Over the weekend, a major story broke about the Washington Post's efforts to sell access to its reporters to corporate interests. When the story first broke earlier this year, Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli told at least two different reporters at two different news organizations -- the New York Times and Politico -- that he had been unaware that the events were being promoted as off-the-record. But over the weekend, it was revealed that Brauchli wrote a letter to a former Post marketing executive acknowledging that he had known about it all along.
On Saturday, Brauchli refused to talk to Michael Calderone, the Politico reporter he seems to have misled earlier, instead talking only to Post reporter Howard Kurtz -- who happens to work for Brauchli, and who omitted any mention of Brauchli's earlier comments to Politico. Kurtz did, however, include in his article Brauchli's claim that the Times simply misunderstood him -- a claim that is seriously undermined by Calderone's reporting for Politico.
Today, Brauchli held a previously-scheduled online Q&A session with Post readers. I noted this morning that the Post had subtly changed the way it was promoting the session, seeming to limit the topic to exclude questions about Brauchli's honesty.
And, sure enough, Brauchli continued ducking tough questions.
Brauchli took questions about the new format for bylines on Post articles, a request that the Post "capitalize the headlines," a question about page number formats, a complaint that the Post doesn't just leave its layout the same, and a positive comment about the paper's font choices.
And he responded to a comment (not even a question) about the Awesome Washington Post's Awesome Awesomeness:
Alexandria, Va.: You did a real nice job with the redesign. I opened the Post this morning to find a refreshing and better design. Reminded me a lot of the WSJ! No surprise. I also want to comment that it seems recently the news sections have got a little richer. Maybe more stories, but not sure. All in all, I think the Post is really doing a lot to build a great product.
From, a subscriber of 21 years.
But Brauchli ducked questions about the weekend revelations that he apparently lied to two different reporters at two different publications about his role in the Washington Post's efforts to sell access to its reporters until the end of the Q&A, then chose questions that he could easily dismiss.
Incidentally, I know Brauchli received and ignored tough questions because I submitted some so the Post could not claim Brauchli was asked only about fonts and bylines.
Here's a question I submitted about the weekend revelations:
You say the New York Times misunderstood you, and that you did NOT tell them you were unaware the Post's controversial corporate dinners were being promoted as "off the record."
But Politico reporter Michael Calderone has reported that you said the same thing to him, and that he interpreted it the same way the Times did.
Are we supposed to believe that two different reporters at two different news organizations misinterpreted two different interviews with you in precisely the same way?
And is this why you refused to talk to Calderone yesterday, but did talk to your own employee, Howard Kurtz -- who failed to mention Calderone's reporting in his story about this matter?
Brauchli didn't take that question. Nor did he take this question about his recent comments to Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander:
You told the Post's ombudsman that the paper needs to be more responsive to conservatives. Would you care to reconcile that position with the paper's abusive treatment of Al Gore during the 2000 election and with the paper's reporting on the Bush administration's Iraq war claims, which countless Post employees past and present have acknowledged was deeply flawed and insufficiently critical?
Nor did Brauchli take this question about the massive conflict of interest he allows Kurtz to work under:
Post media critic Howard Kurtz repeatedly gave CNN President Jonathan Klein a pass during Kurtz's reporting for the Post on CNN's Lou Dobbs and his promotion of the Birther conspiracy theory. Klein defended Dobbs' reporting and attacked his critics -- but Kurtz never mentioned Klein's defense, despite their clear news value, and despite his repeated reporting on the Birther story.
Oh, and Howard Kurtz happens to be employed on the side by CNN.
Why does the Post tolerate this conflict of interest? Are you investigating Kurtz' handling of this story? Do any of your other reporters have financial relationships with those they are assigned to cover for the Post?
I guess Brauchli just didn't have time for questions like those after dealing with hard-hitting questions about how great the Post is and how wonderful the new font is. And a comment from a reader about how much her husband likes the Post's redesign.
Brauchli did take two questions (at the very end of the Q&A) that touched on the salon dinner controversy -- but they didn't mention reporting by Politico's Calderone that undermines Brauchli's claim that he told the truth about his own role. Here's the first, which makes no mention of Brauchli's role:
Rochester, NY: Obviously, you won't take this question, but I'd like to ask: isn't there a problem when the same reporters who were to be part of your health care "salon" are now essentially repeating insurance industry claims about the health care bill?
I'm referring specifically to Ceci Connolly. I write as a regular reader and fan of your paper -- are you aware how much credibility you have lost as a result of the salons?
Marcus Brauchli: Actually, I will take this question, because it comes with a silly premise that needs knocking down.
