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Ben Smith–The President’s Man at Politico

Sunday, June 12, 2011  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

The talk radio primary is barely begun much less over. I believe Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty or Rick Perry could all beat the president, and they have all been frequent and welcome guests over the years. Sarah Palin is our side’s Al Gore and the relentless attacks launched at her for the past three years should make her defense a priority for every conservative as she has all the right enemies and champions the right causes. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are also regular visitors to my show and I have been happy to support them in the past, as I have Newt. John Huntsman Jr. made a impressive debut on the program last week and will run a very disciplined, competent campaign. Herman Cain is a fine guy though I don’t think he has a prayer of being the nominee. Like my colleagues across the radio dial I know the strengths and weaknesses of each of the conservative candidates, and will gladly support any of them that wins the nomination.

Which brings me to Ben Smith’s Politico piece this morning. Ben’s an able, affable fellow and writes good copy, but he’s Obama’s guy through and through, one of the most aggressive partisans at Politico. He’s not as blatant as Jonathan Allen, the Politico “reporter” who did his time as an employee of the political action committee for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, now the hyper-lefty chair of the DNC, but Smith does his best to be the Avis of the left to Allen’s Hertz within Politico.

It is no secret that Team Obama doesn’t want Romney to be the nominee, thus the regular missiles launched his way by the president and Axelrod. Fine. That’s their job.

But Smith joins with them and advances their line when he writes in the second line of this morning’s lead story, “Mitt Romney leads the Drudge Primary,” that “[t]he former governor of Massachusetts may be the punching bag of the conservative media, ridiculed on blogs and talk radio as a plasticine, untrustworthy flip-flopper and the grandfather of the hated Obamacare.”

Let’s start with this: It isn’t true. Not remotely so. It is in fact lousy reporting that is easily understood as such by anyone who listens to say Bill Bennett, Laura Ingraham, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved, Mark Levin or me. Quick, Ben, get me a quote conveying such an opinion that from Hannity or Medved who between them cover most of the afternoon drive in the east. One quote will do. You won’t find it because it doesn’t exist. Those hosts come on just before me and I listen to their shows driving to my studio. The fact is they both admire Romney, know his strengths and weaknesses, and would’t say anything like what Smith wrote, which of course completely undercuts Smith’s premise and thus his credibility.

Now it is very true that the most influential talker of all, Rush, blasted Romney’s remarks on climate change last week and is no fan of the individual mandate in Massachusetts, but even Rush’s vigorous criticism of Romney on these issues is a far, far degree from Smith’s lead description —from Smith’s meme. Ask Rush who he would prefer to be the GOP nominee and he won’t give you an answer, yet. But ask him who he’d vote for in a contest between Romney and Obama, and like every other conservative in the country, he’d say Romney. So would every other conservative talker and 95% of conservative bloggers.

The meme that Smith is pushing –that the flip-flopping Romney isn’t popular with conservative influencers– like the meme that Pawlenty is boring and not popular with conservative influencers or that Perry is a secessionist extremist and not popular with conservative influencers or that Huntsman is a liberal and not popular with conservative influencers– is designed to brand the candidates in advance of the general while bleeding them in the primary. It is pure Obama prattle, and one wonders where the editors are at Politico. Does it matter that what Ben Smith writes is simply not true? Romney has some critics of some policies in talk radio but many of the biggest talkers also say great things about him, and some bloggers blast him while others support him. Again, does it matter that the Smith assertion is simply not true? It isn’t an exaggeration for dramatic effect, though one wonders why that would pass muster in an allegedly objective, reported piece as opposed to an opinion column, but flat out false. Does that matter to Politico’s #1 editor, John Harris?

I have written about Politico here often because I would love for it to succeed. I feature Mike Allen, James Hohmann, John Martin and even Ben Smith on my show, and always welcome John Harris himself. But as Fred Barnes and I have discussed on air, the lurch left is accelerating as the Politico guys take up the defense of Obama in anticipation of 2012. Right now the website is the MSM equivalent of Penelope’s weaving, a great reported piece by Hohmann on the Bachmann-Pawlenty rivalry followed by a hit piece like this one by Ben Smith. (“But it is a positive piece,” Ben will reply, “and what’s the problem with leading with the bogus meme since I can show you a half dozen Romney opponents who will say it on the record?” Like this excuses the false nature of the first assertion in the article, the damaging one.)

All of the GOP candidates will get this treatment from Politico, and from the Washington Post and all the other “objective” MSM outlets. Almost to the man all of them are staffed by the next generation of Jay Carneys, the former Washington bureau chief for Time who is now the White House press secretary.

Almost certainly the boys in Chicago saw and loved the Smith piece this morning. Ben’s stock with all the president’s men went up, but Politico’s as a fair news organization’s went down.

Here’s the bottom line: Politico doesn’t know, Politico doesn’t care, and Politico doesn’t report what conservative media thinks or says. It is very doubtful that any of its reporters even try to systematically figure out who the influencers are and what their very diverse and complicated views are. That would require work, or at least not pretending to have done the work. All too often Politico’s reporters make up whatever summary line about conservative media and conservative opinion that serves their purpose and their piece, and in this case, it was Ben Smith’s purpose to make sure the president got what he needed in the second graph.

If you want to know what conservative media thinks about anything, you are going to have to listen to or read conservative media. If you want an early tip on what liberal, in-the-tank-for-the-president media think, you have to watch MSNBC and read Allen and Smith at Politico.

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