Last Friday, reportedly in response to Joe Scarborough criticizing Keith Olbermann via Twitter, MSNBC president Phil Griffin issued an edict to staff:
We have many strong personalities with differing, passionate opinions, but it is important to remember that we are all on the same team. I want to reiterate my long-standing policy: We do not publicly criticize our colleagues. This kind of behavior is unprofessional and will not be tolerated.
I couldn't agree less.
When journalists think other journalists are doing their jobs badly, it is not only acceptable for them to say so, it is important for them to do so. The reluctance to do so contributes to mindless pack journalism, often with disastrous consequences.
Think how different things might have been if New York Times reporters said publicly during the 2000 campaign that their colleagues were treating Al Gore far more harshly than George W. Bush. Or if they had said publicly during the run-up to the Iraq war that Judith Miller and others at the paper were cheerleading on behalf of a bogus case for war. Or if Washington Post reporters had publicly said Ceci Connolly's factual inaccuracy and overt hostility towards Al Gore should disqualify her from continuing to cover him. Such criticism might have made atrocious coverage a little better. It couldn't possibly have made it worse.
Unfortunately, journalists tend to be reluctant to publicly criticize their peers -- including journalists at competing news organizations -- even without edicts like Griffin's.
As president of MSNBC, Phil Griffin has a brand to protect, so it is understandable that he doesn't like seeing people on his payroll undermine the brand by criticizing other people on his payroll. But a key part of a news organization's job is (or should be) the relentless and accurate pursuit of the truth. Stifling disagreement makes that pursuit less likely, and less likely to be executed well. And that isn't good for the brand, either.
Not a good day for Andrew Breitbart.
As his hand-groomed protégé, undercover ACORN video auteur James O'Keefe, sat in a Louisiana police station under arrest for attempting to tamper with a U.S. senator's telephone system, Breitbart's media empire went into lockdown, issuing only a terse statement denying any knowledge of O'Keefe's activities. This morning, however, Breitbart broke the silence, posting a missive to BigGovernment.com announcing that he, Andrew Breitbart, was going to "[w]ait until the facts are in" before "jumping to conclusions" like Media Matters and everyone else in the media.
Imagine that -- Andrew Breitbart chastising the world for passing judgment before the facts are in.
Sort of like when Breitbart used O'Keefe's deceptively edited videos to issue broad condemnations of ACORN's willingness to aid in child prostitution, even though later investigations found that ACORN had done nothing to violate the law or eligibility for federal funding.
Or like when BigGovernment.com attacked the White House for playing host to ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis, only to find out later that it was a different Bertha Lewis.
Or like when Breitbart worked with a private detective who rooted through ACORN's trash, and then told the world that ACORN had conducted a "document dump" in advance of an investigation, even though the "documents" turned out to be mainly fliers and old newsletters.
Or how about when that same private detective, in the course of investigating the "document dump," posted a video on BigGovernment.com of "ACORN operatives clearly engaged in some kind of discussion - likely related to the activities of that evening." Some solid factual grounding there.
And who can forget the "political statements" the Obamas made with their Maoist Christmas tree ornaments? Turns out those were decorated by local community groups, and the image of Mao on one of the ornaments was actually a reprint of Andy Warhol's paintings mocking the Chinese dictator.
Oh, and the time that Breitbart posted a video claiming that a group of community organizers were "praying" to Obama, and later had to walk it back because he didn't have any -- what's the word I'm looking for... ah yes, facts.
So by all means, Andrew, wait as long as you like before commenting on the alleged illegal activities of your employee and star pupil. Both you and he are still entitled to a fair hearing of the facts, even if you rarely extend that courtesy to others.
"I get accused of breaking some journalism school rules," said Breitbart. "Well, why don't we have the Howard Kurtz conversation on a low-rated CNN show after this? Or at a J-school of your choice? I'm willing to be accused of being a monster."
Newsbuster Scott Whitlock reminds us once again that the reason conservatives don't like the media is simply that reporters aren't on the payroll of the Republican Party:
ABC's George Stephanopoulos Frets to McCain: Tax Cuts Will 'Increase the Deficit'
Tue, 01/26/2010 - 11:00 ET
Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos played defense for the White House on Tuesday. While talking with John McCain about Obama's 2010 proposals, he sounded annoyed that the Senator's ideas for job creation would include tax cuts: "But, those tax cuts are going to increase the deficit, aren't they, sir?"
Now, here's the actual exchange in question:
MCCAIN: Tax cuts. Payroll tax cuts. Giving more tax incentives and breaks to small businesses. Making sure that we do not raise taxes, which may happen if the present tax cuts lapse. There's a lot of things that we can do to- including, by the way, a path to some kind of fiscal sanity. Another $1.4 trillion-
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, those tax cuts are going to increase the deficit, aren't they, sir?
