In criticizing Media Matters, Newsday's Thrush, Politico's Smith conflated investigative reporting with Blitzer's baseless question


In a May 18 entry to his weblog, Politico senior political writer Ben Smith cited Newsday reporter Glenn Thrush's criticism of a May 14 Media Matters for America item, which documented CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer asking whether former President Bill Clinton's campaign ad on behalf of the 2008 presidential bid of his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), is "the act of a supportive husband or a sign the Clinton campaign is feeling desperate." Thrush quoted Media Matters Director of Media Relations Karl Frisch's statement regarding the May 14 item: "Journalists shouldn't be in the business of asking loaded questions that aren't based on any discernible fact." Smith left out the actual question Blitzer posed that Media Matters flagged, writing that Media Matters "offered [Thrush] an ad hoc new standard not only for what reporters write -- but for the questions we ask." But Thrush and Smith conflated two different actions, with very different purposes and consequences -- that of a reporter digging for information and that of an anchor making a baseless suggestion on-air in the form of a rhetorical question. Contrary to their accusation, Media Matters faulted Blitzer not for asking the question in the course of investigating a story but for posing the question rhetorically to tease an upcoming segment.

As Media Matters noted at the time, Blitzer offered no factual basis for the suggestion that the Clinton campaign was "desperate" and ignored polling that showed Clinton leading the race for the Democratic nomination. Blitzer didn't indicate that he had asked that question of the Clinton campaign (or anyone, for that matter) or that he was actually digging for information in asking it. Notably, during the ensuing segment with CNN political analysts J.C. Watts and James Carville, Blitzer did not pose that question but instead asked: "Is it too early for Bill Clinton to be this actively involved in his wife's campaign? Or should he be on the sidelines a little bit more?"

Thrush and Smith also objected to Frisch's characterization of Blitzer's question as "loaded." Thrush wrote: "Don't we get paid to ask loaded questions? (Like, say, 'What happened to the rest of that tape, Mr. Nixon?')" Smith reprinted Thrush's question, writing: "Thrush wonders, reasonably, where they get these rules, who's making them and who they think is supposed to enforce them. (Though I think the answer to the last question is clear.)" Neither Thrush nor Smith, however, explained how Thrush's question -- "What happened to the rest of that tape, Mr. Nixon?" -- qualifies as "loaded," or is in any way similar to Blitzer's question. Any Nixon-era journalist asking "what happened to the rest of that tape" would have a very strong factual basis for asking that question -- the 18-minute gap in the secret Oval Office recordings turned over by the Nixon White House during the course of the Watergate investigation. By contrast, as Media Matters pointed out, Blitzer had no factual basis for suggesting the Clinton campaign was "desperate."

The Politico, Newsday
Ben Smith, Glenn Thrush
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.