‘First Read’ Folly

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I’m usually a fan of MSNBC’s First Read, a newsletter written by NBC reporters Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro that drops in your email box every morning. It’s heavily weighted toward politics and optics, and discusses virtually nothing about policy, but in that way it’s a good guide to the daily obsessions of the mainstream media.

But this line from today’s edition, about Obama’s just-concluded overseas trips, strikes me as strange:

Was the trip a success? While the president didn’t get Europeans to commit to a stimulus and didn’t get more combat troops for Afghanistan, it’s hard to say that it wasn’t a P.R. triumph. The reception Obama got from world leaders was extraordinary, and the latest New York Times/CBS poll suggests he got a bump in his poll numbers. But his presidency won’t be judged what happened on this trip; rather, it will be judged on what happens afterward.

Isn’t that true about all polling? Why add this little disclaimer now? First Read cites polls all the time. Like I said, optics not policy. If the writers are going to note here that the public’s opinion of Obama’s trip is ultimately ephemeral and the long-term real-world effects of his governance are what really matters (which is obviously true), shouldn’t they do that next time they tout an NBC poll? A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that in the wake of GM’s bankruptcy, Obama’s favorability has dropped 15 points. But that is not a crisis for the President; his presidency won’t be judged on these events, but on whether or not the auto industry can eventually be saved and if the economy returns to form. I’m willing to bet I never see that sentence.

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