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Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at

Read: Q & As

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003. It's about the transformation of the journalism world by the Web.

Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

Half hour video interview with Robert Mills of the American Microphone series. On blogging, journalism, NewAssignment.Net and distributed reporting.

Jay Rosen explains the Web's "ethic of the link" in this four-minute YouTube clip.

"The Web is people." Jay Rosen speaking on the origins of the World Wide Web. (2:38)

One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

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

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

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

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

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

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

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

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

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

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

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

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

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

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

Digests & Round-ups:

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

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

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

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

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

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

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June 24, 2010

The Politico Opens the Kimono. And then Pretends it Never Happened.

"Think about what the Politico is saying: an experienced beat reporter would probably not want to 'burn bridges' with key sources by telling the world what happens when those sources let their guard down."

As everyone who pays attention to the news knows by now, an article appeared in Rolling Stone this week by freelance reporter Michael Hastings that wound up forcing the resignation of General Stanley A. McChrystal as commander of American troops in Afghanistan. Invited to hang out with McChrystal and his staff, Hastings was witness to their contempt for the civilian side of the war effort, which he then reported on. It was a shock to everyone in Washington that McChrystal would make such a blunder, and the press began immediately to dissect it.

The Politico was so hopped up about the story that it took the extraordinary step of posting on its site a PDF of Rolling Stone’s article because Rolling Stone had not put it online fast enough. In one of the many articles The Politico ran about the episode the following observation was made by reporters Gordon Lubold and Carol E. Lee:

McChrystal, an expert on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, has long been thought to be uniquely qualified to lead in Afghanistan. But he is not known for being media savvy. Hastings, who has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for two years, according to the magazine, is not well-known within the Defense Department. And as a freelance reporter, Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks.

Now this seemed to several observers—and I was one—a reveal. Think about what the Politico is saying: an experienced beat reporter is less of a risk for a powerful figure like McChrystal because an experienced beat reporter would probably not want to “burn bridges” with key sources by telling the world what happens when those sources let their guard down.

Let me enumerate why this is worth noting:

1.) It’s an admission that preserving their own future access is a hidden factor in what institutionally-bound reporters are willing to tell us today.

2.) Carol Lee covers the White House for the Politico. She is a beat reporter, so she would know, right? She’s not going to let an observation that rings false to her ear go out under her by-line… is she? Doesn’t make sense.

3.) This is exactly the sort of observation in which the Politico trades: the “inside” fact you might not know that tells you how Washington really works. It’s part of the brand.

4.) The Politico was actually founded to reveal just this sort of fact. The idea from the beginning was to open the kimono on journalism itself. This is from the days (2006) when it was first announced that John Harris and Jim VandeHei would be leaving the Washington Post to start a new online publication.

Mr. VandeHei, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, said he hoped that the venture would knock down some of traditional journalism’s “state secrets,” such as how stories get leaked and whose motives are served by certain political stories.

Right. And that’s exactly what Gordon Lubold and Carol E. Lee did. They revealed one of political journalism’s state secrets: beat reporters have a motive to preserve key relationships, so they often don’t tell us everything they could, which makes them more reliable, more predictable, in the eyes of the powerful people they cover. They were being good Politico people by asking: how could McChrystal and his staff be so unsavvy?

And Andew Sullivan picked up on it. “Why, one wonders, have we not heard a peep of this from all the official MSM Pentagon reporters and analysts with their deep sources and long experience? Politico explains…” Then he cut to the passage from reporters Lubold and Lee that I began with.

Meanwhile, Thomas Ricks, formerly a beat reporter covering the military for the Washington Post, made a similar observation at his blog for Foreign Policy magazine:

Reporters doing one-off profiles for magazines such as Rolling Stone and Esquire have less invested in a continuing relationship than do beat reporters covering the war for newspapers and newsmagazines. That doesn’t mean you should avoid one-off reporters, but it does mean that they have no incentive to establish and maintain a relationship of trust over weeks and months of articles.

Our reveal is looking pretty good, isn’t it? Gordon Lubold and Carol E. Lee have no motive to make it up. Lee is a beat reporter herself, qualified to speak on the subject. Lubold has covered the military for years. Politico trades in this kind of observation; it was founded to reveal some of journalism’s “state secrets.” Tom Ricks, a former beat reporter for the Washington Post who also covered the military, says pretty much the same thing: beat reporters have an investment in continuing the relationship so they are less risky for a powerful figure like McChrystal. (Jamie McIntyre, former Pentagon reporter for CNN, says the same thing.)

And then, the next day… the reveal disappears. The Politico erased it, as if the thing had never happened. Down the memory hole, like in Orwell’s 1984. The story as you encounter it online today doesn’t have that part (“would not risk burning bridges…”) in it. Clint Hendler of Columbia Journalism Review, who discovered the missing lines, asked The Politico about it…

Managing editor Bill Nichols declined to discuss the deletion with me or to send on a version of the article as it was originally published—making it quite difficult to tell how extensively the article was revised or updated beyond this excision.

“[W]e don’t get into why we make editing decisions, Nichols wrote in a brief email.

The current version notes that it was updated at 8:35 this morning, but there’s no note to inform readers how or why the article was changed.

