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Do you like op-eds which pretend to be news articles?

If so, newspaper trends are going your way, as I explain in my latest column for the Rocky Mountain News. The cutting edge provider of such slanted "news" is ProPublica, a non-profit funded by the leftist Sandler familiy. Newspapers get the ProPublica "investigative journalism" articles for free, so in a time when newspapers must cut production costs, free articles can be very attractive. Even if they are one-sided argumentative pieces which have more in common with an op-ed than with a real investigative news article.

Eli Rabett (www):
Let Fox News call ProPublica partisan. C'mon this has been going on since printing started. Hearst didn't exactly have a wall between the editorial and news slots.

There IS gambling going on, you just object that the other side is getting in on your thing
12.28.2008 4:37pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
Someone providing free, prepackaged "news" stories to media outlets? How shocking!
12.28.2008 4:46pm
John Moore (www):
Err... this has been the M.O. of the AP for years. Do you think that their byline means you are getting facts rather than intentionally slanted opinion pieces?
12.28.2008 4:59pm
RPT (mail):
John Moore is quite right about the AP. Their senior editor (?) was offered a job in the McCain campaign this year but turned it down so he continued the same work under the AP rubric.
12.28.2008 5:12pm
Sarcastro (www):
I knew McCain was a liberal! In bed with the Liberal Media Elite, no less!
12.28.2008 5:25pm
zippypinhead:
"Newspapers get the ProPublica "investigative journalism" articles for free, so in a time when newspapers must cut production costs, free articles can be very attractive. Even if they are one-sided argumentative pieces which have more in common with an op-ed than with a real investigative news article."
OK, so in the true spirit of Libertarianism, if this is such an effective tool to shape public opinion, we should expect (and encourage) similar free "investigative journalism" offerings from other political viewpoints, right? ProPublica doesn't have a business method patent on their information/opinion dissemination technique, I suspect...
12.28.2008 6:04pm
Ken Arromdee:
OK, so in the true spirit of Libertarianism, if this is such an effective tool to shape public opinion, we should expect (and encourage) similar free "investigative journalism" offerings from other political viewpoints, right?

Libertarians don't think highly of fraud. Mislabelling a partisan piece as non-partisan is fraud, regardless of whether it fits any legal definition of that.
12.28.2008 6:31pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Libertarians don't think highly of fraud.
An even bigger problem is that they don't have the deep pockets to fund this stuff that the left does. Conservatives even less so.
12.28.2008 6:36pm
Michael B (mail):
From Commentary, a tangent only but illuminating, Liberals and the Surge, a detailed review.
12.28.2008 6:38pm
Jerry F:
How is that different from the New York Times?
12.28.2008 6:46pm
Bradley J. Fikes (mail):
Yes, we need to be wary of articles from groups with agendas. However, as a commenter at the RMN said about your column, you buried your lede.

And why the gratuitous praise of YourHub? It was not only out of place, but people need to know such "user-generated" content, published with little editorial oversight, should be read with skepticism. Consider this article in YourHub from a chiropractor who used the falsified scare about mercury in vaccines to dissuade people from getting flu shots. That's more dangerous to the public than anything you cited from ProPublica.
12.28.2008 6:48pm
second history:
This post (and link) are itself a one-sided attack. Besides the ad-hominem attack on the Sandler family, the post hasn't given any examples of bias in ProPublica stories.

In October 2008 the LA Times and ProPublica reported that convicted murderers, drug users, and molesters were able to retain their nursing licenses, even though the State of California knew of their convictions and were serving time in prison. Of course, I agree it didn't give the pro-side of the argument as to why convicted drug offenders should retain their access to prescription meds, so is that the bias Kopel is concerned about?

In November, the paper and ProPublica reported crime labs across the country haven't spent federal grant money to test rape kits, thereby letting many rapists uncaught or uncharged. At the LAPD alone this totals over 7,000 untested rape kits. This is despite the fact Congress has specifically appropriated $474 million since 2004 for this purpose. Is the fact of justice denied the bias that Kopel rails against?

In June 2008 ProPublica and 60 Minutes reported that the US-funded (to the tune of $500M) Al-Hurra television station "has aired anti-American and anti-Israeli viewpoints, has showcased pro-Iranian policies and recently gave air time to a militant who called for the death of American soldiers in Iraq" and "that government officials believe are as negative as anything aired by Al Jazeera." Does Kopel think the taxpayers should be funding such broadcasts?

