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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   Print



There are comments on Dave Winer's blog about this story, indicating that Mayhill Fowler is anything *but* an Obama supporter, and may indeed be a mole from the Republican party. Read here:

If this is true, it does indeed make her claims of "gee, I found this disturbing" to be more than disingenuous. Any comment from you and have you any information on her professional background?

Posted by: jasperjed at April 16, 2008 7:46 AM | Permalink

Deep Inside ‘Bittergate’

The campaign is wisely staying out of the business of publicly expressing dismay about an activist blogger supporter publishing material on a very high-profile new media news and opinion outlet that is taken from a private event to which the press was not allowed. (I asked to attend the event and was told it was “private, off the record, and closed to the press.”) But Obama campaign sources say privately that they are furious with the situation.

Posted by: Tim at April 16, 2008 8:10 AM | Permalink

The information you refer to, jasper, is about her husband. We do not believe Mayhill Fowler is a Republican mole lying in wait for this moment, or, as others have suggested, a Hillary Clinton plant. We base this on the totality of our interactions with her.

I have no doubt that people will try to destroy her with information of the type you linked to, and are attempting to do so right now. It won't help Obama much since she accurately reported what he said, but people will do it anyway. It's a sickening cycle.

I do not know if people in the Obama campaign are furious with the situation. They have not said that to us. I do know that campaign officials have been asked if they wish to comment on the situation, dispute anything she wrote or said since, contest her right to be there, or--for example--argue that she was told the event was off the record. They have declined to do so.

My guess--I don't know this--is that the "furious" ones are finance chairs and co-chairs from the San Francisco area, not really officials with the Obama campaign in Chicago but volunteer fundraisers who organize events like the one she went to. They're leaking their attacks on her to local reporters but don't wish to be named because they don't want to be saddled with responsibility for having invited her.

Meanwhile, Fowler told Greg Sargent of TPM Media that the Obama campaign has been "classy" to her and her access has not been restricted.

An Obama aide (nameless) told Katharine Seelye of the New York Times that the campaign recognized that "from time to time, people do blog from events closed to the media." Fowler said this was the situation with her and her invite. (It was in today's print version of her April 14 article, which also quoted this post. I have not found a link for it yet. Help!)

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 16, 2008 8:56 AM | Permalink

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?…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.

There is a third way in which Fowler’s actions fall outside existing categories. You mention how unusual it is for a loyalist to commit journalism. It has also become unusual in the Clinton-Bush years for a loyalist to engage in constructive criticism.

The dispiriting thing about politics in the age of Talking Points is that message discipline is so overvalued that a politician tends to be criticized only by partisan opponents, never by supporters. It is this dispiriting lesson that makes it easy to make the assumption that Fowler is a mole or a plant, since a loyalist making her candidate look bad contradicts the rules of politics as usual.

Stipulating that the inherent error in Obama’s “bitter-and-clinging” analysis was that the leader of a coalition should never try to characterize one wing to another, the cure to this error is not to pretend that the coalition is seamless but to have its members air their differences directly, one to the other.

In this sense, Fowler’s public criticism of Obama’s analysis online is constructive for the Democratic Party’s coalition; Hillary Rodham Clinton’s decision to make negative campaign ads about the analysis in not.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at April 16, 2008 9:58 AM | Permalink

It is a constant theme of the comments at Huffington Post that I lied when I said that Mayhill Fowler is an Obama supporter, and she lied when she said she was an Obama supporter. The proof that she is not an Obama supporter is (mostly) the post she wrote. In other words, there is to these commenters no such thing as a supporter who can also be a published critic of the candidate.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 16, 2008 10:12 AM | Permalink

James Poniewozik at his Time blog: The "Bitter" Story, and Why Disclosure Works.

When I wrote a column arguing that journalists writing about politics should disclose who they're voting for—just like reporters disclose what stocks they own when writing about the company—a lot of people thought it was an unattainable pipe dream that would make political journalism impossible and uncredible.

Now we have a major case of disclosure-journalism in action. And you'd have a hard time claiming that the story helped the reporter and editors' candidate.

Here is the comment I left at

Hi Jim. Thanks for this. As you know, I agree with you that disclosure would not be the disaster many think. Coupla notes....

First, I'm not really her editor. With Arianna Huffington, I am co-publisher and co-founder of Off the Bus, and so I undertook to explain to readers how we published her account and why. Doesn't really change your point, but I did not edit her piece. Marc Cooper, editorial director of Off the Bus and a journalist, did.

Second: I have for years had this disclosure statement at my blog, PressThink, and it has saved me a ton of grief. "My views on issues would be standard Upper West Side Liberal Jewish babyboomer— even though I don’t live in that neighborhood. I am a registered Democrat. I supported Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, over David Dinkins (D) and will probably vote Bloomberg for mayor when he runs again. I’ve written for Harpers, the Nation, Columbia Journalism Review, Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Times, Washington Post, Salon and, to list a few, but not the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard or the Washington Times. I was media editor at Tikkun magazine for a while. That should be enough to place me on your spectrum."

Third: I was wondering what you thought of your colleague Jay Newton-Small describing the "bitter" story not as a piece reported by citizen journalist Mayhill Fowler but as a "leak" from someone inside the campaign. That struck me as a bizarre description and I emailed her about it, telling her she was wrong. She insisted she was right, and of course she declined to correct her account.

Here is what she wrote: "The entire weekend campaign news cycle was dominated by the fallout from a grainy and sometimes inaudible tape leaked to the website the Huffington Post, on which Obama can be heard lamenting to a closed San Francisco fundraiser the plight of rural Americans."

Who leaked it? Mayhill Fowler was there. She reported what Obama said, and OffTheBus provided a tape to back up her account.

Plus, the San Francisco Chronicle reported this today: "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."

