Stumbling On the Chinese Wall
Another journalistic credo falls by the wayside as CNSNews.com lets a reporter write opinion pieces about what she's covering. Plus: The ConWeb is too busy attacking Jamie Gorelick to respond to her defense.
By Terry Krepel
At most other news organizations, reporters are not permitted to write opinion pieces about the subjects they report on lest they be accused of bias toward their subject. Not so in the ConWeb -- NewsMax and WorldNetDaily routinely violated the traditional separation of news and opinion.
Our other ConWeb component, CNSNews.com, has worked the hardest at keeping up the pretense of a difference between news and opinion (though its news reports tend to be plenty biased and its commentaries are unfailingly conservative). Now, another journalistic tradition falls by the wayside at CNS.
On April 8, Susan Jones, CNS morning editor, wrote three news stories focusing on the testimony of Condoleezza Rice before the Sept. 11 Commission, one focusing on Rice's testimony and two about the questions asked of Rice by commissioner Bob Kerrey (headline on that story: "9/11 Commissioner Seizes Anti-War Platform") and Richard Ben-Veniste (the lead: "Cutting her off in a scolding tone; insisting that she give brief answers to his questions; and prompting applause from the 9/11 families, 9/11 commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste Thursday asked Dr. Condoleezza Rice to hurry up with her answers because he only had a limited time to ask them").
The next day, Jones wrote a commentary dismissing the commission's work: " No one will ever know if the United States government could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. We can only guess and play the "what if" game. What's the point?"
Jones also attacked Kerry and Ben-Veniste -- the subjects of two of her stories -- alleging that they "clearly took advantage of the television cameras, treating Rice as a hostile witness, and doing all in their power to elicit incriminating testimony from her. It wasn't an inquiry. To them, it was sport. It was show time."
On April 26, Jones served up another news-opinion combo. The news side of Jones serves up a recounting of the alleged confusion over whether or not John Kerry threw away his war medal during a 1971 protest. Jones' opinion side critiques his performance on a TV show about the issue and she declares herself "not impressed," adding: "I would not choose to have John F. Kerry as my president, however well-intentioned he may be." That's just good business; there's every reason to suspect that if she did choose Kerry, she would not be a CNSNews.com employee.
At any other news organization, Jones -- having publicly declaring her opinions in opposition of the 9/11 Commission and on Kerry -- would no longer be covering them. Will CNS apply this policy to Jones, or has another Chinese wall come down in conservative journalism? We'll be watching.
Do conservative writers conduct any research outside of their insular world before issuing an opinion? Based on the ConWeb's criticism of 9/11 commissioner Jamie Gorelick, it would appear not.
The ConWeb has seized on a 1995 memo that Attorney General John Ashcroft conveniently had declassified in time for his testimony before the commission. The memo, written by Gorelick, then a deputy attorney general under Janet Reno, details procedures on the separation of counterintelligence and criminal investigations, which Ashcroft blamed for putting barriers in the way of detecting the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Since the ConWeb loves Ashcroft, they took his accusations and ran with them.
"She concealed a memo she authored in her former role that shows she steered the nation on a course of protecting terrorists," thundered WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah on April 19. NewsMax let Dick Morris out of the attic to claim that "Jamie Gorelick is more responsible than anybody for [the] 9/11 [plot] going undetected." NewsMax's Phil Brennan declared that having Gorelick on the commission is "sort of like having John Wilkes Booth on a panel investigating Lincoln's assassination or Lee Harvey Oswald, had he been available, on the Warren Commission." CNSNews.com managing editor David Thibault opined that since Gorelick allegedly wrote a memo that "helped create the bureaucratic barriers to effective intelligence sharing, shouldn't we just concede that the creation of the commission was a mistake in the first place?" In other words, he basically agrees with his reporter, Susan Jones.
Everyone is so eager to attack Gorelick and, by extension, the 9/11 Commission that they didn't even bother to tell her side of the story -- and she does have one, though you wouldn't know it by reading the ConWeb. In an April 18 Washington Post commentary, Gorelick wrote that she didn't create the so-called "wall"; it was created in 1978. Her 1995 memo merely detailed procedures that she said permitted a freer exchange of information between criminal and counterterror investigators than had been allowed under the Reagan and first Bush administrations. Additionally, she said, Ashcroft's own deputy attorney formally reaffirmed the 1995 guidelines just a month before 9/11.
Gorelick's many ConWeb critics never address her defense. Farah actually mentions it in his harangue but is too busy accusing her of lying to address what she said. An April 15 Media Research Center CyberAlert also mentions Gorelick's defense in passing, but writer Brent Baker, more worried that the memo didn't get enough coverage, doesn't do anything with it either. An April 20 CyberAlert further examining Gorelick coverage links to the memo but not Gorelick's Washington Post defense -- which isn't mentioned at all this time around.
So it may not be that ConWeb columnists don't do any research before they commit fingers to keyboard; they're simply too busy trodding that well-worn conservatives-good-liberals-bad path to do any substantive look outside of it. And even if they stumble upon something that threatens to challenge their worldview, they just pick themselves up and continue on.