The paragraph was widely touted as a perhaps unintentionally revealing diagnosis of the dangers of Washington reporters becoming captive to the institutions on their beat.

Now there is a debate about whether the reveal is accurate. Jack Shafer, Press Box columnist for Slate, says it is not:

According to this theory, freelancers happily burn their subjects because they’re not likely to return to them, whereas beat reporters must rely on maintaining good day-to-day relations with them. I don’t buy this. Feature writers and beat reporters are equally capable of taking a dive for their subjects. I don’t know of any beat reporter who wouldn’t have gotten a promotion for catching McChrystal and his staff shooting off their mouths, and I don’t know any newspaper that would have hesitated to publish the story.

I don’t think Shafer quite grasps the suggestion here. The suggestion is that a beat reporter would know when he’s being trusted not to reveal back stage behavior. It would never get to the point of “should I publish this damaging but spectacular story or hold it back to preserve my access…?” because the reporter would mentally label what he saw as unusable material. It wouldn’t be a question of “catching” the General and his staff because he would have internalized the difference between “on” time and down time, and this might even be part of his sophistication.

Joe Calderone, formerly a reporter for Newsday and the New York Daily News and someone I know because he teaches at NYU, said on Twitter than anyone who thinks beat reporters are just as likely to write damaging articles about key sources they will need later “never worked as a beat reporter I guess.”

What grounds could the Politico possibly have for redacting its own reporters’ work, and then refusing to talk to the profession’s leading journalism review about it? I can only speculate because the editors refuse to explain. But my guess would be that other beat reporters complained to the bosses and said…this makes us look bad! And the bosses, instead of standing up for their creed—revealing journalism state’s secrets—decided to cave and go Orwell on us. “That never happened” is the new story they offer readers. Along with “no more questions.”

They revealed too much, and quickly covered it up. That’s what I think. Now if John Harris, top editor of The Politico, wants to recover his senses and explain what was wrong with the original passage, I may change my mind. And while he’s at it, he can explain why he posted on his site the PDF of an article Rolling Stone was about to publish, in a brazen attempt to “win the morning” with someone else’s work. Until then I am flunking The Politico on this month’s legitimacy exam.

UPDATE: Yesterday, the Politico said it doesn’t explain its editing decisions, so why are you asking? Today, I got this explanation from The Politico’s Tim Grieve:

Hey, Jay – I read your post on our McChrystal piece and wanted to circle back —

Having done my share of media criticism at Salon, I know how satisfying it is to score a gotcha on the press. But I can tell you that there’s no “there” there on this one.

As we often do on big, breaking stories, we wrote through and reposted our main McChrystal piece many times Tuesday and Wednesday – adding new facts and shedding less relevant ones along the way. At around 5:45 Tuesday evening, I re-worked the piece to add new comments from President Obama and otherwise reflect the latest news. Together with the other adds that had come in during the day, my inserts made the story very long and unwieldy, so I quickly deleted or substantially reworked more than a dozen paragraphs that struck me as either tangential or out-of-date.

The “offending” paragraph about beat reporters vs. freelancers was one of them. No one – no source, no reporter, no editor above or below me – had said a word to me about the paragraph. I removed it solely for the purposes of keeping the story tight and readable. And in fact, I thought so little about doing it that I didn’t even remember taking it out when we first got an inquiry from CJR Wednesday.

I love a good conspiracy as much as the next guy, but this ain’t one.

Tim Grieve
Deputy Managing Editor

And Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart comments on the same issues I tackle in this post, but… better!

<td style=’padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;’ colspan=’2’McChrystal’s Balls - Honorable Discharge
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Posted by Jay Rosen at June 24, 2010 1:48 AM   Print


Jay Rosen - ftw! What is it 3am your time? Tireless, you are! Hope to see a response in the morning.

Posted by: Marshall at June 24, 2010 3:07 AM | Permalink

Here's where I disagree with a very interesting point: Lara Logan and Michael Ware.

Both are not reporting at the moment for different reasons.

Might we have known more about the discord were they reporting?

Embedding has its merits and those merits are not related to making best friends with soldiers. The point is to continue to get information that you many not otherwise have gotten.

Posted by: Billie at June 24, 2010 3:50 AM | Permalink

Lou Grant. Season 1, Episode 1.

The phenomenon was well enough known in 1977 that it was the premise of the "Cophouse" episode of the TV drama. It's available on Hulu, FWIW.

Everybody knows of a reporter -- or six -- who's "in the tank," or the access-preserving equivalent. I would imagine that in D.C., the phenomenon is not only pervasive, but on steroids.

Posted by: The Mighty Favog at June 24, 2010 3:55 AM | Permalink

Exactly right, Jay. Excellent post.

Just this morning I read another post by someone who gets transparency here:

It's hard for Arrington to do what he does, but he does it and that's why he's at the top of the food chain out West. If someone would do what Politico said they were going to do, it would be huge.

Nice work, Jay. You are on a roll this summer.

Posted by: Scott Yates at June 24, 2010 9:09 AM | Permalink

This explains why, when I was working on a news desk and talking with correspondents daily, I could learn more about a situation in 5 minutes of casual conversion with a reporter than I could from 30 inches of his or her copy.

