April 15, 2008
From Off The Bus to Meet the Press
In between there is uncharted territory. Mayhill Fowler's report quoting Barack Obama at a fundraiser ("It's not surprising then they get bitter") was posted at OffTheBus Friday afternoon. By Sunday morning Tim Russert had it top of show. How it happened. Why we did it.
Original appeared April 14 at Huffington Post as The Uncharted. It has 700+ comments. I have made some changes and updated it with additional links and fresh reports. This is the next-day, PressThink version. Scroll down to After Matter for links to the debate over this episode.
When a story goes from OffTheBus to Meet the Press in two days certain things are lost in the velocity. One of these was OffTheBus itself, the site I started with Arianna Huffington last year. I knew the waves from Mayhill Fowler’s on-the-scene story, No Surprise that Hard Pressed Pennsylvanians Turn Bitter, were going to make Tim Russert’s show Sunday. I tuned in to see how he and his panel of insiders would handle.
Would Russert see the novelty of the situation? An Obama supporter and donor, who also wrote regular dispatches for Huffington Post’s pro-am campaign coverage site, OffTheBus, recorded Obama’s words at an April 6th San Francisco fundraiser, and then wrote about what concerned her in them. From there it exploded into campaign space. Pretty good story, as the Guardian recognized, followed by the Times of New York and the Times of LA. Heads up, candidates, your supporters include bloggers and they will exercise their First Amendment rights. Barack Obama found that out this week….
Tim and his staff decided on erasure. You’d have to ask them why. Mayhill Fowler’s Obama quotes were shown on screen, but on a show that is scrupulous for showing you the source of statements on screen, Meet the Press made no mention of her, or OffTheBus, or the Huffington Post. Like most surgeries of this kind it was done with the passive voice:
Last Sunday Barack Obama went to a fundraiser in San Francisco, made some comments. They became public late on Friday afternoon….
They became public because Mayhill Fowler reported them for OffTheBus Friday afternoon. Russert used Mayhill’s quotes again on another story she broke earlier in the week. The Boston Globe was the “source” on that one, a designation wholly fictional.
Uncharted space: descriptions missing
It’s not surprising to me that Tim erased Mayhill. And it’s not a shock that some misguided Obama supporters tried to turn her into an enemy of the regime, which she is not. Or that Jay Newton-Small of Time magazine changed her scoop into a leak from someone inside the campaign to Huff Post. Or that Michael Tomasky of the Guardian thinks we broke the rules, emphasis on “the.” Or that Gawker gawked.
We’re in uncharted territory here. Descriptor languages missing. People get mad when they don’t know what to call things. Mad or daft. Like when Mike Allen of the Politico, listing 12 reasons ‘bitter’ is bad for Obama, couldn’t even find the word “website” to describe the Huffington Post. It became “a liberally oriented organization that was Obama’s outlet of choice when he wanted to release a personal statement distancing himself from some comments by the Rev. Wright.” Sounds like some 527 group.
Citizen journalism isn’t a hypothetical in this campaign. It’s not a beach ball for newsroom curmudgeons, either. It’s Mayhill Fowler, who had been in Pennsylvania with Obama, listening to the candidate talk about Pennsylvanians to supporters in San Francisco, and hearing something that didn’t sound right to her. Who’s Mayhill Fowler? A 61 year-old citizen journalist who supports Obama. (See Katharine Seelye’s story on her in the New York Times.)
When supporters have blogs
When Arianna Huffington and I conceived of OffTheBus in March of 2007, we talked about this possibility: A contributor of ours gets invited to a fundraiser and tells us what the candidate said there. We knew it was likely because we would be opening OffTheBus to people who were active in politics. We decided that if we trusted the writer, we would probably run the piece, after doing what was necessary to verify the words of the candidate. If the campaigns wanted to ban from every gathering of supporters those supporters who had a blog, or a diary at a site like Daily Kos or TPM Cafe, or an affiliation with a project like ours — well, that didn’t seem very practical to us.
We knew there could be problems with this approach, and possible disputes with the campaigns. But we also felt that participants in political life had a right to report on what they saw and heard themselves, not as journalists claiming no attachments but as citizens with attachments who were relinquishing none of their rights. We talked about it, but we never anticipated anything this big, or wave-like.
According to Marc Cooper, editorial director of OffTheBus, Mayhill Fowler’s post on Friday afternoon drew 250,000 page views and over 5,000 comments in 48 hours. The story she told was picked up by Reuters and AP and the national newspapers. It was the top story on Google News for a day, and on Memeorandum for a day and a half. Drudge ran with the Politico’s version. Right and left blogosphere reacted with force. (Definitely see Cooper’s post, Inside the Obama Guns God Bitterness Storm.)
Before she was airbrushed out by Tim Russert and changed into a leaker by Jay-Newton Small, Mayhill was an Obama supporter who sometimes found it necessary to be a critic of the campaign. (And she remains for Obama.) She is also a citizen journalist with a platform: OffTheBus, which resides at the Huffington Post. Now if the term “citizen journalist” drives you nuts, or vaults you onto your high horse, just call her a writer with a page on the web that can reach the rest of the news system.
The point is Mayhill Fowler is a particular kind of Obama loyalist. The kind with a notebook, a tape recorder, some friends in the campaign, a public platform of decent size, plus the faculty of critical intelligence. The campaign doesn’t know what it thinks about such people. But soon the people around the candidates will realize: this is normal.
No conditions attached
The category into which she falls is not an existing one in pro journalism, which generally forbids contributions to candidates and open expressions of support. It is not a familiar category among donors, either: Citizen journalist for a pro-am site who may or may not publish something if you invite her? I asked her what her politics were, and she told me:
I’ve given money to Barack Obama’s campaign since last fall as I’ve been able. Like you, in my private life I am an Obama supporter. I’ve also given money to Hillary Clinton. She is not my choice for president, but we are of the same generation, and for a while I thought “maybe” to the idea of an HRC Presidency. I’ve also given money to Fred Thompson — as a show of solidarity for a fellow Tennessean running. Tennessee has given the country several presidents and is proud of that fact. My mother’s family has been in Tennessee politics from the founding of the state — my four-greats grandfather was Andrew Jackson’s Karl Rove, for example — and I wanted to honor my heritage by supporting Fred Thompson. Not that he was going to go far on my $500. As for my own political leanings, I was born into a yellow dog Democrat family and am a registered Democrat. In practice, however, I am an Independent and have voted for both Republicans and Democrats over the years.
It’s that person with a political life whom Arianna and I wanted to recruit for OffTheBus. The invitation she had acquired to the fundraiser in the Pacific Heights section of San Francisco didn’t say, “Mayhill Fowler, citizen journalist” on it. It didn’t say, “you can’t blog about this” either. There were no conditions attached. She agreed to none. Uncharted territory.
Mayhill was a contributor to Obama who had almost given the maximum, $2300. She was known to mid-level finance officials in the campaign, and known by them to be an active contributor to OffTheBus. She had earlier written about a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in Houston, an Obama fundraiser (with Bill Bradley) in San Francisco, and another Obama event in Oakland and San Francisco with Ted Kennedy. She was not new to this, and the Obama campaign was not new to having her around.
It is important to underline that at no point has the Obama campaign contested her right to report on what happened or questioned the accuracy of her account. James Rainey of the LA Times told me he asked them and they declined. This is to Obama’s credit. As an Obama supporter myself (I haven’t given money, or time, or an endorsement like Lessig did, and I have no contact with the campaign, but I voted for him…) I was proud to publish Mayhill’s account, which is partial but truthful, even though I recognize that it touched off an ordeal for the campaign, a media storm that isn’t over and could hurt Barack Obama’s chances.
“A candidate should never play political scientist”
Mayhill told me about the background to the invitation….
As I now realize, I have had what may have been a unique relationship with the mid-level folks at the Obama Campaign. I’ve written about the campaign critically from my very first Obama piece for OffTheBus and yet I never found any subsequent lack of access. Of course, until last week I had never written anything about Senator Obama particularly newsworthy. And so the Obama folks in California and I had an easy relationship, none of us ever dreaming that one day I would hear something important.
It happened with Obama’s attempt to interpret Pennsylvania voters to California supporters. She called it “problematic.” Reasons for thinking that are explained well by Mark Ambinder of the Atlantic. I agree with E.J. Dionne’s take on it, “A candidate should never play the role of a political scientist or sociologist analyzing a key electoral swing group from afar.”
But was it a public statement? “When he looked out over the packed room, Senator Obama was not speaking to a group of people he knew,” Mayhill Fowler told me. These were not connected people in the existing orbit of the campaign. She had met “professors, housewives, union workers — middle and upper middle class prosperous Californians who believed in Obama and even though they were not rich, gave to his campaign.” Typical of the waves of people being drawn to Obama right now.
