Patterico's Pontifications


Jan Crawford Criticized Cairo Embassy Statement, Portrayed Romney’s Reaction Positively, and Is Generally Getting an Unfair Rap

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:12 pm

Let’s put a little context on this “coordinated questions” issue. Two nights ago, the U.S. embassy in Cairo issued a statement claiming that a U.S. citizen had “abused” free speech with a YouTube video. And one of the first people to publicly criticize this statement was CBS News reporter Jan Crawford.

That’s right. Before Mitt Romney criticized the Cairo embassy for a wrongheaded view on free speech, Jan Crawford sent these tweets:

Then the press conference occurred, and Crawford issued this very fair report, which did not jump on Romney for his statement. Instead, Crawford portrayed Romney’s willingness to stick by his guns as bold and aggressive:

Conservatives have criticized Mitt Romney for a lot of things in this race, among them that he is running a timid campaign, that he pulls his punches and that he doesn’t have the fire in his gut to win.

Today’s press conference – in which he criticized the administration’s response to the attacks in Egypt and Libya — is the clearest indication yet those critics are missing something.

Instead of walking back the strong statement he issued last night, Romney held his ground–and offered even stronger criticism. Facing the media in an impromptu press conference, he deflected questions on whether his criticism was too soon -“I don’t think that we ever hesitate when we see something which is a violation of our principles” – or that it was inappropriate, as Democrats, the Obama campaign and even some Republicans are arguing.

Here’s how Crawford described the entire situation:

For those who you who haven’t followed Romney’s response to the attacks in Egypt and Libya, here’s the background.

Last night, Romney issued a tough statement expressing his outrage, and then added this:

“It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn the attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Romney was referring to a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that touched off a political firestorm. Before the protesters hit the Embassy, it said on its website: “The Embassy … condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”

The embassy then stood by its statement, issuing a series of Tweets, as its compound was under siege. Last night, the administration seemed to distance itself from the Embassy statement, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton releasing her own statement, saying that “there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind,” and a senior administration official telling Politico it wasn’t vetted by Washington. The Tweets also were removed.

Then the tragic news broke overnight that four were killed in the Libyan attacks, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Some suggested Romney would regret his statement from the night before, although campaign sources told me before his morning press conference he had none. And when Romney took the podium, he made it clear himself.

In his opening remarks, Romney expressed sympathy for the victims and outrage at the attacks, and then referred to the embassy statement – “which, as I noted last night, was clearly at odds with the 1st Amendment.”

“I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values,” Romney said, adding, “The statement that came from the administration – and the embassy is the administration – the statement that came from the administration was a statement which is akin to an apology, and I think it was a severe miscalculation.”

Romney also hit the president hard for sending a “mixed message” and said he has demonstrated “a lack of clarity as to foreign policy.”

The adviser said that tone won’t change -and today’s comments were putting down a marker.

“We’re going to draw contrasts when there’s an opportunity to draw contrasts, and we’re not going to shy away from that opportunity.”

Unlike the hacks at the L.A. Times, for example, Crawford told her readers that the Obama administration had walked back the embassy’s statement. And, far from taking the position that Romney’s timing was off, Crawford merely noted that some had criticized the timing — but that was a minor point in a balanced and fair piece that portrayed Romney as standing strong on an issue of free speech.

I challenge anyone to read Crawford’s post and honestly contend that it is a hatchet job of the sort foisted upon L.A. Times readers.

So: a) Crawford attacks the embassy’s statement; b) Romney issues a similar statement; and c) Crawford does a fair report that portrays Romney in a positive light.

Fast forward to the release of the video that some conservatives seem to claim is smoking gun evidence of collusion by a liberal media. I’ve now watched this thing perhaps ten times. The sound goes out at critical points and the video jumps at another point. But what I hear is Crawford telling a colleague not to ask Romney about his tone, but just to ask a plain vanilla question about whether he regretted his statement — a neutral formulation that would give Romney plenty of opportunity to articulate his views.

The next thing that happens is the colleague suggesting some kind of hectoring followup. The audio drops out and you can’t hear everything he says, but at the beginning he is proposing jumping down Romney’s throat in some way. And whatever he says, Crawford replies: “You can’t say that.”

