sense.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 12:36 PM
horizontal rule
89

Something to remember: George Will, Pat Buchanan, Bob Novak, and William Safire were Republican operatives before they were pundits. Kook Kid insider journalism is only one of the problems with the news media.

For whatever reason, Republican operatives in the media remain Republicans, whereas Democrats (Matthews, Estrich, Stephanopolous, Russert) don't remain Democrats.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 12:43 PM
horizontal rule
90

I think there's an enormous difference between "writing from a perspective informed largely by secret, unchecked information as if it were reliable" and allowing yourself to be privy to off-the-record information. Similarly, there's a big difference between "If you knew what I know" and simply knowing something your audience doesn't. Why don't you wait and see if MY's analyses start to rely on facts you don't have access to, or if the sources of his facts become distressingly opaque?


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 12:44 PM
horizontal rule
91

89 - It's because the Republicans are right on everything, and the Russert's of the world come to see that.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 12:59 PM
horizontal rule
92

"For whatever reason, Republican operatives in the media remain Republicans, whereas Democrats (Matthews, Estrich, Stephanopolous, Russert) don't remain Democrats."

I'm with you here, John Emerson.

Having a non-partisan media and a GOP-partisan media is a bad deal for the left.


Posted by: Petey | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 1:39 PM
horizontal rule
93

I should clarify, I guess. I've got no problem at all with what MY has done, and I don't expect knowledge of this (and further) meetings to change my reading of his posts. It's safe to presume inside knowledge from politically interested people in DC: even those of us who don't really travel in A list circles still know people who know people. And, usually, one tries not to burn such people.

Washington leaks like a sieve. MY would have to be blind deaf and dumb not to be picking up stuff from staff types -- or living in a bubble, which is common enough -- that's not for attribution and on background.

It takes more than a single insider session to get someone into the tank, I'd think, unless they really wanted to get in anyway.

(I'll say, though, that I had a minor social interaction with HRC, and it's totally colored my perception of her. For the better.)

Ok, I'm watching people bungy-jump 140 feet into the freezing cold Nanaimo River. Them get dipped to the waist. Anyone think it's worth $100 to try it?


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 1:52 PM
horizontal rule
94

Don't do it, Charley!


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 1:57 PM
horizontal rule
95

Go with the cut-rate $25 jump with the slightly worn bungees.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 2:15 PM
horizontal rule
96

MY would have to be blind deaf and dumb not to be picking up stuff from staff types -- or living in a bubble, which is common enough -- that's not for attribution and on background.

Oh sure, I agree with that (and the rest of your comment, especially the bit about not burning people.) One of the funny things about this whole business has been the implicit assumption that this is the first time he's had off the record info (perhaps not from a Senator and Presidential candidate before, but still.) I would assume that's not the case, even given that he doesn't do much traditional reporting. Still, Russert's example seems to me to have gone too far--it would be ok in that instance to have said that reporting what he had been told wasn't newsworthy or not worth burning Libby, but those are pragmatic judgments; the principle of "off the record unless explicitly otherwise" is another thing.


Posted by: JL | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 2:17 PM
horizontal rule
97

Ok, I'm watching people bungy-jump 140 feet into the freezing cold Nanaimo River

Nanaimo? You're in B.C., the gulf region? It is so beautiful there!


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 2:23 PM
horizontal rule
98

I'll say, though, that I had a minor social interaction with HRC, and it's totally colored my perception of her. For the better.

This is why pressing the flesh is so important.

In my line of work (divorce), I want everyone across the same table. It is much harder to shank someone while you are looking into their eyes. The personal interaction helps so much.

This is what is so dangerous about journalists socializing with politicians. It is hard to be objective.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 2:35 PM
horizontal rule
99

We're just down for a day trip, parse.

I've opted for a cheeseburger and fries, instead of the bungy jump. I did the Tree-Go course, which was plenty of fun.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 2:41 PM
horizontal rule
100

85: Jeebus christ. I'm ex-Harvard too. Who the fuck cares?

