Sunday, June 27, 2010

The David Weigel Saga On Speaking Out of School

Let's see if I got this right. The Washington Post hired an on-line reporter to cover the Tea Party and other conservative causes because his resume was that of a libertarian conservative.

Three months later the Post fires the reporter, Dave Weigel, because a gossip website published snide remarks in emails  he wrote about the very conservatives he was paid to cover.

That's when all hell broke loose. You would have thought Ben Bradlee, managing editor of the Washington Post, had fired Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein three months into the Watergate burglary story back in 1972.

To give you an idea of the thunder bolts launched by the gods of media heaven, I will take you on a reactionary journey from my colleague Kathy Kattenburg's blog roundup in The Moderate Voice, to Ezra Klein's defense to a satire on the Post's ombudsman.

I hope you were taking notes because I defy anyone to explain and define what exactly is an "objective" reporter.

A good reporter is always accurate in his factual presentation. He is never objective because there is never enough space or air time to list every single fact to an issue that satisfy every reader or listener.
Reporters are biased. Get over it. They're humans as the rest of us. The trick which isn't always achieved is setting those internal mechanisms aside when sitting in front of a keyboard or live mik.

The experienced reporters don't express their deepest prejudices in writing unless they want those opinions thrown back in their face as happened to David Weigel. We live in a nasty society and Washington D.C. is especially cruel. If you live by the sword, you die by the pen, I always say.

I lived by a code of journalistic ethics which I stretched to the hilt. It was part of selling a story called an "angle" or "slant."

I would and still do "slant" the facts to support an "angle" that Jack Abramoff was a crook but by God had facts to support it and reactions from other to say I was full of prunes.

Don't laugh. We lived by the credo "fair and balanced" long before Fox News stole the term and abused its meaning.

The best reporters tell stories that grab readers by the neck. It's the "hook" that the beast lures to catch the reader in the first two paragraphs or the first two seconds of a broadcast.

Much is made of Weigel being hired by the Post to write about the Tea Party and conservatives because he was a libertarian and understood the mindset.

That is a valid reason most of the time. I mean you don't hire someone in sports to cover the Federal Reserve.

My first truly great editor Jim Dean at the old Santa Ana Register was assigning new beats for reporters and one vacancy was covering San Juan Capistrano. I volunteered, boasting I was raised there and knew the town and its rich history.

Jim looked at me with a disgusted look. "That's as bad as asking Bobby Kennedy to cover his brother Jack," Jim mocked. He assigned me to the Newport Beach beat.

As young reporters develop their trade, smart editors will take notice and assign them stories and beats where they have shown some expertise.

I made my mark as a police and government reporter. I recall walking into the news room one day. The night city editor handed me a press release and told me to interview the Coldwell Bank chairman of the board. At the time all I knew was banks were for checking accounts and auto loans.

I filed the story but not after I called the Coldwell PR guy. With total loss of pride, I read the story to him for blatant errors and gross misrepresentations. I then informed the night city editor never to pull that on me again. He informed me I was the only reporter available and the assignment came directly from the publisher's office. Oh.

But I digress. David Weigel got caught in the same trap as Helen Thomas and hundreds before them. You would think in today's age of 24/7 cable, blogs, emails, Facebook, Twitter and gadgets anyone can record and launch immediately to cyberspace, they would learn.

They don't.

William Shakespeare was right as far back as 400 years ago. "Kill the messengers," he wrote in Hamlet.

The most prestigious broadcasters in my time were Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. They were maligned by the far right, among other things, for working for CBS they called the Communist Broadcasting Company.

The best writer/reporter I ever knew was a despicable chap of flawed character, M. J. Lagies, who most of you probably never heard of.  The targets of his sharp pen hated him but none ever beat him in a court of law.

1 comment:

Jojn Dillon said...

Good day,

"We lived by the credo “fair and balanced” long before Fox News stole the term and abused its meaning."

From whom did Fox News steal the term and can you provide some examples of their abuse?

Thank you,

John Dillon
Langhorne, PA

Editor's Note:

"Fair and balanced" is a generic term long used in the newspaper business. Fox uses the motto as a blanket mission statement of all its network programming.

I suggest you run a fact check on the morning "Fox and Friends" and Glenn Beck. I personally believe Sean Hannity is the worst offender in terms of "balance," for he steadfastly refuses to entertain any fact that is contrary to his own political views. Download his Friday show and click on the "All American Panel" segment is the latest example I can offer. I have no dissent with the "straight" news presentations for they "slant" a story much as I admit doing in my own writings. But the "fair and balance" fits all programming is a travesty to the term and is a joke outside the faithful Fox viewers.