January 9, 2006
Wrong When the Governor is Wrong
"CNN is so empty-handed in documenting how it knew the men were alive that the producers resort to playing audio tapes of a dispatcher's voice at some unidentified ambulance service, and someone named 'caller' is saying... that's what we heard, yeah, 12 alive."
(This originally appeared in the Huffington Post)
There’s a little detail in the misreporting of the West Virgina miners’ deaths that you should know about. (A good overview is here, and here. Links to the explanations editors gave are here and also here, where the ombudsmen bring the lumber.)
What Becky Wagoner, the reporter for the local daily, did is stay put. She was covering the rescue for the Inter-Mountain newspaper of Elkins, W.Va., which has a newsroom population of 21 and a circulation of 11,000 or so. Instead of running to the church, where the “human” story was supposed to be, and where the families said they had heard the miners were alive, she remained in the briefing room where all previous updates had been received. (This is according to Editor & Publisher.)
“We heard that they were found alive through CNN, then it snowballed to ABC, then FOX and it was like a house afire,” recalled Wagoner, who said she was at the media information center set up by the mine’s operators, International Coal Group Inc., when the reports spread.
“A lot of the media left to go to the church where family members were located, but I stayed put because this was where every official news conference was given—and we never got anything official here,” she said.
No update about miners being found alive appeared on the Inter-Mountain’s web site, said Wagoner and her editor, Linda Skidmore.
What Becky Wagoner did (and didn’t do) is a small detail, but not an insignificant one. Some journalists, like Amanda Bennett, the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer—which reported “Joy at mine: 12 are alive”— have been asking:. “Was there anybody who was there who got it any differently?”
There was, but are you interested?
The reporters and camera crews fled to the church because that’s where the story was. Wagoner stayed in the place where the information was being given out.
Anderson Cooper was on the air at the time for CNN; Jonathan Klein is his boss and the head of CNN/US. They reported for three hours the wrong information: that twelve miners were found alive. AP and other networks did the same.
Defending their performance, CNN people have said that primary responsibility rests with the mining company, which did not correct the false reports for two and a half hours, and elected officials, who passed along faulty information. I agree with that. As I wrote in my previous post about this: “I don’t blame the news media for initially false information about the West Virginia mining disaster. I blame confusion, exhaustion, human emotion and poor decision-making by company officials.”
But then CNN people (like their counterparts at the AP) have made a second observation: that their mistake was unavoidable. This I do not agree with. (Neither does Howard Kurtz. Also see the Reliable Sources transcript, and Greg Mitchell’s column in E & P.)
If a producer from CNN had been hanging out with Becky Wagoner, trying to get someone on the record with the news that the miners were alive, and discovering, as she did, that no one from the rescue operation would confirm it, the story that went out Tuesday night might, possibly, have been different.
Sunday night I watched CNN Presents, an hour-long special recapping the Sago mine disaster. When they get to the part where the network “learns” that a miracle had happened, and the men were alive, the producers of the one-hour special have no tape to show. There is no footage of an authorized knower saying it. Nobody ever announced it. We see people rejoicing who said they had heard about it. Townspeople are seen thanking god. There are clips of the Governor, but he’s talking about the one man who was rescued. CNN is so empty-handed in documenting how it knew the men were alive that the producers resort to playing audio tapes of a dispatcher’s voice at some unidentified ambulance service, and someone named “caller” is saying… that’s what we heard, yeah, 12 alive.
Gal Beckerman of CJR Daily made a similar point about the nation’s newspapers and their faulty headlines. “A close reading of the articles themselves tells the tale of how journalists bungled the story,” he wrote. “In most, there are no sources at all for the information; in some, the sources are the rumors spread by frantic family members. Those sorts of sources are hardly a solid basis for headlines screaming, ‘They’re Alive!’” Or for concluding: this mistake was unavoidable.
Klein’s speech to CNN staff ought to be: “We screwed this up, although we came out looking okay because the Governor was wrong, and we had a wrong Congress person too. Their sources were as bad as our sources.
“We’re CNN; we’re supposed to be more reliable than anyone. Our slogan isn’t ‘Wrong when the Governor’s wrong.’ Statesmen are supposed to watch us to find out what’s going on in their world.
“It is unacceptable to me that for three hours of live television, with our top talent presiding, we’ve got twelve men alive reported as truth, and we never saw those men, no ambulances for them ever moved, and we had no real confirmation. Just a bunch of people saying: yeah, that’s what we heard.
“No one from inside the rescue operation was putting his name, or his ass on the line with those facts. But we did not report that. Yet we put our ass and our name on the line, and Anderson’s, when we had almost no facts.
“Totally unccceptable…” Klein ought to be saying. And if I’m Anderson Cooper I’m standing right next to him nodding my head. But this is what Cooper actually said in a first-person “Behind the Scenes” account he wrote on Jan. 5:
For those of us in the media, I’m not sure what we could have done to keep this news from spreading like it did.
Well, I’m not sure, either. But it might have helped, a little, if CNN had reported “the families say they’ve been told their loved ones are alive, and the governor said he heard the same thing, but we have gotten no confirmation from anyone connected with the rescue operation.” If they had stuck a microphone in front of Becky Wagoner of the Inter-Mountain newspaper she might have said something like that. Cooper wrote:
When you have the governor of the state giving you the thumbs-up, a congresswoman talking about this on air, hundreds of relatives and family members jubilant, some of who received calls from mining officials, it’s tough to ignore what they’re saying.
There is only so much you can do short of seeing firsthand who is alive and who isn’t. We made requests to have access to the rescue operation, but they were denied.
At some point, you have to rely on officials and the people you come in contact with. We had more reporters on this story and in more places than anyone else — Randi Kaye, Joe Johns, Sanjay Gupta interviewing the doctor.
“There is only so much you can do” says CNN’s franchise player. My understanding of a network anchorman’s job during a live news event is to keep track of what we know, how we know it, what we don’t know yet, and what we’re learning for the first time. Journalistically, this is why we need anchors. Cooper showed no signs of bearing this skill, and yet he seems satisfied that he did all he could.
