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One of Josh's readers writes about WaPo political editor John Harris:

A reader in the comments section to Harris's response points to this clause:
Froomkin's column "has itself become an obstacle to our work."

What can that possibly mean, other than the white house is yelling at him for what Froomkin is writing, and they're not accepting his "Don't blame me, he doesn't work for me or the Post" defense?

In that little clause, it's clear what happened. The Post to some degree had access reduced or cut off, and the reason given was Froomkin. Harris's defense that the guy didn't work for him or the Post didn't suffice to restore access. So now he wants that made clearer--not for any substantive reason, as you say, but to support this argument.

My reaction to this is: 1) Isn't that newsworthy in itself? The response to a (web-based, buried on the Post's site, mind you) column the White House doesn't like is to threaten to cut off access to anonymous sources? They can't claim any violation of any of their vaunted confidentiality agreements to report this. 2) Don't they realize, in the least, that access goes both ways? Why isn't the response to Rove cutting off access, "fine Karl, all conversations henceforth are on the record." At this point, they don't need the White House for their stories. They only need the White House for "balance." They're perfectly within the source/journalist relationship sphere that they purport to follow to NOT grant anonymous sourcing. If the White House complains, publicly, about an absence of balance, they just can call for comment. And when the White House chooses not to comment on the record, they can report that. This is what happens to EVERYBODY ELSE reporters write negative stories about. The response they permit is "No Comment" not "anonymous sources close to the story say....."

No doubt. The White House needs access to the WaPo and other newspapers perhaps MORE so than reporters need access to whatever the White House spin machine spits out. It's a two-way street.

The editors at the Post's print edition are obviously taking heat from the White House. They've admitted as much. But what is the White House going to do to get their message and promote their agenda inside the beltway (and their intended audience of journalists, lobbyists, and activists)? While the Washington Times has its uses, it's too compromised as a partisan operation to be a legitimate alternative.

The editors at the Washington Post may not realize it, but a few editions without administration spin hidden behind blind quotes won't destroy their paper.

It'll make it a better one.


While we're on that topic, Ezra's finds another good angle:

Does Dan present a liberal worldview? Not always, but cumulatively I think a great many people would say yes--enough that I don't want them thinking he works for the news side of the Post.

Watch the dodge. The question isn't whether Froomkin pays secret homage to Karl Marx, but whether an undefined but nevertheless "great many" people think he does. This, of course, is the logical end point for our press corps. Charges of bias require no substantiation whatsoever -- they merely have to be seconded enough times so that they become, ipso facto, truth-esque. And once they're truth-esque, they simply must be addressed, lest the credibility of the whole organization be questioned by a "great many" people, none of whom are acting out of bad faith, none of whom can be dismissed as cranks or ideologues.

This the end result of the Right's "working the refs". It's no longer about whether there is a genuine liberal bias, but whether somehting might give conservatives an excuse to whine about liberal bias.

And fiinally, I'm going to steal this wholesale from Atrios because it's important in framing this issue in its proper context. Our lawyers can work things out later:


For me it is a problem. I perceive a good bit of his commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism--or at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions. Dan, as I understand his position, says that his commentary is not ideologically based, but he acknowledges it is written with a certain irreverence and adversarial purpose. Dan does not address the main question in his comments. He should. If he were a White House reporter for a major news organization, would it be okay for him to write in the fashion he does? If the answer is yes, we have a legitimate disagreement. If the answer is no, there is not really a debate: should change the name of his column to more accurately present the fact that this is Dan Froomkin's take on the news, not the observations of someone who is assigned by the paper to cover the news.


John Harris: I think Clinton has mixed, but on the whole fairly negative, feelings toward reporters. He is someone who likes to shoot the breeze and engage on different subjects, and he does this occasionally with reporters (both on and off the record). But, on balance, I believe based on conversations with staff that he generally feels most reporters are out to damage him. And, since our job is to constantly try to hold elected officials accountable and point out to the public when there are inconistencies, this naturally and appropriately leads to a degree of tension.

Interesting, no? Well, as Swopa discovered, John Harris was quite adept at repeating Republican talking points on the Plame investigation. I think we have ourselves a nice little wingnut patrolling the Post's political beat.

Or, at the very least, the appearance that he is a wingnut patrolling the Post's political beat. And according to his new standards, I guess he needs to resign.

Update: Woah, Brad DeLong got Harris on the phone and destroyed him.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 09:56 AM PST.

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