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Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

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Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

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Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

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Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

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Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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September 29, 2004

Nagourney's Challenge: Quit Spin Alley

When the lead correspondent of the New York Times won't play in your game, your game has been downgraded some. Plus: The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin calls the post-debate analysis "a seminal moment for American political journalism." Froomkin's Challenge is for bloggers too.

Yesterday I argued that Every Four Years (We Do the Same Damn Thing) was fit title for the performance of the campaign press in 2004. I also said that Adam Nagourney, his editor, Rick Berke, and the political team at the New York Times were guilty of “every four years (we do the same damn thing)” journalism in their approach so far.

Today I am reporting signs of a change. Small signs, but at a significant hour: day before the first presidential debate.

Nagourney told a Miami Herald reporter that he wouldn’t be heading promptly into the Spin Room at the debate Thursday night in Miami. He won’t be there at all. He plans to watch on TV from Washington, and write a story about what the candidates said.

Which defies the herd. In itself that is significant. Here is what Wednesday’s Herald said, in a preview of the debate by reporter Beth Reinhard:

Some experienced reporters shun the spin. In fact, Adam Nagourney, The New York Times’ national political correspondent, is going to watch the debate and write his story from his office in Washington.

”I avoid Spin Alley at all costs,” he said. “I think it’s degrading for reporters and degrading for political operatives.”

Degrading is exactly right. He might have added that it’s degrading to the listeners, and to voters, who are ultimately supposed to be spun.

Spin Alley’s most remarkable feature over all its years of development has never been the spin itself, which keeps getting more extreme, but the voluntary nature of the space and proceedings. You elected to be spun by going there in the first place. The press crowd co-produced its own degradation.

Nagourney’s Choice shifts him into non-compliance with the spin machine’s basic rule: show up. He won’t be there to be spun. “What’s important to me is what the candidates say. I don’t care about anyone else,” he told the Miami Herald.

Disclaimers: I’m sure the Times will have a presence in Miami. I’m sure there are others who stay away for reasons the same as Nagourney’s. I’m sure there are times when Nagourney does play ball and times when he is the one spun. We know the Times itself can be spun big time. The editors have told us so.

But when the lead correspondent of the New York Times won’t play in your game, your game has been downgraded some. From small movements like that bigger pattens of non-compliance might emerge. Adam Nagourney’s choice could have some effect, especially if we talk about it. (Get it, bloggers? This one does. This guy too.)

The news is at least one big shot reporter is withdrawing from Spin Alley. He says it adds nothing to his reporting and only encourages spin. He’s back from where the pack goes to find politics, and dwelling once again on the grounds of common sense.

Also moral sense. Nagourney says Spin Alley is degrading to the people who volunteer in it. The spinners might claim to enjoy making the sale, or take pride in their ability to “handle” journalists. Nagourney says there is no pride for anyone. The better you are at spin, the less hope there is for you, friend. You improve as a journalist when you stop.

So why don’t they stop? (I was urging that in November. See Raze Spin Alley.)

Beyond hastening the fall of Spin Alley there is other beauty in Nagourney’s Choice. It’s independent action on the correspondent’s part because most of the political press is going to be in that room Thursday. Therefore it’s an act of dissent, but not from the margins of the press. He works for Rick Berke and the New York Times. From the Herald account, where they’re setting up the arena with a designated spin space:

”That becomes action central,” said Joani Komlos, media director for the Commission on Presidential Debates, referring to an area at the far end of the media room. It’s normally a basketball court, and the political elbows can be just as sharp.

”The second the closing handshakes happen, each campaign sends their surrogates in at lightning speed,” Komlos continued. “There are people jumping over other people to grab interviews, and each side talks about how well their candidates did. You can’t get that flavor from your hotel room.”

It’s the flavor we need least, although I admit there’s a macabre interest when grown men and women, Mayors and Senators, try to advance the frontiers of robotics in service to Big Boss Talking Points.

Final points: Nagourney has chosen a common sense reporting method that moves him closer to the debate-watching citizen’s experience Thursday night— and also closer to the blogger’s domain. Listen for it: Adam Nagourney, The New York Times’ national political correspondent, is going to watch the debate and write his story from his office in Washington…

“What’s important to me is what the candidates say,” he said. Isn’t that where we’ve been for some time, waiting for journalists to come to their senses? As Corante’s Ernest Miller said to me, we’ll have to see how the choice to ditch Miami affects his reporting. For now I say: Bravo, Adam Nagourney.

Related: Dan Froomkin’s Challenge.

