An Unbelievable Moment of Insight Into Political Journalism
Ben Smith over at the Politico responds to an email from MoveOn which takes issue with the notion that Politico covered two anti-Obama books, but not two anti-McCain books. Smith (whom I have respect for) wrote in response:
I wrote up the Obama book because, as I wrote in the piece, I was given exclusive access to it by the publisher, and its contents were news. I imagine most reporters would have done the same with Schechter’s book, or any relevant new work. But as MoveOn learned from the right in the 1990s, you need to keep working the refs — even when your team is winning.
Sounds of mouths dropping everywhere. Smith, ostensibly a journalist, said he didn’t cover a highly relevant political book because he wasn’t given exclusive access, then blames MoveOn for “not working the refs.” Wow.
I’m reminded of a moment in Bill Moyers’ incredible “Buying the War,” which covered the media in the run-up to the Iraq War. Moyers asked Tim Russert (RIP) if he had any concerns about how his show was used in the run-up to the war or why hadn’t he done more to include information that cast doubt on the case for war.
Russert’s response was, “I wish more of my contacts had called me to tell me. I wish I had heard more from people. I wished they had reached out to me.”
Moyers’ response, “A journalist’s job is to go find these contacts and dig up this information, not just sit back and wait for it to come to them.”
Ben Smith really just let everyone into an incredible moment of insight into political journalism – the notion that the journalists themselves are known personalities and have a big enough platform that it’s up to the partisans to work them and give them favors in order to get a story covered – NOT that it’s up to the journalist to seek out the information themselves.
I assume Politico readers all find their way to other news outlets as well, and I don’t always feel obliged to replicate what’s there.
The book that MoveOn is now demanding reporters write about was provided exclusively to Huffington Post and to Raw Story — sites whose audiences overlap quite a bit with ours. That was the author’s and publisher’s decision, and a reasonable one. You can read all about the book there.
Wow. Politico has been trying very hard to turn itself into a legitimate journalistic source of political information. One of their main reporters is now saying that they don’t have to cover certain stories because their readers can find that elsewhere. Can you imagine a reporter from the Times saying that about a relevant story?
Listen, I’m not trying to pile on Ben Smith, who mostly does a very good job. But on this one, he’s not only wrong, but he dug himself into a hole with really bad excuses. I hope he doesn’t believe what he wrote, but I suspect he does and thinks it’s totally legitimate to cover only anti-Obama books because they were provided exclusives, while anti-McCain books weren’t provided to him.
Once again, an unbelievable moment of insight into modern political journalism.
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