So, in a span of three sentences, John McCain called for both "tax cuts" and "fiscal sanity." Stephanopoulos asked the most obvious follow-up question in the world -- won't those tax cuts increase the deficit? And Newsbuster Scott Whitlock thinks this is Stephanopoulos "fret[ting]" and "play[ing] defense for the White House."
In response to McCain making two seemingly contradictory statements, Stephanopoulos did the only responsible thing a journalist could do -- he pressed his guest to reconcile those statements. And that bothers the Newsbusters crew. This is what they mean when they rant about the "liberal media": Journalists sometimes fail to ask "how high" when told by Republicans to jump.
In an interview with right-wing talker Hugh Hewitt that was supposed to double as damage control, Andrew Breitbart may have done more harm that good.
Notice this passage [emphasis added]:
This is a highly motivated press right now to take the story line that's being spoon-fed by people that I don't even know, to make sure that he's guilty. And he's going to have to prove himself innocent.
Why does Breitbart assume O'Keefe has to "prove himself innocent." According to the FBI, O'Keefe confessed to the plot.
From today's WSJ:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Mr. O'Keefe, who had traveled to New Orleans and delivered a speech Thursday, admitted to helping plan and coordinate the scheme.
Of course nobody has been convicted. But shouldn't Breitbart be pondering the possibility that his protégé O'Keefe broke the law in pursuit of "conservative journalism"? And if he did, will Breitbart pledge today to cut his financial ties with O'Keefe?
UPDATED: Note that yesterday Breitbart told real journalists that he didn't' have enough information to comment on the O'Keefe arrest. So what did he do? He went on Hewitt's show and commented on O'Keefe's arrest. More proof of Breitbart's open contempt for journalism. And yes, he runs a site that supposedly holds journalists "accountable."
UPDATED: More unintended laughs, courtesy of Breitbart. From the same (totally awesome) Hewitt interview:
So right now, what we have is information that is coming from the mainstream press that is presuming James O'Keefe's guilt. This is a highly motivated press right now to take the story line that's being spoon-fed by people that I don't even know, to make sure that he's guilty.
Ah, it's a conspiracy. "Spoon-fed"? You mean like when people are arrested, arraigned in court, and then the FBI publicly release an affidavit. Getting that story is called journalism, not that Breitbart would ever recognize it.
That's his job.
UPDATED: So according to Breitbart, he's waiting for all the facts surrounding the O'Keefe case. But yesterday Breitbart, not knowing all the facts, went on Hewitt's show and stressed that O'Keefe had to "prove himself innocent."
Good to know.
UPDATED: When in doubt, Breitbart tweets about "fisting."
Behold "conservative journalism."
From Erick Erickson's Twitter feed:
From the January 27 New York Post:
Whose side is the Justice Department on: America's -- or the terrorists'?
It's just insane that a lawyer who defended Osama bin Laden's driver and bodyguard -- and who sought constitutional rights for terrorists -- could be one of the Obama administration's top legal officials.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are hopping mad about the situation -- and rightly so. Months ago, Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Grassley asked Attorney General Eric Holder to disclose who in the administration had previously represented or agitated for alleged terrorists.
The AG's reply?
"I will consider that request."
Holder must be thinking long and hard -- because committee members have yet to receive a response.
Meanwhile, they've started asking other questions of Justice -- like who came up with the brilliant idea to Mirandize undie-bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, limiting the amount of intelligence he might provide about al Qaeda and future attacks.
With high-profile terror cases coming up -- like Abdulmutallab's, and the outrageous Khalid Sheik Mohammed trial in New York -- Americans need to know: Is our government putting in a good-faith effort when it comes to punishing the men who want to blow up our people?
The call to treat terrorists like civilians in court has been all Team Obama.
Which means the president and his administration also owe the American people an answer: Is the government's prosecutorial deck stacked in favor of the terrorists?
A Justice Department spokesman, Dean Boyd, tells The Post that the department will be responding to Sen. Grassley's request "very soon."
Will it be soon enough?
It's time for Holder and Justice to come clean.
From Hoft's January 26 Gateway Pundit blog post:
The Obama supporting ACORN organization was caught in several lies last year when James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles released tapes exposing ACORN employees promoting child prostitution of illegal aliens.
O'Keefe has not been convicted of any crimes but was arrested yesterday in New Orleans with three other associates after visiting Senator Mary Landrieu's office.
Andrew Breitbart discussed the arrest today with Hugh Hewitt.
UPDATE: James O'Keefe tweeted this a couple of hours ago:
Let's hope so.
On March 1 of last year, Washington Post Ombudsman Andy Alexander began his weekly column in the Post stating that "Opinion columnists are free to choose whatever facts bolster their arguments. But they aren't free to distort them." He was absolutely right.
It is unfortunate that Alexander cannot hold opinion columnists accountable when they do distort the facts. He told me as much on the phone yesterday.
Let me back up.
