The Stash

What's Gotten Into The Associated Press?

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In the tradition of Brad DeLong, I'm afraid I have to whistle the AP for a couple journalistic fouls these last few days. Nothing flagrant, but definitely worth flagging.

The first comes in today's story suggesting Obama has put off his mid-year budget update because he's worried the deficit numbers will hurt his domestic agenda. According to the story:

The release of the update usually scheduled for mid-July has been put off until the middle of next month, giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town on its August 7 summer recess. ...

"Instead of a dream, this routine report could be a nightmare," Tony Fratto, a former Treasury Department official and White House spokesman under President George W. Bush, said of the delayed budget update. "There are some things that can't be escaped."

Problem is, while the update generally comes out in mid-July, that's almost never true of the first year of a presidential administration. Clinton's first mid-session review came out on September 1, 1993, and George W. Bush dropped his first mid-session update in late August of 2001.   

Now, let's not be naive about this. Does the administration have an incentive to release the numbers later rather than sooner? Of course. But it has political incentives to do lots of things that are completely kosher by law or custom. (Does anyone begrudge the White House its right to, say, keep quiet about the Supreme Court short-list until it selects a nominee?) In the absence of dispositive evidence, I'm just not sure how you write a piece accusing Obama of playing politics with the timing of this release when it will likely come earlier than it did during the first year of the two previous administrations.

On to the second foul, which came in a story on Friday about how Obama's standing among Democrats is slipping. It was a perfectly legitimate point--according to the piece, "A CBS news survey out this week had ... his standing among Democrats down 10 percentage points since last month, from 92 percent to 82 percent." My quibble is with one of the ways the piece made the point, which was by leaning on Oklahoma Rep. Dan Boren:

Another Democrat, Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma, tells his local newspaper that Obama is too liberal and is "very unpopular" in his district.

Sounds pretty alarming, right--a Democrat so overcome with anti-Obama feeling that he'll trash the president on the record? But, of course, if you know anything about Boren, this comes as no surprise. Back in June of last year, the congressman famously refused to endorse Obama (even though he said he would vote for him) and derided him as "the most liberal senator." This latter comment quickly got him into a tussle with the Obama campaign, which accused him of having "his facts wrong." In November, Obama lost Boren's district to John McCain by a 66-34 margin. And, during the first six months of the Obama administration, Boren has positioned himself as a persistent gadly.

Which is to say, not only is it almost certainly true that Obama is very unpopular in Boren's district, but there's never been a time when he was popular there. Moreover, making comments like this is just part of Boren's whole shtick. I don't see how it establishes that Obama is suddenly running into problems among Democrats in general (even if, as I say, that turns out to be true).

--Noam Scheiber

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