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Friday, September 14, 2012

Beldar on Patterico on Crawford (updated)

My excellent blogospheric friend Patterico has posted an articulate defense of CBS News reporter Jan Crawford, who's being accused of having been caught on tape coordinating with other mainstream media reporters their questions for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney about the current Middle East turmoil. He fairly summarizes the particulars of the accusations, so I won't repeat them here.

Jan Crawford of CBS NewsLike Patterico, I'm a long-time fan of Ms. Crawford's — see, for example, my 2007 review of her book on the Supreme Court and its Justices — although I don't have the personal acquaintance with her that he has. In the interest of further disclosure, I should also perhaps mention again that I briefly represented Ms. Crawford's current employer, CBS News, in a Fifth Circuit defamation appeal back in the mid-1980s, although I'm no longer at the same law firm which CBS hired then, and certainly since my participation in Rathergate I have had no expectations that they'd ever hire me again.

Patterico and I agree entirely, I think, that Ms. Crawford's body of work over time has earned her a great deal of credibility — far too much to discount it all to zero over one incident.

But his defense goes far beyond that, and you really should read the whole thing there on his blog.

My two contributions to the lively comments on his post were as follows (combined and reprinted here without blockquoting, and slightly edited for clarity):


In general I share our host’s good opinion of Ms. Crawford. This episode doesn’t outweigh everything else she’s done which I admire. But I emphatically do not admire this episode, at least in its murky outlines.

That those outlines are still murky is her fault. She needs to explain if she wants to salvage the good reputation she earned. That people are critical is no excuse whatsoever for her failure to do so — unless one thinks cowardice is a virtue.

And I think the vehemence of the reaction is in large part due to the fact that we expected better of her than this, and we’re concerned that this unguarded glimpse actually represents the common reality instead of an exception.

I also don’t at all share Patterico’s view that the campaign press pool’s “coordinating questions” is okay in the abstract. It’s emphatically not okay in the abstract or in the concrete, it’s collusion designed to script and therefore limit and channel the American political dialog. It’s a very, very fundamental breach of journalistic ethics, and if abstracted and universalized would make a mockery of the entire concept of the “Fourth Estate” as a watchdog of our liberties.

It’s no accident that we metaphorically speak of the “marketplace of ideas.” The members of the press corps who are allowed continual access to our major-party candidates are repositories of our collective trust, but they aren’t supposed to act collectively themselves. Instead, we rely upon them, and their questions to the candidates, to reflect, in broad terms, the interests of the electorate in all its diversity and peculiarity.

If the candidate takes ten questions of ten different reporters, presumably each of those ten reporters will have considered what’s previously been asked before asking his own, to avoid wasteful duplication. Among them, they should manage to fairly inquire about not just the “consensus” issues, but some of the outliers too.

What Crawford appears to be caught on tape doing is the journalistic equivalent of price-fixing. That’s hard to prove in the marketplace of commerce or the marketplace of ideas, but occasionally there’s the proverbial “smoking gun”: the memorandum agreeing that next quarter’s steel output will be limited and prices fixed, the revelation that there’s a JournoList, or here, an open-mike snatch of conversation which dispels all pretense of journalistic independence of thought or action.

If the question is genuine, and genuinely important, there should never be any more need to coordinate its asking than there is for manufacturers to coordinate the price of steel.


UPDATE (Sat Sep 15 @ 2:20am): Patterico has a follow-up post. He argues persuasively, with links and quotes, to establish that after the Cairo embassy's statement, the sequence was:

So: a) Crawford attacks the embassy’s statement; b) Romney issues a similar statement; and c) Crawford does a fair report that portrays Romney in a positive light.

I've no quarrel with any of that. He continues:

Now, I can understand people arguing that any discussion among colleagues about what they are going to ask a candidate is somehow illegitimate. I disagree, but that argument is not outside the realm of reasonableness.

But portraying Crawford as some nasty member of a liberal cabal, while it might feel satisfying, is, in the end, an unnecessary attack on one of the good ones.

I agree completely with the second paragraph of that, and that's by far the more important paragraph.

