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.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Journamalism: A Septification from the Washington Post

First, we have:

Panel May Have Few Good Options to Offer - washingtonpost.com: By Michael Abramowitz and Thomas E. Ricks: Washington Post Staff Writers: Sunday, November 12, 2006; Page A01: [A] panel of prestigious Americans will begin deliberations to chart a new course on Iraq.... This panel, led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former Indiana congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D), might play a decisive role in reshaping the U.S. position in Iraq, according to lawmakers and administration officials....

Ya think? Ya really think they "may" have few good options to offer? "May"? I thought [snark] that it was a slam dunk that the Baker-Hamilton group would have at least five GREAT options to offer, in all of which trained armies of flying attack monkeys appear above the White House singing "Bush Akbar!"[/snark].

Plus we don't know whether to believe what the people in the story say, or whether three years from now Tom Ricks will reveal in his next book that it's a load of hooey. Ricks, you see, is a person who is unclear on the difference between a reporter and a stenographer: "I'm a reporter. One of the parts of the job of being a reporter is to accurately report what people say. It doesn't mean that I agree with it".

Second, we have Peter Baker. Shorter Peter Baker: That Karl Rove works for corrupt pedophiles doesn't detract from his true genius. It is remarkable how Baker buys Rove's claims that it is in some sense unfair and unnatural for votes to depend on Mark Foley and Jack Abramoff, while it is fair and natural for votes to depend Rove's claims that the Democrats are the party of "cut and run." It is remarkable how Baker tiptoes around the possibility that Rove's brand of ethics-free politics attracts people like Abramoff who are free of ethics.

Third, we have the Washington Post giving space to Doug Feith--Doug Feith! the man Tommy Franks called the stupidest man alive--to write a puff piece on the greatness of Donald Rumsfeld:

The Donald Rumsfeld I Know - washingtonpost.com: ...not an ideologue.... He did not ignore the advice of his military advisers.... [A] revealing contrast between [Rumsfeld's] Pentagon and... Colin Powell.... Pentagon lawyers told Rumsfeld that the detainee interrogation techniques in the old Army field manual were well within the bounds of the Geneva Conventions.... [M]ilitary officers at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, asked Rumsfeld to authorize additional techniques.... [T]he country's leading civil libertarians... would have approved of the way Rumsfeld handled the service lawyers' dissent.... Rumsfeld has been attacked for insisting that troop levels for the Iraq operation be kept low, supposedly out of ideology and contrary to the advice of the military.... Rumsfeld questioned standard military recommendations for "overwhelming force."... Rumsfeld never told Gen. John Abizaid or Gen. Tommy Franks that U.S. Central Command could not have... [more] troops.... Rumsfeld is more politically sensitive than that -- he would never expose himself to the risk of a commander later saying that he had denied... forces.... If other generals are unhappy with the troop levels... the problem is not that they failed to persuade Rumsfeld, but that they failed to persuade Abizaid or Franks...

"If" generals are unhappy with the fact that we have too few troops in Iraq. "If." "If." "If." Well--Feith says--it's not Rumsfeld's fault we have too few troops in Iraq!

Fourth, Fred Hiatt's shop, which Media Matters reads so I don't have to:

Media Matters - Wash. Post editorial acknowledged Republicans dominated in "negative campaigning" but said it was "because they were the ones on the defensive": In a November 9 editorial, headlined "A Better Way," which discussed how "[n]egative campaigning hit new lows this year," citing four tactics used by Republicans this election cycle, The Washington Post asserted that "[t]he worst offenders... were Republicans, but that probably was because they were the ones on the defensive."... Additionally, the Post editorial cited the "sleazy new practices such as robo-calls designed to annoy and deceive voters" but did not note that they were employed by Republicans, not Democrats.... The editorial also referred to "the Election Day disgrace of Maryland's top two elected officials sanctioning the use of a clearly false campaign flier..." but did not note that the campaign was conducted by Republicans... Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Senate candidate Michael S. Steele...

Fifth is that these campaign frauds were committed not just by Republicans--a thing the Post does not mention--but by Republicans whom the Post had endorsed--another thing the Post does not mention. Remarkably high quality of the Maryland Republicans endorsed by the Post, as noted by Duncan Black:

Eschaton: Truly Awful: With [governor] Ehrlich losing in Maryland I'm reasonably happy to believe that there's some karmic rebalancing going on in the universe. And, hey, nice job endorsing this scum Washington Post!

At least six chartered buses carried mostly poor, black men from as far as Philadelphia to hand out inaccurate voter guides in Baltimore and Prince George's County yesterday as part of an effort by backers of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and U.S. Senate candidate Michael S. Steele to woo black voters. The glossy voter guide, paid for by the Ehrlich and Steele campaigns, pictured three of Maryland's most prominent black Democrats above the words "These are OUR Choices," even though two were not on yesterday's ballot and the other was running unopposed. Inside, under the heading "Democratic Sample Ballot," it listed mostly Democratic candidates as the preferred choices -- along with Ehrlich and Steele, who were not identified as Republicans...

