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The GOP Speakership Fight And Euphemism In Beltway Media

Why political news turns extremists and crooks into "firebrands" and "norm busters"
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We’re going on a month without a speaker of the House, with no indication that Republicans can cobble together 217 votes to promote a purely partisan leader, or that they’ll ever concede an iota to attract Democratic votes.

Under the circumstances, reporters covering the crisis have been pretty blunt about the “chaos” or “disarray” in the House GOP conference—the kinds of adjectives political parties prefer not to be associated with.

But we got a brief and revealing glimpse of how major news outlets would’ve greeted a Republican speaker—even one handpicked by Donald Trump—after Republicans rejected Jim Jordan, leaving the Washington Post to publish this lengthy profile of the Ohio Republican without the coronation it clearly intended to use as news peg.

I’m not sure if this qualifies as a “beat sweetener” because, at several thousand words, it isn’t all flattering. To the contrary, it’s really an investigation and recapitulation of Jordan’s scandalous past as a wrestling coach at Ohio State University, communicated in the language of a soft-touch profile.

But because it’s both things at once, it provides a few clues as to how beltway political journalists would have covered Jordan had he become speaker.

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  • HEADLINE: “Relentless Wrestler”;

  • SUBHEADLINE: “Jim Jordan is an unyielding combatant, whether grappling on the mat or in the halls of Congress”;

  • The article describes Jordan’s “firebrand defense of [Donald] Trump”;

  • It depicts Jordan “On the mat… a fury of arms and legs, more will and stamina; than brute strength, always on offense, probing weakness, seeking leverage”;

  • It marvels at his “metabolic energy.”

Those quotes all come from the lead portion of the article, and it’s peppered throughout with many similar examples. This contrast between the frank descriptions we see of the Republican Party as a whole, and these sorts of sanded-down descriptions of the people responsible for the chaos, is hard to figure from the outside. But it’s perfectly consistent with the professional customs of American political journalism that I’ve been describing in our video series, Decoding the News.

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Authors
Brian Beutler