Earlier in the week, we got tipped off by a WaPo staffer that management had released an internal document to the entire newsroom introducing the current crop of interns and what drew them to the paper.
One intern, Rosie Powers, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate, proceeded to introduce her new WaPo colleagues to their own CEO Don Graham. She told them he’s the son of Katharine Graham, explained who she was and misspelled her first name. Rosie committed no crime here. Nor did we “attack” this young woman or say she committed a “sin.”
But as usual, when we do what the rest of Washington’s journalism community does — which is, we dig, report, we get leaked documents — some went into an apoplectic uproar. FishbowlDC is “loathsome” remarked James Grimaldi, a longtime investigative reporter who recently took WaPo‘s buyout and is headed to the WSJ. 1. We’re quite certain that the self-righteous Grimaldi has been leaked documents once or twice in his career. 2. We’re sure he appreciated it. 3. We’re convinced he didn’t give a rat’s ass about the person in question’s feelings. A day earlier, NBC’s Luke Russert said FBDC had reached a “new low” and PBS’s Gwen Ifill appeared to second him, calling him a “good man” — apparently for writing that. For starters, we have a history of defending Luke when his enormous army of detractors writes to say what scum he is for riding his father’s coattails. Funny, he never saw fit to praise us for that. But more fittingly, Luke likely never considered the feelings of others when he interviewed ex-New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner last summer and nailed him on that Weiner underwear shot because everyone was doing it. By Luke and other’s standards, he probably should have thought about Weiner’s poor wife, Huma Abedin, or the innocent, unborn Weiner who hadn’t yet breathed his first weinerous breath.
Journalism is not about protecting people’s feelings. And in Washington when it’s not journalists being covered, it isn’t about feelings. When President Obama recently goofed and called Mitt Romney “George” which is his dead father’s name, the news cycle went wild. Was it petty? Maybe. Did family members get their feelings hurt? Who knows? No one cared. And when Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said first lady Michelle Obama had a large derriere in a private phone conversation, countless pubs (including and especially us) covered it. Were Michelle’s feelings on the line regarding the size of her rump? Again, it wasn’t an issue. But there’s a double standard. All reporting is fine as long as you’re dissecting the lives of government officials, their staffs and the White House. But dare to cover media in the same way that journalists here cover politics and that is preposterously off limits.
The outrage didn’t end with Grimaldi or Russert. WaPo‘s Gene Weingarten, who devotes much of his waking existence to poop, dubbed FBDC “petty” and called us “kindergarten muckrakers” who specialize in “phony” controversy. He spent actual time searching for FBDC stories he feels were particularly egregious. Meanwhile, Weingarten routinely calls up company administrators to harass them about a myriad of stupid things and then he writes about it. Half the time they don’t respond, the responses in his stories are blank spots and somehow this is considered humor. Meanwhile, FBDC is the lowest form of, to put in Weingarten terms, feces, out there. And for what? Getting leaked an odd piece of news about his own paper’s intern? Yes, suddenly there’s a huge moral problem here.
But what is more morally outrageous is the fragility with which this young woman, Rosie, is being treated by these longtime journos like Weingarten, Katharine Zaleski and Lauren Ashburn, Editor-in-Chief and founder of DailyDownload.com. They coddled her. Worse, they pitied her. Weingarten referred to her as a “kid.” Zaleski, formerly Executive Digital Director at WaPo, said an internship at WaPo was “preschool for interns” adding, “that’s what an internship is for.” She later said that was a typo and meant “press-school.” That’s SOME typo. Ashburn said this was “sad” that an “innocent” girl was being attacked. Russert, meanwhile, rode in on his white horse, saying, only “professionals” like him should be on the receiving end of supposed attacks. I’d like to think Rosie is well worth being considered a “professional” and not demean her as a weakling who needs swaddling. Whatever happened to grizzled editors who told you when your work wasn’t worth a damn? They cut your copy with brutal honesty and toughened you into being reporters who didn’t emote all day long. There were editors who killed your copy when it didn’t make sense. Or the ones who threw you out of their offices when you wasted their time with nonsensical chatter. Or the journalism profs who gave you big fat F’s for a single spelling error. Are today’s journalists expecting to have hands held and pacifiers in mouth every step of the way? Is the new mentality that media coverage must be gentle and Washington’s journalists must be protected from hurt feelings?
Seems the word “intern” caused some to go haywire this week as if the young woman’s age was reason enough to scrap the story. When a newspaper employs human beings, it is our beat to cover them, whether they are interns, reporters, editors or the blanched Marcus Brauchli himself. Chandra Levy was covered, but then again she was murdered and had been sleeping with a lawmaker. Monica Lewinksy, a low level White House aide, was covered. She gave the President a blowjob. What’s next, are reporters going to be forbidden from covering low-level staffers on Capitol Hill because they are fresh out of school? Next up: Jim Romenesko wrote a quick and dirty post wondering if FishbowlDC had reached a “new low.” His comments were minimal as is the Romenesko way. But he described what we wrote about Ms. Powers as “her sins” — his description not ours. Now there’s no doubt in our minds that Romenesko has never been leaked anything. To put the icing on the cake, The Guardian‘s Ana Marie Cox, who once made it her life’s mission to screw over many who helped her by giving them a good ass kicking on Wonkette, wrote in all caps, “Romenesko: HAS FISHBOWL REACHED A NEW LOW?” That’s rich, Ana. Call us when you get to that amends step.
Finally, where is the outrage for WaPo? Not only did they release internal documents about these youngsters to an entire newsroom of journalists, but they clearly didn’t carefully read what they had put out there. Or did they read it at all? WaPo Asst. Manager of Personnel Peter Perl wrote to say, “A new low today, picking on an intern. Really?” He didn’t bother with an email. He kept it all succinctly in the subject line. We certainly hope he’s coping in his paper’s post buyout haze with journalists leaving in droves this week and last. Maybe he was on a sugar high from all that goodbye caking? Clearly Perl wasn’t aware, but in a shocking twist of irony, WaPo went on Facebook this week to call for a public mocking of summer interns that they could meme-ify. They wrote, “Tell us about the questionable interns you’ve encountered and we’ll meme-ify your experience.” Urgent memo to Mr. Perl: Picking on an intern. Really? We’re not sure what’s worse — the word meme-ify or the fact that WaPo can’t apparently see its ass from its elbow or its own bullying mentality starting with Weingarten who devoted his entire Tuesday night to casting aspersions on FishbowlDC. Next Tuesday, Gene, we hope you will spend your evening doing something far more valuable such as changing the toilet paper roll or harassing a company spokeswoman. Let’s just hope she’s older than 22 and not an intern.