Brewing "Briefing" blogging brouhaha
December 14, 2005 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Newsfilter: Washington Post columnist/blogger Dan Froomkin writes the "White House Briefing," an online "daily anthology of works by other journalists and bloggers," which is often critical of the administration. This past Sunday, the new Post ombudsman wrote that the paper's White House correspondents worried that Froomkin's column creates an appearance of bias at the Post. Froomkin responsed, and hundreds of commentors offered their support. Then Post national politics editor John Harris weighed in, to somewhat less acclaim from commentors. Harris expanded on his views in this interview. The whole affair raises issues about allegations of a subservient, stenographic press, how the media deals with charges of liberal bias, the perceived vindictiveness of the Bush administration, and the relationship between in-house bloggers and the traditional media.
posted by ibmcginty (20 comments total)
If I've sorted through this correctly, most of this is concern that the title of Froomkin's blog, "White House Briefing" leads many to believe he is a White House reporter for the Washington Post, which is not true. Harris seems to be asking that the title of the blog be changed to correct this misunderstanding. Nobody's asking Froomkin to change one thing he writes -- just that he alleviate the existing confusion about his role at the Post. Why should that be so controversial?
posted by pardonyou? at 7:47 AM on December 14, 2005

It would make a lot more sense if Froomkin just copped to the fact that he's a liberal commentator. There's nothing wrong with it, just like James Taranto (WSJ's OpinionJournal Best of the Web columnist) cops to being conservative in his slant of blog posts, news stories, etc.

Opinion bits are opinion bits, he just shouldn't pretend to be that which he is not.
posted by fet at 7:49 AM on December 14, 2005

It's amazing to see this collision of old and new media occur inside the same organization. The process may be ugly (and thanks for outlining it so nicely, ibmcginty) but I get an odd thrill watching it happen.
posted by selfnoise at 7:49 AM on December 14, 2005

What's really happening is that the White House is complaining about it. Nobody is confused. They are just trying to save their ass. Time for them to realize that they have to market to their customers first, not their suppliers.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:54 AM on December 14, 2005

Just change the name, keep everything else the same. No need to create a conservative version, for 'balance', either. I'm sick of 'liberal vs conservative' everywhere. They should just host dozen columns like his and cover a whole spectrum of ideas.
posted by empath at 7:55 AM on December 14, 2005

I have been following this for the past few days; thanks for posting this ibmcginty.

One of Harris's biggest complaints is the implication that the WaPo political reporters fail to push hard enough in seeking the truth about the administration. Sorry, Harris, but they don't push hard enough. Like most of the press, they have been less than critical in certain areas. In all due fairness, I think that the WaPo guys were far better than most of the press and certainly better than the NYT. The press has finally started to get a bit of a spine so some of my complaint is historical. Nevertheless, it seems that more and more reporters have become like Judith Miller; they cultivate sources inside the administration to get scoops but the price paid is keeping those sources happy. The sources use them, they use the sources, and both sides know what they are doing.
posted by caddis at 8:13 AM on December 14, 2005

I agree with Digby: Call it "The Whorehouse Briefing."
posted by aaronetc at 8:52 AM on December 14, 2005

When the Fox News network changes its name to the GOP Talking-Point Broadcast System, we can start talking about changing the name of Froomkin's blog, which is diligent, fair, well-written, and firmly in the tradition of a free press, whose job it is to scrutinize the motives and actions of those in power, whether they're conservatives or liberals. Next, someone will be suggesting that Jon Stewart should wear a clown mask, so that it's clear that he's a comedian and not a news anchor.
posted by digaman at 9:02 AM on December 14, 2005

Harris reveals the man behind the curtain.

We do not want to spike his column--or at least I don't.

Translation: There are people here who want to spike his column.

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.

Translation: You're only sticking up for Froomkin because you're a bunch of liberals just like him.

In his comments, Dan pleads with reporters to stop complaining about him and start doing more to hold the White House accountable. The reporters on the Post's White House and political teams every day push through many obstacles and frustrations to do precisely this kind of accountability reporting--as I'm sure Dan would agree. But these are the very same reporters who are raising objections to "White House Briefing." The confusion about Dan's column unintentionally creates about the reporter's role has itself become an obstacle to our work.

Translation: Froomkin keeps pointing out places where he thinks we missed obvious questions or angles on stories. The White House doesn't like that and is using the only tool it has to try to marginalize him - access for the rest of our White Huse reporters. So please do what the White House asks so that we can keep getting background briefings from "senior administration officials."

If you want to really see how co-opted Harris is, how objectively pro-Administration the WaPo's top political editor is, read his entire statement.

