FishbowlNY TVNewser TVSpy LostRemote AgencySpy PRNewser GalleyCat SocialTimes

Teapot Tempests

Howell Posts More Excuses

Deborah Howell and the Post launched a rare defensive ombudsman column this weekend, posting it two days early in the hopes of quickly settling a feud that broke out on Romenesko’s site. The feud began when Knight-Ridder folks leaked an internal memo laying out recent problems they’ve had with the Washington Post’s reporting–in one part accusing the Post of not giving credit for one scoop and in another part questioning some of the paper’s reporting from Iraq.

“Washington journalism has about it a peculiar insularity. Who gets credit for groundbreaking reporting is not important to most readers, but Washington editors often try to knock down each other’s stories and want to be credited when they think they’ve broken a story first. I know; I’ve done it,” Howell started.

In the very unconvincing and overly defensive column that follows, Howell lays out why she thinks the paper is in the right (Byron Calame, surprise, surprise, agrees with her over at the Times). First, on the question of the Post’s Iraq death toll numbers, she gets some basic questions from author Ellen Knickmeyer‘s boss, but fails to speak with Knickmeyer personally–and then throws up her hands: “Frankly, there is no way at this point that I can say anything authoritative about Knickmeyer’s story or Hoyt and Walcott’s complaint.”

Wouldn’t it seem that this is a problem that could easily by solved by asking Knickmeyer to put another reporter in contact with the mysterious Interior Ministry official no one else can find?

Then, on Knight-Ridder’s second point, she says the paper’s editors said they were wrong but it didn’t warrant any correction. Then Howell gives room for the Post to air its own complaints: “National Editor Mike Abramowitz noted that a Post story on lax enforcement of mine safety regulations appeared a day before a similar Knight-Ridder story in January and that The Post was not credited.”

Howell’s still settling into her Post post, but she certainly seems to be doing her darndest to not get too deep into anything. Her columns, even when launched defensively, at best seem superficial, and at worse are outright negligent in their thoroughness.

K-R Tiff, Eisler and Abramoff

Two internecine warfare items as we wrap up this week:

  • Knight Ridder’s not at all happy with the Washington Post. They’re getting their stories stolen by the Post and they’re unable to back up the numbers out of Iraq that the Post is making up reporting.

  • Washingtonian’s Kim Eisler is not at all happy with Howard Kurtz. Personally, we’re just amused that at the end of a column spent documenting some other reporter’s conflicts-of-interest, Kurtz profiles a correspondent on the network where Kurtz himself moonlights. Irony alert!

Labor Disputes at WJLA, Post Heat Up

There’s always some sort of labor dispute going on in the Washington media world, but it looks like two labor disputes in the city might be heating up somewhat. Yesterday in the Express, NABET-CWA Local 31 announced the start of a boycott of local ABC affiliates WJLA and NewsChannel 8, DCist reports. And the CWA also recently ran a three-quarter page ad in the WSJ pointing out the ongoing plight of the Washington Post’s mailroom employees, who have been 3 and a 1/2 years without a raise.

WJLA has pulled a little fast one on the union it’s battling, whose website is The station or an ally has purchased and redirected back to their regular news website.

Dersh and Bennett To Press: You Suck

Alan Dershowitz is having a busy week. Not only is he spending the week defending soon-to-be ex-Harvard President Larry Summers but now’s charging the press with abdicating its responsibilities. In a joint op-ed with William J. Bennett (how many times will one see that phrase?), The Dersh writes:”We two come from different political and philosophical perspectives, but on this we agree: Over the past few weeks, the press has betrayed not only its duties but its responsibilities.”

In a paper that hasn’t printed the fiery Danish cartoons, they explain, “What has happened? To put it simply, radical Islamists have won a war of intimidation. They have cowed the major news media from showing these cartoons. The mainstream press has capitulated to the Islamists — their threats more than their sensibilities….”

“So far as we can tell, a new, twin policy from the mainstream media has been promulgated: (a) If a group is strong enough in its reaction to a story or caricature, the press will refrain from printing that story or caricature, and (b) if the group is pandered to by the mainstream media, the media then will go through elaborate contortions and defenses to justify its abdication of duty. At bottom, this is an unacceptable form of not-so-benign bigotry, representing a higher expectation from Christians and Jews than from Muslims.”

The closing paragraph doesn’t pull any punches: “When we were attacked on Sept. 11, we knew the main reason for the attack was that Islamists hated our way of life, our virtues, our freedoms. What we never imagined was that the free press — an institution at the heart of those virtues and freedoms — would be among the first to surrender.”

Dr. Gregory & Mr. Hyde

Now if Dick Cheney‘s shooting was only supposed to have been a one- or two-day story, then one certainly wouldn’t expect that David Gregory‘s controversial exchange with Scott McClellan would be entering its second week.