If you go to an event that's not off the record, record it, write your story and post the tape, Time magazine is entitled to call your account a leak? Sez who?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 16, 2008 12:05 PM | Permalink

It may be that the reason why NBC's Tim Russert did not credit Off the Bus on Meet the Press is that he usually confines his use of attribution to occasions when he is quoting journalism about a candidate, not when he is quoting the candidate’s own words. It certainly does not seem to be the policy at NBC News not to give credit. Of the three network nightly newscasts Monday, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell gave a hat-tip to The Huffington Post for its scoop while CBS and ABC did not.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at April 16, 2008 1:10 PM | Permalink

It's an interesting phenomenon: how should a journalist take into account the likely reaction of other journalists if at all? Her story was totally legit. The press reaction to it showed once again that the campaign press has no judgment, has killed all real news at the expense of acting out a psychodrama about what "Real Americans" think, based entirely on other multimillionaire journalists' statements about what "Real Americans" think, & why we'd be better off if the campaign press ceased to exist. I can't really fault her for the reaction, but if I were her, I would be pretty sorry to have helped crowd out real news for another week.

Posted by: Katherine at April 16, 2008 1:19 PM | Permalink

I mean, I'll tell you: I heard this story overseas where I was interviewing victims of human rights abuses. The coverage it got, compared to the non-coverage of, oh, the recent torture revelations, or the renewal of Blackwater's contract, was one more confirmation to me of how utterly, utterly corrupt & destructive most journalism & political journalism in this country had become. Ms. Fowler's not to blame for this, neither are you, but this story fed everything that is horrible about political journalism in this country. A triumph of "citizen journalism" it's not (& she can hardly claim to have de-emphasized something that was the d*mn headline.)

Posted by: Katherine at April 16, 2008 1:26 PM | Permalink

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.

    Posted by: rollotomasi at April 16, 2008 1:31 PM | Permalink

    @ 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.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 16, 2008 1:58 PM | Permalink

    I have to say that I agree with Katherine about the reporting of this incident. Fowler, however, seems to be a victim of the tenor of political reporting in this day and age. This comment seemed like news to her because this is exactly what the political press reports on routinely. Inarticulate remarks happen all the time in everyone's life, but be a candidate for office, and those remarks become truth, a signal of character, a way into the heart of darkness of a candidate's soul. I believe that while Fowler had every right to write the story, the Huffington Post was under no obligation to run it. Of course, Huff Post has contributed mightily to this inane discourse, with everyone but Obama getting doses of it from all the bloggers and Ms. Huffington herself. Of course they'd see this story as a legitimate way to report and because of its potential effect on their candidate, gave it more consideration than they seem to give a lot of the crackpot punditry on Hillary and others that appears on their site.

    Posted by: Ferdy at April 16, 2008 2:18 PM | Permalink

    And what do you think of how it was used? You think this episode made the country better off? Do you understand why it makes me ill? That's why people are reacting the way they are. It's perhaps unfair to her but it is entirely understandable.

    Posted by: Katherine at April 16, 2008 3:55 PM | Permalink

    And if Cooper wrote the headline, why aren't you writing about that? You guys are part of the echo chamber, like it or not; are you responsible or aren't you for considering how the story is likely to echo?

    Posted by: Katherine at April 16, 2008 3:57 PM | Permalink

    "better informed" rather, not "better off."

    Posted by: Katherine at April 16, 2008 3:59 PM | Permalink

    Katherine: I think everything we did is arguable. That's number one.

    It's understandable that people react with revulsion to a cycle of manufactured outrage that trivializes political argument, yes.

    Obama's remarks are not outrageous to me. They are worth examining and criticizing perhaps, but not outrageous. And I don't think reporting what the candidate said and holding it up to intelligent scrutiny is outrageous, either.

    The headline is where citizen journalism meets the news cycle, if you will. Comes down to this: If we want people to read our story and find it in the flood, or in their RSS readers, or in search, or aggregation sites, anywhere on the Live Web, the headline has to do that work. I don't present it as anything but editorial realism.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 16, 2008 6:33 PM | Permalink

    Obviously, Mayhill is not a card-carrying member of the reality-based community and needs to be exposed as a fraud or excommunicated. I mean, seriously, how dare she!?! Who does she think she is, Brittney Gilbert?

    Doesn't she know there's a war on and she has put herself squarely on the side of the devils?

    Andrew Tyndall, well said.

    Posted by: Tim at April 16, 2008 8:11 PM | Permalink

    The fascinating thing about this the press's inability to imagine a public event they aren't invited to. Think about the entitlement underlying this statement:

    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?

    This is just bizarre coming from a representative of an organization (like most others in the industry) that trumpets "exclusive" stories whenever they get them.

    Posted by: William Ockham [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 16, 2008 8:19 PM | Permalink


    What's up with Silverstein?

    He can embed a video and link to the NYT, but can't link to OffTheBus and provides instead a non-linked

    Posted by: Tim at April 16, 2008 8:32 PM | Permalink

    I don't know, Tim. People who work for newspapers and magazines just don't get this linking thing too well.

    Jay Newton-Small wrote a whole post about whether Mayhill's account was a leak, which I asked her to do--and I am grateful to her for that--but she couldn't manage to link to this post, where I criticize her for it. Why? I don't think it's anything personal, or a bloggers vs. journalists thing. Just the soft asymmetry of one-way expectations.

    The good news... William: she addresses your amazement in the comments here.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 16, 2008 10:44 PM | Permalink


    I commented over there. I'm reproducing my comment here because I think it is relevant to your discussion:

    (To Jay Newton-Small)

    I'm confused. Or perhaps you are confused. You quote an Obama spokesman who clearly says that the campaign expects that anything the candidate says, even if the press isn't invited, could be posted on the internet. Then you say:

    The campaign did not intend those comments for mass consumption or they would’ve invited the media and deemed the event “open press.”

