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Fix Pick: Jack Shafer Hammers the Veepstakes

The Fix, like all political journalists, carries a strong tendency toward introspection and second-guessing.

And so, in the midst of the frenzied speculation cum reporting about the vice presidential picks will be for John McCain and Barack Obama, we were drawn to a recent piece penned by Slate's Jack Shafer in which he argues that the vast majority of vice presidential coverage is, in short, a bunch of hooey.

Shafer writes:

"You're nobody in political Washington unless the press has assessed your veep quotient, so some of the malarkey about who is on the short list comes directly from the politically vain. The press corps shares blame, too, knowing that all of the names are pencil strokes until the presumptive nominee actually throws the switch. But they write their veep speculation stories because no reporter ever got pulled from the campaign beat for filing a story filled with the name of preposterous 'candidates.'"

He adds:

"Candidates and the reporters who cover them share a problem from the time the campaigns begin until the voters cast their final ballots: how to keep the story alive. Why do reporters abet the orchestration of this media event every four years, fighting like wolverines to claim a 'scoop' that's so meaningless that nobody can remember a month (a week?) after the fact who scored it? Is it evidence of their cynicism or of their credulity?"

Shafer's take is directly contradictory to something we wrote just 24 hours ago about the importance of the identity of the reporter who scores the veep scoop.

And, after a bit of reflection, we have to concede that Shafer got at the essential truth of the veepstakes better than we did. While reporters may forever remember who broke the identity of the nominee every four years, for the average voter it's entirely insignificant; in fact, for most voters, the actual identity of the veep -- much less which reporter found it out first -- is immaterial to their decision-making process about which candidate to back in the fall.

In short, Shafer's piece is essential reading for anyone who has followed the veepstakes closely on this blog or one of the other myriad blogs and/or newspaper sites dedicated to the increasingly incremental coverage of this unique phenomenon of political coverage.

By Chris Cillizza  |  August 20, 2008; 4:40 PM ET
Categories:  Fix Picks , Veepstakes  
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Chris got one thing wrong: "Shafer's piece is essential reading for anyone who has followed the veepstakes closely"

Well, no, it isn't essential simply because it was absolutely correct. Jack's statement might read "All the speculative coverage of the VP sweepstakes, including my piece on the irrelevance of the coverage, is irrelevant."

Posted by: purplemartin | August 21, 2008 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I agree with this post. Although I am probably too interested in politics, this VP frenzy has been driving me crazy!

Since when has a scoop been defined a breaking a story one half hour before it is announced to the World? To me, a reporter gets credit for breaking a story about which the public will otherwise never hear.

The internet has something to do with it, sure, but I also think the tendency of the news media to hyperbolize stories that interest them-- i.e., who is on the short list today!, is one big reason for the decline in newspaper readership.

Posted by: Interested in Colorado | August 21, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I think that's a pretty unnecessary use of the word "cum."

Posted by: Shastaphonics | August 21, 2008 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I think that's a pretty unnecessary use of the word "cum."

Posted by: Shastaphonics | August 21, 2008 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Late yesterday afternoon Gov Bill Richardson announced he'd be making a "big announcement" today in Las Cruces!

Posted by: Maassive | August 21, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Since Obama will NOT put Hilly on the ticket.... it is Biden, BIDEN!!!

And would someone PLEASE give "W"
a B-job so we can impeaech this guy.... apparently criminal crimes do not apply to impeachment.

Posted by: jersey john | August 21, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I believe Hillary Clinton is the best choice for VP.

First, picking Hillary would demonstrate a lot of things about Obama:
-He is bucking the conventional wisdom that says he can't do it.
-He is listening to the 18 million voters instead of the pundits and the political insiders.
-He is not simply selecting a buddy or a "yes [wo]man".
-He is acting consistent with the notion in Team of Rivals that this Country's problems (thanks to Bush-Cheney) are going to require our strongest leaders.

Second, Bill Clinton would be great out on the stump talking with rural voters even if he has some run-ins with the media. And despite the potential for drama, having one of our most intelligent former Presidents in close quarters can easily be turned into a positive.

