Over the weekend, a major story broke about the Washington Post's efforts to sell access to its reporters to corporate interests. When the story first broke earlier this year, Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli told at least two different reporters at two different news organizations -- the New York Times and Politico -- that he had been unaware that the events were being promoted as off-the-record. But over the weekend, it was revealed that Brauchli wrote a letter to a former Post marketing executive acknowledging that he had known about it all along.
On Saturday, Brauchli refused to talk to Michael Calderone, the Politico reporter he seems to have misled earlier, instead talking only to Post reporter Howard Kurtz -- who happens to work for Brauchli, and who omitted any mention of Brauchli's earlier comments to Politico. Kurtz did, however, include in his article Brauchli's claim that the Times simply misunderstood him -- a claim that is seriously undermined by Calderone's reporting for Politico.
Today, Brauchli held a previously-scheduled online Q&A session with Post readers. I noted this morning that the Post had subtly changed the way it was promoting the session, seeming to limit the topic to exclude questions about Brauchli's honesty.
And, sure enough, Brauchli continued ducking tough questions.
Brauchli took questions about the new format for bylines on Post articles, a request that the Post "capitalize the headlines," a question about page number formats, a complaint that the Post doesn't just leave its layout the same, and a positive comment about the paper's font choices.
And he responded to a comment (not even a question) about the Awesome Washington Post's Awesome Awesomeness:
Alexandria, Va.: You did a real nice job with the redesign. I opened the Post this morning to find a refreshing and better design. Reminded me a lot of the WSJ! No surprise. I also want to comment that it seems recently the news sections have got a little richer. Maybe more stories, but not sure. All in all, I think the Post is really doing a lot to build a great product.
From, a subscriber of 21 years.
But Brauchli ducked questions about the weekend revelations that he apparently lied to two different reporters at two different publications about his role in the Washington Post's efforts to sell access to its reporters until the end of the Q&A, then chose questions that he could easily dismiss.
Incidentally, I know Brauchli received and ignored tough questions because I submitted some so the Post could not claim Brauchli was asked only about fonts and bylines.
Here's a question I submitted about the weekend revelations:
You say the New York Times misunderstood you, and that you did NOT tell them you were unaware the Post's controversial corporate dinners were being promoted as "off the record."
But Politico reporter Michael Calderone has reported that you said the same thing to him, and that he interpreted it the same way the Times did.
Are we supposed to believe that two different reporters at two different news organizations misinterpreted two different interviews with you in precisely the same way?
And is this why you refused to talk to Calderone yesterday, but did talk to your own employee, Howard Kurtz -- who failed to mention Calderone's reporting in his story about this matter?
Brauchli didn't take that question. Nor did he take this question about his recent comments to Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander:
You told the Post's ombudsman that the paper needs to be more responsive to conservatives. Would you care to reconcile that position with the paper's abusive treatment of Al Gore during the 2000 election and with the paper's reporting on the Bush administration's Iraq war claims, which countless Post employees past and present have acknowledged was deeply flawed and insufficiently critical?
Nor did Brauchli take this question about the massive conflict of interest he allows Kurtz to work under:
Post media critic Howard Kurtz repeatedly gave CNN President Jonathan Klein a pass during Kurtz's reporting for the Post on CNN's Lou Dobbs and his promotion of the Birther conspiracy theory. Klein defended Dobbs' reporting and attacked his critics -- but Kurtz never mentioned Klein's defense, despite their clear news value, and despite his repeated reporting on the Birther story.
Oh, and Howard Kurtz happens to be employed on the side by CNN.
Why does the Post tolerate this conflict of interest? Are you investigating Kurtz' handling of this story? Do any of your other reporters have financial relationships with those they are assigned to cover for the Post?
I guess Brauchli just didn't have time for questions like those after dealing with hard-hitting questions about how great the Post is and how wonderful the new font is. And a comment from a reader about how much her husband likes the Post's redesign.
Brauchli did take two questions (at the very end of the Q&A) that touched on the salon dinner controversy -- but they didn't mention reporting by Politico's Calderone that undermines Brauchli's claim that he told the truth about his own role. Here's the first, which makes no mention of Brauchli's role:
Rochester, NY: Obviously, you won't take this question, but I'd like to ask: isn't there a problem when the same reporters who were to be part of your health care "salon" are now essentially repeating insurance industry claims about the health care bill?
