Eric Boehlert points out that Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander has suggested replacing David Weigel with not one but two reporters assigned to cover conservatives:
Did I mention the Post has never hired anyone to cover the "liberal movement." Yet, incredibly, Post ombudsman Alexander announced that the solution to the Weigel resignation, in order to make sure 'wingers are content with the daily, is to hire two staffers to cover the conservative movement.
That's a good point -- but it's even worse than that. See, it seems that the Washington Post already has a reporter assigned to cover conservatives: Amy Gardner. So, Gardner plus two replacements for Weigel would make three Washington Post reporters covering the Right full time. Will that be enough to appease the right? Or will it take four or eight or twelve? Of course, none of it will be enough.
The New York Times, too, has created a conservative beat in recent years -- and, like the Post, the Times lacks a dedicated liberal beat reporter. This despite the fact that for much of the last decade, the most interesting political developments have been happening on the Left.
For much of the past decade, it has been the progressive movement, not the conservative movement, that has innovated in the use of the internet for organizing and for fundraising and for communicating. It has been the progressive movement, not the conservatives, that rapidly built up its infrastructure, with the rise of organizations like the Center for American Progress, CREW, and (ahem) Media Matters. There have been vibrant debates on the Left that have reexamined long-held assumptions among Democrats that winning requires running to the Right. Oh, and the Left has won enormous victories in the past two elections. And yet it seems that every six months or so the Washington Post (or the New York Times) makes a show of assigning a reporter to the "conservative beat." And their ombudsmen come forward to insist that the paper really must pay more attention to conservatives. What, exactly, have conservatives been up to that justifies such attention? When they come up with ideas better than "let's cut spending during a recession" and "Maybe the president was born in Kenya," then, perhaps, they will merit a dedicated beat reporter or two or even three.
In a blog post about David Weigel's departure from the Washington Post, the paper's ombudsman demonstrated once again a stunning bias in favor of its conservative critics. Ombudsman Andrew Alexander, like other key figures at the Post, routinely gives more weight and credence to criticisms of the paper that come from conservatives than to those that come from liberals -- despite the fact that on several of the biggest stories of the past two decades, the Post has (intentionally or not) placed not just a thumb but an entire forearm on the scales in favor of conservatives.
Among the most weighty progressive critiques of the Post:
1) The relentless obsession with Clinton-era non-scandals on the part of both the Post's news and editorial pages, as illustrated by the paper's editorial call for a special counsel to investigate Whitewater even as the paper admitted there was "no credible charge" either Clinton had done anything wrong. The Post's overheated reaction to every trumped-up allegation in Clinton is even more glaring after having witnessed the paper's comparatively minimalist approach to Bush-era misdeeds.
2) The Post's "war against Gore" during the 2000 election, exemplified by Ceci Connolly's snarky -- and 100% false -- lede on December 2, 1999:
"Add Love Canal to the list of verbal missteps by Vice President Gore. The man who mistakenly claimed to have inspired the movie 'Love Story' and to have invented the Internet says he didn't quite mean to say he discovered a toxic waste site when he said at a high school forum Tuesday in New Hampshire: 'I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal.' Gore went on to brag about holding the 'first hearing on that issue' and said 'I was the one that started it all.'"
That -- including some of the words in quotes -- is just completely wrong. And it was typical of the Washington Post's thumb-on-the-scale coverage of the 2000 campaign -- coverage that, given the election's razor-thin margin, can fairly be described as having unfairly put George W. Bush in office.
3) The Post's abject failure to appropriately cover the Bush administration's false case for war in Iraq, a failure to which enough Post reporters and editors have confessed that it need not be detailed here.
And those are just the clearest example of the Post's history-changing mishandling of specific stories. There's also the matter of what may be the nation's worst editorial & opinion pages and the constant drumbeat of articles and features that adopt conservative framing and assumptions.
