January 19, 2004

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?: Part DXII

Lerxst at Economists for Dean trashes Matthew Yglesias's old family friend Danny Okrent for thinking that the purpose of an Ombudsman is to provide cover for reporters and editors rather than to make reporters' and editors' lives less comfortable when they make errors and let their biases show. I score it as Lerxst 10, Okrent 3:

Lerxst: Economists for Dean: New York Times Whitewash: Daniel Okrent, the New York Times ombudsman tries to whitewash their anti-Dean coverage...but the cat's out of the bag...they have been busted and they know it. Here are a few points:

1. They acknowledge four instances where their coverage was inappropriate over a seven week period. While it is comical that they only find four instances (I could find four in one article)...the fact that they examined their coverage means that Mr. Okrent and the NYT have been made aware of the truth whether they wish to acknowledge it or not. Heck, they couldn't even come completely clean on Wen Ho Lee. Here's what he finds:

The paper has made mistakes. Wilgoren's description of Dean listening to Al Gore announce his endorsement (Dec. 10) was inappropriate in a news article: ''Dr. Dean smirked his trademark smirk"; that's columnist language. The visual used to illustrate an article on Dean's temper (Jan. 3) was more problematic; it was the cover of a recent issue of National Review, with the face of an inflamed Dean above the headline, ''Please Nominate This Man." The caption noted that National Review is a ''conservative journal," but there's no escaping the fact that this wasn't an example of Dean's temper, but of what an avowedly partisan publication thinks of Dean's temper.

Some headlines understandably aroused the troops. David Halbfinger's fine Jan. 4 piece detailing the potential mechanics of a Dean collapse (if you're an electoral horse-race fan, it was irresistible; if you're a Dean fan, it was probably alarming) appeared under the words ''Yes, Howard Dean Can Be Toppled and How." Halbfinger, uttering a line that is a version of every reporter's mantra, says, ''I've long since stopped worrying about headlines, as I have no control of them." Week in Review editor Katy Roberts, who does, admits that ''the headline, in trying too hard to be cute (with the double meaning of 'and how') may have misrepresented the story."

In the news pages on Jan. 9, the head over a piece chiefly about Dean voters in Iowa read, ''Tide of Second Thoughts Rises Among Democrats." Judging by what appeared in the article, the ''tide" consisted of the four Iowans quoted in the story and some unknown portion of the ''dozens" of others with whom the writers spoke.

I found the front-page play given one story peculiar and inappropriate. Managing editor Jill Abramson stoutly defends the placement of ''Vermont Auditors Faulted Dean Aide on Contract in '92" (Jan. 6), by Rick Lyman, because ''this was a revealing example of how Dean handled the award of a lucrative state contract to a company connected to a close political ally." I think it was a revealing example of how newspapers tend to inflate their own scoops.

Abramson says the story was additionally relevant because of the way ''Dean and the Democrats are also assailing the Bush administration for secrecy." But a story so old, and so tenuously connected to Dean's own actions, didn't need to shout. Page 1 is a megaphone, and the same piece, run inside the paper and at less imposing length, could have been delivered at a more appropriate volume. Executive editor Bill Keller believed that the story was important, but he told me, ''I concede we might have overplayed it."

Here is just one instance of something I posted on about an August article by Jodi Wilgoren that didn't get included in the 7-week review:

The feisty crowds were filled with Birkenstock liberals whose loudest ovations always followed Dr. Dean's antiwar riff...the people buying the "Doctor is in" buttons were mostly aging flower children and the tongue-studded next generation.

I know about the stupidity of this first hand because I attended a rally she wrote about and was stunned to read this account...

Posted by DeLong at January 19, 2004 09:13 AM | TrackBack


Why so lousy? 'Cause the owners are all terribly pro-BushCo (tax cuts for the rich, consolidation), and the actual reporters are lazy and vain (e.g., "Dean didn't ask any question about ME!")

