Skube vs. Marshall and the LA Times’ editorial kabuki

If you’re going to write a cranky op-ed complaining that bloggers aren’t fit to shine real reporters’ shoes, as a journalism prof named Michael Skube did recently in the LA Times, and then you cite Josh Marshall as one of your examples of these failures to pound the pavement, you shouldn’t be surprised if people snort in derision. Love it or hate it (I love it), Marshall’s Talking Points Memo is the model of a muckraking blog; it regularly breaks stories.

But wait, this gets more ridiculous. Marshall emailed Skube, who told him that he didn’t include Marshall (or any of the other blogger examples) in the piece; some editor inserted that sentence. “Perhaps I’m naive,” Marshall wrote. “But it surprises me a great deal that a professor of journalism freely admits that he allows to appear under his own name claims about a publication he concedes he’s never read.”

Now Jay Rosen has written a blistering retort to Skube’s piece, complete with a crowdsourced litany of examples of blogging-driven reporting. And the LA Times has posted an editor’s note about the matter Marshall raised.

Ah, you figure, the paper decided to set the record straight. Think again. The editor’s note is entirely devoted to presenting a semi-mea-culpa note from Skube: “An editor asked if it would be helpful to include the names of the bloggers in my piece as active participants in political debate. I agreed.”

So, before, Skube had told Marshall that “I didn’t put your name into the piece and haven’t spent any time on your site…Your name was inserted late by an editor.” Now, he’s saying exactly the same thing, only he’s also admitting that he approved of the change even though he didn’t really know if it was true. And the paper is saying, “See? The writer agreed to the change! So there’s no problem!”

The LA Times editorial page editor seems to think that this comic routine closes the case. Sorry. Both the paper and the professor now look bad. The editor’s note tells readers that the paper cares more about proving its rectitude in the relatively arcane question of whether the editor had checked with Skube before inserting Marshall’s name than it cares about actually providing its readers with an accurate description of Marshall’s blog as one that does or does not do original reporting.

It’s bad enough for a newspaper to have made this silly error; but everyone makes errors. The damning behavior is the refusal to admit the mistake; the game of finger-pointing; the hiding behind the gears of process; and the institutional facade that says, “Something went awry here but we’ll never come clean because our dignity is more important than the truth.”

Ironically, the LA Times seems to think it’s OK to not correct the piece because, hey, it’s just an op-ed, everyone’s entitled to an opinion. But Skube’s complaint against blogs is built on the notion that opinion is inferior to “the patient fact-finding of reporters.” It’s unfortunate for him that an argument along the lines of “blogs such as Josh Marshall’s are inferior because they don’t do real reporting” is widely known to be false.

I will let Skube have the last word: “Something larger is needed: the patient sifting of fact, the acknowledgment that assertion is not evidence and, as the best writers understand, the depiction of real life… The word has lost its luster, but we once called that reporting.”
[tags]blogging, josh marshall, michael skube, journalism, corrections, los angeles times[/tags]

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Comments

  1. Scott,

    Nothing like a little irony with my moring java. (Found your peice via Romenesko).

    Can a critique get any better than when it uses the critiquee’s own words agin him? Nay.

    Nice to read your stuff after so many years since 110 5th Street.

    Cheers from an old colleague,

    Stewart

    Stewart Huntington
    Publisher
    Black Hills Pioneer

  2. what struck me about Newton’s note is that of the websites that it decries

    1) are all left-of-center

    2) 3 ouf 4 are written by people who are paid/earn a living through blogging, the fourth is a “for-profit” group blog.

    3) these blogs are far from “partisan” — while all are “left of center”, they do not refrain from criticizing Democrats when such criticism is called for (e.g. the massive amount of criticism of the Democratic leadership’s role in the passage of the FISA revisions.)

    This raises serious questions regarding the editorial staff of the LA Times — it would appear that they had a “partisan”/ideological agenda in providing the names of the blogs involved.

  3. Yes, hoist by his own petard! Well done.

    As an academic myself, I’d like to emphasize that this is not just lazy and dishonest journalism; it’s also lazy and dishonest “professoring.” If I saw something like this while serving on a tenure/promotion committee, I’d treat it as serious.

  4. David Edelstein

    Paul Lukasiak (above) called it. The issue now becomes bigger than laziness and hypocrisy. This is about a right-winger and the newspaper that banners him attempting to discredit a medium that has the potential to dig deep and make noise. When the only loud voices were druggie Rush Limbaugh’s and such columnists as Robert Novak, you didn’t hear a peep from Skube…

  5. Iv’e followed Talking Points on a daily basis for about 2 years and find him a hell of a lot more accurate than say the NY Times, Wash. Post. One can tell he makes a point to be accurate.

    Lindy

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