The Weak in News

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Last night, The Week magazine presented its “Opinion Awards,” which it likes to bill as the only prize in journalism for opinion writing. Except for the Pulitzer.

The awards are, of course, also an occasion for a fancy dinner party and much elbow-rubbing and — because this is Washington — there is a panel. Last night’s panel consisted of moderator Sir Harold Evans, Howell Raines, Karl Rove, and Doug Schoen. Jay actually took notes, and I believe he’ll be posting on some of the details of the conversation, but I just wanted to comment on a couple of things.

First of all, as I said last night, on the cusp of this historic election, it was heartening get a perspective on the race from such a diverse set of backgrounds, genders, and cultures. Second of all, I admit I asked a kind of horrible question: Isn’t it true, I asked Rove, that one can’t just toss off the truism that “everyone knew Dukakis was soft on crime” without acknowledging that race — or racism — and political advertising played a role in generating that perception?

I know! Way to stay current, right? I am personally responsible for wasting five minutes of the most important people in Washington’s time on a question that last mattered twenty years ago. My humble justification: The way that Rove could so casually write off Dukakis’s “weakness on crime” as something that “everyone knew” is exactly the kind of cunning laziness that is, well, all that is wrong with “opinion journalism” today. Perceptions don’t just happen, people like Rove (and Howell Raines and Doug Schoen, for that matter), make them happen. Rove, at least, is usually more open about that fact. In retrospect, I probably should have directed my question at Raines. Or maybe I should have just used the Dukakis thing as an example and moved on. Or I could have followed the example of a handsome heckler in the audience and just demanded that Rove “Stop lying!” (Full disclosure: Said heckler happens to be Mr. AMC.)

Anyway, Rove did answer my inartful query, artfully. He said that the weak-on-crime perception was based on Dukakis’s record as governor, then we sort of bickered, and he wrapped up by saying not only were ads not a factor in the crime perception, but that the GOP consciously stayed away from making race a part of the crime issue by filming the Willie Horton ad in blue-and-white, rather than black-and-white. Which explains why so many children who grew up in the late eighties are terrified of Smurfs.

Reason’s Dave Weigel has a more elaborate write-up here.