He was looking at 350 strangers, many of whom were using cell phones and small video cameras and flips to record the event. Eventually, some of those videos would have made their way to the Internet. At the time, however, since I closely follow the campaign, I was probably one of the few in the room who knew that some of the things Senator Obama said he had not said before.
There were others recording, and the campaign made no attempt to stop them, just as Mayhill made no attempt to conceal her tape recorder. So was this a “closed-door fund-raiser ” as the New York Times reported? Or was it “blog-able if you got in,” as the open use of recorders and the invitation to a known blogger would seem to indicate? Uncharted. Undecided. Fowler on the unspoken rules:
I know, from a phone conversation with the person who issued me an invitation (after my first post about Obama’s comments on choosing a running mate went up on Monday), that the assumption was, even though the campaign knew I was a “citizen journalist,” I would always put the campaign before the reporting.
This assumption — implicit, never fully articulated — was strained by what Mayhill heard from Obama as he tried to talk to Californians about people in the small towns of Pennsylvania. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God, he is confirming to my fellow Californians the worst stereotypes they have of small-town America.’ I was just dismayed,” she told Rainey.
Citizen journalism doesn’t work by force
She knew it was newsworthy speech because she had heard his “standard” speech many times. She felt it showed bad judgment by her chosen candidate. She also knew it was likely to be distorted and used against Obama, which worried her. Touching off a media frenzy worried her a lot. Her friends and contacts in the Obama campaign were giving her grief (and worse) after her first report from the fundraiser, suggesting Obama was getting too cocky. OffTheBus project director Amanda Michel knew she couldn’t force Mayhill to write anything more because we weren’t paying her anything. Citizen journalism doesn’t work by force and there is no rule book for it yet.
The decision that Michel and Mayhill arrived at: only when she had worked out a solid and truthful way to contextualize Obama’s most explosive quotes (“it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them”) would she feel comfortable reporting on them. When her piece arrived, it started the story in Pennsylvania, and approached Obama’s comments in California cautiously.
Her argument: This isn’t how someone who is uniting voters across the country talks when people in one part of the coalition ask him about other people who aren’t there yet. As Dionne said, you don’t put on your political scientist’s cap when you are running for president because the voters you dissect may feel disrespected.
Mayhill Fowler was there and she heard that. Others who were there did not, but this is why god gave us blogging. Instead of turning her item into a blaring news report with scare quotes, Cooper left it as a simple blog post.
It was anything but a traditional approach to news. Indeed, the explosive quotes from Obama appeared very late in the story and were not broken out at the top nor particularly highlighted (though they did shape the headline that I wrote).
Along with Amanda and Roy Sekoff, editor of the HuffPost, I made the decision that after a copy edit and some light rewording here and there we would run the piece in the form in which it came in.
Except for the headline, this is not how a professional newsgathering operation would handle the story. But a professional newsgathering operation would never put itself in the position that we bargained for when we started OffTheBus. Journalists, the pro kind, aren’t allowed to be loyalists. But loyalists, because they’re allowed to write for OffTheBus, may find that loyalty to what really happened trumps all. And that’s when they start to commit journalism.
A state of mutual chartlessness
After asking Mayhill Fowler a lot of questions, I told her “let me see if I grasp what you are saying…”
So they knew you were not hostile to the campaign and shared many beliefs with them, and they knew you were a citizen journalist, and they knew you might write about this fundraiser, and they knew that through OTB and the front page of the Huffington Post you could “reach” the wider world quite easily, and they knew you would never set out to harm the campaign, or feel indifferent to its fortunes, and they knew you would never make something up, but they had not considered that as a friendly who is also a contributor to Obama, and a citizen journalist with some access to the campaign and good access to the media, you might write something that would in the events after “do” harm and yet still be the act of a supporter… Is that right?
Yes, she said. But I can’t speak for them. Chartlessness on both sides was her clear impression.
* * *
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
In the April 16th print edition of the New York Times, which also quotes from this post, an Obama aide (nameless) tells Katharine Q. Seelye that the campaign recognized how “from time to time, people do blog from events closed to the media.” (Haven’t found a link to that yet.) And in the San Francisco Chronicle same day there is this from reporter Joe Garofoli:
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said Tuesday that while the San Francisco event was closed to traditional media, it was not off the record. The campaign has not denied or challenged Fowler’s version of the event. Burton said there’s an expectation now - even at private events - that everything will be recorded and posted.
In other words, they know this is becoming the norm.
So does Robert Niles at Online Journalism Review: There’s no such thing as ‘off the record’ anymore. His counsel: “Instead of unleashing your id 24/7, communicate with intent.”
Palo Alto resident and blogger Glennia Campbell posted some video and a full transcript of Obama’s remarks at the fundraiser. One thing I do wish Mayhill had included: The question Obama was asked that led to “they get bitter.”
Man in the crowd: “I’m going to Pennsylvania this week to knock on doors for you. What should I expect? What should I know before I go there?”
Ken Silverstein at Harpers, Bloggers and Double Standards.
Fowler, whose presence at the fundraiser was known to Obama’s staff, did nothing other than report what she saw and heard. Would those now attacking her be doing the same if she’d reported controversial remarks made by John McCain at one of his fundraisers? And do we really want to accept the principle that candidates for the president should be able to block public scrutiny of their fundraising events?
Fowler did the right thing, no matter how dumb the debate that ensued.
Michael Tomasky at Comment is Free:
Citizen-journalists ought to have the responsibility, when the circumstances merit it, of seeking follow-up comment from the other side (or, in the case above, giving Obama aides the standard chance to clarify). That’s the tough part of journalism. Any idiot can run a tape recorder.
So fine - let’s change the rules. But let’s at least have some.
Jeff Jarvis answers back: Journalism as a control point.
Citizens can listen. Citizens can talk. Citizens can share. Citizens can publish. When they hear something newsworthy, citizens don’t need to go running to flacks to make sure it’s OK to repeat what they heard. In that case, I’d prefer to have citizens telling me what happens. They are less beholden than journalists. They don’t care about the rules. They care about the news. That’s what happened in Off the Bus’s story.
More! April 24: Jeff Jarvis v Michael Tomasky, Round Two. “Should the internet’s new breed of ‘citizen journalists’ have the responsibilities of journalists or the rights of citizens?” Tomasky thinks Mayhill Folwer cheated. Jarvis thinks that’s nuts.
Trust me, this is related: I asked Time Magazine’s Jay Newton-Small why she called Mayhill Fowler’s report a leak. To me it’s a report from someone who was there. I just thought it was a strange way to talk about the post, reducing it to a “leaked” tape. So she wrote about it at Swampland. (Now that’s blogging: thanks, Jay):
The situation puts the Obama campaign in an awkward position because, frankly, if the major news organizations knew the campaign was knowingly letting in bloggers to these events they would demand open press access – after all they are the ones paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to travel with the campaigns: why should some blogger get access that their reporters don’t?
As for my usage of the term leak – I did not mean it in a derogatory way. Indeed, leaks to my mind are often a hallmark of good reporting. If I gave Jay or Mayhill offense, I apologize. I used the term in the literal sense: “To permit the escape, entry, or passage of something through a breach or flaw,” according to the American Heritage Dictionary. The campaign did not intend those comments for mass consumption or they would’ve invited the media and deemed the event “open press.” The fact that the comments leaked out is a good thing for journalism even as it forces us to question access and coverage in this new digital age.
Gothcha. So… If, as an OffTheBus blogger, I go to an on-the-record event that is not accessible to the press, then the report I file is a leak. Whereas if the press goes to an on-the-record event that is not accessible to me, the report filed is just a report. Can that be right? Yup. Read it yourself. And don’t miss this comment.
Robert Cox, head of the Media Bloggers Assocation (I’m a founding member of that group): The First Amendment and blogs.
The reaction to Fowler’s blog post then is just another bump in the inexorable sorting out of what the First Amendment means in a society where every person with Internet access has his or her own global broadcasting and publishing facility. The issue is less the distinction between “citizen” and “journalist” and more whether the Founding Fathers ever contemplated such a distinction in the first place.
A close reading of the First Amendment and centuries of legal precedent says “no.”
On April 18, the Huffington Post published and front-paged an article by freelance journalist Celeste Fremon reporting comments Hillary Clinton made at a private fundraiser. It too had a tape. It too made Meet the Press, this time with credit to Huff Post. “Clinton Slams Democratic Activists At Private Fundraiser” was the headline.