I am saddend by the need for a ProPublica-type organization (whose editor in chief, by the way, is Paul Steiger, formerly the managing editor of the Wal Street Journal). I wish newspapers didn't face the financial pressures they do. But given the industry facts of life, in-depth investigations have to be taken over by someone. As the examples show above, governments need to be watched. But who will do it? Or does Kopel trust government implicitly?
12.28.2008 7:17pm
Anon21:
Clayton E. Cramer:
An even bigger problem is that they don't have the deep pockets to fund this stuff that the left does. Conservatives even less so.

I can't quite tell if you're being serious here. Murdoch? Scaife? Adelson? Coors? Quite apart from FNC, there are dozens of conservative think tanks who manage to get their tendentious "studies" and "analyses" uncritically published in allegedly liberal media outlets all the time.
12.28.2008 7:27pm
Jerry F:
second history: You give some examples of reporting by Propublica. You should know that Michelle Malkin, Powerline, Little Green Footballs, Redstate and other conservative blogs report on news stories ignored by the mainstream media all the time. Yet they do not portray themselves as objective news organizations, because they ultimately report with a particular agenda in mind (much like the New York Times, the LA Times, the Washington Post, and apparently Propublica, except that these publications, unlike their conservative counterparts, refuse to admit that they have an agenda and continue to claim that they are something that they are not).
12.28.2008 8:18pm
second history:
Jerry F:

For example?

(Answers should not include any reference to birth certificates.)
12.28.2008 8:32pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Kopel, I thought you said your father was a newspaperman. Surely you are aware that canned 'news' stories have been handed out since (at least) the invention of the cardboard mat.

I get one almost every day from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Where is the outrage?
12.28.2008 8:41pm
second history:
Jerry F:

Provide examples of in-depth long form stories that affect peoples' lives or government action/inaction; not one-day wonders (like how Obama got to use "change.gov").

Betcha can't.
12.28.2008 8:53pm
Jangler NPL:
From the ProPublica article "Your Blagojevich Questions Answered"--


"Speaking of which, what was Obama's role in all of this?

I don't know. If you do, fill us in! In all seriousness, currently we only have Obama's word on the matter. The president-elect said he never discussed the open Senate seat with Blagojevich. No one has yet shown otherwise.

The same can't be said for Obama's chief-of-staff, Rahm Emanuel, who did apparently have multiple conversations with the governor's office. But be careful not to rush to judgment. A conversation does not mean a quid pro quo."



Another article tagged with "Blagojevich" details Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s supporters' fundraising efforts for Blagojevich.

To my untrained eye, these articles look pretty even-handed and factual. But, as Mr. Kopel points out, Sandler did contribute to "leftist groups like ACORN", so by all means let's denounce, and hopefully stop, this "fraud". Just like we stopped the massive election fraud that ACORN almost got away with, which threatened the very fabric of democracy.
12.28.2008 9:52pm
John Moore (www):
O'Sullivan's first law is likely to apply here:

All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing
12.28.2008 10:51pm
Fidelity (mail) (www):
So if this is where the "left" is getting their "BS" then where is the "right" getting it from? Furthermore, do you contend that this information is incorrect, or some how malicious to the free spread of ideas?

As Second History pointed out, these people do a damn good job reporting on things that somehow escape traditional public journalism. Their articles all have merit in some respect, so why attack them?

Could you comment on the state of journalism at the Associated Press, or possible bias at any major news organization in this country?
12.29.2008 1:02am
second history:
Jangler:

What evidence do you have that Sandler contributed to "leftist groups like ACORN", . . . We only have Kopel's word for it; and even if true, what impact does that have on the content of ProPublica--evidence of which Kopel hasn't produced.

Like I said, if traditional newspaper journalism wasn't in such a bad economic state, ProPublica wouldn't exist.

ACORN is the new bogeyman for the right, supplanting the ACLU. ACORN couldn't throw an election if it tried . . . . just because Mickey Mouse is registered to vote doesn't mean he did vote. True voter fraud (people voting who shouldn't) is a microscopic problem in the US. Maybe ProPublica should investigate that . . . oops, the New York Times has already done that. See also this report from the Brennan Center.
12.29.2008 1:58am
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
Radio stations with ``live'' news operations call back and air the last organization that sent them a press release.

That's been going on for years.
12.29.2008 2:26am
Eli Rabett (www):
Clayton E. Cramer:
An even bigger problem is that they don't have the deep pockets to fund this stuff that the left does. Conservatives even less so.

Writing this on PajamasMedia wins the yearly Sarcasto.
12.29.2008 8:55am
Michael B (mail):
"Betcha can't." second history

Wanna bet?