And from the boss of the operation there is this, via Editor & Publisher:
Most bullish of all was CNN president Jonathan Klein, who offered no apologies and hailed his cable network’s performance, which resulted in three hours of faulty coverage. He said the sourcing of the report that the men were alive was “pretty solid,” adding: “This situation points to the strength of TV news coverage because we were able to correct as better information developed.”
When at 3:00 am a townswoman walked up to Anderson Cooper and told him—live—that he had been reporting a false miracle this showed, according to Klein, the strength of CNN. As Jeff Jarvis has written, with coverage like that, “It’s not the news that’s live; it’s the process of figuring out what to believe that’s live.”
And the figuring out goes on. So if someone tells you it was unavoidable, mention Becky Wagoner, will you?
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
Jeff Jarvis wrote his column for the Guardian about the miner’s deaths: Reporting the truth is a collaborative process. (Jan. 16, 2006)
In this age of instant communication, ubiquitous connectivity, and constant coverage, the public is put in the position of having to judge the news and its reliability for themselves. Like a good reporter, the public must be sceptical and must learn that sometimes it takes time for the facts to catch up with a story. So the public has to decide whether to trust the news they hear. The public is the editor.
Derek Rose was there for the New York Daily News. He writes a first-person account at his blog that is worth your time:
And where are the other miners, we wonder? It must be 2 a.m. or so by now, about two hours since the families first got their update. They are probably being treated and triaged at the scene, we figure.
As it gets later and later, we’re realizing something is wrong. But I don’t think any of us ever thought the other 11 miners were dead. I certainly didn’t. (Alexa tells me later that “not for a minute” did she think the miners might be dead. “Not even for a minute. How could you make a mistake like that [telling the families their loved ones were alive]? How could that happen?”)
Read the rest. Also, in the comments Derek has some criticisms of this post.
Felicity Barringer, New York Times, e-mails PressThink. You can read my reply.
Jay: You are critical of journalists in West Virginia for not being rigorous about confirming the initial report that the miners were alive. I’m not sure you mentioned that the report originated with relay communications from inside the mine and was delivered to the jam-packed command center by squawk box. Have you reported on Mr. Hatfield’s description of how the erroneous report was widely disseminated by people in the command center who had heard it from rescuers within the mine?
I was in West Virginia, where cell phone and Internet connections are haphazard, when you first posted, and I had a few other things to do. So tell me: Have you mentioned the company’s official explanation? It seems relevant, doesn’t it?
I’m also curious about the hypothetical formulation that you recently put in the mouth of the CNN executive, which is written as if incorporating widely-known “facts.” You write: “It is unacceptable to me that for three hours of live television, with our top talent presiding, we’ve got twelve men alive reported as truth, and we never saw those men, no ambulances for them ever moved, and we had no real confirmation. Just a bunch of people saying: yeah, that’s what we heard.”
FYI: a stream of ambulances arrived at the mine as the reports of the “miracle” began circulating. They briefly blocked the road from the mine office to the Sago church, forcing at least one journalist to run between the two venues in search of information.
Since you’ve had several days to find out whether ambulances were, in fact, dispatched, I’m sure you regret the inaccurate impression left by your column. And I’m confident you will correct it as visibly as you disseminated it, and explain where you got, and how you confirmed, the information that you give the color of fact. As I recall, standards for those reporting on the press are at least as high as those to which you hold other journalists.
Thanks, Felicity. Standards are at least as high, yes, for those who write about the press. I told Barringer I would have more of a reply in a day or two.
Howard Kurtz in an online Q & A with washingtonpost.com readers (Jan. 9):
Since most journalists are saying they did nothing wrong, I can only assume that they would do the same thing in a similar situation in the future. What, exactly, would be wrong with saying: “We’re hearing conflicting reports, but the facts are unclear and nothing has been confirmed”?
Romenesko today has tons more.
Greg Mitchell’s column in Editor & Publisher: “A local professor, who was at the scene, describes what he saw and felt as minutes, then hours, passed and the media got the story so very wrong. At the heart of the problem: officials and reporters alike were not willing to admit uncertainty.”
I’ve contacted the Inter-Mountain newspaper to get more information, and I will let you know what happens.
Connie Schultz, columnist for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer:
I have more sympathy than some for the print journalists who reported that the miners had survived. They all work for newspapers where the editors have one eye turned to TV all day long. I don’t envy any newspaper reporter who tried to convince editors back home that just because TV had it doesn’t mean it was right. Too often, that battle is lost the moment some newscaster proudly crows, “We have just learned…”
Broadcasting & Cable Magazine on the selling of Anderson Cooper as the face of CNN:
In another print ad, a concerned-looking Cooper is alone in a control room during Hurricane Katrina, holding a soda can. The text there is a quote from him: “Accountability is key. Find the facts. Find the truth. Present that to the audience.” In yet another, he is sitting on a curb in Beirut, taking notes in a reporter’s notebook; the text quotes the promise he made in the two-hour debut of 360 on Nov. 7 to “hold the people in power accountable for their words and their actions.”
Posted by Jay Rosen at January 9, 2006 11:14 AM
Number of injuries in combined coal/metal/nonmetal mining industries, nationwide
1931: 94,221 (disabling injuries only)
1992: 25,444 (all injuries)
2005: Not yet available.
Source: National Mining Association.
Under the Bush Administration, then, not only has the number of total mining fatalities from 85 in 2000 down to 57 in 2005, but has also cut the number of total mining injuries by 25 percent.
And so what's the headline from the knuckleheads at Knight-Ridder and the San Francisco Chronicle?
"Enforcement of Mine Safety Seen Slipping Under Bush."
How Knight Ridder can let an article on mine safety go without, you know, mentioning and quantifying publicly available data on MINE SAFETY is beyond me.
Somehow the number of unpaid fines is more relevant than the number of injuries prevented? (Smart regulators focus on follow-through on identified gigs - not on running a collections agency.)
However, the story line taken reinforces the popular journo meme - if the Bush Administration can be tarred and feathered, let's run with it, and damn the facts.
To paraphrase Jesse Jackson, if the Bush Administration walked on water tomorrow, Wednesday's headlines would read "Bush Officials Can't Swim."
what sort of bias should the press have?