Third, when the GOP says - hey look at this! Another example that Obama is just a regular old pol and this is politics as usual instead of a real changeā€¦ The response: Let me introduce the world to the first black US President and the first female US Vice President.

After 8 years of Bush and the failed policies of the Republican Party - who do you think that a super majority of voters who are looking for change are going to vote for?

Finally, Obama's whole campaign is about bringing more people into the process. And there is no other potential VP that can do that better than Hillary.

Posted by: warren | August 21, 2008 2:45 AM | Report abuse

I'm not easily rattled, but I'm now. Boycott CNN! It has become another Faux News

Posted by: holywoodog | August 20, 2008 11:04 PM | Report abuse

is this the 'story about the story' or the 'story about the story about the story'? I can only imagine what the story will be about when the selection is made. I am picturing the story about . . 'the story that ALMOST was'. . . .or . . .'the story about the NON-story'. . .or, worse yet, . . 'the story about the lack of a non-story. The sorry fact is that, when the campaign has really begun, the story-tellers will most likely conveniently forget that, for the better part of August, THEY were the story or at least, the explanation for the lack of reporting about a real story. All that said, Shafer probably has it about right, but that should not stop professional observers from writing, in ironic detachment, about the wisdom Shafer has, and how sad it is that no one paid any attention--if only!

Okay, enough cynicism--one last time--OF COURSE we care about who these guys choose for their number two guy(or girl)--OF COURSE we know that the actual choice has no impact whatsoever upon the outcome of the election--OF COURSE this is a vain exercise in political preening on the part of reporters. Even though the majority of voters have not engaged the actual stakes involved in this election (and may never) most political writers can see that this election is going to be pivotal and who can blame them for hoping that something will change? In the meantime, I am prepared to be astonished that I am not astonished.

To Jack THE HAMMER Shafer, Hammering the Veepstakes is probably easier than hammering the ridiculous posturing of your own work anyway

Posted by: dch | August 20, 2008 10:26 PM | Report abuse

This is tearing me up inside. I've stopped going to work. I'm having trouble sleeping. When will this be over? I just want Obama to make his choice before I get any worse.

Posted by: Will | August 20, 2008 8:49 PM | Report abuse

remember where


had that talk between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama?????

on neutral ground after the house had been wired by George W. Bush and company....


Thursday, May 03, 2007
Dianne Feinstein's husband owner of two defense contractors

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat from California, has had her hand in the public cookie jar for years, according to the report below. She was in favor of the Iraq war, and now we know why: Her husband, Richard C. Blum, stood to gain millions of dollars in defense contracts as majority owner of two substantial, and oft-awarded defense contractors, URS Corp. and Perini Corp.

As the chairperson in charge of the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee from 2001 through 2005, the senator funneled military projects to her husband's companies.

Now, in the most ironic twist of all: Dianne Feinstein is in charge of the Senate Rules Committee, the "ethics" arm of the U.S. Senate.

Will she charge herself with ethics violations? I think not.

Senator Feinstein's FLAGRANT


| Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington...

I'm sure O ba ba man knew all about this when he was talking with Hillary "in privacy"

you knew it too, didn't you AMERICA...

DIANNE WAS A DECIDING VOTE in getting the panderer to zionism into the AG position too...MuckCaskey the zionist shunt....the little sheman in charge of making sure justice is done for the United States...

like hell


think again little squirrels....

Posted by: xvrrvjrrcheeeeeeeeeeezeus... | August 20, 2008 7:15 PM | Report abuse

By the way, that was the "Win a Fix Tee Shirt" veep ballad! :-)

Posted by: Optimyst | August 20, 2008 6:42 PM | Report abuse

A veep ballad

The route to a rout
Is to get out of the rut
That's what it's about
To energize the grass roots
And to end the doubt
By naming Joe Biden veep
Making the GOP weep
Energy he won't lack
When it's time to attack
He'll parry their smears
And get convention cheers
He's one who just cannot wait
To shine in the veep debate
By dismantling poor Mitt
Into a warm bucket of spit
But then he'll realize
The worth of his prize
Because that warm bucket is all he'll git!

