Jim VandeHei, White House Correspodent for the Washington Post, gave a nice plug to TWN on Friday in the Post‘s daily online political discussion.
In the early part of discussion, a reader asked VandeHei what sources he uses to “get his news”:
Baton Rouge, La.: Jim – as a reporter, where do you go to get your news? You’re obviously well-informed about the topics that you cover and you gather a lot of information yourself, but do you utilize other newspapers and blogs to get information as well?
Jim VandeHei: we get our information from taking to sources, reading other publications and sifting through records or documents. I do not find blogs a useful source of information.
The comment that VandeHei is not into blogs got some riled up. However, I think that he has highly valid concerns about the still un-evolved standards in blog journalism and commentary.
Here is the exchange:
Rochester, N.Y.: “I do not find blogs a useful source of information” Boy are you out of touch.
Jim VandeHei: I hope I am not out of touch. Blogs, or at least those I have read, seem to react more to what we write.
There are a few exceptions where bloggers are acting as serious reporters and digging up information. Steve Clemons, who writes The Washington Note, comes to mind as one source of information on national security matters I might not find elsewhere. Unfortunately, I also find a lot of misinformation on other blogs.
There are other bloggers out there that work hard at adding value to their published product — and who do some very good investigative journalism — but they are few.
I don’t know Jim VandeHei personally and was proud of the comment he shared, but the occasion of his mention makes me raise a second point that I think that the liberal and conservative blogging communities need to seriously address.
Blogging, to some degree, has taken some elements of political journalism back to the days of “Scandalmongering” which to me seems like an appropriate description of the rampant political pampleteering in the early period of America’s birth as a nation.
James Callendar was one such famous “scandalmonger”, but there were many others. William Safire wrote a fun but not widely read book titled Scandalmonger about yellow journalism and the early political feuds between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Although a used copy in “good condition” of Safire’s book can be acquired for a mere penny plus shipping from Amazon, it is worth considerably more and should be read to remind us what out of control, sloppy, and often slanderous journalism looked like.
I am going this direction because I was planning to write about VandeHei before he had said anything nice about my blog.
While I’m really happy with what he said, to some degree I wish he hadn’t because some will suspect that it seems too coincidental that I would defend him here after he made a comment on a public forum on Friday. Well, the timing is coincidental and people will have to accept my position on that or not.
What has bothered me is that for the last several days, there have been clusters of liberal bloggers who have been hyperventilating over the fact that VandeHei’s wife used to be a social/family policy advisor in the office of Congressman Tom DeLay, when he was Majority Whip. They have used this as evidence in their assessments that VandeHei must be an “unfair” journalist, tilting to the right, allegedly not asking conservatives the “tough questions” and giving liberals a tough time — particularly in his coverage of the Valerie Plame investigation.
This just is not true. VandeHei is breaking big news — “without fear or favor” as great journalism should — and it’s obvious just by reading his pieces.
I have linked to a number of them on TWN. But a quick review shows that there is one here questioning the Libby-Cheney relationship in the Plame indictment story.
Here is another on the Plame story, co-written with Walter Pincus, who would not give the time of day to a political hack.
Here is another TWN reference and article exposing Colin Powell as a behind-the-scenes opponent of John Bolton’s nomination to the United Nations.
There are others as well on this blog — and just hundreds of them this past year on the Washington Post site.
There are reporters that do a sloppy job, and some do cross lines that they shouldn’t. I’ve written enough about Judith Miller to indicate my belief that she galloped past many of these lines.
However, if we are going to begin engaging in whisper campaigns against writers, thinkers, policy intellectuals, administration officials, Hill staff, and others because of who they are married to or where they were born or other irrelevant, private factors — rather than make an empirical assessment of their work and thinking — then we are in real trouble.
I can’t and won’t divulge the source or specific commenters who have raised questions about VandeHei. I value my relationships with the blogging and pundit networks I am in, but I also just need to send a signal that stuff that sounds slanderous often is — and in my increasingly less humble view — we need to orient our debates about issues, about policy, about the quality of one’s thinking and work.
There is nothing wrong about political agendas, or political advocacy, or even seeking to undermine talented good people on the other side of the political equation to push a new political direction or candidate.
But savaging journalists who have very clear records is not a wise move. We all make mistakes. I have. VandeHei probably will, but quality journalists work on those mistakes and work to build trust with their readers and sources in such a way that credible news is delivered.
Who he is married to, or who I hang out with bars on the weekends, or who you spend time with is not relevant in any debate about whether journalism is high quality or not. I hope that my friends in the blogging community will agree and move on to better challenges that do deserve their scrutiny.
— Steve Clemons