Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Damn Liberal Media

Editor & Publisher points out that the Washington Post yesterday quoted a “senior Bush official” as saying that “as of Saturday [Louisiana Governor Kathleen] Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency."

Later the Post ran a correction. The “senior Bush official” had in fact gotten the date wrong, not by hours or even days, but by more than a week. Blanco declared a state of emergency on Friday, August 26.

It’s easy to understand why the Bush people might want to spread this particular bit of misinformation. As E&P notes, “[t]his, of course, was meant to make the governor look foolish and spread the blame around for the disastrous response to the disaster . . .”

The real question, which E&P hints at but doesn’t ask outright, is why the Washington Post would help them. Not just why, as E&P wonders, the Post would quote an unnamed source, but why it would take the word of such a source without taking into consideration the source’s motives and without attempting to corroborate the source’s claim.

The White House is currently under withering fire for its botched response to Katrina, and is doing its best to mount a defense. You’d think that any competent reporter would be aware of this, and would thus look askance at any statement from within the Administration tending to discredit or deflect blame onto other parties. At the very least, you’d think a competent reporter wouldn’t print such a statement without making some attempt to find out if it was true. And, absent this level of competence on the part of the reporter, you’d think the editor would insist on corroboration.

But no: not only did the Post accept the word of an unnamed source with an obvious agenda, they failed to fact-check it. If they couldn’t have called Governor Blanco’s office, how about a quick check of Google News? It took me just a few minutes to come up with the correct date (here, here, and here, for example). Is this beyond the capacity of the Washington Post staff?

If this were, say, the Washington Times rather than the Post, it might be tempting to chalk this one up to political bias, since the Times’s bias quite clearly runs in the pro-Bush direction. The Post is another story; along with the NY Times and Dan Rather, it’s one of the Right’s “liberal bias” poster children.

No liberal bias here, though. This is, purely and simply, a laziness bias.