Comforting the Comfortable, Ignoring the Truth

Its not very often that I have a Pulitzer winner criticize a blog post I wrote. But since that is what occurred this weekend, I suspect it might be a good time to respond to some outstanding issues concerning journalism, new media and the press.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist at the Miami Herald. This weekend, he published a piece titled Truth: It’s a big deal. Somebody (I didn’t see it, so I don’t know if it was Pitts himself) then discussed this on CNN. The column is a tortured attempt to make it appear that I said the “Truth is no big deal,” when I said nothing of the sort.

Putting aside the irony of someone whose commitment to the “Truth” begins with a vigorous defense of Roger Ailes for a moment, let’s take a closer look at the brouhaha.

Pitts commentary is off base, and contains numerous factual inaccuracies. First off, I did not, as Pitts implies, say “Truth is no big deal.” Consider misstating a sentence about (capital “T”) Truth even more irony.

As I wrote last Sunday, I was chatting with someone who stated that Roger Ailes had canceled to be the keynote speaker at their conference. According to this person, Ailes’ people blamed it on an imminent indictment – ostensibly on felony charges of obstruction of justice (see Roger Ailes to be Indicted).

This was precisely what it appeared to be. Me passing along words from someone who appeared to be hearing these things first hand. As the post made it clear, it was a credible piece of information about a public figure, and so I repeated this discussion.

That is the truth of what occurred, and it is what I posted on this blog.

In the hierarchy of journalism, I don’t know if you would call this exactly a formal piece of investigative reporting. Rather, I repeated what I heard informally, from someone I determined to be a credible person. It seemed like an accurate piece of information from a person whose knowledge of the facts – Ailes canceled an appearance to speak – was first hand. On the grand scale of journalism, I would place this above a tweet, but below the Pentagon Papers.

Note that on this blog post, I never suggested that this was inside dope from a prosecutor’s office, nor was it implied that anyone in law enforcement was associated with this discussion.

If I were writing in the NYT or WSJ or the Miami Herald, where Pitts’s column appears, that is what would have been required before publishing such a statement. That is what the formal rules of MSM journalism requires. But Blogs do not have those rules – and probably could not work if they did – and so do not adhere to this standard.

The reach, recognition and official record of the MSM does follow these standards, and they should. For this, they are accorded greater credibility.

At least, they used to get that benefit of the doubt. There are far too many examples of the mainstream media either missing the big story or simply getting it wrong; it is a large reason why blogs exist – to fill the void that the MSM left as they slashed budgets for experienced reporters and gave up on long form investigative journalism. That is a topic perhaps best saved for another day.

As regular readers of this blog know, I endeavor to uncover the truth about markets, the economy and Wall Street that the MSM regularly overlooks or gets wrong. I try to verify what I write where possible. And as my track record shows, I am right far more often than wrong about such things.

But speaking of the rules of journalism – when Justin Elliott of Salon was curious as to the origins of my blog post, he emailed me. I wrote back, we spoke on the phone, I told him what I knew (including a few things off-the-record that I could not say publicly). And as he reported my attitude in writing the post was “passing along what an informed person had said.”

Leonard Pitts Jr. could not be bothered with such trivialities. In his rush to “comfort the comfortable” about this heinous violation of the rules of journalism, he could hardly be bothered to follow them himself. Some will defend this omission as unnecessary, as his column is commentary (but blog posts apparently aren’t).

My read of his Miami Herald piece defending Ailes was straight up disingenuous commentary; I guess he was trying to capture a little internet lightning in a bottle. Then again, I am not objective.

I do manage to agree with Pitts about one thing right – his headline: Truth: It is a big deal. But in his mangling of what I wrote, Pitt reveals it is not really a big deal – at least not to him.

Speaking of truth: I went to his Miami Herald page as well as the Miami Herald archives (1982 – Current) to see what else Mr. Pitts has written about Roger Ailes.

If you were interested in defending the truth, then chief of Fox News must be a pretty big target of some of your columns, right?

Only . . . not so much.

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