Brad Friedman, the New York Times, and the Need for News Quality Standards

February 24, 2010

I met Brad Friedman in January 2008 at a journalism conference in Santa Cruz, California, where I was promoting the idea of a Good Housekeeping-style "seal of approval" for journalists.  The idea, now promoted at as a “News Quality Rating System,” is to provide online readers with some measure of bloggers' accountability to ethical journalistic standards.   Not all writers are journalists, and not all journalists are created equal, and I thought then (as I still do today,) that it would be helpful for people to cut though the chafe to the wheat of genuine news reporting.

Friedman, the venerable investigative reporter at, bristled a bit at the concept.  It seemed like a good idea, overall, but he said, "Why just bloggers like me?  Why not the New York Times?"  I had to admit that he was right.  

What I didn't know was that he was prescient.
In recent days, a battle has escalated between blogger Friedman and NY Times public editor Clark Hoyt, over the "paper of record's" reporting on the now infamous story by James O'Keefe, purporting to reveal that ACORN employees had advised O'Keefe, dressed like a pimp, with his pretend girlfriend, Hannah Giles, posing as a prostitute, how to avoid paying taxes on her night time income.  

Two problems with that story.  Friedman's careful examination of the transcript of the unedited ACORN video showed the non-profit's employees had actually advised Giles she had to pay her taxes.  

The second, more ingrained in the American psyche (thanks to You Tube) was of a ridiculously pimped out O'Keefe strolling into ACORN offices, promoting the idea that ACORN dealt with people in like get ups everyday.   But that image was a creation of careful video editing;  O'Keefe actually dressed like an everyday college student for the hidden camera set up.  His partner in pseudo journalism Giles admitted as much on videotape,  and O'Keefe's erstwhile employer Andrew Breitbart was also forced to so admit last week at CPAC.

But the New York Times refuses to correct its coverage about the pimp costume, even though it has called O'Keefe's reporting unethical.  In a letter to Bradblog, Public Editor Hoyt says, "the story says O’Keefe dressed up as a pimp and trained his hidden camera on Acorn counselors. It does not say he did those two things at the same time."

A blog comment on this brought a smile to my face.   "Just because I write 'I got drunk and took my kids for a car ride' doesn't mean I did them at the same time." No, no, of course not.  Why would anyone think that?

Now Hoyt accuses Friedman of having a political agenda, and at the same time, a petition has cropped up online asking the Times to correct its reporting.  

It's fun to watch.

But it does bring back the idea of the benefit of some kind of metric for readers to understand journalistic standards.   On a scale of one to five, I'll give Bradblog five stars, the New York Times two, and O'Keefe...  well, maybe a jail term.


Boycotting Beck on Fox "News" - an Issue of Credibility

 February 16, 2010

     What started as a Twitter campaign by a lone law school student in Madison Wisconsin has morphed into Glenn Beck's worst nightmare:  advertisers are dropping him like flies, and his show in the UK does not have even one advertiser.   Still, thanks to the power of News Corporation, the show goes on.

     It started on July 2, 2009, when Angelo Carusone began a campaign called , Tweeting his followers to pressure companies to stop advertising on Beck's FOX News TV program.  It was a maverick journey, but not for long:  on July 28, 2009, Beck told his legion of viewers,  Obama "has a deep seated hatred of white people."  That's when Color of Change, the largest African American online political organization in the country used its muscle to target Beck with its own campaign.  To date, 285,000 people have signed onto the CC campaign's petiton to call on advertisers to drop Beck.  

     Within three months, Fox News' Glenn Beck Show had lost 80 advertisers; that number has now grown to 116.    The only advertisers remaining on Fox News in the US are purveyors of gold, Rupert Murdoch owned organizations like the Wall Street Journal, the State of Utah, and ironically, Murdoch's Direct TV competitor, Dish TV. 

     StopBeck's Carusone then took it a step further, targeting UK sponsors of the Glenn Beck Show in the United Kingdom.  Brits apparently take their sponsorship PR seriously; for the past six days running, not a single company has purchased ads on the Glenn Beck Show.  Instead, Rupert Murdoch's Sky News now runs in timeslots previously sold to advertisers. 

     Fox still shows no sign of abandoning their populist hero; how shareholders will react to lower earning reports remains to be seen.

     Beck's cable TV ratings, in the US at least, continue to rise.  His FOX News viewership of 617,000 (as of Friday Feb 12, according to,) is second on cable only to Bill O'Reilly's 713,000. 

     While StopBeck and Color of Change tout victories over Beck in TV land, Beck's radio show continues to thrive unabetted.  Carusone is trying to boycott companies that advertise on Beck's radio program, which garners 9 million listeners, nearly 15 times his TV audience, but is finding the terrain more difficult.  Whereas companies like Best Western and Kraft are senstive to their logo being visibly associated with Beck on FOX News, "radio sponsors have a right wing agenda going in and don’t really care" about a negative association, says Carusone. 

