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September 14, 2007

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This really is the NASCAR Presidency isn't it?

phred

The concept of body-watch is not unique to this presidency. There were times when the press corps badly wanted to blow Clinton off, too (no, not like that!), but didn't--I presume because they were waiting for some Scaife-funded bully to come after him.

EW, with Clinton, one would have thought the "body-watch" would have been more related to the press' predilection for porn than bodily harm (snark ;)

In all seriousness though, this just goes to show how far the 4th Estate has fallen from the founders' vision. They expected the press to be the vehicle of vigorous public debate. The principle role of the press was to ensure that the "consent of the governed" as demonstrated at the ballot box was based on solid information. Granted the press at that time was positively scurrilous, but its wide-open free-wheeling nature allowed for all views to be shared. In the Age of Enlightenment, they believed the best ideas would rise above the rest of the hullaballoo. Well, so much for that. And now, that the internet has opened up our "presses" once again to the general public, a member of the 4th Estate has the unmitigated gall to blame the public for the sorry state of the "professional" media. Right. Another freakin' hack trying to assign blame to others and accept no responsibility for their own culpability. And people wonder why I can't be bothered with TV news...

plagiarizing atrios' "simple answers to simple questions..."

"If a President were shot in the woods (not that I'm advocating that) and no one was there, would the White House still be able to produce shameless propaganda?"

yes...

http://takeitpersonally.blogspot.com/

the white house press corps really should be disbanded.

and it should be the next president who does that.

use the rooms for something else. insist the reporters get off their butts and go out into washington and do some reporting (yeah, i know, it's much cleverer politics to keep them all trapped in a room, mesmerized by power.)

it is perfectly reasonable to have a press secretary who meets with reporters from time to time

and a president who does the same when circumstances warrant,

but daily interactions, with the press secretary playing games with the truth to protect the president,

and the press sitting around with one questioning hand tied behind their backs,

worried that if they ask a really appropriate tough question they will get thrown out of the white house press corp,

or their new corporation will get black listed,

it's an utter waste of our (readers and viewers) time.

though it certainly cannot be said to be a waste of reportorial talent

since there is so little of that in the white house press corp,

or for that matter,

in the corporate media as a whole.

help me list the number of really important news stories that came out of a white house press corp meeting in the last year -

or the last six years.

other of course, than the central story

that scott mcclellan and ari fleischer and tony snow lied to the american people very day they worked

in the name of,

and with the tacit approval of,

the president of the united states.

"If a President were shot in the woods (not that I'm advocating that) and no one was there, would the White House still be able to produce shameless propaganda?"

Yes. Because Boosh never goes anywhere that is not staged and surrounded by friendly admirers. He would therefore be in a stand of Birch trees, and the society could spin the events.

It seems like this president is more likely to choke on a pretzel (if that is what really happened to cause him to collaspe and get a big bruise) than to be shot at.

Thanks for your response.

But I was answering Professor Rosen's contention that we should, to prove our independence and good news judgment, have not sent anyone with President Bush to Iraq, not arguing that our entire existence and purpose can be summed up with the "body watch" concept. In fact, I tried to sum up my view by drawing a distinction between attending a press conference and what we report from that press conference.

Apparently, despite adding other criticisms and comments and trying to explain what we're doing here, I utterly failed to get my point across.

HackWhoWroteRosen:

Thanks for stopping by. I thought it was actually very thought provoking and I'm glad you wrote Rosen.

I'd say two things. Yes, you're right. There is a difference between criticizing you for showing up and criticizing the press corps for providing crappy reporting. I'd add a third thing, and say that people like David Gregory--who make a nice show in the gaggle but then totally cave in his reporting--is a problem too (that is, the public press corp appearances provide him an opportunity to look good, but he's not going to actually put his reporting where his mouth is).

For this post, I got stuck riffing about the body count principle, which was not meant to imply I didn't get your point.

But that doesn't mean I agree that the decision to show is without ethical problems, even if you do good reporting from the press corps. As with marriage and foreign affairs, very little good comes out of self-destructive relationships, and it's usually better to intervene before the real damage is done. At some point the press corps does have to refuse to be a prop in presidential charades (and I realized Clinton did some of this too). And refusing to show up is the easiest way to do so. I don't see much else coming out of the WH press corps that shows anyone is considering alternative ways to refuse to play the prop.

Delighted to. Thanks for the welcome.

This is entirely inappropriate, and I apologize preemptively, and I'm sure I'm violating all kinds of online etiquette, but I could just kiss you for this:

"I'd add a third thing, and say that people like David Gregory--who make a nice show in the gaggle but then totally cave in his reporting--is a problem too."

Not that I'm endorsing in any way picking on Gregory, but you're absolutely, 100% correct about the general problem of question-asking vs reporting. Thank you thank you thank you. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Most news consumers consume the final product: The evening newscast, the newspaper story, radio spot, etc.

On showing up, you know, like agreeing not to name officials who are speaking behind the podium and giving the official White House line, it's a collective action problem. No individual reporter can safely buck that trend without support from their editor or bureau chief, and individual news organizations really struggle with their internal rules for how to handle this (remember when the NYTimes and WashPost promised to say, in the story, why they were agreeing to grant anonymity?).

HackWhoWroteRosen, I also really appreciate you being here. Perhaps you can explain to me when the WH Press Corps gets an anonymous bit of information, why don't they then make a flurry of phone calls to other folks to reality check it? It seems like so many of the problems with Judy Miller and Michael Gordon and their ilk come back to their only reporting one side (hence the endless references to stenography). It gives the readers a sense that they are functioning as propagandists rather than objective reporters. Why don't editors and bureau chiefs come down on that like a ton of bricks?

HackWWR - I will be a bit more impolitic. I not only " don't see much else coming out of the WH press corps that shows anyone is considering alternative ways to refuse to play the prop", I don't see much of redeeming value of any kind coming out of the White House Press Corps. You let right wing stooges set the agenda through their set up softball questions and not only don't call them on it, you allow yourselves to be coopted by mostly uncritically reporting the staged answers. You let someone like Jeff Gannon/guckert "pass" without really delving into the real story and you either knew, should have known or damn well should have found out. Being a White House reporter is certainly a cushy and glamorous job for a reporter; but if you can't actually live up to the standards and ethos of your profession, none of you ought to be there. For my money (and I do pay money that supports YOU through taxes that pay for your transportation and subscription fees to newspapers, feeds and things like TimesSelect); you have become no better than the pitiful congress members that are more concerned about protecting their reelection and little pot o gold than they are about honoring their oath of office to protect the Constitution of the United States of America. I call BS on your defensive hacktackery.

Politicians and the press are co-dependents. Politicians like leaking their message without standing behind it and the press enjoys having ready-made stories to print and feeling like they are 'inside'. The fact that they AREN'T inside never really seems to dawn on them. If the press IS inside, they're treated like a mushroom - kept in the dark and fed bullshit. I'd like to see elected officials pledge to make all of their comments on the record and pledge their staffs to do the same. Maybe the leverage to get a better press can come from politicians who are competing with other politicians trying to be more open with their constituents.

I don't think asking the veal that is the White House press corps to change is going to be effective.

One other thing that really got under my skin was a puff piece on NPR's Weekend Edition the Saturday after the little road trip. I forget which NPR reporter was invited to go (that's best really), but he did this piece that came across on the radio as if he was just tickled pink to have been asked by Dana Perino to show up. He sounded for all the world like the homely wallflower at the junior high sock hop who got asked to dance by the football team captain. Seriously, how can I then treat this man's future reporting as objective and thorough in any way?

Phred: Thank you.