One other aspect of this: reporters identifying anonymous sources any way they wish. In one overseas story I edited, a person identified as an "American official" for one quote in a story was identified later in the same story as a "Western official." I cut the second quote, which, had it remained, would have added apparently unbiased support for the U.S. side of the story. But the reporter defended it, saying it was common practice to identify sources differently for different quotes. I believed him, and I don't doubt that much the same is happening in Washington.

Given that Politico has abandoned its original mission, I believe there's enormous room for a journalistic organization that works exclusively to expose Washington "journalism" itself. But for now, I'd advise any reader to be ultra-skeptical whenever he encounters an anonymous source of any kind in any story. A majority of the time, the quoted material is in some way self-serving for the powers that be. So it's appropriate to ask what you're not being told. And why you're being told whatever it is the anonymous source is telling you to believe.

Apply Occam's Razor: Imagine the worst--and therefore most likely--possible motive the source might have (manipulating public opinion, distraction, floating a trial balloon) and assume that's the case. You probably won't be far off.

Unless, perhaps, it's in the Rolling Stone, to which I send kudos. It appears to be the only American publication out there doing real journalism on a range of subjects, from Matt Taibbi's outstanding work on the economic meltdown to this McChrystal piece.

Posted by: Pelham at June 24, 2010 9:39 AM | Permalink

That Clint Hendler is one crafty cookie!

Posted by: Joan Lester at June 24, 2010 10:07 AM | Permalink

This episode brings to light something I've been wondering about for a while, the inherent tension for a political journalist between being a savvy conduit for your readers and doing the things necessary to maintain access with your sources. What I don't understand is how this comes about. I imagine most political journalists got into their field to tell the truth and inform the public. And I think it's safe to assume that even veteran reporters still see themselves this way. Yet these same people seem to have no problem withholding key items from their readers on a regular basis in order to maintain access. But that's not the worst contradiction, because I can see the rationalization at work in that one -- "if I hold back a little here and there, I'll be able to provide more and better information to my readers in the long run." What Pelham describes is much harder to explain away. The source has a motive that is usually directly at odds with informing the public. By serving at the mouthpiece for a source in such a situation, the journalist is helping the source device the readers. I don't see how a journalist excuses such behavior.

Posted by: someBrad at June 24, 2010 10:16 AM | Permalink


As requested, correction at the beginning of your essay:

You write: "an article appeared in Rolling Stone this week by freelance reporter Mark Hastings that would up forcing…"

I think you meant "wound up forcing." Thanks for the tip off regarding Politico "going Orwell" on us.

Posted by: stacey at June 24, 2010 11:07 AM | Permalink

Thanks, I corrected that.

Sometimes, the savvy... you just have to love them. They make your points for you! And you don't have to do anything but stick out your net! They're like a labor saving device for the press critic. And they tip you off to it too.

Just now on Twitter, Stephanie Strom, a reporter for the New York Times who covers the world of philanthropy says:

"@jayrosen_nyu is shocked, shocked! that DC beat reporters pull their punches in exchange for access."

Now what I love about this is how she uses a little trope that is common in the Church of the Savvy and with two words expresses such a wealth of attitude. (That's the tip off.) It's a reference, of course, to Casablanca and this amusing scene:

Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here! [a croupier hands Renault a pile of money] Croupier: Your winnings, sir.

I believe it was writers for the New Republic who popularized this charming device. It's meant to say... chuckle, chuckle, you claim to be shocked but this is something everyone who knows anything already knows, isn't it? and so your criticism is really kind of silly...

Silly to the savvy, that is. To the clueless outsiders who don't know how the game is played maybe you really do appear shocked. Which is sort of amusing, but come on... let's get real! We're all clued here in to how the inside game works.

All that expressed in two little pop-culture-soaked words. Efficient!

However, Stephanie. If I was surprised by anything, it would not be the revelation that beat reporters sometimes pull their punches in exchange for access, but that such a plain Jane description of the practice actually appeared in The Politico. And yes, I was taken back by how brazen the editors were in disappearing it down the memory hole. Weren't you?

UPDATE: And Stephanie Strom replies... "@jayrosen_nyu Tks. Want to assure you that, as a long time beat reporter, I've never pulled punches. It's cost me but that's part of the biz"

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 24, 2010 11:53 AM | Permalink

This is so rich, and I totally agree.

I actually own I hadn't done anything with it, and it was for sale, but I'm going to go and redirect it to this post for now, and maybe I'll start a blog on that URL that is just a collection of this kind of crap.

Posted by: Scott Yates at June 24, 2010 12:22 PM | Permalink

Something else that is handy about "shocked, shocked." When the savvy use it, they are attempting--without necessarily knowing this--to cancel out the possibility that a critic or observer is both clued-in and outraged.

That is, if you object to beat reporters pulling their punches in order to maintain key relationships, and you say, "man, that really sucks," the only possible reason--according to shocked, shocked--is that you never knew such things went on. You're a rube.

The very possibility of a critic who knew of such things but still finds it necessary to object and point out how insidious they are... the savvy don't account for that. Because it doesn't fit their world view, in which you "lose" if you take the risk of appearing insufficiently clued in to how the inside game really works.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 24, 2010 12:50 PM | Permalink

I updated the post to include this note I got from The Politico.