I'd quibble with the first. I don't think anyone contends that "any discussion among colleagues about what they are going to ask a candidate is somehow illegitimate." I think that misstates the issue rather badly. The issue is instead, I believe, whether it's ethical and appropriate for journalists to negotiate and mutually agree that they should construct or conform their questions in a particular manner. These reporters are supposedly competitors of one another; all should be trying to ask unique and brilliant questions so that they and their employers will be relatively more successful in the marketplace of ideas and, therefore, in the marketplace of commerce. Instead, they're engaged in a secret plan, quite literally a conspiracy, to ensure that Mitt Romney will look bad so that Obama will be reelected.

Patterico argues, again — and again with merit — that it sounds from the tape as if Crawford was trying to exercise a moderating influence on the rest of the press corps' reflexive hostility to Mitt Romney. Again, I agree entirely with that.

But her job isn't to be a moderating influence as a participant in a fundamentally corrupt and fraudulent exercise. After this private discussion, she went on with business as usual, when an ethical journalist would, I contend, have made the story of the day: "Press corps conspires to coordinate hostile questions to Romney."

Is it entirely possible that CBS would have promptly fired Crawford if she'd made that the story of the day? Yes, I think so. But Crawford presumably knew their history when she took the job; perhaps she's made a Faustian bargain, blinkering herself to her colleagues' unethical behavior as the necessary cost of admission to the club. 

Patterico's conclusion is one I can also cheerfully endorse, and do:

Again: the so-called “coordination of questions” issue is fair game for reasonable minds to differ. I don’t see it as a huge deal, but I can respect someone who argues to the contrary. I’d like to see Jan address that issue, frankly.

But I think it’s unfair to write off this reporter as part of a liberal conspiracy to undermine Romney, when she seemingly agreed with his position, and portrayed it fairly and in a positive light. I hope this post makes people rethink such a position. Because Jan Crawford is not the enemy. She just isn’t.

Yes, I'd like to see her address this, too. But I'd rather she blew the whistle on this kind of stuff.

Posted by Beldar at 09:45 PM in 2012 Election, Mainstream Media, Politics (2012), Romney | Permalink


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(1) nk made the following comment | Sep 15, 2012 2:40:30 AM | Permalink

"Faustian" is a little bit on the hard side. Settle for "gottawork"? Lady needs to pay the rent and grocery bills? Men have it easier homeless on the street than women.

(2) nk made the following comment | Sep 15, 2012 2:43:48 AM | Permalink

BTW, the second word on your spam filter is exactly how I see out of my right eye.

(3) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 15, 2012 6:34:03 AM | Permalink

Surely, nk, someone as talented as Ms. Crawford could find employment after CBS that's at least as remunerative as Dan Rather's. After all, in my hypothetical in which she's a whistleblower, she'd have been fired for being honest, not put out to pasture for being dishonest and getting caught at it.

I'm being snarky, but I am sure there is an enormous institutional pressure on her, and on others like her, to conform — which means putting a political goal above professional ethics. Perhaps it's not feasible anymore to be both successful at a big network news organization and honest. But I'm not quite yet ready to believe that, and I'd be disappointed if she did.

I also acknowledge another counterargument that could be raised against mine: "Press corps conspires to coordinate hostile questions to Romney" would be very much a dog-bites-man story if the mainstream media reported truthfully about itself. But the MSM doesn't, so this story is not.

(4) DRJ made the following comment | Sep 15, 2012 9:15:54 AM | Permalink

I agree. Patterico's argument is essentially that conservatives should applaud Crawford for trying to surreptitiously and minimally rein in her fellow liberal reporters, instead of revealing and reporting on the bias she probably sees everyday. (By the way, if she is trying to be a moderating influence, either she's doing a lousy job or the media is even more liberal than anyone imagines.)

From a personal standpoint, I understand she doesn't want to lose her job or her professional standing in a media that is dominated by liberals. So I won't applaud Crawford for being weak but I feel sorry for anyone who lives and works in places where this is what passes for conservative courage.

