During an online Q&A today, Washington Post managing editors Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti took a question about their boss's recent comments about the Post's need to be more responsive to conservatives:
Washington, DC: Marcus Brauchli says the Post needs to be more responsive to conservatives. How do you reconcile that with the paper's coverage of the 2000 election (which savaged Al Gore, often dishonestly) and the run-up to the Iraq war? Or the paper's obsession with Whitewater and other Clinton "scandals"?
When you all talk about Republican claims that the Post is a "liberal" paper, does anyone ever point out that the Post's handling of some of the biggest stories in recent decades directly undermines those claims -- and, indeed, suggests you've been overly kind to conservatives and hard on liberals?
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We get complaints from both liberals and conservatives on our coverage--often on the same story--accusing us of being one or the other. That's one anecdotal indicator that we are not representing any one side in our news coverage. The goal of our more analytical pieces is to help frame issues for our readers but not to be ideological, unlike for our columnists who have views. As part of our redesign, we are going to also more clearly identify our columnists/columns in the paper to avoid any confusion among some readers.
All I can say is: What?
Spayd and Narisetti didn't even come close to answering the question. Didn't address Brauchli's comments. Didn't address the Post's coverage of Iraq, or Gore, or Whitewater. They tossed in something out of left field about identifying columns more clearly. Strange.
And that bit at the beginning about getting complaints from both liberals and conservatives, and those complaints indicating that the Post isn't "representing any one side" -- are they serious? Are they actually trying to suggest the Post's coverage of, say, Iraq did not favor one side?
If so, they don't seem to have much company in taking that position, even among Washington Post employees.
As I detailed in my column on Friday, former Washington Post Ombudsman Michael Getler has savaged the Post's Iraq coverage. Current Post reporter Michael Dobbs, who was involved in that coverage, says the paper's failure "went from top to bottom." Len Downie, who was executive editor of the Post during the run-up to the war, has conceded that the paper "underplayed" stories questioning the Bush administration's case for war. Post reporter Howard Kurtz has written that some Post reporters involved in the paper's coverage "complained to national editors that the drumbeat of the impending invasion was crowding out the work of [Walter] Pincus and others who were challenging the administration."
In 2005, the Post's lousy coverage of Iraq continued -- and Post employees continued to criticize their own paper's work:
Several Post officials have conceded that their publication has not given the Downing Street Memo adequate coverage. In a May 16 online chat, Kurtz wrote that "The Post should have done a substantial story much sooner, especially after other American media outlets picked up on the memo." Post ombudsman Michael Getler devoted his entire May 15 column to agreeing with critics who criticized the Post and other papers for failing to cover the Downing Street Memo prominently. And in a June 7 online chat, Post staff writer Jefferson Morley blamed the Post's inadequate coverage of the memo on "a failure of leadership at the senior editorial level."
And yet when Spayd and Narisetti are asked about the Post's coverage of Iraq, they say, in effect, "well, both sides complain, so we must not be doing anything wrong."
Later, in response to a question that claimed "the Post also has a history of ignoring internet and talk radio-driven stories (see Edwards's love child to Van Jones and ACORN) that reflect negatively on liberal/Democrats," Spayd and Narisetti reiterated Brauchli's attempt to appease the Right:
We are aware that we can do better in this area, particularly in terms of conservative web sites as clearly noted by our Executive Editor earlier this month.
So when someone brings up the Washington Post's coverage of Iraq -- which numerous Post reporters and editors have acknowledged favored the Bush administration and the pro-war point of view, the Washington Post's executive editors pretend that coverage was balanced.
And when someone claims the Post is insufficiently responsive to conservatives, they rush to agree.
BigGovernment.com is currently touting a post by Matthew Vadum -- who has a history of overheated attacks on Obama -- profiling the Right's latest target: Obama White House political affairs director Patrick Gaspard.
"Evidence shows that years before he joined the Obama administration, Gaspard was ACORN boss Bertha Lewis's political director in New York," Vadum writes, working under then-state leader and current ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis. "Obama's statement that he's barely aware of ACORN's problems is nothing short of ridiculous, especially so because Patrick Gaspard was a political director for ACORN New York."
Curiously missing from Vadum's post are the exact dates that Gaspard was political director for ACORN New York -- he states only that it was "years before." That omission tells us that we can presume it was many years before.
