THE PSEUDOJOURNALISM RULES: Right on time in paragraph 5!


Part 2—Howard Dean calls his shot:
Did the New York Times publish a “bombshell report” about the ethics of Candidate Clinton?

Regarding that question, we’d have to say that Howard Dean called his shot.

Dean discussed the alleged “bombshell report” on last Thursday’s Morning Joe. The report had just appeared on line.

None of that program’s major stars had actually read the Times report. But they were all too happy to engage in some standard behavior:

They started peddling the requisite insinuations about its ultimate meaning.

As usual, they were playing by the rules of modern pseudo-journalism. As we noted last week, Dean issued an unusual warning as they stampeded ahead.

Below, you see part of what he said. Be on the look-out for paragraph 5, Zeus’ winged messenger said:
DEAN (4/23/15): First of all, I haven’t seen the story and neither have you, right?...I will say, there is an epidemic of really sloppy reporting that goes from the top to the bottom...I’d like to see what all the facts are here, because so far we haven’t really seen—

SCARBOROUGH: Why don’t you read the story before accusing the New York Times of being sloppy?

DEAN: Because in general, the New York Times has been sloppy, particularly their political writers. I use the New York Times as an example in journalism classes, because by the fifth paragraph in any political story—we can probably find one right here, whatever the political story on the front page is. By the fifth paragraph, they’re substituting their judgment for news.
He uses the Times in journalism classes? Is Dean allowed to say that?

In our view, Dean was possibly generous in saying the Times is “sloppy.” As we may see in the course of this week, the kind of pseudo-journalism to which he referred doesn’t necessarily result from carelessness or error.

Whatever! In essence, Dean said the Times would be advancing its own point of view by paragraph 5 of its bombshell report. He seemed to suggest that the Times would be “substituting” that point of view for actual news reporting.

Whether through sloppiness or by design, we’d say that Dean called his shot. That’s pretty much the way it turned out when we read the bombshell report.

For today, let’s restrict ourselves to the start of the bombshell report. During their first sixteen paragraphs, Becker and McIntire establish the insinuation which lies at the heart of their effort.

We’d have to say Dean called his shot. It showed up in paragraph 5!

On Friday morning, the report appeared on the front page of the hard-copy Times. It appeared beneath a pair of murky headlines.

For better or worse, insinuation lay at the heart of those headlines. Then, in the report's first three paragraphs, the New York Times began to tell a frightening Cold War tale.

Hard-copy headlines included:
BECKER AND MCINTIRE (4/24/15): The Clintons, The Russians And Uranium/Foundation Got Gifts as Deal Was Pending

The headline on the website Pravda trumpeted President Vladimir V. Putin’s latest coup,
its nationalistic fervor recalling an era when its precursor served as the official mouthpiece of the Kremlin: “Russian Nuclear Energy Conquers the World.”

The article, in January 2013, detailed how the Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom, had taken over a Canadian company with uranium-mining stakes stretching from Central Asia to the American West. The deal made Rosatom one of the world’s largest uranium producers and brought Mr. Putin closer to his goal of controlling much of the global uranium supply chain.

But the untold story behind that story is one that involves not just the Russian president,
but also a former American president and a woman who would like to be the next one.
As if in an outtake from The Americans, the Times penned a bit of a throwback Cold War tale.

Putin had staged his “latest coup,” the Times reporters said. Displaying his nationalistic fervor, he had “taken over” a Canadian company, coming closer to “his goal of controlling much of the” [world].

In their first 16 paragraphs, Becker and McIntire provide the overview to their lengthy report. In dramatic fashion, they begin and end this introductory section with this scary Cold War tale—and right there in paragraph 3, they said there is an “untold story” about the way Putin conquered the world.

According to Becker and McIntire, this untold story involves an unnamed woman who wants to be the next president—and as it turned out, they didn’t mean Carly Fiorina! At any rate, by paragraph 5, their central insinuation had rather plainly appeared:
BECKER AND MCINTIRE (continuing directly): At the heart of the tale are several men, leaders of the Canadian mining industry, who have been major donors to the charitable endeavors of former President Bill Clinton and his family. Members of that group built, financed and eventually sold off to the Russians a company that would become known as Uranium One.

Beyond mines in Kazakhstan that are among the most lucrative in the world, the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of United States government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed off was the State Department, then headed by Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Warning! When journalists say they’re telling a “tale,” you might want to check your wallets!

At any rate, by paragraph 5, the central insinuation of this bombshell report had become rather clear:

A bunch of moguls—Canadians, no less!—had given big cash to the Clintons. After that, one of the Clintons “signed off” on the deal which gave Putin control of the world!

