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It's unlikely that there's a better spokesperson for our national political media's temper-tantrum over the AP/James Rosen kerfuffle than the National Journal's Ron Fournier. Fournier joined the Morning Joe clown show today to share a histrionic tirade about Eric Holder's request for an off the record meeting with journalists. Who knew that Fournier (or our political press) find off the record meetings with government officials so abhorrent?

Fortunately Howard Dean happened to be on-set and Fournier's rant inspired the good doctor to provide a much needed lecture to the childish and hypocritical political journalists in the Washington DC press corps.

Below the fold: Dean's insight on the relationship between journalists and politicians, Fournier's self-serving hypocrisy, and the indispensable Walter Pincus' informed wisdom about the AP "scandal."

Howard Dean got some press today after appearing on Morning Joe and pointing out that the National Review and Daily Caller are right-wing propaganda organs. (Shocker!) But it was his comments earlier on the show that I found much more interesting.

Ron Fournier started the show by launching into a childish and hyprocritical rant about Holder's request to hold an off the record meeting with political journalists:

I predicted that they would ask for it to be off the record and started urging the media not to fall for it...our job is supposed to shining a light on the darkest corners of government and to be fighting for transparency. So how can we be complicit in a meeting with the Attorney General that we can't report on, that we can't tell the public what happened in it. And think, too, of the problem in the newsroom. If I'm a bureau chief and I go in and have a private meeting with the Attorney General and I go back to the newsroom and I have to face my reporters who are supposed to be finding out what happened in that meeting. Do I tell them and break my word to the administration? Do I not tell them and let my reporters get beat because they talked with some else? I've been part of these conversations, including on Air Force One, that were off the record and they ended up not being off the record.
Oh, really? Is it about the public's right to know or Fournier's right to be the one who breaks the story (with his own slant)?

Fournier's rant was so disingenuous, even Mika felt the need to challenge him:

BRZEZINSKI: Let's just talk plainly here. Have you ever had an off the record conversation as a reporter doing your work? Are you telling me you've never been off the record with anybody in doing your research?

FOURNIER: Actually, I'll tell you one time I was off the record with Bill Clinton...

Fournier then goes on to tell a story about getting scooped by another reporter after an off the record discussion. Yeah, it's all about the First Amendment.

Howard Dean responded:

DEAN: I don't have a lot of sympathy...this is Kabuki. I've been on the other side of this. I was once told by a Washington reporter, and he wasn't kidding, off the record in Washington means it won't be in tomorrow's paper, but it's okay on Sunday...

There's a war between every politician and every member of the press. I agree with you, I think the press is absolutely essential to have a government that's open. But I have no sympathy for reporters. It's a tough, tough game.

FOURNIER: Then why pretend that it's off the record?...If he wants the media's opinion then he can read it...

DEAN: That's not the point. My guess is that he thinks there are a lot of things that need to be explained that can't be in the paper the next day. I think his request is legitimate. I also think what Jill Abramson did is legitimate. This is a tough business and people have to make their judgements. But I think whacking the president or whacking the attorney general because he wants to do this is wrong. And I'll stand up for the politicians on this one...

I think the press is thin skinned. They're good at dishing it out and they're lousy at taking it. So what you're seeing in this reaction is "Oh my god, how could you, we're above reproach. Oh, oh, we're only trying to do the right thing..."

The editorial page actually doesn't have much power...the real power in the press is the people who actually write the stories, which turn out to be editorials. Let's be blunt about this. If you take the New York Times, which is an extremely reputable paper, and I do this in journalism classes at Hofstra. You go down to the fourth paragraph and already the reporter is putting their opinion in without labeling it as opinion...everybody does it. You can't write without putting your own feelings in there, and you don't identify it.

Ron Fournier represents much that is wrong our political media. His high-minded talk about informing the public masks his real values and motivations: using his journalistic platform as a venue to promote his own political views and maintain his own status and access. Yesterday, Fournier tweeted that "We're not [Holder's] confessors and advisers." I wonder where Fournier got such a strange notion about the relationship between the press and government officials?
Karl Rove exhanged e-mails about Pat Tillman with Associated Press reporter Ron Fournier, under the subject line "H-E-R-O." In response to Mr. Fournier's e-mail, Mr. Rove asked, "How does our country continue to produce men and women like this," to which Mr. Fournier replied, "The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight."
Apparently Fournier had no problem maintaining a buddy-buddy, off the record relationship Karl Rove. Although I'm sure that Rove was more than a little amused about how easy it is to manipulate egotistical reporters like Fournier who believe that government officials need his advice and support.

Fournier's right-wing bias has been well-documented.

FOURNIER IS AT IT AGAIN.... The latest piece from Ron Fournier, the AP's Washington bureau chief and the man responsible for directing the wire service's coverage of the presidential campaign, on Joe Biden joining the Democratic ticket, is drawing a fair amount of attention this morning. More importantly, McCain campaign staffers are pushing it fairly aggressively to other reporters, in large part because it mirrors the Republican line with minimal variation.

By choosing Biden, Fournier argues, Barack Obama is showing a "lack of confidence," and is siding with "the status quo."

At one point, McCain's people were so happy with Fournier's reporting they offered to promote him from right-wing media shill to actual Republican staffer:
Before Ron Fournier returned to The Associated Press in March 2007, the veteran political reporter had another professional suitor: John McCain's presidential campaign.

In October 2006, the McCain team approached Fournier about joining the fledgling operation, according to a source with knowledge of the talks. In the months that followed, said a source, Fournier spoke about the job possibility with members of McCain's inner circle, including political aides Mark Salter, John Weaver and Rick Davis.

Oh, and this:
Fournier was also one of the journalists who, at a gathering of the nation's newspaper editors, extended McCain a box of his favorite donuts ("Oh, yes, with sprinkles!" McCain said).
Sadly, reporters like Ron Fournier are all too common in the DC press corps. Who can forget the great (cough, cough) Tim Russert's admission:
According to Russert's testimony yesterday at Libby's trial, when any senior government official calls him, they are presumptively off the record.
The tension between national security and freedom of the press is an important topic and worthy of debate and discussion. But hacks like Ron Fournier shouldn't being taken seriously.

Fortunately, there are some excellent journalists working amid the detritus of our political media. Walter Pincus' recent piece in the Washington Post should be required reading for anyone who wants to opine on the AP "scandal." Here are some highlights:

Whoever provided the initial leak to the Associated Press in April 2012 not only broke the law but caused the abrupt end to a secret, joint U.S./Saudi/British operation in Yemen that offered valuable intelligence against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula...

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s initial comment to reporters last Tuesday that “it is within the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen” has been rejected. Journalists have heard that over the years.

This is different.

The AP was working on a story where lives really could be at risk. Also at risk were the relationships between U.S., Saudi and British intelligence...

The reality is that this is not a whistleblowing case. There are no heroes here, and the press in this instance was not protecting individuals trying to expose government malfeasance.

We need more journalists like Walter Pincus and fewer like Ron Fournier. Journalists who actually want to convey crucial information to the public, while respecting the necessities of national security secrets. Journalist who aren't obsessed with their own celebrity careerism. And we desperately need more common-sense truth tellers like Howard Dean.
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