First, there were no salon dinners. They were planned and they were canceled. Second, Ceci Connolly, who is an absolutely first-rate, independent-minded reporter, was simply asked who might be worth inviting to a roundtable discussion on healthcare. There is no reason she should be taken off of this story. Third, while we appreciate your visiting with us on this chat, you should read what we write. We have scrutinized the insurance industry's claims about healthcare legislation extensively, including in a lengthy piece last week by Alec MacGillis. Finally, yes, I realize that the salon dinner episode was embarrassing and damaging to our credibility, but I would say to you: judge us by our journalism.
That last line is hilarious coming from someone who just spent a whole online Q&A ducking questions about the Post's journalism in favor of talking about fonts and byline formats.
And the second:
Philly, Pa.: If you know a reporter has reported something about you which is inaccurate, are you not obligated to publicly correct the record?
I'm sorry, sir, but I lost all respect for you after reading the letter you sent to your former colleague. You knew that it was reported that you claimed to have no knowledge of the off-the-record promises, and you chose to allow that to stand. You scapegoated an employee, and misled the public. Of course, that version is being generous, and its every bit as likely that you just lied to the NYT's reporter, hoping not to get caught.
You lied to your readers. You lied to your employees.
I hope your retirement is happy and fruitful, and I hope it starts very soon.
Marcus Brauchli: When these events were planned, we intended that the information from them would inform and shape our coverage, without attribution. That is not, under our rules, off the record.
They were later promoted as "off the record," and I knew that before July 2.
As I have said repeatedly since then, I failed to reconcile the language and the intentions, which I should have done.
The notion that I lied to the New York Times "hoping not to get caught" is absurd.
Notice that Brauchli chose to answer questions that didn't mention Calderone's report, while ducking a question that did.
Imagine how the Washington Post would react if, say, John Edwards invited them to a press conference, then took only pre-screened questions about how great he is, refusing to allow anyone to ask about his affair and his false statements about it. That's essentially what Marcus Brauchli did today. It shows nothing but contempt for Post readers, and makes a mockery of the concepts of transparency and accountability.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz spent much of the summer demonstrating that he can't be trusted to report impartially for the Post about CNN, which also employs him.
Now he seems intent on establishing that he can't be trusted to report impartially about his bosses at the Post, either.
Kurtz wrote for today's Post about yesterday's revelations that the paper's executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, seems to have misled the New York Times about his involvement in and knowledge of the Post's attempt to sell access to its reporters to corporate interests. Over the summer, Brauchli told the Times that he had been "explicit" with the Post's marketing team that the events would not be off the record. Yesterday, the Times, Politico, and The New Republic reported the existence of a letter in which Brauchli had in fact known that the events were being marketed as off the record.
Brauchli claimed in the letter that the Times had simply misinterpreted his comments. But Politico's Michael Calderone then wrote that Brauchli had also told him that he did not know the events were being promoted as off the record. Calderone sought comment from Brauchli for his story yesterday, but a Post spokesperson told him "The letter speaks for itself."
But it turns out Brauchli wasn't refusing all requests for an interview. He gave a comment to Howard Kurtz, who just happens to work for him:
Brauchli said Saturday: "I have consistently said that my intention was that Post journalists only participate in events if the content could be used to inform our journalism. . . . I was aware, as I have said since July 2, that some materials described the proposed salon dinner as an off-the-record event. As I have also said before, I should have insisted that the language be changed before it surfaced in any marketing material."
Kurtz also quoted Brauchli's claim that the Times reporter misunderstood him. But he include any indication that he pressed Brauchli on that claim -- and he didn't mention Calderone's statement that he got the same impression from Brauchli as the Times reporter, which seriously undermines the notion that Brauchli told the truth but was misinterpreted.
Kurtz' article, in other words, omits crucial information that makes his boss look less than honest. No wonder Brauchli talked to him but not to Calderone.
Following the Nobel Committee's announcement that it would award the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama, conservative media figures have launched numerous attacks on Obama and the award, asserting, for instance, that Obama won the prize "for trashing America," in Sean Hannity's words, or that the prize is an "affirmative action Nobel," as Pat Buchanan and RedState's Erick Erickson asserted. In the latest attempt to discredit Obama's Nobel Prize, conservatives have claimed that his acceptance of the award violates the emolument clause of the Constitution, despite the fact that previous sitting officials have accepted foreign awards in the past.
