Beat Sweetener: The Journal and Post slather calculated praise on Nancy Pelosi.

Media criticism.
Nov. 10 2006 6:02 PM

Beat Sweetening: The Nancy Pelosi Edition

The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post slather calculated praise on the new speaker.

Nothing cleanses a Washington reporter's palate like the out-of-power party taking over the White House, the Senate, or the House. Politicians whom the press corps once treated like pygmies are accorded the respectful status of giants, and the former giants shrink to pygmy-hood.

The new assessments the press hands out have nothing to do with the politicians having recently "grown," though that's often how it is presented. It's all about access. If a reporter covering a political beat expects access to the newly powerful, he must genuflect, he must charm, he must write a beat sweetener that tells the new boss everything he wants to hear about himself.

The Washington press is already ladling the sugar on Nancy Pelosi, and she's hasn't even been crowned speaker of the House yet. Yesterday's (Nov. 9) Page One story in the Wall Street Journal painted the presumptive speaker in such a thick coat of butter-cream frosting that I scarcely recognized her. Strategically placed after the jump to reduce professional embarrassment, Neil King Jr., Yochi J. Dreazen, and Greg Jaffe canonized their subject, writing:

Much as the president freely speaks of his conservative evangelical faith, Mrs. Pelosi reflects a Catholic sense of social justice when it comes to aiding the poor and disabled, and frets about missing Mass on hectic weekends.

Advertisement

Framing Pelosi's redistributionist views as an extension of her Catholic sense of social justice neatly removes her from the New Deal compost pile from which her political career blossomed. Pelosi's father, Thomas "Old Tommy" D'Alesandro, was a Baltimore political hack who held every office—state delegate, city council, member of Congress, mayor—but dogcatcher.

A quality beat sweetener doesn't just dispense syrup, it also collects it. One technique journalists use is to go to the close colleagues of the politician they hope to flatter. The troika of Journal reporters lassoed Rep. Edward Markey to exalt her speakership:

Associates say that it is her roots in the heavily ethnic and practical politics of Baltimore that define her, and the Republican caricature of Mrs. Pelosi as a San Francisco liberal is just that. "She's San Francisco on the outside, and Baltimore inside," says longtime Democratic Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, calling her "liberal, but a pragmatist."

"It will be very much like when Tip O'Neill explained the political facts of life to Ronald Reagan," Mr. Markey added, referring to the way some Democrats like to recall the relationship. "If the president presents the opportunity, she will work with him." But much depends on whether Mr. Bush hews to a conservative line or returns to the bipartisan style he adopted as Texas governor, Mr. Markey added. "We really don't know the answer."

Markey double-dribbled his line about Pelosi being "San Francisco on the inside, Baltimore on the outside" in the same day's New York Times. Can we please pass a moratorium on this quip? Pelosi has served in Congress from San Francisco for 20 years!

The Washington Post also attempts to Baltimorize the San Franciscan in today's (Nov. 10) lede Style section story. Written by Lynne Duke, "Pride of Baltimore" romanticizes Pelosi as part of her father's caring-sharing political dynasty, noting, as the Journal does, that Pelosi's brother, "Young Tommy," also served on the Baltimore City Council and held the office of mayor. Acting more like Pelosi's press secretary than a skeptical reporter, Duke smothers the D'Alesandros in honey with this passage:

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 21 2014 1:38 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? See if you can keep pace with the copy desk, Slate’s most comprehensive reading team.