Lots of people, including those at "Good Morning America," have been asking me what I think of the media's role in the balloon hoax.
I don't blame television for carrying the two-hour balloon extravaganza that turned out to be an utter sham. ... In 24-hour cable, you put the live pictures on the air first and seek explanations later.
Left unanswered -- unaddressed, even -- by Kurtz: Why? Also unaddressed: Is this a good thing? Kurtz is supposed to be a media critic, but he omits any criticism. He just offers the circular statement that he doesn't blame "television" for what it did because it did what it does. Huh?
Any producer who cut away from the balloon, saying his news team wanted to gather more information first, would have been fired on the spot.
I do not believe this for a second, and I don't think Howard Kurtz does, either. He's spinning on behalf of cable news, not offering a serious, rational assessment of what happened.
Speaking of Kurtz just making things up, here he is last week:
In retrospect, you could say the cable channels went wild covering the flight of an empty balloon. And technically, that is true. But cable doesn't have the ability to say, You know what, folks? We're not sure what's going on here, so we'll check it out and get back to you. I mean, there are times when you can do that. A runaway bride says she was accosted by assailants, you check it out first. But not a runaway balloon. Who among us wouldn't have switched channels if the one you were watching dropped the subject? The ratings, forgive me, must have soared.
First, of course cable has the ability to do that. They choose not to.
But that part about the ratings at the end is what really stands out. Howard Kurtz is Howard Kurtz. Surely he can find out if the ratings did, in fact, soar, and give us a sense of what that meant for the cable channels' revenue. But he didn't last week, and he still hasn't. I suspect that's because two hours of live balloon coverage didn't make the cables much if any money.
Again: Kurtz is spinning for the cable news channels -- one of which pays him.
Is Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli laying the groundwork to duck questions about whether he was honest about his role in the Post's access-for-cash scandal?
Brauchli is set to do an online Q&A at Noon today. Here's how the Post promoted that Q&A over the weekend:
And here's how the Post has now changed that advertisement:
Note that the formerly broad wording (Brauchli was going to take "questions about the newspaper and washingtonpost.com") has now been narrowed (Brauchli will take "questions about The Post redesign.")
Is that an effort to discourage questions about Brauchli's honesty and other sticky subjects? We already know Brauchli ducked questions from Politico's Michael Calderone over the weekend, in favor of talking to a reporter who is on his payroll -- and who omitted key information calling Brauchli's honesty into question.
From a post by BigGovernment.com editor-in-chief Mike Flynn titled, "The Mau-Mauing of Rush":
Rush took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to address the mau-mauing that scuttled his NFL dreams. Personally, I'm a little mystified why Rush would want to own part of a football team. Oversized, preening and pampered athletes set in strictly defined roles and running elaborately orchestrated "plays" designed by a full bureaucracy of coaches seems, frankly, I dunno...unAmerican. Quite unlike the other football, where there are no plays, few coaches and wide latitude for individual initiative and improvisation. (How did we get stuck with the collectivist top-down heavy sport?) But, to each his own.
Of course the NFL is a private institution which can invite -- or deny -- whomever they'd like to join their owners' club. But the manner in which Rush was sidelined is, at best, distasteful and definitely more than a little troubling.
From a BigGovernment.com post by Dr. David Janda titled: "ObamaCare Debate: Freedom vs. Oppression":
On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation:
"That on the 1st day of January, in the year of our Lord 1863, all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom. . . And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God."
With these words President Lincoln ended slavery -- a flagrant violation of the institutions of the United States of America, "a government of, by and for all the people."
The institution of slavery denied essential freedoms to fellow Americans. Today, in 2009, another freedom is being denied to every man, woman and child -- freedom of health care. Some in the HMO industry, many in the insurance industry, and many federal "Big Government" bureaucrats are denying Americans their freedom of health care. The Obama Health Care Plan is the instruction manual and play book for this mandate.
