June 29, 2009

Enough to Go Around

I’m late getting to the Milbank v. Pitney dust-up, largely because I find it so unremarkable. But I’ve decided to mention it because, contrary to the headline here, I do not think this is New Media v. Old Media. Let’s review:

Here’s the blog post Dana Milbank wrote and the follow-up column. And here’s the part that has me scratching my head:

The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world — Iran included — that the American press isn’t as free as advertised. But yesterday wasn’t so much a news conference as it was a taping of a new daytime drama, “The Obama Show.” Missed yesterday’s show? Don’t worry: On Wednesday, ABC News will be broadcasting “Good Morning America” from the South Lawn (guest stars: the president and first lady), “World News Tonight” from the Blue Room, and a prime-time feature with Obama from the East Room.

Milbank is apparently operating under two strange assumptions: 1) That presidents should not attempt to control their message (in this case with a “planted” question), and 2) that (horrors!) there’s all of a sudden an uncomfortable relationship between journalists and politicians.

(Let me praise him, however, for doing something I think all news organizations should be doing regularly and consistently: questioning the ethics of news organizations.)

This is not an Old Media v. New Media smackdown. This is standard, old-media nonsense.

Except…

Pitney did practice meta-reporting regarding how and why he participated in this manipulation. Score one point for new media. But take that point away for not practicing it sooner. I cannot find any evidence on the Huffington Post site (please correct me if I’m wrong) that Pitney alerted his Post readers to the request by the White House for him to solicit a question from an Iranian. Reporting that, as news, prior to the press conference, and doing the job of meta-reporting prior to the press conference, would have nullified this silly controversy. And it would have been a true New Media moment.

As it is, I’ll call out Pitney for allowing himself to be used by the White House. That meets the standards of no legitimate code of ethics that I am aware of.

I’ll call out Milbank for acting like Captain Renault — shocked, SHOCKED! to discover that presidents attempt to manipulate the press and that the press — most certainly the MSM — all too often plays along.

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