Don't assume that we don't hate you.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 2:53 PM
horizontal rule
101

Really, Parsimon, this changes everything. I know there are at least a couple other of your type who comment here, and we all hate them too. A third one we ran off.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 2:54 PM
horizontal rule
102

I asked around the house, and we not only have never met anyone who went to Harvard, but we have never met anyone who has seen Harvard. And we do know millionaires and famous folk. How many Harvard grads are there, 5000 a year?

I also have no prejudices about Patagonians. But it is weird to have Patagonians and Martians running the country.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 3:05 PM
horizontal rule
103

Am I the only journalist here? You can't do the job without off the record. You may be an idiot to cop to it. That's another question. My take on bloggers of the political sort is that they are just journalists who can't or won't go for a more conventional outlet. Billmon, for example, was clearly a real journalist. That's what drove his fury. MY is turning into one, or has done already.

I'm torn a bit about LB's assertion that bloggers (or indeed journalists) are more valuable when you can check their facts. I think this is broadly true, but the mere collection of publicly accessible facts isn't journalism either: the decision about what facts to collect, and where to look for them, is informed almost always by the kind of sense of what people are like, and what they are up to, that one gets from social contact and unprintable knowledge.

I know all of the dangers of corruption. I don't think they can be avoided except on a case by case basis, and I don't think that anyone ever avoids them entirely. None the less, it's not an answer to have no contacts that might corrupt you, because, when you write about politics, you are writing about human beings. Literary journalism, eg, is different. Then you are judging books, and it is better not to know their authors.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 3:35 PM
horizontal rule
104

I think just about everyone agrees that going off the record is sometimes necessary. Having thought about this a bit more, I guess what's behind criticisms of Matt in this case (criticism I don't really agree with) is the desire to see him stay outside of the disastrously clubby atmosphere of DC journalism. Today, an OTR talk with Obama, tomorrow, dinner at Holbrooke's house, or something like that.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 3:39 PM
horizontal rule
105

Yeah. I'm not really griping about OTR transfers of information so much as the clubby atmosphere; I don't believe Obama told Yggles anything important and factual that's not public, he just made himself personally endearing (compelling, charismatic, whatever). I can't see that having any effect other than to make Yggles a less reliable source of information. No effect, maybe, but certainly no good or useful effect.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 4:06 PM
horizontal rule
106

Isn't OTR as an abbreviation radically ambiguous?

Yglesias is to my right, but he's the only political blogger I read every day. Partly this is a time-saving exercise -- I don't have time for Josh Marshall's tedious details, DailyKos is boring as fuck, and in general all the liberal bloggers all talk about the same news stories all the time anyway. Yglesias has the virtue of being somewhat unpredictable, insofar as he draws on "common sense" as opposed to "conventional wisdom," at least sometimes. The spelling errors are annoying, but at least he's not pro-Hillary.

I do occasionally also check in with Kevin Drum when I need to be reminded what the absolute middle-of-the-road position on any issue is.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 4:15 PM
horizontal rule
107

Yglesias has mentioned receiving off-the-record information before. Whatever this says about him, it's not new.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 4:37 PM
horizontal rule
108

No effect, maybe, but certainly no good or useful effect.

I take Wordna to be disagreeing about this, though I'm not sure I'm characterizing him correctly. I find it really surprising that so many people believe that journalists don't have tells about their biases. If Yglesias gets ruined, I think we'll be able to tell. And I think he has a younger brother, so it's not like we don't have spare.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 4:45 PM
horizontal rule
109

I'll say, though, that I had a minor social interaction with HRC, and it's totally colored my perception of her. For the better.

I've heard this from many people. (I've waited outside a minor social interaction with HRC. Part of a fun day that also involved overhearing the phrase, "You know how Mr. Bruckheimer likes his things.") People who meet her really like her.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 6:14 PM
horizontal rule
110

I've heard that, too. Too bad her policy positions are often noxious.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 6:15 PM
horizontal rule
111

I once saw her give a speech on the Senate floor.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 6:17 PM
horizontal rule
112

22: OK, so you're a romantic.
Sheath your sword, sirrah.

