Last week, Bob Franken led the charge in criticizing the sourcing rules Mark Halperin and John Heilemann devised for Game Change, calling their explanation of those rules "the most convoluted explanation I've heard in a long time" and adding: "There's one thing that you have to remember in Washington: You don't burn sources."
Now Washington Post/CNN media critic Howard Kurtz joins in:
"Game Change" caused an immediate furor by quoting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as having said "privately" that Obama could win the presidency because he was "light-skinned" and had "no Negro dialect." Reid apologized for the clumsy remarks, which his office confirmed he made to Halperin and Heilemann. But even with their source admitting the conversation, the authors refuse to confirm that they interviewed Reid. It's not "in the public interest," Halperin argues, for them to "get on the slippery slope" of acknowledging interviews.
Deep background means that you can describe someone's thinking or reconstruct verbatim dialogue when you're writing about events involving that person. As an author who has used the technique, I don't believe it entitles you to directly quote what someone said to you, which effectively puts it on the record, and several other journalists have said they agree.
I have not, however, seen a single journalist offer an unqualified defense of the sourcing techniques Halperin and Heilemann used. If anyone has an example, please let me know in the comments.
UPDATE: A reader points out that in an article by Politico's Michael Calderone, several journalists -- including Bob Woodward and Jonathan Alter -- broadly defended the use of anonymous sources. None, however, defended Halperin/Heilemann's treatment of the Reid quote, or the specifics of the way Game Change relied upon unnamed sources.
Mark Halperin defends the sourcing practices he and John Heilemann used for their book Game Change:
To be sure, Time's Mark Halperin and New York Magazine's John Heilemann had the advantage of reconstructing the events after the fact, aided by operatives who were given a cloak of anonymity to dish and perhaps settle scores.
"One of the things people have said is that we've let the losers write the history, we've relied on people with axes to grind," Halperin says. "We were so careful, so cautious in our sourcing. You won't see a negative portrait, a negative description that relies simply on a person with an ax to grind."
That's what counts as being "so cautious in our sourcing" these days? Not relying on a single unnamed source with a vendetta? Quick, somebody give these guys an award!
The No. 1 rule inside the Politico newsroom? Whatever topic partisan Republicans are chattering about instantly becomes news and must be hyped as such.
Check out Politico's latest headline [emphasis added]:
Brown win could spark legal battle
And the lede:
A victory by Republican Scott Brown Tuesday in Massachusetts could quickly turn into a legal battle over the man he would replace – Sen. Paul Kirk – with the future of health reform in the Senate hanging in the balance.
Conservative commentator Fred Barnes is arguing that Kirk will lose his vote in the Senate after Tuesday's special election, no matter who wins, signaling a possible GOP line of attack against health reform if it passes with Kirk's vote.
GOP elected officials haven't embraced that argument, and two academic election law experts contacted by POLITICO refuted the notion that Kirk will no longer be a senator after Tuesday's election.
Got that? The Weekly Standard's Barnes floated some semi-nutty partisan claim that even Republican officials aren't embracing. And it's a claim that independent election experts say is bogus. But that doesn't matter. The GOP Noise Machine is abuzz about it, so Politico types it up as news.
UPDATED: Love the double hypothetical that Politico so eagerly pushes in the article: Brown could win the election. And then his win could spark a legal battle.
Gee Politico, please report on what else could/could happen.
UPDATED: In his piece, Barnes didn't bother to quote any attorneys and election expert by name to back up his dubious claim. But because a single Weekly Standard columnist posted his hypothetical, sourced to anonymous "Republicans attorneys," Politico embraced that as breaking news.
I'm sure that if the roles were reversed and a single Nation writer floated a sketchy what-if based on nothing more than spin coming from anonymous "Democratic attorneys," Politico would rush that into print, right?
Talk about burying the news. Actually, the Washington Post didn't just bury it, the Post completely ignored it. And yes, we've seen this trend before.
What did the Post dutifully forget to report in its article about its latest presidential polling data? Obama's job approval ratings went up this month. (And for context, Obama's approval rating today of 53 percent is right where it was in September, according to the WashPost's poll numbers.)
But the Post article makes no mention of that fact--none--as the piece relentless lays on the negative news for Obama.
A year into his presidency, President Obama faces a polarized nation and souring public assessments of his efforts to change Washington, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Nearly half of all Americans say Obama is not delivering on his major campaign promises, and a narrow majority have just some or no confidence that he will make the right decisions for the country's future.
More than a third see the president as falling short of their expectations, about double the proportion saying so at the 100-day mark of Obama's presidency in April. At the time, 63 percent said the president had accomplished a "great deal" or a "good amount." Now, the portion saying so has dropped to 47 percent.
I repeat: Nowhere in the Post article about presidential polling does it report that Obama's approval rating went up this month.
