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The Froomkin Foofaraw

  The Dan Froomkin Foofaraw, or FroomFoof for short, is at core a mundane spat over the positioning and labeling of articles and columns on the precious real estate that is the washingtonpost.com home page. One is mightily tempted to say that it's all rather trivial. But we live in angry times, everyone's running amok, it's like the whole country is channeling DeNiro: "You talkin' to me?" The FroomFoof seems to be viewed by readers through the exhausting Left vs. Right political prism that has made contemporary American politics such a drag. An internecine squabble over the labeling of Dan's column becomes, for many readers, a proxy war for how the Mainstream Media cover the Bush White House. And it's not the fault of readers to perceive the argument as ideological: They were practically told as much.

   For background, you can go to http://blogs.washingtonpost.com/washpostblog. Jay Rosen also has excellent coverage of the contretemps in his PressThink blog. Or you can stay right here as I clear things up once and for all (what would these people do without me?)

   Deborah Howell got things rolling Sunday with her ombudsman column that aired Post newsroom grievances about Froomkin's column. Howell wrote: 'Political reporters at The Post don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing," which is highly opinionated and liberal. They're afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter. John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, "The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset -- our credibility" as objective news reporters.' Howell noted that dot.com boss Jim Brady is considering adding a "conservative" columnist.

    Things went downhill from there. In this country you can't shout "liberal" and "conservative" in a crowded blogosphere; there's going to be a stampede. Readers swarmed to Froomkin's defense. Usually a columnist has to die to get testimonials like this. Readers are tying this to the Woodward/Plame matter, and I expect that at some point there will be links to the Kennedy assassination. Weingarten sides with Froomkin on this.

   Let's point out that Harris isn't objecting to Froomkin's politics, only to the fact that Froomkin offers opinions at all, in a context that might be ambiguous. Only after the newsroom protested did  "White House Briefing" receive an "Opinion" label. Post reporters take seriously the concept of being objective journalists. This is a tough time to wear the "objective" label, since everyone's so partisan. The middle ground has become a killing field.

   Things got more heated when Froomkin replied to Howell's column: "The journalists who cover Washington and the White House should be holding the president accountable. When they do, I bear witness to their work. And the answer is for more of them to do so - not for me to be dismissed as highly opinionated and liberal because I do."

   That ticked off Harris. He told Jay Rosen: "What irked me about Froomkin's reply to the ombudsman was his pompous suggestion that he is a lonely truth-teller at the Washington Post and the way he held himself up as a high priest and arbiter of good journalism....[Many readers] hailed what Dan does as courageous reporting and denounced other reporters as stenographers. To be blunt: that is total bullshit. First, Dan is not principally a reporter. He is a commentator on what other people report. I took his comment to be by implication a smear on Washington Post reporters who work hard every damn day to do precisely the kind of tough-minded, accountability reporting he says he admires."

   Come on, John, tell us what you really think!

   Froomkin in turn has offered high praise of The Post's political reporters and said he's honored to be "ever-so-remotely associated with them." The moment is ripe for a group hug.

   The readership is overwhelmingly with Froomkin. He's beloved. Froomkin's column really works. It's a compilation of material placed in an intelligent context. Dot.com's not going to do anything to undermine such a successful column. Maybe the column could be slightly renamed, to "Froomkin's White House Briefing." But everything about the Bush White House is so polarizing that, at this point, even the slightest tweaking of the name might be perceived as having some subtle political agenda.

   Let us quote some comments posted on the Post website a day or so ago:

   "The fearful bleating of the Post's editors that WHB may make them look 'liberal' is typical of exactly what is wrong with corporate media in general and the Post specifically." (posted by "db")

  "The Washington Post continues its rightward tilt. Maybe we should all just accept whatever any administration says and not bother with nasty old questions at all." (John Lease)

  "The fact that John Harris is disturbed by Dan Froomkin's column simply proves that Harris is yet another hack, another pliant, complacent enabler for a corrupt White House." (Christine Algrant)

   And so on, tiresomely, irritatingly, noisomely. Enough. Here's the headline: Not everything is political.

    The home page is a recurring problem: It's a bottleneck. It's a very small passage into a very deep world. Thus it is precious terrain. On the print side, everyone habitually worries that they aren't getting proper play on the home page. Imagine you are a reporter who has spent months on a story, cultivating sources, hanging around in dark garages in the middle of the night, moving the potted plant on your balcony to signal that you need a meeting, and so on, and finally, when the story runs, there's this tiny, almost microscopic little link to the story at the very bottom of the home page saying, Watergate Burglary Tied to White House. Seriously, Bernstein almost quit because the website buried a scoop about G. Gordon Liddy.

   Some of us try to keep a foot in both worlds, hedging our bets. My online blog is overplayed, while my magazine column, which has the premium features of being carefully edited and revised and copy-edited and proof-read and whatnot, is completely shunned by the web site and consigned to oblivion. Thus my print self is always screaming at my online self. Invectives are uttered. Feelings get bruised. I hate myself.

   The fundamental problem is that The Post decided years ago to set up dot.com as a separate company on the other side of the Potomac River, in Virginia. There may have been good business reasons for this, involving such things as the newspaper guild (the dot.com employees aren't guild members) and advertising sales. But I'm an idiot about things involving money.

   Howell wrote in her column, "As far as most readers are concerned, washingtonpost.com is The Washington Post. But it's not, really. They are quite different, though the content is much the same and the Web site delivers Post content 24 hours a day."

   Actually, I think the readers are right on this. There is only one Washington Post. You can put suffixes on it all you want, or convert it to a digital format, or emboss it on coffee cups and T-shirts, and it still represents a single journalistic brand. I hope someday we stop straddling the Potomac.

By Joel Achenbach  |  December 14, 2005; 1:07 PM ET
 
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Next: All Froomkin All the Time

Comments

Hal the Schemer is trying to fix the fonts. We have font problems galore.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 14, 2005 1:16 PM | Report abuse

But looking on the bright side, Festivus has started early, what with all this talk about airing Post newsroom grievances.

Posted by: Achenfan | December 14, 2005 1:21 PM | Report abuse

This brought back a flood of memories. I worked for wpni several years back. The bitter, fanatical, arguments over who controlled what were the favorite pastime of many at the Post (and wpni) back then. Seems like not much has changed.

Just a thought on why setting up wpni as a separate company may not be the "fundamental problem" Joel thinks it is. (This is my opinion, I wasn't senior enough to know the real reasons.) The Post has a certain way of doing things. It works (who can argue with success) for the newspaper business but there's a lack of, um, institutional flexibility. Running a web site IS different than running a newspaper and setting up on the opposite side of the river gave wpni the space (literally and figuratively) to try new things, new ideas. Things that might never have been attmpted if there was someone right down the hall saying - that's not the way the POST does it.

I'm going to wimp out and sign off - Anon.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 14, 2005 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Who'll look at the last Boodle with a new Kit?

From today's WaPo...I get the feeling that doctors and researcher many times are just feeling their way in the dark, particularly with respect to antiviral vaccines.

FDA Mulls Rotavirus Vaccine for Infants

By JOHN J. LUMPKIN
The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 14, 2005; 9:58 AM

WASHINGTON -- An experimental vaccine to prevent a sometimes deadly diarrheal infection in infants appears to be effective and free from a dangerous problem associated with an earlier vaccine, Food and Drug Administration reviewers found....

An expert FDA advisory panel was expected to discuss the experimental treatment Wednesday. The agency and its advisers may be cautious about approving it in the face of problems tied to an earlier vaccine, RotaShield, which manufacturer Wyeth [same manufacturer of the old smallpox vaccine Dryvax] pulled in 1999 after 20 out of 1 million infants developed a potentially fatal twisted bowel condition within a month of receiving it.

Posted by: Loomis | December 14, 2005 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Easy...just rename Froomie's column: "Everything You Wanted to Know about George W. Bush and the White House but Other Reporters Were Afraid to Ask or Cover." Or perhaps "White House Blog Round-up."

Precious real estate? Ha. How many *hits* does Froomie's op-ed get in a day? A bit shy of a jillion? Bet the accompanying ad space is an easy and expensive sell there.

Posted by: Loomis | December 14, 2005 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Hal is a font of wisdom.

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 14, 2005 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Even Hal can't fix the font problem. Dang.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 14, 2005 1:41 PM | Report abuse

As to Froomkin's column, they run his picture at the top of it and he's labeled as a columnist.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 14, 2005 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I'm shamelessly copying Linda's and my discussion from a few Kits down (because we're sooooo ahead of the times!):

ME: I hope Joel does a Kit on the whole Froomkin tiff. Personally, I like his little summary of left-leaning blogs and articles, but the point raised in the original Ombudsman column is valid. Many people don't know the difference between washingtonpost.com and the Washington Post. And you could very easily not understand that Froomkin is not a reporter for the paper. And it DOES raise a credibility issue if a large number of readers assume that this obviously left-leaning commentator is one of the people the Post has employed to report on the White House.
The interesting thing is that it seems that most people are on Froomkin's side, and for an interesting reason. They ignore the question of credibility; in fact they scoff at it. They complain that the Washington Post should be more critical of the administration, and that Froomkin provides a valuable service, since the Post reporters are apparently not doing their job. To me, credibility is a reporter's ablity to temper their opinions in such a way that they are able to report the facts in a critical manner, without any indication that their personal beliefs have bended their perception of events. And if one maintains this presupposition, then critics of the Ombudsman article actually wish the Post was LESS cridible. That it became a left-wing sounding board.
Am I in the minority that I thing that a newspaper adopting an obvious political slant on it's news pages is a bad thing? Personally, I think the paper is plenty critical of the current Administration (Washington Sketch is one example) but the paper is also fair in the reporting of facts. And hopefully, an intelligent reader is able to read these facts and form an opinion on their own. Opinion and slant on the newspages not only reduces credibility, it should be completely unneccessary, since an informed reader is able to form their own.

Posted by: jw | December 14, 2005 1:43 PM | Report abuse

SLYNESS (ok, it wasn't just me and Linda): jw, you raise the essential conflict in reporting. In the last 50 years or so, in the US, we have expected reporting to be as unbiased as possible. That's not historic; think Hearst and Pulitzer and yellow journalism at the turn of the 2oth century. It's not the norm in European journalism, either. But I think that the push for clarity and no bias is vitally important for a free press. We'll never geet there, but that's no excuse for not trying. Much of the problem with Froomkin is that there's only one side for him to comment on; if there were a liberal administration in power, it would be interesting to see what his commentary would be. The best example of the ability to skewer right and left is Garry Trudeau, but he's been at it for over 30 years and has had the opportunity to do in everybody.

Posted by: jw | December 14, 2005 1:44 PM | Report abuse

It's okay, Boss. We all read the original when it was published Sunday anyway, so we don't have to strain our eyes.

Posted by: slyness | December 14, 2005 1:44 PM | Report abuse

LL: As to the Froomkin tiff, I think Froomkin has found a reporting niche for his op-eds (does it really matter if his column comes via bits/bytes or the old fiber media?) and is outstanding at filling that niche--not your typical, run-of-the-mill reporter selling snowballs in a snowstorm.
Clearly, Fromkin writes op-eds, not hard news. If every political reporter at the Washington Post covering the White House were to write as Froomkin does, *then* we'd be in trouble as far as obvious bias.
Given the journalistic principles that guide Froomkin, as well as the Harvard group with which he is affiliated, I do believe that Froomkin would be just as hard on my distant cousin John Kerry (had he been elected), as he is on my even more distant cousin (time-wise) George W. Bush, who now occupies the Oval Office. For Froomkin, I believe, it's simply a matter of pointing out the President's (whoever he or she may be) strengths and weaknesses, or sucesses or failures.
As a sidebar or as a particular day's column, Froomkin could, I suppose, analyze the current Democratic party, but that's not the reporter's beat that he covers--it's the White House.

Posted by: jw | December 14, 2005 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Everything's running amok. Small fonts have become the coin of the realm.

Posted by: Achenfan | December 14, 2005 1:45 PM | Report abuse

JW: Linda,
I agree with you that Froomkin fills a valuable niche, and generally I enjoy his column. I also think that the Ombudsman's (person's?) column was a little silly, because I don't really see how anyone could confuse Froomkin's column with news. But it is possible that people might think that he's a White House reporter, and that his online column is him saying how he really feels, and that therefore the Washington Post is a big left-wing rag with a bunch of bleeding-heart liberals on its staff; well, maybe that's a little extreme.
But did you get a chance to read those comments from the blogs, or at least skim them? It's interesting to me that most of the commenters WANT the Post to be that left-wing rag. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised by that, but I am.

Posted by: jw | December 14, 2005 1:46 PM | Report abuse

LL: jw writes:
It's interesting to me that most of the commenters WANT the Post to be that left-wing rag.
Jw, do you really think so? Perhaps the general public is just yearning for answers and honesty and detail--lots of detail. My lifetime best friend, whose son left for Iraq for his second tour on Nov. 28. and I had a phone conversation recently. Even she, a kindergarten teacher, says that Bush's mantra of "Stay the course" is boring and uninspiring--her adjectives, not mine.

Posted by: jw | December 14, 2005 1:46 PM | Report abuse

OMNIGOOD: I agree with jw, I thought the ombudsman's piece was a little silly.

Posted by: jw | December 14, 2005 1:47 PM | Report abuse

It's fixed! The Umbrella Rule of the Universe manifests itself once again.

Posted by: Achenfan | December 14, 2005 1:47 PM | Report abuse

I also thought it was a little disingenuous. When I started reading it, I thought, "Great! Some clarity on why sometimes the headlines are different than the print edition, why typos show up, etc." All of these would have been appropriate for an ombudsman column, closing with, "If you have problems with what was printed on washingtonpost.com, please write to them, rather than to us."
Instead, she switched gears and started writing about how the newsroom doesn't like Froomkin. Not only is this outside the Ombudsman's normal pervue, it's more than a little tacky. I don't go around talking about my office's little squables, and neither should a newspaper, especially not on the editorial page.

Posted by: jw | December 14, 2005 1:47 PM | Report abuse

I FIXED IT!!!!! NOT HAL!!!! I AM SMARTER THAN HAL THE SCHEMER WHEN IT COMES TO FIXING TECHNICAL BLOG PROBLEMS!!!!

This has major, major ramifications for print vs. online power and influence here at The Washingtoncom Post.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 14, 2005 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Hey Boss, we're proud of you! We're behind you all the way in your attempts to gain power at WashPost.com...

Posted by: slyness | December 14, 2005 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Now I'm lobbying Hal and Jim Brady to post this item on the home page. I may have to grovel.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 14, 2005 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Hey, way to go Joel!
Please don't spike your laptop in the endzone and do some goofy touchdown dance. Pelvic thrusts are SO undignified.

BTW, HTML ain't exactly rocket science.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 14, 2005 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Aw man, why you gotta take it away from him. Those span styles can get away from the best of us!

Posted by: jw | December 14, 2005 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Joel,

I think you missed some quotes there. In the beginning of this it seemed like Harris and Howell were focused on the name of Froomkin's column. That seemed fair to me.

But, recent comments have definintely left me with the feeling that Harris and others are responding to criticism and pressure from the White House and its allies. If you're going to be fair, you ought to address the comments from Harris and Len Downie.

Downie said, "We want to make sure people in the administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column..."

Harris points to a post by a former official Bush/Cheney campaign worker - who is going back to work as eCampaign Director for the RNC. Now Harris won't comment about that?

And Harris wants to bring in a conservative blogger to "balance" Froomkin?

Excuse us readers is we're more than a little suspicious that this whole thing is a response to pressure from the White House and other Republicans working the refs - and people like Harris being all too happy to respond because they don't like Froomkin personally.

Posted by: DBJ | December 14, 2005 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Ok, ok, jw.
Score 6 for the LaDainian Tomlinsonesque JA.

You know me, I think I can do damn near anything if I put my mind to it, and I think most people are capable of a lot more than they think they are, if they can just shut off the nasysaytapes in their heads.

Joel, I commend ye, and dub thee Alpha Reniassance Nerd.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 14, 2005 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Joel: Thanks for this. Really good explanation of the politics of the home page.

Maybe you can help me with this. Here's the url for the location where we find your blog:

http://blogs.washingtonpost.com/achenblog/

Blogs, Washington Post, Joel. Makes (some) sense.

Here's the url for the location where we find Froomkin:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/linkset/2005/04/11/LI2005041100879.html

Not at all like Blogs, Washington Post, Joel.

You seem to know something. What does this tell us?

Then, go to this full list of Washingtonpost.com blogs

http://blogs.washingtonpost.com/washpostblog/2005/11/washingtonpostc.html

which for some odd reason leaves out White House Briefing.

And yet Froomkin's page is among the ten hottest pages on the site on a typical day, according to what Jim Brady told me.

I favor entropy as an explanation. Yours?

Posted by: Jay Rosen | December 14, 2005 2:14 PM | Report abuse

*sigh* an opinion... gee...bless my heart....

Posted by: here and now | December 14, 2005 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Indeed, bc.

"Most people don't affect reality in a consistent, substantial way, because they don't believe they can. They write an intention and then they erase it, because they think that's silly. I mean, I can't do that. And they write it again, and then they erase it. So time averages it as a very small effect. And it really comes down to the fact that they believe they can't do it."