I agree with Erick Erickson’s early analysis (before he knew it was Crawford in the video):

Now, I can understand people arguing that any discussion among colleagues about what they are going to ask a candidate is somehow illegitimate. I disagree, but that argument is not outside the realm of reasonableness.

But portraying Crawford as some nasty member of a liberal cabal, while it might feel satisfying, is, in the end, an unnecessary attack on one of the good ones.

I have made similar mistakes before. Andrew Malcolm is a conservative who used to blog quite successfully at the L.A. Times. I was not a regular reader of his, but I saw his pieces from time to time and they seemed balanced. I always assumed (because of where he worked) that he was a lefty — and when his blog published a lot of nasty comments about Tony Snow after Snow’s death, I lit into Malcolm. Malcolm wrote me very friendly emails saying he had admired my blog, and it took me a while to realize that he was sincere — and that he was actually one of the good guys, and that I had been unfair in getting so mad at him.

Note well: I was right to be mad about the comments about Tony Snow. But I was wrong to use that episode to paint Malcolm as a lefty. I regret that now.

I think we are experiencing that now. Although I never talked politics with Crawford, I suspected she was center-right politically, and a friend of mine wrote me today to say that he had talked politics with her and he believes she is center-right. (He also agrees with me about her fine character.)

But look: Crawford is a reporter. She can’t really come out and say: I lean conservative. I agreed with Romney. I tried to rein in one of the lefties sitting next to me. Even if that’s all true, such statements would be expressing political opinions, which reporters can’t do. (By the way, this is all speculation on my part. Jan has said none of these things to me.)

I was heartened today to see some people read my post and hesitate on laying into Crawford — even though this morning’s post was not as strong a defense as I could have written had I discovered the writings revealed in this post. I would like to think that my readers pay enough attention to the facts that this post will give further pause as to whether Crawford was engaged in some bizarre anti-Romney media conspiracy.

Again: the so-called “coordination of questions” issue is fair game for reasonable minds to differ. I don’t see it as a huge deal, but I can respect someone who argues to the contrary. I’d like to see Jan address that issue, frankly.

But I think it’s unfair to write off this reporter as part of a liberal conspiracy to undermine Romney, when she seemingly agreed with his position, and portrayed it fairly and in a positive light. I hope this post makes people rethink such a position. Because Jan Crawford is not the enemy. She just isn’t.

In Defense of Jan Crawford

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:00 am

[IMPORTANT UPDATE: Those who think Crawford is part of some grand Big Media conspiracy to “get” Romney should take a look at her Twitter feed from the night the Cairo embassy issued its statement. I plan to write a separate post about this, but for now just let me point out that, even before Romney issued his statement, Crawford was passionately criticizing the Cairo embassy statement herself — and defending free speech. Sample tweet from Crawford: “@ernietedeschi The embassy statement wrongly suggests speech that offends or ‘hurts…feelings’ is an ‘abuse’ of the right to free speech.” Does that sound like an arrogant Big media reporter out to decimate Romney?!

Armed with this information, I re-read the transcript of the open mic “coordinating” and now see it as Jan essentially pushing another reporter to avoid a tendentious attack on Romney and simply have the press corps ask a neutral question.

More on this later. — Patterico]

[UPDATE x2: Here is my post showing that Crawford agreed with Romney’s sentiments and portrayed them fairly and positively.]

So that whole “coordinating the questions” thing with Romney involved someone I like very much: Jan Crawford. If it were almost anyone else, I’d be assuming the worst regarding the reporter’s bias and arrogance. After all, I think most of us agree here that Romney’s statement was entirely proper and that he didn’t deserve the criticism that Big Media tried to heap on him. We conservatives tend to view anyone who seemingly tried to take Romney to task as one of those arrogant Big Media types that we should be suspicious of.

But Jan Crawford just isn’t one of those types. And I’m not about to discard her based on a few seconds of unclear open mike audio.

