Joe the Journalist, Palin's Whining and Other Media Developments

Joe the Plumber is reporting about the Israeli-Hamas fight for the conservative web site Sarah Palin again whines that she's a victim of news media sexism, class discrimination and accusations of diva-ness while getting her facts wrong. Again.

With apologies to Vlad Tepes, does anyone have a wooden stake and a mallet?

Joe the Plumber is reporting about the Israeli-Hamas fight for the conservative web site Sarah Palin again whines that she’s a victim of news media sexism, class discrimination and accusations of diva-ness while getting her facts wrong. Again. I won’t even get into the resurrection of Cincinnati’s Ken Blackwell as candidate for RNC chairman except to say that he and “Sarah Oh-Twelve” would be a Democrat’s dream.

Journalists complain that Joe (aka Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher) mocks our trade. Hardly. Not when Bono has a New York Times op-ed column, Sean Penn writes about Fidel Castro and Ugo Chavez in The Nation, Matt Lauer does faux political interviews on NBC’s Today Show and Katie Couric anchors CBS News. Joe’s a minor annoyance compared to Judith Miller, Jayson Blair, Mike Gallagher, Janet Cooke, Mike Barnicle, Mitch Albom, Jack Kelley and others who weren’t satisfied with facts. They were stars until they fell.

Palin’s kvetching promotes a DVD, Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected, by conservative talk show host/filmmaker John Ziegler. Palin whines that Caroline Kennedy’s run at Hillary’s Senate seat gets more sympathetic coverage than her campaign for the vice presidency.

I don’t what they read up in Alaska, but news media are full of hostile critiques of Kennedy’s qualifications and initial unwillingness to be interviewed. Her initial encounter with reporters provokes snarky comments about her inability to complete a thought without mind-numbing repeated reliance on “you know?”  

Kennedy coverage dwells on her efforts to control interviews, her wealth, connections, relations (father JFK, uncles RFK and Ted) and even her entertaining style over dinners. If anyone has interviewed a cosmetic dentist about her smile, I’ve missed it, but I’ll bet she flosses.

Palin still is angry with Katie Couric and CBS, where Palin botched her national news media debut after being isolated by the McCain crew. Palin demonstrated embarrassing ignorance on subjects for which she should have been briefed.

Rather than admit she was ill-prepared, Palin says of Couric’s criticism,  “Katie, you’re not the center of everyone’s universe.” Actually, Palin’s unscientific understanding of the universe led the Alaskan to believe that it revolved around her.

Again angry about news media attention to her family, Palin forgets that questions about Trig’s parentage reached the national news media only after McCain’s campaign reported daughter Bristol’s pregnancy to refute bloggers’ rumors that Trig was Bristol’s child.

DVD-maker Ziegler tells The Washington Post that Palin was "very concerned about appearing whiny" before his 50-minute sit-down at her Wasilla home.  “Also, she wondered about the media portrayal of her as ‘a diva or a whack job.’ ”

He forgets that “diva” and “whack job” came from McCain aides, not reporters, and their hostility was campaign news.

Palin also complains that Couric and  Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey are “capitalizing on” and “exploiting” her. Uh. McCain and the GOP didn’t?

“I did see that Tina Fey was named entertainer of the year and Katie Couric’s ratings have risen,” Palin says. “And I know that a lot of people are capitalizing on, oh I don’t know, perhaps some exploiting that was done via me, my family, my administration. That’s a little bit perplexing, but it also says a great deal about our society.”

Any assertive woman in public life risks being called a “diva.” It comes with gender. Not fair, but not uniquely Palin’s burden.  

Maybe it’s characteristic of diva-ness to forget facts, blame others for one’s failings and attribute reporters’ failure to swoon to sexism and class prejudice?

Curmudgeon Notes

• Recently, I read the Tacoma News Tribune managing editor’s response to allegations of bias in her paper’s Gaza coverage. Coincidentally, the New York Times ombudsman pursued a similar effort in counting and measuring. Both veteran journalists found little evidence of bias — that is, choosing sides — in content, display and number of stories and photos. Partisans typically reject such responses, largely because they don't accept our trade’s broad definitions of newsworthiness, objectivity, active avoidance of bias, accuracy, truth, etc. Can you say “spitting into the wind”?