    You can parse the difference between expectation and intention if you want, but the fundamental issue here is the mindset (what Jay Rosen calls "pressthink") that conflates notions of the public, mass consumption, and press entitlement. The underlying assumption that confuses you is the equation of closed to the press and off the record. In your worldview, it is the presence of the press that mediates the difference between the public and the private. You create the stage upon which public actors play out the drama we call news. The only way something can become part of the drama is through you. If something an actor (in this case Obama) does off-stage gets into the public sphere, it, by definition, was a leak.

    The problem is that the world is changing and the press hasn't caught on. The audience is no longer content to limit itself to cheers and jeers. The cast and crew have realized that your stage isn't the only one in town.

    Think this through. There are lots of public events that you aren't invited to. Take, for example, church services. You probably think the whole Rev. Wright controversy was the result of a leak, but the Tuzla controversy wasn't. Does that really make any sense?

    Posted by: William Ockham [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 17, 2008 10:34 AM | Permalink

    If Mayhill's report was a "leak", then is Mayhill a whistleblower?

    If she was an insider troubled by something she heard at an insider-event, and made it publicly known, isn't that whistleblowing?

    Regardless of whether you agree with her, or not, doesn't that meet the definition if the event was closed to the press (and non-supporters)?

    If she is, then I give her a lot of credit. She did it under her own name, named names, and provided a recording to back it up. That's more than we can expect from most who make a secretive deal with a pro-jo and then provides nothing more than anonymous quotes.

    FTR, I think Obama's phrasing was overly simplistic, stupid and misleading. I would have been troubled by it. I might have asked him if he was clinging to his religion, Rev. Wright, Trinity UCC, and why (economic, cultural, broken government promises, personal loyalty, ...).

    I don't agree that Obama meant to disparage anyone.

    Posted by: Tim at April 17, 2008 11:24 AM | Permalink

    Tim - Whistle-blowing really involves acts of wrongdoing reported by an employee or someone who could be materially harmed by retribution. Whatever you think of Mr. Obama's remarks, I'd hardly call it wrongdoing, and in spite of the verbal abuse Ms. Fowler certainly is taking, she's not really an object for retribution.

    Posted by: Ferdy at April 17, 2008 12:11 PM | Permalink

    She's not a whistleblower. She is an object of retribution rage.

    Good reply, William. When I first wrote her I was a little taken back that she didn't correct it, but now I am glad that she didn't. Led to a nice reveal on some pretty interesting press think: "You create the stage upon which public actors play out the drama we call news. The only way something can become part of the drama is through you."

    That is what she thinks.

    Meanwhile, this is Glennia in comments at Marc Cooper's site. She was at the same fundraiser. She posted some video from it, and the full transcript.

    I was at the event, first as an Obama supporter, and secondarily as a blogger who writes a political blog aimed at mothers. I wrote about it immediately after the event and posted a clip of video on YouTube. I didn’t report the “bitter” comment because it seemed to me, the child of blue collar workers, that he was just stating what I know to be true; that people in the midwest are having a hard time and have been disappointed by government for years. It’s no wonder that they turn to things that give them a sense of comfort and security, whether it’s faith, firearms, or family. I did not hear condescension or belittling or stereotyping. “Bitter” is in the eye of the beholder.

    I’ve been attending political events for a year, for Clinton, Kucinich, Edwards, and Obama, and have blogged about every one. No one ever told me not to. At several, I went not as a supporter, but as someone trying to decide who to vote for. I wrote what I saw, what I perceived, and my opinions and conclusions, strengths and weaknesses of all of the candidates.

    I videotaped snippets of Obama’s remarks, not because I wanted them to show up on the news, but because I wanted to record a little slice of history for my son. I wanted him to be able to watch it and remember the time he shook the hand of the (hopefully) future president or (at minimum) an historic figure. I would say anyone in that room with a camera was doing the same. I’m not sure that journalists are doing anything terribly different from that, recording history as it happens.

    I’m not going to change what I do because of this, except maybe buy a better video camera. I really hope the campaign doesn’t change anything either.

    Am I a journalist? Nah. I’m a blogger, unapologetically so.

    I like that part. Unapologetically so.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 17, 2008 12:17 PM | Permalink

    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 (

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 17, 2008 4:35 PM | Permalink

    "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!"

    That's a cop out. I've posted lots of stuff that I'd say confidently could not be used that way. It wasn't personality-obsessive, horse-race-y coverage, though. This was personaility-obsessive horse-race-y coverage that played right into one of the mainstream press's favorite, stupid, narratives. You might not have expected it to become the story du jour, but it wasn't surprising, & there's plenty of campaign coverage that is not going to be so used (e.g. actually asking candidates about one of the thousands of important issues that no one ever, ever, ever, ever asks about).

    Posted by: Katherine at April 17, 2008 5:01 PM | Permalink

    If that was a horse race story, you do not know what a horse race story is.

    If you are saying the horse race engine, the "Gloria, how much will this hurt him?" narrative had no trouble sucking our story right in and using it for "is this the turning point?" fuel, that's true.

    The question was about poached quotes and how to publish something on the Internet whose candidate quotes cannot be stripped and poached by the system.

    And you are saying you know how to do that? Do tell. I can think of three ways:

    Don't publish any quotes.

    Don't let anyone know your post is there.

    Put a sign on your post: Don't pull my quotes and use them out of context!

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 17, 2008 5:25 PM | Permalink

    most astute meta-comment of the thread...

    . This comment seemed like news to her because this is exactly what the political press reports on routinely.

    Are "citizen journalists" really committing "journalism" when what they are providing is the same kind of "issue free" information we decry when its coming from the "On the Bus" media?

    I'm asking, because I don't know.

    Purely from the perspective of what "citizen journalism should be", I think Fowler missed the mark here. (as a Hillary supporter, I'm glad she did, but we're talking "journalism" here.) Fowler didn't merely report, she editorialized, her critique was subjective opinion, and not a "fact check" (something along the line of "while the Senator presented Pennsylvanians as 'clinging to guns and their religion' as their reaction to frustration and hard times, there seems to be little in the way of factual information to support this claim"...something along those lines).