If there is a single legitimate conservative gripe about the Washington Post that even begins to approach the magnitude of the Post's shoddy coverage of Clinton, the 2000 campaign, and the Iraq war, I've never heard it -- and I've never seen a Post reporter, editor, or Ombudsman cite it.
And yet Alexander and Post editors routinely refer to conservative unease with the Post, and validate that unease by bending over backwards to appease their conservative critics. Meanwhile, they typically pretend that liberal critics don't exist, and that the fiascos outlined above never happened.
In late August, the Washington Post's Style section featured a friendly profile of National Organization for Marriage executive director Brian Brown. The profile, by Post writer Monica Hesse, portrayed Brown and NOM as a "rational" "sane" "mainstream" organization, and their critics as shrill and vitriolic. In order to portray Brown in such a friendly light, Hesse omitted evidence of their history of gay-bashing, and excluded any criticism of the organization.
Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander agreed with complaints that the piece was one-sided, as did Style editor Lynn Medford:
[I]t deprived readers of hearing from others who have battled Brown and find him uncivil and bigoted. To them, he represents injustice. They should have been heard, at length.
In retrospect, Style editor Lynn Medford agrees. "The lesson is to always, in some way, represent the other side," she said.
Compounding the story's problems were passages like: "He takes nothing personally. He means nothing personal. He is never accusatory or belittling."
These types of unattributed characterizations are not uncommon in feature writing. But many readers thought Hesse was offering her opinion of who Brown is, as opposed to portraying how he comes across.
Finally, the headline: "Opposing Gay Unions With Sanity & a Smile." To many readers, The Post was saying Brown's views are sane. The headline, written by editors, not Hesse, should have been neutral.
Apparently that lesson didn't take.
Today's Washington Post Style section features a profile of another anti-gay activist, Bishop Harry Jackson.
For 2,200 words, Post writer Wil Haygood tells readers about Jackson's faith, and about his childhood. Haygood tells us Jackson "found himself" in the Bible after his "Daddy died." We learn that during his working-class childhood, his parents scraped together money for tuition for private-school, where Jackson was, as he puts it, "the black kid at Country Day who stayed in the houses of wealthy white people." We learn that he got into Harvard Business school, and was "smitten" when he ran into a childhood acquaintance, who he later married.
And we learn that Jackson's critics are dangerous, angry people:
His admirers have multiplied, and so have his critics. More than once, police have stopped by his Southeast Washington apartment to check on his safety.
"I was in line someplace recently," Jackson says, "and a woman who obviously opposes what I'm doing looked at me and said, 'You better go back to Maryland.'"
His wife says: "We have been verbally abused by the best."
Some of his appearances unleashed vitriol, even threats.
But we never really hear from Jackson's critics. Not in any meaningful way. One is quoted saying Jackson is on TV a lot and is "fighting for political ideas in the religious arena." Another is quoted saying "It's an unfortunate reality ... that one can't preach discrimination without inciting homophobia."
And that's it.
Haygood reports that Jackson has won favorable reception for his writing about black families, but makes no mention of Jackson's claims that black people are more prone to "physical intimacy with a nonspouse or enjoyment of pornographic materials" than white people.
Haygood doesn't mention Jackson's claim that God told him to work for George W. Bush's re-election. Or that Jackson has been, as People for The American Way put it, "somewhat of an all-purpose activist and pundit for right-wing causes - everything from judicial nominations to immigration and oil drilling."
And the Post mentions nothing of Jackson's association with far-right gay-bashers:
While Jackson personally avoids venomous language, he has allied himself with some of the hardest line anti-gay activists on the white Christian Right. One of them is Ohio-based Rod Parsley, the evangelical mega-church preacher whose book, Silent No More, sells three for $10 in the front lobby of Hope Christian's 3,000-member church. A chapter entitled "The Unhappy Gay Agenda" argues that gay people are much given to depression and deviance, including their "substantially higher participation in sadomasochism, fisting, bestiality, ingestion of feces, orgies ... obscene phone calls ... shoplifting, and tax cheating."
