Juan Williams never lets critical thinking or journalistic judgement get in the way of "balance"

by Paul Glastris, Washington Monthly blog

ROBO JOURNALISTS... I agree with Josh and Kevin and Atrios about the pathetic unwillingness of the mainstream press to cover the onslaught of abusive GOP robocalls and push polls as the big story that it is. But it's actually worse than that. Reporters aren’t just loath to bring the subject up. They’re actively dodging the subject when someone else brings it up.

On the Diane Rehm Show this morning--a show that is meant to give political analysts leeway to say what they think--Diane (bless her) asked guest Juan Williams point blank about the partisan source of these calls.

Rehm: "Do you see Democrats making these same kinds of calls attempting to suppress or confuse Republican voters?"

Williams: "Gee, Diane, that was a judgmental question [giggle]."

Rehm: "You think so?"

Williams: "To suppress or confuse, no, I think that on both sides they're making an intense effort, and in fact the Democrats are making an intense effort to try to catch up with the Republicans' get-out-the-vote efforts, and part of that is reaching out to voters. making sure voters are engaged, trying to keep up the intensity."

Williams--who's supposed to be a liberal pundit or at least plays one on TV--then vamps for nearly a minute about how much money each party is spending on GOTV in this or that race before ending thusly:

Williams: "Whether or not you would describe that as suppression or trying to encourage or intensify your support is I guess a matter of judgment."

Rehm then follows up a few minutes later by reading a couple listener emails:

Rehm: “One from Missouri says: ‘Every single one of the messages, for as far as I can bear to listen to them, pounds home the idea that one or the other Democratic candidate in Missouri supports abortion and is in favor of killing babies.’ Another from Jeff says: 'Please make clear these harassing robocalls calls are being made entirely by Republicans in order to suppress Democratic turnout and these calls are not being made by shadowy Republican operatives but rather by the National Republican.' Juan Williams, what do you know about these calls?"

Williams: "Well, these calls are being made. And the idea in that Missouri race, which is a very tight race, as you know, between Jim Talent and Claire McCaskell, talent is the incumbent Republican, first time Senator, McCaskell is the challenger, the Democrat, what you have is a state where stem cell research has been a huge issue."

Williams then goes on for a half minute of week-in-reviewish observations about how both sides have framed the stem cell issue. But he fails to address the second emailer’s point other than with the passive “calls are being made” statement he began with.

The next guest, Karen Tumulty of Time Magazine, then jumps in. She skips over the issue of Republicans being the source of the harassing calls in favor of the oft-noted observation that the tight Missouri race will be the test case of “whether this much-vaunted Republican 72-hour turn out machine works.”

Having struck out with Williams and Tumulty, Rehm then tries once more, this time focusing on her third guest, Yochi Dreazen of The Wall Street Journal.

“Here’s another email from Jim in Covington, Kentucky. He says: ‘One of the most creative and despicable of this cycle is the false flag robocall call storm. It often comes in the early hours of the morning hour. The calls are scripted so that to a recipient who hangs up after the intro message is convinced that the harassing calls are coming from the Democratic candidate. Yochi.”

To his credit, Dreazen then actually addresses the issue, pointing out that the Indiana Attorney General has used the threat of lawsuits to block harassing calls made by a foundation with links to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, but that the foundation is still placing robocalls in other states.

The question I was left with was, how is it that Dreazen can address this issue relatively forthrightly, while Williams and Tumulty can’t. Note that Dreazen’s wasn’t offering a “judgment” (though he might well have), but a fact. Has it really gotten to the point that journalists are so fearful of being mau-maued, or losing their contracts as TV commentators, that they’re afraid to express basic, incontrovertible facts?

article originally published at http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/showdown06/archives/individual/2006_11/010029.p....

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey