Politico Editor Proudly Announces Story Calling Americans ‘Stupid’ Was His Idea

Politico editor John Harris--known to some for his tendentious questioning during a presidential debate which provoked Newt Gingrich's first of many attacks on liberally biased debate moderators--stepped forward yesterday to proudly proclaim that that it was his idea to create a story questioning the intelligence of the American electorate.

As noted by Tim Graham here at NB, the piece was a perfect recapitulation of the rant made by former ABC anchor Peter Jennings following the 1994 election which saw the first installation of a Republican congress in decades. Instead of accusing his fellow Americans of having a "temper tantrum," Harris simply repeatedly called them "stupid," heavily emphasizing the word on four separate occasions.

Appearing on a little-watched Politico internet podcast which happened to be simulcasted on C-SPAN yesterday, the pompous Harris stuck to his guns, even acknowledging that the entire Burns story was based on nothing more than a "rant" of his in the newsroom which he then assigned his underling to write up because he "want[ed] seen."

Judging from his comments, it appears what caused Harris to go off on his fellow Americans was a series of push polls done by the liberal Public Policy Polling outfit designed to promote the notion that all conservatives and Republicans are militant dunderheads. It's clearly worked on Harris, who like Jennings, does not appear to ever have been concerned with widely believed false liberal notions such as that former president Bush directly caused or allowed 9/11 to happen.

Nope, just like the earlier meme that "Washington is broken" (back when Obamacare was stalled in Congress), Harris swallows and regurgitates the liberal talking points perfectly. He even did so despite the reservations of his colleagues who weren't particularly keen on calling their fellow Americans morons.

"If you're going to say something, you may as well go all in and go with the most provocative headline but everybody decides to occasionally hedge bets," Harris said, referring to an internal Politico debate over what kind of headline to put on the piece. In the end, a less abrasive headline, "How Much Do Voters Know?" was chosen over his objections. Still, Harris took consolation in the fact that he was able to get the piece illustrated with a photo of Tom Hanks in "Forrest Gump," a film about a mildly retarded man who has brushes with greatness despite his general cluelessness.

"I feel I won this debate in part because we did get a picture of Forrest Gump to accompany the story, Forrest Gump in this case representing the sort of ignorant voters out there who are saying these wacky things in polls," Harris stated.

Full transcript follows:

JOHN HARRIS: Well it was a story that I encouraged to be, uh, written. A lot of times stories generate, uh, from, uh, people's, uh, rants, uh, editors' rants, my rants, your rants, things that were, uh, striking us in the news that we're ranting about, we're saying 'Why don't we get somebody to write this up?'

One of the prerogatives of being an editor—it's got its compensations—we can make people write up things that we want seen. Alex Burns wrote up one of my rants which was looking at some of these polling numbers that have been out recently. You've mentioned them already at different times on the show already, Jim, the results from Mississippi showing a majority of Republicans think that President Obama might be Muslim. Well it's not true, that's just wrong. Some of the concern about how come he doesn't do something about gas prices. Well the president can't really control gas prices in a complicated global market.

To me, some of these poll results just seem stupid. So I asked Alex Burns to, said, why don't you do a piece that looks at the question of whether voters are stupid and a lot of the things that they say in these polls are just plain stupid and Alex warmed to the assignment and he wrote this. He actually found a number of sources from pollsters who say yeah, that's the first thing you learn as a pollster, voters are stupid.

They didn't mean that literally, they meant that often they're expressing their opinions in a context of ignorance, they don't really understand the issues although they're happy to pop off if a pollster invites them to. So you do get some results that seem stupid even if the voters themselves aren't actually stupid.

Anyway, he wrote this good piece, we put it up on the site, some people thought it went a little too far, it seemed too much like a rant. Craig Gordon who's been on the show, Daniel Jones, our web editor, you could tell they were a little uncomfortable with the piece 'Wow are we really pushing it too much?'

So they didn't really want the sharpest headline, the sharpest headline would've been 'Are Voters Stupid' or if you want to be even sharper you could make it not a question, you could just switch the order of the verb 'Voters Are Stupid' and the piece would've probably supported that. I think instead we went with something a little more neutral, 'Do Voters Understand the Issues?' or 'What Do Voters Know?' or whatever.

The debate was whether to go with the sharpest possible headline or a more muted one. I think you and I were in the same place. If you're going to say something, you may as well go all in and go with the most provocative headline but everybody decides to occasionally hedge bets. I feel I won this debate in part because we did get a picture of Forrest Gump to accompany the story, Forrest Gump in this case representing the sort of ignorant voters out there who are saying these wacky things in polls.

Four final points here:

  1. While there certainly are false notions which Americans believe to be true, to imply that Americans are somehow stupid is actually problematic when you consider the fact that, as Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple points out, the American electorate has never been more educated than right now.
     
  2. Harris's two examples of Americans' alleged stupidity don't actually indicate what he thinks they do. While it's true that President Obama cannot directly control the price of oil or gasoline, what he can do is increase the supply of it and thereby lower the costs. This basic fact of economics seems to at least be partially understood by liberals since there is some clamoring on the left to open up the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserves, a cache of oil stored by the military for use in cases of national emergency.

    Of course, doing that would be far less likely to impact oil prices given the SPR's small size relative to the global oil market. What would be much more effective would be for Obama to stop blocking domestic oil production here in the U.S. and to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The oil from these places wouldn't immediately go into circulation in the market but it would mean higher supplies of oil in the future, thereby driving the value of oil futures down.
     
  3. Harris's other example of Americans believing something that's false, the idea that Barack Obama is a Muslim, isn't utterly incorrect, either. As the New York Times noted in 2008, because Obama's father was nominal Muslim at the time of his son's birth, this makes Barack Obama a Muslim under the religion's rules of patrilineal descent.

    There's no evidence that he is a practicing Muslim so in that sense, it's true that Barack Obama is not a Muslim. He's also said that he's a Christian and has been baptized as one, an act of apostasy under Islam. So while he has been a Christian for a number of years, it is fair and correct to state that Barack Obama was born a Muslim.

    The finer points of Islamic law can generate confusion on this point, unfortunately it seems that in Harris's mind, such confusion is only the product of people being "stupid" and not simply having insufficient free time to become aware of all the particulars of Barack Obama's personal religious opinions.

    As false as the Obama-Muslim idea is, it's worth noting that there aren't any prominent conservatives who have spouted it in contrast to prominent liberals spewing 9/11 conspiracy talk such as Rosie O'Donnell or Van Jones.
     
  4. In general, Harris seems to be exemplifying a distinct tendency of liberals to conflate their own political opinions with the absolute truth. This obliviousness to differing viewpoints has given rise in the self-described mainstream media to so-called "fact checking" stories which often accuse Republicans or conservatives of "lying" simply for having different opinions about political issues. This tendency was examined in a great article last year by Weekly Standard's online editor, Mark Hemingway.
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013