The Times "Liberal Cocoon" - November 5, 2003 -

Times Watch for November 5, 2003

The Times "Liberal Cocoon"

Slate journalist Mickey Kaus has developed an explanation for why Democrats tend to disappoint on Election Day-"liberal cocooning." Kaus explains: "The point is that reporters and editors at papers like the Times (either one!) are exquisitely sensitive to any sign that Democrats might win, but don't cultivate equivalent sensitivity when it comes to discerning signs Republicans might win. (Who wants to read that?) The result, in recent years, is the Liberal Cocoon, in which Democratic partisans are kept happy and hopeful until they are slaughtered every other November." Kaus' subject was an article in the L.A. Times, but his theory applies equally well to the paper's New York namesake.

Back on August 13, the NYT's James Dao opened a story on the Kentucky governor's race with this pro-Democratic rah-rah: "Improbable as it sounds, the first major test of President Bush's vulnerability on the weak economy may come this November in a state that he won handily in 2000, where his favorable ratings are still high and where Republicans hold seven of eight Congressional seats. No one said Kentucky politics was predictable. With a tenacity that has surprised his opponent and some supporters, the Democratic candidate for governor, Attorney General Ben Chandler, has attacked Mr. Bush's stewardship of the economy, contending that Republican policies have drained Kentucky of 56,000 jobs, aided the wealthy at the expense of the poor and helped drill a gaping hole in the state budget."

Dao continued the cheerleading: "If Mr. Chandler, considered the underdog, can ride voters' anxieties about unemployment to victory, it could give the Democrats momentum in their seemingly uphill quest to unseat the president, Democrats and political analysts assert.Still, Mr. Chandler's assault seems to have put [Republican candidate Ernie] Fletcher on the defensive. In campaign events, he acknowledges that Kentucky's economy is struggling and that job creation should be among the new governor's top priorities." The article's headline posed the election as a test for Bush: "Kentucky Race Is Test For Bush on Economy."

But as Michael Janofsky reports in Wednesday's editions, Bush aced the exam. For all the talk of the "tenacious" Democrat and the "defensive" Republican, the Republican candidate Ernie Fletcher won decisively (55%-45%) capturing the Kentucky statehouse for the Republican Party for the first time since 1967.

One can't help notice that suddenly the Kentucky election doesn't have quite such national significance for the Times. Back in August, when Democratic hopes were high, the Times painted it as a referendum on Bush. Now, after a Republican win, the Kentucky race morphs into a referendum on Kentucky's scandal-ridden Democratic governor, Paul Patton: "The Kentucky race was viewed largely as a referendum on the leadership of Mr. Patton, whose eight years in office became major campaign fodder for the number of investigations into corruption, the indictment of several administration officials and Mr. Patton's extramarital affair with a state contractor." (Janofsky does note the Kentucky win "gives Republicans at least a degree of momentum heading into a presidential election next November.")

David Rosenbaum wrote a similar long story on October 15 about the Mississippi governor's race, which pitted well-connected Republican Haley Barbour versus incumbent governor Ronnie Musgrove. Rosenbaum similarly positioned the incumbent Democrat Musgrove as the scrappy underdog in the race (never mind that Musgrove was governor and should have in theory had the natural advantage).

Rosenbaum noted: "With his money, national Republican connections, political savvy and personal charm, Haley Barbour looked to many people last winter like a sure bet to be elected governor of Mississippi this year. That was especially true because the Democratic incumbent whom he was challenging had presided over the weakest state economy in years in a region where President Bush is particularly popular and at a time when anti-incumbent sentiment seems to be increasing. But the handicappers underestimated Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. He raised nearly as much money as Mr. Barbour, conserved most of it for the last few weeks before the November election and proved to be a relentless campaigner. Now, although no polls have been published, the candidates and political experts agree that the race is extremely tight." The headline to Rosenbaum's story: "Mississippi Incumbent Surprises His G.O.P. Opponent."

The Times "cocooned" readership was probably surprised as well, when they woke up to find that Republican Haley Barbour won easily (53%-45% with 95 percent of precincts reporting as of Wednesday morning), becoming only the second Republican governor elected in Mississippi in modern times. Republicans now hold 29 governorships nationwide.

For Michael Janofsky's story on the Republican's big night, click here.

