Empty Suit Case

by digby

The other day, I criticized John Roberts of CNN for acting like the church lady and scolding the campaigns' economic advisors for injecting politics into their debate. He wasn't pleased that I called him an empty suit and wrote back to tell me that he would continue to call out these people for their bad manners. (He also forwarded some emails from his fans also congratulating him for not putting up with any guff --- for some people "seriousness" is defined by how calm you are when you completely you miss the point.)

I admit that I was hard on Roberts. In fact, I edited my post substantially after I wrote it because I felt I was too rude in my criticism. The reason for this is because Roberts is a particularly offensive purveyor of Village CW. As Glenn Greenwald reminded me in an email, he is the guy who said this about the Frost family who was being stalked by right wing nuts for needing public health care for their sick child (video at the link):

CNN’s John Roberts reported: “Some of the accusations [against the Frosts] may be exaggerated or false. But did the Democrats make a tactical error in holding up Graeme as their poster child?” A CNN political analyst then placed the blame squarely on the Democrats’ shoulders:

I think in this instance what happened was the Democrats didn’t do as much of a vetting as they could have done on this young man, his situation, his family. […]

I wrote at the time:

Right. It's the fault of the Democrats, of course, who according to John Roberts didn't "vet" this family. Except, of course, they did, as has been incessantly disseminated by the progressive blogosphere and the mainstream media over the course of four days.

So why did Roberts say that the family hadn't been properly vetted?

ABC News reported earlier in the week that an e-mail sent to reporters by “a Senate Republican leadership aide” in McConnell’s office suggested that “GOP aides were complicit in spreading disparaging information about the Frosts.” A McConnell spokesman refused to deny the office’s involvement in the affair.

ThinkProgress has obtained an email that congressional sources tell us was sent to reporters by Sen. McConnell’s communications director Don Stewart.

On Monday morning, Don Stewart sent an email with the following text to reporters:

Seen the latest blogswarm? Apparently, there’s more to the story on the kid (Graeme Frost) that did the Dems’ radio response on SCHIP. Bloggers have done a little digging and turned up that the Dad owns his own business (and the building it’s in), seems to have some commercial rental income and Graeme and a sister go to a private school that, according to its website, costs about $20k a year ‹for each kid‹ despite the news profiles reporting a family income of only $45k for the Frosts. Could the Dems really have done that bad of a job vetting this family?

In the email, Stewart attacks Democrats for allegedly doing a bad job “vetting this family.” That effort to blame Democrats for the smear campaign seems to have swayed some reporters, as CNN this morning claimed that the real story is that “the Democrats didn’t do as much of a vetting as they could have done.”

I'm sure it's just a coincidence that Roberts used exactly the same language and then chalks it up to some sort of tepid "they all do it" sort of thing.

Aside from the almost comic illustration of journalistic malpractice this shows, it also proves what many of us have been saying for years: the press parrots right wing talking points --- in this case verbatim. It's rare that we actually can see a copy of the memos they send out, because the press "protects its sources" but it's right there in this case. Does anyone think this is unique? I suspect that if it hadn't been for liberal bloggers relentlessly speaking out in horror over the course of many days, this nasty little smear would have been passed along by everyone else exactly as John Roberts passed it along, implying that the Frosts were con artists.

Nice work CNN. How much are you paying this guy?

This was one of the lowest points of the right wing smear machine in recent years. Sliming that family was reprehensible. And there was our friend Mr Roberts --- the new Miss Manners of CNN -- blithely passing along Republican talking points, probably without even knowing what he was doing.

And then the other day other day I see him jabbering about how he wouldn't stand for any "name calling" to two presidential economic advisers in the midst of an economic crisis --- and smugly congratulating himself for keeping them in line.

Empty suit or useful idiot? You be the judge.