Demographically, none. The press newsroom political demographics should roughly mirror the political demographics of the country, the same way an index mutual fund mirrors the theoretical contents of an index.
Unfortunately, by loading most of our national media into a 10 square block area of mid-town Manhattan, you wind up with the biases of the NYC area - which are vastly different from the tendencies of the nation at large.
And by putting so many of its eggs in the midtown Manhattan basket, the national media has basically done the same thing bad fund managers did when they all loaded up on the same 40 Nasdaq stocks in 1999:
All the market bears listened to each other. They uncoupled their analysis from reality. Their biased analysis could not be supported by actual earnings. And they drove their shareholders off a cliff.
Had stock market assets more closely correlated with earnings, you wouldn't have had the same madness. (Stocks of profitable companies actually LOST 2% in 1999!)
Putting everything in midtown manhattan was a stupid idea.We'd be better off with a Chicago, or even Florida-based media. Somewhere where you might even find Red counties with red outlooks within commuting distance of media centers.
But the demographic skew isn't something that can't be addressed by the media. They went through great pains to address racial skewness not long ago. It's not a systemic bias in a finite hiring universe that cannot be statistically hedged in a meaningful way. There's no reason why conservatives and liberals cannot be represented within 5 points of one another in the newsroom.
Other than people who - while inexplicably warm to affirmative action initiatives for everything else under the sun - deny that there's even a problem.
Well, it doesn't LOOK like a problem from the point of view of a cultural Upper West Sider. Of course it doesn't. It's cultural UWSers who run the news. And, God love ya, you actually think you're normal!
Hell, you probably even think you don't speak with an accent.
Well, Ok -- but there are a couple of problems with your calculations - and there is a reason I went with straight numbers of injuries rather than fatalities, and there's a reason I didn't sit around and try to torture the data in some way that would make the numbers more murky, because that's all you've done.
First, a massive shutdown after an accident would artificially depress working hours, without necessarily substantially improving safety. Worse yet, making decisions on such a metric would provide a perverse incentive for the mining industry to respond to fatal accidents by INCREASING working hours.
Second, I used injuries rather than fatalities because the fatality sample size is too small. With workers sometimes killed in groups of five to a dozen, a narrow stroke of good or bad fortune can radically alter the fatality numbers either way - indeed, in your numbers, using fatalities as the numerator, we would expect to see a couple of bizaare outliers. And indeed, we do - outliers which are right now unexplained.
Third, improvements in automation and technology would also artificially reduce the number of hours worked by a higher proportion than the number of injuries reduced. If we assess mine safety practices by your fatalities/hours worked metric, then the mining industry has a perverse incentive NOT to make automation or technological improvements that would reduce the total number of injuries.
If you're going to divide by anything, I think the thing to divide by would be production. But even that wouldn't be a consistent indicator except within one kind of mining - coal production isn't the same as gravel production, for instance. And even then, you reward those who react to a fatal accident by increasing production, rather than shutting things down for a short while.
At any rate, crunching the numbers like you do still suggests a marked improvement under the Bush Administration compared to Clinton. The 2001 outlier is the first year of the Bush Administration. The new policies would not be taking full effect until the new fiscal year started in October 2002, and any accidents borne of any laxity in enforcement would not be showing up until sometime after that. Stupidity has a latency period.
So no - I reject your data mining on statistical grounds. I would hold that absent a massive production slowdown, the best way to measure the safety record of the mine industry at large is to measure the number of injuries.
At any rate, the story I cited doesn't even do that. It doesn't bother to examine the most relevant numbers in ANY way whatsoever. And the paper's failure to do that reflects laziness and/or ineptitude on the part of the reporters no matter which way the numbers trend, and there's no way around that.
So did I soil myself by coming up with the injury numbers?
Not hardly. I'll stick by the raw number of injuries figures, thanks.
This is my response to New York Times reporter Felicity Barringer's note to PressThink:
Jay: You are critical of journalists in West Virginia for not being rigorous about confirming the initial report that the miners were alive.
Actually, what I wrote and put in the headline of my first post was: "I don't blame the news media for initially false information about the West Virginia mining disaster. I blame confusion, exhaustion, human emotion and poor decision-making by company officials." I also said that the “press” part of what happened in West Virginia is of minor importance compared to the rest of the tragedy. And I said: "There isn’t much here that’s malpractice." These were my attempts to say: this isn't a big press goof.
I'm not sure you mentioned that the report originated with relay communications from inside the mine and was delivered to the jam-packed command center by squawk box.
I didn't mention it, but I was well aware of it. For this reason that I said: "I blame confusion, exhaustion, human emotion and poor decision-making by company officials"-- not journalists.
Have you reported on Mr. Hatfield's description of how the erroneous report was widely disseminated by people in the command center who had heard it from rescuers within the mine?
No, I haven't reported on that. Why would I? I'm not aware of any dispute about those facts. Various people in the command center heard a transmission from rescuers in the mine, and from it they concluded that 12 miners were alive. That's how the word got out. Every account I have read has it pretty much the same way.
I was in West Virginia, where cell phone and Internet connections are haphazard, when you first posted, and I had a few other things to do. So tell me: Have you mentioned the company's official explanation? It seems relevant, doesn't it?
Relevant to what? To blaming the news media for the mistaken reports? Maybe, but as I said I didn't do that. If you're asking were my readers made aware of the company's explanation? then yes, they were. I linked to Betsy Wagoner's story in the Inter-Mountain, which has a pretty complete recounting of the company's explanation.
By the way, Howard Kurtz has been much tougher than I have been. Perhaps you should be writing a "how dare you?" note to him. He's quite "critical of journalists in West Virginia for not being rigorous about confirming the initial report." Kurtz:
In this case, a misunderstood or misspoken message from rescuers in the mine was relayed to a command center and then to anxious family members, who told reporters. While the mining company's refusal to correct the misinformation for hours is inexplicable, the situation was exacerbated by the journalistic reluctance to say the facts are unconfirmed and we just don't know. Experienced journalists should have understood that early, fragmentary information in times of crisis is often wrong.
What I have said is that I agree with journalists who argued that the primary responsibility rests with the mining company, which did not correct the false reports for two and a half hours, and elected officials, who passed along faulty information.