UPDATE: Yesterday, the Politico said it doesn’t explain it’s editing decisions, so why are you asking? Today, I got this explanation from The Politico’s Tim Grieve:

Hey, Jay – I read your post on our McChrystal piece and wanted to circle back --

Having done my share of media criticism at Salon, I know how satisfying it is to score a gotcha on the press. But I can tell you that there’s no “there” there on this one.

As we often do on big, breaking stories, we wrote through and reposted our main McChrystal piece many times Tuesday and Wednesday – adding new facts and shedding less relevant ones along the way. At around 5:45 Tuesday evening, I re-worked the piece to add new comments from President Obama and otherwise reflect the latest news. Together with the other adds that had come in during the day, my inserts made the story very long and unwieldy, so I quickly deleted or substantially reworked more than a dozen paragraphs that struck me as either tangential or out-of-date.

The “offending” paragraph about beat reporters vs. freelancers was one of them. No one – no source, no reporter, no editor above or below me – had said a word to me about the paragraph. I removed it solely for the purposes of keeping the story tight and readable. And in fact, I thought so little about doing it that I didn’t even remember taking it out when we first got an inquiry from CJR Wednesday.

I love a good conspiracy as much as the next guy, but this ain’t one.

Tim Grieve Deputy Managing Editor POLITICO

Well, what do we think of this?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 24, 2010 1:14 PM | Permalink

Good post about a stupid move by Politico, but I have to post a comment to point out that the headline on the post is both racially and sexually offensive. Asians have suffered from two centuries of "exotic" sexual stereotypes, and I'm disappointed to see PressThink, Jay Rosen and NYU's j-school fall for such shallow, fundamentally ignorant imagery.

Posted by: Gil Asakawa at June 24, 2010 1:48 PM | Permalink

>>>Yesterday, the Politico said it doesn’t explain it’s editing decisions

No apostrophe, please, professor.

This is why many dailies rotate reporters in and out of beats. Academics keep their jobs - and biases - for a lifetime.

Posted by: Rob Levine at June 24, 2010 1:49 PM | Permalink

Corrected, thanks.

What makes you think I haven't changed beats?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 24, 2010 1:52 PM | Permalink

Tim Grieve: you make your self, and Politico, look still worse. Nice work.

Posted by: Jerkstore Jimmy at June 24, 2010 2:00 PM | Permalink

>>>What makes you think I haven't changed beats?

I honestly don't know either way. My point is that, in general, academics also get too attached to their ideas and biases. Have you ever studied the number of undisclosed conflicts of interest on the Huffington Post?

Posted by: Rob Levine at June 24, 2010 2:01 PM | Permalink

I believe Grieve. It probably didn't strike him as anything anyone didn't already know, so in his view it wouldn't have added anything to the story, or subtracted anything from the story when he struck it. Which is actually more of an indictment than if he had regarded it as a wardrobe malfunction requiring correction.

Jon Stewart did a nice little collage of press reactions focusing on the writer and his access rather than the story.

I'm guessing that far from damaging Hastings' access to sources, the flap will enhance it. Some sources will want to prove that they can play with the fire that burned McChrystal and come out intact, and some will see opportunities to use his now firmly established street cred for their own purposes, some will want to take a shot at corrupting him for the hell of it, and some will just be fanboys.

So he'll be alright except he won't be getting a lot of cocktail invites from his ever so much more sophisticated peers, at least until he becomes someone they want to suck up to.

Posted by: Weldon Berger at June 24, 2010 2:06 PM | Permalink

One of the reasons I'm -- sadly -- letting my New Yorker subscription expire this month. After Remnick's Obama book and news of Ryan Lizza book re same yet to come, I realized the reason for all their puff pieces on Obama administration folks: they need "access." Perhaps I'll resubscibe when Repubs are back. And I'm going to subscribe to Rolling Stone instead.

Posted by: Kim Kaufman at June 24, 2010 2:33 PM | Permalink

Jay, perhaps Mr. Grieve's explanation is an honest account of his editorial process. But I'm curious as to why the controversy over Hastings's access and his decision to write the story becomes a "tangential" consideration for an editor at Politico, since the deletion undermines Politico's founding mission to "open the kimono on journalism itself," as you colorfully put it. Shouldn't the editorial staff be placing giving priority to paragraphs like the one Grieve deleted?

Posted by: Stephen Premo at June 24, 2010 2:37 PM | Permalink

When I worked in print, I'd use that line all the time: "Oh! I really wanted to keep that in! Honest! There's nothing funny going on, it just didn't fit."

With the internet, that excuse rings false every time. I'm all for pithy posts, but nobody goes back and takes a paragraph out of a post that's already been published because it needed to be "tight and readable."

He's trying to tell you that you found Oakland (the original "no there there" quote), but you found the NYC of journalistic cover-ups related to this McChrystal thing.

Posted by: Scott Yates at June 24, 2010 2:45 PM | Permalink

Jay-the Department of Defense does not invite journalists to "hang out" with military brass. DoD embeds journalists to do a very specific thing, within specific boundaries. Things appeared to go awry, but the question is: what was the purpose of embeding Hastings and doing a piece on McChrystal? Surely it wasn't to "hang out" as you claim.