(5) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 15, 2012 9:38:02 AM | Permalink

Another counterargument to mine occurs to me: As stage-managed questions go, this one was surely weak sauce. Like most "beating your wife" questions, its argumentative premise is pretty obvious. This is indeed a conspiracy of dunces. But that's no defense, and small mitigation.

(6) anewrinkle made the following comment | Sep 15, 2012 8:53:55 PM | Permalink

I listened to the tape several times. I heard no one trying to reign in the others. No one. They were all acting like middle school bullies and should be ashamed of themselves. At this critical juncture of our history with an important election in the balance, with embassies burning, ambassadors being assassinated, petty and deliberate questions solely intended to insult and bully someone are inexcusable.

She at the very least owes Romney and her audience a sincere apology. She is at a level of her career where professionalism should be second nature. She and her participating colleagues need to go back down to the bush leagues until they grow-up. They were acting like indulged, pampered bullies, not ethical journalists, stop making excuses for them!

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior is only the tip of the iceberg, given the quality of reporting I see from the liberal media. This group JUST GOT CAUGHT! If she is the kind of person you describe, she would have already given that apology and given serious thought to her behavior, her values, journalistic ethics and her professionalism.

(7) curious made the following comment | Sep 16, 2012 1:11:11 AM | Permalink

Isn't she the same reporter who was surprised when Romney told her there were differences between the federal and state governments?

(8) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 16, 2012 2:35:01 AM | Permalink

@ curious (#7): Not to my knowledge, and I would not believe such a report. Why would you make such an accusation without a link, or a date, or a quotation, or something to support it?

(9) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Sep 16, 2012 5:50:43 AM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: For what it's worth, I have a vague memory of Romney in Spring 2012 having to argue around a reporter who couldn't seem to grasp the distinction between the states and the feds in re Romneycare v. Obamacare, but be hanged if I can find it. Don't remember who the reporter was, either.

I don't agree with either you or Mr. Frey on this issue. The notion that all it takes to get on Patrick Frey's good side is a drink makes me snort. When Mr. Frey stops making his nasty cracks about, say, Radley Balko, his opinion will carry more weight.

I think both of you miss a vital point when Frey sez "Crawford is not the enemy." What does that mean:

a) Crawford is not the enemy because she's a conservative or

b) Crawford is not the enemy because she tells it like it is and does her best to dig out the news.

Given Frey's relentless attacks on the press, I think he means "a." As a practical matter in 2012, this isn't so bad. Most journalists are a good bet to be liberal bigots these days. But if that ever changes, Frey's viewpoint will be a distinct liability. I don't want journalists to be either liberals or conservatives. I want them to be Valiants-for-Truth, something that can be quite difficult in execution, and takes all the stamina and skill a reporter can muster. I haven't read enough of Crawford's reporting to judge that well. I did read her book which was quite instructive, not least because she did her best to get to the bottom. So my overall impression of her before this incident was favorable. Then came the tape. I've listened to it several times. It is certainly unsettling. To be fair, reporters have to deal with flacks in the manner of Axelrod, Carville, Gibbs, Steve Schmidt, Mike Murphy. Dealing with such notorious spinners should breed a certain determination to get past all the spinning these vermin do, not least because so much of what they say is sub rosa (remember how McCain's 2008 campaign staff did more damage to Sarah Palin than any single journalist did?) So the tendency to plot strategy is understandable, and may be necessary. But given the notorious climate of liberal bigotry in the press today, I don't think giving her a pass is in order. Does Crawford have to justify herself? No. Do we have to believe she's not a liberal bigot? No, the more so because she associates herself daily with crowds of visible liberal bigots. It may be as you say that such association is part of the devil's bargain a journalist has to pay for access to platforms these days. Certainly if she quit CBS and set up shop as an independent, she'd take a huge hit in income, and her work would suffer in quantity as her access would likely decline.

But that's her concern, not ours. She doesn't have to justify herself, we don't have to believe her.

Meanwhile one lesson is clear: stand Patrick Frey a drink, and if you are female, bat your eyelashes at him, while you denounce the latest LA TIMES editor. All will be well at Pontifications after that.


Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(10) Insufficiently Sensitive made the following comment | Sep 16, 2012 10:12:58 AM | Permalink

But I'd rather she blew the whistle on this kind of stuff.

