December 19, 2005
What can I do now instead of doing my grading?
I can say that Diet Snapple Peach Iced Tea really tastes better than Snapple Peach Iced Tea--one of the very few things for which this is true.
And I can put media criticism posts up at TPMCafe:
Astroturf vs. Grassroots
Over at the Mothership, Josh Micah Marshall asks: "The War against Froomkin started with Pat Ruffini, webmaster for Bush-Cheney 2004 and official BC04 blogger?"
Yes, it is true. Washington Post national political editor John Harris hastens to assure us that "we do not want to spike [Daniel Froomkin's] column--or at least I don't," but rather that he merely "perceive[s] a good bit of [Dan Froomkin's] commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism--or at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions," and so the Post Online needs to change the title of Froomkin's White House Briefing "to make it clear that it is not "the observations of someone who is assigned by the paper to cover the news." (If you are scratching your head and wondering how having a piece in "Opinions" called "White House Briefing" is supposed to create confusion, you are not alone.)
When Harris was pressed by Jay Rosen to point to an example of somebody who thought that Washington Post-Online's White House Briefing column written by Dan Froomkin was "biased", the only example he came up with was Pat Ruffini, a smart and prolific guy, but also a Bush-can-do-no-wrong Republican operative. It's not a grassroots perception of bias that John Harris pointed to. It was Republican operatives working the ref.
Now this does have implications. First of all, John Harris's beef with Froomkin was, according to Ombudsman Deborah Howell, that:'Political reporters at The Post don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing," which is highly opinionated and liberal. They're afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter. John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, "The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset -- our credibility" as objective news reporters.'
It would be one thing if the great mass of readers were confused, or angry. But if the only person who Harris points to who is confused and angry is an RNC operative--well, put it this way: should the touchstone of the Washington Post be making RNC operatives happy?
But wait, there's more. When John Harris points to Patrick Ruffini, he does so in a way that downplays Ruffini's true identity. Harris calls him a "conservative weblogger." He doesn't call him "the former head webmaster for Bush-Cheney 2004" or "the current eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee." Now Ruffini is a conservative weblogger. But this is the Judy Miller mode of sourcing: Pat Ruffini is a conservative weblogger, just as Scooter Libby is an ex-Capitol Hill staffer. The fact that this identification is totally misleading--that the right way to identify Scooter Libby is as Cheney's Chief-of-Staff, and the right way to identify Pat Ruffini is as a RNC operative--doesn't matter to Harris. He doesn't want to admit that Ruffini is astroturf. He wants to claim that Ruffini is the grassroots. And when the ethics of sourcing accurately collide with the imperatives of pulling the wool over some readers' eyes...
If it is the credibility of the Post's national political desk as an objective reporter of the news that is at issue, it's not Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing that is the threat.
This Morning: Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei Cook with Walnuts
Our story so far: In the foreground, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell and national political director John Harris say that they...
The Two Washington Posts: ...don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing"... highly opinionated and liberal.... The title... dilutes our only asset -- our credibility as objective news reporters. Froomkin writes the kind of column that we would never allow a White House reporter to write.... The Web site should remove the "White House Briefing" label from Froomkin's column...
...and retitle the column, "Dan Froomkin's 'Cooking with Walnuts'."
In the background, Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie has his eye on the essentials:
Len Downie: We want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion."
But what's going on off in the wings? This morning, enter Peter Baker, one of the three opinion-free White House correspondents of the Washington Post, snarking on page A1 about George Bush's "two answers," and expressing his opinion that Bush's Iraq policy is incoherent:
In Four Speeches, Two Answers on War's End: By Peter Baker. Thursday, December 15, 2005; A01: As President Bush wrapped up a series of speeches on the war yesterday, he once again gave a clear answer to when U.S. troops would come home from Iraq: "We will not leave until victory has been achieved." And he also gave this clear answer to when U.S. troops would come home from Iraq: "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." What he did not do was reconcile those two ideas.... The vow to "settle for nothing less than complete victory" satisfies Bush's desire to project Churchillian resolve.... The "stand up, stand down" formulation, by contrast, is intended to signal that the United States will not remain forever enmeshed in a bloody overseas conflict fueled by sectarian enmity...
And enter the second White House correspondent Jim VandeHei--last seen earlier this week reprinting the possibly-true possibly-false spin of Karl Rove lawyer Robert Luskin--on page A7, actually doing some in-line fact-checking as a snarky way of expressing his opinion that George W. Bush doesn't know what he is talking about, and worse:
Jim Vandehei: Bush said.... "Secondly, the Abramoff -- I'm not, frankly, all that familiar with a lot that's going on over at Capitol Hill, but it seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties." According to campaign finance reports, Abramoff and his clients contributed money to Democrats but substantially more to Republicans....
As the extremely intelligent Michael Kinsley said, ""The biggest problem [posed for journalism by the Bush administration] is -- and I don't know what the solution is, so it's not a criticism, as much as it is a puzzle -- is that the conventions of objectivity make it very difficult to say that something is a lie." Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei are solving this problem.
Very good stories, both of them--and not despite, but because they stretch news conventions in a way that will trigger more angry phone calls to Len Downie from the White House.
Posted by DeLong at December 19, 2005 11:58 AM