I'm referring specifically to Ceci Connolly. I write as a regular reader and fan of your paper -- are you aware how much credibility you have lost as a result of the salons?
Marcus Brauchli: Actually, I will take this question, because it comes with a silly premise that needs knocking down.
First, there were no salon dinners. They were planned and they were canceled. Second, Ceci Connolly, who is an absolutely first-rate, independent-minded reporter, was simply asked who might be worth inviting to a roundtable discussion on healthcare. There is no reason she should be taken off of this story. Third, while we appreciate your visiting with us on this chat, you should read what we write. We have scrutinized the insurance industry's claims about healthcare legislation extensively, including in a lengthy piece last week by Alec MacGillis. Finally, yes, I realize that the salon dinner episode was embarrassing and damaging to our credibility, but I would say to you: judge us by our journalism.
That last line is hilarious coming from someone who just spent a whole online Q&A ducking questions about the Post's journalism in favor of talking about fonts and byline formats.
And the second:
Philly, Pa.: If you know a reporter has reported something about you which is inaccurate, are you not obligated to publicly correct the record?
I'm sorry, sir, but I lost all respect for you after reading the letter you sent to your former colleague. You knew that it was reported that you claimed to have no knowledge of the off-the-record promises, and you chose to allow that to stand. You scapegoated an employee, and misled the public. Of course, that version is being generous, and its every bit as likely that you just lied to the NYT's reporter, hoping not to get caught.
You lied to your readers. You lied to your employees.
I hope your retirement is happy and fruitful, and I hope it starts very soon.
Marcus Brauchli: When these events were planned, we intended that the information from them would inform and shape our coverage, without attribution. That is not, under our rules, off the record.
They were later promoted as "off the record," and I knew that before July 2.
As I have said repeatedly since then, I failed to reconcile the language and the intentions, which I should have done.
The notion that I lied to the New York Times "hoping not to get caught" is absurd.
Notice that Brauchli chose to answer questions that didn't mention Calderone's report, while ducking a question that did.
Imagine how the Washington Post would react if, say, John Edwards invited them to a press conference, then took only pre-screened questions about how great he is, refusing to allow anyone to ask about his affair and his false statements about it. That's essentially what Marcus Brauchli did today. It shows nothing but contempt for Post readers, and makes a mockery of the concepts of transparency and accountability.
Over the weekend, Limbaugh continued to express his complete bafflement at the idea that anyone associated with the NFL would think he turbo talker had a problem with race. Limbaugh, with the entire GOP Noise Machine nodding franticly in agreement, has declared his only take on race is that America should strive to be truly colorblind. In fact, National Review's Andy McCarthy* claimed Limbaugh treats people just Martin Luther King did--based on the content of their character! ("Kumbaya, my Lord...")
Limbaugh's not a race-baiter and there's nothing in his archives that would suggest he was. In fact, liberals had to invent nasty quotes from him, the Dittoheads whined, because they can't find any real ones because Limbaugh's record is so clean on this issue. Or so went the claim. (Not quite.)
So here's the challenge, and it's open to anyone within the right-wing; Andrew Breitbart, Michelle Malkin, McCarthy, Glenn Beck, Limbaugh himself. Anyone can take a shot. But could somebody from the right-wing please--please--take a few minutes and explain what Limbaugh was talking about when he made this comment earlier this year:
"We are being told that we have to hope [Obama] succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles ... because his father was black."
I realize that the GOP Noise Machine has avoided this quote for months and absolutely refuses to acknowledge its existence. Appearing on conservative radio talk shows this year, I've mentioned it a couple times and hosts simply will not discuss it. But in the context of Limbaugh's blanket denial about how he doesn't have a race problem, I think it would be helpful if a Dittohead addressed this quote and help remove any fears readers might have that Limbaugh's comment was patently offensive.
So that's that challenge. Could somebody please explain what mental image Limbaugh was trying to paint with this comment, and specifically why people were supposed to be bend over and grab their ankles for Obama? Please explain what Obama's father being black had to do with the bending and the ankle grabbing. And please explain why nobody connected with the NFL should take offense at Limbaugh's suggestion that they also bend over and grab their ankles on account of Obama's black father.
