Our political Quote of the Day comes from MSNBC’s must-read First Read team which looks at the Shirley Sherrod media-created controversy/distraction and writes:
The three-ring circus in Washington: In Obama’s first year and a half as president, there haven’t been any sex scandals, any stories of widespread corruption, or any plans to wage war against a nation without WMD. But what does it say — about the media, about Obama, and about us as a country — that when the topic turns to race, Washington instantly transforms into a three-ring circus? As for the media, we’ve allowed this story over race bury one of the more consequential weeks of Obama’s presidency thus far (the financial reform legislation becoming law, Senate passage of the jobless benefits, and Kagan clearing the Senate Judiciary Committee). Whether it’s Sherrod, Gates, or Jeremiah Wright, the topic of race pushes the media’s buttons like no other issue.
And a journalistic or partisan website that raises the race issue in a high profile way is likely to get media attention as rapidly as lights turn on when you turn flip up a light switch.
But there is another lesson in this episode which deals with 21st century’s media culture and the political linkage to some of it.
What’s clear from this whole political affair is a)the mega-quick media news cycle and the fear of not covering what someone else has lends itself to a very fast pile on if it look like someone has a new credible tidbit b)those who help plant tidbits that are not credible will likely lose part of their credibility since some who aren’t total true believers will feel (correctly burned) c)a portion of writers/broadcasters will admit they were wrong and others will and try to hedge their corrections (see Bill O’Reilly item HERE for a partial apology that tries to have it both ways and makes the person apologizing look worse), c)the mainstream media is a lot more inclined to quickly jump on something now springing from a “new media” blog if it gets attention, d)the diminished staffing resources of mainstream media organizations may be showing.
As I noted on my Twitter feed, although we have many writers here on TMV I have myself usually followed my rule: I will hold off on doing a post and linking to blogs or political websites with big “scoops” even if they are listed on www.memeorandum.com or someone sends me a link. If they send me a link I may include it in Around the Sphere — or not and usually not if it is too inflammatory.
Blogs do NOT re-report a story. Since starting the blog in 2003 I was burned several times by linking to original reporting on the Drudge Report so I decided I would not carry his original reports linked to by many bloggers until I saw some mention of it by the mainstream media. The reason: the mainstream media — even though bloggers diss it (as they link to its work and embed its work all the time to provide content and material to discuss) — operates with gatekeepers: levels of reporters report and editors are paid to read reporting and demand things be checked out.
So if there is some big now-it-can-be-revealed development appearing on a blog I will often wait and see if it’s mentioned by mainstream media first, then take up the subject and link to the mainstream media report. (Ditto on most tabloid reporting).
It is increasingly dangerous for news organizations and new media info outlets such as blogs to assume what they see as a revelation on any website with a partisan intent is as solid as a news story worked by admittedly not perfect reporters and editors who must usually jump through some journalistic-standards hoops to see their things in print or on the air.
In the case of Shirley Sherrod, special kudos must go to CNN which, according to Rick Sanchez yesterday, took a deep breath and decided they might be late on doing a story on the quote that actually was based on an out of context quote from a political partisan who even yesterday was explaining he posted it to make a political (retaliation) point. CNN wanted to wait one day.
Even now by my mentioning this CNN will be blasted by some in comments or elsewhere for holding off or (get ready) not being “real” journalists like Fox News — which on one day reported on the story with its on-camera personalities jumping to conclusions and turning it into an ideological attack story and the day after tsk tsked the White House as on-camera personalities who the day before demanded Sherrod go now asked why the administration jumped to conclusions and let her go.
But as the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz points out, blaming Fox News is also NOT accurate:
The White House spokesman and the agriculture secretary weren’t the only ones offering regrets Wednesday to the lower-level official abruptly fired over a videotape excerpt that turned out to be totally misleading. Bill O’Reilly apologized to Shirley Sherrod as well.
But for all the chatter — some of it from Sherrod herself — that she was done in by Fox News, the network didn’t touch the story until her forced resignation was made public Monday evening, with the exception of brief comments by O’Reilly. After a news meeting Monday afternoon, an e-mail directive was sent to the news staff in which Fox Senior Vice President Michael Clemente said: “Let’s take our time and get the facts straight on this story. Can we get confirmation and comments from Sherrod before going on-air. Let’s make sure we do this right.”
