Journalism Review Upset at The Washington Post for Covering Black Panther Story

July 22nd, 2010 2:22 PM

New Black Panther Party logoThe ongoing controversy surrounding the actions of two members of the New Black Panther Party at a Philadelphia polling place during the last presidential election has become increasingly less about facts and more about opinions. The mainstream media ignored the story for so long, basically giving Fox News exclusive rights to deliver the story to a mass audience and now they’re incensed over Fox’s coverage.

On Sunday Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander wrote “Indeed, until Thursday’s story, The Post had written no news stories about the controversy this year. In 2009, there were passing references to it in only three stories” and “For months, readers have contacted the ombudsman wondering why The Post hasn't been covering the case.” Alexander’s column prompted a response by Joel Meares in the Columbia Journalism Review. His point was that Fox News’ coverage cannot be trusted because of the channel’s alleged conservatism and, in a nice example of ideological bigotry, that the story is not worth being covered because conservatives are interested in seeing it covered.

He wrote “The story has been mostly told online and on TV by those whose political shadings have dictated the angle, and the content” and questions The Post’s motivation in publishing something its readers apparently want to read:

Alexander does not even mention or outline who these readers are who have been inundating the paper with requests for more coverage. Are they genuinely concerned Post readers miffed that they’re missing the story? Or—and we can’t help feeling this is more likely—are they the Fox viewers and @SarahPalinUSA followers he mentions in his cursory paragraph on the ideologies driving the story?

This is leftist arrogance at its finest: how dare The Washington Post, the paper that brought down boogeyman Nixon (not true, by the way), do something that pleases their readers—and may even bring them new ones? How dare the huge amount of Fox News viewers and Sarah Palin’s 200,000 Twitter followers read the sacred Washington Post? It’s sacrilege, nay blasphemy, for a conservative to read The Post.

“Does the campaign of a highly motivated and hyper partisan group warrant the ombudsman’s call for more coverage from a newspaper traditionally above the fray?” wrote Meares, before linking to Media Matters’ (sourceless) coverage of the story and quoting its assessment of J. Christian Adams, the Department of Justice lawyer who brought the story to Fox’s attention.

The truly disheartening thing about Maeres’ piece—and indeed something seen often among liberal commentators—is the use of the poisoning the well fallacy. Instead of answering allegations with facts or bothering to care about the issues, the commentators question motives and affiliations. Hence instead of being concerned about Congressman Bob Etheridge (D-NC) possibly committing criminal assault on two students, Dave Weigel and Reliable Sources want to know if the students worked for Andrew Breitbart; instead of being concerned that The Daily Caller’s JournoList revelations show determination by journalists to suppress a story harmful to the candidate they favored and make slanderous attacks on his enemies, Mediate’s Phillip Bump instead focused on the openly non-objective Daily Caller being non-objective.

Maeres chose to question the motivations of the people who want The Post to cover a controversial issue; and cited Media Matters For America to do so. He also used their sourceless report to question the motivations and affiliations of J. Christian Adams. Notice that Maeres does not question Media Matters’ motivations in covering the story and if Fox News’ coverage can be dismissed out of hand because of an alleged conservative ideology, surely so can the coverage of the self-described  progressive Media Matters.

Moreover, what about Maeres and the Columbia Journalism Review? What ideologies are in play there? If we should question the credibility of Fox News’ coverage on the basis of ideology than we need to know what ideologies they hold.

But all of that distracts from the real issues at hand and transforms what facts there are into dueling opinions when all people really want to know is why the Department of Justice dropped the case. The controversy surrounding the media coverage has overwhelmed the controversy of the Justice Department possibly not enforcing the law and the controversy of a hate group’s presence in Philadelphia.

The assertion that the story is neither credible nor newsworthy because of the ideology of the people covering it is a low and underhanded move, making it impossible for anything productive to happen and ignoring the fundamental principle that truth is truth regardless of who says it.