Posted by: Lazlso at June 24, 2010 3:10 PM | Permalink

Good work. FYI I hammered Grieve who I don't believe on Romenesko. Shoulda stuck with no comment.

Posted by: Mike at June 24, 2010 3:31 PM | Permalink

This brings back memories of the same nudge-nudge-wink-wink collusion between the financial press and the executives of the firms they cover. The Daily Show did a piece on that as well particularly the interviews with Stanford, the now-convicted embezzler. We see it in Congress everyday. The problem is human nature--it's always been a problem and always will be.

Posted by: Daniel at June 24, 2010 4:04 PM | Permalink

I think the update demonstrates that you were wrong, Jay, about Politico's "going Orwell" since there is no evidence for any of your conjecture.

I think Politico's updates need more transparency going back to a debate of how to write online, make corrections/updates, and Weblog Ethics.

Posted by: Tim at June 24, 2010 4:15 PM | Permalink

Jay Rosen

[Andrew Heyward's] solution is the wise one: reduce the harm from each error and each slippage from the objective news ideal by reducing the majesty of your claim to know.

Posted by: Tim at June 24, 2010 4:24 PM | Permalink

The line that was removed, I thought, was the most interesting line in the entire Politico piece. Pity that an editor went in and killed it after it had already been published...

Posted by: Frank Lockwood at June 24, 2010 5:08 PM | Permalink

Jay, I posted something about this on my Facebook page the day it came out, and I recorded that version as having been by Gordon Lubold and *Laura Rozen*. I even speculated that she might have been the one to slip that revelatory little observation in. I could have misread the original byline but I believe I copied directly from the orginal version.

Your link broke my system, and then it didn't work, so I had to remove it. But I recall seeing Laura Rozen's by-line on the article too, and then I covinced myself I must have been wrong-- JR
"Laura Rozen contributed to this report," it now says on the article.

Posted by: Bruce Miller at June 24, 2010 5:37 PM | Permalink

Actually, that was probably a different story. But I did pick up Rozen's byline off the original.

Posted by: Bruce Miller at June 24, 2010 5:43 PM | Permalink

God forbid they incorporate "edit histories" into articles.

Posted by: psbjr at June 24, 2010 8:45 PM | Permalink

Watch how during the last 60 seconds of this clip Lara Logan of CBS suggests that Michael Hastings may have violated McChrystal's trust and that's how he got this story. Her evidence? None, other than the incredulity she shares with her peers that the story is what it is. According to the RS editor, no one in the McChrystal camp had any objections to what was in the article when quotes were checked. So what is Logan talking about?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 24, 2010 10:07 PM | Permalink

It Politico, not The Politico.

Posted by: Tom at June 24, 2010 11:40 PM | Permalink

I think Michael Kinsley had it right: "What the press seems to value is successful spin." To get that you pretty much only need access and a stenographic pen.

Posted by: Bob Griendling at June 25, 2010 12:39 AM | Permalink

There seems to be plenty of fudging going on about the grounds for relieving Stanley McChrystal of his command…

Was his offense that he had selected officers as his closest aides who had an insubordinate and disrespectful attitude towards civilian authority, including Ambassadors Holbrooke and Eikenberry, Vice President Biden and NSC Advisor Jones?

Or was McChrystal’s offense one of media management, that he failed to forbid his aides from blurting out on the record insubordinate and disrespectful attitudes that would have been permissible as long as they kept them to themselves?

Clearly the importance of the distinction between the fleeting visit of a freelance reporter and the permanent relationship of a beat reporter hinges on the answer to this question.

If the former -- the very presence of insubordinate attitudes about civilian authority in one’s aides is a firing offense -- then evidence that beat reporters overlooked such comments in order to maintain access would be downright unforgivable.

If the latter -- it was McChrystal’s failure to set up reporting ground rules that was the firing offense -- then beat reporters would be guilty of a less serious journalistic transgression, but a transgression nonetheless, namely relying on unwritten rules rather than explicit ones. Unwritten rules make it all too easy for a reporter to go native.

Without excusing the clubbiness of beat reporters, this phenomenon reminds me of the observation made about foreign correspondents: often the clearest insights about conditions in a foreign country are made upon first arrival, when conditions a resident takes for granted are most jarring; other aspects are completely invisible to the recently arrived and can only be perceived after being immersed in a country’s culture for decades.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at June 25, 2010 8:49 AM | Permalink

Seems from that clip of Lara Logan that she is alluding to the fact that there is indeed a security circle into which reporters enter only after having either been vetted or proved themselves to be "ball players." She seems to leave hanging the vague possibility that Hastings was a plant, perhaps by the civilian authorities with whom he had been haggling.

What I love about Logan's innuendo is that illuminates, too, how news is planted as either a leak or a "just sayin'" moment.

Posted by: Thomas Pellechia at June 25, 2010 9:22 AM | Permalink

Oops, "he" being the General.

Posted by: Thomas Pellechia at June 25, 2010 9:23 AM | Permalink

What Lara Logan may have been talking about is explained well in a post from former CNN Pentagon reporter Jamie McIntyre. By violating trust she means unwritten rules that beat reporters learn; of course , she doesn't spell any of that out. Just gives us the charge, "violating that trust," which is reckless but on the other hand normal for network television-- pointing at complex realities you have no intention of explaining because everyone knows there isn't time.

