As yesterday's speculation about whether Elena Kagan is gay reached a fever pitch, it was striking how little interest those who were most enthusiastically pushing the story seemed to have in the fact that the White House has already answered the question.
Last month, conservative blogger/plagiarist Ben Domenech wrote in a column that appeared on CBSNews.com that Kagan is gay. In response, the White House indicated that she is not. As the Huffington Post's Sam Stein reported "The White House reacted strongly to the assertion, relaying that Kagan is, in fact, straight." The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz added:
An administration official, who asked not to be identified discussing personal matters, said Kagan is not a lesbian....A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said he complained to CBS because the column "made false charges."
So, that's pretty unambiguous. As Solicitor General, Elena Kagan was then, as now, a senior Obama administration official, so the White House aides who explicitly said Kagan is not gay were presumably speaking with her sanction. Absent any convincing evidence to the contrary -- and no, rumors and rumors about rumors don't count as convincing evidence -- the unambiguous statements of White House officials should put the speculation to rest.
But some people really enjoy speculating.
The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, for example, headlined a post yesterday "So Is She Gay?" and complained "no one will ask directly if this is true and no one in the administration will tell us definitively." Sullivan must have forgotten that the White House actually did tell "us" definitively just last month. Oddly, Slate's Jack Shafer endorsed Sullivan's post, writing that it gets to "the heart of the matter" -- the unwillingness of the White House to "speak definitively about Kagan's orientation."
Mediaite managing editor Colby Hall wrote several hundred words about Kagan, touching on her relationship with Goldman Sachs, her service in the Clinton administration, and her past statements about reproductive rights, judicial activism, the death penalty, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But Hall's real interest was clearly Kagan's personal life:
Earlier this week, Mediaite.com's Frances Martel asked why Michael Brown -- Bush's former FEMA director -- has been all over the television. Well, as Tommy Christopher points out, Politico appears to have the answer.
Politico's Andy Barr and Patrick Gavin report:
Former FEMA Director Michael Brown has been all over cable television recently bashing the federal response to the oil spill off the Gulf Coast.
But he doesn't see it as an attempt to rehabilitate his image or set the record straight. Nothing that dramatic.
Rather, he just wants the publicity. He wants to sell his new book, he says, and he wants to get some clients for his company.
"There's that phrase, 'Any publicity is good publicity'" Brown told POLITICO. "I kind of buy into that."
It looks like the media is doing a "heckuva job" giving Brownie just the platform he's been looking for.
It is said that an infinite number of monkeys banging on an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite amount of time will eventually produce a precise replica of Shakespeare's Hamlet. A couple dozen monkeys fighting over three typewriters for an hour and a half, on the other hand, will yield something a lot closer to Frances Martel's inane write-up of a National Enquirer article for Mediaite. (Slate's John Dickerson aptly describes the underlying story about a supposed Obama sex scandal as an "investigation about an alleged rumor." Marc Ambinder adds that he and other reporters looked into the non-story years ago, and found that ... there's nothing to find.)
By now you probably know that Martel's Mediaite article was guilty of treating "old, evidence free rumors as breaking news" in part because Matt Drudge was hyping it and that there are some indications Martel was more interested in creating a scandal than reporting on one.
But what struck me about Martel's article was just how poorly-written it was, and how little she seemed to understand the article she was summarizing. And in reading several other recent Mediaite articles by Martel and managing editor Colby Hall, it seems this is a common problem.
Even after Mediaite retracted its claim that a link to a news story from The Drudge Report gives a story "credibility," it continued to claim that such a link conveys "significance" and makes the linked story worthy of further discussion. But many of the stories promoted by Drudge are entirely fabricated.
Media Matters has already done the work of demolishing Frances Martel's train wreck article for Mediaite this weekend, in which she forwarded old, evidence-free rumors about an alleged affair between President Obama and a former staffer that the National Enquirer borrowed from unhinged conservative blogger Bob Owens.
As Eric Boehlert detailed, Martel's bosses Colby Hall and Dan Abrams have defended Martel's piece on the grounds that Drudge linked to the Enquirer story, which supposedly made it newsworthy. Martel originally wrote that the Drudge link gave the story "credibility," but that wording was later changed to "significance and impact." Writing in the comments section of Martel's post, Abrams wrote: "when Drudge links to a story suggesting the President of the United States might be having an affair, that is at least a -media- story for a media website."
But this defense misses the point entirely.
Martel's story for Mediaite was not a "media story." It was merely forwarding -- and embellishing -- baseless gossip from the Enquirer. An actual "media story" might have been along the lines of "Matt Drudge Has No Standards and Traffics in Baseless Smears." But that story has been written before (who can forget the "credibility" he gave to the "backwards B" hoax, for example.)