I've been arguing for months that the media should pin down members of congress on how they'll vote on health care reform. More specifically, how Senators will vote on cloture. That, after all, is what the media has said all along is the key vote. As I've explained, the media has failed in not making clear which members are and are not willing to filibuster reform -- and in doing so, they essentially enable Senators to anonymously kill reform in the equivalent of a smoke-filled back room.
Today, Politico does its job exactly wrong:
Several Democratic moderates told POLITICO that they most likely will be with their party on most procedural votes but could hold out on the last one - to end debate and cut off a filibuster - if they wanted to demand changes to the final product.
"Not vote for cloture? I wouldn't rule that possibility out - not at all," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who caucuses with the Democrats.
Other than Lieberman, none of the "Democratic moderates" were named. So the effect of the Politico report is to help those "moderates" anonymously kill reform. The report advances the perception that a strong reform bill can't get cloture, which makes it less likely that such a bill ever comes to a vote, which means those "moderates" never have to reveal themselves.
This is the exact opposite of what journalism should be. Politico is working on behalf of elected officials rather than the public. They're helping politicians operate in secret, free from accountability. They're providing the smoke, and the back room.
Earlier, Eric took on that ridiculous second-degree guilt-by-association Politico foolishness -- the article that pretended it was newsworthy that of the $750,000,000 Barack Obama raised, $15,000 of it (0.002 percent) came from 6 of the 500 or so people who have signed a petition supporting Roman Polanski.
That's quite obviously not news.
What is news is that yesterday, 30 members of the United States Senate -- all Republicans, all men -- voted against an amendment that would prohibit defense contracts for companies that refuse to allow sexual assault victim a day in court:
Jamie Leigh Jones was a 20-year-old young woman working her fourth day on the job in Baghdad for contractor Halliburton/KBR in 2005, when she says she was drugged and gang-raped by seven U.S contractors and held captive by two KBR guards in a shipping container. But more than four years after the alleged crimes occurred, Jones is still waiting for her day in court because when she signed her employment contract, she lost her rights to a jury trial and, instead, was forced into having her claims decided through secret, binding arbitration.
Today, the Senate listened to her story before approving an amendment by a vote of 68-30 that would prohibit "the Defense Department from contracting with companies that require employees to resolve sexual assault allegations and other claims through arbitration."
That's news. That's 30 members of the United States Senate voting to keep women like Jamie Leigh Jones from being able to sue their employers when they've been raped or assaulted on the job.
But Politico won't tell you who those 30 Senators are. No, they're too busy scouring petitions to see if they can find a director who gave Barack Obama two grand and who doesn't think Roman Polanski should be jailed.
Hey, you have to have priorities.
On October 7, The Politico published an "Ideas" piece by Rep. John Linder (R-GA) that compared President Obama's administration to "Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy." From Linder's Politico piece:
Progressivism and its progeny all believed in the fairness and wisdom of decisions made by the state - often at the expense of the individual, who, it was believed, made selfish decisions. All demanded that the state have an increased role in raising children. Adolf Hitler scoffed at those who remained opposed to him, saying he already had control of their children.
All believed in the minimum wage, state control of private property for the public good, unionization and environmentalism. And they believed in eugenics to purify the gene pool.
It is now fair to wonder whether we are returning to a belief that only a powerful central government can fix all of our problems. Victor Davis Hanson wrote in the National Review that President Barack Obama is governing as though the United States were a university and he its president. Governing by czars fits that example. A diversity czar, environment czar, pay czar, science czar, manufacturing czar and, of course, health czar could deal with the "whole" of an issue rather than looking at it piece by piece. This is not unlike the women's studies, black studies, diversity studies, environmental studies and other obsequious studies in most academic settings.
And with the Obama administration, just as in Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy and Wilson's America, the leaders of major corporations are falling in line. Whether it is climate change, executive pay, automobile manufacturing or bank buying, CEOs step right up and wait for the tax benefits to surely follow their pandering. And the CEOs stood mute while bondholders saw their investments given to the unions.
The principal sin in politics is overreaching. Americans have in the past repeatedly voted for freedom and the supremacy of the individual over the state. It will happen again.
In my column last week, I wrote (again) about the need for reporters -- who have spent the whole year telling us that cloture is the health care vote that matters -- to start telling us how Senators will vote on cloture. I wrote that a major news organization like the Washington Post should simply contact every Senator's office and ask if they'll filibuster a health care reform bill that contains a strong public option.
During an online Q&A today, Washington Post reporter Paul Kane was asked which Senators would filibuster such a bill:
Helena, Montana: When Max Baucus said that he supported the public option but he didn't think there were 60 votes for it - who does he think will join the Republicans in filibustering it? Democratic members of his committee? Can Reid hold the caucus together for cloture, even if some will vote against the bill?
