The hazards of granting anonymity, Part Infinity

fnc-20130311-scottbrownI’ll leave it to my friend John Carroll to analyze the dust-up between the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald over whether former senator Scott Brown is or isn’t still working for Fox News. (Short answer: he is.) No doubt that’s coming later today.

So just a quick observation. On Wednesday the Globe’s Joshua Miller quoted an unnamed source at Fox who told him that Brown was “out of contract,” thus fueling speculation that Brown was about to jump into New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race. It turns out, according to the Herald’s Hillary Chabot and Miller’s follow-up report, that Brown was merely between contracts, and that he’s now re-upped.

If I were Miller or an editor at the Globe, I would love to be able to point to a named source at Fox for passing along information that may have been technically accurate but was not actually true. But they can’t, and that’s one of the hazards of granting anonymity.

It’s especially dangerous with Fox. According to NPR media reporter David Folkenflik’s book “Murdoch’s World,” the fair-and-balanced folks once went so far as to leak a false story to a journalist — anonymously, of course — and then denounce him in public after he reported it.

Of course, this all leads to the political question of the moment: Does this mean Brown isn’t running for senator? Or president? Or whatever office he is thought to be flirting with this week?

Update: And here comes John Carroll.

Screen image via Media Matters for America.

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Boston Herald Radio to debut next Monday

bostonheraldradio-logoThe Boston Herald will unveil an online radio station next Monday, Aug. 5.

Boston Herald Radio will stream on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with news-oriented programs helmed by longtime talk-show hosts Jeff Katz and Michael Graham and by Herald journalists Hillary Chabot and Jaclyn Cashman. The broadcast day will conclude with a sports show from 3 to 6 p.m. hosted by Jon Meterparel and Jen Royle.

The full details were reported earlier today by Talkers magazine. Ken Fang of Awful Announcing wrote about the Herald’s plans on July 5. Neither article makes any mention of whether the station will run any programming beyond those 60 weekday hours.

The Herald’s streaming radio station will compete for local online listeners with The Boston Globe’s RadioBDC, which arose from the remnants of the old WFNX in 2012. A big difference is that RadioBDC is primarily music, whereas the Herald  is going with news, sports and talk.

More: Following the demise of WTKK earlier this year, Graham put together a noon-to-3 p.m. show heard on a group of small stations in Eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Graham’s show will not be exclusive to Boston Herald Radio — rather, it will be simulcast.

The humiliation of Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has written almost exactly what I was thinking regarding U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren and her exaggerated (and possibly non-existent) Cherokee heritage. So I recommend you read it. I have just a few additional thoughts.

I have to admit this is one of those stories that got by me. I didn’t think it would amount to much after the Boston Herald’s Hillary Chabot broke the story on April 27. Even though Harvard Law School had touted her as a diversity hire, there was no evidence (and there still isn’t) that she had ever sought to claim minority status for career advancement. And when the Boston Globe reported that she was, in fact, 1/32 Cherokee, that seemed to be the end of it. After all, the current tribal chief is only 1/32 Cherokee.

But things got a lot worse for Warren last week, when the Globe published a correction stating that there was no real evidence of Warren’s Cherokee background. Apparently this is nothing more than one of those family legends that may or may not have some basis in fact.

Like Douthat, and like millions of other Americans, I grew up thinking I might have some Native American heritage. My mother’s family was named Shaw; we had a cottage in Onset when I was growing up with a sign out front that said “Shawnee,” a tribute to that supposed heritage. My mother didn’t think there was anything to it, but who knows? As far as I know, no one in my family has traced our ancestral roots. We do go back to the early days of Plymouth Colony, so anything is possible.

I’ve heard it said that Warren should have been able to put all this behind her rather easily, but I don’t think it’s that simple. At root, I think she harbored a romantic vision of herself, which is why she listed herself as a Native American in law directories and contributed recipes to a cookbook by Native Americans. I suspect she’s deeply embarrassed that her fantasies have been exposed and mocked.

Can Warren overcome this politically? We’ll see. I’ve thought from the beginning that Warren’s Republican opponent, Sen. Scott Brown, was a tough candidate with first-rate political instincts. As I recently wrote in the Huffington Post, I thought the only reason that Warren had a chance was the large Democratic turnout that could be expected given that she’ll be on the same ballot as President Obama. Otherwise, Brown would be a shoo-in.

Let’s just say that the events of the past few weeks won’t help Warren.

U.S. Treasury Department photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Scott Brown’s flexible New Year’s resolution

Click on image for Boston Herald story and video

Argh. I see Politico beat me to it. But I do want to take note of a rather remarkable statement that U.S. Sen. Scott Brown made Friday on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) — that he had not touched alcohol since Jan. 1, and wouldn’t until the polls close on Election Day. According to the Associated Press, “Brown called the decision ‘one of those New Year’s things’ that he did ‘on a stupid bet.'”

Well, as Politico puts it, “It depends on what the definition of ‘drinking’ is for Brown.” Because just a week earlier, he allowed Boston Herald reporter Hillary Chabot to accompany him on a day of campaigning. And one of his stops was the Blue Hills Brewery in Canton. “He likes the Red IPA, by the way,” Chabot says in the John Wilcox video that accompanies her story.