Then on April 20th, a post by Paul Lukasiak at Taylor Marsh’s site suggested that OffTheBus wanted to “disassociate” itself from the Fremon piece, which ran as a Huffington Post news item, not an OffTheBus piece. To clarify what happened I asked Marc Cooper, editorial director of OffTheBus, for a re-cap. Here’s his note:
Celeste Fremon is a professional journalist who has contributed a half-dozen posts to OffTheBus over the last handful of months. Last week she approached OTB and said she was trying to develop the story on Hillary Clinton that was eventually published. OTB expressed a keen interest in the story and asked her to continue trying to secure and verify the source material. Fremon did not finish gathering and confirming all of the source material including reaction and verification from the Clinton campaign until mid-day Friday. With most if its small staff at that time dispersed geographically, OTB made the decision to rely on support from The Huffington Post. The larger infrastructure of HuffPost was needed for technical, audio, editorial and additional reporting support in order for the piece to be published at a reasonable hour before the weekend. The piece bore the imprimatur of the HuffPost template because it was processed through the channels of the Huffpost.
OTB was and is proud to be part of Celeste’s piece and that is one reason why it was made clear from the beginning that the story was indeed generated in cooperation between OTB and HuffPost. OTB also proudly placed Fremon’s piece on its own home page. Clearly stating such cooperation in the footer of the piece is hardly a disassociation with a story we fully support and stand by and that would not have happened without incubation by OTB. We look forward to more contributions from Celeste and we think that this sort of editorial cooperation with HuffPost is not only desirable but also a natural partnership that should be deepened.
Mark Jurkowitz, formerly of the Boston Globe, quoted in the Washington Times: “Mayhill Fowler had access to that fundraiser because they thought she was a supporter, not a journalist. This situation suggests that people who care about blogging and its accuracy and credibility need to think about the rules that define the line between citizen and journalist.”
Well, Mark: Mayhill Fowler’s report was accurate. Since it was critical and came from an Obama supporter, it was also credible. Think about the rules? I thought I was doing that when I said, “we’re in uncharted territory.” This notion that if you follow “the” rules of journalism you are defined as credible, and if you don’t then it’s… got no credibility, man… is crude, outdated, ready for the scrap heap.
Christine at Momocrats, where moms who are Democrats write about politics: On citizen journalists and the validity of accounts. “The value in the citizen journalist’s account is that, unlike the paid reporter, they work for free. They are beholden to no one but themselves. And therefore, they are under no obligation to write, cover or opine about subjects but from their own unique perspective.”
The Flack takes a crack at the PR lessons in the episode.
Stephanie Salter of the The Tribune-Star newspaper in Indiana: What’s a two-word term for ‘opinionated’? Citizen journalism. She aced this part:
As so often happens in this era of 24-hour news and downsized newsrooms, the first reporting by the MSM — blogger for “mainstream media” — was shallow and sound-bitten. The reporting followed a traditional MSM breaking-news formula that has become a loaded weapon in today’s world of instant feedback and judgment:
This happened. This side says it’s an outrage. This side is explaining or spinning. These three people interviewed at random on the street think such and such about the subject. And these dozens of talking heads will shout about it for the next 48 hours.
The rest of Obama’s talk, the whole of his answer to the Pennsylvania-bound folks, were lost to the ether. One person’s highly subjective reaction — “For the first time, I realized he is an elitist,” Fowler wrote — was transformed into a “fact” to be dealt with or exploited.
Bitter suite. Blogger Heywood isn’t happy with Rosen and OffTheBus. Writes like blogger should…
How did we come to this, and why does the coastal elite media enable it so? I’ve said it a million times, but it bears repeating — if Bobo Brooks and Tweety Matthews and the rest of these bozos like the heartland so much, then fucking move there. Don’t hide your lights under the DC/Hamptons bushels, ladies, grab your overalls and get your farm on. Let us know how that works for y’all.
See my reply to his “Questions for Rosen.”
James Poniewozik at his Time blog: The “Bitter” Story, and Why Disclosure Works.
Mindy McAdams: Who are you calling a journalist? “Naming who is a journalist — and who is not — is a dangerous, dangerous course to follow.”
From PressThink: An Introduction (first post, Sep. 1, 2003.)
Press thinking is under pressure today and more in motion. No one knows where the next wave is supposed to come from. Key symbols are up for grabs. And “who is a journalist?” is asked with a vengeance— especially online.
USA Today, April 22: “Barack Obama has widened his lead nationally for the Democratic presidential nomination despite a furor over his comments about small-town Americans, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds.”
Thomas Frank in the Wall Street Journal, Obama’s Touch of Class.
(April 29) Mark Binker, Greensboro, NC News & Record:
Reporters were not invited to the event in Greensboro, which was a fundraiser. Still, we covered the action anyway.
We bought a ticket and walked in.
Marc Cooper, editorial director of OffTheBus, at his personal blog:
What we should have have been discussing —primarily— was the political impact of what Obama said. Or the lack of impact. His acuity or his denseness. The media’s frenetic response — or was it a measured reaction. Those sort of things.
Instead, we witnessed pretty much a horrid gang rape of the the reporter who broke the story. Oh, excuse me, the blogger. Simply killing the messenger would have been, by contrast, an act of mercy compared to the dump-truck of innuendo, insinuation and outright slander piled onto her.
John Tomasic: OffTheBus On Bittergate: A Roundup of Initial Responses.
Oh, and Mayhill Fowler is back on the campaign trail, reporting from Pennsyvania.
Posted by Jay Rosen at April 15, 2008 2:14 PM
Mayhill Fowler is an Obama supporter in the same sense that Michael O’Hanlon is an Iraq “war critic.” Restaurants that have a sign out in front saying “good food” tend to not have good food and news networks whose tagline is “fair and balanced” tend not to be fair and balanced. Likewise, when someone such as Fowler goes to such great lengths to make sure all are aware she is a Barack Obama supporter, the red light on the b-s-ometer immediately starts blinking bright red. Just in case we overlooked this fact, Jay’s piece contains at least the following baker’s dozen or so reminders where Fowler’s loyalties lie.
An Obama supporter and donor …
… an enemy of the regime, which she is not, …
… Mayhill was an Obama supporter …
(And she remains for Obama.)
… a particular kind of Obama loyalist …
I’ve given money to Barack Obama’s campaign since last fall …
… in my private life I am an Obama supporter.
Mayhill was a contributor to Obama who had almost given the maximum, $2300.
… by her chosen candidate.
But loyalists, because they’re allowed to write for OffTheBus, may find that loyalty to what really happened trumps all.
… as a friendly who is also a contributor to Obama, …
… “do” harm and yet still be the act of a supporter …
If Fowler was truly concerned about the story’s negative effect on Obama, she might have bothered to frame it within the context of what Obama actually was discussing rather than parsing the worst-sounding part. Didn’t we just talk about this? According to the transcript, he seemed to be a candidate sincerely and profoundly putting his money where his mouth was four weeks ago, searching for ways to cross racial and class divides. I don’t recall him guaranteeing there would be no stumbles or missteps along the way, on his part or others. He spoke specifically of Pennsylvania voters exactly twice, both times grouping them in with a larger class of voters living in Midwest and industrial states that he believes have become disillusioned because the government has not acted in their best economic interests.
Fowler’s highly manipulative piece completely ignored this greater discussion of economic imbalance and political cynicism. Instead, Fowler ripped Obama’s lines completely out of this context and chose to make it all about Pennsylvania: to wax poetically about the state and its archetypical heroic, stoic, patriotic inhabitants who have persevered in spite of economic hardships; and how she felt kinship through them through her father’s hunting (good grief!). It was only at this point that she plunked in Obama’s clumsiest lines to make working class Pennsylvanians the victim of Obama’s search to find a way to reach out to them.
If this was the only instance of such tactics on Fowler’s part, I would be more inclined to give her sincerity the benefit of doubt. However, there are other recent examples of her contrivances that also happen to coincide with Republican memes surrounding Democratic candidates:
Obama’s cockiness - this piece from April 7 regarding Obama not necessarily feeling the need to select a running mate with heavy foreign policy expertise. Fowler:
What Barack Obama's remarks last night in San Francisco reveal, however, is his self-confidence--to the point of cockiness--right now. This is exactly the same demeanor on display last week in Pennsylvania.
Clinton’s (Chelsea, in this instance) elitism and arrogance - this piece from February 4 regarding Chelsea Clinton campaigning in California during that primary and speculating on why Chelsea chose to campaign at Mills College rather than her alma mater, Standord. Fowler:
Chelsea Clinton is poised and beautifully pulled-together. (My husband says he doesn't think much of the Clinton Campaign Youth Outreach Director, who accompanies Chelsea. I press him why, and the best that he can come up with is that the young woman is sloppily dressed. I tell him that that's the dress code de rigueur for Democratic campaign staff.) More importantly, Chelsea is highly intelligent and articulate. Her slow, deliberative manner of speech is a refreshing change from the rat-tat-tat of the pros on the campaign trail. Nevertheless, there is a slight whiff of spoiled child about her, not only in her comment about her health insurance but also in her irritation at the low ring of a cell phone.