And I also. And until such collusions cease to be routinely considered the norm, my animus against MSM groupthink and bias remains white-hot. They're not reporting news, they're maliciously herding public opinion.

(11) DRJ made the following comment | Sep 17, 2012 9:30:12 AM | Permalink

Mr. Koster,

You are mistaken about Patterico's opinion and motives regarding Crawford. He believes Crawford because she has a history of even-handed Supreme Court reporting, plus he's met her and she brought the same attitude to their personal discussions. Like Beldar in this post, I can attest to Crawford's fair and even-handed legal reporting and that is what resonates with Patterico, not her eyelashes.

(12) ech made the following comment | Sep 17, 2012 12:44:28 PM | Permalink

If the candidate takes ten questions of ten different reporters, presumably each of those ten reporters will have considered what’s previously been asked before asking his own, to avoid wasteful duplication.

Every press conference I have listened to is the opposite of this. The same questions get asked over and over, especially by TV reporters. I think that one of the reasons is so that the reporters can get air time, they want the candidate/government official answering their version of the question so that they get screen time. "Look the big shot answered my question on the issue of the day! Isn't our news organization the best - we ask the tough questions on the issue of the day!"

(13) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Sep 17, 2012 9:05:27 PM | Permalink

Dear DRJ: Many thanks for your response. You could be right that I am mistaken. But I don't think I am mistaken in my belief that what I see with my own eyes should count for more than testimonials. You say that Mr. Frey is impressed with Crawford's reporting and that is what resonates with him. You don't say if Mr. Frey has told you this personally, or if this is hearsay i.e. Superior Wisdom. My own limited reading of Crawford's reporting and more of her book, would tend to back this up.

But all that is called into question by the "open mike" incident. True, it's incomplete, with many parts indecipherable. But it doesn't look good. It looks like liberal bigotry. I don't buy the notion that Crawford was trying to ensure some fair coverage for Romney, if only because it was such a flat failure, with the same 200 proof liberally bigoted questions being asked again and again. If Crawford thought she could stop liberal bigotry from happening, she certainly failed. A detailed explanation would be in order, but I haven't seen one. Nor do I expect to. One that would satisfy folks like you, Mr. Frey, Mr. Dyer, and me would get her fired and ostracized. Hence,I don't expect an explanation.

Another point. You say that Mr. Frey is impressed with Crawford's reporting. Well, I'm impressed with Radley Balko's reporting. Not Frey. He blasts Balko regularly, in a manner that in the eighteenth century would have had the seconds rolling their eyes and saying, OK, what weapons do you want? It's true he has praised Balko from time to time, but so grudgingly that he might as well kept silent. Why the difference? It isn't the caliber of the Crawford v. Balko reporting. While these two reporters don't often overlap, it's my belief that both are able, capable reporters. Mr Frey (and Mr. Dyer, I think) have both discounted Balko as being too close to defense lawyers, without specifying examples ( might have missed such specifications.) Ms. Crawford's attempt at news management is on record, full of ambiguity it's true, but enough to leave me full of doubts. To my mind, the case so far against Crawford is much stronger than that against Balko. Ergo, I don't think much of Mr. Frey's defense, which boils down to "trust me."

Final point: no one has yet responded to my question, perhaps because I haven't made it explicit enough. So, once more:

Reader, do you think that Crawford is a good reporter because:

a) she's "conservative" i.e. her views closely follow your own or
b) because she appears to try to follow the truth, often a dam tough task, and is willing to go to great lengths to find it or
c) both a and b.

For me, Crawford has always been a b. But this incident calls that status into question, ergo she falls in my estimation. I'm not likely to accept Mr. Frey's vouching for her, precisely because of the way he's treated Balko: long on pyrotechnics, short on detail and calm reason, let alone admissions against interest. So Crawford goes into the same file that John Roberts went into when he wrote the Obamacare decision. The nominee who piously proclaimed that judge should be an umpire, not a legislator, fooled everybody right up to the moment when the decision came down. I don't see how any conservative could ever rely on him again. I don't think roaring and blasting him will help, but he certainly isn't trustworthy. So too with Crawford, Frey endorsement notwithstanding.