Haley Barbour | Campaign 2003 | Ernie Fletcher | Mickey Kaus | Kentucky | Mississippi

We'll Wait for the Movie

Two Times stories take as fact that the world is getting dangerously hot. Kenneth Chang's story for Tuesday's science section, "As Earth Warms, The Hottest Issue Is Energy," comes up with this dystopian scenario, which sounds more like a movie pitch than science: "Suppose that over the next decade or two the forecasts of global warming start to come true. Color has drained from New England's autumns as maple trees die, and the Baltimore oriole can no longer be found south of Buffalo. The Dust Bowl has returned to the Great Plains, and Arctic ice is melting into open water. Upheavals in weather, the environment and life are accelerating around the world. Then what?"

Times Watch says, buy the script! Sounds like a blockbuster.

For the rest of Chang's take on global warming, click here.

Kenneth Chang | Global Warming

Fight Global Warming: Eat Your Veggies

Also on Tuesday, health columnist Jane Brody's "Ways to Save the Planet and Get Healthy, Too" claims that you can combat global warming by...eating your vegetables. Her piece begins: "As winter weather approaches and November winds start to bite, you might be tempted to think that global warming is a myth. But you would be very wrong. The meteorological extremes of recent years-sudden temperature changes, droughts, floods, heat waves-may or may not be a result of an earth that is gradually warming."

Brody confidently concludes global warming is caused by human activity (though the actual science actually remains hazy on the subject): "But it is warming, and human activities that burn fossil fuels are to blame for at least part of the increase, and perhaps most of it."

But fear not-you can save the earth through 51 simple tasks that Brody takes from an environmentalist book: "You can save the earth and people on it and improve your health by changing how you eat and dispose of waste. Beef cattle are the leading producers of methane (after termites), followed by sheep and pigs. Better for your health, and the earth's, is to eat more chicken and fish. Still better, eat fewer animal foods and more plant foods, especially those organically grown, a process that means fewer energy-consuming pesticides are used."

For more simple tips on fighting global warming by yourself, click here.

Jane Brody | Global Warming

"Soviet-Style Chill" from Reagan's Supporters

The Times fronts the canceling by CBS of the controversial miniseries "The Reagans," and the editorial page comes out against the network's decision: "The former president is certainly a suitable subject for public debate. His supporters credit him with forcing down the Iron Curtain, so it is odd that some of them have helped create the Soviet-style chill embedded in the idea that we, as a nation, will not allow critical portrayals of one of our own recent leaders." (The editorial also notes the efforts of the Media Research Center: "A conservative watchdog group urged advertisers to review the script before running commercials.")

For the rest of the Times editorial on "The Reagans," click here.

CBS | Media Research Center | Miniseries | Ronald Reagan

Britney, Weird

Sunday's Arts & Leisure profile of Britney Spears is a doomed-from-the-start attempt to imbue the flighty pop singer with some significance. At the end of "Growing Up: Britney Did It Again," Neil Strauss tries rather desperately to spin a typical star-turn by Spears into a golden insight on a maturing young artist: "Suddenly, five minutes into the interview, Ms. Spears seemed to snap out of her trance. 'This just isn't working,' she told the crew. Then she stood up and left the room, leaving the crew and her assistants befuddled. Clearly, as Ms. Spears's publicist later confirmed, her mind was elsewhere. It was a decision that took a degree of independence, confidence and honesty, which are all mature qualities. But it was also an impulsive act. A more polished pro might have forced herself to snap into focus and give a good interview, even if she didn't want to. Neither choice is right or wrong, but they are emblematic of the crossroads where Ms. Spears, at 21, finds herself: one route may lead to the isolation and disorientation of a Michael Jackson, the other to the perseverance and inner strength of a Madonna. The path Ms. Spears takes is another decision she must make by herself."

All Times Watch has to say ishuh?

For more of Strauss on Spears, click here.

Arts | Gaffes | Music | Britney Spears | Neil Strauss


First it was Iraq = Vietnam. Now the Times is trying to turn Bush into LBJ. In Elisabeth Bumiller's front-page story, "Issue for Bush: How to Speak Of Casualties?" she notes that "White House officials, mindful of history, do not want Mr. Bush to become hostage to daily body counts, much as President Lyndon B. Johnson was during the Vietnam War." She then quotes peripatetic presidential adviser David Gergen referring to "deaths at rates we haven't seen since Vietnam."

But the topper, noted on the weblog Belgravia Dispatch (who refers to today's Times as a "bona fide 'Namapalooza"), is the picture of the president on the phone.

President Bush? No. LBJ again. The caption? "President Lyndon B. Johnson, shown here on Jan. 10, 1964, saw his presidency consumed by American casualties in Vietnam."

For the rest of Bumiller's story (and accompanying outdated presidential photo), click here.

Elizabeth Buhmiller | Iraq War | LBJ | Vietnam