I met Jan Crawford in April 2007 when she was Jan Crawford Greenburg. We had drinks in the bar of her hotel during one of her visits to Los Angeles. At the time I wrote that she “is not only a fascinating person, but also someone who is completely down to earth. She is smart, funny, humble, and doesn’t take herself too seriously.”

That, to me, is the most impressive thing about her. She’s completely the opposite of an arrogant Big Media type in every way.

What’s more, she “gets it” when it comes to various conservative issues. Remember, this is the woman who firecely defended Clarence Thomas against charges that he was a Scalia lackey. In her book she examined his jurisprudence and proved that Thomas was more of a trailblazer than Scalia, and that the criticisms of him as a lazy follower were totally unfounded (and, I will add, probably have roots in liberal racism). She had a very wide-ranging, sympathetic, and fair TV interview with Thomas that was revealing and fascinating.

When I met Jan we didn’t discuss political views and I don’t know what hers are. But she is unrelentingly fair in a way that shows she understands conservative positions in a way few in Big Media do, which leads me to believe that she is either at least mildly conservative, or possesses an extraordinary ability to understand the positions of others and articulate them to an audience.

Jan is intellectually honest and knows about firearms. These are two traits you don’t see in most Big Media types. She wrote about Sarah Palin in a way that, unlike most Big Media types, was not condescending.

Most recently, Jan used her contacts inside the Supreme Court to give the country insight into the way that the ObamaCare decision was reached.

When I read that she was becoming CBS’s political correspondent, I said:

I admit to somewhat mixed feelings, since Jan is really a strong legal reporter — the best out there, in my opinion — and I think it’s a shame to lose her in that capacity. But this will mean more airtime, a more visible position, and ultimately better reporting on the most important issues facing our nation. (When I put it like that, it’s clear the upside far exceeds the downside!)

All in all, a great move. Please give Jan your warmest congratulations. I have utter confidence in her fairness and look forward to her political reporting.

I still have utter confidence in her fairness.

So how do I reconcile that with this clip regarding Romney and the embassy statement?

Quite simply: by giving Jan the benefit of the doubt and not assuming that her years of fair reporting and clear articulation of conservative perspectives was a sham, simply because of a few seconds of audio whose meaning is not utterly clear to me.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time in this post trying to defend the audio. I don’t think “coordinating questions” in the abstract is a bad idea, when reporters want to make sure all topics get covered in a short span of time. To me, the issue that maddens conservatives is the media attack on Romney on this issue, which appears to us to be phony. I will note that Jan’s proposed question was not tendentious — just an open-ended “do you regret the statement” question — but it seems like the assumption built into the question is that there is a valid reason he should regret it, which there really isn’t. I guess there are people who believe the statement was a mistake — including Republican strategists (which floors me!) — so it’s not out of left field. But I would have liked to have seen questions that don’t assume Romney screwed up.

Ultimately, if anyone is going to defend this angle, or the few seconds of audio, it would have to be Jan. She knows what she was thinking. I don’t.

Part of me thinks it might be a good idea for Jan to explain what was going on there. Jake Tapper is very accessible and engages with critics, and while he has pissed us all off a few times, he gains a lot of credibility with people when he takes the time to actually respond to people who take him to task.

At the same time, I saw a lot of vitriol yesterday headed Jan’s way that seemed to ignore the history of fairness that I documented above. If I were Jan, I’m not sure I would want to speak out in such an environment.

I have reached out to her about this and invited her to give her side. I don’t know whether she will want to make any statements publicly or not.

Whether she says anything about it or not, I think it’s wrong to take a person’s entire career of fairness and chuck it overboard. Criticize her if you will, but let’s not suddenly make her the Poster Child for Liberal Bias, OK? I would suggest that we seek the ideal of having an open mind and giving the benefit of the doubt to someone who has earned it.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of cynical pundits out there openly exploiting this faux controversy to slam Romney — people like Ruth Marcus or the editors of the L.A. Times, who (unlike Jan) have no history of fairness to point to. I’d start by slamming those people.

UPDATE: I have much more here. I am now dead convinced Jan is getting a bad rap on this. And if you read my post, you will too.

UPDATE x2: Thanks to Instapundit for the link! I’m glad he appears to agree with my analysis.

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