December 19, 2005
Dan Froomkin on Attitude in White House Briefing
"A better question, really, is would the column take the same approach with another president -- either Democratic or Republican -- who was more forthcoming?" Plus, Michael Powell, the Post's New York bureau chief, writes in: "Let’s tamp down the triumphalism."
There were some arguments at PressThink about whether it’s more accurate to classify Dan Froomkin of White House Briefing as a liberal columnist, who opposes Bush from the Left, which is one view, or an accountability journalist who criticizes the President for a glaring lack of transparency— another view. Others were responding for Dan. I thought he should speak to it himself. He does that here. — JR
Dan Froomkin on Attitude in White House Briefing
Jay asked me yesterday — back when it was a little more relevant — to weigh in on whether or not I am an ideologue. I apologize for not responding with blogger speed.
But as it happens, Jay has already expressed my position on this issue more skillfully than I could. For instance, there was his post on washingtonpost.com’s Achenblog, in which he wrote:
First, Froomkin has an argument. His (in my paraphrase) is: You actually don’t think I’m liberal; what you mean is that I am anti-Bush. But you’re wrong. I am not anti-Bush, but I do have a kind of agenda as a writer and observer, and it often places me in conflict with this White House. I am for “discourse accountability” in presidents. I try to insist that the president engage in real dialogue, and refrain from demagoguery. I think speeches should be fact-checked, and statements intensely scrutinized. When presidents refuse to answer their critics they do democracy a disservice. When they refuse even to be questioned they pretend they’re kings and this we cannot allow.
Froomkin further says: I have an agenda, but not an ideology in the conventional sense. I stand up for these things but I do not take political stands the way a Richard Cohen or George Will might. You can argue with my agenda, but why are you calling me a liberal when I would apply the same standards to a president named Kerry, Clinton, Biden or Obama? (I believe he would, too.)
Amen, Jay (and the many, many readers who said similar things.) (And about the whole imperial presidency meme, see today’s column.)
So I’ll just add a few thoughts.
I think one reason some people see the column as having a political bias may be a misreading of my enthusiasm. The fact is that, like most good reporters, I am delighted when I get wind of what I consider a great story – and I am outraged when I see the public’s right to know being stymied. Reporters have traditionally been encouraged to suppress that sort of passion or outrage in their work product. But I have long felt that the Internet audience demands voice. Nobody wants to read a bored blogger. So I wear my passion on my sleeve.
But it’s journalistic passion, not partisan passion. And what disturbs me is the suggestion that enthusiastically scrutinizing a Republican president is somehow de facto biased and liberal – and therefore inadvisable for a reporter in a mainstream newsroom. I think that’s toxic for the industry, and for democracy.
Incidentally, I think this also speaks to a larger issue going forward. As more reporters start blogging (and they should) they’ll either write boring blogs that fail-– or they’ll write with a bit of attitude and succeed by connecting with readers. What will happen then? Here’s one scenario: Newsroom leaders will become less fixated on detachment and balance—two attributes that I think are hurting us more than helping us these days—and will instead focus on the values at the core of our industry, such as fairness and accuracy.
Finally: There’s been much speculation over whether my column would take the same approach with a Democrat in the White House. My answer is that the same passion for answers and accountability would inform the column no matter who is president. But a better question, really, is would the column take the same approach with another president — either Democratic or Republican — who was more forthcoming? And the answer is: I don’t know. It’s possible that in some ways the current incarnation of White House Briefing is a uniquely appropriate response to a unique presidency with a unique lack of transparency.
UPDATE: Dec. 20. I received this letter from Michael Powell, the New York bureau chief of the Washington Post, who wanted to commment on recent events and add some points he felt were being overlooked.
Michael Powell: “Print reporting is a ‘cool’ medium; blogistan is often as hot as Hades.”
I’ve been following the latest battle between blogistan and the print world and I had a few thoughts. I am a fan of Dan Froomkin and Jeff Morley, among other bloggers on our website. I admire the loose-limbed free associative quality of their writing, which to my mind stands in contrast to the mannered bloggers on the New York Times website.
A few of my esteemed (and I’m not being facetious in my use of that adjective) colleagues have dismissed Froomkin and Morley as clip jobbers. That’s unfair and a bit foolish. They are terrific bloggers, who read widely and compare and contrast and draw connections—often obvious—that reporters sometimes shy from for fear of appearing less than objective. (Aspiring to objectivity as opposed to, say, fairness, always has struck me as a desultory intellectual cul de sac.)
Most recently Froomkin noted the Big Dawg journalists traipsed out to Maryland to listen to President Bush give a thoroughly scripted talk on his views on health care. Meanwhile several reporters from smaller regional newspapers stayed behind and covered a Presidential sponsored health care conference, where the reception given to Bush’s plans was considerably cooler.
Bravo. That’s a nice catch and there’s no need for the Big Dawg reporters to act thin-skinned about it. Sometimes you zig and someone else zags and gets a more interesting story. There is a natural tendency to define political coverage as whatever the Great Man says and does and that’s too reductive. If Froomkin and his blogging brotherhood flip the script on that narrative, so much the better. Our readers are better informed.
That said, I can see the argument for tweaking Froomkin’s labelling. When Froomkin’s column first appeared, I assumed we had added a reporter to our corps in the White House (I would note in my clueless self defense that I am based in New York City and so lag on my awareness of newsroom hires).