    And while I think its perfectly acceptable for a "blogger" to offer their opinion, I'm not sure if I think its good that when a blogger tries to wear that second "citizen journalist" hat that its good for "citizen journalism."

    OT: but I hope Jay does a post to the media reaction to the debate last night. There wasn't anything unusual about Gibson and Stephanapolus's conduct when judged by the standard set by other debate moderators. But suddenly, the nature of debates and the questions being asked is front and center in the media itself -- its almost as if the fact that it wasn't Hillary Clinton being attacked and badgered was what made it unique.

    The media has gone meta on the debate itself -- why now? (he asks, as if he didn't already know the answer).

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 17, 2008 6:08 PM | Permalink

    Because of the utter emptiness of the thing stands clear to all, I guess.

    And the very premise, "we vet them for you," which Gibson sees as given--like everyone accepts it--is not only not a given, but almost gone.

    Paul: you seem to be saying reportage and opinion cannot be blended into an account. Is this really so?

    By the way, I don't care if you we call what Mayhill did "Journalism" or not, citizen or otherwise. As I said in my post, we can just call her a writer with a page on the web that can reach the rest of the news system.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 17, 2008 6:39 PM | Permalink

    Paul: you seem to be saying reportage and opinion cannot be blended into an account. Is this really so?

    I don't know, Jay. The part of Ferdy's comment that I quoted really struck me, and my response was more "thinking out loud" (and winding up somewhere else) rather than a statement of principles.

    Purely on a personal level, in terms of what I do as a "citizen journalist" on something that might be "controversial" (like the Bush military records stuff) I find it best to try and distance my own opinions from the material I'm looking at. Now I do it because any hint of bias would be grounds for dismissal/attack of what I do.

    (but as it turns out, I think that approaching material without an agenda makes it possible to find stuff that you would otherwise miss because you're looking for information to make your case -- if you approach something from the mindset of just trying to figure it out, you learn a lot more.)

    But there is clearly a huge difference between the nature of what I try to do, and the "reporting on events as they happen" that Fowler is doing, and to try and apply the same standards doesn't make a lot of sense.

    If I had to give an opinion, I'd say that if you are going to report on something that you think will be controversial, stick to the facts -- if it really is as significant as you think it is, others will realize it, and opine about it. When you include your own opinions/perceptions of controversial materials, it become much easier to dismiss the facts -- and to "attack the messenger".

    But since I don't have to have an opinion, don't hold me to that, because I'm still trying to think it through. ;-)

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 17, 2008 8:03 PM | Permalink

    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.

    Posted by: Heywood J. at April 17, 2008 8:20 PM | Permalink

    I think the question you are raising is: how to be convincing with a report. Sometimes the way to do that is to keep your opinions out.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 17, 2008 10:08 PM | Permalink

    I don't really have a problem with some opinionating weaving its way into what is inherently a subjective analysis. That's part of the game; it's hard to leave one's opinions entirely at the door, and there's something about being unencumbered of the trappings of fake objectivity that can lead to more penetrating insights. But when it happens, it needs to be solid and coherent, and it needs to hold all sides accountable.

    Maybe Obama could have phrased that now-infamous phrase better, but maybe in fact he understated the problem. And the real problem is not that (as Ms. Fowler seemed to speculate in the paragraph I excerpted) Obama's complicated thought processes throw them, but that some of these voters are not challenging themselves rigorously enough. They should not be automatically absolved of their insistence on falling for schtick time after time.

    Posted by: Heywood J. at April 17, 2008 10:56 PM | Permalink

    To clarify, I don't think Mayhill is a whistleblower or that her report was a leak. I do think that pro-jos have a very convoluted and strange pressthink about the rules governing what constitutes the "public's right to know," a secret worth keeping, a leak and a whistleblower.

    For example, I suspect that if Jay Newton-Small had been standing outside of the fundraiser interviewing attendees as they left, had interviewed Mayhill, and the story appeared under Jay's byline ... well, that would be different, somehow. Then it would have been reported!

    Ferdy, re: "I'd hardly call it wrongdoing." I agree.

    Jay, re: "She is an object of retribution rage." I agree.

    Posted by: Tim at April 17, 2008 11:22 PM | Permalink

    Heywood: thanks for those expanded comments on small towns. Very interesting. I don't have time at the moment to fully explain what I think causes that "political pastoral" effect, but it has to do with a contest of authority within the elite over who really knows American politics and how things will "play" in the hinterland that defines the metropole.

    Of course the Internet scrambles this.

    One part of the idea for Off The Bus was... let's get people from beyond the Beltway class to actually report the campaign.... that itself will do good in exposing how arbitrary some of its practices are....

    Here's another part: the Super-Delegate project. Of more significance than one report from Mayhill. The distributed journalism side starting to show.

    I think the question Paul is raising is: how to be convincing with a report. Sometimes the way to do that is to keep your opinions out. Objectivity is a method of persuasion in public controversy. If you are into hearing why, listen to this Open Source radio interview with me at Brown University. It covers that and many topics.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 18, 2008 12:00 AM | Permalink

    I've always appreciated this:

    The question that puzzles us: if objectivity is possible in life, where is it not possible in journalism? What about politics? Or social policy? How's about war? It is then we discover the limits of objectity, the dangers of pushing it too far, it's total unsuitability to many situations. The myth.

    In fact, we learn other, more confusing things, such as that "objectivity, claim to be" has one of the longest headings in the Daily Encylopedia of Propaganda. Meanwhile, "we're objective, you're not" has the worst track record for any argument in journalism for convincing anyone but the professional journalist. And so on.

    Posted by: Tim at April 18, 2008 12:37 AM | Permalink

    Jay Rosen from Open Source radio interview: "None of the reporters reporting on the war, none of them, even considered for a moment that the United States had invaded a country like Iraq without a plan."

    Good luck with that, Jay.