Sherrod may be the only official ever dismissed because of the fear that Fox host Glenn Beck might go after her. As Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack tried to pressure her into resigning, Sherrod says Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook called her Monday to say “do it, because you’re going to be on ‘Glenn Beck’ tonight.” And for all the focus on Fox, much of the mainstream media ran with a fragmentary story that painted an obscure 62-year-old Georgian as an unrepentant racist.
On Monday night, O’Reilly had played the clip posted by conservative activist Andrew Breitbart on his site BigGovernment.com. O’Reilly led his Wednesday program by criticizing some of Sherrod’s language but acknowledging his own mistake: “I owe Ms. Sherrod an apology for not doing my homework . . . and for not putting her remarks into proper context.” While the excerpt showed Sherrod, an African American, telling the NAACP in a speech that she had discriminated against a white farmer as a nonprofit aid officer 24 years ago, the full speech made clear she was saying she had overcome that racial instinct and learned an important lesson.
In his Monday comments, O’Reilly credited Breitbart with posting the excerpt and concluded that her remarks were “simply unacceptable. And Ms. Sherrod must resign immediately.” O’Reilly taped the show at 5 p.m., and by the time it aired about 8:50, USDA had announced Sherrod’s resignation (as Fox noted on the screen). Fox executives say O’Reilly’s staff, which is not part of the news division, sought comment from USDA throughout the day.
Sherrod ripped Fox in an interview Wednesday with Media Matters, saying the network would “love to take us back to where we were many years ago. Back to where black people were looking down, not looking white folks in the face, not being able to compete for a job out there and not be a whole person.”
Clemente, the Fox executive, said in an interview that Sherrod “certainly could be forgiven for being confused.” As for other critics, he said that blaming Fox is “a comfortable reflex for some people.”
But O’Reilly’s partial apology last night further reduces a quality for which I have defended in him often: how when it comes down to the nitty gritty on some some issues involving reporting, he displays his solid past journalistic roots and network reporting experience (he was a solid mainstream media reporter before he went Inside Edition and Fox). Last night he seemed like just one more ideological journalist with a political hack axe to grind and trying to deflect criticism for conclusion he stated on the air based on flawed info, rather than someone who looked at a story he did and realized the initial info he used proved not to be entirely accurate.
In the media-debris of the Sherrod incident, more than ever people have to decide whether the goal is to gather or comment on news that is true, consider the source of news (and reporters can tell you that key sources in stories often have agendas that motivate their participation), or hype something that can be used to score a writers’/reporter’s own political point, get it out there as quickly as possible and hope to get a pile on so it becomes a big media story in the mainstream media and talk radio and, eventually, a political weapon as potent as a guided missile.
Every new and old media writer and reporter has to make his/her own decision and sometimes the decision will prove wrong. But sometimes a little restraint or hedge adjectives on an items (appears to…may..purports to) is not a bad idea. And sometimes it is.
In this case. it wouldn’t have been a bad idea…
I had an editor who once told me: “If someone comes over to you and says ‘I have a story that’ll BUST THIS TOWN WIDE OPEN!’ you better check it out first because often it really won’t.”
But as First Read notes: this involved race...and race is the ultimate American hot button.
In this instance, a partisan’s politically-motivated post was shoved from cyberspace via an offshoot of main stream media (an ideological cable news show) — and the lights on journalistic reason and logic subsquently went out.
But they flickered back on the day after as things were seen in the more revealing light of new facts.
Still, there are some who still prefer to sit in a darkness — pierced only by the glare of their TV showing their favorite cable channel telling them things based on the sometimes inaccurate assumptions they already agree with.
To some it seemingly boils down to this: Who cares what was said the day before? What does it matter? Isn’t the point to advance your political sports team?
UPDATE: Andrew Breitbart tells ABC News we’ll be seeing a lot of him since this is his moment. (And perhaps it is).
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.