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Friday, July 20, 2007

Another day, another debacle for the American newspaper industry.

Have you ever heard of the complaint that someone is “attacking the messenger?” It is often mouthed by the members of the press, who constantly claim that they are simple the messenger and what they report are “just the facts.”

Except when they’re not.

I have reported on a reporter, Richard Quinn, who works for the Virginian Pilot and blogs there as well. We both attended a meeting with Newt Gingrich and I dissected a particularly obnoxious comment he made:
Oh yeah, the millionaire who was once the nation’s Republican overlord plopped down in a faux-leather chair in a Norfolk hotel to talk to J.R. Hoeft.

To see my “fisking” of this bit of misreporting and attempted character assassination click here. But one item I did not address at the time was the “faux-leather” chair comments because I had to do a little fact checking of my own. It turns out that the chairs on the conference room we used were not “faux-leather” at all; they were real leather as testified to by the Manager of the Hilton who returned my call.

This is one of those little, but telling things that makes you realize that people who get degrees in writing or journalism really can’t be bothered to get the facts right when “faux-facts” work so much better.

Which gets me to this story about a “Staunch Republican” who’s really a Democrat heavy hitter. Via Power Line:

We wrote here about a story in the Chicago Sun-Times by columnist Jennifer Hunter, reporting on a plaintiffs' lawyers convention in Chicago. The five principal Democratic presidential candidates addressed the convention, and Hunter's story was on the lawyers' reaction. Her article was headlined "GOP Lawyer Sold on Dems;" it featured Jim Ronca, a well-known plaintiffs' lawyer from Pennsylvania, who told Hunter that he was a Republican. Hunter breathlessly reported that this "staunch Republican" was so impressed by the Democratic candidates that this year, he would not only vote for a Democrat, but would actually contribute to the Democrat's campaign.

Trouble was, it turned out that Ronca is in fact a long-time Democrat who has contributed mostly, although not quite exclusively, to Democratic candidates for a long time.

So Ronca, a smart lawyer, made a fool of Hunter, a not-so-smart reporter. One might think that this would be grounds for a correction; but not, apparently, at the Sun-Times. Instead, Jennifer Hunter wrote a defiant follow-up column attacking Republicans. No, not Ronca, the fake Republican who lied to her; real Republicans. Hunter writes:

Ever been harassed by a group of irate Republicans?
For the past few days, since a news story of mine was published on Monday, I have been bombarded with dozens of daily e-mails from Republicans calling me a liar, demanding I be fired, and insisting on a retraction.

Read more about how defensive reporters get when their blunders get exposed.

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