WASHINGTON, June 10, 2015 – Do journalists ever wonder why so many hold their profession in disrepute? A June 5 Washington Post article on the state of Dr. Ben Carson’s campaign for president is one reason. The article has a fundamental problem: The conclusions do not follow logically from the facts and quotes presented.
Even worse, the authors demonstrate a clumsy bias and obvious agenda. This is not journalism; it is propaganda.
The conclusions do not follow because they lead. According to the title, the Carson campaign “faces turmoil … and … rivalry.” According to the first paragraph, the candidacy is, “rocked by turmoil … and widespread disarray.”
This hyperbole sets the theme and reoccurs throughout. “Carson’s associates described a political network in tumult.” “The moves gutted the core of Carson’s apparatus.” “His campaign has been marked by signs of dysfunction and amateurism.” “Carson’s sprawling circle of boosters is fumbling his opportunity.” “The candidate has been nonchalant about the unrest.”
The facts? The campaign organization is undergoing changes in leadership and reshuffling of responsibilities as discussed in interviews with a few selected press representatives.
The characterizations of these changes in the Post article belong entirely to the authors. The facts can be interpreted much differently; direct quotes from interviewees do not support such dramatic conclusions; the authors add nothing to justify their in-your-face opinions. Uncritical readers predisposed to accept these false premises will find reinforcement of existing prejudice, which appears to be the intent.
According to the article, the Carson campaign organization and PACs are suffering mutual discord and rivalry, fighting over “millions of dollars to be raised off his name.” But in the article, Carson representatives discuss only some “growing pains,” coordination issues, and adaptation to changing circumstances that characterize any such effort.
The sources go on to complement their colleagues and credit them with significant success.
In an egregious example of spin, the Post says, “Doug Watts, a Carson campaign spokesman, described Run Ben Run [PAC] as a rogue outfit.” But that is not a quote from Watts, who is immediately quoted as saying “there’s no dissatisfaction” with Run Ben Run activities. He also credits the PAC with helping Dr. Carson win the straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.
Did Watts actually use the term “rogue outfit?” We don’t know, but it certainly is implied and that implication comes before the quote, presumably to color it with a perception the actual quote does not support. Conclusions first, facts later. Readers are not intended to perceive the contradictions.
The resignation of campaign chairman Terry Giles is cited as primary evidence of disarray. Mr. Giles responded to the article in a letter to the Washington Post (which to my knowledge has not been published):
“For you to claim that the Carson campaign is in turmoil because myself and three of my very close friends and colleagues have adjusted our role in assisting Dr. Carson to better fit our skill sets is wrong on so many levels that it defies logic and common sense.”
The leaders of Dr. Carson’s campaign, continues Giles, “are terrific folks who are doing an excellent job. Their competence is proven by the fact that in the last four weeks Dr. Carson has moved into the top three Republican primary candidates. In a majority of polls Dr. Carson is finishing first or tied for first. Does that in any way sound like a campaign in turmoil?”
During his May 4 announcement in Detroit, Dr. Carson specifically complimented Giles on his work and asked him to “change gears and take on new and important tasks.” “My leaving was not only not unexpected,” wrote Giles, “it was the result of careful planning and a well thought out strategy.”
Also according to the article, Carson’s long-term friend and business manager, Armstrong Williams, “portrayed Carson as a candidate who is still learning the nuances of politics. He said Carson is studying up on issues and is uninterested in campaign mechanics.” The authors imply that this is just another Carson weakness.
But common sense would say that is what he should be doing. The country has had six years of a president whose only apparent expertise is campaign mechanics along with left wing revolutionary ideology. In stark contrast to the incumbent, Carson’s entire life is a record of brilliance in “studying up.” The secret of good leadership, as demonstrated throughout Carson’s careers and many accomplishments, is to select good people, give them the mission and the guidance, and let them do their jobs.
Then the Post article fires a truly cheap shot: “On the road, Carson receives hearty receptions, but his acquaintances said he is most content after public events to retreat to a pool table, where he touts the hand-eye coordination that made him a renowned surgeon. He also likes to do brain teasers or play golf.” Is Dr. Carson detached, uncaring, remote, superficial? Shall we dance the innuendo?
The authors of the Post article cannot just present facts, quote sources, and then suggest inferences, because their readers might actually think for themselves and come to different conclusions. These journalists must force the thinking they want, or they cannot see through the fog of their own wishful thinking and bias. And this from one of America’s presumably leading newspapers.
If one isolates the facts and reads just the quotes, they do not connect with the hyperbole. Perhaps the organizational changes are part of a comprehensive and well executed strategy; perhaps they demonstrate the adaptive strengths of outstanding executive leadership. Nothing in the article outside the authors’ overheated assertions refutes that interpretation.
No one who knows Ben Carson or who reads the readily available information on him or the books by him could come to the conclusions stated in this article. Exactly the opposite. Is that what the Washington Post and its journalists are afraid of, and what they are trying so hard to prevent?