But beyond the pervasive one-sidedness or any particular transgressions, what’s striking about the report appearing in a major newspaper is that it is so clearly the work of the conservative media movement—which is not the same thing as journalism from a conservative point-of-view. A conservative critique of Obama’s presidency might well force some neglected issues and questions into play, and might provide useful information to voters (granted, Oklahoma’s not exactly a swing state). But the decision to focus almost entirely on Obama’s career before Washington, in keeping with the right-wing media’s “vetting” meme, means that the report is part of a well-developed conservative counter-narrative, not something that was written to speak to a general audience.

So how exactly did the “Special Report” end up in The Oklahoman? That’s unclear. When I reached out to the paper, several editors—including the news director and the local news and opinion editors—indicated that they had no part in the discussion or decision-making surrounding the report’s publication. Kelly Dyer Fry, the paper’s editor and vice president of news, did not respond to calls or emails.

While the report is still featured as an “investigation” on The Oklahoman’s online opinion page, the report is in no other way labeled as opinion, and J.E. McReynolds, the Opinion Page editor, told me that despite the online placement, the piece was “not opinion.”

Another individual at The Oklahoman, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, indicated the report’s publication came as a surprise. Reporters are accustomed to the paper’s stridently conservative editorial page, the employee said. But “this was different. Even our readers have reacted, commenting critically on the online story.

“Bottom line: It diminishes what we do when the lines between opinion and journalism are blurred. If we are nothing more than a William Hearst-era New York Journal and the editors and publisher are fine printing yellow, blatantly opinionated ‘journalism,’ then I think we have bigger problems than one special report…”

At the same time, the employee added, since Anschutz took over the paper, The Oklahoman “has seen many wonderful changes.” After two earlier rounds of layoffs, it has started adding reporters again; the staff now includes a team of energy reporters and more investigative journalists—investments that may have made possible some of that award-winning reporting.

“It doesn’t seem like we’re sinking anymore,” the employee said. “I guess this is the trade-off.”

If you'd like to help CJR and win a chance at one of 10 free print subscriptions, take a brief survey for us here.

Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.