    Posted by: Tim at April 18, 2008 1:23 AM | Permalink

    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.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 18, 2008 11:05 AM | Permalink

    Jay Rosen:

    Thanks for the link ["this guy is impressed with the nuanced moves OffTheBus made]. Just for the record: I've corrected and updated my post after getting a clarification on a tangential point from the NYT's Kit Seelye.

    None of that changes my view about OffTheBus, which was right on to go with Fowler's stories (plural).

    It is to laugh that "real" journalists should be offended by ordinary citizens committing journalism. As anyone who knows a reporter or two can tell you, there is no more powerful a bulldozer than an investigative journalist mowing down whoever stands in his/her way to getting a story. In stark contrast, the conscience-stricken Mayhill Fowler agonized for four days before deciding to publish.

    In this atmosphere of poisonous partisanship, many people seem to have forgotten the modest, uncomplicated standard of reporting "without fear or favor" [i.e., despite your private feelings, you tell the story]. Ms. Fowler and OffTheBus were practicing that time-honored kind of journalism. At least it used to be honored.

    I agree with Andrew Tyndall:

    You mention how unusual it is for a loyalist to commit journalism. It has also become unusual in the Clinton-Bush years for a loyalist to engage in constructive criticism.

    The dispiriting thing about politics in the age of Talking Points is that message discipline is so overvalued that a politician tends to be criticized only by partisan opponents, never by supporters.

    Posted by: hepzeeba at April 18, 2008 5:18 PM | Permalink

    My dear Jay, I enjoyed your telling of Uplandia and Lowlandia and thank you for your choice of narrative.

    I'm reminded of Jester Gomer who told a story of another wizard's lack of a plan, subsequent unraveling and ultimate failure. Jester Gomer wasn't "very curious about what went right because there's no gotcha, bad-news-detection, 'then everything fell apart,' points to plot in that."

    Of course, that didn't mean that everything the wizard tried went well, according to plan, and the wizard was flawlessly ahead of the learning curve. Nor does it mean that an unmitigated success was being mischaracterized by Jester Gomer. Just that Jester Gomer couldn't help being a clown.

    Posted by: Tim at April 18, 2008 6:59 PM | Permalink 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 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 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 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.

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 19, 2008 9:07 AM | Permalink

    wow, the more you look into this, the worse it gets.

    Fremon is a self-professed Obama partisan -- which means its highly unlikely that (unlike Fowler) she was at the fundraiser that the tape is from. Was this really just oppo research from the Obama camp, being spewed through OTB?

    And while I know it takes all kinds, I'm not sure why its a good idea to give someone like Fremon, a self-hating woman who own sexism and misogyny comes out in her writing when she attacks Clinton based on her gender.* Since she supports Obama, any time he mentions the "historic" nature of his candidacy as an African American it goes unnoticed by Fremon -- Fremon has never written "one of the most powerful elements Barack has going for him is his race". Indeed, she never refers to Barack Obama as 'Barack', its always "Obama". But Fremon's self-loathing as a woman comes though clearly in her constant use of "Hillary" and even the occasional "Hil".

    Face it, Fremon (or should I say "Celeste" just to make sure you all know that I'm writing about someone who is "just a woman" -- or the diminutive "Cel", just to make sure you know that she isn't to be taken seriously) is the personification of everything that is wrong with the "MSM"; in other words, she is the personification of everything that OTB was supposed to NOT be -- "reporting" that merely mimics the worst excesses and most contemptible aspects of the corporate media.

    The first amendment ensures that people like "Cel" can write what they want -- but it doesn't mean that OTB has to degrade itself and publish her anti-women screeds and ugly attacks on Hillary Clinton.

    And if OTB is simply going to mimic MSM crap, why bother doing it in the first place?

    *while some may criticize my description of "Celeste", it is no different from the attitude that she takes toward Hillary Clinton. And, by asking for and getting the huge "megaphone" provided by HuffPo/OTB to express her opinions, she becomes a defacto public figure in her own right -- subject to the same rules that apply to Clinton. Or does she expect me to play by "Obama Rules"?

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 19, 2008 10:20 AM | Permalink

    p. lukasiak,

    I agree that the Fremon piece is problematic. Your critique would be a lot stronger if you left out the personal attacks on the writer. There are some real weaknesses in the piece that need to be addressed and questions that need to be answered (primarily, how she got the tape).

    Posted by: William Ockham [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 19, 2008 11:30 AM | Permalink

    I agree that the Fremon piece is problematic. Your critique would be a lot stronger if you left out the personal attacks on the writer.

    while you are right, the attack was "deliberate" -- Fremon's piece was a cheap shot that is getting major play in the media -- unlike the Fowler piece, it invites cheap shot retaliation. I think that its very problematic when OTB publishes stuff that invites personal attacks, rather than merely (inevitably) results in them because of the nature of the campaign and the blogosphere.

    And actually William, I'm far less concerned (at least within the Pressthink context) with where she got the tape, than the apparent double standard being applied by Off The Bus.

    The Fowler piece was an extended, contemporaneous meditation/report on the campaign that happened to include facts that would be 'controversial'. According to Jay, a great deal of thought and care was afforded the piece before it showed up under the Off the Bus Banner.

    Fremon's piece is a pure political hit piece. Its not "contemporaneous" -- its a two month old tape. Its not "meditative", its accusatory. And worst of all, the Fremon tape appears to have been edited for maximum impact. Fowler's piece was all about context -- and the full context of Obama's remarks were provided.

    I'm just as capable of anyone of writing anti-"Candidate X" screeds, and "reporting" in a sensationalized manner. I recently finished up a four part series based on the SUSA 50 State poll about how that poll showed clear signs of sexism among men. I didn't sensationalize it -- I didn't headline it "OBAMA MARGINS BASED ON MISOGYNY AND SEXISM -- BEATS CLINTON THANX TO THE WOMEN-HATER VOTE." My apprach was practically clinical (and unreadable) -- it was more about the existence of sexism and misogyny in the electorate than it was about the impact, and it never suggested that Obama exploited sexism in any way.