-- William Tiller, Ph.D.


"If you accept with every rudiment of your being that you will walk on water, will it happen? Yes, it will! But you know, it's like positive thinking. It's a wonderful idea, positive thinking, but what it usually means is that I have a little smear of positive thinking covering a whole mass of negative thinking. So thinking positive is not really thinking positive it is just disguising the negative thinking that we have."

-- Miceal Ledwith, Ph.D.

From the film "What the Bleep Do We Know!?"

Posted by: Dreamer | December 14, 2005 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I just posted three times in the previous post if anyone cares to read my explanation for my three senseless posts so far today. I'l be back after a brief break.

Posted by: omnigood | December 14, 2005 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Many companies start out with their Web unit/business as a seperate entity to their brick and mortar business, but after some embarassing miscommunications between the dot commers and the 'old school' guys, eventually realize that the world looks at them as the same thing.

Usually one of two things happens: they break the Web business off into a seperate enterprise (due to executive inransigence), or they merge them (usually by force).

As uncomfortable as becoming "One Washington Post" will be, I think it's inevitable. Those that know how to be effective in both parts of the business are usually the most successful.

My opinion, anyway.
Been there, done that.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 14, 2005 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Dear Jay Rosen:
Froomkin's column looks like a blog to me and he says it's essentially a blog, but at a technical level that is far above my pay grade I guess it is considered a member of the "columns" species rather than the "blogs" species. (My blog is actually more columnlike than bloglike, methinks.) The mastermind of all this is Hal Straus, you should ask him. He's the God of Blogs at dot.com, though in the Boodle we prefer to call him Hal the Schemer, because we know that secretly he wants to take my blog away and make it his own, in order to advance his own mysterious agenda.

I hope I've cleared up any confusion.

Stop by any time.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 14, 2005 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I like Froomkin's column, I never thought it had an obvious liberal bias either, not did I ever confuse it with the "regular" reporting that other WaPo staff engage in.

There was a segment on the CBC evening news last night where an ethics specialist as talking about how trust is in decline and we now live in an age of high suspicion. The fact is, everything you guys do is going to be criticized and you are always going to be suspected of having a hidden agenda - by people on both sides of the left/right debate.

So, you just can't win. Go ahead, try to appease people and bring in a conservative blogger to balance Froomkin, it won't matter. People will still whine and complain. Frankly, I'd rather the dot.com folks simply say that this issue is a tempest in a teapot and that nothing really needs to change.

Posted by: Paul | December 14, 2005 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Joel writes: "I hope someday we stop straddling the Potomac."

This, of course, put me in mind of the Colossus of Rhodes, and thence to Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar":

"Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, and we petty men
walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings."

The WaPo, a Colossus?
Is there really only room in Rome for One?

bc

Posted by: bc | December 14, 2005 3:11 PM | Report abuse

LindaLoo: I responded tou your posts at the tale end of the previous boodle with a 20,000-worder, before I realized there was a new kit (actually, there probably wasn't a new kit at the time I started writing it). At any rate, Volume One responds to the Bush discussion, and Volume Two has to do with the Avian flu thing.

I thought about re-posting it here, but then remembered the sage advice of one Richard M. Nixon: "We could do it. But it would be wrong."

I have thoughts about the Froomkin thing, but am too exhausted from working on the previous post to handle this one. Plus I have actual work to get back to.

New acronym for the Achenglossary: ABB (always a boodle behind). CowTown! bc! K-guy! leave it alone! I know what you're thinking. Just leave it alone.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 14, 2005 3:21 PM | Report abuse

First, let me identify myself. I'm just a rube from the suburbs (Portland, Oregon) who has read the post religiously for the last 20 years. Husband, father of 4. I work as an administrative law judge. My wife is a nurse. White-collar working stiffs who are just trying to get along. Now, let me address your column and recent events at the Post and washingtonpost.com.

It's saddening that you find these matters are "all rather trivial." Speaking for both my wife (who also reads the Post), and myself, we have found over the last decade an increasing disconnect between the washington establishment and the American people. There is nothing trivial about that. The coverage of news in Washington affects our lives.

We have a sense that things have gone terribly wrong in the Fourth Estate. I just read the first couple paragraphs of your column to my wife. She's struck by your use of the word "one" to reference yourself. Its imperious. And she reminds me of a discussion that we had the other day about the media increasingly referring to itself in such a fashion. It's as if the Sun King has arisen again. Soon we'll all be eating cake. If members of the medial no longer identify themselves with their readers, somethings wrong. There's nothing trivial about that.

We once relied upon our nation's great newspapers (NY Times, WaPo, Chicago Trib, etc.) and network news broadcasts to provide us with a factual and objective view of the world. We no longer expect this from the Washington political-media establishment generally or the Post particulary. There's nothing trivial about that.

Why have Americans lost trust in the media? To us its seems that in the past we could count on the Post to provide an _objective_ reporting of the news and events of the day. Think Watergate. Think Keating Five. But now we increasingly see the holy grail of "balanced reporting" raised in objectivity's stead. Balanced reporting is not synonymous with objective reporting. There's nothing trivial about that.

Americans are not stupid. They know that a balanced report is rarely an objective report. That is why our jury system works. Sure, there are often two versions of the facts presented to "one" in "one's" life, but common sense allows us to find objective truth when the facts are sorted out. That's what makes our justice system work so beautifully; a jury of common people can sort out the truth and decided what "objectively" happened when they have the time and are presented with sufficient evidence.

But you, the media, cannot hide behind a wall of "balanced reporting" to fulfill your obligations to me, the reader. My wife and I _cannot_ form an objective opinion of events in Washington through the presentation of a "balanced" report. The events are too complex. Our lives too difficult. You are deluding yourself if you think that you serve us by presenting two sides of every story. We know that _you_ (the media) generally have an idea about whether the statements coming from one side or the other are truthful. We know that _you_ (the media) have formed that opinion based on objective facts. And we also know that you are not telling us what you know. When you withhold such objective analysis from us in the interest of "balance," you lose credibility. There's nothing trivial about that.

Today, my wife and I no longer see a fourth estate zealously guarding the public from the dangers of a represtative republic where power, most often in the form of information, is concentrated into that hands of an increasing minority. What are we to believe when we see once great investigative reporters like Bob Woodward sit on information instead of reporting on it objectively? (What we're likely to think is that Howard Fineman is correct when he states that Bob is now a great reporter of Official History.)

Isn't the Post's highest loyalty to its readers, not its sources? Of what utility is journalistic privilege if the exercise of that privilige diminishes the credibility of the journalism produced? Questions like these are no longer being answered at the Post. And that' a sad conclusion to be reached by this reader.

Posted by: Paul Vincent | December 14, 2005 3:21 PM | Report abuse

SCC: Tale end. Jeez. Should be tail end, of course...but I kinda like "tale end," too, now that I think of it.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 14, 2005 3:22 PM | Report abuse

So, who's job is it to have an opinion? Why is having an opinion seen as so onorous? I mean this quite seriously. I read Froomkin's column, and I find it quite easy to seperate what's being reported as fact, and what's his opinion. Are regular readers of the WashPost so dull as to not be able to differentiate the two? (I'm doubting it)Or do they just not like reading opinions that do not agree with their own?

When I read the post I am looking forward to getting the news from the as well as insightful commentary. I'm not looking for someone to tell me what to think, but I do trust that folks who's job it is to collect news may have an informed opinion. And I'm smart enough to determine on my own if I agree or not.

So I ask again, who's job is it to have an opinon? Celebrities? Should I care more what susan sarandon, or bruce springsteen thinks? I think I'd rather go for the folks who have their noses in it everday.

Posted by: LP | December 14, 2005 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Joel writes: "Here's the headline: Not everything is political."

You're kidding, right? What is this foofaraw (what a great word) if not political? I read the kit, and a bit of the other coverage of this (Brad DeLong's interview of Post poltical editor John Harris is amazing: http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2005/12/astroturf_vs_gr.html),a nd the only themes I see are "Politics" (the kind Washington specializes in) and "politics" (the kind you find when, say, two divisions of the same organization argue).

Maybe some of the faithful can help me understand, I know it's inappropriate to criticize the master.

Boy, this makes two posts from me, both of which use the word "politics" to explain everything. Believe it or not, I agree that not everything is political. Just not in this case.

Posted by: silvertongue | December 14, 2005 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Froomkin is the only reason I read the Post anymore; since 9/11 it's become another haven of craven Cheney-fellators.

If the Post wants its mojo ack, it should fire Harris and the rest and put Froomkin (and a few people under the age of like what, 75) in charge.

The Post is in a downward spiral, and fighting like all hell to stay that way.

Posted by: Necromancer | December 14, 2005 3:23 PM | Report abuse

hal's presence on this blog has been largely subterranean

it might be safe now to let him speak (a little), since joel knows how to work the fonts -- a new age trick, targeted fonting

Posted by: kp | December 14, 2005 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Paul V - You lose me near the end, but I'm with you up until your final conclusions.

The real problem with "balanced" reporting is often that it merely scratches the surface and doesn't push the issue further. So we get one side of an issue saying the other side is stupid. And we get the allegedly stupid side saying the other is dumb. And we learn nothing of any value.

I posted earlier, and didn't sign my name by accident, that Froomkin's work includes his picture and says he is a columnist. To me, once you slap the picture on there, you've made it a personalized piece of work -- be it blog or column or whatever -- differentiating it from the in-the-trenches reporting of news.

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 14, 2005 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Great post, Achenbach. However, I must disagree about this Froomkin matter being a foofaraw. I am pretty sure that a foofaraw is just a fancy word for a stained blue dress. Either that or a land transaction where you lose money. I know it isn't a penis shaped Christmas ornament.

I think everything we need to understand about Harris came out today when he was confronted with Republican National Committee eCampaign Director Patrick Ruffini and promptly clammed up with: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised I won't comment on this. Is it ethical to give people partial anonymity? I will use your name, but hide your identity?

Posted by: Frank | December 14, 2005 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Bayou Self should have been on this matter sooner. He apologizes. We had plans at one time to put his picture above his posts and to identify him as a "Boodlist," but now we're not so sure.

Main Entry: foo·fa·raw
Pronunciation: 'fü-f&-"ro
Function: noun
Etymology: origin unknown
1 : frills and flashy finery
2 : a disturbance or to-do over a trifle : FUSS

Posted by: Bayou Self's Public Editor | December 14, 2005 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Foo fa raw
n.
1. Excessive or flashy ornamentation.
2. A to-do over a trifling matter (Origin unknown.]

Posted by: Webster | December 14, 2005 3:38 PM | Report abuse

"To-do" is a good word, too.

Posted by: Reader | December 14, 2005 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Paul Vincent: "Balanced reporting is not synonymous with objective reporting."

Hear hear. Bayou Self said most everything I was writing about "balanced" reporting failing the reading public.

The professional media manipulators have continually upgraded their tactics, and (unfortunately) do a masterful job influencing their coverage. Frankly, it doesn't look like the professional newsrooms are keeping up. As a result, the credibility of "objective" journalism, along with the reputations of the Times and Post, continues to erode. Meanwhile, bloggers like Froomkin fill the need that critical (not just liberal) readers are looking for.

Posted by: silvertongue | December 14, 2005 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I'm on it.

Main Entry: to-do
Pronunciation: t&-'dü
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural to-dos /-'düz/
: BUSTLE, STIR, FUSS

Posted by: Bayou Self's Public Editor | December 14, 2005 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Can anyone tell me why the Ombudsman, ostensibly the people's advocate at the paper, was broadcasting an inter-office spat on the editorial page in the first place?

Posted by: jw | December 14, 2005 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Excuse the typo in my 3:23:21 post--the proper URL for Brad DeLong interviewing John Harris is:

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2005/12/astroturf_vs_gr.html

Posted by: silvertongue | December 14, 2005 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Hey, I posted the defiinition of to-do, not my public editor. If I didn't know better, I'd suspect that my public editor is trying to take over, in order to advance his own mysterious agenda.

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 14, 2005 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Count me as being crazy about Froomkin's column and a bit puzzled about the Post's problem with it. I think few people would be confused about what his column is, certainly it is not reporting. It's not quite op-ed either. For me it conveniently gathers a host of links to stories all over the place, which is a great service. The other thing Dan does is to keep track of stories from day to day and week to week. If you only read the news stories you can lose track of what is happening in an ongoing story like the Plame case for one example. He does add commentary but to me that is rather secondary to the function of his column.

What truly puzzles me is the number of people these days who will believe or not believe a source depending on what their perceived bias is - even if what they are saying is just a simple fact. I swear if someone told them the sky is blue they would not believe it if that person did not have the correct politics. Yes there are ways of slanting news reports but I would hope most adults could see what part of a story is fact and what is spin.

So it seems to me that the Post is deadly afraid that some of these people won't believe their factual stories if they have a columnist who is liberal. Good grief already. Those people already assume the Post is liberal and don't believe any of it so who cares about them, why bend over backwards for them.

If they feel like changing the title, adding disclaimers, whatever, I don't care. But I think they are deluding themselves that it would make a real difference to that sort of reader.

Posted by: cass | December 14, 2005 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I used to work with a guy who only believed the news he got from Fox News and the Drudge Report. Nice guy, but yeesh.

Posted by: jw | December 14, 2005 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Froomkin is great.

The manic anxiety is related to whether he is a "journalist" or not, rather than whether he is a reporter or a commentator. Who cares, among readers? That's who the business types listen to.

So calm down. Join them if you can't beat them.

Posted by: Goombah | December 14, 2005 4:14 PM | Report abuse

If this hadn't started in the Ombudsman's column, including the bits about Froomkin being too liberal and Brady's comment need for an anti-Froomkin conservative to balance him out and the express statements made that Froomkin damages the WaPo's credibility, I'd be more inclined to believe you.

What this looks like is an attempted crackdown on Froomkin that backfired. Harris and Downie have already publically admitted getting grief from the White House about Froomkin. Then there's Harris's bit about being wound up by a "media savvy" Republican operative who was allegedly "confused" by Froomkin's column (was this his anonymous sourcing of the day for Karl Rove?). So they put up your Ombudsman to give Froomkin a smack only what happens is that the WaPo underestimates the loyalty of Dan's readers and sets off a backlash.

A number of us out here in reader land can read and some of us are pretty smart too. As an old client of mine used to say: "If it smells like shit and it looks like shit, chances are, it's probably shit."

Frankly, this looks like shit. And I think your bosses may be a lot stupider than you think Joel.

Posted by: BK | December 14, 2005 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Allow me to align my comments with those of my esteemed fellow boodlers BS and Judge Vincent.

"Balanced coverage" = reporter/editor agreement: I'm not going to do any heavy thinking here. When I wrote, I DID make informed judgements as to which "side" was better representing reality, and reported accordingly. If I knew I was being fed a line, I stood up and asked questions designed to brightly point out the fact I was being fed a line. I truly am saddened by "balanced coverage."

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 14, 2005 4:28 PM | Report abuse

wow!

This certainly HAS turned into a Froomfraw, dag nab it.

And, thanks, Joel, for sprinkling some sorely needed sanity over it all.

I 'heart' Froomkin.

Posted by: Fairfax | December 14, 2005 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Hey Achenbach I am back!! Remember when about a month or two ago I kept lambasting WaPo as being Establishment = neocon. Well now we have Harris who is from Washington Times where we know there is a litmus test to work there as an "objective" reporter and almost every single person of position slowly being either directly hooked up to the Bush Admin or a red stater. It is very very clear that WaPo is shedding any image that the Bush/Cheney crowd may not like - especially the Neocon crowd. I told you its only a matter of time that they start eating their young. Apparently this issue has been brewing since January.

Look at the way Harris insulted the readers of Froomkin, he had no fear of being fired and does not care about that readership, cos WaPo DOES NOT CARE. I TOLD YOU SO!!.

Posted by: Rayvic | December 14, 2005 4:32 PM | Report abuse

I agree with DBJ--the story has obviously shifted from airing of an internal discussion over how to position Froomkin's blog to the real reasons for the paper's discomfort--as obliquely referred to in quotes from Downie and Harris.

since the original line about the turf squabble, we have been told bythe Post's editors that certain "Republicans" have unofficially made known their disapproval of Froomkin; if those "Republicans" are closer to being Senior Administration Officials than Rotary Club members from Idaho, I think the headline should actually be "Some things are all about politics."

As far as I can tell, Froomkin's defenders seem to be to be primarily upset that one of the Post's greatest assets is under attack from his own colleagues who may be following the direction, or at least reacting to pressure from the Administration.

I normally like the breezy comedy routine here, but in light of all the hits journalistic integrity has taken lately for sucking up to all th' Preznit's men (up to the Post's own Bob Woodward) this topic is far from funny. I mean, you have the paper's political editor misleadingly referring to a GOP operative as a "conservative blogger" in order to point people to a story about how Froomkin is a "second-rate hack," distancing himself himself only with a weak "I-don't-condone-wife-beating-but-I-understand-it" disclaimer. You have a barely-between-the-lines emerging story in which the White House may be theatening or cutting access to the Post's WH reporters over a clearly labelled and placed opinion column that they dislike.

