Joe Trippi breezed into a restaurant back room last night filled with several tables full of journalists and grabbed a chair.
"Obama is slamming Gore and Kerry," he said at a volume nobody could have missed before even taking his seat. "If he’s this negative when he’s on top, I’d hate to see what he does when he’s behind."
Trippi was quite obviously spinning the Des Moines Register poll that had come out just shortly before he arrived, which put Barack Obama ahead of the pack and outside the margin of error with 32% of likely caucus voters to Hillary Clinton’s 25% and Edwards’ 24%. The poll, with its large sampling and local affiliation, commands the kind of respect that few others do and journalists in the room were already consumed with critiquing it.
But I was curious about the Gore comment, having just received an email of a blog post that said virtually the same thing only moments before:
Making an argument for his electability, Obama said, "I don’t want to go into the next election starting off with half the country already not wanting to vote for Democrats — we’ve done that in 2004, 2000," according to a person at the event (rush transcript).
It came from a blog post on Newsday, and if true had very bad optics for Obama. Not only would it play poorly with people who have strong affections for Gore and Kerry and bitter memories of what happened in those elections, but it reflected that his internals were probably showing quite different than the Register poll suggested. They weren’t the comments of a candidate confident in his lead.
But the sourcing was dubious. It was second-hand and unconfirmed, the kind of stuff that gets floated past journalists and bloggers alike and in the final days before the caucus something everyone should be skeptical of without confirmation.
So I went up to the table, introduced myself to Trippi as a blogger for firedoglake and the Huffington Post and asked him about his Obama comment. Where had Obama made the comment? Who heard him? Was there a video?
Trippi said that it was just something he’d heard, and that it was my job to track it down if I wanted confirmation. I told him that was what I was trying to do in asking him.
I showed him the Newsday story on my treo and asked him if that was his source, and told him that running without more confirmation was dicey. He said he really didn’t care about the story that much.
I laughed and said he’d walked in the room and said at top volume for the benefit of the forty journalists sitting there and had repeated it several times, so obviously he cared about it very much. He said he knew it was true because he’d just been with a bunch of people who were talking about it and they said it was true.
I went back to my table, because that was clearly all I was going to get. But shortly thereafter, Jake Tapper confirmed the story with a direct quote and an attributed source:
In an argument about his electability, Obama compared himself favorably with Sen. Hillary Clinton who is viewed negatively by nearly half the country. Obama is viewed far more favorably by independents and Republicans.
Then he said, per ABC News’ Sunlen Miller, "I don’t want to go into the next election starting off with half the country already not wanting to vote for Democrats. We’ve done that in 2004 and 2000. 47 percent of the country on one side, 47 percent of the country on the other . . . We don’t need another one of those elections."
Trippi walked into a room full of journalists and spread a story that didn’t seem to have much verification for. He got lucky, this one happened to be true, and Barack Obama trashing Al Gore will be the story. But if it hadn’t, the way he had interjected it into the collective media wisdom would have meant that there wouldn’t be much accountability. There was no downside.
Welcome to the Iowa spin cycle.