Thursday, November 1, 2007

Journalistic Misconduct by Two Fox News Analysts

[Note: This blog post is reprinted from the March 10, 2003 edition of Scoobie Davis Online]

For faithful readers of this site, I going to go over some territory that I have covered in the past, but with a new wrinkle. Those of you familiar with me know that I have railed against not only Sun Myung Moon but against his journalistic monstrosity, The Washington Times. Not only is the Times, in Paul Krugman’s words, a “house organ” for the Bush regime, but also it fosters an atmosphere of journalistic dishonesty.

One of the many instances of journalistic misconduct in the Times that has caught my attention was the one committed by reporter Bill Sammon. Sammon wrote the following in his best-selling book At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried To Steal the Election (which was excerpted in the Times):

Gore was so upfront about putting his own skin above the national interest that, according to the Washington Post, he sat his senior aides down and drew them a picture. Literally. On an easel of butcher paper in the dining room of this residence at he Naval Observatory in Washington, Gore drew four concentric circles to represent his priorities. He and Lieberman occupied the innermost circle. The next circle was reserved for big supporters like CIO president John Sweeney, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, and abortion advocate Kate Michelman. The Democratic Party was third in Gore’s circle of priorities. Finally, in the very last circle, Gore placed the country. The man who was seeking to lead the United States of America into the new millennium placed the national interest not first, not second, not even third. In Al Gore’s hierarchy of priorities, the nation came dead last.
Americans, alas, are a corny lot. They still like to think that their presidents place the national interest above their own. They would find it difficult to imagine men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan drawing four concentric circles and explaining that their own hides were more important than the national interest. But Al Gore wasn’t like those other leaders. He was looking out for Number One, plain and simple.

Gore sounds like a real villain here. The only problem is that Sammon is lying. Here is the part of the Washington Post article that Sammon used to base his accusation that Gore “was looking out for Number One, plain and simple”:

The meeting was in the dining room. Gore’s wife, Tipper, snapped pictures and offered food. Gore occupied a central chair, beside two easels that held giant pads of paper...At one point, [Gore] drew a series of concentric circles to remind everyone of his circles of responsibility. At his innermost circle, he had responsibilities to himself and to Lieberman, then he moved outward through his closest supporters, Democrats as a whole and, in the largest circle, the country. He could not make critical decisions, he explained, without considering the larger context.

This excerpt illustrates why Sammon didn’t use footnotes in At Any Cost. The reason: if anyone were to check the Washington Post article that Sammon cited, it would reveal that the Post story reported the exact opposite of what Sammon was conveying to his readers. If it were not for the efforts of Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler, this libel would not have come to light. Somerby took the effort to find the original Washington Post article that Sammon cited; what he found was that Sammon had methodically misrepresented the article to give the opposite meaning of the article. Somerby did a painstakingly analysis of how Sammon did this. Somerby’s findings clearly indicate that the systematic omissions and paraphrases of the article by Sammon are such that a reasonable person is forced to conclude that Sammon consciously and systematically twisted the Post article to convey the opposite of its original meaning. I defy anyone to read the original Post article, Sammon’s representation of it, and Somerby’s response, and not conclude that Sammon engaged in gross journalistic misconduct and libel.

That Sammon is not jobless now is due to two things: 1) Sammon works for the Moonie-owned Washington Times and Fox News (as a Fox News Analyst)—two organizations that don’t care much about journalistic ethics; and 2) The lack of an effective echo chamber for the left. If progressives had a web site that receives the number of hits as the Drudge Report or if Drudge had analyzed Sammon’s words instead of promoting his books--then presently Bill Sammon would be considered a latter-day Janet Cooke instead of having two best-selling books (At Any Cost and Fighting Back). In fact, Cooke should be considered a rank amateur compared to Sammon. Cooke fabricated a story to benefit herself—nobody was hurt. Sammon stained the reputation of another person with his journalistic fraud.

Here’s where it gets interesting. While there isn’t much we can do to Sammon other than to report on his misconduct, we can address Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly’s journalistic misconduct in this case. Connolly, like Sammon, is also a Fox News analyst. She also was one of the co-authors of the Post story that Sammon cited. I had written Connolly to see if she wanted to publicly comment on it; I received no response.

For being publicly silent on the matter, Connolly is in gross dereliction of her duties as a journalist. According to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, it is the obligation of journalists to “[e]xpose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.” This is especially the case when another journalist who is engaging in libel grossly misrepresents one’s own reporting. In addition, the fact that both Connolly and Sammon serve as Fox News analysts raises serious questions about issues addressed by the aforementioned code—namely that: 1) Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived; 2) Journalists should remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility; and 3) Journalists should refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.

While Connolly is clearly derelict regarding her not reporting Sammon’s journalistic misconduct, the other possible violations have not been established—this is clearly the job of an ombudsman. Connolly works for the Washington Post and it is an organization that at least tries to address journalistic misconduct (even though it employs someone like Connolly). Michael Getler, the ombudsman for Connolly’s primary employer, the Washington Post, should address these issues. Contact Michael Getler at and inform him about Ceci Connolly’s misconduct. It’s important.

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