I'm sure the Journal's editor Robert Thomson, who was recently brought in by Rupert Murdoch to run the newspaper, has no idea the history in play here, but it was supremely ironic that in a statement on Monday he whined about how New York Times editor Bill Keller last year " personally and at length to a prize committee casting aspersions on Journal journalists and journalism."
In Thomson's eyes, Keller's actions were just beyond the pale. What kind of journalists would bad mouth fellow journalists who were up for big awards? (In this case it was for a George Polk Awards in Journalism.) What kind of journalists would try to debunk articles that were being considered for a top journalism prize?
Journalists who work for the Wall Street Journal, that's who.
The headline from a Salon article I wrote in 2002 [emphasis added]:
The Wall Street Journal's smear campaign: The paper's Op-Ed pages have long been a platform for political assassination. But their latest target is a rival paper that is competing for a Pulitzer Prize.
Behold the hypocrisy of the Journal's top editor now whining about Keller's supposed meddling:
At 3 o'clock on Monday afternoon the sounds of champagne bottles popping open will be heard in a select number of newsrooms across the country as the winners of the newspaper industry's most prestigious award, the Pulitzer Prize, are officially announced. While the list of finalists is supposed to remain secret until the winners are declared, word always leaks out in advance. This year is no exception; among the reported Pulitzer finalists in the investigative reporting category is "Uninformed Consent," a six-part series that ran in the Seattle Times during March 2001.
The report, written by Duff Wilson and David Heath, alleged that during the 1980s a number of patients at Seattle's prestigious Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle (aka the Hutch) died while undergoing experimental bone-marrow transplantation, and that patients were not informed of the clinical trials' risks or of the center's financial interest in those treatments. The series was years in the making and was based on an exhaustive review of 10,000 pages of documents as well as 100 interviews, and was overseen by an independent expert in bone-marrow medicine who reviewed it for accuracy. "Uninformed Consent" has already picked up scores of elite journalism prizes in the past few months, including a George Polk Award, a Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting presented by Harvard's Shorenstein Center, and the Newspaper Guild's Heywood Broun Award.
Up until three weeks ago the series seemed to be a Pulitzer front-runner as well. But that changed on March 19, when Laura Landro, an assistant managing editor for the Wall Street Journal, penned a blunt critique of "Uninformed Consent" for the Journal's Op-Ed page. Titled "Good Medicine, Bad Journalism," the piece complained that the Seattle Times series was guilty of "gotcha" journalism and that the series' central allegation was "fundamentally false."
And yes, BTW. Landro managed to derail the Seattle Times' Pulitzer. And yes, Landro's critique was largely bogus.
UPDATED: Note this fact as well:
Even more startling was the fact that the broadside came an entire year after the Seattle Times series ran, but just weeks before the Pulitzer's 16 judges would make their final decisions. The Journal column appeared to be an unprecedented attempt to step in and derail a Pulitzer finalist.
Does WSJ editor Thomson want to rethink his attack on Bill Keller?
UPDATED: As the NYObserver reports, it turns out Keller wrote a letter to the Polk committee after the Journal had won its award. Back in 2002 though, the Journal torpedoed a competitor's Pulitzer before the judges made their pick.
From a December 15 post by The Jawa Report's Rusty, headlined "Media Matters Now Defending Kiddie Porn:
Look, we're no prudes around here. We like hot lesbian teacher posts as much as any one. But I've read some of the stuff being recommended by Kevin Jennings and it's the kind of reading that would make a sailor blush. No, more than that. The sailor would first blush, then take you out back and kick your ass. Then he'd kick it again just for safe measure.
Any one defending Jennings after actually bothering to read what his organization recommends deserves that same ass kicking.
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 December 15 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
Perhaps we've been going about this the wrong way.
Every time a conservative pops off about how climate change is a big hoax and amounts to nothing but a huge conspiracy to blah, blah, blah, the standard response has been to point to all the reams of technical data and in-depth peer-reviewed studies that have accumulated over the decades showing that the globe is warming and that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are largely responsible.
And, of course, it never works. No amount of detailed scientific data on climate change seems to convince them otherwise. And that's always been a bit of a mystery. At least, it was a mystery until I read NewsBusters this afternoon and saw this headline: "Journalists Freeze Waiting To Get Into Global Warming Conference." Without even the faintest glimmer of knowing irony, NewsBuster Noel Sheppard wrote:
A group of journalists stood for many hours in near-freezing temperatures Monday waiting to get into the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen.
Marvelously among them was Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein who regularly reports on the dire consequences of -- wait for it! -- global warming.
You see, Noel Sheppard thinks that the fact that it's cold in Scandinavia in mid-December means there's no global warming ...
And then it dawned on me. There's a reason all the technical climate science data does nothing to convince conservatives like Noel Sheppard that climate change is real -- because they're too abysmally thick to grasp even the basic idea of latitude.
