How to fix the Washington Press Corps

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on September 30, 2012

Several years ago, the blogfather, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, suggested that I be hired at The New York Times to replace outgoing Public Editor Byron Calame. Fellow newsman Don Surber opined that I would be too tough a grader. He was undoubtedly right.

It’s now been three years since I left (or was invited to find other employment) the newspaper business, and Surber was right about me—I wouldn’t have been the type to hand out a “Gentleman’s ‘C’.” I was also highly unlikely to be captured by the groupthink at the Times as columnist David Brooks was—I’d worked my entire career in newsrooms where you’d have had a hard time finding anyone on my right. Brooks, conversely, had almost exclusively worked in conservative-friendly environs (Washington Times, Wall Street Journal editorial page, The Weekly Standard) before being whisked up to the Times.

That’s not to say that working in a newsroom, around all of those left-wing reporters didn’t have an affect on me. I felt a normal human compassion for them as laborers who had the same ultimate goal that I had: putting out good journalism day-in and day-out. These were human beings. They tried hard, even when they got it wrong. They weren’t simply faceless—and incessantly wrong—liberals with an agenda. I like to think that the editor with 30+ years experience who breathlessly showed me a website after the 2004 election demonstrating that all the states which voted for Bush had the low IQs and the ones who voted for Kerry had high IQs learned something when I pointed out that it was bogus on its face. I like to think that by challenging her preconceived notions about those “blinkered Republicans,” that she became a better editor down the line. That she was once again reminded of the old j-school saw that “if your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Or the editor who confessed to me that she’d been spending the mornings before coming into work getting people registered to vote, because the country couldn’t handle four more years of George W. Bush. I wished her luck, but assured her the country would get along fine…and that I’d be voting for Bush in the fall.

Both of these incidents occurred long after I’d spent years blogging on my own website where my conservatism was in plain view. I was able to keep my politics out of my work. I hoped that they were nearly as successful.

But it’s been three years since I walked into a newsroom and that understanding is evaporating. Far too many of them really aren’t trying any more. The adversarial press has been on snooze for four years now. While there are a handful of notable exceptions who on occasion are willing to challenge President Barack Obama (you can probably count them on one hand), the vast majority have become willing stenographers.

I get ticked off. I get outraged. And it’s less at what Obama, Sen. Harry Reid, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi are doing than it is at how the press is—or more appropriately isn’t—covering it. The sympathy and understanding built up over 15 years in newsrooms small and large up and down the West Coast is gone. I know that very few of the journalists I actually worked with have ever moved into becoming part of the beltway media complex (and one of them is a good journalist whom I respect and none of this ire is directed at him), but it really doesn’t matter.

All of those ideals about reporting the truth without fear or favor—they’re a journalism that no longer exists.

In the past few days, there have been a couple of incidents that have really highlighted just how blind too many journalists have become to exactly how biased they have become.

First, is this throwaway line from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel deputy managing editor/local news Thomas Koetting that was posted on Jim Romenesko’s media blog.

I did not warn against newsroom political conversations. I said just the opposite — that “discussing the latest developments with campaigns and candidates is part of our job, and in many cases is part of the news judgment process.”

What I did add was a reminder to keep personal politics out of it. I don’t know how the people around me vote, and I don’t want to. [Emphasis added.]

Really? You may not know how everyone in your newsroom votes, but if you’re out and around and listening, you can get a pretty good idea how many of them vote. I suspect that you could probably get a good sense just from the demeanor and body language in the room the night of the Wisconsin recall election of Gov. Scott Walker. I was in the San Diego Union-Tribune newsroom on election nights 2004 and 2008 and I can assure you the newsroom felt very different those two nights. If Koetting doesn’t have a feel for how the majority of his colleagues vote, then he needs to get out of his office a little more often.

Second, was this column by Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton.

The Post should first be about news without slant. If The Post wants to wrap its news in commentary, fine, but shouldn’t some of those voices then be conservative?

The sentiment involved is laudable, even desirable, but I don’t think it’s achievable (I think my analysis here has been proven correct).

What I do want to take aim at in Pexton’s column is this:

With the exception of Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza, who cover politics in a nonpartisan way, the news columnists almost to a person write from left of center.

Nope, not gonna give you Cillizza in this category. First, Cillizza was complicit in this bit of deceit and to my knowledge never bothered to disassociate himself from it or chastise NBC “reporter” Andrea Mitchell for her dishonesty as far as I can tell.

Second, I present to you the archive of who has won Cillizza’s “Worst Week in Washington” Award since it was apparently created one year ago.

According to my count, conservatives/Republicans have “won” the dubious distinction 27 times, liberals/Democrats 13 times and “others” 9 times. The others include the General Services Administration twice, Washington-area power companies, the head coach of the Washington Wizards, Research in Motion (maker of Blackberry cell phones) and Redskins QB Rex Grossman among others.

Want to know who’s never won the award? President Obama. Even when his ambassador to Libya was killed along with three other Americans and he inartfully referred to their deaths as “bumps in the road,” Cillizza chose to give his award to Mitt Romney – twice! As the scandal involving the lack of protection for Ambassador Chris Stevens, the “protest” that never was that turned violent and the continual blame of a movie few in the Middle East ever saw, Cillizza saw this as another bad week—for Romney. In fact, Romney has been a 4-time “worst week” awardee (5 if you count one of his advisers winning it once).

If Cillizza is a non-partisan reporter, then he’s a pretty crummy one. How serious must the rectal-cranial impaction be for a “non-partisan reporter” to look at protests and attacks on our embassies across much of the Muslim world, the bodies of four dead Americans, the spin and cover-up blaming a film beginning to fall apart and increasing green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan and decide that Romney has had a bad week?

What exactly would Obama have to do win the “worst week” award? Lose the election?  Murder Jeff and Sue Finowicz? (This old Onion article is only funny because it’s so true.)

Pexton acknowledges there’s a problem, but even he can’t see the whole of it.

Should Mitt Romney win in November, his greatest achievement won’t be overturning Obamacare, fixing the economy (by getting the government out of the way) or nominating conservative jurists to the courts.

Instead, it will be reinvigorating the watchdog press. We will once again have scandals in Washington that everyone knows about. You won’t have journalists like Jonathan Alter who fool themselves into thinking any government as big as ours is scandal-free.

The only thing that can fix the Washington Press Corps is a Republican president.

2 comments on “How to fix the Washington Press Corps”

  1. The inimitable Mark Steyn said it best when he labeled today's media the "court eunuchs".


Perfectly said: “It’s not that the statue had become unworthy of the museum. It’s that the museum had become unworthy of the statue. “

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