Thursday, August 20, 2009

Howie the Weasel never disappoints

Robert Novak is dead, but Howard Kurtz just cannot help himself. He slams the columnist in his WaPo column:

Novak, who died Tuesday, was a far more public, and controversial, figure, and not just because of the Valerie Plame case. What he did in cultivating sources is what many journalists (and "60 Minutes" staffers) do -- promise people anonymity in exchange for information. But as a conservative commentator, Novak not only picked sides, he made, in my view, an implicit agreement to go easier on those who were feeding him the tidbits that he needed to churn out his column and pepper his TV appearances. If you were outside his circle of helpful contacts, you could feel his wrath. That, to me, is a very slippery slope.

Kurtz makes two dubious claims here. (OK, maybe they are just sly suggestions, but that is why he’s “The Weasel”).

First, Novak pushed the “source or target” method farther than was acceptable.

Second, Novak’s bad behavior was tied to his conservative politics.

Let’s take the first point. Was Novak worse than the The New York Times in the summer of 1973 when they needed John Dean’s cooperation on the Watergate beat? Here is David Halberstam:

[Dean] was very good with the Washington Post. He cut out the New York Times for quite a while because the Times seemed to him to be reflecting the Chuck Colson anti-Dean line. Finally there was a breakfast between Scotty Reston and Bob McCandless [Dean's lawyer]. Reston wanted to know how the Times could get back in on the John Dean industry and it was decided that if the Times did not actually call for immunity for Dean, it would nonetheless say that people should start listening to him. Shortly after that, Seymour Hersh was assigned Dean by the Times and soon after that, the Times's coverage was right up there with that of the Post.

Speaking of Hersh, here is how he operated at the Times:

In those years, much attention was focused on Hersh's personality and reporting techniques. One of his editors at the Washington bureau, Robert Phelps, recently recalled, with wry disbelief, the kinds of messages that Hersh would leave. "He would call people and he'd say 'I'm Seymour Hersh, I'm doing a story on this . . . If he doesn't call me, I will get his ass.' They'd call back."

Here’s The Mudville Gazette on how Hersh “broke” the Abu Ghraib story:

Seymour Hersh has had an amazing story dropped into his lap. A group of American GIs, caught on camera, abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners. Heinous acts. The wheels of justice were certainly turning, but nailing the abusive guards is not enough for the intrepid reporter. Indeed, since evidence indicates that one of those guard's attorneys most likely provided that information to Hersh, it follows that getting the higher ups was likely part of the deal.

Edward Jay Epstein makes the point that every reporter has to play the game if they are going to break exclusive stories:
Indeed, given the voluntary nature of the relationship between a reporter and his source, a continued flow of information can only be assured if the journalist's stories promise to serve the interests of the witness.

Despite the heroic public claims of the news media, daily journalism is largely concerned with finding and retaining profitable sources of pre-packaged stories

As far as political bias goes, Jack Shafer of Slate acknowledged and celebrated the fact that almost all “investigative journalism” is fueled by reporters filled with paranoid, leftwing world views.

Evidence of the reviewers' cluelessness comes when the panel assesses the CBS journalists for political bias and discovers none. I don't know that I've met more than four or five investigative journalists in my life who didn't wear their political biases on their flapping tongues. Almost to a one, they're suspicious (paranoid?) about corporate power, dubious about the intentions of governments, and convinced that at this very moment a secret meeting is being held somewhere in which a hateful conspiracy against the masses is being hatched. I won't provoke the investigative-journalist union by alleging that most of its members are Democrats or lefties, but aside from a few right-wing reporters sucking conservative teats inside the government, how many Republican investigative aces can you name?

Kurtz also let David Corn attack Novak and muddy the waters around the Plame/Wilson “scandal”:
I was, however, saddened that Novak, who had admirably been a skeptic of the Bush-Cheney administration's decision to invade Iraq, had now become an apologist for the Bush White House (and Rove) on the CIA leak story."

Novak recounts his role in the Plame case in his memoirs. Corn accuses him of being an apologist for Rove because he simply told the truth. While most of the MSM happily followed Corn in his speculation that Rove leaked the Valerie Plame’s name to “punish” Joe Wilson, Novak knew that his source was the anti-war Richard Armitage and the leak was an inadvertent indiscretion caused by Armitage’s love of gossip and Novak’s curiosity.

Kurtz provides no context and by presenting Corn’s screed without comment he seems to endorse that dishonest smear.

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