OK, perhaps it's not fair to call someone "abysmally thick" based on one stupid thing they wrote -- you'd have to look at the entirety of their published works to make such a decision. And that's also the reason why it's stupid to say that a cold day in Copenhagen means there is no global warming. Climate science is the study of how the global climate changes over long periods of time, not the temperature on a given day in one Nordic capital. A cold day in Copenhagen proves nothing one way or the other, nor does the record-high temperature that was set 12 days ago in Albany, New York.
I always knew that for a real debate on climate change to be possible, some basic scientific literacy was necessary. But I never imagined it would have to be as basic as "it's supposed to be cold in Scandinavia."
If not, why did ABC News and the Washington Post spend money to measure Woods' personal approval rating?
The sex scandal surrounding golfer Tiger Woods has sent his personal popularity into a tailspin, with the number of Americans who see him favorably diving to half of what it was a few years ago.
Eighty-five percent of Americans expressed a favorable opinion of Woods in a Gallup poll in 2005. That fell to 60 percent in a CNN poll as the scandal erupted earlier this month. Now it's down to 42 percent in an ABC News/Washington Post poll completed last night; about as many people, 43 percent, now see him unfavorably.
What's next, ABC/WashPost polls on movie stars?
On Fox & Friends this morning, Glenn Beck argued against regulating banks by comparing such regulations to NASCAR's efforts to increase driver safety following Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash at Daytona 500 speedway in 2001. Beck said: "Look, when Dale Earnhardt had a crash, they changed all the cars to make it safer for [the drivers]. Car crashes in NASCAR went up. OK?" He then claimed that "NFL injuries for head and neck injuries" are "higher than rugby," even though NFL athletes wear helmets. Beck's point was that "the safer you make something, the more the players, the bigger the risk they take." Despite the fact that, by his own analogy, Beck appears to be arguing that NASCAR shouldn't have increased safety standards so that the drivers (like bankers) could "feel the consequence of their own action," he's also flat out wrong in his suggestion that the improvement in safety standards for NASCAR has done nothing to improve safety. In fact, it is undeniable that the safety improvements NASCAR implemented following Earnhardt's tragic death have saved lives. Yes, the NASCAR drivers still have accidents, but the drivers are now walking away from accidents where they would have once likely sustained life-threatening injuries.
NASCAR has made dramatic safety improvements in the years since Earnhardt's 2001 death. For instance, within months of Earnhardt's death, NASCAR began mandating the use of the Head and Neck Support (HANS) device, which was created to help stabilize a driver's head and neck in the event of a crash, thus preventing fatalities such as Earnhardt's. As Popular Mechanics reports, "the weakest link in a crash is the one between the driver's head and his body. In a wreck, inertia (the tendency of mass to continue moving at a sustained velocity) keeps the body moving forward in the car. The driver's safety harness (a six-point system of lap and shoulder belts) first stops the pelvis and torso. Unrestrained, the head continues to move forward. Once the neck has extended as far as it can, continued forward momentum causes the fragile bottom of the skull to crack, killing the driver almost instantly. The Head and Neck Support, or HANS, device was created to help eliminate such fatalities." The official cause of Earnhardt's death was reported to be from a basilar skull fracture which occurred during the crash.
Other safety changes that have been implemented following Earnhardt's death include the switch to Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) track wall barriers and the creation of the "Car of Tomorrow" -sometimes referred to as the "Car of Today"-- which boasted increased safety features. These improvements, some of which were in development prior to Earnhardt's death, have been credited in avoiding tragedy resulting from crashes at countless NASCAR races since 2002. NASCAR has not had a single fatality in any of its top three series since Earnhardt's death. Comparatively, Earnhardt's 2001 death was the fourth fatality from a NASCAR crash in 18 months. Each of the four drivers died of from a basilar skull fracture.
It's hard to figure out what Beck was thinking when he compared the banking industry to NASCAR. Is he arguing that NASCAR shouldn't have improved its safety standards because it would have resulted in less crashes overall, but more with deadly consequences? The only thing that seems clear from this analogy is that in his attempts to describe his libertarian theories of deregulation in terms he thinks the common man would understand has left him grasping at straws.
Prompted by Media Matters, the Los Angeles Times posted this correction at Andrew Malcolm's blog:
FOR THE RECORD:
A Top of the Ticket post Tuesday on the relative popularity of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama erred in stating in the text and the headline that there was a Palin-Obama gap of 1 point. Two separate polls were cited, as the post notes, so the findings are not directly comparable.
In yesterday's column about the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times' David Carr noted some ways in which the paper's coverage has leaned to the right since Rupert Murdoch took over:
Reporters say the coverage of the Obama administration is reflexively critical, the health care debate is generally framed in terms of costs rather than benefits - "health care reform" is a generally forbidden phrase - and global warming skeptics have gotten a steady ride.