Jamie McIntyre, What WAS he thinking?

Hastings speculated to ABC, among others that it might simply be a character flaw, “a sort of natural kind of recklessness.”

I have another theory based on my 16 years of traveling with senior defense officials and military officers. Gen. McChrystal might have been under the misimpression Hastings would protect him, in return for the great access and candor.

The dirty little secret among beat reporters who routinely travel with top military officials is that there’s a unwritten code, a general understanding, that off-color jokes, irreverent banter, and casual conversations are generally off-the-record, or on the deepest of background, unless otherwise agreed upon.

Usually this is an informal understanding, especially when a group of reporters is traveling with an official, but sometimes it’s part of official ground rules...

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 25, 2010 9:47 AM | Permalink

Kurtz is with Shafer: No beat reporter would have declined to report the same things Hastings reported.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 25, 2010 9:53 AM | Permalink

...but were the quotes Hastings obtained merely "off-color jokes, irreverent banter and casual conversations" or were they more serious -- evidence of a rogue Bonapartist military operating in Afghanistan?

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at June 25, 2010 9:55 AM | Permalink

An audio interview with Jamie McIntyre (frmr CNN Pentagon / Nat Security Correspondent) and Kelly Mcbride (Poynter Institute) on the conundrums facing beat reporting of the military. One idea is to always drop non-beat reporters into the mix.

Posted by: Hari Sreenivasan at June 25, 2010 10:42 AM | Permalink

I will attest to Jay Rosen's verity. In college, my source-- on the record--begged to take back telling remarks he made during an interview. No way! said Jay, my editor.

I would never imagine Jay taking a back door the way Politico's Tim Grieve did.

Posted by: Charlie Haviland at June 25, 2010 6:59 PM | Permalink

First embedded video on PressThink, ever!?!?!

Posted by: Tim at June 25, 2010 9:42 PM | Permalink

The "shocked, shocked" meme is just one of the many predictable ways that reporters and editors flaunt their jadedness to prove their savvy. Consider another pair of shopworn lines from the same playbook:

* "It's not surprising... [X]"

* "It's nothing new... [x]"

... where [x] = "that something scandalous was done by someone in power."

The result invariably is that the bad official behavior is shrugged off as beneath the press's notice because we insiders have seen it all before. Thus a known schnook can get away with more schnookery, while someone with a spotless record must remain saintly to avoid the scorn of the press.

Posted by: Sam Pratt at June 25, 2010 10:49 PM | Permalink

The notion that Washington reporters trade silence for access has to be one of the worst-kept secrets of the trade. It was Tim Russert who said that if a source asked him not to repeat something that had been said on the record, he would comply. Even someone like David Corn, of the supposedly fiercely independent left press, has suggested that he was careful about what he would print from his CIA sources in order to protect access.

It's not really surprising. Sources use journalists. If journalists refuse to be used, then sources dry up. It takes a very clever journalist to let sources use him in a way that furthers the cause of the truth. What's different about this generation of journalists is that they allow themselves to be used to further the cause of lies.

Posted by: Charles at June 27, 2010 6:36 PM | Permalink

This reminds me of an interesting series of articles on Media Lens, about how reporters who DON'T internalise this kind of self-censorship never get anywhere. Written from a British perspective, but I suspect even more relevant in the US.

Posted by: bigbuzzard at June 27, 2010 6:48 PM | Permalink

This is why online articles should all come with a revision history, like wikipedia does. Then we "know" they're not disappearing anything. Of course, if it disappears from the history, that's even more damning.

Posted by: JeffreyY at June 28, 2010 1:16 AM | Permalink

Doesn't anybody see it? This wasn't a mistake. The General is a career officer in the US Army who got tired of what he was being asked to do. Now he can retire, relax, get appointed to several corporate board positions and start making some real money. All while being still a relatively young man, with a very fulsome retirement package. You don't get as high as he is in the officer hierarchy of the military by criticizing your superiors. Total obediance, ass kissing, boot licking or whatever you want to call it are what gets you promoted on the fast track to the rarified heights of the military chain of command. All military officers are contemptuous of their civilian superiors. It goes with the territory. Who are the real men, after all? (the totally obediant, ass kissing, boot licking professional military, of course). This is the humble perspective of a veteran. Take it or leave it. McChrystal didn't make any mistake. He knew what he was doing.

Posted by: Steve-Ingvar Olson at June 28, 2010 2:12 AM | Permalink

Grieve really should have just left it alone, rather than issue that non-explanation. In this context, 'tight and readable' has about as much explanatory power as 'cuz.'

And Steve-Ingvar Olsson, your version of events is directly contradicted by all the reporting of McChrystal's behavior after the article emerged -- by all accounts, he acted contrite and tried, discreetely but aggressively to save his job.

Sheesh... speaking of cheap ways to try to sound savvy. It's fun to pretend that powerful people always know what they're doing, but the world doesn't actually work that way.