Meanwhile, from the environs of the Washington Post (“White House Briefing” column) and the Nieman Foundation at Harvard (he’s with both), and striking the same chord, but aiming also at the blogs, here’s Dan Froomkin’s challenge, reprinted from Romenesko’s Letters (Sep. 29). It ran under the title, Are You Up For the Challenge?

9/29/2004 12:30:04 PM

From DAN FROOMKIN: Wearing both my and hats, I’d like to ask my colleagues what you are planning to do to take up the challenge issued on the New York Times op-ed pages this week by Adam Clymer and Paul Krugman.

Clymer writes: “The test for journalists is whether they can appreciate the importance of the event and help voters make sense of what is said, checking the accuracy of claims about the past and the present and the plausibility of what is claimed for the future….

“The press in recent years has spilled a lot more important ink over debate style than substance, with dutiful fact-checking relegated to inside pages, and descriptions of candidates’ manners and costumes - and above all, strategy accompanying the front-page accounts of what was actually said.”

Krugman writes: “During the debate, Mr. Bush will try to cover for this dismal record with swagger, and with attacks on his opponent. Will the press play Karl Rove’s game by, as Mr. Clymer puts it, confusing political coverage with drama criticism, or will it do its job and check the candidates’ facts?”

My colleague Barry Sussman adds: “Reporters and commentators, especially on TV, can pretty much determine the outcome of the election by the approach they take covering the presidential debates that start Thursday night.

“Will they be opinionated or factual? Will they dwell on candidate tics, prepared one-liners, or real differences in positions? Will they, as pontificators, declare a winner, or will they, as observers, tell us what happened?

“Don’t hold your breath.”

Well, as it happens, I am holding my breath.

I think this is a seminal moment for American political journalism. And yes, the spinned confections are bound to appear in our newspapers and on our Web sites. But I think we can and should put a huge premium on fact-checking.

I know the Post and will be doing quite a bit, and I’ll be doing my part. I’m hoping to reach out to the blogging community to help here, too. After all, holding the press accountable is valuable. But going beyond that, and holding newsmakers accountable, is I think the blogging Grail.

So, are we up to the challenge? [end Froomkin]

UPDATE, Sep. 30, 1:00 PM. Froomkin reports a flurry of “fact check their ass” action in the mainstream media in advance of the debate, and produces a must read, link-filled column (as in right after this…) Let the Fact Checking Begin! It includes on the blogging side:

Bloggers Unite to Fact-Check the Debate

And here’s another way to make sure that the substance of Bush and Kerry’s comments are fully and quickly assessed.

Some key political bloggers, who have so effectively proven their ability to hold the press accountable, will tonight be posting their own debate fact-checks — and will be asking their readers to find and document substantively incorrect statements by the candidates, as well.

I’ve already talked to several bloggers on both sides of the political spectrum and they’re on board. I urge others in the blogging community to join in the experiment. Just make sure you e-mail me at so I know you’re out there.

In tomorrow’s column, I’ll link to the bloggers who are actively fact-checking and I’ll try to highlight some of the best and best-documented posts.

I heard Atrios is among the paticipants, but Dan is no dummy. He will get some righties and switch hitters. He urges you to email him if you want to play. Let the Fact Checking Begin!

Jeff Jarvis asked similar things of bloggers in August. Froomkin is talking to journalists and bloggers. Maybe that’s a bit of progress.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

It’s starting, little ripples out on the edges. Andrew Cline at Rhetorica on Nagourney’s Choice:

This is exactly how change begins. Many of my critics think I am far too idealistic and unrealistic in my suggestions for the press. I suppose I’m guilty—now. But Nagourney is showing us how we get there—eventually.

I’m on the record with this advice: Don’t watch the post-debate spin. Nagourney isn’t going to cover it. If the lead reporter for the NYT can get away with this, so can citizens. He’s saying: I don’t need the spin to do good journalism. You can say: I don’t need to be spun to make a good political/civic decision.

If I’m not mistaken, Cline makes a point about journalists providing civic leadership. We don’t watch the spin and we think you shouldn’t either.

UPDATE: Cline continues: “I told my students yesterday to mark their calendars because 30 September 2004 would become an important moment in journalistic history—the moment the lead campaign reporter for the The New York Times refused to be spun.”

Agreeing that Nagourney’s choice is potentially significant, journalist Ryan Pitts writes at Dead Parrot Society:

The current conventional wisdom says that the debate won’t be won so much during the exchange as afterward, when the spinmeisters go to work. This is horribly, twistedly wrong, and Nagourney’s choice to sit out the spin room in Miami won’t in itself keep that from coming true. But his report, we can hope, will be at least somewhat pristine, a reference point to use as cable news heads and op-ed page soldiers spend a few days struggling to find the right narrative.

