WashPost Comes to CNN's Defense in Two Odd Stories on Russia-Obsession PR Crisis
The Washington Post offered a strangely bifurcated approach in covering the scandals at CNN. On Wednesday, media reporter Paul Farhi reported an entire story on the firestorm over an unsubstantiated story causing three (voluntary) resignations in the Investigative Unit, but offered no reporting on the Project Veritas expose.
The headline in Wednesday’s paper was “After CNN retraction, president cries foul.” It was a strange headline, because Farhi reported Trump was taking a “victory lap,” not so much crying foul. Farhi focused on the alleged inaccuracy of Trump’s tweet that CNN was looking at “big management changes.” The New York Post reported on Wednesday that CNN president Jeff Zucker may not survive an AT&T-Time Warner merger.
Farhi ran a fairly pro-CNN piece after the Trump tweets were quoted, letting outgoing I-Unit chief Lex Haris boost CNN as a “news organization that prizes accuracy and fairness above all else.” Farhi concluded the report boosting CNN, that “Its investment in journalism has paid off with a series of solid stories.” CNN PR can’t be upset with him. He didn’t point out that CNN Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter did a whole hour-long show on Sunday without mentioning their retracted story that led to resignations.
Farhi’s reporting on PV was posted after the newspaper was published, and then appeared in Thursday’s newspaper. The headline for that was “Project Veritas’s editing quagmire: Latest ‘gotcha’ video omits some key facts.” This story was more pro-CNN than the first. It read like an opposition-research report on James O’Keefe and his checkered career in undercover stunts. How much was Bonifield quoted from the video? Just 44 words. CNN wasn’t in a “quagmire.”
The media reporter insisted that O’Keefe “caused a stir” about CNN, “But it’s what the video doesn’t show that may be as important as what it does.” But then the story takes several paragraphs to get to the point. (Inside the headline was “In video of CNN producer dissing Russia coverage, Project Veritas doesn’t address the scope of his job.”)
Yet the video includes several journalistic evasions and shortcuts that would likely elicit outrage from critics if a mainstream news organization had employed the same techniques.
For example, it never mentions that Bonifield is a producer of health and medical stories, raising questions about how relevant his views are, and how informed he is, about CNN’s political coverage. It also doesn’t disclose that he is based in Atlanta — not in Washington or New York, where most of CNN’s coverage of national affairs and politics are produced.
It’s not true that PV didn’t mention Bonifield was in Atlanta. O’Keefe announced his location — if not the fact that he was based in Atlanta — at the 2:30 mark in the video.
But let’s put Farhi aside for one second, and just laugh at The Washington Post as a whole for one minute. Their critical stories on Trump often use anonymous sources, which don’t let us know where on Earth the sources are based, where they’re getting their information, or where they actually work. The Post counts on their “glorious brand” and says “trust us.” At least PV has someone on tape, with a name and a face.
Farhi’s (and CNN’s) take here is insulting to Bonifield, like health reporters and producers are apolitical dummies and CNN reporters in Atlanta might not watch the network or know much about politics. So are we supposed to think the Health Unit isn’t covering political issues? In fact, Bonifield’s unit just ran a Nasty-gram asserting Republican defunding of Planned Parenthood will force women to travel to Mexico for their contraceptives.
Farhi also disdained undercover reporting as unethical:
Although some mainstream news organizations have engaged in “undercover” journalism, the practice is uncommon and generally considered unethical.
Project Veritas, which is headed by O’Keefe, regularly uses such methods in order to expose what it says is corruption and fraud. Its operatives often have gained access to their targets by using false identities and by lying about or failing to disclose their actual intentions. Its various projects have also been clouded by accusations of deceptive editing.
But undercover reporting isn’t always disdained by the Post…..when it’s pleasing to the Left. I tweeted at him Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan’s 2016 column on a Mother Jones expose of private prisons, which began: “Undercover reporting is the James Dean of journalism: thrilling, but dangerous.”
When a Mother Jones journalist misleads a prison corporation and takes a job to expose them, well, that’s the “public interest,” but exposing CNN is not:
New York University journalism professor Brooke Kroeger, who wrote the 2012 book Undercover Reporting: The Truth About Deception, told me she is a believer in this kind of journalism — “but only under very controlled circumstances and for something really important that matters to the public interest.”
She puts Mother Jones’s Louisiana prison reporting in that category, and has added it to the NYU database in which thousands of examples over many decades are collected.
Speaking of stunt reporters, the Post put the PV-bashing story right next to a story puffing Brian “I Don’t Like Bullies” Karem, who yelled (“mansplained”?) at deputy White House press secretary Sarah Sanders that liberal reporters were only interested in doing their job (and not ruining the president. Nobody should believe that.
PS: J. Christian Adams at PJ Media reports a conservative e-mailer accused Farhi of lying, and Farhi expressed offense at the idea he would know something was a lie, and he would report it anyway, and then wrote “apologize or drop dead.”