In fact, based on what Martel wrote and tweeted about the story, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Martel wasn't as interested in writing a "media story" as she was in promoting a potentially damaging political scandal.
Mediaite's Frances Martel falsely claimed that a motion filed by former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich "directly implicate[s]" White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in Blagojevich's alleged attempt to sell the open Senate seat vacated by President Obama in 2008. In fact, the document confirms Emanuel's previous account of contacts with Blagojevich's chief of staff and in no way suggests Emanuel was involved with Blagojevich's alleged scheme.
Mediaite columnist Steve Krakauer writes today about Ann Coulter's appearance on CNN's Larry King Live last night, during which Coulter commented on the prevalence of name-calling in today's political climate -- a subject she's, shall we say, uniquely qualified to discuss. As Krakauer points out, Coulter turned the subject to civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and the racist slurs that were allegedly yelled at him and his Congressional Black Caucus colleagues as they walked through a group of tea party protesters, referencing Andrew Breitbart's $100,000 "ransom" for video proof that such an incident occurred.
Krakauer then offers this observation:
Back in early March, Jon Stewart devoted more than ten minutes of Comedy Central's Daily Show to illustrating just how Fox News blurs the lines of opinion and news, using Megyn Kelly as a particularly compelling case in point:
A week later, Kelly was featured in another of Stewart's comedic take-downs.
Kelly has finally responded to Stewarts criticism and she's none to... well, actually, she's "flattered."
From an interview with the Fox News "anchor" conducted by Mediaite:
Mediaite: The Daily Show criticized you recently in a very lengthy segment, not necessarily for having an opinion but for the topics, the tone. Do you think that was a fair criticism?
Kelly: I have to tell you I enjoy Jon Stewart. That's the truth. I actually think he's very funny. I've paid to see him do his stand-up routine. So when he turned his attention to me I was flattered. For me, it's a big deal to be 10 minutes on the Jon Stewart show. I think it was actually two nights. And as an aside, it helped my ratings both times, so the truth is, I was flattered.
It's telling that Kelly didn't respond directly to the criticism -- what could she possibly say? Well, Mediaite was there to help her out:
Mediaite: I tuned in the next day. I wanted to break it down, see if he was selective editing. This is the impression I got - you're sort of a neo-anchor. Obviously the style is far from the mold of the O'Reilly and Hannity's but there is this passion you could see, that could fit into a prime time role down the road. How would you describe your style?
I realize the president, by the very nature of his job, is subject to wildly unrealistic and often contradictory expectations, but this is absurd.
Mediaite's Steve Krakauer has a column up today chastising President Obama for his interview yesterday with CBS's Harry Smith, during which Smith asked the president if he was aware of "the level of enmity that crosses the airwaves that people have made part of their daily conversation about you." Obama responded in the affirmative, singling out Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, calling their rhetoric "troublesome."
This, according to Krakauer, crossed the line: "What reason does the leader of the free world feel it is appropriate to personally call out radio and TV hosts, even if they are, perhaps, some of the most powerful media figures in the country?"
Mediaite's Steve Krakauer writes:
The Casey Anthony trial is going on right now, and FNC's Harris Faulkner reported some "breaking news" this afternoon that ABC News had paid Anthony $200,000.
Unfortunately, this news was broken 18 months ago.
Faulkner is live from the "breaking news desk" with the news. "Something was confirmed that had only been rumored before, where did she get all the money to pay the attorney's up til now," she said.
Read Krakauer's entire report and watch the video here.
Mediaite's Steve Krakauer defends Howard Kurtz's glaring conflict of interest, arguing that Kurtz's (tepid) criticism of CNN for not paying more attention to a controversial comment by Rep. Alan Grayson shows that Kurtz "doesn't hold back when giving his take on the network airing his show." Here's Krakauer:
The segment is one small piece of evidence that the CNN host doesn't hold back when giving his take on the network airing his show - there are many more. In this media environment where so many networks have partnerships and sharing deals with other outlets, these types of questions are bound to come up. (For example - here's CNBC correspondent and MSNBC anchor John Harwood writing about Fox News in the New York Times.) The questions are likely to continue and increase, but Kurtz has done a good job serving as a model of someone put in a position to balance two separate jobs.
I think Krakauer has this whole question backwards.
When assessing how someone deals with a conflict of interest, the approach shouldn't be to say that everything is ok as long as they sometimes don't let that conflict affect their reporting.
If a politician casts 99 votes that don't seem to unjustifiably benefit her spouse's business, and only one that does, would Krakauer praise her for "model" behavior? Probably not. Nor would most people. Most people don't hand out credit for being ethical most of the time.
