Monday, September 7, 2009

Breaking News!

Can anyone explain the purpose of the vague, uninformative, self-contradictory, and bizarre non-story the NYT is featuring this morning? The article, "Obama Faces a Critical Moment for His Presidency," contains the breaking story reform is important? Being president is tough? Add in the reporter's (philosopher's?) string of rhetorical questions, and you've got a real head-scractcher:
He faces a crisis of expectations tough to manage. Can he form a health care compromise that satisfies both his liberal base and fiscal conservatives in his own party, much less the other one? Can he stanch the slide in support for the war in Afghanistan even as he considers sending more troops? Can he soothe discontent with an economy that appears to have bottomed out but remains moribund? Can he change the tenor of debate in a capital that seems as polarized as ever?
Um, I don't know. That's why I read the newspaper. But that's far from the worst part of this piece. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the hallmark of poor journalism: a simplistic narrative!
Mr. Obama is hardly the first president to run into trouble after the bunting and balloons have vanished, but his slipping support has fueled a narrative about a young and relatively inexperienced president who overinterpreted his mandate and overreached in his policies. His job approval rating has fallen to 56 percent from 62 percent since February in polls taken by The New York Times and CBS News. Other surveys register an even sharper drop.
Wait: having a 56% approval rating = unpopularity? And who thought that having a 62% approval rating after a month in office was sustainable? It's like the pundits who pretend to be shocked that healthcare reform used to have astronomically high public support, and now its support has fallen. Well, duh: when there's no plan to oppose, the abstract idea of "reforming" something sounds pretty good!

The second issue here is the narrative being "fueled" by "slipping support" (again, 56%?) If anything, the narrative is being fueled by lazy and opportunistic reporters who aren't interested in writing a nuanced story about why governing, even for someone as powerful as the President, is so difficult - and who know that "WUNDERKIND OBAMA SLIPPING FAST" is a much more exciting headline. Ooo, look! A hero is stumbling! One could write a story about the intricacies of Congressional politics, the slowness of bureaucracy, or the naturally incremental nature of the American political process - the kinds of helpful, informative pieces that normally appear in the NYT - but for today: narrative! Even weirder, then, that this sentence should immediately follow:
But his overall standing with the public is still healthy [...] If he ultimately gets some form of health care program passed that he can call a victory, this turbulence may ultimately be forgotten.
Translation: everything I just said is crap, and even I know it. If any kind of healthcare bill gets passed (which is basically set in stone at this point), we'll all forget that I wrote this terrible article.

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