After we devoted a decent amount of column space last week to dissecting AP reporter John Solomon’s series of pieces on Sen. Harry Reid, a number of readers wrote in to ask what I thought was up. There were all sorts of theories — some reasonable, others more outlandish. So I thought I’d weigh in on my sense of this.
First off, I don’t think the issue is bias per se. I strongly suspect the issue is oppo research. And let me explain what I mean by that.
There’s nothing wrong with a reporter picking up a story from an opposition research shop, at least not in itself. (To think otherwise is to have a wholly unrealistic sense of what motivates tipsters. Almost all of them have some agenda or axe to grind. It’s just not always a clear partisan one.)
Republicans dig up stuff about Democrats and vice versa. Not infrequently they find out stuff that really should get published. The key is that you don’t just take something some oppo researcher hands you and run it under your byline. How it should work is that you take what they’ve found and you report it out yourself. If it really is a story and it all checks out, then the underlying facts aren’t tainted just because they were unearthed by an interested party.
Unfortunately though, and as you might suspect, that’s often not how it works. And without naming names, there are some high-profile reporters out there — whose bylines appear with the imprimatur of very distinguished news organizations — who’ve developed a reputation in the business (and particularly among oppo researchers) for being easy marks for oppo research drive-by hits.
Actually, ‘easy marks’ probably isn’t the best word for it. Since it’s not that they’re naive or easily taken in. It’s more like the Mikey kid in the old Life cereal commercials: They’ll eat anything. More to the point, they’ll launder the oppo research into print with the spin, deceptive ordering or suppression of key facts intact.
Now, I have no specific knowledge of how the Reid reporting came into existence. But based on some relatively detailed background knowledge of the players involved I strongly suspect this is how it all came into being.
If you want to know more about this, I strongly recommend reading this 2004 piece by Josh Green in the Atlantic Monthly with a specific attention to the bylines of the hit articles Green discusses. It’s very revealing.