Because we need to know what was said and whether it was right. Who wants to have other people tell them what to think about who won or lost? Readers sure don’t…. people are way past tired of us repeating spin and calling it reporting.

Police action… Writing in the Weekly Standard, Hugh Hewitt issues a warning to debate moderator Jim Lehrer:

Jim Lehrer takes his seat as debate moderator with the PBS brand as firmly affixed to his back as CBS is to Dan Rather’s. Moderating a presidential debate never carried much of a risk for the mother ship in the past, but in this era of new media, any detectable bias on Lehrer’s part will result in a cyber-tsunami headed towards PBS affiliates across the country.

The key is “detectable,” and the arbitrators of that won’t be the folks who ignored the Agent of Orange story on Wednesday morning. It will be the viewers themselves, working through the blogosphere, posting on, calling into talk radio, and canceling their pledges to local PBS affiliates if their verdict on Lehrer’s performance is negative.

Police Action, II… David Brock puts MSNBC on notice about using Republican pollster-become-pundit Frank Luntz and his focus groups during debate coverage. And it apparently works. MSNBC says no Luntz. “We think the audience is fully capable of coming to their own opinions without ‘scientific’ help,” says a spokesman. “A press release indicating that Frank Luntz would be on our air went out in error.”

The Daily Howler commenting on this from Josh Marshall about post-debate spin.

The spinning of that first debate transformed the 2000 race. Given the narrow way this election was decided, it is surely one of the most remarkable stories in modern press corps history. We think it’s important that you understand what actually happened in that crucial week—that week in which Gore handily “won” that debate, then took a bad beating in the polls. And it’s simply absurd to tell that story without discussing the press corps’ disdain for the candidate.

“Look for Substance, Not Sizzle.” Adam Clymer made his arguments on the op ed page of the New York Times, Sep. 27.

PressThink was saying it in November, 2003: Raze Spin Alley, That Strange Creation of the Press. “…The absurdity is well known, admitted to by journalists. Spin Alley goes on. Yet it would be easy to abandon it by the time we gear up for the big debates in Fall 2004. A major candidate could say: no one from my campaign will show up. ‘The American people don’t need my people telling them who won.’ Unlikely? Then how about this. Journalists just don’t show up.”

Rob Garver in the American Prospect (Sep. 29): “By preemptively declaring the debates to be meaningless political theater, the television news networks are giving themselves permission to cover them not as a battle of ideas but as a spectacle.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at September 29, 2004 7:47 PM   Print


It is good news that Nagourney will be reporting on the debates from Washington rather than Florida. Of course, we will have to see how Nagourney and the NY Times chooses to cover the debate, it isn't simply not being there, but how they handle the coverage that is important.

Nevertheless, the Nagourney challenge is a good one to pose to other reporters.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 29, 2004 8:26 PM | Permalink

He's a big shot reporter who is withdrawing from Spin Alley.

At least geographically. Will he watch the debate on C-SPAN and turn it off immediately after the handshake?

Spin alley is televised on cable TV and the networks? Will it find its way to the blogosphere via partisan platforms? Will Kos be a spinner? A conduit for spin? What can expect based on their convention expectations and actual performance?

I'll tell you what won't work -- dropping press releases on our laps. And while some of the bloggers will do heavy speech coverage, many of us won't. I find the things dreary. There's always more interesting stuff happening -- consultants roam the floor, always happy to give their take on this race or that. Candidates and celebrities will make appearances. Candidates are sometimes interesting, celebrities we can make fun of. And the campaign consultants? That's where the good stuff lives.

Posted by: Tim at September 29, 2004 9:27 PM | Permalink

So, bored, I turned on "Hardball" with Chris Matthews. He was talking with a Republican consultant. He was pressing the consultant on why the Bush team had insisted on particular elements of the debate agreement (such as the opponent shall not physically approach the President, etc.).

Leaving aside the issue of the inside baseball nature of the questions, the consultant simply dodged the questions entirely. What is the point of such interviews? Why are these people on television if they're not going to answer the questions?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 29, 2004 9:41 PM | Permalink


Because Matthews' show isn't about the answers, it is about the questions and how righteous he is for asking them. I thought that was obvious from the show's name. It is a self-promotion vehicle. See also O'Reilly, Bill.

(The answer is also pretty obvious, since this demand seems to harken back to Gore's stunt in the 2000 debates. Frankly I think the Bush team is insane for demanding the other guy be prevented from making a fool of himself.)

Posted by: Brian at September 29, 2004 10:12 PM | Permalink

Note the "Debate Referee" feature in this 2000 WaPo transcript. WaPo truth feature, or spin? Compare with the C-Span transcript (archive).

