NY Times on Top of the Big Stories: ‘Leave It to Beagle’ as Warnock Wins GA

January 24th, 2021 10:10 PM

More of that hard-nosed, just-the-facts journalism that has kept the New York Times the nation’s paper of record: Political reporter Shane Goldmacher’s 1,700-word story on a dog – a beagle named Alvin that featured prominently in a series of popular campaign commercials for new Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

The full headline read: “How Alvin the Beagle Helped Usher In a Democratic Senate -- Senator Raphael Warnock was sworn in this week as Georgia’s first Black senator, and he arrived with a canny canine assist.”

Now let's meet Alvin, the racism-neutralizing wonder dog!

The dog had a lot of work to do.

He was co-starring in a political ad that had to showcase the candidate’s good-natured warmth. But the ad also needed to deflect an onslaught of racialized attacks without engaging them directly, and to convey to white voters in Georgia that the Black pastor who led Ebenezer Baptist Church could represent them, too.

Of course, Alvin the beagle couldn’t have known any of that when he went for a walk with the Rev. Raphael Warnock last fall as a film crew captured their time together in a neighborhood outside Atlanta.

Tugging a puffer-vest-clad Mr. Warnock for an idealized suburban stroll -- bright sunshine, picket fencing, an American flag -- Alvin would appear in several of Mr. Warnock’s commercials pushing back against his Republican opponent in the recent Georgia Senate runoffs.

Goldmacher boasted “there is bipartisan agreement that the beagle played an outsized role in cutting through the clutter in two contests that broke every Senate spending record.”

The 51-year-old pastor had proved a natural in front of the camera, and his campaign would film him speaking directly to the audience in a majority of their ads. But the Warnock team also knew that the pastor’s two decades of sometimes fiery rhetoric at the pulpit would be spliced into potentially devastating attacks.

Racial politics were inescapable. Mr. Warnock was not just a Black candidate but the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of Martin Luther King Jr. And political scientists and strategists emphasized that in facing Ms. Loeffler he confronted a unique challenge: Running against a white woman in the South.

Check out this hard-hitting subhead: "A leave-it-to-beagle follow up."

Given the first beagle ad’s popularity, Mr. Magnus knew he would return to Alvin. But how? It had to be humorous, he decided, and it had to repeat the theme of dismissing Ms. Loeffler’s attacks, which included misleadingly quoting Mr. Warnock saying “God damn America” (he was quoting someone else) and her slashing him as a Marxist who “celebrated anti-American hatred.”

And who was that "someone else"? Someone who was invited in 2014 to Warnock’s church: Barack Obama’s fiery (“God damn America!”) pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The Times has consistently downplayed the Warnock-Wright connection, while suggesting Republican use of the issue was rooted in racism

The second Alvin shoot, in the scene oozing Americana, lasted about four hours. And at one point it had Mr. Magnus squatting behind a tree to coax Alvin to turn on cue. And Alvin wasn’t asked to contribute more than his on-camera performance: The baggie that got tossed into the trash was full of planting gravel.

The Times paused its celebration of shallow, silly, mindless campaigning (when it benefits Democrats) to casually toss in unchallenged racist accusations at Republicans in Georgia.

Dr. Jefferson, the Stanford professor, said Mr. Warnock’s sustained likability was all the more impressive considering that “his opponent is tossing all this vitriolic -- dare I say racist -- criticism that aimed to highlight his Blackness and his otherness to Georgia voters.” Mr. Warnock countered with “this cute little dog” and scenery that evoked a “white aesthetic.”

Goldmacher concluded his “news” story by quoting a Republican campaign strategist gushing over the ad campaign:

The Republican strategist, a proud dog lover himself, was stunned to learn Alvin was not Mr. Warnock’s dog.

“You could have fooled me!” he shouted. “It looked like he and that beagle had a bond!”