These "Masters" of Health Care are trying to deny individuals the freedom to choose what doctor you can see, what medicine you can take, what hospital you can go to, and how you spend your health care dollars. They even take it a step further in the Obama Health Care Plan, determining -- IF -- yes, IF you can be treated. These "Masters" of Health Care are driving us to unnecessary pain, suffering, and, in some cases, death.
Irony alert: While defending his employer from White House charges that Fox News isn't a real news outlet, Fox News commentator and Special Report regular, Hayes made stuff up in a futile attempt to knock down the claim.
White House strategist Anita Dunn told CNN's Howard Kurtz that Fox News isn't a real news outlet, and here's one example she gave [emphasis added]:
For instance, Howie, "The New York Times" had a front page story about Nevada Senator John Ensign and the fact that he had gotten his former chief of staff a job as a lobbyist and his former chief of staff's wife was someone Ensign had had an affair with.
The Times broke that specific story about Ensign's former chief of staff on October 2.
Here's what Hayes said on Fox News last week:
And the example she used was the John Ensign affair story. And she said basically if you watch Fox, you didn't know about that story.
So I went back and looked at the month after the John Ensign story broke, and on this show, we discussed this 11 times, sometimes in extended reports, sometimes in a discussion like this. That's 11 times in 20 days. That's every other day.
Hayes did some actual research! He went back and checked the transepts. But oops, Hayes botched his research because Hayes ended up disproving a claim Dunn never made. Dunn never told CNN that Fox News ignored the Ensign affair story, which broke in July. She specifically said that Fox News ignored the follow-up scoop about how Republican Ensign had gotten a job for his former chief of staff; the same chief of staff whose wife Ensign had an affair with.
Hayes claimed Fox News reported on the July story of the Ensign affair. But that clearly was not the point Dunn made. (Hayes doesn't listen so good.) She claimed Fox News ignored a key, subsequent revelation. And was she right? Well, I went back and looked at the transcript for Fox News' Special Report and guess what? Dunn was absolutely correct. The program virtually ignored the October 2, story, which was only mentioned on-air one time and by a Washington Post reporter who was invited onto the show, not by a single Fox News contributor. The rest of Fox News remained equally mum.
Anita Dunn: 1
Stephen Hayes: 0.
UPDATED: Fox News' Neil Cavuto also played dumb about Ensign. Cavuto thundered that Dunn got it all wrong because Fox News did cover the Ensign affair. Except, of course, that's not the claim Dunn made. And do I even have to mention that Cavuto's show completely ignored the Oct. 2 story about Ensign getting a job for his chief of staff? (He did.)
Anita Dunn: 1
Neil Cavuto: 0.
UPDATED: My favorite example this year of Fox News clearly ignoring a breaking story that reflected poorly on the GOP was when Tom Ridge, on the eve of his book release, claimed that senior Bush administration officials had pressured him to tinker with the terror alert warning for purely political reasons back when he ran the Dept. of Homeland Security.
In the two-day span surrounding the story Fox News mentioned "Tom Ridge" exactly one time, vs. its cable news competitors which mentioned Ridge nearly 90 times.
I'm sure the RNC appreciated the Fox "news" judgment.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz spent much of the summer demonstrating that he can't be trusted to report impartially for the Post about CNN, which also employs him.
Now he seems intent on establishing that he can't be trusted to report impartially about his bosses at the Post, either.
Kurtz wrote for today's Post about yesterday's revelations that the paper's executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, seems to have misled the New York Times about his involvement in and knowledge of the Post's attempt to sell access to its reporters to corporate interests. Over the summer, Brauchli told the Times that he had been "explicit" with the Post's marketing team that the events would not be off the record. Yesterday, the Times, Politico, and The New Republic reported the existence of a letter in which Brauchli had in fact known that the events were being marketed as off the record.
