Did NYT err by quoting Wadhams’ spin without explanation?

Toward the end of Sunday’s front-page New York Times article about the November election, your eye will hit this quote from Colorado GOP Chair Dick Wadhams:

“Never in my wildest dreams did I feel we’d be in this position,” said Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. “Voters got carried away with the charisma of Obama, but the bailouts, health care, cap-and-trade was not what they bargained for.”

If your eyes are like mine, you might see this as factually incorrect–because it was Wadhams’ own guy, President George W. Bush, who signed the dreaded bank bailout and, of course, McCain famously withdrew from the campaign trail to hunker down with his Senate buddies and agree to the bailout as well.

You hate to see a reporter quote misinformation from someone like Wadhams, without setting the record straight or challenging him somehow.

So I emailed NYT reporter Jeffrey Zeleny and asked him, “Do you think you erred by failing to point out that Dick Wadhams’ presidential candidate in 2008, John McCain, supported the bailout?”

He response: “Wadhams said bailouts plural — automotive, bank, insurance companies, etc — so he was referring to more than the TARP vote in the fall of 2008 in the final months of the Bush administration. It was a partisan quote, which probably half the electorate agrees with and half doesn’t.”

I told Zeleny he was right.

If Wadhams had said “bank bailout,” he would have crossed the line, and Zeleny would have been obliged to correct him. But “bailouts” covers Wadhams. It’s factually accurate.

With respect to the other parts of Wadhams’ quotation, from a reporter’s perspective, Wadhams is entitled to his view that the healthcare law and cap-and-trade legislation are not what voters bargained for–even though, of course, Obama campaigned on these things.

You can argue that reporters shouldn’t allow a GOP spinmeister to conflate various rescue packages without explanation–just as reporters shouldn’t allow GOP spokespeople to lump together the Recovery Act and the bank bailout. But Wadhams points weren’t central to the article, which was more about polling than policy, so I don’t think Zeleny made a mistake by not dissecting the quote’s meaning–or lack of a clear meaning–or readers.

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