The emperors’ new underwear

When I said I wanted to see more transparency in newspapers, I didn’t mean that they should be sharing their family squabbles…. though I am glad they are, for it’s just so entertaining.

I’m already over the Froomkin kerfluffle but I’m amazed at the newsroom sniping that’s coming out in public. See Brad DeLong’s incredible phone interview with Washington Post political editor John Harris:

Q: So you knew [Ruffini] had been a Republican operative in 2004, and didn’t tell that to Jay Rosen?

A: [Ramble of which I caught only scattered phrases] But assuming you aren’t posting this at least immediately… A good relationship between the print Washington Post and WPNI… Happy to answer privately… Really don’t want to be quoted on the record… If you want to call me an idiot without my response, that’s fine…

A: No I want your response.

A; [stream continues] But I shouldn’t respond… I’ve promised people I won’t respond… We need to cool this down… It’s a really a very narrow issue: are there people confused about Froomkin’s role…

This is followed by the editor first going off the record and then refusing comment. Journalists should be the last people to do either.

: Now go to Ken Auletta’s New Yorker story about tsuris at the New York Times with some deft slipping of shivs between the shoulder blades of executive editors: Keller v. Raines v. Lelyveld. Most entertaining.

: Some are positioning l’affaire Froomkin as political: See Kos. Others are gamely trying to laugh it off as a turf war over a home page. See Aschenblog. Some see it as resistance to change: See Yelvington — “It’s time to change your people, or change your people.” I see it as that and as a war of journalistic worldviews about alleged objectivity vs. transparency.

But a wise editor I know said it better in an email: “The elbows are getting very very sharp right now.” And the reason is that the business is shrinking and the print guys and online guys — forced together in newsroom meetings and mergers — are like dogs growling and snapping over that last scrap of meat. When the going gets tough the tough get snarky.

  • EB

    What does “tsuris” mean?
    Is it like agnst?
    (I know that it is Yiddish, but I need a glossary or something.)

  • Angelos

    So the Washington Post has handed editorial control to Karl Rove.

    This is news?

  • PSGInfinity


    tsu·ris also tzu·ris Pronunciation (tsrs, tsûr-)
    n. Informal
    Trouble; aggravation.
    [Yiddish tsores, pl. of tsure, from Hebrew râ, from rar, to become narrow; see rr in Semitic roots.]

    source:, via Firefox plugin…

  • John Harris in a live chat (going on now)

    For all its interesting and useful features, some things I don’t like about the on-line crankosphere are its frequent humorlessness and tendency to blow issues way out of proportion.

    After I popped off on some of these issues, some colleagues gently suggested I might be flirting with these traits myself. (They are liars and no longer my friends.)

  • Louis

    What a coincidence! Froomkin Kerfluffle is playing the Paladium tonight! Doors open at 9.

  • And just what is wrong with having a liberal bias in an openly slanted opinion piece? This is what Harris is saying, and it’s no wonder that he’s being kicked around the newsroom

    Does Harris really think he can forget the other side, that if Froomkin is not allowed, then Drudge, O’Reilly, Novak are going to have to be ‘fair and balanced’? Or that there isn’t any audience for slanted news?

  • Mark

    I’ve just read through all of this crap — your site, the E&P stuff, Rosen’s site — and it seems to me people have lost the plot and the point. All Harris was saying was that Froomkin’s article is opinion, is labeled as if it is reporting, and that should be changed. That so wrong? Seems smart to me.

    Also, think you miss the real issue here. It’s not a fizzure between the online and print worlds (I know, that fits your worldview so much better) but a battle between a bunch of beat reporters and “upstart” online writers and bloggers.

    The beat reporters spend their days trying to wrangle info out of their wretched sources, and write under deadline. Many of them have been at it a long time, it’s hard work, they feel like they’ve paid their dues, and are pissed guys like Froomkin (and bloggers like Kos and Marshall) haven’t. And let’s be honest — it’s a hell of a lot less work to sit there and spout off and be entertaining than to report. So I confess I have a little sympathy with their point of view.

  • Labeled as if it is reporting? It’s called a “column,” it has his picture on it, instead of saying under his byline, “Washington Post Staff Writer,” as it does for reporters like Dan Balz it says, “special to the Washington Post,” and it is found in the site’s opinion section. To access it off the home page you go to the lower left and look under Opinions.

    Still say it’s labeled as if it’s reporting?

    They want the words “White House” taken out. That is the newsroom’s demand.

  • Mark

    Whoa, be more precise. The title of Froomkin’s column is “White House Briefing.” It’s not labeled a column. It is in the Politics section, not just the Opinion section. Some days its promoted on the front page.

    You’re right, it does have his picture.

    It says this:

    “Dan Froomkin’s White House Briefing, a review of media coverage about the president and his staff, appears weekdays.”

    I think it’s the combination of “White House” and “Briefing” that misleads. “Briefing” doesn’t mean “opinion” or “column” or “commentary.” It connotes factual instruction or recital. Note that nearly all of the other columns on the WaPo political page are labeled as such (only Kurtz’s isn’t).

    Also, couldn’t find anywhere where Harris was demanding the words “White House” come out. I bet they’d be fine if it was called “White House BS Detector” or “White House TruthMeter” or “White House Daily Column” or “White House Sketch.” Or, I bet they’d be fine with “Froomkin’s Briefing” — that sounds like a personal view.

  • Jim Brady at my blog: “We have not really discussed the name in any depth, either internally or with the paper. As I said before, I’m willing to have a discussion about it with the newspaper. But I don’t know where we’ll come out. The issue is not what the title doesn’t reflect, it’s more the confusion that’s caused by use of the words ‘White House.’ But it’s too early to tell where we’ll come out.”

    Here is White House Briefing. It says at the top, White House Briefing Dan Froomkin, Columnist (with his picture). Slightly above that to the left it says Columns and you say it’s not labeled a column? My word.

  • Mark

    I stand corrected, I did not see the “columnist” title next to his name (so faint, that), have frankly never noticed it even though I’m a regular reader, and didn’t bother to look at the directory structure (I never do) on the site to see I was in the columns section. After all, I had clicked through to Froomkin from the politics page and assumed I was still there.

    All that said, my view remains unchanged. I think the paper and it’s readers would be served better with a more descriptive, accurate, less reportorial sounding name. It’s a reasonably small issue in the end, I’ll leave it at that. Also, full disclosure: I like Froomkin’s column, read it regularly, and glad no one is arguing it should go.

  • So would it be OK if it said “White House Rant”?

  • AlanDownunder

    Yes it’s an internecine WP turf war, but the aggressors’ ammo was ideological – supplied by the White House and launched by its dupes or supporters at WP (or perhaps in Ms Howell’s case by an agent provocateur)

  • Wow. Just wow.

  • Brad DeLong

    Well, henceforth I’m going to call it “Dan Froomkin’s ‘Cooking with Walnuts'”…

  • yeah, sometimes it is interesting to look at someones “underwear”, but when it is about you it is not so pleasant)

  • I have a preference for boxers made of 100 % cotton for everyday business living and at home. Then again sometimes I decide hot nighty, but absolutely favor organic and natural.