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Archives: November 2005

Inside Sources or Insider Tool?

hkWoodward_Bob.jpgThe Plamegate investigation seems to be beginning a cottage industry in newspapers writing profiles of their own writers. I mean how many times before Judy Miller did newspapers publish profiles of their own staff (at least while they’re still alive)? Ditto for reporters who turn down interview requests FROM THEIR OWN EMPLOYER. Now today the Post has Part II. In this case, though, the navel-gazing-to-the-extreme is probably warranted.

Howard Kurtz begins his look at Bob Woodward like this: “It was a cinematic image that lured thousands of young people into journalism, Robert Redford coaxing information out of Hal Holbrook in a dimly lit parking garage. And since, in real life, Bob Woodward fiercely protected Deep Throat’s identity, what lingered was the mystique of a dogged journalist, plying his trade in the shadows.”

In a very even-handed look, Kurtz then lays out the “unique” access and circumstances of Woodward’s work. His critics have ample space: “While most reporters are lauded for cultivating high-level sources, Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor, sees a ‘disillusionment’ with Woodward over these confidential relationships. ‘Woodward for so long was a symbol of adversarial journalism because of the Watergate legend,’ Rosen says. ‘But he really has become an access journalist, someone who’s an insider.’”

On the other hand, in this special setup of a Post writer reporting on the paper’s staff, the Post also gets a chance to hit back: “‘There’s an enormous jealousy factor over this guy,’ says Jeff Leen, The Post’s assistant managing editor for investigations, who has worked closely with Woodward. ‘People like to see the king fall. . . . There are a lot of armchair quarterbacks who couldn’t carry Woodward’s shoes but are weighing in on whether he should keep his job.’”

So: Bob Woodward. Critical to history or tool of the elite? Kurtz reports, you decide.

Happy Thanksgiving


There are only three things that will spring us out of our tryptophan-induced lethargy over the long weekend:

    1.) “Junkyard Dog” decides that Thanksgiving is the time to give thanks indictments.
    2.) Robert Novak goes all Mike Tyson on his return flight.
    3.) Reports surface that Ted Koppel has been staging a sit-in on the Nightline set…refusing to cave to Martin Bashir’s demands of, “Come on, man, it’s time to go.”

So, barring those developments, we’ll be off until Monday.

From our Fishbowl to yours, Good Night, and Good Luck Happy Thanksgiving.

-Garrett and Patrick

What Achenbach’s Thankful For

Before beginning his 11/19 internal critique of the Post, the Post’s Joel Achenbach penned a humorous list of thing’s he’s thankful for this year:

    Today we give thanks.

    We are thankful to work for a newspaper that somehow, day in, day out, provides a marvelous and, as has been widely noted, almost punishing amount of information, analysis, sports scores and quasi-literate musings, plus comics, plus coupons, plus entire sections you’ve never even noticed until you’ve been asked to do the critique, all of it on sale for less than the price of your average oatmeal cookie.

    We are thankful that, despite our many failings, and the alleged putrefaction of the newspaper business, The Washington Post continues to be a stellar name brand, and turns a very respectable profit.

    We are thankful for Kaplan.

    We are somewhat appreciative of the community newspapers and the TV stations and the cable TV operation.

    We will try to be respectful of the Everett (Wa.) Herald. [Mental note: Isn't it time we bought another totally random newspaper? In Scranton? Abileen? Fresno?]

    We are thankful for the hundreds of Post employees, domestically and in far-flung bureaus, who sacrifice their personal lives to work Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving Morning and Thanksgiving Afternoon and Thanksgiving Night to deliver a quality product directly to the homes of hundreds of thousands of people while the rest of us engage in repulsive gluttony.

    We are thankful to Bob Woodward, who played a crucial role in making The Washington Post what it is today, and who, as Jeff Leen and other have pointed out, has yet in his illustrious career to be anything other than a generous colleague and consummate professional, though perhaps he should add Len Downie to his speed dial. We also are thankful to [copy desk: alive? dead?] Carl Bernstein.

To Kurtz Or Not To Kurtz?

…that is the question.

MarketWatch’s Jon Friedman disagrees with Mickey Kaus and says that Howard’s seeming conflict of interest between representing both the Washington Post and CNN (and having to critique each) doesn’t show up in his reporting.

    Well, sure, it’s possible that Kurtz COULD someday stumble. But he hasn’t done so yet – not by a long shot. In fact, he is one of the giants of media criticism precisely because he has maintained such high standards of ethics and excellence…

    But give the guy his props. He’s earned his success by being really good at his work and very ethical.

