Politico's media criticism criticized by media critics

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Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei's Politico story, which sort of said Mitt Romney gets more negative coverage than President Obama, has inspired a fair amount of negative coverage about Politico.

• Devin Gordon, writing in GQ, says the story was really an editorial:

This Politico story was written by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, two people at the very top of the organization's masthead. It's effectively an unsigned house editorial. And it levied a charge of journalistic malpractice at two of Politico's biggest rivals. The house position of Politico, as evidenced by this piece, is that they are fair and their chief competition is not. It's a thinly disguised, fundamentally craven argument for Politico's superiority in the world of political coverage. Let's call this article for what it was. It wasn't journalism. It was business.

• Conor Friedersdorf wonders why Allen and VandeHei call a story about Ann Romney's equestrian endeavors "vetting" and don't mention a story about how Obama's oversight of a "kill list" is perhaps not exactly a puff piece:

So to sum up, one candidate is portrayed, accurately, as being extremely rich, with a wife who has rich-person leisure-time pursuits; and the other candidate is portrayed, accurately, as someone whose secretive policies have wrought dead children, broken promises, violated due process rights, and possibly created more terrorists. And our political culture in the United States is so blinkered that the story about the rich candidate whose wife rides horses is regarded, by conservatives and savvy Politico journalists, as the one that is noteworthy for being negative; whereas the story about the Orwellian turn in the White House doesn't even merit mention.

• Erik Wemple tells Poynter he's hoping to get four posts up today about the matter: No. 1 attempts to translate the article's contentions about Jason Horowitz's story about Romney's teen bullying of gay students and Trip Gabriel's Romney horsey story; e.g., "Damn — why didn’t we have that story?; No. 2 counts even more instances of Politico aggregating/analyzing the Romney-bullying story than I found; No. 3 says, "By any journalistic measure, coercive high-school barbering deserves a higher word count than high-school marijuana use."

• Michael Calderone, who used to work for Politico, got comment from The Washington Post and noted Politico had run more than 90 articles about Herman Cain's sexual-harassment allegations. He also suggested a shadowy motive for the piece.

The Politico story resembles a classic Washington beat-sweetener, the type of piece reporters write to curry favor with and access to potential sources. In this case, Politico's slamming of rival publications as biased serves to suggest that it will give Republicans, including Romney, a fairer shake.

• John Cook conjures up a "list of stories Politico has published soberly assessing Barack Obama's readiness for office," including "A 700-word story on how Obama is 'too "cool" and detached to fully grasp the public anxiety over mounting job losses and economic worries' because he laughed during a 60 Minutes interview."

• Oliver Burkeman says the piece is attacking the wrong problem of bias by pretending it shouldn't exist. "Everyone on the playing field – activists, politicians, journalists – is irrevocably mired in 'bias', along a multitude of different dimensions, so it's a useless criterion for distinguishing the good guys from the bad. Some better criteria, for journalists, would be good faith, transparency, and openness."

• Dylan Byers, writing in Politico, beats me to an aggregated blog post about criticism of the piece. Even he can't get comment from Allen and VandeHei! But he still tries to suss out their position:

But, as far as I can tell, VandeHei and Allen aren't arguing that the Times and the Post haven't covered the stories that could prove harmful to Obama's campaign. Rather, they are arguing that those newspapers have put greater emphasis on stories that may prove harmful to Romney's campaign -- which is certainly a point worth debating. ...

So I suppose one could argue that, at the end of the day, this is all just about the disparity between print journalism, which requires highly selective curation, and digital journalism, which allows for comprehensive -- and occasionally contradictory -- coverage to exist in one place, all at the same time.

But I won't make that argument.

Previously: Politico hits Washington Post for ‘more voyeuristic than relevant’ Romney bullying story

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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