Fourth Estate Gets One Right

As regular readers of this blog and my columns will attest, I’m not one to heap praises on the media, particularly the Washington press corps. As I see it, they have totally allowed themselves to be steered by and pulled wherever the blogosphere will take them — all in the name of getting there first and scooping their rivals. Now, I’m all for competition, but true journalism thrives and maintains its respectability when it can corroborate details from a credible source. 

In the case of the Larry Craig incident, the atmosphere was ripe for exclusives and live feeds that merely “reported” on speculation and innuendo. And while the events unfolded in a way that Washington editors perhaps detest (two months after an arrest!!?), the Idaho Statesman’s posture through all of this was extremely professional.

To recap, the Statesman had been investigating rumors of Sen. Craig’s sexual orientation since 2006, and had some good leads on the subject. But the bulk of the paper's material rested with a controversial and oftentimes wrong blog space known for aggressively “outing” homosexuals. To paraphrase one editor, they knew they’d better get this one right. They didn’t have enough information to corroborate the piece, so they waited. And when the arrest report became public, they ran a piece worthy of the front page, and without reservation.

I bet there were a lot of armchair quarterbacks in that press room last week, wringing their hands and saying, “I told you so!” But the Statesman did the correct thing — they didn’t chase blog speculation and make a story out of nothing. They waited until the piece was ripe, not raw, and reported the facts. That’s why the editors were very blunt and direct in their response to accusations by the senator that the Statesman was on some kind of witch hunt. Craig’s behavior in light of the facts only made him look more desperate and guilty.

I guess there’s one ray of hope in an otherwise gray world of print journalism ...