Fat Steve's Blatherings

Monday, April 18, 2005

More MSM Cluelessness

      Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post is one of the best reporters around.  When he gets interested in finding the truth about a story, he does an excellent job.  But today, he shows some of the big flaws of the Main Stream Media: a lack of concern for the truth, ignoring details that change the whole meaning of a story, and sheer cowardice.  (Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt).

      In his latest "Media Notes" column, "For Every Story, an Online Epilogue," he tells how the MSM are reacting to bloggers. Kurtz starts with seven paragraphs consisting almost completely of complaints by MSM people about the way bloggers treat them.  Fair enough, since the story is about the way reporters feel.  But is this really any different from the past?  Some comparisons with letters to the editor or calls received by the Post would help.  So would some real examples of what bloggers have said.  Some sort of survey would let us know how much of this MSM hurt feelings, and how much is legitimate complaint.  And it might be nice to see some examples of how bloggers are treated by commenters and other bloggers.

      In paragraph eight, Kurtz writes:
Bloggers have scored three major media knockouts since last fall. They were the first to blow the whistle on the suspect National Guard documents used by CBS's Dan Rather in a report on President Bush.

      Howard, Howard, Howard.  Do you really think those documents were genuine?  If so, say it plainly.  Do you think that they may have been genuine?  Then say that.  Are you unable to come to an opinion?  Let us know.  Or do you believe that the memos were frauds?  In that case, just flat-out call them 'phony memos.'  But in any case, grow a pair.  Tell us what you believe.

      In the next sentence of the same paragraph, Kurtz says:
They helped force the resignation of CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan over off-the-record remarks about the U.S. military.

      Were Jordan's remarks off the record?  Two professional reporters in the room when he made them thought they were on the record.  The basis of the belief was the fact that an announcement by the conference organizers that all meetings in that particular room were on the record.  Rony Abovitz, the blogger who got the story rolling, saw the panel being videotaped, and figured that made it public.  Calling Jordan's remarks "off-the-record" without noting that this may have been an after-the-fact excuse to avoid releasing the video seriously distorts the incident.

      In the ninth paragraph, Kurtz quotes ABC's Linda Douglass:
But she says others are "driven by anger" and trying "to snuff out the opinions offered by the other side," undermining journalists who "are trying to provide a more balanced view."

      Hmmm, correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't complaints about lack of balance a staple of the blogger criticism of the MSM?  Whether the MSM is biased is what much of the controversy is about.  Kurtz ought to note that fact.

      In paragraph thirteen, we read:
When controversy erupted last month over what ABC's Douglass and The Post's Mike Allen described as a strategy memo given to Republican senators in the Terri Schiavo case, some conservative bloggers denounced the document as questionable, even fake. Not all backed off after GOP Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida admitted an aide had written the talking points.

      Howard, that's not exactly what happened.  The story as it currently stands: Mel Martinez, freshman Senator from Florida, introduced a bill intended to save the life of Terri Schiavo.  He gave some talking points in concerning the bill in a press conference, and on his web site.  One of his aides, Brian Darling, then (Darling claimed) wrote some stuff about the political advantage that he thought would accrue to the Republicans if they passed this bill, and added the Martinez talking points at the end.  Then, something happened: the aide swears he didn't print the memo out, but Martinez ended up with a copy of it.  Martinez gave a copy of the memo to Tom Harkin.  Then, something else happened, and ABC and the Post had stories saying this was a Republican Party memo, distributed to GOP senators by the party leadership.  When questioned, Senate Republican leaders denied distributing the memo, and all fifty-five GOP senators denied knowing anything about it till it appeared in the press.  It was only after Harkin told Martinez, 'You gave me a copy of this memo' that the aide story came forth.

      Did the party leadership distribute the memo?  Did the Martinez aide write it, or is that a cover story to protect the real author?  Who printed it out and gave it to Martinez?  Did somebody hack Martinez's office computers?  Who gave it to the media?  Was the Republican leadership involved in any way?  Did the memo get distributed to Republican senators?  Did the Post or ABC make any effort to check their assertions before they ran with the story?  Lots of unanswered questions here, but Kurtz glosses over the lingering mysteries.  Is he unaware of them?  That's hard to believe.  He quotes John Hindracker of Powerline, where a lot of these points were made.

