April 14, 2008

"She was admitted to the private San Francisco fund-raiser as an activist blogger and then functioned as a journalist."

Mayhill Fowler, the blogger who brought us that Obama quote (about bitter small-towners with their guns and their religion). So, bloggers are supposed to know their place, eh? If she were really a journalist, she'd have viewed the event as off the record. But she was a blogger — a pro-Obama blogger — so the idea was she'd boost their candidate. But — oh, no! — she blurred the line!
The whole episode gives a revealing glimpse into yet even more ways in which the Internet is changing the coverage of politics....

There’s a bit of a brush fire in California about how Ms. Fowler got in, and Ms. Fowler is protecting the person who secured her a ticket. That person has since called her and said that fund-raisers are always off the record.

“This was never conveyed to me,” Ms. Fowler said. “I was invited to the event, I had written on fund-raisers in the past, why wouldn’t I this time?” She said the Obama campaign had never objected before to her having written about fund-raisers (though admittedly, nothing much of interest had happened). And the invitations said nothing about being closed to the press. Besides, she said, several guests brought people and children and who had not been invited.

“We had a fundamental misunderstanding of my priorities,” Ms. Fowler told me. “Mine were as a reporter, not as a supporter. They thought I would put the role of supporter first.”...

Ms. Fowler said she held her digital recorder openly. The place was jammed with others using video cams and cell phone cameras...

Ms. Fowler said she found his response "professorial" and judgmental toward blue-collar voters and that even though she supports him, she was "taken aback" by them.

“I’m a religious person, and I grew up poor in a very wealthy family -- sometimes we didn’t have enough to eat, but my larger family was rich,” she said. Her father was a hunter. “Immediately, the remarks just really bothered me. For the first time, I realized he is an elitist.”
Oh, is "professorial" really so bad? I guess it is. But this notion that because Fowler was viewed as a supporter (a pose a journalist can't take), she wasn't free to talk about what she observed... I can't accept that. Of course, the campaigns have to worry that bloggers are loose cannons. Let them worry. They can try to use us for PR, but we're free agents. Access doesn't buy silence.

43 comments:

EnigmatiCore said...

Is the argument that what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas?

That sure makes me wonder what other fun things are said at these fundraisers.

Meade said...

Obama's people sound a little bitter about it.

peter hoh said...

There is no more "off the record." I can live with that.

For too long, pols have said one thing to one audience and another thing to another audience. Now they'll have to coordinate their pandering.

Simon said...

I generally agree with Peter that the consequence of the blogosphere is that there's no longer such a concept as "off the record." With that said, I have attended and written posts about events that might also be considered "off the record." In doing so, I've tried to be sensitive to the nature of the event. for example, I wrote about last year's 7th cir bar meeting panels in considerable detail. I didn't report everything that was said, because it wasn't a public event. I tried to fairly represent the key points that were made, and several people who attended have indicated their approval. An even more extreme example was that Randy Barnett made several remarks at a symposium that I intended to cover, and I was sufficiently concerned to stay in-bounds that I ran my draft post past him to ensure I'd been tactful enough. But that's discretionary on my part; it's partly because I'm concerned about my own reputation and mainly because I'm considerate to people speaking at these events.

Nevertheless, Fowler was in a different position. She had a potentially explosive quote that could have a profound impact on the direction of American history. She had hole-beneath-the-waterline stuff on a Presidential candidate, and in releasing it, she made the right choice.

Meade said...

Next on Oprah: Coordipanderents and the uncoordinated pandering politicians they dipand on.

John Stodder said...

It's fitting into the emerging pattern of Obama and his campaign that their first move was to attack Fowler and try to substitute its own sanitized version of Obama's comments.

Ain't "the politics of hope" grand?

The Daily Kos people are also trying to take her down, acc. to the NYT.

Revenant said...

The concept of "off the record" has only ever applied to politicians and other media-recognized "elites". For ordinary people like us the media has never made a distinction between comments meant for public consumption and private comments.

