McClatchy reporter: We need to tell readers what’s really going on

On Thursday, I posted McClatchy Washington bureau chief James Asher’s memo to colleagues in which he says that “the process of journalism leaves a lot of nuance on the cutting room floor. And I suspect a little bit of the truth goes with it as well. … We must work to capture more nuance in our work.”

He continues:

Consider the 47 percent comment by Romney. Did he really mean that he didn’t care about nearly half the country? That’s what a lot of what was written said. And it’s a lot of what the anti-Republican crowd told us was undeniably true.

And of course, he didn’t mean it the way at all.

And Monday, I found that Ahmadinejad’s comments about Israel, while controversial, were not simply provocative and the rankings of a crazy man.

I’m told that Asher’s memo didn’t go over well with his staff, and that some “found his musings disturbing.”

Here’s McClatchy national correspondent James Rosen‘s response to the bureau chief. (By the way, Rosen did not send it to me.)

Jim,

I appreciate your willingness to take a provocative and contrarian stance on some important issues of our day, so I hope you will allow me to respond in the same spirit.

I grew up in Oak Park, Michigan, an almost entirely Jewish suburb of Detroit. Many of my friends’ parents were Holocaust survivors, in some cases the only survivors in entire families. I grew up hearing their horror stories. They were beyond the stuff of nightmares. Ahmadinejad denies that the Holocaust took place. His most recent of many denials came after he’d arrived in NYC to address the U.N. You can watch it here.

James Rosen

This makes Ahmadinejad evil, delusional and, yes, crazy. When someone claims that the systematically planned and executed extermination of 6 million people didn’t happen, that person turns himself into a caricature. I’ve lived in Israel, challenged Israelis about the aggressive actions of their government and written columns that earned me hate mail from Jewish readers who accused me of being a self-hater as a Jew. But when Ahmadinejad says Iran will outlast Israel, he is saying the same thing Hitler said about the Jews in The Final Solution. There is no nuance here. It means: Israel has no right to exist and will be exterminated. As for understanding Iran’s history and Ahmadinejad being a proud Iranian, there was no prouder German than Hitler as he cited German history in promulgating an ideology he used to justify wiping out Poland, Denmark, Belgium and other little countries that he felt had no right to exist. The Nazis also cited poetry. They loved art so much, they stole thousands of masterpieces from their Jewish owners./CONTINUES

Whether Romney really cares about the 47 percent is beside the point. What matters is his claim that people who benefit from the government — including veterans, retired teachers and firefighters, the disabled, my mother and my father before he died of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia after receiving government-funded research treatment while he paid no income taxes on his Social Security benefits — are moochers who falsely see themselves as victims. In good economic times, this claim would be merely mean; after the hard times of the last five years, it is pitiless. It is not too far removed from what Hitler said when he derided Jews as parasites who live off other people’s sweat. I grew up a few miles from Cranbrook, the rich boys prep school that Romney attended, and what he said in his video rant was the ideological distillation of the teenage Romney who chased down a gay classmate, helped pin him down and cut off his hair. Some may see that as a schoolboy’s prank, but I see it as the kind of casual cruelty Romney expressed in the video.

It was far from only the anti-Republican crowd that saw it that way. Among the influential conservatives who criticized it harshly were William Kristol, Kathleen Parker and Michael Gerson. Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, called Romney’s comments “arrogant and stupid.” Michael Gerson, a former senior W. Bush aide and Heritage Foundation analyst, called them “simplistic and callous.” Parker called them “callous and merciless.”

Even if we give Romney the benefit of a doubt that I don’t believe he’s entitled to, he’s running for the highest office and most-demanding job on the planet. If he says stupid and thoughtless things about the Chinese or the Russians or the Iranians, will they shrug their shoulders and say, “Gosh, we know Mitt didn’t mean it?”

Romney’s dad was governor of my state when I was a boy, and I loved him. He could mix it up with anyone, from royalty to janitors, he was a real person, and he stood for important things. Mitt has been running for president for six years, and I still don’t know who he is or what he stands for. I would suggest that is why he’s losing ground in polls, not because the anti-Republican crowd is misunderstanding his statements.

I agree with you that a lot of nuance gets lost on the cutting board, and that that is unfortunate. But I think a bigger reason our readers are losing faith in us is that we are less willing to call things by their true names, cut through cant and tell readers what is really going on. One of the important stories of our time that we are missing is how a misguided group of extremists, many of them closet racists like the author of the South Carolina voter ID law I’ve been covering, is trying to take over one of our two major political parties. Romney’s mean-spirited video rant is a cowardly accommodation to that alarming power grab.

Thanks again for hearing me out.

Jim

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