I can't speak to She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, except to note that she wasn't a WH reporter. Gordon I don't know at all, except that I'm broadly aware of online criticisms of his work.

So, speaking generally, and I know that's a bit annoying, I would tell you that most of us do make that flurry of phone calls. The trouble is that there is usually a race to be the first to get that information out, and speed is the enemy of thoroughness and the accuracy it is supposed to engender.

So people will rush out with the info, then go back and try to confirm it or knock it down elsewhere.

But, of course:

1. The damage is often done.
2. The trouble with putting off that kind of effort is that you often get yanked onto another story and the confirmation process suddenly takes a back seat.

Please, please believe me when I say that I am explaining, not defending.

"He sounded for all the world like the homely wallflower at the junior high sock hop who got asked to dance by the football team captain. Seriously, how can I then treat this man's future reporting as objective and thorough in any way?"

Well, I would ask you to give that a shot, at least. He's really good. And I would ask that you assess the work qua the work. In this particular instance, remember that he's trying to bring alive that experience for listeners who are, somewhat understandably, curious about what that's like.

HackWhoWroteRosen -- I do believe you are explaining rather than defending, and I really mean it when I say I appreciate it. Your willingness to engage in this discussion is a huge improvement over the condenscending email exchanges that occurred over the Katie Couric in Iraq flap (but I digress).

You still didn't really answer the question about the editors and the bureau chiefs, because I really think that is a big part of the problem. If they don't demand better balance, then the readers won't get it for exactly the reasons you mention. Everyone's day is filled with a flurry of activity and stuff falls through the cracks, but that is why the editors are there. They are supposed to keep everything on track. This is what I don't get. If it has been so obvious to the readers that there have been real problems, then surely the editors had to be aware of them, too. This is why people have been turning to the blogs in droves, there is much much better coverage to be found here. I say this as a former avid reader of the NY Times. I finally gave up in disgust last spring, cancelled my TimesSelect, and haven't looked back.

I still listen to NPR regularly, and I still consider them to be the best major media organization around, but even with that, the shortcomings are just plain painful to listen to. They have done great work, Daniel Zwerdling's work on the abusive treatment of prisoners detained by DHS comes to mind. The tip of the hat that Josh Marshall got from an NPR reporter whose name escapes me at the moment was wonderful in his reporting of the Libby trial. But too often, even on NPR, they report WH talking points without adequate follow up and it gets downright discouraging.

I really really hope you continue to ponder the frustrations you read about on the blogs. You are in a position to work toward a much better state of affairs in journalism. And frankly, the country is counting on you guys to get this right. So again, thanks again, and please do what you can...

One thing about the "bodywatch" that really struck me reading about 9-11 was the obsessive attention given to the President's safety. I mean, sure, we want the guy to be safe, but his job at that point was, as Bush might say commandering.
The guy needed to get to a command post from which he could pass out instructions, but most importantly, he needed to get to a place from where he could receive real-time information as to what was going on.
Sure, we want he President to be safe, but that doesn't mean we ought to bury him in a hole when things go haywire. There are times when he needs to be out front.

Phred: Crikey, I must have sounded needy! But thank you.

"You still didn't really answer the question about the editors and the bureau chiefs, because I really think that is a big part of the problem."

Oops. My bad. Sorry, it's sometimes not wholly clear to me what the core question you (commenters) want answered is.

The basic answer is that editors and bureau chiefs want The Breaking Story and The Next Story as badly as the reporters do. And that when they do come down like a ton of bricks, which happens, it's in private (think of Jill Zuckerman). Is that a clear(er) answer? Please follow-up if it's not. (Also, have some pity, I'm juggling my actual job with following this thread and composing an answer to Professor Rosen's answer to my answer to his post).

Wait wait wait: Surely you don't think that these frustrations don't exist in my world? (I know, I know, "don't call you Shirley"). Take some hope from the fact that you could get an earful about these problems from anyone in my position - and then some. I don't know a single reporter who, in private at least, will say she thinks all is cool with the way we do our jobs. Our gripes are slightly different from yours, or phrased slightly differently, but there's actually quite a lot of common ground.

"sometimes not wholly clear to me what the core question you (commenters) want answered is."

I will take a stab at that if you really don't know. Journalism and a free and informed public, via the press/journalists, is truly the "Fourth Estate" (tempting to say "Fourth Branch"); how in the world to you justify your salary and job title when you produce nothing but stenography?

Hack -- No you didn't sound needy, I was just trying to be supportive :) I enormously value the discussions I have on-line, but I sometimes fear it is just so much preaching to the choir, which is why I'm glad you decided to stick your toe in the pool of sharks. Don't get me wrong, I'm most definitely one of the sharks, but I don't often get a chance to pester an object of my wrath directly, so I'm trying to be polite :)

I also don't doubt for a second that there is enormous frustration on the part of reporters who may feel trapped in a broken system that they can't seem to fix. So I'm curious, in a perfect world, if you could wave your magic wand, how would you change things? (And yeah, Airplane was a great movie :)

Feel free to take your time in answering this -- that's the beauty of TNH, the threads evolve over a day or two (rather than an hour or two like on FDL). We're all doing other things, we just pop in as we can to participate...

If you ask me, denial ain't just a river that runs through the Oval Office.

HackWhoWroteRosen,

Why do members of the Press Corp enable Bush in their self-terrorizing? When he goes to a factory with giant earth movers, he revs one up and aims for the press, and laughs like a hyena as they scatter like quail. When visiting a maker of armed robots (grabby claws, lasers, blinking lights), he asks a reporter to get down in the dirt as he revs it up and aims the claw... and the reporter willingly plays victim.

What would happen if the press didn't run? If they didn't lie down under his tractor treads? If just one single member stood there and refused to show fear? Is there an adult in the Press Corp?

How can we respect an institution of children playing games with the boy-king? Instead of excoriating him for recklessness, you encourage him. His lack of maturity has already resulted in the deaths and injuries of various police officers (motorcades and bicycling).

Hangers-on and accomplices can't be objective.

When will someone call a halt to the game?

OT: hey bmaz, I'll go check out that band 'the Hold Steady' at Canes (yes, it's a club in Pacific Beach). Thanks for the tip - my gf and I love checking out live music and are always soliciting tips for bands people like.

You're in Phoenix? Sounds like, since the dates are so close to the SD dates.

We never miss a chance to catch Big Head Todd (the Clapton of Colorado I call him) and also Bob Schneider (my gf is from Austin). If you have never seen these two, by all means look them up and catch them live. You won't regret it.

Kennedy was killed by someone like Sgt Shriver who created PC and Green Berets with Kennedy. So, who hired who?

randiego - know the Monsters well. That only confrims that the Hold Steady is a must see for you. Yep, in Phoenix.

HackWhoWroteRosen,

In your email to Jay Rosen, you said (referring to the WH Press Corps):

We are responsible for the day-in, day-out coverage of presidential goings on. That’s an indispensable aspect of White House coverage, but it’s not sufficient.


This is where I think you are wrong. I think day-in, day-out coverage of presidential goings on is not just dispensable, but counter-productive to the primary function of journalism. You have ceded editorial control over your activities to a politician. How can that be a good thing?

Check your newspaper's first page; any major newspaper's firstpage. The article's byline is usually "staff writer" or "staff writers", the guy who actually wrote printed the words, not the "reporter".

"Reporters" are sent to get "the story". It is then re-written with the proper "spin" by a "staff writer". The
staff writer" works for the boss.

What? You didn't notice that before?

qwerty--that is necessarily the case. I have worked as a staff writer at several newspapers and did my own reporting and writing--and then fought tooth and nail with editors, who uniformly proved to be, well, ignorant, unfeeling and not the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Aaggh--my bad. Make that: That is NOT necessarily the case. Note to self: writers should proof their own stuff. Blergh.