As I noted yesterday, that's a tendency that is common to media not owned by Rupert Murdoch, too.
The Washington Post's Ezra Klein provided a much fuller explanation of this concept in a bog post yesterday yesterday morning:
By now, you're probably used to hearing about the $900 billion health-care bill. But what about the 150,000-life health-care bill?
Oddly, that label hasn't made its way into the conversation. But it is, if anything, a conservative estimate.
We're very comfortable talking about the financial cost of health-care reform. We're less comfortable talking about the human benefits.
But we don't like to talk about it that way. Occasionally, people justify this methodologically: It's too hard, they say, to know exactly how many people die because they don't have access to health insurance. But projecting the cost of the bill is no easier, or more certain, and yet we use those numbers with impunity.
In reality, people don't like to talk about health-care reform in terms of lives because it seems, on some level, unfair. It sounds almost like an accusation of murder. That's common rhetoric when talking about wars but not social policy.
But it isn't an accusation of murder. It's a statement of benefits. And there are iterations in which the costs could outweigh the benefits: The money could do much more good elsewhere, say, or the regulations would thoroughly impede medical innovation. That's an argument worth having, but it should be had. As it is, we talk about the costs in very specific terms and the benefits in very abstract terms. That biases the discussion toward the opposition and against, well, the 150,000 or so people whose lives would be saved by by this bill.
That is exactly right, and it applies to far more than health care. And it's why the reaction from some quarters to another Klein post, in which he described Joe Lieberman's willingness to kill health care reform as "caus[ing] the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people," was so predictable.
Klein's Post colleague Charles Lane flipped out, posting a bizarre rant in which he stipulated that health care reform would save lives and stipulated that Lieberman was opposing it out of a desire for revenge, but blew a gasket at Klein's willingness to spell out that opposing reform would cost lives. Lane's conclusion -- that Lieberman is opposing reform out of spite, even though reform would save lives, but that Klein is the one whose actions are "beyond the pale," because he said what Lieberman is doing -- demonstrates just how uncomfortable many journalists are talking about the effects of legislation.
And then Martin Peretz of The New Republic weighed in. Note that Peretz didn't really address the substance of anything; he just sputtered on about how rude Klein was to his longtime associate Joe Lieberman, as his longtime associate Charles Lane had argued.
See, it's fine for politicians -- and media figures -- to point to the negative consequences of legislation when those consequences are higher taxes on the rich, or deficits. You see dire warnings of these things all the time, and nobody bats an eye. But when you warn of other consequences -- lives lost, for example -- that's "beyond the pale." (And no, Charles Lane, this is not just like "Death Panels." Death panels don't exist. People dying without health care do.)
That, as Klein noted, biases the discussion towards those who dislike taxes and social programs.
Andrew Breitbart, the Matt Drudge protégé and Internet entrepreneur behind BigGoverment, BigHollywood, and Breitbart.tv -- with other sites in the works -- is trying to position himself as the avant-garde leader of conservative media. In reality, Breitbart is nothing new. He's merely the latest right-wing activist to digitize the conservative media machine that has held such sway in America for decades. As such, his work contributes not to the evolution of journalism, but to its dissolution.
And yet, Breitbart has styled himself as a journalistic savior, as someone willing to ask the tough questions and report what the mainstream media supposedly hide due to their allegiance to the political left. He recently explained the thinking behind one of his upcoming online ventures, BigJournalism, in the following way: "Our goal at Big Journalism is to hold the mainstream media's feet to the fire. There are a lot of stories that they simply don't cover, either because it doesn't fit their world view, or because they're literally innocent of any knowledge that the story even exists, or because they are a dying organization, short-staffed, and thus can't cover stuff like they did before."
But what kind of journalistic world would Breitbart really like to create? It wouldn't be a more accountable or accurate one. It would instead be a world of pure partisanship, one largely devoid of any meaningful journalistic standards at all -- or, for that matter, standards of decency.
On December 10, Mediaite, the online news-industry aggregator, published an interview with Breitbart in which he railed against "the Democratic-media complex," adding that his current and future initiatives would "fight the mainstream media -- New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, and CNN -- who have repeatedly, and under the guise of objectivity and political neutrality, promoted a blatantly left-of-center, pro-Democratic party agenda." Two days later, Politico ran another profile of Breitbart, interpreting him as possessing "an interest in fighting the cultural wars that he feels the left has been winning for 40 years." (In that interview, he also emphasized his particular antipathy toward Media Matters. "I'm 100 percent at war with those people," he was quoted as saying.)
