Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple has cried foul against a New York Observer article titled “The Tyranny and Lethargy of the Times Editorial Page." Wemple is right that this article by Ken Kurson is loaded with negative attacks from anonymous Times “insiders,” but stops short of saying this is exactly what the Times (and the Post) do to politicians they don’t like. (See the Vicki Iseman debacle of 2008.)
But perhaps the funniest part is after finding “17 problems” with the Observer article, he writes he cannot find any problem with people finding columnist Thomas Friedman is a tiresome blowhard:
Excerpt No. 6: “One current Times staffer told The Observer, ‘Tom Friedman is an embarrassment. I mean there are multiple blogs and Tumblrs and Twitter feeds that exist solely to make fun of his sort of blowhardy [bull-expletive].’ ”
Problem No. 8: Eh, no real problem here.
This is some of the Observer article’s Friedman passage:
Particularly strong criticism, to the point of resentful (some might say jealous), was directed at Thomas Friedman, the three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize who writes mostly about foreign affairs and the environment.
One current Times staffer told The Observer, “Tom Friedman is an embarrassment. I mean there are multiple blogs and Tumblrs and Twitter feeds that exist solely to make fun of his sort of blowhardy bullshit.” (Gawker has been particularly hard on Mr. Friedman, with Hamilton Nolan memorably skewering him in a column entitled “Tom Friedman Travels the World to Find Incredibly Uninteresting Platitudes,” as a “mustachioed soothsaying simpleton”; another column was titled “Tom Friedman Does Not Know What’s Happening Here,” and the @firetomfriedman Twitter account has more than 1,800 followers.)
We might suggest a rookie Friedman observer to see Friedman's using the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings to decry the lack of a carbon tax.
Wemple called out how the Observer decided to “corral a bunch of cowards who’ll speak in colorful and unnamed ways about Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal.” He later cited that “According to the Washington Post standards, ‘We should not publish ad hominem quotations from unnamed sources. Sources who want to take a shot at someone in our columns should do so in their own names.’”
Wemple should look inside his own building and recall what the Post did to Gov. Rick Perry on their infamous “Niggerhead” attack in 2011. They used seven anonymous sources to imply Perry was a racist, one of the most damaging charges you can lob at a politician. Wemple should reread what Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander wrote in 2010:
For decades, ombudsmen have complained about The Post's unwillingness to follow its own lofty standards on anonymous sources. Readers, who care about the quality of The Post's journalism, persistently object to anonymity they see as excessive and incessant. The problem is endemic. Reporters should be blamed. But the solution must come in the form of unrelenting enforcement by editors, starting with those at the top.
There's evidence The Post's use of anonymous sources is growing. The phrase "spoke on condition of anonymity" has appeared in an average of 71 stories a month through May -- slightly higher than in the same period a year ago. This year, it has appeared more than 450 times (stories often include multiple anonymous sources). And that doesn't include all of the anonymous sources described in other ways. For example, those ubiquitous unnamed "senior administration officials" have been quoted more than 130 times this year. Post rules urge that when sources are granted anonymity, readers be told why. But in more than 85 stories this year where sources "spoke on condition of anonymity," there was no explanation.
This might explain why the Post decided having an ombudsman was just too expensive a luxury to keep (roll eyes now).