How the Sunday Times set the stage!


Jeff Zeleny’s final novels: On Sunday, Jeff Zeleny wrote the front-page report in the New York Times about the presidential election.

Sunday’s a big day in the news biz. Essentially, this was the New York Times’ final framing of the White House race.

The report appeared at the top of the paper's front page. Below, you see the picture Zeleny painted.

Your assignment, should you accept it:

No, it doesn’t matter that much. But given the Times’ famous liberal bias, which candidate did Zeleny seem to maybe favor:
ZELENY (11/4/12): President Obama and Mitt Romney entered their final weekend of campaigning on Saturday facing a stubborn landscape of competitive states that right to the end are producing equal shares of hope and fear amid conflicting signals about the outcome.

The president, fighting to avoid being turned out of office four years after a rousing and historic victory, sought to shore up his standing in Midwestern states that had backed him enthusiastically last time. He assumed a defensive posture in Iowa and here in Wisconsin, two states where his advisers had openly scoffed at his rival’s chances only a few months ago.

Mr. Romney, in the closing days of his second quest for the White House, worked to harness the enthusiasm running through the Republican Party to overcome the challenges he confronts in building an Electoral College majority. He fought to secure critical states like Florida and Virginia without allowing others to slip away.

But after hundreds of millions of dollars in television commercials, months of campaigning and three widely viewed debates, the race was locked in the same dynamic that has defined it from the start: Mr. Obama, burdened by four years of economic struggle and partisan animosity but still an inspiration to his party, holding the slightest of edges in Ohio and other swing states, and Mr. Romney, bearer of the hopes of conservatives and voters convinced the nation is on the wrong path, fighting to overtake him.
Our take? In Zeleny’s novelized portrait, Obama was “fighting to avoid being turned out of office.” Romney was “work[ing] to harness the enthusiasm running through the Republican Party.”

Yes, there’s more to Zeleny’s portrait. But those were the images he led with.

If you read deep into that dense fourth paragraph, you might have been able to make out a fact: Zeleny seemed to think that Obama was ahead! Obama was “holding the slightest of edges in Ohio and other swing states,” the Timesman wrote.

But before he crammed that bit of news deep into that confounding paragraph, Zeleny seemed to work from a different script—a version of the Romney momentum script.

If Zeleney felt he had to write a novel, he could have written his novel a thousand different ways. This is the way he chose to shape it—with the image of Obama fighting to stave off defeat and Romney riding a wave of enthusiasm. In paragraph 3, he did acknowledge that Romney was working “to overcome the challenges he confronts in building an Electoral College majority.”

But that’s a fairly fuzzy construction. He hit you over the head with his images: Obama tryibng to stave off defeat, Romney with all that enthusiasm.

Zeleny, a somewhat nervous Nebraskan, is routinely dispatched to the Fox News Channel to make conservatives stop hating the Times. This Sunday, he appeared on Fox News Sunday, where he instructed Chris Wallace about the state of the race.

As always, he whistled a happy tune about GOP prospects. As is often the case with Zeleny, some of what follows is incoherent—but the talking-points jump out:
WALLACE (11/4/12): Jeff, you have been traveling the country for weeks, for months. Your sense of where the race stands, 48 hours out.

ZELENY: Things are different in battleground states because of the deluge of advertising that's really been going on for weeks and months out there. So people in Ohio, people in Iowa, Florida, Virginia have a different sense of the race than people do nationally. And the reason that Pennsylvania is potentially in play here at the end, because there has not been a lot of advertising. So they are experiencing the race as everyone else is.

But in the battleground states—I was in Ohio this week, Wisconsin and Iowa this week and one thing you pick up is there is a real sense of enthusiasm for the Romney campaign. There aren't Republicans, I did not run into one Republican voter at rallies or just on the street at other things, who are not happy about electing Mitt Romney as opposed to electing someone to beat President Obama. That is a significant change.

And on the other side, the excitement and enthusiasm is not there as it was four years ago for President Obama. Does it matter? Perhaps not. I mean, he will not win by the margins—if he wins, he is not going to win by these margins from, from 2008.

One thing at the end of this campaign, these sort of— I talked to at a lot of Republican advisers in Boston and elsewhere this week. The confidence is in the uncertainty of what is going to happen as opposed to the confidence in their strength of position in a Florida or a Virginia. They are really not sure what is going to happen in those states and that is a potential problem for them.
That last paragraph is hard to parse. The opening paragraph doesn't make sense. But Zeleny did remember to say that Pennsylvania was now "potentially in play" a key talking-point from the Romney campaign. And he whistled a happy tune about how Everybody Loves Mitt, though not so much with Obama.

Wallace asked another question. The happy talk continued:
WALLACE: When you heard, as you just did, Axelrod and Beeson each make their cases about ground game, early voting, voter intensity, who do you think has the better side of that argument?

ZELENY: I think the organic intensity, no question, is on the side of the Romney campaign. The turnout operation, we'll find out on Tuesday, it is a really hard thing to measure from the outside, but it is why the Obama campaign started so early and have been building up so much.

So if they are as good as they were in '08 and as good as they say they are, they'll have a better turnout organization. But organically I believe it is on the side of Republicans.
Again, some of that is hard to parse. But as with all those Romney voters, the enthusiasm shines through.

Maybe this is what Zeleny really thinks. Or maybe that’s the way the New York Times tries to hang onto conservative subscribers.

Zeleny was fair and balanced this Sunday. Our take?

He seemed to believe Obama was ahead. And so, to provide a bit of balance, he pretended he thought something else.


  1. Bob, I agree with your take. I've noticed how the national media just can't bring themselves to say that President Obama has been ahead in his bid for reelection. Obama has been leading in the major swing states and for quite some time the smart money has been on Obama winning this election. The race has never been a "dead heat" unless of course you completely ignore the electoral college.The bending over backwards in order to appear unbiased is at the heart of what makes today's media incompetent. That and good old fashioned laziness.

    1. You and Bob are quite right. How will Obama ever overcome all that?

    2. Your question's a non-sequiter.

      It's not Obama that people are worried about (you excepted, of course), but rather the country -- How will the country overcome the bullshit media that serves it?

    3. Anon 11::33,
      Good point. The results show Americans are afraid. And cautious.

      Polls (if it's okay to mention them) have said for two years that the people have a very negative rating of Congress, the worst in our history.

      That begs the question: Why didn't they take this opportunity to fix it?

      The answer is most likely the old warning about not changing horses in the middle of the stream.

      Keep the administration the same, keep the Senate the same, keep the House the same.

      Hopefully, Republicans will accept that they failed to gain their primary objective and stop screwing around.

    4. Actually, they supposedly "fixed" Congress in 2010, then hated the results even more.

      I'm not buying the old cliche about horses and streams. The nation's voters have never been afraid to do that, and in fact we had four elections (1968, 1976, 1980 and 1992) in which incumbents lost, and one (2004) in which an incumbent war president was very narrowly re-elected.

    5. Clarification, of course. The incumbent in 1968 of course did not lose the election. He chose not to run rather than lose it. After winning a historic landslide four years earlier.

    6. And after four more years of Viet Nam.