The logic from the ombudsman, Harris and others that Froomkin is self-evidently a "liberal" because he agressively links to and goes after this Administration's hypocrisy and dissembling frankly blows my mind. Shouldn't reporters as well as bloggers go after lies and obfuscation regardless of party? (Even if reporters are necessarily more circumspect than Dan in their language?) Shouldn't Harris be delighted with the context that Froomkin's relative freedom provides his constrained reporters? Shouldn't he be blowing the whistle on government attempts to dictate the Post's content, print or web, rather than abetting their efforts in the name of dishonest he said/she said "objectivity"?

Froomkin has consistently pledged to go after Democratic chicanery as well as Republican, but that his chosen beat depends on who occupies the White House. Harris, et al clearly choose not to believe him, apparently taking his column as a personal and professional rebuke. I certainly hope that in a couple of years Dan gets the opportunity to prove himself honest.

Posted by: Cole Odell | December 14, 2005 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and, thankyou, Mr Vincent for a well-thought-out post. WaPo and Dotcom readers are so good.

Posted by: Fairfax - again | December 14, 2005 4:43 PM | Report abuse

First, let me identify myself. I'm just a rube from the suburbs (Portland, Oregon) who has read the post religiously for the last 20 years. Husband, father of 4. I work as an administrative law judge. My wife is a nurse. White-collar working stiffs who are just trying to get along. Now, let me address your column and recent events at the Post and washingtonpost.com.
It's saddening that you find these matters are "all rather trivial." Speaking for both my wife (who also reads the Post), and myself, we have found over the last decade an increasing disconnect between the washington establishment and the American people. There is nothing trivial about that. The coverage of news in Washington affects our lives.
We have a sense that things have gone terribly wrong in the Fourth Estate. I just read the first couple paragraphs of your column to my wife. She's struck by your use of the word "one" to reference yourself. Its imperious. And she reminds me of a discussion that we had the other day about the media increasingly referring to itself in such a fashion. It's as if the Sun King has arisen again. Soon we'll all be eating cake. If members of the medial no longer identify themselves with their readers, somethings wrong. There's nothing trivial about that.
We once relied upon our nation's great newspapers (NY Times, WaPo, Chicago Trib, etc.) and network news broadcasts to provide us with a factual and objective view of the world. We no longer expect this from the Washington political-media establishment generally or the Post particulary. There's nothing trivial about that.
Why have Americans lost trust in the media? To us its seems that in the past we could count on the Post to provide an _objective_ reporting of the news and events of the day. Think Watergate. Think Keating Five. But now we increasingly see the holy grail of "balanced reporting" raised in objectivity's stead. Balanced reporting is not synonymous with objective reporting. There's nothing trivial about that.
Americans are not stupid. They know that a balanced report is rarely an objective report. That is why our jury system works. Sure, there are often two versions of the facts presented to "one" in "one's" life, but common sense allows us to find objective truth when the facts are sorted out. That's what makes our justice system work so beautifully; a jury of common people can sort out the truth and decided what "objectively" happened when they have the time and are presented with sufficient evidence.
But you, the media, cannot hide behind a wall of "balanced reporting" to fulfill your obligations to me, the reader. My wife and I _cannot_ form an objective opinion of events in Washington through the presentation of a "balanced" report. The events are too complex. Our lives too difficult. You are deluding yourself if you think that you serve us by presenting two sides of every story. We know that _you_ (the media) generally have an idea about whether the statements coming from one side or the other are truthful. We know that _you_ (the media) have formed that opinion based on objective facts. And we also know that you are not telling us what you know. When you withhold such objective analysis from us in the interest of "balance," you lose credibility. There's nothing trivial about that.
Today, my wife and I no longer see a fourth estate zealously guarding the public from the dangers of a represtative republic where power, most often in the form of information, is concentrated into that hands of an increasing minority. What are we to believe when we see once great investigative reporters like Bob Woodward sit on information instead of reporting on it objectively? (What we're likely to think is that Howard Fineman is correct when he states that Bob is now a great reporter of Official History.)
Isn't the Post's highest loyalty to its readers, not its sources? Of what utility is journalistic privilege if the exercise of that privilige diminishes the credibility of the journalism produced? Questions like these are no longer being answered at the Post. And that' a sad conclusion to be reached by this reader.
^ What he said

Seriously ,Joel,by offering your "take" on the matter you have exposed yourself in an .IMO,unfortunate way.
As one of the writers who expressed my concerns to your Ombudsman about the the dialogue surrounding Mr. Froomkin's work,I find that patently obvious reaction to WH -KR-pressure ,odious. And now, from where I sit,you have now taken sides ; and it ain't the right one.

Posted by: ILL-logical | December 14, 2005 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Hey, good to see a bunch of new faces 'round the ol' campfire(metaphorically speaking).

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 14, 2005 4:52 PM | Report abuse

I think the Froomkin article by the Ombudsthing was not out of order, although maybe given more significance than it deserves. As Harris said, the Post's credibility is its only asset; lose that, and it doesn't matter how well the Post does later, it will remain tarred by the failure. The Post has to predict what actions may tarnish its credibility and respond preemptively, because it's hard to get a do-over.

I don't read Froomkin's column, myself. I agree that Froomkin's space (whatever you call it) is a space for opinion, but you need to be able to read intelligently and attentively in order to see that. Long-time readers of the Boodle know that once in a while, there will be a burst of comments from someone who read Joel's blog in a non-intelligent manner and were unable to perceive it as satire. These folks can get really ANGRY. You can expect that they will read Froomkin the same way, unable to distinguish that he is given a space because he is interesting, rather than because WaPo explicitly endorses his politics. They won't stay around to sift out any objective truths.

I had originally thought that Froomkin's column was supposed to be a reasonably dispassionate summary of current reporting, similar to Kurtz's Media Notes column, not a genuinely opinionated column about politics. The paper Post's Op-Ed columnists, who have strong opinions that they are paid to express, are careful to distinguish between opinions based on personal taste and experience, and dispassionate professional judgments of a long-time observer and participant in political life. A moral judgment vs. an ethical judgment. Art criticism (dispassionate) vs. art purchasing (nothing but passion).

Posted by: Tim | December 14, 2005 4:54 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it's a bad idea to bring in a conservative columnist to provide a balance of viewpoints. A balance of presentation is not necessarily a claim of equal validity. People who argue based on wishful thinking rather than evidence, tend to be easy to identify. Go ahead and trust that readers can tell the difference, while taking advantage of the different set of eyeballs to make more money from selling advertising. If you're willing to trust that readers can tell that Dan Froomkin is selling his own opinion, then you should be willing to trust that they can tell when Mr. Convservative is selling his.

You would need to recruit a conservative with whom Froomkin can see eye-to-eye on non-political matters, so they don't just end up in insult contests. I think of the occasions when Weingarten has mentioned his neighbor, Grover Norquist, and the nature of their exchanges -- good-natured ribbing of the other fellow's ludicrous arguments. Froomkin and his opposite number would have to restrict themselves to stating their own opinions, rather than trashing the other guy. Perhaps each could be fined for every reference, veiled or direct, to the other guy -- even if it's to say something positive! Better yet, the fine is paid to the opposing columnist.

Posted by: Tim | December 14, 2005 4:55 PM | Report abuse

What insight does Achenbach provide here? So he's bored with what he perceives to be a trivial spat over nothing of terribly great significance. He made this point, however, by tearing down a straw man argument that nobody is debating. The issue isn't whether to call the column "White House Briefing" or "Cooking with Walnuts." The issue is whether a column that routinely calls out the White House is therefore, by definition, "liberal" and deserving of a balancing "conservative" blog. The Post political staff believes so. Most of Froomkin's readers are rightly outraged by that conclusion. The more Howell and Harris (and yes, sycophants, Achenbach) try to explain the Post's position, the deeper they dig the hole. That is because they have yet to explain why Froomkin is "liberal," as opposed to merely skeptical (and objective); and what a "conservative" blog would do differently that would appease Froomkin's critics (while, again, remaining objective). It's the Post's blatant confusing of criticism with partisanship that so many readers oppose.

Posted by: Andy | December 14, 2005 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Really, is there any other good reason for this being hashed out in public than trying to demonstrate to the Bush Admin and conservatives everywhere that the "real" Post disapproves of that snarky, loose-cannon liberal over in virtual Post-land, so please let us back in the clubhouse? Harris' comments (including his "um..er..ah..no comment" performance with Brad DeLong earlier) positively drip with it.

Posted by: Cole Odell | December 14, 2005 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I also "amen" the "balanced" vs. "objective" distinction. For a long time (seems less true lately) coverage of climate change included the views of scientists who believed climate change was real and humans were causing it and those who didn't in an effort to be "balanced." Never mind that the sceptics were vastly outnumbered (it was typically the same two or three guys who managed to get a word in everywhere) and frequently funded by industry. The result was far from objective.

Posted by: ABJunkie | December 14, 2005 5:01 PM | Report abuse

In todays news arena, one must be careful of what one reads. It's way too easy to slip to the "dark side"...one can't "trust" reporters. Judith Miller proved beyond a shadow of a doubt their alliegence lies with the ones they are reporting on and not to the people they are reporting too. So before one goes and throws a rock, beware of the glass house one is in.

I have read the "opinion" many a times and I take it with a grain of salt...interesting tidbits that may or may not tie in with what other reporters from various news media print houses. But its "MY DECISION" if I am to believe, agree, or disagree and disregard and "no one elses NO ONE ELSES!!!

IMHO, the "staff" of the Post has brought discredit upon themselves and their organization. Me thinks they think too highly of themselves.

regards

.

Posted by: Half Fast Skier | December 14, 2005 5:01 PM | Report abuse

1) It's too bad that print readers don't see Froomkin's column.
2) It's too bad that the White House "reporters" don't stick with the important questions until they're answered.
3) On the Daily Show, Rob Cordury mocked the WH press as being distracted by soap bubbles and shiny things on the White House Lawn, because they were "new" news. There's a point to these critiques and rather than looking in the mirror, reporters are whining that they're too superior to be criticised by a non-reporter?
4) Here's an important question that I bet no one in the Press Corp has the cohones to ask: What daily medication does the POTUS take. The public HAS the right to know this.

Posted by: D. Corbett | December 14, 2005 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm not just agreeing with Cole Odell because he agreed with me - that's a little too Blazing Saddleish for me.

This topic is far from funny. It's funny in how this has apparently spun out of control from what was a battle over the name into some underlying and troubling issues.

Is it at all professional for the Post's political editor to refuse to give specific examples about why he thinks a colleague is "liberal" and instead choose to slam that colleague by referencing a post by someone who worked on the Bush/Cheney campaign and is going to work at the RNC? Is it then professional for that same editor to refuse to comment?

The quote by Downie bothers me as well.

Maybe we're just reading too much into it. But after all the other journalistic trouble the Post has had lately - there just isn't much of a tendency for readers to give editors or reporters the benefit of the doubt when it comes to them choosing between the needs of their sources or the needs of their readers.

Posted by: DBJ | December 14, 2005 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Tim wrote "As Harris said, the Post's credibility is its only asset; lose that, and it doesn't matter how well the Post does later, it will remain tarred by the failure. "

My question is, credibility with whom? Those being reported on? Or those being reported to? Lose credibility with the former, and your sources dry up. Lose it with the latter and your sales vanish. You may not be able to satisfy both--and in the end the primary allegiance should be to the readers. Judy Miller, Bob Woodward, Armstrong Williams lost sight of that, and they didn't come to those conclusions on their own. I'd say that the Post is caught here trying to prove its "balance" to the Admin at the expense of the readers. And further, that the Post, as an extension of the MSM, has created a rationale in which 1000 upset defenses of Dan simply don't count because they by definition must come from rabidly partisan liberals who don't know how journalism really works. Believing that the act of criticism automatically discredits the criticizer is a wonderful self-defense mechanism, one that our President himself has perfected. This kind of thing won't change until newsrooms disabuse themselves of the "some Democrats say that the sky is actually blue" style of objectivity. I'm holding my breath starting now.

Posted by: Cole Odell | December 14, 2005 5:13 PM | Report abuse

5) Find out what prescription plan he picked for Barbara the Elder.

6) Don't talk to the Air Marshals about whether he's "on" the meds.

Posted by: LithiumMakesMeHappy | December 14, 2005 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I read the piece this weekend by the ombudsman and couldn't help thinking the Post's political reporters were just feeling envious. I'm an avid Froomkin reader, along with Howard Kurtz and the Post Opinions section. Froomkin does seem liberal, but it's identifiable and honest enough, and after all the way the Bush admin. treats dissenters any questioning at all would qualify as "liberal" unless it's already been labeled "treasonous".

If the "real" Post doesn't get it, they can always go have lunch with Mr. Cheney or something.

Posted by: asdg | December 14, 2005 5:14 PM | Report abuse

For what it's worth, I don't believe the Post political reporters have said that they don't like Froomkin or what he is doing. The editor said that the reporters said that. There is a distinction. And the upshot to it all -- that the reporters feel that way -- isn't a proven fact.

Unless I'm wrong and I've missed something, in which case my public editor will smack me around.

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 14, 2005 5:14 PM | Report abuse

I like Froomkin's column; I understand it is opinion. What I didn't understand until this brouhaha started, was that he was not a WaPo White House reporter, or that there was a major difference (internally perceived, anyway) between the newspaper side and the online staff. I knew they were in different locations, but didn't attach much significance to that (many newspapers have branch offices and outlets and bureaus and production plants in buildings/towns other than the main writing staff, etc. Physical location is generally meaningless.)

I understand and agree with the "real" WaPo reporters concern about the misperception that Froomkin is one of them. That having been ironed out, I'm ready to move on.

I have no problem with the Ombudsman raising the issue; yes, it is an "internal spat," as some boodler said, but it is perfectly legitimate for the Ombudsman (and any other editor) to address internal stuff exactly like this. A lot of journalists call that "fresh air" and say media should do more of it.

I think we have right now a lot of exactly what we had a few weeks ago during the height of the Woodward brouhaha: a lot of wannabe journalism experts commenting upon some fairly arcane inside stuff they really know nothing about.

Here's an example of a line that betrays no real knowledge of how things actually work: "So they put up your Ombudsman to give Froomkin a smack...." This short phrase is so full of mispercetions and wrong-headness it is difficult to know where to begin, so I'll just let it go. The boodler is entitled to his/her opinion, but it is really an assertion way out in right field, beyond the pale of reasonable discussion. The whole point of being an ombudsman is that Ombudspeople don't take "orders" from "they." They might smack people around, but they aren't corporate henchmen. They aren't corporate henchmen and hatchetmen because I say so; they aren't henchmen because it would become immediately apparent in their work, not only to the wingpeople (left, right, wherever) but also the the rest of us. But there are some people who just won't see that, and so you can't really talk to them.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 14, 2005 5:17 PM | Report abuse

I read Froomkin regularly because it is a good summary of White House activities and coverage.

Harris is unfair. Froomkin quotes from other reports and op-eds, but that is not all he does. He also reports on original sources: white house briefing transcripts, interviews, propaganda, and speeches. That part is real reporting and should be recognized as such. And he is better than (say) Milbank because he does not feel compelled to balance every inconsistency, omission, or lie that he points out with a sneer that the Democrats suck too, just to appear balanced and tough or to offend everybody equally or whatever. Pox on Milbank.

The Fake Even Handedness in mainline WAPO reporting is a destructive affectation. Even the knighted op-ed columnists like Broder have been doing it. I do see it as a weak response to Republican pressure, and I have been happy to have Froomkin as an antidote. Our Emperor Has No Clothes, and saying so doesn't make anyone a "liberal". If the self-appointed Guardians of the Public Record had the courage to point it out earlier then perhaps we would not be in this mess.

Posted by: liberal shmiberal | December 14, 2005 5:25 PM | Report abuse

I sit corrected, although reducing it to hearsay doesn't seem all that strong an argument. Is he a liar? Or should they have just used him as an anonymous source?

Also for what it's worth the "precious space" aregument is a little silly. Certainly the first page has precedence but browsers DO scroll down. As long as most of the links are text they could very well put out a 4 page long "homepage". It would be a little silly, but it's do-able. There's plenty of white space left on the right side under the ads and whatnot. Browsers can do things newsprint can't.

And by the way, if they're going to call it "washingtonpost.com" they shouldn't get all uppity about who's company it is. I don't care if it's done by two guys in a dorm, this is the online representation of the paper, period.

Posted by: asdg | December 14, 2005 5:28 PM | Report abuse

I am really so extremely amused by all the comments about the shamelessly Republican Washington Post. Have these commenters failed to notice the perception of liberal bias on the part of the WaPo is what made it possible for the Washington Times to exist as an overtly conservative paper? Is the Washington Post to be labelled as a Republican tool, merely because they refuse to take a stand that these commentators endorse -- their liberalism is too squishy to be acceptable?

I think the WaPo actually does a pretty good job of presenting a sifted and sorted collection of relevant facts, sufficient to let readers make intelligent judgments. Not perfect, of course, not always agreeing with me. That's what I have my own brain for. That's why we have a free press, that enables me to read alternative views. The concern over Froomkin on the part of the Post (at least, the expressed concern) is that by making overt judgments under a title that implies dispassionate reporting, he may alienate a large portion of the potential readership. Alienated readers means less revenue, of course; it also means never having the chance to reach those alienated readers with the dispassionate reporting that the Post brings to bear and that those people need to see. That we all need for those people to see.