    The Fremon piece belies everything that Jay wrote about the Fowler piece when it comes to OTB, and is the kind of thing that invites attacks on OTB itself. We don't need more of that kind of crap, we need a good counter-example -- and by allowing Fremon's piece to be published under the OTB banner, OTB is just giving us more of the same old crap.

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 19, 2008 12:42 PM | Permalink

    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.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 19, 2008 1:05 PM | Permalink

    April 14, 2008
    Steven C. Rose
    Mayhill Fowler Violated The Rules

    A final comment on supporters and journalists.

    I am a Barack supporter. I happen also to rank as a professional journalist. I do not pretend as a supporter to be applying everything I would bring to the table if I were covering Barack as a journalist. A journalist can have no conflict of interest and must be neutral, even if his or her personal preferences are comprehended. A supporter can support to his or her heart's content.
    April 15, 2008
    Steven C. Rose
    Citizen Journalist Hogwash
    Do we credit the ethics of an operation that is wanting to fly economically and will not pay their writers? Nothing that I read in Rosen's piece suggests that anything close to the expectations of a professional news operation were applied to Mayhill by the HuffPost folk.

    And why should they? This is the Internet after all.

    And Rosen asks why Meet The Press airbrushed Mayhill out. Because they rightly did not want to play her up and give credence to a category of citizen journalist. I say good for them.

    The final issue is that only the HuffPost's "prestige" could have given this story legs. I have consistently sensed that HuffPost is unreliable at the point of being a professional news operation.

    Nothing that Rosen says alters this impression.

    Posted by: Tim at April 19, 2008 1:09 PM | Permalink

    Thanks Jay... I was hoping you'd say something like that.

    The problem, of course, is that when you go to the Off The Bus homepage, there is a huge, blaring headline "Clinton Slams Democratic Activists At Private Fundraiser" accompanied by an unflattering picture of Clinton.

    So while I certainly believe that "Off the Bus" was not responsible for the piece, in terms of "branding", OTB owns it.

    I could see if the piece wasn't being given such prominent play at OTB, but its been up at HuffPo since 6:30 last night, and for OTB to not merely have headlined it, but STILL have it headlined, well, someone shouldn't have to come to Pressthink, or parse the disclaimer at the bottom of the piece, to find out that "OTB" is not responsible for its tone or content.

    But that's just my opinion. ;)

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 19, 2008 1:35 PM | Permalink

    The right blogosphere reported Obama's quote through separate channels. They had their own audiotape which was rapidly circulated throughout blogs and informal email "trees."

    "Off the bus," was read by those who were left-leaning and then picked up by most of the coastal media. In the meantime, a parallel source was circulating among the non-coastal sorts.

    Not sure what to make of this ...

    Posted by: K at April 19, 2008 3:01 PM | Permalink

    Privacy and the Constitution
    By Madeleine Mercedes Plasencia
    Published 1999
    Chapter 10
    The End of Journalism:
    Media and Newswork at the Close of the Century

    "Work comes to be less and less defined as a personal contribution and more as a role within a system of communications and social relations," according to Alain Touraine (1995, 188), who also observed that, "the one who controls exerts influence on the systems of social relations in the name of their needs; the one who is controlled constantly affirms his existence, not as a member of any organization, element of the production process, or subject of a State, but as an autonomous unit whose personality does not coincide with any of his roles." The result is not only an increasing sense of alienation but a changing perception of what constitutes journalism and, therefore, public interest and social responsibility at the dawn of the twenty-first century. (page 130)

    Posted by: Tim at April 19, 2008 3:30 PM | Permalink

    "The right blogosphere reported Obama's quote through separate channels."

    I'm not aware of that. Not saying it didn't happen, but where are you getting this information about a separate tape, kat?

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 19, 2008 4:31 PM | Permalink

    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 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.

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 19, 2008 5:36 PM | Permalink

    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:

    " 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 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 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?

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 19, 2008 6:11 PM | Permalink

    Just noticed this from the article itself...

    Howard Wolfson, communications director for the Clinton campaign, verified the authenticity of the audio...

    now having a tangential relationship with people "authenticating" stuff because the don't deny its correct, I find this amusing. Especially given Fremon's rationale for editing the tapes, the way she did, and being so vague about their origins, i.e. her source was afraid that the Clinton campaign would discover his/her
    identity if it could identify the tape itself.

    Yet, Howard Wolfson was able to "verify the authenticity of the tape." Now, how does someone authenticate something if they are not supposed to know its origins under any circumstances?

    Wolfson can't possibly have authenticated the tape unless he'd been there (in which case, the Clinton campaign knows where/when it took place, and her source is 'blown') or had heard a recording of the meeting provided by a reliable source (same 'blown' source).

    curiouser, and curiouser...

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 19, 2008 9:23 PM | Permalink

    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.

    Paul. No way. I won't be asking for any such removal, and OTB will not be disassociating itself from Fremon's piece.

    I don't know what you mean by "get out in front of this." Out front in some alleged scandal in how the piece was done? I don't think there is any such scandal, and I'm certainly not out in front of one.

    The point of my comments above was not to "disassociate." I specifically said we could not do that. We're associated. That's why it also ran in our section (though most people didn't see it there.) But if someone asks us, asks me, why did you do that this way and why did you do this that way? I have to say, "we didn't, Huff Post did."

    You had asked me questions about the editing and framing of the piece that I said I could not answer because it was not an OffTheBus piece, and I was not in the decision-making loop. I read it when it was posted on the web. It was a Huff Post product, unlike the Mayhill Fowler piece which was published as an OTB product.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 20, 2008 1:49 AM | Permalink

    Different subject: This also ran at the Huffington Post....

    The whole idea of Off The Bus is to report more of the campaign. But we're not the only ones trying to do that. Philadelphia City Paper just pitched in with two separate but exactly parallel reports.