Posted by: MattB on January 19, 2004 11:15 AM


I've said it before, and will say it again:

By November '04, any centrist who's paying attention will be sickened at the conduct of the press. They'll also be convinced that the press is biased, and towards the right. They'll also realize that whatever happens to whomever is the Dem nominee would have happened to whomever the Dem nominee was.

They'll also go from amazed to flabbergasted at how many passes are given to Bush, for corruption and incompetancy. Chomsky's ideas about the media will seem reasonable, even if these guys don't credit him.

Posted by: Barry on January 19, 2004 11:32 AM


Those of the centrists and even conservatives I know who are paying attention are upset at Bush's utter opportunism and dishonesty. But my moderate sister who just scans the headlines and watches TV news a little still supports Bush and the war. (In the face of the disagreement of her mother and four brothers). She's a very busy working mother who always stays active, and she basically wants to believe that political things are being well taken care of without her input.

I think MattB is exactly right. Media ownership is extremely concentrated and many of the big players (Jack Welch, Murdoch, Ailes, Moon, Fox, et al) are completely uninhibited about pushing their political line. Reporters do NOT admit to being conservative, but they sugar-coat their biassed coverage with careerism ("If Brooks is so bad, why did the Times hire him?"), hip cynicism (jokey excuses for shallow stuff about sweaters, etc.), and to the degree possible, fake piety and fake professionalism. Someone who gets a scoop on a fake scandal will still have a scoop (professionalism) and can wax indignant too.

I think that the newest crop of reporters has no real concept of professionalism at all. The people they see getting promotions are the ones who can tell what the boss wants, by looking at the expressions on his face and listening to his tone of voice, and give it to him. Sort of like tiny, dim children trying to make Mommy happy, or Clever Hans (the mathematical horse) figuring out what answer the ringmaster is trying to get.

Some people believe the principle that whenever there's a fuckup, incompetence should be the favored explanation rather than deliberate malfeasance. I don't think there's any justification for that principle.

Posted by: zizka on January 19, 2004 12:14 PM


PS. What are the acceptable shoes for people with opinions? Somehow I don't think my sneakers cut it either. Tassel loafers are a big no-no. Bush's cowboy boots are wonderful, but no one else can wear them (Someone tried). People got in trouble in NH for wearing the wrong kind of winter footwear too (from LL Bean, I think).

The election may hinge on this.

Posted by: zizka on January 19, 2004 12:18 PM


Think! makes some nice ones, and as a nice, ninth-generation, family-owned business in a small town, they stand for everything that makes America great. granted, they're situated in rural Austria, but pay that no heed. Think! is clearly the shoe for the discerning latte-sipper.

the coffee beans should be Yemeni, to support our arabian-peninsula allies in the war on terror.

the sushi of today is unagi or, when available, toro.

however, body piercing, Volvo driving, and Hollywood loving are all soooo Florida 2000, don't you think? I'd leave them out.

Posted by: wcw on January 19, 2004 12:50 PM


So was the Jayson Blair scandal an anomaly or a symptom?

Posted by: john c. halasz on January 19, 2004 02:25 PM


PS. What are the acceptable shoes for people with opinions? Somehow I don't think my sneakers cut it either. Tassel loafers are a big no-no. Bush's cowboy boots are wonderful, but no one else can wear them (Someone tried). People got in trouble in NH for wearing the wrong kind of winter footwear too (from LL Bean, I think).

The election may hinge on this.

Posted by: zizka on January 19, 2004 12:18 PM

zizka, on the last episode of "Cheers", Cliff explained to my complete satisfaction that every important decision was made in comfortable shoes. I haven't owned any Birkenstocks, but they would appear to be comfortable shoes in my estimation.

Perhaps it is a relative comfort thing? Are Tevas a better sandal choice since they have the same open footware comfort and don't seem to force abstinance on their wearers? Are Stocks sort of like the bow tie? Where does that put LL Bean? Hmm? I'm just not ready for political fashions.

Posted by: Stan on January 20, 2004 07:57 AM


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