Posted by: Optimyst | August 20, 2008 6:32 PM | Report abuse

ITEM: Obama seeks to diminish superdelegate clout (See WaPo's "The Trail" for details)


Only the supers can save the Dems from themselves this year.

He's done a hostile takeover of the DNC and he must be denied before he loses in a year that should have been the Dems'.

But that doesn't mean handing the nomination to Hillary. What's needed is an old-fashioned backroom deal:

Deny Barack a first ballot victory by having a block of delegates vote "present" or for a designated write-in, denying Obama a majority. Then get Obama and Hillary to agree that they have fought to a draw, and to pledge their respective delegates to Al Gore.

Gore then names Obama his VP pick to unify the party, and Hillary gets a promised ticket to the Supreme Court and the title of kingmaker of the Dems.

Obama is denied the top slot, the Clintons are vindicated, Al Gore is given another shot to right a wrong, and the delegates rejoice as they nominate the best candidate possible.

So supers: Deny Obama the top of the ticket before he usurps your power in addition to hijacking the DNC. VP Obama is as far as this improbable journey deserves to go.

Posted by: scrivener | August 20, 2008 6:24 PM | Report abuse

again, Fix needs to set up a 2nd life lemonade stand so we can come by and jeer you. In the future you can sell us rotten digital vegetables that we can throw at your preposterousness. As in 2 best candidates.... Leahy and Graham (Fl), but to limit the discussion to your perceived inner beltway channel is preposterous.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld | August 20, 2008 5:55 PM | Report abuse

There is currently too much preoccupation with VP want-to-bes and potentials. In the most recent Administrations the VPs have played vital roles; in the current Administration the VP has been unabated in advancing a personal agenda rather than the President's. Additionally, the current crowd have placed themselves above the law. There is no rational need to continue the Bus/Cheney disaster with a McCain/? combination.

Posted by: Lou R | August 20, 2008 5:53 PM | Report abuse

See, I would argue that this time around it really *does* matter, when one of these two guys is a 72 year-old cancer survivor and the other one is getting his nose bloodied every day about how he supposedly isn't up to handling foreign policy. Besides, Gore and -- to an even greater extent -- Cheney have moved the VP job out of the shadows in such a way that I think it will be tricky for the next President to put his choice back in.

Posted by: Republicans Hate America | August 20, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

I think a 72-year-old with a history of at least two kinds of cancer's VP candidate matters a whole hell of a lot. If I were inclined to vote for McCain his age and health history wouldn't stop me, but I'd sure pay a lot of attention to his possible successor. Several U.S. Presidents who have died in office have been succeeded by VP's with drastically different policies and principles.

Posted by: aleks | August 20, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

The Fix writes
"While reporters may forever remember who broke the identity of the nominee every four years, for the average voter it's entirely insignificant; in fact, for most voters, the actual identity of the veep -- much less which reporter found it out first -- is immaterial to their decision-making process about which candidate to back in the fall."

Well put.

Ben Wegraff writes
"How much does a VP even matter, really?"

Not much, in the grand scheme. GHWB, coming off a long career & 8 yrs as VP could nominate a total zero & still get elected. As bad a pick as Lieberman was, he wasn't the reason Gore lost. Same for Edwards. Cheney, on the other hand, probably did help GWB win in 2000 - by addressing the 'wet behind the ears' problem Bush might otherwise have had. I know I thought 'if he picks people like Cheney, maybe he won't be so bad.' (Guess I got that one wrong).

Obama arguably has the wet behind the ears problem - but then McCain has the opposite problem (likelyhood of not serving even one full term). This year I think both candidates could hurt themselves with a bad pick, but neither is likely to make a game changing pick that immediately changes the campaign dynamic in a positive way.

Posted by: bsimon | August 20, 2008 4:56 PM | Report abuse

If only Olbermann could be so humble!

Posted by: scrivener | August 20, 2008 4:52 PM | Report abuse

In my mind--the Veepstakes breaks up the monotony of the campaign--for those of us political wonks who so desperately need something else to discuss politically.

How much does a VP even matter, really?

Posted by: Ben Weagraff | August 20, 2008 4:50 PM | Report abuse

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