Then you write:
I'm also curious about the hypothetical formulation that you recently put in the mouth of the CNN executive, which is written as if incorporating widely-known "facts." You write: "It is unacceptable to me that for three hours of live television, with our top talent presiding, we've got twelve men alive reported as truth, and we never saw those men, no ambulances for them ever moved, and we had no real confirmation. Just a bunch of people saying: yeah, that's what we heard."
FYI: a stream of ambulances arrived at the mine as the reports of the "miracle" began circulating. They briefly blocked the road from the mine office to the Sago church, forcing at least one journalist to run between the two venues in search of information.
Since you've had several days to find out whether ambulances were, in fact, dispatched, I'm sure you regret the inaccurate impression left by your column. And I'm confident you will correct it as visibly as you disseminated it, and explain where you got, and how you confirmed, the information that you give the color of fact.
What I was referring to in my fictional speech from Klein to CNN staff is that the stream of ambulances that had arrived anticipating twelve miners alive did not leave and take twelve miners to the hospital, except for the one survivor. Thus my post has an imaginary Jonathan Klein say: "we never saw those men, no ambulances for them ever moved." Betsy Wagoner from the Inter-Mountain in E & P: "Then we were hearing reports that 12 ambulances had gone in [to the mine area] but only one was coming out."
That section could have been more clearly written, but it wasn't informational in the first place. It was intended to convey the feeling of a news executive's shorthand. It was not me saying to PressThink readers: "here what happened at the mine with the ambulances." And that is readily apparent from the context.
As I recall, standards for those reporting on the press are at least as high as those to which you hold other journalists.
Yes they are. I admit to being puzzled by this note and the indignant tone in which it is written, especially since the New York Times and its reporting aren't mentioned at all in the two posts I wrote about the episode.
In the first one I addressed myself to what editors back at home wrote by way of explanation after-the-fact. I was critical of those editors who focused only on the accuracy of the reporting, and I praised those who spoke to the question of truth.
In the second one I agreed with CNN people that primary responsibility for the errors must lie with the company and elected officials, but I disagreed with their contention that the network's erroneous reporting for three hours was unavoidable. Maybe you think it was unavoidable. If so, we have a difference of opinion, but I'm sure you'd agree that is no scandal.
In various comment posts at PressThink I have also said that "families say" is accurate sourcing but not very solid sourcing. And I wrote: "If a producer from CNN had been hanging out with Becky Wagoner, trying to get someone on the record with the news that the miners were alive, and discovering, as she did, that no one from the rescue operation would confirm it, the story that went out Tuesday night might, possibly, have been different."
I should not care less about bloggers meeting with the RNC chair -- but these are folks who regularly chastize actual journalists for having some kind of agenda, and here they are, aligning their own verbiage with the agenda of the Party.
The meeting was arranged by the fellow who complained to the Washington Post's editors about Dan Froomkin's column being left-biased, and here he is setting up a meeting with bloggers designed to get them to disseminate the Republican Party's agenda.
It is absolute hypocrisy.
When the same idea appears all over the media at all levels -- blogs, newspapers, television -- simultaneously, it is clear that it is emanating from a point source.
That means that these bloggers, at least some of whom seem to try to present themselves as objective critics of the mainstream media, are disseminating Republican Party propaganda.
I don't follow Kos, but I don't think anyone who is presenting him or herself as an objective source of information should take money or talking points from anyone.
I am glad that this meeting with Mehlman was disclosed. But many readers of these bloggers' work will never know that they are simply parroting the party line, which is that any corruption in Congress is because of "big government" -- in other words, in the parlance of the Conservative movement, it is the liberals' fault.
This, by the way, from the party of "accountability" and "responsibility".
Gingrich said it. Brooks said it. Will said it. Mehlman said it. Now all these bloggers will say it, too.
Just watch and let's see if these folks say that Mehlman told them that the Party believes that big government is the problem -- or if they just say "big government is the problem."
That's the difference between disclosure and non-disclosure of source.
Right. Actually, I was going to say that I'd bet that the bloggers would take the opportunity to tear Mehlman a new one.
I should not care less about bloggers meeting with the RNC chair -- but these are folks who regularly chastize actual journalists for having some kind of agenda, and here they are, aligning their own verbiage with the agenda of the Party.
Oh, nonsense. That's only a problem if the bloggers claim to be nonpartisan journalists who don't write POV stories. There aren't too many of those.
Actually, there are more leaps of logic in your last post than I can even count.
You make the assumption that simply meeting Ken Mehman means Mehlman is issuing "talking points." That's silly. You can do that by email.
Further, you cannot establish that Mehlman is issuing anything. If anything, my suspicion is that Mehlman is soliciting the bloggers for ideas and criticisms in a safe and confidential place, and that the useful information will flow from the bloggers to Mehlman, not the other way round.
Moreover, you also make the assumption that if Ken Mehlman issues talking points, the bloggers will run with them. That's a pretty silly assumption. For example, I have a blog. It's generally conservative, and mostly pro-Bush. And I receive talking points.
But the ONLY talking points I receive, ever, are from John Kerry's staff. I have no idea how I wound up on his mailing list. Someone must have read a post critical of Bush and added me, but the email comes every week or two. I got them from CFLCC too, when I was in Iraq - they'd come out with every new FRAGO - mostly to help officers express American policy to Iraqis, and remind us not to discuss the Israeli Palestinian conflict with locals.
If sending talking points to bloggers is a bad thing, then John Kerry's one of its biggest practicioners. I thought nothing of it... it happens all the time, from every PAC and party with any organization whatsoever.
By accusing Melhman of "hypocrisy" because he accused the Washington Post of running a biased column, and then arranged a meeting with bloggers you're also assuming that a bunch of partisan bloggers = the Washington Post. That's nonsense. In fact, it reflects a shocking naivete about how the sausage is made.
Here's a news flash: Mehlman expresses a particular point of view. It's his job. It's not his job to be neutral. It's what the RNC pays him for, just like the DNC pays Howard Dean. They are opposing advocates.