I'm not trying to get into a pissing match about who can be more cynical, 'cause I'd always lose to mcmanus, so what's the point? But I think you may have misread my intent, or I was inept in conveying it. My point, which still seems relevant to the discussion, oddly, was that OTR/not-OTR only matters in the context of professional straight journalism. Some bloggers/pundits/columnists/whatevers get OTR time with a presidential candidate -- so what? Do we have a conniption every time Michael Musto writes a blind column? Who's going to vote for Obama because Yg. thinks he comes across even better in private than he does in public? It's just not a journalistic issue in any way, shape or form.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 6:27 PM
horizontal rule
113

Look, as far as "off the record" talk goes, foolishmortal made the relevant distinction back in 82. The problem with Yglesias's off-the-record chat with Obama wasn't that it was off the record; it was that it didn't seem to take place for any other purpose than to impress and influence the bloggers/reporters there. The point of going off the record is to give information to reporters anonymously; something like the opposite happened with this Yglesias post, where no information came out to Yglesias's readers, but the focus instead was on the identity of the source (Obama) and how presumably awesome this unrevealed (and unrevealable) information makes him. As journalism, this tactic is useless. As a means for a campaign to manipulate green but moderately influential bloggers who want to buzz off the presence of a candidate, it makes perfect sense. That Yglesias utterly fails to see the campaign tactic at work - and goes on to naively criticize this tactic as though a presidential candidate would treat him and a national audience as identical audiences ("why won't Obama tell everyone the awesome stuff that appeals so much to us lefty blogger-journalists?") is fairly troubling.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:19 PM
horizontal rule
114

Clever stras has seen through the tissue of lies and deception. Maybe someday MY can grow up to be you.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:23 PM
horizontal rule
115

Maybe Tim can someday grow up to be someone who can respond to the merits of the arguments I make.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:24 PM
horizontal rule
116

I once saw her give a speech on the Senate floor.

Too drunk to stand up, but completely cogent and articulate.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:28 PM
horizontal rule
117

It was amazing.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:28 PM
horizontal rule
118

I pretty much agree with strasmangelo, which upsets me.

On balance, I don't think it harms Ygglz' credibility as a blogger much, but I think it harms it a little. It's the "give everybody free movie tickets!" of presidential campaigns.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:29 PM
horizontal rule
119

Incidentally, some commenters mentioned upthread that Yglesias's comment section has gotten more hostile of late. I don't think there's anything going on here special to Yglesias; the advent of the Dem primaries, combined with the collapse of any hope of progress in a Dem-controlled Congress, has opened up a couple different rifts in the online liberal community, and that's going to be reflected in Yglesias's commentariat just like anywhere else.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:31 PM
horizontal rule
120

Maybe Tim can someday grow up to be someone who can respond to the merits of the arguments I make.

Make an argument with some merit and we'll see. MY has pretty clearly been pro-Obama for a while. He is inclined to interpret Obama charitably (though I have seen him criticize Obama, I think). What magic words do you think Obama said that are going to transform Yglesias from pro-Obama to...super-pro-Obama, I guess?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:33 PM
horizontal rule
121

Klaatu, Barata, Nickto


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:34 PM
horizontal rule
122

Tim, that's an easy one. "Secretary of State Matthew Yglesias".


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:41 PM
horizontal rule
123

I really don't get your reluctance to find this at least trending problematic, Timbot. Presumably you grant that DC journalists are too clubby and that has pernicious effects on the news as its presented. So how do you think things got that way?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 9:49 PM
horizontal rule
124

stras, ogged.... what would you have MY do? What would have refusing Obama's offer of an off-the-record chat accomplished? I'm not being snarky. I see a problem here.

Because it's starting to seem to me like if blogging pundits (MY isn't really a reporter) refuse the sort of access a newspaper pundit would have, the result isn't going to be a pure, influential blogging pundit uninfluenced by his personal opinion of the candidate, but a rather irrelevant blogger.