That's exactly backwards, in my opinion -- and I'm glad to see the new media are tearing down that distinction.

DorianDavis said...

As I wrote at my own blog, I think Fowler ought to be shown the door as a HuffPo contributor. If she didn't know the fundraiser was off-the-record, her editor at HuffPo had to. It is flat out wrong to dialogue from off-the-record events. It results in a high cost to other reporters - namely, limited future access to the candidate. It is also an act of betrayal. No one with a bit of sense will trust her from now on, and for good reason. I could imagine situations that might merit some kind of compromise, but a word-for-word reprint on something I consider to be more or less a non-story is not going to make the grade.

JohnAnnArbor said...

It is flat out wrong to dialogue from off-the-record events.

I think it's flat-out wrong to omit hyphens and turn nouns into verbs.

JohnAnnArbor said...

. I could imagine situations that might merit some kind of compromise, but a word-for-word reprint on something I consider to be more or less a non-story is not going to make the grade.

I'm glad that you're not the High Commissar for Press Approval. Though clearly you'd relish the censor's role.

Seven Machos said...

something I consider to be more or less a non-story

Sadly, I don't think you, whoever you are, get to be the decider in this regard. Besides, pal, you are writing about this trivial non-story. A not-short comment here. Your blog. What else? Hmmmmmm?

Why are you wasting your time? Shouldn't you be writing about important issues like CHANGE.

M. Simon said...

Access doesn't buy silence.

It used to. It. Used. To.

M. Simon said...

The deal is bloggers have no printing presses to support. No jobs to maintain. No boss to answer to.

Get that Obama? Ordinary citizens don't like to be called rubes. In America the poor consider themselves equal to the rich. Respect us all equally.

You want to be one of the elite? Get an audience with the Queen.

Revenant said...

It is flat out wrong to dialogue from off-the-record events. It results in a high cost to other reporters - namely, limited future access to the candidate.

Because I'm sure that politicians are going to start shunning the press. It isn't like they need publicity or anything, after all.

I could imagine situations that might merit some kind of compromise, but a word-for-word reprint on something I consider to be more or less a non-story is not going to make the grade.

Good point. Nobody would be interested in learning (a) that the Democratic front-runner's carefully constructed "uniter and man of the people" facade was an utter lie and (b) and that his fawning supporters in the press knew it.

B said...

Incredibly spot-on comments on this thread so far.

In particular, meade's and revenant's first comments.

The American people hate elitism.

Except liberal elites. They have so much to lose.

Bissage said...

I'm disappointed by the Obama campaign's amateurishness that made this "leak" possible in the first place.

All of the bloggers should have first been vetted at a lunch with Michelle where they could eat "southern chicken" and pose for a photo, maybe even arrayed randomly.

Later, they could go home to blog about how Obama’s good on their issues and how they’re totally impressed and how his wife has beautiful brown eyes.

That way, when they're finally granted admittance to the main house, those field hands would maintain a finer discretion afterwards.

John Stodder said...

As I wrote at my own blog, I think Fowler ought to be shown the door as a HuffPo contributor. If she didn't know the fundraiser was off-the-record, her editor at HuffPo had to.

Oh, man, I hope you're never in charge of appointing judges.

No editor would ever enforce an unstated off-the-record preference on behalf of a candidate once the reporter had turned in her copy. Ever. If no one ever said to Fowler "this is an off the record event," then it's not Fowler's job and especially not her editor's to throw the blanket over her information as if someone had imposed that condition. Which no one claims to have done.

You are pissed off that Huffington Post acted like their readers were more important than your preferred candidate. My God. I bet you think of yourself as a defender of civil rights. You need to take a refresher course.

tjl said...

"a word-for-word reprint on something I consider to be more or less a non-story"

Of course mere facts should never be permitted to taint the Narrative of St. Obama and his redemptive mission.

AJ Lynch said...

"Professiorial" used as a bit of an insult huh Ann.

I felt she was saying Obama used big words, spoke clearly and eloquently but had no clue about the true substance of his subject. Sounds like some professors in the soft sciences like social studies or business management who never held a real job.

