July 12, 2009

Maintaining journalistic integrity & standards. Not

I used to think that there was nothing more ludicrous than "legal ethics," but recent events involving the White House press corps prove that "journalistic integrity" is an even bigger howler. Gawker reports:

Reporters from roughly 30 television networks, newspapers, magazines, and web sites celebrated the Fourth of July with Barack Obama at the White House last weekend. Why didn't you know that? Because they were sworn to secrecy.

We reported yesterday that Politico's Mike Allen was spotted milling about as a guest at the White House's "backyard bash" by the pool reporter, who was allowed into the event for 40 minutes and kept in a pen before being ushered out. When Allen quoted from the pool report in his Playbook column the next day, he deleted a reference to his own name and didn't bother to tell his readers that he was actually at the party.

Well, he wasn't alone. Gawker has learned that the White House gave tickets to virtually every major news organization that covers the president—the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, ABC News, NBC News, CNN, CBS News, and so on, about 30 in all. The reporters were invited to attend on the following condition:

"You are being invited to attend this event as a guest. Blogging, Twittering or otherwise reporting on this event is not permitted. If you feel that you cannot agree to abide by these ground rules, please don't claim a ticket."

That's right: Much of the White House press corps spent the Fourth schmoozing with White House staffers, catching performances by the Foo Fighters and Jimmy Fallon, and watching the fireworks from the most exclusive vantage point in the D.C. metro area, all off the record—not to mention off-the-Facebook and off-the-Twitter. These are the same people who just a week ago were whining in the press briefing about Obama's malicious and dastardly attempts to "control the press." (Well, not the self-same people—we're not sure if Chip Reid and Helen Thomas, the primary antagonists in that exchange, were in attendance.)

There is a cosmic irony at work here: The party was "closed press." (Ha!) It was covered, under onerous restrictions, by a pool reporter—the Baltimore Sun's Paul West. West was ushered in by White House staffers for a mere 40 minutes, so he could record the president's remarks. He was kept in a pen so that he wouldn't run amok and interview someone. He shouted questions at Obama as he worked the rope line, which the president ignored. Then he was taken away. West wrote up his blindered account of the party and then e-mailed it to the White House press corps, many of whom were actually at the party, outside of the pen, hanging out with all the other guests. And then, because they had temporarily signed away the right to do their jobs in exchange for facetime with staffers, a few cold Stoudt's American Pale Ales, and some corn on the cob, their news organizations picked up that pool report and used it to tell their readers what happened at the party. This is how the press covers the White House.

There is simply no chance -- none, zip, zilch, nada -- that you'll get solid, hard-hitting coverage from the sycophants and toadies in the White House press corps, most of whom can't stop humping Pres. Obama's leg like a gaggle of unfixed chihuahuas long enough to practice something -- anything! -- approximating tough-but-fair reporting.

This is, I think, a symptom of the so-called professionalization of the journalistic trade; old-school reporters didn't have graduate degrees. Hell, the reporters of the '20s, '30s and '40s were perfectly capable of covering a story with the writing skills they acquired in high school english. College and places like the Columbia School of Journalism merely indoctrinated young, impressionistic minds with the fallacious folderol that being a reporter was a higher calling, wherein "making a difference" replaced the far more mundane task of telling the public who, what, where, when, why and how -- leaving it to the reader to make up his own mind about an issue.

Who's keeping an eye on the knaves and scoundrels in the White House? Not the press corps; it's hard for a journalist to see what politicians are doing when he's got his nose buried firmly in their backsides.

Posted by Mike Lief at July 12, 2009 05:58 PM | TrackBack


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