The Media Today

Explaining journalism to Rep. Jim Jordan

July 12, 2018

Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, facing pressure over reports that he failed to act on knowledge of sexual abuse by the Ohio State wrestling team doctor when Jordan was an assistant wrestling coach, decided Wednesday to take his grievances with the media to the public. “Now @CNN is contacting all 100+ of our former staff and interns asking for dirt on me,” Jordan tweeted. “Getting desperate! How can you ever trust such #fakenews?”

As many noted, the practice Jordan referred to as desperate also goes by the name basic reporting. “Rarely has a tweet ostensibly designed to discredit a news organization done so much to legitimate it,” wrote The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple. One of journalists’ most fundamental jobs is to dig into the actions of powerful figures and tell the public what they find. This often involves casting a wide net, making dozens—if not hundreds—of phone calls, and making sure all bases are covered. But while Jordan’s tweet read as ridiculous to those who understand what the media does, Wemple notes that it likely found an audience among others who are inclined to distrust the press: “He’s inoculating his people against whatever CNN’s investigation finds—while at the same time helping the network round up sources for the piece.”

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As President Trump and other powerful figures (Hi, Elon Musk!) have attacked the media with variations of the #FakeNews slander, journalists have talked about the importance of explaining to the public how reporting actually gets done. Some outlets have welcomed readers into their newsrooms. Others have made an effort to explain the thinking behind their stories. But there remains a disconnect between the things reporters take for granted as part of their work and what some portion of the public understands about the job.

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When this issue is raised, I often come back to a great 2015 essay by Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky that begins with this line: “I spent one Christmas knocking on the doors of the parents of murdered children.” Petchesky’s argument is that reporting is ugly. His focus in that piece is on the aftermath of a mass shooting, but its points are applicable to any number of issues. Calling up former interns to ask them what they remember about a Representative’s behavior may seem like prying, but it’s just the grunt work that goes with good reporting. It’s the same sort of work that went into The Washington Post’s exposé on Roy Moore or The New York Times’s and New Yorker’s coverage of Harvey Weinstein.

Reporting is messy; the nuts-and-bolts practice of the trade can come off as invasive and excessive. But that thorough work is what makes for a reliable product. So while Jordan’s tweet is itself an act of desperation in the midst of a widening scandal, it’s also an opportunity for journalists and those who care about the news to push back aggressively and explain that this isn’t #FakeNews, it’s just how the job is done.

Below, more on coverage of Jordan and his criticism of reporters.

  • Exposing a real issue: Responding to Jordan’s tweet, New York Daily News Editor Jim Rich argues, “The problem here isn’t Jordan’s disingenuousness, it’s the widespread ignorance in US of what legit journalism actually entails. We can mock this all we want, but there are way too many Americans who think this obvious nonsense is a sound criticism. That’s dangerous to democracy.”
  • Another accuser: CNN’s Madeleine Thompson reported Tuesday that another former Ohio State wrestler has claimed that Jordan knew about the actions of Dr. Richard Strauss. Jordan has denied all accusations.
  • GOP support: Republican leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan, are standing behind Jordan, reports The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis.
  • Jordan’s future in doubt: The Wall Street Journal’s Kristina Peterson and Ben Kesling write that Jordan faces “an uncertain political future” as questions mount over his alleged failure to stop the actions by the Ohio State team doctor.


Other notable stories

  • The next battleground for the Comcast–Disney feud appears to be for control of European broadcaster Sky. Comcast on Wednesday raised its offer for Sky, topping a bid from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. “Sky is just one element in a larger, complex corporate showdown,” write The New York Times’s Michael J. de la Merced and Edmund Lee. “The latest move escalates a war between rival media companies being waged across two continents and involving two different transactions exceeding $100 billion in value in total.”
  • The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi looks at the negotiations between former reporting partners Mark Halperin and John Heilemann for control of notes and transcripts related to their reporting on the 2016 election. The Game Change authors had been developing a book and TV miniseries before allegations of sexual harassment and abuse ended Halperin’s career.
  • CJR’s Mathew Ingram weighs in on the deluge of critical pieces on billionaire Elon Musk. “When he was still a plucky, little-known entrepreneur, Musk’s try-anything attitude and somewhat wacky and combative Twitter persona seemed endearing,” Ingram writes. “But now that he is running several billion-dollar enterprises and dating a celebrity…the way he shoots from the lip on almost any topic makes his Twitter account a target-rich environment for anyone wanting to cut him down to size.”
  • “Twitter will begin removing tens of millions of suspicious accounts from users’ followers on Thursday, signaling a major new effort to restore trust on the popular but embattled platform,” report The New York Times’s Nicholas Confessore and Gabriel J.X. Dance. The Times reporters were part of a team that helped expose Twitter’s fake follower issue back in January.
  • Facebook will debut its first batch of funded news shows on Monday, July 16. Via Adweek, the programs include offerings from cable stalwarts like CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Fox News’s Shep Smith, digital properties including Mic and NowThis, and local news from the Alabama Media Group.

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.