Jon Friedman chimes in today with a commentary aimed directed at the first row fixture: “the poster child for inappropriate, self-serving behavior was NBC’s David Gregory, the television media’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

“When he is working the White House beat, Gregory can be a very good and tenacious reporter. He is fearless, smart and analytical. In short, the journalistic side of Gregory could serve as a role model for his colleagues.
But when he stands up at one of those pathetic no-news-allowed White House press briefings, he is a role model for one of those kids in the sandbox.”

Friedman proceeds to place a lot more than his share of blame on Gregory for the current state of White House press relations and offers some advice easier given than implemented: “It doesn’t serve a purpose for you–or one of your peers–to be shown losing your cool. Even if McClellan stands there like a statue, he looks classier than a reporter–even one who is justifiably exasperated–who is in the act of throwing a fit.”

It might be worth remembering, though, that it was McClellan who first attacked Gregory last week–going after him and accusing him of grandstanding even when he obviously knew there weren’t any cameras around. McClellan that way got to fire off some shots that he’s much too smart to fire off on camera.

Yapping Dogs & Maytag Repairmen

So are we finished with Dick Cheney yet? Not a chance.

“I know to a lot of people watching it, we look like a bunch of yapping dogs,” says Ron Hutcheson, the White House correspondent for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, tells NPR’s David Folkenflik in a story about the vice president and the press. “But there’s a real fundamental issue about our government–one of the things that sets us apart from places like China and Russia–and that is our system is based on openness and accountability.”

“The irony here is we’ve probably got the most powerful vice president in American history who’s probably also the most secretive vice president in American history. So it’s really difficult to cover him.”

Folkenflik talked to the major news organizations and it turns that despite his powerful role in politics, no one is assigned to cover him full-time (see Cheney pool developments below). Why? “You’d be like the Maytag repairman on that one,” Hutcheson says, laughing. “Sitting around waiting for something to do. They don’t share much information about the vice president’s schedule, and everybody in the office operates under his rules.”

In the piece too, Ari Fleischer, who has emerged from whatever undisclosed lcoation he’s spent the last few years in, gives the White House some (moderate) heat. Fleischer, by the way, will be sitting down with Howard Kurtz on Sunday to talk about Cheney on “Reliable Sources.”

‘The Perfect Political Firestorm’

The NYDN’s Tom DeFrank, perhaps the reporter in the city with the most insight into the workings of Dick Cheney, has an interesting column about how and why Cheney resisted going public.

“In this town,” Cheney told DeFrank in 1976, when he was President Gerald Ford‘s chief of staff, “when you stick your head up, you get it shot off.”

NYU’s Jay Rosen is chiming in too with a different take: “The way I look at, Cheney took the opportunity to show the White House press corps that it is not the natural conduit to the nation-at-large; and it has no special place in the information chain. Cheney does not grant legitimacy to the large news organizations with brand names who think of themselves as proxies for the public and its right to know. Nor does he think the press should know where he is, what he’s doing, or who he’s doing it with.”

Rosen argues the shooting incident is sort of a plus public relations-wise, because it distracts the press corps from actually important stories: the Plame leak investigation, the Iraq war intelligence, Hurricane Katrina, and other recent administration news.

Why Brit?

Mary Matalin says that by going to Brit Hume for yesterday’s interview, the vice president’s office wanted to avoid the “grandstanding” of a press conference. “Everyone asks the same questions so they can get on their networks,” she tells Howard Kurtz.

Of course, there’s a unresolved question of whether this interview resolves anything: “Going to Brit Hume doesn’t solve Dick Cheney’s crisis problem,” said Lanny Davis, a Democratic lawyer and damage-control specialist. “It’s not because Brit Hume works for Fox, because Hume is a tough reporter. It’s because it doesn’t address the elephant-in-the-room issue, which is Dick Cheney and his refusal to be open with the press.”

But then again, Hume addressed that question in his own media criticism: “It doesn’t seem to me, from what I can tell, from what I’m reading from the public, that the public much cares about whether they found out about this on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon or Monday morning.”


> UPDATE: Fox News’ senior VP John Moody claims “Brit is sort of the pre-eminent journalist in Washington right now.” Again, really?

Cheney the Media Critic

Depending on who you ask, Brit Hume either did a really good job last night interviewing Vice President Dick Cheney or he was precisely the patsy everyone expected him to be.

Regardless, there were some interesting exchanges, not the least of which were the ones where Cheney went after the press:

“She wanted to go to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, which is the local newspaper, covers that area, to reporters she knew. And I thought that made good sense because you can get as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting.”

“I had a bit of the feeling that the press corps was upset because, to some extent, it was about them — they didn’t like the idea that we called the Corpus Christi Caller-Times instead of The New York Times. But it strikes me that the Corpus Christi Caller-Times is just as valid a news outlet as The New York Times is, especially for covering a major story in south Texas.”

Later: “I do think what I’ve experienced over the years here in Washington is as the media outlets have proliferated, speed has become sort of a driving force, lots of time at the expense of accuracy.”

Watch out Jack Shafer, Cheney’s gunning for your job.

The Cheney Interview





The complete interview between Dick Cheney and Brit Hume is after the jump.

Read more