But first, pick a topic. A highly truncated list, including some topics that immediately come to mind, would include: Guantanamo, global warming (or whatever it's presently being labeled), the UN's sex scandals, the UN's financial scandals, the UN's human rights scandals, Israel, the enculturation of societal, anti-Semitic hatreds among Sunni and Shi'a Arab populations, the current "Princess Caroline" spectacle as reported in the press, Dan Rathergate, 2nd amendment issues, ...

Jangler NPL,

Why bring up Blagogate when the fact is you're bringing it up only to discount it? For example, are you aware of the fact that camp Obama - Mr. Transparency himself - is refusing to speak on the subject, and they are also refusing to forward emails and other communications that would throw some light on the topic? I can furnish some details, assuming you're curious, but I suspect you're determined, as is proPublica, to remain incurious.
12.29.2008 4:02pm
second history:
Michael:

Any links?

I will grant the Dan Rather story; I would use it as the #1 example of the blogosphere at work. But I am looking for investigative stories similar to the examples I gave from ProPublica. "Princess Caroline" is being extensively covered by the New York tabs (and is hardly relevant to people's lives, unless you subscribe to People.)
12.29.2008 4:48pm
Michael B (mail):
I can provide scores of links - that's why I requested that you pick one from the list provided, or pick an example of your own.

"Princess Caroline" is a story, in its own right (the subject is the U.S. Senate, not a city council seat in NY or Massachusetts), as well as juxtaposed against the hate-fest and malice that was launched against Palin. It reflects yet another blatant example of just how obsequious the press can be, depending on the circumstances.

Also, keep in mind some of the stories I listed are real, substantial stories (e.g., the UN's sex scandals, SH's genocidal forays) despite the fact they were covered poorly (under-reported or avoided altogether) by the popular press and the MSM. What the press "edits out" can be just as important as what they choose to "edit in" and variously spin.

Finally, that you're "granting" only something as blatantly obvious as Dan Rathergate doesn't speak well of your criteria or perhaps of your awareness of certain news stories.

Or, if you're referring to Blago, I can substantiate what I stated there as well, e.g., here, though two or three other supportive links can be provided as well.
12.30.2008 12:32am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
michael b:

keep in mind some of the stories I listed are real, substantial stories (e.g., the UN's sex scandals, SH's genocidal forays) despite the fact they were covered poorly (under-reported or avoided altogether) by the popular press and the MSM


You must be joking. Let's review. A question was raised regarding the following statement:

Michelle Malkin, Powerline, Little Green Footballs, Redstate and other conservative blogs report on news stories ignored by the mainstream media all the time


Specifically, a question was raised regarding "investigative stories similar to the examples … from ProPublica." In other words, you are supposedly bringing evidence to show that "investigative stories similar to the examples … from ProPublica" can be found at "Michelle Malkin, Powerline, Little Green Footballs, Redstate and other conservative blogs."

Your evidence consisted of five links. Aside from one link regarding Rathergate (an example which was already granted), you offered this many links from "Michelle Malkin, Powerline, Little Green Footballs, Redstate and other conservative blogs:" zero.

One of your links is from politico.com. That's a 'conservative blog?' Really? Another one of your links is from LAT. Another 'conservative blog?'

Another one of your links is to the Archaeological Institute of America. Another 'conservative blog?' And the material in that article was not "under-reported or avoided altogether by the popular press and the MSM." NYT told essentially the same story here. BBC covered it here. LAT covered it here. Et cetera.

Another one of your links (and the only one I haven't already addressed) is to weeklystandard.com. That's an example of "investigative stories similar to the examples … from ProPublica?" Really? There is this much original investigative journalism in that article: none. The article (like lots of commentary on blogs and elsewhere) is based wholly on quotes from 'mainstream' sources, like the Economist, the Independent, CSM and UN reports.

Still waiting for you (or anyone else) to support the claim that "Michelle Malkin, Powerline, Little Green Footballs, Redstate and other conservative blogs" offer "investigative stories similar to the examples … from ProPublica."

I'll tell you what those righty blogs offer: misinformation. An example of Power Line promoting blatant misinformation is here. Lots of other righty blogs promoted the same bogus story. Goldberg at NR, to his credit, had enough integrity to run a correction. Did Power Line? Of course not. Even though they were notified.

Another example of Power Line promoting misinformation is here. (Details here; scroll down to a long paragraph inside parens.) And what's really entertaining about that particular bit of misinformation ("Iraq tried to buy 400 tons of uranium") is that you promoted that exact bogus statement (details here). And never took responsibility for doing so. Just like Power Line. Even though you were notified. And so were they.

When are you going to finally take responsibility for promoting that falsehood? There's no time like the present.
12.30.2008 1:53am

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