In my experience, editors knew the story they wanted when they made the assignment. If the reporter didn't find/report the story the editor expected/wanted, generally the editor published the story that s/he expected--not what the reporter found. Or enough edits were made that the reporter was left with a byline and a story that wasn't what was submitted...The reporter got to respond to demands for corrections--and the editor was out at a business lunch...

Qwerty: Staff writer is what reporters are technically called at newspapers.

Phred: Well, I'd like the choir of sharks (my metaphors are getting a bit sloppy) to get a better idea of what we're doing, how we're doing it, why, how problems arise, why they do or don't get fixed, etc. I'm not so interested in helping folks down the road to self-validation, but I don't get the sense that you're doing that. I don't need you to be polite, so much, as long as you keep asking rather than assuming. And I want to get as much out now, because I don't know what my schedule will be like later.

Oh, man. My book proposal, you mean? That's a whole conversation in itself. For a year.

At the core, go back to Boys on the Bus and look at what Broder and Witcover talk about: The daily media's paralyzing fear that it may be seen as unfair, biased, what have you, if they undertake more investigative, analytical, fact-checking pieces. We need to overcome that. We also need to preserve the depth of our benches: Cutting overseas bureaus, eliminating jobs that aren't mostly interchangeable "generalists" (which the WH job is, to a tremendous degree), those are bad ideas (again, check out what I said to Rosen and, if he's posted it, my follow-up). We need expertise. Desperately. We need to exercise a little self-discipline, as financially painful as it may be. No more waterskiing squirrels. There's no way to break the 24/7 news cycle, but we need to reevaluate the place of breaking news in overall coverage, and especially be more diligent about following up. We need to break our overreliance on political reporters to report policy stories, even though that may also hurt our bottom line (I'm willing to bet that everyone here is familiar with and has an opinion about the Edwards haircut story, and not with Michael Grunwald's 2004 (IIRC) series on the impact of the sugar industry on policy and politics).
I'll break off here to see whether you have questions.

"This is where I think you are wrong. I think day-in, day-out coverage of presidential goings on is not just dispensable, but counter-productive to the primary function of journalism. You have ceded editorial control over your activities to a politician. How can that be a good thing?"

I disagree, strongly, though I wonder whether we're on the same page as to what it means to cover the day-in, day-out presidential goings on. Obviously, we decide what is "newsworthy" in those goings-on. (You don't get a lot of recitation of "the president got his daily briefings," for instance). Most news consumers actually do want an account of the political debate, what a who said what where when how and why, want that put into context. I think that the daily news from the White House is part of that.

Mr. Hack,

Thanks for stopping by to educate us unwashed. I hope you'll have time to riddle me this: What the hell is the point of anonymous Senior Administration Officials giving you a pre-spin of the President's speech? Why do you guys go along with that? How did you personally handle that?

Hack

If the sugar series is the one I'm thinking of, yes I do have an opinion on it. A similar series on the impact of ethanol would be key, particularly since the rush to ethanol is spiking food prices.

But then, the only reason I go to traditional grocery stores anymore is so I can buy sugar made from sugar cane grown in MI (can't buy it at the co-op). So I'm a bit of a sugar wonk.

"What would happen if the press didn't run? If they didn't lie down under his tractor treads? If just one single member stood there and refused to show fear? Is there an adult in the Press Corp?"

Between you and me, that sh*t drives me crazy.

Emptywheel: You have proved me wrong. Mea maxima culpa. Otherwise, though, I agree. I like that stuff too, but we are, to paraphrase Adlai Stevenson, in the minority.

James, LA: Unwashed? TMI.

"What the hell is the point of anonymous Senior Administration Officials giving you a pre-spin of the President's speech? Why do you guys go along with that? How did you personally handle that?"

I don't want to go into too much detail, but that was a doozy. Especially the end, when these fine, fine White House aides refused to put a number on the troop withdrawal and told us to talk to "experts" on the subject. Abject.

I used some of the stuff that was useful to my story - if this makes sense, it fit my story, it did not shape it. I used some of the weirdness (to make the point that it was weird). Personally, I'd like the WHPC to source information from briefings like that to "the White House." It is, after all, the official line. Delivered in the briefing room. From behind the podium. Fed over the speakers.

I don't have a blanket problem with background briefings, and in fact this one was useful in some ways. It was a formal confirmation of what was in the speech, it had a few useful details, and even talking points give you a sense of where the WH wants things to go, which gives you an idea of how to process the information they provide (if they really, really, really want to make the point that attacks are down, watch out for sleight of hand when they put out figures on that. And sure enough, the benchmark report today compares violence in August to violence in January, which of course is problematic because violence in Iraq is seasonal, with fewer attacks in the heat of summer).

In terms of going along with it, I'm surprised no-one pushed to have it on the record (futile as that would have been). Folks could have opted out of attending, but for a lot of newspapers that was a chance to start pre-writing their stories...remember that deadlines play a role in all of this, too.

As always, follow-up if you have any lingering questions.

Hack --

A couple more questions for you...

1) How do you distinguish between "political reporters" and "policy stories"? Since you want to break the two apart, what do you believe the political reporters should be covering and who should be writing about policy? Unless I miss your meaning entirely, you would have political reporters covering haircuts, while someone else writes about policy. I'm at a loss on this one.

2) Do you really fail to see that an embedded reporter with the Marines in a war zone or an embedded reporter at the WH is likely to develop a relationship that skews their opinions in favor of those with whom they are embedded? This was really driven home to me when listening to NPR (yet again, as well as coverage in the NY Times) reporters sniffling that Stephen Colbert wasn't funny at the WH Correspondents Dinner. I can assure you, to us viewers at home, he wasn't just funny, he was brilliant.

I agree with bmaz that the WH Press Corps is in an utter state of denial about how badly they have failed. Of course it is important to report what the WH says, but Dear God in Heaven, don't you think you guys should have talked a bit more to the folks in the Pentagon and the Intelligence Services about that damn yellow cake? When William Ockham says that the Presidential goings on are "not just dispensible, they are counter-productive", he is spot on. There is a difference between the superficial and the substantive and the attachment of the press to the superficial goes way way beyond the waterskiing squirrels.

I would dearly love to hear Bush say, "you know what, I fucked up. I got this dead wrong and now we have to figure out how to fix it". I will never hear that, but I also never expect to hear it from the MSM either, and that is unfortunate.

HWWR - There was a discussion here, not long ago, about a quote from a politician who said something to the effect of "well, we just want to be liked". The conclusion of many, and it was certainly my take away, was that such a concept actually explained a lot.

The degree to which the White House Press Corps has become the symbiotic equivilent of the disingenuous twits it covers is simply astounding. You come here today professing to set the record straight and let us know the truth. On that score, you are batting barely above zero. You have completely failed to address the tough questions posited here and responded only to those that have evidenced a little fealty. It appears to me as if you went to Jay Rosen, and came here, for self justification and holding yourself out as, and up to, some standard you are not. The people in this country are literally desperate for real reporting; when the subjects you cover at the White House spin with duplicity, which is every time their freaking mouths are open, call them on it and report it as such. Your job is not that hard, and as several have noted here, in it's current state, not all that necessary.

Hack--would you say the WHPC folks know spin when it's coming at them? would you say the WHPC has Helen Thomas's back? would you say the WHPC takes the declarations of Tony Snow seriously? Does what it sees and hears seem real to the WHPC? How do you explain the disconnect of those out here (or the boots on the ground) and you in there?