Alexander made his comment that opinion columnists "aren't free to distort facts" response to widespread criticism from Media Matters and others of the Post for allowing George Will to suggest that data from an Arctic research group undermined the overwhelming scientific consensus on human-caused global warming -- a claim that the group itself debunked. Alexander acknowledged that "readers would have been better served if Post editors, and the new ombudsman, had more quickly addressed the claims of falsehoods."
In the time since Alexander's response, Will has on four additional occasions misled Post readers about the scientific basis for the existence of global warming -- most recently this past Saturday when he wrote that the "menace of global warming" is "elusive" and claimed that an acknowledged error about Himalayan glaciers in a report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) constituted "another dollop of evidence of the seepage of dubious science into policy debate." But scientists have routinely presented strong evidence of long-term global warming and its consequences, including evidence of "widespread mass loss from glaciers." Just this month, major meteorological organizations throughout the world -- including NASA -- released reports showing that the past decade, 2000-2009, was the warmest on record.
Alexander assured readers in March that Will's column undergoes "fact-checking at multiple levels." Based on the number of errors since, that system clearly is not working.
I decided to raise the issue with Alexander. Either the Post needed to guarantee a more rigorous fact-checking of Will's column or the columnist should no longer be allowed to opine on climate change. His track record of global warming falsehoods have damaged the public debate on this important issue for far too long.
Considering his March 1 column, I believed this issue would be well within the purview of the paper's ombudsman. But, according to my phone conversation with Alexander yesterday morning, that is simply not the case. He informed me he is the "reader representative for news coverage," pointing out that this was reflected on page 2 of the Post's print edition which states, "Ombudsman (reader representative for news coverage)."
Some readers mistakenly think that the ombudsman can force change on The Post, its editorial policy or what columnists write. My job is not to tell the editorial board what to write, and I wouldn't presume to tell David S. Broder what to say about politics. Columnists own their space. If they make a mistake, let me know, but the opinions are theirs alone.
So, let me get this straight. If a reader finds a "mistake" in an opinion column, they can alert the ombudsman. The ombudsman just can't do anything about it. Perhaps that explains why, with the exception of Alexander's March 1 column, George Will's multiple errors on the topic of climate change have gone unaddressed.
A newspaper's editorial page is clearly different from its news pages and Howell is correct: It is not the job of the ombudsman to dictate columnist's opinions. But Alexander was also correct when he wrote that columnists should not be free to distort the facts in order to support those opinions. After all, errors in opinion columns are just as much a reflection on a newspaper's journalistic integrity as errors in news articles.
If the Post's policy dictates that the Ombudsman serves as the "reader representative" for pages A1-A13, then who is looking out for us on pages 14-15? Considering Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt in the past has refused to respond to inquires or run corrections to Will's errors, the answer is no one.
TPM's Justin Elliott reports:
Three of the four young men charged in the alleged bugging attempt at Sen. Mary Landrieu's New Orleans office Monday were involved in the well-funded, opportunity-rich world of conservative campus journalism in recent years, a link that provides potential clues about how the men knew each other and why they came to hatch the alleged plot.
James O'Keefe, Joseph Basel, and Stan Dai each founded or lead the alternative conservative newspapers on their respective college campuses.
After graduating, O'Keefe, the filmmaker behind the ACORN stings, actually worked for a year as a recruiter for the Leadership Institute, one of a handful of conservative organizations that provide seed money to students who want to launch alternative newspapers.
Our first case is Stan Dai, who served as the editor-in-chief of the GW Patriot at George Washington University. Dai was also a Club 100 Activist of Young America's Foundation, and an Undergraduate Fellow on Terrorism of the Foundation for the Defense of the Democracies, according to a scholarship citation at the conservative Philips Foundation (h/t Lindsay Beyerstein).
Both O'Keefe and Basel seem to have gotten their start in the conservative college press with a little bit of help from the Leadership Institute, the group that aims to recruit and train conservative activists.
In an interview with the two men posted Jan. 14 on the Leadership Institute's CampusReform.org, it's noted that O'Keefe founded The Centurion at Rutgers and Basel launched The Counterweight at the University of Minnesota-Morris. Both "were started with assistance from the Leadership Institute's 'Balance in Media' grant."
Leadership Institute Vice President David Fenner confirmed to TPMmuckraker that O'Keefe received $500 from the Leadership Institute to start the Centurion, but couldn't confirm any details of Basel or Dai's possible Leadership Institute backing.
It is possible, however, that O'Keefe met Dai or Basel through his work with the Leadership Institute.
For about a year around 2007, O'Keefe was an employee of the Leadership Institute, Fenner confirmed. His job was to visit college campuses to recruit and train conservative activists who might want to start publications on their own campuses.
"I have no idea if [O'Keefe] met [Basel] through the training," Fenner said. "There's obviously a high likelihood. Only Basel could tell us that."
Read Elliott's entire piece here.