Posted by: bh at June 28, 2010 8:45 AM | Permalink

I am no expert here, but I think Steve Ingvar-Olson is onto something. Here is some more utter speculation. The Afghanistan war is not going well or to plan, and should it go down the gurgler, whoever is in command ends up holding the bag. As I understand it, McChrystal had so far gotten more or less what he asked for, so he is the one holding the bag. He probably was not real thrilled about that, and may have been looking to get off the hook. So he starts beefing to the journo, knowing it will eventually get out somehow. He got scolded by Obama (whom he has said he neither likes nor respects) but retires a hero to the extra Y chromosome he-man conservative crowd, and gets to cash in at Halliburton, Xe, or some other defense company.

Posted by: jh at June 28, 2010 11:50 AM | Permalink

Hastings v. Logan

Posted by: Tim at June 28, 2010 1:23 PM | Permalink

"Want to assure you that, as a long time beat reporter, I've never pulled punches."

Too late, Stephanie. Cat out of bag.

Posted by: Gene Callahan at June 28, 2010 1:24 PM | Permalink

"by all accounts, he acted contrite and tried, discreetely but aggressively to save his job."

And that is evidence neither for nor against Olsson's theory. If McChrystal had planned to get fired, OF COURSE he'd have to act like he hadn't!

Posted by: Gene Callahan at June 28, 2010 1:34 PM | Permalink

Tim Grieve is an @$$. I had issues with him when he was at Salon with his wink-wink attitude. Don't believe me, go back and read his stuff. He is an insider's insider through-and-through.

As far as Lara Logan complaints, she sounds offended that Micky and crew weren't that open with her. Her complaint seem to be more rooted in jealously than protecting her sources. Either are egregious, but she comes off really shallow.

In either case, it is another episode in our continuing sad state of affairs in the media. We know all the SOBs are bought and paid, we get our kicks not from the action, but from the fact that they have become so comfortable in their cynical roles that the slip-up is the story, not the actual action.

Posted by: Dan at June 28, 2010 2:15 PM | Permalink

Politico's mission is to expose the secret undercurrents of journalism, except for those of their own publication.

Posted by: Hypocriticalobscurantism at June 28, 2010 6:14 PM | Permalink

Greg Sargent at The Plumb Line at On the Weigel fiasco and the whining of "real" journalists

There's no basis whatsoever for the B.S. charge that revealing a point of view of necessity compromises the integrity of the actual information purveyed. If Ezra isn't a "real" reporter, why did readers of his stuff feel more informed about the ins and outs of the health care debate than after consuming the work of a hundred other journalists? Why did readers feel more informed by Weigel's stuff about the Tea Partiers than they did by hundreds of more "objective" articles about the topic that appeared in scores of "neutral" publications?
He puts "objective" in scare quotes and calls complaints "BS".

It's the new normal, and it It mirrors the recently acknowledged popular acceptance of gays and lesbians. It seems like one day all of a sudden things change but it's a slow transformation.

Sargent's defense is almost casual, and that means the real fight is over.

Any representational system is going to be bounded by normative rules. I don't expect the Palestinians to get equal representation in the American press but that's changing too.

Posted by: seth edenbaum at June 28, 2010 9:29 PM | Permalink

"I love a good conspiracy as much as the next guy, but this ain’t one."

A pathetic strawman argument that reveals Mr. Grieve's slimy interior.

Posted by: ianam at June 28, 2010 11:47 PM | Permalink

That bugged me. Did I say it was a conspiracy? No. I said it was a revealing passage and (guessing, I said...) they probably removed it because it was too revealing and their reporters complained. I used the adjective Orwellian because when a significant portion of the public record disappears without notice or explanation-- comparisons to what Orwell describes in 1984 are not out of order.

So what is... "I love a good conspiracy as much as the next guy, but this ain’t one..." doing there? I'd suggest it is there to plant a hint that I'm a little nuts for writing this, a little overboard, a little like the stereotype of the crazed pajama-clad blogger, drifting a tad into Birther or Truther or black helicopter territory. Just a tad.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 29, 2010 9:34 AM | Permalink

On the Media interview with Jamie McIntyre, former CNN Pentagon correspondent.

BOB GARFIELD: As a freelancer, Hastings isn't bound by the same unofficial rules that beat reporters often live by. Jamie McIntyre was a beat reporter, the senior Pentagon correspondent for CNN, for 16 years. This is his theory of why such lofty military officials would speak so candidly in front of a reporter.

JAMIE McINTYRE: They got very comfortable with Michael Hastings and believe that he would probably follow the convention of many beat reporters and not report some of the hijinks that go on behind the scenes.

BOB GARFIELD: Let me ask you now to describe the difference in the dynamics between a beat reporter on the defense beat or any other and someone who parachutes in for one story.

JAMIE McINTYRE: Well, the difference is the sort of one-off reporter doesn't need to worry about whether he's going to get future access or not, whereas the beat reporters, like when I was at CNN, I needed access; I needed to be able to get to the key people to find out what was going on when bombs were dropping or things were happening.

And the way you do that is you forego reporting all of the sort of off-color jokes or informal banter that goes on when you follow these guys around, focus on the big picture, and they begin to trust you. As a result, when you need to know what's going on, you get access.