Ben Bradlee would have told the White House whiners: Tough.

Harris went to the Ombud - who's supposed to be the "people's representative" to prosecute the White House's hatchet job.

Note how Harris repeatedly refers to "confusion" about Froomkin's role, inside the White House, that (Harris insists) needs to be cleared up.

Now. The White House has one of the most sophisticated media handling outfits on the planet. (If not the No. 1 team.)

Yet Harris is pushing to relabel or reform Froomkin under the aegis of aiding the White House in distinguishing the difference between a reporter and a columnist.

Is Harris bullshitting, or just so deep in the Kool-Aid that he's growing a mammoth pitcher-shaped head? You tell me.
posted by sacre_bleu at 9:21 AM on December 14, 2005

I should've linked to this article on the issue of the column's name: Executive Editor Jim Brady said he does not plan to change the name, claiming it has not caused the misinterpretations that some believe it has. "The column has been on the site for two years and that is not something we have heard," Brady said about concerns. "The column is extremely popular and it is not going anywhere."

If true-- and the ombudsman's column asserts that "some readers" are in fact confused over the name-- it lends credence to the theory advanced at Talking Points Memo that "the Post to some degree had access reduced or cut off, and the reason given was Froomkin. Harris’s defense that the guy didn’t work for him or the Post didn’t suffice to restore access." Simpler theories include: Harris anticipates that Froomkin's column might lead to reduced access; or, Harris is just saying so out of turf concerns, or because he thinks Froomkin's tweaking him, or because he doesn't want the Bush administration to look bad. On preview, sacre_bleu addresses this.

thx for the kind words selfnoise & caddis
posted by ibmcginty at 9:24 AM on December 14, 2005

Damn liberal media! :-)

And the papers wonder why their subscriptions are declining. Maybe they ought to try serving the readers instead of the supply siders! The fourth column of good government is rotten to the Post's core. Go Froomkin!!
posted by nofundy at 10:15 AM on December 14, 2005

Well, this suggests that Harris is... doing the bidding of his sources? Driven by some sub-optimal motivation, at least.

nofundy, what is this "fourth column of good government" of which you speak? I am unfamiliar with that term.
posted by ibmcginty at 11:09 AM on December 14, 2005

It must be a mash-up of fourth estate and fifth column.
posted by caddis at 11:30 AM on December 14, 2005

Interesting. That is the only column I read at the WP.
posted by smackfu at 11:50 AM on December 14, 2005

As a life-long WaPo reader, it's a shame that the paper has always had a hard-on for trying to be more like the NYTimes. And now this sort of justice--following the Gray Lady into the realm of non-objective, Judy Miller inspired irrelevance.

Mark Twain and HL Mencken would definitely be bloggers today.
posted by bardic at 2:29 PM on December 14, 2005

John Harris takes a no-comment on whether he was knowingly passing on GOP operative's message.

Brad DeLong gets Harris on the phone, and Harris can't name anyone "confused" by Froomkin's status - except this one Republican National Committee staffer he'd earlier described as a "grassroots blogger."
posted by sacre_bleu at 5:11 PM on December 14, 2005

Harris is really starting to sound like an ass.
posted by caddis at 7:12 PM on December 14, 2005

You can tell him!
posted by ibmcginty at 3:54 AM on December 15, 2005

Well, rather than call him an ass, I asked him to explain how Patrick Ruffini can be considered a grass roots blogger while under the employ of the RNC, who specifically said they were confused about Froomkin's status and how best to address the appearance this situation gives that Harris is attacking Froomkin to protect access to White House background information. He goes online in a minute or so. My guess is that these same questions may have come from many others. We'll see if he has any answers.
posted by caddis at 7:59 AM on December 15, 2005

Well, that was interesting. I was all ready to complain here about his refusal to talk specifics, then for his last one he writes a tome about why he thinks people might be confused. "An old friend, quite liberal, who has been around politics all his life," told him that he thought Froomkin was a WH reporter.

I'm underwhelmed. It's an empirical matter-- are people confused?-- and the Post's online editor says no. Here's another unanswered empirical question: who are these "some people raising questions about Froomkin are Republicans"? Do they outnumber confused laymen?

Also, I wrote 2 super polite questions, and he only chooses to answer a taunting one from someone. Lesson learned...

Still doesn't address the Ruffini issue, but that frankly doesn't bug me that much-- maybe he thought he was throwing a bone to conservatives. Harris isn't a mere shill-- he did say he regarded "the 'can't comment, under investigation' as a transparent dodge."
posted by ibmcginty at 9:31 AM on December 15, 2005

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