Roger J. said...

Dorian bleats about "off the record" and "betrayal of trust." So the voting public should not hear what the candidates really believe? That Dorian is betrayal of trust: to not level with the American public and utter platitudes on the stump to get those bitter, gun loving rubes to vote for your sorry ass. Why should a fund raiser be off the record? Because the candidates say what they really believe and don't want the public to know? Is that your understanding Dorian? You sense of morality is ethically challenged.

DorianDavis said...

The reason I'm not 100 percent on Fowler's side is that it is a common and well-known rule in journalism that reporters won't print off-the-record comments. If some nefarious plan to invade Venezuela comes out at a fundraiser, then we'd have to rethink the arrangement. But as bad as some people seem to think this statement was, it doesn't rise to that standard.

Pastor_Jeff said...

I think what this really shows is how adept campaigns are at manipulating the press, and how willing the press is to go along. The fascinating insight from the Obama camp's complaint is how they think things are "supposed" to work -- we give you access and insider tidbits, and you get a few laughs at the expense of the rubes and a seat on the campaign jet.

It's a shame that the media have forgotten that journalists are supposed to help us understand what the candidate thinks, not what the journalist thinks.

Roger J. said...

Dorian: you are clearly approaching this a journalist where cultivation of sources is the sine qua non of success. No public servant should ever make "off the record" comments to a journalist--they can, and should, have confidential discussions with their advisors as they create policy. But an "off the record" comment to a journalist is simply an act of cowardice on the part of the principal, and makes the journalist a whore for the person making the "off the record" comment. If you like that system, go for it. I think the American public is sick of it.

Pastor_Jeff said...

it is a common and well-known rule in journalism that reporters won't print off-the-record comments.

And whose interests does that rule serve?

Seneca the Younger said...

Access doesn't buy silence.

I think that's the disconnect: for "real journalists", access often does buy silence. CF the CNN head's comments about what they had to do to preserve access in Saddam's Iraq.

Cedarford said...

Dorian -It is flat out wrong to dialogue from off-the-record events. It results in a high cost to other reporters - namely, limited future access to the candidate. It is also an act of betrayal.

The problem is money runs politics, and the promises made to the money people and the money raisers at these "private sessions" are actually how those politicians will govern if they want continued money pouring out of the spigot at appropriate times. And that means promises to the people with money clout will be kept while promises made in public to voters are all but discardable.

That these fundraisers are frequently attended by "journalists" who sympathize with the candidate and are made into enabling whores who trade access to the candidate for their agreement to shut up about what the candidate really thinks and pledges is the real disgrace. Not that a blogger told the American People what was really said at one such "private gathering up at the mansion."

For the record, I wish that one such coopted journalist-whore had reported on Dubya Bush's "private, off the record" promises to his ultrawealthy Ranger and Pioneer donors about tax cuts for the wealthy fueled by loans from China, his assurances that cheap labor in the form of H-1B Visas and illegal immigration would be guaranteed to continue no matter how the "little people" bitched, and whatever he said to the Oil People and Enron people about his coming plan to stabilize the ME and open Iraq and Iran to business again....

All too many journalists know that their promotion, even rise to the Ruling Elites themselves depends on being supportive, to get the access needed to get the promotions that might even end up with the White House dinners, the 6 million dollar salary, stardom - if a little discretion is used. Keeping much of what you know about powerful people you are currying favor of or who are friends with the media owner's family - "on the hush-hush".
And one way to help get there, to the pinnacles of journalistic success, is to be cultivated by the politician you spot as rising talent, and who is in turn cultivated by you. Meaning if you are at a swank luncheon with the Obamas circa 1998 and he has his benefactors - billionaires Penny Pritzker, Bettelou Salzman, John S, Crown, and black superstar exec Brenda Jarrett (all top members of the U of Chicago Board of Trustees, BTW)- and something damaging is said, you best hesitate about telling the people of Chicago about it. Otherwise, it is a painful journey back down the ladder to write on the obituary pages..in Peoria.

