Is Bias Seeping Into the Post-Murdoch WSJ? UPDATE

s-DOW-JONES-MURDOCH-largeAs the debate over health care reform continues to dominate the news, there is the inevitable criticism of media bias on both sides of the debate. Aside from their editorial pages, the Wall Street Journal is well known for its unique focus on reporting facts, keeping its reputation as an unbiased source of news untarnished. But since its acquisition by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. two years ago, has the WSJ succumbed to the alleged bias that has afflicted other News Corp. properties Fox News and the NY Post?

Early last month the WSJ published a straight-news report on the then current tactics used by the White House in the health care debate that raised a few eyebrows. Janet Adamy and Naftali Bendavid filed the following report in an article entitled “Lawmakers Rethink Town Halls:”

The health-care debate was supposed to play out at rallies and inside gymnasiums when lawmakers headed home for the August recess.

But after a series of contentious town-hall meetings, some Democratic lawmakers are thinking twice about holding large public gatherings. Instead, they are opting for smaller sessions, holding meetings by phone or inviting constituents for one-on-one office hours.

Democrats have accused Republicans of manufacturing the opposition by organizing groups to attend the events and encouraging disruptive behavior. Republican organizers say the unrest reflects genuine anger about the proposed health-care changes.

An innocuous enough lede — certainly germane to the ongoing debate. However, the follow up paragraph’s feature two quotes, both of which are clearly anti-Democrat in nature:

“Democrats may think that attacking or ignoring this growing chorus of Americans is a smart strategy, but they are obviously forgetting that these concerned citizens are voters as well,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm.

Rick Scott, who leads Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, a group that has helped publicize the local meetings, said: “The polls reveal the real picture of what is happening across the country — people are genuinely concerned, some are genuinely angry, and they are expressing themselves.”

One could argue that this is appropriate, since the article is about the Democratic lawmakers under pressure from large style town halls. But no where in the article is there any quote taking an opposing view from the stated thesis: that Democratic lawmakers, were at the time, getting their rear-ends handed to them in the Town Hall formats.

Criticism of a conservative slant to the WSJ has been growing in the past few months. There was piece published a couple of months ago by Neil King Jr. and Jonathan Weisman that labeled President Obama as a “micro-manager“, with an inevitable comparison to Jimmy Carter. Further, the recent headline titled “Taliban Now Winning” sparked similar questions of bias from ForiegnPolicy.com.

Since News Corp acquired WSJ parent company Dow Jones in August of 2007, there have been few critics or perceptions of bias in the financial paper. But that is beginning to change with increased political rancor brought about by the debate over health care reform. Are we starting to see a new era for the WSJ?

UpdateDavid Carr gives merit to this idea:

Many fans of The Wall Street Journal worried that the newspaper would become a cat toy for Rupert Murdoch after he bought it, but the paper’s shift toward a more general interest newspaper has not been accompanied by tendentious politics, near as we can tell.

He goes on to cite the “Full Court Press blog“, who “found deep meaning in a recent insert into the obituary of Sen. Edward Kennedy.”

WOW: The NY Times Assigns An Editor To Watch Fox News

504x_GlennBeck_ACORN.flvClark Hoyt, the New York Times ombudsman thinks the paper should stop running scared from Glenn Beck. Hoyt took the Times to task this weekend over their coverage (or lack thereof) of the ACORN and the Van Jones debacle, both incidents which arguably developed into national stories due to their flames being relentlessly fanned by “the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs.” A world, says Hoyt, that the Times has trouble dealing with.

But for days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from Acorn, The Times stood still. Its slow reflexes — closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser — suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs. Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like The Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself.

Apparently part of the problem is that Times editors do not watch enough Fox. Or any Fox as the case may be. Says Jill Abramson there was an “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.”

Some editors told me [Hoyt] they were not immediately aware of the Acorn videos on Fox, YouTube and a new conservative Web site called BigGovernment.com. When the Senate voted to cut off all federal funds to Acorn, there was not a word in the newspaper or on its Web site. When the New York City Council froze all its funding for Acorn and the Brooklyn district attorney opened a criminal investigation, there was still nothing.

