Public editor Clark Hoyt pretty much eviscerated Times editors yesterday over a deeply flawed A1 exclusive that ran on May 21, about a Pentagon report that claimed 1 in 7 detainees returned to jihad activities. The scoop ran the very same day former VP Dick Cheney made his very public speech attacking the Obama administration's national security, and specifically its plan to close down the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay.
Here's what Hoyt wrote:
The article on which he based that statement was seriously flawed and greatly overplayed. It demonstrated again the dangers when editors run with exclusive leaked material in politically charged circumstances and fail to push back skeptically. The lapse is especially unfortunate at The Times, given its history in covering the run-up to the Iraq war.
But two points are worth considering in the wake of Hoyt's smack-down. When critics raised concerns in real time about the Times scoop, an array of newspaper editors insisted there was no need for a correction, even though editors themselves had gone ahead and changed the content of the article online, and even though the reporter who wrote the piece went on cable TV and seemed to undercut the thrust of the scoop. Editors were insistent: no correction was needed.
It seems that only when Hoyt began asking questions did editors belatedly amend their position. And not so coincidentally, the Times ran a formal correction to the story just one day before Hoyt lowered the boom.
The second point is that Times editors want readers to believe that the leaked Pentagon report, which perfectly buttressed Cheney's critique of the Obama White House, just happen to run on the same morning of Cheney's nationally televised address. That it was just some wacky coincidence that the Times' source finally agreed to leak the pro-Cheney report at the very same time that Cheney made headlines attacking the Obama White House as being soft on detainees.
And who was the source? "An official who believed the report should be released," according to Hoyt's reporting.
As Hoyt's headline asked, "What Happened to Skepticism?"
BTW, without revealing who the "official" was who leaked the report, the Times and Hoyt could have shed more light on the official's motivation by telling readers more about him/her. Was the "official" at the Pentagon? Did he/she work closely with Cheney?
Obama's lawyers are attempting to financially ruin individuals party to the most absurd soap opera involving the 44th president. There is unabated controversy regarding his birth, citizenship and foreign travel. Obama could immediately silence his critics by authorizing the release of his original birth certificate and passport. One has to wonder what could possibly be in either document that has caused Obama to wage a fierce and expensive legal battle to keep the files secreted. Aside from Joan Rivers, nearly every American would willingly make their birth certificate available and Obama's stubborn refusal to do so only adds to the controversy.
From Washington Times editor emeritus Wesley Pruden's June 5 column:
Mr. Obama's revelation of his "inner Muslim" in Cairo reveals much about who he is. He is our first president without an instinctive appreciation of the culture, history, tradition, common law and literature whence America sprang. The genetic imprint writ large in his 43 predecessors is missing from the Obama DNA. He no doubt meant no offense in returning that bust of Churchill ("Who he?") or imagining that a DVD of American movies was appropriate in an exchange of state gifts with Gordon Brown. Nor did he likely understand why it was an offense against history (and good manners) to agree to the exclusion of the Queen from Saturday's commemoration of the Anglo-American liberation of France. Kenya simply routed Kansas.
The great Cairo grovel accomplished nothing beyond the humiliation of the president and the embarrassment of his constituents, few of whom share his need to put America on its knees before its enemies. No president before him has ever shamed us so. We must never forget it.
The Washington Post's Robin Givhan manages to write an entire column about the fact that King Abdullah gave President Obama the "King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit" -- Saudi Arabia's highest honor. Givhan:
[O]ne of the rules in politics is never be photographed wearing hats, costumes or a national dress other than one's own. The resulting photographs are easy fodder for any would-be comedian, and they also don't do much to help one's swagger. Added to that list of things-not-to-wear should be large gold necklaces adorned with medallions the size of an espresso saucer.
From there, Givhan went on to (repeatedly) compare the "theatrically large necklace" to something a "rap star" or "the occasional goodfella" would wear. The whole thing is premised on the idea that it's somehow damaging to Obama to have to accept such a gift; that "the Western public" is taken aback by seeing its president wearing something "championed by the aesthetically challenged Flavor Flav."