KLDAVIS said...

DorianDavis said...

If some nefarious plan to invade Venezuela comes out at a fundraiser, then we'd have to rethink the arrangement.


Ahh, so it's only okay to violate this sacred trust when it could potentially sabotage a military operation and put troops in significant additional harm.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry...but, I'm hoping you are a parody.

-kd

Simon said...

DorianDavis said...
"The reason I'm not 100 percent on Fowler's side is that it is a common and well-known rule in journalism that reporters won't print off-the-record comments."

She's not a reporter, she's a blogger. She may fancy herself a reporter, as many bloggers do, but that's by-and-large a conceit, and one that usually seeks the advantages of journalism while glossing over the inconveniences and limits of journalism.

Zeb Quinn said...

The reason I'm not 100 percent on Fowler's side is that it is a common and well-known rule in journalism that reporters won't print off-the-record comments.

Yeah, well, sometimes what happens off the record trumps that. This is such a case.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

“We had a fundamental misunderstanding of my priorities,” Ms. Fowler told me. “Mine were as a reporter, not as a supporter. They thought I would put the role of supporter first.”

Reporter, supporter- when it comes to Obama, what's the diff?

Also, show me where it's written in stone that "journalism" is some kind of higher fucking calling that plays by some horseshit rules that have been disregarded for partisan purposes for at least 40 years anyway?

Roger J. said...

If you havent looked at the angry journalist web site yet, it is a great window into the farce that is american journalism. I personally suspect that J Schools are filled with people who cant do math thereby eliminating hard sciences, statistics, and the like.

Revenant said...

it is a common and well-known rule in journalism that reporters won't print off-the-record comments. If some nefarious plan to invade Venezuela comes out at a fundraiser, then we'd have to rethink the arrangement.

So the actual rule, then, is "reporters never print off-the-record statements unless the reporter thinks it is important to". In your case, a sufficiently important occasion would be when you have the opportunity to betray your country's military plans.

But as bad as some people seem to think this statement was, it doesn't rise to that standard.

Fortunately nobody actually gives a shit what you think about this. You're not a gatekeeper -- you're just another media whore.

reader_iam said...

Marc Cooper, who is the editorial coordinator of O.T.B., is writing on his own blog about the development of Ms. Fowler’s story and he acknowledged that the campaign did not want the event covered. “It was indeed a fund-raiser to which the press was not invited,” he wrote. “Or if you wish, it was closed to press. Therefore it wasn’t on or off the record. Off the record is when journalists consensually agree to witness or hear something on the condition they not report it.”

This is my understanding. It certainly was the understanding under which I operated when I was reporting; it was certainly the understanding when I managed and edited correspondents as an assistant copy desk chief, assistant city editor, and bureau chief; and it is certainly the understanding under which I function were I to start reporting again, as a formal journalist or even "citizenjournalist."

Dorian's site is down for "maintenance," so I can't read the post to which he refers.

But based on his comments, I have to wonder about his mastery of the fundamentals.

Who cares whether a campaign wants something covered or not? Too bad.

If I were still into that sort thing, you can bet your life I'd try to find a way into a fundraiser and report on it. There's more likely to be a story there than at a dime-a-dozen, heavily managed stump appearance.

As for Fowler, I'm much more concerned about her political donations and the following:

She said she initially decided not to write about them. “I thought I wouldn’t put it out there, this really might damage his campaign,” she said. “I talked it over with my husband, and like many people, he didn’t see anything wrong with the remarks. He didn’t think it was newsworthy.”

Then she told her editor in New York that she had some interesting material but didn’t tell her exactly what it was. “Initially I resisted what she was telling me, which was that if you’re going to cover the campaign, you have to not be partial or your coverage isn’t worth as much as it could be,” she said.

The next step, she said, was realizing that her editor was right. As she flew east on Thursday to resume covering Mr. Obama, she said, the story just wrote itself in her head. While she said she usually spends four hours composing her posts, this one took half an hour. Unlike her post about Mr. Obama's vice presidential musings, which she wrote as hard news, she wrote this one in the ruminating style that has become her trademark. The important quotes were buried deep in the narrative, almost as if they were couched to soften the blow. She also said she thought posting on Friday would mean fewer people would see it.


