Mediaite has an internal from managing editor Bill Sammon. It's in response to the (shocking!) revelation that at least one member of the Fox News team was whipping up the 9/12 crowd prior to a live report, pretending it was a studio audience. Which, of course, it pretty much was considering Fox News was an unofficial sponsor of the event.
But the video has been a huge embarrassment. (Hey, live by raw video, die by raw video, right?) So Sammon typed up a memo and said all the things that normal journalists would say in this situation. The funny part, of course, is that Fox News no longer practices journalism. Instead, it's transformed itself into the Opposition Party of the Obama White House, so Sammon's supposedly straight-faced pleas for impartiality read more like a clever parody.
I'll simply highlight my favorite phrases from the up-is-down memo. Feel free to chuckle along.
From: Sammon, Bill
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 2:25 PM
To: 005 -Washington
For those of us who have only been at Fox for a relatively short period of time, it's useful to remind ourselves that, as journalists, we must always be careful to cover the story without becoming part of the story. At news events, we're supposed to function as dispassionate observers, not active participants. We are there to chronicle the news, not create it.
That means we ask questions in a fair, impartial manner. When approaching interviewees, we identify ourselves, by both name and news organization, up front. We seek out a variety of voices and views. We take note of the scene in order to bring color and context to our viewers.
We do not cheerlead for one cause or another. We do not rile up a crowd. If a crowd happens to be boisterous when we show it on TV, so be it. If it happens to be quiet, that's fine, too. It's not our job to affect the crowd's behavior one way or the other. Again, we're journalists, not participants — and certainly not performers.
Indeed, any effort to affect the crowd's behavior only serves to undermine our legitimate journalistic role as detached eyewitnesses. Remember, our viewers are counting on us to be honest brokers when it comes to reporting — not altering –the important events of the day. That is nothing less than a sacred trust. We must always take pains to preserve that trust.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please stop by.
Boy, nothing gets by the Post's Charles Hurt, who writes the umpteenth (pointless) article about how Obama, in his first year in office, is giving more press interviews than his predecessors did.
Other than the fact that the topic includes the media itself, why do journalists keep writing up the same story over and over and over? What's the point? Where's the news value?
Hurt also loses points for not including any context in his write-up:
In the New York Times alone, according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, 405 stories on the Obama administration have appeared on the front page through mid-August of this year totaling 119,678 column inches. That's 9,973 column feet of Obama coverage on the Times front page alone.
Of course, those statistics are only interesting, they're only newsworthy, if readers know how they compare to the number of articles the Times produced for previous administrations. Is it triple? Is it the same. Is the number actually less than what the Times published during the first seven month's of Bush's term?
Readers have no idea because all journalists care about is that the president is giving lots of interviews to journalists.
During today's online discussion, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz told a questioner to "Keep in mind the stimulus also included tax cuts, which help the economy as well." That led to this follow-up question-and-answer:
Tax cuts, which help the economy as well.: Oh, you mean like how all those tax cuts Bush gave to the rich? Yep, those really helped the economy Howie.
Howard Kurtz: The argument over tax cuts is always over how large they are (can the economy afford them?) and who gets the benefits (which were tilted toward the affluent during the Bush administration). But there is no dispute among economists that tax cuts stimulate the economy by putting more cash in people's pockets.
What Kurtz doesn't mention is that tax cuts, at least according to economists like former McCain advisor Mark Zandi, are much less effective than government spending when it comes to stimulating the economy.
That's a pretty significant detail. By omitting it, Kurtz makes tax cuts look like much better policy than they are.
I guess this is what Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli is talking about when he says the paper is "not well-enough informed about conservative issues. It's particularly a problem in a town so dominated by Democrats and the Democratic point of view."
Pretty pathetic to watch.
Goldberg writes that it's crazy for anyone to suggest race is part of the right-wing's unhinged--and usually fact-free--opposition to Obama. Nobody on the right has even touched the topic of race. Conservatives are not " hung up on race." They just don't like Obama's policies. Liberals are just making up the race stuff, and it's "ugly" and "egregious."
Of course, the gaping hole in that hollow argument is that Glenn Beck (Goldberg ever heard of him?) went on Fox News this summer and claimed Obama, whose mother was white and who was raised by his white grandparents, hates white people, hates white culture and is a "racist." Worse, Goldberg at the time defended Beck's outrageous and hateful claim.
Now, weeks later Goldberg pretends he can't figure out where these race-based allegations are coming from?
UPDATED: It's almost too dumb for words.
The entire point of Goldberg's new column is to scold liberals for obsessing over race; for hyping a phony topic. For Goldberg, there's nothing worse than claiming your political opponents are pushing the issue of race.
Right. From an August 19, Goldberg column [emphasis added]:
Rather, it is to grasp that the Obama administration has been astoundingly incompetent.