Jane Hamsher appropriately had this to say in comments at the bottom of the Chelsea Clinton piece:
As a proud Mills graduate, I have to say this is one of the nastiest and most low-blowing, disrespectful and ugly pieces I've read during the entire campaign. You say Chelsea Clinton has the whiff of "spoiled child" about her?
Attacking someone's kids. Nice.
Yes, it is possible, if not preferable, to have critical journalistic takes from one a candidate’s own supporters, but I’m not buying it here. There is too much manipulation going on, and that’s being as charitable as I can be regarding Fowler. I cannot say for sure that Fowler is some sort of mole - and it doesn’t really matter because these completely-out-of-perspective smears will keep coming whether or not someone like Fowler is there to promulgate them, but $2,300 sounds fairly cheap to gain favored access to an opposition candidate.
Ignoring the practicality of attesting to the honesty of the disclosure, having journalists disclose for whom they are voting is a very bad idea simply because it makes the erroneous assumption that political issues have only two sides. Looking at political issues in this bipolar, all-or-nothing manner has been a major factor, if not the major factor, in the degradation of our political debate and climate over the years. The more relevant disclosures are who funds the journalist and what criteria are used to measure his or her success within the media organization. This is one area where I think Off the Bus is conceptually a great idea that would help us get back a journalism where facts take precedence over balance and sides, especially once some of the kinks are worked out and pretenders such as Fowler are identified and removed from the process.
@ Katherine: I do not speak for Mayhill. She's a writer and can explain herself in a forum of her choosing.
What concerned me was MF and OTB making a thoughtful decision. Not rushed. Not blind to one part of that decision. It took four days. She did that, and we showed her decision to various editors, who supported it. That part was very traditional editing craft: let the writer handle it, and get the editors to sign off on how she does it.
Her way of putting it into context was to say: as a supporter, I was alarmed; as a reporter, I had seen him in Pennsylvania, and there he...
You come upon his remarks that made all the noise six graphs down, but it is not all of a sudden, it is not offered without context or proportion, it is not seen as "fatal" or chronic but as an error message, a blinking light that if left uncorrected would hurt.
As a supporter, she criticized him for bad coalition-speak. She "leaves" the piece still a supporter who won't sign away her rights to criticize her candidate.
The News Value isn't visibly extracted or abstracted but lying there in what Obama said. Since it was gathered under different conditions it is presented in a different way.
Except for the headline, which is the "passage" point to the news system, and the live Web, and of course all the controversy. She didn't write the headline. Marc Cooper did.
The event was on the record. Access was limited to supporters. Many of them recorded it. One of those supporters--with blogging connections, as my post says--recorded it, and wrote a critical account. It was published and picked up. It was also true. Her interpretation, her particular way of lending context and proportion, is arguable. As is all writing of this type.
As far as I can tell, the Obama Campaign agrees with my "this is normal" interpretation. Their only comment on the way she handled it has been: the event was not off the record, and, yes, we assume people are recording and posting what is said.
This blogger unknown to me, wrote Bitter Suite, with begins: "Some questions for Rosen..."
Angry at us, but the questions were intelligible, so I answered ..
Rosen here with some answers.
You: Will there be any haphazard sandbagging of the other two candidates, just to level the playing field?
You: If not, why not?
You're being argumentative. "Haphazard sandbagging" of candidates is not what we do, tried to do, or did here. We published an account from an event that was on the record but closed to the On-the-Bus press. (This is within our mission as Off The Bus.) It included candidate description (accurate, uncontested by the campaign) context and criticism (arguable, contested by others, including you) and support for Candidate Obama (Fowler's support, which was undisturbed by this event.) More on what I think we did.
You: Do you feel any share in the responsibility for generating this nonsense, besides invoking the law of unintended consequences and laying it at Russert's gouty feet?
I will take some share, sure. The headline we used, for example. Obama: No Surprise That Hard-Pressed Pennsylvanians Turn Bitter, played up that word "bitter." We could have run a far more lurid headline. We could also have run a headline far more innocuous. The headline is the "hinge" with the media system and the attack machine. So it's impossible for me to say, "I'm innocent of all that." I'm co-publisher of OffTheBus. That was our headline.
I don't think Obama's campaign is going to turn on what some call (mindlessly) Bittergate, but how do I know? It's a dynamic situation and trying to anticipate what affects voters often does more harm than good.
Wouldn't it be simpler to say: there can be huge consequences to a news report--some intended, many not--but as a base line principle we still want them published. Unless they are deceptive or fraudulent or untrue, and Mayhill Fowler's was not.
I described it as "partial but truthful," and I was trying to be precise. The check on hers? The tape. And the reports of others who were there and recording it, and adding "that's not what I heard"-type criticism. It's not a perfect system, but its common sense is not unintelligible,
On Russert: Probably I didn't write it well. I wanted to show "Meet" dumping Fowler as the source because a.) I thought it was wrong to do that and a little odd, b.) I thought it would introduce her in a way that would cause readers to engage with my 2,000+ words about her and what she was doing there in the first place.
Who is this woman Tim Russert took out of the story, after she originated it? What was she doing there at the fundraiser? The rest of the post explains that. Russert had taken her out. I wanted to put her back.
You: Implicit in the mission of the online mediapreneur is the sense that they are able to drive their own narrative without the help or hindrance of the corporate media. How does that square with this occurrence, in which Press the Meat was able to seize and skew that narrative on the basis of some poached quotes?
Hmmm. Well, I don't buy that I can accomplish some self-styled mission by driving my own narrative, never intersecting with the corporate media's narrative. I don't think the world works that way. It's hard for me to imagine any new media or blogging "action" that isn't skewable.
We didn't think this story wouldn't be picked up. When any story is "picked up" that way, from a small tributary by the main stream it becomes subject to the torrent of terribles, to the larger campaign narrative and all the pressures thereon. What corner of the Internet cannot be sucked into the attack machine and its malignant story lines within 30 minutes? None that I know of, including your blog!
You: What, if anything, do you or Fowler intend to do to either reclaim your own narrative, or generate a capable counter-narrative?
Well, Mayhill Fowler is back on the campaign trail, reporting from Pennsyvania.
I'm going to continue to push blogging as media criticism and move the pro-am way in journalism forward by publishing OffTheBus and writing my blog, PressThink, where I mentioned your post in the After Matter section (scroll down, down.)
As far as generating a capable counter-narrative, I am not sure anyone knows how to do that yet.
Does that mean I am indifferent to the mindless and often destructive campaign narrative that Fowler's story got sucked into?
No, I am not. I have tried over the years to pick it apart, and reduce its validity, expose its mindlessness. And I'm still at it, working as a critic of the press system we have. Here's an example of what I can do at my blog when Meet the Press pulls something. With Mayhill Fowler's story Russert was going with the big flow of nonsense, as you called it, and adding his oomph to the, "how much will this hurt?" data stream. Nothing different than what he usually does.
Jay Rosen (www.pressthink.org)
Jay, thanks for the link and response. I have posted another response back on my own my own blog, but briefly I would like to provide some context to the paragraph of mine you excerpted. I'll try to control my usual Tourette's-like outbursts.
I am a working-class voter residing in a small town, albeit in California. Still, the county I live in went 72% Bush in '04, which should give you an idea of the general political bent (and believe me, it's pretty bent). So I am intimately familiar with the mores and value systems of the people who are currently being ventriloquized as talking points, by the (too-)well-paid likes of David Brooks and Chris Matthews. I went to school with them, I work with them, we go to each others' kids' birthday parties, etc. And sometimes we good-naturedly poke fun at one another's political predilections. Lately I have the upper hand, but not as much as you'd think, thanks to the spirit of gutless Dem incrementalism and indiscipline.
And that is my challenge to the celebrojournos who sit in Washington or New York City and pretend to identify with small-town issues: if they are so enamored of the heroic, stoic Gary Cooperisms of the heartland yeoman, they are cordially invited to join us. Every living wage is a minimum of 30 minutes away, usually more. There is not much to do besides hunt, fish, drink, and/or pray -- usually all at once. Then there's the widespread drug problems, and the lack of comprehensive social services to deal with them (though they certainly try). Oh, and gambling. Lots of Indian casinos, in fact they're almost as successful as the Wal-Marts. Other than that, not so much.
So yeah, if Tweety or Bobo would like to trade places, if they really want to live the noble savagery of the boonies, I can definitely make that happen. Like them, I explain shit to people for a living; it would certainly be more fun doing that on teevee or in the Times for the money they're making, in some great cities.
