Jay Carney, a former writer for TIME Magazine and
currently in the witness protection program the spokesman for Vice President Biden, will replace Robert Gibbs as the White House Press Secretary, according to multiple sources. Carney was picked from a pool of five candidates.
I find that Carney has generally gone invisible in the two years of working for Vice President Biden, who had no problem speaking his own mind. But now that he’s getting into a more high-profile position, let’s take a look back. Rick Perlstein wrote this up when Carney was given the VP spokesman’s job. Carney was one of the original writers for TIME’s group blog Swampland, and he offered a number of falsehoods in an entry when talking about, fittingly given the time of year, a State of the Union address:
Chalk up 7:22 a.m. EST on Tuesday, January 23, 2007, as the moment a milestone was passed. On Time’s new blog, “Swampland,” D.C. Bureau Chief Jay Carney posted a pre-assessment to the State of the Union Address comparing President Bush’s political position to Bill Clinton in January of 1995. Like Bush, “President Clinton was in free fall. …His approval ratings were mired in the 30′s and seemed unlikely to
Moments later, a writer identfiying himself as “Tom T” pointed out an error in Carney’s “nut graf” that would have earned a failing grade for a first-year journalism major: “Clinton’s approval rating in January of 2005 was 47 percent. It was not mired in the 30s.” At 9:12, the blogger Atrios, also known as Duncan Black, alerted his readers to the gaffe, and they descended on the Time blog like locusts–and, to mix the Biblical metaphor, served Jay Carney’s head up on a charger.
They tabulated several more boneheaded errors: Carney wrote that 1995 was Clinton’s first State of the Union “with Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole seated behind him as Speaker and Senate Majority Leader”; but, of course, it is the Vice President, not the Senate Majority leader, who sits behind the president. He also wrote of Clinton’s “recovery… during Monica, in 1999″–but, as a commenter reminded him, “Clinton never had to ‘recover’ from Monica, unless polls in the high 50s and 60s are something you have to recover from.”
Then the commenters unraveled the entire foundation of Carney’s argument. He had said that, because “Americans reward presidents who, even in the face of enormous distractions, focus on issues that matter to them … Bush won’t spend much time tonight talking about surging troops in Iraq or the Global War on Terror.” But, as writers identifying themselves as “jjcomet,” “dmbeaster,” and “Newton Minnow” pointed out, the issue of greatest concern to the nation “is far and away the war in Iraq, at 48% the only issue in double digits.” Another made a similar point, shall we say, more qualitatively: “The Iraq War is a DISTRACTION?? Are you serious? Am I wrong or did he compare the Lewinski scandal to Iraq??? What is the matter with you!?!?”
At which Carney snapped back so churlishly (“the left is as full of unthinking Ditto-heads as Limbaugh-land”) that, for a moment, it was hard even to remember–why was it, again, that we were supposed to defer to the authority of newsweeklies (and the mainstream press) in the first place? Carney was rude and wrong. The barbaric yawpers of the netroots were rude and right.
But wait there’s more! I dug up my own quick assessment of a Yearly Kos (which would soon become Netroots Nation) session of Carney and Mike Allen, believe it or not, speaking with Glenn Greenwald, Ari Melber and Jessica Valenti on a panel back in 2007. I could not believe how thick Carney was laying on the “praise” for bloggers in that session, and yet Greenwald, perhaps mindful of Carney’s past, would have none of it:
Allen and Carney were going out of their way to blow smoke up Greenwald’s ass (“What Henry Waxman is to Congress, Glenn Greenwald is to the blogosphere”), and Greenwald would sit there stone-faced, and then launch into a relentless attack on the facts of how the traditional media conducts the discourse of the country. In other words, he ignored the niceties and focused on the facts, which is what all of the journalists being assailed by him should do as well. He mentioned that 70% of Americans in 2003 still believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11, and how recently 44% of Americans could identify John Edwards as the guy who got a $400 haircut, and the reasons involved with those perceptions. He mentioned how in 2006, after the NSA wiretapping scandal was advanced, the media would not declare that the situation was a violation of the law, but they would discuss the issue in political terms, discussing how this would be “a good issue” for Republicans. What we need are journalists who are referees, willing to confront those who they report, willing to be adversarial and skeptical. Bloggers do NOT want the media destroyed, or to become partisan. We just want them to do their job better.
My issue was one of resources. The media is being forced to do more with less, and because they are general assignment reporters and generally not experts on subjects, they cover for this by opening up that well-worn rolodex. And by and large, that rolodex reflects a range of opinion from The New Republic to Free Republic. They laud the blogosphere for its expertise (expertise that Jay Carney said he “didn’t know” about), but never use that expertise in their articles, preferring to have bloggers gnash their teeth on the sidelines. Why aren’t the bloggers part of the expert rolodex if they are so good on particular issues.
It really was a hilarious session. And there was more, which Jay Rosen uncovered:
Jay Carney is Time magazine’s Washington bureau chief. Andrew Golis interviewed him too, on the sidewalk outside the party that Time threw on Friday night to promote its political blog, Swampland. (I read Swampland and I was there: good party.) “The blogosphere’s critique of the mainstream media has been overwhelmingly healthy and it’s made the mainstream media pay a lot of attention to details it should have been paying attention to,” he said, echoing Scherer and Fournier.
He then added something unintentionally revealing of how political journalists got themselves into the very trouble that’s forcing at least some of them to look inward. “Karen Tumulty and I— we’re not advocates, we’re not columnists.” (Tumulty, a contributor to Swampland, is Time’s national political correspondent.) “It’s our responsibility not to be labeled left or right.”
Is it now?
“That is just so wrong,” said a commenter (Lee) at Swampland, who had watched the interview. “Your job is to tell the truth.” (Regardless of how it gets you categorized.)
Ladies and gentlemen, your new White House Press Secretary. I think the way the aforementioned Greenwald would end this is to comment on how there’s no discernible difference between the point of view of journalists and the people they cover in politics.
By the way, Carney used to appear regularly on George Stephanopoulos’ This Week roundtable with his wife, ABC News senior correspondent Claire Shipman. So the first time he calls on ABC, or if ABC starts getting a bunch of new scoops, um, remember that.