     Color of Change campaign manager Dani McClain says that targeting the show on Fox News is important, precisely because it is Fox "News."  "Fox News says they are a news organization.  When people tune in, they should have the expectation of getting real news, not misinformation, distortion of truth and race baiting."  Executive Director James Rucker adds that this is an issue of credibility.  "When you have so many mainstream companies, from AT&T to Walmart, who don’t want to be affiliated with Beck, it strips Beck's ability to position himself as mainstream.  Could all these companies possibly be in the pocket of the left?"

Get the Message?

February 3, 2010 

Last Friday, many Americans witnessed a rare bit of political theater when President Obama addressed the GOP Retreat in Baltimore. By insisting that live TV cameras be allowed into the exchange, the President took his one opportunity to take control of his message in full view of the public, calling out the GOP on their lies and dirty tricks, and challenging them to tone down their rhetoric so Washington could focus on issues rather than the next election. Headlines burst from newspages: "Extraordinary!" "Remarkable!" "Historic!" The GOP instantly regretted their decision to allow cameras. It was a big moment for Obama to get his message out; but how many more will he get?

CSPAN, CNN, and MSNBC ran and reran the discussion.  But FOX News chose not to show the actual exchange at all, instead choosing to "characterize" it for their audience, editing an hour and twenty minutes into a few meaning-twisted soundbites, prompting Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman to confront FOX CEO Roger Ailes about his network's "deliberate misinformation" Sunday on ABC's This Week.

It is doubtful that FOX, the "most trusted news network" according to Public Policy Polling, will ever stop misinforming the public; doing so would interfere with the GOP message, and he who controls the message controls the masses.

Messaging is the new buzzword on Capitol Hill. For three days, the President has been using the bully pulpit to take his message to the people, first at the GOP retreat, next at a town hall in New Hampshire, today at the Senate Democratic Caucus.  He understands he must reach the American public with the facts.  Still, Fox News and more importantly, Talk Radio will not allow their audiences to hear the unvarnished truth.

“I just can’t understand how the President lost the message,” These the words of Cokie Roberts on ABC News’ This Week January 24. Before Christmas, Roberts, on the same program, said “I think if people understood what was in the healthcare bill, they would really like it. But the Democrats aren’t getting the message out."

As shown in Public Interest Pictures' media reform documentary Broadcast Blues, the reason Democrats have not succeeded in getting their message out is that the GOP, while complaining about a non-existent "liberal media," has for a generation created a Right wing media juggernaut which excludes facts and debate. And while Inside the Beltway pundits recognize the cheerleading power of cable TV's FOX, they have not yet recognized the messaging forest through the talk radio trees.

As Danny Goldberg, one time CEO of now defunct Air America Radio wrote for Alternet, the power of talk radio is the problem for Democrats and Democracy.
"One-hundred-thirty-eight million people commute to and from work in automobiles, where they have no access to computer or TV screens. For around a third of them, or 48 million, AM talk radio is their entertainment of choice. Of the top 10 AM talk radio shows, nine are hosted by extreme conservatives, giving the right wing a captive audience of around 40 million listeners a week—at least seven times greater than the combined audiences of Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. Talk radio's audience dwarfs that of every other category in the news political arena, including the network news and Sunday shows, NPR's public affairs shows and political Web sites." 

And what did talk radio listeners hear about the Obama/GOP exchange? King Rush bellowed, "Obama lies! He's delusional! This business that he 'inherited a $1.3 trillion budget deficit' is a lie. It's a lie through and through." (Except, of course, it isn't. Government statistics are clear. But who will the 15 million people who heard Rush's message, but not the President's, believe?)

Consider, also, that talk radio reaches into every corner of the country: every home, car, barber shop and garage can tune in to free AM radio and hear Rush and Glenn and Hannity and Savage. But few of those little corners get to hear Thom or Ed or Randi or any liberal perspective, the corporate radio owners see to that. And remember, these are places that, because of the digital transition, no longer get free TV. But they get free radio (just not free speech.)

Conservatives understand that new government policies could undermine their grip on the public airwaves, and are mounting attacks to maintain it. The right leaning Heritage Foundation recently put out a "National Survey on the Obama Agenda." Under the heading "Free Speech," they ask, in push poll fashion, "Do you believe that President Obama and/or Congress will take action to destroy conservative talk radio?" (As if a popular billion dollar industry could just go away.)

But today, there is new evidence that the Obama administration does understand that talk radio is the road to the message. On his Organizing for America website, the President is asking people across the nation to research talk radio: to focus on three pre-identified radio shows, determine whether they are political, what language they are in, and whether they take callers.

What exactly will Obama do with that information? Restore aspects of the Fairness Doctrine? Rewrite the 1996 Telecommunications Act? This much is certain: he has broken through the right wing messaging juggernaut once; it is a safe bet he's on the road to do it again.