Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Notes from the Briar-Patch."

It is always fun for one side when a closely fought political campaign is suddenly turned askew, when one of the candidates makes a compound gaffe very close to election day.

What is a compound gaffe, you say? It's like a compound fracture -- not a "greenstick." It's ugly -- for the guy or gal who made it. And, of course, for their campaign.

That is what appears to have happened to New Jersey Democrat Senate Bob Menendez on Wednesday when he assured a Jewish group in New York that he fully endorsed the Senate candidacy of Joe Lieberman in Connecticut.

He then turned what could have been just a mildly embarrassing gaffe, into a full-blown compound blunder, when he also derisively told the gathering that Tom Kean Jr., who was going to be following him in speaking to the group, would try to tell them that he (Menendez) supports Ned Lamont, implying that they should not fall for the Kean trick.

The trouble was that Menendez does not support Lieberman. And he does indeed support Ned Lamont! Or, at least he did both before and after he spoke to this group!

Political junkies, and perhaps even mildly disinterested observers, may recall that Bob Menendez heartily endorsed the candidacy of Ned Lamont back at the beginning of August, when Lamont won the primary. In fact, a post regarding the endorsements of Lamont by both Senator Frank Lautenberg, and Menendez were posted on The Inside Edge, a regular political "insider" feature of, a popular Garden State website that daily posts links to New Jersey political stories, polls and commentary.

Here is a portion of what Menendez said at the time:
" . . . The voters of Connecticut have spoken and I support their decision. I fully support Ned Lamont's candidacy."

That's pretty straightforward. So now people are asking about today's comments, "What was he thinking?" Indeed, one wonders what his staff was thinking?

Today's events also had a farcical dimension to them as well, and we suspect will provide some real light entertainment for the blogging community. That's because the incident was first reported on a New York Times blog, the The Empire Zone, as if an inexperienced Tom Kean had been the one caught in a trap!

Their piece by reporter John Holl, entitled, "Kean Falls Into Lieberman Trap," related the events as follows:

There's little agreement about anything in the New Jersey Senate race between Tom Kean and Robert Menendez. But they do take the same side on one issue: support for Joe Lieberman.

The two appeared at a candidate forum yesterday sponsored by the Metro West Jewish Federation, and they discussed the usual topics: the Iraq war, Social Security, and stem cell research.

And both candidates were asked about Lieberman's re-election bid. Mr. Mendenez, who appeared first, said he supports Mr. Lieberman's run as an independent candidate. "I wish him well," he said, "and hope he returns."

He then warned the crowd that Mr. Kean, who was to appear second, would try to tell the crowd that Mr. Menendez supports Mr. Lamont.

About 40 minutes later, when Mr. Kean was asked about Senator Lieberman, he said, "I think he is the right individual and I look forward to serving with him." After a pause, he added, "My opponent, by the way, supports Ned Lamont."

So the all too-eager John Holl rushed the post up on the Times blog. "Score!" he must have thought.

Later on, however, having been sheepishly informed by the Menendez campaign spokesman, Matt Miller, that Menendez does indeed support Ned Lamont, the Empire Zone had to post a retraction, of sorts.

Frankly, it should have been a Miss Emily Litella style, "Never Mind!" But far be it from the New York Times to poke fun at themselves.

John Holl posted a straight corrective piece entitled, "Menendez: What I Really Said ..." in which he did note the Menendez campaign's correction, but notably failed to reiterate the Menendez aside to the audience. In other words, he minimized it. And Holl also completely failed to note the humor involved in the Empire Zone being caught up in the gaffe, or even noting that they were making a correction to their failure to check the facts.

Here was the operative portion of that post.

Mr. Menendez's original pro-Lieberman comments before the Jewish group were pretty direct. ("I wish him well," he said, "and hope he returns.") The Kean camp, for its part, stands by its support of Lieberman.

How straight-laced for him, and how droll for the rest of us! Clearly, both Bob Menendez and the New York Times each got a portion of their anatomy caught in the proverbial ringer. Our friends over at Enlighten-NJ caught the original error before the correction was made, and they chalk it up to mendacity all around.

Certainly that's hard to argue against in either case -- Senator Menendez or his obviously ill-informed supporters at the New York Times.

The Empire Zone blog is described by the New York Times in this way:

About The Empire Zone

A blog from the metropolitan staff of The Times about politics in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, supplementing our news coverage. Regular features include Morning Buzz, Blog Blast and Comment Zone.

Hmmmm! Supplementing coverage? One is tempted to suggest that the New York Times should think about sticking with what they already do very poorly -- report political news in an unbiased manner -- and not try to supplement it by tacking up cheap and inaccurate gotcha posts, thus removing all doubt.

And look how they got the folks over at BlueJersey all worked up! If you can stand it -- even briefly -- browsing through the comments there, you'll see that some of them are even addressing the, shall we say, inherent disingenuousness of Bob Menendez, and a few are even looking ahead to the potential need to "primary" him in six years. And also note the panicky reaction of the Menendez campaign, and their need to repeatedly pander to this crowd of thoroughly frenzied folks. It speaks volumes!

One of the more frequent criticisms journalists have leveled at bloggers is that anyone can post something, but that bloggers don't have the institutional editing and fact-checking processes that newspapers do, and therefore, blogging is not inherently a trustworthy medium. But that misses the point. Bloggers, at least the ones who rely on reasoning, have frequently swarmed around an issue, and ultimately focused far more light on it than any newspaper article ever could or would have. The faked National Guard documents story on CBS was a perfect example.

Here, John Holl didn't rely on a fact checker before he took the cheap shot at Kean -- he just accepted Bob Menendez at his word. And by mid-afternoon, Enlighten had picked the Lamont endorsement off of the Menendez website, where Holl could have easily found it himself.

But he was just a little too eager to fire first . . .

There is, of course, an upside to this.

Now, a much wider group of people know that Bob Menendez lies. The attendees at the Metro West Jewish Federation know first hand. The New York Times knows. Even Blue Jersey knows.

And tomorrow, anyone who reads the story about this in the New York Times will know as well. Boy, I can't wait to read it!

Update: And here it is, warts and all, by John Holl.

It is much worse for Bob than originally reported! In the forum, held in front of "several hundred people at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, N.J." (not in New York, as we erroneously indicated above) Menendez was responding to a written question from a member of the audience.

In a written question from an audience member, Mr. Menendez was asked why he supported Mr. Lamont. Mr. Menendez said that his support of Mr. Lamont was a "mischaracterization," adding that he supported Mr. Lieberman’s run as an independent candidate.

"I wish him well and hope he returns," he said.

With that, Mr. Menendez — who 24 hours earlier had been engaged in a tense radio debate with Mr. Kean — warned the crowd that Mr. Kean, who was to speak next, would try to tell the crowd that Mr. Menendez supported Mr. Lamont.

So it now looks like Bob Menendez has how added a curious new definition for "mischaracterization" to his dictionary.

Mischaracterization: "Spot on, accurate statement. One that leaves little or no room for doubt."

With that in mind, we'll just have to go back and check a significant number of his past statements. Stay tuned!

(In an attached Comment, reader "Anonymous" noted the NY Times article as well.)