Charles Pierce: The Day Political Journalism Died

I posted about this yesterday, but Charles Pierce from Esquire offers his own unique take on this in The Day Political Journalism Died And The People Who Killed It:

There are three ur-texts that must be read if one is to understand the dynamics of ratfking in our modern politics. The first, of course, is All The President’s Men which, thanks to Donald Segretti, introduced us to the term in the first place. The second is The Hunting Of The President by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, which detailed the operation of what James Carville called “the puke funnel,” whereby information dug up, stirred up, or made up by various dingy operatives in Arkansas and elsewhere made it so deeply into the mainstream that, eventually, gop-rat-partythe halls of Congress were awash in it. And the third is Joshua Green’s lengthy survey of the long career of Karl Rove, who began by fking small-time rats in Alabama and ended up in the West Wing. If there is one consistent theme through all three of these essential studies it is the steady decline of the importance of the middle man to broker deals between the grassroots ratfkers and the elite political press. No longer does your Segretti have to travel the nation, cancelling rallies and writing fake letters. No longer does the elite political press have to launder the information that comes from Larry Nichols or the attorneys representing Gennifer Flowers. It’s easier just to buy it wholesale from the dealer.

Yesterday, several news outlets announced that they had obtained “exclusive rights” to the research compiled by one Peter Schweizer, a veteran Republican operative, for his upcoming hit-job on Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. These outlets included, unsurprisingly, Fox News and Breitbart News. They also included The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Schweizer has a long history of fudge and nonsense in service to the conservative cause. His career is a pure creature of the well-funded ideological terrarium of the modern conservative movement. His work is on behalf of something called the Government Accountability Institute, an oppo-research outfit richly funded by all the usual suspects. His book, then, starts in something of a hole, credibility-wise, at least by any standard of journalistic vetting that I ever heard of. But neither the Times nor the Post seems reluctant at all to pile into the same mud hole as Fox and Breitbart’s Mausoleum For The Chronically Unemployable. Here’s some dude from the Post giving an answer that his reporters never would buy if it came from, say, the Clintons.

We made an arrangement with Peter Schweizer’s publisher so we could read his book before publication because we are always willing to look at new information that could inform our coverage. Mr. Schweizer’s background and his point of view are relevant factors, but not disqualifying ones. What interests us more are his facts and whether they can be the basis for further reporting by our own staff that would be compelling to our readers. There is no financial aspect to this arrangement.

Even if I believe that no money changed hands in any way, and I’m willing to believe that’s the case for the moment, what precisely are the details of “the arrangement”? Why couldn’t the Post simply have waited for the book to be released and then reverse-engineered its contents? What promises were made to Schweizer and his publisher — and to the other news operations with which the Post is partnered here — should the Post discover that Schweizer is as full of half-truthy crap as his entire career indicates he is? Inquiring minds and all that. Amazingly, the explanation given by the Times is almost worse.

Carolyn Ryan, NYT’s Washington bureau chief and political editor responded to TPM through a spokesperson in an email: We had access to some material in the book, but we wanted to do our own reporting.

Again, why not just wait until you can order the damn thing on Amazon, rather than climbing under the covers with someone whose CV contains a stint as a hack in the service of Princess Dumbass Of The Northwoods? The answer can be found in the first story that the Times produced under this arrangement.

But “Clinton Cash” is potentially more unsettling, both because of its focused reporting and because major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author to pursue the story lines found in the book.

Got that? The book has credibility because the New York Times cut a deal with the author. Because of this, the author, and his curious resume, are washed in the blood of the Lamb. (It’s God’s own little joke that Judy Miller’s out there shilling for her longform alibi at the same time that her old employers are touting this unique “arrangement.) I will make the Toby Ziegler bet with Carolyn Ryan that her newspaper linked up with this character because her newspaper has had a hard-on for the Clintons from the time it botched the original Whitewater story right up until last Sunday, when its star political columnist went off her meds again.