Posted by: Tim | December 14, 2005 5:30 PM | Report abuse

asdg writes, "And by the way, if they're going to call it "washingtonpost.com" they shouldn't get all uppity about who's company it is. I don't care if it's done by two guys in a dorm, this is the online representation of the paper, period."

He (or she) is absolutely correct about this aspect.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 14, 2005 5:31 PM | Report abuse

It was me who complained about Frookin. Be sure and check out my blog here:

http://www.patrickruffini.com/archives/2005/03/dan_froomkin_se.php

Posted by: Patrick Ruffini | December 14, 2005 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Got a bus to catch and going shopping tonight, but if anyone wants an autographed copy of "Singing in the Methane," just leave your five bucks on the table.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 14, 2005 5:37 PM | Report abuse

If Patrick Ruffini was confused about whether Froomkin was a White House reporter you have to wonder about the marbles in his pretty little head. Maybe someone can clarify it for him at his new job at the RNC.

Obviously John Harris must have seen something in Patrick's display of partisan hackery that I didn't. Even though Harris won't comment now - or at least not on the record. That's pretty weak Mr. Political Editor.

Posted by: DBJ | December 14, 2005 5:42 PM | Report abuse

this is so completely off-topic but i hafta catch up on today's boodle... i have posted a (tongue in check) FAQ or dictionary for the Achenblog (boss, you never said if it was all right to do so - i can remove it if it's not alright!) at
http://www.mortiifera.com/?p=67
all suggestions, edits, what-have-you are welcome and encouraged...
now i must go and catch up on today's boodle...

Posted by: mo | December 14, 2005 5:44 PM | Report abuse

What would Ceci Connally do?

Posted by: truthman | December 14, 2005 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Curmudgeon is right, folks, as to the ombudsman's position and role.

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 14, 2005 5:51 PM | Report abuse

The Woodward thing has resurfaced, once again in the false guise of "loyalty to readers" vs. "loyalty to sources." It's not about loyalty to sources over the benefit to readers. If a reporter, even once, establishes that he is willing to make a moral distinction about which sources get to maintain their anonymity and which he considers to be too personally loathsome to protect, then he risks his credibility with future possible sources. The public has an interest in the continued availability of those future sources.

Posted by: Tim | December 14, 2005 5:51 PM | Report abuse

asdg writes, "And by the way, if they're going to call it "washingtonpost.com" they shouldn't get all uppity about who's company it is. I don't care if it's done by two guys in a dorm, this is the online representation of the paper, period."

Yup, I agree with this most heartily.

I just want to applaud the boodlers new and old. Its great to see people posting strongly held opinions in a civil way.

Posted by: dr | December 14, 2005 5:51 PM | Report abuse

What I don't understand is, what is Froomkin supposed to say?

"Everything Scott McClellan said today was exactly what needed to be said about our mission in Iraq and how events are proceeding there...."

"The hand selected audience was the perfect venue for an open and comprehensive airing of the nation's options in regards to Social Security and the aging Baby Boomer population..."

Posted by: Wallace | December 14, 2005 5:57 PM | Report abuse

yellojkt wrote in today's earlier blog:
"I think epidemiologist are the economists of the medical world. They have predicted nine of the last five pandemics. Remember swine flu anyone?"

Laurie Garrett in her book, "Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance" documents public policy quite well regarding swine flu, in addition to the passages I'm about to share with you, pp.180-1.

On Nov. 2, Gerald Ford lost his bid for the presidency, and Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, a liberal Democrat, was elected. The already demoralized federal public health establishment now had a lame-duck chanpion for its efforts. Fewer than 5 million Americans would voluntarily get vaccinated after November 1; virtually none after word got out about Guillain-Barre syndrome....

First identified in the 1920s by French neurologists Jean Alexander Barre and George Guillain, the syndrome was rare, usually reversible, occasionally lethal, and normally occurred in the absence of any other associated illness. No cause or treatment for Guillain-Barre was known, nor could anybody explain why some individuals recovered completely after about a month of paralysis, a few were permanently paralyzed, and still fewer died of respiratory distress when neurological symptoms affected their lungs, hearts, or diaphragms....

On Dec. 14 the CDC issued a press release announcing that 30 people had developed the syndrome within a month after their Swine Flu vaccinations; an additional 24 Guillain-Barre cases had occurred in people following a lapse of more than than 30 days after immunization.

Two days later, Sencer called a halt to the Swine Flu campaign, pending further investigation of the Guillain-Barre cases.

On Christmas Eve, the CDC revealed that 172 Guillain-Barre cases had turned up in 24 states. Ninety-nine cases involved flu vaccines--six of whom had died. The cases spanned all age groups, genders, and races, and no geographic clustering of cases could be seen. Something was going on.

By New Year's Eve, the reported number of cases had soared to 526; of these, 257 had received flu shots....

The CDC continued to downplay the association between the vaccine and the syndrome, though agency insiders had already concluded that the Guillain-Barre rate among those vaccinated against Swine Flu was at least four times that in the unvaccinated population. As further syndrome reports poured in during the early weeks of 1977, some agency representatives suggested that the publicity had created hysteria, prompting cases nationwide of psychologically induced paralysis and limb weakness. But the studies in various communities showed no such panic, and found that most cases had been diagnosed by quakified neurologists....

By the time Jimmy Carter had been inaugurated...58 deaths had occurred. Agency analysis showed a clear clustering of cases around the months of November and December, coming on the heels of the Swine Flu campaign peak. The average lag time between vaccination and developing the syndrome was six weeks. Over five percent of cases were lethal, and nearly a quarter of the Guillain-Barre sufferers had to be placed on respirators.
***

I simply cannot comment any more. I have spent half the day at the doctor's office and pharmacy--waiting mostly. My little bug has tired me, and it is I, Mudge, who needs to head to bed. I hope you have awakened from you rest refreshed. So no more Syriana mentions from me today--at all...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Posted by: Loomis | December 14, 2005 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Tragically I've been given an assignment (can they do that???) and thus can't respond to the very many interesting and provocative posts here. I'll try to respond in full in the morning.

But I do want to make a quick comment on the post by Andy, who writes:

"The issue is whether a column that routinely calls out the White House is therefore, by definition, "liberal" and deserving of a balancing "conservative" blog. The Post political staff believes so. Most of Froomkin's readers are rightly outraged by that conclusion."

This is intellectually dishonest. The Post's political staff never asked for a conservative voice on the website. But at some point it's like trying to outshout a hurricane.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 14, 2005 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Mo, that's priceless. Thanks!

Posted by: Achenbach | December 14, 2005 6:09 PM | Report abuse

The fact is that if anyone with any access said the things that Froomkin says, they would lose their access. Terry Neal, for example, has gone quite close to the line in terms of pointing out that Bush, McLellan, etc. never actually say anything, but he never comes right out and says that Bush is treating us all like imbeciles. Froomkin does. It is true, so it is fairly important that someone besides Jon Stewart is saying it.
I find Harris's position untenable. I don't understand when "balance" came to mean blurring the difference between lies and truth.

Posted by: jim preston | December 14, 2005 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Curmudgeon's stirring defense of the ombudsman's independence and integrity was what's known as a circular argument. He says if the ombudman weren't independent it would be instantly noticed and the ombudsman's reputation for independence would be lost. And he said this to a bunch of people who are saying the ombudsman's integrity is non-existent.

Curmudgeon thinks he has proved a biased ombudsman is a contradiction in terms and can't exist. Aside from the current WaPo example, anybody remember the pathetic Daniel Okrent?

Posted by: David O | December 14, 2005 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Let's just declare this to be the Post's "conservative blog"!

Hey.. the White House does it all the time: just saying it makes it true!

The Achenblog: WaPo's Conservative Blog

Posted by: TBG | December 14, 2005 6:26 PM | Report abuse

This *is* a conservative blog -- in the Bizarro World! The next Porching Hour will be held at Reggie's Diner and will be attended by Kevin, Gene, and Feldman.

Goodbye!
Hello!

["Shouldn't that be 'Bad-Bye'?"]

Posted by: Achenfan | December 14, 2005 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Where is the proof that Froomkin is "liberal"? Where is the evidence? He's liberal because he finds lots of mainstream reporting that paints an unofficial portrait of Bush?

The truth is not conservative or democrat, and the truth is all that Froomkin blogs about.

The fact that there is a lot of damning evidence against Bush is something that a lot of journalists would like to ignore, because it doesn't fit well within the "he-said, she-said" paradygm.

More journalists should be like Froomkin; not afraid of being (falsely) called biased just for reporting the truth.

Posted by: MB | December 14, 2005 6:42 PM | Report abuse

When the President of the United States claims that 2+2=5 it's neither liberal nor conservative to point out that 2+2=4. That's what Froomkin does on a daily bases, and what most Americans (who reside in the political middle) are so hungry for, hence his popularity with the readers. Sure with the Republicans currently in control of all 3 branches of government it means the more bad press for them, but that's part of the cost of being in power. Balance should be viewed across the spectrum of time, not from any single instance. The whole idea behind granting Freedom of the Press is to ensure that it speaks truth to power not so that it can back and say "the administration says this; the opposition says that" when the facts being argued over are verifiable.

Whether or not the Post's political staff was/is calling for a conservative voice in opposition is not the point, and frankly using that small point to claim Andy's argument is "intellectually dishonest" is at best missing the forest for the trees.

Posted by: Norm | December 14, 2005 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Joel,

Fair enough, I obviously overreached in stating for a fact what every Post political reporter believes, since I don't actually know any of them. But you likewise overreached in labeling my comments intellectually dishonest. Well, unless you're trying to be sarcastic.

Howell and Harris are not speaking off the cuff. Instead they are conveying the criticisms of an unnamed mass of reporters, critics and political operatives. Their comments build to a rather intellectually honest conclusion - that the Post's political reporters would be happy to see Froomkin diluted by a conservative.

WaPo Ombudsperson Howell wrote in her column: "Political reporters at The Post don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's 'White House Briefing,' which is highly opinionated and liberal. They're afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter." Now maybe she overreached, too, but when the ombudsman writes that the "political reporters" don't like Froomkin's column, I take that to mean what it says.

Howell interviewed the Post's National Political Editor, John Harris, whom one can reasonably assume is a persuasive voice among Post political reporters. Harris complained that Froomkin's column "dilutes our only asset -- our credibility." Howell concluded that dot.com's editor was "considering changing the column title and supplementing it with a conservative blogger."

Harris then added his own piece, further explaining the view from the print side. "People in the newsroom want to end this confusion. We do not want to spike his column--or at least I don't. [Others, apparently, do.] It might be the case that he would be writing similarly about John Kerry if he were president. But I guarantee that many people who posted here would not be Froomkin enthusiasts--or be so indifferent to the concerns I raise--in that case . . . . The confusion about Dan's column unintentionally creates about the reporter's role has itself become an obstacle to our work."

Finally, from Harris' published comments on PressBlog (to which you link, Joel), comes the kicker: "To the extent he presents a distinct ideological orientation in his column, we should make sure we offer other voices."

How is it intellectually dishonest to conclude from that statement, Joel, that the political reporters want to balance Froomkin with a conservative? Harris continues: "Again, I know most readers are not idiots and get the idea that we are sponsoring a blogger. But we know there is confusion on the point. And even a lot of conservatives who get the idea of what Dan is would say, 'Yes, of course it figures that the Washington Post would sponsor a liberal blogger.'"

At the end of his interview, Harris states: "What we are really discussing is the title and presentation of 'White House Briefing' and whether [Froomkin] should be complemented by another voice." In other words, that the Post could correct that apparent misconception by sponsoring non-liberal bloggers as well.

Posted by: Andy | December 14, 2005 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Forgive if these points have already been made, but:

1. The ombudsperson chose to take what no doubt should have been an in-house issue and make it public. For what other reason than to please those who have "created obstacles" (per Harris) and the WH reporters?

2. Froomkin responded to this PUBLIC criticism publicly.

3. Harris's "rebuttal" to Froomkin's response was at best a joke, riddled with lapses in logic and condescending presumption, to which readers proceeded to eviscerate again and again via comments.

4 Harris has STILL failed to explain his words: "The confusion about Dan's column unintentionally creates about the reporter's role has itself become an OBSTACLE to our work."

How else should these words, in this current context, be interpreted? I asked it yesterday very early in the "Harris" thread, and I've yet to hear anyone explain these words in any way than the vast majority of comments noted: The White House and its allies tell Harris and the National Politics crew to jump, and Harris feels perfectly justified in asking "How high?" Liberal vs. conservative is a canard here; Harris's response demands explanation, and instead Achenbach comes out to defend him by claiming partisan warfare. You should be ashamed of yourself Achenbach.

Posted by: Dr. Cb, Suggests you stop digging | December 14, 2005 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Joel, when you say, "Enough. Here's the headline: Not everything is political," you might be behind the curve here, I think. John Harris and Len Downie have both admitted that it's political, because the complaints apparently (they're not being completely clear on this) came from 'readers" but "Republicans".

The problem, as we Froomkin readers keep pointing out, is NOT liberal vs. conservative at all. That was the formulation of Mr. Harris and Ms. Howell. They were the ones who insisted on making this partisan. It's not clear to me-- and apparently to you either-- why if it was merely about the labelling of the column Ms. Howell decided (in the month, btw, that Bob Woodward was outed as someone who testified about his sources in the leak investigation, that is, when lots of other things are going on at WaPo) to make this public and side with Mr. Harris. But okay, she did that. She apparently took Mr. Harris's word that there were complaints from the Post WH reporters (though they mostly are saying, "Not me!") and that readers were confused-- no evidence offered on either count.

Now we read Jay Rosen's Pressthink interview with some of the people involved. It sounds like you read it too, and yet maybe you missed the quote where Mr. Harris now says that it wasn't the reporters really complaining. And not the ordinary readers either. But oops! It was Republicans! The only one he mentions specifically was a "source" who "runs campaigns", but he says: "They (the White House) have never complained in a formal way to me, but I have heard from Republicans in informal ways making clear they think his work is tendentious and unfair. I do not have to agree with them in every instance that it is tendentious and unfair for me to be concerned about making clear who Dan is and who he is not regarding his relationship with the newsroom." Then he links approvingly to a blogpost that calls Froomkin a "hack" in the headline. Turns out (oops!) he neglected to say that the "blogger" is a Republican party operative.

Then Mr. Downie mentions that the White House had complained (and as an afterthought, adds "readers" might have been confused).

So the questions that you might wonder about are--
1) Why was this basically internal debate made public? That's sort of weird. There doesn't seem to be that big a deal about changing the name of the column a bit, and in fact, Froomkin's editor has already made some concessions to Mr. Harris (sounds like this discussion has been going on for MONTHS, but for some reason now Mr. Harris decided to take it to the ombudsman). So why now?

2) Why did the ombudsman, who presumably has that whole Bob Woodward thing to investigate for readers, decide that this internal debate was worth writing about, and why does she make conclusions about the column (adversarial and liberal, and when, btw, has "adversarial" been bad for a columnist?) without providing any evidence?

3) What started this? Not reader or reporter complaints, apparently. Who at the White House or in the Republican party complained, and what was the nature of the complaints, and why did the newspaper that stood up to Nixon's attempts to throttle investigation decide it had to respond to this White House's complaints?

4) Why wasn't Mr. Harris clear on where the complaints came from when this all started? It seems, at a minimum, that he misled Ms. Howell by not telling her (at least she didn't say this) that Republicans were behind the complaints. Not that Republicans or the White House can't complain, but transparency matters here-- why attribute this to "readers" and "reporters"? Did Mr. Harris lie here? If so, should Ms. Howell investigate that?

5) Does Mr. Harris really approve of the mysterious blogger calling his colleague "a hack"? If not, why did he link to that blog and not any other blog? Did he know that Mr. Ruffino is a Republican operative? Is Mr. Ruffino the source who Mr. Harris said was confused about Froomkin's status? (And if so, what on earth is the Republican party doing hiring operatives who don't know the diff between a reporter and a columnist?)

6) What's going on between the paper and the website? Is Mr. Harris going to take on Newsweek (another division) next? After all, George Will is not only opinionated (as he should be), but a letter to the editor actually referred to his column as "an article", thereby showing that at least one Newsweek reader is making the complaint that so exercises Mr. Harris.

7) Mr. Harris's own writings include op-eds which seem to support this administration. Does that make him ineligible by his own rules to be a political editor? Does Mr. Harris think the very opinionated Mr. Woodward (who -- without telling listeners that he was about to be sub poenaed-- called the special prosecutor a "junkyard dog") should be disciplined or not allowed to write news stories anymore? Or is it only columnists on the website that bother him? Or columnists he calls "liberal"?

Froomkin didn't start this imbroglio. Neither did his readers. We were all bumping along happily, reading his column, clicking his links-- and then Ms. Howell decided to make a column of this, and Mr. Harris decided to give an interview where he-- not Froomkin, not the readers-- said that Republicans were behind the complaints. So it's kind of weird that you're so focused on the readers. I think you're probably pretty good at digging out the truth, so maybe you can find out what story lies behind this story. If there actually were some readers who complained of being confused, can you find that out? But if it was the White House (as both Downie and Harris seem to be saying), does that change your view of what's happening here? Thanks!

