Saturday, January 16, 2010

Game Change? Consider the Source

While we have all enjoyed hearing about or reading the juicy tidbits available from the recently released "Game Change" by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, there are a couple of points to keep in mind.

They state, both in the book and in interviews, that their sources were told that they were being interviewed "on deep background" which means that they likely felt free to talk quite freely, knowing that their anonymity would be protected. The authors also relied on emails and other documents to create a book that relies on their access to political insiders, their knowledge of Washington politics, and their own perceptions of the people they wrote about. To quote the New York Times, the authors used a technique similar to that of Bob Woodward of Watergate fame " create a novelistic narrative that often reflects the views of the authors’ most cooperative or voluble sources."

It's interesting that what is probably the most racially charged statement that Harry Reid ever made is one of the few quotes actually attributed in the book. Curious. This does not speak very well of the author's honesty in promising their sources anonymity and then naming names--which I can only imagine is to generate more media attention (and sales). Sources named are 'lieutenants, or senior most lieutenants, or aides.

It is also important to remember that although the author of TIME's "The Note," Halperin is not considered the brightest light amongst the Villagers. As political director for ABC News, he famously directed staff not to "reflexively hold both sides 'equally' accountable" and that both sides used "distortions" in their campaigns during the 2004 Presidential campaign. The Republicans used this statement to emphasize their charge of media bias and minimized the distinction between the missteps made by the Kerry campaign and the blatant falsehoods of the Bush team.

As a political analyst, Halperin is also well-known for his inability to understand political trends. He wrote that Richard Lugar would definitely be Obama's running mate (the post mysteriously disappeared), that McCain's "housegate" would hurt Obama more than McCain, that McCain came out on top for the week of the initial economic crisis (even Bush was appalled when McCain demanded a White House meeting to discuss the situation - remember? I'm putting my campaign on hold ... - then had nothing to say during the entire 45-minute meeting). Halperin also expressed disgust with the media coverage of the campaign, stating that it was obviously biased in favor of the Democrats and Obama when statistics show that coverage was on average 3 to 1 Republican (number of times MSM mentioned/showed clips of say Limbaugh or Arianna Huffington as an example). David Plouffe is quoted as saying, "If Politico and Halperin say we're winning, we're losing." Obviously a reliable analyst I'm sure.

So, here is a man who is clearly not an unbiased party writing a book that is hearsay gossip. The authors were not present for conversations that they relate. The book is based on mostly credible sources and I am sure that it is, overall, a reasonable representation of the 2008 Presidential Campaign. Do I believe all the details presented, however? Of course not. If you listen to Fox News, you can see Gretchen Carlson bouncing up and down, joyfully recounting passages detailing dirt about John and Elizabeth Edwards or Bill and Hillary Clinton. Switch over to MSNBC or read one of the progressive blogs, and the focus switches to Sarah Palin or John McCain.

The authors call this "Game Change." It is written as the story of the personal side of the 2008 campaign, and contains the accounts of what sound like bitter, discontented people. As someone who studies human behavior and works with people to help change that behavior, I can say that those most likely to speak freely to authors writing a book of this type are those with negative experiences and feelings to relate. Someone left with a positive reaction is less likely to have anything juicy to share.

My recommendation? Enjoy the novel. Consider the source.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Halperin Blows Obama VP Story
The Note Scorecard

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