I just find it tremendously off-putting that, in a week in which the current regime has openly admitted to torture, and to discussing its ramifications in the supposedly sacred walls of the White House, that we're talking about this. The infrastructure is in serious disrepair, John McCain doesn't know what or who he's talking about most of the time (which makes him a perfect successor to Bush), they apparently haven't given up on Iran, and the economy is in the shitter.
But Barack Obama thinks he's better'n yew. That's this week's narrative, and it sucks. And it seems like we are all Charlie Brown, waiting for the corporate media's Lucy to yank the football yet again come November. It would be nice for the rest of us to come up with some way to dilute or undermine their efficacy, culminating at the ballot box.
Failing that, there's gotta be some torches and pitchforks around here somewheres.
My friend Tim: This is way off topic, but in an effort to explain why I keep saying something you think is wrong by a mile... ("The United States had invaded a country like Iraq without a plan.")
If the King of Uplandia says to his ministers: "I want to invade Lowlandia, and depose their wicked king, so draw up the plans," and the ministers get to work and present him with a plan to take over Lowlandia in three weeks and install Prince Curveball on the throne, after which the King's soldiers would leave... but at the last minute the King decides he cannot impose Prince Curveball because the people will hate him for it, but there is so much momentum for war in his kingdom and among his ministries that he orders the invasion anyway.... was there a plan to invade Lowlandia? Well, yes and no. There was a plan, but the invasion still happened without a plan.
And if his ministers, scrambling because they invaded without a plan, decide to send the wizard Dexter, who had been preparing to organize the country under the reign of Prince Curveball... well, now they have Dexter in Lowlandia but they still don't have a plan because everything Dexter did was based on a premise that is no longer operating: Prince Curveball will never be the sovereign.
And if to end this confusion (which the King and his ministers created for themselves) they then replace the wizard Dexter with the wizard Boomer, an even greater wizard, and they make Boomer the sovereign for a while, whereupon he reverses all of Dexter's plans with plans of his own... then they still don't have a plan, or a clue, they just have a bigger wizard who is supposed to figure out a bigger mess.
And if they recall the wizard Boomer because in reality--remember reality?--he had nothing about Lowlandia figured out...
You get the idea. There can be plann-ing and still no plan.
---end off topic---
Meanwhile, Joe Klein at Swampland: "Yesterday, I spoke with a senior uncommitted Democrat--who has pledged not to commit until the nomination fight is over--who told me that yes, Obama's "bitter/cling" comments were a troubling sign of the disdain for average folks that coastal/academic Democrats have often displayed... but that Clinton had just wrecked her reputation within the party by comparing Obama unfavorably to McCain and running a Republican-style primary campaign in Pennsylvania."
And The Flack takes a crack at the PR lessons of Bitter-crate, while this gal is impressed with the nuanced moves OffTheBus made.
hmmm...it looks like the Ferdy quote that struck me is even more applicable...
. This comment seemed like news to her because this is exactly what the political press reports on routinely.
Off The Bus appears to have fallen prey to another one of the mainstream media's worst habits --- if you come up with a story damaging to one side, it must be "balanced" with with a story designed specifically to damage the other side, and spun to death in order to do so.
Thus we have one Celeste Fremon, and her http://www.huffingtonpost.com/celeste-fremon/clinton-slams-democratic_b_97484.html over at Off The Bus on Huffpo.
And how can we tell that this is solely a case of false balance? By comparing the Fowler and Fremon pieces.
Fowler presented a report on a fundraiser in which the "controversial" aspect was in the sixth paragraph of the piece. I remember when reading Fowler's piece how little effort was made to 'hype' the 'controversial' aspect. In fact, since I got there from Google, I thought the piece I was reading wasn't the one that started all the controversy.
Fremon's piece is an attack, and that attack is front and center. There is no "scene setting" as in Fowler's piece. Fremon's attack is front and center -- and what background that does appear later in the piece is all designed to make Clinton look bad.
Fowler's piece was "contemporaneous" -- she'd attended a fundraiser, thought she'd heard something worth writing about, and wrote about it. And Fowler describes the time and place where the event took place.
But Fremon's piece is based on something that was said months before she decided to write about it -- we are never told where the event took place, nor (other than 'after Super Tuesday') exactly when.
Fremon makes completely unsubstantiated claims in her piece -- presenting her personal spin as fact
(Clinton's remarks depart radically from the traditional position of presidential candidates, who in the past have celebrated high levels of turnout by party activists and partisans as a harbinger for their own party's success -- regardless of who is the eventual nominee -- in the general election showdown.)
Fowler editorialized, Fremon simply creates facts out of thin air to trash Clinton -- while Democrats do traditionally celebrate high prinary turnout, Clinton is not talking about primaries, but caucuses -- and how her supporters had been "intimidated" by Move-on.org members.
It also sounds as if the tape had been edited -- while the Fowler tape included allowed the listener to hear (and read -- a full transcript was provided) the context in which Obama made his remarks, Clinton's remarks have no context, and appear to be edited from two separate (and unrelated?) snippets put together to make it appear as if its an attack on Move-on.
Fremon also does two things which make it clear that this isn't reporting, its a hit piece.
1) She spends a paragraph accusing Clinton of hyprocrisy -- a year ago, when Move-On was focussed on issues and not candidates, Clinton praised their work. Since that time, Move-On has become little more than another Obama 527 group. It has abandoned its stated mission (the one that Clinton praised in April 2007) and devolved into an organization focussed on getting Obama elected.
This is completely intellectually dishonest, but it pales in comparison to the next part...
Fowler presents an out of context quote from Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson, who discusses documented cases of intimidation in Nevade and Texas. Fremon tries to make it appear as if Clinton is lying in her quote by pointing out that Move-on.org had not yet endorsed Obama when the Nevada caucuses occcurred, and Texas hadn't happened yet.
But, as we already know, this tape was made after Super-Tuesday, a day when quite a few states (Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, and North Dakota) had held caucuses. Little attention was given to what actually happened in those caucuses on Super-Tuesday, the focus of the media was on the "big states" like California, and the overall results from ST, and immediately shifted to the "potomac primary" states.
It is glaringly obvious that Hillary clinton is discussing why she has not done as well in caucuses -- and, in all likelihood given that she is speaking right after Super Tuesday, she is talking about what happened in the caucuses on Super Tuesday.
Fremon does not tell us what question was asked of Wolfson, only his answer -- and given that her intent is clear in the rest of the article, one strongly suspects that she took Wolfson's comments out of context to make her point.
My first comment in this thread came about because I thought that the Fowler incident raised some interesting and worthwhile questions about the role of "citizen journalists". And they were just questions -- I didn't know the answer, and thought it was worth discussing.
Fremon's piece doesn't raise questions about the role of citizen journalists -- she provides us with the kind of pure, unadulterated 'partisan' hackery that Off The Bus was supposed to be a palliative to.
Where Fremon's piece does raise questions is about Off the Bus itself -- especially given Jay's extensive explanation of how Fowler's piece came about, and the care that was taken in presenting it, Fremon's piece raises very serious questions about the editorial policies of Off The Bus.
Mayhill Fowler's piece was a nice piece of contemporaneous "on the road" reporting that included a critique of a statement by Obama that others found controversial. I still don't know what I think about including that kind of critique in when someone is trying to wear two hats "blogger" and "citizen journalist".
Fremon's piece reads like it could have come straight from an Obama campaign blast fax. Its exactly what, IMHO, Off the Bus should NOT be doing, and raises no interesting questions like Fowlers piece does.
The only question it raises is about the integrity of Off the Bus itself.
So, Jay, I really think you need to address this issue -- because, especially after the Fowler episode and the care that was taken with that report, this steaming pile of anti-Clinton bullshit looks really, really bad.
Paul: This piece was published by the Huffington Post, not OffTheBus. The editorial product--from headline, to the story as written, to the way it was framed and promoted--was in their hands. I saw it when it was released to the Web.
In that sense, it is not our story. It is our person--a volunteer contributor--who obtained the tape and did the story for Huffington Post. OffTheBus editors Marc Cooper and Amanda Michel were not the decision-makers and they did not edit the story. Comparisons to the style we used for Mayhill Fowler can be made, as long as you realize that it is not the same people making those decisions, or the same section of the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post employs editors and reporters and they took this on.
Compare the presentation on the page and you can see what I mean. Fremon's piece is the product of the politics section of the Huffington Post. Mayhill's piece is the editorial product of OffTheBus.
I am not saying we had nothing to do with it, however.