Posted by: bink | December 14, 2005 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Joel, I can't believe you said this,
"This is intellectually dishonest. The Post's political staff never asked for a conservative voice on the website. But at some point it's like trying to outshout a hurricane."

Really???? How could we have arrived at that "intellectually dishonest" conclusion in the midst of this hurricane?

How about when John Harris said this to Jay Rosen at PressThink - "What we are really discussing is the title and presentation of "White House Briefing' and whether he should be complemented by another voice."

The Post's Political Editor believes that Froomkin is liberal and is talking about complementing him with "another voice." Do you really believe that from there it is "intellectually dishonest" to come to the conclusion that the Post's political staff want to balance Froomkin out with a conservative voice?

With all due respect, I think you owe us an apology for calling a logical conclusion based on the evidence "intellectually dishonest."

Posted by: DBJ | December 14, 2005 6:56 PM | Report abuse

The comments I have read here are so much more articulate than I ever could be. I am just amazed that many at the Post seem to think that this uproar is about some internal squabble as opposed to getting at the heart of how the people, who rely upon the 4th estate to do its job feel like they have been falling down on that job. This is a great opportunity for them to take a long hard look at what they have been providing to the public and ask themselves some hard questions. The idea that if it aint "Conservative/Republican" it must be liberal is a scam and is part of the game played. I don't want a conservative or a liberal press...I want a press that will hold power accountable.

Posted by: jon | December 14, 2005 7:02 PM | Report abuse

You're right, Harris did bring up the "complemented by another voice" and I apologize to Andy for the intellectually dishonest line. But I'm going to leave it at that at the moment, and blog again on this in the morning.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 14, 2005 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, the blogger cum operative's name is RUFFINI. Typo!

Posted by: bink | December 14, 2005 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Shout out, DBJ. Same point, half the words.

Posted by: Andy | December 14, 2005 7:04 PM | Report abuse

In the meantime, if anyone wants to read a great newspaper story, about Iraq, revealign what the war is really like, check out Steve Fainaru's piece from yesterday's Washington Post.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/12/AR2005121201707.html

Yes, that's right: The Washington Post. It's a pretty damn good paper. This is the kind of journalism that makes us all proud. It's brave, powerfully produced, and despite being EXACTLY the kind of journalism that the media ought to be doing, somehow doesn't get mentioned by our fine friends who would rather argue about something John Harris might have said.

OK I'll shut up now! (Had to get the last word...Bad habit...)

Posted by: Achenbach | December 14, 2005 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Tim, of course reporters are obligated to protect sources, but those sources should in turn be expected not to lie through their teeth. MIller, Woodward and others essentially entered into quid pro quo deals with U.S. officials (and their cronies) to unblinkingly disseminate whatever information those officals want out there in return for access and approved scoops--as Howard Fineman just agreed, the stenography charge. Access at the expense of the truth is worse than useless--aside from the dubious knowledge of what current lies are being spun.

I just can't take seriously defending the honor of highly connected celebrity journalists who have twisted their ethics to permit or even encourage being used like this. Passing on lies or failing to check on them in order to preserve the possibility of getting the scoop on the next bit of dodgy information is the kind of journalism I can do without. By marching down this path, the MSM has lost any right to smugly dismiss reeaders who complain about it. Joel's shrug hasn't been earned. We would be better served if he devoted the same time to his employers' troubling statements about reassuring (read placating) the administration that he does above to tiresome, irritating, noisome reader complaints.

Posted by: Cole Odell | December 14, 2005 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Agree with DBJ.

Joel decried "the exhausting Left vs. Right political prism that has made contemporary American politics such a drag." It is the Post--through the Ombudsman, political editor and Joel--who inserted this prism and pointed it at Froomkin's column, describing it as "liberal," whatever that means. I can only surmise that pointing out inconsistencies, shortfalls, disappointments, lies, and bubbles are now hallmarks of being liberal.

It is painfully obvious that the lesson here is not Froomkin's. It is in the mindset of the Post establishment that takes pride in failing to miss the point, in insulting its own readers, in going out of its way to comfort the comfortable. The problems at the Post are far worst than I imagined, and for the record I LOVE the Post. When the one insitution you have relied on for professionalism and honesty pretends to be this obtuse, it is mind-blowing.

How disappointing on every level.

Posted by: RB in DC | December 14, 2005 7:20 PM | Report abuse

I am going to have to come back here tonight and post some more, but here's one thought for some of you to chew on.

Political reporters not only need to produce stories, news and "firsts" to thrive in Washington DC; they also feel a need to produce and re-produce the impression of their own innocence, the observable signs of not being too this and not being too that.

I think some of the Froomkin Foofaraw has to do with Harris and associates needing to portray themselves as innocent, not too "political," free of taint. For this purpose White House Briefing appeared quite suitable-- even juicy. And they went ahead without really thinking it through.

Posted by: Jay Rosen | December 14, 2005 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Joel, I like your column a lot, but you are wrong on this. Howell started the name calling, and Harris kept it up. The real problem is that when Harris was asked about who was complaining, the only answer he could or would give was a rather disingenuous reference to a "conservative blogger" who turns out to Patrick Ruffini, Bush-Cheney 2004 webmaster. It was Powell and Harris who made this a partisan foodfight, not Froomkin's readers.

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig | December 14, 2005 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Joel - thanks for the apology. I think you may be a little defensive because of all these comments, so I should make one little point.

I love the Post. I consider it to be one of the best papers in the country. One of the best things about living in Washington, DC is waking up to the Post outside my door.

Maybe one of the reasons we get so passionate about this stuff (Froomkin, Harris, and such) as opposed to the article you linked to is - we've come to EXPECT excellent reporting from the Post.

We don't want to see the journalism slip at the Post or suspect that editors or reporters are carrying water for politicians or political parties - and comments like the ones attributed to Downie and Harris give us pause.

Posted by: DBJ | December 14, 2005 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Er, that would be Howell and Harris.

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig | December 14, 2005 7:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm starting to wonder whether I have split personality disorder. I was about to thank Joel for his gracious apology, and to explain that I am motivated to write first, and foremost, out of love for the Washington Post and washingtonpost.com, only to see that DBJ beat me to it.

Needless to say, if there was one website I could have access to, the post.com would be it. Between Live Online, the political blogs, and the great reporting, this is truly the best site on the web. When I read what people like Howell and Harris are saying about the paper and its philosophy, it troubles me precisely because I hoped for better from the best newspaper in the country. The Post isn't great because it fawns over the Bushies or tries to "balance" its coverage of them. It's great because, for example, the Post is breaking Watergate one generation, and then breaking the CIA secret prisons scandal the next. In my first post I used the "stop digging the hole" analogy -- all I ask is that Joel and the other Post writers we know and respect take a deep breath and assess what they're saying and how it will come across to a large and angry readership that suddenly suspects that their news is coming from people more concerned about pleasing the ruling class than reporting the truth. There's a simple test here -- suppose the president truly is incompetent. How is Harris' fair and balanced journalistic philosophy the best way to publicize that? Wouldn't you rather have Froomkin's approach?

Posted by: Andy | December 14, 2005 8:35 PM | Report abuse

The Washington Post is clearly a collection of strongly willed people who frequently disagree. This is a good thing.

Posted by: RD Padouk | December 14, 2005 8:47 PM | Report abuse

And unfortunately, this Boodle descended into the literary equivalent of a dog-fighting pit. People rather violently reacted to any movement at all, when a leisurely read of JA's orignial piece shows he attacked no one. OK, he offered his opinion that the spat was not political but more over bragging rights to a home page link. But it's really tough to see where he took either side.

I'm very much looking forward to tomorrow's Kit.

Oh, do you think it might help if we suggest renaming Froomkin's piece to "White House Boodle"?

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 14, 2005 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Harris and others had complaints about a fellow journalist, and they shared those complaints with the WaPo ombudsman. These complaints were that their fellow journalist's column was critical of the Administration, and therefore was compromising their ability to access that Administration. The ombudsman writes an article, followed by Harris' public comments, that labels the offending column as misleading, liberal, opinionated, lacking a conservative counterpart, and denigrates the quality and value of the column. Harris make statements that could be reasonably interpreted as saying that he had been motivated by a perception that his access to the Administration was being compromised by the misleading title of the column, and that perception came from advocates of the Administration complaining that the title of the column was misleading.

Even without the context of the Washington Post struggling with the issue of the trade-off between access and accountability, and artificially creating balance at the cost of accuracy, please explain why you think this particular story is such a "mundane spat". If you find that it is "mundane" that the Administration threatened or implied to WaPo White House reporters that access would be cut if WaPo did not clearly and prominently label a column critical of the Administration (especially critical when the Administration restricted access to favorable crowds and reporters) as "liberal" and "highly opinionated" and requiring balance, and that those reporters carried out the Administration's demand for labeling through the ombudsman, then please give examples of similar 'business as usual' occurrences at WaPo.

Given your reduction of the reaction to this story as 'ho-hum politics as usual' or 'on-line vs. text', what are we to think of the Washington Post's ability to adequately respond to a critique its' advocates seem incapable of even understanding? Accountability being traded for access, and the fallacy of balance - these issues have been extensively discussed by Jay Rosen, Josh Marshall, and others. These are the issues this story raises and you ignore.

Posted by: Bryce Pashler | December 14, 2005 9:16 PM | Report abuse


Joel, Instead of discussing your commenters' reasonable and articulate points, you link to a Post story from the foreign bureau in exasperation. We are talking about the Political desk, aren't we?

Thin-skinned much? Your commenters have presented you with much food for thought and discussion in a reasonable and impassioned way. You've even been blessed by a couple of comments from the esteemed Jay Rosen. Yet you cling to your notion that this is all trivial. It's not. Your commenters are trying to engage you in a discussion about the very roots and purpose of journalism.

You shouldn't demean that. Both you and the powers that be should be listening (and reading) closely. The Bush Administration and its political operatives will be gone someday. Where will your journalism be?

Posted by: Cathleen | December 14, 2005 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Achenbach, I have to say that I am very disappointed by your comments on this Froomkin incident. Harris and Downie make it clear that a political agenda is driving their concerns about Froomkin's column/blog, yet you refer to the readers' comments without a bat of an eye, "And so on, tiresomely, irritatingly, noisomely. Enough. Here's the headline: Not everything is political." Uh? At first, I thought this comment was some kind of joke. Only to read on and discover that you were serious.

This Froomkin blow up goes to show that you, Downie, Harris, and Howell live in a scarily insular world. I really don't think that you and your colleagues really understand the extent to which the failure of the Washingtonpost Post and NY Times over this WMD debacle has shaken your credibility in the eyes of your readship. I get the distinct impression that you all think that it is just a wacky hysterical minority on the Internet who are overacting nevermind that circulation is dropping like a rock.

Posted by: Simone | December 14, 2005 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Don't normally read this or most other blogs, except Froomkin - otherwise I would not be contributing, as I have followed this story closely. And this discussion is far more civilized and thoughtful than many others. Perhaps I can offer a few random observations -

Unfortunately I see this as more than a turf battle, despite what Mr. Achenbach writes. This is for a number of reasons -
1. The injection of "liberal bias" charge. It is too often used (sadly effectively) to silence critics/skeptics/dissenters, etc. As much as I hate to see it used, I hate just as much media cowering and caving when tagged as "liberal." Moreover, use of the word made the issue political from the first shot.
2. The involvement of the White House and Republicans. It really appears an attempt to silence a voice they don't like by going over their heads to the bosses.
3. The idea of "balance," already well addressed here. As someone in the history field, it is frightening to see people try to "balance" such factual events such as the Holocaust and slavery. Professor Debra Lipstadt (sorry, spelling?), a Holocaust scholar, refuses to debate or otherwise answer Holocaust deniers, even to do in order to refute them as that gives them credibility and a voice. I am not suggesting that this is the case currently, but I fear inching down this road.
4. The condescending tone of Howell and Harris and those attaching WHB. We can all read, we know the definition of "Columnist" and "Opinion." The (quote) a "media savvy" Republican operative who was allegedly "confused"
by the column... kinda sounds like they are not so savvy. I find it
extraordinarily implausible that the audience of WHB, and the Post as a
whole, cannot determine reporting from opinion. I wonder if this reason is
a smokescreen for something else.
5. Finally - and I will shut up - this episode is a symptom of a larger problem it seems to me. Judging by the discussions, a large number of reasonable people (not the ranters and conspiracy folks) really feel that the Post's reporters have a credibility problem. That they were, and are not doing their job of being skeptical and probing; that they are merely White House stenographers. It may not matter whether this is reality or not (though the post 9/11 and Iraq invasion sort of mea culpas issued tend to confirm in part this suspicion.), this is reality. Keeping Woodward around contributes to this belief, it seems he got less than a slap on the wrist for his unconscionable actions. plus his (real or perceived) bias towards the administration. THIS is the problem, not the place of this blog or that. And I am unsure if the MSM folks "get it" yet.
Thanks.

Posted by: EAR | December 14, 2005 10:19 PM | Report abuse

What EAR said.


Dismissing us all as angry or liberal or partisan or obsessed with triva is insulting-- and short-sighted. We are the Post's readers. The Post probably pays market researchers thousands of dollars to focus groups-- well, this is a focus group. And we're saying to wake up. There's a problem. The Post is a good newspaper comparatively, but seeing the political editor take off like this after a columnist and then admit that he'd gotten complaints from the Republicans-- that's a problem. He decided to make a public issue about this and involved the "reader's representative" (did he tell HER that the White House had been crabbing at him?). Froomkin isn't to blame for the "foofaraw", and neither are his readers. Harris started this. Why? Post.com wasn't being unreasonable-- the editor and Froomkin had already made concessions. So, Joel, why did Harris decide he had to take this public? What do you think he meant to accomplish with that?

In a day or so, you'll probably be able to tell us more. I hope we haven't scared you off! But think about how you personally would feel as a columnist if an editor did this to you. Would you think it was trivial? or would you assume there was an attempt here to intimidate?

Posted by: bink | December 14, 2005 10:56 PM | Report abuse

aCHIN'bACK (or whatever your handle is):

Just so you know, I am one who swarmed to Dan Froomkin's defense and I find your opportunistic, pious trivialization of Howell's and Harris's overkill attack on the name of Dan's column to be right out of the Bush/Cheney playbook.

Dan Froomkin has big coattails and I'm sure the mere mention of his name drew traffic to your site but you have little to offer, e.g., I didn't see any mention, critique or sanctimonious observation about an Ombudsman who chooses sides when a WaPo editor attacks a cut-and-paste columnist as a liberal.

Enjoy the ride, dork!

Posted by: Jose, ABQNM | December 14, 2005 10:56 PM | Report abuse

ugh. you guys speaks of "MSM" like it's a virus. enough already.

Posted by: mother | December 14, 2005 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Jose and the Froomkin groupies: I really sense that Achenbach doesn't give a shit.

Dorks.

Posted by: madre | December 14, 2005 11:05 PM | Report abuse

It sounds like WaPo Jr High or maybe the fourth grade instead of the fourth estate. You'd think the menu that says "Editorials, Opinions and Columns" might tip people off. I guess the printies are so worried about "credibility" because one of their own has so badly undermined their institution. The White House et al. used the "bias" card to draft Raines into turnig page 1 of the NYT into the RunAmok steno service. Journalists may want to view themselves as truth seekers but they are so badly overmatched by the echo chamber that they think objective means printing "both sides" so that its all "he said, she said" and the truth is lost. Fromkin doesn't balance truth with equal parts spin so he is deemed bias. The WaPo should spend more time trying to figure out how to do real journalism in the 21 Century age of form over substance and marketing genius that has turned too many bright reporters into unwitting rubes. And can please Woodward already.

Posted by: Moderate&Independent | December 14, 2005 11:12 PM | Report abuse

It sounds like WaPo Jr High or maybe the fourth grade instead of the fourth estate. You'd think the menu that says "Editorials, Opinions and Columns" might tip people off. I guess the printies are so worried about "credibility" because one of their own has so badly undermined their institution. The White House et al. used the "bias" card to draft Raines into turnig page 1 of the NYT into the RunAmok steno service. Journalists may want to view themselves as truth seekers but they are so badly overmatched by the echo chamber that they think objective means printing "both sides" so that its all "he said, she said" and the truth is lost. Fromkin doesn't balance truth with equal parts spin so he is deemed bias. The WaPo should spend more time trying to figure out how to do real journalism in the 21 Century age of form over substance and marketing genius that has turned too many bright reporters into unwitting rubes. And can please Woodward already.

Posted by: Moderate&Independent | December 14, 2005 11:13 PM | Report abuse

So I was walking along F Street the other night and this goofy-looking, tallish guy with once-blond hair grabbed me by the shoulder and asked, "Whar kin ah score some nucular-strenth blow?"

Time for a breather, folks.

Posted by: Hinterlands | December 14, 2005 11:43 PM | Report abuse

There is a lot of thought in these comments. It's impressive. I hope you do post about it tomorrow, Joel, because your people done good.

I would single out Bryce Pashler's very able summary just now, some of Andy's observations ("It's the Post's blatant confusing of criticism with partisanship that so many readers oppose"), and Paul Vincent, the "rube from the suburbs (Portland, Oregon) who has read the Post religiously for the last 20 years." The Rube's remark, "Balanced reporting is not synonymous with objective reporting," captures something essential about this dispute.