"Homosexuality is not just sick," writes Parsley, "it is sin."
Jackson works with Parsley and a number of other Christian fundamentalists through his High Impact Leadership Coalition (HILC), a collection of black and white evangelical mega-church leaders who've banded together to fight same-sex union rights and campaign for conservative candidates. Standing next to Jackson at the HILC's coming-out press conference in February 2005 was the Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, an anti-gay organization so hard-line that it is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.
And the Post couldn't find space among those 2,200 words to mention Jackson's opposition to the Matthew Shepard hate crimes legislation -- or the disturbing language Jackson used in opposing the bill:
"God's getting ready to shake us up," roared the Harvard MBA-turned preacher, rousing the audience to divinely ordained political action. With the crowd cheering, applauding, and speaking in tongues, Jackson shouted, "God's looking for a SWAT team ... he's looking for a team of Holy Ghost terrorists!"
Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander may as well just take the rest of the week off, and re-run his September 6 column about Monica Hesse's profile of Brian Brown. Apparently there are some people at the paper's Style section who missed it the first time.
UPDATE: Just to bring things full-circle: Guess who Hesse quoted saying Brown and NOM are "not gay bashers"? Yep: Harry Jackson.
At times like this, it sure would be great if the Washington Post's media critic wasn't getting paid on the side by CNN.
Last week, CNN's Lou Dobbs abruptly resigned (or, if you prefer, "resigned") his job as perhaps the cable channel's most famous anchor. In the wake of the resignation/"resignation," CNN President Jonathan Klein continued his pattern of bizarre and often contradictory statements about Dobbs. But Howard Kurtz, who earns what we can only assume is a handsome salary from his side job as host of CNN's Reliable Sources, continues to give Klein a pass.
It all started over the summer, when Lou Dobbs was hyping the crazy Birther conspiracy theories about Barack Obama's birth certificate. After this nonsense went on for a while, Klein sent around a memo to CNN employees declaring the story "dead," adding "anyone who still is not convinced doesn't really have a legitimate beef." But Lou Dobbs didn't consider it dead, and he kept on flogging it.
That's when things got interesting. CNN President Klein, who had previously declared the story "dead," flip-flopped, calling Dobbs' treatment of the topic "legitimate" and blasting Dobbs' critics as "people with a partisan point of view from one extreme or another."
One of the critics of Dobbs' relentless hyping of the Birther conspiracy theories had been Howard Kurtz. And Kurtz had mentioned Klein's memo on Reliable Sources. But, oddly, he never mentioned criticized CNN's president for endorsing Dobbs coverage -- in fact, he never even mentioned Klein's flip-flop.
Nor Kurtz ever mention that Klein's descriptions of Dobbs' Birther reporting were inaccurate.
Nor has Kurtz noted the obvious falsity of Klein's repeated claims that Dobbs had removed opinion from his broadcasts this year and begun doing straight news broadcasts. Klein has been pushing that line since the Spring, at least, and continues to do so in the wake of Dobbs' departure from CNN:
CNN President Jon Klein said the decision grew out of weeks of discussion with Dobbs after he had directed the anchor several months ago to rein in some of his more controversial opinions.
"We both came to the conclusion that the mission of the network was different from the mission he wanted to pursue," Klein said. "He was very friendly and engaging about it. . . . A few months ago, Lou removed opinion from his show for the most part, in an earnest effort to live up to the mission of the network. It occurred to him that was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He came to us and we agreed. . . . 'Lou Dobbs Tonight' was increasingly standing apart from the network."
Again: that is obviously false, as a few brief moments watching Lou Dobbs Tonight (or browsing Media Matters' extensive Dobbs archives) would have made clear. But Howard Kurtz has never mentioned that the president of CNN was making obviously false claims about the content of one of its most famous programs. On Reliable Sources yesterday, Kurtz noted "CNN president Jon Klein said that he had asked Dobbs several months ago to take the opinion off his program and Dobbs had largely complied." But he politely avoided assessing the truthfulness of Klein's statement.