The connections to OffTheBus are three: 1.) the writer, Celeste Fremon, is part of the OffTheBus network and thus came from our pool of people; 2.) I am sure the huge public attention that Mayhill's story got played a role in this fundraiser tape emerging; and 3.) we cooperated with Huffington Post in the sense of turning the writer and tape over to their staff, which would mean politics editor Nico Pitney, editor Roy Sekoff and editor in chief Arianna Huffington.
Thus, at the bottom it says, "This story was developed in cooperation with OffTheBus to which reporter Celeste Fremon is a regular contributor." It also ran in our section because Fremon is an OffTheBus-er, though almost no one accessed it that way. Instead they got there through the front page.
I do not know where the tape came from or how it was gotten. Had it been our story I would have had to consider that and all the other decisions to which you refer. As it happened, I was alerted Friday afternoon that the Huffington Post was going to do a story based on a tape that had surfaced from one of our contributors. That meant they would do it in their way. I found out what Hillary said when I read the story online.
Q & A with Celeste Freemon.. (highlights... I was pretty nasty in some of my other comments, but these are my questions, and her answers, from her blog.) There's no apparent way to link to the specific comment where she answers, but its #42. My own observations will appear in a separate comment, per Jay's request.
1) Did you attend the fundraiser that you wrote about?
No. If I had, I would have reported it that way. This is a news story and it was treated as such. When you find evidence of a candidate who says something of relevance in private that is significantly different from their public face, that’s news. Because of the fact that I’m a very public Obama supporter, I worked to removed all spin possible from the story. However I did cue readers, as one does as a responsible journalist, as to why the story was of relevance by putting it in context. Specifically, I put Clinton’s complaint about the activists flooding the caucuses into the context of her public praise for big voter turnout.
2) Did you make that recording? If not, who did?
Someone who attended the event made the recording.
3) Was the audio edited? If so, why?
The source was very concerned that nothing on the recording should reveal the exact location of fundraiser or should in anyway give away who he/she was. I listened to the material contained beween the two recordings and it was mostly references to different people who were present at the fundraiser where the Senator called them by name as she chattted. It was nothing that would have given the remarks greater context. Frankly, had it been up to me, I’d have bracketed the remarks with a longer recording, but the source who brought me the recording was very jumpy. So we had what we had. Nevertheless, I listened to the whole thing myself, and was able to positively determine that there was nothing that could lead to an accusation–if one heard the whole thing—of my having taken the clips out of context. The fact that you’ve heard exactly zip from the Clinton camp about this being taken unfairly out of context, or spun in some way that is incorrect, should tell you something.
4) What precise question did you ask Howard Wolfson?
I read him the material and played him the recording and told him as much about the context of the event as I could without burning the source. And then I asked him multiple questions about what Clinton had said. There was nothing GOTCHA about my approach. In fact, I feel quite sure that if you talked to Mr. Wolfson he himself would tell you our interaction was very professional, even cordial, on both our sides. We talked multiple times then he emailed me his statement, after which time I called him back and chatted again and told him that the most part of the reaction to the piece was going to be in response to what the Senator said about MoveOn and the activists and that I thought he might want to expand his statement to address that. We had a short chat about it, none of which is included in the piece as it was not on the record, and he decided to leave his original statement be. (Although we talked several times on the phone he asked if I minded that he give me something in writing. Were I in his position, I would do the same as it eliminates as many opportunities for misunderstanding as is possible.)
In the course of the calls, I asked him multiple questions and told him also the concerns that MoveOn was already expressing. Again, I think if you spoke to Wolfson he’d tell you he was treated very fairly and professionally. He has a reputation as an SOB. With me he was a total pro. And he was treated as such.
And, as I mentioned below, several Clinton staffers contact the Huff Post editors to say that they thought the issue was treated very fairly, which is what I attempted to do. Whether or not you think I succeeded, is for you to decide.
5) The audio is (according to you) from a fundraiser that occurred after Super Tuesday, in which Clinton mentions the “intimidating” nature of Move-on.org supporters at the caucuses. On Super Tuesday, there were caucuses in ALASKA, COLORADO, IDAHO, KANSAS, MINNESOTA, and NORTH DAKOTA. Did you ask Wolfson if the campaign had received reports of intimidation at those caucuses from Clinton supporters?
No. I asked him what evidence they had of intimidation at the caucuses, period. I didn’t specify which causes or who did the intimidating, but it was implicit in my question that I meant the Obama supporters of which Senator Clinton spoke.
Comments on Fremon Q&A.
1) First off, as should be obvious, what Fremon has represented as a contiunous, anti-Move-On rant is actually two small snippets from two separate answers that were edited together to make it read/sound like one continuous rant.
I think its pretty obvious that Fremon knew exactly what she was doing here -- normal journalistic practice (I believe) would be to use ellipses when quoting in text form from two entirely separate responses. (actually, normal journalistic practice would not, I believe, allow anything like this to be done at all.)
Here' the quote:
"Moveon.org endorsed [Sen. Barack Obama] -- which is like a gusher of money that never seems to slow down," Clinton said to a meeting of donors. "We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party
What you actually hear is the word "so" after "slow down", so there is really no question that this was deliberate.
2) Unlike with the Obama quotes, there is no context. One doesn't know if she praised Move-On.org for its overall activism, etc, etc, because Fremon only wants us to hear what she wants to hear.
3) Fremon's excuse for editing these tapes does not hold water. Somehow, she expects us to believe that it is absolutely essential to hide the time and place where this occurred to prevent retaliation from the Clinton camp -- yet anyone else who was there will probably remember the exchange if they hear the tapes, and if the Clinton camp cam find out who did this merely by knowing the time and place, it should be simple enough to email people who attended private fundraisers to find out when this occurred.
One has to conclude that Fremon is being deliberately dishonest for some reason -- one suspects that its because the full tape is not nearly as "damning" as her highly selective excerpts. Regardless, the 'had to edit THIS way to protect the identity of my source' rationale is pure BS.
3) Fremon spoke to Wolfson after the Texas caucuses. She did not disclose where or when this tape had been made. Fremon then asks Wolfon if he had "evidence they had of intimidation at the caucuses" and he responds with Texas and Nevada. Fremon then goes on to write that Nevada happened before the Move-On.org endorsement, and Texas occurred after Clinton made her remarks, thus making Wolfson look like a liar and an idiot.
But if you are asked about evidence of intimidation in the wake of the Texas caucuses, and you don't know that what the questioner is asking about is the basis for Clinton's post Super Tuesday statement (because you haven't been told when or where the tape was made), your answer is going to be focussed on those cases where the campaign did collect "evidence" -- what can be used in a court, or before a credentials committee.
And while there have been numerous reports of improprieties at various state caucuses, only in Nevada and Texas has there been any suggestion of lawsuits/credentials challenges that would require the gathering of "evidence." In Nevada, Obama threatened to challenge caucus delegates because people who showed up after 11:30 were not allowed in -- or at least they were going to challenge, until (apparently) someone hit them over the head with a clue stick by showing them page 53 of the Caucus Rulebook. So this is one case where the Clinton campaign would have wanted their own "evidence" if Obama had filed a challenge to the Nevada delegation.
And while I assume that I don't have to remind anyone about Texas, I will point out that evidence of intimidation and various other infractions was presented to the credentials committees of the County/State Senate District conventions held on March 29.
So, when you are asked about "evidence", the natural response is going to be about "evidence". If you ask about reports of intimidation in Super Tuesday caucus states, you'd get a whole different answer.
In my book, this is such an egregious, and deliberate ethical lapse that it defies description. The whole thing is obviously a hit piece -- and this woman's "I worked to remove all spin" makes Judith Miller's denials look credible by comparison.
I'm really happy that Jay was able to get out in front of this, and I hope he calls the powers that be at HuffPo and insists that the Fremon piece be removed from the OTB website, because I don't think its a good idea for OTB to find itself associated with this kind of tripe.
But what do YOU think?
Jay, at some point, I hope you can explain what it means to be an OTB piece.
Thr Fremon piece was just a shoddy piece of journalism? Does OTB accept completely anonymously sourced "tapes" whose prevenece is so questionable that the authors claims and explanations cannot both be true.
HOW does Howard Wolfson "verify the authenticity of the audio" when the whole point of Fremon's extremely vague sourcing was to make sure that no one in the Clinton campaign knew where or when it was recorded. either Wolfson knew for a fact that Clinton had said those words at an event, or he could not "verify the authenticity" of anything.
And is it really OTB editorial standards to take snippets of responses to two different questions, then present them as if they were one continuous attack on Moveon.org by a presidential candidate>
And is it really OTB standard to ask someone about evidence, and when he replies specifically about evidence, use that response to impeach the credibility of a Presidential candidate. I'm really sorry Jay, but there were six caucuses on Super Tuesday -- and Fremon asked Wolfson about "evidence" of intimidation at caucuses without ever letting Wolfson know that she was referring to remarks made by Clinton before the Texas caucuses?