Ernest, remember the recurring discussions about tall presidents and Gore creeping up behind Bush in 2000 during the 3d debate?

Posted by: Tim at September 29, 2004 10:18 PM | Permalink

Survey: Vast Majorities of Republicans Don't Even Know the Bush Policies They Think They Support

Does Bush Govern by Spin to Begin With?

PIPA Survey Results
As the nation prepares to watch the presidential candidates debate foreign policy issues, a new PIPA-Knowledge Networks poll finds that Americans who plan to vote for President Bush have many incorrect assumptions about his foreign policy positions. Kerry supporters, on the other hand, are largely accurate in their assessments. The uncommitted also tend to misperceive Bush's positions, though to a smaller extent than Bush supporters, and to perceive Kerry's positions correctly. Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments: "What is striking is that even after nearly four years President Bush's foreign policy positions are so widely misread, while Senator Kerry, who is relatively new to the public and reputed to be unclear about his positions, is read correctly."

Majorities of Bush supporters incorrectly assumed that Bush favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (84%), and the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the International Criminal Court (66%), the treaty banning land mines (72%), and the Kyoto Treaty on global warming (51%). They were divided between those who knew that Bush favors building a new missile defense system now (44%) and those who incorrectly believe he wishes to do more research until its capabilities are proven (41%). However, majorities were correct that Bush favors increased defense spending (57%) and wants the US, not the UN, to take the stronger role in developing Iraq's new government (70%).

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 30, 2004 2:06 AM | Permalink

Nagourney, Clymer, and Krugman not only don't need to go to Miami, they don't even need to watch the debates on TV. To make it easier for themselves they should just pull a Lewish Lapham and file their thingies right now. Is there really even the slightest bit of suspense that their coverage will deviate in the slightest bit from the pre-determined storyline of "Bush bad/Kerry Good, or at least: Kerry not Bush."? What they say matters not at all. They will be read by an audience of people who already despise Bush as much as they do, and maybe a few non-leftist bloggers will link to them and go through the effort of fisking their little reports and that'll be it. They might as well take the night off.

Posted by: Eric Deamer at September 30, 2004 2:08 AM | Permalink

These guys' reporting on a debate between Kerry and Bush is like a rabid fan of one of the teams in a big sports rivalry reporting on a game between them.

Maybe Krugman can skip the middle man and just have Michael Moore write his copy?

Posted by: Eric Deamer at September 30, 2004 2:22 AM | Permalink

Jay, you repeat Krugman's smear about Bush attacking Kerry, without mentioning there is question about it. I don't think a factual statement, like "Kerry did not sign Form 180" should be considered an attack.

"Bush lied about WMDs" is an attack, because Bush was repeating, and seemed to sincerely believe, that Saddam had them. "Bush said there were WMDs, but [essentially] none has been found" is also not an attack. [OJ was not found guilty of murder, either.]

Dems have been lying and attacking Bush for so long, it might even seem OK, or accepted wisdom among the PC (see Bawa Streisand's Bush-hate web site, for instance). Reps are getting sensitive about it and calling the PC Dem press on it; and you.

I don't see the Swifties, with lots of eyewitness reports, quite in the same boat as the MoveOn Bush-haters. And on specific issues of fact (was Saddam trying to get uranium in Africa? yes!), the charges against Bush have been far more comprehensively covered than about Kerry.

Do you know who signed Kerry's first Purple Heart? If not, why not?

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at September 30, 2004 12:00 PM | Permalink

These guys' reporting on a debate between Kerry and Bush is like a rabid fan of one of the teams in a big sports rivalry reporting on a game between them.

Maybe Nagourney can skip the middle man and just have Jonah Goldberg write his copy?

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at September 30, 2004 1:00 PM | Permalink

Prof. Rosen,

Lauding Adam Nagourney for not going into Spin Alley is like praising him for checking sources, or for washing his hands after he uses the bathroom.

Posted by: Dexter Westbrook at September 30, 2004 1:12 PM | Permalink

It will be interesting to see how two British papers, the Independent and the Guardian, cover the debate and subsequent spin. Their campaign coverage to date has tended to echo that of the U.S. mainstream media while maintaining a more professional detachment from the Gang of 500's spin-crazy mindset. They're far less reliant on The Usual Suspects -- the party hacks, political consultants and think-tankers -- for their reporting and analysis. You'd think the fact that more and more Americans are turning to the online British press for independent and unbiased news coverage would serve as some sort of wake-up call to U.S. news organizations.

Meanwhile, I am going to watch the debates as I did the conventions: on C-SPAN, which I'll turn off as soon as the debate's over.

Posted by: Derek Maurer at September 30, 2004 1:14 PM | Permalink

Instant nonsense...

