former journalists discuss a profession in crisis

Posts Tagged ‘Paul Farhi’

Christmas wishes and rape

In Blog on December 14, 2014 at 6:12 pm

In the wake of the controversy over Rolling Stone’s story about campus rape, and the response from The Washington Post, I have a few wishes:

I wish solid reporting on sexual abuse on campus received the attention it deserved.

I wish that rape victims always were treated with the respect, seriousness and care for the truth that Kristen Lombardi so well exemplifies.  Her nine-month investigation in 2009 won her several national journalism awards.  But it didn’t prompt to the media attention that Rolling Stone’s story did last month. (And praise to Post blogger Alyssa Rosenberg for reminding us that telling the stories of rape victims demands special skills from journalists.)

I wish Rolling Stone’s sensational rape story had held up and that the reporter had done a better job checking her facts before questions about the veracity of her explosive central anecdote undermined in some people’s minds the fundamental premise of her story: that rape victims find it difficult to come forward on campus, scared of their attackers and unsure that the university will believe them or protect them.

The story of the woman reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely called Jackie was the vivid narrative that held our attention, but the article also contained the stories of other women who spoke on the record and allowed their full names to be used.  It also contained a penetrating critique of a campus culture that seems to prefer less accountability and more genteel silence, even if that means hurting sexual assault victims and even, potentially, those who are wrongfully accused.

I wish that the collapse of this one vivid anecdote had not skewed coverage of the larger issue in the Post.  Indeed in its initial follow-up to the Rolling Stone article – before the questions about Jackie’s story arose – the Post was writing solid pieces about the way U-VA responds or fails to respond to victims of sexual assault.

For example, I wish the Post had diverted some of the resources it devoted to reacting to the Rolling Stone story to covering the Senate hearing on campus sexual assaults, instead of relying on an Associated Press story.

Instead, not only have the Post’s two media critics – Paul Farhi and blogger Erik Wemple –  weighed in several times about the flawed reporting, we’ve had several very long pieces on its factual errors.  The Post did a public service in initially raising doubts about the veracity of certain aspects of Jackie’s account, but the the paper now risks losing sight of the larger institutional problem that the story attempted to illustrate.

I wish more stories like this one  by Nick Anderson were part of the Post’s ongoing coverage.

I wish the Post had not given the sleazy blogger who recklessly chose to reveal what he claims is the name of the rape victim the attention he so desperately craves.

I wish that Post editors don’t lose sight of the balanced views the Post editorial staff has wisely conveyed.

I wish the Post had devoted as much energy, outrage, and general chest thumping to debunking the shoddy journalism that helped send us to war in Iraq, leading to more than 100,000 violent deaths, as it has to this one failure in a key part of one story by Rolling Stone.

Finally, I wish, desperately, that a newspaper that once nominated a story for the Pulitzer Prize whose central character turned out to have been fabricated out of whole cloth, would, just for a moment, stop being so self-righteous about this incident.  And move on.


Plagiarism of the Spirit: Reporters are Stuck in the DC Bubble

In Blog on June 17, 2013 at 9:00 am

Recently, Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi wrote a lengthy story on DC couples who work in media and politics.  The story revealed one of this city’s not-so-well-kept secrets: In this town, the media literally are in bed with the government.  Farhi’s piece outed some of those government-media duos – NPR’s Ari Shapiro is the spouse of Michael Gottlieb, on the staff of the White House Counsel.  White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is married to ABC News’s Claire Shipman.  Washington Post reporter Sari Horowitz is the wife of Health and Human Services General Counsel William B. Schultz. Vice President Biden’s communications director Shailagh Murray is married to Wall Street Journal political reporter Neil King.

Farhi himself also coyly confesses, without naming names or specifying the nature of the relationship, that he sometimes writes about CBS news and is related to an employee at the network.

Farhi’s critique focuses on how well these couples manage conflicts of interest.  But that’s not really the problem.  Reporters by and large do pretty well avoiding favoritism covering the news. They adjust assignments, and are pretty scrupulous about not covering any issue on which their loved ones have direct responsibility.

The problem goes much deeper.  It is the inbred Washington culture where big media and big government mingle in a seamless minuet that creates a plagiarism of the spirit. No, I don’t mean the plagiarism that happens when one reporter literally copies the words and opinions of others.  This appropriation is much larger and more fundamental.  The journalists who live and work together in the tight little cocoon of DC politics are seeing the world in the same way, chasing down the same fragments of news, and no one is challenging anybody’s assumptions.

Think of it.  The elite who comprise the Washington press corps — those reporters for major media outlets who cover the White House, the federal government and Congress and who are regular contributors to the weekly news shows — by and large are well paid and comfortable.  High-profile reporters send their kids to the same private schools that also are attended by the children of senior government officials. They run into each other at the same parties.  They live in the same neighborhoods.  They dine at the same restaurants.

None of this is wrong.  But it is severely limiting.  Journalists used to be working class stiffs, outsiders whose press passes would only get them pressed against the window of power, not inside the halls.  They had empathy for the “little guy” because they emerged from the same class.  Journalism was one of the few jobs around that required no formal college degree. To those who lacked the right pedigree or social skills, journalism rewarded hard work and cleverness with decent-paying jobs that were enjoyable and stimulating.

As much as journalism might be in financial distress nationwide, the DC press corps still contains many reporters who’ve never taken a Greyhound bus or entered a Walmart.  They don’t understand what it means to earn only the minimum wage.

Read the rest of this entry »