By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A bad week for Chris Daly

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
  • 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?

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  1. lou

    The most effective takedown of Bacon’s article was in-house — Tom Toles must have reacted the same way a lot of people did when he read the paper.

  2. Matt

    Slate had good analysis too:

  3. Anonymous

    As far as I can tell, Daly’s principal mistake was to whack Bacon for being 27 years old. Get a clue, Dan. Downie calls Daly’s argument that the Bacon piece resulted from “fast-tracking with a vengeance” a “particularly odious innuendo.” I don’t think insulting somebody because of their relative youth is “particularly odious” – do you? Do you think this is what Downie meant?[Whether Daly knew Bacon was african-american is immaterial. Its entirely possible that Downie interjected race because of what he *perceived* as the subtle racism of Daly]Race and affirmative action in the newsroom is the subtext here, and I can’t believe you don’t see this (unless you are intentionally looking away). You have a young, enthusiastic but relatively inexperienced african-american political reporter and an embittered, middle-aged white male who didn’t get the opportunity to land a similarly prestigious job at the same outlet…. That’s why Downie goes out-of-his way to slam Daly’s professional skills – lest anyone believe there was some kind of Jayson Blair fast-tracking going on here….

  4. Anonymous

    Um, tempest in a teapot much? Journalists are as insulated and navel-gazing as any industry they cover. I know because I used to be one.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 3:13: I did not know Bacon was African-American until I saw his photo on Romenesko today.Anon 4:04: Oh, yes. Much.

  6. Don, American

    Just as we have observed with Mitt, Obama won’t win either. Leave them alone, and focus on someone who might.

  7. liamstliam

    Dan: This issue is prejudice and stereotyping — not racism but ageism.”He’s in his 20s, so he sucks.”That’s crap.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Liam: Yeah, that’s what I wrote. You been reading me? ;-)Seriously, it was Anon 3:13 who brought up race, not me.

  9. Anonymous

    If its not race, what does Downie suggest by “particularly odious innuendo”? The age thing wasn’t an “innuendo” – it was explicitly stated. Was the “innuendo” just “bad management practices”? That seems pretty clear, too. Or was it “odious” because it involved race and Downie is accusing Daly of racism? Dan: If you believe this is a misreading of Downie’s comment, then please offer another explanation.

  10. Peter Porcupine

    Dan – Re: your update – reporters seem to be singularly clueless about religion. Even brilliant college journalism professors refer to GWB as an ‘evangelical’ – when he is actually a United Methodist, same as Hillary Clinton.

  11. Anonymous

    Having heard or seen nothing of this, I just have to say: I’m surprised you’re surprised. Umbrage is the new discourse. Outrage sells.Just as in the 70s, the B and C grade journalists took the lesson of Watergate to be “gotcha”, the B and C grade journalists of today have taken their lesson from the spinmasters like O’Reilly, Savage, and Hannity. The B and C level journalists outnumber the A journalists several times over, and A journalism no longer sells, so they’re becoming irrelevant, or at least marginalized.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Peter: I’m well aware that Bush is a Methodist. IMHO, it’s possible to be both a Methodist and an evangelical, and Bush is proof.

  13. Peter Porcupine

    Dan – I would say he is a Fundamentalist; similar to Catholics who want Roman Mass. An evangelical is a different thing – a denomination devoted to witnessing and conversion.Oddly, you can be an evangelical without being a fundamentalist, but you can also be a fundamentalist in any denomination.

  14. Anonymous

    If daly (like me) had no idea Bacon is black, how is he casting innuendo? seems to me it’s downie who is revealing a worry over skin by casting innuendo on daly. the age thing IS an issue, irrespective of color. yes there are phenomenal young reporters. but i can tick off scores of 20-something political reporters who have shown either through lack of experience or eager-to-pleasism a strong level of shabby performance. remember ruth shalit? which is why daly is especially correct when he notes the need for veteran editors. woodward and bernstein were young, yes, but they had BEN BRADLEE editing them. they also made some bad mistakes along the way. on the bacon thing, the simple bottom line is that the post’s editors crapped up.

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