Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Raleigh N&O without its mask (Post 1)

The McClatchy Company’s Raleigh News & Observer describes itself as “fair and accurate.” It’s senior editors frequently tell readers the N&O adhers to the highest standards of journalism.

The N&O's public editor, Ted Vaden, “the reader’s watchdog,” is an enthusiastic N&O fan who often praises the paper's journalistic ethics which he likens to his own.

If you’re a frequent reader here, however, you know that since 2005 I’ve been documenting the N&O often shoddy, false, politically biased and racially inflammatory news reporting.

The N&O’s deliberately fraudulent and racially inflammatory coverage of the Duke Hoax and frame-up attempt in spring 2006 and its efforts since to cover that up exemplify the kind of “journalism” the N&O frequently provides readers.

But most readers aren’t aware of that. They buy into the N&O's “fair & accurate” meme and Vaden’s Sunday columns assuring them their reading a great paper.

It’s too bad those trusting N&O readers weren’t spending time at G. D. Gearino’s eponymous blog lately.

Here’s some of what they would have learned - - - -

On Sept. 5 Gearino, a career journalist and author who spent many years at the N&O as business editor and a columnist, posted: “The curtain pulled aside.” It included the following - - -

It’s common for a top editor at the N&O to send out an inter-office note most days celebrating the high points of that morning’s paper (as well as occasionally pointing out a lapse). Among the staff, those notes prompt a daily exercise in something very close to Kremlinology, as they are pondered and studied for clues as to which way the management wind blows.

Below is the note that was distributed to the staff yesterday, reprinted here as I received it. I will make no comment, lest I sway your judgment on what it reveals about the people who oversee the most influential newspaper in the state. But feel free to share your thoughts.

A few comments on some good work in today’s paper:

–A lively front page that gave our readers plenty to talk about.

Has the political right truly turned the corner and will cease to demonize opponents on so-called moral issues, or are we witnessing the boldest, most cynical, most hypocritical political spin in modern history? What is one to make of John McCain’s greeting at the Twin Cities airport yesterday of America’s most famous baby mama with a warm hug, and the apparent attaboy pat on the shoulder for the self-described “f***ing redneck” baby daddy? Are we now celebrating teenagers’ raging hormones?

The claims department feature (see 8a) is a great reader service. I would like to see more scrutiny of the “facts” in Sarah Palin’s speech last night.

Now to our local politicians….Is Kenn Gardner just an inept liar or a man so greedy that he doesn’t care whether we think he’s an inept liar as long as he gets paid?

–A newsy and entertaining Triangle&Co. front.

I’d bet that Barry Saunders is hearing a lot of amens this morning as well as feeling a lot of hate. Good. A columnist should stir ‘em up. Much of America may have forgotten, but the black community has a very long memory of Republicans demonizing black unwed moms. The black wire–radio and a growing black blogesphere–is crackling this morning with wicked “Juno” jokes. In general, black bloggers (wearerespectablenegroes.blogspot.com. A warning to the easily offended, the name is a big clue) are having a great time with the GOP show in Minneapolis.

–Lots of interesting people stories in the sports section about college athletes and the pros. For those following tennis’ sibling rivalry, Serena has gained a slight lead by beating older sister Venus in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

–Good, timely story–and an inviting headline (Life over breasts)– on the Life, etc. cover


Folks, Gearino’s post drew many comments on the thread which I encourage you to read as well as the comments on the threads of two Gearino follow-up posts I’ll link to further along in this post.

As for the ill-informed, disgustingly partisan email for a senior N&O editor, the paper made no comment in response to Gearino at his blog, at its own Editor’s Blog, or in its print edition.

On Sept. 11 Gearino posted: "Author, author." It included the following:

Let me clear up something: The internal memo sent out to the news staff of the Raleigh News & Observer, which I wrote about last week, was not authored by N&O editor John Drescher. Its author was Linda Williams, the senior editor for news. (I was one who misidentified Drescher as the author. I subsequently put an error alart and correction at my post and sent Drescher an email apologizing for my error. - - JinC)

It may come as a relief to some that an internal document so openly and unmistakably contemptuous of a major political party (the GOP, as if I have to tell you) wasn’t written by the top guy. If so, your sense of relief is misplaced. The N&O’s hierarchy has flattened a bit in recent years, but Williams could reasonably be said to be the No. 2 person in the newsroom. Don’t be deluded about this: The memo accurately and fairly reflects the attitudes of many of the newsroom’s managers and staff members. And I say that with the absolute confidence that comes with having read similar daily in-house memos for the 14 years I spent at the N&O.(emphasis added)...

