I have been watching with interest as Boston University journalism professor Christopher Daly gets raked over the coals for criticizing a Washington Post reporter who wrote a story about Barack Obama’s ties to Islam without sufficiently observing that those ties are non-existent. So, far, though, I’ve refrained from writing about it.
And I’m going to remain in the shallow end of the pool, at least for now. I’m heading up to New Hampshire to cover a Giuliani event for the Guardian, and I don’t want to make the same mistake that Daly did: committing pixels to screen without giving it quite enough thought.
Still, I am amazed at the amount of vitriol Daly has received, including a scorching note from Post executive editor Leonard Downie taking the legendary Jim Romenesko to task merely for linking to Daly’s missive. Today, the dispute makes the New York Times, which is why I’m taking note of this now.
If you’re interested, here are a few links that the Times doesn’t give you:
- The original Post story, by Perry Bacon Jr.
- A critical column by Post ombudsman Deborah Howell
- A short item I posted in which I endorsed a withering critique of Bacon’s story that had been published at CJR.org
- Daly’s critique and a follow-up he wrote in response to the attacks he received
- Downie’s letter to Romenesko (scroll through letters for other posts, both attacking and defending Daly)
- Two very tough anti-Daly posts by journalist Seth Mnookin (here and here)
My quick take: Bacon’s story was already under heavy attack before Daly weighed in because of the peculiar manner in which it had been constructed. Supposedly the story was about false rumors being perpetrated by fringe elements of the paranoid right that Obama’s Muslim roots are a lot deeper than he’s let on, or even that he’s some sort of secret agent for Islamist extremists.
Even though Bacon describes Obama as a church-going Christian near the top of his story, the rest of the article wallows in rumorville without quite making it clear that those rumors had been thoroughly debunked months earlier. Unfortunately, given the mainstream media’s role in sliming past Democratic presidential candidates, especially Al Gore and John Kerry, liberal bloggers were on full alert and perhaps overreacted to the flaws in Bacon’s piece.
As far as I can tell, Daly’s principal mistake was to whack Bacon for being 27 years old. If an experienced editor had run Bacon’s story through the mill for just another 15 minutes, the result probably would have been a piece that no one could complain about. Reporters deserve no less, regardless of whether they’re 27 or 51, an age I (ahem) do not pull out of a hat.
Postscript: Politicians in general spend more time being seen going to church than ministers, especially just before an election. So why would the Associated Press assert that Obama’s decision to go to church yesterday was “a rejoinder to the e-mailed rumors that he is a Muslim and poses a threat to the security of the United States”? Obama attended a Congregationalist church. He is a Congregationalist. Hello?