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  • Media play telephone with Clinton's Chicago trip

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Following up on Nate Silver's assertion that in his experience, the fact-checking process at Sports Illustrated is more rigorous than in the political media ...

    One way in which news organizations frequently drop the fact-checking ball is by repeating as fact something that they do not independently know to be true, but that has been reported elsewhere. Making matters worse, they often subtly change the initial report, and a game of telephone ensues.

    A correction published in today's New York Times hints at one such occurrence. On Saturday, the Times reported:

    [O]n Thursday, Mrs. Clinton was spied boarding a plane to Chicago -- on ''personal business,'' a spokesman insisted -- and by early evening a small motorcade of black sport utility vehicles emerged from the garage of the downtown Chicago building where Mr. Obama has his transition office, just minutes before Mr. Obama's own motorcade left it. Mrs. Clinton, as a former first lady, has Secret Service protection and travels in a government S.U.V. By Friday morning, amid escalating speculation that she was a serious candidate for secretary of state, associates of both of them confirmed they had met.

    Today, the Times issued a correction:

    A Political Memo article on Saturday about a trip by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to Chicago ... misattributed the statement that Mrs. Clinton went there on "personal business." The comment was from media reports, which turned out to be wrong; it was not made by Mrs. Clinton's spokesman. (Mrs. Clinton's office said only that she had no public schedule on Thursday.)

    The "personal business" line appears to have originated with a report by NBC's Andrea Mitchell on the November 13 Nightly News broadcast: "Hillary Clinton was seen taking a flight to Chicago today, but an adviser says that was on personal business."

    Not only did the Times initially adopt Mitchell's reporting as verified fact, it embellished a bit, turning her report that a Clinton advisor said Clinton was in Chicago on personal business into a spokesman insisting that was the case.

    The Times does not seem to have been the only news organization that adopted Mitchell's reporting as fact, or the only outlet that embellished the report. Some went so far as to suggest that a specific Senate staffer had been dishonest with reporters.

    (Given the vague attribution, it is impossible to be certain that the following examples were based on Mitchell's report -- or other repetitions of her report. But it appears likely that they are.)

    Just a few hours after Mitchell's initial report, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann appeared to be referencing it when he told Countdown viewers "It is insisted by a Clinton advisor that this was personal business..."

    So now the "Clinton advisor" isn't merely saying Clinton's trip to Chicago was "personal business"; he or she is insisting that was the purpose.

    The next day, November 14, Reuters seems to have modified Mitchell's report a bit more: "Clinton was described by her office as having flown to Chicago yesterday on personal business."

    Keep in mind that Mitchell's original report was that a Clinton "advisor" said she was in Chicago on personal business. The Clintons have many "advisors"; Mitchell's source could have been any number of people. Indeed, on the morning of the 14th, Mitchell clarified her report via MSNBC's First Read that her source was not Clinton's "office":

    NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports that Clinton's Senate office never confirmed to NBC that Clinton was in Chicago; it was another Clinton adviser who did so. Clinton's Senate office referred Mitchell to the Obama transition office.

    Nevertheless, Reuters shifted the sourcing to Clinton's Senate office, as though it were an official statement rather than what may have been nothing more than an offhand, background comment by an advisor who didn't have complete information. That same day, November 14, the New York Post similarly reported that "aides insisted she was on personal business."

    That construction quickly made it halfway around the world - literally. An Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter told viewers on November 14, "We're told that she is actually in Chicago for what her office describes purely as personal business but of course that's simply added to the speculation."

    On November 15, the Times of London got even more specific, attributing the "personal business" statement to Clinton's "spokesman" - and, in the process, suggested he was lying: "Although Mrs Clinton's spokesman would say only that she was travelling on 'personal business', sources yesterday acknowledged they [Obama and Clinton] had held private talks."