Why all the passion over something Joel calls "at core a mundane spat," and which he is tempted to call "trivial?" He thinks the partisan-ized state of the country explains it. That's there for sure. But I think this is one where the events themselves may be small (nothing is going to change in Froomkin's column, no icons fell, there is no huge conflict in the Post newsroom) but the currents that produced those events go deep-- for reporters, columnists like Froomkin and Achenbach, Post readers, bloggers, and press critics like myself.

I've read most of the instant literature this episode created and a few things stand out:

It's unfortunate, but neither Deborah Howell nor John Harris tried to make an argument for why the Froomkin's column should be called "liberal," possibily to be balanced off by a conservative blogger. They didn't say what they meant by a term that has a history of being used irresponsibly; they didn't try to give examples; and Harris's one attempt to provide something we could examine went seriously awry, because in fact he did link to a Republican operative calling his colleague, Dan, a "second-rate hack."

This failure to argue--while simultaneously pasting a label on Froomkin that he rejects--is especially striking for two reasons:

First, Froomkin has an argument. His (in my paraphrase) is: You actually don't think I'm liberal; what you mean is that I am anti-Bush. But you're wrong. I am not anti-Bush, but I do have a kind of agenda as a writer and observer, and it often places me in conflict with this White House. I am for "discourse accountability" in presidents. I try to insist that the president engage in real dialogue, and refrain from demagoguery. I think speeches should be fact-checked, and statements intensely scrutinized. When presidents refuse to answer their critics they do democracy a disservice. When they refuse even to be questioned they pretend they're kings and this we cannot allow.

Froomkin further says: I have an agenda, but not an ideology in the conventional sense. I stand up for these things but I do not take political stands the way a Richard Cohen or George Will might. You can argue with my agenda, but why are you calling me a liberal when I would apply the same standards to a president named Kerry, Clinton, Biden or Obama? (I believe he would, too.)

Howell showed no awarenss of this argument. I'm not sure she understands it.

Harris, amazingly enough, said he agreed with it. In my interview with him he says: "I would agree with Dan that... demanding answers, crying foul on "disingenous talking points," and so on do not represent ideological values. They would seem to me to represent basic journalistic values, and democratic values."

In other words, it's okay to have that kind of agenda. But then he calls Froomkin a liberal anyway-- again without an argument of his own, without evidence he was willing to share, without engaging at all with White House briefing.

The second thing striking to me is that Howell and Harris were willing to wade into this territory without realizing that the standards for persuading the people reading you have gone way up because of the Net, the blogs, the ease of comparison, the power of the link, the transparency that has come to journalism, the ability of the readership to talk back, and the 8 million readers of washingtonpost.com, compared to 1 million at best for the paper.

When you are at the top (and political editor of the Washington Post is pretty near it) it is hard to believe that the standards that got you there now have to be raised. But this is exactly what's happened to journalists like Howell and Harris. (Look how your readers push you to be clearer, smarter, fairer Joel.)

When Paul Vincent says "Balanced reporting is not synonymous with objective reporting," he's ahead of John Harris in thinking the matter through. When Bruce Pashler talks of "accountability being traded for access," he presents a more sophisticated view than Bob Woodward has offered on that issue. That is why Dan Gillmor, formerly of the San Jose News, developed his mantra: "my readers know more than I do."

My own sense is that Froomkin has caught on to these changes; Harris has not, Howell has not. They thought they were defending traditional newsroom values ("straight reporting" must be protected from opinion) but they flunked the currency test. It's a lot harder to claim the journalistic high ground than they think, and this thread is, I think, a beautiful demonstration of that.

Cheers, everyone.

Posted by: Jay Rosen | December 14, 2005 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Harris needs PR training. To slam Froomkin by linking to a paid Bush/Cheney operative was either unbelievably stupid or telling.

Given the fact that Woodward didn't think outing a CIA agent was a big deal, and the Post blew the WMD story - can you blame people for betting the latter?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 15, 2005 12:08 AM | Report abuse

I'm really, REALLY grooving on the idea of renaming Froomkin's gig "The White House Debrief". I appeals to me on a lot of different levels.

Posted by: Bob S. | December 15, 2005 12:19 AM | Report abuse

This is a truly amazing interview with John Harris. Can he keep his job after this?

Prof

December 14, 2005
Astroturf vs Grassroots (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)
Grassroots vs. Astroturf

I talked to John Harris, national political editor of the print Washington Post this morning. It didn't go very well:

Wednesday December 14, 2005. 9:07 PST

Q: Thanks for calling. My name is Brad DeLong. I'm a professor of economics at U.C. Berkeley. You've actually been on my to-call list since last August, when Gene Sperling, the New York Fed's Tim Geithner, and I had a very good long conversation about your very interesting Clinton book while playing hooky from a Fed conference session. You see, Orville Schell and Susan Rasky have been persuading me to co-teach a course at Berkeley's Journalism School next semester--where I get to be the ivory tower intellectual explaining how you should cover the economy, and she gets to be the practical nuts-and-bolts person on how you can cover the economy without getting fired. And I'm trying to put together a syllabus. But the impetus for this call is different: yesterday, I read you telling Jay Rosen http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/ that Dan Froomkin critic Patrick Ruffini http://www.patrickruffini.com/archives/2005/03/dan_froomkin_se.php was a grassroots conservative weblogger. And my jaw dropped because he is eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee. A matter not of conservative grassroots complaints about liberal bias but rather Bush-can-do-no-wrong paid Republican operatives working the ref. So why did you characterize Ruffini in this way?

A: He wasn't at the time working for the Republicans, he wasn't when he wrote that piece [about Froomkin last March]...

Q: So you knew [Ruffini] had been a Republican operative in 2004, and didn't tell that to Jay Rosen?

A: [Ramble of which I caught only scattered phrases] But assuming you aren't posting this at least immediately... A good relationship between the print Washington Post and WPNI... Happy to answer privately... Really don't want to be quoted on the record... If you want to call me an idiot without my response, that's fine...

A: No I want your response.

A; [stream continues] But I shouldn't respond... I've promised people I won't respond... We need to cool this down... It's a really a very narrow issue: are there people confused about Froomkin's role...

[We go off the record for a while]

[We go back on the record]

Q: Can you give any examples--other than Republican National Committee eCampaign Director Patrick Ruffini http://www.patrickruffini.com/archives/2005/10/same_fight.php--of people who are seriously confused about Dan Froomkin's role at WPNI?

A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised I won't comment on this.

Q: Did you, when you sent your answers to Jay Rosen yesterday, know that your "grassroots conservative weblogger" Patrickk Ruffini had been a Republican campaign operative in 2004?

A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised that I won't comment on this.

Q: Did you, when you sent your answers to Jay Rosen yesterday, know that your "grassroots conservative weblogger" Patrick Ruffini was now eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee?

A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised that I won't comment on this.

My belief--but since he won't answer the questions, I do not know--is that John Harris knew full well that Patrick Ruffini was a onetime Republican operative when he characterized him as a "conservative weblogger" to Jay Rosen, but was trying to pull a fast one. That John Harris had not done his homework and did not know that Ruffini is going back to work as eCampaign Director for the RNC. And that he doesn't have evidence of serious confusion about the purpose of Dan Froomkin's column--that Harris has just been pounded on by a bunch of Bush-loyalist Republicans working the ref.

I do wonder how Harris found Mr. Ruffini's website. It's not that easy to do. It ranks 498th or so in the TTLB weblog ecosystem directories. I don't see how it is possible to wind up there if one is looking on the web to sound out grassroots conservative opinion.

I remember Lloyd Bentsen once cursing that American journalists had no ability to distinguish between "grassroots" and "astroturf." I think this is a point of data that many of them, at least, know full well the difference: the problem is not one of lack of ability to distinguish.

Posted by Brad DeLong on December 14, 2005 at 09:49 AM in Better Press Corps | Permalink

Posted by: Prof | December 15, 2005 12:22 AM | Report abuse

Wow.

Talk about stonewalling.

Here's my raving on Froomkin:

http://scorpionbowl.blogspot.com/2005/12/internet-as-epistemology.html

Posted by: Richard B. Simon | December 15, 2005 12:25 AM | Report abuse

Katherine Graham would turn over in her grave. Achenblog just wasted five minutes of my time with his schizoid column; he will be at Fox News shortly as soon as he improves his "fair and balanced" routine.

Harris is a hoot with his responses to Froomkin and the readership. How dumb do you have to be with the readership AFTER they post 99% favorable comments toward Froomkin. Some therapy for narcissistic/masochistic tendencies is in order for John.

Howell - well it is fairly certain that we now know she didn't get the job on the basis of her smarts.

Rove - laughing his ass off that the Post is doing his job for him.

Ms. Graham's memory deserves much better than the rank amateurism displayed by all of you and your petty concerns. Losers!

Posted by: Bob C. | December 15, 2005 12:28 AM | Report abuse

"Enough. Here's the headline: Not everything is political."

I like and admire the Achenblog. But I have to say, this particular comment is what John Dean calls male bovine excretion. Everything. EVERYTHING. Is political. Most especially when those who complain about it are Republicans. Every action, every statement, has a political dimension. We can ignore it if we choose, but that doesn't make it go away.

It used to be that many, perhaps most, Republicans were honest, if deluded, patriots. Nowadays, they are dishonest before anything else, and patriots only in the Dr. Johnson sense: the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Between the Publicans, as represented by Mr. Harris and Mr. Woodward, and the honest people, as represented by Mr. Froomkin, and I would add Mr. Pincus and a few others on the print side, there is a large gap in the area of intellectual integrity, also known as truthfulness.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) | December 15, 2005 12:29 AM | Report abuse

"Enough. Here's the headline: Not everything is political."

I like and admire the Achenblog. But I have to say, this particular comment is what John Dean calls male bovine excretion. Everything. EVERYTHING. Is political. Most especially when those who complain about it are Republicans. Every action, every statement, has a political dimension. We can ignore it if we choose, but that doesn't make it go away.

It used to be that many, perhaps most, Republicans were honest, if deluded, patriots. Nowadays, they are dishonest before anything else, and patriots only in the Dr. Johnson sense: the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Between the Publicans, as represented by Mr. Harris and Mr. Woodward, and the honest people, as represented by Mr. Froomkin, and I would add Mr. Pincus and a few others on the print side, there is a large gap in the area of intellectual integrity, also known as truthfulness.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) | December 15, 2005 12:31 AM | Report abuse

wow,

this debate is incredibly encuraging, and i sincerely hope that we get to see a real response to the kinds of (very well thought out) issues that have been raised here. is it possible that the blogosphere could actually contribute to pressuring the major media outlets into the dissemination of real news that serves the public through clearly contagious intelligent debate? perhaps there is hope for us yet!

Posted by: bryan | December 15, 2005 12:33 AM | Report abuse

It's the media's job to be adversarial. Since the current administration is conservative, then much of the media's criticism is bound to appear liberal to the casual eye when it is actually unbiased. This is as it should be.

When a liberal is again elected president, the positions will flip. At that point, everyone can whine about how conservative Froomkin's column suddenly seems to become, when in fact it is simply being consistent.

It surprises me that more people (especially journalists!) don't seem to understand the naturally adversarial nature of the relationship between government and the press.

Posted by: bb | December 15, 2005 12:37 AM | Report abuse

The truth still stands that under John Harris's watch this WH sold us BS reasons for invading Iraq, with the Post carrying much of the black water. And now it's a big freaking mess. Excuse us readers for siding with Froomie for shedding a little light on the Brownies of the world. Labeling it as liberals vs conservatives is more BS.

Posted by: Tom | December 15, 2005 1:02 AM | Report abuse

Say what, Joel?

"This is a tough time to wear the "objective" label, since everyone's so partisan. The middle ground has become a killing field."

You don't distinguish between "objective" and centrist either? I guess it's a great timesaver. Is it a WP efficency measure?

Thanks for the internal details -- they tell us why no-one inside WP could see the journalistic travesty for the homepage turf war -- but Mr Downie has already revealed that this is fundamentally about appeasing the White House:

"We want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion," Downie told E&P. "And that readers of the Web site understand that, too."

(he knows that the White House was never confused about Froomkin's role at WP)

Posted by: AlanDownunder | December 15, 2005 1:52 AM | Report abuse

>Bush accepts responsibility for war in Iraq!

>Bush admits he fragrantly sidestepped International Laws

>Bush apologizes to families of 2000 war dead

>Dems begin impeachment proceedings

>Bush considers resigning!

>Bush faces jail time

>Bush suddenly not so crazy about capital punishment!

(I made up some of that...sorry)

(Intentional SCC was just for fun)

Posted by: Off Topic | December 15, 2005 1:57 AM | Report abuse

It strikes me that Achenbach is the smart one here: (a) he knows who his bosses are and (b) he knows not to bite their hand (so to speak).

Posted by: Jack Daniels | December 15, 2005 2:12 AM | Report abuse

To the "reporters" at WaPo: how's the war in Iraq going, and how come your newspaper didn't do a better job of telling the world about the lies Bush and Blair blithely and blatantly blathered?

Froomkinds roundup of what reporters are writing about what the White House has been up to lately is the only reason I go to the WaPo website.

Give me more reasons, and I'll visit more often.

Posted by: SteinL | December 15, 2005 3:12 AM | Report abuse

To quote the great philosophers Whodini (I think that's right, but what do I know? I'm old!):

"The freaks come out at night..."

Of course, here I am!

Posted by: Bob S. | December 15, 2005 3:18 AM | Report abuse

By the way, Tom, be considerate about indiscriminately tossing around the label "BS". I'm a proud bearer of those particular initials!

Posted by: Bob S. | December 15, 2005 3:22 AM | Report abuse

The FroomFoof is so complicated. I think you're right that it's about turf, but it's also about journalism and politics. And, the loyalty of readers to favorite columnists. I love Froomkin.

Re the site: Most people bookmark their favorite columnists/blogs and go straight to them rather than going through the Post's home-page, but if they skip the home-page completely they miss out on chancing on a story.

Perhaps the Post home-page should be simplified and less cluttered. Modify what you already have on the wapo.com page. A smaller selection of featured stories and larger link-buttons that take you to the home-page for a section you're interested in (sports or politics or metro or whatever).

A sort of virtual serendipity.

Re FroomFoof: The Ombudsman's column and Harris's response have been bizarre. They left me with the niggling feeling I was missing something. Although the three comments you highlighted in your post represent a anti-MSM hysteria that exists, I think most comments (while certainly as passionate) were more thoughtful and nuanced than that.

And, finally -- when are you guys gonna get a Preview feature for your commenters?

Thankx.

Posted by: desertwind | December 15, 2005 4:21 AM | Report abuse

For shame.

The notion of balance is useful for journalists only if it takes the form of the scales of jusice, not the scales of equal time.

A Judge, after giving equal time to two story tellers, would not hesitate to shout down and penalize a liar in his or her courtroom.

That the Washington Post feels it should give equal time to lies and truths - with no effort to help its readers distinguish between the two - is the very reason Froomkin is so successful, and the rest of the Post, well, sucks.

Today's Washington breed of journalist could learn a lot from our legal system. Would that they cared more about truth, and less about access.

Posted by: Matthew | December 15, 2005 4:26 AM | Report abuse

I guess you could call this one "the FroomkinStorm." It was almost a first time boodler day when we hadn't even had a lurker day.

Froomkin is one of my favorites because he links to all kind of things like transcripts of WH newsbriefings and gives you an idea of what really is happening at the WH. He is for excellence and truthfulness in journalism and deserves kudos for his column or blog - or whatever term is used. I don't think it should be labeled either "liberal" or "conservative." "Objective" would be more descriptive.

Posted by: boondocklurker | December 15, 2005 4:58 AM | Report abuse

Desert wind has a good point that shows how "facts" can be kind of less than "truth". Joel picked 3 comments out of a thousand. Those 3 comments were there. However, his three choices were of the more intemperate (there were, of course, even more intemperate ones-- always are!). The vast majority of comments were more judicious and raised real questions that the Post people would probably benefit from considering. But by highlighting only those three, he's dismissed all the rest, and made it seem as if the comments were extreme. That's really not good journalism, or good commentating, and seems more "biased" and "partisan" than anything Froomkin has done.

Frankly, the response of Joel kind of connects with that of John Harris, and makes me suspect that their very natural defensiveness makes it impossible for them to actually consider the range of viewpoints. It's only human nature-- but it really isn't good analysis to pick and choose like that.

Posted by: chicago night | December 15, 2005 5:16 AM | Report abuse

The comments by the ombudsman and Harris certainly sounded like attacks and veiled threats, even if they weren't meant to be. Certainly such word-savvy folks as these would know how to report "objectively" without resorting to such verbal tactics.

And WH correspondents are supposed to take the administration to task when it "spins"; i.e. fails to tell the truth, dissembles (the Nixonian term), and yes, lies. They are not supposed to repeat its messages verbatim and treat them as fact. Objective reporting is not giving equal weight to all arguments; it is weighing the arguments and evaluating them.
This is a problem I had with my students in the 80's at the University of California, where I was teaching freshman (and occasionally more advanced) English. "It's just an opinion," they'd say, and any opinion is as good as any other. And I would have to try patiently to teach them the difference between opinion and analysis. In any case, those students would now be in their late thirties, just the generation that is most common among the pool of political reporters today. Now, I'm as good a relativist as the next man or woman, and some of my best friends are relativists, but blind acceptance of whatever is perceived to be fashionable (which means that they don't all have to be bribed) is not the best trait for any journalist, whether reporter or columnist.

