Thursday, March 22, 2007's Reputation

This morning, before John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth held their press conference in which they sadly announced that Elizabeth's cancer was back but that John would continue on with his presidential bid regardless, Ben Smith of reported:

John Edwards is suspending his campaign for President, and may drop out completely, because his wife has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that sickened her in 2004, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, an Edwards friend told The Politico.

"At a minimum he's going to suspend" the campaign, the source said. "Nobody knows precisely how serious her recurrence is. It’ll be another couple of days before there’s complete clarity."

Once the Edwards actually held their press conference in which they announced his bid would go on without interruption, Smith issued a correction in which he said he had relied on a single source for his story. Bad move, obviously.

And that might be the end of it if hadn't been involved in misreporting before, but it has. If you've followed the Democrats fight with the administration and Republicans over the Iraq war, you'll remember how the phrase "slow bleed" was attributed to John Murtha and just how much of a firestorm that caused. The problem is that John Murtha never used that phrase.'s editor was the source of it. To add insult to injury, when John Harris announced his culpability weeks later the damage had already been done. To top that off, he wrote that he was proud of what he'd done:

With a mixture of pride and remorse, I have a confession: I am the author of the Democratic Party's "slow-bleed strategy" for ending the war in Iraq.

I had nothing to do with the details of the plan that Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) floated two weeks ago. His plan was crafted to use the appropriations process to limit President Bush's options for mobilizing more forces in Iraq, while trying to protect Democrats from the accusation that they were abandoning troops in the field. As it happens, Murtha's idea is itself bleeding support, hit by a barrage of denunciations from people who say it does indeed amount to abandoning the troops.

In retrospect, it probably has already occurred to Murtha and his supporters that from a public relations perspective, "slow-bleed" was not the most winning description. How could they have been so stupid?

That's where I come in. "Slow bleed" is my phrase. Murtha had nothing to do with it. Neither did John Bresnahan, the reporter whose name was on the Politico story in which the "slow-bleed strategy" made its debut.

You can understand my pride of authorship. Editors labor in obscurity. Our job is to keep reporters from looking bad, and to let them take the credit when they look good. Rarely is there tangible evidence that we are having any impact. But in 20-plus years in the business, I can scarcely recall an instance when words typed on my keyboard have had such a loud and immediate echo.

Who takes pride in misrepresenting what a politican says just because it pulls him out of obscurity and then causes major political wars about the most serious issue facing the American people and government today? That's Rovian and it's selfish immaturity taken to its highest level.

The bottom line? should not be considered a trusted source since its employees are obviously incapable of acting with any sort of journalistic professionalism. We already have enough problems dealing with what comes out of the mainstream media. If a new media organization wants to be considered legitimate and above that fray, it obviously needs to act with caution and integrity - something has been lacking.

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