    Also on the 15th, Australia's Daily Telegraph reported that aides to both Obama and Clinton claimed she was in Chicago on "personal business": "Adding to the intrigue, Senator Clinton was seen aboard a flight to Senator Obama's hometown of Chicago yesterday, but aides from both camps insisted she was on personal business."

    All of which led to CNN Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz suggesting on air yesterday that somebody was lying - based on nothing more than what "sources" supposedly said:

    KURTZ: [S]ources told journalists that Hillary Clinton was in Chicago on personal business. Well, it turns out that she met with Obama and they did discuss either this job or possible jobs. So isn't that -- the technical term, I guess, would be lying?

  • So much for 'stealing' the Minnesota recount

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Conservatives have been relentlessly pushing the notion that Democrats in Minnesota are trying to "steal" the recount underway between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. And we mean relentless.

    There's been zero real evidence to prop up the "stealing" meme, but sadly that hasn't stopped the mainstream press for doing the GOP handiwork by advertising the conservatives' claim. For instance, last week the New York Times, in a recount news article, wasted everyone's time by quoting Sean Hannity who claimed (surprise!) Dems were trying to steal the election.

    The press really needs to walk away from the shiny GOP object that is, they're-stealing-the-election claim. And at the very least, if the press is going to air those hollow allegations, reporters absolutely must include mention of the fact that Minnesota's Republican governor confirmed, yet again, on Fox News Sunday that there's no proof to back up the "stealing" claim.

    And specifically, he shot down the baseless, albeit wildly popular, tale about how 32 disputed ballots were found in a car trunk.

  • How to fire Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Of course, Clinton has not been tapped for the position, but a number of pundits, in what may be a Beltway first, have wondered out loud about how Clinton would be/could be fired as Secretary of State.

    Does that strike anybody else as odd?

    I honestly don't know the answer to this question (and yes, i spent the prerequisite 60 seconds Googling it), but who was the last Secretary of State who was even fired? I mean, it doesn't strike me as something that's even come up very often in the last 50 years. Yet for some reason, the chattering class thinks it must be pondered in terms of Clinton.

  • Still waiting for the MSM blogger profiles, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    We actually laughed out loud when we saw this in the latest issue of Newsweek. It's a very gee-whiz profile of Erick Erickson who runs the right-wing blog RedState. Y'know, the one that just backed the losing candidate and is part of the Rightroots movement, which has been completely lapped in terms of growth, participation and influence by the liberal blogosphere.

    But see, for the mainstream media it's always the right-wing bloggers who are of more interest. It's always the right-wing bloggers who get the ink at the expense of their liberal counterparts. And that's why, to this day for instance, Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz has never written up a feature profile of a prominent A-list liberal blogger.

    The Beltway press doesn't care about liberal bloggers who have helped change the face of American politics over the last four years. But a right-winger like Erickson who runs a GOP bulletin board and is part of the floundering Rightroots movement? Now that's a story worth telling. (And yes, Newsweek's Suzanne Smalley air-brushed the hate out of RedState, like when Erickson attacked war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, for being "a left wing media whore.")

  • NYT omits some examples of how CBS kowtowed to GOP during Memogate

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The Times' Jacques Steinberg reports on Dan Rather's $70 million civil lawsuit vs. CBS in connection to his dismissal following 2004's Memogate. Steinberg is dead-on when he writes:

    Using tools unavailable to him as a reporter — including the power of subpoena and the threat of punishment against witnesses who lie under oath — he has unearthed evidence that would seem to support his assertion that CBS intended its investigation, at least in part, to quell Republican criticism of the network.

    The Times notes that among the panelists considered to be on CBS's "independent" panel to investigate the network's reporting were Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan and Roger Ailes.

    The Times also mentioned a news nugget that CF actually broke btw, that CBS execs were concerned that former GOP senator Warren Rudman, if selected for the "independent" panel, would not "mollify the right."

    Here's what the Times left out, though. And all this information, which we noted last week, has come to light thanks to Rather's lawsuit, which most media players mocked him for when he first filed:

    *CBS reached out to "GOP folks" prior to assembling its "independent" panel and took their temperature on who should oversee the work.