Brauchli claimed in the letter that the Times had simply misinterpreted his comments. But Politico's Michael Calderone then wrote that Brauchli had also told him that he did not know the events were being promoted as off the record. Calderone sought comment from Brauchli for his story yesterday, but a Post spokesperson told him "The letter speaks for itself."
But it turns out Brauchli wasn't refusing all requests for an interview. He gave a comment to Howard Kurtz, who just happens to work for him:
Brauchli said Saturday: "I have consistently said that my intention was that Post journalists only participate in events if the content could be used to inform our journalism. . . . I was aware, as I have said since July 2, that some materials described the proposed salon dinner as an off-the-record event. As I have also said before, I should have insisted that the language be changed before it surfaced in any marketing material."
Kurtz also quoted Brauchli's claim that the Times reporter misunderstood him. But he include any indication that he pressed Brauchli on that claim -- and he didn't mention Calderone's statement that he got the same impression from Brauchli as the Times reporter, which seriously undermines the notion that Brauchli told the truth but was misinterpreted.
Kurtz' article, in other words, omits crucial information that makes his boss look less than honest. No wonder Brauchli talked to him but not to Calderone.
We previously highlighted how Glenn Beck's October 16 Fox News program on health care reform included in its audience of doctors Richard Amerling, a director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a conservative-leaning group that holds several controversial views, including promoting the right-wing conspiracy theory that Vince Foster didn't commit suicide.
Now, Talking Points Memo has identified another AAPS-affiliated doctor in Beck's audience: David McKalip, the doctor who notoriously emailed a racist image depicting President Obama as a witch doctor to his fellow "tea party" activists.
AAPS' "Take Back Medicine" website features an "open letter to America's physicians" by McKalip asserting that health care reform will "turn doctors into servants of the state, insurance companies, hospitals, and everyone except who matters most: the patient."
And Afghanistan, too!
The Times' David Carr belatedly joins a very long line of tsk-tsking pundits who in the last week have all said the exact the same thing (that's why it's called The Village), and announced that the White House was way off base when it criticized--when it fact-checked--Fox News. Fox News is just doing its job, Carr suggests. It's the White House that has to change its behavior. It's the White House that's out of line here.
I'm guessing that Kevin Jennings, the Dept. of Education official relentlessly targeted by Fox News as a statutory rape-loving "pervert" would disagree. But the elite pundits (the same pundits who have ignored the homophobic witch hunt of Jennings) have spoken: it's unseemly for the White House to call out the press by name.
Still, I couldn't help notice a rather warped sense of media self-importance in Carr's lede:
The Obama administration, which would seem to have its hands full with a two-front war in Iraq and Afghanistan, opened up a third front last week, this time with Fox News.
Really, criticizing the media is like sending U.S. men and women in combat? I realize the comparison isn't necessarily meant to be taken literally, but still. Seems like a painful, and inappropriate, stretch to me.
And speaking of The Village, where have I seen this Iraq/Afghanistan comparison before? Oh yeah, in the Times' direct competitor, the WashPost:
The White House is now fighting a three-front war: Iraq, Afghanistan and Fox News.
Good to know.
From Weisberg's October 17 column, "The O'Garbage Factor":
Whether the White House engages with Fox is a tactical political question. Whether we journalists continue to do so is an ethical one. By appearing on Fox, reporters validate its propaganda values and help to undermine the role of legitimate news organizations. Respectable journalists-I'm talking to you, Mara Liasson-should stop appearing on its programs. A boycott would make Ailes too happy, so let's try just ignoring Fox, shall we? And no, I don't want to come on The O'Reilly Factor to discuss it.
Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli, last seen saying the Post needs to be more responsive to conservatives, seems to have been less than honest about what he knew about the WaPo's widely-denounced attempt to sell access to its reporters off to the highest bidder.
When the story of the Post's planned corporate-sponsored dinners broke over the summer, one of the most criticized aspects of the whole affair was that the Post was marketing them as off-the-record. At the time, Brauchli told the New York Times that he had always been "explicit" with his paper's marketing department that the dinners would be on the record, suggesting that he was unaware the dinners were being marketed as off the record.
