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KURTZ TO THE RESCUE! Howard Kurtz profiles Newsweek’s Mark Whitaker. And boss-man has never seemed brighter: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MAY 18, 2005

KURTZ TO THE RESCUE: Kurtz to the rescue! We couldn’t help chuckling as Howard Kurtz profiled Mark Whitaker in today’s Post. Newsweek, of course, is owned by the Post—and Whitaker, Newsweek’s man-in-charge, has never looked better than he does in this timely portrait. For us, the gushing peaked when Kurtz allowed Howard Fineman to spout about boss-man’s brilliance:
KURTZ (5/18/05): Newsweek has won four National Magazine Awards during Whitaker's tenure, ranging from coverage of 9/11 to the Iraq war to the 2004 election, and staffers describe the man as a fount of ideas. Fineman says Whitaker ordered him to do a "Bush and God" cover story in 2003 based on his past coverage of the president and religious conservatives. "He put two and two together in a way I hadn't thought of," Fineman says.
Imagine! A story about Bush and religion! Who else would ever have thought of that? We also chuckled when we read Kurtz’s separate news report about the Newsweek fandango. Kurtz described the savage fact-checking to which the Koran report was subjected:
KURTZ (5/18/05): In the case of the Koran item, Whitaker said, he saw a draft version on April 29, Friday, and raised no questions. The next day, which is the magazine's deadline, the final draft would have been approved by Periscope editor Nancy Cooper. Whitaker said he did not see the final version because he was traveling on personal business. Managing Editor Jon Meacham was out of town for an interview and for the White House Correspondents Association dinner. Washington bureau chief Dan Klaidman said he was also involved in the editing.
Meacham “was out of town for an interview?” Translation: The parson was off somewhere telling the world that there’s no big fight between faith and reason, one of his favorite talking-points (text below)—a pleasing point that seems especially strained in the face of ongoing world events.

While others tell Whitaker how brilliant he is, we’ll mordantly offer a few suggestions. Let’s review the head-man’s thoughts about the mag’s basic procedures:

KURTZ (5/18/05): Whitaker said Newsweek Chairman Richard M. Smith is drafting a letter to the staff that will include the handling of anonymous sources, such as the unnamed government official who gave reporter Michael Isikoff inaccurate information about the purported Koran incident. Whitaker said the magazine will try to "be a little more transparent to our readers" in providing details about sources and their motivations. How could Newsweek be “a little more transparent?”
Newsweek wants to be a bit more transparent? Here’s one idea: When you actually have one source for a story, don’t lie to your readers and say you have several (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/18/05). And here’s another obvious suggestion: When you’re printing a claim about an upcoming army report, you might specifically ask the army if the claim is accurate. Newsweek keeps offering its odd explanation—it let an army source read the Koran report, and when he didn’t say no, they took it as yes. Go ahead, Newsweek— just ask them next time. And spare us the fake “explanations.”

For the record, Kurtz somehow forgot to ask Whitaker why Newsweek pretended to have plural “sources.” And he forgot to inquire about the mag’s failure to ask if its statement was accurate. This morning, it was Kurtz to the rescue—and Kurtz marched of to war for his bro. Whitaker never has been more brilliant. Even his underlings said so.

THE LARGER PICTURE: In the meantime, the larger arc of this story is clear. Conservatives have screamed for the past forty years when news orgs make certain kinds of mistakes. But when these same news orgs trashed Clinton and Gore, good little “liberals” all knew to keep quiet. After all, the news orgs which waged that history-changing two-year War Against Gore were the orgs at which they hoped to work. Result? To this day, average citizens haven’t heard the actual history of the work of their modern press corps. They hear constant screams of “liberal bias,” faithfully served by those on the right. But from career liberals, it’s nothing but silence. This keeps career liberals on good career paths—and makes a sick joke of your interests.

NO FILIBUSTERS ON SUBSTANCE: As Dems prepare to filibuster that first pair of judges, the national press keeps it short and sweet. This morning, Neil Lewis profiles Janice Rogers Brown in the paper of record. Incredibly, this is his only attempt to examine the claim that Brown is a judicial activist:

LEWIS (5/18/05): The Supreme Court case cited most often for the idea that Justice Brown might inject her views into court opinions is San Remo Hotel v. San Francisco in 2002. The majority upheld a requirement, intended to maintain low-cost housing, that owners pay a fee to demolish a residential hotel. In her dissent, Justice Brown said the city had engaged in theft of the property. ''Theft is theft even when the government approves of the thievery,'' she wrote. ''Turning a democracy into a kleptocracy does not enhance the stature of the thieves, it only diminishes the legitimacy of the government.''
Incredibly, that’s the entire discussion of the San Remo case, and Lewis mentions no other case where Brown is alleged to have inappropriately “injected her views” into court decisions. If readers want to know what this fuss is about, they’ll have to take their business somewhere else.