    * I was an Obama Volunteer, reported by Mike Newall

    * I was a Clinton Volunteer, reported by Tom Namako.

    They're both writers for City Paper who chose to go undercover to find out how the volunteer operations for both candidates actually worked. Newall had covered the New Hampshire primary. "Any time I flashed my reporter credentials in a campaign office, I was quickly shown the door." This time he took a different approach. "I signed up to volunteer under a fake name." (His was Mike Kelly).

    You can argue in the comments about whether that's the right thing to do. Journalists would disagree on it. What's fascinating is to absorb their parallel accounts--Tom's experience, Mike's experience--and see the different culture of the two campaigns unfold. Read both and you will know why the Caucus states turned out as they did.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 20, 2008 2:27 AM | Permalink

    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 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.

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 20, 2008 8:29 AM | Permalink

    I agree with p.lukasiak about the Fremon piece and find its author's explanations of her reportorial thoroughness to be a sham. If she were really "reporting," as in just the facts, ma'am, she would have left out the jabs about "this is why young women don't want to call themselves feminists" (another argument for another day, but one that has nothing to do with Clinton).

    As I have mentioned before, linking Off the Bus with Huffington Post is a very problematic arrangement and one that made me quit OTB. In readers' minds, there is no division, and the Fremon piece just makes that official. I understand Jay's reasoning for not disassociating OTB from the piece, and yet, I think that was the wrong decision. Lots of writers work for more than one publication. If I write a negative piece in one publication, does that mean that all the other publications for which I have written need to say, I accept responsibility for this writer's views even though I didn't accept the piece for publication, edit it, or publish it? By making OTB such a close subsidiary of the highly partisan HuffPost, OTB has de facto delegitimated its experiment, as Steven Rose implied in his letter (which I agree with only partially, but certainly in his assessment of HuffPost).

    You should have set OTB up as a completely separate blog designed to do citizen journalism. As it is, HuffPost has tainted this interesting and important experiment. I mourn that.

    Posted by: Ferdy at April 20, 2008 12:02 PM | Permalink

    On "Meet the Press" this morning, Huffington Post *was* credited for Fremon's scoop on the MoveOn mention. Score one victory for sourcing.

    I can add that there's been a markedly different reaction to this blog post here than the crosspost of it at HuffPo, where the most *charitable* of reactions to Jay was that the Fowler piece showed how the HuffPost was becoming no different than the MSM (it appeared like many more comments accused Fowler, Rosen, HuffPo as traitors to the Obama cause).

    I tend to agree with comments above from Ferdy (You are Marilyn, correct? Your association with Off the Bus, as the result of one post 8 months ago, is the #5 Google result for your name, and OTB still references the association in the present tense.)

    I'll also add that I don't think there was anything wrong with either the Fowler or Fremon scoops-- though they will possibly breed mistrust for anyone brandishing a tape/digital recorder at a private event. And it was good fortune that they long ago signed up for OffTheBus, so they had a ready editor/publication at hand when the big scoop came in. (Two years ago, they'd be pushing this story to the DailyKos). Still, the petty partisanship of the HuffPost seems to tarnish the experiment somewhat. So I'm curious what your thoughts are on that. (Perhaps the petty partisanship wasn't obvious when the partnership was formed, and, to paraphrase Woody Allen's punchline, you needed the eyeballs.)

    Also, this episode does help chill the supposed new media theory that scoops are dead. Scoops will continue to play a part in new media that they do in old.

    Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at April 20, 2008 1:09 PM | Permalink


    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."

    Uh, right there it is on top of OTB's web site. How did it get there? Did OTB's editors put it there? Isn't that publishing it?

    Unless, of course, HuffPo's political editors were the ones that put it on OTB's website instead of OTB's editors. Did they?

    Posted by: Tim at April 20, 2008 1:28 PM | Permalink

    Jon, re: petty partisanship

    It was obvious to Jay.

    Posted by: Tim at April 20, 2008 1:35 PM | Permalink

    Yes, I am Marilyn. That one post, a negative post about Obama, was very early in the going and elicited very little response, though it was received with more objectivity from the commenters than any negative Obama post has in recent times. Even then, the staff seemed unsure how to handle it--was it news or was it commentary. It was a bit of both. As I considered other ideas, the shrillness of the pro-Obama conversation on HuffPost made me uneasy about associating with the OTB project. I wanted to have an objective view of both candidates and wanted to cover the effects of Obama's Rezko and other Chicago Machine connections on the Illinois electorate, as well as the local connection to Clinton. I didn't feel that OTB's connection with HuffPost would allow my reporting to get a fair hearing, and that I would be open to every looney attack you see on there now. I valued my privacy enough to want to avoid those outcomes.

    I agree that scoops are not dead. It's just the definition of what is news that is in serious trouble.

    Posted by: Ferdy at April 20, 2008 1:36 PM | Permalink

    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"

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 20, 2008 2:43 PM | Permalink

    I agree that scoops are not dead. It's just the definition of what is news that is in serious trouble.

    precisely. For all of Obama and his supporters whining about the non-substantive nature of the debates, the broad circulation of, and accolades from, Obama's supporters tell us one thing --- this kind of character assasination is what people really want to see. Even if Fremon's piece wasn't an ethical toxic waste dump that fact would remain true.

    And its not just Obama supporters -- a lot of Clinton supporters thought that Gibson and Stephanopolus did a great job at the debate last week. But they were horrible on a multitude of levels.

    maybe a Clinton supporter is justified in a little Schadenfruede, and maybe many of the questions that were asked were legitimate because it had been seven weeks since the last debate, and the mythic Bosnian snipers, Wright, Ayres, and "bitter/clinging" had not been aired in a face to face debate where both sides get to respond -- but George and Charlie still sucked.

    But as with the Fremon piece, the reaction to the debate tells us that the mainstream media is doing exactly what people want -- as long as its the "other candidate" that is taking the cheap shots and low blows.