* * *

[T]his shadowy, ill-explained “arrangement” shreds the credibility of any investigation by the two newspapers into whatever is there. At least Donald Segretti did his own dirty work.

The Washington Posts’ Beltway media villager for insider gossip at its “The Fix”column, Chris Cillizza, defends the Post’s actions today. Of course the media should report on ‘Clinton Cash’.

So, it’s not just the Clinton campaign that’s unhappy with the deal made by the Times, Post and Fox News. It’s “some reporters” too.

Here’s what I say to all of them: OF COURSE we should be examining the claims made in Schweizer’s book. Come on!

The most foundational principle of covering a presidential campaign (or anything, really) is trying your damnedest to give people the fullest possible picture of the candidates running to represent them.  The more information you have at your disposal then, the better.

Agreeing to look into the claims in Schweizer’s book is not, of course, the same as “reporting” those claims.  Not to be too much of a teacher’s pet, but WaPo National Editor Cameron Barr got it exactly right in his quote to Politico. “What interests us more are his facts and whether they can be the basis for further reporting by our own staff that would be compelling to our readers,” he said.

* * *

Is Schweizer any less credible than the National Enquirer? Many reporters turned their noses up when the Enquirer reported about John Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter during the 2008 presidential campaign. Turns out that the Enquirer had it right — and we were all forced to follow their reporting.

Does that mean that the Enquirer is often right in what they report about politics (or anything else)? No. In fact, not even close.  But checking tips, leads and allegations out is what we do.  Simply because Schweizer has ties to conservatives and/or let some of the Republican candidates look at the book before it publishes doesn’t make the information contained within it any more right or wrong.  And by the way, if/when a liberal author writes a book about Jeb Bush’s work during his time out of office in the mid-2000s, we owe it to our readers to examine that book’s claims, too.

As for those who dislike the fact that The Post, Times and FNC entered into an agreement with Schweizer to exclusively look into the allegations in the book, I say: Either what he writes is accurate and worth following up on or it’s not. Yes, the market for Hillary stories is a hot one. But The Post isn’t going to report things that aren’t true just because they got the book a little bit early.  And places like the Wall Street Journal or ABC aren’t going to avoid reporting on the book slightly after the fact if they find that the allegations made within it are correct. So the timing feels to me like a side issue here.

In the end, this could well be much ado about nothing. After all, it’s possible that Schweizer’s reporting simply doesn’t meet the standards mainstream news organizations require to either look further into or report.

Sounds defensive, doesn’t he? And “The Post isn’t going to report things that aren’t true”? Seriously Dude? From White Water non-scandals, to The Post’s Neocon advocacy for an unnecessary and illegal war in Iraq, to Obama Derangement Syndrome, to The Post’s current war mongering for the next war, Fred Hiatt’s Wars, that’s pretty rich. The Washington Post squandered its credibility a long time ago.

3 responses to “Charles Pierce: The Day Political Journalism Died

  1. I can tell you when political reporting lost its credility (in your eyes). It was when it began shedding it’s liberal bias which it had for decades prior. To their credit, the New York Times and the Washington Post have moved their political reporting toward the center and have done a pretty good job of it. They certainly are NOT conservative news organizations. You just see them as conservative because they are not as screamingly leftist as they used to be.

  2. Today the political system is polarized so stuff like this has little effect. Most people who vote democrat have no intention of voting for a republican. Only 39% of white people voted for President Obama in 2012 and he still won. Those white people who still vote democrat hate republicans as much as black people do and as hispanics are learning to do. The swing voters split between the two partys and is a shrinking minority. Every election cycle 5,000,000 more minority kids turn voting age and almost all of them hate republicans. Stop wating money fighting dark money and use it to register them to vote!

  3. And then there is the New York Times, our other great so called “liberal” newspaper. Judith Miller is out with a new book, still trying to redeem her reputation.
    Thank god for the internet. We can read Glenn Greenwald, Yves Smith, and Bob Lord with little corporate interference.