UPDATED: Note the Post headline [emphasis added]:
Poll shows growing disappointment, polarization over Obama's performance
According to the Post, there's "growing disappointment" about Obama. What the Post leaves out is that Obama's approval rating is up this month. Guess that fact didn't fit the narrative.
From Glenn Beck's January 15 email newsletter:
The newsletter's trailer link goes here.
In a letter to supporters, Rick Santorum reportedly wrote that he is "considering putting my name in for the 2012 presidential race," citing concerns over President Obama's purported "single-minded pursuit of a radical domestic agenda" and that "the Obama Administration buried its head in the sand and has turned a blind eye towards several major threats to our country." From the letter:
You see, two years ago, candidate-Barack Obama sold our country a false bill of goods.
And now we're paying a heavy, heavy price.
Enough is enough.
That's why I hope you'll join me today to lay the groundwork for taking back our country.
I promise you, I will stop at nothing when it comes to defending our freedom and our values.
That's the real reason why - after talking it over with my wife Karen and our kids - I am considering putting my name in for the 2012 presidential race.
And I'd like to know what you think about this - so please share your thoughts by rushing the attached "2010 Launch" reply back to me right away!
Fox News personalities Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin are also considering 2012 runs.
From Cliff Kincaid's January 15 Accuracy in Media column, headlined "Homosexual Imperialists Target Uganda":
Homosexual media activists in the U.S. such as Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post have falsely depicted the bill in Uganda as an effort to kill homosexuals. In fact, it is designed to save lives by restricting dangerous homosexual practices, including pedophilia, child rape, and the deliberate spreading of the AIDS virus. The controversial death penalty provision, which even some pro-family activists in the U.S. find objectionable, is for crimes of "aggravated homosexuality."
Capehart has said that Uganda, which is heavily dependent on foreign aid, should be deprived of foreign assistance if the bill becomes law. Capehart and some foreign homosexuals are clamoring for the bill to be withdrawn from the Ugandan Parliament or vetoed if passed.
Pressure on Uganda to abandon the pro-family legislation is also being applied by open homosexual Democratic Reps. Barney Frank (Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (Wisc.), and Jared Polis (Col.). On the Senate side, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee's subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness, has warned Uganda it could lose favorable trading status if it proceeds with the legislation. Wyden contends that homosexuality is an international human right.
From a January 15 Associated Press article:
Absolutely giddy about a poll that showed Republican Scott Brown marginally ahead of Democrat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, the Times' Johanna Neuman uncorked this beauty under the oh-so-subtle headline "Coakley losing it in Massachusetts, Dems in panic mode" [emphasis added]:
You could tell Coakley was losing it the other day when she derided her opponent by disdaining the most sacred of Boston icons -- the Red Sox. Criticized for taking a vacation during the campaign, Coakley defended herself and dissed Brown for an ad showing him shaking hands with voters at Fenway Park. "As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?" Coakley was quoted saying.
Slight problem. The entire paragraph is built upon a lie, because Coakley never disdained the Red Sox. Period. Neuman just made that part up in order to fill out the blogger's GOP-frenzy narrative.
In the item, Neuman linked to a Boston Herald article that told the supposed tale of Coakley dissing the Red Sox:
Former Red Sox ace Curt Schilling ripped Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Martha Coakley today for dissing Fenway Park, saying her disdain made her seem "out of touch."
"That's exactly what I've come to expect from politicians. So many are so far out of touch with their constituents it's laughable and pathetic," Schilling told the Herald.
Schilling, who considered running for the U.S. Senate seat himself, recently endorsed GOP candidate state Sen. Scott Brown. He linked another blog post on his Web site 38pitches.com that slammed Coakley's Fenway flub even more.
"It's Massachusetts. You do not make sneering insults about Fenway Park. What's she going to do next, insult the Red Sox?" wrote blogger Cassy Fiano in a post linked on Schilling's site. "She's apparently been trying to win the title of Worst Political Campaign Ever."
Schilling highlighted the blog post following a Boston Globe article quoting Coakley's response to concerns that she hasn't been campaigning enough during the tight race.
"As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?" Coakley was quoted saying, apparently referencing a Brown ad where he greets supporters outside Fenway.
Did Coakley mock the Red Sox? No. Did she even mention the Red Sox? No. Did she belittle the fact that her opponent shakes hands outside Fenway Park in the cold? Yes. Does Neuman honestly not understand the difference between referencing a Boston city location vs. ridiculing the hometown baseball team?
Even the article Neuman linked to conceded that Coakley hadn't insulted the Red Sox (i.e. "What's she going to do next"?)
This is just awful journalism.
Eighty advertisers have reportedly dropped their ads from Glenn Beck's Fox News program since he called President Obama a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred of white people." Here are his January 15 sponsors, in the order they appeared: