Ben Smith regresses

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Last night, I noted that Politico's Ben Smith responded to Media Matters' criticism of his reporting on Barack Obama's recent churchgoing habits - but that Smith didn't address our substantive complaint (that in purporting to compare the frequency of Obama's churchgoing with Bush's, Smith neglected to tell readers that Bush has rarely attended church as president.) Instead, Smith simply complained that our criticism of him was too long.

That was an odd response, suggesting that Smith 1) is quite defensive about his reporting, and 2) lacks the confidence to substantively defend his work.

Then, today, Huffington Post's Jason Linkins addressed the controversy, writing "let's just agree that anyone who writes any future blog posts about Barack Obama's churchgoing habits is terrible and boring and probably deserves to be laid off."

That led to yet another response from Smith, which read -- in its entirety -- "Stories about Obama's church attendance are so boring that HuffPo's media writer was compelled to spill another 776 words on the subject."

So, Ben Smith is repeatedly responding to criticism of his one-sided reporting by simply counting the number of words used to criticize him. It's little different than sticking his fingers in his ears and repeating "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!"

In his post, Linkins suggests that this whole discussion is a waste of time. But there are actually two important points at play here.

The first is that Smith and his Politico colleagues are literally counting Barack Obama's church attendance -- and that, in doing so, they purport to contrast his lack of attendance with President Bush churchgoing habits, without noting that Bush has rarely attended church as president. That is self-evidently flawed journalism - and it perpetuates the false stereotype of godless liberals. Given that Barack Obama's faith has long been subject of scurrilous lies, it is particularly troubling to see Politico engage in this conduct.

Secondly, Smith's responses to substantive criticism - basically, sticking his fingers in his ears and whining about the length of the criticism while ignoring the substance - provides a depressing illustration of how hostile some journalists are to the very idea that they might be criticized.

Let's be clear: Smith isn't contesting the content of our criticism; he hasn't addressed that content in any way. He's simply complaining that we're criticizing him in the first place. He apparently believes that being a reporter for the Politico should grant him blanket immunity from anyone pointing out the flaws in his work - or that there are no such flaws. It's a stunningly arrogant attitude.

439 words, Ben. Deal with it.

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