Monday, December 28, 2009

Was PolitiFact's Pulitzer deserved? Pt. 3

The third of 13 items offered to the Pulitzer Prize folks concerned presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's qualifying experiences, in particular her engagement with United States foreign policy while her husband, President Bill Clinton, was in office.

I found myself inclined to trust the PolitiFact account, and I suspect that the same attitude occurs routinely among Pulitzer jurors when they consider prize submissions.

The piece had a number of positive features.  It presented information about Hillary Clinton's experiences.  It offered a few quotations from foreign dignitaries.  It offered quotations from a few experts.  The feature was nicely organized.

Reading through most of the material, nothing in particular screamed for more attention.  But I did detect a whisper, at least.

The whisper came from Dick Morris' comments.  Morris, of course, served as a close adviser to Mr. Clinton, and has written both critically and respectfully of Mrs. Clinton.  PolitiFact used a portion of an op-ed authored by Morris in its fact checking:
Clinton critics like Dick Morris, a onetime political adviser to President Bill Clinton, ridiculed her foreign agenda as little more than ceremonial fluff.

“During her international travels, there was no serious diplomacy, just a virtually endless round of meetings with women, visiting arts-and-crafts centers, watching native industries and photo opportunities for the local media,” Morris wrote recently.

The White House schedules certainly show lots of that, but what emerges from a careful review is a truth that lies somewhere in between the characterizations by the competing camps. There were more weighty activities than Clinton’s critics like to believe; but little indication that the first lady played any kind of pivotal foreign policy role.
The second quoted paragraph seemed capable of some nuance.  What is "serious diplomacy" other than what Morris views as important?

The main body of the PolitiFact story stayed clear of any serious error.  The statements of competing camps were presented along with enough events from Clinton's career to offer a fuller picture.  But the sidebar went a bit further:

Though the body of the piece seems to bear out Morris, leading from his "no serious diplomacy" remark to the PolitiFact "little indication that the first lady played any kind of pivotal foreign policy role," the sidebar appears to call Morris' judgment "False" without qualification.  That judgment appears to hinge on the contradiction between Morris' judgment that Clinton's meetings were not "serious" diplomacy compared to the PolitiFact judgment that Clinton's meetings with world leaders were "serious."

By grading Morris' statement "False," PolitiFact arguably slipped well over the line into opinion journalism while competing for an award given to journalism exhibiting the "highest standards" in the category of "national reporting."

Though the bulk of the story might have served to justify awarding a Pulitzer, I judge that the inclusion of editorial opinion ought to have kept this example from counting particularly in favor of the PolitiFact evaluation of Clinton.  I rate it a six on a 0-10 scale, counting neither for nor against.

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