You have to work hard to match this bias. But Journamalist number five, Charles Krauthammer is up to the task. Here he is trying as hard as he can to keep his readers from knowing how many people voted for whom--to spread the meme that the country was "evenly divided" in the election:

Charles Krauthammer - Only a Minor Earthquake - washingtonpost.com: How serious is the "thumpin' " the Republicans took on Tuesday?...[T]hey won 29 House seats... slightly below the post-1930 average for the six-year itch in a two-term presidency. They took the Senate by the thinnest of margins -- a one-vote majority.... A switch of just 1,424 votes.... A margin this close should no longer surprise us... the country has been evenly divided politically.... [B]oth parties have moved to the right... the biggest winner... Joe Lieberman....

Sixth, Glenn Greenwald catches the Post editors hard at work with the rubber hoses on their reporters:

The Washington Post... on the [Bush] Press Conference... detailed the Rumsfeld lie... with unusual candor, i.e., that the President "appeared to acknowledge having misled reporters." It's so unusual to see a major newspaper accurately report on the President's dishonesty....

Bush indicated that he had made the decision to replace Rumsfeld before the elections... He appeared to acknowledge having misled reporters, saying, "And so the only way to answer that question and to get you onto another question was to give you that answer." He added... "Win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee.

But... [now] the passage I quoted about the President's having acknowledged that he "misled reporters" is gone entirely.... [T]he Post changed what was the accurate reporting -- that Bush expressly acknowledged that he "misled" reporters... by claiming in the new version that he merely "contemplated" Rumsfeld's exit before the election...

The seventh and last instance of journamalism is the piece de resistance: Washington Post National News Director John Harris on NPR talking about what he calls "The Freak Show"--as in the Washington Post's A1 story:

Kerry Offers Apology to Troops: Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) issued two apologies for remarks that seemed to impugn U.S. troops and abandoned his public schedule yesterday, but he denounced what he called the "campaign of smear and fear" against him as the surreal sequel to the 2004 presidential election echoed across the campaign trail. The White House and Republican allies orchestrated a cascade of denunciations throughout the day...

What does Harris say on NPR? Here are excerpts:

JOHN HARRIS: It is being treated [i.e., John Harris's people are reporting it] like it's the biggest thing facing the country right now. Emphatically, it is not....

[...]

BROOKE GLADSTONE: [B]y covering... this misplaced pronoun in Kerry's joke, aren't you playing right into the Administration's hands?....

JOHN HARRIS: Yes.... This is not the world as it should be. Unfortunately, it is the world as it is. The freak show, we try to describe it clinically in the book, but we're not neutral about it. We're [LAUGHS] roundly opposed to it. It is a corruption of our democracy.

[...]

JOHN HARRIS: The people at the White House and in the Republican Party claiming to be offended by this and saddened by this, of course [Laughs] weren't offended and saddened. They were delighted. They thought they had a great opportunity to make the election about John Kerry...

JOHN HARRIS: Brooke, I tried that for one day and, indeed, that is what we did. I cannot, by proclamation, create my own reality and say that this was not, in fact, a dominant reality of the closing days of the campaign. And my first responsibility to readers is to describe that reality. Now, I don't think, if you look at The Post stories, that we covered them in a freak show way. I believe we maintained detachment. But nonetheless, you are right. We were responding in a way to the freak show. I hope that we were not letting the freak show drive our own values but, unquestionably, the freak show succeeds in driving coverage...

The most remarkable thing in Harris's appearance is:

JOHN HARRIS: [I]t's not my job as an editor to delete the noise [of what he calls the Freak Show--incidents like the attack on John Kerry] or pretend that it doesn't exist. Probably George W. Bush's drunk-driving incident from 1977 wasn't the most important issue facing the country in the closing days of the 2000 campaign. Nonetheless, that was also something that entered the media echo chamber. I think the individual journalists like me are always in a quandary

John Harris has taken this metaphor--signal and noise--from electrical engineering. Harris uses it to describe his newspaper, the Washington Post--thinking of the Post as picking up the equivalent of radio waves from the ether and then playing them for its readers. If you are building a radio, you want to build it in such a way as to get the best reception possible--you want the circuitry of your radio to amplify the "signal" and suppress the "noise." In electrical engineering, a high signal-to-noise ratio is a very good thing. But, says Harris, I'm the antithesis of an electrical engineer: it's not my job to produce a hi-fi low-noise sound. It's my job to faithfully reproduce the "noise" that is the Freak Show, not suppress it.

Journamalism.

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