• I’m sympathetic to foreign journalists stuck outside Gaza where Egyptians and Israelis bar or limit their freedom to enter the combat zone. Most wait in Israel; it’s more comfortable. That also means that most TV images rely on proximity to nearby Gaza City from Israel: clouds of smoke and debris from Israeli attacks. Nothing from daily Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli communities can match these visuals and Palestinian casualty figures. 

• However, the massed media in Israel has its cost to us. Where are stories about Cairo’s refusal or failure to wave through sufficient medicine, food and other necessities at Gaza’s southern border with the Egyptian Sinai? Where are stories about Egypt’s control of access to tunnels used to smuggle arms to Hamas in Gaza? Why do journalists call Egypt a peacemaker when smuggled rockets wouldn't reach Hamas without Egyptian complicity? There also seems to be no detail of Israeli actions overlooked by the international news media. This must be painful to Israelis and their supporters, but it’s the price they pay for press freedom unlike Egypt has ever known. Even the Israel Defense Force restrictions on journalists are more closely reported and protested than those of Egypt. The other side of this, however, is the ease with which journalists can interview multilingual Israelis, something Gazans cannot match. 

• If isn’t among your bookmarks, that’s a mistake. This Arab satellite network’s people are in Gaza. I value Aljazeera because of its perspective. London’s daily Independent is to carry Al Jazeera English TV updates on That’s great news because few U.S. cable/satellite companies carry Al Jazeera.

• Robert Fisk, the Independent’s Beirut-based reporter/columnist, tells fellow critics of Israel to quit drawing analogies to World War II when talking about Gaza. It’s not a concentration camp, and Israel’s attack isn’t genocide. Equally pointed are his sharp reminders of who won’t call the World War I deaths of Christian Armenians in Muslim Turkey “genocide” or recognize the complicity of some Arabs/Palestinians with Hitler before and during World War II. In short, there are no clean hands in Fisk’s world: “What this is really about is international law. It's about accountability. It's about justice — something the Palestinians have never received — and it's about bringing criminals to trial. Arab war criminals, Israeli war criminals — the whole lot. And don't say it cannot be done. Wasn't that the message behind the Yugoslav tribunal? Didn't some of the murderers get their just deserts? Just leave the Second World War out of it.”

• reports how bloggers manipulate credulity to misrepresent Internet images from Gaza. One video supposedly shows the aftermath of an Israeli air strike. “Palestinians with their limbs blown off lie slumped on the ground. Others are clearly dead. The soundtrack — sirens, shouting, groans — is almost unbearable,” The First Post, a new and independent web news site, says. The gore is real. However, on Sept. 23, 2005, it says that BBC reported “the video shows the aftermath of an accidental explosion of Hamas' own weaponry at a rally in a Gaza refugee camp in September 2005.” Another video supposedly shows Hamas murdering insufficiently Islamic Gaza wedding guests for the “crime” of singing and dancing. Quoting August 2007 Reuters and Jerusalem Post, The First Post says no one was killed when Hamas broke up the wedding party because it involved rival Fatah officials.

• Consider adding to your bookmarks. It’s another new, independent and privately financed site promising international coverage beyond breaking news. GlobalPost’s perspective and primary audience are unapologetically American, as are the two founders, a veteran reporter and a veteran cable news exec.

• Do we count the weeks of post-election coverage as part of Obama’s news media honeymoon or did it begin Jan. 20? Dogs. Fashion. Basketball. Smoking. Blackberry. First Day of School. First Mother-in-Law. Such relaxed scrutiny anticipates inaugural afterglow, and it would be churlish to do otherwise while so many Americans feel good about the symbolism of the first black/biracial president 239 years after British soldiers made black/biracial Crispus Attucks the first casualty of the America Revolution.

• When will reporters stop climbing on the inaugural train, swapping happy stories for access, and when will editors quit waiving skepticism out of fear of being accused of scrutiny not applied to white presidents during their first weeks or months in office?