I was intrigued too by your column analyzing the “two” Washington Posts, the corporeal edition and the on-line product. Yours was the first argument I’d heard that made a strong case for what often seems to be an incomplete marriage. Most newsroom reporters and editors are very much invested in the success of our Website, and even enthusiastic about our future in the Web ether. We talk often of making better use of audio and phots and layout, and so expanding the boundaries of our print existence.
But this enthusiasm comes tempered by a wariness, and it would be terrific if the Web triumphalists, who seem never to have experienced a moment’s doubt, could acknowledge that this just might, possibly, be honestly felt. As political editor John Harris notes, there’s a long and proud tradition of the journalist as independent and removed observer. It’s this reporting tradition that’s allowed the likes of Anthony Shadid to write pitch-perfect pieces in the middle of the bombing of Baghdad and Peter Baker to file dispatches while under enemy fire in Afghanistan.
To borrow terms from another media, print reporting is a “cool” medium; blogistan is often as hot as Hades. There are perfectly good and honest reasons that some of our best reporters are wary of turning into some version of the mindless babblers who hold forth on television (and, in fairness, on a few blogs) and so they put their toes one at a time into the Web waters.
Perhaps, as you argue, separation of the corporeal paper and its Web off-spring spurs innovation; you make an intriguing case. And there are good arguments for retaining the creative and editorial tension. But many of us suspect that the Post maintains a separate web operation for another more prosaic reason. Our dot.com operation is a non-union shop, while the The Washington Post, to the enduring credit of the Guild, is a union shop. I love the creativity of our Web colleagues, and I would not stifle that. But I want them to partake of the same salaries and benefits and protections offered by the mother ship.
No doubt Web gurus will dismiss this as dinosaur talk. But all writers have a real stake in the ability of labor unions to penetrate web operations.
One final point: To compare the Web readership with the suscriber/newstand base of the Washington Post is still to talk of apples and oranges. I love that our Web presence has expanded our readership, and many times e-mailing readers have caused me to re-think a piece, or forced me to consider a new avenue of inquiry. But, again, let’s tamp down the triumphalism. There are many many readers, including a fair number in their 30s and 40s, who spend precious little time in blogistan. Their primary and intimate relationship is with the corporeal Post.
Michael Powell’s bio: New Yorker born and raised. Worked at New York Newsday for eight years. At the Post since 1996, where he’s covered Marion Barry, national politics for Style, New York City for the national section. E-mail.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
Jane Hamsher reacts to this post (and Michael Powell) with Notes From the Crankosphere. (Dec. 22)
The reason the WaPo editors and writers pooh-pooh the blogosphere’s concerns over GOP attempts to manipulate their content is not so much that they don’t see it as a problem as it is beside the point as far as they are concerned. What they are actually distressed about is real estate. Prime online marquee Beverly Hills pricetag terra firma. And they are furious at the WPNI — at war, as it has been described— because they have no control over it.
Brad DeLong does A Platonic Dialogue on Journalistic Fairness. (Dec. 21) Excerpt:
Capitalisticus: But his only asset is his credibility as an objective news reporter. He put that at risk…
Academicus: But identifying Pat Ruffini as a conservative weblogger is like identifying Jim Carville as the spouse of a Republican strategist…
Capitalisticus: Or like Judy Miller’s promising to identify Scooter Libby as an ex-Capitol Hill staffer…
Academicus: John Harris has a book about Clinton out, The Survivor. He can’t afford—he professionally can’t afford—to exhibit Judy Miller sourcing ethics…
Thrasymachus: Did I say that Harris was particularly smart, or thoughtful, or understood his own best interests?
Jeff Jarvis comments on this post: “What they’re getting to now is a dissection of the most dangerous assumption being made — most surprisingly in the Washington Post newsroom — that if you criticize someone in power on one side, you must be on the other side, if the White House complains about you, then you must be liberal. Or to put it more simply: You’re either for them or against them.”
He’s saying journalists picked up a bad habit of assuming: to have opinions is to show bias.
Jim Brady, executive editor of the Post website writes a long and link-filled explanation at post.blog: The Washington Post & washingtonpost.com. He runs down the list of projects where the two are working well together, and ends with:
I hope the point is made: washingtonpost.com could never be what it is today without the partnership we have with The Washington Post. One difference of opinion should not be viewed as a threat to that.
Well I don’t think it’s viewed that way, Jim. Some see large meaning in the difference of opinion. That’s different from “threat.” There’s some action in the comments at Brady’s post, too.
The Harvard Crimson reports on a dinner with Bob Woodward.
Asked at the Harvard dinner whether the American media had adequately questioned the White House on its intelligence before the war, Woodward replied, “Did we drop the ball? Did we fail? And I would say yes.”
Earlier Jane Hamsher…(Dec. 20) She has a question about the Froomkin business: where was the Democratic Party?
Brad Delong gets letters from journalists:
In email the lurkers—highly, highly respected journalist lurkers, both inside and outside the Washington Post newsroom—tend to agree with Dan, and also are irate because they typically believe that this passion for accountability and answers has been by and large absent from the print Washington Post’s coverage of George W. Bush.
