NO PULITZERS FOR YOU…. It occurs to me that this has not been a stellar week for the American political media. The Shirley Sherrod story was, of course, a humiliating fiasco for a lot of people and institutions, but it was especially humiliating for Fox News, and should serve as a permanent credibility killer for right-wing activist Andrew Breitbart.
But there were other serious missteps. Consider some of the developments of the last few days:
* Just days after Breitbart published misleading garbage, and he admitted to not having done any due diligence or used any professional standards, Politico named the activist one of the nation’s “50 Politicos to Watch.” Breitbart is one of those special few, Politico said, who “set this city’s agenda.” The accompanying profile — in the “scenemakers” category — included quotes about his “mystique” and “wit.”
* Politico Executive Editor Jim VandeiHei equated Breitbart with the Huffington Post, only one of which feature actual reporters, editors, and professional standards. He went on to equate MSNBC and Fox News, which is as common as it is misguided.
* Tucker Carlson, Jonathan Strong, and The Daily Caller became obsessed with a listserv made up of center-left writers, reporters, academics, and wonks. In the process, they ran pieces that “have misstated fact, misled readers, and omitted evidence that would contradict” the agreed-upon conservative thesis. [Disclosure: I was a member of said listserv.]
* Politico made a candid concession about its interest in traffic. Greg Sargent summarized, “This is actually an important concession: Frivolous items about Sarah Palin do degrade our discourse, but we need to do them, because the simple fact is that people click on them in droves.”
When we consider complaints about the “cravenness of the legitimate press,” it’s weeks like this one that stand out as especially egregious. Indeed, there’s no real sense that major outlets realize they’ve erred, that those with no credibility deserve to be treated accordingly, etc.
When the Obama administration evaluated its handling of the Sherrod matter, and realized it had made a mistake, it did what many news outlets didn’t — it apologized and tried to set things right. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday:
“Just as the Department of Agriculture and this Administration will review its actions, I also hope this starts a conversation in the media about how it operates.”
I’m not optimistic.