    *CBS tapped GOP attorney Dick Thornburgh, who enjoyed close relations with the Bush family and served in the prior Bush administration, to head up the "independent" panel.

    *When Thornburgh sent detailed questions to the White House for Bush to answer about his indifferent military service, Thornbugh was told by Bush aide Dan Bartlett that Bush would not cooperate. The "independent" panel dropped the queries and made no mention of Bush's lack of cooperation.

    *After the "independent" report was issued, CBS rewarded the White House stonewalling by hiring Bartlett to be an on-air news analysis.

  • What's Howard Kurtz's point about Obama coverage?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    In the WaPo he's got a big piece today about how the press has gone overboard covering the Obama victory. Kurtz seems unnerved by the excitement that the win has caused and suggests journalism guidelines have been violated in the process.

    His examples though, seem pretty thin. For instance, Kurtz points some opinion writers who used too many "eye-popping superlatives" to describe the Obama win. But a) They're opinion writers. And b) They backed Obama, so their excitement and lofty rhetoric shouldn't surprise anyone.

    Kurtz also seems gravely concerned by these instances of Obama coverage:

    "The Obamas' New Life!" blares People's cover, with a shot of the family. "New home, new friends, new puppy!" Us Weekly goes with a Barack quote: "I Think I'm a Pretty Cool Dad." The Chicago Tribune trumpets that Michelle "is poised to be the new Oprah and the next Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis -- combined!" for the fashion world.

    There's absolutely nothing wrong, or even exceptional, with any of those examples. The Obamas have clearly crossed over into the world of pop culture and the media reflect that. So what.

    In terms of actual news reporting, Kurtz can't, or doesn't, cite any example of the press pulling its punches for Obama. On that key front, all Kurtz can do is speculate.

    But what happens when adulation gives way to the messy, incremental process of governing? When Obama has to confront a deep-rooted financial crisis, two wars and a political system whose default setting is gridlock? When he makes decisions that inevitably disappoint some of his boosters?

    Howie, when you find example of the press actually doing something wrong, of not doing its job, or becoming lapdogs for the new Obama administration, be sure to let us know.

  • Reporting done right.

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Our former colleague Dennis Yedwab has long insisted that sports reporting is significantly better -- or at least more accurate -- than political reporting. Here's some anecdotal evidence in his favor, courtesy of Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight:

    I have written for perhaps a dozen major publications over the span of my career, and the one with the most thorough fact-checking process is by some margin Sports Illustrated. Although this is an indication of the respect with which SI accords its brand, it does not speak so well of the mainstream political media that you are more likely to see an unverified claim repeated on the evening news than you are to see in the pages of your favorite sports periodical.

  • Why did Sunday talk shows this week revolve around the GOP's future?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    It struck us as very odd. Twelve days after Democrats posted big election gains, one of the themes on almost every Sunday talk show this week was, how does the GOP recover; how does it map out a new future? The topic actually seemed to overshadow the rather obvious, and more newsworthy, issue of the emerging Obama administration.

    Specifically, we were struck by the appearance of Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota on Fox News Sunday, and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana on Face the Nation. Both are Republicans, both were reportedly on John McCain's VP short list, and both have already been mentioned as possible GOP players for the 2012 contest. Meaning, both were invited because they're considered overtly political players with presidential aspirations.

    Throw in Newt Gingrich (Face the Nation) and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (This Week) into the mix, and it was like one big bull session for Republicans. (This Week's topic: "Reviving the GOP.")

    Why is the Beltway press right now so worried about the state of the GOP? And when the Dems were on the outside looking in, did the media ever show this kind of concern?

    UPDATE: What Amato said.

  • Solving liberal bias in the media

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    It's really quite simple and we were reminded of it today after reading WaPo ombudsman Deborah Howell's hand-wringing column, in which she frets about conservative complaints about liberal bias. Howell lists some rather comical examples of allegedly biased Post campaign stories that drew conservative complaints. (And no, Howell never ponders for a moment that the conservative complaints about bias might part of a political campaign that the GOP has been waging against the press for four decades.)