He quotes some of what the e-mails are saying.
Anonymous Liberal, a week ago,
Because so few journalists are willing to call a spade a spade, Froomkin’s willingness to do so (and the fact that he’s covering a Republican White House) makes him appear very liberal. If you read through Froomkin’s columns, however, you notice that he almost never strays from his core mission of assessing the transparency and public accountability of the White House. He doesn’t opine about policy matters; he simply gages, as best he can, the degree to which the White Houses is leveling with the American people and engaging its critics.
But also see Christopher Fotos at PostWatch: Dan Froomkin, The Accidental Liberal, and Josh Trevino, Leader of the Hack and The hack.
Posted by Jay Rosen at December 19, 2005 5:11 PM
Thanks for the links, Jay. As I said in an email to our host, crazy Christmas week activities will probably prevent me from doing justice to this round of L'affaire Froomkin, and my Accidental Liberal post will have to do most of the heavy lifting. I can't resist providing another example of Froomkin's liberal mindset, however: his comments in a Dec. 13 column, Bush Takes Questions:
"Q Mr. President, I would like to know why it is that you and others in your administration keep linking 9/11 to the invasion of Iraq when no respected journalist or Middle Eastern expert confirmed that such a link existed.
"THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that. 9/11 changed my look on foreign policy. I mean, it said that oceans no longer protect us, that we can't take threats for granted; that if we see a threat, we've got to deal with it. It doesn't have to be militarily, necessarily, but we got to deal with it. We can't -- can't just hope for the best anymore.
"And so the first decision I made, as you know, was to -- was to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan because they were harboring terrorists. This is where the terrorists planned and plotted. And the second decision -- which was a very difficult decision for me, by the way, and it's one that I -- I didn't take lightly -- was that Saddam Hussein was a threat. He is a declared enemy of the United States; he had used weapons of mass destruction; the entire world thought he had weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations had declared in more than 10 -- I can't remember the exact number of resolutions -- that disclose, or disarm, or face serious consequences. I mean, there was a serious international effort to say to Saddam Hussein, you're a threat. And the 9/11 attacks extenuated that threat, as far as I -- concerned.
"And so we gave Saddam Hussein the chance to disclose or disarm, and he refused. And I made a tough decision. And knowing what I know today, I'd make the decision again. Removing Saddam Hussein makes this world a better place and America a safer country."
That's the end of the Q&A excerpt, and Froomkin comments:
As blogger Brendan Nyhan points out, Bush probably didn't mean to say that the "9/11 attacks extenuated that threat." Extenuate means "weaken." He probably meant exacerbate.
Regardless, it was the first time I can recall Bush explaining so directly why he connects the two.
If Froomkin didn't hear this explanation before, it's only because he wasn't listening. Bush has repeatedly explained this connection, and ignoring its existence is one of the common conceits of the left.
Bush explained it to the U.N. in his speech of Sept. 12, 2002:
Mr. Secretary General, Mr. President, distinguished delegates, and ladies and gentlemen: We meet one year and one day after a terrorist attack brought grief to my country, and brought grief to many citizens of our world. Yesterday, we remembered the innocent lives taken that terrible morning. Today, we turn to the urgent duty of protecting other lives, without illusion and without fear....
We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left? The history, the logic, and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger. To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take....
Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We've tried sanctions. We've tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a -- nuclear weapons is when, God forbids, he uses one. We owe it to all our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming....
He explained it in his ultimatum to Saddam 48 hours before the invasion:
The cause of peace requires all free nations to recognize new and undeniable realities. In the 20th century, some chose to appease murderous dictators, whose threats were allowed to grow into genocide and global war. In this century, when evil men plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror, a policy of appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth.
Terrorists and terror states do not reveal these threats with fair notice, in formal declarations -- and responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide. The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now....
He explained it to the Australian parliament on Oct. 22, 2003:
The terrorists hope to gain chemical, biological or nuclear weapons -- the means to match their hatred. So we're confronting outlaw regimes that aid terrorists, that pursue weapons of mass destruction, and that defy the demands of the world. America, Australia, and other nations acted in Iraq to remove a grave and gathering danger, instead of wishing and waiting while tragedy drew closer....
And on and on and on. This is not a novel discovery, this is one of the main foundations of the war, as Bush has explained on numerous occasions. It's also habitually ignored by the left which, as implied in the question quoted by Froomkin, has often attacked Bush for something he never claimed: Saddam was behind 911.
It is liberals, not conservatives, who either affect to have not heard this argument, or really haven't. But I'm sure that's just another coincidence.
Small adjustments, but big shifts from the direction he had been going in-- toward greater isolation. Most everything Froomkin was tracking built up until someone got through to Bush about at least some of it.
Jay, you also played a prominent role in people's understanding of the "bubble" -- so you deserve some credit for the "new and improved" Bush Presidency as well.
He spoke in his own name! So... what do people think of Powell's reflections?
I think Joel Achenbach should sue for theft of intellectual property, since he said this first (as far as I know)
Polls, and Press bias, and the Post....two comments from today's online chat with Richard Morin:
We did pause before going over this weekend, which is when America--including at least one pollster--did much of its holiday shopping. But the value of going into the field after the Iraq election outweighed these concerns.
