From a September 6 column by Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander:
I agree that the story fell short, but not because Hesse was naïve or lacked journalistic diligence. In retracing her reporting, it's clear the research was extensive. And some details about her personal life seem to belie claims she has a conservative agenda (more on that later).
Rather, this is a case where three things -- a storytelling concept, a writing technique and a bad headline -- combined to ignite reader reaction as vitriolic as any I've experienced in my seven months as ombudsman.
Hesse said she decided to let Brown tell his story, as opposed to extensively quoting what others say about him. Her editors didn't object to the concept. Having Brown's story told in his "voice," Hesse reasoned, would allow readers to best assess his arguments.
Fine in theory. But it deprived readers of hearing from others who have battled Brown and find him uncivil and bigoted. To them, he represents injustice. They should have been heard, at length.
"In a profile piece, for a controversial figure like that . . . there should certainly be the other side of it," said Fred Karger, head of a group called Californians Against Hate.
In retrospect, Style editor Lynn Medford agrees. "The lesson is to always, in some way, represent the other side," she said.
Karger, who has fought with Brown over same-sex marriage in California, said, "He is just as shrill, just as anti-gay as any of the leading gay-bashers" have been over the years.
Compounding the story's problems were passages like: "He takes nothing personally. He means nothing personal. He is never accusatory or belittling."
These types of unattributed characterizations are not uncommon in feature writing. But many readers thought Hesse was offering her opinion of who Brown is, as opposed to portraying how he comes across.
Finally, the headline: "Opposing Gay Unions With Sanity & a Smile." To many readers, The Post was saying Brown's views are sane. The headline, written by editors, not Hesse, should have been neutral.
Hesse is a gifted writer, as can be seen in a piece about her marriage in today's Post Magazine. At 28, she's one of Style's rising stars. But she was rocked by the angry reaction to the Brown story and spent most of last week responding to unhappy readers. Especially sensitive to accusations of a "homophobic agenda," her e-mails offered a glimpse into her personal life.
"My current partner is a man," she wrote them. "Before him, my partner of two years was a woman, with whom I discussed health insurance, kids, houses and marriage. You can bet that I found the fact that our marriage wouldn't have been legal to be wrong as hell.
"That doesn't mean that what NOM is trying to do and how they are trying to do it are not important to hear about," she wrote.
Tim Rutten has a good piece in the Los Angeles Times about "the bizarre controversy" surrounding Obama's planned speech to U.S. school children and the unhinged right-wing response about how the President of the United States was going to "indoctrinate" students by urging them to achieve excellence.
Rutten is dead-on when he notes the inherent danger behind the ugliness. Unfortunately, Rutten lets the serious, mainstream press off the hook. (Fox News clearly doesn't fall into that category.) The fact is you can't really bemoan how the this 'controversy' has become a big deal without noting it's the press that's turned it into one.
This loony tunes conspiracy theory has only gained traction because the corporate press won't stop writing and talking about it. Because reporters and pundits have legitimized it. They've rewarded the nuts who concocted the phony story in the first place.
And yes, I'm talking about corporate press outlets like the Los Angeles Times, which propped up the school nonsense as big news in its Friday edition with this headline:
Got that? A conservative Republican (i.e. "one critic") makes a crackpot claim about Obama, which the GOP Noise Machine then mindless echoes, and at the LA Times that's news.
As Matt Gertz wrote last week about the right-wing nuts who are keeping their kids home from school because they don't want them exposed to the POTUS [emphasis added]:
There is something wrong with these people. As long as Beltway reporters like [Mark] Halperin keep treating their complaints as valid, they will maintain a hold on our discourse that prevents serious discussion of actual issues. And no, reporting that "critics" say that Obama is planning to indoctrinate students but the Obama administration denies it does not suffice. Resorting to "he said/she said" journalism when one side's claims are blatantly ridiculous is just pathetic.
Fox TV makes it official: It's refusing to air president Obama's address to a joint-session of Congress next week. Since Murdoch's media outlet has effectively transformed itself into the Opposition Party of the Obama White House, this move fits into their political attack machine.