Paul Kane: This is the insider's insider's question right now, the one that not even my friends at Politico and my alma mater Roll Call are writing.
Will the Ben Nelson/Landrieu/Lieberman crowd vote 'no' on cloture (the filibuster vote)? Will they vote yes on cloture, then vote however they want on final passage?
Activists on both sides are exploring this issue, trust me. I think that's where this whole debate is headed.
My gut: I don't know the answer. Sorry, I don't.
So ... Maybe that's something the Washington Post should start working on?
(I assume Paul Kane isn't responsible for making such decisions about resource allocation, but maybe he should mention the idea to an editor?)
UPDATE: Later in the Q&A:
Ask the question, maybe?: Given how much reporters write about the need for 60 votes to break a filibuster, it's pretty stunning that you never get around to asking Senators whether they'll vote to sustain or end a filibuster. Isn't it long-past time for reporters to start asking Senators if they will filibuster the public option -- not just whether they support it, or think it has enough votes: Will they filibuster it? Has the Post reported on this and I've just missed it?
Paul Kane: Most folks like Nelson and company just dodge the question, when asked, telling us it's way too soon to deal with questions like that.
Which raises a rather obvious question: Why don't news organizations report that "folks like Nelson and company" refuse to say they'll filibuster? All year, they've been reporting that cloture is the vote that matters. And whenever "Nelson and company" make so much as a grunt indicating unhappiness with a public option, journalists rush to report it. So why won't they report the fact that when it comes to the vote that matters, "Nelson and company" are unwilling to commit to filibuster? That would certainly paint a less pessimistic picture of the prospects for health care reform.
Politico's Ben Smith debunks an American Spectator "report" that White House political director Patrick Gaspard held that same title in ACORN's New York office years ago. According to Smith, it "just isn't true."
But, Smith is quick to point out, "The Spectator piece is a model of the sort of guilt-by-association Google work in which partisans of both sides specialize."
Really? Seems to me the noteworthy thing about the Spectator isn't the "guilt-by-association," it's that the Spectator was wrong about the central fact of its "report." Do "both sides" really specialize in that? To the same degree? How about giving a comparable example?
But Smith doesn't bother. The Left and the Right are exactly the same. Isn't it obvious? Don't you remember all those false claims liberals made about George W. Bush being a murderer and a drug runner and a secret Kenyan? The false claims they made about Karl Rove working for Blackwater? No? You don't? Those things never happened? Well, anyway: the Left and Right are exactly the same.
... could a newspaper think it's reasonable to give a Republican strategist column-space to write that in order to be "centrist," the Democratic president should let the Republicans govern.
Check out this Politico column by self-described "partisan Republican" John Feehery:
How can he revive his presidency, promote his agenda and save his reputation? Act like the Republicans have already taken control of Congress.
Why should Obama wait for the inevitable election disaster that will come as a result of his sharp moves to the left? Why can't he start governing from the center now, by acting as if the Republicans already control Congress?
Here are some things he can insist on as he negotiates with Congress that will help him govern like a centrist:
Insist that Republicans provide half the votes for every piece of big legislation....the president can promise to veto every bill that doesn't have at least half of the Republicans voting for it.
Veto all tax increases. Republicans don't do tax increases, and that keeps them out of trouble. The president should just assume that if the Republicans were in charge, they wouldn't give you a tax increase to sign. Follow their lead.
Hilarious. A Republican strategist wants the Democratic President to let the Republicans -- who control nothing, who the public holds in contempt, whose ideas have been roundly rejected in consecutive elections -- call the shots. And Politico thinks that makes for a column worth printing.
Oh, by the way: How does this even make sense?:
Reid, whose own political fortunes are very dicey in his home state of Nevada because of his own perceived lurch to the left, has thrown his lot in with the liberals and similarly turned his back on the center.
Reid is in trouble because he is seen as having lurched to the left, so he's ... Lurching to the left? This isn't analysis, it's spin. And not even good spin. Self-discrediting spin.
Mike Allen on MSNBC, describing the circumstances of his interview with Sarah Palin:
"I somehow woke up to my phone, and it was one of her aides, who said "if we put Governor Palin on the phone, will you only ask her two questions?' And I said, 'Sure.' And so I was so sleepy that, after she answered the one about the divorce, I forgot what the other thing was that I was allowed to ask her, and she said 'Just go ahead, ask me anything you want.'"
Wait: Mike Allen not only agreed to ask only two questions -- he was only "allowed" to ask about certain topics?
Don't tell Dana Milbank.