The Washington Post, however, gets paid NOT to argue a POV, but to remain neutral between them. It's where the WaPo gets its credibility from. If they run a slanted piece, they fail in their job-in their function. If Mehlman or Dean write a slanted piece, they may well succeed in doing theirs.
When the same idea appears all over the media at all levels -- blogs, newspapers, television -- simultaneously, it is clear that it is emanating from a point source.
Welcome to the information marketplace. You don't think the DNC does the same?
I am glad that this meeting with Mehlman was disclosed. But many readers of these bloggers' work will never know that they are simply parroting the party line,
No, that does not follow, at all. You can't establish that they'll "parrot the party line." Hell, a lot of times there ISN'T a single party line, but a substantial policy debate within the party.
You don't think their readers realize these bloggers are pro-republican?
At any rate, so what if they are? No blogger has a monopoly on the blogosphere. The same cannot be said of the newspaper business, which is the last of the great monopoly enterprises.
Just wanted to point out that these kinds of straegy meetings occur all the time, both sides.
Wasn't there a story about John Kerry meeting with his strategists at AL Frankin's NYC apartment way back when:
"In an effort to galvanize the message Kerry wants to deliver in the time remaining, he convened a powerful roster of journalists and columnists in the New York City apartment of Al Franken last Thursday. The gathering could not properly be called a meeting or a luncheon. It was a trial. The journalists served as prosecuting attorneys, jury and judge. The crowd I joined in Franken's living room was comprised of:
Al Franken and his wife Franni;
Rick Hertzberg, senior editor for the New Yorker;
David Remnick, editor for the New Yorker;
Jim Kelly, managing editor for Time Magazine;
Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for Newsweek;
Jeff Greenfield, senior correspondent and analyst for CNN;
Frank Rich, columnist for the New York Times;
Eric Alterman, author and columnist for MSNBC and the Nation;
Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist/author of "Maus";
Richard Cohen, columnist for the Washington Post;
Fred Kaplan, columnist for Slate;
Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate and author;
Jonathan Alter, senior editor and columnist for Newsweek;
Philip Gourevitch, columnist for the New Yorker;
Calvin Trillin, freelance writer and author;
Edward Jay Epstein, investigative reporter and author;
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who needs no introduction.
We sat in a circle around Kerry and grilled him for two long hours. In an age of retail politicians who avoid substance the way vampires avoid sunlight, in an age when the sitting President flounders like a gaffed fish whenever he must speak to reporters without a script, Kerryís decision to open himself to the slings and arrows of this group was bold and impressive."
Did this happen? And if so, any thoughts, Mr. Simon?
Jay, That's a good, honest piece by Captain Ed.
Point taken that ideas are flowing in both directions in these meetings. The net folks are "talking up" to the political parties in a way that parallels what online writing is doing to journalism (and, I suppose, the same people, too). Good news for democracy so long as it remains dynamic. I applauded how this elevated Dean (a moderate farm-state pragmatist who speaks plainly and accurately and has thus been vilified), so I'd have to also appreciate that this has happened on the right, as well.
Kristen, I don't know first-hand whether that meeting really happened or not. I'll take your (and WR Pitt's) word for it for the sake of discussion ... and I seem to recall reading about it before, as well.
Is there a difference between the candidate meeting with journalists (certainly including left and left-biased opinion writers, but not exclusively) to be "grilled" and a meeting between the top political strategists and bloggers?
On some level, I would say no -- it is a formal interface between the political establishment and those whose work helps shape opinions.
But on another level, there is a difference -- and part of it is the difference between journalists and bloggers, whatever that is.
In any event, what I'd be wondering is whether Kerry's talking points were then disseminated by these folks in a way that echoed, in the same words, throughout their work -- and then throughout the large media, as was the talking point "Kerry is a flip-flopping liberal who wants to raise your taxes."
We are in the middle of a Cold Civil War here, so it is to be expected that different elements of different factions meet to strategize and/or swap ideas.
But my read is still that the GOP is waging the information war much differently from how the Dems are doing it.
Perhaps I'm just very naive, or else I can't see through my own lenses.
The disseminated talking points make me awfully nervous, because they are very similar to "the big lie".
Maybe they just wax a bit differently coming from a dominant power in complete one-party control over the world's sole superpower than they do from a struggling opposition party that is being given the out-group treatment.
Mr. Simon---since my last post, I found that the meeting actually did take place. Here’s the New Yorker’s take">http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content?040726fa_fact">take, 7-26-04, written by Philip Gourevitch in Campaign Journal:
"On the day after his appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, last December, he spent the better part of two hours at the Upper West Side apartment of the comedian and Democratic activist Al Franken, trying to justify the vote to a couple of dozen pundits and reporters. It was a parochial gathering, all male, overwhelmingly Jewish, and, with the exception of a few professional agnostics, openly identified as liberal or, at least, unhappy with Bush. A friendly crowd, you would think, but Kerry tied himself in knots..."
You admit that maybe you see things through your own lens (don’t we all?) and the point that the “bias warriors” make is that, to them, much of the news article choices, headlines, and content in papers and TV all mimic the Democrat talking points. As a savvy news reader/watcher in 2006, I feel pretty comfortable discerning on my own where everyone is coming from…
I like Jeff Jarvis’s description (Jay mentioned it earlier) that I have actually become an editor. I’ve been mulling that over and think in some ways that’s exactly right. I read or watch things on the news that seem weak or that I question and I simply go off online and spend a couple of minutes gleaning add’l info and thus have a fuller picture of the story.
Blogs like Press Think are important because they keep pressure on people in the press to make choices and judgements that will regain our trust and thus effectively allow them to perform their role. Right now, much of the press is not doing that. Most of the commenters on this blog have a left-leaning political view, which is not mine. So what? But you’re all crazy if you think I’m comfortable with the right side “taking over.” I don’t have to be a liberal to be concerned with Republicans holding the majority in all three branches of government. I’m leery of power, period, and what it does to people and institutions because I know no one is immune.
The mere fact that there is such vigorous debate within the press on this mining story with numerous press people saying “I’m not seeing any obvious missteps” is revealing. That’s the problem. It always goes back to the idea of trust.