Posted by: notjonathon | December 15, 2005 6:06 AM | Report abuse

Before reading your column, I thought that WP.com was the same as the Newspaper. Why wouldn't I think this? So apparently they're more like siblings.?.

Posted by: bojette | December 15, 2005 6:51 AM | Report abuse

Wow, Boss, amazing how impassioned people are about this. Thanks be to God for that passion, and for this blog as a means to express it. As long as we are passionate about finding the truth, there is hope for us.

Oh, and I plan to keep reading WashPost. I'd read the paper, but it's not published here. I am grateful for WashPost.com...

Posted by: slyness | December 15, 2005 7:25 AM | Report abuse

Let's remember that your ombudsman is the one who put politics at the center of the debate. If it would have been a conservative columnist that she was considering renaming or repositioning because they were so conservative, don't you think the right wing would be crying "the liberal media" tears?

Like I said in response to Froomkin's response, I could go anywhere to get my headlines, but I come to the WaPo b/c of the personalities I enjoy and the commentary I want to read. As long is it is labeled opinion, don't mess with it.

Posted by: Imperfect Mommy | December 15, 2005 7:37 AM | Report abuse

I fear for you Mr. Achenbach. I know that you are trying to make nice with us Froomkinites but it honestly doesn't sound like you read Harris' piece. He brought the politics ("liberal prism") into the discussion not Dan's crazy (but in a good way) readers.

Additionally Harris characterized the criticism against Froomkin by referencing Patrick Ruffini, edirector for the RNC and a Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign worker.

Finally Harris writes that WHB "has itself become an obstacle to our work." This phrase caused readers, even those not wearing tinfoil hats, to wonder has the White House been giving Harris a little "pushback". And, if so, why can't Harris just take the heat. I'll be happy to fill him in on the information the WH has lately been providing: we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here; we can't comment because it is an ongoing investigation; we don't torture except when we do; things are looking up in Iraq--we'll stand down as they stand up.

Posted by: The Rejectionist | December 15, 2005 7:38 AM | Report abuse

if it was an internecine situation, why drag the public into it?

Plus, if I say "I don't like your title" to someone at work, that is way different from "I don't like your work product." There is a major difference there. What Ms. Howell wrote was that the reporters didn't like the column. She didn't say they only didn't like the label.

Either way, this shouldn't have been a grievance aired to the readers. This was an internal matter and should have been dealt with internally.

Posted by: joshowitz | December 15, 2005 8:04 AM | Report abuse

funny how you failed to note comments by harris and downie that they were responding to white house pressure. granted, it's much more fun to diminish your readers and dismiss them as conspiracy nuts; but let's take a look at their statements of what precipitated the smackdown of froomkin:

John Harris: "They have never complained in a formal way to me, but I have heard from Republicans in informal ways making clear they think his work is tendentious and unfair. I do not have to agree with them in every instance that it is tendentious and unfair for me to be concerned about making clear who Dan is and who he is not regarding his relationship with the newsroom."

"We want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion," Downie told E&P.

and then there's mr harris's misleading characterization of patrick ruffini as just a conservative blogger whose arguments he happened to agree with -- under the heading "Froomkin: Second Rate Hack":

"For everyone, that is, except for the Washington Post, and the trite Democratic partisan it has chosen to write its daily roundup, Dan Froomkin. Compared to the masters, Froomkin's White House Briefing is second-rate hackery."

and who is patrick ruffini? webmaster for the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign.

Posted by: linda | December 15, 2005 8:15 AM | Report abuse

As a media grad student I studied the Wash. Post and NYTimes all semester. I found, true to the mission on their company website, the NYTimes provided more entertainment than facts and it was hard to discern the facts, truth and issues -- especially with the Plame Case.
I found the Washington Post, especially online, to be the best place to sort through much of the information. When this administration manages communications with the help of paid consultants, pressure on dissent and distortion of truths, it is a concern for our democracy and sometimes the blogs with their anonymous posting capabilities are a place to sift for facts and truth.
"He said, she said" balanced reporting leads to stenography journalism and is a prime opportunity for propaganda to be disseminated.
The online WaPo should be commended for putting links, additional information for background and thoughtful blogs that can add to the information available.
The din of hate mongering with politics -- especially when everything is binary (good/evil), diminishes real thinking.
The Washington Post's company site's history (unlike NYTimes) cites a mission of seeking the truth dating to its early years. I say the more formats, the better.
When readers need to become informed, having reporters being a mouthpiece for spin is not beneficial to an informed electorate. Many blogs provide a freedom of the press and watchdog capability that is very beneficial.
Traditional agenda-setting functions are being flattened and gate-keeping has been disrupted.
Enough said... thanks WaPo.com for what you are doing...

Posted by: HA Page | December 15, 2005 8:18 AM | Report abuse

I think Joel just does this because he likes it when people call him a right-wing stooge.

Does anyone else think that the problem isn't the right or the left, but that there isn't any room for a rational person anymore?

Posted by: jw | December 15, 2005 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Why don't you give up some of that homepage space to Humanwaste?

B.O.

Posted by: The Lonemule | December 15, 2005 8:31 AM | Report abuse


It seems that, by your and other WaPo staff's dismissive comments about this controversy (maybe 2000 by now), that you are far too insulated from your readers.

I have found that Washington Post reporters, especially the political and national desks, are writing for other reporters and not for their readers. They show this in a variety of ways: they neglect to fully identify a Washington insider like Victoria Toensing because "everyone knows who she is" and they identify their anonymous sources in ways that only other insiders would "get." "A source close to the investigation" when there is only one person who would be talking to the Post and that is Libby's lawyer. Yeah, he's pretty spin-free, isn't he? Yet your reporters disrespect us readers by pretending that he doesn't have a dog in the race.

You,here, are disrespecting your readers when, through these comments, they are telling you something very, very important. I, too, am a "rube." I have a life and I shouldn't have to Google every source that Jim Van de Hei and Charles Babington quote to see if they might have an agenda. Having actually done this, I find that their supposedly "man on the street" comments come from Presidents of College Republican Clubs or Young Republican Clubs. I find that their "some Democrats say" come from people like Zell Miller and Marshall Wittman that aren't at all what 99.9% of Democrats would say.

Yet you don't want to read these hundreds of comments from extremely committed and articulate readers. Why? Thin-skinned? It takes you out of your insider bubble? Your comfort zone? Or is it more than that, you are required to pile on to your colleague and fellow columnist to remain in someone's good graces?

Come down from your insider pique, Joel. Your shit stinks, too.

Posted by: Cathleen | December 15, 2005 8:41 AM | Report abuse

They could probably have made the change to simply "Froomkin" without anyone missing a beat.

Choosing to float the trial balloon in the guise of a column pennned by a so-called "ombudsman" (yeah, the same one who let Bob Woodward off for his role in Plamegate) was the print side's undoing.

The ensuing fracas exposed Harris' underlying motivation for asking for the column name change, including its probable source. Oh, btw, in case you haven't heard, Harris seems to have been prompted by whining from one Patrick Ruffini, a member of the team that managed the online portion of Bush-Cheney's 2004 re-election campaign. To be clear, we're talking about a complaint from a Republican operative with direct links to the Administration, about, oh geez, Froomkin's "unfair" column. Now who's biased?

Sure the initial tiff is completely trivial, but the ensuing brouhaha has exposed a credibility gap for Harris. Is the price of retaining a shred of "access" to this Administration worth the compromise?

Posted by: Vienna local | December 15, 2005 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Jay Rosen. You brought tears to my eyes (literally). I hope your words will be distributed throughout the WAPO newsroom and reporters will understand that there is a huge segment of us out here who are frustrated with the current state of affairs when it comes to the fourth estate. They have a job to do that they have been failing at for me since Watergate. They need to understand that most of us out here who rely upon them who have the access to hold those accountable who are in position of power. Pure and simple. I have almost completed Mr Harris' book on President Clinton and I am finding it to be pretty balanced but if he took a hard look at the Clinton years he would find that the 4th estate got co-oped (sp?) and they took their eyes off the real issues of the times. Now it seems that in Post 9-11 they are being co-oped again. I am not trying to make this partisan (I believed President Clinton should have resigned and I do not think President Bush is a dunce) but I fear that the press has lost its way. I hope that this small "inter-office spat" will serve as a spark for the WAPO reporters to see that there are us out here who expect them to hold people accountable and not just repeat their talking points. We expect them not to be intimidated by one side or the other but stand up to them and report the facts. I am no where near as articulate as many on here (this has been such a great encourager to see so many people who share the same feelings) but I hope the message is getting through.

Posted by: Jon | December 15, 2005 9:13 AM | Report abuse

JW - "They ignore the question of credibility; in fact they scoff at it."

Not true. Commenters are far more concerned about the issue of credibility than the editors and ombudsman of the Post is. We have seen too much corruption, the classic example being Bob Woodward. Any editor or ombudsman who doesn't start with Woodward is simply distracting us from the real corruption.

Harris has insulted Froomkin by claiming that Froomkin wouldn't be as hard on a Democratic administration as on a Republican administration. Classical Freudian projection.

Harris admitted his real concern - that the WH would link Froomkin to the Post. Now, why should an editor of a major national newspaper give a flying f*ck if they do? What are they going to do - stop giving his reporters their official 'off the record' adminstration spin?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 15, 2005 9:24 AM | Report abuse

The angry Cathleen said "Yet you don't want to read these hundreds of comments from extremely committed and articulate readers. Why? Thin-skinned? It takes you out of your insider bubble? Your comfort zone? Or is it more than that, you are required to pile on to your colleague and fellow columnist to remain in someone's good graces?"

I noticed that Achenbach was still posting his own contributions at 7:00 PM last night. He's up early enough in the day to post something well-written and (mostly) grammatically correct and spelled properly. He has a day job, from which this is a distraction (as it is for all of us) actually writing for a living, so it's actively counter-productive for him to be writing for this space at the same time as he is writing articles and columns for the Post. There's been a lot of aggrieved complaining here yesterday/today about the failure of the Post in general, and its toady Achenbach in particular, to listen to the public. Well, he was here, he was actually reading the prior posts and responding directly to them, including apologizing for mischaracterizing someone else's argument. He has demonstrated that he is reading what you write, he has thought about it about it, and he is responding to it. All the things that the angry Cathleen sneers at him for supposedly failing to do. He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake. What more do you want?

Posted by: Tim | December 15, 2005 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Two quick points: Froomkin is obviously liberal, and anyone who disputes that is being disigenuous. If the was a democrat in the White House, would "White House Briefing" still exist? Sure, but would Froomkin be the one writing it?

Second, it's not a bad thing. Froomkin isn't really a columnist or a commentator. His online "column" has nothing to do with what HE thinks, except for when he interjects a snarky comment about one of Scott McClellan's non-answers. He filters the giant world of political commentary for us, and his passion as a liberal at odds with this presidency is, without question, a neccessity in that regard. Who else would be willing to plow through all that information in search of relevancy?

So why does it matter if he's liberal? He NEEDS to be liberal. WE need him to be liberal. Who else is going to so bluntly point out that the White House is saying the same thing day after day? Don't deny his political allegence, welcome it--no matter which side you're on.

Posted by: jw | December 15, 2005 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Tim and jw, thank you for your sane words this morning.

Posted by: Achenfan | December 15, 2005 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Corruption .... below is the worst form of corruption... using faith to hide one's real policies...

Torture and the Constitution ....

Yes, by any standard the G. Bush supports and has developed a systematic Torture policy. And his administration is executing the policy.

Bush hides behind the Christain Faith.... I'm not aware of any Christain faith that supports and would agree to institute policies that support torture...

Like it or not .... Bush is not acting as a Christain would.... evil is knowingly doing something that violates our basic constitution ... and thankfully the US Constitution aligns with the comon good.

Simply put, Bush policies on torture are NOT CHRISTAIN. PERIOD.

Yes.. those words hurt... me ... you ... our Country and the world at large....

Posted by: Anonymous | December 15, 2005 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Mr. A:

RE: "Here's the headline: Not everything is political."

Harris's "liberal" label, the wing nuts' all-purpose expletive for enemy, is bound to attract attention particularly when a WaPo editor uses the term to assault a subordinate.

And, how in the hell did the name Patrick Ruffini get involved in this?

And, doesn't famed investigative reporter turned White House steno, Woodward, still "work" for a newspaper, somewhere?

And, didn't this flap start with a Political Editor's jealousy that a cut-and-paste columnist was plagiarizing his term -- White House?

And, didn't an Ombudsman violate her sacred oath and capitulate to power?

Sorry, Mr. A, this reads like a Dirty Tricks Addendum to Bush's Brain. While I see many articles daily that I don't consider political, not many of those originate in D.C. and I have to question the motives of any WaPo employee who trivializes what's happening to Dan Froomkin.

One more point: you make the case for the turf battle over the term "White House" by pointing out all the flaming hoops a print reporter must endure, right down to clandestine meetings in parking garages and the movement of potted plants, only to find the story buried on page A23. With the rise of Blogdom and easy Internet access to the entire world of print media, it's easy to understand how the frustrations of print reporters has escalated since the days of Woodward and Bernstein.

However, you fail to recognize that readers value White House Briefing because Dan Froomkin digs out what's buried on page A23 and saves them the trouble of dealing with the vagaries of editors' judgements about what's news.

Mr. A, I confess that I've only scanned your column from time to time and haven't found much that interested me so I shan't comment on your views, in general.

However, Dan Froomkin's name in your header drew me today. I'm sure that's true for other members of the "swarm" and that the hits to Auchenblog have skyrocketed.

I only wish you'd been able to make a contribution to my understanding.

Thank you.

Posted by: rdrover | December 15, 2005 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Reading Froomkin one learns all kinds of interesting things about not only the WH, but the press as well, and how the two interact. Like this bit from today's column-

"[Brian]Williams asked Bush several questions about the protective bubble in which he operates. So why did the NBC anchor then build one for the president himself?

Williams said that while tagging along with the president he could hear protesters outside the Philadelphia hotel where Bush was speaking yelling "Shame! Shame!"

The third part of the interview took place in that very hotel. And Williams revealed to [Chris "Hardball"]Matthews: "Something I haven't said before is, to dampen the noise outside the hotel because of the floor we were on, we had mattresses that our production crew had put up against the windows and curtains on the other side, because we had to conduct this interview."

But isn't the fact that the POTUS is pursued by that kind of noisy protest news in itself? NBC didn't make it part of their report of the interview.

Danfans and Froomkinistas appreciate the fact that he maintains oversight on several fronts at once, he always links to WH transcripts of speeches and pressers instead of excerpting, and he allows an opportunity, through links, to obtain context and make an independent judgement about what a particular quote does or does not mean. Would that Mr. Ruffini were half so conscientious.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | December 15, 2005 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I'd say most of the words posted here would be considered sane. Some real good stuff here.

Posted by: TBG | December 15, 2005 10:09 AM | Report abuse

from JW - "Two quick points: Froomkin is obviously liberal, and anyone who disputes that is being disigenuous. If the was a democrat in the White House, would "White House Briefing" still exist? Sure, but would Froomkin be the one writing it?"

I would respectfully disagree with you. Mr. Froomkin says he is not, and many posters at a number of venues say the same. It has repeatedly been pointed out that those accusing him of this cite no evidence in their charge. Also, Mr. Froomkin states he would act exactly the same if a Democrat were in the WH. I believe him. How is it disingenuous to not take him at his word? I certainly hope that people belive me when I say something or otherwise describe myself as X-Y-Z. Does this respect not apply to those doing a job that puts them in the public eye discussing volitile topics? Reasonable people can disagree, but those who reject Mr. Froomkin's statment that he is not a liberal are calling him a liar.

While I agree with your overall point that if he was liberal it is not a bad thing, doing what he does, but it seems the problem still remains that the charge of liberal is used to wound and silence, to denegrate the messenger without addressing the message, thus damaging our overall political discourse.

Thanks again. I promised myself I would only read after my initial posting, but I weakened.

Posted by: EAR | December 15, 2005 10:16 AM | Report abuse

JW, I don't see Froomkin's column as inherently liberal, and I don't think I'm being disingenuous.

Why do you think he couldn't write that column with a Dem in the WH? Do you base that on some sense of "soft" WaPo coverage of the Clinton White House, or "soft" coverage of the Democratic party? 'Cause I sure don't recall seeing that, either.

Just for the record, I love the Achenblog and the Post, and am looking forward to see what the next kit holds.

Posted by: silvertongue | December 15, 2005 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Well said, jw.

As has been pointed out above, the comments in this 'boodle are compelling evidence for:

1. The need for many (including conflicting) viewpoints to be represented, and the need for professionals to crystallize them in a cogent manner for readers as a part of the public discourse on a topic.

2. Effective improvment processes include criticism. As much as the word "objectivity" is used, I find it personally difficult to quantify (I'll stay out of quantum mechanics or the movie "Rashamon" here). But I think that responsible criticism should fall somewhere on a Spectrum of Fairness (TM).

If you're responsible for policies that result in thousands of people being injured or killed, you should expect criticism in the strongest terms possible. As long as there aren't lies or libelous statements, that could be construed as a Fair Level of Criticism.