Dittoheads insist the talker's record is clean on the issue of race; that it's crazy to suggest Limbaugh traffics in ugly race-baiting. If so, then please explain the ankle-grabbing quote.
*I originally attributed the post to National Review writer Mark Steyn.
During an online Q&A last week, Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon was asked about the inconsistency between "The Republicans, media talking heads, and some conservative Democrats" who say they oppose a public option as part of health care reform because they are concerned about costs, and studies finding such a public option would save money. The questioner suggested the real reason for opposition might be that the politicians are "bought and paid for by the insurance industry."
In response, Bacon essentially denied that "conservative Democrats and Republicans" have made a cost argument against the public option. That's flatly, unambiguously false, as anyone who has followed the health care debate should know.
Bacon was then asked a follow-up question pointing out the inconsistency in the claims of reform opponents. At that point, Bacon said "the conservative Democrats simply feel they can't back the public option for political reasons." That didn't make much sense, either, since polls show the public option is popular among those conservative Democrats' constituents, as I pointed out at the time.
That brings us to today's online Q&A with Perry Bacon:
Tuckerton, NJ: Considering the majority of Americans want some type of public healthcare option and that 52-percent of Nevada residents feel the same way (as per latest Research 2000 poll), what on earth would prevent Harry Reid from including it in Senate compromise bill? Is he that politically tone deaf?
Perry Bacon Jr.: For whatever reason, some of the conservative Democrats in the Senate aren't wild about a public opinion. (I would suggest the politics of their states, where they have to get Republican-leaning voters, but I know you will cite more polls saying people in Louisiana want the public option. I assume politicians have a keen sense of their own electoral position and the moderate Democrats are weary of this for a reason, but I digress) I'm not sure getting the public opinion in the bill will really hurt Reid in Nevada.
Extraordinary. Bacon "would suggest" the "politics of their states" is the issue, except that he knows he'd get called on it by someone who would point out the public option's popularity in those states. But instead of internalizing that poll data and looking for alternate explanation, Bacon prefers to "assume" the politicians know something the data doesn't show.
At no point does it cross Bacon's mind that the real reason might have something to do with campaign contributions. Instead, he just keeps offering up a series of nonsensical claims, spanning two weeks, only to abandon each one as it is disproved. But he never waivers from one thing: Defending the opponents of reform any way he can.
Bacon claimed public option opponents have not made a cost argument. False.
Then Bacon suggested the constituents of the reform opponents don't want a public option. Polls show that to be false.
So Bacon then said we shouldn't pay attention to the polls; we should just trust that the politicians know their constituents better than poll data does.
At what point might it occur to Bacon that maybe those who oppose reform have been making incorrect arguments and oppose policies their constituents want -- and that maybe he should start looking for reasons why?
UPDATE: Bacon, later in today's Q&A: "I wish the public option advocates would stop acting if the media is at fault here." Gee, I wonder why Bacon encounters people who think that?
UPDATE 2: More Bacon:
Boston: "I assume politicians have a keen sense of their own electoral position and the moderate Democrats are weary of this for a reason, but I digress"
I realize we don't want to be crass. But these small, poor state Senators are also being lavished with cash by interests who benefit from preserving the status quo or not competing with a Public Health Insurance plan. Add to those gifts and incentives a great deal of media coverage and one could be led to think their opposition is not so motivated by their keen understanding of their state--most Senators know they have a 95% chance of getting re-elected no matter what.
Perry Bacon, Jr.: I don't have a list of the top members of Congress getting money from the insurance industry, but there are plenty of members who get money from health care companies who also support the public option. Some of the Blue Dogs live in districts McCain won by 15 points. They live in places where voters are more conservative, and the Republicans have branded the public option, rightly or wrongly, as a major liberal initiative.
Bacon is all over the map at this point. First he suggests that in the states/districts in question, the public option is not popular. Then he says he would suggest it again, but he knows people would produce polls contradicting that claim. Then he goes back to making unsupported claims about public opinion in unspecified districts.
He's consistent about one thing, though: Have you ever seen a reporter this adamant that campaign contributions do not influence politicians positions? Ever?
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."