All of which is, I suspect, a crock. I don't think actual people - those who don't work in the news media - really give a damn about Barack Obama briefly wearing a necklace, any more than they give a damn if he eats arugula or orders orange juice in a diner.
Givhan pretends that the "problem" here - though it really isn't clear that there is a problem - is systemic:
The problem with diplomatic gift-giving is that it has nothing to do with the recipient and everything to do with the giver. That contrasts sharply with the world of regular people, in which most gifting begins with a few simple questions: What would make the recipients happy? What might they need? What would hold symbolic value for them?
The problem with media coverage of diplomatic gift-giving is that it contrasts sharply with the world of regular people, who understand that life sometimes involves receiving gifts, particularly clothing, that you would not choose for yourself, and accepting them graciously rather than making the gift-giver feel badly.
And that, ultimately, is the problem with Givhan's piece, as with the media-invented notion that the public will be appalled at a political figure who eats salad greens other than iceburg lettuce and orders something other than coffee in a diner: The American people are far more sophisticated than the media think they are. They don't take this trivia nearly as seriously as reporters do. They understand the world better. They understand that there is nothing embarrassing about receiving a gift you might not pick out for yourself.
P.S.: Givhan includes a shot at Obama for giving the Queen of England an iPod, which is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. The media (prodded on by conservatives) seemed to think that was a grave misstep that made Obama look like an unsophisticated rube. The public, on the other hand, didn't really care. Get over the damn iPod.
The Hollywood industry journalist has certainly built herself a reputation for being a dogged reporter with good sources. But after reading her Drudge-esque scoop where she makes all sorts of dark conclusions about a massive NBC power play designed to censor the press, I think Finke ought to stick to writing about box office returns and production deals, because her grasp on the intersection of politics and the press seems rather weak.
I mean, is Finke actually serious when she claims that the federal government ("the FCC, and the FTC, and the U.S. Justice Department") ought to investigate NBC because a handful of its execs won't return calls from some movie industry trade reporters? Give me a break. The notion's just coo-coo and makes it impossible to take seriously anything that Finke writes in her breathless scoop.
The batty premise is this: The Hollywood Reporter back in April wrote up a news story about how some GE shareholders in the audience for the company's annual meeting in Orlando badgered GE execs during the Q&A session about whether its news coverage at NBC and MSNBC was too pro-Obama. THR treated the questions as a very big deal. ("Political drama at GE shareholders meeting.")
But I noted in real time in April how odd the THR article was and that it made no sense. Why would GE shareholders, who invest in the global conglomerate to earn back dividends, be upset that the GE-owned cable outlet MSNBC had practically doubled its ratings in recent years? Why would GE shareholders, who have suffered through dismal earning reports from the business icon recently, be upset that its cable news unit was bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue?
It turns out the THR journalist who wrote the piece wasn't even at the shareholder meeting. Instead, a handful of shareholder activists from Orlando simply fed him anti-MSNBC quotes after the fact; activists who were led by Bill O'Reilly's ambushing producer Jesse Waters who was at the meeting trying to cause a stir.
I also noted in April that while THR hyped the MSNBC "drama" at the shareholder meeting, neither Bloomberg News nor the AP, nor the WSJ ever mentioned the topic in their dispatches from GE's annual confab. Meaning, it looked like THR was guilty of trying to manufacture news where none existed. Like it was trying to legitimize a Bill O'Reilly publicity stunt.
Bottom line: the article was a train wreck. Now Finke claims NBC suits ordered their people to stop talking to THR because of the article.
But who cares if NBC shut out THR? There's no question the THR article in question was just an awful, awful piece of partisan gotcha journalism. And so what if NBC execs made their displeasure known by not returning THR's phone calls? This kind of corporate payback has been happening ever since God created industry trade reporters. Why on earth does Finke think the Justice Department ought to get involved? It's absolutely preposterous.
Suddenly NBC is legally bound to return reporters' phone calls? Suddenly NBC is legally bound to buy trade ads in THR? Oy.