Not so fast, says Kaus:

    1) Every reporter who’s paid has a conflict with whatever institution pays him. That’s unavoidable. Kurtz’s problem is that he has a second, gratuitous conflict with the giant conglomerate the Post pays him to cover.

    2) Kurtz’s second conflict is especially huge. If the Post fired him, after all, he could get a job with another paper within an hour. The Post doesn’t have much leverage (as their see-no-evil treatment of Kurtz suggests). But if CNN cancelled Kurtz’s show, the other TV networks wouldn’t exactly be falling over themselves to snap him up. Not even MSNBC! (Though Kurtz does have a career interest in keeping MSNBC’s Rick Kaplan happy, too, just in case. That makes it worse.) CNN has leverage.

    3) Hypocrisy Angle #1: I don’t think all writers have to be free of all conflicts. Everybody has conflicts. Life creates conflicts. Conflicts can be good–they tend to come with inside info and perspective. As long as a conflict is disclosed, readers can usually make up their minds. But WaPo, like most MSM organizations, does pretend to prohibit conflicts in order to achieve neutrality and “objectivity.” WaPo editor Len Downie famously doesn’t even vote. After ostentatiously purging such petty conflicts it’s hypocritical to then ignore Kurtz’s elephantine conflict….

    4) Hypocrisy Angle #2: Kurtz himself, as WaPo’s media reporter, has made it his business to ding other journalists for conflicts far less significant than his own.


This story has slowly been picking up steam lately…

Rumors have been floating around for a while that, at a debate three years ago, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (Republican) was pelted with Oreo cookies (the implication was that the gesture was a racist attempt at suggesting that Steele was “black on the outside and white on the inside”). The “event” has been used by some right-wingers to paint Democrats in a negative light on race issues.

The rumors have picked up so much steam that numerous news outlets have begun reporting it as fact, despite the fact that there has been no independent confirmation of this report. Quite the opposite: there’s been much evidence to suggest that such an incident never occurred.

The Baltimore City Paper does a nice write-up of this situation and includes this quote from former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig:

    That’s insane,” says former Sun reporter Sarah Koenig, who covered Ehrlich in the 2002 campaign, and who says she didn’t see any Oreos that night. “The air was not thick with anything except political bullshit.”


    That hasn’t stopped The Washington Times, The Washington Post, The Sun, the (London) Daily Telegraph, the Associated Press, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, and this paper, among others, from reporting as fact, without transparent sourcing or attribution, some version of the incident over the years.

The Washington Times seems to have reported Oreo-gate as fact more consistently and forcefully than anyone else, according to the City Paper piece.

The entire article is worth a read, and it’s a great insight into how the spin cycle can overtake reporting when journalists and editors let some Oreos slip through the cracks…

(Media Matters has more here)

What of Woodward?

Here’s what various folks are saying about Woodward:

  • New York Observer’s Chris Lehmann: “Woodward’s an obliging plier of access for access’ sake.”

  • Jay Rosen: “I am not for firing him. But I do think this. In theory we send these people out to report back to us. Some of them penetrate the secret worlds of national security and government policy-making on our behalf. But if they keep going into the secret world they can come under the gravitational pull of another planet– the people in power, the secret-makers themselves. They’re still sending back their reports, but have “left” our universe, so to speak.”

  • Former Washington Post Ombudsman Geneva Overholser: Editor and Publisher quotes her saying that the Post “should either sever its ties with Bob Woodward or require the legendary Watergate scribe to work solely for the paper, not pen his best-selling books on the side.”

  • Says Boston Globe’s Joan Vennochi: “Miller is ”Miss Run Amok.” Woodward is a media bigfoot. They both let their newspapers down, and readers, too. Miller chose to forget that a leak from a ”source” demands as much skepticism as any politician’s press release. Woodward chose to ignore that he owed his bosses an explanation of what he knew, when he knew it, and from where it came.”

  • Mother Jones’ Tom Engelhardt: “A reporter who once brought down one corrupt administration now finds himself protecting another…”

  • Loud. Harsh. Matthews.

    Hardball_STG.jpgMarketWatch’s Jon Friedman writes up a profile of Chris Matthews and begins with this appropriate opener:

      He isn’t smooth. Or polished. Or low-key. Or practiced. Or a member of the preferred age group. Instead, he is loud. And brash. And intense. And confrontational. And 59 — a young-looking 59, it should be noted.

    And we also agree with this observation

      The most startling, and endearing, moments of “Hardball” occur when Matthews invokes, of all things, a Yiddish phrase, out of nowhere.

    Oy vey, indeed.

    Tapper Likes Cheerleaders

    Jake Tapper continues to enlighten our days with the ramblings of his:

      I made one other weekend discovery, which like so much of today’s culture, ranging from MTV’s Laguna Beach: The Real O.C. to Ziggy, can be appreciated on either a real or meta level. Country Music Television’s reality show Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team fits that category as well. Maybe.