If you do what Michael Hastings does, they're never going to talk to him again. Of course, he — he doesn't care. The fallout from that though is that they may also not talk to a lot of other reporters, as well.

BOB GARFIELD: Not reporting the off-color jokes, the intemperate comments and so forth, you call that the dirty little secret of beat reporting.

JAMIE McINTYRE: You know, it implies this sort of overly cozy relationship. These military officials that we're following around, they're not our friends. We're frenemies, we're not friends. You know, one thing we've learned from this whole episode is that military officers cannot tell you what they're really thinking without being in peril of losing their jobs.

So the dirty little secret is yeah, we sort of informally agree not to report a lot of things that we see and hear, some of it for legitimate security reasons, and some of it because it could just be embarrassing. And the tradeoff is we get a continued relationship with these people and we can get information.

And by the way, it is information that we can still hold them accountable for, it's just that we sort of cover them.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 29, 2010 9:52 AM | Permalink

In the Bob Garfield interview and similarly in the Hari Sreenivasan interview, McIntyre treats the comments from McChrystal and his team as essentially trivial. For NPR, McIntyre talks about “off-color jokes” and “informal banter” and potentially “embarrassing” comments. For PBS, he described “keeping small, mostly inconsequential, but sometimes amusing incidents private.” Howard Kurtz on CNN’s Reliable Sources, talking to CBS’ Lara Logan, characterizes the comments as “insults and banter.” Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine dismissed it as the same-old, same-old -- soldiers complaining about their orders.

Surely they beg the question. If what Rolling Stone revealed was a thoroughgoing, insubordinate, mood of contempt for civilian leadership in the highest ranks of the military leadership of the Afghanistan counterinsurgency, then this was not “banter” nor “amusing incidents” nor complaints. It was scandal.

Sreenivasan never asked McIntyre nor did Kurtz ask Logan whether Hastings’ portrayal of a rogue military was accurate. The doctrine of counterinsurgency insists that all operations of the United States government in Afghanistan -- political, diplomatic, nationbuilding, international development, humanitarian aid -- should be subservient to the military. It is possible that the disdain for civilian control that Rolling Stone depicts grows out of this doctrine. If it is Pentagon policy to turn the general into the Viceroy, then discussion of banter is itself trivial and beside the point.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at June 29, 2010 11:18 AM | Permalink

". And while he’s at it, he can explain why he posted on his site the PDF of an article Rolling Stone was about to publish, in a brazen attempt to “win the morning” with someone else’s work."

I have been wondering about this myslef... no answer yet?

Posted by: gbaked at June 29, 2010 1:06 PM | Permalink

David Carr's New York Times column:

Reached by e-mail on a plane, Jim VandeHei, executive editor and a founder of Politico, suggested that the imperatives of the news cycle superseded questions of custody. “Our reporters got the article from sources with no restrictions,” he wrote. “It was being circulated and widely discussed among insiders, and our team felt readers should see what insiders were reading and reacting to. Rolling Stone raised a reasonable objection once they posted the story, so we quickly agreed to link to their URL.”

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 29, 2010 4:21 PM | Permalink

Unsourced & in error, Lara Logan's attack on Michael Hasting's reporting on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” only makes sense as a beat sweetener. Which is one form of the currency ("pulling punches" is another) with which the savvy trade in the marketplace of influence central to the material and professional success of beat-reporters. Media elites evoke the journalism of accountability, but aspire to the journalism of access, and all the rights and privileges thereto.

Posted by: Chris Bugbee at July 1, 2010 1:11 PM | Permalink

@Andrew Tyndall

Where did you read that in the COIN doctrine? Please link or cite your source. I don't think you know squid about crabs when discussing the military or doctrine.

Posted by: Tim at July 2, 2010 9:32 PM | Permalink

If you were to watch Martha Raddatz’ reporting from Logar Province for ABC, for example, it would be impossible to believe that the civilian component of the United States’ counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is not completely dependent on and ancillary to its armed forces and that, in the eyes of Afghan civilians, USAID and State Department political advisors must be indistinguishable from military occupation forces.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at July 6, 2010 10:48 AM | Permalink

@Andrew Tyndall,

I watched the video of Martha Raddatz’ reporting from Logar Province for ABC linked above. I recommend it. It does not come close to supporting your conclusions. In fact, Matt Sherman is a State Department civilian and political advisor to Task Force Spartan, Third Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. After watching that video, you find it impossible to believe that his role in COIN is anything other than to be subservient to your "rogue" US military conducting an occupation of Afghanistan (along with all the other nations in ISAF)?

Posted by: Tim at July 7, 2010 1:14 PM | Permalink

Tim -- I never said that counterinsurgency doctrine was to have a rogue military. What I said was that the doctrine insists that the civilian operations of the US government be subservient to its military presence. There was no way that the political advisor was depicted as being autonomous of the military or independent of it. On the contrary. My argument was that if McChrystal's command ended up as a rogue operation, as Rolling Stone implied and as Adm Mullen conceded, his abuses may have grown out of the privileged position for the military envisaged by the underlying doctrine. In other words, the counterinsurgency doctrine itself, lacking checks and balances, may have contained the seeds of its own abuse.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at July 7, 2010 4:51 PM | Permalink

From the Intro