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WEEKLONG SPECTACULAR! WHITHER THE WEB? What should the culture of Blogistan be? It’s run now by sultans and mullahs:

MONDAY, JULY 29, 2002

BAD ANDREW: We praise Andrew Sullivan in an item below. But the brawling Brit cast himself as Bad Andrew when he weighed in on William McGowan:

SULLIVAN (7/23/02):
BACKLASH CENTRAL: I thought awarding Bill McGowan a National Press Award for tackling the tough issue of “diversity” in the newsroom would prompt a protest from the usual suspects. Lo and behold, it has.
On July 21, McGowan had received a press criticism award from the National Press Club for his book, Coloring the News. Sullivan linked to USA Today, which limned the book quite capably. “McGowan says that well-intentioned attempts by the media to accommodate minorities and their views are infected by political correctness,” said the paper. But what had Sullivan so upset? The “usual suspects” were complaining:
USA TODAY: Richard Prince, a Washington Post editor and member of the National Association of Black Journalists, said [McGowan’s] book is full of “half-truths, spin and inaccuracies and is not worthy of an award from a journalistic organization.”

Juan Gonzalez, a New York Daily News columnist who heads the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, said, “This insulting book is a poorly argued indictment of the need to ensure diversity in America’s newsrooms, in the pages of its newspapers and magazines, and in the images on the nightly news.”

Though Sullivan rails against the critics, he doesn’t claim to have read McGowan’s book. Too bad. In their twin critiques of Coloring the News, the “suspects” may well be on target.

Example: After an opening overview chapter, McGowan tackles “Race Issues” in his Chapter 2. His first case study concerns a 1996 incident at the Marcus Garvey School, a Washington, D.C. charter outfit. On December 6, 1996, a Post editorial gave the gist of what had happened there three days before:

WASHINGTON POST: Washington Times reporter Susan Ferrechio, who is white, said that when she went to Garvey to research an article on charter schools, [principal Mary] Anigbo, joined by some of her staff and students (all of whom are black), attacked her, took her notes, and cursed and referred to her race repeatedly as they physically removed her from the school building. Mrs. Anigbo and staff also reportedly engaged in a pushing contest with police officers who returned to the school with Ms. Ferrechio and a Washington Times photographer to retrieve her notes. Mrs. Anigbo denies either initiating the scuffle or seizing the journalist’s notes, and blames the whole thing on the reporter. Sorting out the truth about this outrageous incident shouldn’t be hard to do. It must be done quickly.
As things go, the sorting-out was done rather quickly. On December 19, 1996, Anigbo and three school employees were indicted on charges of misdemeanor assault. On August 9, 1997, all four were convicted of the charges.

McGowan writes about the Washington Post’s coverage of this incident. “The media’s minority critics…frequently assert that the press conspires to portray African-Americans in a negative light,” he says. But “the Washington Post’s coverage of the Marcus Garvey incident…suggests that the double standard runs much more often in the opposite direction.” According to McGowan, the Post’s treatment of the Garvey incident was typical of a kind of politically correct journalism which “represents a compromise of basic journalistic standards and practices. More importantly,” McGowan continues, “it represents a betrayal of the Civil Rights Movement and its core integrationist ethos, which many journalists of that day took considerable risks to advance.”

Needless to say, one hears this kind of agit-prop on talk radio from morning till night. McGowan piles a lot of weight on the Post’s coverage of the Garvey incident. Unfortunately, McGowan’s account of the Post’s Garvey coverage is inaccurate and strange in the most basic respects. If Sullivan hasn’t researched the book, he almost surely doesn’t know this. It may be that his two “suspects” do.

Sadly, the world that Sullivan reflexively hails is producing one, two, many Ann Coulters. Tomorrow, we’ll look at McGowan’s odd account of the way the Post covered this case.

GOOD ANDREW: Sullivan shows no sign of having read Coloring the News, but salutes it on general principles. When Blogistan churns out work like this, it shows off its theocratic culture, in which conservative mullahs are presumed to be right, and liberal critics are quickly derided. On the other hand, Sullivan's recent work on Alaska temperature change helps suggest what the web could achieve if its sultans would join the post-Enlightenment west. In his work, Sullivan actually examined a set of real facts. He did so repeatedly, over time. In the process, he seems to have clarified an important news story. And he seems to have shown the New York Times playing a familiar old game—torturing and gimmicking up key facts to get to a preconceived outcome. Check out Sullivan's report on July 25. His probe had gone on for a week before that. [LATER CORRECTION: Oops! We ran the wrong date. We were referring to Sullivan's report on 7/19, not 7/25.]

Granted, there are problems with Sullivan’s work, even when he plays Good Andrew. According to the chart which Sullivan provides, for example, the year 1966 does not seem to be “one of the four coldest years in Alaska this century,” as he says—it seems to be one of the six coldest years since 1906. And was 1995 “one of the hottest” years in Alaska this century? According to Sullivan’s chart, 1995 was roughly the twentieth hottest year since 1906. Indeed, the following recent years were warmer: 1987, 1988, 1991, 1993, 1997, 1998, and 2001. Did the Times pick 1966 as its base year to produce a huge thirty-year temperature swing? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But as Sullivan’s chart quite clearly shows, they would have gotten a much larger swing if they’d started with 1964.

Still and all, Sullivan’s work has raised clear questions about a statistic which is rapidly becoming CW. Isn’t this what the web could achieve, if its honchos just held themselves to higher standards? Too bad its sultans prefer to spread spin—yes, to color the news.

FROM OUR TIMOROUS, KNOCK-KNEED, SCARED PUNDITS FILE: When Doris Kearns Goodwin appeared on yesterday’s Meet the Press, we recalled the big flap about her past errors. The press corps really set up a howl. But why are they silent about the blizzard of errors found all through Ann Coulter’s book, Slander? Any chance that our big, bold scribes are simply afraid of Ann Coulter?

Coulter’s closing screed is simply made up (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/23/02). How strange that our press corps won’t say it.

TOMORROW: McGowan’s puzzling review of the Post. And: Does one sultan have a clue on UTIMCO?