Nevertheless, Vadum takes this opportunity to ramp up the crazy: "With Gaspard at work in the White House, Lewis might as well be speaking to President Obama through an earpiece as he goes about his daily business ruining the country." Manchurian candidate, anyone?
Meanwhile, WorldNetDaily is claiming that it has "unearthed!" Obama's "twisted ACORN roots." Actually, there's no new information in this article -- it's all compiled from previous reports. And some of those claims are false or misleading:
Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon, responding to a question about health care reform:
I think polling shows the point you are making: the public largely believes the Republicans are determined to oppose any bill. I think the Baucus process definitely helps make the case to the public that the Democrats tried to be bi-partisan. That said, I"m not sure voters really care that much about the process. The Republicans I meet at town halls and other things oppose so many of the core ideas of the bill that the process doesn't matter.
Good to see a reporter acknowledge that the public doesn't care as much about legislative process and politics as about the underlying policy and how it will affect their lives. That's a (rather obvious) point I've been making for ages.
But notice how Bacon comes to that conclusion: Republicans at town halls oppose the core ideas of health care reform, so whether the process is "bi-partisan" doesn't matter to them. As opposed to, for example, recognizing that that majority of the public badly wants real health care reform, so they don't care as much about whether the process is "bi-partisan."
That second one would seem to be the more relevant observation in the context of the health care debate.
If there's one thing journalists love, it's pretending that every flaw evident among conservatives is mirrored exactly among liberals.
Sure, Ann Coulter may fantasize about killing journalists, and Lou Dobbs may help spread nutty ideas about Barack Obama's birthplace, and the conservative movement may have accused Bill Clinton of being complicit in dozens of murders, but reporters will rush to assure you that there are extremists on both the Left and the Right -- and they enjoy similar positions of prominence on both sides.
Enter Slate's William Saletan, whose recent feature about the "food police" contains this whopper of a false equivalence:
To justify taxes on unhealthy food, the lifestyle regulators are stretching the evidence about obesity and addiction ... Liberals like to talk about a Republican war on science, but it turns out that they're just as willing to bend facts. In wars of piety, science has no friends.
Oh, really? Many conservatives want to stop teaching evolution in schools, to pick but one obvious example. They deny global warming, even as the polar ice caps melt away before our eyes. But liberals are just as willing to bend facts, according to Will Saletan, because ... Well, because their estimates of the budgetary impact of increased obesity may be too high.
Yeah. That's the same.
(It's telling, by the way, that Saletan doesn't feel the need to list any actual conservative falsehoods by way of comparison -- he assumes it is self-evident that both sides are "just as willing to bend facts." No need to actually compare the ways in which they do so before making that assertion.)
Both are pushing Drudge's pointless report about how a FOX TV affiliate was apparently told by officials at the Chicago Olympic Committee that the station's trivial, 60-second report last Thursday morning regarding how some Chicagoans were against landing the 2016 Olympic bid, would "harm Chicago's chances" of winning the bid. According the Drudge, the station shelved plans to re-air the clip.
But get a load of Drudge's screaming headline:
FOX-TV Chicago Ordered Not to Run Anti-Olympic Story
Psst Matt, the station already ran it. (The only 'news' was whether they'd air it again.)
Then look at how Malkin, desperate for an anti-Obama angle, spin the hollow tale. Under the headline "Olympic Crony Watch," she invents a key fact:
Drudge reports that WFLD-TV has been ordered not to broadcast an anti-Olympics segment again.
Really? The TV station was "ordered" not to air the mundane segment again? Actually, no. According to Drudge's 'reporting,' the decision was made internally.
Who knows (cares?) if a single word of Drudge's report is true. We just love how Malkin couldn't help improving it with her own version of right-wing reality. i.e. Obama's cronies were issuing orders!
The AP has promoted Liz Sidoti to "national political writer," the AP's "'go-to' source reporter, strategic thinker and writer, and a leader among peers."
So, let's fire up the ol' way-back machine and see how Sidoti got the promotion, shall we?
... and more.
Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson reports that Betsy McCaughey's mid-1990s lies about health care reform -- lies that helped torpedo the Clinton administration's efforts to provide universal health care -- were, in effect, the result of tobacco-industry propaganda:
McCaughey's lies were later debunked in a 1995 post-mortem in The Atlantic, and The New Republic recanted the piece in 2006. But what has not been reported until now is that McCaughey's writing was influenced by Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, as part of a secret campaign to scuttle Clinton's health care reform. (The measure would have been funded by a huge increase in tobacco taxes.) In an internal company memo from March 1994, the tobacco giant detailed its strategy to derail Hillarycare through an alliance with conservative think tanks, front groups and media outlets. Integral to the company's strategy, the memo observed, was an effort to "work on the development of favorable pieces" with "friendly contacts in the media." The memo, prepared by a Philip Morris executive, mentions only one author by name:
"Worked off-the-record with [The] Manhattan [Institute] and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part exposé in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan."