I guess the federal probe angle is supposed to be tied into the fact that Finke seems to suggest that the Obama administration is somehow a central player in this 'scandal.' But it's not. And Finke offers no proof to suggest the GE news outlets have tilted its political coverage one way or another.
Again, this is just Drudge-esque heavy breathing masquerading as a scoop.
UPDATE: I corrected the spelling of Finke's first name. My apologies.
And more importantly, the Times continues to indicate how it, and the rest of the serious press, is going to tell whatever tale it wants about the judge. The coverage of Sotomayor has become so detached from legal reality, I think, that journalists no longer feel any compunction to reflect the facts.
In other words, it's open season.
The Saturday Times article reads like it was ghostwritten by her critics, with the A1 premise being that the decision in the controversial Ricci case involving the New Haven firefighters was extraordinary and, if you read between the Times' line, just utterly bewildering. The Times emphasis is that the failure of Sotomayor and two other judges to issue a lengthy ruling in Ricci was completely baffling (But was it? Not likely.)
Anyway, the article leans very heavily on the hype. Here's how the article opens [emphasis added].
Near the end of a long and heated appeals court argument over whether New Haven was entitled to throw out a promotional exam because black firefighters had performed poorly on it, a lawyer for white firefighters challenging that decision made a point that bothered Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
"Firefighters die every week in this country," the lawyer, Karen Lee Torre said. Using the test, she said, could save lives.
"Counsel," Judge Sotomayor responded, "we're not suggesting that unqualified people be hired. The city's not suggesting that. All right?"
The exchange was unusually charged.
The Times never bothers to explain why the exchange qualifies as being "unusually charged." Apparently readers are supposed to notice (and be aghast by?) Sotomayor's hostile tone. My guess though, is that some veterans litigators will read the Times' description and laugh out loud at the idea that the exchange cited--the type of caustic back-and-forth that takes place everyday in American courtrooms--was somehow "unusually charged."
But that's the tale the Times wants to tell about Sotomayor.
Also, please note that the same Times reporter, Adam Liptak, who insisted the above exchange was "unusually charged," pulled the same stunt last week in another article which painted the veteran judge as being too bossy on the bench:
Sotomayor's Blunt Style Raises Issue of Temperament
In that piece, Liptak again picked out an ho-hum exchange between Sotomayor and and lawyer (she cut him off mid-sentence!) and pretended it was all quite odd and that "detractors" thought it was a big deal. Of course, you can't recall the press ever giving credence to the claim that male SCOTUS nominees on the bench were too bossy, because I don't think it's even been done before. The Times itself has certainly not shown any previous interest in the topic.
But notice the trend. Twice now in eight days the Times, on its front page, has cited pedestrian exchanges between Sotomayor and lawyers and pretended the were "unusually charged" and borderline shocking.
The Times is going to tell whatever story it wants about Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
As Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell noted, The New York Times has issued the following correction to a May 21 article which originally reported that an unreleased Pentagon report found "that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has returned to terrorism or militant activity" [emphasis added]:
A front-page article and headline on May 21 reported findings from an unreleased Pentagon report about prisoners who have been transferred abroad from the American detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The article said that the Pentagon had found about one in seven of former Guantánamo prisoners had "returned to terrorism or other militant activity," or as the headline put it, had "rejoined jihad."
Those phrases accepted a premise of the report that all the former prisoners had been engaged in terrorism before their detention. Because that premise remains unproved, the day the article appeared in the newspaper, editors changed the headline and the first paragraph on the Times Web site to refer to prisoners the report said had engaged in terrorism or militant activity since their release.
The article and headline also conflated two categories of former prisoners. In the Pentagon report, 27 former Guantánamo prisoners were described as having been confirmed as engaging in terrorism, with another 47 suspected of doing so without substantiation. The article should have distinguished between the two categories, to say that about one in 20 of former Guantánamo prisoners described in the Pentagon report were now said to be engaging in terrorism. (The larger share -- about one in seven --applies to the total number described in the report as confirmed or suspected of engaging in terrorism.)