This strongly suggests that the Posts polls are not an accurate reflection of actual public opinion, but simply reflect a reaction to "undigested" news. It also obviously suggests that the Post was looking for good poll numbers from Bush. The poll was taken at a point where we knew literally nothing about the results of the Iraqi elections -- all we knew was that lots of people voted.
Pollkatz has some interesting numbers about poll frequency and Bush's ratings. He states...
Poll Frequency and Bush Approval: they move together. That is to say, when Bush's approval numbers are rising, more polls are taken. Surprise!
...and another comment from Morin
That said. we do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion--witness the fact that no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates in '08 are calling for Bush's impeachment.
Unfortunately, no member of the Democratic Congressional leadership or any of the serious Democratic Presidential candidates" was calling for "immediate withdrawal" in March 2005, when the Post started asking that question. Indeed, none of those people have ever called for "immediate withdrawal" (with its clear 'cut and run' implications -- Murtha's proposal, which some Democratic leaders support, is a for a phased six-month withdrawal as soon as "practicable" while maintaining an "over the horizon" presence in the region.
Indeed, the Post is quite comfortable relying on what "some people say" (specifically, "18. Some people say the Bush administration should set a deadline forwithdrawing U.S. military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further casualties. Others say knowing when the U.S. would pull out would only encourage the anti-government insurgents..) Now I can identify who is "saying" the latter stuff....but who among the Democratic leadership was demanding a firm "deadline" for withdrawal of the troops back in August, when the Post started asking this question? (The Dems were demanding that Bush set a timeline, and offering suggested metrics for measuring progress in Iraq.)
In other words, Morin's answer is inconsistent with the way that Post polls actually work. They don't rely on the proposals of leading Democrats to formulate the questions -- indeed, they tend to rely on "straw man" alternatives to Bush's policies to "test" public approval of those policies.
But with Bush's "strongly disapprove" numbers in the 40 percent range, and the "Democratic grassroots" talking about "impeachment" (and hey, we're "some people" too!) its a natural question to ask -- unless you have an agenda that includes not maintaining the myth that impeachment is an "unthinkable" and/or "radically outside the mainstream" idea.
Bottom line here is that Morin's answer appears to reflect the intentional pro-White House bias that Len Downie, and especially John Harris, have exhibited throughout the Froomkin affair.
Bob Barr is a liberal now: he's criticizing the NSA surveillance. That must make Froomkin whatever's to the left of a communist. We are at war with Oceania. We have always been at war with Oceania. Report thought crimes.
No doubt Richard Morin will be on impeachment like OJ's glove now that John Conyers has introduced a resolution calling for the censure of Bush and Cheney and the creation of a select committee to investigate whether there are grounds for impeachment. Looking forward to it.
"Loose limbed" is an odd description. "Free associative" is another, given that both Froomkin and Morley do an astonishing amount of reading and dot-connecting, including dots that are often off the institutional press radar. That's not free association; they go look for stuff and write about it when they find it. They sometimes break news, too, Morley most recently with his discovery that the state department's foreign news summary site has gone dark. It's nice that Powell is appreciative, but there's a sense of "Gosh, I wish I could get away with being that care free and flightly instead of being stuck with this highly accountable drudgery." Or maybe I'm just cranky this year.
Jay, you mentioned John Dickerson. Last week he managed to write an entire column on Viveca Novak without mentioning her abrupt arrival at the bottom of the slippery slope, or whether, as she said, Rove's role as Cooper's source was circulating around the Time newsroom. Since Dickerson was working at the magazine when she was obligingly passing that info along to Ruskin, and had cowritten a Plame story with her (which he did mention), cluing the peasantry in on the deal would have been a nice gesture.
Bush is an extreme example of what he is, but he isn't unique. If Nixon had the opportunity to start a war instead of inheriting one and had the breadth of technology available to Bush, he would've been right in there. Certainly he's the template for the post-war imperial presidency; the White House has generally adopted Nixon's view, which wasn't a casual one, that "it isn't illegal if the president does it." And his passion for secrecy is every bit the equal of the current administration's, although he hadn't hit on the ploy of just declining any substantive interaction with reporters. He actually enjoyed mixing it up, right until the bitter end. And Ziegler would have been intensely jealous of McClellan.
No: Froomkin's approach only seems shiny because it's a rare day when White House reporters have both the opportunity and the overview necessary to put together a good talk therapy session. Judging from his uncharacteristic volubility regarding the NSA thing, Bush has a lot he'd like to get off his chest if someone finds and asks the right questions.
And speaking of the New York Times, isn't the third Siegal Committee report due? The one that says a newspaper continually burned by a particular administration shouldn't sit on an important story just because said administration assures them it's all covertly aboveboard? They should dialogue about that, and produce a valuable post-mortem explaining to readers how that stuff works. Again. And why the publisher and executive editor were in the thick of killing news. Again. And still have jobs. Again. Mr. Calame?
More Froomkins. Less Mike Allens and Bill Kellers. Josh, keep up the good work. There's manna in this for believers, in the end.
Michael: Thanks for writing in and stopping in. Weldon, thanks for the answer.
Michael, I did a post with Thomas Edsall (audio interview, with a summary in text) of the Post's political staff and it was partly about political bloggers (whom Edsall said he read twice a day.)
