The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, May 01, 2004

Bellyaching about Kerry's lily-white campaign

As the good folks over at Campaign Desk point out, it's been a piece of grievance-meistery dripping with verisimilitude has been grist to the journo's mill for fair wee while: a CNN piece of April 20 [1] under the hed Kerry's inner circle lacks color kicked things off, apparently.

Skipping ahead, we get a piece (April 30) on the matter from Jodi Wilgoren - a name that once lived in infamy, and watchblogdom, amongst Dem bloggers - which gets the CD seal of approval.

The hed is significant: Some Blacks and Hispanics Criticize Kerry on Outreach. The addition of the word some pours a whole trout pond of perspective on what, without the word, would have suggested the existence of some kind of mass non-white revolt against the presumptive presidential candidate.

What seems to be going on is a number of hacks panhandling for jobs in the campaign, or in the putative Kerry administration post-January 20. Jodi puts it more politely:
While Mr. Kerry, whose home state, Massachusetts, is 7 percent Hispanic and 5 percent black, has active support from black members of Congress, some veteran African-American leaders have struggled to find a foothold in his campaign.

There are, to judge from her piece, a fair number of non-whites in the higher echelon of the campaign. But, of course, mere head-count (still less, consideration of aptitude and achievement) is not enough: certain sachems demand to be rimmed by the candidate, and throw their toys out of the pram if not so indulged [2].

It's an easy way to fill column-inches, pieces fuelled by rentaquotes that more or less write themselves.

Two meretricious processes at work:
  1. 'journalists' interpleading between duelling quotes, denying all responsibility to offer a judgement on the merits of the case on the spurious ground of objectivity; and

  2. a lack of quantification - in this case, of the level, and location, of anti-Kerry feeling amongst non-white Dems - leading to a sort of Zeno's Paradox, where two or three quotes (from people readers don't know from a hole in the ground) are allowed to stand as, in some way, representative of the opinion of the group from which those quoted come.

Is there - it occurs to me to ask - polling evidence on how non-white groups feel about the racial balance of the Kerry campaign team?

What we have with the lily-white Kerry campaign story is the equivalent of the Literary Digest poll that massively favoured Alf Landon for president in 1936: self-selectors banging the drum taken as representative for no good reason.

If books do furnish a room, quotations do much the same for an article. And the spurious authority of organisations with fancy names ostensibly representative of some professional or racial or other group panders to an innate human tendency to seek to generalise [3].

It should be the work of journalists to make all this plain to the reader. But the freemasonry of hacks would scarcely permit it.

  1. CD dates the piece as April 16, which is the date in the title bar of the window; the URL contains the string 04/14, which rather suggests a date of April 14. Like the Diebold voting machine, online news suffers from a lack of audit trail.

  2. Sharpton is happy to support the thesis: as Angel Soft's worst customer, he's apparently received the attentions of the candidate's tongue twice already. His campaign song was always Hooray for Hollywood, though...

  3. In the UK, the so-called Muslim Parliament worked just such a trick.

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