Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Still Cranky

President Obama on Monday named two people to his cabinet who will be charged with making good on his threat to use the powers of the executive branch to tackle climate change and energy policy if Congress does not act quickly.
The appointments, which require Senate confirmation, send an unmistakable signal that the president intends to mount a multifaceted campaign in his second term to tackle climate change by using all the executive branch tools at his disposal.
That's from John Broder and Matthew Wald's NYT story about the new picks at Energy and EPA. Missing? What exactly there is about these appointments that sends that supposedly "unmistakable signal."

Because to me, it sure looks a lot more like the president, you know, filling two cabinet-level vacancies. Which presidents do. Regardless of whether they're going to "mount a multifaceted campaign" or not.

Later in the article, we get a quote from the president that has nothing to do with "all the executive branch tools at his disposal." We get a quote from an expert who says the appointments signal policy continuity with the people they're replacing, but both nominees are well-suited to working the bureaucracy and working with Congress. We learn that Gina McCarthy, the EPA nominee, is an expert in environmental regulation. And we are told that climate is an area in which the Obama Administration has relatively more ability to move ahead without Congress than some other issues.

But nothing -- nothing at all -- about why these particular two nominees signal anything at all about what the president intends. Nothing to back up the claim that some sort of signal is being sent. Unless, that is, we're to compare "nominates somebody" with "leaves the position vacant indefinitely." Which is a really strange standard.


  1. The NYT should be concerned about the articles people aren't reading from choice instead of putting up a paywall to thwart readers who are no longer breaking down the wall to get in. The quality of the paper's reporting and reporters has gone down hill. There's not much on the front page that you can't find elsewhere. Perhaps there was a time when you could depend on sharp analysis from the Times that wasn't available anywhere else, but no longer. The opinion pages have taken a turn to the right with opeds by Joe Scarborough and more as well as the recent mindless and mendacious attacks on the president by two of paper's own(Brooks and Heller). I go there to read Krugman and little else.

  2. But one of the appointees is "a tough-talking native of Boston"! That's an unmistakable signal right there, isn't it?!

    Seriously, I think what the "lede" -- that's journalists' actual spelling for it -- means to reference is a couple of later quotes from sources, one that says that both nominees "very seriously get climate change" and another (from the guy who says it's policy continuity) that says they want to do "big things" and "reinforce the president's desire to push forward on a variety of fronts."

    Granted, those quotes may have been generated and/or selected with an eye to supporting the "unmistakable signal" thesis. Experienced reporters know how to prompt sources to give them the quotes they need. And even so, the point is only weakly supported. But national political reporters (as we know from Michael Schudson) see their jobs as explaining the event, not just noting it. It's not always easy! Obama didn't give them much to work with there. That's the problem with competent appointees. If he'd picked an oil-company exec, or a veteran Greenpeace organizer, or a popular Hispanic labor official, or something, then finding the "signal" wouldn't be so damn hard.

    1. "Lede" was originally spelled that way to distinguish it from "lead," the metal once commonly used to make type, and perhaps from "leading," which refers to the amount of space between lines on a printed page (formerly adjusted by adding bits of lead between the lines on the press). Leading is not to be confused with kerning, the space between letters within a line.

    2. Yeah. Back when I was a cub reporter, the first time my editor sent me a note with "lede" spelled that way, I thought he was just a bad speller. (Editors, y'know.....) Phonetic spelling is all to the good, though -- English should have a lot more of it.

  3. "Experienced" reporters may know how to prompt interviewees to give them the answers they want, but good reporters pick up on repeated themes they hear. Eventually that helps form questions to others.

    So if you keep hearing that these appointments signal something, then you ask others if they do, and you use those quotes to form your story. Which apparently didn't happen in this case. It could be the writer, it could be the editor who cut it.

    The Times in general has a hard time with a Democrat in the White House, as counterintuitive as that sounds. They were pretty terrible during the Clinton administration, often repeating the same "interpretations" in news pieces that were in analysis pieces and editorials.

  4. Obama did say "I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change..." And McCarthy has played a strong role in carbon regulations. It seems patently clear that Obama intends McCarthy to tackle carbon emissions using the Executive Branch. Which is what the news article says in the section you quote.

    It is very strange that the article neglects to mention that McCarthy has worked in a couple of Republican (state) Administrations. That seems like the bias to me.

    As for those of you who only go to the Times to "read Krugman", you have given up on trying to understand the Right. Just like many of the far right have given up trying to understand the Left. Which is why our government is broken.


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