Oh, ugh.

Well, not everyone would agree me. Here's the perspective of Jay Rosen, a founder and editor of Huffpo's OffTheBus, and someone who read Fowler's piece before it was posted. He discusses at length the situation surrounding the posting of the piece, and the philosophy behind the kind of citizenjournalism he and Arianna Huffington envisioned. It's worth a read.

(I should note that I do not like that vision, and I do not support it, my defense of Fowler's reporting about what was said at the fundraiser nothwithstanding.)

John Stodder said...

DorianDavis said...
The reason I'm not 100 percent on Fowler's side is that it is a common and well-known rule in journalism that reporters won't print off-the-record comments.


There is no "common and well-known rule in journalism," because there is no license or code under which journalists operate. They are not lawyers or hair stylists. To some, that diminishes their professionalism, but on the other hand, it puts the government in the exact right place when it comes to regulating the journalistic profession -- completely out of it entirely.

That's why the line between bloggers and journalists is grey nearing white. Anyone can be a journalist. They might blog, they might write opinion pieces, they might take pictures of burning buildings, or they might work for NPR and use expensive digital equipment to capture the sound of pouring water. There is no governing authority that says one form or media is journalism and the other is not.

As for "off the record," that's a contractual arrangement between the writer/reporter/blogger/videographer or whoever and his or her source. It is never implied or a matter of custom. It is specifically requested and accepted, with the terms clarified.

So, Marc Cooper says the event to which Fowler was invited was "closed to the press." However, Fowler was one of several people who apparently displayed recording equipment at the event. If the Obama campaign said to Fowler, or to the group in Fowler's hearing, "turn off the recording devices, this is off the record," and she then recorded it surreptitiously, then they would have a right to complain (although no recourse other than banning Huffington Post from future events, which of course they would be stupid to do). But they did not tell people to stop recording. They seemed to encourage the recordings. And this is the kind of thing that can happen.

Some people are doing some major thumbsucking about "what this all means" with regard to the internet, journalism and the future of the world.

I'll tell you what it means: The wheels are coming off the Obama campaign. The campaign's charmed existence is over. They got lazy and sloppy inside their cocoon of adulation. It was arrogant and stupid for the campaign to assume that all those nice people in that nice fundraiser and the nice Mr. and Mrs. Getty's house would all agree, without being asked, to protect Obama from himself. The sad thing is that only one of the event's attendees recognized the public interest in disclosing his comments.

If you tape me secretly when I think I'm having a private conversation, and then disclose it, shame on you. But if you put the recording equipment right in my face and I say something that will wreck my candidacy, then shame on me. Just ask Senator George Allen.

DorianDavis said...

An "off-the-record" event is not one that can't be taped or recorded. It is one that can't be reported. Fowler's argument that other people had tape recorders is irrelevant. And, admittedly, whether to break an off the record agreement (and if she was there, it was an agreement) is a matter of personal judgment. If lives are at stake, a reporter could make one judgment. If not, then a reporter could make another judgment. But the mere fact that something would make a sensational story doesn't mean that it justifies unethical activity. So, I'll respectfully disagree with some of the readers here on the story's merits and concede that now that it's out there, it's news.

JohnAnnArbor said...

And, admittedly, whether to break an off the record agreement (and if she was there, it was an agreement) is a matter of personal judgment.

Except Fowler says she was never told of any agreement. Nor was there any objection to recording or other action by Obama or his staff that could lead someone to believe that the event was somehow privileged.

Telepathy doesn't work in real life.

John Stodder said...

Oy, this is like an itch I can't get rid of:

And, admittedly, whether to break an off the record agreement (and if she was there, it was an agreement) is a matter of personal judgment.

To make your argument, you assert facts that are not facts. "If she was there, it was an agreement" is not consistent with anyone's version of the story.

