Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Cost of Reporter Interference

Following on the previous post, I offer a little flavor for where certain reporters may be headed.

If the past ten years has taught us anything, we know that when the reporter becomes the story because of behavior that crosses bounds of professionalism, decorum and civility, it reflects upon the media in general and generates a blowback.

Connie Chung and Dan Rather had a show in the early 1990s that was widely perceived as pro-Clinton to the point of being dismissive of stories that would damage that Administration. The show didn't last long, and neither did Connie. She violated confidentiality and broadcast a remark by Newt Gingrich's mother which involved a very frank opinion about Hillary Clinton. Connie was gone.

Connie's erstwhile partner, Dan Rather lasted a decade longer, but irreparably damaged what was left of his reputation with an anti-Bush story that was based on forged documents, taking with him longtime producer Mary Mapes. And while that was quite harmful, his repeated and increasingly intellectually unsupportable defense of the story finished him off. When he ultimately declared that he believed the story despite the fact that the evidence was false, he belied a bias that prevented him from fairly and accurately reporting the news.

And as I noted last month, Helen Thomas, now more angry hag caricature than reporter, makes news when she offers that she is mad that the President passes her over in press conferences and threatened to kill herself if he won re-election (a promise about which we can only assume she was not serious, given that she is still apparently living).

And who could forget Eason Jordan, former CNN Chief News Executive, who hid evidence of Saddam's human rights abuses in order to have greater access to the Iraqi government. And while he kept quiet about those abuses, he manufactured a few others about Americans. He stated that American soldiers in Iraq were targeting journalists. It cost him his job and put a huge black eye on CNN for keeping him.

It is a very expensive mistake for a reporter to allow his or her bias or personality to become part of the story, and it is almost always a bad thing when the reporter is the thing reported. Because it's often bias that comes through, which tells the public that some of the people reporting the news can't be trusted to do so in a fair manner.

We'll see if David Gregory manages to grow up.


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