It's hard to believe the nation's most prominent media critic would ignore Klein's defense of Dobbs' Birther reporting, and his repeated false statements about the content of Dobbs' broadcasts -- until you remember that CNN probably pays Kurtz more than the Washington Post does.
When Washington Post ombudsman wrote a few weeks ago about the "inescapable conflict" of interest represented by Kurtz' dual employment at CNN and the Washington Post, Kurtz responded:
"My track record makes clear that I've been as aggressive toward CNN -- and The Washington Post, for that matter -- as I would be if I didn't host a weekly program there."
That was obviously false at the time. Kurtz's continuing kid-glove treatment of his CNN boss drives that falsity home even more.
From Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander's November 1 column:
The Post's Howard Kurtz, arguably the nation's premier media writer, for many years has hosted the Sunday morning CNN press program "Reliable Sources." He often is criticized by bloggers and readers because he's paid by CNN, which he also covers.
Kurtz, a workhorse of a reporter, has a sizable following in print, online and on the air. But being paid by CNN presents an inescapable conflict that is at odds with Post rules. They state that a reporter or editor "cannot accept payment from any person, company or organization that he or she covers." There can be exceptions for some groups, such as broadcast organizations, "unless the reporter or editor is involved in coverage of them."
Kurtz, the Post media writer since 1990, got approval to appear on "Reliable Sources" about 15 years ago from then-Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr.
"My track record makes clear that I've been as aggressive toward CNN -- and The Washington Post, for that matter -- as I would be if I didn't host a weekly program there," Kurtz said. He discloses his CNN affiliation at the end of his columns and relevant news stories for The Post. And he's identified with The Post on "Reliable Sources."
Still, would The Post allow a reporter who covers energy to be paid on the side by a big oil company?
Like clockwork, New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt joins the parade of journalists buying into the right-wing attacks that because they were supposedly slow to cover the Most Important Story in the World (that would be ACORN, of course) that means they demonstrate liberal bias.
Like Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander and others who have recently taken up this theme, Hoyt manages to get through an entire column about the possibility that the Times is biased in favor of liberals without ever once mentioning the paper's coverage of the 2000 election or the run-up to the Iraq war, to pick just two of the most obvious counter-examples.
And like Alexander, Hoyt manages to avoid quoting or paraphrasing anyone arguing against the premise that the media in general and the Times in particular suffer from "liberal bias."
Hoyt does, however, break a bit of news:
Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was "slow off the mark," and blamed "insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio." She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person "a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere."
A few years ago, the New York Times created a conservative beat -- a reporter assigned full-time to reporting on the conservative movement (the paper didn't bother assigning anyone to cover the progressive movement.) Now, in response to right-wing whining, they're assigning an editor to brief them regularly on Glenn Beck's latest ravings. I'm sure that will make for some excellent journalism.
Hoyt's column ends with a quote from Pew's Tom Rosenstiel:
Rosenstiel said The Times has a particular problem with conservatives, especially after its article last year suggesting that John McCain had an extramarital affair. And Republicans earlier this year charged that the paper killed a story about Acorn that would have been a "game changer" in the presidential election - a claim I found to be false.
"If you know you are a target, it requires extra vigilance," Rosenstiel said. "Even the suspicion of a bias is a problem all by itself."
This is mind-blowingly clueless. The suspicion of bias will never go away. These efforts to bend over backwards to appease the Right -- people who will never be appeased -- no matter how ridiculous their complaints, in which newspapers like the Times fret over the suspicion of bias regardless of the merits of the complaint, are exactly how the paper ends up handing a presidential election to George W. Bush -- and then handing him his Iraq war on a platter.
And the idea that conservatives have "particular" reason to dislike the Times because of an article that may have implied John McCain had an affair is laugh-out-loud funny. I seem to have some vague memory of the Times suggesting a certain Democratic president was less-than-faithful -- and doing so more directly and more frequently than anything the Times published about John McCain. I seem to remember the Times -- a decade later -- trying to tally up the number of times the Clintons slept together in a given month, a task they never undertook with John McCain.