Which is a major problem. You may not like Glenn Beck, you may think he is a nut job. You may think what he does is not journalism, you may think that in a perfect world of objective, reasoned, researched news reporting he should not have a place. But you ignore him at your own peril. Actually, there is the argument to be made that the Times ignores him at everyone’s peril — it is their job, after all, to watch and report on things the rest of us may not have the stomach for or any interest in. They are supposed to be watching Fox News so that other people don’t have to, not the other way around.

According to Hoyt the Times has recognized this and assigned an editor to watch Fox(!) along with a bunch of other sites they don’t normally like to sully themselves with “to brief them frequently on bubbling controversies.” Ha! They should just read Mediaite more. Alas, managing editor Bill Keller “declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.” Good luck with that.

AP Publishes Reporter’s Notes About Roman Polanski Arrest Instead of News Copy

notebookThis morning the Associated Press joined Talking Points Memo and Gawker as practitioners of the ‘open notebook’ method of reporting — well, inadvertently.

One reporter’s notes about the developing news of Roman Polanski’s arrest were sent out on the wire instead of the text of his article and published online by the New York Times and Forbes, where the notes are still up for now:

Swiss arrest Polanski on US request in sex case
Associated Press, 09.27.09, 10:41 AM EDT

OK, can you do some more probing? New York will want to know
frank’s out today.
i checked already, and so did zurich. they say the question is irrelevant. he answered me with the quote i used, about we knew when he was coming this time. he’s been here many times in the past, we think.
thx brad. aptn is aware, but unfortunately won’t make it in time, but is hoping to catch tail end.
i’m pushing out another writethru with some more background details before press conference.
no surprise, new york is really hot on this.
they particularly want to know why now. (has he never set foot in switzerland before?) sheila, theorizes that’s because they’re under intense pressure over ubs and want to throw the U.S. a bone, but can yo ucheck with justice department sources there?
is frank around too, or are you alone?
u can tell aptn press conf 1700 (15 gmt) in bern at the parliament
i’ll watch it live on internet

All things considered — if the part about throwing “the U.S. a bone” is as bad as it gets — this could have been a lot more embarrassing for the AP.

(h/t Business Insider)

William Safire, Times Columnist And Nixon Speechwriter, Dies

President_Bush_presents_William_Safire_the_2006_President_Medal_of_FreedomThe New York Times is reporting that William Safire, a long-time former columnist for the paper, and speechwriter for Richard Nixon has died at 79. Safire joined the Times in 1973 and won the Pulitzer in 1978 for his commentary. Prior to that he worked on Nixon’s 1960 and 1968 presidential campaigns; after Nixon’s 1968 victory Safire served as chief speechwriter for both Nixon and his then Vice President Spiro Agnew.

From the obituary that has just been posted at the NYT.com:

He was a college dropout and proud of it, a public relations go-getter who set up the famous Nixon-Khrushchev “kitchen debate” in Moscow, and a White House wordsmith in the tumultuous era of war in Vietnam, Nixon’s visit to China and the gathering storm of the Watergate scandal that drove the president from office.

Then, from 1973 to 2005, Mr. Safire wrote his twice weekly “Essay” for the Op-Ed Page of The Times, a forceful conservative voice in the liberal chorus. Unlike most Washington columnists who offer judgments with Olympian detachment, Mr. Safire was a pugnacious contrarian who did much of his own reporting, called people liars in print and laced his opinions with outrageous wordplay.

After retiring from his NYT column in 2005 Safire continued to pen (until earlier this month) the “On Language” column for the Times Magazine, which “explored written and oral trends, plumbed the origins and meanings of words and phrases, and drew a devoted following, including a stable of correspondents he called his Lexicographic Irregulars.”

This was Safire’s last op-ed piece for the NYT and you can read Safire’s last ‘On Language’ column here.