Let’s try to keep history straight, Jason. With a little help from Wikipedia, you can learn that:
It wasn’t so much that George Will helped Reagan prepare for his 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter that had folks question his journalistic ethics but that Will forgot to mention his involvement. Especially when he discussed Reagan’s debate performance with Ted Koppel later on Nightline.
Carter complained that Will had stolen the Democratic candidate’s secret debate briefing book and gave it to Reagan. Will denies that, but in 2005, a short 15 years after the fact, acknowledged that his involvement with Reagan’s campaign was ‘inappropriate.’
In 1996, Will, again as a news commentator on TV, Will spoke favorably on a presidential campaign speech by Bob Dole, without revealing that his wife, a senior advisor to Dole, had helped read it.
It seems that journalist Will was doing exactly what you claim to abhor: not coming clean about his political leanings in his reports. I’ve no idea if Richard Cohen or others announced their involvement with Kerry. I assume so, since I don’t remember any particular GOP uproar about them. But if so, I’m sure you’ll let us know.
The fact that there is a red-state focused effort to discredit blue-state media is itself evidence of a leftward bias, in the same way that the presence of antibodies in an immune system indicates the presence of a virus.
How do you write this stuff with a straight face? It's no more 'proof' of political bias in reporting when the right claims it than it is of rightist bias when the left complains.
And the left does complain. Look at the complaints in Atrios' comment section sometime. They could give the right some pointers.
Political partisans complain of bias and unfairness and 'balance' because of vested political interest. They want their side to look good. They want the other side demonized. Fact, Truth or viral infections has little to do with it.
The vast majority of what we (traditional press) write about really isn't a matter of "getting it first" but being the first to recognize the significance of a trend, or a effort, or an idea, or a person, or a group. This process is no way similar to being part of a press gaggle.
The majority of the "breaking-news" first-reports you read on the wires or announced on 24-hour cable news channels are just restated official announcements, sometimes enhanced by eye-witness material, eventually supplemented with related angles, as editors and producers try to figure out how to develop the story in the absence of new developments. It's really a hard field of endeavor in which to be brilliant, although occasionally some people show stand-out talent or insight.
Those of us who come from the print side tend to be myopic about the influence of TV. We know it's there, but we don't always confront its influence on our thinking and decision-making head-on. But here it is: When cable news of whatever stripe settles on a "live, breaking story," there is typically very little new information in each 10-minute segment. There's the "welcome back" recap after a break, then the anchors talk to the reporters again, getting "color" and "perspective," and then we go back to the experts in the studio, who don't have any news but offer background on the issues/systems/persons involved, then there's the "for-those-of-you-just-joining-us" recap, and another whip around the horn...
every now and then you get actual news added in, or there will be a potentially significant but unconfirmed detail introduced. unlike a print newsroom, where this stuff happens out of view, 24-hour TV news has to work out its stuff in public. they get stuff wrong all the time, but let's face it -- we understand something about the immediacy of TV news, and so as an audience we're more forgiving when an anchor goofs a name or a relationship.
print, on the other hand, we expect to be more deliberative. In the majority of what we produce, that's true. When it comes to breaking news outside our areas of expertise, though, we're riding a tiger.
Also, I would go back to something that I just cannot get past: the effect of hours of continuous TV coverage of people celebrating a mistake -- based not on bad media information, but a bad rumor.
You could have hedged that all night, but the only way to have controlled for its obvious emotional impact on viewers (and editors, and reporters, and governors, and spokesmen) would have been to have kept it off the airwaves. Which just isn't going to happen. Not once the news channels show up.
Those happy families weren't the story (by this I mean that the real story was 12 dead miners), but they were -- and are -- an obvious part of the story. Where that celebration fit into the story got reversed, but none of us can wish it away.
This may sound self-serving, but it's true: I happened to see MSNBC that night as I was turning off the TV, and so I caught the story as it was happening, switched around to see how CNN and FOX were covering it, too. And one of the reporters (I don't remember which one), while talking about emergency breathing aparatus, raised a great question in passing, saying "we still don't know how they managed to survive."
As I went to bed, I told my wife "they say they found most of those miners alive." And she said how that was great. And I said "Yeah, well, but there's something strange about the story. Nobody is saying how they survived, and the only thing anybody can think of is that they found a lucky air pocket, which seems kinda far-fetched."
So yeah, it struck me as funny as a viewer -- but the point being, I don't think I would have picked up on those points if it hadn't struck some of those reporters as funny, too. I think some of those TV reporters were doing what they could to raise those points within the context of everything that was happening. Compared to the emotions that were released that night, you kinda lose the finer points of practical skepticism.
You don't broadcast or publish until it's absolutely nailed down, or at least you hedge the report six ways to Sunday.
Sorry, but "hedging six ways to Sunday" doesn't make a difference. Look at the way the 2004 election was covered. It didn't matter how much the reporting was hedged, the lack of an official confirmation of "who won" didn't change peoples perception of the race as it developed. You don't wait until the Olympic medal ceremony to announce who "won the gold".... you go with what your senses tell you.
Regardless of how much "you" hedged, there was a story at the church that had to be reported. All the hedging in the world wouldn't have made any difference -- the viewers and readers would have been left with the same impression that the miner had been rescued -- and been left with a secondary impression that the mine company wasn't very good at press relations.
As a resident moonbat, I tried to stay out of the discussion of the "Ruffini/Melhman/wingnut bloggers" stuff. But really guys, why do you let these wingnuts get away with this stuff.
There is NO COMPARISON between the Kerry meeting and the Melhman/bloggers meeting. Kerry met with skeptical columnists before any of the Democratic primaries in an attempt to get their support -- or at least some "positive" mentions. Mehlman was talking to a bunch of robotic acolytes -- discussing political strategy, etc. Big difference.
And there is NO COMPARISON between the Kerry meeting with journalists in December, and George Will prepping Reagan for his debate. The Kerry meeting was not debate prep. There were no "time limits", no "debate format", no criticism of "style" in the Kerry meeting -- Kerry was there to explain his position, not "win a debate." Columnists may have offered their opinions, but did not do so as "Kerry supporters", but simple as observers. Will was there solely to advise Reagan on how to "win the debate" as a Reagan supporter.
Stop letting the wingnuts who haunt this blog get away with this kind of crap comparisons.
