In the past week and a half, the Washington Post has run a one-sided article hyping the absurd New Black Panther Party allegations that have been promoted by right-wing media including Andrew Breitbart's web sites, an ombudsman column praising that one-sided article, an account of the Shirley Sherrod story that was written from the perspective of the conservative media who lied about her, and a "Top Secret America" package that has been criticized for failing to properly credit liberal publications that first reported key elements of the story.
The Post's NBPP article and Ombudsman Andrew Alexander's column praising it have drawn criticism:
- Columbia Journalism Review's Joel Meares called Alexander's column a "a pretty tepid effort" that "provided none of the deeper engagement he so strongly calls for." Meares added "It's difficult to read the column without the sense that Alexander and The Post are caving to at least one of the ideologies at play. After all, the take-away from the column is the same as one gets from watching [Fox News Channel anchor Megyn] Kelly's segments on the matter—this issue needs coverage."
- The American Prospect's Paul Waldman wrote that Alexander's column was "an example of just the kind of lazy, cowardly 'he said/she said' writing that ombudsmen are supposed to be critical of."
- Salon's Joan Walsh wrote "Alexander should be criticizing its [the Post's] failure to debunk the story, not to hype it" and noted that Alexander passed off complaints from a former Reagan administration official about the Post's purported failure to cover the story as though they were the views of a neutral observer. Walsh concluded: "It's the job of editors at big papers like the Post to expose those lies, and the movement behind them – not to flagellate themselves for not saying 'How high?' when right-wing media watchdogs say 'Jump!' Andrew Alexander botched his job today."
- I pointed out that Alexander, like the initial Post article, omitted several important facts that greatly undermine the Right's NBPP allegations, and noted that Alexander has a history of chiding the Post for being slow to pick up on bogus stories peddled by the likes of Andrew Breitbart: He did the same with the ACORN story last year (and never followed up when it turned out the Right's ACORN videos were misleadingly edited.) And I noted that Alexander's column, like the original article, ignored entirely the Right's race-baiting.
Likewise, the Post's initial Sherrod article drew immediate criticism. I explained in detail how the article privileged the Right's lies about Sherrod -- the first half of the article was written from the perspective of the conservatives who weren't telling the truth; there was no indication whatsoever until the 13th paragraph that anyone thought Sherrod was wronged; it wasn't until the 17th paragraph that the Post admitted that Sherrod helped the farmer she was accused of not helping, etc. NYU Journalism professor criticized both the article and the refusal of Post reporter Karen Tumulty to respond to such criticism (here, here, here, and here.) The Nation's Greg Mitchell called the article "horrible," adding "Tumulty should be ashamed."
And a number of liberal journalists have criticized the Post for failing to include in its intelligence series credit for prior work:
- Salon's Glenn Greenwald wrote: "Part 2 of the Post series is great, but it's outrageous not to even mention those who have done this work for years" and "It's good the Post is covering this so thoroughly - that can bring benefits- but so outrageous they're pretending to be first" -- sentiments echoed by The Nation's Jeremy Scahill.
- Scahill explained: "In reality, there is little in the Post series that, in one way or another, has not already been documented by independent journalist Tim Shorrock, author of the (actually) groundbreaking book, Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing. With the exception of some details and a lot of color, much of what I have read in the Post's series thus far I had already read in Shorrock's book and his previous reporting for Salon, Mother Jones and The Nation. Shorrock was the reporter who first revealed the extent of the radical privatization of intel operations. In 2007, Shorrock obtained and published a document from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence showing that 70 percent of the US intelligence budget was spent on private contractors. Shorrock was way out in front of this story and, frankly, corporate media ignored it. When I was working on my book on Blackwater, which first came out in 2007, Shorrock provided me with some crucial insights into the world of privatized intelligence. Shorrock remains a valued colleague and source and the Post is just wrong to not credit him for the work he has done on this story. Everyone should read Shorrock's latest story which includes an exclusive photo tour through the private intelligence community."
- Shorrock himself wrote that the Post series is "NOT new. I broke basic story yrs ago," adding "I am truly outraged. Not a single mention!" Marcy Wheeler told Shorrock: "The WaPo has presented their series as big news. And while it may be to members of the Village, they completely ignored the work you and Jeremy Scahill and others have already done on this problem," to which Shorrock replied: "I've been extremely critical of the Post for how long it took them to get this story and their refusal to acknowledge the work of people like myself who broke this story years ago."
Well, you get the point: A lot of liberals have had a lot of complaints about the Washington Post in recent weeks, and with good cause.
So what is Andrew Alexander's ombudsman column in today's Washington Post about? You guessed it -- conservative allegations that the Post committed treason by running the intelligence series.
See, much as Alexander and Marcus Brauchli and others at the Post keep insisting that they need to be more responsive to conservatives, the reality is that they jump at every right-wing complaint that comes along, no matter how bogus -- and that they rarely bother to respond to liberals.