If you're writing a blog or online column, and people disagree with a position that you take, the accuracy of information, or word usage, Fair Criticism (TM) would necessarily have to be less virulent.

Sadly, this is unlikely to ever happen on a large scale social level.

After all, life's not Fair (TM).

bc

Posted by: bc | December 15, 2005 10:30 AM | Report abuse

My name is omnigood and I'm an Achenaddict. I need a new kit, pleeeaase give us a new kit boss.

Posted by: omnigood | December 15, 2005 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Hey kurosawaguy, why would Ruffini want to be conscientious about presenting information in such a way as to leave a person to form his/her independent judgement? It's not part of his job description.

The disappointment (and I mean this literally, since I rely on the Post as my local paper as well, so it's next to impossible to surf here constantly--where would I go instead, WashTimes???) is that we have proof positive that Post's Political Editor has enabled Ruffini to do his job all to effectively.

Posted by: Vienna local | December 15, 2005 10:31 AM | Report abuse

edit to my previous post:

it's next to impossible *not* to surf here constantly

Posted by: Vienna local | December 15, 2005 10:33 AM | Report abuse

welcome to the SCC Vienna local.

Posted by: omnigood | December 15, 2005 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Hi omni!

Kudos to you for realizing your powerlessness and calling on a Higher Power.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 15, 2005 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Mr Rosen says that not everything should be viewed through the prisim of right and left, yet no where in his article does he mention that WaPo people have said that there is White House influence in volved. Nowhere in his article does he mention that the Froomkin complaints all start with a republican party oerative. But I guess he's right not everything should be viewed as a reightleft problem. Riiiiight.

Posted by: Mark | December 15, 2005 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Whoops, forgot where i was. that should have been Achenbach, not Rosen. Sorry for the error.

Posted by: Mark | December 15, 2005 10:43 AM | Report abuse

I actually call on a lOWER pOWER.

Posted by: omnigoof | December 15, 2005 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I'm still in favor of following-through on Harris' suggestion of an 'opposing' voice to Froomkin. I happen to be one those liberals who supposedly find comfort with Froomkin (I dunno, I just don't read his column -- I s'pose I'll have to start). Nevertheless, it doesn't harm me for someone with whom I disagree to have the opportunity to show himself to be a knuckle-dragging idiot. So go ahead and do it; have White House Briefing, instead of going direct to Froomkin, go to a page with two sub-columns: the Briefing, and White House Apology. Give the Apologists, for whichever bozo currently is in power, the opportunity to state their case -- keeping in mind that you have unlimited space, so there is no excuse for begging off because of limited time or space. If you want to be an apologist for the White House, you'll have to write something coherent, that musters facts and all that sort of thing. And remember that you have to pass muster for writing quality and intellectual content right alongside Froomkin, so sloganeering will become apparent immediately.

I read the beginning of Froomkin's column from yesterday, about how Bush avoided the Conference on Aging (a new first for W! First president ever to skip this event!). The essence of the Post political editor's complaint is in one word: So. As in, "So instead Bush went to..." Not just "Instead". Froomkin assigned a definite cause-and-effect relationship with a clear criticism of inferred presidential motives, rather than an objective statement of what happened and a dispassionate analysis of its significance. As a columnist, it is Froomkin's right and responsibility to analyze, maybe even to offer a personal deduction of motives. Nevertheless, this subtle word bespeaks a very specific and personal criticism by Froomkin. I happen to agree with him, but I can see how his writing raises a concern about the appearance of endorsing a particular strand of political discourse. Sure, Froomkin says that he would say the same things about a Democrat twit in the WH. However, it will be 3 more years, at least, before we get the chance to find out, and in the meantime the Post needs for both readers and sources to believe that they have not prejudged political stories.

Posted by: Tim | December 15, 2005 10:51 AM | Report abuse

bc, two points.

The film to which you refer, I assume, is "Rashomon", not "Rashamon". You defile our gods, we make you pay.

No discussion of human fallibility, POV, or the search for objectivity can ever be complete without reference to Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon". It is a near universal shorthand for all of those things and more.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | December 15, 2005 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Froomkin's column is, in fact, reporting. But its not reporting about the Bush administration so much as reporting about the coverage of the Bush administration.

Yesterday's Froomkin was a perfect example. Froomkin reported that while the mainstream media gave coverage to Bush showing up at a gated retirement community to promote his Social Security/Medicare Drug Benefit agenda, completely missing the fact that at the very same time, the White House's own Conference on Aging was taking place and that Bush did not attend it.

That was news -- Dan pointed out that this was noted by NPR (i.e. citing coverage of "news" about the "Bush Bubble"), but that wasn't "Dan the Reporter." "Dan the Reporter" told us about how the Post, the Times, and virtually every other major media outlet was facilitating the bubble, allowing the President to pretend to address the concerns of seniors while ignoring a group of seniors who were critical of his policies that were in Washington under White House sponsorship.

I suspect that the real reason Harris and the Post "White House reporters" are pissed at Dan is because almost every day, Dan is pointing to the reporters who are doing a better job of covering the day's top story than the Post's reporters are doing.

In some ways, its an unfair comparison, because the Post is being implicitly compared to the best work coming out each day, and most of the people he cites are just as capable of the kind of uninspired White House reporting that one sees most days in the Post.

And I'd bet big bucks that if Froomkin was spending more of his blog sucking up to Jim "Pool Boy" VandeHei, Baker, and whoever the other guy is, that there would be no complaints about him.

Posted by: paul lukasiak | December 15, 2005 10:54 AM | Report abuse

That was a nice piece about the war in Iraq that Joel linked to late yesterday. One highlight, for those who didn't read it, is a typo on a letter of condolence to the mom of a dead soldier. "God less you."

I liked that mattress-as-insulation story about Williams and Bush. Although, as a practical matter, it's either they do that or schlep all the equipment to another room, because the prez isn't going to be interviewed with the sound of chanting protesters in the background.

I also think that some here are making the Froomkin story a bigger deal than it really is.

And numerous posters are slapping at Bob Woodward with comments that show a lack of understanding about what even happened regarding him and the Plame case. What Woodward really did wrong in all that was that he didn't tell his bosses about his connection.

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 15, 2005 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Anyone who reads Froomkin's column knows it's not about reporting. What reporter includes links to a 100 stories a day? I love WHB because you can see many reporters viewpoints in one place. I would love to see a companion column written by a conservative just to see who and what they would link to to justify their opinions. Not only would I love it but I can't figure out why the Post doesn't have one. And yes I always thought WP.com was the Post. It is the Post, wake up over there!

Posted by: jack | December 15, 2005 11:12 AM | Report abuse

jw:
(she asks gently) What do you think is the difference between the labels "discourse accountability" (Rosen's polysyllabic way of saying it and in his last post to the A-blog) and "liberal," and which do you think most aptly applies to Froomkin and why?

How, jw, do you perceive Froomkin deviating from the goals of journalism, as articulated by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard (which with Froomkin is affiliated--I have copied/pasted a portion of their goal statement immediately below)? (she uses the Socratic teaching method with jw) Feel free, jw, to give me other journalistic credos or cornerstones, if you don't like Nieman's.
***

Some may wonder about our emphasis on asking questions, since politicians and most of the rest of the world - even schoolchildren - are adept at sidestepping them. What's the point of asking good questions if the answers aren't forthcoming?

First, the ability to ask appropriate questions comes only with an understanding of the subject at hand. When experts [reporters] help with questions and background, they also help deepen the reporter's [readers'] knowledge of the issue.

Second, targeted, insightful questions are typically more difficult for public officials, candidates and others in public life to dodge, mislead or even lie about.

Finally, the questions don't disappear simply because a president, or someone else in a high position, won't give a straight, complete answer. The answer may lie in documents or in interviews with other sources, or both. But assuredly, a key to great journalism comes mostly to reporters and editors who ask the right questions, who have a full understanding of what they are looking for and who can recognize what rings true and what doesn't.

Posted by: Loomis | December 15, 2005 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: jw : "Does anyone else think that the problem isn't the right or the left, but that there isn't any room for a rational person anymore?"


No, it's due to the fact that the WaPo editors consider placating the White House more important than purging actual misfeasance (Woodward).

Posted by: Achenfan:
"Tim and jw, thank you for your sane words this morning."

Sane? Well, I guess so. Honest, insightful, etc. would be a different matter.

Posted by: Barry | December 15, 2005 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Oh, Barry, that's just mean. I'd be more insightful, but I save my good stuff for the paying customers. Which would be, um, nobody.

By the by, I think you're misrepresenting the facts by saying, "... the WaPo editors consider placating the White House more important than purging actual misfeasance." I'd like to think the editors of the Post are professionals who are above that, but what do I know?

Posted by: jw | December 15, 2005 11:20 AM | Report abuse

To his credit, John Harris is online now taking questions from Post.com readers (that's you people)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2005/12/08/DI2005120801368.html

He says he is only going to answer a couple about Froomkin because he's said too much, and he wants to cool things down.

"For all its interesting and useful features, some things I don't like about the on-line crankosphere are its frequent humorlessness and tendency to blow issues way out of proportion."

Posted by: Jay Rosen | December 15, 2005 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Sorry for the misspelling, k-guy.

I've been in a hurry this AM.

Linda, your comment about "what rings true and what doesn't" made me think of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent statements.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 15, 2005 11:23 AM | Report abuse

New Kit Alert!!!!

Of course, it has the "F" word in it again, so... *SIGH*

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 15, 2005 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Joel. I emailed Harris and told him he should resign since he is obviously a political hack and not a journalist. It has to be pointed out that Harris fraudulently pushed Ruffini to Jay Rosen as a "citizen blogger" when if fact Ruffini is a GOP operative. The silence regarding this fact is deafening in the Post's reporting on this flap, unless I missed something. I note its absence in your explanation as well.

The problem here, Joel, is that you guys are too damn worried about perceptions. That is bc the right-wing bullies have gotten to you. The ostensible reason some wanted to change the name of Froomkin's column was that it might be *perceived* as biased. But perceptions are managed, generated, massaged, shaped, and formed by large corporate PR congloms with clear biases. they do it here as much as in Iraq, dude. That is the unwritten news here that is still to be reported in your pages.

The prevailing inside-the-beltway sycophancy toward right-wing bullies playing the victim is damaging to an extent not recognized by your excuse of excessive partisanship on both sides. There is a difference between partisanship and holding those in power accountable. Would that y'all would acknowledge this.

One more thing, Joel. You and I have known each other a long time. I know you are smarter than this. Please, please stop pretending that the right and the left are relatively equal partisans gunslingers. You know damn well that the left is more fact-based than the right. Just compare Powerline with Atrios, for example, for a day. Who gives more citations? It is really not helpful to buy into the whole "balance" crock. What the F good is access when you are being had?

Check this out and follow the links:
http://firedoglake.blogspot.com/2005_12_01_firedoglake_archive.html#113460744605150481


Go read David Brock, "The Conscience of an Ex-conservative" (again if you already have) and tell me with a straight face that the Post is simply caught between two equally partisan extremes. Do that and I will petition Princeton to have your degree revoked.

Thanks for trying though.
Your Bud,
Sam '82

Posted by: Sam Johnston | December 15, 2005 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I think the site really should rename the column to "Cooking with Walnuts." It'd be a chuckle every time you opened the page, and it would create future opportunities to recall the FroomFoof.

Also, if the White House's intent in all this was to reduce the impact Froomkin has, it kinda backfired. But I think it did get Harris off the hook. It's really true--Froomkin doesn't work for him.

Posted by: Jay | December 15, 2005 1:21 PM | Report abuse

I think the site really should rename the column to "Cooking with Walnuts." It'd be a chuckle every time you opened the page, and it would create future opportunities to recall the FroomFoof.

Also, if the White House's intent in all this was to reduce the impact Froomkin has, it kinda backfired. But I think it did get Harris off the hook. It's really true, Karl--Froomkin doesn't work for the dead tree news division.

Posted by: Jay | December 15, 2005 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Why is it okay for Dana Milbank to be a political reporter for the print edition AND a columnist? A rather opinionated columnist who holds snarky chats online? Doesn't that cause even more confusion for the same people who Harris thinks are confused by Froomkin?

I'm fine with Milbank being both-- but when you have "reporters" identified as WaPo reporters who hold forth and give their opinions on the very issues they are covering-- as most of the political reporters seem to, on TV and radio if not online-- then Harris's problem with Froomkin seems sort of misplaced. After all, he doesn't claim to be anything but a columnist. Readers are going to have to impute "reporter" to him, while Dana Milbank's byline under his column title says: Washington Post National Political Reporter/Washington Sketch Columnist.

This gets more weird the more we look into it. Who did Froomkin piss off and how? Because his "offense" seems considerably lesser than several of the print reporters'. Not that I think the print reporters are doing anything wrong-- but why is their editor taking off after Froomkin? Makes no sense. But I think maybe "sense" is something that didn't inspire this anyway.

Posted by: pepe | December 15, 2005 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Dear Joel--

I have to question your assertion that "Harris isn't objecting to Froomkin's politics, only to the fact that Froomkin offers opinions at all." Roll the videotape at:

http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/*

and a fair paraphrase is:

Jay Rosen: Why do you think Froomkin's column has a liberal bias?

John Harris: Because Patrick Ruffini, past Bush-Cheney 2004 webmaster and currently eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee says so.

You don't have to be a pajama-clad paranoid blogger from the crankosphere to find this hilarious.

----

*Q: You also said, "I perceive a good bit of [Froomkin's] commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism--or at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions." But you don't give any examples or links to past columns, and Deborah Howell, who also made this point, doesn't give any examples, so it's hard for readers to judge what these observations are based on. Could you help me out here? What issues does WHB tend to view through a liberal prism? Can you point to columns that you had in mind? You also say that it may be true that Froomkin would do the column the same way if Kerry had won the '04 election; but if that's so, doesn't that undercut the notion of a liberal prism?

John Harris: How Dan would be writing about a Kerry administration is obviously an imponderable. Does Dan present a liberal worldview? Not always, but cumulatively I think a great many people would say yes--enough that I don't want them thinking he works for the news side of the Post.

Without agreeing with the views of this conservative blogger who took on Froomkin, I would say his argument does not seem far-fetched to me.

Posted by: Brad DeLong | December 15, 2005 9:58 PM | Report abuse

An awrkward stillness booms across the mall, the crowd gasps as it comes to attention that Liberty is on her knees and feeling assaulted....softly sobbing into the grass she looks for her startled dignity....

Distortion in the form of the current President of the United States stands nearby snarling at her attempt to blame him, for his assault upon her....he moves closer to finish the job...she recoils...a short distance away the begginings of a wave of doubt begins building at the edge of the rotunda....all hands gather to get theirs in before she gets away....

Posted by: Quiet readiness greets the loons | December 18, 2005 11:34 PM | Report abuse

'it's like the whole country is channeling DeNiro: "You talkin' to me?" '

DeNiro??? I thought we were doing Al Pacino this week! "Say hello to my little friend!"

I guess I'm out of touch.

Posted by: sharkmeister | December 20, 2005 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Joel, thanks for chiming in and simply adding to reader irritation with your lame defense of the Post.

This was not a little spat about the title of a column--if it was, why would the ombudsman make a stink about it in hers?

It must be comforting to you to label the incredible wave of criticism of the Post and the support for Frookin as left-wing loonies. But you're wrong about that just as you're wrong about so many things in your lame defense of the Post.

There is no exhaustive right vs. left prism in play here--that's the kneejerk defense of the intellectually lazy (which is one of the things your readers hate about the Post--laziness). And nobody brought up the prism until Harris did--and you. Harris claiming Frooking has a bias betrayed his own bias.

What irritates readers is Harris' and the ombudsman's comments about Froomkin being liberal and therefore deserving of criticism.

You have a guy named Woodward who was a participant in the outing of a CIA agent, concealed from the investigation, and then shamelessly used the Post to criticize the investigator.

Ombudsman column? Nope. Any peep out of Harris, or you? No. Or, as should have happened, Woodward fired? Of course not. This is the age of Bush, and nobody has to take responsibility for their actions (unless they're middle class or poor).

Frookin writes a column that is critical of the administration and automatically that makes him "liberal," although most of your readers would probably, based on that criteria, label him "journalist."

Meanwhile, people on your staff like Howard Kurtz are pretending to be experts on the media with columns called "Media Notes," which are really just platforms for a shameless apologist for the Bush Administration. Any ombudsman column about Kurtz? Of course not.

Your readers, right or wrong, believe the above sums up to the Post becoming ever more an establishment, pro-GOP newspaper. Some of us, call us crazy liberals or whatever you like, actually want the free press to be a watchdog over corporations and government, not a lapdog that you so clearly are. Some of us, call us crazy right vs. left prismatics, actually takes this democracy stuff seriously. I know your column is supposed to be humorous, but try, for once, to take this stuff seriously. Katrina, tax cuts for rich, budget cuts for middle class and poor, lies and Iraq, incompetence, a wave of corruption, exploitation of 9/11--some of your readers actually take all of these things seriously, and believe the media should as well.

Maybe now you understand why so many of your readers are outraged over this little broo-ha-ha.

Instead of labeling and insulting us, maybe you should try listening. You might learn something.

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