That is dishonest, shoddy, and utterly unethical on Fremon's part. And after the lengths you went to explaining the Fowler piece, and the implication that OTB actually had fairly high editorial standards, Fremon's piece negates everything you wrote. If Fremon represents the editorial standards for OTB, then the whole Fowler explanation was deceptive in and of itself, because it implies standards of accuracy and ethics that don't exist at OTB.
Either OTB has standards, or it doesn't. And if Fremon's piece meets OTB standards, the word "standards" has been rendered meaningless.
Fowler's piece raises interesting questions about the potential role of "citizen's journalism" Fremon's piece renders those questions moot -- there is nothing interesting about the kind of ethics-free journalism that the Fremon piece represents.
What I found most interesting in Jay's explanation is what I call "the wire excuse." Jay says, "This piece was published by the Huffington Post, not OffTheBus."
ah, another kettle of fish to dive into.
but I'm not going to. I'm going to take Jay's word that he did not intend to give the impression that I took away from his response to my question.
But, I don't think that given my question, that my impression was the wrong one -- I think that what I took away made perfect sense.
But what I do find interesting is that Jay finds nothing wrong with the Fremon piece -- while this exchange exemplifies one of the most egregious flaws in the Fremon piece -- her use of her Wolfson quote to make Clinton look like a liar.
The primary difference here is that my question, and Jay's full response, are available for everyone to see. It is clear, from Fremon's various comments/explanations, that she never bothered to ask Wolfson a question directly related to the article -- i.e. "On what basis did Hillary Clinton make the accusation of intimidation by MoveOn members at caucuses". But that is what she wrote about.
Then there is the issue of the authentication of the tape itself. I'm sure I needed tell you, or anyone else, about Jay's critique of CBS's authentication of the Killian memos. Yet Jay finds nothing wrong with an authentification process which consists of playing a snippet of the audio for Wolfson, and having him say "yes that's her."
THAT is a double standard. I'm sorry, but you can't criticize CBS for the Killian memos, and give Fremon a pass on this.
and the fact that the Clinton campaign isn't complaining about Fremon's story says nothing. I mean, are you going to complain about a story that has you denouncing MoveOn for its opposition to the Afghan war? If I was in the Clinton camp, I'd be praying that the story gets wider exposure, even if it is pure BS, because it disassociate's Clinton from MoveOn and its 'radical' agenda (e.g. General Betrayus) while tying Obama to them. Clinton can't publicly denounce MoveOn at this point, and tie Obama to it -- but a two month old audio tape that does it....priceless.
Ultimately, I think the problem isn't OTB per se, but the complex "collaborative" relationship between Huffington and Jay with regard to OTB. Jay gives Huffington journalistic credibility that she otherwise lacks, and Huffington gives Jay a much bigger megaphone for OTB.
Its a trade-off, and while the outcome is that OTB can't be considered a credible source, and is putting stuff out there that is as bad as, if not worse than, the mainstream media. It means that OTB is a failed experiment -- but a worthwhile failure because it doesn't mean that "citizen's journalism" can't work, it just puts up a flashing neon sigh that says "DON'T do THIS"
To clarify what happened I asked Marc Cooper, editorial director of OffTheBus, for a re-cap.
well, it didn't take long for the old mainstream media "circle the wagons" response to come into play, now did it?
Seriously Jay, given how much you've written about the failure of CBS news to "authenticate" the Killian memos, on the shoddy authentication alone you should personally disassociate yourself from this piece. Relying on "Marc Cooper" doesn't cut it -- you're the publisher. As publisher, either you have certain standards, or you don't.
Mary Mapes "knew" the Killian memos were "authentic". Yet the authentication process failed to catch things that raised questions about the memos -- and that happened because "Mary Mapes knew the Killian memos were authentic."
There can't be two standards -- one for material whose provenance will be questioned by the right-wing noise machine if they don't like what the material implies, and another for hit jobs on presidential candidates that you and the people at HuffPo support.
Having Howard Wolfson say "that's her" isn't authentication -- unless mimics have suddenly disappeared, and nobody told me but OTB did get the memo.
Mapes believed Bill Burkett. Fremon believes her source too. Unlike with Mapes, whose belief in Burkett had to do with what Burkett could for Mape's story, Fremon is clearly biased not in favor of getting that scoop, but in smearing Hillary Clinton. Trusting Fremon's judgment makes even less sense than trusting Mapes'.
"Marc Cooper" is your Betsy West -- and you are Dan Rather.
Think of it this way....what if this story was not about Clinton, but about McCain, and the hounds of hell from the right-wing blogosphere "proved" that the tape was edited, that there were cases where words are not pronounced like McCain usually pronounces them, etc. etc. (you've only had me to deal with, remember.) And, it turned out that Fremon's source lied about the origins of the tape?
That it didn't happen is no excuse for ensuring that it doesn't happen. Either as publisher, you have standards for OTB, or you don't.
The notion that the Clinton campaign, if had the goods, wouldn't want to discredit the Huffington Post strains credulity. A simpler explanation for why they aren't making an issue of the tape is that the tape is authentic and the statements about Move On and the activist base were her statements. Wolfson held a conference call with reporters on Saturday and the Move On comments came up. He didn't take issue with Fremon's reporting. Nor did Clinton's new Mark Penn, Geoff Garin, on Meet the Press today.
Jay, the issue clearly is not whether the tape is "authentic". The question is whether the process used ensured its authenticity.
Basically, you seem to be saying that there is no actual standard for authentication.
Was the Fremon tape sent to voice analysts for verification? Was i analyzed by forensic audio engineers to ensure that it had not been tampered with? Was it, in fact a copy, and thus unlikely to meet the strict standard for "authentification" by professional audio analysts (could it have been used in a court of law, for instance?) The "questions that were raised" about the Killian memos by "the experts" arose because the memos were submitted to experts. Did OTB insist that the Fremon tapes be subjected to expert analysis -- or is a reporter telling OTB "I got someone to say it sounds like Clinton" all the proof you need --- but you demand far more from others?
Do these facts mean nothing for our efforts to determine if Clinton really said those things? I would say they mean a lot.
Jay, that is beneath you. We are talking about PRE-PUBLICATION AUTHENTIFICATION here. And this is your defense of OTB's methods? (and please don't tell me that its not OTB's methods -- not when you've gone to such lengths to un-walk back you previous statement in which you'd gone to great lengths to make sure that OTB had nothing whatsoever to do with the Fremon piece other than handing her off to Ariana. You can't have it both ways --- either it meets OTB standards, or it doesn't, unless you want to tell us right now that your deal with HuffPo means that Ariana owns you.)
"not having people question the authenticity of documents/audio after a story based on them is published" isn't an authenfication process. Authentification has to occur before a story is released -- and should be the result of "hope" but of "diligence"
And Jay, the Clinton camp has no reason to challenge the story. Why would they challenge a story that rank-and-file Democras and "average voters" (rather than 'party activists' and the Bloggerz Boiz Club backing Obama) would see as a net plus for Clinton. Sure, its a hit job, a smear, and complete BS -- but as far as the "average voter" is concerned, its a definite plus for Clinton -- do you really think she wants to be identified with "General Betrayus" and opposition to the war in Afghanistan.
(oh, and btw, here is another case of Fremon's complete lack of ethics. Check these out...
It pretty much looks to me like Eli Pariser of MoveOn lied about MoveOn not opposing the Afghan war, now doesn't it. In fact, I opposed the Afghan war, and I remember MoveOn being as close to "legitimate" organized opposition that there was.
Don't you think that before a "journalist" lets Eli Pariser -- a known Obama advocate, and the executive director of a 527 group that has vowed to defeat Hillary Clinton, lie in her article, that she should check the actual FACTS first?
please explain to me how MoveOn can claim not to have been opposed to the Afghan war in light of that evidence, jay. Don't these lies deserve an OTB expose? Shouldn't there be one stadard for "news" -- and when MoveOn gets caught in a lie, that it should be provided screaming headlines accompanied by an unflattering picture of Pariser?
This isn't "trust me" journalism, its "gullibility" journalism. If Fremon self-published her hit piece, that would be "trust me" journalism. This is "trust Jay Rosen, and his academic credentials, reputation, and consistent advocacy for the highest standards in reporting" journalism. As co-publisher, its YOUR name that provides OTB with much of its credibility, and YOUR reputation that makes OTB worth taking seriously.
How do you think this story should have been reported? There is a tape of Hillary Clinton (apparently) saying:
William, I'm not convinced there was a story.
What exactly is newsworthy about Hillary Clinton being critical of a left wing group that has endorsed Obama?
That she'd praised the group when it was still an issue advocacy group, rather that a candidate advocacy group?
