Wednesday, February 21, 2007

How Biased Is The Davis County Clipper?

During the Ashdown campaign, I worked with many news organizations, attempting to get the campaign’s message out. Many of them at least gave us the time of day. One in particular was unwilling to give us more than a few short stories; on the other hand, they ran two three-part interviews with Sen. Hatch in 2006, without even bothering to contact us. This despite the facts that Pete was born and raised in Bountiful, that we ran an ad in their paper, that we wrote letters-to-the-editor pointing out their bias, among other less obvious attempts to get their attention.

Nothing. No chance to respond to the frivolous claims in Hatch’s interviews, which have all been disproved. I would link to the articles, if the Clipper’s archives actually worked. However, you can enter in Orrin and Ashdown in their search engine and compare the number of articles each got. Most of Orrin’s were almost verbatim press releases, and some of Pete’s were also our releases.

Imagine my shock when I saw Clipper editor-in-chief Rolf Koecher attempt to claim how unbiased his paper has been, especially compared with the big, bad national media, or even the two Utah dailies. In doing so, though, Mr. Koecher makes it clear that his paper is biased. He bases his claim on this AP story detailing the testimony of Vice President Cheney’s former top press assistant before the Scooter Libby trial. He makes several points as to why that story is biased. I will try to correct him of those errors.

First, he claims that the whole Libby/Wilson scandal is misguided because “because Plame was not fully a covert officer.” This is false. If Mr. Koecher had actually bothered to read Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s press conference announcing the indictment of Mr. Libby, he would have found this quote at the start of the event in October 2005 (emphasis mine):

Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer. In July 2003, the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community.

Valerie Wilson's friends, neighbors, college classmates had no idea she had another life.

The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well- known, for her protection or for the benefit of all us. It's important that a CIA officer's identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation's security.

Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in July 2003.

Points 2-6 are repetitions of the “everyone else is doing it” defense, and sounding very similar to a six-year-old who got caught eating paste. He claims that it was not wrong for the Vice President’s office to try to blame the CIA and its director, George Tenet, for the Wilson-Niger-State of the Union mess. I would agree that it is common practice for politicians to create a fall guy in case something goes wrong. Nonetheless, I personally find the practice disgusting, and this particular instance is particularly revolting. Mr. Koecher seems to gloss over the implications of Ms. Martin’s testimony: that the Vice President of the United States (or at least his Chief of Staff) worked to deflect the responsibility for faulty intelligence away from themselves and onto the CIA, which, according to some reports (the best one being this Frontline expose) was actually trying to put caveats into the public case for war. Mr. Koecher believes we should be satisfied with politicians destroying the hard work of dedicated (but flawed) public agencies and servants merely to save themselves some public scrutiny.

He points out that the VP’s office specifically chose to go on Meet the Press because they found it a friendlier venue. I don’t think this is out of the ordinary, but it does illustrate the cowardice of the VP’s office, being unwilling to answer tough questions from other organizations.

Fourth, everybody in Washington leaks and we shouldn’t get too upset about this, according to Koecher. As I noted above, this story is about the criminal perjury and obstruction of justice trial of the Vice President of the United States’ Chief of Staff. It was begun, and may continue, as an investigation into how a CI Agent’s classified cover was blown, in retribution against someone trying to disprove a case for war. There are few accusations greater than these, and they deserve our attention.

Fifth, the Clipper editor misses the point that Mr. Novak’s op-ed blew the classified cover of a CI agent! This wasn’t a defense of education policy, but an attack on Mr. Wilson by outing his wife. The VP’s office had the authority to know that Ms. Wilson was an agent, and was able to confirm that if Mr. Novak, or anyone else, asked. They had the responsibility to keep that information classified; they apparently failed.

Mr. Koecher’s final point, that bad news should be dumped on Fridays when no one reads/watches the news, was popularized by a West Wing episode. Let’s be thankful that our government values our judgment enough to intentionally hold vital information from us for fear we may actually pay attention.

The summation of the editorial is that we should not be so hard on the Clipper because they aren’t biased. As I have noted, Mr. Koecher is biased; he has already made up his mind about the Wilson/Libby case. He does this in spite of obvious factual and logical errors; even though he “understand[s] that [his] duty is first and foremost to provide accurate information for our readers,” he gives inaccurate information in his column.

Mr. Koecher needs to realize that he is not the vanguard of quality media in the USA, he is in the backwater. While I value the Clipper as a news source, I do so because it is the only news source for South Davis County. They have a monopoly on the news, currently; I hope that will change with the emergence of more bloggers in Davis County, and perhaps other news media. Until then, we are stuck with a paper that is biased, challenged by their lack of ethics, professionalism, design, and quality staff.

I do not claim that the other levels of media are without bias; that is obviously false. This is true in Utah, where three news stations chose to carry Hatch’s fundraiser with President Bush without providing the Ashdown campaign with any chance to respond to the half-hour free commercial. This is one example of conservative bias; I am sure there are liberal biases also. My point is that before pointing out other people’s biases, we should recognize them in ourselves. I make clear my bias on the top of my page. The Clipper should do so or work to become less politically by asking for both sides of an issue, instead of publishing just the elected official’s political position. It is fear of offending their news source which prevents the Clipper from challenging the opinion's of elected officials, but fear is no excuse for unprofessional and unethical media behavior.


Part of the Plan said...

You have to question the intelligence of people who buy the right-wing talking point "but she wasn't covert!". That disinformation originated with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, neither of whom understand the difference between CIA and COD.

On the other hand, former CIA officer Larry Johnson has kindly laid out the difference between "overt" and "covert" in such simple terms that even a moron like the editor of the Clipper can understand, right here:

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt the clipper is biased. In the race for Davis County Sheriff the clipper repeatedly did stories on the sheriff. If you dont think this is a big deal think again. Sheriff Cox only beat his opponent Todd Richardson by 500 votes. That front page coverage through the heated days of the campaign could easily have influenced 250 people.

Media should cover the news and not go out of their way to create the news. The clipper is one newspaper that does influence the vote in the south part of Davis County.

When this type of yellow journalism influences the political landscape its time for the public to step up and be heard. Let it be know we are watching and will vote with our pocketbooks.