I haven’t watched every new development in the firestorm over Post ombudsman Deborah Howell and her remarks about whether Jack Abramoff gave political money to Democrats. But just to recap: She made some sloppy and inaccurate remarks, which dovetailed, accidentally or not, with Republican spin. Then, instead of just correcting herself, she hedged, claimed it was a distinction without a difference and then tried to hide behind claims that it was simply a matter of poor phrasing.
It’s hard to be surprised, given the first episode with Howell last month.
But the whole blow-up has created this subdiscussion about whether honorable press types like Howell and others are being mauled and knocked around and generally abused by cyber-ruffians who have been on her case over the last few days.
This stuff isn’t always pretty. But, really, thank God those folks are on her tail because shoddy reporting isn’t pretty either.
So much of the imbalance and shallowness of press coverage today stems from a simple fact: reporters know they’ll catch hell from the right if they say or write anything that can even remotely be construed as representing ‘liberal bias’. (Often even that’s not required.) Indeed, when you actually watch — from the inside — how mainstream newsrooms work, it is really not too much to say that they operate on two guiding principles: reporting the facts and avoiding impressions of ‘liberal bias’.
On the left or center-left, until very recently, there’s simply never been an organized chorus of people ready to take the Howells of the press biz to task and mau-mau them when they get a key fact wrong. Without that, the world of political news was like an NBA game where one side played the refs hard and had roaring seats of fans while the other never made a peep. With that sort of structural imbalance, shoddy scorekeeping and cowed, and eventually compliant, refs are inevitable.
This is evening the balance, creating a better press.