In there he said, "We in journalism— there’s an orthodoxy to our thinking. You can come up with an idea and you know it’s sort of verbotten." Bloggers, he suggested, were breaking that up. They were eluding the orthodoxy of the press, and exposing it for the humanly flawed, conformist and limited system it always was. That's not triumphalism, is it? That's Thomas Edsall talking.
If it's got some sound analysis, then the difference isn't cool vs. hot, or partisan vs. non, or even professonal (standards) vs. amateur (passions), but an orthodoxy in professional journalism and a challenge to it that professional journalism could neither veto nor control. Froomkin is very much of this; he recognized it, and took it "inside" the Post.
Here is an example. Richard Morin in an online chat--all credit to him for taking questions--is asked why the Post doesn't poll on impeachment. He disagrees strongly with those who say, "why not ask the question of the American people?" by saying: when someone in Congress starts talking impeachment, maybe we will. Right now it's not a serious option.
To me this is a fairly clear statement by Morin. Post says our standard is when the cause makes it to Congress, we poll. But as Jane Hamsher points out, Morin gets madder and madder as he gets (and gets) the impeachment question. He smells an organized group.
I understand his answer about Congress (although that wasn't the standard for Clinton and asking about impeachment, Hamsher says) but why does the question make him mad? Is "when things get to Congress, we poll" the only rule that makes any damn sense? No way, and it's not even the only rule the Post has followed. Why act like it's an obvious standard when it's not? Morin is mad because he has to discuss it-- explain it. Repeat it! His sense of orthodoxy is offended.
Do you think newsroom orthodoxy is holding up these days, falling apart, transforming before our eyes, or is there no such thing?
The triumphalism thing kinda bugs you, no?Blogistan in its own way is as touchy and oh-so-sensitive as, well, political reporters at major newspapers. I am, truly, a fan of blogs, and read at least a half dozen each day. I will admit, though, that I tend to seek value-added. I don't read Slate/The American Prospect/Daily Kos/National Review/Hugh Hewitt as often as I read Juan Cole/Delong/Angry Bear/Panda's Thumb/Bill Dembski/The Guardian/a NY Mets blog or three (okay, maybe I procrastinate a lot more than I thought--I read a dozen blogs a day). I want the value added of real and specific knowledge, along with, yes, 'tude and politics.
The point I tried to make, and perhaps not clearly enough, is that doubt and caution sometimes serve reporters well. And SOME, not ALL, blogs put a great premium on the visceral and the heated. That can get old.
That said, Edsall is right. Any mono-culture, including big newsrooms, tends towards a group think. In the case of national politics, the unquestioned assumptions can pile up. That's why it's so valuable, for instance, to have political writers coming out of Style--they can be more "irresponsible", in the very best sense of that word.
It's also why the blogs are a great counter to the political pages (After the last election, for instance, they raised lots of good questions about the election results in some states, even if the worst suspicions didn't pan out). That said, the Daily Kos and Panda's Thumb, and their respective chat boards, are intense examples of group-think. Smart group think, but group think nonetheless.
I'm not a big fan of polling every issue. Our poll on Alito struck me as silly today--I can't really imagine more than .13 percent of America knows beans about him. An impeachment poll doesn't run my motor.
Michael: Thanks for checking in. Charges of triumphalism don't bug me. I might dispute some, and agree wholeheartedly with others. Charges of triumphalism presented without names, url's, links, quotes and voices do bug me, yes.
It's not that I doubt "bloggers will triumph because they are the mighty, the righteous and the just" is an attitude out there. It's out there, and gets expressed. But such excess is not very interesting to discuss in the abstract. Link to and argue with a triumphalist: very good. Telling the blogosphere to cool it with with its trimphalism has less meaning to me.
Here's Jane Hamsher with a statement in the Froomkin matter that some might call a bit triumphalist: "What the WaPo writers are viewing through their Technorati tags is only a tiny crumb of a rage that threatens to sweep them into irrelevance." Pretty dramatic, someone could say overly dramatic.
Now if you argued with Jane's post-specific triumphalism, instead of with a timeless category that can't defend itself, you would engage with her whole post, which is more than just trumpeting bloggers rage, even though it may have that in it too.
It seems to me this is the way things are going.
Doubt and caution serve independent journalists well, we agree. To lose that would destroy their craft. True also of independent bloggers, independent citizens, independent firefighters, and independent state legislators.
I'm pretty sure you missed my point about impeachment polling. I'm not advocating for it (although I would be curious to see the numbers.) Impeachment questions don't jazz you? Fine with me.
I was pointing out that Morin's explanation does not have the authority he thinks it does, and he's getting angry because in fact he doesn't know how to argue his case. Might seem like a small thing to some.
Halley: Thanks for those words. Here at PressThink we constantly live on the edge of over-doing it:)
I’ve been provoked to come out from behind my shadow, though I’m not ready to post in my name. No tenure.
In response to Steve Lovelady who mocked a split vision of society with his “handy left-right Bias-O-Meter:”
Mr. L, I’ve noticed, particularly in discussions of American religion, that academics tend to discount a split vision of culture. Instead, they search for “the missing middle” and scoff at the notion of “a culture war.” Bracketing, for a moment, whether such a war exists, I do find it interesting that you so easily join the dominant chorus of voices in academe … and journalism (?).
