WaPo reporter and “close friend” of Von Drehle defends Beck profile; attacks me
September 18, 2009 12:06 pm ET – by Jamison Foser
Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach leaps to his “close friend” David Von Drehle’s defense, calling my criticism of Von Drehle’s Glenn Beck profile “shrill,” and accuses me of criticizing the article “because one of the targets of Dave’s story is Media Matters itself. Which Foser doesn’t bother to note.”
Let’s take that part first: Ludicrous. Von Drehle makes only passing mention of Media Matters; here it is:
“[T]here are ancillary industries feeding on the success of Beck and others like him. Both left- and right-wing not-for-profit groups operate as self-anointed media watchdogs, and one of the largest of these — the liberal group Media Matters for America — has a multimillion-dollar budget. Staff members monitor Beck’s every public utterance, poised to cherry-pick the most inflammatory sentences. (Conservative outfits do the same for the likes of MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann.) These nuggets are used in turn to rev up donations to political parties and drive ratings for the endless rounds of talking-head shows.”
Really? That’s what led Achenbach to conclude that “one of the targets of Dave’s story is Media Matters,” and that I was motivated by a desire for revenge? Seems pretty weak.
Achenbach’s defense of his “close pal” David Von Drehle, and his attack on me, curiously avoids any discussion whatsoever of my central point: That Von Drehle failed to indicate a single falsehood Beck has ever told. That Von Drehle portrayed “liberal” estimates of the size of last week’s anti-Obama rally as no more valid than estimates from conservatives — estimates of 1 to 2 million people. Despite the fact that there clearly were not a million people at the rally. And despite the fact that the “liberal” estimates in fact came from news organizations and the DC fire department.
Since Achenbach ducked all that, here are some simple questions for him:
1) Were there 1-2 million people at last week’s protest?
2) If not, how can it possibly be responsible journalism to pretend that those claims are just as valid as far more accurate estimates of 70,000 — and to falsely suggest the lower estimates came from “liberal” sources?
3) Why should anyone ever trust a reporter who treats obvious falsehoods better than he treats the truth?
Until Achenbach addresses those questions, it’s clear that he doesn’t actually have a defense of the substance of Von Drehle’s article. He’s just lashing out at people — and not only me — who have pointed out what lousy journalism his close friend committed.
UPDATE: Here’s Achenbach, in a parenthetical: “Sure the estimate of 2 million people was, as I have noted more than once, preposterous, and a lie.” Ok; so we know his answer to #1 above. Perhaps he’d like to answer 2 and 3? Oh, and Achenbach engages in a little of his “close friend” Von Drehle’s false equivalence:
The estimates on the blogs seemed — as DVD notes — to precisely track the ideology of the bloggers. Sure the estimate of 2 million people was, as I have noted more than once, preposterous, and a lie. Some websites even ran a photo from a much larger Promise Keepers rally in 1997! But the liberal bloggers were pushing a 30,000 number as I recall. The 70,000 figure is much closer to the truth, but the real attendance could have been higher than that.
See, some liberal bloggers were pushing 30,000, rather than 70,000 — that’s just like Glenn Beck claiming there were 1.7 million people! And remember that Achenbach’s “close friend” failed to mention that the 70,000 figure is, as Achenbach acknowledges, “much closer to the truth.” So why doesn’t he think Von Drehle should have done so as well?
UPDATE 2: Let’s go back to Achenbach’s ludicrous claim that I criticized Von Drehle not because I don’t think journalists should be in the habit of spreading falsehoods, but because Von Drehle made passing mention of Media Matters. Achenbach not only fantasizes that I was motivated by revenge, but complains that I didn’t note the passing mention of Media Matters.
Well, maybe Joel Achenbach is motivated not only by his “close” friendship with Von Drehle, but by the fact that Media Matters has criticized Joel Achenbach for writing that Hillary Clinton “needs a radio-controlled shock collar so that aides can zap her when she starts to get screechy.”
Which Achenbach didn’t bother to note.
UPDATE 3: Achenbach responds. Sort of:
Jamison also asks me three questions. The first he then answers for me (because, um, I already answered it in the blog item — no, there weren’t a million or two million people, that’s ludicrous). So let’s go to #2 and #3:
“2) If not, how can it possibly be responsible journalism to pretend that those claims are just as valid as far more accurate estimates of 70,000 — and to falsely suggest the lower estimates came from “liberal” sources?
“3) Why should anyone ever trust a reporter who treats obvious falsehoods better than he treats the truth?”
I’m glad you brought this up. Rather than using the 70,000 figure to represent a “liberal” point of view, it would have been better and more accurate for Von Drehle to have used the 30,000 figure — which Media Matters was pushing on Saturday . The point, though, is the the same, and very valid: We live in a time in which it is harder and harder to find a purely objective point of view, even for something like a crowd estimate. (Here’s what Jamison wrote Monday: “As Eric noted yesterday, The Post put Saturday’s roughly 30,000-person rally on the front page.”)]
Note that Achenbach didn’t actually answer the questions. Didn’t. Come. Close.
So, Joel, since you’re reading, I’ll ask them yet again:
How can it possibly be responsible journalism to pretend that claims of 2 million march participants are just as valid as claims of 70,000?
How can it possibly be responsible journalism to portray the 70,000 estimates as the work of “liberals” rather than nonpartisan observers?
Are claims that there were 30,000 people there equivalent to claims that there were 2 million people there?
Why should anyone trust a journalist who pretends that claims of millions of participants and claims of 70,000 participants are equally valid?
Achanbach’s stubborn refusal to actually answer those questions speaks volumes.
Oh, also, since Achenbach seems to think my reference to 30,000 people is the equivalent of Beck’s claim of 1.7 million — an absurd comparison on its face, given the scale of things — here’s where I got that number: MSNBC’s David Shuster, who got it from … Freedom Works, the right-wing organization involved in planning the march.
Yeah, Joel, you’re right: My use of the number the event organizers told a reporter is just like Glenn Beck’s claim of 1.7 million.
UPDATE 4: And in his response, Achenbach accuses me of “false equivalence.” Which is really kind of cute, given that that’s one of the basic problems with his friend David Von Drehle’s profile of Beck. Von Drahle draws false equivalence between crowd size estimates of 70,000 and a million; draws false equivalence between paranoia on right and left; between Beck and Olbermann. If only Achenbach could recognize false equivalence when it comes from his “close friend,” we could have avoided this whole discussion.