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Greg Sargent Opens Fire on the Anonymice Inside the Washington Post Newsroom

If I were Marcus Brauchli, I would think that perhaps ten employees from the Washington Post print side of a decade ago add value to the enterprise--and think hard about whether any of the rest were worth keeping.

Greg Sargent writes about his Washington Post colleagues:

A little message to Jeffrey Goldberg's anonymous Post sources: [H]ere's a response to the anonymous sources inside the Post who used Jeffrey Goldberg's blog to urinate on the type of opinionated journalism that Weigel, Ezra Klein and others (myself included) practice. The sources told Goldberg that practitioners of this type of journalism are not real reporters:

This is really about the serial stupidity of allowing these bloggers to trade on the name of the Washington Post.

It makes me crazy when I see these guys referred to as reporters. They're anything but. And they hurt the newspaper when they claim to be reporters."

The cowardly hiding behind anonymonity is pathetic enough. But let's take on the substance... a "real" reporter ... is accurate on the facts and fairly represents the positions of subjects... has a decent sense of what's newsworthy and important to readers... if readers come away... more informed....

[C]aring what happens in politics... [does not] interfere with this mission.... There's no basis whatsoever for the B.S. charge that revealing a point of view of necessity compromises the integrity of the actual information purveyed.... Why did readers feel more informed by Weigel's stuff about the Tea Partiers than they did by hundreds of more "objective" articles about the topic that appeared in scores of "neutral" publications? If the reporting on these blogs isn't "real," then why do other news orgs consistently follow up on their scoops?... Time for those who are anonymously dissing this form of journalism to just shut the hell up...

I think Greg gets one thing wrong: I don't think "urinate" is the right verb. I think the right verb is "defecate".

As to whether what the anonymice do is journalism... time to go to the videotape:

Brad DeLong: What Is Wrong with the Culture of the Washington Post: Let me give one of eight or so examples of my personal experiences with Washington Post reporters in which I found it impossible to believe that they were "trying, hard, to do their jobs." It is a March 2, 1995 Washington Post article by Clay Chandler, "Treasury Aides' Memos Warned of Peso Plunge," about the 1994-1995 Mexican financial crisis, which in the version in the Post archives reads:

Treasury Undersecretary... Summers... was warned of potential economic problems in Mexico in at least three separate memos.... Two of the memos from Summers's subordinates... recommended he pay careful attention to papers written by Rudiger Dornbusch.... A third... in late November, warned that the Mexican economy had seriously deteriorated and recommended the Treasury Department begin "contingency planning" in anticipation of a possible financial slump in the Latin nation. These documents, whose authenticity was not disputed by Treasury Department officials, could bolster critics of the administration's handling of the Mexican crisis who charge that officials missed warnings of trouble.... Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) [said]... "We're getting the runaround.... This is absolute and total nonsense.... I know darn well that the administration received information that should have alerted any prudent person that there were problems with the Mexican economy and then ignored it and withheld it from the Congress."...

A earlier version of the article--the one that made it into the Treasury Department's daily clips--included a short quote from one of the three memos that D'Amato leaked to Chandler: "bottom line: peso overvalued." It's those four words that make me believe that I was the author of the April memo. And the "bottom line: peso overvalued" quote was ripped from context: that wasn't my bottom line, but Rudi Dornbusch's bottom line. My assessment was that Rudi was very smart and thoughtful--but likely to be wrong.... Would that we in the Treasury staff had been smart enough to warn Larry Summers in April (or even September) 1994 that a peso crisis was likely.... We weren't.

When we went to talk to D'Amato's staff about this, we were told: Save your breath. It's politics. D'Amato doesn't think that staff warned Larry and that he ignored staff. Dole wants to be in a good political position if this Mexico thing goes south in a serious way. I asked the Treasury public relations staff if I should go talk to Chandler, and they said: No. Chandler knew that the "papers" by Rudi Dornbusch weren't private documents written for the Treasury and withheld from Congress, but rather things that the Brookings Institution printed up in editions of 7000.... Chandler knew that the documents D'Amato leaked to him had no passages that supported D'Amato's "theory" that Larry and Lloyd Bentsen had refused to heed our warnings--if they had such passages, after all, Chandler would have quoted them in his story.

So what was Chandler doing?... [S]ending us a message: "Nice little Treasury Department you have there. Wouldn't it be a shame if anything happened to it? I'm the Washington Post's chief economics correspondent. I deserve more private leaks. Or I can hurt you: I'll become D'Amato's partisan mouthpiece."

I could multiply examples.

Take, oh, the Washington Post on February 8, 2005, with Jonathan Weisman's claim that there is "a heated debate among economists... [over whether] stock market... [returns can] meet the president's expectations [of an average return of 6.5% per year]..." Out of all those Weisman talked to the "heated debate" turns out to be:

(a) me, Dean Baker, Paul Krugman, Doug Fore, Richard Jackson, Ed Keon, Jeremy Siegel, various unnamed economists at the Mannheim Research Institute, Kevin Hassett, and Donald Luskin on the side that the forecast is too optimistic--that stock returns are likely to be lower or economic growth faster than the forecast, or both

(b) Bush's Council of Economic Advisers in the middle, refusing to say that they forecast stock returns to average 6.5% per year if the long-run economic growth rate is 1.9% per year, but saying only that stock returns will be "healthy"

(c) as defenders of the Bush position only Steve Goss of Social Security (a good guy trapped in an impossible position) and an anonymous "White House economist" who doesn't want to take the reputational hit of having his name revealed.

If there really were a "heated debate among economists," shouldn't Weisman have been able to find one person outside the administration--hell, one person inside the administration besides Steve Goss--willing to go on the record saying that they endorse the long-run forecast of 1.9% per year real GDP growth and 6.5% per year stock returns? While Weisman is writing his story, I'm getting phone calls from Bush's Council of Economic Advisers asking me to please not say that they made Steve Goss's forecast. They accept it, the CEA says, because it's Steve Goss's bureaucratic role as Chief Social Security Actuary to make the forecast. They do not endorse it....

[And] what am I to conclude when I run into Susan Schmidt and James Grimaldi, who on October 18 [2005] write:

...Abramoff, whom DeLay once described as "one of my closest and dearest friends"...

and who last week write:

...DeLay, a Christian conservative, did not quite know what to make of Abramoff, who wore a beard and a yarmulke. They forged political ties, but the two men never became personally close...


Either the first story requires an in-line fact-check like "(of course, it is the business of politicians to have hundreds if not thousands of closest and dearest friends)"; or the second requires an in-line fact check like "(even though DeLay once described Abramoff as one of his closest and dearest friends)." Without those in-line fact-checks, at least one of the two is highly mendacious. In fact, both probably are: real reporters would include both in-line fact checks.