In what do they consist: Simply put, we the people have never been up to the task.
We’ve never been sharp enough to see the “press corps” for what it is. We don’t have sufficient smarts.
For the most recent example, consider the “exclusive agreements” which were reported in yesterday’s New York Times.
A partisan conservative, Peter Schweizer, has published a new book, Clinton Cash. In a news report in the Times, Amy Chozick included a puzzling disclosure, very much in passing:
CHOZICK (4/20/15): In the long lead up to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign announcement, aides proved adept in swatting down critical books as conservative propaganda, including Edward Klein’s “Blood Feud,” about tensions between the Clintons and the Obamas, and Daniel Halper’s “Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine.”We have no idea what that highlighted passage means. Just for the record, this is the way that passage appeared in our hard-copy edition of yesterday’s Times:
But “Clinton Cash” is potentially more unsettling, both because of its focused reporting and because major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author to pursue the story lines found in the book.
CHOZICK (4/20/15): In the long lead up to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign announcement, aides proved adept in swatting down critical books as conservative propaganda, including Edward Klein’s “Blood Feud,” about tensions between the Clintons and the Obamas, and Daniel Halper’s “Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine.”For whatever reason, that’s the way that passage read in yesterday’s “Washington Edition.” It’s the more detailed version (from yesterday's “Late Edition”) which is puzzling.
But “Clinton Cash” is potentially more unsettling, both because of its focused reporting and because major news organizations are expected to pursue the story lines found in the book.
Will major news organizations “pursue the story lines” in Schweizer’s new book? There’s no reason why they shouldn’t. Presumably, news orgs investigate published claims all the time.
That said, that isn’t the process Chozick described in her more detailed account. In that account, she said the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Fox News Channel “have exclusive agreements with the author” to pursue those “story lines.”
We don’t know what that means. Neither did anyone else who read Chozick’s report.
Making matters worse, some folk who have written about this topic haven’t seemed to realize how murky that account is. They’ve done a poor job defining these “agreements.”
Does the New York Times have “an exclusive agreement with the author” to pursue “the story lines found in the book?” On its face, that account doesn’t seem to make sense.
Presumably, anyone can “pursue the story lines” found in any book. In what, therefore, can these “exclusive agreements” consist?
Even in her more detailed passage, Chozick didn’t explain. Her prose was extremely murky, standard style at the Times.
Still, it’s maddening to see press watchers discuss this matter without noting the fact that Chozick’s prose doesn’t seem to make sense—without noting that these “exclusive agreements” haven’t been defined.
In what do these “exclusive agreements” consist? For starters, has Schweizer been paid a fee by these news orgs? If so, what are they getting from him in return?
Chozick’s account is full-blown murky. At Salon, Digby provides good background about past reporting on the Clintons, dating back to the Whitewater days. But concerning those “exclusive agreements,” she settles for this account by Politico’s Dylan Byers (deletion by Digby):
BYERS (4/20/15): The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have made exclusive agreements with a conservative author for early access to his opposition research on Hillary Clinton, a move that has confounded members of the Clinton campaign and some reporters, the On Media blog has confirmed. [...]This passage seems to add one or two points to Chozick’s murky account. Byers says these exclusive agreements have provided the three news orgs with “early access” to Schweizer’s “opposition research.”
Fox News’ use of Schweizer’s book has surprised no one. The bulk of the network’s programming is conservative, and the book’s publisher, HarperCollins, is owned by News Corporation. But the Times and Post’s decision to partner with a partisan researcher has raised a few eyebrows. Some Times reporters view the agreement as unusual, sources there said. Still others defended the agreement, noting that it was no different from using a campaign’s opposition research to inform one’s reporting—so long as that research is fact-checked and vetted. A spokesperson for the Times did not provide comment by press time.
At the very least, this seems to mean that they won’t have to wait for the book to come out. Will they get access to some sort of “research” which goes beyond the mere text of the book?
Byers doesn’t answer that question. We still don’t know if a fee has been paid. Later, Byers offers this, creating further confusion:
BYERS: "We made an arrangement with Peter Schweizer’s publisher so we could read his book before publication because we are always willing to look at new information that could inform our coverage," said Post National Editor Cameron Barr. "Mr. Schweizer’s background and his point of view are relevant factors, but not disqualifying ones. What interests us more are his facts and whether they can be the basis for further reporting by our own staff that would be compelling to our readers. There is no financial aspect to this arrangement."That statement by Barr makes it sound like the Post got early access to the book, full stop. It sounds like CBS and ABC were offered early access to “portions” of the book.
On Monday, a source with knowledge of the arrangements told the On Media blog that CBS' "60 Minutes" and ABC News turned down offers for similar exclusive access to portions of the book's contents. A "60 Minutes" spokesperson said only, "We do not discuss the stories we are working on." An ABC News spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
News orgs get early copies of books all the time. But if that’s all these agreements entail, why would 60 Minutes and ABC News have turned this offer down?
To our ear, Chozick’s murky account sounded rather strange. We found ourselves asking an obvious question:
In what do these “exclusive agreements” consist?
We’ve read a bunch of further accounts, and we still can’t answer that question. Even when our press-watchers get riled, we can’t seem to get answers to the most basic questions.
Over the past three decades, that’s pretty much the way we’ve rolled. Truth to tell, we aren’t real sharp, and we’re easily defeated.