      It appears that, having found a point where Kurtz can say 'Look, a lot of bloggers thought Democrats wrote this memo!  They were wrong!', he and the rest of the MSM have decided to drop any further inquireries.  That shows a certain dishonesty of attitude on their part.  If it was important enough to report in the first place, it ought to be important enough to track down the truth of the matter.

      After the Schiavo memo section, we get three paragraphs of reporters telling us that the left has been nasty to them.  So?  The idea seems to be the old MSM excuse that if you get criticized from left and right, that means you're unbiased.  Bullstuff!  It may be that both left and right are correct about your bias, or that both left and right are sometimes correct and sometimes wrong, or that one side is wrong, but the other one is right.  But making judgments of that kind is something Kurtz and the Post refuse to do.  I wonder why?

      The second story in the column tells us
ExxonMobil has funneled money to 40 organizations that have either challenged scientific evidence on global warming or are linked to skeptical scientists who do so, says the forthcoming issue of Mother Jones
      So what?  Why is this significant?  No quotes from Mother Jones to tell us why they think so.  Quote from Steven Milloy saying that Mother Jones is insinuating he's been bought, and denying it.  Quote from ExxonMobil saying 'So's your old man' to the MSM.  Nothing on recent reports that left groups have, e.g., subsidized foundations and magazines to support their point of view.  No evidence or opinion on whether such subsidies influence anyone.  So what is the point of this story?

      The column's third section raps Robert Scheer's knuckles with the ruler, lightly, for not bothering to check out a story about William Bennett.  Given Scheer's reputation as a great reporter, doesn't this say something about the first section of the column, namely that criticism of the MSM is deserved?

      The final section is about Boston Globe freelancer Barbara Stewart, who wrote a vivid story about a seal hunt that hadn't taken place.  Here's the whole section:
Premature Journalism

Barbara Stewart, the Boston Globe freelancer dropped over her story about a Canadian seal hunt that had not yet taken place, says she never meant to deceive anyone. She just never checked back to learn that the scheduled hunt had been delayed by bad weather.

"The whole situation, while resulting from an egregious, massive, stupid [screwup] on my part, unbelievable carelessness, was nevertheless not malicious fabrication as in: pretending I was there and deliberately making up a whole scene and attempting to pass it off," Stewart says by e-mail.

"It was stupider and more boring and more flat out dumb on my part. Quite dumb. Remarkably dumb. But not vicious and not really a scandal, for heaven's sake."

      Now, I haven't been able to find an online copy of the story (any of you who know of one, please clue me in as to the URL), but the descriptions I read said Stewart described visual details, number of seals taken, and other things she couldn't possibly have known about in advance, even if the hunt had taken place.  That sure sounds like a scandalous fraud to me.  What does Kurtz think?  He doesn't say.  Neither does he report asking her any of these questions.

      Hey, reporters, WAKE UP!  If you want us to stop criticizing your reporting so harshly, you need radical improvement.

      Michelle Malkin notes Kurtz's spinning of the memo story here.



  • I read the story when it first came out, and Ms Stewart did in fact use numbers and descriptions of blood in the water and so forth -- it was not an instance of just mistakenly reporting the start time, but of making up details to an event that had not occurred. This is not a mistake.

    Anyway, I just searched for "boston globe seal hunt barbara stewart" on Alltheweb.com, and amazingly enough, there is now a website called "BostonGlobeSealHunt.blogspot.com" that reproduces the article pretty much as I remember it, including this charming paragraph:

    "Hunters on about 300 boats converged on ice floes, shooting harp seal cubs by the hundreds, as the ice and water turned red. Most of the seals were less than 6 weeks old."

    You quote her email with her saying that she did not try to pass herself off as being there. Pretty hard to square that with the above paragraph.

    By Anonymous Eric, at 10:23 PM  

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