Perhaps a vision of society as either split like a dumbbell, or smooth like a bell curve, is a defining characteristic of a pov, worldview, bias or whatever you want to call the foundational, substrata of thought and vision that informs how we see the world. What Michael Powell calls “group think” may only be the tendency for similarly-grounded people to congregate in certain professions, including journalism. And among the foundational ideas that journalists appear to share is that of a non-bifurcated society.
This may partially explain why Jay Rosen is so sensitive about the WH “strategy” of accusing the press of being biased or partisan when administration policy is criticized. To Mr. R, there is a large middle ground of biased, but still fair, journalists. This is a mainstream academic assumption. Outside academe, however, many people think in dualistic terms. Nuance, for many non-academic/journalistic sorts, is a sign of weakness, not intelligence. To them, bias comes in two colors – red and blue -- not Technicolor.
The pov of the Wash Post reporters may be less nuanced than Mr. R may prefer, but I rather doubt they’ve given up their vision of a bell-curved culture. Also, I rather doubt that the vision of a split society is merely a media strategy on the part of Bush’s team. Seeing society as rent into two factions is foundational to the worldview of most Republicans. Thus, Bush’s view of the media emerges from his pov, not from a cleverly conceived media strategy.
Now, regarding polls and approval ratings, which Ami believes stroll together – this is utter bunk, (I admit that I had to go back to my graphs to prove this.) The opposite is closer to the truth, that is, the frequency of polls accelerates when Bush approval goes down. I looked at data for the last six months, a time when Bush’s poll numbers fluctuated. Of the five polling firms below, two showed a tendency to poll soon after a decline in Bush’s approval and three had insufficient number of upticking polls to make a conclusion. Interestingly, the ABC/Washington Post poll only showed downticks. (I’d love it if a real pollster crunched these numbers for us … please!) Forgive the long stuff that follows, please, and look at presidential approval numbers:
Rasmussan polls presidential approval daily. No bias here.
CNN and Gallup (sometimes together) presidential approval polls – After a decline, 6.1 days until the next poll. After a rise in rating, 7.1 days until the next poll.
AP Ipsos -- rise in approval rating too infrequent to draw a conclusion.
FOX only two rises, so too infrequent to draw conclusion
ABC News/Wash Post – only shows declines!
CBS/NYT 19 days after rise … 13 days after fall.
I'm glad you cited that Licthblau/Hinderaker exchange, Jay, because it reminds me of a typical Froomkin technique that illustrates his political bias--his selective quotations from the left.
In a column where he discusses impeachment,he showcases Bush critics who affect that the illegality of the NSA anti-terror wiretaps is, to use an old expression, a slam-dunk. There is no lack of debate about this on the web, with plenty of legal experts out there, including a former Clinton official, supporting Bush's prerogative. But Froomkin dare not give them voice. Still, I am sure this is just another another coincidence. Accountability truth teller and all that.
And Froomkin is back to his old ways on giving unsolicited advice to Washington Post staff writers about deportment. Last time the White House beat reporters weren't holding Bush accountable; now he's setting boundaries for their polling reporter:
Washington Post pollster Richard Morin said in a Live Online discussion yesterday: "We do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion -- witness the fact that no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates in '08 are calling for Bush's impeachment. When it is or they are, we will ask about it in our polls."
Morin complained that he and other pollsters have been the "target of a campaign organized by a Democratic Web site demanding that we ask a question about impeaching Bush in our polls." And Morin got angry at all the people posting to his Live Online yesterday asking him why he won't ask about impeachment.
But there's no reason to get mad.
And there's nothing wrong with asking the question.
Our third-grade teachers were wrong, by the way--there is such a thing as a stupid question. But I'm more interested in Froomkin's desire and unusual ability as a post.com writer to school the Post's staff, something that I think was vastly under-discussed in this kerfluffle. And it only occured to me just now how asymmetrical this is. There's no reason or opportunity in the normal course of business for Peter Baker or those guys to write about Froomkin. Nor for Morin.
"It’s possible that in some ways the current incarnation of White House Briefing is a uniquely appropriate response to a unique presidency with a unique lack of transparency."
I think that is the crux of the biscuit here.
The idea that the Bush Administration is an aberration from the normal functioning of the Presidency is not one advanced only by left-biased thinkers like, well, Democratic former President Jimmy Carter.
Most conservatives I know have lost all faith in Mr. Bush -- and many now argue that he is not a real conservative, or even a real Republican.
Many liberals I know gave President Bush the benefit of the doubt -- first after the election of 2000, and again, a second chance, after September 11 -- until his actions warranted that they could no longer.
Perhaps it is so that past Presidencies have been similarly opaque (certainly the Nixon Administration was, but that is not exactly good company to be in in this arena).
But it is clear that this Administration has been moving to accumulate and expand executive power; to increase enormously the level of secrecy surrounding the workings of the White House (this began well before 9/11, with Cheney's "energy task force"); and to implement a foreign policy that literally calls for unipolar global domination.
Among other things.
Arguments that Froomkin did not "go after" Kerry are specious, so long as Kerry was not the denizen of the White House. And arguments that Froomkin does not now go after the Democrats bear the same distinction. Froomkin is tilting at power -- and the Democrats have none.