From the August 4 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
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After repeatedly falsely asserting that House Democrats' health care reform bill makes end-of-life counseling for seniors "mandatory," Betsy McCaughey was forced to backtrack from her claim -- a claim PolitiFact.com called "a ridiculous falsehood." Confronted with accusations that she lied about the bill, she claimed, as she had done with a prior falsehood about another bill, that she was right about the effect (if not the literal wording) of the legislation.
Politico uncritically reported contradictory goals that "moderate" Democrats have regarding the House health care reform bill -- "angling for greater cost savings" while also opposing pegging payment rates to Medicare.
Mike Allen claimed that the budget deficit reaching $1 trillion "is an awesome issue for Republicans." However, as numerous economists have noted, Bush administration policies are responsible for a large portion of the deficit.
Yesterday, Politico published a special glossy magazine covering the "50 Politicos to Watch." In it, four journalists were highlighted for their reporting and commentary. Charles Krauthammer was among them.
Mr. Krauthammer is, of course, free to voice any political point of view he likes, and he should never draw criticism simply for his professed conservative beliefs. But like so many conservative critics, Krauthammer's work is characterized by sloppy thinking, factually-challenged analysis, and partisan hyperbolae that undermine his credibility as an analyst and pundit.
Despite his record, Politico described him as having "emerged as arguably the leader of the conservative media's opposition" to President Obama. Krauthammer was portrayed as providing "clear, concise criticism of left-wing orthodoxy" that "could make the Obama era his." The piece ended with glowing praise from David Brooks: "He's the most important conservative columnist right now."
The fact that Brooks is probably correct is an indication of the sorry state of conservative media, analysis, and commentary. Politico quoted Krauthammer as saying that he "doesn't want Obama to fail" – hence, supposedly drawing a contrast between him and conservative critics like Rush Limbaugh. But the truth is the opposite, as Krauthammer said himself on April 1: "It's a little early to declare a presidency failed – although I would like to do it."
The consequences of such a partisan world view are obvious for all to see. There is a reason why Krauthammer has expressed the belief that Fox News, a station that makes no commitment to fact-gathering or responsible reporting, is actually a noble venture, providing "the one, only, voice of opposition in the media." Indeed, much like Fox, Krauthammer has excelled in confidently providing irrational, baseless analysis. Consider the following brief review of some of his proclamations since President Obama was elected last November:
In his February 6 Washington Post column, Krauthammer asserted that the economic recovery legislation supported by Obama contains "hundreds of billions that have nothing to do with stimulus," echoing myths about the legislation contradicted by Congressional Budget Office (CBO) director Douglas Elmendorf.
On February 16, Krauthammer, again commenting on the stimulus bill, attacked it for a fictitious provision which would have built a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. "And that's the old politics that Obama campaigned against," he said. "This train is really an atrocity. It goes from Disneyland, as you said, to Vegas. It should be called the fantasy land express." The project in question was itself a fantasy.
On March 13, Krauthammer likened President Obama's reasoning on stem cell research to that which justified the work of Nazi researcher Josef Mengele and those who conducted the Tuskegee Experiment, during which a group of poor African-Americans with syphilis were deliberately denied treatment by government scientists so that the progression of their condition could be studied.
On April 3, Krauthammer expressed his belief that Europe has been "sucking on [America's] tit for 60 years." He also continued to advance the idea that President Obama was apologizing to Muslims and the world in general for America's actions, a gross distortion of his statements. "We're a country who went to war six times on behalf of Muslims in the last 20 years," he said, "and we're apologizing?"
On April 24, he referred to Hugo Chavez as "Obama's new pal."
On May 20, Krauthammer supported keeping Guantanamo Bay open, explaining his position thusly: "I know it's the romantic in me."
On May 26, Krauthammer took Sonia Sotomayor's "wise Latina woman" quote out of context, saying that it showed she is "a believer in the racial spoils system." That same day, he commented that empathy has no role in the justice system, as it represents "the overturning of the idea of...justice being about the content of a character." In doing so, he ignored the fact that George H.W. Bush praised the empathy of Clarence Thomas when nominating him.
The list goes on and on, but Krauthammer is only part of the problem. This isn't the first time Politico has gone out of its way to praise him uncritically. In May, the paper cited an October, 2006 article he had written for the National Review Online as a perfect example of the "clarity of his opposition to Obama." The Krauthammer piece boldly put forth a prediction regarding Obama's chances in the upcoming presidential race: "He should run in '08. He will lose in '08."
The real question, of course, is why someone with this kind of a record is still portrayed by the press as being worth listening to.