Such rhetoric should not be overlooked. As Eric Boehlert recently explained, conservative activists like Breitbart aren't interested in actual journalism. Nor is he against media bias. To the contrary: He is media bias. Everything Breitbart touches is unapologetically imbued with his world view -- one which is defined by a combination of right-wing pseudo-populism and old-line nativism. His content is geared toward, in his words, "a largely underserved audience who fiercely believe in free markets and don't think Western Civilization sucks." Just to eliminate any ambiguity, Breitbart has said his viewers and readers are "Tea Party-esque." In spite of this, he pretends, as do most conservative media figures, that he speaks for the people. "If we aren't 50% of the country," he told Mediaite, "we are damn near close," the same kind of baseless inflation Glenn Beck traffics in.
With such clear conservative credentials, Breitbart's work is all too predictable. He is concerned almost exclusively with smearing and attacking individuals and organizations associated with Democrats or progressives. As is the case with such ventures, facts and standards of evidence are unimportant. The ACORN "scandal" was case in point, as Breitbart trumpeted undercover footage of low-level ACORN employees as unimpeachable evidence that the entire organization was systemically corrupt. As I wrote at the time, it was literally the opposite of the way in which an actual journalistic investigation takes place. No attempt was made to demonstrate that the offending employees represented the norm. Hannah Giles, James O'Keefe, and Breitbart himself all claimed that Giles and O'Keefe had never been turned away from an ACORN office -- a lie twice over. And of course, ACORN never actually helped O'Keefe or Giles carry out their proposed crimes. Breitbart offered no evidence that the verbal assistance they received would have translated into any actual action.
No organization or individual should be above legitimate criticism. But the key word is legitimate. Breitbart's assault on ACORN was a partisan hit-job, and it accomplished its goal, helping to convince 52 percent of GOP voters that the group "stole" the 2008 presidential election. (Mediaite's Colby Hall described the attack as "arguably one of the biggest stories of the year." It was, but Mr. Hall should have noted that ACORN wasn't the real story -- Breitbart and his tactics were.)
Breitbart's latest fixation is Department of Education official Kevin Jennings. Jennings already suffered an initial round of right-wing attacks several months ago, when he was accused of having failed to report, and to even having encouraged, the statutory rape of a high school student -- a lie Media Matters conclusively debunked, first by revealing that the student in question (named Brewster) was at least 16 years old at the time of the supposed incident, and then obtaining a statement from Brewster in which he dismissed the entire story and praised Jennings. And that was just the beginning. Jennings was soon compared to Roman Polanski, was called an advocate for NAMBLA, and accused of "indoctrinat[ing]" schoolchildren about homosexuality."
And the right won't stop. Jennings is back in the news -- and this time, Breitbart is leading the charge. BigGovernment has published an endless number of vulgar articles accusing Jennings of having known in advance about the content of a seminar in which two Massachusetts Department of Education employees engaged in an explicit discussion of sexual practices with a teen audience. But Jennings didn't know, and it turns out that the "evidence" to back up the claim is from MassResistance, an anti-gay organization that has been labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Despite that, Breitbart is all too happy to do the bidding of the right's homophobic attack-dogs.
In truth, as far as right-wing ideologues go, Andrew Breitbart is remarkably ordinary. If there is anything that distinguishes him, it's his shocking immaturity and vindictiveness. His Twitter feed is evidence enough of that, the venue where he chooses to post some of his most petty, juvenile, and objectionable invective. He routinely engages in name calling -- for example, Eric Boehlert is "Earache Boehlert," and Media Matters CEO David Brock is "David Brockovich." More recently, he has posted a host of puerile, scatological attacks on Jennings reminiscent of the tantrums of a child desperate for attention.
Despite such an overwhelmingly clear record, some have legitimized Breitbart's websites as nothing more than a response to The Huffington Post, which ironically, he helped found. Is Breitbart simply a conservative media entrepreneur hoping to emulate the success of progressive news and opinion sites? Hardly -- it's a classic case of false equivalency. While The Huffington Post is undeniably a forum for progressive bloggers and commentators, it has also made a serious investment in real journalism, having founded The Huffington Post Investigative Fund earlier this year. The Fund is staffed by seasoned journalists with long track records. Compare that to Breitbart's BigGovernment, a website deriving its content from a string of Republican Party officials and right-wing activists. To cite but one example: Jim Hoft, the BigGovernment writer currently spearheading the Kevin Jennings assault, is also the man behind Gateway Pundit, a conservative blog as unconcerned with accuracy as Breitbart himself.
As Andrew Breitbart works to build the kind of online media brand that Matt Drudge did years ago, all serious journalists owe it to themselves, and to their profession, to remember who he really is: a far-right activist devoid of integrity. He has no respect for actual journalism, seeking to turn the field into a province defined solely by partisanship and politically potent smears. Any reporter who cares about their craft should recognize that at his core, Breitbart would be all too happy to see them out of a job.