Or the next time you ask a question, I'll demand a source. :)
Thanks for the map, Derek. It helps put much of this discussion in perspective.
There is a tendency in post-mortems of media activity to clarify and simplify the reality of coverage of disasters that rarely captures the difficulties, the confusion and the conflicting events on a deadline-driven story.
Why didn't reporters just go chase down the authorities for comment? Or stay at the briefing center? Why didn't they simply call someone or double-and-triple check assertions? Why did they bother those poor victims?
Things rarely go smoothly in reporting disasters. Spokesman don't speak. Briefers don't show up. The official word often doesn't come because the officials don't have enough information to give.
These things frequently occur in places where cell coverage is sparse or overwhelmed, internet connection is spotty or absent. You have to make snap judgments on where to go and to whome to talk on the flimsiest information. Some call it a reporter's intuition. It's really luck.
There may be hours without any new information or the the info may flow in a thousand conflicting bits of fact and rumor intermixed. It the majority of events, you can get most this sorted out before deadline, weeding out the false trails and rumor.
And, as Daniel explained, we also try to put the fragmented moments of the disaster into a narrative, tell the story of what happened and how it affects human beings. (which is why we focus on the victims.)
When, as at Sago, the information wave breaks only minutes before deadline, the potential for problems can easily become a perfect storm. But you go with what you have. It's not a matter of right or wrong. It simply is. Adding new details and correcting the information becomes the second-day story.
So yes. I fall in the Lovelady and most-of-Conover camp on this one. With one caveat: My experience is all in print, which guides my perspective. Why TV does what it does is beyond my understanding.
Unlike other US businesses, the press doesn't seem to care that it's credibility is in the tank or that it's revenues are falling.
here's a part you might want to bear in mind: newspaper revenues aren't performing up to expectations... but those expectations are for 20 to 30 percent profit margins.
I like the way my former professor, Phil Meyer, put it: The newspaper industry is stuck because it expects monopoly profits because and doesn't realize that it has lost its monopoly. The way i put it: newspapers aren't likely to change because the act of their slow demise is turning out to be so damned profitable.
So anyway, get this point: despite all their flaws, newspaper remain terribly profitable, knocking down 15 to 20 percent margins even in bad years. Compare that to your average grocery store or fast food chain, where 3 cents on the dollar is a great year.
now, about credibility: Credibility is something that is given, not something you manufacture. We're probably doing a better job than ever before, but we're delivering a better typewriter. Users have moved on to different expectations.
Credibility is perception. If I lie really well and push your buttons with expert skill, you'll believe me, and so long as I keep fooling you, you'll judge me trustworthy and o-so-sympatico. Credibility isn't the same thing as accuracy and intelligence. Which is why I wrote in a previous thread about the difference between being credible and being popular.
FOX News is extremely popular with its viewers, who give it high marks for credibility. But 2004 FOX News viewers were more likely to be misinformed on certain war/political topics (you've all heard this stat) than viewers of channels that are not ranked as high in these polls.
Getting high marks for credibility from people who've got their facts mixed up isn't my metric for success. We've got to change as an industry, but popularity contests aren't the answer.
Not that this is what you advocated.
In the case of the Target-in-Hemet boogeyman, it turns out that Target had a Christmas special on disposable phones for 19.99, and a reseller, who I guess was a "swarthy" man, bought a bunch of them for resale. (I assume that $19.99 is cheap for a disposable cell phone.)
ABC, in reporting the story, explicitly linked it to terrorism. The story was a follow-on to the NSA spying story and, although I don't remember the exact language, used the words "Middle Eastern" and "terrorism" several times. (I don't have access to my LexisNexis on this computer, sorry.) They showed scenes of the London bombing, and "swarthy" people using cell phones. They then followed that story with another terrorism story about the video of Zawahiri, the "number two al Queda lieutenant."
Whether Malkin got it from ABC or ABC got it from Malkin, I don't know. But ABC has the responsibility to clarify these stories WHEN THEY REPORT THEM by doing their due diligence in checking their accuracy. They need not have hyped these stories and could have held them until the specifics became more clear.
It isn't in Malkin's and Drudge's interests to confirm the accuracy of boogeyman stories. Their goal is to push the boogeyman stories without regard to whether they are true. That's why they never correct their stuff. It isn't in their interest to do so.
Presumably it is in ABC's interest to do so. But apparently they'd rather hype up the boogeyman aspect. Else why would they stick a story about a guy who bought a bunch of bargain-basement cell phones at a sale at Target? What about phone cards? They can't be traced either. Are phone cards a terrorist threat? Are we going to require citizenship and ID to buy phone cards? What about using a phone booth? That can't be traced. Shall we require citzenship and ID to use a phone booth? Walkie-talkies, even?
Isn't it rather absurd, when you think about it, that a so-called "terrorist cell" whose base is purportedly in a mall, according to Malkin, would conspicuously send a bunch of men to buy a bunch of cell phones from WalMart at the same time? I mean, c'mon!
Kristen: "Is it possible that because you demonstrate a pretty rigid view that discussing bias is never meaningful, you feel itchy when someone else not only discusses it but takes sides, no less?"
Yeah, it's possible. Rigidity when one's views are known is a danger.
It's also possible I'm a lousy writer, a terrible thinker, inept at research, and incompetent to judge what journalists do. Even worse things are possible.
I have said that the bias discourse makes people dumber about the press. The more you speak it the dumber you get. I said that as an educator, and I said it based on a lot of experience with bias criticism. My "law" applies to Deb Howell, and it even applies to you, kristen.
Deborah Howell didn't mean what she wrote when she said Froomkin's column is liberal. What she meant is that she thinks Froomkin is clearly opposed to Bush, and it's just her lazy journalistic shorthand that caused her to use the word "liberal."
That's not forgivable.
For of course Republicans can be opposed to Bush, swing voters can be opposed to Bush, conservatives (true conservatives) can be opposed to Bush, people who are turned off by mendacity in public life can be opposed to Bush, anyone who believes in smaller government and was foolish enough to think Bush meant it when he said he believes in it too could be opposed to Bush, a citizen who thinks the fight against Islamic terror is priority one and resents the Administration for dragging us into Iraq could be opposed to Bush; and this is why I say her shorthand was lazy.
