Over the weekend, I wrote about an adulating interview which CNN's John King conducted with John McCain while riding on the storied Straight Talk Express bus. The interview was broadcast on "Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer. In that post, I printed all of the "questions" King asked of McCain in their full, unedited entirety as broadcast on CNN, linked to the full transcript of the program, and then added some commentary.
Yesterday, I received a response from King via e-mail, the authenticity of which was confirmed in a subsequent exchange:
From: King, John C
Sent: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 5:40 PM
Subject: excuse me?
I don't read biased uninformed drivel so I'm a little late to the game.
But a friend who understands how my business works and knows a little something about my 20 plus years in it sent me the link to your ramblings.
Since the site suggests you have law training, maybe you forgot that good lawyers to a little research before they spit out words.
Did you think to ask me or anyone who works with me whether that was the entire interview? No. (It was not; just a portion used by one of the many CNN programs.)
Did you reach out to ask the purpose of that specific interview? No.
Or how it might have fit in with other questions being asked of other candidates that day? No.
Or anything that might have put facts or context or fairness into your critique. No.
McCain, for better or worse, is a very accessible candidate. If you did a little research (there he goes with that word again) you would find I have had my share of contentious moments with him over the years.
But because of that accessibility, you don't have to go into every interview asking him about the time he cheated on his sixth grade math test.
The interview was mainly to get a couple of questions to him on his thoughts on the role of government when the economy is teetering on the edge of recession, in conjunction with similar questions being put to several of the other candidates.
The portion you cited was aired by one of our programs -- so by all means it is fair game for whatever "analysis" you care to apply to it using your right of free speech and your lack of any journalistic standards or fact checking or just plain basic curiosity.
You clearly know very little about journalism. But credibility matters. It is what allows you to cover six presidential campaigns and be viewed as fair and respectful, while perhaps a little cranky, but Democrats and Republicans alike. When I am writing something that calls someone's credibility into question, I pick up the phone and give them a chance to give their side, or perspective.
That way, even on days that I don't consider my best, or anywhere close, I can look myself in the mirror and know I tried to be fair and didn't call into question someone's credibility just for sport, or because I like seeing my name on a website or my face on TV.
During our subsequent exchange, when I pointed out that this was not the first time he appeared to be reverent of John McCain, as documented by Media Matters, he said: "Go to its conservative counterpart and you will find me there, too. Comes with the territory."
Most of this speaks for itself, but it's worth noting how often journalists' responses to criticisms contain so many of the same elements which King's email contains. They always want you to know that they never read what you write and that you're an Unserious, biased, partisan amateur (without any recognition of the glaring contradiction between those two claims).
They boast of what they believe to be their reputation, assuring you that they are widely respected and admired by the People Who Count. Even though they never read you, they're repulsed by the idea that you would dare to critique their work because you know absolutely nothing about the High Art of Journalism and never get any messages on your Blackberry from Ed Gillespie or Karl Rove or Anyone.
They invariably point to criticisms from both Left and Right as proof that they're unbiased straight-shooters. They chide you for being unaware of the secret, concealed information (interview questions that weren't broadcast, paragraphs that were edited out) which somehow disproves your critique of what they did broadcast or publish.
They proudly inform you that there have, indeed, been some instances over the many decades that they've been working when they've stood up to someone and asked something other than mindlessly reverent questions, and if you had looked hard enough, you might have found a couple. They tell you it's appalling to comment on what they publish to their readers or viewers without first talking to them about it, even though you linked to or even printed in full everything they said and wrote. And they close by telling you that you have no standards, no ethics, no understanding of their Complex Profession, and no decency -- that you're just a shrill, ignorant partisan pushing a lowly agenda while they are in the business of Real Unvarnished, Objective Reporting.
Ponder how much better things would be if establishment journalists -- in response to being endlessly lied to and manipulated by political officials and upon witnessing extreme lawbreaking and corruption at the highest levels of our government -- were able to muster just a tiny fraction of the high dudgeon, petulant offense, and melodramatic outrage that comes pouring forth whenever their "reporting" is criticized. All this energized invective from King because CNN aired an "interview" with the GOP front-running presidential candidate consisting of one adoring question after the next, which I printed in full.
It's not exactly a secret that the traveling press harbors bountiful, blinding love for John McCain. That love was glaringly evident in King's "interview." Judging by his response, King quite clearly knows this, too. It's not actually that complicated. The next time you or your colleagues interview McCain, keep your affection to yourself; skip the part where you lavish him with praise; exercise journalistic skepticism; and just ask real questions.