You can learn from your political enemies, a lesson apparently lost on the Baton Rouge Advocate, as indicated after it disastrously inserted itself into the issue that recently managed to make both its objects and commentators look foolish – proof of citizenship of political officials.
When compromising information about Sen. David Vitter’s personal life came out which impugned his credibility, he admitted unspecified behavior contrary to what he stated beliefs were before it worked its way into public, asked for forgiveness from whoever, and accurately stated that would be the last time he would refer to the issue, which linked him to prostitution services. That forgiveness was forthcoming from voters, who thought it more important that he represented them well on the issues than his making a mistake on a matter unrelated to his service in office.
Were the editorial writers and editors at the Advocate so capable at introspection. State Rep. Alan Seabaugh introduced HB 561 for this legislative session, which would require presidential candidates to demonstrate proof of qualifications to run for office on Louisiana’s ballot. Currently, not even the procedure used to determine whether candidates for state or local office qualify, challenging their candidacies for a short period after qualification ends, is in place to ensure the integrity of the process. Subsequently, when asked about, the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration said that if the bill passed the Legislature, he’d sign it.
This set off the Advocate’s editorial page. Dropping into its typical mode that believes self-righteous indignation adequately substitutes for reasoned analysis, an Apr. 22 editorial accused Jindal by his assent to sign of trying to politicize the issue (calling it in the headline “bigotry”) – with absolutely no proof nor with any attempt to parse the constitutional aspects of it (an excellent analysis of the ideology and hypocrisy of the Advocate on this account may be found here), or even gave any hint of any critical thinking about the issue on its part.
Still, finding and replicating liberal boilerplate without any independent analysis that may demonstrate the vacuity of the message doesn’t make the message automatically suspect – if the writers aren’t going to go to the trouble of a rigorous search for the truth of something, readers and other fora may do it. But when signs appear that such rigor was sacrificed out of ignorance, ideology, or both, that strips the message of its credibility.
And that’s what happened, when the Advocate, no doubt wishing it could avoid this, tattled on itself through publishing an Apr. 27 letter from the Jindal Administration pointing out it had created a fictional middle name for Jindal – implying either its writers played fast and loose with facts in order to make a political slur, according to the writer chief of staff Timmy Teepell, and/or they weren’t very competent writers to make a basic error about a very well-known political figure.
When busted, we know what Vitter did. In the same situation, the Advocate eschewed that response and doubled down. Deliciously for its senders, the letter arrived to the newspaper before Pres. Barack Obama, after years of oddly allowing the issue to fester, released his long form birth certificate, on the exact day of the publishing of Teepell’s letter where he offered to release Jindal’s to the paper. This got a public apology out of the Advocate’s Executive Editor Carl Redman and a promise to remove the phantom name from the online version of the editorial.
But since then, the Advocate and Redman have tried to erase or ignore the issue they unintentionally created, over the credibility and believability of its analysis of Jindal, where it’s pretty clear in the general tone and overall selectivity of coverage it loathes him. Go to the online editorial and it has been changed, but, contrary to good journalistic practice, there is no indicator of a correction of error in fact (for example, see here) from the original online publication. If all one ever knew of the incident came from reading that one piece online you’d never know it happened, unless you stumbled onto the letter dated five days later.
Also, unfortunately for the newspaper, the story got legs. Apparently, the New Orleans Times-Picayune (and don’t think that new outlets don’t like to tweak their rivals in these kinds of situations) decided to take up Teepell on his offer, got a Jindal certificate, and ran it with a story about the implications a bill Vitter was backing with similarities to Seabaugh’s would have for Jindal – creating a neat way to bring up the Advocate’s faux pas. In turn, a wire service went for its own angle on the error. When asked subsequently about the incident, Redman’s responded, “I think the point of the editorial was that the Indian American governor of Louisiana should not be worried about people's origins and birthplaces.”
Besides earning him, for its audacity, twittering and muffled laughter behind his back at the next party he attends with the chattering classes, that response displays misrepresentation and calls into question of whether Redman actually read it. The editorial did not claim Jindal ought not to be inquiring about people’s birthplaces, but clearly accused of Jindal creating a political issue based upon what it defined as “bigotry.” But to admit that might resurrect the charges Teepell made that the Advocate was pursuing its own form of bigotry.
That the paper seems eager to distance itself from its original message, an unconvincing one at best, only lends credence to the interpretation it does so because it fears the editorial too nakedly puts on parade its animus towards Jindal, magnified because it so well facilitated the issuance of the letter to point out that. A simple retraction without explanation and willingness to admit error online would not have damaged its credibility, already questioned by many who read in the manner exhorted by the name of this blog, in coverage of and opining about Louisiana politics.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 11:15