Weinergate & Yellow Journalism: Setting the Standard

One of the biggest revelations to have come out of the controversy over Rep. Weiner and his picture tweet is the evident prejudices that many journalists apply to their reporting. A great example of this came to light when Howard Kurtz proclaimed via Twitter that Democrats are treated no differently than Republicans by the media during a sex scandal. Comically, two of Kurtz’s examples were John Edwards and Bill Clinton, figures that the media specifically covered for and did not report on until the story was forced upon them. In the current scandal, some journalists have decided that their job should focus on acquitting Rep. Weiner of any wrongdoing, instead of seeing where the story actually takes them. There has been no bigger culprit in this than Mediaite.com in my opinion. In their very first post on the subject, Mediaite scolded Andrew Breitbart and the Big Site’s for their reporting on the story by claiming it showed they did not have to abide by normal “journalistic standards”. Mediaite reporter Tommy Christopher would later continuously refer too many of the actions of bloggers and reporters involved (especially ones connected to Breitbart) as practicing “yellow” journalism. The major irony of these accusations is the continuous violations of “journalistic standards” that those Mediaite reporters have engaged in throughout this story. Through these violations, Mediaite has show that they have chosen a side in the story and they believe everyone else will be, as Mediaite Managing Editor Colby Hall tweeted, “on the wrong side of history”.

Some examples of these violations follow:

1) In their first post, Frances Martel wrote several clearly baseless statements such as that this story was “a reminder that Andrew Breitbart’s editors and writers do not aim to abide by accepted journalistic standards.” Of course Mediaite could point to nothing in the original story that violates those standards (except a gripe about a byline that clearly referred to the editorial board). Mediaite rightfully changed their story and took out some of the most unfair accusations. However, they did not update the post to reflect that changes had been made. Journalistic Standards?

2) Mediaite spent half the article talking about Andrew Breitbart (including his unrelated past) and not the Weiner story itself. This of course gave the crazies in the liberal blogosphere the idea that Breitbart was somehow to blame for Weiner’s account sending the picture or otherwise that it was a hoax perpetrated by Breitbart. If Mediaite, CNN, or anyone else had been the first to report the tweet, would they expect Dan Abrams or Ted Turner to be half the story? I think not. Journalistic Standards?

3) In Mediaite’s next post on the story, Colby Hall actually suggests serious questions that should be asked of all the sides, but then exposes which side he is on. Instead of just referencing the idea of questions to ask about a hacking, he builds up a whole defense based on wild guesses. For example he asks why only one follower RT’ed the Weiner tweet. If he had done some basic investigation he would have figured out that tweets that start with a handle (as Weiner’s did) only appear on you timeline if you follow both people (which I doubt many people were). Hall goes on to imply that the likely hacker suspect should be @patriotusa76 based on much less evidence than there is against Weiner. Hall did this without even making an attempt to contact Patriotusa76 (who was more than willing to answer questions from me or anyone else). Does that meet Journalistic Standards?

4) In connection with the previous post, Tommy Christopher has made a big story out of the fact that Gateway Pundit published a PUBLIC list of individuals who Weiner followed. Christopher explained this is wrong and “yellow” journalism because the girls were and will be harassed. However, interestingly Christopher had no such objections for Mediaite publishing the handle/name of @Patiotusa76, who in turn has been both harassed and threatened. In fact, even the girl most impacted by the whole ordeal, Gennette Cordova, has now said she does not believe PatriotUSA76 was involved and apologizes for his name being mixed in. Mediaite chose to make public accusations against him without even contacting him. Journalistic Standards?

5) One of the questions that arose in the story is why Cordova was one the few non public people Weiner was following on twitter, especially since she was not even a constituent. Tommy Christopher has taken it upon himself to suggest an answer to this on twitter by pointing to instances when Weiner has offered to follow back some of his fans. Neither Cordova nor Weiner have claimed this explanation. Is it a journalist’s job to create and suggest possible explanations for parties involved? Wouldn’t it make more sense to work on getting Weiner or even Cordova to answer this question? They certainly don’t do that for the other side of the story. Journalistic Standards?

6) The worst offenses come in the latest Mediaite post by Tommy Christopher, which ironically focuses on “sloppy reporting” in the Weiner scandal. First, Mr. Christopher cherry pick’s Cordova’s statement to claim it supports the idea that Weiner was hacked; ignoring the very tweet he himself linked (which denies that she has any insight on whether it was a hack) and her later tweet specifically saying she did not think that Patriotusa76 was behind the picture (also included later in the same post). Next, Christopher claims that Weiner is “in the process” of reporting the hack to authorities (which has been one of the biggest criticism’s of Weiner thus far), but he has no actual evidence for this claim. Christopher links the claim to an article about a recent statement where Rep. Weiner claims he is obtaining counsel and considering his next step. Besides the story implications of Weiner obtaining counsel, that is a far leap from being in the process of reporting a hack to authorities and thus resolving one the biggest complaints facing Weiner. This is even more obvious as reports have surfaced that he has yet to do so. As the post continues, Christopher once again decides to step in and invent explanations for the Congressman’s behavior. In response to one of the most damming pieces of evidence, an earlier tweet by Rep. Weiner regarding Seattle time (where Cordova is from), Christopher explains that Weiner may have been referring to the Yankees who had been playing in Seattle earlier. While that may be exactly what the tweet was referring to, shouldn’t a journalist wait to hear that explanation from Rep. Weiner, instead of speculating themselves? The post goes on to once again, without any evidence, imply Patriotusa76 or someone like him is the likely hacker (if only they were this tough on Weiner), of course with the disclaimer that the speculation doesn’t prove he is. Christopher follows up the accusation with the assertion that Patriotusa76 had previously not been available to comment. In fact, according to my discussions with him, no one at Mediaite ever made an attempt to contact him (which would seem an elementary step for any journalist). The denials they printed were responses to questions from others via twitter (the very same people that Christopher implied were practicing “yellow” journalism). Finally, the post ends with the conclusion that the evidence is somehow turning in Rep. Weiner’s favor. Not only do I find that untrue, but it is based on nothing other than the premeditated bias of the author. That is not to say that the evidence is perfect in either direction, but there was no major discovery to warrant a conclusion of “the tide” swinging in favor of Rep. Weiner. Journalistic Standards?

Update: This post has since been updated because it seems the Yankees excuse that it invented does not fit anyways because Weiner is actually a Mets fan.

The saddest part in all of this is that I do not think it is intentional. For example, from my limited interactions with Tommy Christopher I can tell he is a good and authentic guy. Furthermore, he has been capable of doing some excellent reporting in the past when he is has not predetermined his own conclusions on a story. That tells me that this is a problem that can be fixed even among current and liberal journalists, but they must recognize it and want to fix it. I am not a journalist and I do not claim to adhere to these standards, but they do. To be clear, Mediaite is by far not alone in questionable reporting or bias, they were just an easy example to use in this scandal. The truth will eventually come out in the Weiner story but the bigger questions are when will the media stop choosing sides? or at what point will they start adhering to the journalistic standards they preach to others?

Links to all of the referenced posts: