Washington Post Ombudsman Misses Point

Today, in his guise as the Washington Post’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander posted a discussion about the recent misreporting by the Old Media about the various “incidents” that supposedly occurred between the admittedly raucous tea party protesters and members of Congress in Washington, D.C., during the healthcare fight. But while Alexander finally makes some admissions on how the Old Media dropped the ball on these exaggerated reports, he still missed the point of the whole mess.

Alexander starts his report off with an interesting rhetorical style. He writes about incidents as if they actually happened even as he admits later down the page that either they didn’t or might not have. He recounts the supposed incidents in affirmative language instead of using qualifiers. “The Post and other news organizations had reported a series of incidents so ugly,” Alexander says, “they were denounced by congressional leaders of both parties.” Notice how he didn’t use qualifiers like “alleged incidents”? No, he said “reported on incidents” as if they were actual incidents that have been proven. If someone were to stop reading after the first few paragraphs they’d go away thinking those “incidents” were confirmed and true.

In any case, Alexander recounts the supposed “spitting” incident where Rep. Emanuel Cleaver complained that he was spat upon as he entered the capitol. He also recounted the name-calling that Rep. Barney Frank encountered as well as the thus far unproven “N” word incident that black members of Congress claim that they suffered through on the day they signed the bill providing for a government take over of America’s health system.

To Alexander’s credit he immediately discounts the spitting incident. He rightfully reports that the man that supposedly spat upon Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, a black Democrat from Missouri, didn’t happen the way his paper and the rest of the Old Media reported it. The protester did not purposefully spit upon Cleaver but did so accidentally while yelling. Yes the protester was emotionally driven but, no, he did not assault Cleaver the way the Old Media initially reported the incident. It was an accident, not a deliberate act says Alexander.

Cleaver was hit with spit, but whether it was deliberate is very much in question. The video suggests he was unintentionally sprayed by the screaming protester. The distinction is significant because it fundamentally changes widespread media characterizations of what occurred. The Post and other news organizations left the impression of a despicable, premeditated assault. With videos of the incident so prevalent on liberal and conservative Web sites, and with the question being so widely raised in the blogosphere and on cable channels, The Post was remiss in not providing clarity by quickly dissecting what happened.

One incident knocked down.

As to the use of the “N” word against members of Congress – when Nancy Pelosi and her caucus triumphantly walked Selma-like to Congress on the day they signed the Obamacare bill, they had videographers following them. Yet there is not one second of video or audio to prove that the “N” word was cast at them as they walked past tea party protesters? Nothing? And this isn’t to mention the many thousands of videos being made by the folks in the crowd. It beggars belief to accept that no one in the crowd of thousands, all with cell phones and video cameras whirring and those members of Congress doing the same, all of them missed recording this incident.

Unfortunately, Alexander takes the word of some reporter who told him she heard someone else say that Representatives Carson and Lewis were “agitated” after being called the “N” word by protesters. This is hearsay, not evidence, but Alexander reports it all as if it should stand the smell test. It doesn’t. There is no proof whatsoever that Lewis and Carson had the “N” word cast at them. We have two politicians who have made their careers in part on racial issues, a reporter that says she heard some self-interested staffer claim that he saw that Lewis and Carson were “agitated” and suddenly we are reporting the “N” word incident as truth? It fails even the first tenets of real journalism and seems more like the sort of nonsense you’d see in a gossip column, not in a real news column.

As to the Frank anti-gay slur incident, that one is clearly true. Frank was called a “faggot” as he walked past protesters. One has to say, though, that if this is the worst of the “violence” that tea party folks are capable of, then there isn’t much to worry about with them. After all, go to any left-wing protest in America and you’ll see and hear far, far worse.

But that is just the point here, isn’t it? This whole Alexander report misses the elephant in the room. These incidents pale in comparison to those that happen in every left-wing protest. How many tea party protests have devolved into violence and riots? Not a one. Yet riots are a common result of left-wing protests. Haven’t we all seen video of protesters with their faces covered throwing garbage cans through windows or lighting cars on fire after left-wing protests? For that matter how many tea party protest signs ask for the death of Obama and his cohorts? Almost none. Yet kill-Bush signs appear at every single left-wing protest – as do kill Condi Rice, Kill Dick Cheney, and kill name your Republican here signs. (See my recent report on left-wing hate on BigJournalism.com)

The point that is missed is one of prospective. Even if all these incidents from the right were true – and they aren’t – they pale in comparison to worse incidents from the left. The simple fact of the matter is that the anger at tea party protests is mild compared to that on the left. Yet the Old Media never says a word about the abject, unhinged, disgusting actions of the left. But, boy-oh-boy if a tea party guy accidentally lets some spittle fly as he yells at a congressman, why it’s a federal case in the Old Media!

(Originally posted at BigJournalism.com)

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