The article sweeps across several polling issues but is pegged on a CBS effort to track the reactions of undecided voters in real time during the debate. The results will be displayed in a dynamic bar chart on the CBS web site. This is just nonsense--interesting geeky nonsense to be sure, but still nonsense.
Horse race announcing during the debate.

Posted by: Tim at September 30, 2004 2:00 PM | Permalink

Bush's Net strategy for debate spin (Debate Feeds)

Posted by: Tim at September 30, 2004 2:15 PM | Permalink

"more and more Americans are turning to the online British press for independent and unbiased news coverage"

Is this a joke? Independent? Unbiased? British press? (rubbing eyes) Did I read that correctly? Or is it supposed to say, "more and more Americans seeking more overt journalistic partisanship are turning to the online British press for egregiously slanted news coverage"? It must be the accents and the funny spellings.

Posted by: Brian at September 30, 2004 2:18 PM | Permalink

Speaking of the British press, Jay, how do they fit into your view of pressthink? Have you posted anything on American vs. British reporting in the past?

Posted by: Brian at September 30, 2004 2:19 PM | Permalink

"We're avoiding Spin Alley." But not instant polls, which themselves suggest that there is so little substance in the debate that evaluating it is like deciding whether you liked that slice of strawberry shortcake you had after dinner. (Okay, there really is that little substance, but in that case why do the instant polls matter? Why is this work of performance art treated as something more significant than a campaign rally or dueling sound bites?)

Spin Alley is as much a creation of reporters as it is the campaigns--it isn't some place the press goes to, it's where they live and work. It's certainly not a physical location, so it makes no sense to say that Nagourney is avoiding it (and even less sense to say he's avoiding it by *staying in Washington D.C., aka Inside the Beltway).

And Daily Howler is heavily engaged in pre-debate spin of its own, prepping the stage for the argument that any criticism of Kerry is based on nitpicking or obsession with his appearance (although none seem more obsessed about the latter than Code Orange himself), just like poor Al. Presumably if Kerry comes onstage with a jockstrap on his head we're not supposed to notice, just as long as he demagogues in a way to suit Daily Howler.

Posted by: Brian at September 30, 2004 2:44 PM | Permalink

Nagourney, if you're reading this, I take back all those mean things I said about you. Pending, of course, a solid article in tomorrow's Times.

Posted by: praktike at September 30, 2004 2:56 PM | Permalink

Thanks for these comments, everyone.

I'd like to hear a few people address it directly:

Nagourney quits Spin Alley... is this a positive and potentially significant action, or an event of no great significance and no real effect?

Or do you have a third view?

Tim writes about spin making its way across the blogosphere, from the campaigns on down. Or maybe the blogosphere does something to the spin, changing it around.

Ernest: the use of consultants to enlighten the audience about matters in which their clients pay them to take an interest is one of the stranger practices in political television. There is no good rationale for it, but there must be a reason the shows do it that is internal to the professional group in charge or the industry's imperatives.

I think the reason is consultants create the illusion of "inside" knowledge at close to zero cost. Essentially, they are there so Matthews can chat like an insider with people deemed to be insiders. Plus, consultants are easy to get from both "sides" when you need balance. The price for all this convenience is: they spin you.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at September 30, 2004 3:16 PM | Permalink

Brian: I haven't written anything on the British press vs our own. I agree it is a ripe subject.

I think there is an Anglo-American tradition in journalism that ties the press corps of the two nations together, even though there are huge differences in the two systems, as well.

Like many others online, I have been impressed with the way The Guardian, just by being Web-friendly and a tad more open, has gained a foothold (among some, many can't stand it) in the US market that is a few short steps from a being a franchise online.

The Guardian is not a big newspaper, or an even a heavyweight in the UK press. But who was the one to sign up Kos and Instapundit as election year columnists?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at September 30, 2004 3:25 PM | Permalink

"if Kerry comes onstage with a jockstrap on his head we're not supposed to notice"

No, that would be Dubbya.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at September 30, 2004 3:51 PM | Permalink

Nagourney quits Spin Alley... is this a positive and potentially significant action, or an event of no great significance and no real effect?

It is symbolic at this time. It is significant in its symbolism (independence, breaking the mold). I am not sure that we can know if it has a real effect or if that effect is positive. Or even all the effects, positive and negative.

It is certainly has potential. But you are asking about the vector and internal energy of the announcement. Perhaps a better question would be: How many of you are optimists?

