Thursday, March 15, 2012

Daily caller engages in Murdochism

Debbie Wasserman Shultz's communications director received a threatening email the other day, which read, "I'm giving you until 10 am tomorrow morning to answer this question, [sic] then I'm reporting that [The chairwoman of the DNC] is not supporting Eric Holder." The staff cried foul and forwarded the email to Buzzfeed, which published the accompanying story. It reads like blackmail, but there may be a more innocent motive at work here.

Perhaps there is some precedent to using this sort of tactic. A pivotal story scene in All the Presidents Men unfolds along this tactic. (Disclaimer: I don't have a copy of the book handy, so I'm describing the film, which will tend towards more dramatic but factually inaccurate sequences).

Woodward and Bernstein published their biggest mistake of the Watergate story. Their source was refusing to speak to a certain question, and they attempted to work out an impromptu code: 'if you're still on the phone in ten seconds, that's a yes?' The source hung on the line for ten seconds, and the Washington Post published unconfirmed reports about the Nixon administration's coverup, alleging more than they could prove. So what went wrong? The source reversed the code; he was trying to tell Woodward that the story was not quite right.

The journalistic precedent for 'if you don't respond, we have an understanding' is terrible. It led to the paper publishing a calamitous story. It's from an at least partially fictionalized universe. And of course the technology difference means that even if it had been a legitimate practice at that moment, it no longer is; telephone conversations are cooperative enterprises. Email that demands a response, 'or x will say y about you' is certainly more threatening than asking a question and using a silent code. The explanation that this was a poor imitation of a bad practice is a weak one.

Boyle did not appear to go that route. Instead, he pushed the bounds of self-awareness and severely crippled his eventual civil defense by attempting to normalize his email:
Boyle, in an email, defending his warning.

"I've sent several inquiries to the DNC on this," he said. "They've had ample opportunity to respond with an indication that they support the attorney general. I wanted to give Brad plenty of time to respond before we reported, correctly, that the DNC would offer The Daily Caller no verbal support for Eric Holder."
This is a common practice rooted in the culture of the Daily Caller, it would seem. Boyle describes a routine of borderline extortion and drumbeat of inaccurate reporting at the Daily Caller, ostensibly supported by the the editorial staff. It's an ethics-free zone. This must be what working at the Sun or News of the World was like before the arrests. Rupert Murdoch may not own the daily caller, but they sure emulated his management style.

No comments:

Post a Comment