Okay, Mr. Hack,

The WHPC is a subset of Washington journalism. For example, Russert isn't a White House guy, right? Mitchell isn't a White House reporter? Couric isn't obviously. Gregory, is he or isn't he? Can you describe your subset of journos? Are you on your way up or on your way down? (i.e., is your perch a desirable perch, a stepping stone, or one step before the guillotine?

Thanks for hanging out, HWWR.

So here is what puzzles me. It always seemed to me one could draw a fairly simple distinction among anonymous sources: those who are saying something their boss probably wouldn't want out there, and those whose story is probably exactly what their boss would want out there.

The first group has a fairly clear reason to be anonymous, and simply from the fact that it's probably not (short term) aligned with their own organization's best interests, they have a certain amount of start-up credibility. It seems over the last seven years we've seen a lot of the second group, and rather little of the first. And those in the second group are trading on the collective-culture's memory of the implicit credibility of the first.

Is this a distinction that most reporters simply aren't making, or do they consider it not very important?

Cheney, who's that? (the invisible vice needs to give the invisible man back his potion)

Aaaahhhhh, overload!

Reverse order.

Andrew Foland:

You're entirely right about the distinction, and I don't know a single reporter who doesn't draw that distinction.

Things can go "gray" pretty fast, though. If the White House wants to get out that the president has settled on Candidate X to be Attorney General, and you get that phone call leaking it to you, you get points for getting that on the air before anyone else.

On the other hand, if the White House wants to get out that Americans should dislike John Kerry, and you get a call from "a Bush aide" who says Kerry "looks French," you ought to be flogged.

You could build a similar case with the Valerie Wilson leak. Some reporters did not report that information but reported that the White House was mounting a campaign against Joe Wilson. Others...well, emptywheel, take it away.

Just because we recognize the distinction doesn't mean some of us don't make that devil's bargain. (In other words, in some cases, it's actually much worse than your scenario).

thwwr

would you give us a list of say six really important news stories that the white house press corp was responsible for "breaking".

by reallly important, i mean stories that the american people had a right to know and needed to know to judge the president's policies or programs.

Hack

Though it's not clear that that AG leak is any less manipulative than the leaks about Valerie Wilson.

That is, if those leaks were right, Olson's nomination would have been announced a while ago. Olson may yet be appointed, but if he is, it's likely due to the pressure for a hardnose appointment created by the Olson campaign, rather than a real decision early in the week that Olson was the guy.

The Olson leak is a great example. What exactly was the genesis of that anyway?

- Emptywheel: I was unclear. I meant a hypothetical leak the morning of the actual announcement. My bad.

- James,

"The WHPC is a subset of Washington journalism. For example, Russert isn't a White House guy, right? Mitchell isn't a White House reporter? Couric isn't obviously. Gregory, is he or isn't he? Can you describe your subset of journos? Are you on your way up or on your way down? (i.e., is your perch a desirable perch, a stepping stone, or one step before the guillotine?"

Jeebus, the first part of your question is really, really important. Yes, you're right, there's an MSM, subset Washington press corps, subset White House correspondents. (King Philip Craps...how does that go?). Russert is not a White House guy. Mitchell isn't either. The MSM political coverage you get is a blend of White House, Congress, political campaigns of every stripe, interest groups, lobbyists, activists, etc.

Gregory is currently in a weird twilight zone. He's obviously gunning for, and being groomed for, a morning show gig (the most watched news in the US). Yet he's technically NBC White House correspondent.

In terms of my own professional trajectory, that's a tough one. Inside my organization, it's a desirable perch to have for a little while (getting it under your belt) before going on to bigger, better, less claustrophobic assignments.

phred:

Suppose Candidate X calls for repealing all sugar subsidies.

Ideally, you would get a horse-race-y political piece explaining how, say, sugar subsidies play in the political realm, coupled with a policy piece explaining the costs/benefits of the plan, what alternatives are out there, etc. They don't have to be separate stories, obviously, but that's what I envision as the difference between politics and policy.

"Unless I miss your meaning entirely, you would have political reporters covering haircuts, while someone else writes about policy. I'm at a loss on this one."

Yikes. No.

"Do you really fail to see that an embedded reporter with the Marines in a war zone or an embedded reporter at the WH is likely to develop a relationship that skews their opinions in favor of those with whom they are embedded?"

Not a big believer in "familiarity breeds contempt," eh? I have not seen any evidence of this within my own news outlet.

"Reporters sniffling that Stephen Colbert wasn't funny at the WH Correspondents Dinner. I can assure you, to us viewers at home, he wasn't just funny, he was brilliant."

Ah, yes. Sooner or later, all of these exchanges come back to Colbert. Do you really want to get into that? The questions I get most often are: What's Air Force One like? What's Bush like? What was up with Colbert? What was up with James Guckert (aka Jeff Gannon)? The trouble with these questions is that they suck (*cough*) all of the oxygen out of the discussion.

You're falling into the trap of putting the WHPC on some bizarro pedestal, rather than considering what was special about McClatchy's coverage: That they knew from the get-go that the White House was not The Story.

Your comment about asking the Pentagon, or intelligence officials, about yellowcake highlights exactly this problem. We are not, thankfully, the end-all and be-all of Washington journalism. It's an understandable mistake - heck, the MSM promotes it - but it's a mistake.

Phred, sorry, I'm clearly screwing up something in my typing.

"I agree with bmaz that the WH Press Corps is in an utter state of denial about how badly they have failed."

Is what precedes those two final paragraphs.


Mr. Hack,
Okay so I meant the question more generally. Who are the subset of policy writers v. the subset of political writers v. the subset of WHPCs. Seems like we out here in the hinterlands see you as one big amoeba of pulsing hackery. They are different? Or interchangeable? No need for names, just status. Who gets the bad leaks? And by bad, I mean the Administration self-serving leaks. Who gets the good leaks?

Hack

But therein starts a chain of events. The only reason Olson's presumed pre-announcement leak campaign stood a chance of succeeding at all is because there's this value to getting the unofficial official announcement. But at what price? At the price of making our entire political susceptible to kind of manipulative gaming that I found so repulsive in high school and possibly at the price of ending up with an inferior AG as a result.

" The trouble with these questions is that they suck (*cough*) all of the oxygen out of the discussion".

So far HWWR, it is YOU that have been full of hot air and a waste of oxygen. Meaningless self serving plattitudes and attempted offsets to the questions, and a healthy sprinkling of alleged tibits of supposed inside knowledge. You have done nothing but confirm the baseline most of us, well at least myself, started from. Ya got nuthin.

thwwr

i have found your comments here extremely informative about the way the news media obtain and process their "data", the news.

standing back from the totality of your comments, however,

i see two main pleas

- please understand most of us individual reporters want to do and try to do what is right


- please understand there is little in our power to do what is right because of

- the way our news organizations are organized and operate and

- the restrictions on individual reporters set by professional or political rules.

i really don't doubt that you have accurately described the existing state of affairs.

but my reaction is i want things to CHANGE- now!

i am beyond disgusted with the reporting media corporations do.

if these corporations don't change, then they are going to become no more than than news "mining" organizations that dig up raw material, kind of like the men and machines in an open pit copper mine,


while all the serious intellectual work of organizing, evaluating, and writing will be done by people writing on weblogs.


my wife insists on having her new york times each morning. i look thru it too these days, but i invariably give it a very quick perusal.

then i go to the internet where i can access in 30 minutes, dozens of short comments on the news matters of the day.

i like the nytimes business section. floyd norris and gretchen morgenstern are must reads.

political columnists paul krugman and bob herbert are superb.

the nytimes sports writers are somewhat more civilized and literate than most, and are interesting to read.

but frankly, i could do without the entire paper so long as i had access to a computer and the weblogs that provide the REAL story, the DETAILED story that just does not appear in political reporting.

if you want an example of what i'm talking about go to the next hurrah of sept 11, 07 and read "whose credibility is declining faster".

read down thru the comments and not a comment by "scribe" (who writes at "talk left" also). now there is background on the spying and on "terrorists busts for political benefit" that i doubt you would ever see in a newspaper or watch on televising.

at least until such time in the future as the next ken burns comes along to tell us how things really happened fifty years ago.

i ain't got that long and i ain't waiting around for nytimes, cbs, tnr, cnn, et al, to get their act together.

James,

Sorry, I'm still a bit confused about the first part of your question.

"Who gets the bad leaks? And by bad, I mean the Administration self-serving leaks. Who gets the good leaks?"

The real question is the last one, because everyone with a keyboard gets the bad leaks -- well, I guess that's not quite true, some high-profile folks get the "trial balloon" leaks, which may or may not pan out. I'd say those are useful but ultimately "bad leaks."

The good leaks. Well, file under "broken record," but it's mostly the people who have specialized in a certain area and have a beat that does not have a day-to-day grind. The Risens, Dana Priests, of the world. It's the McClatchy reporters who have cultivated, for years/decades, the mid-level national security folks who may not have the full picture of policy but can shed an enormous amount of light on very important specifics. It's journey(wo)men reporters at the wires and the networks, who get incremental but important information - stuff you'd think was really trivial, or process-y, and that sometimes doesn't appear in your paper, but is really important to folks like me.

And there's the purely investigative folks, (Hersh comes to mind).

I would be remiss if I did not point out that there's another subset of stars not dependent on leaks: The reporters who line up information a certain way and get a breakthrough. Best known example currently is Charlie Savage. But you could also cite Knut Royce, who knew what he'd found in Novak's column. Ron Brownstein for political analysis. I am personally extremely fond of Jonathan Karl's pieces on Sudan and Iraq in the Weekly Standard.

OrionATL:

I'm sorry if that two-pronged plea is how I've come off, sorry because I really, really don't want to undersell the importance of individual reporters making the right decisions about coverage on a day to day basis. I should have made that clearer from the outset.

No editor forced Adam Nagourney to include the anonymous "Kerry looks French" line in his story, after all.

My own bosses don't micromanage my stuff, generally speaking.

And I really, really don't mean to presume speak for the entire WH press corps. I am just one Hack Who Wrote Rosen.

"if these corporations don't change, then they are going to become no more than than news "mining" organizations that dig up raw material, kind of like the men and machines in an open pit copper mine, while all the serious intellectual work of organizing, evaluating, and writing will be done by people writing on weblogs."

I think that's a smart take. But I wonder whether maybe you're not overestimating the level of detail and analysis that non-news-junkies consume news.

HWWR,

I know there is a lot here for you to respond to and appreciate that you taking the time to do this. In response to my first comment, you wrote:

I disagree, strongly, though I wonder whether we're on the same page as to what it means to cover the day-in, day-out presidential goings on. Obviously, we decide what is "newsworthy" in those goings-on. (You don't get a lot of recitation of "the president got his daily briefings," for instance). Most news consumers actually do want an account of the political debate, what a who said what where when how and why, want that put into context. I think that the daily news from the White House is part of that.

We are on the same page on that definition, but not on anything else. You (the WHPC) definitely do not decide on what's newsworthy. The only thing the WHPC does is to report on what the White House says. Not what the WH does, but what it says. Other reporters cover what the WH does. The extent of the WHPC ability to exercise editorial judgment is to choose which WH statement to emphasize on a particular day (and even then you almost always follow the WH lead for your lede). The only time the WH doesn't control you completely is when some WH opponent is able to get you to report on what the WH didn't say (e.g. we saw that occasionally in the Plame-Wilson case). I've never seen any WH reporter not named Helen Thomas break that rule.

Most news consumers don't want an account of the poltical debate, they want an account of policy actions. Bush's speech may seem like a big event to the WHPC, but out here in the hinterlands, less than 10% of the people really care about what he said (~65% of us have made up our minds that the war is a failure and have tuned Bush out. ~25% of us will support the President no matter what and don't need to hear him. That leaves the some fraction of ~10% who don't know what to think and might care).

Hack

I think James was looking for a list of WHPC members, so he could measure what reporting we get from them. Here's a start:

Helen Thomas
David Gregory (being groomed for greener pastures after toning down his critical questions at pressers)
Kelly O'Donnell
Les Kinsolving
The South Asian guy (sorry, don't remember his name, but that's what he always asks about)

Is Mike Allen an official member, or does he just have one of those "admit everywhere" White House press passes left over frmo his buddy Bartlett?

Does Candy Crowley count?

I don't do enough TV to name those folks (except O'Donnell, whom I know from the trial).

Emptywheel: I wasn't disparaging the premise. I was just clearing up what I meant.

"The only reason Olson's presumed pre-announcement leak campaign stood a chance of succeeding at all is because there's this value to getting the unofficial official announcement."

The kind of leaking you describe is pretty amazing, though it sometimes backfires. (Dan Coates, call your office). Otherwise, you're right that folks like him are adept at using the Standard Rules of MSM Journalism to their advantage.

In fact, even the hypothetical leak I was discussing has its uses. By making everyone scramble to match the original leak, the leakers draw us closer to the "process" stories and further from the "put it in context" stories.

Trying again.

You are a member of the WHPC. You talk about policy writers and political writers. Then I assume you don't consider yourself a policy or political writer. How do they differ from your job? Are they different constellations in the universe (I'm tempted to say "of hackery" but I won't) or are you all interchangeable? Do you all sleep with each other, or no? How about campaign people? Where do they live between campaigns?

HWWR - What is the itinerary for POTUS for today and this weekend? Anything interesting you will be reporting on?


Marcy and Mr. Hack,
I'm not really looking for a list of names. I'm a fan of Holden's Obsession, after all. I'm trying to understand status and role. Plus another friend in the news bidness has got me reading the transcripts for myself.

Here are some more names that would be excellent discussion points: Bill Plante, Jim Axelrod, Eamon Javers, dick Keil, Cathy Dodge, Nedra Pickler, Terry Hunt, Richard wolfe, Sheryl Stolberg, Jim Rutenberg, Greene or Gonyea, Gerstenzang, Ed Henry, Suzzane Malveaux.......

"I think James was looking for a list of WHPC members, so he could measure what reporting we get from them."

Really?

You can get a full list from Dan Froomkin's WashPost "White House Briefing." Or at least you used to be able to. He had a link to everyone in the WHPC. (The South Asian guy is Raghubir Goyal.)

Mike still has what is called his "hard pass" (no Gannon jokes, please).

"Does Candy Crowley count?"

Not as WHPC, but surely as MSM political reporter.

Just in case this was the goal: There is no way I'm rating my colleagues line by line.

"Then I assume you don't consider yourself a policy or political writer. How do they differ from your job?"

Ahhhhh, I see. (Started writing the above before this came in). I'm both a policy and political reporter (so are most of the WHPC). It's a generalist's game, though, so while I handle about both policy and politics, I'm not an expert in the sense that, oh, Dana Priest is an expert. (To get a better sense of the real-world complaint I have, consider the "political" coverage of the Gore campaign in 2000. Or tune into virtually any political talk show.)

"Are they different constellations in the universe (I'm tempted to say "of hackery" but I won't) or are you all interchangeable? Do you all sleep with each other, or no? How about campaign people? Where do they live between campaigns?"

The astronomy (or astrology, maybe?) of hackery is a tempting project, but there's a basic overlap in that a fairly large number of WHPC folks will go cover the 2008 campaign. In 2004, because Bush was running, that made us all even more policy/politics. All WHPC correspondents have to be able to do politics, but not all politics reporters have to do WH stuff.

We do not all sleep together. Feel free to make the inevitable "in bed with" joke. Campaign folks, oh, man, uhhhh....Hill aides, White House aides, lobbying firms, PR firms, activist groups, foundations, they pretty much come from everwhere.

William Ockham: Come on. The White House *wanted* "Bush spent 41% of his first term on vacation"??? The White House *wanted* "But a new WH report undercut the president's claims of progress"? The White House *wanted* coverage that said his "troop cut" was really just a very slight acceleration of an existing policy?

Hack --

Colbert questions only suck the oxygen out of the conversation because you fail to understand the question. My point about Colbert was not about pop-stardom (and I frankly don't give a rats ass about Air Force One -- I fly all the time, an airplane is an airplane, who cares?) but about a fundamental failure to see that the press and the political elite are all onboard the same happy bandwagon. You claim "familiarity breeds contempt", but us readers in the hinterlands see no evidence of that at all. In fact, if we're going with cliches, I'll go with "don't bite the hand that feeds you". From my perch here, the latter is far more apropos.

HackWWRosen - Everyone is being nice to you here today, but do you know what will happen tomorrow? EmptyWheel will start a post speculating who you might actually be and everyone chimes in. For starters, I think you are a radio reporter, possibly for NPR.

I would be happy just to know for what purpose the "Hack" has graced our presence for. Still seems like some lame self affirmation trip; he/she certainly isn't accomplishing anything substantive or worthwhile as to curing the White House Press Failings.

Phred:

"Colbert questions only suck the oxygen out of the conversation because you fail to understand the question."

I don't think so.

"My point about Colbert was not about pop-stardom (and I frankly don't give a rats ass about Air Force One -- I fly all the time, an airplane is an airplane, who cares?) but about a fundamental failure to see that the press and the political elite are all onboard the same happy bandwagon."

Ohhhh, sh*t, I see. You thought I was lumping your question into that list as some kind of BS trivia fanboy crap. I'm sorry - a recurring theme here - and I can understand your impatience. No, I was just offering that up, clumsily, as banter.

I think you overestimate the number of WHPC people who live in that media elite world of "MC Rove" back-up dancing.

There is definitely, without a doubt, excessive cross-pollination among the highest echelons of the media and political circles...it tends to reinforce the establishment status quo.

"You claim "familiarity breeds contempt", but us readers in the hinterlands see no evidence of that at all. In fact, if we're going with cliches, I'll go with "don't bite the hand that feeds you". From my perch here, the latter is far more apropos."

Under those circumstances, I'm grateful that you even engaged in this discussion. I can't speak to what you see, obviously. And while some reporters take the "don't bite" tack, by and large we don't get rewarded for that, and that isn't the approach.

Regarding Colbert...I thought he was fine. The best entertainment I've seen at that hellish Office Christmas Party nightmare. You won't believe me - hey, why should you? - but a depressingly large number of people asked me to explain his act to them. They were unaware that he has a "persona." All very depressing. On the upside, WHPC members account for a tiny percentage of the audience.

ecoast, emptywheel

"EmptyWheel will start a post speculating who you might actually be and everyone chimes in. For starters, I think you are a radio reporter, possibly for NPR."

I really, really hope that doesn't happen. I need to put food on my family, and this is somewhat frowned upon in my shop.

In all seriousness, while you don't technically owe my anything, I would be grateful if that didn't happen. For one thing, emptywheel can, with a few mouse clicks, figure that out.

Hack - EW is very kind, but you underestimate some of the rest of us here. By the way, what is the itinerary for POTUS for today and this weekend? Anything interesting you, or anyone from your vantage point, will be reporting on?

Hack, thanks for the discussion. I'm willing to cut you a bit more slack than bmaz insofar as to say I didn't expect you to fix the problems with the DC press corps in a day. And I don't really care who you are (in the speculation pool that is) and I hope you can continue to feed your family. But for my part, I don't have any real hope of the DC press corps changing the way they do business unless they are forced to do so by competition for eyeballs & ears. For the forseeable future, mine will be on the web and I suspect others will continue to join me here...

Phred, I didn't expect a one day fix; just something, anything, more than glad handing and dissembling excuses for more of the same.

Phred, no, thank *you*. I wish there were a better way to have these kinds of discussions, or institutionalize them.

"But for my part, I don't have any real hope of the DC press corps changing the way they do business unless they are forced to do so by competition for eyeballs & ears."

Argh, Phred, would you please at least walk (run?) from this conversation with this little nugget: I agree with you at 95% on this. I think that we're seeing minor, incremental changes every day, from more and more public editors and ombudsfolks, to more and more willingess to engage the readers who are our fiercest critics. But sea change? That's going to take exactly what you say it will.

Mr. Hack - You seen this?

http://dailynightly.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2007/09/13/360717.aspx

Were you part of this, did you get a seperate dog and pony show, or did the White House cut you out of the loop altogether since it was a major televised speech? I am interested on your take of this little tea party with Bush before the big speech and how do Williams' take away experiences from his briefing differ from your own from your briefing before last night's speech?

HWWR,

I didn't mean to imply that you (the WHPC) only report what the WH wants (and I see how you would have interpreted it that way). I'm trying to say that you only report about what the White House considers important. I'm not accusing you of stenography. I'm accusing you of letting the WH set the agenda for what you report.

(Given that I think you misunderstood my criticism, don't take this paragraph as further criticism, just my attempt to amplify on my point) Of your counter-examples, only Mark Knoller's story about Bush's vacations is really on point. It is a story that shows independent editorial judgment about what is significant. On the other hand, it is the prototypical "inside baseball" story. I don't see how stories like that can justify the resources that news organizations pour in to the WHPC (and yes, I know that's not the point you were making).

Let me ask you the following questions (and I honestly don't know the answers):

When was the last time that a member of the WHPC filed a story on the WH response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? When was the last time a member of the WHPC asked a question about Katrina?

When was the last time that a member of the WHPC filed a story about Afghanistan?

When was the last time that a member of the WHPC filed a story about Social Security?

Again, my assertion is that the amount of attention that you pay to these stories is driven not by how important they are, but whether or not the WH is paying attention to them. I suspect that you think I'm being unfair to you. After all, you are part of the White House Press Corps, not an expert on disaster recovery, war, economics, etc., but that is exactly my point. I don't think there should be a WHPC. I think news organizations should only cover the White House when the WH says or does something that matters. Photo-ops, whether they are in the Oval Office or Al-Anbar, aren't news.

If it's mostly about the body watch, could the MSM all chip in for a surveillance camera, just in case, and disband the WHPC?

Against my better judgment, bmaz, I'll answer your question.

"Were you part of this, did you get a seperate dog and pony show, or did the White House cut you out of the loop altogether since it was a major televised speech? I am interested on your take of this little tea party with Bush before the big speech and how do Williams' take away experiences from his briefing differ from your own from your briefing before last night's speech?"

Are you sh#tting me?

I'm such a bit player that you've never heard of me. I'm so low I could walk under a snake. So low I could play handball on the curb. Etc. I do not breathe the rarified air of high-powered TV types.

Williams is right that this is pretty common. I'm sort of torn about it. On the one hand, are journalists being co-opted by it? Eh, not really. (point of reference: I hope people here saw Williams quiz Petraeus about Al Qaida in Iraq). Relying on his account, my briefing before the speech was much, much less respectful (I think the transcript is online at the WH web site).