Now, it isn't necessarily shocking that a reporter would talk off-the-record with business interests while writing an article about legislation that would affect them. But McCaughey's relationship with Big Tobacco was merely not that of "reporter" and "source."
See, McCaughey was working for The Manhattan Institute at the time. And The Manhattan Institute was funded by -- you guessed it -- tobacco companies.
While Phillip Morris was "working with" McCaughey in 1994, the tobacco giant was also budgeting $25,000 for The Manhattan Institute for 1995. The Manhattan Institute has also taken tobacco money from Brown & Williamson, R.J. Reynolds, and Lorillard.
So that's where McCaughey's dishonest New Republic article -- the article that did more than any other to kill health care reform in the 1990s -- came from. The tobacco companies that funded the "think tank" that employed McCaughey "worked off-the-record" with her to shape the article.
The New Republic eventually "recanted" McCaughey's article, a decade after the damage was done, and apologized for it (though then-editor Andrew Sullivan stands by the decision to publish the article.)
So, now that Betsy McCaughey is again trying to kill health care reform, you have to wonder -- who is paying for her deception this time? And which news organizations will eventually have to apologize for promoting her dishonest work?
It's the one Jamison detailed yesterday about how the Times was way too late on the oh-so hugely important ACORN story, and how the Times is going to assign somebody to watch the "opinion media" (i.e. the right-wing media mob), to make sure the newspaper doesn't miss out any more ground-breaking stories in the future.
Hint to NYT: No matter how much you flatter them with news coverage, the right-wing is always going to hate you and is always going to claim liberal bias. But hey, good luck with your wild goose chase.
Just a couple quick points to highlight how, in making his point, Public Editor Hoyt Clark engaged in some rather questionable journalism himself. First, note this phrasing, as Hoyt describes the premise of the ACORN hidden-camera story [emphasis added]:
It was an intriguing story: employees of a controversial outfit, long criticized by Republicans as corrupt, appearing to engage in outrageous, if not illegal, behavior.
So even before the latest headlines emerged this month, ACORN, in the eyes of Hoyt, was "a controversial outfit." The wicked irony here is that in a column in which Hoyt claims the Times is too slow to embrace right-wing stories, Hoyt embraces right-wing rhetoric by describing ACORN as "controversial."
It's interesting that Hoyt never bothers to explain why ACORN was considered "controversial," before the hidden-camera story broke. The only point he makes is that ACORN had been "long criticized by Republicans as corrupt." Is that what made ACORN controversial, the mere fact that Republicans criticized it? Is that Hoyt's definition of "controversial"?
It's true Republicans have been chasing ACORN for years. In fact, last autumn Fox News mentioned ACORN more than 1,500 times in a mindless crusade by the right-wing to blame the low-budget community organizing group for everything from housing marketing bubble to stealing elections. Fox News and the GOP Noise Machine accused ACORN of every crime under the sun, but Fox News couldn't actually uncover one new damning fact about ACORN.
But voilà! Because Republicans have "long criticized" ACORN "as corrupt," journalists like Hoyt embrace the language and claim that even before the hidden-camera videos ACORN was "controversial." False. ACORN was the subject of a mostly fact-free, unhinged right-wing crusade. And just because far-right partisan declare a phony war on a group that helps poor people, doesn't main serious journalists like Hoyt ought to adopt the language.
Second, after spending an entire column detailing how the Times needs to react quicker to right-wing stories that are hatched online, note this passage near the end of Hoyt's column:
And Republicans earlier this year charged that the [Times] killed a story about Acorn that would have been a "game changer" in the presidential election — a claim I found to be false.
Was the irony completely lost on Hoyt? He writes a column about how the Times has to scoop up whatever charges the right-wing mob cooks up, yet Hoyt himself concedes that last year the same mob cried bloody murder over some supposed "game changer" article that the Time sat on; a charge Hoyt himself concluded was "false."
So tell me again why the Times has to now obediently follow the mob?
From a September 28 Washington Times article: