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Press Clips: Hardnose vs Brown Nose Reporting

Jun26

If the emperor has no clothes – simply avert your eyes: In a week when Michael Hastings reminded everyone what tough, hard nose reporting looks like, here comes David Brooks to offer a perfect glimpse of its polar opposite: brown-nose reporting.

As the world now knows, Hastings’ long-form piece in Rolling Stone not only uncovered a culture of arrogance, disrespect, and trash-talking of civilian leadership in the inner circle of General Stanley McChrystal, but also disclosed a festering conflict at the highest levels over U.S. policy in Afghanistan between and among senior military and government leaders.

But to Brooks, the mealy-mouthed moderate conservative columnist for the NYT, Hastings is simply a gossip-mongering ruffian without the refined sensibilities and fine feelings needed to appreciate and understand that matters such as a general’s actual candid words are never to be reported.

“The most interesting part of my job is that I get to observe powerful people at close quarters,” Brooks began (gag).

General McChrystal was excellent at his job. He had outstanding relations with the White House and entirely proper relationships with his various civilian partners in the State Department and beyond. He set up a superb decision-making apparatus that deftly used military and civilian expertise.

But McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched. And having apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history, he did so on the record, in front of a reporter. And this reporter, being a product of the culture of exposure, made the kvetching the center of his magazine profile.

By putting the kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him.

Imagine – Hastings put it in the magazine. We can only imagine how much inside stuff Brooks gets to see and hear in the course of his days, but never bothers to share with his readers because then…he wouldn’t get to “observe powerful people at close quarters.”

This just in: Hastings fires back at Brooks:

More on McChrystal media: The pink-shirted, purple-tied Brooks wasn’t the only journo whose nose was put out of joint by the Hastings report. Jon Stewart’s crew put together a nice mash-up of Beltway MSM types tut-tutting about the bombshell piece.

When the camera cut back to him after the video clips, Stewart had donned a pair of black horn rims which he removed to solemnly announce, in best Cronkite-doing-JFK-assassination style: “At approximately 11:04 Eastern Standard Time, the American news media finally realized they kind of sucked.”

Politico also enmeshed itself in the thorny issue of journalistic ethical relativism, with a long report on the Rolling Stone piece that included this intriguing paragraph:

McChrystal, an expert on counter-terrorism 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. (emph. ours)

In other words, a beat reporter would never be so craven as Hastings and actually report the truth – it might affect his access!

It’s instructive that a few hours after the piece was posted, Politico substituted a new version, with that very telling paragraph excised.  Jay Rosen had a swell time dissecting that move over at Press Think.

The Brooks/Politico journalism thought police were joined in their pecksniffian pronouncements by the Washington Post, which weighed in with a yarn quoting anonymous military sources accusing Rolling Stone of having violated rules of attribution in getting their scoop.

McChrystal was betrayed when the journalist quoted banter among the general and his staff, much of which they thought was off the record.

Hastings and his editor both vehemently deny this, but you can be sure that it’s only a matter of time before that view becomes received Beltway wisdom about the Rolling Stone piece. After all, if the story was worth reporting, surely someone worth knowing would have reported it.

Huh? Wuddhe say? Kudos to California Watch for their terrific new feature “Politics Verbatim” which provides horse’s mouth statements and speech excerpts from candidates in the 2010 campaigns. It’s a great resource because, with apologies to Joe Mathews, it really does matter what politicians say.

Because Calwatch is focused on the importance of language in politics, however, we were surprised to find this construction in their recent piece on Meg’s hypocritical new ad on immigration:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman set to work courting support among Latinos last week after a brutal GOP primary battle that forced her to take a loud and hard stance against immigration issues.

Forced her? Really?

Actually eMeg chose to follow Steve Poizner down the shameful road of immigrant bashing in the primary because she was far more worried about her own skin than in standing up and taking a principled position on the issue. And why not – she knew she could then just turn around and spend a couple million more trying to fool people into thinking that’s what she’d done all along. Forced? C’mon.

On the other hand, Joe: Hat tip to Joe Matthews for exposing some of the falsehoods in eMeg’s snappy 60-second, golden-oldies hit on Krusty the General. Under the Calbuzzworthy headline “Shocker! In New Ad Meg Whitman comes Out Against Prop 13″ Joe writes:

Should we feel sorry for Brown? Not in the least. By failing to level with voters about Prop 13 and the need to change the budget system it helped launch, Brown created this opening for Meg’s mischief. But Whitman is doing a disservice to the state and its voters (particularly those who don’t know or don’t remember the history) by misrepresenting a very important and relevant part of our state’s.

She should pull the ad. In the meantime, California TV stations, which have an obligation to serve the public, could honor that obligation by refusing to run it.

Say Cheez: The truth isn’t the only thing eMeg is doing violence to with her new ad:  Cheezburger Network, host of a batch of popular sites including FAIL blog, is crying rip-off. Cheezburger founder Ben Huh has issued an angry statement assailing the Whitman campaign for appropriating the look and feel of their “fail” schtick for the anti-Brown ad:

We want to make it VERY clear that FAIL Blog nor the Cheezburger Network had any involvement or knowledge of the Whitman campaign use of a screenshot of FAIL Blog. In fact, the screenshot portrayed in the video never existed because the Whitman campaign faked the content within the screenshot. FAIL Blog or the Cheezburger Network has never been involved in any endorsement of any candidate or political party and do not plan to do so….

We demand a written apology from the Whitman campaign and the removal of the video.

No response from Team eMeg on the demand.

No news is, eh, no news: Calbuzz, FlashReport and Calitics have received no word from Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman in response to our invitation for a Sept. 13 debate between them — with us as questioners.

The hall is booked at San Jose State; the university, the college of Social Sciences and Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley all have agreed to sponsor. But the candidates seem: 1) too scared of this group of questioners to step up; 2) sure it’s a bad idea to respond before knowing if the other camp is too chicken to respond; 3) not entirely happy with Calbuzz for all our, um, irreverence about them; 4) all of the above. No worries, we have Plan B up our sleeves. Stay tuned.

Redeem this, buster: Just what do you have to do to disqualify yourself for a job in the fancy-pants world of network and big-time cable news? Judging from CNN’s embrace of disgraced NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer, it seems like the Road to Redemption is getting shorter by the minute. It took Marv Albert two full years! (as if that was enough) before NBC put him back on the air calling NBA games after he plead guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery when, during his felony trial for forcible sodomy, DNA tests proved that bite marks on the victim’s back were his. Now CNN will give Spitzer a show with convenient conservative columnist Kathleen Parker (formerly of the San Jose Mercury News, btw) after the whoring former gov blogged for Slate and analyzed for MSNBC. Sheesh.


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There is one comment for this post

  1. avatar Adelaides Lament says:

    From the Yahoo story you linked to: “Reporting is what someone somewhere doesn’t want known,” Hastings wrote. “Everything else is advertising.”
    Just one of the reasons I’m a CalBuzz fan!
    David Brooks would just hate to give up all that access to power if it meant actually doing his job – exactly why these big print houses are failing.

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