And it *is* information about the candidate. We're dancing around I think a very interesting question about journalism objectivity and what actually that means. And we seem to operating under a sort of Fox News definition: we report, you decide. Where the journalist or pundit carefully weighs the facts and presents all of them to the public, and that is the ideal. But that hardly seems to be true and maybe not even possible (whether it's desirable I'll set aside).

And MY's an aspiring pundit more than a reporter, so he's paid to give his opinions about things. While people say they're convinced by his facts and arguments, I'm willing to bet people don't fact-check him or his sources and write off whatever personal belief he has as a result of his upbringing.

So if you're MY, and you know that people are going to take what you say about Obama at face value, do you cut yourself off from learning more about him if they've asked you not to publish it? Even though you're supposed to give your opinion about Obama?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:09 PM
horizontal rule
125

So how do you think things got that way?

People got married, got kids, and got a mortgage. If you really want to protect Yglesias, send Mata Hari to wreck his current relationship.

More seriously, I don't think it was ever not clubby. People constantly point to pecadillos kept under wraps, etc., in the past. I don't believe that there are a set of rules that will protect the virtue of young journalists. Put your faith in low barriers to entry, not in Man.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:09 PM
horizontal rule
126

Well, again, I didn't criticize Matt for his decision, I said it brought up an interesting point and that it's a tough call about what bloggers should do. It seems strange to me to deny that there's something troubling here, even if we eventually agree that Matt made the right decision in this case. And I think it's to the good that bloggers get as much grief as possible when they do things like this, just to keep them honest. But I really don't have a good answer or a position like Stras does. I guess my advice is, be careful.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:12 PM
horizontal rule
127

If Obama wanted to talk to me off-the-record I'd do it in a second. Luckily, nobody trusts me anyhow.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:13 PM
horizontal rule
128

If Yglesias gets ruined, I think we'll be able to tell.

There's a name for pundits who spout crazy shit. That name is Charles Krauthammer.

Tim really makes a crucial point here. We're all critical readers. If you can't justify a war (for instance) with publicly available information, then dammit, the war isn't justifiable.

To those of you who would deny Yglesias the opportunity to chat in private with a newsmaker, I have a question: What other sources of useful information would you arbitrarily deny someone?

Here's CharleyCarp, wondering about his own objectivity:

(I'll say, though, that I had a minor social interaction with HRC, and it's totally colored my perception of her. For the better.)

It is not obvious to me that personal interaction leads to a worse bias than interaction through a television.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:15 PM
horizontal rule
129

I think 'be careful that you don't end up fellating McCain' is good advice, but I'm not sure off-the-record is the problem as what's done with the information.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:17 PM
horizontal rule
130

121 via 122: MY: "Ok, I said your stupid words on my blog. Now make me Secretary of State ... like in the deal."


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:17 PM
horizontal rule
131

I had a personal interaction with a high-profile congressman earlier tonight. It was hardly off the record, but I'm not going to tell any of you about it, because my silence will make me seem shifty and mysterious.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:18 PM
horizontal rule
132

OTR as such is clearly not the problem. An OTR talk for a select group is more troublesome. Fellating McCain would be fine, if he blogged it.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:18 PM
horizontal rule
133

HUALAAGULAHALAUGHALGUAHLGA

10:12 PM August 5th, 2007
Posted by: Matthew Yglesias


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:19 PM
horizontal rule
134

And I think it's to the good that bloggers get as much grief as possible when they do things like this, just to keep them honest.

I feel sympathetic to that position, but I can't convince myself that it's not pure mysticism.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:21 PM
horizontal rule
135

That's because you don't believe in human relationships. That's cool, I understand.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:22 PM
horizontal rule
136

I had a personal interaction with a high-profile congressman earlier tonight.

Gotta be Barney Frank.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:23 PM
horizontal rule
137

That is actually one hell of a guess, teo.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:24 PM
horizontal rule
138

123: If I may presume to answer for Tim, I'd point out that there are many tools that journalists use - computer keyboards, for instance - that have led them to behavior that is despicable. The off-the-record interview is one of those tools.

