Apropos of Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon's mendacious, malevolent, and incompetent front-page hatchet job on Barack Obama...
...Deborah Howell demonstrates once again why she is the world's least qualified ombudsman. She says:
"Perry Bacon Jr. [wrote]... 'Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him'... [even though] Obama's connections to Islam are slender at best."
"Perry Bacon Jr. [wrote]... 'Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him'... [even though] the rumors were old."
"Perry Bacon Jr. [wrote]... 'Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him'... [and omitted] convincing evidence of [the rumors'] falsity... [from] the story."
"[Perry] Bacon[ Jr.]'s story... picked up [and cited] a quote labeling Obama a Muslim from the Snopes.com Web site... but it didn't mention [that] the [Snopes] investigation that found the rumor to be false."
"To make the story worth Page 1, there needed to be new, credible information." There wasn't.
[Perry] Bacon[ Jr.]'s story... brought up a discredited Jan. 16 story in Insight magazine... owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.... CNN, ABC-TV and the Associated Press went to the school and reported.... Bacon's story should have noted that information [that the Insight story was false.]" It did not.
Yet what are Deborah Howell's bottom lines? There are three. The first is:
- "[T]there was no deliberate 'smear job', as some readers charged. The story said clearly in the second paragraph that Obama is a member of a United Church of Christ congregation in Chicago."
Contrast with what Perry Bacon, Jr. actually wrote--and what Len Downie and Benjamin Graham thought was worth putting on their page 1:
Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him - washingtonpost.com: In his speeches and often on the Internet, the part of Sen. Barack Obama's biography that gets the most attention is not his race but his connections to the Muslim world.
Since declaring his candidacy for president in February, Obama, a member of a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Chicago, has had to address assertions that he is a Muslim or that he had received training in Islam in Indonesia, where he lived from ages 6 to 10. While his father was an atheist and his mother did not practice religion, Obama's stepfather did occasionally attend services at a mosque there.
Despite his denials, rumors and e-mails circulating on the Internet continue to allege that Obama (D-Ill.) is a Muslim, a "Muslim plant" in a conspiracy against America, and that, if elected president, he would take the oath of office using a Koran, rather than a Bible, as did Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the only Muslim in Congress, when he was sworn in earlier this year...
Whether a story that makes the six misrepresentations that Howell admits to and that opens as Perry Bacon opens it is not a "smear job" is left as an exercise to the reader.
Her second bottom line is:
- "'This was a legitimate subject for journalism explored by one of our most sophisticated political reporters,' said Managing Editor Philip Bennett.... Bill Hamilton, assistant managing editor for politics... [who] edited the story [said]... "I'm sorry it was misunderstood.... [T]he story made clear that Obama was not a Muslim... in this context saying it was a rumor meant it wasn't true, but clearly some people didn't see it the same way. The Post has a responsibility to confront seemingly credible rumors and that was one of the reasons for the story.... Reasonable people can disagree on this'."
Whether "reasonable people can disagree" on whether Perry Bacon Jr.'s story was an honest, competent, and responsible exercise of journalism is also left as an exercise to the reader.
Deborah Howell's third bottom line is:
- "Bill Hamilton, assistant managing editor for politics... [who] edited the story [said].... '[T]he people I have heard from [on this] are not reasonable. What I find especially disheartening is the idea that our motives are simply assumed to have been malicious.' This is the new world mainstream journalists live in, one that will continue to be explored in this column."
Let us go back to the leading paragraph of Deborah Howell's story:
Deborah Howell - Refuting, or Feeding, the Rumor Mill?: Stories about rumors are tricky and easily misconstrued. A Nov. 29 story and headline that explored Barack Obama's "connections to the Muslim world" and rumors that he is Muslim were met with a swift Internet reaction that left some [Washington Post] staffers stunned at its ferocity. Even Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles was "so upset" that he took the unusual step of taking potshots at the story in an editorial page cartoon...
Deborah Howell mentions three and only three critics of Perry Bacon, Jr., Bill Hamilton, Phillip Bennett, Len Downie, and
Benjamin Donald Graham:
- Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles, in paragraph 1.
- Barack Obama communications director Robert Gibbs, in paragraph 4.
- Letter-writer Gregory Hays of Charlottesville, VA, in paragraph 12 (of 14).
If her story is--as she says it is--about a "swift Internet reaction" that "misconstrued" a story, why doesn't she quote some examples of people on the internet misconstruing? The reasons that she does not are also left as an exercise to the reader.
Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?