Likewise, the question with Kurtz isn't whether he ever criticizes CNN. It's whether he ever seems to let his role at CNN compromise his reporting at the Washington Post (and vice versa). If Krakauer -- or anyone else -- wants to assess whether Kurtz "has done a good job serving as a model of someone put in a position to balance two separate jobs," he shouldn't be looking for examples of Kurtz criticizing CNN; he should be looking to see if there are glaring examples of Kurtz giving CNN a pass. And there are, as I explain here.
A couple other quick points: First, the primary question with Kurtz has always been whether his employment by CNN compromises his ability to cover CNN for the Washington Post. But in defending Kurtz, Krakauer didn't point to anything Kurtz wrote for the Post; he pointed to something Kurtz said about CNN on CNN.
And second, Kurtz isn't "someone put in a position to balance two separate jobs." Nobody's forcing him to work for both CNN and the Washington Post. He chose to. He put himself in that position. And he did so after having lectured other print reporters about the perils of being "seduced by the affluence and adulation that comes with television success" and warning about the danger of "those who pontificate for a living" being "in financial cahoots with the industries and lobbies they analyze on the air."
Over at Mediaite.com, Glynnis MacNicol juxtaposes the recent deaths of Walter Cronkite and Michael Jackson to make an interesting point... the mainstream press does an excellent job reporting things they are prepared to cover.
While the death of Walter Cronkite may have initiated a lot of chatter bemoaning the changes that have occurred in TV news coverage since his heyday, his death also provided a great platform for the main stream media to show off its strengths, as well as its ultimate weaknesses.
Unlike Michael Jackson's surprising death a few weeks earlier, Cronkite's diminishing health had been common knowledge in media circles for quite some time, giving most major media outlets time to prepare a slick respectful homage to the journalism giant. When Katie Couric broke the news on CBS it was with a well edited reel of Cronkite's greatest moments. There was also the flawless special that ran last night in lieu of 60 Minutes. Not to mention, the New York Times had two obituaries and a homepage slide show ready to go shortly after the news was announced.
Blogs, in this case, seemed less useful beyond acting as a conduit for the pre-packaged material. Round-ups of videos appeared (many courtesy of CBS's YouTube channel); we did a collection, as well as a Twitter round-up. However, beyond that there seemed very little reason to immediately scramble anything together when the big boys had already done such a bang up job.
While I think much of the Cronkite coverage has been touching, it seems each week we get yet another example of the media's inability to cover breaking news without turning to speculation or wall-to-wall coverage of stale-news-as-breaking-news. That doesn't even take into consideration what the media often claims to be "breaking news" – anyone remember the suburban-DC man stuck in a tree from last year? That kind of b.s. garners "live," "breaking news" all the time.
Dan Abrams, an NBC legal analyst and former MSNBC host, has launched Mediaite.com, a website described as "the site for news, information and smart opinions about print, online and broadcast media, offering original and immediate assessments of the latest news as it breaks."
Rachel Sklar, former senior contributing editor and founding editor of Huffington Post's Eat The Press, has signed on as Editor at Large while Colby Hall, a former producer for MTV and VH1 will serve as Managing Editor.
Hall describes the site as "Huffington Post meets Gawker."
As part of its buzz seeking approach, Mediaite.com hosts a "Power Grid" ranking of "1477 individuals from 325 media entities broken down into 12 categories." Here are a few of the categories that may be of interest to you along with the current rankings:
TV Anchor/Hosts: (1) Oprah Winfrey (2) Conan O'Brien (3) Katie Couric (4) David Letterman (5) Dr. Phil McGraw
TV Reporters: (1) Jake Tapper (2) Chuck Todd (3) Richard Engel (4) Lara Logan (5) Nancy Cordes
Media Moguls: (1) Rupert Murdoch (2) Michael Bloomberg (3) Sumner Redstone (4) Oprah Winfrey (5) Arnaud Lagardere
TV Pundits: (1) Newt Gingrich (2) Karl Rove (3) Ann Coulter (4) Dick Morris (5) Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Radio Hosts: (1) Rush Limbaugh (2) Glenn Beck (3) Sean Hannity (4) Michael Savage (5) Dave Ramsey
Print/Online Reporters: (1) David Pogue (2) Andrew Ross Sorkin (3) Dana Milbank (4) Jennifer 8 Lee (5) Ezra Klein
Print/Online Columnists: (1) Paul Krugman (2) Thomas Friedman (3) Maureen Dowd (4) Michelle Malkin (5) Christopher Hitchens
I'll admit I've enjoyed Abrams' work at MSNBC over the years but can a website opening with such buzz worthy fluff provide some honest, serious media criticism as well? I sure hope so. In the mean time, what do you think of the rankings?