darts and laurels

Dart to the Ottawa Citizen

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June 12, 2008

Dart to the Ottawa Citizen for a little Canadian logrolling. When the Canwest media conglomerate launched a proprietary wire service and relocated the anchor of Global National, its nightly news program, to Canada’s capital city, the Citizen flooded the zone. On its front page, the paper ran a serious-faced color photo of the newscaster graced by a ray of light, under the words “Ottawa becomes news capital of Canada.” Of the lead article’s 768 words, more than four hundred were puffy quotes and glosses from Canwest corporate honchos—the CEO and president and the chairman of the board, among others. Inside, the paper recounted the anchor’s premiere day with a “great man”-style tick tock: drinking coffee, doing a publicity interview, buying long underwear. Another article tallied the boldface names that dropped by the premiere party. Online, the articles were paired with extensive photo galleries. And a video interview. Easy to miss in all this glowing coverage was any editorial disclosure—save one slight, circuitous mention tucked at the bottom of a throwaway fact box—that the Citizen, too, is owned by Canwest. Graham Green, the Citizen’s executive editor, declined to comment on the coverage but offered this: “I think the Columbia Journalism Review has lots of things you could be looking at.”

Laurel to the Detroit Free Press for picking up where the courts left off. Last fall, the city of Detroit abruptly reversed course and agreed to settle a whistleblower lawsuit brought by former police officers who claimed they were fired because of their involvement in an investigation into personal misconduct by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. That ended one round of the mayor’s legal jeopardy, but the Free Press kept digging, and in late January, obtained cringe-inducing text messages between Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff Christine Beatty—“….did you miss me sexually?” read one—that contradicted Kilpatrick and Beatty’s sworn testimony that they had not had an affair. But to many, the salacious missives have overshadowed a February 7 Freep revelation, won after the paper waged a months-long, freedom-of-information battle: the settlement included a confidential rider requiring the officers to keep mum on the existence of the texts or be forced to return the money, suggesting a taxpayer-funded, hush-money scheme. And the mayor hasn’t been an easy subject to cover—he’s claimed without evidence that the Freep broke the law to get the texts; complained that the local media were acting as a “lynch-mob”; and even tussled with a Free Press videographer who was bird-dogging him before a public appearance. On March 24, the county prosecutor cited the Free Press’s investigation in a twelve-count filing against Beatty and Kilpatrick, which included charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Dart to The Associated Press Sports Editors for crowding the plate on a conflict of interest. When the organization convened in Kissimmee, Florida, in late February to select its annual sports-writing-award winners, Jim Jenks, a past apse president, was selected to chair one of twenty-one contest committees—even though in November 2007 Jenks left his job as The Philadelphia Inquirer’s sports editor to work for mlb.com, the official Web site of Major League Baseball. apse’s own ethics guidelines warn against sports journalists working for official team or league publications lest it create a conflict of interest or even the appearance of one. Mike Fannin, the current apse president and the top sports editor at The Kansas City Star, acknowledged the concerns but defended Jenks’s inclusion, saying that “everybody there knows Jim and knows Jim’s integrity.” He said apse is considering a change to its bylaws to clarify the appropriate roles for past presidents who end up on the other team.

Laurel to the San Francisco Chronicle for a long overdue smartening up of A2. For years, the paper’s second page had been home to celebrities and news of the weird-style bulletins—squibs on two-headed cats, championship eaters, and updates on the likes of Paris Hilton. In early March, Ward Bushee, the Chronicle’s executive editor, put an end to it. “We have a very international community here,” he told CJR. “Our front page is, as it should be, Bay Area-centric…page two, three, and four should be the most important stories of the world and nation.” But the best news is that Bushee’s hearing kudos from readers.

Dart to CNN and NBC News for oblivious booking. As Liz Cox Barrett noted on CJR.org, there was more than a whiff of irony in Meet The Press host Tim Russert asking Doris Kearns Goodwin, no stranger to plagiarism accusations, to comment on, yes, accusations of plagiarism by Barack Obama. And when CNN went looking for legal comment after New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was alleged to have consorted with a prostitute and structured payments in an attempt to keep said assignations quiet, they booked Florida lawyer Kendall Coffey. An inspired choice, noted Glenn Garvin of The Miami Herald, as Coffey left his post as Miami’s U.S. Attorney in 1996 after it came to light he’d bitten a stripper and later tried to buy back the drunken night’s credit-card receipt. 

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.