November 17, 2007

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Dick Feagler Explains Why Blogs Exist, and Are Important

Not that he meant to.

I’m going to resist mightily the urge to tie this post on Dick Feagler’s Wednesday Plain Dealer column into the now-dormant Wide Open. Tim Russo, who has every justifiable reason to be angry at the paper, has done that already, and, no offense to the other three fine bloggers who were on the Wide Open team, though I definitely miss it, the whole thing is so two weeks ago.

What Feagler revealed is far more important than the spat with the PD. It gets to the very heart of journalism’s failure, why blogs exist, why many news consumers pay attention to them (in fact, feel that they must), and why they matter.

I really want to admire guys like Dick Feagler (and the relatively few gals, back in the day). Their telephones, steel trap memories, and Rolodexes were the “databases” of that era. They worked, and their modern counterparts still work, in an underpaid, underappreciated job that, when done correctly, is something you don’t clock out of, and can go crazy in the blink of an eye. The Dick Feaglers used the old-fashion tools and applied the old-fashioned work ethic to do their jobs as best they could. Their successors are typically doing the same, with better tools.

But that avoids the real question: What was, and still is, their job?

Feagler makes it clear, at least from his perspective, that what journalists (or “newspapermen,” as he prefers) thought, and still think, their “job” is, totally differs from what you and I, John and Jane Public, think it is. It also completely varies from what we have a right to expect.

You doubt? Read this key excerpt from his column:

Riding with a candidate on a cold night in November, you can say to him: “Answer this question for me and I won’t quote you. I’ll quote myself and pretend I don’t know what you’re thinking.”

You get a lot of insight that way, through the back door.

But to get it, you have to earn trust. Trust that he knows you won’t blow his cover.

Did it ever occur to Dick Feagler that candidates, politicians, executives, bureaucrats, and others with power, responsibility, and the public trust aren’t entitled to have “cover”?

In Feagler’s world, a newspaperman doesn’t “blow the cover” of people he or she trusts, or likes, or respects. Conversely, I have to believe, if it’s someone not trusted, liked, or respected, it’s bombs away.

This is a problem. A serious problem.

It’s an article of fact, not just faith, that America’s newsrooms have been, and still are, skewed ideologically, and heavily, to the left. It’s somewhat understandable why this would be the case. It’s also possible to argue that the obvious ideological imbalance isn’t relevant, if you could somehow be confident that journalists approach and deal with those they don’t like in the same manner as those they do. Ideology wouldn’t matter as long as they don’t play favorites.

But Dick Feagler has, in essence, just admitted that he has played favorites, and it doesn’t seem to bother him one bit.

He believes that he shares this mindset with his peers. I don’t doubt him for a minute.

The public expects journalists to play it straight, regardless of their ideology. A sizable plurality, if not a majority, probably still thinks they do. Dick Feagler just inadvertently acknowledged that he and his peers don’t, and that’s okay by him. People, or groups, who are trusted, liked, and respected, plus, in this PC-mad world, people who “should be” trusted, liked and respected, get “cover.” Others don’t. The only thing that slightly mitigates the situation for the non-liked, non-trusted, and non-respected is a human desire to be among people with power and influence. That has usually not amounted to much.

Dick Feagler’s and his colleagues’ world view explains a lot of things. Here are just a very few:

  • It explains how we got the phony “Camelot” of JFK, instead of the actual serial womanizer.
  • The desire to “cover for” the powerful is the only reasonable explanation for how an incumbent-rigged Hamilton County (OH) GOP candidate endorsement process could be exposed, with documentary proof, and totally ignored.
  • It explains how one now-convicted Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation investment manager, whose losses have mostly if not entirely been recovered, is among the most-recognized political names in the state, while another now-convicted manager who lost hundreds of millions of dollars that aren’t recoverable remains a virtual unknown.
  • It explains how Columbus’s mayor, lightly if at all reported, can abuse his office, commit likely violations of campaign-finance laws, and play favorites in city development deals with apparent impunity.