Posted by: Tim at September 30, 2004 3:52 PM | Permalink

Thankfully, the GOP is not depending on Nagourney and his cronies at NYTimes and MSM to offer Non-partisan spin, and have set up their own site to fact-check Kerry's ass (something which the MSM seems reluctant to do). For those interested in fact-checking, which does not involve the Democratic partisan press or lefty bloggers(Froomkin - non-partisan? -gimme a break!) go here: At least you will be able to get the other side of the fact-checking story. You won't get both sides from Froomkin, Nagourney, Clymer and the NYTimes.

Posted by: paladin at September 30, 2004 4:13 PM | Permalink

I'll be the skeptic and take the pessimistic view: Spin is fluid, pervasive and expansive.

Nagourney has announced his intent to stay out of the deep end of the spin pool. Will he be less permeable in the Washington end?

Can he be the stationary object in the spin current flowing from Florida?

Flow around me spin, but I will not be swept away or imbued. I'm spin-proof. Sealed. Removed. Abstaining.

I'm a rock.
Let's see what squirts out of that rock in the days after the debate on this grand adventure, Nagourney's journey, outside Florida's spin alley.

Posted by: Tim at September 30, 2004 4:54 PM | Permalink

I don't think Nagourney's written his story yet, but what he writes will certainly be informed by a worldview that he can't shed simply by avoiding the spin room. It's nice that he's willing to sacrifice the tendentious quotes he would otherwise get from "senior campaign operatives" but on a fundamental level I doubt it means much.

FWIW, I disagree with those who think the answer to media bias is to remove the fig leaves and invite the NYT to become the Guardian. I think that's lazy on the part of European papers and it would be lazy here. The alternative is better editing - a lesson the Times still hasn't learned. The Washington Post has gained enormous respect in recent years not by either embracing a political viewpoint or pretending it doesn't have one, but by rigorous editing that, for the most part, keeps bias in check.

Posted by: ronbo at September 30, 2004 5:02 PM | Permalink

Nagourney's presence in the "spin room" is mostly redundant, it seems to me; he might as well stay home. I'm sure he's on the same email reflectors that everyone else at the NYT subscribes to. Indeed he's probably already written most of his story and lacks only a few plug-in quotes for color. Unless Kerry dissolves into screaming dust like the Evil Capitalist at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, does anybody believe there's less than a 99% chance he'll be the hero of Nagourney's piece?

Posted by: Mike at September 30, 2004 5:47 PM | Permalink

Does anyone see parallel storylines in the pre-convention spin being "reported".

Gore "won" the debate, but "lost" the post-debate spin war.

Who declared Gore the initial winner? Was that spin from the Gore camp? Was it media spin based on press proclivities? Who reported the spin that Gore lost, got it wrong? Where did that come from? Who reported that?

Fast forward four years ...

Kerry and the DNC had a great convention! It WAS a good convention, the public is too partisan for a bounce. No swing voters. OK, maybe it wasn't THAT good a convention. Those Republicans had a really mean-spirited, angry convention that only solidifies the base! Wow, look at that bump! Swing voters! Well, I guess the RNC had a good convention that also reached out to moderate swing voters.

We've been SPUN!!!!

Posted by: Tim at September 30, 2004 6:45 PM | Permalink

Spread the Word that John Kerry Commanded the Debate

Posted by: Tim at September 30, 2004 6:49 PM | Permalink

Re Froomkin: His piece seems slanted toward Kerry and therefore does absolutely nothing to allay fears that the media will once again go insane with spin in the post-debate. (Froomkin's idea of a good question: Dr. Phil should have asked Bush about the twins' drinking. Truly Froomkin missed his calling as a crass Oprah impersonator.) The "fact-checking" cited in the article totally lacks depth, as one expects these days from the press no matter how much bandwidth they have. This is fact-checking as done by Michael J. Fox in the movie Bright Lights, Big City. One obvious example: Kerry's vote on Iraq funding. Very shallowly examined. Glib pronouncement of "truth" with no examination, worse it's reductive of several issues that were simultaneously in play at the time. I know this article is not about that one vote but this is how fact-checking tends to work in Big Media. If it doesn't fit on the back of a matchbook, it's too damn long for our audience.

I'll bet a few reporters are going to try out a "weblogs fail to meet promise" angle (more likely written as "weblogs get spun, but not us old, experienced hands") if too many of them differ with Beltway CW. Nick Coleman will happily show the way.

It will be interesting, if not informative.

Posted by: Brian at September 30, 2004 7:13 PM | Permalink

Kerry Team Set for Instant Response

During the debate, will be turned into a virtual war room, with the campaign’s blog and rapid response center updated in real time. Bloggers, already given a pre-debate briefing by campaign officials Wednesday, will receive special attention throughout the night with dedicated staffers providing them with rebuttals and fact checks.