    But anyway, Howell is deeply troubled and quotes Tom Rosenstiel, who directs the Project for Excellence in Journalism. He agreed with Howell that the conservative complaints were troubling:

    "The perception of liberal bias is a problem by itself for the news media. It's not okay to dismiss it. Conservatives who think the press is deliberately trying to help Democrats are wrong. But conservatives are right that journalism has too many liberals and not enough conservatives. It's inconceivable that that is irrelevant."

    You can see where this is going, right? "More conservatives in newsrooms" would help, Howell writes. And then this:

    Editors hire not on the basis of beliefs but on talent in reporting, photography and editing, and hiring is at a standstill because of the economy. But newspapers have hired more minorities and women, so it can be done.

    Rosenstiel said, "There should be more intellectual diversity among journalists. More conservatives in newsrooms will bring about better journalism."

    To that, our response is simple: Who's stopping conservatives from being hired in newsrooms? Honestly. If Newsbusters can document how scores of qualified College Republican grads were passed over by local newspapers to poorly paying jobs to cover local zoning commission jobs simply because the applicants were conservative, we'd love to hear about it. Because right now there's nothing stopping young conservatives from joining newsrooms and working their way up from the bottom just like everybody else in media does. They just don't want to do it.

    Put another way, If newsrooms tilt so tragically to the left, why don't conservatives try to get jobs in newsrooms? Why don't they jump at the chance to become poorly paid reporters in a dying industry? The answer: Conservatives would rather be partisan pundits and complain about the press and hope that people like Howell blame journalism.

  • Why can't MoDo quit the Clintons?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Leave it to Maureen Dowd to perfectly capture everything that's wrong with opinion journalism today. In a way, her Sunday Clinton-hating column (she's really expanding her repertoire) does everybody involved a favor because she unintentionally pulls back the curtain and reveals what's eating away at portions of the Beltway press: Clinton Derangement Syndrome. More on that later.

    First, let's just note that it's been less than 72 hours since reports first surfaced that the new Obama administration could include Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and within those 72 hours the press, and especially the pundit class, has managed to embarrass itself multiple times.

    My hunch is that the emotional, and often irrational response, is because some in the press are furious that Clinton has not been sufficiently vanquished and humiliated in the wake of Obama's victory. For many in the press, that seemed to be the whole point of the election cycle.

    Here, for me, is the key Dowd passage. Once you get past the stunning misogyny at the top of the column (i.e. Clinton felt "entitled" to run for U.S. Senate and for president because her husband cheated on her), you come to the source of Dowd's complaint:

    There are Obama aides and supporters who are upset that The One who won on change has ushered in déjà vu all over again. The man who vowed to deliver us from 28 years of Bushes and Clintons has been stocking up on Clintonites.

    Think back to the campaign and try to recall a single instance during his 20-plus months on the trail when Barack Obama ever promised to rid the country of the Clintons. I remember plenty of references from Obama about doing away with the failures of Bush. But Clinton? I can't recall a single example and my guess is that's because that's not how Obama felt. I never got the sense that his candidacy was driven by animosity towards the Clintons. (Indeed, he's been tapping scores of former Clinton aides for jobs in his new administration.)

    I think it's inconceivable to suggest that Obama ran for president because he wanted to rid the country of Clintons. But the pundits? Based on Dowd's writings, that's absolutely how they interpreted Obama's campaign and they simply attached their Clinton hatred onto his candidacy. And now, some in the press are furious that Obama's non-existent promise has been broken. They're furious that Obama has made clear, yet again, that he respects and admires Hillary Clinton. They're beside themselves that Clinton may soon be viewed as a very important player on the national and international stage. They can't stand the idea of her succeeding.

    And that is the working definition of Clinton Derangement Syndrome.