Some of it is...well, what we'd have to call spin. (He doesn't feel pressure to draw down? Funny, the Joint Chiefs are piling it on and have fired their first warning shot with that leak to Newsweek about the report they have that apparently contradicts Petraeus).

My take-away from my own briefing was that they are deathly nervous about the mechanics and PR aspects of this draw-down. Again, I think it's on the web site. Go look at what happens when we ask for specific numbers of troops.

William Ockham:

Sorry I misunderstood. Your point is right, but I disagree with your conclusion. Whether you like him or loathe him, he's the president. He has clout. Things he wants, things he gets, are newsworthy. For international audiences, things he says -- not just does, says -- about international events are newsworthy. Not *everything*, of course, but a lot of it.

Can you give me an example of a story you think should not have been covered? The trip to Anbar? I strongly disagree. Where I think we need to be more aggressive is in putting that into perspective. Ditto the Oval Office speech.

You're viewing this through the prism of your own news-consumption habits. The majority of Americans simply does not have the same standards. They want to know, as "John" at Rosen's place says, who said what where when how and why, what the response was, who was there, etc.

"When was the last time that a member of the WHPC filed a story on the WH response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?"

As a starting point, go look at the AP stories from Bush's visit to New Orleans in late August for Two Years Since.

"When was the last time a member of the WHPC asked a question about Katrina?"

Ditto.

"When was the last time that a member of the WHPC filed a story about Afghanistan?"

Last week, I believe.

"When was the last time that a member of the WHPC filed a story about Social Security?"

Ooh. Hmmm. Stumped. I know it was part of the package of stories that moved about the president's stumbling domestic agenda, but as a stand-alone, I have no idea.

I take your point, and I could even strain to make it fit my comment about overeliance on the WHPC by saying that WHPC stuff can sometimes crowd out more interesting/relevant/important news.

Would you, then, say the same about the Pentagon, the Justice Department, the State Department, Congress, etc? And how would you handle breaking news? If the Ockham News Service doesn't have a reporter at Justice, say, won't it lose eyeballs/listeners to news organizations that do?

Hack

You're viewing this through the prism of your own news-consumption habits. The majority of Americans simply does not have the same standards. They want to know, as "John" at Rosen's place says, who said what where when how and why, what the response was, who was there, etc.

Don't you think there's a correlation between outdated ideas about what Joe Sixpack wants and declining ratings for news? Part of that is that people want Fox stuff--though one could argue the Fox demo is slowly moving to the Olbermann demo--and part of it is they want something that makes sense to them.

So the story shouldn't be "President Bush went to Anbar and did--nothing tangible."

It should be "here's what sugar subsidies are doing to MI's cane industry and here's how it connects directly to the burnt out towns along highway 12."

Or, "here's what a majority of people want (withdrawal from Iraq) and here's how the President is trying to prevent it."

Emptywheel,

On the Average Viewer, no, because networks can track viewership in roughly 15-minute increments, and that damn waterskiing squirrel sends a spike, while policy-heavy stories on sugar subsidies trend sharply downward. Even online news, which skews more your (our way) on policy-heavy stuff, doesn't back up (in page views, duration of visits, etc) the idea that the average reader/viewer goes for that stuff. Radio? Well, apart from Talk and NPR, the heaviest time is drive-time, which tends to be tiny bites.

For blog readers, now, I suspect that you're correct.

"here's what a majority of people want (withdrawal from Iraq) and here's how the President is trying to prevent it."

How is this different, apart maybe from the editorial position, from my position that we should be aggressive about putting the visit in context?

Not to post-and-run, but...

EW, Commenters

I just wanted to thank you for this discussion. I'm calling it a day, and while I'm working tomorrow I probably won't be able to come here (yes, yes, you're crushed).

I've come away with a much better understanding, I hope, of your concerns and complaints, and I'd like to think that I've contributed a little something positive to your understanding of what it's like on the inside of the WHPC.

bmaz--thank you. I gotta say, I like the way you think, and I wish I could watch you in action in court.

I think Ockham does have eyes at Justice; the razor has sliced and diced many of the DOJ document dumps. Mighty mouse, undeserved but thank you, thank god I do very little of that anymore.

Most interesting! Thanks, Marcy.

This correspondent clearly knew you and your work.

Yes, Most interesting, thanks to everyone for their thoughts here!

thanks to thwwr, ew, and commenters

this has been a very educational posting and dialog for me.

this type of exchange is what i love most about weblogs -

you can learn in a short time what might have taken weeks or years to learn by library research -

and still one would not have had a FEEL for the issues at play.

here you can get it all in a short time -

alice's restaurant.

I have a few closing comments for anybody still reading. I'm not sure, but I think HWWR missed the point of my ("when was the last time") questions. The answer in every case was, as I suspected, when the WH told them to. The crux of the issue for the WHPC is to ask themselves why they missed the story of the signing statements. I'm willing to bet that not a single story was filed by a WH correspondent about a signing statement unless the WH Press Office brought it to their attention. How did dozens of reporters miss the same story hundreds of times when it was right there in front of them? HWWR wanted to know which stories I think they shouldn't have covered, but for me the issue isn't about particular stories, it's about letting the WH control the WHPC by setting the agenda. The MSM generally, and the WHPC specifically, are so predictable that they are easily controlled. If the questions become uncomfortable for the WH, the WH knows that all they have to do is dangle a bright shiny object and the whole pack will forget everything else and chase it down.

I don't want to speak for Jay, but I thought his point was not so much about not covering the trip to Al-Anbar, but just about doing something, anything differently. I would certainly like to see the WHPC seize the initiative and exercise a little editorial judgment. It never ceases to amaze me how infrequently Tony Snow (or the liar du jour) is surprised by a question at a press briefing.

William Ockham - I agree completely. The same disease that is rampant in the White House Press Room was still afflicting our friend here today. There was a lot "gee you're right about that" or "boy I hate that" but no desire whatsoever to really tackle the root causes of the problem or specifically reason any modalities for concrete change for the better. i can't place my finger on it exactly, but something didn't sit right and/or add up about our visitor. It seems so trite and simplistic, but there was an immense amount of denial as well. It was an immensely interesting, yet, in the end, kind of hollow dialogue.

I thought our visitor did pretty darn well by the standards of peers in engaging with blogosphere. Showed up, responded to lots of people, came back and back and back... and made some excellent observations, some of them expressed with brio. Apologizing for not getting some things right, Hack stuck to his guns on other things. It was not a stone wall, but more of a person.

Still, I think I know why you say "immensely interesting, yet, in the end, kind of hollow dialogue."

For me the hollow part comes down to this, a hanging question never addressed: do you not feel you were gamed by the Bush Administration, successfully played for fools in the build up to the War in Iraq? If you don't, then say so out loud and explain why. (Cuz it sure seems to us that you were.) If you do feel you were gamed, would that not affect the way you cover the Bush White House from then on?

Things never got to that level.

Plus, there's something else journalists do consistently in these kinds of discussion. If they can't win the argument, they revert to arguing about the audience. They switch from defending the coverage they produced to... "okay, fine, but the kind of coverage you want isn't what most people in the audience demand." Which, of course, immediately changes the grounds of discussion from what it was responsible to report to.... what the great audience will stand for. Like so:

On the Average Viewer, no, because networks can track viewership in roughly 15-minute increments, and that damn waterskiing squirrel sends a spike, while policy-heavy stories on sugar subsidies trend sharply downward. Even online news, which skews more your (our way) on policy-heavy stuff, doesn't back up (in page views, duration of visits, etc) the idea that the average reader/viewer goes for that stuff. Radio? Well, apart from Talk and NPR, the heaviest time is drive-time, which tends to be tiny bites.

For blog readers, now, I suspect that you're correct.