      More later –

      yr pal


    Koppel Closes

    Ted Koppel‘s closing thoughts last night on his final Nightline–make sure to read his second-to-last paragraph. Good advice for the People Who Write About Television:

    There’s this quiz I give to some of our young interns when they first arrive at Nightline. I didn’t do it with this last batch. It’s a little too close to home. “How many of you,” I’ll ask, “Can tell me anything about Eric Severeid?” Blank stares. “How about Howard K. Smith or Frank Reynolds?” Not a twitch of recognition.

    Chet Huntley, Jack Chancellor? Still nothing. David Brinkley sometimes causes a hand or two to be raised; and Walter Cronkite may be glad to learn that a lot of young people still have a vague recollection that he once worked in television news.

    What none of these young men and women in their late teens and early twenties appreciates, until I point it out to them, is that they have just heard the names of seven anchormen or commentators who were once so famous that everybody in the country knew their names. Everybody.

    Trust me. The transition from one anchor to another is not that big a deal.

    Cronkite begat Rather, Chancellor begat Brokaw, Reynolds begat Jennings; and each of them did a pretty fair job in his own right.

    You’ve always been very nice to me. Give this new Nightline anchor team a fair break. If you don’t, I promise you the network will just put another comedy show in this time slot. Then you’ll be sorry.

    That’s our report for tonight…I’m Ted Koppel in Washington…

    For all of us here at ABC News… Good night.

    TVNews has lots more coverage of Koppel’s exit.

    Get Your Thank On

    Hotline has asked various DC types what they’re thankful for this year. Here are the media folks…

      “Attack The Messenger” author Craig Crawford: “I am thankful to Rush Limbaugh for trashing my book.”

      ABC News’ David Chalian: “I am thankful that the daily number of Chuck Schumer-related press releases in my inbox will likely diminish from double digits to single digits over the holiday weekend.”

      ABC Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas: “Late last year, my father died. His death was a painful reminder of just how precious life truly is and how every moment we have should be valued. So as I look at life and see that my lovely wife and son are in good health. I am indeed very thankful. Very thankful.”

      Capitol File editor Anne Schroeder: “I’m thankful for a few days off (in theory).”

      CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley: “I’m glad the question is about ‘most grateful’ because all I have to be grateful for would fill the pages of The Hotline on Election Day. So, what am I most grateful for? No contest — my children — ever and always.”

      FNC Washington correspondent James Rosen: “I used to love ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ … but when I became a man, I put away childish things. Nowadays, I hardly ever get to enjoy Charlie Brown and I seldom get to enjoy Thanksgiving with beloved family. My Thanksgiving is usually spent in Crawford, Texas, with the White House press corps, who are neither beloved nor family. But we find solace in each other’s company, and usually scrape together a better meal than the bounty of popcorn and toast produced by Snoopy and Woodstock, when they were foolishly entrusted with the holiday catering.”

      FNC news correspondent Molly Henneberg: “My mother and her sisters make everyone in the family (about 40 of us) go around the table and say what we are thankful for about the person sitting on our right. A couple of years ago, my 5-year old cousin was on my left, and he said, ‘I’m thankful for Molly because … um … she laughs a lot and she likes news.’ It was so cute.”

      Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza: “I am thankful for my Thanksgiving trip to sunny Florida.”

      Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: “I am thankful for Dennis Kucinich.”

      Bloomberg DC bureau Chief Al Hunt: “Meghan Goddard who pretends she works for me while protecting me from myself.”

      New York Daily News’s Lloyd Grove: “I am thankful that I’ve never taken a punch from Bob Novak.

      ABC’s Teddy Davis: “I’m thankful that we now know — compliments of the Washington Post’s magnificent Mark Leibovich — that Gov. Mark Warner’s (D-VA) sizable teeth are real though whitened.”

      CNN’s Bill Schneider: “I am thankful people still talk to polltakers. Oh, and for the fact that 2008 is likely to be the first presidential election since 1952 with no incumbent President or Vice President running.”

      Dallas Morning News’s Carl Leubsdorf: “I’m thankful for Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, Harriet Miers, Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Without them, what would a political columnist write about in a non-election year?”

      NBC’s Elizabeth Wilner: “For the continued good health of my colleagues in Iraq, and for (Americans United to Protect Social Security spokesperson Brad) Woodhouse’s e-mails, not necessarily in that order.”

      ABC WH correspondent Jessica Yellin: I’m thankful I’ll be in Waco for Thanksgiving. Their B-b-q is almost as good as Mongolia’s.”