But then, Lewis gave the same cursory treatment to Justice Priscilla Owen on Monday. Here was his full discussion of Owens’ alleged judicial activism:

LEWIS (5/16/05): Even on the conservative, all-Republican bench that the State Supreme Court had become, Justice Owen occasionally stood out among her colleagues, sometimes in tandem with another justice, Nathan Hecht. In no situation was this more so than in cases involving the interpretation of a state law providing for a teenage girl to obtain an abortion without notifying her parents if she can show a court that she is mature enough to understand the consequences.

In one dissent, Justice Owen said the teenager in the case had not demonstrated that she knew that there were religious objections to abortion and that some women who underwent abortions had experienced severe remorse.

Mr. Gonzales, a Texas Supreme Court justice at the time, was in the majority and wrote that the position of the three dissenters was ''an unconscionable act of judicial activism'' because it would create obstacles to abortion that the Legislature did not enact.

Mr. Gonzales, in interviews with The New York Times, acknowledged that his words were directed at her dissent but said that he remained enthusiastic about her nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

That was it—the entire discussion! Lewis made no attempt to explain why Gonzalez made this statement, or to evaluate the merits of the claim; he merely recorded the fact that the statement was made. Nor did he explore any case aside from this “one dissent.” Two paragraphs later, Lewis quoted Craig McDonald, an official with Texans for Public Justice, who said that Owen “is a serial activist, often in service to corporations and the powerful.” But there is no discussion of the cases in question. If you’re curious about what McDonald meant, you’ll pretty much have to call him and ask.

Do you want to know why people claim that Brown and Owen are activist judges? To all appearances, you won’t find out from reading the Times. We can find no news reports in the past six months which examine this question in more detail—and this morning, Lewis gives you exactly one paragraph. But so it goes in our modern press corps—a cohort with an almost pathological aversion to exploring matters of substance. This week, Democrats will talk and talk about the activist pair. Providing balance, the Times keeps it brief.

FOR FACTS, YOU READ THE OPINIONS: Of course, you know where to go if you want a few facts—you visit the editorial pages! On April 24, a Times editorial did ladle out this thin gruel:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (4/24/05): On the bench, Justice Brown—a black woman raised in segregated Alabama—is a consistent enemy of minorities and old people, and of people injured by big business. In an age discrimination case, she wrote a lone dissent against a fired 60-year-old employee, warning about the harm the case could do to the ''stability of the business community.'' She contended—contrary to established law—that age discrimination ''is the unavoidable consequence of that universal leveler: time.''
Yes, it’s true, that’s next to nothing. But it’s more than we get from Lewis.

In an editorial on this matter today, the Times serves an ironic assurance. “Taxpayers can at least be glad that the nominees’ records are being publicly aired,” the eds say. But where has this public airing occurred? On that point, the eds remain silent.

FLYWEIGHT FANDANGO: Darn it! Our “flyweight”series will have to be scrapped; the materials we planned to use in Part 2 have been removed from the web. We expect to proceed in the next two days with a favorite old theme: “Where are standards?” Expect to see Bumiller play a role—in particular, this latest expression of what we’d call “perfect obedience.”

PREACHER MEACHAM: The parson was preaching on faith and reason when he played some Hardball last December. He had just penned Newsweek’s cover story, “The Birth of Jesus:”

MATTHEWS (12/6/04): Let me start with Jon Meacham. It`s a very arresting cover. I read the long piece in your magazine this week. What were you trying to tell us that we, a largely Christian country, did not know before?

MEACHAM: Trying to make it clear that faith and reason aren`t always at war. That faith and history aren`t always at war. And that these stories that are so familiar to us, they`re like the air we breathe, the Easter story and the Christmas story, have a more complicated textual history than you often appreciate. Or at least most people often appreciate.

I think it was fascinating—I think it`s important for people to understand both how the Gospel messages were brought together in time and place, and time and space, and as the Vatican has taught us and as John Paul II has said, faith and reason are like two wings that lift us to a contemplation of truth.

“As the Vatican has taught us and as John Paul II has said?” The next night, Meacham stumbled through a pointless discussion with Bill O’Reilly, then moved on to do Larry King Live. His words were soothing, but everyone knew not to ask any challenging questions.

But uh-oh! While Meacham was off at a Washington gala, Newsweek took the leap of faith. The mag made a statement that may not be true. Now reason has come back to haunt them.