I wasn’t surprised to get an email recently from a regional Democratic National Committee press secretary seeking to tarnish the credentials of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
After all, Jindal has become an outspoken Republican elected official and is mentioned as a possible contender for president in 2016. And if national Democrats can soften him up now, maybe that will help the prospects of the state’s senior senator, Mary L. Landrieu, who is up for re-election next year.
Still, the DNC email raised a question because it included this quote from the Times-Picayune, the largest newspaper in the state: “Jindal's meager record at home won't get him to the White House.”
I knew the newspaper citation was given to convey a sense of authority and non-partisanship, but it seemed unlikely to me that a newspaper would include an editorial or a news story with a headline like that. So I followed the link to try to understand the headline’s context.
I found that the headline disparaging Jindal was atop a column written by Bob Mann on NOLA.com, the Times-Picayune’s website. Mann was identified as “a professor at LSU's Manship School of Mass Communication.” That’s true as far as it goes, but it’s deceptive — as deceptive as the email I received that first got me thinking.
Mann’s blog notes that before he joined LSU in 2006, he “spent more than 20 years” working in partisan politics for Democrats. In fact, he even worked for then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who defeated Jindal in 2003 but retired at the end of her term rather than lose to him in 2007.
But Mann is no George Stephanopoulos, a one-time partisan who changed his whole approach when he left the partisan trenches and entered the media. Mann’s blog includes a series of anti-Jindal and anti-Republican posts that demonstrate that he is no dispassionate observer who teaches at a university. He remains what he always was — a sharp elbowed Democrat who likes attacking Republicans.
There is nothing wrong with that, of course. Newspapers often have columnists from both sides of the aisle. What is wrong is for the DNC to cite Mann to make its point and not identify him as the source of the anti-Jindal comments but instead cite the Times-Picayune.
Knowing how cynical and skeptical people are about politics, campaigns and consultants now look for quotes and headlines from reputable, independent voices that they can use to pump up their candidates and destroy their opponents. Newspaper editorials and news articles can do that, which is why they appear so often in print and TV ads.
But if those partisans can’t find the right quote in an editorial or news piece, they’ll grab one from a sympathetic columnist and cite the media outlet as the source. It’s misleading, of course. It’s fraudulent. It’s unconscionable. But it’s becoming a part of the political playbook.
No wonder people are cynical about our politicians and political parties.