Of course, placed in proper context, the idea that a media company has decided to so blatantly play a hardball brand of partisan politics is nothing less than shocking. But don't look for reporters to make much of Murdoch's snub. Look for it to reported as an "expected" move. Like it's normal for the fourth largest television outlet in the country to uniformly refuse to air any presidential appearances scheduled in primetime. (If NBC, for instance, had ever snubbed Bush when he addressed Congress would the news have been reported with a shoulder shrug? Riiiight.)
Two questions. Did Fox TV ever refuse to air one of president Bush's joint-session speeches? Indeed, has any U.S. TV network ever refused to air presidential speech before Congress?
From a September 4 post on MSNBC.com's First Read blog:
*** Remind us again how the media is biased...: Finally, here's one more thought about the entire controversy over Obama's education speech on Tuesday: Since the White House has said the text of the speech will be available for 24 hours before he delivers it and since they altered the lesson plan language, why is this still a controversy? The ability of the conservative media machine to generate a controversy for this White House is amazing. In fact, this is an example of a story that percolates where it becomes harder and harder for some to claim there's some knee-jerk liberal media bias. (Does anyone remember these kinds of controversies in the summer of 2001?) The ability of some conservatives to create media firestorms is still much greater than liberals these days. How effective is the conservative media machine? Just ask Van Jones...
(h/t Greg Sargent)
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.
Over the past two weeks, Glenn Beck has waged a relentless assault on Van Jones, President Obama's green jobs czar. Beck's attacks and vitriol have become especially pronounced since Color of Change, the African-American issues organization Jones co-founded in 2005 (he left in 2007 to pursue other projects), began a highly successful boycott campaign that has resulted in 57 advertisers dropping Beck's program in just a matter of weeks.
But the content of Beck's case against Jones belies something deeper. For example, Beck has emphasized that Jones sported a Black Panther patch on his book bag when he arrived at Yale Law School, and has reduced some of his past civil rights work to nothing more than campaigns designed to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and his (exaggerated) participation in the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King verdict. (Just watch his August 24 biography of Jones to see proof of that.) While Jones' past is undoubtedly steeped in African-American issues, he was brought into the Obama administration to focus on green jobs -- pure and simple. And yet, for Beck, the focus is always directly or indirectly on Jones' race.
This is entirely consistent with Beck's mindset. Beck is obsessed with race and seems deeply uncomfortable with minority Americans in general, especially those in positions of power. In February, he pushed the idea that Mexican immigrants want to "reclaim" California and Texas. In May, he called Sonia Sotomayor a "racist" on at least three separate occasions, adding that she is "divisive" and "not that bright." He also once dismissively referred to her as "Hispanic chick lady" in an effort to belittle her credentials and portray her as a pure affirmative action pick. (In case you were wondering, affirmative action also qualifies as racism in Beck's book.)
Revealingly, Beck is convinced that ACORN, the activist organization that focuses on minority issues, is seeking to overturn American society as we know it.
Regarding Obama, he has had immense difficulty seeing past the president's skin. He said Obama was elected because of race instead of his policies. He has portrayed the Democratic health care reform effort as "the beginning of reparations." And he has said that Obama plans to "settle old racial scores through new social justice." So it should have come as no surprise when Beck, who believes it is actually Obama, not himself, who "has real issues with race," said the president had "exposed himself as a guy" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people." The next day, he said, "I think the president is a racist." The Color of Change boycott started soon afterward.
It seems clear that to Glenn Beck, individuals like Barack Obama and Van Jones are African-American before they are anything else. And for him, that appears to be a major cause for concern.
From a September 4 New York Times article, headlined "Resurfacing, a Critic Stirs Up Health Care Debate":
For the last few years, Ms. McCaughey has worked in a relatively quiet, noncontroversial fight against hospital infection death. Her campaign has drawn a broad coalition of support and has included the passage of a law in New York requiring hospitals to report infection rates.
But, she said in an e-mail exchange, Mr. Obama's health care proposals compelled her to weigh in. She said she keeps the effort separate from her organization and has not coordinated with any political groups. (Ms. McCaughey resigned as a director at the medical supply company Cantel last month amid accusations of conflict of interest, which she denied.)
Her work has, however, proved to be a boon to Mr. Obama's political opponents, giving explosive fodder for their accusations that his Medicare cuts will eventually adversely affect care (the administration says they will not) and frequently going over the line even by the standards of some conservative opponents of his health care plans.