We’re exaggerating their tone a bit, though not really all that much. At its heart, that actually is the novelized “tale” the two reporters are telling.

At the end of their opening segment, they return to their scary Cold War tale. Below, you see paragraphs 14-16, which conclude their introductory passage. (The full report includes 75 paragraphs in all.)

Warning! In this passage, look out for a hidden disclaimer!
BECKER AND MCINTIRE: When the Uranium One deal was approved, the geopolitical backdrop was far different from today’s. The Obama administration was seeking to “reset” strained relations with Russia. The deal was strategically important to Mr. Putin, who shortly after the Americans gave their blessing sat down for a staged interview with Rosatom’s chief executive, Sergei Kiriyenko. “Few could have imagined in the past that we would own 20 percent of U.S. reserves,” Mr. Kiriyenko told Mr. Putin.

Now, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine, the Moscow-Washington relationship is devolving toward Cold War levels, a point several experts made in evaluating a deal so beneficial to Mr. Putin, a man known to use energy resources to project power around the world.

“Should we be concerned? Absolutely,” said Michael McFaul, who served under Mrs. Clinton as the American ambassador to Russia but said he had been unaware of the Uranium One deal until asked about it. “Do we want Putin to have a monopoly on this? Of course we don’t. We don’t want to be dependent on Putin for anything in this climate.”
As they close their introductory, overview chapter, the authors are quoting Ambassador McFaul about how scary the deal really is. This opening chapter begins and ends with this scary Cold War framework.

The insinuation is clear—Clinton “signed off” on a really bad deal! Novelistically, this heightens the sense that there must be some sort of motive which explains her strange approval of this ridiculous deal.

(That said, did you spot the disclaimer? We’ll discuss it tomorrow.)

Did Hillary Clinton approve a bad deal because she’d been given big cash? That’s the insinuation the Morning Joe team were pumping last Thursday, even before they’d had a chance to read the Times’ bombshell report.

Like most of the chimps who inhabit the cage, this is the way these farkwads work. Until Dean piped up with his unusual warning, Joe and Mika and Willie and them were screeching and flinging their poo all about, happily playing by the rules of modern pseudo-journalism.

Did Hillary Clinton approve a bad deal because she’d been handed big cash? Plainly, that insinuation provides the framework to this bombshell report and to the many discussions which have followed.

For that reason, it must be said that Becker and McIntire explicitly say, though not very often, that they can’t make such a claim. In paragraphs 10 and 11, they offer an explicit disclaimer and a denial:
BECKER AND MCINTIRE: Whether the donations played any role in the approval of the uranium deal is unknown. But the episode underscores the special ethical challenges presented by the Clinton Foundation, headed by a former president who relied heavily on foreign cash to accumulate $250 million in assets even as his wife helped steer American foreign policy as secretary of state, presiding over decisions with the potential to benefit the foundation’s donors.

In a statement, Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, said no one “has ever produced a shred of evidence supporting the theory that Hillary Clinton ever took action as secretary of state to support the interests of donors to the Clinton Foundation.” He emphasized that multiple United States agencies, as well as the Canadian government, had signed off on the deal and that, in general, such matters were handled at a level below the secretary. “To suggest the State Department, under then-Secretary Clinton, exerted undue influence in the U.S. government’s review of the sale of Uranium One is utterly baseless,” he added.
Did those donations play any role in Clinton’s approval of the deal with Dr. Evil?

Explicitly, Becker and McIntire say that’s “unknown.” That is yet another way of saying it may be true.

In the second paragraph shown above, they finally let a Clinton spokesman issue a type of denial. Tomorrow, we’ll show you what the reporters didn’t include until paragraph 67.

The insinuation at the heart of this tale is completely obvious. As is true of almost all suggestions, it could of course be true.

As every putative journalist knows, it’s very, very hard to prove that something didn’t happen. Inside the cage, all the chimps know that this is what makes insinuation so valuable.

Did Clinton approve a rotten deal because she’d received big cash? Like Becker and McIntire, we have no way of answering that—and everything is possible!

Here’s another question:

Were Becker and McIntire paid by forces on the right to compose a “sloppy” report? We can’t answer that question either! Tomorrow, though, we’re going to show you some features of their work.

Their insinuation is clear. How sound in their basic reporting?

As we continue, we won’t be asking you to judge the motives of Secretary Clinton. Instead, we’ll ask you to judge the actual published work of these New York Times journalists, whose report may be a “bombshell” or may be “sloppy” or may be something worse.

For once, let’s abandon our normal framework. Let’s assess the reporters instead of the pol.