Almost beyond words dishonest. Like, off the charts dishonest, which was only highlighted by a new piece of research that I came across. Just really depressing stuff.
First, the background. As I detailed in my column, the Beltway press has categorically refused to put Sotomayor's controversial "Latina woman" quote in context and have steadfastly refused to inform news consumers the comment was made in reference to discrimination cases; a context that completely eliminates the "racist" attack against her. Put it context, it become completely obvious that Sotomayor was plainly not suggesting that women, categorically, make better decisions than men. (But don't tell ABC's Diane Sawyer, who spun the story that way this morning.)
So why is the press playing dumb? Simple. Republicans in the U.S. Senate have made it rather clear that they are not planning any sort of wholesale opposition to Sotomayor's nomination. But reporters and pundits are banking on nomination drama, so they're willing to chase, and legitimize, the "racist" storyline. To do that though, the press has to play dumb on an epic scale about the "Latina woman." To pretend it really was some kind of Battle of the Sexes proclamation.
Bottom line: Reporters and pundits must avoid providing any kind of context for the "Latina woman" quote in order for that storyline to survive even modest scrutiny.
Well, mission accomplished because I just did a Nexis search and found that during the last ten days there have been more than 950 media mentions of Sotomayor and "Latina woman." Then I looked to see how many of those 950-plus news reports included the word "discrimination" as a way to put that quote in context.
Answer: Less than 20.
Or, approximately two percent of news reports have managed to do journalism's most basic task, which is to provide all pertinent information. Instead of informing news consumers, the press has been actively misinforming them about Sotomayor.
That's how dishonest the coverage has been.
Just to add to the Liz Cheney item posted below.
I always chuckle when I read in the mainstream press about how liberal MSNBC is and how it's the liberal equivalent to Fox News. I laugh, of course, because MSNBC devotes its entire morning drive to a program hosted by a former right-wing Republican member of Congress. (I'm still searching for that far-left FNC host.) And lately, MSBNC has been making news by airing Pat Buchanan's incessant and hateful, anti-minority rants against Sonia Sotomayor.
But hey, MSNBC's liberal.
Greg Sargent notes that in recent weeks MSNBC has practically given Liz Cheney her own cot in the green room because she's on the air there so often defending her father and chiming in on how the Obama WH is making America less safe. How and why Liz Cheney suddenly descended from the media heaven as a fully formed must-see guest remains a mystery, and Sargent put the question to an MSNBC flak.
The answer: "Liz is a great guest."
In recent days, several commentators and journalists have highlighted Liz Cheney's frequent -- and often misinformation-filled -- national television interviews. Media Matters has updated our list of Liz Cheney's recent TV appearances, and we've found that just since May 12, she's had at least 22:
• On the June 4 edition of CNN's The Situation Room (5 p.m. hour)
• On the June 4 edition of Fox News' Your World
• On the June 4 edition of MSNBC Live (1 p.m. hour)
• On the June 4 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe (7 a.m. hour)
• On the June 2 edition of Fox News' On the Record (Part II of Greta Van Susteren's interview with Dick and Liz Cheney)
• On the June 1 edition of Fox News' On the Record (Part I of Greta Van Susteren's interview with Dick and Liz Cheney)
• On the June 1 edition of CNN's Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull
• On the May 28 edition of MSNBC Live (2 p.m. hour)
• On the May 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends
• On the May 26 edition of Fox News' The Live Desk
• On the May 22 edition of ABC's Good Morning America
• On the May 22 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe
• On the May 22 edition of CNN's American Morning
• On the May 21 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360
• On the May 21 edition of Fox News' Hannity
• On the May 21 edition of MSNBC Live
• On the May 20 edition of Fox News' Your World
• On the May 17 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos
• On the May 16 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Saturday
• On the May 15 edition of Fox News' On the Record
• On the May 12 edition of Fox News' The Live Desk
• On the May 12 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe
Thanks to Chrissy Schwen, Zachary Pleat, and Hannah Kieschnick for assembling this list.