It turns out that wasn't exactly true.
Yesterday, the New York Times' corrections section included an unusual item billed as a "postscript" to its July 3 article about the dinners. In the postscript, the Times explained that a lawyer for Charles Pelton, the Post marketing executive who lost his job over the controversy, had provided the Times with a letter in which, as the Times described it, "Mr. Brauchli now says that he did indeed know that the dinners were being promoted as 'off the record,' and that he and Mr. Pelton had discussed that issue."
Later yesterday afternoon, Politico reporter Michael Calderone got his hands on the Brauchli letter, and posted it online. Here's the key part:
I knew that the salon dinners were being promoted as "off the record." That fact was never hidden from me by you or anyone else. For instance, the dinners were described as "off the record" in two slide presentations that I attended. You and I discussed the off-the-record nature of the dinners. The phrase was also used in marketing materials for the salons and in correspondence to the newsroom that you e-mailed to me.
Interestingly, the Times postscript didn't mention Brauchli's letter went on to claim that "The New York Times reporter apparently misunderstood me."
Even more interestingly, Calderone says he, too, talked to Brauchli over the summer:
Brauchli made similar comments to me that he gave to the Times, and my understanding from our conversation was that he did not know the salon dinners were being promoted as off the record.
So ... Either two separate reporters at two separate news organizations misinterpreted two separate comments Brauchli made to them, or Brauchli wasn't telling the truth over the summer.
The New Republic's Gabriel Sherman explains how the Times' postscript came to be:
According to a series of letters, Pelton was successful in proving that Brauchli changed his story and the Times' reporting failed to reflect that he walked-back from his original claims of not knowing about the off-the-record ground rules. It wall began on September 25, when Pelton, through his lawyer George Frost, succeeded in getting Brauchli to send him a personal letter stating that he "knew that the dinners were being promoted as 'off the record.'" For Brauchli, the letter was an embarrassing reversal of his prior public comments and an admission that he knew far more about the conferences than he first let on.
With Brauchli's revised-comments in hand, Pelton and his lawyer pushed back hard against the Times. On Sept. 28, three days later after receiving Brauchli's letter, Pelton's lawyer Frost wrote a letter to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, executive editor Bill Keller, Pena and the public editor that cited Brauchli's revised comments on the off-the-record question and demanded the Times issue a correction.
According to Sherman, Pelton's request was denied -- by the Times' general counsel, not a newsroom executive -- and the Times ultimately ran the post-script only after Pelton's lawyer threatened legal action.
Politico's Calderone tried to reach Brauchli for comment yesterday, but was told by a Post spokesperson that "The letter speaks for itself."
Obviously, it does not. But the letter, combined with the Times' reporting and Calderone's account of his own conversation with Brauchli and the refusal of Brauchli and the Post to discuss further, certainly suggest the top editor at one of the nation's top newspapers has been lying about his involvement in a newsroom scandal -- a scandal in which the Post was caught trying to auction off access to its reporters to corporate interests. It's worth keeping in mind that just a couple of months after trying to develop such a relationship between the Post and corporate interests, Brauchli began talking publicly about the Post listening more to conservatives.
If Brauchli will not answer questions from journalists he previously misled, perhaps he will answer to Washington Post readers. Brauchli is currently scheduled to participate in an online Q&A Monday at noon on Monday. It seems certain questions will be submitted about Brauchli's honesty in addressing the dinners; it will be interesting to see if he takes those questions.
It will also be interesting to see if he takes any questions asking him to reconcile his absurd claim that the Post needs to be more responsive to conservatives with the Post's shameful treatment of Al Gore, its notably pro-Bush coverage of the 2000 election, or its role as cheerleader-in-chief for Bush's Iraq war. Brauchli's deputies dodged just such a question last month.