Posted by: Tim at September 30, 2004 8:13 PM | Permalink

When Allawi appears from now on the media should be running the "Bush Campaign operative" tag underneath. Today's Washington Post reports the Federal government and a Bush campaign representative were deeply involved in preparing his speech to Congress. The operative involved, Dan Senor, has denied that he "wrote" the speech, but refused to comment on the report that he "supplied preferred phrases". The CPA was Bush-Cheney04 on the Tigris. Putting Allawi on the list-serve is just business as usual for Team Bush.

Their response to the USAID advisory's bad news on Iraq the other day is to restrict the reports from now on and hire cheerleaders for US military bases! Next thing you know they'll just stick their fingers in their ears. What a way to run a government.

It would be great to see a question on one of these issues tonight.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 30, 2004 9:07 PM | Permalink

Slate is going full throttle, with no fewer than three post-debate spin articles (taking a cue from Raines perhaps?).

Posted by: Brian at October 1, 2004 10:55 AM | Permalink

Another case of "fact-checking" which is largely spin in disguise:

Candidates Call Facts as They See Them

A very long discussion could be had of the numerous biased or partisan assumptions that prop up the LA Times' "facts". The writer creatively interprets Kerry's statements in the most favorable light, Bush's in the least favorable. In other words, the LA Times decided to go front page with its spin.

Posted by: Brian at October 1, 2004 11:05 AM | Permalink

Not just another day...

This is spin. Instant polls are nonsense. Milbank and VandeHei know this. Yet there it is in a news article. Nagourney does not cite such polls, and he does not suggest who won. He does not cite specifically or anonymously any campaign insiders or pundits.
The President Gets Defensive
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll had Kerry as the winner, 53-37.

ABC's poll had it for Kerry 45-36. "It was a clean win for Kerry: Independents by a 20-point margin said he prevailed."

A CBS poll had Kerry winning 43-28.

Posted by: Tim at October 1, 2004 4:11 PM | Permalink

Prof. Rosen:

To answer your question: Nagourney's decision means nothing. It means, maybe, that he grew a spine, when he should have begun his reporting career already equipped with one. It is foolish for reporters to go into "Spin Alley" in the first place, and it has always been thus.

How did Nagourney ever justify, after watching an event, going to another place full of partisans from both sides, to be told about something that he just saw? To me, what that means is, he didn't have confidence in his own judgment. So he went somewhere where the folks were primed to tell him what his judgment should be. That is ridiculous. What would H.L. Mencken think?

To me, it only makes sense to visit a place like Spin Alley if sources are there who normally don't return your calls and can't be bothered with you. In Spin Alley, those sources (Karl Rove et al.) are accessible to be interviewed on any subject. I suspect that's why the foreign press goes there. They get interviews they otherwise would not get.

I would respectfully suggest that you retire the phrase, "Nagourney's Choice." It invests drama and significance in something that has neither. You may as well congratulate him for not picking his nose in public.

Posted by: Dexter Westbrook at October 1, 2004 4:34 PM | Permalink

Swift Boat Vets Should 'Shut Up,' Says Kerry Spokesman: Anti-SBVT in spin alley.

Did Kerry write own report of disputed clash?

Posted by: Tim at October 1, 2004 7:52 PM | Permalink

Dexter: I agree with you in this: It is foolish for reporters to go into "Spin Alley" in the first place, and it has always been thus. I have written so at this blog, and back in November I called for the press to just stop going to Spin Alley. They never should have been there in the first place.

Still, it does not follow that Nagourney's decision means nothing. When people recover their senses, it means something. We can celebrate a return. When elites no longer accept the absurd logic they had previously rationalized as craft wisdom, that counts too. When professionals end indefensible practices, or quit the herd mentality, or de-couple their car from a runaway train, the action can be publicly significant, even if there is nothing astonishing in a discovery like: Quit spin alley, you lose nothing. Or: that train is about to crash.

We have a herding problem in our press. The inertia of the herd, the judgment of a herd, the fear of a herd are factors in journalism. It's really bad sometimes. I don't believe that herd thinking must prevail. But it does, often.

Speaking as a critic who would like to see the press improve where it can, I take any high-level resignation from the rituals of the herd as potentially good news. That's no reason you should. But it's how I think. Bravo Nagourney for that decision.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 1, 2004 11:55 PM | Permalink

Apparently, no one has brought up the ethical issue of Nagourney's coverage today, which was a) he wasn't at the event, yet he covered it as if he were, and b) nowhere in his story does he intimate that he *wasn't* in Miami.

IIRC, there was a sports reporter who was severely disciplined for doing *exactly the same thing* - watching a game and writing the report from the television coverage.

