Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Unrelenting Tapper

(Ace ABC reporter Jake Tapper, hot on a lead.)

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
" 'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more."

Poe's "The Raven."

What the MSM lacks in accuracy, it makes up for in persistence.

You may have caught Jake Tapper's atrocious rewriting of Bill Clinton not long ago. Sadly, No! has the best write-up I've seen, and I'd recommend reading it first, but I'll provide a basic recap. Tapper's headline was "What Did Bill Clinton Mean By "We Just Have to Slow Down Our Economy" to Fight Global Warming?" Tapper wrote:

In a long, and interesting speech, [Bill Clinton] characterized what the U.S. and other industrialized nations need to do to combat global warming this way: “We just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions ’cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren.” At a time that the nation is worried about a recession is that really the characterization his wife would want him making? “Slow down our economy”? I don’t really think there’s much debate that, at least initially, a full commitment to reduce greenhouse gases would slow down the economy….So was this a moment of candor?

Well, actually, there's plenty of argument that going "green" would help the economy, even in the short term (Seattle's prospered by adopting Kyoto protocols), but Jake's pretty content to run with the Republican line. Still, the "slow down our economy" was obviously the real eye-grabber of Tapper's piece. Meanwhile, here's what Clinton actually said (emphasis added):

“Everybody knows that global warming is real,” Mr. Clinton said, giving a shout-out to Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize, “but we cannot solve it alone.”

“And maybe America, and Europe, and Japan, and Canada — the rich counties — would say, ‘OK, we just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions ’cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren.’ We could do that.

“But if we did that, you know as well as I do, China and India and Indonesia and Vietnam and Mexico and Brazil and the Ukraine, and all the other countries will never agree to stay poor to save the planet for our grandchildren. The only way we can do this is if we get back in the world’s fight against global warming and prove it is good economics that we will create more jobs to build a sustainable economy that saves the planet for our children and grandchildren. It is the only way it will work.

That's really bad journalism by Tapper, who's a "Senior National Correspondent" for ABC. He claimed Clinton said the opposite of what he actually said.

What's worse is that Tapper then offered an astonishing lame, defensive response when the Clinton campaign and several bloggers contacted him, when he should have just owned up to his gaffe, apologized and corrected the record. Here's that apology (and yet again, here's the Sadly, No! post critiquing Tapper).

Hilzoy provided a great dissection of Tapper, with a fun contest to invent one's own Tapper Rules™. But the bigger problem with this whole debacle is that it didn't stop. Greg Sargent noted that ABC kept up Tapper's original, false headline. Steve Benen observed that even some right-wing bloggers were defending Clinton on this one — while the RNC and TownHall.com spread the lie (as did a conservative "comedy" video — watch it at your own risk).

It didn't stop there. Crooks and Liars reported that Drudge and Limbaugh ran with it. Greg Sargent noted that a Philadelphia newspaper picked it up, as well as Investor's Business Daily.

Nor did Tapper stop. He also wrote about Obama (falsely) being the most liberal Senator (at least he could point to an article there, although he didn't bother to verify it, not that there's anything wrong with being liberal). Tapper has also since written about Obama supporters being a cult, and he had to update that one, too.

Still, perhaps my favorite aspect of this story is New York Times' Andrew Revkin blaming bloggers for all the hoopla — but why let those pesky facts get in the way of scolding the rabble? It fits perfectly with ABC deleting comments to Tapper's "correction," such as the one I left:

Boy, really impressive. You took a line out of context to suggest that Bill Clinton advocated a policy he clearly opposes. I have to agree with Gromit's comment above, and this take:


Mr. Tapper, this was simply horrible reporting. Why not own up to it, rather than pretending that people just didn't like your take? Why does the Clinton campaign need to "explain" a statement when you could have simply read it, rather than plucking a single sentence out of context? It really wasn't "confusing." Your lame defensiveness also isn't becoming of a professional journalist, let alone a "senior" national correspondent. As Moynihan said many times, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. I would hope that ABC as a whole has higher standards than you apparently do. Of course, you still could issue a correction. I await with bated breath to see whether journalistic integrity or personal vanity holds more sway with you.

Now, that's pretty biting (or snotty), but it also raised serious issues, and I'd say (snottily) that Tapper's update was itself pretty insulting. ABC had no commenting policy that I could find (I was wondering if including a link had been the problem). But the critical-but-polite comment by Gromit I referred to had been removed as well. "You're an idiot," was deemed acceptable, but several more detailed critiques were deleted. Tapper wrote in a new post that he wasn't responsible for any deleted comments, but couldn't say what the ABC commenting policy was, although he suspected "personal attacks and cursing" were off-limits. You can decide whether my comment qualified, but Obsidian Wings reader KinDC had two comments deleted, as did Mark D, who claimed his "totally, 100%, profane-free, legitimate comment... was deleted a DOZEN times." I believe them, since I can attest that most other ObWi readers are far more classy than I.

So, in summary, Jake Tapper is a lousy reporter, he loves loaded and misleading headlines (browse his blog for more examples), he doesn't have the honesty to make a simple correction, and he or someone at ABC deletes on-target criticism. Now that's classy.

As Bob Somerby's often written, in other professions, people are fired for this sort of malfeasance. As Hilzoy writes, the episode is:

...A sad illustration of the costs of social promotion: one Jake Tapper. Tapper ought to be failing his second grade Language Arts class for the thirty-fourth consecutive year, but thanks to the soft bigotry of low expectations, he ended up as ABC's Senior National Correspondent instead. If he had gotten out of school without the ability to do basic math and had ended up as a NASA engineer, his ignorance would harm people in direct and obvious ways. The fact that he's a journalist without basic reading comprehension skills means that the damage he can do is less obvious than a rocket flaming out in mid-descent. But it does not make that damage less real.

Brad at Sadly, No! hits on motive in his response to Tapper's lame "apology":

No, you should apologize for taking what was an absurdly clear statement and intentionally mucking it up just to draw the oh-so-coveted Drudge Report traffic to your page. You should also apologize for giving the Republicans yet another set of bogus “Al-Gore-said-he-invented-the-Internet!!!11!!1!” talking points to use against Democratic candidates, which you dutifully reprinted on your blog shortly after they were posted.

And Sargent drives the point home further:

Let's not kid ourselves here. We all -- Tapper included -- know how the freak show works. If that quote hadn't been torn out of context like that, there wouldn't have been any story -- and no link on Drudge, either.

Bingo. Tapper's job, after all, isn't accurate reporting. He's practicing hatchet job journalism to get traffic from Drudge and his ilk. At best, he's delivering a commercial product with flecks of real news in it.

Tapper will continue to pen such horror stories as long as he gets positive attention from his bosses and crap merchants for doing so. Ah, remember if you can, a professional media where reporters corrected such glaring mistakes, or else earned a stern reprimand, perhaps a demotion or loss of job. Dream of a country where the press focused on accuracy and substance versus spreading gossip that isn't even true. Imagine if you will such a world. It shall come — nevermore.

Still from The Raven (1963).

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)


mark hoback said...

Good piece
BUT that picture!
I just saw fifteen minutes of The Raven last month and nevermore.

Batocchio said...

The Raven may be a camp classic, but not a classic classic.

The Simpsons version is a keeper, though. (Quaff, O quaff...!")