See what I mean? I seen it a zillion times. The defender of journalistic practice suddenly, without warning, jumps horses and start explaining that practice is pitched to the limited demands and capacities of what Hack calls "Average Viewer."

Now suddenly he's explaining to you what the people out there will tolerate, and isolating you as representative of blog readers, who are not typical of the news audience or even American citizens.

If you noticed this, and were annnoyed by it, don't blame Hack. Almost all journalists do this when they argue with people who know their facts.

To be fair, no one outright asked those questions, Prof Rosen.

For me the hollow part comes down to this, a hanging question never addressed: do you not feel you were gamed by the Bush Administration, successfully played for fools in the build up to the War in Iraq? If you don't, then say so out loud and explain why. (Cuz it sure seems to us that you were.) If you do feel you were gamed, would that not affect the way you cover the Bush White House from then on?

Though rather assuming the answer, don't you think?


Also, are you really interested in the answer he might have, or are you just looking for an affirmation of your pre-existing opinion? Just an observation based on the way your question is framed.

Seems like an issue that should be answered somewhere other than a 70-item comment stream.

Jay,

I noticed the old "viewers won't stand for it" dodge and deliberately ignored it. In the "press mind" that's always a limitation of the audience, never a cause for introspection. They never ask the question why is the way we cover the Iraq war less interesting than a water-skiing squirrel. I just don't buy the idea that they are concerned about getting a bigger audience. If they were, the evening news would be full of boobs and blood.

James, LA,

What's the point of asking that question outright, when the guy couldn't even answer the much softer questions I posed (that sounds like a much harsher criticism of our friend HWWR than I intend. It's not really his fault, he's stuck in a rapidly decaying system beyond his ability to comprehend).

In reality, the question has been asked (by Jay Rosen and many others) and (not) answered dozens, if not hundreds, of times. At best, the answer is either:
1. It was a one-time lapse (clearly false) or
2. Look Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy) got it right (clearly irrelevant).

James, I did in fact ask the question about being gamed by the WH a couple of different ways and in fact, HWWR did answer it. In the passage where he refers to "familiarity breeds contempt", Hack said that (s)he had not seen evidence in her/his organization of reporters embedded either with the military or the WH going easy on their hosts.

Now IMO, that's a carefully constructed answer. My question was intended to be broad. Hack's answer was very narrow. To be fair to Hack, perhaps (s)he didn't want to speak for other organizations. But in terms of my question, it appears to be a denial that embedding reporters will inherently skew the coverage. Just as a matter of psychology and courteous human interaction, I find that exceedingly difficult to believe. Not to mention given the kind of coverage we have actually seen has made that claim impossible to believe.

In the end, that was what troubled me about our exchange. Although Hack said (s)he agreed with me 95% of the time, I never got a sense that Hack was willing to go so far as to acknowledge that the WHPC screwed up. When I called Hack out for the failures of the press to follow up on WH claims during to the run up to the Iraq War, Hack fell back on an argument that can be nicely summed up by a movie quote, "contrary to popular opinion, the New York Times is not omniscient." (h/t Serendipity).

That is what left me with the hollow feeling that bmaz mentioned. I was delighted that HWWR was willing to engage with us, but in the end I still felt that HWWR wasn't prepared to own up to the failings of the press in recent years that facilitated bringing the country to the terrible fix we're in.

It's kinda like AA, the first step is admitting you've got a problem. It doesn't appear that the WHPC is ready to take that step.

William,
well, I think he was clear about what he thought about McClatchy's coverage, from over at Rosen's place.

Jes' saying, he's being criticized for *not* answering a question that wasn't asked.

Phred, it sounds like you are looking for him to affirm your own opinion. Nothing wrong with that. Why not just say "Hack, don't you agree that the WHPC screwed up?" I think he was agreeing with that mostly.

He did not answer/respond to my questions that were more (maybe too) general and boiled down to: can you and WHPC tell spin from fact, and do you and the WHPC believe what you see and hear from the Bush Administration is real? As usual, I'm not as clear as I want to be--but it's like, do you park your brains and guts at the door of the press room. Such a wild suspension of disbelief on their part, and they seem to expect that we should believe what they report. Does that make sense.

And once again in my frustrated life, I got the feeling from HWWR that s/he is the expert with the inside track, and I'm just out here stupid and flailing. Not blatant condescension but...Like, once again the old white guys behind big desks are running the world...

James, where's the disconnect here? You say "he's being criticized for not answering a question that wasn't asked". He was asked. His answer was no (sort of).

I'm not looking for affirmation, HWWR disagreed with me. The remainder of my comment was why I remain unconvinced by HWWR's denial. So we disagree. I don't have a problem with that.

However, I don't think you can argue that a person who doesn't think there is an inherent problem with the WHPC is really going to be able to figure out how to fix it, do you?

James: my question shows where I am coming from. It does not attempt to disguise my conclusion--elaborated in 20+ PressThink posts by now--that the press was gamed and beaten badly buy the Bush forces, and did not know how to react. (See When We Try to Explain the Rout of the Press under George W. Bush.)

You asked if I am actually interested in how Hack would answer; yes, I am. I would like to know how he responds to a view of Bush and the press that I (and others, like Marcy) have developed over time. Would he contest it? Possibly, and that would be interesting. Maybe he would not contest but say something like "gamed? I think that's exaggerated..." Or he could do what a lot of journalists do and retreat to an argument over eternals, "every Administration tries to pull the wool over our eyes...." Would he say something like: "I think you have framed the wrong question. It's not were we gamed by the White House, it's...." Or would he acknowledge that something pretty bad went down if you believe in a watchdog press?

I have no idea, and so yes, I am really interested in which way the reply would go.

I can tell you the kind of answer I am not looking for, and would reject out-of-hand. You could even say my mind is closed to it (but as a result of experience.) That would be the sort of reply that tries to explain to me how my sense that the press under Bush failed is just displaced anger at Bush, and not an observation about the press at all. When someone in journalism gives me that attitude, I dismiss him from the category of "someone I can have a discussion with," and I put 'em in the "denial" bin.

Kee-rist! I never thought I'd be defending a press hack!

"You still didn't really answer the question about the editors and the bureau chiefs, because I really think that is a big part of the problem."

Oops. My bad. Sorry, it's sometimes not wholly clear to me what the core question you (commenters) want answered is.

Sure, I'd like to know *a lot* more. I have a boatload of questions about how that all works as a matter of fact. Jes' saying, I don't learn as much if I already have all my preconceptions established in my mind. Seems like he was talking operational, and you were talking philosophical. Both are legitimate and interesting, but set the ground rules.

Prof Rosen,
I've been following your posts at Press Think for years. I'm a big fan of your theory about how the press was gamed and how they are incapable of reacting to the radicalism. As well, I shared your "folding the tent" post with others who are interested as I am about press issues.

I just think it's interesting to ask the question of someone on the other side of the wall, and to see what they have to say. Especially if they seem to be interested in dialogue instead of defense.

Really James? Seems to me YOUR preconceptions are pretty set. Jes' sayin'

However, I don't think you can argue that a person who doesn't think there is an inherent problem with the WHPC is really going to be able to figure out how to fix it, do you?

Well, I didn't get that he didn't think there were problems. But you are asking a person to figure out how to fix an institutional problem?

IMHO, if we want to fix institutional problems, it helps to understand precisely how they operate. Then you go from understanding the operation to an analysis of where an intervention might be effective. Given of course that it isn't feasible to put them all in the unemployment line and start over from scratch. But if all you want to do is beat one guy over the head for an institutional failing, then have at it.


phred,
(posts crossed.) I'm interested in your take on my preconceptions.

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