Sunday, November 09, 2008

Washington Post 'Lacked Obama Probes'

The Washington Post's own watchdog has taken the unusual step of apologising to readers over its lack of probing investigations into now president-elect Obama and pro-Obama coverage.

The watchdog is particularly critical over its lack of scrutiny of Obama's background and early years.

The apology follows an investigation by the newspaper's own ombudsman, Debrah Howell, into the Post's coverage over the last year. The Orange Party has consistently criticised the US media for not doing its job properly and holding a candle up equally to both candidates.

The Washington Post is the leading political newspaper in the US. The Orange Party has tremendous respect for the Post, its journalists and distinguished record for political reporting. Around October 17, the newspaper endorsed Obama as a candidate and the media frenzy really began.

Howell and her team's lengthy and detailed examination of the Post's coverage ranges from issues, voters, fund-raising, the candidates' backgrounds and horse-race stories on tactics, strategy and consultants, photos and page one leads.

There's much to be commended in the Post's coverage and praise for much of the Post's reporting but as Howell points out:

"Obama deserved tougher scrutiny than he got, especially of his undergraduate years, his start in Chicago and his relationship with Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who was convicted this year of influence-peddling in Chicago. The Post did nothing on Obama's acknowledged drug use as a teenager."

Those views chime with those of the Orange Party and respected former Sunday Times editor, Harold Evans, who made a similar and more scathing attack on these glaring omissions.

Howell dissects the 'count' in meticulous detail and concludes it was "lopsided, with 1,295 horse-race stories and 594 issues stories."

The op-ed page ran far more laudatory opinion pieces on Obama, 32, than on McCain, 13. There were far more negative pieces (58) about McCain than there were about Obama (32).

Stories and photos about Obama in the news pages outnumbered those devoted to McCain. Post reporters, photographers and editors, like most of the media, just found Obama more newsworthy, more interesting. Journalists love superlatives and anything new.

Concerns were raised yesterday, by Matthew Parris of the London Times:

"And this whole thing could go very sour. A politician who has subtly insinuated himself into the imaginations of millions as a secret friend and the personal champion of all their hopes for the world may find their disappointment the more bitter in the end."

The Orange Party expressed similar, though more forceful concerns, the day after that night before.

Newspaper coverage is often poll-driven and the Post was no exception but that's never going to change. It had its fair share of focus on poll-driven issues.

The Orange Party would add its voice to the special praise given to the penetrating reporting of Dan Balz, one of the "best, most level-headed, incisive political reporters and analysts in newspapers".

And to the reality checks given by media critic, Howard Kurtz, often used as a steer by the Orange Party during those turbulent election times.

One gaping hole was in coverage of Obama's running mate and now vice-president elect, Joe Biden. The media went over the top with Palin and neglected Biden. Howell says: "They are right; it was a serious omission."

In general, Howell concludes: "Readers have been consistently critical of the lack of probing issues coverage and what they saw as a tilt toward Democrat Barack Obama. My surveys, which ended on Election Day, show that they are right on both counts."

In many ways what Howell says isn't new and has been backed up by other research such as studies from the Project for Excellence in Journalism but here is a newspaper which has the guts to shine a light on itself.

The Washington Post has its finger on the pulse of the US political scene and was one of the first newspapers in the US to establish its own ombudsman, looking at reader complaints about news coverage and monitoring standards. That in itself is reassuring and refreshing.

It was the Post's dogged reporting which helped break the Watergate Scandal leading to Nixon's resignation.

Years later the newspaper's then owner, Katherine Graham, gave a warning which holds as true today as it did then:

"We live in a dirty and dangerous world... I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows."

No politician is above scrutiny. Newspapers can make and break presidents. As Nixon found to his cost.


NYSmike said...

Too little too late! This is what all of the newspapers will be doing to get back their readership that they lost when they failed to participate in true journalism.

Now, they are just trying to save their own skin!

Rosemary Welch said...

There is one problem still remaining. After the election is NOT the correct time to do such an analysis. We all knew this before, and now we must hold our breaths and pray that he does well. This is not fair.

They are rags, and they have finally been exposed. For this, I hope they lose all of their readership. I stopped reading American news rags years ago. The London Times and many other newspapers are more credible when it comes to finding news about my own country.

Now THAT is sad state of affairs...

PS. I found you through Faultline USA. Have a nice day.