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 20, 2008 2:54 PM | Permalink

    From After Matter....

    UPDATE: April 20. A post by Paul Lukasiak at Taylor Marsh's site suggested that OffTheBus wanted to "disassociate" itself from the publication at Huffington Post of an article by Celeste Fremon reporting comments from Hillary Clinton. This is not so. The article ran at the Huffington Post; it was by an OffTheBus contributor. 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.

    I am trying to be an transparent as I can with a story I did not edit or oversee. But I have no illusions about satisfying everyone. I don't know any of the circumstances of the tape; I am comfortable trusting Marc Cooper, who does.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 20, 2008 2:56 PM | Permalink

    Your transparency is admirable. Satisfying everyone is not in keeping with the ideal of editorial objectivity. Unfortunately, letting HuffPost adjudicate "objectivity" was a serious error. They are not objective, and will not edit with objectivity in mind. In this case, the NYT's cry of "we publish when it's ready" should have been a watchword. This piece was not ready.

    Posted by: Marilyn at April 20, 2008 3:22 PM | Permalink

    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.

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 20, 2008 3:40 PM | Permalink

    Paul-- I admire your skepticism, but you have to concede that there are certainly rules of evidence which apply here. If a campaign spokesperson is not denying that his candidate made a statement, we have to accept that as a truth. The difference between this and 60 Minutes is that Wolfson *works for Clinton.* Therefore he is *paid* answer these sorts of questions.

    Tim-- thanks. I was vaguely aware that this had been discussed at the time. I suppose it was a good gamble, given the extended Democratic race...

    I'd been talking earlier this week with one of the OTB editors. I'll repeat my question here: if this is an academic experiment, do you have any numbers on how many were on each candidate/topic; how many were pro/con/neutral; by genre (scoops vs. think pieces etc.); how many readers, comments per each. (It seems to me than *every* pub ought to do this, but with this being an academic experiment, it would set a standard.)

    Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at April 20, 2008 6:14 PM | Permalink

    Paul, "Yet the authentication process failed to catch things that raised questions about the memos ..."

    The authentication process did catch those things (here's one you brought to our attention). What angered me most about Memo/Rathergate fiasco was the pre-broadcast warnings CBS ignored from their experts and then post-broadcast spin and attacks on their critics.

    I think you've provoked an interesting response from Marc Cooper that has a "trust us, we’re the pros" component to it and (rightfully) challenged Jay on it.

    If there is a silver lining, Jay has an opportunity to provide and academic's perspective of the trust v. transparency issue for a story he is involved with organizationally but an outsider to its process.

    Posted by: Tim at April 20, 2008 6:23 PM | Permalink

    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.

    Do these facts mean nothing for our efforts to determine if Clinton really said those things? I would say they mean a lot.

    Tim: Mayhill Fowler was the taper and the reporter. With the Fremon story she was not the taper, who remains unnamed in the story. Thus we do not have full transparency on the tape and all the circumstances of its surfacing, and so--no way around it--there is a strong element of "trust me" journalism in this story. It's in the nature of this kind of report.

    I think in general journalists are far better off going with transparency as means of generating and maintaining trust, but I would also say that there are times when you cannot do that. Each time you publish a story on a "trust me" basis you are taking a risk. There is less of a risk when anyone who is skeptical can examine the source materials for themselves.

    I would add that even a "trust me" story that holds up --meaning, it isn't successfully challenged--can lessen trust because there is no way for people with suspicions to come to their own conclusions. I think pro journalists tend to believe that if a story doesn't have to be withdrawn or corrected then their credibility is undisturbed by publishing it. But trust is a trickier thing than that.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 20, 2008 7:32 PM | Permalink


    How do you think this story should have been reported? There is a tape of Hillary Clinton (apparently) saying:

    We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that's what we're dealing with. And you know they turn out in great numbers. And they are very driven by their view of our positions, and it's primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don't agree with them. They know I don't agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me.

    The Clinton campaign hasn't denied it and they've been quick out of the gate if they think quotes are falsely attributed to their candidate. Strip away all the stuff you've complained about in the story and what remains is that quote. That happens to be the only part of the story that's gotten any play anywhere else. Are you saying that the story shouldn't have been reported at all?

    Posted by: William Ockham [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 20, 2008 7:32 PM | Permalink


    On a totally different topic, I hope you're going to do a post on the NYT story about the military analysts. That's a fascinating part of the press rollback strategy, using the press against itself.

    Posted by: William Ockham [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 20, 2008 7:36 PM | Permalink

    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 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.

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 20, 2008 11:05 PM | Permalink

    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.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 21, 2008 12:10 AM | Permalink

    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, 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.

    Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 21, 2008 1:46 AM | Permalink

    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!

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 21, 2008 2:50 AM | Permalink


    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.

    Posted by: M. Simon [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 21, 2008 6:15 AM | Permalink

    Or how about another block buster: How drug Prohibition has corrupted churches and especially black churches.

    It is all in plain sight. Funny that people paid to look for stories can't see.

    Funny that a profession that prides itself on speaking truth to power is silent.

    Posted by: M. Simon [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 21, 2008 6:38 AM | Permalink


    I see you are close to Arianna. She and I had a few exchanges on the subject when she was holding her drug war Shadow Conventions in 2000.

    Why isn't she absolutely pounding this and getting it in the Main Stream Press? The whole medical understanding of drug use has undergone a revolution in the last 8 years and not even the anti-prohibitionists are interested in the science.

    What are they doing? Taking lessons from Bush? :-)

    Posted by: M. Simon [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 21, 2008 6:55 AM | Permalink

    If Fremon is a journalism professor, I worry for the future of journalism. Soory to diss a colleague, Jay, but her reporting of this story was horrible.

    Posted by: Ferdy at April 21, 2008 11:57 AM | Permalink

    Thanks to all participants. Thread closed. New post up later today.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 21, 2008 3:08 PM | Permalink

    From the Intro