Sunday, July 16, 2006

LAMONT WATCH Greg Sargent calls out Mark Leibovich of The New York Times for some truly terrible reporting in his Sunday story about Sen. Joe Lieberman's troubles. But the article is worse than Sargent lets on.

Yes, the piece is written just about entirely from Lieberman's perspective, and it includes almost no discussion of the stances and statements that have landed Lieberman in trouble with Connecticut Democrats.

But Sargent doesn't even discuss these two particularly egregious paragraphs:

[Lieberman] has also encountered a peculiar brand of stigma from his Democratic colleagues in the Senate.

Several of them say they will support their "good friend" in the primary. But only a smattering say they will support Mr. Lieberman no matter what happens Aug. 8. The rest have either avoided the question ("You never saw senators run for the elevators so fast," David Lightman of The Hartford Courant said on "Reliable Sources" on CNN) or vowed to support the primary winner, even if it is Mr. Lamont, whom most of them have never met.
Let Leibovich's clumsy writing slide. (Does one really "encounter a stigma"? And since when do stigmas have "brands"?) What he seems to want to say is that Lieberman's being treated by at least some fellow senators as if he has the cooties. And, Leibovich insinuates, these senators are hypocrites for not embracing Lieberman's independent run.

I don't see how else you can read it. Otherwise, why draw attention to the fact that Lieberman is thought of as "good friend"? Why go out of your way to note that most of the senators in question haven't met Ned Lamont? The implicit point is clearly that these senators are guilty of a betrayal. And Leibovich's use of the word "stigma" casts their abandonment of Lieberman as a step taken for the sake of appearance (to ward off the cooties).

Bottom line: Whatever you take away from the two paragraphs, you don't get even a whiff of the idea that the senators might have simple, defensible reasons for their stances.

But clearly, they do.

Come on: Should we really expect Democratic officials to line up to rule out endorsing the winner of the Democratic party primary--pre-emptively lending their support, instead, to an independent run by the primary's loser? What would be the precedent for it?

Would the more predictable move really be for most senators to allow personal loyalty to trump their commitment to the primary process? Based on what evidence?

Snarky quips notwithstanding, does Leibovich have any proof whatsoever that what we're witnessing here is something other than the typical operation of a modern political party?

I suppose it's amusing, to a certain kind of observer, that an elected official might endorse a candidate she's never met--even against a "good friend." Maybe Leibovich is just this kind of observer--one who sees politics as a chummy parlor game, where personal ties are the most important thing at stake.

But if that's his view of the political arena, he should be doing his writing somewhere other than in the news pages of The New York Times.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.