Surviving the Times

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 11 2010 8:30 AM

Surviving the Times

So Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Co.) becomes the latest member of an exclusive club -- those who get bludgeoned by damaging New York Times stories and survive anyway. Gretchen Morgenson's expose on the troubles of the Denver School District's refinancing hit five days before the polls opened. It amplified what Romanoff and supporters were saying about Bennet's "special interest" ties, and it got turned into an ad almost immediately. That ad backfired.

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This comes after Raymond Hernandez's story on Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, and his fibs about his service during Vietnam, hit right before the state Democratic convention. Blumenthal survived. In 2008 the Times unleashed a hard-to-follow story about Vicki Iseman, a lobbyist who may or may not have done anything with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). All three candidates survived, and the way the last two survived, especially, is instructive. They just went after the media. McCain's campaign convinced conservatives, who were ready to believe it, that Times had published an unfair hit against a Republican. Team Blumenthal attacked the sourcing, aided by now-GOP nominee Linda McMahon's weird decision to brag that her oppo team was behind a video of Blumenthal flubbing his record.

We shouldn't root for this trend. Bennet's survival had a lot to do with the power of early voting and Romanoff's desperation, but like those other two incidents it was made possible by mistrust of the Fourth Estate and the way it covers politicians. There's a playbook now: Get hit on a confusing ethical issue and use the moments when voters are trying to comprehend it to discredit the source. (This doesn't work for easily understood scandals, like plagiarism or fornication with various people who aren't married to you.)

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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