Paul Krugman on George the Unready
Economist's View

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Today's Acts of Journamalism From the Washington Post Company)

Over at the Washington Post's Slate, John Dickerson drives Betty the Crow around the bend and over the cliff:

BTC: [John] Dickerson, the former Time Magazine Washington correspondent who now holds down the Ruminant desk at Slate, is shocked and alarmed by the presiden's lack of engagement [during] the [pre-Hurricane] briefing.... "I don't know what question the president should have asked," Dickerson plaintively writes toward the end of his column, "but shouldn%u2019t he have asked something?"... that little cri de coeur pales next to something Dickerson wrote earlier in the piece.

We see the president all the time in public settings, giving speeches, shaking hands, looking concerned. But this footage is fascinating because it is the first video I can recall of the president at work in private. It's our chance to see how the image of the president painted by his allies compares with the actual man. And the result is somewhat alarming. Based on what I'd been told by White House aides over the years, I expected to see the president asking piercing questions that punctured the fog of the moment and inspired bold action. Bush's question-asking talents are a central tenet of the president's hagiography. He may not be much for details, say aides, but he can zero in on a weak spot in a briefing and ask out-of-the-box questions. I have been repeatedly told over the years that he once interrupted a briefing on national defense to pose a 30,000-foot stumper: What is the function of the Department of Defense?...

I don't know what's most distressing... that Dickerson believed what Bush allies told him... that the president would... ask what the Pentagon is for, that [his aides]... were stumped by the question, that Bush aides thought the anecdote... flattering to Bush... or that a veteran reporter can reference "the view from 30,000 feet" without the slightest hint of embarrassment or irony.... It's tempting to think, or hope, that Dickerson is writing tongue in cheek, but he makes clear a bit later that no, he really did buy the bridge.

Perhaps the Katrina briefing was an aberration. But I worry that it isn't.... Former anti-terrorism official Richard Clarke and Treasury Secretary Paul O'eill both wrote about Bush's lack of curiosity. L. Paul Bremer's account... inadvertently paints a similar picture...

So. Okay. What we have here is an experienced Washington hand who has presumably been conscious during at least some of the past five years, and is only now -- and only because he saw the frickin' video beginning to worry that Bush may not be quite as competent as those responsible for covering his ass say he is...

And over at Romanesco, the real reporters at Knight-Ridder go on the warpath:

Poynter Online - Forums:

TO: Knight Ridder Editors
FROM: Clark Hoyt [Washington bureau chief] John Walcott

On Feb. 7, Warren Strobel reported on a State Department reorganization that sidelined career arms control experts who don't share the Bush administration's mistrust of international arms negotiations and agreements. Exactly two weeks later, The Washington Post published a virtually identical story by Glenn Kessler. We say "virtually identical" only because the stories were written with different words. There was not a single fact in Kessler's story that was not in Strobel's, the product of weeks of careful enterprise reporting and interviews with 11 current and former government officials. We have asked, through the Post's ombudsman, Deborah Howell, who was once executive editor in St. Paul, for a published acknowledgement of the Knight Ridder story. To date, it hasn't happened. We understand that there has been vigorous opposition from the Post reporter, who has claimed, in essence, that the "trade press" had already widely reported the story, a contention that is in fact not correct. We're waiting to see what happens....

[W]hy do we harp on this? Because the reporters who do the groundbreaking work deserve the credit. Because Knight Ridder, which invests substantially in this kind of original journalism, deserves the credit, even -- or perhaps especially -- in these trying times for all of us. And because the integrity of our profession, already under all-out assault from partisans, requires that we and others be honest with readers about how news originates. That's why, though it breaks our competitive hearts, we acknowledged right at the top of this morning's story about President Bush's briefing on Hurricane Katrina that the Associated Press was the first to obtain the video and transcripts of the briefing, if only by hours...

As somebody--Matthew Yglesias?--once said, these are the reasons that people interested in news-as-information rather than news-as-entertainment are increasingly turning to respected weblogs of good reputation for their information and serious analysis.

If Dickerson can sit in Washington for five years and really think that Bush routinely asks "piercing questions that puncture the fog of the moment and inspire bold action," what other stupid and insane--make that stupidly insane--beliefs underpin his writings? If Washington Post reporters and editors feel under no ethical obligation to acknowledge Knight-Ridder's priority, what other parts of what they do are ethics-free?