Sunday, January 23, 2005
Deep in denial: I keep going to PoynterOnline's MediaNews feature hoping to see some sort of serious discussion of CBS's fradulent memos story. It hasn't happened -- and probably will never happen.
I think the two big questions that the independent report left unanswered -- the authenticity of the documents and whether political bias was the reason for the "rushed" report -- are obvious to even the most liberal journalist. It's an issue that none of them really want to ponder.
In contrast, there was much more chatter regarding the New York Times' Jayson Blair and even USA Today's Jack Kelley -- both fabricators of stories.
What's the difference? It's easy to denounce, bemoan and analyze plagiarism and fabrication when it's nothing you've ever been guilty of doing. Being a liberal with an agenda is something too many in America's newsrooms know all too well -- even if they are often able to stop themselves short of the line CBS crossed.
So, in my largely unfruitful attempt to track down CBS News-related discussion, I came across this article by Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Robert L. Jamieson Jr.
Jamieson demonstrates once again that I am overqualified to be a columnist for a major newspaper.
Jamieson seems to actually believe that all of his colleagues in the journalism profession [maybe I should stop using that term until more journalists act like professionals] are right-wing wackos. Otherwise, how do we explain this?
No question. I will be the last person to be an advocate for substandard, shoddy practices in an already maligned profession.
But is sloppiness in one glaring instance by a respected journalist who falls short in pursuit of a high-profile story grounds for summary execution?
More important, if the broadcast had involved unsustainable allegations about John Kerry, would the repercussions have been as severe? I suspect not.
Maybe I was in some alternate universe when a “Day After Tomorrow”-like psychological shift took place in America’s newsrooms that caused the press to suddenly take aim at Kerry’s failure to disclose all of his military records or demand that Teresa Heinz Kerry disclose all of her tax return information (like other wealthy spouses running for office have had to do; see Ferraro, Geraldine).
The problem is that CBS producer Mary Mapes wasn’t acting like an intrepid reporter -- she was acting like a partisan hack. That’s great if you work for John Kerry, but not so good if you’re working for CBS News.
Call me skeptical, but I don’t think a network would ever have aired “unsustainable allegations about John Kerry.” Period. And if they had, I think the repercussions would have been at least the same, and probably worse.
However, this is an issue where we can all respectfully agree to disagree.
Unfortunately, Jamieson’s column continues, and he proves himself to be an individual so blinkered that he cannot discern jaywalking from mass murder.
Journalistic sins tend to play out differently depending on who is involved. Consider Fox News, the media outlet that Republicans love. Last fall, FoxNews.com posted an item by reporter Carl Cameron purporting to contain quotations from then-Democratic presidential hopeful Kerry -- quotes such as, "Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate."
"The item was based on a reporter's partial script that had been written in jest and should not have been posted or broadcast," Fox apologized. "We regret the error, which occurred because of fatigue and bad judgment, not malice."
And that was that for behavior that is arguably more troubling than the honest mistake Mapes made through competitive haste.
Wow. This guy is a defense attorney’s dream.
Lawyer: “Yes, my client murdered five people, but he loves cats.”
Jamieson: “A cat lover? Can’t be all bad. Not guilty!”
On a more serious note, you know nothing really compares to the outrageous behavior of CBS News, when this is the best someone like Jamieson can come up with. Can he really believe that some cutesy mocking of John Kerry’s fingernails is worse than falsely accusing the president of the United States of having been AWOL in an attempt to influence a presidential election.
It’s also informative to compare the responses of the two news organizations. The one that stupidly posted a watercooler-type joke on their Web site for a short time quickly and publicly apologized. The one that ran a 15-minute segment on a primetime newsmagazine show repeatedly lied and stonewalled for nearly two weeks before a forced, half-hearted apology was aired -- an “apology” that the independent report revealed was dishonestly delivered.
The first part of fixing a problem is admitting that you have a problem.
The Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell writes in his latest book that the mainstream media is going to have to purge itself of some of its blinkered liberalism and promote conservatives to balance its product. It’s not going to happen, because there aren’t enough conservative journalists in the newsrooms.
However, there are plenty who think like Jamieson does -- and that’s the biggest problem.