Absolutely, right-biased bloggers (like the above Mr. Fotos) equate "critical of Bush" with "anti-Bush" with "liberal" -- without distinction.
This is the problem with the "Bush-hater" meme. It immediately invalidates any criticism of the President as an irrational emotional response -- hatred.
Of course, that's how it's designed to work.
But you don't have to be a "liberal" or a "Bush-hater" anymore to know which way the wind is blowing.
The mood of Congressional Republicans (particularly in the Senate) are reflecting that they are having some doubts about the horse to which they have hitched their collective wagons.
In fact, the first time I heard "impeachment" mentioned in the press this week, it was a quote (on NPR, "All Things Considered") from Bruce Fein, a Deputy Attorney General from the Reagan Administration:
“I was someone who defended strong presidential powers. We do need a strong presidency. But we don’t want a presidency that elevates itself into kingship, even stronger than that of George III. And I have opined that if the president does not renounce this rather preposterous claim of inherent authority to run roughshod over every provision of the Constitution under the banner of fighting a war, Congress needs to consider an express statute reining him in, or even impeaching him.”
Just another disgruntled former Reagan Administration official/Kerry campaign operative, I presume.
villageidiot, considering you don't even succeed in spelling my last name correctly, I don't believe you intend a serious dialogue so I won't digress too much by answering these mostly fanciful questions.
I'm still thinking through exactly what seems true about these actions, but I'm more competent to assess how it's being covered, by Froomkin but also the mainstream media, the latter recently judged by Froomkin's fans to be a tool of the Bush Admnistration.
I came across this interview between arch-Republican Hugh Hewitt and liberal Cass Sunstein, who thinks Bush has a strong if not perfect case:
HH: Professor Sunstein, have you ever been contacted by mainstream media about this controversy?
CS: A lot. Yeah.
HH: And have you spent a lot of time trying to walk the reporters through the basics?
HH: Who's contacted you, for example? The New York Times?
CS: Well, I wouldn't want to name specific ones. It's a little bit of confidentiality there, but some well known ones. Let's just say that.
HH: Let me ask. Have you been quoted in any papers that you've seen?
CS: I don't think so.
HH: Do you consider the quality of the media coverage here to be good, bad, or in between?
CS: Pretty bad, and I think the reason is we're seeing a kind of libertarian panic a little bit, where what seems at first glance...this might be proved wrong...but where what seems at first glance a pretty modest program is being described as a kind of universal wiretapping, and also being described as depending on a wild claim of presidential authority, which the president, to his credit, has not made any such wild claim. The claims are actually fairly modest, and not unconventional. So the problem with what we've seen from the media is treating this as much more peculiar, and much larger than it actually is. As I recall, by the way, I was quoted in the Los Angeles Times, and they did say that in at least one person's view, the authorization to use military force probably was adequate here.
HH: Do you think the media simply does not understand? Or are they being purposefully ill-informed in your view?
CS: You know what I think it is? It's kind of an echo of Watergate. So when the word wiretapping comes out, a lot of people get really nervous and think this is a rerun of Watergate. I also think there are two different ideas going on here. One is skepticism on the part of many members of the media about judgments by President Bush that threaten, in their view, civil liberties. So it's like they see President Bush and civil liberties, and they get a little more reflexively skeptical than maybe the individual issue warrants. So there's that. Plus, there's, I think, a kind of bipartisan...in the American culture, including the media, streak that is very nervous about intruding on telephone calls and e-mails. And that, in many ways, is healthy. But it can create a misunderstanding of a particular situation....
The letter Christopher Fotos offers as a simplified argument in support of the president's spying program on U.S. citizens is not from the NSA. It's a legal argument provided by one of the president's lawyers, this one in the office of legislative affairs.
Thank you, I was just coming back to correct that error on my part. Sorry for the confusion I generated. "One of the president's lawyers" doesn't quite do it, though; better to say, and I should have, it's from the Justice Department, specifically assistant attorney general William Moschella.
Sunstein gives it maybe a B+:
HH: Did you find it persuasive?
CS: I thought it was good. It was a solid job. I thought there were a couple of things that, you know, these are the president's lawyers, and they're not going to be neutral. I think it was definitely more on than off. The analysis of the Fourth Amendment issue was brisk and conclusory. All that was said was that the Fourth Amendment requires reasonableness, and this is reasonable. Chief Justice Roberts would demand something a little bit better than that, as would any good judge. The analysis of the case you mentioned, that is the United States against United States District Court was...I guess the lawyers were just tendentious. But I don't think it was...I think it was a good, solid analysis. Better than what we've seen, let's just say, from Congress so far.
I raise Clinton's enthusiasm for warrantless searches not to say it's okay because he did it--I raise it to note that neither Democrats nor, more importantly for this discussion, mainstream media, seem to recall it. If they did, it would undercut their attempt to portray this as the worstest thing ever.
ami: I cannot believe you seriously mean to assert that the NSA is somehow out of bounds for an operation like this when directed by the commander in chief.
As for the rest of it, I dunno, pal, Sunstein doesn't exactly strike me as a dilletante here. The argument seems pretty well grounded.
I think one part of the argument you are either avoiding or disagreeing with is what may be attached to war-making powers. Sunstein makes a good argument that intercepting enemy communications is clearly an intrinsic part of fighting wars. In that case, enemies don't get a free pass when they communicate with people in America. Talk about asymmetrical.