Lashing out at the town hall protesters, playing the race card, whining about angry white men and whispering ominously about right-wing militias is almost always a sign of liberalism's weakness - a failure of the imagination.
Does Goldberg even read his old column before flip-flopping like that?
From the Fox Nation, accessed on September 21:
Ross Douthat's New York Times column has already drawn some criticism for giving President Bush credit for acting to fix catastrophes he created and for its concluding suggestion that Bush was a good president. But there's another problem: in his desire to defend Bush, Douthat offers a strawman version of one of the central criticisms of Bush:
And if we give Bush credit on these fronts, it's worth reassessing one of the major critiques of his presidency - that it was fatally insulated, by ideology and personality, from both the wisdom of the Washington elite and the desires of the broader public.
In reality, many of the Bush-era ventures that look worst in hindsight were either popular with the public at the time or blessed by the elite consensus. Voters liked the budget-busting tax cuts and entitlement expansions. The Iraq war's cheering section included prominent Democrats and scores of liberal pundits. And save for a few prescient souls, everybody - right and left, on Wall Street and Main Street - was happy to board the real-estate express and ride it off an economic cliff.
I don't really think one of the major critiques of Bush's presidency is that it was "fatally insulated" from "the wisdom of the Washington elite." When is the last time you heard someone say "If only George W. Bush had listened to Tom "Suck on This" Friedman?" Or "Why, oh, why, didn't Bush listen to Richard Cohen's and Jonathan Alter's pleas for torture?"
No: One of the major critiques is that Bush was insulated from opposing viewpoints. And, of course, those opposing viewpoints generally turned out to be correct.
The Washington elite, as Douthat notes, generally went along with Bush administration schemes like unnecessary and unpaid-for tax cuts and wars. Douthat seems to think that undermines the criticism that Bush was insulated from those who disagreed with him and deaf to opposing (and better-considered) views. It doesn't; it merely demonstrates that Bush was not alone in that flaw -- he was joined by, among others, many of the journalists who make up the Washington elite.
Given that Bush is gone and that Washington elite is still here, Douthat would have done far better to examine why the Tom Friedmans and Richard Cohens of the world were in such agreement with Bush than to use their agreement to absolve Bush. Or why the Washington elite is so quick to bless right-wing policies. Or why, despite that, the Washington elite persists in thinking they are insufficiently solicitous of conservative viewpoints.
Have the recent bouts of cost-cutting at the Times meant staffers no longer have access to Nexis/Lexis to do simple research before making transparently false claims? And hey, last time I checked Google was still free to use, so what's the excuse?
But that didnt' stop the Times from unfurling this whopper [emphasis added]:
Still, the Acorn story is somewhat different in that it hasn't been so readily picked up; it's been publicized heavily by Fox and conservative talk radio but much less so by other news organizations
This was published on the Times' website on Sept. 17. (It was dubbed a "must-read.") Here however, according to Nexis, is a partial list of just the daily newspapers nationwide that had covered the ACORN story between Sept. 10-17 (and the number of separate times the ACORN story was addressed in articles or columns):
New York Post (11)
San Bernardino Sun (7)
Washington Times (6)
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot (5)
Baltimore Sun (5)
St. Petersburg Times (4)
Newark Star-Ledger (4)
St. Paul Pioneer Press (4)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (3)
Kansas City Star (3)
Boston Globe (3)
Orlando Sentinel (2)
Chicago Tribune (2)
Washington Post (2)
New York Daily News (2)
Los Angeles Times (2)
Wall Street Journal (2)
Miami Herald (2)
The Oregonian (2)
An additional 60-plus newspapers covered the ACORN story one time between Sept. 10-17, according to Nexis. In total, over 100 newspapers reported on ACORN during that time frame and published well over 200 articles and columns in which ACORN was mentioned multiple times.
But other than that, the Times was correct to claim last week that the ACORN story "hasn't been so readily picked up."
Here's the Washington Post's Anne Kornblut on MSNBC, reacting to President Obama saying ACORN is "not the biggest issue facing the country, it's not something I'm paying a lot of attention to":
Of course, that's an easy out for the President. The only problem for him is that after he's weighed in on Kanye West, saying he's not paying attention to something isn't gonna fly quite as well.
Absolute nonsense. Obama's Kanye West comments were off the record small talk, not carefully-considered policy positions. More importantly, it takes about three seconds to get up to speed on the Kanye West controversy. You don't need to do a lot of fact-finding to come to a conclusion about his behavior at the Video Music Awards. The ACORN controversy, on the other hand, is considerably more complicated. It isn't the kind of thing you can get up to speed on through cultural osmosis -- certainly not enough to make actual policy decisions.
Kornblut can't possibly think the President's off-hand comment about Kanye West has anything at all to do with whether he's given the ACORN matter sufficient consideration to have a position on it. So she was going for an amusing line, at the expense of drawing a false equivalence that suggested the president is inconsistent or even dishonest. That's the kind of behavior you might reasonably (if regrettably) expect from a partisan political operative. But why would Anne Kornblut think it's appropriate behavior for a journalist?