In the video, Brown can be seen sampling the brewery’s wares, but if he took more than a sip, the camera didn’t capture it. Chabot’s story resulted in a brief flurry on Twitter among those who thought Brown was setting a bad example by drinking and driving (his truck, of course).

That criticism struck me as overwrought, and it still does. Chabot wrote only that Brown “tasted one of the lighter brews,” although she quoted him as saying of the Red IPA: “You can pound those pretty good.” Sounds like he may need a designated driver in the wee hours of Nov. 7.

But I guess he needs to revise his New Year’s resolution to “No Drinking until Election Day Except with Hillary Chabot.”

Reviewing the White House-Herald dust-up

The seriousness with which you take the dust-up between the Boston Herald and the White House over a page-one Mitt Romney op-ed piece depends in part on whether you think the Herald was actually restricted from covering President Obama’s fundraising trip to Boston on Wednesday.

Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld, for instance, takes a shot at a “few self-described media critics” who thought White House spokesman Matt Lehrich’s inflammatory email to the Herald was a worse offense than “apparently restricting access to punish perceived unfriendly media outlets.” I know Battenfeld is referring to me, because we kicked it back and forth on Twitter a bit. (And rather than “self-described,” Joe, why don’t you say “as described by Fox News”?)

Yet according to the initial story, by the Herald’s Hillary Chabot, Lehrich’s email made it clear that the Herald had not been restricted — that is, the Boston Globe’s Donovan Slack had already been given the pool slot, and the Herald would be considered for pool duty in the future. Seen in that light, Lehrich’s thuggish complaints about the Herald were entirely gratuitous, and in fact really were a worse offense than what the White House did to the Herald. Because the White House, as best as we can tell, did not do anything to the Herald.

At Mediaite, Tommy Christopher quotes White House deputy secretary Josh Earnest:

Our policy is clearly articulated in the on the record comment that the Herald received on tuesday: in this particular instance, the Boston Globe had arranged with the White House Correspondents Association, independent of the White House press office, to be part of the traveling press pool. As such, there was no need for an additional local pooler in Boston. As we have in the past — including the multiple occasions on which the Herald has supplied local pool reporters — we will continue to consider the Herald for local pool duty during future visits.

Also, you should note that Herald reporters were granted access by the White House: to witness the arrival of Air Force One in Boston, to attend the President’s remarks at his first event and to review the written accounts of the small group of traveling reporters who covered the president’s second event on behalf of the entire White House press corps.

Christopher adds:

… Lehrich’s original response made clear that the Romney op-ed had nothing to do with the decision to go with the Boston Globe for the press pool, a decision that wasn’t even made by the White House. As Earnest points out (and I concur, from experience), it is not customary to increase the size of the pool contingent to accommodate a special request. Perceived fairness had nothing to do with this.

Why bring it up, then? This press office has never been shy about letting reporters know when they think we’ve been unfair, and this appears to be a somewhat heavy-handed example of that.

But if this isn’t quite as big a deal as the Herald’s massive, self-congratulatory coverage would have you believe, it’s also an exaggeration to dismiss this as much ado about nothing. The Phoenix’s David Bernstein, a former colleague whose views I respect, nevertheless veers a bit too far in that direction, writing that “as far as I can tell, she [Chabot] and the Herald have not been denied anything by anybody — which did not prevent them from splaying their victimization on the front page.”

Bernstein does refer to Lehrich’s email as “ham-handed,” but I think it’s quite a bit worse than that. It’s pretty disturbing that a newspaper would apply to let one of its staffers be a pool reporter and, in return, receive an email from a flack whining and complaining about Romney’s op-ed, and strongly suggesting that there might be repercussions. It creates the impression that the White House rewards its friends and punishes its enemies, even if there’s nothing on the record to suggest that’s what really happened. And it doesn’t help that Lehrich, who ought to be fired, calls Obama political consultant David Axelrod “Uncle Dave.”

Yes, of course the Herald went overboard. That’s more or less its mission statement when stuff like this happens. But I’m glad the paper brought Lehrich’s miserable email to light — and that it became a national story.

The White House, the Herald and “The Mahatma”

Perhaps the dumbest aspect of the White House’s decision to snub the Boston Herald is that no one had to say a word. The Herald was not technically barred from covering a fundraiser by President Obama in Boston today. Rather, its request that a Herald staffer be a pool reporter was turned down. Not everyone gets to go.

But no. According to the Herald’s Hillary Chabot, a White House spokesman named Matt Lehrich felt compelled to put in writing his complaint about the Herald’s recent (boneheaded) decision to blast a Mitt Romney op-ed on page one. Lehrich demonstrated that he’s got a real problem with logorrhea, writing (and writing and writing):

I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters.

My point about the op-ed was not that you ran it but that it was the full front page, which excluded any coverage of the visit of a sitting US President to Boston. I think that raises a fair question about whether the paper is unbiased in its coverage of the President’s visits.

Clearly Lehrich has never heard of the great Martin Lomasney (“The Mahatma,” as he was called) and his first rule of politics: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.”

Lehrich also tells Chabot that the Herald will be considered for pool duty in the future, but the damage was done. The White House could send the right message of Lehrich is standing on an unemployment line by the end of today.

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