Bob Sommersby, the proprietor of the Daily Howler, couldn't be shriller: One question only, for the Washington Post: When will Charles Krauthammer be fired?. Below I'll quote a large chunk of his essay, which demonstrates that Sommersby is shrill for a reason: Krauthammer spliced two divergent quotes with an ellipsis in a manner that makes Howard Dean appear to say almost the exact opposite of what the full transcript suggests he said. (Then, for good measure, Krauthammer suggested Dean was delusional.)
The departure from basic journalistic ethics seems so clear, and the fault so egregious, that I called the Post's ombudsman to discuss it. Unfortunately, I called after 5pm on Friday, and just got voice mail. But I hope to have a chance to discuss it with him next early week. For one thing, I'm curious how much editing columnists are subject to.
My bet is that the Post will say the quotes are not really all that misleading, since Dean's stated desire to reduce media concentration might well effect Fox. I hope I'm wrong, because that would be flim-flam: saying that a candidate wants to break up Fox because he disagrees with it not only suggests the candidate lacks respect for the first amendment but basically paints him as a heavy-handed fascist who would use federal power to harry his ideological opponents. Saying the candidate wants a heightened anti-trust approach to media concentration regardless of ideology reveals a view that may or may not be good policy, but indicates considerably more respect for the importance of free (and diverse) speech, and freedom generally.
[The Krauthammer column was in any case in weirdly poor taste. Krauthammer boasts of his psychiatric training, and then suggests Dean is nuts. It starts with the headline (“The Delusional Dean”), goes on to say that for Dean “it's time to check on thorazine supplies”. Oh yeah: it's just vaguely possible that Krauthammer was joking, as he suggests that another cure for Dean's disease is to donate to the Republican Party. So who knows, maybe making jokes about mental illness is what passes for yuks in the Krauthammer circles.]
Here's a lengthy excerpt from Sommersby (writing yesterday):
For now, though, only one question obtains: When will the Washington Post fire its dissembling columnist, Charles Krauthammer? And one other question obtains: What are the paper’s obligations to its misled readers?
THE POST’S LATEST LYING LIAR: Charles Krauthammer is deeply dishonest. In fact, the Washington Post should fire him, now. In a fire-breathing column in this morning’s Post, Krauthammer tells the world what a crackpot that Howard Dean is. To promote his point, Krauthammer presents a “transcript” from Monday’s night’s Hardball—a “transcript” he has artfully doctored. Here’s how the scribe presents one Q-and-A from Monday night’s Hardball program:
Chris Matthews: “Would you break up Fox?”
Howard Dean: “On ideological grounds, absolutely yes, but….I don’t want to answer whether I would break up Fox or not….What I’m going to do is appoint people to the FCC that believe democracy depends on getting information from all portions of the political spectrum, not just one.”
Wow! “On ideological grounds,” Howard Dean wants to break up Fox! According to Krauthammer, this exchange shows that Dean “is now exhibiting symptoms of a related illness, Murdoch Derangement Syndrome (MDS), in which otherwise normal people believe that their minds are being controlled by a single, very clever Australian.”
Of course, Krauthammer was playing Post readers for fools. Because we’ve dealt with people like Krauthammer for years, our reaction to this “transcript” was virtually preordained; our eyes were drawn to those suspicious ellipses which broke up Krauthammer’s pleasing text. And so we did what we’ve done for years—we checked the official transcript. And yes, we found what we frequently do; Krauthammer was playing Post readers for fools. The key words in the transcript are [LAUGHTER], which Krauthammer deftly removed:
OFFICIAL MSNBC TRANSCRIPT:
MATTHEWS: Rupert Murdoch has the Weekly Standard. It has got a lot of other interests. It has got the New York Post. Would you break it up?
DEAN: On ideological grounds, absolutely yes, but—
MATTHEWS: No, seriously. As a public policy, would you bring industrial policy to bear and break up these conglomerations of power?
DEAN: I don’t want to answer whether I would break up Fox or not, because, obviously—
MATTHEWS: Well, how about large media enterprises?
DEAN: Let me—yes, let me get—
DEAN: The answer to that is yes. I would say that there is too much penetration by single corporations in media markets all over this country. We need locally-owned radio stations. There are only two or three radio stations left in the state of Vermont where you can get local news anymore. The rest of it is read and ripped from the AP.
MATTHEWS: So what are you going to do about it? You’re going to be president of the United States, what are you going to do?
DEAN: What I’m going to do is appoint people to the FCC that believe democracy depends on getting information from all portions of the political spectrum, not just one.
So you see what Krauthammer’s ellipses removed—and you see how men like Krauthammer subvert your democracy. As anyone watching this program would know, Dean was joking when he made his statement about wanting to break up Fox. But then, anyone who read the transcript would know that too—the transcript records audience laughter two times, and shows Matthews asking Dean to “be serious.” But men like Krauthammer hate your democracy; they want to reduce you to the status of rubes. So the creative man began cutting-and-pasting, making you think that Dean had been serious. The Washington Post should do the right thing. They should fire Charles Krauthammer—now.
I disagree…Dean’s intent and meaning were not altered at all by Krauthammer’s use of ellipses.