How to wrest the facts from a cynical news story

It was a gift.

Yesterday, in the New York Times, one story, “A Major Fear for Democrats: Will the Party Come Together By November?” was a perfect example of the crying need for the book I’m finishing, How I Learned The Facts of Life.

Why is this a gift? It gives me a chance to flash the moves I learned in Larry Fink’s Problems in American Democracy class in my senior year at New Rochelle High School. I.e., those facts of life.

Here’s why. What I learned in that class is how to get facts even from a newspaper article riddled or embroidered with pejorative language. And Jonathan Martin’s piece is a stellar example of journalistic embroidery the sole purpose of which seems to be…what? Stirring up anxiety.

What he stirred up in me was a big piss-off.

Here’s how the article begins — title and first paragraph:

“A Major Fear for Democrats: Will the Party Come Together By November?”

FORT DODGE, Iowa — Democrats have always represented a cacophonous array of individuals and interests, but the so-called big tent is now stretching over a constituency so unwieldy that it’s easy to understand why voters remain torn this close to Iowa, where no clear front-runner has emerged.

Let’s do that again, with my strike-outs of spiked, non-factual words:

FORT DODGE, Iowa — Democrats have always represented a cacophonous array of individuals and interests, but the so-called big tent is now stretching over a constituency so unwieldy that it’s easy to understand why voters remain torn this close to Iowa, where no clear front-runner has emerged.

Actually, I could strike out the entire paragraph and re-write it thusly:

The Democratic Party represents a diverse group of individuals and interests which we journalists call a “big tent.” The Democratic Party constituency, faced with the administration of the current president and additionally faced with a small group of experienced and interesting people who are running for the presidency, have expressed support for several of them.

Let’s go to the third paragraph:

The lack of a united front has many party leaders anxious — and for good reason. In over 50 interviews across three early-voting states — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — a number of Democratic primary voters expressed grave reservations about the current field of candidates, and in some cases a clear reluctance to vote for a nominee who was too liberal or too centrist for their tastes.

“Lack of a united front.” This is a primary, FFS! And the policy differences among the leading candidates concern process, not essence. As Kathleen Sebelius says (full quote down below), “There are clearly differences among people who still feel incremental change is the best way of getting things done, and folks who say we need more to pursue more radical change.”

Within the body of his essay — it’s not a news article, nor is it an opinion; it’s more of a point of view — Martin offers very short quotes from what he calls “a number of Democratic primary voters” — a mere nine potential voters he encounters in Iowa, one of whom says she’s really sort of a Republican. Maybe Martin did 50 interviews but, as I said, he only quoted nine voters. Should we assume the 41 other voters did not express “grave reservations”? Or a “clear reluctance”?

When prompted, a couple of voters say they will definitely not vote for [XX]. And from this, he extrapolates voters are “torn.” (Voters are always “torn” before the primary elections begin, if you drop the word “torn” and replace it with “considering several excellent candidates.”)

“Many party leaders?” And the “major fear”? Martin talks to and gets short quotes from six Democratic Party officials, none of whom expresses what I’d call “fear,” let alone a “major” one. Here are the quotes:

“We get down to November, there’s only going to be one nominee. Nobody can afford to get so angry because your first choice did not win. If you stay home in November, you are going to get Trump back.” — Representative James Clyburn

“No matter who our nominee is, we can’t make the mistake that we made in ’16. We all got to get behind that person so we can get Donald Trump out of office.” — Representative Dave Loebsack

“I am concerned about facing another disinformation campaign from the other side. For those of us who are elected officials, we need to exercise real leadership to make sure all of the camps are immediately united after all this is over.” — Representative Brendan Boyle

“If it means getting rid of Donald Trump, they would swallow Attila the Hun.” — State Representative Todd Rutherford

“This primary is a reflection of the politics of the country at large. There are clearly differences among people who still feel incremental change is the best way of getting things done, and folks who say we need more to pursue more radical change…There is no savior who’s going to rescue us from the current state of affairs. We’re all going to need to save each other.” — Kathleen Sebelius, the former Kansas governor and Health and Human Services Secretary

Nevertheless, as much as I can criticize this article’s take and tone, I’m not canceling my subscription to the Times. And Jonathan Martin has not changed my mind about who will get my primary vote.

Regardless of whether my number one candidate wins the primary, I will vote in November for the person who does.

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