It’s a pretty cozy relationship “newspapermen” have had with the people they covered for lo these many years. Bloggers and others in New Media, from the guy who proved the Rathergate documents fraudulent, to the New York City alternative paper that broke the Air America-Gloria Wise scandal (noted here by Michelle Malkin; her external link to the Bronx News no longer works), to the tech guy who outed the anti-military animus and delusions of CNN’s Eason Jordan, to the guy who insisted that a new imam (apparently a member of a “should be trusted” group, despite contrary historical precedent) might not deserve the free pass he was getting from the local paper, have blown away much of that coziness.

I think this is very good, and very long overdue. Dick Feagler clearly does not:

Bloggers. Have they ridden with a candidate in the middle of the night? Have they covered the murder of a young girl lying dead in the grass but looking as if she’s sleeping? Have they covered anything?

Or do they merely spew opinions and Google? Once, you had to pay dues in this business. Give me one good reason why we should let the bloggers off the hook.

No, Dick. We “cover” plenty of things, but the better ones among us, who have paid plenty of dues in life, unlike you and your colleagues, try not to “cover for” anyone. And given what happened here and here, you guys should really consider using that there Google tool and related ones every once in a while.

Oh, and one more thing — While Feagler, and apparently most other Northeast Ohio “newspapermen,” were busy making sure not to “blow the cover” of those they trusted, liked, and respected during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, those trustworthy, likable, and respectable people for all practical purposes stood by and/or caused this:

ClevelandPop1960to1990

Give me one good reason why we should let Dick Feagler, David Briggs (original imam whitewash item here), Robert Smith (follow-up semi-whitewash here), and their colleagues off the hook. (Briggs and Smith links added on Nov. 18 — Ed.)

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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ALSO: It’s more than plausible to think that the Feagler-”newspaperman” approach is a factor in why Joe McCarthy got taken down, and why it has taken over 50 years to straighten out the historical record and almost fully rehabilitate him. M. Stanton Evans’s “Blacklisted by History” virtually completes the rehabilitation, to the point where mendacious reviewers are saying things like “Oh, we knew that already.”

Some journalists of the era clearly liked, trusted, respected, and were taken in by people who were later proven to be communist infiltrators. Of course, a few journos were also later proven to have been fellow travelers.

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UPDATE: In response to concern in a comment about the accuracy of McCarthy’s nearly-full rehabilitation, here is the primary editorial review at Amazon of Evans’s book:

Evans’s lively book seeks, first, to demonstrate that Communists worked, often successfully, to undermine American security during the Cold War. It tries, second, to defend Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the egregious scourge of American Communists and fellow travelers, against those who, in Evans’s (The Theme Is Freedom) view, have unjustly ruined his reputation. On the first point, save for some new details, Evans, a contributing editor to Human Events, treads worn ground. Most scholars, having also used Soviet archives, concede his position and argue now only over secondary matters, like the guilt of Alger Hiss. On the second point, Evans has a tougher case, which he seeks to make as a defense attorney would: by conceding nothing to McCarthy’s detractors. Evans is also given to conspiracy thinking—an approach that, by its nature, yields claims that can neither be confirmed nor falsified. Defense attorneys and debaters like Evans follow different rules than historians—they try to score points, not to advance knowledge. Evans is good at the former, his propulsive style carrying much of the argument’s burden. But the history Evans relates is already largely known, if not fully accepted.

Translation of the bolds: McCarthy was largely right, but many won’t acknowledge it. That doesn’t change the fact that he was largely right. Pass the word to academia, if you dare.

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14 Comments

  1. Feagler’s nonsense raises my blood pressure whenever I’m in Cleveland and read his tripe.

    Comment by largebill — November 17, 2007 @ 2:01 pm

  2. #1, I didn’t know his reputation preceded him.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 17, 2007 @ 2:26 pm

  3. The fact-based analysis of this post in and of itself makes the case for ‘Why Blogs Exist’!

    Comment by Porkopolis — November 17, 2007 @ 8:11 pm

  4. Reporters have to build trust by allowing for off the record conversations, but Feagler is taking it a step farther and sounds like he enjoys being far too chummy with certain politicians. And he says all of this very casually, as if it’s perfectly acceptable.

    Comment by Matt N. — November 17, 2007 @ 11:28 pm

  5. #3, Thanks.

    #4, Exactly.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 17, 2007 @ 11:54 pm

  6. I know you’re not making the argument that you don’t play favorites (clearly not the case), but it struck me while reading this that you are no better than Feagler really. In fact neither am I or any of us who blog. Most likely even worse.

    I note you leave out several cases where the media appeared to have given cover to the right, and on things with much more dire consequences than any you mention. WMD ring a bell? Visions of nuclear weapons programs in Iraq or mobile bio-weapons labs? The urgency of invading a country that did not have a presence of Al Qaeda until we arrived? The oft repeated myth that Iraq and 9/11 were somehow related? Where were you and the other “right of center” bloggers in holding this to account? Busy giving cover.

    I take serious issue with Feagler’s assumption that none of us ever “rode with” any of the people we cover or saw any background ugliness. Plenty of us have. Plenty of us make calls. Plenty of us get scoops. Plenty of us “rode with” those we write about. Plenty of us know more details than we care write about.

    Where you and I depart is this notion that journalism ever was or ever will be “objective”. Neither will blogging. You prove this on a daily basis. It’s up to the reader to decide and luckily the reader now has more and more options. But let’s not think for a second that there ever was or would have been any objectiveness. There are just more kids in the sandbox now. And some are throwing it around.

    Comment by Eric — November 18, 2007 @ 10:59 am

  7. #6, Bundles of straw men.

    The post is about how people are treated, not subjects chosen. Your second paragraph is thus not germane, not to mention full of baloney from beginning to end. The lib press self-flagellation over their “misses” while relegating things like Al Qaeda’s routing from Baghdad to near invisibility (NYT last week, Page A19) provides much ongoing entertainment, however.

    I don’t expect total objectivity. I expect imperfect humans to make every effort at fairness and balance. I often question whether you even try, and am pretty confident that if in his position you would waltz right in step with Feagler by covering for those you trust, like, respect, while firebombing those you don’t. Hello Cleveland.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 18, 2007 @ 11:41 am

  8. [...] BizzyBlog takes issue with Feagler on journalism and points out something not everyone caught the first time.  That taking Feagler at his word means that Journalists don’t print what they know, and what they do print is different than the reality. [...]

    Pingback by NixGuy.com » BizzyBlog vs. Feagler on Journalism — November 18, 2007 @ 7:46 pm

  9. [...] NixGuy on BizzyBlog on Feagler (Tom – I can’t remember if I linked to that post or not so here’s a bonus in case I did already) [...]

    Pingback by Wide Open afternoon delight | Writes Like She Talks — November 19, 2007 @ 3:00 pm

  10. Uh, I’m a journalist who was with you nearly all the way to the end, except for when you endorsed Joe McCarthy. You lost credibility there, big time.

    Comment by Bradley J. Fikes — November 21, 2007 @ 2:29 am

  11. #10, All I can say is that between Coulter’s book “Treason” a few years ago and the new one by Evans I mentioned, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I added an update to help you out.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 21, 2007 @ 6:16 am

  12. I’m afraid we’ll simply have to agree to disagree on McCarthy and Coulter. But I do agree that journos need to learn more about bloggers, rather than ignorantly dismiss them. Take a look at the group blog I write for (at my link) and see what you think.

    Comment by Bradley J. Fikes — November 21, 2007 @ 11:04 am

  13. #12 Bradley, I have visited the Swamp. We definitely agree on Sabato being a hack disguised as an expert:

    http://bizzyblog.com/?p=3261

    Comment by TBlumer — November 21, 2007 @ 11:23 am

  14. Thank you for visiting. BTW, I am less optimistic on the economy than are. I’m also a business reporter. I trust you’ve seen the clobbering Countrywide is taking. Read this for more info. pay special attention to the chart of mortgage rate resets.

    Comment by Bradley J. Fikes — November 21, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

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