In our view, their work this day was quite familiar and it was quite bad. We’d have to say their work was fashioned in accord with a largely invisible set of strictures:

We’d have to say their work was fashioned in accord with the pseudo-journalism rules. Alas! People are dead all over the world because of the hold these invisible rules have long held on our discourse.

Tomorrow: A string of omissions


  1. Even better, could Clinton have "approved" such a deal, even if she wanted? Nope. There are in the ballpark of 12 stakeholders who have to check off on something like this (Chaired by the Treasury Department, 7 federal departments, OTA, OSEM, the NSA and Homeland Security need to approve it (if memory serves)), so unless she has the power to force all of those stakeholders to approve something, it seems to fall outside of her power to do much here. It's odd that the article seems to not really highlight that to provide context.

    I guess that she could have been using the State department to extort money from the developer since presumably they could veto it, but there's still that pesky total lack of evidence to deal with as well as the more important issue that it doesn't fit the narrative that they're pushing.

    1. If those strategic resources of the US were owned by a Canadian company, they were already out of US hands. Further they are 20% of US resources, so how does Russia then have a monopoly? Given that we have largely abandoned nuclear power, how is that a problem for us? Other than opposing Putin just to be oppositional, I don't understand the issue.

      If the Ambassador to Russia didn't know about the deal, how can Clinton be expected to have known about it?

    2. If Bill Clinton were simply painting pictures of his big toe while drawing his fat pension, or his wife had not used her notoriety as his wife to step into a Senate seat and quite nearly the Presidency, this transaction and any appearance of conflict one might paint from it would be irrelevant.

    3. It is already irrelevant except to those afflicted with CDS.

      "Wolf! Wolf!"

    4. Just as Al Gore's character and closeness to Clinton policies were irrelevant to all liberals save that nasty handful of Nader voters who always escape Somerby's long-lasting venegeful backward stare.

    5. Eight years of peace and prosperity should have been a record anyone would be proud to run on. Similarly, Hillary Clinton's four years as Secretary of State contrast favorably with Kerry's performance. They get the job done well and that is what matters most. Who cares about email servers or blow jobs in the face of their competence in difficult jobs. We need them, not morally pure incompetents (and I do not concede that any of the many attacks on their character have merit).

    6. Is Clinton running against Kerry?

      Well, you could say during her service in the Foggy Bottom she took the initiative in killing Bin Laden.

      And she knows the struggles of everyday Americans. After all she and Bill left the White House dead broke.

    7. Another conservative operative earns his pay. What a criticism -- arguably our most talented female politician doesn't deserve to be paid -- how dare she make money! Why didn't those darn Clintons stay in debt!

    8. Well, let's see. After they left the White House Hillary drew a government paycheck as a U.S. Senator then as Secretary of State. I guess that doesn't count as getting paid.

  2. Warning to casual readers of this blog: These comments are unmoderated. They are infested by one or more trolls who routinely attack the blog author in a variety of ways, rarely substantive. Such attacks are not an indicator of the level of interest of other readers, the validity of the content posted nor of the esteem in which the blog author is held by others.

  3. Right on time in paragraph 5!
    Howard Dean Calls his Shot

    Howler Headline

    "...whatever the political story on the front page is. By the fifth paragraph, they’re substituting their judgment for news."

    Howard Dean in the act of calling his shot

    "Beyond mines in Kazakhstan that are among the most lucrative in the world, the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of United States government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed off was the State Department, then headed by Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton."

    Actual New York Times Paragraph 5.

    I suggest someone other than Howard Dean or Bob point out how that paragraph or the ones which led up to it constitutes "judgement" substituted for anything. Seems like pretty straightforward presentation of facts.

    1. Bob Somerby Calls his Shot!

      Invisible Rules Kill!

  4. Where does Professor Dean teach journalism?

  5. I commented on the NYT article when it came out, criticizing the poor journalism, but in very civil terms. For reasons that were never explained, my comment was deemed inappropriate and not published. Why am I always amazed by how poor the state of journalism is in this country? Yet another question: if this company were so critical to the US energy industry, why didn't any American company try to buy it?

    1. We are interested in Canada's oil shale not their interest in yellow cake in Kazakhstan.

  6. "We’re exaggerating their tone a bit, though not really all that much. At its heart, that actually is the novelized “tale” the two reporters are telling."

    Bob Somerby

    Translation: Our novel is less fictitious than theirs.

    1. I thought his description of farkwads flinging poo in the chimp cage added a dash of colorful realism to this otherwise dark sequel to Bob's many tales of culture melting.

  7. A medical doctor turned political hack teaching journalism?

    Hey, whatever works.

    1. The fifty state strategy worked!

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