She incorrectly stated in July that a Democratic bill in the House would mandate "people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner," drawing a "Pants on Fire" rating from the Politifact fact-checking Web site; her false assertion that the presidential health adviser Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel believes "medical care should be reserved for the nondisabled" helped form the basis for former Gov. Sarah Palin's discredited warning that Mr. Obama would create "death panels" to decide who is "worthy of health care."
Far from isolating her, it has all seemed to raise her profile to levels not seen since she left office, making her a regular guest on cable, radio and even last month, on "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. (The host, Jon Stewart, said he found her analysis "hyperbolic and in some cases dangerous.")
Admirers and foes say Ms. McCaughey's loud re-emergence in the health care debate is a testament to the same singular drive - and unabated media appeal - that catapulted her from the obscurity of academia to the near-top of New York politics more than a decade ago.
But even to some friends, her criticisms are reminiscent of a trademark style of argument that, while effective in grabbing attention on national issues, frequently comes into dispute as out of bounds.
And so it was that Ms. McCaughey, who earned a doctorate in constitutional history at Columbia University, in 1994 wrote a scathing critique in The New Republic of President Bill Clinton's plan while a scholar at the Manhattan Institute.
The piece, credited with helping to kill the plan, won a National Magazine Award. It also won the attention of Mr. Pataki, who tapped her to run as his lieutenant governor.
But in short order, critics seized on the article for flaws, like its assertion that "the law will prevent you from going outside the system to buy basic health coverage you think is better," though the House bill specifically stated it would not prohibit "an individual from purchasing any health care services." The magazine, with a traditionally liberal bent, eventually repudiated the article, a move Ms. McCaughey described in an e-mail exchange as "political sour grapes."
Her renewed prominence has alarmed old opponents.
"I'm dismayed at her re-emergence as an agent of dangerous misinformation," said Judith Hope, the former New York State Democratic chairwoman.
This meme has been a favorite among the right-wing blogs in recent weeks, who have been feasting off misleading MSM reports: 60,000 angry AARP members have quite the org because of its support of Obama health care reform.
Here though, is some much-needed context, courtesy of a recent report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution [emphasis added]:
The national AARP, which has 40 million members, advocates on behalf of older Americans, supports changes in health care although it has not endorsed a specific plan. But the organization's stance has put it in a precarious position with some members.
Between July 1 and mid-August, AARP nationally lost about 60,000 members. But during that same period, spokesman Drew Nannis said, it brought in 1.8 million new members.
So in a massive org of 40,000,000 people, approximately .1% of the membership has reportedly quit because of AARP's health care position and we're supposed to consider that to be newsworthy? More importantly, the 60,000 members who have stormed off have been replaced many, many times over.
Just keep that in mind next time you see a reference to how AARP membership is taking a hit in the health care debate.
Is there any accusation that could be made about President Obama that Beltway reporters wouldn't be willing to credulously report? Is there anything that would make them frame their reporting of those accusations around the premise that the charges are ridiculous? Today, Time's Mark Halperin suggests there is not.
Under the headline "Student Speech Courts Controversy," Halperin writes: "Critics accuse the president of imposing a political agenda on children during next week's address." That is how he has decided to frame the conservative movement's bizarre, unhinged attack on the President of the United States for his terrifying plan to… tell the nation's students that it's important to stay in school and work hard. It's a "Controversy"! The president has "critics"! Are their criticisms legitimate? Who knows! There's a link to an AP article on the "controversy" if you actually want some of those dreadful details.
It's worth noting that in claiming their criticisms hinge on fears that Obama is planning to "impos[e] a political agenda on children," Halperin is significantly soft-peddling the lunatic whack-a-doo tin-foil conspiracy nut nature of conservatives' complaints. They aren't saying Obama will teach kids about the importance of universal health care or stopping global warming – they're accusing the president of engaging in Maoist indoctrination in an attempt to create his own Hitler Youth.
There is something wrong with these people. As long as Beltway reporters like Halperin keep treating their complaints as valid, they will maintain a hold on our discourse that prevents serious discussion of actual issues. And no, reporting that "critics" say that Obama is planning to indoctrinate students but the Obama administration denies it does not suffice. Resorting to "he said/she said" journalism when one side's claims are blatantly ridiculous is just pathetic.