And conservatives have "particular" reason to dislike the Times because it ignored an election-year story about ACORN? Come. On. After what the New York Times did to Al Gore during the 2000 election -- making up a quote Gore never said in order to accuse him of being a liar was only the most sensational of the paper's offenses -- you have to be completely clueless to think conservatives have "particular" reason to distrust the paper's campaign coverage.
Oh, and there's still the little matter of the Iraq war. The Times implied John McCain was having an affair? Well, boo hoo. Thousands of Americans have died in an unnecessary war in part because the Times was insufficiently critical of the Bush administration's Iraq claims.
I've said it before, I'll say it again: The news media's disparate treatment of media critiques from the Left and from the Right pretty much disproves the idea of "liberal bias." If they really were biased in favor of liberals, liberal concerns about their coverage of huge matters like Iraq and Gore/Bush would get far more play than conservative complaints about whether an article about ACORN should have come a week earlier.
On Sunday, Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander devoted his column to conservative complaints that the Post was slow to cover the ACORN story. Alexander quoted Pew's Tom Rosenstiel and Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli saying, essentially, that the Post and the media overall is insufficiently attuned to conservative issues and reflects a Democratic viewpoint.
I responded at length that same day, pointing out that if this is the case, you sure couldn't prove it by looking at media coverage of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, the 2000 presidential election, the run-up to the Iraq war, the disparate treatment of Democratic health care proposals and Republican tax cut proposals during the recent presidential primaries, among other examples.
On Monday, Alexander wrote a blog post following up on his column. The post, "Newsroom Diversity Should Include Ideology," was noteworthy for including not a single word reflecting the point of view of progressive media critics.
Instead, Alexander quoted Rosenstiel again -- this time arguing that the erosion of trust for the media among Democrats is because Democrats are "rooting" for Obama and don't want him "to be criticized in the press" and they feel "anxiety" that "conservative media is having more of an impact." Neither Rosenstiel nor Alexander so much as hinted at the possibility that liberals and Democrats increasingly distrust the media because the media helped the Bush administration lie the country into an unnecessary war, or because it handed Bush the White House in the first place by relentlessly attacking Al Gore.
And he quoted a former Knight Ridder vice president who "called for newsrooms to do a better job of understanding the claims of bias, especially from conservatives." (That he did so while ignoring substantive criticism from liberals should be a rather clear sign that the media is more responsive to conservative complaints than Alexander's column and blog post suggest.)
And he quoted two more people claiming that journalism attracts more liberals, forgetting his own recent experience with the fact that personally liberal journalists often produce news reports that favor conservatives.
And at the end of his one-sided blog post that omitted any discussion of progressive media critiques, and omitted any discussion of the possibility that the media is too responsive to conservatives rather than not responsive enough -- a blog post that followed up on a column with the same flaws -- Alexander calls for ideological diversity:
News organizations, once led exclusively by white men, long ago embraced gender and race diversity. It was a matter of equality, of course. But it also was a matter of accuracy. With diversity, newsrooms became more attuned to the perspectives of women and the multicultural dimensions of the communities they served.
It's the same with ideology. News organizations like The Post are more accurate when they are exposed to the range of perspectives among their readers, both print and online.
I couldn't agree more.
Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander criticized the newspaper for "tardiness" in covering the ACORN videotape controversy, arguing that newspapers should pay more attention to right-wing media outlets and that the Post's purportedly slow reaction to the ACORN story is related to institutional liberal bias. In doing so, Alexander adopted the right-wing argument that the ACORN videos are a major story when, in fact, the government was not harmed as a result of ACORN's actions; the workers involved constituted a tiny fraction of ACORN's workforce; other organizations involved in scandal receive far more government funding than ACORN; and the videos are part of a longstanding effort by the right to use ACORN as a scapegoat and to distract from more important issues.