Monthly Archives: July 2009

Bias By a “Reporter”

Feeling a little disrespected, progressives, after President Obama yesterday told you to mind your manners?

"We shouldn’t be focusing resources on each other," Obama opined in the call, according to three sources who participated in or listened to the conversation. "We ought to be focused on winning this debate."

Specifically, Obama said he is hoping left-leaning organizations that worked on his behalf in the presidential campaign will now rally support for "advancing legislation" that fulfills his goal of expanding coverage, controlling rising costs and modernizing the health system.

And if you don’t…

Obama also hinted that efforts are under way to discourage allies from future attacks on Democrats, according to the source, who did not have permission to speak on the record about the discussion.

So an anonymous source delivers his threat.  Obama’s reputation as a wuss is bolstered. Progressives, perhaps it will be an anonymous source who’ll put you in the time-out corner.

And helping the president in his effort to exert discipline on those who worked for change and are increasingly disappointed is the “reporter” of the article.

See, she’s not a real reporter.  She’s not the kind of reporter who delivers the facts and context dispassionately.  She’s the kind of “reporter” who finds ways of denigrating those she doesn’t respect.  Isn’t that what we do when we describe someone in quotes? 

MoveOn, a Web-based political action committee that works to elect "progressive" leaders, intended to run commercials….

Can you imagine her writing that Focus on the Family works on behalf of electing “conservative” leaders?  You might think that she thinks they’re not really conservative at all, but wannabes.  Or worse, some fringe group.

This is the same “reporter” who drew a strong reaction form someone she misquoted, after accusing him of being unable to “to articulate a substantive argument for the public plan,” when the “reporter” hadn’t asked him to do so.

Ceci Connolly clearly has a chip on her shoulder. Or maybe she’s miffed that her employer didn’t invite her to a salon (use the French pronunciation, sa-lawhn, s’il vous plait) where she would get to mingle with health care executives in hopes of finding a cushy “PR” job, when her “reporter” days are over.

Let’s wish her luck in her job hunting. 

Are Washington Post Reporters for Sale?

Fortunately, Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli is trying to extricate the news staff from this offer of pay for access to its reporters.

“Offered at $25,000 per sponsor, per Salon. Maximum of two sponsors per Salon. Underwriters’ CEO or Executive Director participates in the discussion. Underwriters appreciatively acknowledged in printed invitations and at the dinner. Annual series sponsorship of 11 Salons offered at $250,000 … Hosts and Discussion Leaders … Health-care reporting and editorial staff members of The Washington Post … An exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done. … A Washington Post Salon … July 21, 2009 6:30 p.m. …

"Washington Post Salons are extensions of The Washington Post brand of journalistic inquiry into the issues, a unique opportunity for stakeholders to hear and be heard," the flier says. "At the core is a critical topic of our day. Dinner and a volley of ideas unfold in an evening of intelligent, news-driven and off-the-record conversation. … By bringing together those powerful few in business and policy-making who are forwarding, legislating and reporting on the issues, Washington Post Salons give life to the debate. Be at this nexus of business and policy with your underwriting of Washington Post Salons."

UPDATE:  The Post’s ombudsman call this a “PR disaster.”  But Brauchli doesn’t have complete deniability.

The flier came out of the office Charles Pelton, who joined The Post recently to find ways to generate business through conferences and events. The Post, like many struggling newspapers, is desperately seeking new sources of revenue.

“There’s no intention to influence or pedal,” Pelton said this morning. “There’s no intention to have a Lincoln Bedroom situation,” referring to charges that President Clinton used invitations to stay at the White House as a way of luring political backing.

Pelton said newsroom leaders, including Brauchli, had been involved in discussions about the salons and other events.

“This was well developed with the newsroom,” he said. “What was not developed was the marketing message to potential sponsors.”

Brauchli acknowledged discussions, but said they had centered on “identifying events that we think are worthy of newsroom participation, whether it’s a conference or a smaller event.”

Had they talked about where to draw the line on participation by reporters and editors?

“I thought we had,” he said, adding that he takes some responsibility for “not communicating effectively enough what the limitations were for newsroom participation.”

Brauchli did not rule out such participation, but said it would have to meet conditions that ensure there are no ethical conflicts for the newsroom.

“We would want to determine the subject matter,” he said. “We would want to assure ourselves that there were multiple sponsors and not sponsors with a vested interest.”

And, he said, “our preference is that things always be on the record.”

Still, it’s nice to have the opportunity to pay to sit down with a reporter in such a setting.  Do you think a reporter would feel comfortable questioning sources when the publisher is looking over his shoulder and about to deposit a check for $25,000 from the poor schmuck the reporter is trying to cut down to size?

UPDATE 2: Event is cancelled

Why Reporters Should Keep Opinions to Themselves

How was President Obama’s town hall meeting on healthcare yesterday?

According to the AP headline and its story about it, his performance was thin gruel.

Emotion, few details, in Obama’s health care pitch (headline)

…The health care changes that Obama called for Wednesday would reshape the nation’s medical landscape. He says he wants to cover nearly 50 million uninsured Americans, to persuade doctors to stress quality over quantity of care, to squeeze billions of dollars from spending.

But details on exactly how to do those things were generally lacking in his hour-long town hall forum before a friendly, hand-picked audience in a Washington suburb.

But The Washington Post called his performance “wonkish.”

President Obama offered a wonkish defense of his embattled health-care reform effort during an hour-long town hall meeting in Northern Virginia yesterday that featured seven questions, including one sent via Twitter and several from a handpicked audience of supporters.

…One Twitter user asked whether it makes sense to tax people’s health-care coverage as a way to pay for reform. That led Obama to offer a long explanation of the various financing proposals, including his own for limiting deductions for the wealthy.

Why do reporters try to signal us how we should feel about the information they are imparting?  As Jack Webb (as those of you old enough to remember his TV detective persona) might say, “Just the fact, ma’am.”

The Post reporters, Mike Shear and Jose Antonio Vargas, seemed particularly judgmental today.

With the president’s health-care ambitions meeting a cool reception on Capitol Hill, the administration is increasingly seeking to pressure lawmakers with evidence of the public’s desire for action as well as proof that the health-care industry is a stakeholder in — not an opponent of — the effort.

“Meeting a cool reception”?  How do they judge that?  As best I can tell, the principal tenants of Obama’s outline are still in tact, including the public option. Are there challenges to it?  Yes, but principally from the marginalized GOP.  There are a few Democratic senators who are balking, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said all along that her chamber’s healthcare plan will include a public option.  And now the Senate is moving in that direction.

What’s so cool about that?

This comes after Media Matters  objected to a characterization of the effectiveness of a public plan by Post health reporter Ceci Connolly.

[Interim chief executive of Change Congress Adam] Green, in an interview, was hard-pressed to articulate a substantive argument for the public plan [emphasis added] but said that it "has become a proxy for the question of Democrats who stand on principle and represent their constituents."

As Green articulated in his own post about the interview, he wasn’t asked about the benefits of a public plan.

If Green’s recollection of the interview is correction and given today’s characterization of the debate in Congress, one must ask if The Post has a chip on its shoulder about the plan.

There’s nothing cool about that.

Trying to characterize the entire debate in Congress about Obama’s outline – which is not a detailed plan – is a fool’s errand.  And Post reporters are no fools. 

So what’s the beef?