Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Jonathan Weisman and Washington Post Bad, Dick Polman and Philadelphia Inquirer Good Edition)

Outsourced to Jamison Foser, who writes about journamalist Jonathan Weisman and journalist Dick Polman.

Here's Foser on Weisman, who would--if the Washington Post cared at all about its reputation as an honest deliverer of objective news--would have been fired years ago:

Media Matters - "Media Matters"; by Jamison Foser: Washington Post reporter Jonathan Weisman participated in an August 25 online discussion on the newspaper's website:

West Coast: Dick Cheney said he was stuck with the grave decision of whether to shoot down the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania or not. The recently released NORAD tapes confirm that the government first knew of the flight one minute before it went down. Is Cheney lying, again, or was he thinking very fast that day, with his drama unfolding within 60 seconds? I've yet to read anywhere that Cheney has been queried about his story. THANKS.

Jonathan Weisman: If I can get him on the phone, I will query him. Cheney's statements present a quandary for us reporters. Sometimes we write them up and are accused of being White House stenographers and stooges for repeating them. Then if we don't write them up, we are accused of being complicit for covering them up. So, all you folks on the left, what'll it be? Complicity or stenography?

We can't speak for all the "folks on the left," but we suspect most of them would choose "Option C: Journalism." Indeed, several participants in the online discussion made exactly that point. As one put it:

[R]esearch and intelligent questions based on said research that makes up 'Reporting'. Retyping statements without research is 'Stenography'. Avoiding asking tough questions because it makes your original stenography look really, really bad is 'Complicity'."

Weisman, showing nothing but contempt for his readers -- and, though it seems he didn't realize it, for his profession -- responded with a series of churlish comments like "Please apply for my job" and "Sometimes, you folks really drive us nuts."

We can assure Mr. Weisman that the feeling is mutual...

Foser on Polman:

Media Matters - "Media Matters"; by Jamison Foser: Then head over to Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Dick Polman's blog. In June, Polman -- described by ABC News as "one of the finest political journalists of his generation" -- posted an explanation of what's wrong with [Weisman's] kind of journalism...

I don't feel that we should be content with passing along misinformation in "straight" stories. The reader deserves a full context, and that means politicians should be fact-checked -- a job that's relatively quick and easy to do, in the Google era. Providing accurate factual context is not "commentary." It's what "straight" reporting should be about.

It always helps to remember the lesson of Senator Joe McCarthy. The 1950s demagogue... was enabled at every step of the way by journalists who believed their job was to only report "what was said." McCarthy was a senator, therefore, if he said something (true or not), it was deemed news. When he made wild charges about 60 or 80 or 100 communists in the State Department, it was reported as news. The "fact" that he was making such charges was considered sufficient; as the New York Times wrote back then, after reviewing their own McCarthy coverage, "It is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore charges by Senator McCarthy just because they are usually proved false. The remedy lies with the reader."

Washington reporter Richard Rovere, in a book he wrote two years after the senator's death, complained about "the system that required (reporters) to publish 'news' they knew to be fraudulent but prohibited them from reporting their knowledge of its fradulence. [sic]"

In today's world, given the credibility problems that have plagued administrations of both parties, that "system" is not adequate. Nor was it then.

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