• An Enquirer editor mishandled the Associated Press story about a young black man shot dead on an Oakland, Calif., commuter train platform. Only the eighth paragraph explained it was a Bay Area Rapid Transit cop, not an Oakland officer. If that’s how the AP wrote it, The Enquirer should have moved that vital fact to the top. Few readers get to the eighth paragraph of any story. The shooter’s identity mattered to understanding the absurdity of subsequent riots and efforts by Oakland’s hapless mayor to stem the violence. NPR was worse: A broadcast by a young Oakland contributor never mentioned transit police. We know about the Oakland shooting because of camera phones and YouTube. As a news tip it ranks with the amateur (old technology) videotape of Los Angeles police beating Rodney King.

• A recent Enquirer page 1 was a model of Publisher Margaret Buchanan's restated commitment to local news. All of the major stories were by local business reporters: an alleged software scam, major bank suspected of improper or illegal payments and historic change in airport terminal use. Even the national story was “local”: a 1869 Red Stockings baseball card found in California shop.

• A Sunday Enquirer Local Life front page shows big isn’t better. The headline and photo took up the entire top of the cover page. You’d think someone flew into the Carew Tower. No, it was a grieving mom’s complaint about 911 response when her estranged husband took their toddler daughter.

• Journalists relish others’ typos, unintentional double-meanings and other gaffes, aware that ours also will end up in colleagues’ collections. Sunday’s Enquirer had more than enough howlers of the kind that journalists savor and Columbia Journalism Review and The New Yorker republish. A Letter to the Editor praised flight attendants’ crash and burn training, saying they “take it very seriously and constantly live in fear that it may not ever happen.” I don’t think so. Or this headline from Local Life: “Doctor plans to make house calls from cabin, brewery.” He’s a veterinarian, and the story doesn’t say he plans to make house calls. Then there’s this from the same Local Life cover: “Parents can add potentially lethal medical misinformation to the list of risks teens face on MySpace and other social networking Web sites...“ Yes, they can, but please don’t.

CityBeat colleague Kevin Osborne scooped The Enquirer on the corporate announcement that Enquirer employees are among an estimated 31,000 nonunion Gannett workers who must take unpaid five-day furloughs in the next months. This follows the buyout and firing of roughly 20 percent of Gannett’s employees last year. Meanwhile, Enquirer sections, pages and staffs are shrinking and a small tabloid paper is foreseeable.

• Some reporters covering Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s legal problems don’t know the basics. Stories often refer mistakenly to an “indictment.” Kathleen M. Brinkman, a retired federal prosecutor practicing here with Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, says, “You are right about the media regularly using inaccurate terms to describe what is happening in the criminal justice system. ... The governor has been charged with a federal felony by means of a criminal complaint, not an indictment, and has been arrested based on an arrest warrant issued by a judge as a result of that complaint. ...  My sense is that (prosecutor Patrick) Fitzgerald would not have sought the arrest warrant by complaint and would have waited to indict the governor, but the court-ordered wiretap overheard that a possible crime was in progress — selling the Senatorial seat — and Fitzgerald felt he had to act to prevent a corruption of the appointment. His investigation was not at a point where he was ready to indict, so he filed a complaint and got an arrest warrant to stop the possible crime.” Meanwhile, Brinkman says, Fitzgerald is using a court-granted extension of time to pursue an indictment.

• Bitchiness isn’t gender defined. When Obama visited The Washington Post, pool reporter Helene Cooper from The New York Times wrote that “Around 100 people — Post reporters perhaps? — awaited PEOTUS's arrival, cheering and bobbing their coffee cups.” (POTUS is shorthand for President of the United States. She added E for Elect.) A cheap shot because Obama refused a preinaugural interview at The Times? The Post’s Howard Kurtz responds, “For the record, eyewitnesses say these were just onlookers from nearby buildings.” Then he continued, “Cooper ... wrote that Obama arrived ‘at 1:57 pm at the nondescript Soviet-style building at 15th and L street that houses The Washington Post.’ All right, it's no architectural prize, but at least we haven't had to mortgage our headquarters like a certain Manhattan-based newspaper.” That’s the financially troubled Times.

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]

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