Froomkin in the balance?
Post political editor John Harris responds to the Froomkin-Howell smackdown and confirms that he too is unhappy with Froomkin's column. While he doesn't think Froomkin's column should be abolished; he does think it's name should be changed.
"We do not want to spike his column--or at least I don't," says Harris. But he does believe it's name should be changed and that it should be clearly labeled as opinion.
His reasoning is that Froomkin is consistently critical of the White House and is thus either 'liberal' and liable to being perceived as 'liberal'. That would not be acceptable for a Post White House reporter. And in as much as people might be confused that Froomkin is one of the Post's White House reporters, that is a problem because it threatens the journalistic crebility of the Post's White House reporters.
As I said yesterday, I think this argument is mistaken on several points. So I won't repeat myself on those grounds. And I think that the focus on this question with all the rest of what is amiss with journalism today is revealing in itself.
But I was struck by this article in Editor & Publisher today in which Len Downie, the Post's Executive Editor says that he too believes that Froomkin should be forced to change the name of his column and have it more clearly labeled as opinion.
But look at just what he told E&P ...
"We want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion," Downie told E&P. "And that readers of the Web site understand that, too."
Here I think Downie has revealed more than he intended.
His primary concern appears to be what the White House thinks; what the paper's readers think is secondary.
I really don't think that's a strained reading of his words, is it?
Now consider this. Every White House is the finest of connoisseurs of political news coverage. They know the run-down on every reporter, their biases, their particular topics of interest, their track records, how to flatter them, everything. That's just what a White House press operation does. They're in the business of managing the media and they get all the information they can. (And here I'm not talking about 'enemies' list' sort of information; just who the different reporters are, what their beat is, etc.)
Is the White House really confused by Froomkin's column? I assume they know he's not a White House reporter, right? What's the confusion exactly? As I wrote yesterday, I really don't think that many people who've read Froomkin's column could seriously think he's a beat reporter at the White House or that he's not writing an opinion column. But certainly the folks at the White House know this.
So what's Downie's concern exactly? Is this just a case of the Post being overly sensitive to White House mau-mauing? I'm not sure the argument against Froomkin's column has been quite worked out. I think another sort of concern, a less attractive one, remains unstated.