For her to have meant what she wrote about his column being liberal, she would have had to have found in Froomkin's writings expressions of sympathy or support for classically liberal positions, by which I mean things like: pro-choice on abortion, against the death penalty, in favor of affirmative action, for stronger environmental protections, for higher taxes on the wealthy, against further de-regulation of business, in favor of government efforts to battle income inequality, in favor of public transportation, against vouchers for private schools, and so on.
But she didn't find that, and she couldn't find that. "White House Briefing" is not about that. Dan doesn't write a column filled with expressions of support for classically liberal positions. He just doesn't. Howell's formulation is lazy, uninformative as well as ill-informed, and it also shows her lack of imagination. (All columnists are opinion columnists; all opinion columnists must be liberal or conservative.)
What she found in looking at Froomkin's work is lots of slams against Bush for not answering questions, for evading his opponents criticisms, for saying things that bore scant relationship to the truth, for refusing to engage in any argument at all, for using straw men like some people take vitamins, for insulating himself from contrary views, for obscuring what his administration has actually done, for having an un-spokesman like Scott McClellan who doesn't believe in answering questions, for banning anyone who doesn't agree with him from his public appearances, for creating the Bush Bubble, for trying to duck responsibility for "Mission Accomplished."
These slams were not what Howell would expect to find in a "straight" news report about the White House or an overview of the day's news from the presidency. (She was correct about that.) It was for this reason she said Froomkin's column is "highly opinionated and liberal." It was for this reason she sided with John Harris.
Again, it's "the newsroom is my horizon, I cannot look up."
On top of that Howell seemed to write in complete ignorance of how the term liberal is used to discredit the press everywhere, and will be used against her some day. Thus: “Her Froomkin column showed no awareness of what she was doing in signing on to the political staff's complaints about 'liberal bias.' “
Actually, I thought the photo of the Afghan tribesman was pretty interesting. The photo, by Thir Khan, apparently a stringer for AFP/Getty Images, shows a photo of an old Pakistani man standing next to what the caption says is an "unexploded ordnance at his house which was damaged in an alleged U.S. Air Strike" on Saturday.
Photo: Thir Khan/AFP/Getty Images
I didn't see it in the NY Times, but a reader forwarded it to me, wondering if I thought it was possible the photo could be legit. It did run in the Globe and Mail and at the moment is still on their site accompanying a story on the strike.
The photo is clearly a fraud. One glance at the photo establishes that the guy is standing next to an ARTILLERY round, not an aerially-delivered missile. What's more, the fuse is missing, indicating that the round was probably never even fired.
Here's a link: http://www.snappingturtle.net/flit/archives/2006_01_14.html#005714
The photographer undoubtably grew up in the region - that's why he's able to navigate the Pakistani border region. It's unbelieveable to me that he doesn't know what he's looking at. You can't grow up in that part of the world and not know what an artillery shell looks like.
The photo was either staged to fool a gullible photojournalist, or the photobug staged the shot to have a saleable photo. And the idiots in the press corps are so inbred they aren't even intellectually equipped to say "hey, wait a minute - what IS this thing in the photo" before they pass the fraud onto their readers.
Reminds me of the flap in 2004, when the Boston Globe ran photos of US soldiers allegedly raping Iraqi women. Well, a local politician was using those photos to demonstrate how awful US soldiers were, and the Globe ran his comments uncritically in the paper, and ran a photo of him holding up the photos. The problem: They weren't US soldiers at all. They weren't wearing anything close to US uniforms. The photos were staged photos taken from a porn site.
Any veteran could have slapped that story down in an instant. But apparently, too many cousins were marrying in the Boston Globe newsroom.
Just another instance of how the lack of newsroom diversity is damaging to news coverage.
I'm not disputing that the Globe didn't fuckup in running even an image-within-an-image photo of the porn picture. And the Globe did issue a retraction. *They* are clearly sorry they ran the photo as it did.
But this entire thread was started about how does one quantify the news media's mistakes about Sago and you see how much discussion and divergence of opinion there was between how *culpable* the press was for a clear fuck up.
Can't you see the same divigence of opinion about the Boston Globe photo-story? For the record...it did run on B2 (or is that indispute as well?) It was not a banner, front-page headline. But there is the problem in that the photos were faked. Were we are disagreeing is what is the Boston Globe's culpablity in this particular situation the same way we are discussing what is the press culpability in the Sago Mine story (which was also wrong). You are arguing (I gather) for some kind of deliberate or gross negliance on the part of the Globe reporter/editor because either they wanted to run the worst story possible about US Soliders or they're just incompetant people. Really, really, incompentant.
I'm arguing (just to be clear here) that the story seems to be a minor one, and the reporter and editor did their best to write a particularly skeptical article about a press conference statements. The one thing they didn't say because they couldn't 100% confirm it at the time of publication was that the photos were indeed porn photos. They tried to confirm they were real and got NO confirmation (even the press conferance particpants who displayed the photos didn't know if they were real and said "we don't know if they are real, that's your job."
Maybe the reporter errored in trying to prove the photo was real which lead them to some blind alleys rather than trying to prove they were porno photos.
Sorry. You guys are so used to finding excuses for journos who fall on their faces, but my point stands.
Your point is that the Globe fucked up. I agree, the Globe fucked up. But where we disagree is the scope and magnitute of the fuck-up and I guess the cause. I feel this is a minor mistake about a truly minor story. This is not unlike the disagreements about the Sago Mine which this thread was discussing. But really I just wanted to follow one of your statements because I had no idea what you were talking about. I don't know why you feel as you do about the Globe...but I doubt I or ami are going to convince you of anything about this incident just as you are unlikely to convince me of it.
I don't know if I would use the word troll, because ultimately, at the other end of those posts of yours there is a person truly at rage with the press. So certainly the feelings behind the "Well, a local politician was using those photos to demonstrate how awful US soldiers were, and the Globe ran his comments uncritically in the paper, and ran a photo of him holding up the photos." statments are real.
Suffice to say then maybe you love the press but hate reporters? Sort of like how one can like medicine but hate the doctors who dispense it.