I don't think that's a story.
That she told supporters the truth about MoveOn's opposition to the war in Afghanistan?
I don't think that's a story.
That after Super-Tuesday, that Clinton told supporters that MoveOn members intimidated her caucuse supporters?
Now, that is a story. Its the kind of story that should have been approached from the angle of "is this true?" The kind of story where you go to the Clinton campaign and say "We have a tape of Hillary Clinton saying that MoveOn.org people intimidated Clinton supporters at caucuses that occurred after Nevada, and before Texas. What is the basis of that claim? Can you get me in touch with someone who said they were intimidated at a caucus by a MoveOn member"?
That is basis for a legitimate story -- and an unbiased reporter would have seen the REAL story as being possible voter intimidation at caucuses. It only really becomes a story about what Clinton said if an honest effort is made to determine the facts, and what Clinton said turns out to be false.
That is not how Fremon approached the story. For her, it was pure "gotcha" -- Wolfson was NOT asked about Super Tuesday caucuses for instance.
And i think that is the real story here. Its that there was no story -- just the compulsion of a completely corrupt, thoroughly unethical so called "journalist" to smear Clinton in pursuit of her own personal agenda.
Maybe the real story -- as far as "Pressthink" is concerned -- is how Jay Rosen is suddenly willing to defend the kind of journalistic malpractice that Fremon committed -- and the lengths he will go to in order to defend what, had he not been involved, he would most certainly have condemned.
We all know a hit piece when we see one, and we all know shoddy journalistic practices when we see it. You had to be a stone Clinton partisan to think that last weeks debates were not an example of journalistic malpractice -- and you had to be a Clinton hater not to recognize that she'd consistently been the victim of the same exact kind of journalistic malpractice at debates for months.
I told you what I know, Paul. You found it profoundly unsatisfactory. So I tried to find out more. You said it contradicted what I said when I knew less.
I agree with you: the ABC debate sucked monumentally. I would rather be writing on that, (I missed it, for this, but I could still do one of my week after sweep-ups....) or maybe taking up William's suggestion ("I hope you're going to do a post on the NYT story about the military analysts") or looking into this piece, which looks interesting in light of the Walter Pincus thing I did before, than feeding you material for your case, which will clearly be ongoing.
I know from the tone of respect you have used that you will respect my decision to move on to other blogging. I am closing down this thread for a new post on Monday morning so, everyone: get your last points in.
Tim: I think one thing I would say at this point is that attempts at transparency when part of the story has to remain cloaked can easily become self-defeating. The cathedral of news is necessary because the church contains secrets (sources, which must be protected, etc....) It's not that I didn't "know" that in some way from studying confidential sources in the press and the intelligence world and such, but now I see it with perhaps a bit more immediacy and clarity.
Another thing, Tim. Have you ever heard someone say, or said yourself as a manager of something or other, "Sure we have procedures. There's a way we do things around here. But in the end you trust your people." For any news organization, that is the first rule of trust. The edifice actually starts there. Citizen journalism, pro-am changes nothing about this "law."
But lots of people know this. It's not a law of journalism, but of life. Robert Putnam, student of social capital, taught me this: To operate in a situation of low trust is expensive for everyone. I think we see that here. I spent half my passover holiday on this.
Psssst. Everyone: The Superdelegate Transparency Project is ten times more important to the success of the experiment, OffTheBus, than anything we've been discussing here.
Amanda Michel and I are agreed: we want to develop that. And I think we have a good shot at it.
First off, I'd like to apologize to Jay for this taking up so much of his time. And I'd especially like to apologize for the "apparently smelled a rat" comment that appeared at Taylor Marsh.com, which compelled Jay to issue a denial. And I have no problem if you move on (no pun intended). This is your blog, and not my complaint box.
That being said:
But in the end you trust your people." For any news organization, that is the first rule of trust. The edifice actually starts there. Citizen journalism, pro-am changes nothing about this "law."
Three words: "Trust...but verify"
Ultimately, its up to the editors to be able to identify hit pieces, smears, and gross unethical conduct and journalistic malpractice. The fact that a hit piece is consistent with one's ideological biases means that it requires more, not less, scrutiny.
The problem, as we've seen with the Fremon piece, is that hit pieces and smears seldom stand up to even the slightest scrutiny. When an editor signs off on a hit piece, its evidence of either a conscious decision to ignore journalistic standards, or of gross incompetence.
And when a publisher acquiesces to the publication of hit pieces, he become complicit as well.
I really think the problem here was the nature of the "arrangement" between Jay, OTB, and HuffPo. If the Fremon fiasco tells us anything, its that the independence of collaborative citizen journalist efforts needs protection.
Trust but verify is indeed where a news organization, any kind, has to be.
Thank you for your gracious apology. I accept.
One more word on the distinction between OTB and Huffington Post, which I certainly admit is not entirely clear. We're working it out ourselves as we see what the "volunteer network" approach in campaign journalism actually yields.
As Marc Cooper told me over the phone today, there is nothing in the least "citizen journalism-ish" about Fremon's piece. She is a freelance journalist and a journalism teacher, a professional, who had a source that made for a "someone leaked" campaign story. She's worked with Marc before, and they trust each other as editors and writers who have done pieces do.
What I didn't make clear in my first posts on the Fremon piece is that Cooper worked on it steadily with her. He also develops pieces and writes for the Huffington Post, so when the decision was made to publish it there he just kept working on it with her, while Nico Pitney and Roy Sekoff got the rest of the package ready.
We could have run it in our section because it was by one of our contributors. But looking at it now, it makes sense that it wasn't an Off The Bus piece because there wasn't anything in the least experimental, bottom-up or pro-am about it.
It was confidential sources reporting by a professional with a source, one of the most difficult and stressful kinds there is. Why was she an occasional OffTheBus contributor? I haven't had time to ask her that.
But I'd imagine it's because she can be openly for a candidate if she wants to, without it disqualifying every word she writes, and take her time on occasional campaign stuff, when her specialty is gangs, cops and schools.
This too is something Arianna and I anticipated as a "user group" for OffTheBus. Plenty of talented journalists would never think about doing campaign reporting if it meant doing On The Bus journalism, but if they can be OffTheBus and off the beat...
We'll learn from this what is and isn't an OfTheBus story. I think for followers of the network journalism model's attempts to prove itself viable, the Fremon story is an example of an "open" network (OffTheBus) as source for the pro staff, kicking up stories and writers that are then given "pro" treatment and front page play.
Mayhill Fowler's story was much closer to blogging and personal testimony, prose from within the network itself, pulled to the front page.
Over and out on this one.
Tomorrow: Newspapers are dying! Society should be worried about this!
Newspapers are not dying. They are driving away about 1/2 their audience. Which is a different kettle of fish.
Think FOX, think WSJ. Why are they doing OK? Because they are serving an underserved audience. It has gotten so bad that (anecdote coming) Hillary supporters are going to those places for their news.
To get back on track papers would have to fire 1/2 their staffs and bring on some right oriented reporters and editorialists. Instead they will hang on to those people out of loyalty - admirable except when it destroys the business - and going down.
In addition papers are high capital players in what has become a low capital business.
Anecdote coming - a company looking for an employee advertised in a paper (classifieds) and got a few low quality candidates. The put an ad on Craig's list and got 20 or 30 responses of better quality. How do you beat that?
Another question. To any observer who is paying attention inner city decay and gang violence is in large part due to drug prohibition. The lack of security in those areas is not too different (minus the heavy weapons) from the situation in Iraq. With similar consequences. Why aren't papers leading the way in blaming prohibition? Why do they blame drugs and not prohibition? There is a place they could be relevant and they are totally silent.
It is not just the hard drugs. 70 to 80% of Americans favor medical marijuana. Why aren't the papers at least dealing with that aspect of the drug war?
Why when a drug bust makes the news does only the police side of the story ("we took xxx amount of drugs off the street making the community safer") get reported without mentioning the other side ("access to drugs will not be impeded")?
Or another one: go to any emergency room in America and ask the psychological intake nurse about why people use drugs (they will tell you self medication). Why aren't papers covering that - it would be a block buster for the general public who are ignorant of that change in how drug use is viewed by the medical profession. There is a Pulitzer there and not one single paper of repute in America has covered it.
Or how come I have heard nothing about the NIDA's finding that only about 20% of the population is susceptible to addiction because the cause is in part genetic. For most people drug use has zero danger for addiction.
Every thing I said four years ago (Kerry election) when I spent some time here (hi Steve Lovelady) about drug use is now common medical knowledge. Where is the coverage?
With such a shoddy product how do you expect the papers to stay in business?
Let me add that any paper that wants to cover this: I'm available to write or as a source. Leave a comment any where on my blog.