Winners & Sinners

Kaiser on Vanity Fair, Ed Henry, and Colbert

Sinner: Vanity Fair, for running an article by Mark Bowden about Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. that was so filled with elementary factual errors that it managed to destroy the credibility of the magazine and of its newest contributing editor simultaneously. Bowden got several important facts just plain wrong, from the number of reporters at The New York Times (1,300, instead of 400) to the person who decided the Times Company should buy the Boston Globe. (Bowden blamed that on Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.; the decision was actually made by his father.) The first mistake was fixed online after a flood of complaints to Graydon Carter, including one from Times’s executive editor, Bill Keller; the second one, just as egregious, is, as of this writing, still sitting there. 

The other problem with the piece: it was 11,363 words long, but failed to offer a single new insight or interesting fact.

Sinner: George Stephanapoulos, for a ridiculous scorecard about President Obama’s March 24 press conference, in which the ABC newsman declared that “just about all of the questions were pointed and challenging.” In fact, many of the reporters who were called on humiliated themselves with questions that were simply idiotic.

For example:

Sinner: Ed Henry, the fatuous CNN correspondent who not only asked an inane question of the president at that high-profile press conference, but also compounded his journalistic felony with an amazingly self-congratulatory blog post in which he praised his own performance as “a great political Rorschach: Each party saw their own talking points in the reflection of the back-and-forth.”

Winner: Gawker (yes, Gawker) for calling out Henry’s pompous performance for what it was. “CNN’s Ed Henry hurled an incoherent barrage of mostly pointless/redundant questions at Barack Obama,” Ryan Tate noted, “including one randomly involving Obama’s daughters.” 

Sinners: Brian Stelter and Bill Carter of the The New York Times, for a squishy-soft feature about Fox News’s newest sensation, Glenn Beck. Beck is one of the most offensive people ever to host a show on that splendid network (a high bar, indeed), but Stelter and Carter were mostly enthusiastic in their treatment of him, largely because of Beck’s impressive ratings. Throughout Carter’s two decades as a Times TV reporter, ratings have tended to be his sole criterion for evaluating everything he writes about—which makes most of his stories as dull as they are predictable. The Beck piece was almost (but not quite) as horrific as the big, wet kiss Zev Chavets gave to Rush Limbaugh last summer in The New York Times Magazine

Winner: Stephen Colbert, for following the Stelter/Carter piece a couple of days later with a seven-and-a-half-minute-long segment that told the real story of Beck’s magnificent contributions to journalism, on radio and television alike.

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Charles Kaiser is a former media critic for Newsweek and the author of three books, most recently The Cost of Courage, about one family in the French Resistance.