In his Sunday column, Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander addresses conservative complaints that the Post doesn't do enough to cover topics they are interested in. In doing so, Alexander quotes Pew's Tom Rosenstiel and Post editor Marcus Brauchli agreeing that the Post -- and other news organizations -- aren't responsive enough to conservative viewpoints:
One explanation may be that traditional news outlets like The Post simply don't pay sufficient attention to conservative media or viewpoints.
It "can't be discounted," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. "Complaints by conservatives are slower to be picked up by non-ideological media because there are not enough conservatives and too many liberals in most newsrooms."
"They just don't see the resonance of these issues. They don't hear about them as fast [and] they're not naturally watching as much," he added.
Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said he worries "that we are not well-enough informed about conservative issues. It's particularly a problem in a town so dominated by Democrats and the Democratic point of view."
I don't find the Rosenstiel/Brauchli position quotes the least bit convincing.
When, exactly, have news organizations like the Washington Post paid insufficient attention to conservative voices? When they were inflicting a decade of nonstop Whitewater/Vince Foster/Troopergate/etc coverage on a nation that just wanted it to go away? When the Washington Post editorialized in favor of a Whitewater special counsel -- even while saying there "no credible charge in this case that either the president or Mrs. Clinton did anything wrong"?
Or During the 2000 campaign, when they relentlessly and unfairly portrayed Al Gore as a liar? During the run-up to the Iraq war? Was that when they were paying insufficient attention to conservative concerns?
Take a look at this comparison of the resources the Washington Post devoted to the Monica Lewinsky story, and those the paper devoted to the Bush administration's warrentless wiretapping of Americans. Do you see evidence that the Washington Post is excessively liberal, or insufficiently responsive to conservative concerns?
Or during the presidential primary debates, when Democrats were routinely asked how they would pay for their health care plans -- often, that was the only question they were asked about health care -- but Republicans were rarely asked how they would pay for their tax cuts? Was that an example of the media being dominated by the Democratic point of view?
How about the past few months, when the media has taken its cues from the most rabid of conservatives, allowing lies about "death panels" to drive their coverage?
Or when the media rushed to insist, after both the 2006 and 2008 elections -- won convincingly by Democrats -- that America remains a "center-right" nation? Or when they refer to far-right politicians as "centrists" and and moderates -- and those who are actually moderates or slightly liberal as among the "most liberal"?
Or how about the behavior of Tom Rosenstiel and Marcus Brauchli right now. Given everything that has happened over the past two decades -- the relentless media attacks on the Clintons and Al Gore, their complicity in the Iraq war, endlessly running after every Republican-invented sideshow, from lipstick on a pig to death taxes -- isn't it possible that the eagerness with which Rosenstiel and Brauchli agree that the media is insufficiently responsive to conservatives just another example of how they are excessively responsive?
Unfortunately, Alexander omitted any mention of the mere possibility that Rosenstiel and Brauchli are wrong in their assessment. Instead, he went on to cite a study that purports to establish that reporters "are considerably more liberal than the general public."
But reporters' personal views, even if they are more liberal than those of the general public, don't even begin to tell us whether their work product leans to the left. In fact, that's something that was driven home by a recent column of Alexander's, about Post reporter Monica Hesse's coverage of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. Alexander agreed with me and other critics who argued that Hesse's article was inappropriately one-sided (omitting any quotes from NOM critics, among other flaws) but noted that Hesse's "personal life seem[s] to belie claims she has a conservative agenda. (Alexander recently explained that Hesse had a two-year-long relationship with a woman and personally favors gay marriage.)
So, reporters with liberal leanings can produce news reports that skew in favor of conservatives. In fact, if you believe former Washington Post reporter Tom Edsall, that happens all the time -- in part because those reporters are too responsive to conservative complaints:
The conservative movement has been very effective attacking the media (broadcast and print) for its liberal biases. The refusal of the media to disclose and discuss the ideological leanings of reporters and editors, and the broader claim of objectivity, has made the press overly anxious, and inclined to lean over backwards not to offend critics from the right. In many respects, the campaign against the media has been more than a victory: it has turned the press into an unwilling, and often unknowing, ally of the right.
Whenever I see comments like those made by Rosenstiel and Brauchli, it occurs to me that there are three basic possible explanations for them:
1) Maybe they're right.
2) Maybe they are, as Edsall suggests, leaning over backwards to avoid offending the Right -- and, thus, inadvertently helping them.
3) Maybe they are more conservative (or, at least, have adopted the assumptions of conservatives more) than they realize, so that which is neutral or even tilted a bit towards the right appears to them to tilt to the left.
Unfortunately, most journalists (including, in this case, Rosenstiel and Brauchli) only seem to consider the first possibility.
Is that how a media that really does lean to the left would behave?