In what reads almost like a parody, the New York Times went large today with news about Marco Rubio’s supposedly dangerous driving record. The only problem was that it was a complete dud of a story that made its reporters look like chumps. Here are the four major problems with the piece.
Not much of a hit
The piece is headlined “Marco Rubio and His Wife Cited 17 Times for Traffic Infractions,” and begins:
Senator Marco Rubio has been in a hurry to get to the top, rising from state legislator to United States senator in the span of a decade and now running for president at age 44.
But politics is not the only area where Mr. Rubio, a Republican from Florida, has an affinity for the fast track. He and his wife, Jeanette, have also shown a tendency to be in a rush on the road.
But when you read the story, you learn that over nearly 20 years, Rubio has had only four driving infractions. I consider myself a stellar driver and I’ve had that many in 20 years, probably. Maybe three.
Besides, in a world where elite politicians haven’t driven their own cars since 1996 (cough, Hillary Clinton, cough), I gauran-freaking-tee you that average voters identify more with a dude getting a traffic ticket every 4.5 years than someone being chauffeured around for 19 years.
In order to make this hit on Rubio work, reporters Alan Rappeport and Steve Eder (“Kitty Bennett contributed research”!) had to combine Marco Rubio’s driving record with someone who is not Marco Rubio. Namely, his wife.
This would be like claiming that Hillary Clinton and her husband had sexually assaulted numerous women. I mean, it’s true in one sense, but it’s a totally weird thing to group together. So Marco Rubio’s wife apparently doesn’t have the relatively clean driving record of her husband. She has, for instance, been fined $185 for driving 23 miles-per-hour in a 15 mile-per-hour zone.
As unspeakably horrific as this twentythreemph infraction is, don’t get me wrong, pardon me if I don’t find it disqualifying for a presidential spouse in the same way I find money laundering under the guise of running a charitable foundation, to pick randomly.
Twitter users had fun with the ridiculous attempt to group Rubio’s driving record with someone who was not Rubio. A sample:
Taken together, Marco Rubio and Napoleon conquered most of Europe. @AceofSpadesHQ
— John Ekdahl (@JohnEkdahl) June 5, 2015
— Steve Klein (@SteveKlein62) June 5, 2015
— TheClassyLife (@AceofSpadesHQ) June 5, 2015
Using Democratic opposition research
Journalists receive opposition research all the time. Opposition research is when paid researchers of one candidate or cause try to find dirt on a political enemy. When you get this dirt, you have to check it out and decide whether to run it. Nobody really thought that reporters Alan Rappeport and Steve Eder (or trusty researcher Kitty Bennett) actually came up with the idea to run this story on their own, though you would be forgiven for thinking New York Times reporters might think precisely that. So some folks speculated about who was behind the hit.
Don't assume Democrats are responsible for Rubio story. GOPers drop oppo on each other, candidates drop self-oppo, reporters do research.
— Byron Tau (@ByronTau) June 5, 2015
Was it a Republican rival? Seems unlikely, since this story does absolutely nothing to discredit Marco Rubio but a hella lot to discredit the New York Times. So imagine my surprise when it turned out a Democratic group had its fingerprints all over this hit. Turned out, thanks to research by the Washington Free Beacon, “Democratic Oppo Firm’s Fingerprints on NYT Rubio Hit.” The New York Times didn’t credit them.
In this case, this was more an error of judgment by liberal opposition research firm American Bridge, which should have thought about where to place the hit in such a way that it didn’t immediately lead to poking fun at it and the gullible reporters who ran with it, rather than the supposedly scandalous dirt underneath it.
But it was also an error by the New York Times staff. They knew “Marco Rubio has had four driving infractions since 1993” was not a story. That’s why they had to combine his driving record with someone else’s. To be totally honest, this looks like an attempt to do a hit on Marco Rubio’s wife while still playing by the stated rules regarding family of candidates. There were multiple red flags that this was a story that would beclown the reporters and their media institution more than the target of the hit. And if these are the new rules, well, guess what:
Bad news for Bill Clinton. If Marco Rubio's wife's old driving record is fair game…
— Seth Mandel (@SethAMandel) June 5, 2015
Report Real News
Our media have an image problem. Brought on by ourselves, certainly, but an image problem none-the-less. We are viewed negatively and with very little trust, according to all polls on the matter. Running stories like this, which, again, do absolutely nothing to discredit Marco Rubio while making us look like childish idiots, hurts the matter all the more.
I get that it’s nice to have opposition research placed into your lap by eager Democrats. But instead of writing these stories, wouldn’t it be great if the New York Times took its staggering reportorial resources into more useful territory?