Again, folks, there was nothing in response from the N&O although a number of readers were commenting about the matter at the Editors’ Blog.

On Sept. 15 Gearino posted: “This just gets better (and sadder).”

What follows here is the complete text of an email message I got from News & Observer senior editor Linda Williams, in the wake of two posts last week that brought into question the N&O’s public stance of non-partisanship. (You can see those previous posts here and here.) I publish Williams’ email at her urging, as you’ll see, and exactly as it was received.

What a sanctimonious, phony gasbag you are. Your recent posts are certainly revealing of your own utter lack of integrity. I recall an e-mail I received from you once in which you were praising me for a comment I made which you interpreted as being anti-liberal. I also recall that you sent that message to several people here at the paper.

Now you have seized upon a short commentary I made on how some of readers might discuss stories on our front page because of their own experiences to puff up your skinny little chest in outrage. Your interpretation was wrong then and it’s wrong now. But why the double standard?

I can only conclude that like so many of your ilk who cowardly rail from the safety of your keyboards that you have concluded that perpetuating the big lie is more lucrative.

I have absolutely no doubt that my professional integrity would hold up to any serious scrutiny of how I do my job. You’re shown during a series of inaccurate posts recently that you have no integrity, professional or otherwise.

Whether you choose to share this with your readers in its entirety will also shed light on your character.

( Folks, if you don't know the N&O, editor Williams ranting missives to the N&O's newsroom staff and Gearino may surprise you. My only surprise, and I suspect the only surprise of JinC Regulars and other intelligent people familiar with Williams and the N&O's newsroom "culture” is that the ranting missives were put in writing. - - JinC)

If it’s possible for something to be simultaneously both laughable and disheartening, this qualifies. It’s amusing because one rarely sees such unprofessionalism and over-the-top personal invective on display. (I’m considering having new business cards printed announcing my services as a “sanctimonious phony gasbag.”) It’s also funny to see someone who supervises a roomful of people sitting at computer monitors churning out copy by the minute express disgust with those who “rail from the safety of your keyboards.” You don’t encounter that kind of irony-laden cluelessness every day. . . .

But for all the amusement, it’s disheartening to realize that one of the top people at the state’s most influential newspaper doesn’t appear capable of forming a streamlined, logical response to an issue — much less understanding what actually unfolded last week.

The “interpretation” of Williams’ memo — which I printed without attaching any thoughts of my own about it, and also without identifying its author — came from other people who left comments on my site. Unanimously, they saw it for what it was: An unvarnished bit of snidely partisan opinion. The second post identified Williams as the author only because some readers had mistakenly concluded that the offending memo had been written by N&O editor John Drescher.

Folks, I'll be back saying more about all this tomorrow. Right now I just hope, if you're not already familiar with them, you follow the links to Gearino's posts and threads on which a number of journalists as well as thoughtful readers have commented.

Thanks to Gearino and others you have a chance to see the Raleigh N&O without its mask.

Previous post:

Raleigh N&O editor's blatantly partisan email (updated)


JF said...

This is an appalling insight into the angry mindset of a woman who many believe made some of the most disastrous decisions in the early days of the Duke Frame...most notoriously "shaping" Mangum's story so that it deleted anything that did not assist the racial metanarrative of "Sister Survivor."

Those of us who wondered for many, many months ...as we pressed Sill on the Editor's Blog...WHY would the local newspaper pursue such inflammatory and biased coverage...well, John, at last, we have our answer. This is an angry, insecure woman using her position as Editor to shape the news,promote those whose hues and views she shares and punish those she deems unworthy.

She is a disgrace.

She is the embodiment of the reason her employer is losing both money and the trust of the average reader. Williams and those like her have made the N&O into an untrustworthy rag, a high school slam book, authored by non-professional juveniles to "get" those they do not like. It is no more accurate or appealing than that.