Not Your Lazy Sunday: Fox & Friends Host Outlines Marathon Weekend Routine

Picture 9The weekend edition of Fox & Friends starts at 6 a.m., which means that ">Alisyn Camerota sets her alarm for 3 a.m. in order to be ready on time. Oh, and then after four hours on air, she spends the day running around New York City with her kids.

The New York Times drills Camerota about her non-stop Sunday routine.

From 4:15 to 5, I go into hair and makeup, where they attempt to make me look presentable at that hour. I go in, in, basically, my pajamas. I’m, like, transformed in the next hour to being presentable on television. I wear whatever dress and jewelry and heels, and they do my hair and makeup.

Sunday Routine, Alisyn Camerota: Up at 3, on Camera at 6” [NYT]

Soundbite: Condé Nast, The Way We Were

3rdweek.Julia&Carine“You can feel inadequate almost anywhere on the island, but to connoisseurs of masochism there is no better spot than the Condé Nast headquarters at 45th Street and Madison Avenue.”

John Tierney, New York Times, June 16, 1996.

The imminent death of Condé Nast, or at least the Condé Nast myth, has been a prime topic of media chit chat since earlier this summer when McKinsey was called in to go over the books at 4 Times Square and cut out all the excess. So it is with some nostalgia (and perhaps some little schadenfreude) that we recall a time when ride in the Condé elevators was enough of a life- (and closet!) changing experience that the Times felt the need to devote an entire column to it.

ONE OF Manhattan’s greatest attractions is the opportunity, regardless of your race or creed or nationality, to be surrounded by people who are better looking and better dressed than you will ever be. You can feel inadequate almost anywhere on the island, but to connoisseurs of masochism there is no better spot than the Conde Nast headquarters at 45th Street and Madison Avenue — the home of Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Glamour, Self and Mademoiselle. If you think the magazines’ models and fashion editors are intimidating on paper, try riding the elevator with them.

*

They haven’t even begun gathering oral histories from survivors, like Peggy Northrop, a senior editor at Glamour who, like so many others, has never been able to forget her first elevator ride at 350 Madison Avenue.

It was in October of 1989,” she recalls. “I was living in San Francisco, and I came in for a job interview at Vogue. Of course, I agonized over what to wear. I ended up in something dreadful — a gray silk pants suit of indeterminate shape, a strange baggy shirt. My hair was permed. It was awful. I got in the elevator and there were all these women in black, narrow, fitted jackets, high heels and long, skintight leggings. I’d never seen leggings in San Francisco offices. I was shocked. I said to myself: What’s going on here? These women aren’t wearing any pants!” By the end of the ride Northrop had reached an archetypal insight: There is nothing in my closet that will work here.

(h/t John Carney)

Washington Post Issues Twitter Guidelines: Signing Their Own Death Sentence?

Picture 13It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Particularly after the recent debacle over ABC’s Terry Moran’s tweeting out President Obama’s “jackass” remark, it was pretty clear it was just a matter of time before news organizations began clamping down on how and where their reporters use Twitter. Yesterday, the Washington Post jumped in the fray and issued its own guidelines. Some highlights:

  • When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism.”
  • Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything – including photographs or video – that could be perceived as reflecting political racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility.

So actually pretty reasonable, all things considered: In all media that boasts your byline remain impartial, and don’t do anything stupid. But is it in the best interests of the paper? Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander points out the the Post (along with just about every other mainstream publication) has at times come under fire for being partisan. These guidelines aim to cut off those accusations before they can be made (and already senior post editor Raju Narisetti has closed his account).

But in this age of self-branded journalists, where power and readership loyalty is often the result of an audience’s personal connection with the writer is it really a good idea to remove all evidence of personality from the reporter’s product? There is an argument to be made that readers are savvy enough to separate the personal from the reported — and believe me there are a lot of journos out there whose personal lives I know far more about than I especially want to (mostly via Twitter), but I also tend to veer towards their work because I am familiar with their names and their beats (also via Twitter). With the ever increasing power of Twitter, rules, of course, are inevitable, but relevance is also key — perhaps we need to starting rethinking the definition of freedom of the press, if only in 140 character doses.