Deb Howell, hard-hitting Whiffle-bat ombusdman of the Washington Post, has finally gotten around to addressing the concerns raised about the paper’s Nov. 26 front pager, "Foes Use Obama’s Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him." These concerns centered upon the fact that the story was total bullshit. Obama has no "Muslim ties" and the idea that the Post was putting an entire story on the goddamn front page based entirely on paranoid wingnut bigotry was pretty freaking embarrassing.
So thank Christ for Howell, who has a well-deserved reputation for pouncing on any inane crap published in her newspaper with all the fierceness of a de-clawed kitten sick with gum disease and the flu. Howell admits that the story had its faults:
My problems with the story by National Desk political reporter Perry Bacon Jr. and the headline… were that Obama’s connections to Islam are slender at best; that the rumors were old; and that convincing evidence of their falsity wasn’t included in the story.
A minor detail, that — the absence of any "convincing evidence." But I suppose we can forgive that little oopsie. For, as Howell hastens to assure us, "there was no deliberate ‘smear job,’ as some readers charged." Whew!
Of course if we were feeling uncharitable we might observe that for all practical purposes the effect of the Post passing along a smear job based on rumors is just as bad as the Post deciding to launch a smear of its own. A smear is a smear is a smear, but a smear given sidewise legitimacy by the Washington Post — now, that’s a successful smear, as any student of the 1990s anti-Clinton lunacies could tell you.
But the joys of Howell’s column don’t end there. For openers, Howell didn’t actually get any comments from Bacon, the author of the story, but from his editor, Bill Hamilton. Bacon was presumably too busy digging for new material in the Townhall comments sections and Howell, always the soul of tact and discretion, didn’t want to bother him. Hamilton though sure does give a convincing rebuttal to the story’s critics:
"I’m sorry it was misunderstood," he said. "It obviously makes me think about how I edited it. It seemed to me the story made clear that Obama was not a Muslim but that the campaign was having trouble contending with people spreading that rumor. I thought that in this context saying it was a rumor meant it wasn’t true, but clearly some people didn’t see it the same way. The Post has a responsibility to confront seemingly credible rumors and that was one of the reasons for the story….
"Reasonable people can disagree on this. But the people I have heard from are not reasonable. What I find especially disheartening is the idea that our motives are simply assumed to have been malicious."
To which I cheerfully respond, with utmost civility, "bite me." I don’t care about his motives, or Bacon’s, frankly: I question their judgment and intelligence and inability to understand his basic fucking job description. "Reasonable people" know that the stories about Obama in the madrassa were nonsense from the start. Hell, as Howell herself manages to note, even Howard Kurtz was able to pick up on the crapitude of this story, and Howard Kurtz is a smarmy little two-faced dipshit.
This is not trivial stuff, either. America’s major media outlets are supposed to be telling the truth, not laundering politically motivated rumormongering by invoking some halfwit concept of "balance."
A lazy press fascinated with "rumor" as much as news is insanely dangerous. How many Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11? How many Americans told Rasmussen that despite last week’s NIE blockbuster they are still convinced Iran is working on nuclear weapons? Answer: too goddamn many, much to the delight of wingnut maniacs across the Internets. A harsher indictment of our major news media, I can’t even begin to imagine.
But then, if screwing up on Iraq so miserably didn’t get the WaPo to get its "sophisticated political reporters" to rethink what the hell they’re doing, then what will? The only thing that even makes them blink seems to be impolite emails. Lots of dead people, meh, irate bloggers, oh noes! That’s fascinating, right there, in a totally sickening sort of way.