I wouldn't mind your stubborn obtuseness so much except that you then go on to call Ms. Fowler "unethical," which in my book is a libel. You are in essence accusing her of breaking a promise. But she didn't break a promise. You can't break a promise if you never made that promise.

You're grouping Ms. Fowler unfairly with reporters who:

-- Invent or distort remarks
-- Fabricate evidence, such as a forged document or an "off the record" source who doesn't exist
-- Allow themselves to be influenced by partisanship
-- Allow themselves to be influenced by a promise of compensation
-- Make a knowingly false charge
-- Lie to interviewees, including about whether a comment will be kept off the record

...and so forth. Ms. Fowler did none of these things. She got an invite to the fundraiser. She attended, digital recorder in hand. She was witnessed using the recorder when Obama spoke. No one at any point asked her not to make public Obama's remarks. She almost allowed her partisanship to overcome her news judgment, but in the end decided the story deserved to be published on her blog.

And perhaps destroyed Obama's candidacy. We'll see. But she didn't do anything unethical.

I'm just thunderstruck by the incompetence of a campaign in 2008 declaring an event is "closed to the press" but allowing attendees to record it. Hello? Hello? Got broadband at home? Ever checked out that cool new thing, YouTube? Is there really anybody working Obama's campaign who is too old and out of touch to make the necessary connections to protect the candidate?

Fen said...

An "off-the-record" event is not one that can't be taped or recorded. It is one that can't be reported.

Right. An "off-the-record" event should be a place where Obama can REALLY say what thinks about "flyover" country, without fear of it being reported...

For your sake, I hope you're just trolling.

somefeller said...

I'm just thunderstruck by the incompetence of a campaign in 2008 declaring an event is "closed to the press" but allowing attendees to record it. Hello? Hello? Got broadband at home? Ever checked out that cool new thing, YouTube? Is there really anybody working Obama's campaign who is too old and out of touch to make the necessary connections to protect the candidate?

Bingo! For a campaign that is supposedly fired by the wisdom of savvy young people and their elders who "get it", who see through the shams that supposedly everyone else in the political world are blinded by, they seem to be missing some basic points regarding the short distance between the video camera / camera phone and the internet.

I've been to more than a few political fundraisers (including, in the interests of full disclosure, fundraisers for Sen. Obama's primary opponent), and a few things come to mind. First of all, while press may not be invited to such events, the idea that comments made at such events are to be kept secret is absurd. Generally, candidates make comments at such events with the intention of them being repeated, at least among the politically connected (i.e.: friends of people who can afford to pay to attend the events). Also, such events, if they have hundreds of attendees (which I'm sure this event did, given where we are in the campaign), are quasi-public events, in that any candidate who makes comments at such events isn't doing so within some sort of inner circle of trusted people. In practice, it's a room full of strangers, for heaven's sake, so the idea that this is all "among friends" is ridiculous. If this was a situation in which Fowler was at a private dinner with Obama and she reported what was said there, that might be different, but that isn't the case here, and in any event the punishment for breaching trust at such dinners is a simple one - you don't get invited to any more such events, which is akin to the death penalty for people who enjoy going to such events.

Obama got caught out, plain and simple, and end of story. Attempts to shift attention to Fowler's actions are a diversion at best.

Nichevo said...

Ethics? You have no ethics, you're all whores. You will do exactly whatever you want.

At least people like Insty and Ann are honest sluts. What blogging brings is the freedom of the streetwalker who has no pimp to muzzle her.

You scum really test the virtue of the First Amendment every single day. Don't you know that you are hated? Don't you know why?

Fen said...

Leftist Brownshirt alert.

Somebody hide the Vodka and Bill of Rights.

Fen said...

Access doesn't buy silence.

"It used to. It. Used. To."

Ah yes, CNN burying reports of Saddam's rape rooms and torture chambers in exchange for access. And to think that some people still trust them as a broker of information.

Jason said...

Congratulations, Dorian - you've managed to become the perfect embodiment of the libtard's unerring instinct for fascism.