How is this different?

Posted by: bryan at October 1, 2004 11:57 PM | Permalink

I thought they should have by-lined it Washington, bryan. They didn't. He also should have said he wasn't there, as you said here. But that right there tells you why everyone wants to be there, in Miami. There's a mystique to being on location that is harder to jettison that it appears.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 2, 2004 12:12 AM | Permalink

It wouldn't do to close out a thread on spin alley and debate coverage without mention of the Fox reporter Carl Cameron posting a story on the debate with completely fabricated, feminizing quotes on Kerry's makeup, manicure, and metrosexuality. This is from the Fox News Network's chief campaign correspondent covering Kerry!

Those of you who carry water for Fox as the one fair channel better pinch yourselves or you'll wake up in Wonderland too.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 2, 2004 10:57 AM | Permalink


Not wanting to defend Fox News, but ...

Did they adamantly stand by the story and demean everyone criticizing them? (like CBS)

Did they make a timely public correction? (unlike CBS and AP)

Did they apologize? (unlike AP)

Posted by: Tim at October 2, 2004 12:03 PM | Permalink

One more ....

If Cameron's story is proof of bias and a VRWC, does that retroactively confirm bias and a VLWC by others?

Posted by: Tim at October 2, 2004 12:05 PM | Permalink

Jay, I think one other thing that's missed is that *every network* showed a different version of the debate. A professor mentioned this on NPR Friday afternoon. They were all able to choose between different camera angles at any time. So you might get a split screen with reaction on CBS and a single screen of the candidate answering the question on ABC, for example.

So one could argue that not only did Nagourney not witness the same event as those who were present, but he didn't even witness a transcendant television event. to do so, he would have had to have at least six TV sets up in his office at one time. This wouldn't seem that big a deal except for the fact that he mentions the coverage of Bush smirking on the reaction shot camera, but doesn't mention what channel.

I believe it would be entirely possible to watch the debate in the Miami audience and leave immediately after to your hotel without getting caught in Spin Alley. It would require, perhaps, ignoring a lot of those chummy relationships that are built between the reporter and the campaign team.

Posted by: bryan at October 2, 2004 12:59 PM | Permalink

Did a CBS reporter make up the memos himself and release them to the world with no possiblity they were real and no question they were a direct expression of the prejudices of the one man in the organization responsible for covering him through the entire campaign? A MAN WHO STILL HAS THAT JOB!?

No, no, and no.

Bad comparison. If Dan Rather made that stuff up himself and THEN put it on the air you'd have a case.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 2, 2004 4:34 PM | Permalink

Why Dan Rather? Did Mary Mapes create the memos? If not, who did? Is Mapes the mysterious "Lucy Ramirez"? What if she schemed with Burkett or duped him? Has anyone lost their job at CBS yet?

Interesting that we know the details of Fox News and Cameron so quickly, but none from inside CBS.

Bad Fox News. Bad Cameron. Dumb Ben.

Posted by: Tim at October 2, 2004 5:05 PM | Permalink

Is Fox trying to challenge the Daily Show for best fake news?
Courtesy of Atrios

Fox News - Snookered Again
Is anyone ever going to hold this network to any standard?

Of course, there were some Kerry supporters in attendance who had no doubts whatever about their candidate.
"We're trying to get Comrade Kerry elected and get that capitalist enabler George Bush out of office," said 17-year-old Komoselutes Rob of Communists for Kerry.
"Even though he, too, is a capitalist, he supports my socialist values more than President Bush," Rob said, before assuring that his organization was not a parody group. When asked his thoughts on Washington's policy toward Communist holdout North Korea, Rob said: "The North Koreans are my comrades to a point, and I'm sure they support Comrade Kerry, too."
It is unclear whether the Kerry campaign has welcomed the Communists' endorsement.

All Fox had to do was click on the "About" link:

"Communists for Kerry" is a campaign of the Hellgate Republican Club, a tax exempt non-partisan public advocacy "527" organization that exists for the purpose of;
"Informing voters with satire and irony, how political candidates make decisions based on the failed social economic principles of socialism that punish the individual by preventing them from becoming their dream through proven ideas of entrepreneurship and freedom."
Our members help elect candidates who support economic growth through Entrepreneurship, limited government and lower taxes. Communists For Kerry is separate and distinct from the Communist party of America and any of its organization. None of it's members are members of any communist organizations.
(thanks to reader g)

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 3, 2004 5:03 AM | Permalink

Right, Tim,
Mary Mapes spent five years working on Bush's AWOL guard memo story so she'd have time to put together such historically perfect reconstructions of the memos.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 3, 2004 5:05 AM | Permalink

From the Intro