If this isn't pulling the topic too far astray, I'd like to hear why you think Crawford is a good reporter: a b or c. Or some other reason I haven't mentioned.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(14) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 18, 2012 2:34:00 AM | Permalink

Mr. Koster, Radley Balko is a bit far afield of this post's original topic. Here's an example of an occasion on which I believe my differences from him were spelled out pretty clearly. Search engines may take you to some others, here and probably also on Patterico's and Mr. Balko's own blogs. My respect for Mr. Balko is genuine but limited, and I think he tends to be reflexively anti-police and anti-prosecution in most of his writing. On the particular subject of capital punishment as practiced in Texas, I think he's completely unhinged and, indeed, quite offensive. Beyond that, let's leave Mr. Balko for another day.

I know a great deal more about Chief Justice Roberts than I do about either Ms. Crawford or Mr. Balko, though. Although I disagree with both his reasoning and result in the Obamacare case, I continue to believe that he is a very fine Chief Justice. But again, that's beyond the scope of this post.

As for Ms. Crawford, I believe I've been adequately clear in this post and its comments both on why I have previously held a high opinion of her and why this incident concerns me. I don't know whether Ms. Crawford is or isn't conservative in her personal politics, and that hasn't played any part in either my general opinion about her as a journalist or my evaluation of this troubling incident.

(15) Milhouse made the following comment | Sep 18, 2012 11:43:22 PM | Permalink

if abstracted and universalized would make a mockery of the entire concept of the “Fourth Estate” as a watchdog of our liberties.

Excuse me? That concept always was a joke. How many people who call it that can name the first three estates? We don't have three estates in this country, and we don't have a fourth one either. The press has never had a constitutional role, and its pretensions to one have never been anything but chutzpah.

(16) DRJ made the following comment | Sep 20, 2012 9:08:45 PM | Permalink

Mr. Koster,

My earlier point is that I think you are mistaken about Patterico's motivations. I think he would tell you he believes Jan Crawford "tries to follow the truth ... and is willing to go to great lengths to find it." I also believe Patterico considers Crawford a neutral and knowledgeable legal analyst and, as a result, he thinks conservatives should keep an open mind regarding her participation in the Romney press conference story.

However, you seem to have conflated my point regarding Patterico's views (that are based on my long-term familiarity with him as a blogger, not on any inside knowledge) with a separate point. Specifically, you seem to believe that I agree with Patterico that Crawford's past history as a neutral legal reporter should influence our opinion of her political reporting. I don't.

It's true I agree with Patterico and Beldar that Crawford has been a neutral and knowledgeable legal analyst and reporter. However, I don't think she has demonstrated neutrality in her recent efforts as a political reporter, and I don't believe Crawford's ability and fairness in legal reporting means she will necessarily bring those same qualities to her political reporting. In addition, Crawford's actions prior to/at the Romney press conference make me question her neutrality and motivations. And while I'm trying to keep an open mind, her failure to address this subject is not reassuring.

Finally, with regard to Balko and Patterico, they've had their disagreements over the years but one thing I've learned is that they don't need others to fight their battles, and I'm not going to do so here.

(17) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Sep 23, 2012 12:59:56 AM | Permalink

Dear DRJ: As our genial host has cleared his throat in #14 above, I think brevity is my best bet. This acknowledges I've read your 16, agree with portions, disagree with others. I'll let it lie there, adding only I am sure of how DRJ, Dyer, Frey and Koster are going to vote for Prez on 6 November. Would that I could multiply those names by twenty million.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(18) curious made the following comment | Sep 24, 2012 11:35:40 AM | Permalink

Here is the link regarding my question at #7. Sorry it took so long but I have had some internet connection problems and then forgot about my post. She really did express surprise as I said.

(19) curious made the following comment | Sep 24, 2012 11:38:30 AM | Permalink


(20) curious made the following comment | Sep 24, 2012 11:42:38 AM | Permalink

Forgot link and tried to post it and it didn't appear. Trying again.

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