Clearly we'll disagree about this. Clearly I shouldn't have to hunt down a blog or a radio show transcript to learn about it.
Lastly, Dave refers to warrantless electronic intercepts of U.S. citizens. I hope that you are not relying on much of the mainstream media coverage, which more often than not describes the Bush/NSA action in those terms. What's often underplayed is that these are intercepts between U.S. citizens & residents and foreign enemies. Like I say, the enemy doesn't get a freebie when communicating with Americans.
More on Clinton here; I have to turn in.
i don't think the Right worries too much about bartlett & steele -- or even grieder for that matter -- because the bulk of the voters they're trying to reach don't go out of their way to read "America: What Went Wrong?" or "Fortress America."
the Left, on the other hand, eats that stuff up with a spoon -- and then gets disgusted when "Joe Sixpack" won't do the homework.
when rank-and-file reporters and editors try to do regular, day-in-day-out newspaper journalism on civic-minded subjects, we're writing one story for audiences with vastly different experiences.
So when i ask what we can do to frame the story so we can stay on subject, it's not really about having gene roberts' brass balls (although that might help). If you don't like the elite media, you're going to see his insistence as arrogance, his sense of morality as bias, his willingness to use the power of the medium as unreflective pretention.
how can we report and study and communicate about important stuff so that people will agree to see its significance? journalists -- good ones - ask this question every day. and this is the answer we will always get: "Who appointed you to determine what's significant?" we can't get to debating important matters because we can't even agree on what's important, or who gets to say what's important.
anyway, it's a good question. i don't think we have a good answer.
Do working journalists have the tools of history and critical thought?
Some do. Some don't. But the thing about history is, it's too big to see, and it isn't a fixed point. The thing about critical thought is, it doesn't have one conclusion. And this is the reality of the job: Every day the story changes, bringing an entirely new set of facts on which you're asked to be an expert. Maybe a few of us reach that level of brilliance. Most of us don't. I think most of our work can be picked apart.
We deal with this by carving out slices of expertise, just like most people do. But this is isolating, self-selecting. citizenship is supposed to be a multidisciplinary subject, not a shakedown.
I think there are solutions to this -- I really do. I just don't see them clearly. Yet.
Jay, man, chill. (A joke ... )
The Kos numbers are very impressive. Obviously everyone has work to do on monetizing etc, but those are good numbers and I don't take Jay to be arguing that this prefigures the end of the world for MSM.
As for the question that Steve poses, it seems to me that a world in which the WP, NYT, LAT are not able to kick out journalism is clearly and measurably a poorer place. Do we have many problems? Yep. Is this an interesting inflection point for mainstream journalists and the way we conceive of our role? Yep. Do we have to get web jiggy and learn to accept and even embrace new moves and new ways of thinking? Yep.
But (and I could play out this game with the other MSM as well, but lemme stick with the newspaper I know) without the Post and its vast commitment of resources there is no Anthony Shadid, who reported with a singular clarity of vision during the American bombing of Baghdad, who was the first American reporter to flag the rise to power of
Al Sadr and the Shiite lumpen, and who was the first American to break story after story in Iraq. It costs vast sums of money to keep reporters like Shadid there, and giving credit where its due, it takes courage by the top editors who take/took all sorts of grief from the White House and elsewhere.
We would not have Dana Priest breaking the CIA prisons story, among many gets. We would not have David Finkel spending three months in an obscure corner of Yemen reporting textured stories on globalism, and we would not have stories on torture in Gitmo and the first, within four days, a long report on Army Corps complicity in the failure of the levees and another one calling into question America's three decade long disregard of environmental red flags as it over-developed the coast (I was involved in the last and I know that it cost many thousands of dollars just to get me down there for three days).
Let me pause here lest I be accused of print triumphalism. We have flaws, and this and other threads have pawed over there at great length. But the fact remains that these big media companies, the good ones, put huge resources into covering and breaking news. And it really doesn't necessarily pay.
We do a lot of the aforementioned great work and y'know what the top two hits on our website were last month? An AP story on Bush failing to find the door overseas, and a Sex in Schools story. C'est la guerre.
Save for the fact that the Powell family would be very unhappy if the Post failed, I suppose one could argue that no single institution is essential. But the model, which is to collect a lot of reasonably smart, very ambitious, and--God Help Us--often very committed reporters and sending them out to find news pays real dividends and is awfully hard to duplicate.
Just ask the many brilliant refugees in the Knight-Ridder diaspora.
Finally, and a bit off point, I agree with Steve Lovelady about the structuring of political coverage. I was for two or three years the city hall bureau chief for New York Newsday, during the Reign of Rudy. We played a very calculated inside/outside game. I picked the reporter on our staff that Rudy hated least, and set him to covering Rudy's every move in a very standard but I would argue necessary way. I had two other reporters, both enterprise types, plying their specialty full-time. Another togh reporter covering the budget, which if one is industrious enuogh and can read stat sheets, really doesn't require the OMB boss talking with you. And I wrote enterprise and a lot of analyses and got yelled at a lot by Rudy's people.
Take that and a newspaper management that stood behind us, and this relatively "old school" approach worked. It's not rocket science.