To deny journalists the use of computers or off-the-record sources is to misdiagnose the problem.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:24 PM
horizontal rule
139

That is actually one hell of a guess, teo.

Well, I mean, who else could it have been? You're not in DC.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:25 PM
horizontal rule
140

That's because you don't believe in human relationships. That's cool, I understand

OK, Grumpy.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 5-07 10:25 PM
horizontal rule
141

My problem isn't so much that Yglesias participated in this off-the-record chat, period, it's that he seems to have not realized that he (and the rest of those select bloggers) was the intended audience, not the set of national Democratic primary-goers. That is, he came out of the experience seemingly unaware that this was an attempt to influence/spin him, which is worrisome. It's especially troubling because as mainstream blogger-pundits go, Yglesias is brighter than most, and generally aware of the workings of the American media environment and of his place in it. If his experience is any sort of barometer, then I don't feel terribly confident in the ability of the rest of the bloggers who were with him - or, for that matter, the YearlyKos crowd in general - to avoid being coopted.

Which is why, I think, this post got the response it did at Yglesias's: there was always the contingent of online liberals that saw lefty bloggers as an independent force that could keep the Democratic party honest (just like there was always a contingent of Yglesias readers who were always rooting for him to become the Great Liberal Hope of mainstream opinion journalism). At a time when there's been an oddly muffled response on DKos/MyDD/etc. to a Democratic Congress passing George Bush's warrantless wiretapping bill, to say nothing of the timid handling of the war since the Dems took over, there's a growing feeling that the netroots, in some sense, have sold out for access and very little else. The Yglesias/Obama story strikes a chord with everyone who's seen not only what these kind of cozy connections have done in mainstream journalism, but what they're doing to what used to be a nominal online activist community.

As to Cala's question (what should he have done?), I would have liked Yglesias to have been a lot more cynical and on-guard. It's a lot to expect of someone meeting a presidential candidate, as Bob points out, but these people are pushers selling a product, and a good journalist should never, ever let his guard down when they know someone's trying to hustle them.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 8:39 AM
horizontal rule
142

124: "What would have refusing Obama's offer of an off-the-record chat accomplished?"

Perhaps make it slightly more likely that Obama would say the good private stuff in public, presumably a good thing because we could try to hold him to it. I already believe he dumbs down his positions because he's running for office, but that's true for everybody on our side.

And I'm already convinced that Obama is a very impressive person in private as well as public, so how does it serve me as a reader of MY for him to learn that? Can I somehow infer that Obama convincingly argued that he'll hurt the Republicans despite his new politics platform (which is about the only thing I can think of that I would want to learn if I met him - well, that or that he realizes that a lot of Samantha Powers's memo the other day was campaign-driven nonsense)?

Or: can anyone here say in what ways the public Obama isn't the ideal (public) candidate for MY, and judge in what ways his blogging will be altered by meeting the private Obama? It's a hassle for me to try to make that calculation as a function of issue. I found it a bit distressing to learn that MY had (publicly) given $500 to a candidate, but refusing insider access would have gotten him back towards the model of blogger I think I use: someone similar enough to me that I can understand but who has the time and energy to do the reading and thinking and commenting I can't do. Beltway rumors are already an exception, but he can blog about them. OTR meetings break the isomorphism.


Posted by: rilkefan | Link to this comment | 08- 8-07 6:41 PM
horizontal rule
143

Because I came across it, and it reminded of my #125 (though not quite on point) and this argument or a closely related one seems to come up from time:

We'll have to see whether this sticks or not, but by the 1970s editors had become more skeptical than they had previously been because of Vietnam and the events that followed it, like Watergate. And one would hope that the press, as a whole, would retain that sense of skepticism. I don't think the press, the news media, of this country will ever journey far from the conventional view because, despite all this business you hear about the media, the news media in this country are very conventional in their outlook.

From a 1988 interview with Neil Sheehan (in reference to his book, which is very good).


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-10-07 8:08 PM
horizontal rule