Saturday, May 19, 2012

It's the Follow-Up, Stupid

CBS sets up their hit piece of Breitbart by couching them as birthers before getting to the money paragraphs:
The birthers made their presence felt once again on Thursday. A conservative reporter tracked down a 1991 promotional booklet from a literary agency in which Mr. Obama was listed as having been "born in Kenya." Conservative news aggregator Matt Drudge gave the report huge play, leading his site with it Thursday evening. He followed up Friday with a series of links tied to the story, including one asking, "How did the mainstream media miss this?"
The literary agent responsible for the listing released a statement in the wake of the story reading in part, "This was nothing more than a fact checking error by me -- an agency assistant at the time. There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii."
But that, of course, was not going to placate those eager to seize on the 1991 listing as a smoking gun proving their theory. Interestingly, the website that posted it,, seemed uncomfortable with putting it into the world - it said in a note above the article that it "has never advocated the narrative of 'Birtherism,'" arguing that the listing is evidence "not of the President's foreign origin, but that Barack Obama's public persona has perhaps been presented differently at different times."
Indeed, Breitbart's reporters were recently blasted by some of the hard-core birthers for not getting on the train.   But in the world of elite media reporters such as Mr. Montopoli everyone on the right is a closet racist/birther, meaning the mere mention of a flyer showing Barack Obama as being born in Kenya qualifies the producer of said story as a crackpot.  And of course once a story can be labeled 'birtherism' there's no need to pursue it any further.

Edward R Murrow must be spinning in his grave.  A true reporter would have seen the Breitbart story, said "that's interesting"; seen the follow-up comment/statement from the literary agent and said "that's interesting, too', then picked up the phone.   They were not afraid of the truth because they kept their own dogs out of the fight. 

In other words, instead of mocking Breitbart's journalism and trying to turn them into birthers the CBS reporter could have called the literary agent--and certainly the White House--and asked some questions.  Here are just a few suggestions from a hack blogger to get things started; surely an elite reporter could think of a few more.  For instance,  to the agent:

"how often did you put out a bio on a writer and not let the writer see it first? Was it common to do your own 'fact checking' rather than just asking the writer?

Where did you do the fact checking and why/how do think you got it wrong?"

Why wasn't the flyer corrected until 2007?

Such a reporter might call the White House press office and say,

"Could you tell us if Obama himself remembers the bio and if so, did he get to approve it before it went to press?" 

It's almost as if some are afraid to ask.  Think of how much more powerful Mr. Montopoli's piece on Breitbart would have been had he been able to pop out a few of those secondary, drill-down questions/answers, ie, "we talked to Ms so-so and she said it was common for new authors to not be involved in their bios, etc".  As it was he appeared to be filing his report from Chicago HQs. 

In other words, it's about the follow-up!   Our modern advocates have lost track of that concept, a simple premise that says you don't immediately believe a press release or take a canned statement as gospel.  You don't blindly believe a politician without checking their story--and checking doesn't mean asking their press officer or Media Matters and declaring, "case closed, you crazy wingers".  They used to know this. 

The reporter even mocked the 'vetting' charge Brietbart made.   So yeah sorry Jack, not to bust your bubble but this kind of crap is exactly what you can expect from the Breitbart story, nothing more.  The only wildcard is whether Breitbart has something else in the can waiting to trickle out.  Their namesake was pretty good at that--he had learned their game.

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